The Legal Assault on Australian Democracy
Recent years have seen fierce public debate on whether Australia’s parliaments are passing laws that undermine fundamental democratic values, such as freedom of speech and freedom of association. Such debate has tended to focus on a few contentious laws, including s 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth), s 35P of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 (Cth) and Queensland’s anti-bikie legislation. This article conducts a survey of the federal, state and territory statute books in order to determine whether such examples are isolated, or indicative of a broader trend. It identifies 350 instances of laws that arguably encroach upon rights and freedoms essential to the maintenance of a healthy democracy. Most of these laws have entered onto the statute book since September 2001. The article finds that the terrorist attacks of that month marked a watershed moment in the making of Australian laws, and that since that time parliamentarians have been less willing to exercise self-restraint by not passing laws that undermine Australia’s democratic system.
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