About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic at Charles Darwin University, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law) and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 12 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in he early 1990s.

Trust me, I’m Scott Morrison …

We can be confident that Tony isn't demonstrating the size of Scott's heart, or his brain for that matter ...

We can be confident that Tony isn’t demonstrating the size of Scott’s heart, or his brain for that matter …

I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago which inter alia condemned the drastic breach of Australia’s fundamental human rights obligations perpetrated by the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014 (currently being considered by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee; Report due 27/11/2014).

The Bill has also been roundly condemned by numerous commentators far more eminent than me, including University of Sydney’s migration and refugee law guru Mary Crock, who referred to it as an “affront to the rule of law”.   However, perhaps the most devastating if unintended condemnation comes from Minister Scott Morrison himself, as quoted in the relevant bills digest prepared by the Parliamentary Library to inform MPs:

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The Peris Affair: perhaps ethically dubious but not legally

I don’t have a particularly high opinion of Senator Nova Peris. I certainly don’t think Prime Minister Julia Gillard should have effectively sacked long-standing and well regarded Senator Trish Crossin to get her into Parliament. Moreover, even if it was reasonable to aim at getting new blood into the Senate and do so by introducing a capable Aboriginal woman, retired Territory Minister Marion Scrymgeour would have been a much better bet.

However, none of those factors justifies publication of the story about Senator Peris’s romantic liaison with international superstar Ato Boldon, at least with the slant it was given. Let me be clear. I certainly don’t take the Pollyanna attitude that the salacious emails should not have been published at all. Whatever some may assert, I suspect there wouldn’t be a single newspaper editor anywhere in Australia who would have refrained from publishing those emails if he/she had them and had obtained them lawfully (or at least without any specific knowledge about how they were obtained).

If they had merely been published as an avowedly prurient exercise in boosting tabloid circulation (as gossip magazines do on a weekly basis), I would have no problem at all. However, the Northern Territory News attempted to dress up its publication with an element of “public interest” which is almost certainly spurious.

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The West’s Ukrainian amnesia

russia_bear-vs-usa_eagle-war1Monica Attard reports in The Hoopla on a very recent speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin in which he forcefully puts his country’s side of the current conflict with Ukraine.  I was especially struck by this observation:

The US, [Putin] said, had instigated a “coup d’etat” in February to oust Ukraine’s pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovich when he reversed his decision to sign up to a trade deal with Europe rather than Russia.

The stance echoes a fundamental point of a long post I wrote a few months ago on the Ukraine situation.  More generally, Attard puts the broad situation in its Great Power context:

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To be or not to be?

It looks as if prominent and obsessively determined euthanasia campaigner Dr Philip Nitschke may be in trouble again.  He has already had his right to practise medicine suspended and is facing Medical Board disciplinary proceedings arising from a situation a few months ago where he apparently provided telephone and email advice to a non-terminally ill man, seemingly about suicide options.  The man subsequently successfully committed suicide using the so-called “peaceful pill” Nembutal. His relatives later found the correspondence. I will return to this situation later.

The current situation, by contrast, seems morally if not legally straightforward. In August this year Dr Nitschke assisted a 71-year-old man named Martin Burgess to upload the above video onto Nitschke’s YouTube channel. Burgess appealed for someone (anyone) to help him by donating supplies of Nembutal to allow him to kill himself. Burgess was in the latter stages of terminal rectal cancer, was in frequent pain and not being effectively supported by palliative care services, and was pretty clearly not suffering from any mental disability which might have impaired his decision-making process. He made an entirely rational decision to kill himself.  He died last week. To be blunt, I would have made exactly the same decision had I been in his situation. See the slightly longer video below where Burgess describes his situation (try to ignore the irritating background noise).

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It’s Time?

In the midst of all the Whitlam nostalgia over the last week or so I couldn’t help thinking of the contagious hope and excitement that was generated by the “It’s Time” campaign theme in 1972. It still sends tingles down my spine listening to it today.

The year of Whitlam’s election was my first year at the University of Sydney on a Commonwealth Scholarship. My parents certainly could not have afforded to send me there. By the next year it didn’t matter because tertiary education was free, at least for a while. That year I was also looking down the barrel of conscription when I turned 20 in 1973, with the strong possibility of ending up in Vietnam. That prospect also ended with Whitlam’s election.

Can you imagine running an election campaign for Bill Shorten and today’s ALP using the “It’s Time” theme?  Time for focus groups, expedient cynical policies; time for me-tooism on data retention and anti-terror laws, and sending the troops off to make a risky token gesture supporting the Americans fighting ISIL in Iraq. Time for tiptoeing towards supporting Abbott and Morrison on turning back asylum seeker boats. Time for doing a deal on a reduced Renewable Energy Target, while opposing essential tax reform because the focus groups dictate it.

Exciting, inspiring, no? I can hardly wait to rush down to Labor headquarters and renew my long lapsed membership.

A charter city for refugees?

hkHere is quite a good article seeking to “reframe” the asylum seeker debate. It takes a reasonably moderate, non-hysterical approach.

I haven’t written on the subject recently myself, because I have been feeling a little conflicted. On the one hand, long-time Troppo readers will be aware I have always been of the view that reasonably firm border protection and asylum seeker processing policies are justified in Australia in order to maintain public confidence in our very successful migration program and avoid or minimise social tensions and divisions that would inevitably emerge if the pace of arrivals was greater than the nation could comfortably absorb (assimilate is a forbidden expression). From this perspective the Abbott government has been very successful: it really has stopped the boats (at least for the present).

