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You got the hang of that quickly!
Scene of unhappy peasants.
King John is a cruel tyrant who ignored the laws of the land and the wishes of his subjects. He is often called the “Worst King of England”!
King John is always going to war with France (and always losing!). He keeps taxing the Barons to pay for his armies, until one day they've had enough. They march to the fields of Runnymede, near London, and force him to sign Magna Carta.
The crown floats down to land on King John's head
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Magna Carta formally recognised rights that already existed. However in Magna Carta these rights were for free men.
In these times, most people are peasants. That meant they aren’t free, because they served landowners. So, still no rights for most of us…
Magna Carta also contained lots of different rules that had nothing to do with rights. For example, it laid out a standard measure for wine, ale, and corn.
The idea that the Monarch, or the government, cannot do whatever they want and must obey certain rules
The idea that a government can only govern so long as it has the agreement and support of the people
The idea that all people and institutions are subject to and accountable to laws
The idea that the justice system should treat everyone fairly and equally
Some people just don’t learn. King Charles the First starts behaving a lot like King John and imposes taxes without consent. If people didn’t pay their taxes, they went to jail.
Eventually this leads to a civil war…and to Charles losing his head
Sir Edward Coke, an important English judge and politician, claimed King Charles was breaking the rules in Magna Carta, by imposing taxes without consent and locking people up.
The Age of Enlightenment begins and some clever thinkers come up with new ideas.
These thinkers question the power of the kings and churches, and argue in favour of individuals and democracy instead.
Probably the most influential of all is John Locke (1632 - 1704). He’s a pioneer of modern thinking. He believes in “Natural Rights”, rights ALL people should have, just because they’re people.
The "Natural Rights" that Locke argues for are:
He also believes that the purpose of government is to create laws protecting these natural rights.
People agree to be governed as long as their rights are protected. If they are not, they can overthrow their government.
Drawing on the ancient rights in the Magna Carta, the Parliament of England passes the Habeas Corpus Act in 1679. This protects against locking people up unfairly.
Habeas Corpus means ‘you have the body’ in Latin. But what does that mean??
Magna Carta stated that people couldn’t be put in prison by the authorities without a proper reason. Habeas Corpus meant that anyone in prison can demand to appear before a court and hear that reason, and if it isn’t lawful they must be released
The Parliament goes on to pass the English Bill of Rights in 1689 which, like Magna Carta, lays out rules restricting the power of the monarch and protecting the individual rights of the people.
This means that from now on, Parliament, not the King, is responsible for making all the laws and setting taxes.
The Act states that elections will happen regularly and often.
The English Bill of Rights also protects freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to petition the government and the right to keep and bear arms.
News travels slowly in these times but over the seas in America people quite like the idea of having individual rights. The new American colonies decide to take some of the ideas in the Magna Carta and turn them into their own laws.
Around the same time, the French revolt against their King and turn France into a republic.
Following the revolution they create the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.
This Declaration states that “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights” and includes many of the rights from Magna Carta.
However, King George III starts to behave a bit like King John and decides to tax the thirteen American colonies without their consent. Bad move.
The colonies reject British rule and come together to overthrow the authority of Great Britain.
The colonies decide to form a new nation—the United States of America. They announce this in the United States Declaration of Independence.
But the Declaration is not just about independence from Britain.
It also recognises that all men are free and equal.
The Americans decide to set up a system of government that made sure that no one person could have all the power.
They create a Constitution that divided power between the three main branches, the Congress, the President and the Courts.
This means that there are checks and balances in place so that people’s rights are protected.
The Congress is elected by the people and passes laws that protect people’s rights.
The Courts interpret the laws that the Congress writes, and also makes sure the laws don’t violate people’s rights
The President and the appointed Cabinet are in charge of running the government.
On the other side of the world…
Captain Cook claims Australia - the Great Southern Land - for England.
The English bring their laws and ideas about individual rights and freedoms with them to Australia. Not that this helps many people, as most of the English arrivals are convicts and have limited rights. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aren’t given any rights at all!
The British learn from their mistakes in America and allow the Australian colonies to set up their own parliaments and govern themselves.
