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Evan Whitton
14 December, 2006  
Running the spool backwards

It was brave of Ole K. Cole to accept Jackie Howard’s ostrich defence … Academics give the High Court birchings for decisions in McKinnon (erosion of the court’s standing) and WorkChoices (arrant nonsence) ... Give Serial Liars to a lawyer for Christmas … Don’t give Serial Liars to a lawyer for Christmas

Certain recent events might make more sense if we run the spool backwards:

Monday, December 4. Ms Stephanie Peatling notes in the SMH the result of ACNielsen polling Thursday November 30-Saturday December 2:

“Nearly 70 per cent of people do not believe the Federal Government did not know AWB was paying $290 million to Saddam Hussein’s regime … An overwhelming majority of Labor voters – 88 per cent – believe the Government lied about how much it knew, and 46 per cent of Coalition voters reject its explanation.”

Tuesday, November 28. The general media splash is: Cole Clears Government. Later that day, former Liberal Minister, Charles Wilson (Iron Bar) Tuckey, 71, says:

“The dogs have been barking about corruption for years. A number of people, who were not Liberals [i.e. Nats], were constantly out in the market place saying it was the way you did business in the Middle East.”

imageLawyers for AWB executives darkly promise their clients won’t go down alone.

Monday, November 27. OK Cole’s report, released that day, says:

“The Prime Minister’s evidence, based on his own recollection and upon searches conducted by his staff at his request, was that he did not read any of the relevant cables, and that he did not believe that any of the cables were brought to his attention during the currency of the oil-for-food program … I am satisfied, on the material before me, that the Prime Minister did not have that knowledge.”

Labor pols attack Jackie & Co, but only for incompetence.

What does it all mean? A few possibilities:

  • OK was really brave to accept Jackie’s ostrich defence.
  • Citizens tend to live in the real world. At times, lawyers, pols and reptiles feel they must, to greater or less degree, inhabit some sort of looking glass world.
  • Mr Krudd, who carried the Labor hod on AWB (and became leader on December 4), may have been more effective than hitherto thought.
  • It will be a really big surprise if wheaties find themselves in the dock.

    * * *

    How bracing to see lawyers giving the Humpties* a thorough birching, even if it is only about such trivial maters as democracy and justice.

    Humpties flogged (1)

    imageIn 2002, Michael McKinnon, The Oz’s ace on freedom of information, asked the Treasury for info on the tax effect of bracket creep, and possible fraud by rich people who got $7,000 from a first homeowners’ wheeze.

    “Sod off,” said smirking, poncing, half-smart P. Costello. The issue, according to Monash law professor H.P. (Sauce) Lee (Australian Press Council News, November 2006), was …

    “can a government minister, simply by putting a signature on a certificate, deny access by the press to documents that do not threaten national security, adversely affect Australia’s international relations, or injure the national interest?”

    Rupie is said to have shelled out $1 million to lawyers to try to make the ponceur disgorge the data. To no avail; in McKinnon, Hayne, Callinan and Heydon said the government could conceal the information. Gleeson and Kirby dissented. Professor Lee wrote:

    “The majority decision … confirms a trend that may erode the standing of the highest judicial tribunal in the land … To perform its role as a constitutional sentinel, it must be conscious of protecting those values which pervade a democratic and representative polity. Accountability of government is an essential value. The majority justices, in practical effect, have given the government of the day carte blanche to deny information to the people according to its whims and fancies.”

    It took the NZ Treasury all of 24 hours to supply The Australian with the same sort of bracket creep data.

    * * *

    Humpties flogged (2)

    In wrongful dismissal cases, justice means “a fair go all round”, i.e. to boss and worker, according to NSW Conciliation Commissioner Gilbert Manuel (Justinian May 15, 2006).

    Manuel’s definition was enshrined in the Reith-Kernot Workplace Relations Act (1996), but, as David Hicks has sadly learned, Jackie doesn’t seems to believe in fairness any more; under his so-called WorkChoices legislation, bosses can put workers on the street for no reason at all.

    imageGleeson, Gummow, Hayne, Heydon, and Crennan apparently agree with Jackie. In the WorkChoices case (HCA Nov 14, 2006), they said the Commonwealth can use the corporations power to do pretty much as it likes. Kirby and Callinan dissented.

    Curtin law professor Greg Craven (snap) said (The Fin, November 24) the majority judgment is …

    “arrant nonsense … one of the greatest unauthorised amendments to the constitution in its entire history … a mixture of arrogance and indifference … profoundly undemocratic … intellectual bankruptcy.”

    Judges of course are different from workers: they are not trained; they get a lot more money; and they cannot be sacked even for really lousy work. Perhaps H.P. and Greg will join the movement to have them trained separately from lawyers.

    * * *

    Chrissie pressies

    Alex Wade helpfully lists five things not to give lawyers for Christmas, and five to give them (A Legal Life, The Times, Dec. 7). He put Serial Liars in both lists. I am not sure of the inwardness of this.

    *Humpties, i.e. Humpty Dumpties, i.e. judges – from L Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There, 1871:

    ”’When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less’.
    ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things’.
    ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master that’s all’.”


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