In a surprising decision handed down by the High Court today, the majority judgment of Bell, Keane, Edelman, and Nettle JJ, with Kiefel CJ writing a concurring judgment, has found an ‘implied freedom to play professional rugby union at the highest level’ in the Commonwealth Constitution.
The case arose after a publicised dispute between a professional rugby union player, who upon having his contract terminated by a private corporation for a breach of that corporation’s code of conduct, brought the matter before the High Court to plead his unshakeable human right to make millions playing professional rugby union.
After two days of oral argument, and substantive deliberation, the court has found, in examining the text and structure of Ch. III of the Constitution, read in conjunction with s 92, that there is an implied freedom for individual citizens to play top-level rugby union for the national team, and that this freedom shall not be abridged or abated by any government organization, nor private body.
The majority judgment focused on the judicial power provisions of Ch. III, and were able to determine that a Constitution which gives judges rigorous standards of judicial tenure and pay must also give rugby union players rigorous standards of job security, despite public comments, or even on-field performance.
This was held to be because judges and Wallabies players occupy the same public sphere in Australian society, and thus the framers of the Constitution must have contemplated similar freedoms for Wallabies players as they did for judges and justices of the Commonwealth.
An intriguing side-effect of the judgment is that it now appears rugby union players can only be removed by both Houses of Parliament.
The judgment of Kiefel CJ focused on s 92 of the Constitution, which requires ‘trade within the Commonwealth’ between states to be free. Framing professional rugby union as a ‘trade’ essential to the good government and function of the Australian state, the judgment indicated that there is an unimpeachable right for an individual to be a million-dollar employee of a private rugby corporation, with zero input from the corporation itself.
The implication of this decision is far-reaching. For one, it means the Wallabies side may have to be greater than fifteen players, given literally millions of Australians are now entitled to play.
For two, it means we could finally beat the All Blacks - we like the odds of 24 million against fifteen! Although admittedly, Beauden Barrett has been in pretty superb form as of late.
Intriguing developments coming out of Canberra.
Plenty more to come.