On the other hand, any policy prescriptions for asylum seekers must meet at least two basic human rights requirements:

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Troppo motto contest

You may notice that I have changed the masthead motto, which until now read “the suppository of centrist wisdom since 2012″.  It was a somewhat snide and gratuitous reference to a Tony Abbott malapropism uttered in the leadup to the 2013 federal election (and pretty much on a par with Julia Gillard’s earlier “hyperbowl” classic).

However, sneering at them is not really compatible with the generous, warm-hearted spirit for which we here at Troppo aka the Pymble Pony Club are justly famous.  Consequently, the motto I’ve now inserted is more self-effacing and faux-humble.  I’m sure you can do better.  Accordingly we’re offering a fabulous mystery prize pack to anyone who can suggest an appropriate more permanent masthead motto encapsulating one or more of Troppo’s many wonderful qualities.  We can probably even feature a number of entries if we re-implement the “quotes collection” plugin still lurking in the Troppo backend.

The paradoxes of politics

In an everyday political sense I suppose we can’t really blame Little Bill Shorten for cynically and dishonestly demonising the Abbott government’s mooted tax increases and spending cuts. After all, Abbott cynically, dishonestly and very successfully demonised Labor’s carbon and mining taxes. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, as they say.

On the other hand, perhaps we really can’t blame Tony Abbott for doing this either, because Labor and the trade union movement (prominently including Little Bill Shorten at the time) cynically and dishonestly demonised the Howard government’s Work Choices system, despite the fact that it was an entirely reasonable and fair one at least once the “no disadvantage” test was restored. Then, of course, there is Kim Beazley’s (and before that Paul Keating’s) even more cynical and dishonest demonising of Coalition GST proposals despite the fact that Keating himself had championed precisely such a tax back in the 1980s.

I guess the bottom line is that dishonestly demonising opponents’ policies is the everyday business of politicians. It’s the business of the government politicians of the day to sell their policies effectively and persuade the electorate that the Opposition’s arguments are indeed dishonest scaremongering.

That would seem clearly to be the case with the current budgetary situation. Economists largely agree that weak leaders from both political parties over the last decade (Howard, Rudd and Gillard) largely squandered the windfall of the China-driven resource boom by creating permanent spending programs (largely of a middle-class welfare nature under Howard) and equally permanent tax cuts despite knowing that they were being funded by the inherently temporary proceeds of the resource boom. Presumably they all knew what they were doing but hoped that the chickens would come home to roost on some later government’s watch. It looks like the chickens have arrived, because it is now unavoidably apparent that there is a long-term structural deficit which will not be repaired without tough measures both on the revenue and spending sides of the ledger.

No doubt Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey could, if they wished, have avoided taking the tough decisions by claiming (truthfully in a narrow sense) that there isn’t a “budget emergency” and that Australia’s net debt will only peak at around 17.5% of GDP in a few years time, which is much less than nearly all of our major western trading partners. But that would be ignoring the fact that it will indeed become a larger and larger problem over the years, with a high probability that deficits will continue indefinitely into the future and the interest burden continue progressively to increase until it really does become a significant impediment to government policy. Far better to grasp the nettle now and take the hard decisions while faced with a weak and discredited Opposition with a radically unimpressive and tainted leader in Little Bill Shorten.

Of course, it could all end in tears for the Abbott government, with the apparent decision to impose a temporary income tax levy on high income earners (and perhaps increases in fuel excise) being seen by history as Abbott’s “no carbon tax” moment and a courageous decision in a Sir Humphrey Appleby sense. Nevertheless, as someone who prefers sound policy to political theatre I certainly hope not. As far as one can tell from the budget leaks, it would appear that what Abbott and Hockey have in mind is very much sound economic policy. Fortunately, I think that Abbott is a much better political salesman than either Rudd or Gillard. Moreover, with any sort of luck the Coalition should be able to keep a figurative foot on Labor’s throat through an unending stream of embarrassing news stories emerging from former High Court Justice Dyson Heydon’s royal commission into trade unions. Mind you, the current ICAC hearings in New South Wales provide an amusing illustration of the propensity of independent inquisitions to end up biting the instigator that fed them as well as the intended target.

Moreover, in a somewhat perverse and paradoxical sense, a royal commission which exposes and dramatises the skulduggery of a significant minority of the trade union movement may actually be to the ALP’s benefit in the long term. Labor renewal in my opinion depends on reducing the almost complete dominance of a tiny cabal of union and faction leaders over both Party administration and preselection. They are unlikely to surrender power willingly, but may well be much easier to displace if preoccupied by defending themselves before a royal commission and avoiding imprisonment for corrupt activities.

Are RDA race hatred law amendments needed?

bolt-still-a-dickhead1Troppo author and frequent commenter John Walker asks:

Ken

The Bolt case was just one case-  is there much information about how 18C has been applied, on a wider scale.

Its pretty hard to judge whether there is a problem needing changes to the law , or not, on the basis of just one case. Do you have any info re other cases and judgements?

Fortunately, the answer is yes.  Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 was introduced by the former Keating Labor government in 1994.  In 2004 Deakin University legal academic Dan Meagher wrote a reasonably comprehensive review of its first decade of operation in an article titled “So Far So Good?: A Critical Evaluation of Racial Vilification Laws in Australia“.  I almost completely agree with his analysis and opinion, and so rather than reinvent the wheel I will simply reproduce edited extracts from his article with some relatively brief comments of my own at the end (although the whole of Meagher’s article is worth reading if you have time).

In essence, Meagher argues (and I agree) that racial vilification laws are needed, but that the current proscription of words which would be “offensive”, insulting” or humiliating” to reasonable members of a targeted race is much too vague, and consequently potentially has an unacceptably chilling effect on democratically essential free speech.  Similar conclusions have been expressed by a range of commentators well before the Bolt case.  This is not just a confected controversy beaten up by Abbotistas and Murdoch minions.

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