Rights disappearing down drain

Bill Rowlings addressing the May Day '11 Rally, Canberra

May Day is for the working class, the people abandoned by our fraudulent main political parties, CLA’s CEO Bill Rowlings told the Canberra gathering. Liberal and Labor have wound back freedoms and liberties over a decade, as a ‘fair go’ fades and Australians’ rights drip-drop away.

Speech by Bill Rowlings, CEO, Civil Liberties Australia,

May Day rally 2011, Canberra, Civic

Ladies and gentleman and others…traditional owners or owners of nothing, thank you for the chance to speak on May Day, a day for the worker and the individual Australian.

My brief talk today will be about fraud at the top…and the loss of rights and liberties at the bottom.

I want to start by pointing out that our two major political parties are complete frauds.

The Liberal party is not “liberal’ like it was when it was founded.

It is a party of conservatives, and nowadays of ultra-conservatives.

This is the party that sent refugees to a foreign country which it paid in pieces of silver for taking them. It designed and built a jail on Christmas Island for about 400 people it labelled as ‘queue jumpers’.

It introduced Australian Workplace Agreements and instituted Work Choices, which overturned the normal laws that safeguard workers.

It created the Australian Building and Construction Commission, a body with the right to ride roughshod over unions and union workers, to force you to answer questions and to provide documents.

So this party which apparently intensely dislikes foreigners and hates its own workers and people continues to call itself ‘Liberal’ in defiance of what it is, what it says and what it does.

Turning to the other major party, Labor.  Here’s a party which claims to be for the workers…and it used to be, probably as recently as the 1980s.

It claims to be democratic, but it is decades since the party rank and file all around Australia had a meaningful vote, or could properly choose the people they want to stand for parliament.

When Labor got into power in 2007 after a long time out, what did it do?

It kept most of Work Choices, and changed its name to Fair Work in a move more reflective of PR spin that substance.

It refused to get rid of the most undemocratic authority ever set up in Australia, the building industry’s ABCC commission.

Still today, under a government supposedly for the worker:

  • unionists still face bans on secondary boycotts,
  • employers can still lock workers out,
  • unions are still restricted on their right of entry to workplaces, and
  • workers have only restricted right to strike.

And Labor has refused to fix refugee detention, keeping children locked behind barbed wire: in fact, Christmas Island – which was built originally to handle 400 – now houses 2000 people, and elsewhere in Australia another 5000 are locked up, making 7000 in all.

Behind the scenes, for a decade, both parties have thrown the civil liberties and rights of Australians out the window.

There have been 50 or more new pieces of anti-terror legislation in the past 10 years, since the 9/11 aircraft attacks in America and the bombing in Bali.

Not one of these new laws has given any individual Australian a broader liberty, or a deeper right.  They have all cut back on our rights, curtailed our freedoms, and bypassed the traditional rule of law in Australia.

Tens of billions of dollars have been wasted…and continue to be wasted.  There are too many ASIO agents, too many federal police – about double the number now needed for anti-terrorism work – because of a massive over-reaction by both the Liberal and Labor governments, driven by fear and lacking any semblance of balance.

As one Australian terrorism expert wrote in the Canberra Times this week, “In Australia, the threat of terrorism is trivial”.

Despite this trivial threat, we now live under Middle East dictator laws which can be inflicted on you instantly. For example,

  • You can be detained for seven days without charge or trial;
  • Police have hugely increased powers to stop and search people…even without needing “reasonable suspicion”;
  • Police can apply to judges (and they have never been refused, so far as we know) to lock you away, not for what you’ve done, but for “preventative” reasons;
  • Equally, they can get an order to “control” you;
  • You have no right to go to the media: in fact, the laws specifically prevent the media reporting what happened to you for years; and
  • There are executive powers to “proscribe” organisations as terrorist, or even as “organised crime”.

The danger is that these types of laws become “normalised” – or entrenched – in society:

  • The “special” laws for unions and unionists become laws for other left-wing groups;
  • The “special” laws for members of bikie gangs become laws for members of any organisation or club the government doesn’t like – maybe GetUp will get up the government’s nose and be banned, because it breaks some law about public demonstrations;
  • The “special” laws where you can be locked away for seven days become the customary practice…
  • And the “special” laws about not being able to tell your story in the media become just the way things are in Australia.


In this country, we have always enjoyed a healthy apathy about politics and government.  But the time is coming when we’ll all have to take more notice of the rights and freedoms that are gradually disappearing down the drain.

You don’t lose liberties in a landslide.

You lose your rights and freedoms drop by drop, grain of sand by grain of sand, over decades.

It has now been nearly one full decade – 10 years – since the September 2001 Al Qaeda aircraft attacks…so it’s well and truly time the government wound back laws that are un-Australian and which deny workers and ordinary Australians the type of fair go we used to enjoy in this country.

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