Encroachments on rights, freedoms and privileges

23          Chapters 2 and 3 of the Report lay the foundations for the ALRC’s analysis of laws that encroach on rights, freedoms and privileges. Chapters 4 to 20 each consider one or two of the listed rights, freedoms or privileges in the Terms of Reference. Chapters are grouped around related rights, beginning with a set of chapters on the ‘freedoms’ in the list, and finishing with chapters on property rights. Each chapter identifies areas where further review may be merited. In some cases laws may encroach on a number of different common law rights and freedoms, as in the case of counter-terrorism and national security laws, and migration laws.

Freedom of speech

24          Freedom of speech has been described as ‘the freedom par excellence; for without it, no other freedom could survive’ and is closely linked to other fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of religion, thought, and conscience.

25          In Australia, legislation prohibits, or renders unlawful, speech or expression in many different contexts—including in relation to various terrorism offences and terrorism-related secrecy offences, other secrecy laws and the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) (RDA). At the same time, many limitations on speech have long been recognised by the common law itself, such as incitement to crime, obscenity and sedition.

26          The ALRC has not established whether s 18C of the RDA has, in practice, caused unjustifiable interferences with freedom of speech. Part IIA of the RDA, of which s 18C forms a part, would benefit from more thorough review in relation to freedom of speech. However, any such review should take place in conjunction with consideration of anti-vilification laws more generally.

27          There is also reason to review the range of legislative provisions that protect the processes of tribunals, commissions of inquiry and regulators; and whether Commonwealth secrecy laws provide for proportionate limitations on freedom of speech.

Freedom of religion

28          Religious freedom encompasses freedom of conscience and belief, the right to observe or exercise religious beliefs, and freedom from coercion or discrimination on the grounds of religious (or non-religious) belief.

29          There are very few, if any, provisions in Commonwealth laws that interfere with freedom of religion. The main areas of tension arise where religious freedom intersects with anti-discrimination laws, which have the potential to limit the exercise of freedom of conscience outside liturgical and worship settings.

30          There is no obvious evidence that Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws significantly encroach on freedom of religion in Australia, especially given the existing exemptions for religious organisations. Nevertheless, concerns about freedom of religion should be considered in future initiatives directed towards the consolidation of Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws, or harmonisation of Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination laws.

Freedom of association and assembly

31          Freedom of association concerns the right of all persons to group together voluntarily for a common goal or to form and join an association, such as a political party, a professional or sporting club, a non-governmental organisation or a trade union. Freedom of association is different from, but also closely related to, freedom of assembly. Australians are generally free to associate with whomever they like and to assemble to participate in activities including, for example, a protest or demonstration.

32          A wide range of Commonwealth laws may be seen as interfering with freedom of association or freedom of assembly. These include counter-terrorism and other criminal laws and laws concerning public assembly, workplace relations, migration, and anti-discrimination. Many of these laws provide limitations on freedom of association or assembly that have long been recognised by the common law itself—for example, in relation to consorting with criminals, public assembly and other aspects of preserving public order. Areas of most concern include aspects of counter-terrorism and the character test in migration law.

33          Workplace relations laws in Australia have been subject to criticism on the basis of lack of compliance with International Labour Organization Conventions. However, while some of these provisions may offend ILO norms, they do not necessarily infringe common law freedom of association.

Freedom of movement

34          Freedom of movement at common law primarily concerns the freedom of citizens both to move freely within their own country and to leave and return to their own country. Freedom of movement has commonly—both in theory and practice—been subject to exceptions and limitations. For example, the freedom does not extend to people trying to evade punishment for a crime and, in practice, a person’s freedom to leave one country is limited by the willingness of other countries to allow that person to enter.

35          A range of Commonwealth laws may be seen as interfering with freedom of movement. Some of these provisions relate to limitations that have long been recognised by the common law itself, for example, in relation to official powers of arrest or detention, customs and passport controls, and quarantine.

36          While many laws interfering with freedom of movement have strong and obvious justifications, it may be desirable to review some laws to ensure that they do not unjustifiably interfere with the right. The areas of concern include various counter-terrorism measures, including aspects of the control and preventative detention order provisions and declared area offences in the Criminal Code (Cth). Provisions of the Bankruptcy Act 1966 (Cth), which provide that a bankrupt person must automatically give their passport to the trustee, also warrant review.

