Aussie bill of rights would be a mistake | OPINION

In desperation, a young mother rang her mother in tears about her two little foul-mouthed toddlers “Oh Mum! I don’t know what to do! David and Brendan are using bad language every day and all day!”

 “I’ve got an idea.” concocted the mother’s mother. Leave those two boys of yours with me for a weekend and we’ll see how long they keep swearing.”

The young mother informs the two young lads they’re going to grandma’s for the weekend. “That’s !?%$&!# awesome Mum!” says David. “I’ll !?%$&!# say!” agrees Brendan … only to be agreeable. 

So, early Saturday morning the boys arrive at Grandma’s. Grandma sits them down at the kitchen table; “Well boys, let’s start the day with breakfast. You can have anything you like, because it’s a grandmother’s job to give her grandchildren whatever they want. David, what would you like for breakfast?”

“I’ll have some !?%$&!# cornflakes please Grandma!”.

With that, Grandma grabs little David, carries him over to the back door, opens the door and throws him out. She then walks to the table and gently sits back down. She looks up at the younger brother, still sitting at the table, and asks him “So little Brendan, what would you like for breakfast?” Little Brendan looks up at Grandma with a shocked look on his face and says “Gee, I don’t !?%$&!# know Grandma! But I don’t want any !?%$&!# cornflakes that’s for !?%$&!# sure!”

That story isn’t all fiction.

When I speak of “freedom of speech” as a “human right”, a number of people are quick to point out that here in Australia we have no “bill of rights”, so how can free speech be a “right”.

I’ll usually respond that protesting, even public protests, are not against the law here in Australia; but that’s not the best of arguments. 

The concept of a bill of rights is often complimented for being positive and granting people freedoms, and the biblical 10 commandments are often criticised for being negative and laying down restrictions.

Yet, if you muse on the comparison between a bill of rights and a list of commandments, you may realise that it’s actually the other way around.

I think the creation of a bill of rights here in Australia would be a mistake for a few reasons.

The “thou shalt not”s of the commandments ultimately meant the People of God were free to do pretty much whatever else they wanted, provided they didn’t break those ten commandments.

However, with a bill of rights you would have to wonder what is the status of the tens of thousands of unwritten human rights we all have from the natural law, that may not appear on the bill.

A case study: After the 2005 rugby league grand final four of the first six players interviewed dropped the ‘f ’ bomb. No expression of rights can deal with these awkward moments, no matter how positively expressed.

Such problems need a “thou shalt not” solution. That way people know what they can’t do – swear on public TV – therefore not restricting their freedom of speech in every corner with every person.

The more I muse on the subject, the more I think a bill of rights would actually end up robbing us of rights. Human rights are inherent in nature. They’re part of the natural law. That’s why, among other reasons, I think a bill of right would rob us of rights and our human right to freedom of speech would be one of the first to be damaged. 

Father Brendan Lee, Twitter: @frbrendanelee