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Polly Peck
17 July, 2007  
Capital Offences

Fabulous Phil Ruddock confirms his neverending story by saying he has no plans to retire … quite right too, when he can still opine so wisely on the application of anti-terrorism laws to the Star Wars films and the local relevance of Donnie Rumsfeld’s dictum on “known unknowns”

imageAttorney General “Fabulous Phil” Ruddock brushed off retirement speculation, as he kept up the government’s anti-terrorism line on Sunday morning TV for the second week running.

Asked on Ten’s Meet the Press whether at 64 and as “grandfather of the house” he could commit to another full term, Phil said he intended “to continue to serve” his electorate, without any of the qualifiers the PM dabbles in.

Fabbo also said the review of Australia’s initial anti-terrorism laws by retired NSW Supreme Court judge Simon Sheller, completed last year, was receiving careful government consideration.

Last week (July 8) Phil trotted out his favourite line on Nine’s Sunday: the anti-terrorism laws are an “unfinished canvas”. He said he’d listen attentively to the experience of the authorities in the Haneef case.

Fabbo opined that severe restrictions on the movement of people were implausible in today’s world and would leave Australia “like Burma, I suspect, a closed economy with little to offer its own people”.

The ageing, ashen-faced AG said he would seek agreement at tomorow’s (July 18) SCAG in Canberra on changing classification standards to stamp out “incitement” of terrorism. Fabbo has introduced an anti-incitement bill into parliament, and says he’ll press ahead with his own clamp-down if the states don’t show they are “serious” on terror.

There’s going to be endless blah-blah from the government on terror between now and the election.

In a letter to The Age (June 26) Phil explained his new “refused classification” category would not prevent “contentious subject matter” being explored “in an informative, educational, entertaining, ironical or controversial way”. The headline read Chewbacca is not a terrorist, with Phil rejecting a report that Star Wars could be seditious.

imageShadow AG Joe Ludwig (pic) poked this hot-button issue, complaining that the attorney has taken too long to act after it was revealed that in 2005 a DVD calling for Muslims to knock off non-Muslims received a PG rating. In the process Joe demonstrated his extensive knowledge of family-friendly films:

“Mr Ruddock must explain how a jihad video by Sheik Feiz Mohammed was given the same rating as The Neverending Story and Back to the Future, parts 1, 2 and 3.”

Last Wednesday (July 11) Fabbo brought back memories of Donnie Rumsfeld’s “known and unknown unknowns”, telling reporters:

“My concern has always been about what we don’t know and I have to say I don’t know how much we don’t know and I can’t quantify how much we don’t know.”

* * *

There are have been several magnificent remarks from Fabulous Phil Ruddock that have received zero coverage and I intend to redress that gaping hole immediately. In the process I hope that the AG will be confirmed as a rightful fixture in the museum of plodding drones.

Earlier this year he gave the opening address to a copyright conference at Minters in Brisbane, entitled “Copyright: from The Da Vinci Code to YouTube”. Phil recalled opening the same conference two years previously:

“I woke that morning after The Daily Telegraph had published a headline, ‘The Spy and the Minister’s Daughter’, suggesting a link between my daughter and an Israeli diplomat who was invited by my daughter to our house for Christmas lunch.

“There has been plenty of change since that day. I have had two Christmas lunches, but no diplomats have attended, to my knowledge. The Da Vinci Code, an extremely popular novel has now become a not so popular film … [and] YouTube … has become an internet phenomenon…”

imageIn March, Phil (pic) told the Australian Legal Convention, “attorneys should not be uttering motherhood statements”, and instead should be addressing issues that matter to ordinary folk.

“With this Government, the breadth of reform over the past 11 years, I think, has been very significant by any measure.”

He also had a leaden crack at the former shadow AG, Lillian Roxon:

“I cannot imagine men such as Robert Menzies, Tom Hughes, Garfield Barwick, Nigel Bowen, Peter Durack, Bob Ellicott or Daryl Williams saying: ‘Look, it’s difficult for [the attorney-general’s portfolio] to be at the centre of people’s concerns’.”

“Yet these words were uttered by a former shadow attorney – a lawyer, I might add – when she moved to another portfolio.”

Phil also revealed himself as a bold reformer, declaring that he was a “fervent supporter” of federalism. As AG he’d emphasised harmonisation across jurisdictions, including asking the federal parliamentary counsel to chat with other drafters about minimising differences.

Fabbo said that his interest in family law stemmed from chairing the first inquiry into the Family Law Act, in 1978. Fittingly he was on hand to launch Wagga’s Family Relationship Centre, one of 25 that opened on July 2, brining the total to 40.

Fabbo had this piercing, if slightly shop-worn sign-off:

“As Bismarck once said: ‘Laws are like sausages. It is better not to see them being made’.”

Recently, Phil told the Australian Institute of Administrative Law forum that contrary to media reports “careful reading of McKinnon’s case shows that the High Court did not ‘gut’ the intent of the Freedom of Information Act”, reasoning that “the FoI Act was not designed as a research tool for the media”.

* * *

In an issue close to legal mouse pads, Shadow AG Joe Ludwig used Senate estimates to explore AustLII’s funding and said the evidence showed that courts and tribunals would face much higher costs for providing their own judgments online without the assistance of the legal information institute.

AustLii’s funding is under question after Australian Research Council grants were not renewed. Ludwig says the government should fund it – which would come as a relief to the lawyers who have shown a marked reluctance to cough-up for something so useful.

Senator Joe has also made it clear that Labor is not proposing a human rights charter; it just wants a public inquiry into protecting human rights. You can’t get much bolder than that.

It’s hard to remember when Australia was last in the grip of visionaries of the caliber of Phil & Joe.

* * *

imageThe former High Court building in Melbourne was included on the National Heritage List last week. Fabbo announced the listing with Environment Minister Malcolm “Tophat” Turnbull (pic). Ninian Stephen and Mike McHugh were also busily involved in getting the old building protected.

The Turnbull connection doesn’t stop there. Fabbo has taken on Sarah Stock, previously from Tophat’s staff, as his new mouthpiece following the strange and rapid departure of “Cardinal” Michael Pelly.