Fair trial

37          The right to a fair trial is an absolute right and a requirement of the rule of law. Fundamentally, a fair trial is designed to prevent innocent people being convicted of crimes. Fair trials protect life, liberty, property, reputation and other fundamental rights and interests.

38          Some widely recognised components of a fair trial that have been subject to statutory limits include: a trial should be held in public; a defendant has a right to a lawyer; and a defendant has the right to confront the prosecution’s witnesses and test their evidence, and to obtain and adduce their own evidence. Other components of a fair trial, such as the burden of proof and the privilege against self-incrimination, are discussed in separate chapters.

39          The common law and statute both feature some limits on fair trial rights, for example to protect vulnerable witnesses and to protect national security interests. Some Commonwealth laws that may be said to affect fair trial rights are uncontentious, but others may need to be reviewed to ensure they are justified. Changes to trial procedures for national security reasons have been criticised, as have laws that protect certain confidential communications even from a defendant seeking to obtain the communications to help prove their innocence in a criminal trial.

Burden of proof

40          In criminal trials, the prosecution bears the burden of proof. This has been called ‘the golden thread of English criminal law’ and ‘a cardinal principle of our system of justice’. This principle and the related principle that guilt must be proved beyond reasonable doubt are fundamental to the presumption of innocence.

41          A number of Commonwealth laws reverse the legal burden of proof on some elements of a criminal offence and may be seen as interfering with the principle that a person is presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law. Reversal of the legal burden of proof on an issue essential to culpability in an offence arguably provides the greatest interference with the presumption of innocence, and its necessity requires the strongest justification.

42          Further review of the reversals of the legal burden of proof in these laws may be warranted. Laws that may merit further review include deeming provisions in relation to the requisite intention or belief for serious drug offences, and directors’ liability for taxation offences committed by a corporation. Any such review should consider whether placing an evidential rather than legal burden on the defendant would be sufficient to balance the presumption of innocence with the legitimate objectives pursued by these laws.

Strict or absolute liability

43          The criminal justice system presumes that an evil intention or knowledge of the wrongfulness of the act (mens rea) is necessary to found criminal liability. However, some statutes impose strict or absolute liability on one or more elements of an offence.

44          There are strict and absolute liability offences across many areas of law, including corporate and commercial regulation, environmental regulation, work health and safety, customs and border protection, counter-terrorism and national security, and copyright. Areas of particular concern are: various terrorism offences, including declared area offences and offences relating to dealing with terrorism-related assets and financial transactions; reporting requirements under customs legislation; and the imposition of strict liability in relation to commercial scale infringement offences in copyright law.

45          Strict and absolute liability provisions should be reviewed to ensure they provide a consistent and uniform standard of safeguards. Any such review should include consideration of provisions in corporations law and prudential and environmental regulation.

Privilege against self-incrimination

46          The privilege against self-incrimination allows a person to refuse to answer any question, or produce any document or thing, if doing so would tend to expose the person to conviction for a crime. Many Commonwealth statutes provide coercive information-gathering and investigation powers to Commonwealth agencies, and many of these statutes abrogate the privilege against self-incrimination. Instead, the statutes provide that the information provided under compelled questioning (and in some cases, information discovered as a result of that questioning) is not admissible in subsequent proceedings.

47          The High Court has expressed concern that, in certain circumstances, the compelled questioning of persons, without the protection of the privilege against self-incrimination, could fundamentally change the nature of the adversarial system.

48          There should be further review of the privilege against self-incrimination and this could consider whether its abrogation in Commonwealth laws has been appropriately justified, and whether the statutory immunities offer appropriate protection.

Legal professional privilege

49          Legal professional privilege allows a person to resist a demand to reveal communications between the person and their lawyer. The privilege is rarely abrogated in Commonwealth laws.

50          Five statutes concerned with open government and the prevention of corruption, and two concerned with terrorism and the proceeds of crime, provide coercive information-gathering powers and abrogate the privilege. However, the statutes contain immunities to compensate for the loss of the privilege. In each case, the statute provides that communications between client and lawyer revealed under compulsion are not admissible in subsequent proceedings.

