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The Constitution defines and protects express rights in relation to freedom of religion, discrimination between the States, the right of Australian citizens to trial by jury, free trade among the States and the acquisition of property.

Australians also have implied rights derived from the interpretations of the Constitution, such as the democratic right of the freedom of political communication and certain voting rights.

At the law courts. Source: State Library of Victoria

Why don’t we have many Constitutional rights?

The world has changed significantly since Federation. Rights are now at the forefront of many people’s mind. However, the Australian Constitution contains very few written rights. It was a deliberate decision of the writers of our Constitution to trust the democratic process to protect rights.

How does the High Court protect our rights?

Native title property rights were developed by the High Court through the common law. The Court also found certain implied democratic rights within the Constitution. If you are directly affected by a law, you can ask the Court to determine whether the Constitution allows it.

Do Parliaments also protect our rights?

Parliaments around the country have passed many laws which can protect people’s rights, such as anti-discrimination legislation. But individual rights also have to be balanced against community needs, and with rights come responsibilities.

What are my responsibilities?

Responsibilities are not found in the Constitution, but they are part of our law and culture. They include things like the obligation to vote, the importance of being informed about what is happening in the community, obeying the law, and important values like respect and tolerance.

How else am I protected by the Constitution?

Our Constitution is structured to protect our system of government. These protections mean we don’t have to worry about our country becoming a dictatorship. Only the courts can exercise judicial power. The Government cannot lock up their opposition and throw away the key!

Faith Bandler (1951) fought tirelessly for Aboriginal rights. Source: National Library of Australia