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HUMAN RIGHTS CHARTER October 9, 2009

Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics, Human Rights.
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Now I am an “elitist”. Bloody hell! I have been called many things, mostly with a contrary meaning.

The headline of Barbra Millers’s PM story at ABC News Online declares, “Human rights act a triumph for elitists”. What impresses me so strikingly about the so-called opponents of a charter of human rights is their puerile rhetoric, from former NSW Premier Bob Carr to opposition legal spokesman, George Brandis. Carr is hardly a surprise – it is what we have come to expect – but of the learned Brandis we might have expected more in the way of substantive argument. At the very least we might ask of the opponents of a Charter of Human Rights not trot out the declarative talking points for idiots, or more generally the completely uninformed and unreflective.

Those who argue for a referendum are making a case for the politics of fear and misrepresentation, with a distinct bias against the affirmative case. They wish to send the Charter of Human Rights, and I would suggest primarily an accountability process for the legislature that the honorable members of bodies have not measured up to the expectation we have of them having allowed disgraceful elements of law to escape their notice, and then do nothing subsequently about it, to go the same way as the Republic. The Immigration Act, the terror laws, and as suggested on the PM audio with Frank Brennan, might be suggested as examples.

Legislation often reflects the political climate, whereas justice (and human rights) is as Aristotle said a fundamental bond between people in society a fundamental, historical purpose of government. These arguments serve to remind me as least that real direct democracy begins with our individual responsibility as citizens. A decent society is one in which, in my view, respect is given to all others as human beings, if not to a particular behavior. There may be criticisms of the list of rights and responsibilities that Committee has produced, and I would be interested those perceived deficiencies. What could be the limitations?

(Of course, if Socrates were to ask me what “justice” was, I could not give a satisfactory answer, except to say something along the lines that wrongs and penalties should be in accord, and that the purpose of justice is served by restoration of humanity and not be a means of vengeance or retribution. Furthermore that justice is related to truth, and respect for evidence and reason. In the Socratic dialogues, not that I ever was able to understand them, the wheels often fell off, even at the first corner, when such definitions were put up.)

Richard Ackland suggested in The Sydney Morning Herald that that our political representatives who we entrust with passing laws, if not drafting them, or at times reviewing them thoroughly, are disinclined to have the litmus test that a Charter of Human Rights might provide. What does that say about them, or for that matter us? The dialogue model proposed by the Committee sounds almost Socartic, even democratic in spirit. As the cynics have stoically observed in these matters sometimes it is merely fine waffle.

ELSEWHERE:

Philip Lynch in The Sydney Morning Herald that Australia has a role as an international citizen in the forums of the world, and that role should reflect the values of its citizens. I would suggest, of course, that human rights is far more important that the ANZAC spirit that simply dying for a now dead, not missed, Empire. Hopefully the other current empires will follow it to the graveyard.

Andrew Norton, buttressed by measured public opinion, suggests that human rights is a good thing provided we have got ours, but in the process failing to understand the quality of social engagement that democracy demands or that justice as a social good must be argued, advocated and witnessed?.

PERSONAL REFLECTION:

I like newspapers, especially a major metropolitan daily, such as a The Sydney Morning Herald when they work. I like the physicality of print because somehow there is a fuller engagement. Like similar newspapers throughout the Western World, its editorial views are of the conservative establishment which might sometimes be distorting, as all our ideological predispositions tend to do. And they are struggling with developing a sustainable business model in the face of technological change. Technologies usually take us to a new place and in arrogance we tend to forget from where we have come, so easy to do when change is dramatic and rapid. Sometimes, it seems to me, we ought to praise them especially as on the issue of human rights good writing and and wide reporting and commentary broadens and deepens my understanding, which it is redundant to observe is more often necessary that I had realized.

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