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City Desk
11 August, 2010  
Pass the parmesan

Soapy George Brandis comes to town … Tickling the Sydney Bar ‘n’ Grill for campaign money … Others might want to actually press policy ideas at closed circle Beppi’s din-dins


imageA group of Sydney silks is hosting a quiet dinner for opposition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis at Beppi’s tomorrow night (Aug. 12).

Among those understood to be starters are Francis Douglas, Tom Hughes and Sandy Street.

While Brandis may try, over bowls of crab linguine and bottles of soave, to tickle-up some funds for Liberal Party coffers – he should also expect that serious policy notions will be pressed on him.

If the Liberal Party’s official pronouncements on its web site are any guide, it’s law and justice agenda is woeful.

Apart from all the usual national security guff, the party is pushing a fight crime policy, which entails a violent gangs database, a national knife crime action plan and nationally consistent drug laws.

The coalition also promises to instal CCTV cameras and have graffiti cleaning squads as part of a “community crime prevention program”.

The Libs have also joined with the ALP and the Greens to commit to a referendum that seeks recognition of indigenous Australians in the Constitution.

Beyond that nothing much is on the record and it’s hard to extract finer details from Brandis.

We do know that he’s promised to stop funding the government’s human rights program, which involves a parliamentary committee to scrutinise legislation for rights’ compliance and money for the Human Rights Commission to conduct an education program.

imageWe approached Brandis’ office for specifics and were told that a variety of issues would be discussed at Friday’s debate between the shadow and the real attorneys general – to be hosted by the Gilbert + Tobin Centre and the Australian Financial Review.

As for the ALP, it’s law and justice policies policy encompass:

* The remnants of the human rights agenda (now called the human rights “framework”). (A UN committee is currently investigating Australia’s human rights record on Aborigines and asylum seekers.)

* An independent panel to draw-up short-lists for judicial appointments.

* Access to justice reforms, including the Civil Disputes Resolution Bill.

* Creation of a national legal profession.

* Harmonisation of legal systems.

* Implementation of uniform privacy principles recommended by the ALRC.

* A “regional framework” that picks-up a grab bag of issues from customary law to gender equality.

However, there are a whole lot of other smouldering issues that could be oxygenated by an imaginative and gutsy politician – and Soapy’s views need to be pinned down.

What about another referendum for a republic, legalisation of same-sex marriage, lifting the retirement age for federal judges to 75, increasing Commonwealth legal aid, bringing back to Australia all citizens serving sentences in overseas prisons, introducing school subjects on human rights and Aboriginal customs and heritage, opening up Australia’s legal system to international competition and a fused national legal profession? – for starters.

Some, if not all, of those policy views can be found among those noshing with the shadow AG tomorrow night.

Sandy Street is known to have strong views on maritime and military law matters and would like to see a ban on all foreign exploitation of our fish resources, implementation of real trade penalties for countries that hunt and kill whales, an ALRC reference to review the admiralty jurisdiction, recognition by the Military Court of Australia of trial by jury, having all “illegal” immigrants dealt with by the courts, with an end executive detention, plus expanding the High Court from seven to nine judges.

In national elections, law and justice usually plays third or fourth fiddle – which is a shame because there are some meaty issues there that might inspire the electorate.

Soapy might get an earful as well as a mouthful at Beppis.

* * *

imageMeanwhile, campaigning in Wentworth, currently held by Malcolm Turnbull, goes from odd to strange.

Turnbull, notionally Liberal, is really running as an independent.

Nowhere is there mention of the horrid words “Liberal Party” on his “literature” or his “corflutes”.

He doesn’t want to be tarred with too much of the Mad Monk’s baggage on gays, asylum seekers and climate change.

If that were to happen there would be a mass exodus to the Greens.

Apart from Turnbull, candidates for the ALP (Steven Lewis) and the Greens (Matthew Robertson) plus independent (Malcolm Duncan), all ply their trade in various corners of the law.

Sydney barrister Duncan is running a vigorous campaign doling our flyers at the Kings Cross markets that pledge, among other things, that “no cat to be strangled ever again in Wentworth” and “strict knife controls for politicians”.

Another independent, Pat Sheil, has released a compelling election manifesto via YouTube.

* * *

In late news to hand, the Libs have halted one of their internet driven sleights of hand.

After advice that there could be challenges to results in marginal seats the Liberal Party has stopped using the system of Google sponsored links to drive people, searching online for ALP, Greens and independent candidates, to Liberal party websites.

Graeme Orr, the electoral law guru from the Uni of Queensland, says there could be grounds to challenge election results.

Section 329 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, prohibits publishing information “likely to mislead or deceive an elector in relation to the casting of a vote”.

The Australian Electoral Commission said the legislation did not give it power to regulate the internet advertising of political parties.