Saturday, June 06, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - Triggs, terrorism and the decline of freedom

Immigration Minister Dutton's attack on Human Right's Commission president Gillian Triggs appears quite over the top if Michael Gordon's piece in the Melbourne Age is correct.

Flanked by the inevitable Australian flags, Minister Dutton accused Professor Triggs of linking the execution of the Bali Nine drug smugglers with Australia's border protection policies.

The attack started with a joint media release with Attorney-General Senator George Brandis. The Attorney-Generals' name came first on the release, suggesting a continuation of the battle between he and Professor Triggs. However, it was Minister Dutton who appears to have gone over the top.

Michael Gordon's piece begins:
It says a great deal about the state of relations between the government and the country's human rights watchdog that a cabinet minister would call a media conference and launch a blistering attack on its head without checking the facts of the issue in question.
Had Immigration Minister Peter Dutton had his office make some cursory checks, it would have been established that Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs did not link the deaths of Bali drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran to the Abbott government's policy of turning back the boats.
Meantime, Professor Triggs has gone on the attack herself, arguing in a speech in Melbourne yesterday that expansion of ministerial powers represented 'a growing threat to democracy'. There she apparently said in part: Taken individually, ....the new laws might be justified on the grounds of necessity and proportionality, but "viewed together they are more than the sum of their parts" and an overreach of executive power.

I have argued previously that action to prevent the growing intrusion of government into every aspect of Australian life was made hard because individual measures always had their supporters. People could recognise the problem in the totality of measures, but would always defend individual measures, thus effectively endorsing the whole package. 

I have recently expressed particular concerns about the growing threat to our freedom from immigration and security legislation. I accept that my concerns here may be a minority position. The polls seem to suggest that, as do the threads I follow.

My problem is a simple one. I am frightened. I am not especially frightened by the risk of terrorism in this country. I accept that it's real, but in proportional terms it's far less than my chances of being bitten by a snake. I don't argue that we should wipe out every snake in the country to reduce that risk. It's my Government that frightens me.

I have no faith that these growing powers won't be misused by this or future governments of any persuasion. I have no faith that there won't be victims, people who may have to fight sometimes vainly for justice against the law. How could I have faith? History including recent history is not encouraging.

Each time I see a government minister flanked by flags attacking an opponent, saying we know best, arguing for a new control or punitive measure, my fear increases. Will I or someone I love or know become just another person whose fate cannot be discussed for operational reasons?

 Am I being too fearful, even histrionic? Perhaps. Perhaps I am just to close to history, to close to the creeping cancer that has seen the creation of totalitarian states in which freedom and rights have been progressively removed until it was just too late. Perhaps, too, I read to many dystopian science fiction novels as a young person.

In a comment on my personal Facebook page, I wrote "Once it's established that Government can take our citizenship away, where do you draw the line? I am an Australian  That is not a right, a favour or an honour, but a fact."

By nature, I can be persuaded by argument to at least understand if not support measures. You can see that in some of my immigration posts. From experience, I am well aware of the grays in policy making, the ambiguities, the very real risk that something might go wrong, the need to make the best decision you can at the time. So if the current Australian Government wishes to reach me, present the evidence.

Seeing Mr Dutton effectively wrap himself  in the Australian flag made me feel unwell, adding to my sense of unease.You may play political games if you like, Minister Dutton, but I find it hard to trust you.


Amanda Vanstone on the evolving general discussion: Lazy, sneaky or both: what were you thinking, Prime Minister?. And Michelle Grattan: Brandis and Dutton play some dirty pool in their fight with Gillian Triggs.

Postscript 2  13 June

There appear to be some legal problems associated with the draft "citizenship" legislation  while an Australian official may have bribed people smugglers to go back to Indonesia,  . .



Winton Bates said...

It seems to me that it is a question of individual rights. The fact that you were born in this country gives you rights. I would see that as a natural right, rather than something that can be taken away by the minister for immigration.