At the beginning on the 20th century, the colonies get together and decide they need a government for the whole country…
In 1901, the six Australian colonies come together and create the Australian Constitution, a document which established Australia as an independent nation and set up a national Parliament.
But still not everyone is treated equally by the law in this new Australia.
The Australian Constitution protects certain rights and freedoms.
Right to trial by jury (for a serious crime).
Freedom of religion (the Commonwealth Government cannot create laws that interfere with a person’s faith).
Right to vote (the Constitution states that the Australian Government was to be “directly chosen by the people”. However at the time this did not include women and most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people).
In setting up their new government, the Australians take ideas from both the English and American models.
Inspired by the Americans, the states set up a national government with power divided into three branches, the elected parliament, the government and the courts.
From England, they borrow the ideas of the Westminster system, which meant that the government in power can be kept in check by the parliament.
Women have to fight for the right to vote and in 1902 they are allowed to vote in the Federal Elections.
Under the Australian Government’s White Australia Policy, it was made difficult for non-Europeans to migrate to Australia. The White Australia Policy begins to be dismantled from 1949. Later the government decides to welcome migrants and refugees from Asian countries such as Vietnam and allows them to become citizens.
For a long time, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are not recognised as Australian citizens and are not given equal rights
It takes until 1967 and a public referendum to grant the Commonwealth the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and recognise them as equal Australian citizens.
Then we have one terrible war.
The carnage and devastation of the First World War made people realise the need for internationally recognised principles that respected the rights of civilians in conflict and set out rules for protecting the sick and the wounded, and prisoners of war.
And then we have another.
Millions of people are killed simply because of who they are, what they think, or what they believe.
After more than 60 million people lose their lives in World War II it is clear that nations must work together to protect the rights of all human beings.
Led by Adolf Hitler, the Nazis target groups of people they wish to eliminate from German society and send them to concentration camps.
They use symbols to mark these groups. For example, a red triangle was used for political prisoners, a pink triangle for gay men.
In particular, the Nazi regime targets the Jewish people, who are forced to wear a yellow Star of David. During World War II, millions of Jews are murdered in Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps.
In 1945 an international organisation is formed by 51 countries committed to preserving peace through international cooperation and collective security. This is the United Nations.
Australia is a founding member of the UN and plays a prominent role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In 1948, Australian politician Dr HV Evatt became President of the United Nation General Assembly and oversaw the adoption of the Universal Declaration in the General Assembly.
Australian Ambassador, William Hodgson was involved with the drafting and negotiation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
He was also Australia's first delegate to the United Nations General Assembly and the Australian representative on the Security Council.
Unlike all the declarations, bills and charters that came before it, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is concerned with everyone on the planet - not just citizens of a single nation or empire.
But what does this all mean for us today?
It means that we can’t take our rights and freedoms for granted. It took a long time to get them and many people fought hard for them.
Today, we have…
No countries voted against adopting the Declaration, but 8 countries, including the Soviet Union, chose not to vote because of a conflict between their political values and some of the individual rights.
We exercise our freedom of speech whenever we text, tweet, blog or make any other social post…
Once we are over 18, we can exercise our right to vote in elections and decide the future of our country…
We can decide whether we follow a religion, or not, and worship how we choose…
We cannot be locked up by the people in power without having a fair and independent trial.
However, even today these rights are not always protected equally for everyone…
In the world, some people are still treated unfairly because of their race, nationality, disability, gender, sexuality or their age.
Some people even experience violence or bullying just for being themselves.
There’s not just one way to defend and improve our rights, there are many, and it’s a job for everyone.
Human rights are protected in international declarations and treaties, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Many of these treaties recognise particular groups that are in need of extra protection. For example, the Convention on the Rights of the Child set out special rights that belong to all children.
Our rights and freedoms are also protected in Australia, by the federal and state governments, our legal system and organisations like the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Businesses, schools and other groups can all play a part in protecting rights and freedoms by making sure that everyone in the community is treated equally and fairly.
As individuals we have the power to stand up and demand rights for ourselves and others.