51          Laws that require monitoring of communications between a client and lawyer may not limit the privilege, but do breach the underlying principle that communications between client and lawyer should be confidential. Further review may be warranted.

Retrospective laws

52          At common law, it is abhorrent to impose criminal liability on a person for an act that was lawful when it was done. The Australian Parliament has rarely created offences with retrospective application. The few offences that have been enacted have concerned behaviour that could never have been considered innocent, legitimate or moral, such as war crimes and offences against Australians overseas, and could be justified on this basis.

53          Amendments made in 2011 to the people smuggling offences in the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) may have enlarged the scope of the criminal offence with retrospective effect to 1999, thereby criminalising behaviour that was not unlawful when it occurred.

54          Retrospective civil laws, that is, laws that retrospectively change legal rights and obligations, are reasonably common. Retrospective laws are not an effective way of deterring behaviour, but may serve other policy objectives such as ensuring fairness, protecting the public, or addressing the consequences of a court decision that unsettled previous understandings of the law.

55          Taxation laws with significant periods of retrospectivity may create uncertainty and inconvenience. Migration laws that have the stated intention of deterring behaviour, but apply to behaviour that occurred before the commencement of the legislation, could be further reviewed to ensure that their retrospective nature is proportionate and appropriately justified.

Procedural fairness

56          A fair procedure for decision making is an important component of the rule of law. The common law recognises a duty to accord a person procedural fairness before a decision that affects them is made.

57          A number of Commonwealth laws affect the common law duty to afford procedural fairness to persons affected by the exercise of public power. Excluding procedural fairness may be justified in some instances—in particular, where urgent action needs to be taken in the public interest.

58          Some migration laws that encroach on the duty to afford procedural fairness would benefit from further review, given the gravity of the consequences for those affected by the relevant decision. Migration laws that might be further scrutinised include those relating to the mandatory cancellation of visas and the fast track review process for decisions to refuse protection visas.

Judicial review

59          Access to the courts to challenge administrative action is an important common law right and superior courts of record have an inherent jurisdiction to conduct judicial review.

60          The primary mechanism used to restrict access to the courts is the privative clause—essentially a legislative attempt to limit access to judicial review in a certain field. However, the courts have construed privative clauses so narrowly that they are sometimes largely or even entirely deprived of effect.

61          Privative clauses in Commonwealth laws should be reviewed. Consideration should be given to whether alternative solutions that do not restrict access to the courts may be implemented to achieve the underlying policy objective of the provision (for example, to avoid delays in implementing administrative decisions).

Immunity from civil liability

62          Immunity provisions in legislation can limit the legal protection given to important rights and freedoms. Although sometimes necessary, laws that give immunity from civil liability and authorise what would otherwise be a tort operate to limit individual rights and deny civil redress—and therefore require careful justification.

63          Many Commonwealth statutes give some immunity to the federal police and other law enforcement agencies, customs officials, defence personnel, immigration officials, security agencies and others. The immunities protect these agencies from liability that might otherwise arise from the exercise of their statutory powers, including powers to arrest or detain people, to seize or retain property, and to carry out intrusive investigations. Such powers and associated immunities are commonly justified on the grounds that they are necessary to prevent crime, protect national security and otherwise enforce the law.

64          Executive immunities warrant careful justification and consideration should be given to their appropriate scope. This issue was reviewed more fully in the ALRC’s 2001 report, The Judicial Power of the Commonwealth. Some of the recommendations in that report warrant further consideration by Government.

Delegating legislative power

65          From the separation of powers doctrine, and from the principle that it is Parliament’s role to make laws on important matters of policy, may be derived the principle that legislative power should not be inappropriately delegated to the Executive.

66          Laws that will have a significant impact on rights and liberties, and laws creating offences with high penalties, should usually be in primary, not delegated, legislation. More generally, wide and vague delegations of legislative power undermine the separation of powers doctrine by allowing those who enforce the law also to make the law.

67          However, delegating legislative power to the Executive is now commonplace and is said to be essential for efficient and effective government. Parliament delegates such power not only to government ministers, but also to various government agencies such as the Australian Taxation Office and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

68          Given the quantity of delegated law in Australia, careful and ongoing scrutiny—built into the law making process—may be the most suitable way to limit inappropriate delegations of legislative power.