However, I am not sure whether the courts would be capable of defending the rights of citizens against a law which permitted the minister for immigration to send them into exile. There does not seem to be much protection for individual rights in our constitution.

Paradoxically, the people who are responsible for defending our freedom seem to pose a greater threat to our freedom than the terrorists.

Scott Hastings said...

I warned even before the election that this was a fascist cabal bent on deleting personal rights, and was mocked as a paranoid pinko. It gives me no satisfaction being proven right though.

Anonymous said...

Rights are granted, not innate. Winton the only 'right' you have is to demand that what you wish to be accepted, respected, by your sociecty, is - as to 51%.

And the courts are there to apply the law as it stands to the specific case before it - nothing more.


Winton Bates said...

Sorry kvd, I beg to differ. Rights are innate, but not always recognised. The Nuremberg trials were able to proceed on the basis that humans have rights that are not removed by the refusal of a government to recognise them.

Anonymous said...

Rights are innate, but not always recognised.

I am not sure that is of much comfort. So, do you wish to deal with society as it is, or society as you would wish it to be?

Anonymous said...

Anyways Winton, what do you mean by an "innate right"? If, the gods obviously forbade, Germany had won the war, do you think there would have been such a thing as the Nuremberg Trials?

Seriously, I repeat that "rights", per se, are only so good as they are recognised by the society within which they are claimed.


ps try smoking in a cafe, or maybe get really wild and drive on the wrong side of the road. Because it is your "innate right" to so do :)

Jim Belshaw said...

kvd, you are getting into a complex area. Keeping things very simple. It is correct to argue that all societies have rules that determine what you can and cannot do. It is also true that all societies have some form of coercion to assert those rules.

Governments are a mechanism for social control. They can grant "rights", create "rights" or take them away. It all depends upon their power relative to the governed.

I said in my post: "Once it's established that Government can take our citizenship away, where do you draw the line? I am an Australian That is not a right, a favour or an honour, but a fact."

The Government cannot grant me the right to be an Australian, I was born one, it can only try to limit or even take away that right. As indeed it has considered doing.

Both the Nazis and IS assert(ed) the power of the governing group to do what it wants to those defined as outside the pale. The development of civilisation has involved the slow assertion of protections on state or group coercion, the creation of individual rights. Those rights however uncertain have not been granted by but clawed from governments.

The Abbott Government is no different from the Nazis or IS in asserting the right of the state or dominant body to assert control and remove rights. No doubt both Messrs Abbott and Dutton would deeply resent this comparison and indeed they are still operating withing bounds. But the principle is still the same, coercive power pushing the boundaries of their current limits.

Anonymous said...

Having lived under the yoke of the Bjelke Petersen government I know first hand what it means to be stripped of the most basic of human rights. That being the right to protest. Unfortunately this current mob of politicians is keen to take this a step further where it will be an offence to even report on matters of State. And the biggest cop out we constantly hear is "We do not comment on Operational matters" so long as it is considered an Operational Matter the politicians are not accountable. The public in general are a gutless mob who have so eagerly handed over their rights. TS Eliot was right when he wrote "This is the way the world ends ... Not with a bang but a whimper"

Jim Belshaw said...

Hello, Dave. Yes, the mantra on not commenting on operational matters is a problem and for the reason you cite. But then it leaks. I Have no idea whether Australia paid people smugglers, but this is brewing as a real storm

Anonymous said...

Oh, we paid them alright otherwise there would be a denial. I expect when the evidence is presented by the Indonesians this will be the end of Dutton as minister. I also imagine that quite a few in the government won't mind this outcome.

Jim Belshaw said...

I'm not so sure on the paid point, Dave. We actually did have some denials from Ministers before Mr Abbott muddied the waters with his emphasis on "operational matters."

I said that this was brewing as a real storm. Just monitoring the media coverage, this seems to be the case. If Australia did pay, several ministers including Julia Bishop will have problems. If Australia did not pay, then Mr Abbott has created his on mess.

Meantime we have created another problem with Indonesia. This is the Jakarta Globe coverage - note the reference to new lows