When you’re as “fabulous” as Phil Ruddock you really can cry, even if it’s your own party.
At around lunchtime on Tuesday, Little Johnny emerged from the COAG meeting with his counter-terrorism proposals largely agreed to by the now cooperative, coast-to-coast Labor Premiers.
Alas, complained many seasoned observers, where was the attorney? After all, he was the co-author of this proposal two weeks ago, when that long-forgotten, soon to be privatised company known as Telstra seemed to be clogging a few too many bulletins with rotten news stories.
And once the PM’s office released the detail of what had been agreed, you’d think almost by deduction that the little one would want his top legal mind by his side to explain away any jurisprudential enquiries.
After all, under the enlightened new laws the attorney will have to “consent” to a control order application being made. Additionally, the plan involves fundamental changes to parts of the legal profession.
Restrictions will be placed on lawyers’ access to clients detained under the new laws and ASIO may override client confidentiality.
As well, judges and magistrates will be acting in “a personal rather than professional capacity” when they issue a “preventative detention order.” In other words, it will not be the finding of a court to the extent that there’ll be no open proceedings and no written reasons.
Despite this, the event wasn’t quite big enough to attract Fabbo. Some cynics reckoned he wasn’t willing to be seen advocating a package that flies in the face of the values he holds so dear.
Personally, I think Phil might just have been a little under the weather, refining his “new logo” for the 000 and 106 emergency numbers. Good to see his priorities are just right.
Still, the attorney general was willing to engage in some high-level repartee over the merits of the new regime the next day.
On tour in Tasmania, Fabbo was asked what he thought of the widespread criticism of the new terror laws from almost every corner of the legal community.
”Well I hear that, that sort [of] rhetoric,” was the attorney’s considered response. “I mean what are we, what are we compromising?”
Nothing, of course, Phil. What harm could a little house arrest do? Even if one of Little Johnny’s staffers confirmed that the authorities would be able to apply for the 12-month warrants to be renewed before they run out, “on a rolling basis”.
But perhaps we should leave the serious analysis to the pros. In a time of massive increases in government powers who else would the PM turn to for an explanatory chat other than our favourite emperor of the air, Alan (“Dunny”) Jones?
Dunny put the PM to the test with observations like: “You talked about this, and you use your language in a very considered way, you yesterday talked about a shadowy, elusive and lethal enemy.”
Times have changed, responded Little Johnny and he wished “we didn’t live in that age” where such laws were needed. Sounds suspiciously like he’s borrowed the general line of the Labor premiers on Tuesday: we didn’t want to do this, but we had to.
To understand the full sequence of events this week you’ll need to recast your mind to Sunday morning and Kim (“Bomber”) Beazley’s interview with Barry (“Loudshirt”) Cassidy on ABC TV’s Insiders.
Bomber had thought up a new way to set the agenda after years of being accused of indecisiveness: wait for Little Johnny to make a proposal, then aim further Right than the government and hope for the best.
The Big Bloke was proud to tell Loudshirt that his “search and seize” measure meant police could not only detain individuals as the all-talk-no-show government was proposing, but would be able to “search any like area without a warrant”. Rifling through “a whole suburb” was what Bomber wanted.
And his trigger for the “special police powers”? The police commissioner would need “credible evidence.” Thank God for that.
Enter Mick (“Kelpie”) Keelty. “The suggestion that the terrorists have won is nonsense, what has won here is democracy,” Kelpie’s giant trap told ABC local radio in Canberra the day after COAG.
Personally, I’d love to know more of Mick’s conception of “democracy”, but he wasn’t pressed for details.
But that’s enough of the terror talk, because in such a great week for democracy you might have missed some developments slightly off the mainstream agenda, yet crucial to the current political environment.
The Foreign Minster Alexander (“Bunter”) Downer continued his no-holes bared defence of due process, telling Adelaide’s 5AA he couldn’t comment on David Hicks’ application for British citizenship because, “it’s not really a matter for the Australian Government”.
Uncharacteristically, near the end of the interview Bunter momentarily slipped out of his typical devotion to less popular causes:
“I would have thought that somebody charged with those kind of offences it would be better that they face justice rather than just be released but, you know, perhaps that is rather a traditional view.”
Don’t get too caught up in international affairs however, as Labor has an ingenious plan to win the next election on domestic issues.
No, its not the widely reported manifesto presented by Julia Gillard on Wednesday. The shadow attorney general, Nicola (“Lillian”) Roxon, is taking it upon herself to fix Labor’s slide in the polls. She’s enlisted the help of the advertising gurus responsible for the great 90s restaurant success that was Sizzler.
The first tasty morsels of the campaign were on show at the Family Services Australia Conference in Adelaide this week. Lillian accused the government’s family law reforms of creating a “salad bar parenting” mentality.
Catchy stuff, indeed.
However, she couldn’t quite rival the effervescent charm of the Fabulous one. Consider this timely piece of social commentary when he learnt that several of the conference delegates had travelled all the way from New Orleans:
“Fortunately, many of the challenges we ordinarily face are not as bad as a category five hurricane, although I’m sure every family will experience at least a few teenage hurricanes, and an unexpected pregnancy can cause some storm clouds and a family weather alert.”
I can report that the gathering fell quite still.