How dare people with a social conscience hijack civil and human rights issues and … ‘politicise’ them?!
That was the overt message from our political class twice in under a week.
First, Christopher Pyne chided the Australian Human Rights Commissioner, Gillian Triggs, for ‘politicising’ human rights, over a magazine article.
Next, Pauline Hanson had a go at the Governor of Tasmania, after Professor Kate Warner called out Pauline Nation and her One Nation party on their anti-Muslim, and anti-immigration agenda, in a public speech at the Hobart Walk Together community rally, designed to celebrate refugees and cultural diversity.
Gillian Triggs’ troubles date back to her previous confrontation with the Coalition government, in particular Attorney-General George Brandis QC, over her 2014 report into the mistreatment of refugee children. This latest episode relates to an article that appeared in The Saturday Paper on 23 April this year, based on an interview with her. In that article she is quoted to had expressed a very low view of our members of Parliament.
We’ve got senior public servants who will roll their eyes at the idea of a human right. They say, “Look, Gillian, you’re beating a dead horse.” It’s not going to work, because they can’t talk to the minister in terms of human rights. We’ve had, in my view, very poor leadership on this issue for the past 10 to 15 years, from the “children overboard” lie. They’ve been prepared to misstate the facts and conflate asylum-seeker issues with global terrorism. What I’m saying applies equally to Labor and Liberal and National parties. They’ve used this in bad faith to promote their own political opportunistic positions.
A shocking phenomenon is Australians don’t even understand their own democratic system. They are quite content to have parliament be complicit with passing legislation to strengthen the powers of the executive and to exclude the courts. They have no idea of the separation of powers and the excessive overreach of executive government.
Our parliamentarians are usually seriously ill-informed and uneducated. All they know is the world of Canberra and politics and they’ve lost any sense of a rule of law, and curiously enough for Canberra they don’t even understand what democracy is.
Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs speaks out, The Saturday Paper (23 April 2016)
To put it into context, there is no love lost between the Australian Human Rights Commissioner and the Coalition government. However, despite all their scheming and machinations, the government had come up short so far and failed to get rid off Gillian Triggs as they clearly hoped they would.
I was firmly on the side of Gillian Triggs throughout that sorry affair, and I agree with every word she had said to The Saturday Paper about the state of politics, and human rights, in Australia.
It’s unfortunate that she tried to deny her words as reported in The Saturday Paper, and drawn herself into a fresh kerfuffle by being dishonest about it, albeit under immense and sustained pressure. I can understand, given the treatment she had received from the Coalition government since last year, why she had tried so desperately to make the matter go away. But, clearly, lying about it was the wrong way to go. Even the response by The Saturday Paper acknowledged the difficult position of the Australian Human Rights Commissioner:
Ever since the president of the Human Rights Commission completed her report on children in detention, the government has conspired to talk about anything but its contents.
Gillian Triggs has sustained two years of abuse. Her independence has been constantly undermined. She has been harangued in senate hearings and mocked in newspapers. Government members have boasted about not reading her reports. This week, calls have intensified for her to resign.
It is an invidious thing to be the source of a story on the front page of The Australian, confirming that Gillian Triggs misled a senate committee. It is invidious because of the campaign The Australian has run to bring down the president of the Human Rights Commission.
Triggs made a significant error this week, but she corrected herself almost immediately. Already, that error has attracted more government attention than her inquiry into the mistreatment of child refugees. Triggs has been recalled by the committee. Ministers have questioned her integrity. Her position has been imperilled.
It is an appalling shame that Triggs’s mistake has overshadowed her work. It is important work, conducted by a person who is both brave and decent. It is tireless work, unthanked and unrelenting. It is work that may now be lost to a few moments of unthinking testimony and unremitting interruption.
Triggs warring, The Saturday Paper (22 October 2016)
I am disappointed by what happened, but having witnessed the lies, misstatements, and underhanded machinations of our political class for years, I am prepared to see the conduct of Gillian Triggs in context.
While two wrongs can never make a right, politicians have cracked, or made serious missteps under far less, or even no, political pressure than Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner, and they usually manage to salvage their political careers.
Gillian Triggs has been under unrelenting siege by the Coalition government over daring to call out Australia’s human rights abuses, and it is my firm view, based on her past conduct, that she is a genuinely good person, and still the right person for the job. The extent to which she had gotten under the skin of the Coalition government, as demonstrated by their relentless hunt for her resignation, only supports that view.
A bad system will beat a good person every time.
W. Edwards Deming
And let’s be honest: Gillian Triggs didn’t ‘politicise’ civil and human rights. It was successive Australian governments who had done that by their approach towards indigenous Australians, asylum seekers, the LGBTI community, and countless other vulnerable groups.
Successive Coalition governments, and Labor as well, revelled in consciously and intentionally turning issues of civil rights, human rights and social justice into calculated and underhanded vote-harvesting political football games, and a never-ending series of public circus performances, from the conditions of our Aboriginal communities, to boat people, and the civil marriage equality of the LGBTI community, just to mention a few.
Our governments have treated a plethora of civil rights, human rights and social justice issues with utter contempt, subjected them to partisan political agendas, and turned them into tools of cheap political point-scoring.
• Mabo – a lesson in cultural and political hyperbole and hysteria (31 August 2015)
• #The great gay plebiscite and referendum confusion of 2015 (14 August 2015)
For Christopher Pyne, and the Coalition generally, to now complain about someone else ‘politicising’ human rights in Australia is an appalling display of cynicism and gall.
The latest shocking assessment of our offshore processing centres for asylum seekers by Amnesty International had led to the government going on the defensive again, and to lash out like a wounded wild beast – sadly, childish tantrums by government minister, targeting the messengers, will not bring and end to our human rights violations or national moral turpitude, nor will they restore our international reputation.
• Our national asylum seekers shame rolls on unabated (18 April 2016)
• Children in detention (9 February 2016)
• Dutton – just keeps digging that proverbial hole (30 October 2015)
• Sack Dutton now! (18 October 2015)
• ‘Worst refugee crisis since World War II’ (19 June 2015)
• When the ends justify the means … (16 June 2015)
Sadly, we appear to have entered the age of ‘post-truth politics’, where bluster, feelings, and opinions had become ‘facts,’ while facts, humanity, and the principles of our liberal, secular democracy, including the rule of law, had become mere inconveniences to be blissfully ignored, or dismissed as ‘conspiracies,’ at will if they fail to support the prevailing, partisan political agenda.
People like Gillian Triggs, and myself, have long been derogatorily described by conservative pundits and ‘SJWs’ – social justice warriors, a reference to people who fight for causes considered ‘politically correct,’ or ‘socially progressive,’ such as the rights of indigenous Australians, asylum seekers, LGBTI people, women, disabled people, etc.
I wear that designation with pride, and it seems to me so does Gillian Triggs, but I am also saddened to live in an age when standing up for such causes is met with a newfound derision.
Thankfully, the Coalition’s latest attempts to force Gillian Triggs’ resignation are likely to be derailed by their latest self-inflicted political scandal, the resignation of the Solicitor-General, Justin Gleeson SC, under unprecedented circumstances, which yet again brought Attorney-General George Brandis QC’s modus operandi into serious question.
Attorney-General George Brandis QC, who valiantly declared, on the Parliamentary record, that people ‘have a right to be bigots’.
People do have a right to be bigots, you know. In a free country, people do have rights to say things that other people find offensive, insulting or bigoted.
Attorney-General George Brandis, Australian Senate Hansard (24 March 2014 at 14:16)
There you have it: the First Law Officer of the nation stands loud and proud in defence of … bigotry – not so much for civil and human rights.
This all brings me to another poignant query cum observation: why did unsavoury episodes of extreme, right-wing racism over the last couple of decades had largely coincided with Coalition governments?
Pauline Hanson, who was a member of the Coalition back in the mid-1990s, until she was disendorsed just before the election in 1996 but remained on the ballot paper as a candidate for the Liberal Party of Australia, was first elected into Parliament just as the Howard Coalition government entered office in an election climate characterised by a reactionary agenda.
