The other day I went to an unusual but worthwhile election event. The international law firm Norton Rose Fulbright had a debate between Mark Dreyfus, the Attorney-General, and George Brandis, the shadow attorney-general, and a good slice of Sydney’s legal cognoscenti was present. I have to admit they both did well, which is what you would expect, but Brandis had to show he would be a competent A-G and he did this overwhelmingly. He certainly knows his field. But the thing that really knocked me was Dreyfus’s announcement that one of his priorities if re-elected would be to resurrect the Roxon project of bundling all of the so-called human rights legislation together into a monster new law. We all know from bitter experience that when the ALP talks of human rights, what they really mean is sharpening the bureaucratic machinery to enforce their state-approved version of human rights and to impose a politically correct agenda on what you should think, believe and say. We saw that process during the Roxon experience when the government, by using the same dodge of an omnibus bill, tried to impose some very severe restrictions on freedom of expression. I had thought the government had abandoned Roxon’s bill so that Dreyfus could present himself as a new look Attorney-General. But apparently not so. We now know that the omnibus bill is as big a threat as ever and is lying there waiting, ready to be pressed into service again if the ALP is given a chance. The message, therefore, to those who are concerned at the way the ALP manipulates the law to bring about its own version of enforced morality: be alert and alarmed.
The other alarming thing about Dreyfus’s presentation was that he made what sounded like an official policy pronouncement that judges should be ‘representative’ of the entire community and a sort of cross section of the population. I had always thought the bipartisan and sensible position was that there should be no discrimination against any gender, racial or other group and that all sections of the community should be looked at before judicial appointments are made, but that the quality of the appointments should be the paramount consideration. So the notion that judges should be ‘representative’ of anything is absurd and a formula for the lowering of standards. Fortunately, Senator Brandis rejected the proposal.
Of course, it would not be a law debate without my asking a question, which I duly did. One of the stranger decisions of the Gillard era was to announce that Australia would not enter into investment treaties or trade agreements if they include provisions for international commercial arbitration, an area where I eke out a modest living. I also have it on good authority that the Attorney-General’s department has a team of scribes scurrying around looking for any old treaty they can find which has an arbitration clause in it, whereupon they will presumably conduct a sacrificial burning. Otherwise inexplicable, the decision to ban arbitration was clearly a revenge for the arbitration brought in Hong Kong by Philip Morris against Australia over the cigarette labelling law. The sillier aspects of the Gillard decision are, first, that it strangles arbitration as a means of resolving disputes just at the time it is blossoming and showing its true value; second, it means Australian companies who have a dispute over a contract to build, say, a power station in Zimbabwe will not be able to use competent and independent arbitrators but will have to sue in the courts of Zimbabwe. After Mugabe let fly at Australia in his re-inauguration speech as a gay-riven, pestilential imperialist relic, somehow I do not fancy our chances. I asked both speakers to review this decision: Dreyfus flatly refused; Brandis, to his credit, promised that he would do so and you cannot ask for more than that.
Rudd’s use of cribbing notes at the leaders’ debate received good coverage, but few journalists saw its significance in feeding into a broader picture of the Rudd persona. It told us a lot about him and it should be noted here for posterity. First, there was the obvious cheating, which was bad enough; then the pathetic defence that if he were really cheating he would have done it so that no one saw him; then the old Rudd standby of blaming the staff; then the unvarnished truth that if you need notes to trot out such a rehearsed speech with no feeling, you must be remarkably devoid of any flexibility of thought or originality; and, finally, the sharp contrast with his opponent. Tony Abbott was relaxed, confidant and authoritative and he has probably consolidated what I think people are looking for at present: a safe and competent pair of hands. The trouble for Rudd about his cheating, just as it is about the dash to Canberra for a briefing on Syria, when he really wanted to film a cooking show in Brisbane, his sullen treatment of the humble make- up artist and the now growing list of temperamental outbursts and persistent hectoring of staff and others whom he sees as inferiors to do his bidding, is that they all have the ring of truth about them and fit so neatly into the emerging picture of the man in whom the Labor party have foolishly put all their hopes. To put it as mildly as possible, he is not someone with anywhere near the tact, judgment and gravitas one could reasonably expect to be possessed by the Prime Minister of Australia.
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