The patent absurdity of Labor’s “27 Howard lies” document is underlined by a lie told by Mark Latham, reported in today’s SMH, about the basis and effect of Thursday’s High Court decision in Electrolux Home Products Pty Ltd v Australian Workers’ Union (which I blogged about here):
The Labor leader, Mark Latham, has responded cautiously to a High Court decision stopping unions charging non-union workers a fee for negotiated pay increases, saying early advice suggested it could not be overturned by legislation.
Mr Latham said the ruling by the High Court – which also effectively prevents unions from taking strike action in support of political, social and environmental causes – was complicated and based, at least in part, on an interpretation of the constitution.
“If that’s the case then no one can roll back any of that,” he told ABC radio in Adelaide.
“That is the end of the matter, full stop, end of the matter. The High Court decision would be respected, as it should be, given that what appears to be that interpretation of the Australian constitution. And if that’s the case, government legislation is not a relevant consideration.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, this is complete bullshit. McHugh J expressly disavows any constitutional basis for the decision (paragraphs 75-77), while the other majority Justices just don’t discuss the Constitution at all. The majority reasoning in Electrolux is entirely based on ordinary statutory interpretation and has nothing to do with the Constitution. Its effect could easily be reversed by legislation if Latham wanted to do so. No competent lawyer (and arguably no ordinarily literate person) who’d read the decision could possibly advise otherwise.
Of course, the reality is that Latham is caught between a rock and a hard place. He can’t afford to antagonise his union support base by refusing pointblank to intervene, but he also can’t afford to give in to union demands to legislatively override the decision and allow compulsory deduction of union agents’ bargaining fees, because that would antagonise not only employers but the 77% of Australian workers who aren’t union members. So the answer is to lie outright, but to leave himself an escape clause by using weasel words like “if that’s the case“.
Frankly, I don’t blame Latham for lying in this situation. He’d be a fool to do anything else in the circumstances. That’s one reason why I think sweeping generalisations about when it is and isn’t proper for politicians to lie are inherently problematic. It’s also one of the reasons why I thought Margo Kingston’s claim that George Brandis’ credibility had been “shattered” by the “lying rodent” affair was so absurdly hyperbolic as to merit the label “fucktard”. Apart from the fact that the evidence of Russell Galt is hardly conclusive given his background and evident malicious agenda, even if Brandis did lie my immediate reaction is “so what?“. He’s well known as a Costello supporter and Howard opponent, so it’s hardly surprising that he might have negative opinions of Howard, or that he might express them to Liberal insiders in unguarded moments. And it’s equally unsurprising that he would deny it when one of those Liberal insiders ratted and went public. Like Latham’s Electrolux lie, he’d be a fool to do anything else. His credibility is no more shattered than is Mark Latham’s. They’re both simply engaging in the sort of expedient lying that is a working politician’s everyday lot. Politics isn’t a profession for saints.