The political world has been consumed by two big issues, one here and one in the US, and I have been wondering what we can learn from them. Thanks to Justin Milne’s ham-fisted performance as chairman of the ABC, the cause of trying to get some balance and even-handedness into the organisation has evaporated. Remember: Milne intervened because he saw bad journalism tarnishing the good name of the ABC. His big mistake was in not trying to improve the quality of the output through proper channels. Instead, he went far outside his proper role and tried to have two journalists sacked to appease the wrath of the government. The disastrous result of this exercise is that from now on, any criticism of bad journalism at the ABC will be seen in the same light, as an entirely unjustified intervention by the chairman. If a clear case of bad journalism arises that compromises the ABC, the temptation to use the Milne argument will be too great to resist. The Left, emboldened by their recent victory, will add that you are also a fascist reactionary and a lackey of the Great Satan, Rupert Murdoch. From now on, therefore, any criticism of any aspect of performance of the ABC will be met with the same response. The left-wing foothold in the ABC has thus been strengthened and is now probably unshakeable. Thanks a lot Justin.
Secondly, the ABC saga shows again how badly we are served by the mainstream media. When the news broke that Milne had gone rogue, the intelligentsia were shocked. But The Spectator Australia, alone in the media, had reported over a year earlier on the coming imbroglio at the ABC because of the way the government was making appointments to the board, particularly Milne as chairman (See Brown Study, 8 April 2017). Only now are others catching up. Moreover, we gave you the reasons why there would be trouble: as we said, the minister, Mitch Fifield, had been issuing misleading press releases and the government was using the nominations panel, of which I was a member, as ‘an expensive charade to pretend it is taking part in some noble and elevated process, when in fact it is appointing whoever it wants and is using the panel to bolster its decision by claiming (the panel) “recommended” him’. It was inevitable that directors appointed in that way would be duds, as most of them have turned out to be.
Pause there for a moment while we cross the Pacific. The undignified process of confirming the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the bench of the US Supreme Court shows that the presumption of innocence, one of the bedrocks of Western civilisation, has been destroyed or severely damaged. We should all regret that development. The mere fact that stale allegations with no supporting witnesses can be made against a nominee who then has to disprove them is new, very dangerous, and gives scope for great injustice to flourish. In the long term, the quality and standing of the courts will decline; when potential candidates see how Kavanaugh has been treated, why would good people subject themselves and their families to that sort of abuse? Why not stay in Wall Street and make millions instead?
This appalling process of appointing judges is also a bad look for republics, but a good one for our constitutional monarchy, where we have a vastly different system. A republic needs to keep partisan political control over all appointments, including judges. So it is not enough that the government appoints them; the politicians want to control the process and have power to block an appointment with a party vote in the Senate, which leads to muckraking and a loss of public respect for the court. Everyone knows that if a nominee survives, he or she has done so because of a party vote, irrespective of merit. But under our constitutional monarchy, the Crown simply appoints judges in a dignified manner, with no political vote being taken. Are mistakes made? Yes, but by and large the system works well, and respect for our courts and judges survives. Another reason to leave our constitution as is.
There are two motivations for the extreme venom of those opposing Kavanaugh’s appointment. First, he is not in the Democrat/ celebrity/ media/ progressive left party that holds so much sway in the US. Secondly, and more importantly, there is the fear that his vote will overturn the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that legalised abortion. Whatever you think of it, the right to abort unborn children is now a totemic and overwhelmingly symbolic article of faith that measures everything and everyone, including who may sit on the US courts.
Back to Australia for the last point. The Greens are trying to have the worst of both worlds. They look at the confirmation hearings for judges in the US which gives great power to politicians and public hysteria and think what a great idea it would be to use the same system to appoint the board of the ABC! They are, as usual, complete fools. Senator Hanson-Young is advocating a series of compromises until they land on the lowest common denominator! The result would be a horse designed by a diverse committee that produces a transitioning camel.
What then do we do with the appointment process for our courts and at the ABC? With the former, we should leave well alone and keep clear of political processing, which is poison. For the ABC, we should stop trying to manipulate the nominations system. The panel should be given more respect, ministers should be alert to what is going on around them and the panel’s choices should be implemented except in exceptional cases announced in the parliament.
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