Saturday, January 06, 2007

David Hicks - a final comment

Lexcen and I have been having a debate about David Hicks. Here Lexcen feels:

There is a lot of sympathy for David Hicks. I don't know why. I'm not sure if the sympathizers are more concerned with the rights of individuals or that justice must seen to be carried out or whether they see Hicks as innocent. Personally, I would just dump him back in Afghanistan and forbid him from returning to Australia.

I know Lexcen's views are shared by others, although the majority view is now clearly shifting. In this post I want to explain, very simply, why the Hicks' case so concerns me.

To cut to the nub of the matter, my core concern in the Hicks case (here, here), and the reasons for my linking Hicks and Dreyfus, have very little to do with questions of Hicks' guilt or innocence of whatever he may ultimately be charged with, everything to do with process.

If you look at English history you will see that one of the core themes has been the fight to establish the rights of the individual relative to the state. The rule of law and equality of people in front of the law are part of this.

This was not an easy fight. Kings who ruled by divine right did not take kindly to limitations on their power or actions that threatened their interests. Later Parliamentary Governments in fact also behaved in the same way when they saw their what they perceived as their or the nation's interest being threatened. Individual rights were established by blood and suffering.

The new Australian colonies had it pretty lucky. We inherited the gains that had been made. We were given responsible government and freedom early. So we took (and take) certain things for granted.

Even so, our Governments at all levels since 1788 have displayed the same tendency to believe in the divine right of Government, today expressed in terms of the national interest. Weapons used have included police enforcement, imprisonment, deportation, manipulation of public opinion, secret surveillance, removal from office, slander through Parliament.

Often, these actions were perceived as correct at the time, driven by overwhelming popular opinion and fears. Sometimes, those opinions and fears were correct. More often, history has shown them to be invalid or unbalanced. In all this, respect for the rule of law and of equality before the law has, however imperfectly, been a key thing protecting us as individuals.

The problem with the Hicks case, at least as I see it, is that the treatment of David Hicks has increasingly breached these principles. It is easy to uphold the principles of the rule of law and equality before the law when a matter is popular, much harder when the matter is unpopular. Yet it is how we handle the second that determines the longer term strength of the principles and of our freedom.

No comments: