Handshakes and racism

The framers of the Constitution were mainly concerned with the financial and trade issues arising from Federation and how best to weight the interests of the small States against those of the more populous states in the new federal Parliament. In these and other areas they adapted provisions from the United States Constitution. However, they did not include a Bill of Rights.

— Tony Blackshield and George Williams, Australian Constitutional Law and Theory (Federation Press, 5th Edition, 2010) 125.

Australia’s Constitution is distinguished among those of modern democracies in several ways. Most obviously, it is one of the few examples of a Westminster Parliament operating within a federal system, modelling its Lower House of Parliament on the British House of Commons and the Upper House on the American Senate.

The drafters of the Constitution made the amendment process so complicated that proposals to amend it are more likely to fail than to pass. The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 (Imp) has been modified only eight times since it came into force in 1901. As a result, they also managed to preserve two great traditions of the British Empire: handshakes and racism.

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Rights: a balancing act

I believe I am right. For the time being at least, I believe that what I stand for — intellectual property reform, privacy, transparency, civil liberties – is worth standing for. I am fully prepared to accept that I might actually be wrong about some of it. Maybe copyright is just fine as it is, maybe law enforcement agencies do need blanket data retention, and maybe government does need to keep secrets. But, from available evidence, I don’t think I am wrong.

When I look at the other side of these debates, at various industry and law enforcement groups, I see a lot of rhetoric, sensationalism, hyperbole and manipulation. A very simplistic example is the slogan “home taping is killing music,” circulated by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) in the 1980s. This is very easily ridiculed with the argument that music has survived pretty healthily over the past million or so years without copyright.

However, it is quite easy to fall into the same trap of using those tactics, perhaps unknowingly, yourself. Mike Masnick’s “The Sky’s the Limit” report, for example, has been criticised, and quite frankly for good reason. I wouldn’t trust a report sponsored by an industry organisation whose members would directly benefit from a reduction in copyright regulations to be unbiased. It is for such reasons that I have pushed for strict guidelines on what material should be used to support Pirate Party Australia’s policies.

But what has all this got to do with rights?

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