ALRC Report — Rights and freedoms in Commonwealth laws

ALRC report, Traditional Rights and Freedoms—Encroachments by Commonwealth Laws (ALRC Report 129), was tabled and launched in Parliament today by the Attorney-General, the Hon Senator George Brandis QC and is now publicly available.

In this far-reaching inquiry, the Australian Law Reform Commission was asked to identify and critically examine Commonwealth laws that encroach upon traditional rights, freedoms and privileges recognised by the common law. In the final Report, the ALRC discusses the source and rationale of these important rights and freedoms and provides an extensive survey of current Commonwealth laws that limit them. The ALRC has identified a range of Commonwealth laws that may warrant further consideration or review, providing a road map for future work to ensure that encroachments on rights, freedoms and privileges are avoided or appropriately justified.

Additionally, the Report provides a thorough analysis of how laws are scrutinised by government agencies, parliamentary committees and others for compatibility with rights, and examines possible justifications for statutory restrictions of common law rights and freedoms. It discusses how laws that limit traditional rights and freedoms might be critically tested and justified, for example by using a proportionality test. Rights are rarely absolute, but must be balanced with other rights and with the public interest when these interests conflict.

ALRC President Professor Rosalind Croucher AM, Commissioner-in-charge of the inquiry, said:

“Important rights and freedoms should only be interfered with reluctantly—when truly necessary. This report identifies and critically examines laws that limit rights, and will inform decisions about whether such laws might be amended or repealed. The Report provides a significant contribution to a broader discussion and debate about protecting rights in democratic societies.”

During the Inquiry, the ALRC held two rounds of national stakeholder consultations, following the release of the Issues Paper and the Interim Report, and received 151 submissions from a wide range of people, organisations and agencies. The ALRC also held a national round of public symposia focusing on specific aspects of the Inquiry, and convened an Advisory Committee of experts, which met twice.  Emeritus Professor Suri Ratnapala, appointed part-time Commissioner in July 2015, also provided his considerable experience and expertise. 

The full Report and Summary Report are available free of charge on the ALRC website at in HTML, PDF and EPUB. A limited number of hard copies are available for purchase.