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Australia's Constitution

The framers of Australia's Constitution, working in the 1890s, debated the adoption of a Bill of Rights along the lines of that in the United States. The proposal was defeated and our Constitution contains few protections for what we now call human rights.

Nevertheless, there are five explicit individual rights in the Constitution. These are:

  1. the right to vote (section 41),
  2. protection against acquisition of property on unjust terms (section 51(xxxi)),
  3. the right to a trial by jury (section 80),
  4. freedom of religion (section 116), and
  5. prohibition of discrimination on the basis of State of residency (section 117).

In recent years the High Court has found that additional rights for individuals may be necessarily implied by the language and structure of the Constitution. In 1992 the Court decided that Australia's form of parliamentary democracy (dictated by the Constitution) necessarily requires a degree of freedom for individuals to discuss and debate political issues. (Nationwide News Pty Ltd v Wills, 1992, 177 CLR 1; Australian Capital Television v The Commonwealth, 1992, CLR 1.)