We now have a situation where a type of reverse racism is applied to mainstream Australians by those who promote political correctness and those who control the various taxpayer funded ‘industries’ that flourish in our society servicing Aboriginals, multiculturalists and a host of other minority groups. In response to my call for equality for all Australians, the most noisy criticism came from the fat cats, bureaucrats and the do-gooders. They screamed the loudest because they stand to lose the most–their power, money and position, all funded by ordinary Australian taxpayers.
Present governments are encouraging separatism in Australia by providing opportunities, land, moneys and facilities available only to Aboriginals. Along with millions of Australians, I am fed up to the back teeth with the inequalities that are being promoted by the government and paid for by the taxpayer under the assumption that Aboriginals are the most disadvantaged people in Australia. I do not believe that the colour of one’s skin determines whether you are disadvantaged.
I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians. Between 1984 and 1995, 40 per cent of all migrants coming into this country were of Asian origin. They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate. Of course, I will be called racist but, if I can invite whom I want into my home, then I should have the right to have a say in who comes into my country.
Pauline Hanson’s Maiden Speech, The House Of Representatives (10 September 1996)
The shameful Cronulla race riots, on 11 December 2005, took place during a culturally and socially charged period manufactured by the Howard Coalition government.
Members of Australia’s far-right neo-Nazi organisations repeatedly and impudently took to the streets of Australia during the Abbott and Turnbull Coalition governments with their anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, and anti-halal message, and racism directed at Aboriginal personalities also exploded during this period.
• ‘Reclaim Australia’ makes another splash (24 November 2015)
• #RacismItStopsWithMe (20 October 2015)
• Growing tired of our racism (29 July 2015)
• The Reclaim Australia movement is an embarrassment to the nation (21 July 2015)
Coalition MP George Christensen even saw it fit to speak at one of the Queensland events of Reclaim Australia, creating the dangerous impression of the government endorsing their extremist, far-right agenda.
Of course this was also the time when a senior member of the Coalition would drop the ‘n’ word on radio and think nothing of it, and then play the shocked and injured party when he was called out over his behaviour.
Finally, Pauline Hanson, and her One Nation party, roared back into Federal Parliament in 2016 during the Turnbull Coalition government.
It has been 20 years and four days since I last delivered my first speech in this house, a speech that shook a nation, woke up many Australians and gave hope to those who thought no-one was listening. That speech was relevant then and it is still relevant today.
In my first speech in 1996 I said we were in danger of being swamped by Asians. This was not said out of disrespect for Asians but was meant as a slap in the face to both the Liberal and Labor governments who opened the floodgates to immigration, targeting cultures purely for the vote, as expressed by former Labor minister Barry Jones — to such an extent that society changed too rapidly due to migrants coming in the front door but also the back door, via New Zealand. Now we are in danger of being swamped by Muslims, who bear a culture and ideology that is incompatible with our own.
Halal certification tax has been forced upon us, costing Australians approximately $10 million a year. Halal certification is not a religious requirement but a moneymaking racket, and certification is unnecessary for Muslims’ welfare because non-halal products can be consumed, provided the word ‘Bismillah’ is said over the food and a prayer is recited.
Pauline Hanson’s Maiden Speech, The Senate (15 September 2016)
As if time had stood still over the past 20 years.
What is it about modern conservative politics in Australia, and worldwide, that now seems to regularly unleash the worst of human nature: homophobia, misogyny, racism, and even fascism and violence?
Is it just a coincidence? Perhaps; or perhaps not …
Could it be that politics built on division, exclusion, fear, hate, and ignorance, the penchant to quickly refer to any issue of cultural or social contention as a ‘war’ and thus immediately tagging opponents as the ‘enemy’ to be feared and despised, and using emotionally loaded language designed to manipulate people’s deepest fears, bring the worst out of us?
And if so, can anyone explain to me how our society benefits from such politics?!