Property rights

69          The common law has long regarded a person’s property rights as fundamental. However, property rights could be encroached upon by legislative action, so long as any deprivation was not arbitrary and reasonable compensation was given.

70          In relation to personal property rights, the key areas of concern include banking and taxation laws, personal property securities, intellectual property and criminal laws. Many have been the subject of recent reviews or extended consideration by parliamentary committees or the High Court. The breadth of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Cth) is one area that may require further consideration. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement provides ongoing scrutiny of the Commonwealth legislation and the Australian Federal Police provide annual reports. However, given the potential impact of unexplained wealth measures on personal property, and the proposal for a national coordinated scheme by the Committee, the ongoing scrutiny needs to ensure that such a scheme is proportionate in light of its objectives to meet the obligations agreed to under the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. In addition, the ALRC also suggests that a further review be scheduled in due course.

71          With respect to real property and the rights of land owners, the main focus of concern is on interferences with the right to use the land and water. State environmental laws are not the concern of this Inquiry; however, from the landholders’ perspective the complexity of the ‘interference’ can only be understood in the light of both state and Commonwealth laws. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act) interferes with the right to use land to a limited extent. The next scheduled review of the EPBC Act could reassess whether the interferences are proportionate and explore a range of compensatory mechanisms. This review may also afford an opportunity for consideration of the interrelationship of Commonwealth and state laws. The Water Act 2007 (Cth) does not interfere in a negative way with the water entitlements in the Murray-Darling Basin that have been established under state and territory statutes. However, it may be appropriate for the Act to be reviewed periodically.

Counter-terrorism and national security laws

72          Acts of terrorism are a gross violation of fundamental rights to life and safety and the Government has both a right and a duty to take action to protect its citizens.[19] This may require the enactment of legislation that places limits on traditional rights and freedoms. National security is recognised as a legitimate objective of such limitations, at common law and in international human rights law.[20]

73          Counter-terrorism and national security laws that encroach on rights and freedoms should nevertheless be justified, to ensure the laws are suitable, necessary and represent a proper balance between the public interest and individual rights.

74          In the Report, a range of counter-terrorism and national security laws are identified that interfere with traditional rights and freedoms. These include laws that limit freedom of speech (for example, laws about advocating terrorism and disclosing intelligence operations); freedom of association and assembly (for example, control orders, preventative detention orders, and laws about foreign incursions and recruitment); laws that impose strict or absolute liability (for example, in relation to offences for disclosing certain classified operational information); laws that change fair trial procedures (for example, to protect sensitive information about national security).

75          Some counter-terrorism laws engage multiple rights. For example, the control order and preventative detention order regimes contained in divs 104–105 of the Criminal Code have implications for freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of movement.

76          Counter-terrorism and national security laws should be subject to ongoing and careful review, given the extent to which they may interfere with individual rights. While some of these laws have been subject to significant scrutiny, including by parliamentary committees and the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM), it has been suggested that many are not proportionate, and would benefit from further consideration and analysis.

77          Ongoing review of these laws falls within the functions of the INSLM[21] and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (Intelligence Committee).[22] INSLM and Intelligence Committee review of legislation is discussed further in Chapter 3.

Migration laws

78          A number of migration laws have also been identified as encroaching on traditional rights and freedoms, including freedom of association and assembly (the operation of the ‘character test’ in the Migration Act); the right not to be subject to retrospective laws (the Migration Act people smuggling offence and provisions converting applications for permanent protection visas into applications for temporary protection visas); the right to procedural fairness (for example, the fast track review process for decisions to refuse protection visas); and the right to judicial review (for example, the privative clause in the Migration Act).

79          Migration laws pursue the objective of regulating, in the national interest, the coming into, and presence in, Australia of non-citizens.[23] Pursuit of this objective may involve some limitations on traditional rights and freedoms. However, such limitations should be proportionate.

80          In this Inquiry, significant concerns were expressed that a number of migration laws are not proportionate. The ALRC suggests that these laws would benefit from further analysis to ensure that the laws do not interfere unjustifiably with traditional rights and freedoms.[24]