The rule of law is often called upon, but less often understood. The High Court’s Chief Justice Gleeson said, in 2001, that ‘the rule of law is such a powerful rhetorical weapon, both in legal and political argument, that care is needed in its deployment.’ So what does it actually mean? The classic modern statement of the meaning of the rule of law was offered by the late Lord Bingham who said, in The Rule of Law (2011), ‘that all persons and authorities within the state, whether public or private, should be bound by and entitled to the benefit of laws publicly made, taking effect (generally) in the future and publicly administered in the courts.’ He went on to explain eight key principles, which included that the ‘the laws of the land should apply equally to all’, and that ‘the law must afford adequate protection of fundamental human rights’.
In each issue of the Alternative Law Journal, we run an Opinion. Although not necessarily the Opinion of the issue editors, sometimes it will be an editorial which attempts to unify the issue theme, and will point to issues raised in the edition. Other times, the Opinion will be a controversial piece designed to publicise or encourage discussion on a particular topic. But, no matter what, our Opinions are always worth reading. Here are the Opinions that we have published recently.
The calling of an early election on 7 September has stymied the simultaneous holding of the local government referendum. But the referendum could still be held by a new government up until mid December (six months after it was passed by Parliament). If it is held, what is it all about and what factors should influence voters?
By May 2013, a succession of federal government cuts to higher education in a little over a year amounted to almost $4 billion. These cuts represent yet another step in the neoliberal striptease of the state. While we can cope with the privatisation of utilities and transport, higher education is neither a service nor a commodity. It is a public good of which the university is the traditional custodian.
Discussion about the proposed Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination legislation has been dominated by a debate on religious organisation exemptions and freedom of speech. There has been public outcry over religious organisations being exempt from the legislation and the ramifications for service provision to some of the most vulnerable people in Australia.
This is an important debate, and yet it has somewhat hijacked discussion of the Bill overall. The Bill’s fundamental aim, to introduce a more efficient and effective regime for organisations and individuals to address unlawful discrimination, has been overshadowed by the religious exemption issue.
Can we ever claim to have meaningful access to justice and the rule of law, when poverty is still so pervasive in Australia? According to research released by the Australian Council of Social Service (‘ACOSS’) in October this year, an estimated 2 265 000 people —12.8 per cent of all Australians — are living below the internationally accepted poverty line used to measure financial hardship in wealthy countries. This includes 575 000 Australian children (17.3 per cent).1 ‘In a wealthy country like Australia, this is simply inexcusable,’ said ACOSS CEO (and Alternative Law Journal contributor)2 Cassandra Goldie, when releasing the report.