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Polly Peck
22 June, 2009  
"I put it to you ..."

How laughable are the Libs? ... The toxic world of Senate Estimates … The Feline’s Friend stumbles as Utegate fails to skittle Wax or Wayne … Then there was Soapie Brandis’ blustering cross-examination of the HRC’s Catherine Branson, which went precisely nowhere


image”The Prime Minister and the Treasurer must resign.”

That was the Feline’s Friend, Opposition Leader M. Turnbull, puffed to the max with his faux indignation on Friday (June 19).

Today (Monday, June 22) the FF looked ashen as the Utegate affair looked like running him over.

But not as ashen as his backbench, who knew this one was a hopeless mission as their leader became more florid as he “raised concerns” in the House about Wayne’s relationship with an Ipswich car dealer.

It turned out to be yet another instance of Turnbullian overreach – something for which he is infamous.

A classic instance in point was the defamation case he commenced on behalf of Kerry Packer against Frank Costigan’s counsel assisting, Doug Meagher, over the leak of the Goanna stories.

In 1984 Turnbull thrust himself into the media just before the trial saying he had “significant evidence” that Meagher leaked the Goanna stuff to The National Times.

Ultimately, it was clear that not only did no “significant evidence” exist, no insignificant evidence existed and Meagher succeeded in having Packer’s action struck out.

In the process, Justice David Hunt famously remarked that Turnbull’s untrue statements had “managed effectively to poison the fountain of justice immediately before the commencement of the present proceedings”.

St James’ Ethics Centre’s Simon Longstaff has penned a useful little quide to the ethical dimensions of the imbroglio involving Rudd, the old ute, John Grant, OzCar representations and statements to parliament.

* * *

While Godless Wrech from Treasury was stealing all the Senate estimates limelight last week, we should not overlook the most recent posturing by the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee.

imageIt was the venue for Senators (Soapie) Brandis, (Guys’n’Dolls) Barnett and (Wild Bill) Hefferlump to whip themselves into lathers of righteous indignation.

Catherine Branson QC (seen here), President of the Australian Human Rights Commission came face to face with Soapy and Dolly.

Soap was highly cranky that the HRC had attended the UN Durban Review Conference on Racism in an observer capacity.

Branson explained:

It [the Human Rights Commission] was there with 38 other national human rights institutions, at least two of which were also there despite the fact that their governments were not parties. I regarded as entirely separate the questions of whether Australia should attend the conference represented as a nation and whether its national human rights institution should be an observer at the conference.

Brandis: You do not think you are being a bit too much of a lawyer about this, do you? What you say is of course from a legal point of view. Technically, it is absolutely right; but surely you appreciate that there were public policy issues, issues of community standards and issues of community expectations concerning Australia’s participation in Durban II that transcend merely the technical character of your agency’s attendance at this conference?

Branson: I did not understand that.

Brandis: You did not. If I may say so, with respect, you ought to have done… I understand and support the proposition that the Human Rights Commission should have a degree of independence from government and that it should be able to maintain a view which is not necessarily the view of the government of the day in relation to issues within its statutory charter. But do you not see that where one is dealing with an international conference the situation is a little different from that?...You give the impression to other participants that Australia in fact does support the process.

Branson: I am not sure how to answer that additionally to how I have already done so. You may be aware that our decision to participate followed a discussion among national human rights institutions which took place in Nairobi in October 2008.

Brandis: What about discussions of the elected representatives of the Australian people on both sides of politics that took place in this building throughout the early months of 2009?

Branson: As I understood it those discussions concerned whether the Australian nation would be represented through its government. The Australian Human Rights Commission went to what we saw as an important international imageconference dealing with racism, xenophobia and related intolerance, which we see as very important issues not only internationally but also in this country.

Brandis [pic]: Applauding anti-Semitism.

Branson: I beg your pardon?

Brandis: That conference was applauding anti-Semitism.

Branson: Could you draw my attention to the record of the conference that so does that?

Brandis: The communiqué from Durban I.

Branson: Can you draw my attention to the paragraph?

Brandis: Yes I am able to.

Branson: I have read carefully the review and in particular the outcomes document from the more recent review. Each of them deplores anti-Semitism. They stress that the Holocaust is not to be forgotten and …

Brandis: Well, thank goodness for that, Ms Branson! The Holocaust is not to be forgotten. Thank goodness.

Chair: Senator Brandis, just let Ms Branson answer her question and then make some comments.

Branson: I think the outcomes document from the Durban review does not mention the Middle East at all, but does deplore anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

Brandis: I put it to you that, by its decision ensuring that Australia was represented at the Durban II conference through the relevant human rights agency – yours – entirely in the face of a decision of the Australian government that Australia was not to be represented at the Durban II conference, the Australian Human Rights Commission showed utter contempt for the Australian government and had no regard whatsoever to the appropriate conduct of Australia’s foreign policy.

Branson: I do not accept that that is the case.

Brandis: You obviously do not but I invite you to reflect carefully on it.

[snip]

Senator Barnett: And it did not occur to you at the time to reconsider your position as a commission?

Branson: Not seriously, no.

Barnett: When you say “not seriously”, what does that mean?

Branson: I cannot rule out the possibility –

Barnett: Wouldn’t you take the views of the Australian government and Minister for Foreign Affairs seriously?

Branson: I regarded them as entirely separate questions – whether the government should be a party to the conference or whether we should be there in an observer status.

Barnett: Surely you would show some respect – I will not say for your masters – for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the government and the entity which funds your organisation.

Branson: I hope at all times that I treat the government with great respect. It is my intention to do so.

Barnett: They expressed a view that they wished to boycott the conference in the terms described by Senator Brandis and in the terms set out in the media release by Mr Smith.

Branson: I did not understand it as reaching to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Brandis: Ms Branson! Who do you think you were representing at this conference?

Branson: We were not represented at the conference; we observed at the conference.

Brandis: On whose behalf were you observing?

Branson: We were observing on our own behalf as one of 38 national human rights institutions present in Geneva.

Brandis: It is more than implicit, it seems to me, in what you have to say that your attitude was that you were not representing or observing on behalf of Australia.

Branson: That was my view.

Brandis: So who were you representing?

Branson: I was representing the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Brandis: You were representing yourselves?

Branson: Yes.

Brandis: But you are an Australian government, Australian taxpayer funded agency. The view of the entire parliament was supportive of the position at which the Australian government ultimately arrived that Australia, not the Australian government, in the words of Mr Smith’s letter, should not be represented at this conference – and yet you went along at taxpayer’s expense to represent who? Yourself. Is that satisfactory?

Branson: I regard it as so. I understood the minister to be speaking about Australia the nation.

Brandis: So you were not representing Australia?

Branson: No.

More to come later on Monday (June 22)