11 September 2019

Gillian Triggs 'Speaking Up' in Bega

| Ian Campbell
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Gillian Triggs new book "Speaking Up'. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Gillian Triggs new book “Speaking Up’. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Gillian Triggs has made a rallying call for the freedoms we take for granted to be safeguarded during her Friday (November 2) night lecture in Bega.

With the doors of the Bega High School theatre wide open to catch any passing zephyr, Triggs started a conversation just as hot as the day had been.

As President of the Australian Human Rights Commission between 2012 and 2017, Triggs was often in conflict with the government of the day around asylum seeker policy in particular.

With speculation mounting that all children currently in offshore immigration detention will be processed by Christmas, the visit by Ms Triggs was incredibly timely and put Bega on the frontline of this national debate.

“There appears to be evidence coming from Canberra that we will have all the children off Naru with their families by Christmas,” she says.

“Now when I first heard that news my immediate and rather cynical first response was – they said that several years ago and it wasn’t true.

“This time I think it probably is true.”

Ms Triggs urged her audience of around 150 people to maintain pressure on the issue until the truth of the government’s position is clearer.

“I think [this] reflects a number of important elements, one of them is what I believe is a shift at the community level,” Ms Triggs says.

“Regardless of political views, I’ve found that in Australians all over the country there is a sense that to keep children, young men, and their families on Manus and Naru for five and a half years without charge or trial is grossly contrary to our most fundamental principles.”

With a new book on sale in the foyer, Triggs took the discussion further suggesting a Bill or Charter of Rights would better protect the rights of citizens, minorities, and non-citizens and “ensure a culture of respect for the rights that underpin our democracy”.

The former Director of the British Institute for International and Comparative Law in London and Dean of Law at the University of Sydney believes the absence of a Bill of Rights has enabled successive governments to sidestep the rights and freedoms of asylum seekers and increasingly, the broader population.

Triggs says the freedoms that Australians have taken for granted and assume are part of our law are not and in recent years these laws have been eroded by some politicians and the media, with an “unprecedented, creeping expansion of executive powers and of Ministerial discretion”.

“We are the only democracy in the world that does not have a Charter or Bill of Rights.”

You might ask, “Doesn’t the Constitution do that for us?”

“The answer is that it does not,” she says.

“The Constitution is a functional document on the relations between the Commonwealth and the States – it was the deal done to make Australia in 1901.

“There are almost no protections for our fundamental rights.

“We have a right to the freedom of religion in the Constitution, but our Constitution does not protect our freedom of expression, there is no right to protest, no right to freedom of association, no right to privacy, and no prohibition on arbitrary detention without charge or trial.”

It’s Ms Triggs view that progressive High Court Judges and a civil society largely uphold these principles.

“We could do this [Bill of Rights] in a very simple document,” she says.

“The Electoral Commision did a survey a few years ago and asked 3,000 Australians – Do we have a Constitution?

“Forty-eight per cent said ‘no’. Then they asked a second question – Do we have a Bill of Rights?

“And 65 per cent of Australian’s said ‘yes’.

“We know more about our rights from American television, wouldn’t it be nice if we educated our children and if we understood that the strength of our democratic system in Australia lies with those fundamental freedoms?

“But ultimately the strength of our democracy lies with the community and with citizenship,” Ms Triggs says.

“In a time when our governments are not meeting the values upon which Australia has been founded then it is time for civil society to take back the power that as citizens we have.”

Learn more, click play to hear Gillian Triggs full speech on Friday night in Bega…

Gillian Triggs came to Bega as a guest of the Social Justice Advocates of the Sapphire Coast.

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I hope that these families will be off Nauru by Christmas as promised. Most of us have never experienced the desperation these people have felt to escape their situations and try to find a new life for their families. If I was desperate to save my family from violence or from an awful environment I would do anything I could, even if it was illegal rather than watch my children be killed or raped or suffer watching violence while waiting patiently for governments to do nothing anyway.If we only heard these people’s real stories I’m sure we’d have more compassion for their plight. We are so lucky in Australia.

The cost of re-homing refugees probably costs far less than the costs of poor decision-making by our state and federal governments which allow the top 1-2% of rich people in Australia to gain more and more of the lion’s share of our country’s assets and profits without paying the rightful taxes which should be directed back into our local communities.

We should be seriously concerned about erosion of our democracy in the ways that Gillian Triggs describes. With the impact of climate change and the decline in animal species biodiversity, the world’s resources will become scarcer. We should be more concerned that those in control – companies, politicians and lobby groups with financial power – should not be allowed to sieze more than a fair share of profits and resources while others go homeless and hungry. I think the world will see many more refugees in the future as resources become scarcer, and we will need to make wise and humane decisions.

I am appalled and saddened that people on Nauru, especially the most vulnerable children and families, are treated so badly by our government, against all human rights.

Kym Mogridge4:34 pm 05 Nov 18

Whilst I understand the principles of a Bill of Rights for me there is too much association with the 2nd Amendment to the 4th Article of the USA Bill of Rights.
So, I feel strongly that ANY Right should be couched in terms of Responsibilities and how every citizen has a responsibility has an obligation to ensure that all their fellow citizens are afforded any Right.

An Article re Free Speech could read:
All legal citizens of [insert country here] shall ensure that no law be enacted respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

So all other “Rights” are developed in terms of responsibilities and that places the onus on all citizens to be accountable for the keeping of the Bill of Responsibilities.

Keep our boarders safe. We don’t want illegal immigration to have rights in our land.

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