Democratic Freedom

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by Rizzen
Last updated 6 years ago

Discipline:
Resources & Tools
Subject:
Citizenship
Grade:
9

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Democratic Freedom

Association

Democratic freedoms

As with other rights, freedom of movement is limited by the bounds of law. We have the freedom to move freely within most public spaces in the community, but obviously we do not have the right to trespass on someone else’s private property. The right to freedom of movement allows us to move freely between different towns and cities, and to move between the states of Australia without restriction — a right reinforced by the constitutional right of free trade and commerce between the states. Freedom of movement also gives us the right to leave Australia for work or a holiday, and to return at any time.Freedom of movement is sometimes restricted as a means of protecting the public. Before trial, a person accused of a crime may be prevented from leaving the state or country. After floods or bushfires, people may be lawfully prevented from entering an area declared a natural disaster area. When parents are in dispute over the custody of children during a divorce, courts may restrict the movement of those children to ensure they have regular access to both parents.Any general attempt to restrict people’s right of movement could limit their rights to participate in Australian democracy. If we wish to attend a meeting or public lecture to find out more about a political issue, we should be free to do so. Similarly, we must be able to get to a polling place to vote in an election. Freedom of movement therefore enables us to exercise our democratic rights.

It is generally accepted in Australia that we have the right to have anyone we wish as a friend. It is also accepted that we can socialise with any individual or group of people we choose. This is freedom of association at its simplest level, but our right to freedom of association goes further than this. Fundamental to freedom of association is the right to join any group, club or organisation we wish. This means that we have the right to join any political party, religious group, sporting club or trade union. While we take this right for granted, it has not always been protected. At different times, in different countries, it has in fact been severely limited. Freedom of association is an important part of our democracy. Having the right to elect representatives to make laws on our behalf works most fairly when we have a number of alternative candidates from which to choose. Freedom of association allows anyone to form a political party (or any other organisation) to campaign for new laws or changes to existing laws. Anyone can join such groups and, if they gain enough support, their ideas and proposals can eventually become law. Australian democracy is stronger because we have many different groups and ideas to choose from when we vote.

Related to freedom of association is freedom of assembly. This gives individuals and groups the right to assemble (or come together) for a meeting, or the right to assemble in public to protest against actions by a government or other organisation. Freedom of assembly can be limited, depending on the type of assembly and its location. In Australia, there is no specific law that protects freedom of assembly. It is included in international treaties that have been agreed to by Australian governments, and is therefore regarded as one of our natural democratic rights. State governments are usually responsible for dealing with public order, and so will make laws that deal with public protests. In this way, freedom of assembly is subject to the bounds of law.While there are generally no restrictions on any group holding a meeting in a hall or similar space, assembling in a public space may limit the access of others to that space. For example, a protest march along a busy main road may cause severe traffic problems. It is for these reasons that some state governments have placed restrictions on freedom of assembly. Most people would accept that, for any assembly or protest to be legal, it should be peaceful and not threaten bystanders. In most cases, the organisers of public protests in Australia make sure their activities are well publicised in advance, so they can attract the largest number of supporters to their actions. This means that the authorities can plan to ensure minimum disruption to people going about their normal business.Freedom of assembly, including the right to public protest, provides many groups with a means of having their views heard by the broader public. If these views then gain support among large numbers of people, they can influence a government to change laws or make new laws to deal with the issue under protest.

Freedom of conscience means that we have the right to hold opinions and to express those opinions freely. It applies to religious views, political views, scientific ideas or any other beliefs or ideas we may have. It means we can hold our own beliefs and not be forced to accept the beliefs of others.As we know from the discussion in section 1.1, freedom of religion is protected by the Australian Constitution, but the broader concept of freedom of conscience is included in international treaties agreed to by Australian governments. Freedom of conscience has not always been guaranteed, and is still not guaranteed in some countries:The medieval Roman Catholic Church held to a belief that the sun revolved around the Earth. When Galileo Galilei proposed the idea that the Earth and all other planets revolved around the sun, he was imprisoned and his writings were banned by the Catholic church.In some Muslim countries (including Saudi Arabia and Iran), anyone who converts from Islam to another religion (such as Christianity) is guilty of a crime. The person will usually be imprisoned and may be subject to the death penalty.In February 2014, an Australian Christian missionary called John Short was detained in North Korea for distributing Christian pamphlets. Christianity is banned in North Korea along with most other religions, and Mr Short faced the possibility of a 15-year prison sentence. He was eventually released after about ten days, and required to make a public apology to the government of North Korea.In Australia, expressing one’s own conscientious beliefs is subject to the same bounds of law that apply to freedom of speech generally (see section 1.2). Freedom of conscience is important in a democracy because we need to have choices when we vote. The free exchange of political ideas can help us to decide who we want to represent us in parliament and make laws on our behalf. We will usually vote for people whose beliefs and values are as close as possible to our own because they are more likely to make laws we agree with.

Movement

Assembly

Conscience

Tasks

1) Why is each of the following important in maintaining Australia as a democratic society?Freedom of associationFreedom of assemblyFreedom of movementFreedom of conscience2) In October 2013, the Queensland government brought in new laws directed at members of motorcycle clubs, particularly those labelled as members of ‘criminal motorcycle gangs’. The laws prohibit any gathering of those members in groups of three or more. They also ban such members from going to certain declared locations, promoting their organisation or recruiting new members.Identify two rights or freedoms that may have been breached by these laws.The Queensland government has claimed that the laws are designed protect innocent people from violent bikie gangs. Explain whether or not you agree with this argument, and give reasons for your response.The government that brought in these laws was democratically elected by a huge majority of the voters. Do you believe this gives the government the right to make any laws it wishes, or should there be some limits on the power of governments to restrict basic rights and freedoms? Give reasons for your answer.


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