Features Australia

Can the Libs move just a smidgen to the right, please?

The Coalition’s appointments are woeful

14 March 2020

9:00 AM

14 March 2020

9:00 AM

Much has been said of late, not least by me, about the absolute and unequivocal uselessness of this Coalition government when it comes to appointing top judges to the High Court. The last three picks, all made in the Abbott and Turnbull years by one George Brandis QC, have shown not a trace of support for real federalism; done zip, zero, nothing to wind back the judicially made-up ‘implied freedoms’ jurisprudence that allows (or that the judges have decreed allows) these same judges to pass final word judgement on what legislation is reasonable and proportional – as if a Constitution like ours that deliberately omitted a bill of rights intended to give such Philosopher King status to a committee of unelected ex-lawyers; and recently gave us the post-modernist, identity politics-laced decision in Love. As I’ve said elsewhere, since Callinan and Heydon were picked by Howard, Labor has made noticeably better, more constitutionally conservative picks to our High Court. It’s almost as though the right side of politics gets into office and feels it has to appease all those who disagree with its views, in fact even those who hate its views and would never vote for it anyway.

‘Ah’, I hear a few doubters murmur, ‘but surely this is a one-off and across the spectrum of other important appointable positions these last seven years of Coalition governments have seen the Libs make solid, openly conservative appointments across the board’. At this point some of you who know the Coalition record on appointments will still be rolling around on the ground in spasms of laughter so palpably wrong is that murmured claim. Look, say, at the Human Rights Commission picks by the Libs. One of them could quite comfortably have been picked by the Greens.

The others were of the ‘a smidgen of a fraction of a soupçon to the right of the sort of person that Labor would have appointed’ variety. Or maybe not even a smidgen.

Same goes for their picks to the top of the ABC. Same goes for whole swathes of their picks to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Likewise a close look at the people who are picked to be top ministerial advisors would probably throw up more closet lefties than any ‘obvious to all’, openly conservative types. At the state level the top police picks (including by Libs!) look more in thrall to the various politically correct nostrums of the day – more in the game of virtue-signalling and genuflecting at the feet of identity politics’ practitioners – than desirous of, you know, catching hard criminals. Indirectly, the Feds have a big say over universities and yet the top positions across the country are basically wholly devoid of any known conservatives anywhere (which may go some small way to explaining the dearth of conservative academics throughout the social sciences, humanities and law – indeed the reason it is now hard to find conservative constitutionalists to put on the High Court). The list goes on and on.

In February of this year British commentator and author Douglas Murray argued forcefully that the newly re-elected Conservative government up there must be far more courageous in how it makes its appointments to all the key positions across government. In order to go any distance at all in a democracy towards reclaiming the culture which shapes future citizens and ultimately policy choices any conservative government needs, said Murray, ‘to make appointments that demoralise the opposition’ – it needs to make them to top positions in the public broadcaster, the various commissions and tribunals, the leading educational institutions, the courts, everything. Murray’s idea is that conservative governments need to start appointing actual conservatives to these key positions, not liberal-leftists.

And his remarks came closely after release of research by the Taxpayers’ Alliance in Britain that found that after ten years – a whole decade – of supposedly right-of-centre Conservative governments the vast preponderance of public appointments in the UK still went to avowed left-liberals, the sort of appointees who are, as I mocked above, a smidgen of a fraction of a soupçon to the right of the sort of person that the left-wing party would have appointed.

In fact, and this is bracing, the Taxpayers’ Alliance in its search through the past decade of British Conservative party appointments to all the key positions ultimately in the hands of the government could find only two (yes, two!) public appointments that had been given to known conservatives. One was to William Shawcross to head up the Charities Commission and the other to the late Sir Roger Scruton as an unpaid advisor to the government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. And as some will know, Scruton was for a time driven from that position by supposed past assertions later proved incorrect. Initially, various prominent Conservative MPs did not support Scruton, a well-known conservative philosopher. It took a year for Scruton to be subsequently, and fully, vindicated and get his post re-instated which happened just before his death. Such was the plight of the man who was the second of only two instances in ten years of an actual ‘obvious to all’ conservative being appointed by a United Kingdom Conservative government to anything remotely important. The plight of Toby Young, detailed recently by Janet Albrechtsen in the Australian, can be added to this sorry tale.

At any rate, Murray’s advice boils down to a plea to conservative governments to jettison the status of invertebrates, grow a backbone, and make appointments of people who will infuriate the left-wing activists. Murray said ‘The far Left will rail and rage. To which the Conservatives can respond: “If you don’t like it, you ought to have won an 80-seat majority in Parliament at the last election.”’ In fact, Murray sums up his advice in these simple terms: ‘This kind of surrender to the Left has got to stop’. And elsewhere: ‘Flood the public sector with right-of-centre cultural and political figures. Change the weather. Re-centre the culture.’

Basically Murray’s plea is one for courage by the Boris Johnson government in Britain.

Yet if anything things are even worse here with gutless, ‘a smidgen of a fraction of a soupçon to the right of who the lefties would pick’ appointments.  If Morrison believes in anything other than his own re-election let’s start seeing it in terms of solid, courageous appointments that do not constitute a surrender to the Left.

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