This paper formed part of the Green Institute Report ‘Rebalancing Rights: Communities, Corporations and Nature’.
As an Australian, I am proud that my country was central to both the writing and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The head of the Australian delegation and later President of the UN General Assembly was Australia’s Dr H. V. Evatt, an unstoppable force who tirelessly negotiated the final document. We were proud of our human rights contributions during the 19th and early 20th centuries, but for the past 30 years the ‘liberalism’ of neoliberalism has not supported a rights agenda. Instead, ‘free market’ neoliberalism has decided our public policy and Australia’s democracy is weakened as a result.
Until recently, the tenets of neoliberalism – deregulation, smaller government, competition policy, privatisation, ‘trickle down’ economics and attacks on the advocacy role of civil society – have played out without being named as a coordinated theory. George Monbiot points out that if we were living under communism, it would have been named, but he argues that neoliberalism’s proponents deliberately chose not to promote it by name (Monbiot 2016). Today, neoliberalism is being called out and named. Its extremes have unmasked its favouring of big business over the wellbeing of all the community. Yet, power still resides in forces that are not sympathetic to the rights of the community as whole. The right to advocate and protest is at the core of our democracy, but Coalition (and too often Labor) governments continue to limit this right.