The peak body protecting and promoting the Australian visual arts sector

Bill of Rights

Artists’ freedom of expression is not legally protected in Australia. Ours is the only Western democratic country with neither a constitutional nor federal legislative bill of rights to protect its citizens, though Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory do each have a human rights bill.

NAVA continues to make the case for the need for some legislated protection for freedom of artistic expression. Every year artists face problems of potential or real censorship which can result in the loss of new ideas and forms of expression and the suffocation of challenges to the status quo. NAVA supports legislated protection of freedom of expression through a Bill or Charter of Human Rights.

In 2009, the Australian Government at the time was researching whether to introduce a legislated Charter of Human Rights in Australia. In June that year, NAVA wrote a submission to and met with the National Human Rights Consultation Committee to make the case for legislating the protection of freedom of expressionfor all citizens and artists in particular. Sadly it was decided not to go ahead and the idea has languished ever since.

In its submission conclusions NAVA said,“Members of the public and special interest groups often use the tendency of artists(or their host galleries, publishers or funding bodies) to react in fear to anydisapproval or threat, in order to achieve their objective to quell the expression ofideas that they disagree with. Sometimes the police respond conservatively in theabsence of appropriate standardised protocols for how to judge the context,intention and meaning of art. The media will often use an opportunity to create sensation without exercising judgement or responsibility. The consequence is the dumbing down of thought and the fostering of a climate of conservatism or intolerance.”

NAVA made recommendations under the following headings for inclusion of the right to freedom of expression in a National Charter of Human Rights:

  • formulation of the right
  • those who should possess the right
  • those who should be bound to respect the right
  • specifications of the limitations of the right
  • how the right may be used.