The 26th of January marks the day that Australia was officially (Britishly) colonised. The local indiginous population didn't get what could be termed, by any stretch of the imagination, any consideration in the matter. In their view, and one that I don't disagree with either, this day is regarded more as a day of mourning. As such, “Australia Day” sometimes gets referred to as being “Invasion Day.”
The Aboriginal population has received what can be, at best, described as an appalling treatment in Australia's history, and still continue to do so. There is no possible compensation for being dispossessed of your home land, irradiated in the Australian/British a-bomb tests, children taken from their families, the entire Aboriginal population of Tasmania deliberately hunted down and murdered, and having your whole culture deliberately annihilated. (For more information, please try an Australian search engine, I'm sure that the entire sordid details are published somewhere.)
Oh, I'm not Aboriginal myself (I'm Australian born from ex-British parents), in case you were wondering, but I do have friends from all walks of life, and there's no reason why I shouldn't express a view on this matter.
There's a push on, at the moment, to get an official expression of regret from our government regarding this treatment, which currently centres on our government's refusal to say “sorry”, but also includes a general push to have the general population say the same thing.
I have mixed feelings about this. While I am appalled it happened, and appalled that appalling things are still happening, I am not responsible for any of them, so I can't genuinely say sorry for something that has nothing to do with me, no matter how much I might regret that it ever happened; no more than I could for the American atomic bombing of Japan.
However, the government has a responsibility beyond the personal level, is responsible for ensuring this sort of thing doesn't continue, and there will still be people in government who are responsible for some of these appalling acts. So as far as I am concerned, they do need to make some sort of formal declaration, at least expressing disgust. And it's about time human rights were put into our constitution.
Currently, we have almost none in this country, which makes it very hard to take action against abuse, as we only have laws to deal with pre-defined types of abuses; and as far as the law is concerned, anything that's not already termed as such isn't abuse, and isn't actionable. Well, not without a hell of a battle to prove that you have a case to complain about in the first place.
Having a simply worded bit in our constitution saying something like; “a person has a right to live without unwarranted interference in their life,” (as a rather hastily thought up example), would take care of loopholes, and ommisions, in the law (though it'd need to be put a bit better than what I just said.
It's the sort of thing we need, and don't have. Simply worded rights, are the easiest to prevent being eroded, or misinterpreted. If you have a right that gives a person “the right of free speech,“ for example, and states that as simply as it is possible to do, then there is no way another person can say that their right to free speech is only a right under certain circumstances.
Simply worded rights are the best way to have rights defined. This way any exceptions have to be specifically defined, rather than the other way around (having to have many different definitions of what you have a right to do, and not having any rights where they're not defined).
As soon as you put in conditions, in a bill of rights like; “a person has a right to free speech, but only when it is in the public good,” you have all sorts of nasty little things creep in, as different people have different ideas about what justifies or denies your right. In that example, there are plenty of other laws to deal with people who would abuse the right of free speech, without having to remove or limit the right.
For example, you might feel you're free to defame another person, but that person has rights to protect themself against defamation; and knowing that one right does not necessarily negate another, nor give you carte blanche protection from prosecution, you'd be foolish to do so.
We have very little in the way of defined rights in this country, though we do have various laws about removing rights. The Guardianship act is a good example here (where a person's right to control their own life is removed, with very little opportunity to ever get it back again). You really do not want to ever get labelled as “mentally handicapped” in this country; once that happens, all manner of people (unscruplous family members, uncaring medical personel, etc.) can virtually do what they like to you; heaven help you if your own family doesn't hold much regard for your own independence (you become a “non-person,” in “no-man's land,” with no rights, and are ignored).
So what rights do I think we should have? Well for starters, I think the following ones are a good place to start:
There are many instances where our government and institutions ought to be criticised, and they should never be able to claim that such criticism is destabilising. A person fighting injustice is not a trouble maker, the injustice was the thing that made the trouble (or perhaps our governments also view all police, and courts of law, as troublemakers). For quite some time our courts have tried to say that criticising them will undermine their authority, but recently we've seen several court judges get done for serious crimes, so that argument just doesn't wash anymore.
Good intentions, or not, some people should not be allowed to change the way you conduct your private life. There'll always be someone who has different ideas about how people should conduct themselves, it'd be disastrous if deeply religious people started dictating to others, for example; or employment being dependent on membership or social status. And probably the worst example, is the lack of democracy in our country. Our politicians seem to forget that government is supposed to serve the people, not rule it: For instance, when the majority of the population rejected a major change in our taxation system, the goverment should not have disobeyed it.
There is far too much collection of data on people, data that we rarely know exists, and rarely get a chance to ensure it's not misused or inaccurate, or be able to have it destroyed. Lack of privacy is not just about knowing more about someone than they want, it's also about not being left in peace and quiet when you want (e.g. being interrupted by an interviewer phoning you at home, wanting to ask you questions, is in invasion of your privacy, too).
Education should not be denied of a person, nor should we be educated in some particular way to please someone else's ideas about what is best for us, nor should someone dictate what things we should or shouldn't learn about; and nor should our goverments be able to make decisions that effect us in secret.
You should be able to defend yourself from assault, without fear of being prosecuted, if you have to stop someone trying to rape or kill you (for instance), no matter what happens to the assailant (what ever happens to them, while you defend yourself, is completely their fault). And you should be able to ask for assistance when you've been abused, without having it blocked, regardless of who else isn't happy about it.
That every person is just as important as the next, that your concerns are no less important than some other person, and that your status doesn't change how you should be treated.
If you steal from someone, then you can't justify it because you needed the money for your drug habit; or say that some person that you killed, because you drove while drunk, shouldn't have been crossing the road at the time you hit them. People must accept responsibility for their actions, especially when they affect other people.