Flat White

Lorraine Finlay, conservative governments and appointments

13 September 2021

1:27 PM

13 September 2021

1:27 PM

I want to point out a few short blunt truths about conservative governments and appointments to important posts such as the top courts, key tribunals, the public broadcaster, and such bodies as the Human Rights Commission. I recently co-edited with Peter Kurti a book released late last year on what conservatives could hope for from a Coalition government. We called it Keeping Australia Right.  I wrote a short chapter on the question of appointments. I started my chapter this way: 

In February of this year [2020] British commentator and author Douglas Murray argued forcefully that the newly re-elected [British]Conservative government 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 still went to avowed left-liberals, the sort of appointees who are, perhaps, a smidgen of a fraction of a soupcon to the right of the sort of person that the left-wing party would have appointed.  Or perhaps not even a smidgen.  Either way, such left-liberal Conservative Party appointees are not committed conservatives, not even close. 

I then went on in the rest of my brief chapter to lambaste the last eight years of Coalition governments for making cowardly, useless appointments – including to the High Court. 

That brings us to the recent appointment of Lorraine Finlay to the Human Rights Commission.  For once we have what passes for a brave appointment. Finlay will be solar systems better than the other commissioners, many of whom were also appointed by the last eight years of Coalition governments.  Make that galaxies better. Finlay will bring a pro-individual, classical liberal view to the table. We should welcome the fact that someone, somewhere, in the bowels of this pusillanimous ScoMo government seems to have evolved to the stage of possessing a backbone. 

Now, this is not to say I agree that staffing the HRC with Finlays top to bottom is the way to go.  Personally, I think this body is irredeemable.  I have long said it needs to be disbanded.  Any strong-minded Coalition government would simply shut it down, and thereby save nearly $400,000 per commissioner in salaries, more for the President, and more again to run the place and fly around business class. The HRC’s net effect on the world is negative. Worse than if it didn’t exist at all.  But we all know this government has no stomach for that sort of fight (compare this to the ABC, and to its appointments there). And so the next best alternative is to appoint people with solid right-of-centre views – remembering that Labor always and everywhere appoints those of the centre-left or plain left.  Heck, the Coalition usually appoints lefties. 

Here’s the new point worth making. It is one that Douglas Murray alludes to. When any conservative government does make a rare good appointment (call it ‘courageous’ in the language of ‘Yes, Prime Minister’) all the forces of the left-side of politics will attack that appointment relentlessly. They’ll do it in ad hominem terms. They’ll do it on the unspoken basis that anyone outside their little circles is somehow beyond the pale. They might co-opt in others such as the Australian of the Year. (Sidenote: Who appoints the people who award honours and pick these supposed Australians of the Year? Since I’ve arrived here in 2005 it looks like one lefty after another gets to be this person of the year. Does no Coalition government have the cojones to fix that either?) But they will make a big fuss. 

Why? Well in my view it’s not simply to try to delegitimise this particular appointment. Sure, they want to do that. But more than that what they want is to frighten off future such ‘brave’ appointments. Kick up one helluva fuss on social media (which US studies show represent well, well under ten percent of voters and leans mightily to the left politically) and you’ll scare off future conservative appointments. Again, just look at whom the Coalition appoints to the top jobs at the ABC. 

It pains me to say that in the past this scaring off strategy almost always works.  Our side of politics elects people who are gutless. They back down. No fight in the dog. The proper response to attacks on Ms Finlay is to appoint a lot more Finlays to a lot more bodies. You respond exactly as you would to a bully – and I went to a very tough state school in Toronto where you soon learned never to back down or you’d be a target for life. The more there are unhinged claims about the impropriety of any conservative person being appointed to anything the more we need to do it on steroids. That is the core point Douglas Murray was making last year. He’s right. This is a tiny, miniscule first step. But at least it’s in the right direction. 

Full disclosure: Lorraine Finlay is currently a doctoral student under my supervision in an area of constitutional law. She is smart and hard-working. She’s tough too.

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