Magna Carta – the story of our freedom
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Magna Carta – the story of our freedom


(PHONE KEYS BEEP) It’s an 800-year-old document written on dried animal skin in England
on the other side of the world in a language we no longer use that most people couldn’t read
even back then. So why is Magna Carta important to us
in Australia today? (HORSE WHINNIES, WOMAN SCREAMS) Because it was the starting point for some of our most
important human rights. Things it’s easy to take for granted. For instance, before Magna Carta, life was pretty cruisy. If you were a king, you could get away
with all kinds of things – forming your own armies, invading other countries
whenever you fancied, and taxing people to pay for wars
without even asking. Now, there were laws in those days, but some rulers believed
they had absolute power and simply ignored them. That changed in 1215 when a group of land-owning barons finally had enough
of King John’s behaviour. They decided the king
governed by their consent, not just because he was king. So they got together
and forced the king to agree to limit his powers
by signing Magna Carta. It was the beginning
of fairer rights for the people. The king also agreed
he couldn’t just add new taxes. Free men had to be represented
by a common counsel to be taxed, which started the evolution
of democracy. It also meant the king
was no longer top dog because above him now was the law. Or, at least, that was the idea. Kings and queens had a lot of trouble
getting used to not being in charge. But over the next few hundred years,
people power – in the form of Parliament
grew to be much stronger. In its Bill of Rights of 1689, the English Parliament formally decided it was the job of government to represent the people and protect their rights. These ideas came to Australia
in English law. We know today if someone is accused of a crime, they have the right to a fair trial and they must be proven guilty before they can be punished. Before Magna Carta, justice wasn’t always applied fairly. Remember old King John? He was pretty good
at filling up the prisons. But under Magna Carta, it was no longer up to him to decide
whether someone had done wrong. It said… “No free man shall be seized
or imprisoned… “except by the lawful judgement
of his equals “or by the law of the land.” Now you had to have a reason
to lock someone up. And later, people decided you also had a right to argue
your case in front of a court. But in 1215, ‘no free man’ didn’t mean everyone because, in those days, most people weren’t free. They were poor peasants
who served the lords. It took till the 16, 17 and 1800s before all men were ‘free’ in Western countries. And most women waited
until the 20th century. In 1948, after the atrocities
of World War II, the nations of the world created the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights. For the first time, the whole world
recognised that everyone it didn’t matter who you were – had the right to enjoy freedom
of speech, freedom of religion and freedom from fear and want. It has been described as the International Magna Carta
for all mankind. (CAMERA CLICKS) So, this faded old piece
of animal skin has played a big part
in shaping the democratic society we have in Australia today. But many people around the world are still denied
their rights and freedoms. This reminds us human rights
shouldn’t be taken for granted. And until they are, the long story
of human rights and freedoms that began with Magna Carta
will continue.

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