I see that another parliamentary committee has been grappling with the dispute between the government and Gillian Triggs, and the declaration by the government that it no longer has confidence in her. This was because of her ill-timed and unnecessary inquiry into children in immigration custody and her singularly unpersuasive explanation for having held it at all. But what really surprised me when the dispute broke out and again during the recent committee hearing was that no-one in politics or the media challenged the finger-pointing and holier-than-thou attitude of the Labor party, whipped along by its obliging acolytes in the left. To listen to them all waxing lyrically about decency, fair play and not shooting the messenger, you would think they were motivated by nothing but high principle. The reality is very different. No-one seemed to know or care that the Labor party had been in a similar position itself in government and was found wanting. Like the Abbott government, the Hawke government was faced with the serious issue of what a government should do when it loses confidence in the performance of a government appointee to an independent statutory office. But the reactions of the two administrations could not have been more different. It all started in 1975 when the Whitlam government appointed Justice Jim Staples to the bench of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, our highest industrial court. Staples turned out to have a major character defect for an industrial court judge. His shortcoming was that he would not do what the unions, employer organisations and industrial relations club told him to do, namely rubber-stamp the deals they made behind closed doors and not ask questions. Worse, he decided wages and conditions on the basis of the needs of the individual worker and, horror of horrors, common sense. Clearly, the industrial system could not allow a viper like Staples into its bosom to poison and destroy a perfectly good system based on industrial fixes and backroom deals and try to turn it into one based on the rights of the individual worker, flexibility, and economic reason. By the time the Hawke government came around, the unions and the Labor party had had enough. A decree went forth from the left that Staples had to be stopped. First, he was sent on a world tour to study human rights and civil liberties and as a result of his labours in that particular vineyard he produced a report which seemed to be a collection of newspaper cuttings and train timetables. But that was not enough. In effect, the Labor party and the unions had been landed with their own version of Triggs. Like her, Staples had been appointed to a statutory office and was protected and unsackable. But, unlike the mild rebuke that Abbott gave, Hawke went after Staples with all guns blazing. Tony Abbott has been above reproach in the Triggs matter, open and upfront about his loss of confidence, with soundly based reasons for how that disenchantment came about. But he did not dismiss her or even try to. In contrast, Hawke abolished the entire arbitration commission and set up a new one, the IRC. Then, in a massive demonstration of unparalleled chutzpah, he appointed everyone from the old commission to the bench of the new commission, except Mr Justice Staples. That certainly got rid of him. Criticism of this serious breach of convention and the unprincipled trammelling of Staples’ human rights was dismissed by Hawke, with one shake of the imperial mane, as ‘contrived nonsense’. No-one in the industrial relations club defended Staples and the left establishment in the form of the Age branded him as an ‘ostracised maverick’, simply because he was an ‘individualist’ who would not play ball. In the Triggs’ matter, Labor et al have had a field day, outdoing each other in outrage, as if they were all motivated by nothing but fair play, justice and not shooting the messenger. But in Staples’ case, there was none of that. For the industrial relations club there is only one way to deal with individualists: termination with extreme prejudice. So we learn from this saga that when the Labor party had the chance to apply high principles, it ignored them and resorted instead to applying the low principle of sheer thuggery to get its own way.
I am a devout worshipper of free enterprise; alright, call it capitalism, and the more unbridled the better. Despite some collateral damage, it produces overwhelming prosperity, the ability for governments to spend on social welfare and the environment in which our culture and civilisation can flourish. But even I was embarrassed to watch the representatives of the world’s leading communications companies squirm their way through questioning before the senate economics committee as they tried to explain their apparent siphoning of billions of dollars of revenue into various safe harbours overseas so as to, let me put this politely, minimise their tax. I have never seen such evasion, inability to present and defend a case and complete inability to answer simple questions. They did enormous damage to their own self interest, which should be the one thing at which they are polished experts. They had better learn to do better and get their own house in order, for their ham-fisted and cringe-making performance has emboldened the left and its acolytes in the media to pursue them; and with good cause.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.
You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10