Sunday, 29 December 2013

26/12 - Left fights a rearguard action against liberty - J ORIEL

Left fights a rearguard action against liberty


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AUSTRALIA has decided freedom is a value worth defending. The hard Left has taken it as a declaration of war.
On hearing the Attorney-General had appointed libertarian policy analyst Tim Wilson to balance the equality-liberty ledger at the Australian Human Rights Commission, I too wondered about his choice. Not so much about Wilson but appointing a single freedom commissioner to reason with the tribal Left.
The clamour of splinter groups inveighing against the freedom commissioner and free speech creates the illusion they are the moral majority. They are neither. The reason George Brandis has established the freedom commissioner and will put repeal of Racial Discrimination Act section 18C before parliament next year is to fulfil his moral duty to his majority constituency: the Australian people.
The Liberal Party won the election on a promise to restore the spirit and law of liberty to Australian life. But a season after victory, Australians are yet to shake off the tedious remnant technocrats of yesteryear whose permanent edict is that our will to freedom submit to their hebetude.
In The Australian last week, AHRC director Gillian Triggs responded to news the freedom commissioner had been established and arch libertarian Wilson had won the inaugural incumbency. It was, as they say on the mean streets of white-collar Sydney, "game on, colleague".
Triggs launched a series of broadsides at Wilson couched in bureauspeak. The first was a curious statement that Australia has a legal obligation to impose anti-vilification laws and, by extension, 18C. That obligation is apparently to an entity called "internationally". Oh yes, "internationally", didn't we meet him at the polling place just before we voted out the faceless men? Can't quite recall his features.
Australia has no extant legal obligation to introduce racial vilification laws. Triggs's friend "internationally" is presumably the UN and the supposed legal obligation is to articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. But the ICCPR is not formally enforceable in Australia and there is no formal mechanism for its enforcement internationally. Despite that fact, human rights commissions across the West take its integration into sovereign state law and institutions as core business.
Triggs's subsequent revelations were that AHRC isn't a place for party political rhetoric and does not exist to give effect to policy. But on point of policy, from freedom of speech to discrimination law to illegal immigration, the commission's articulated position is often aligned acutely with the Greens or Labor Left.
A notable exception was Triggs's scrutiny of the former Labor government's failed media reforms, which had threatened Australia's press freedom.
But her support for Labor's doomed human rights and anti-discrimination bill was less ennobling. Brandis, then shadow attorney-general, criticised the bill roundly, warning its reversal of the onus of proof would effectively nullify the presumption of innocence in Australian law. Triggs claimed he was wrong. Shifting the onus of proof to the accused was merely a measure of reciprocity and was needed, she said, because complainants were "vulnerable".
The casual attempt to erode a core legal precept of liberal democracy by way of anti-discrimination law reveals the depth of the problem facing Brandis and Wilson.
The arbitrary power of the human rights lobby has accrued with little impediment because of the public's good faith in universal rights. But the modern movement is more meme than monde. It advances a special rights agenda fuelled by exponentially self-replicating minority groups, an agenda usually financed by its apparent oppressors. The 21st-century human rights movement is postmodernism gone postal.
The AHRC's latest cause celebre is defence of people who present a security threat to Australia. Its December report implores the UN to recognise our government's detention of these individuals as a violation of the ICCPR. It is "extremely concerned" about their feelings, apparently. No concern is expressed for the life and liberty of 23 million citizens whom ASIO has protected by denying these security threats Australian residency.
Brandis and Wilson share the unenviable task of wading through the miasma of maladaptive hard-left thought to resurrect well-reasoned argument as the standard for public opinion and jurisprudence. To do so, they must liberate free speech from the shackles imposed on it.
No thinker admits more wisdom to the question of free speech than Immanuel Kant. His brief, incandescent essay, An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?, is available online. Give yourself a gift this Christmas - read it and greet 2014 eyes wide open. Sapere aude.
Jennifer Oriel is a Melbourne writer.

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