Friday 9 February 2018
“George Henry Brandis QC (born 22 June 1957) is an Australian politician who has been a Senator for Queensland since May 2000, representing the Liberal Party. He served as a minister in the Howard, Abbott, and Turnbull Governments. Brandis studied law at the University of Queensland and Magdalen College, Oxford.”
Most people have the perception of a befuddled, self-righteous, toffy bookish politician who had never used a computer and so struggled to explain what metadata was. In the back of their minds they might struggle to remember something about book shelves and subscriptions to magazines at the taxpayer’s expense.
“If questioned, people might remember that in 2011 Brandis submitted specific accusations to NSW police commissioner Andrew Scipione that sitting federal M.P. Craig Thomson had committed larceny and fraud.”
“There were other things like the public scrutiny he faced when it was revealed that in 2011 he had billed the taxpayer for attending the wedding ceremony of Sydney radio shock-jock Michael Smith, who had colluded with Brandis to publicise the Craig Thomson media saga.”
“Then of course there was the time when as Arts Minister, Brandis received significant criticism from the arts industry for a $105 million cut to the Australia Council for the Arts funding in the 2015-16 Australian Federal Budget.”
“On top of that there was his support of greater press freedom, particularly for Andrew Bolt who was found to have breached racial vilification laws in commenting on Indigenous Australians of mixed-race descent.”
“Then in October 2016, allegations were made by Australia’s Solicitor-General, Justin Gleeson SC, suggesting that Brandis attempted to block the Solicitor-General from providing legal advice to members of the Australian Government without first seeking and receiving the permission of the Attorney-General.”
That then is the perception most people would have of George. The fuddy duddy who was always mixed up in one controversy or another.
Yes, “life is about perception. Not what is but what we perceive it to be.”
On Wednesday the good Senator retired and will replace Alexander Downer as Australia’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.
As a sign of respect members of the judiciary, attended Senator Brandis’ valedictory speech including High Court chief justice Susan Kiefel, the newly appointed High Court justice James Edelman, and the chief judge of the Federal Circuit Court, William Alstergren.
Those who thought that George would just go and quietly close the door behind him were wrong. He let fly at Peter Dutton and other far right MPs who are succeeding at taking the party down the path of neo-conservatism.
Senator Brandis had given 18 years of his life to public service, 11 on the front-bench. He lamented that:
“Being a liberal is not easy” “powerful elements of right-wing politics” had abandoned the liberal tradition in favour of “a belligerent, intolerant populism which shows no respect for either the rights of individual citizens or the traditional institutions which protect them”.
Whilst not mentioning the recently appointed Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton in his speech, he managed to make a sarcastic mention of Dutton’s disparaging of judges.
“I have not disguised my concern at attacks upon the institutions of the law – the courts and those who practice in them,”
“To attack those institutions is to attack the rule of law itself.”
In the presence of the Prime Minister the former Attorney General was highlighting , or confirming the challenge that right-wing populism would impose on the Liberal Party.
In his speech Brandis targeted “right-wing postmodernism”. “A set of attitudes which had its origin in the authoritarian mind of the left has been translated right across the political spectrum,” he said.
“It isn’t easy being a Liberal these days” he said.
“It means respecting the right of people to make choices which we ourselves would not make and of which may disapprove.
“It means respecting the right of people to express their opinions, even though others may find those opinions offensive.
“It means respecting the right of people to practice their religion, even though others may find the tenets of that religion irrational.
“It means, in a nation of many cultures, respecting the right of people to live according to their culture, even though, to others, that culture may seem alien.
“It means respecting the right of everyone to marry the person they love, even though others may find their understanding of marriage confronting.”
Brandis may be right. These do sound very much like left wing principles.
“It is a duty which, as my cabinet colleagues know, on several robust occasions, I have always placed above political advantage,” he said.
Brandis, a Liberal moderate, also strongly cautioned the Coalition against listening to those who said it should use national security as a political weapon against Labor, and criticised attacks on the judiciary from his own side.
Brandis told the Senate that classical liberal values were under “greater challenge than at any time in my memory”.
“Increasingly, in recent years, powerful elements of right-wing politics have abandoned both liberalism’s concern for the rights of the individual and conservatism’s respect for institutions, in favour of a belligerent, intolerant populism which shows no respect for either the rights of individual citizens or the traditional institutions which protect them.”
“I have heard some powerful voices argue that the Coalition should open a political front against the Labor Party on the issue of domestic national security.
“I could not disagree more strongly.”
There we have it. An open admission that what I and many others had been saying for over five years that there is an ongoing genuine attempt, started by Tony Abbott, and members of the far right of the party to take it over.
We need to be shouting this out by any means possible before the next election so that the ordinary punter knows just what the far right is out to achieve.
Senator Brandis noted in his accomplishments the legalisation of same-sex marriage, and the several tranches of national security laws he authored.
He said that controversies had a habit of following him – such as his comment, o“the right to be bigots” his now famous impromptu rebuke of Pauline Hanson’s burqa stunt “
Senate leader Penny Wong said her opponent was a “pedantic grammarian” who at critical junctures became “an extraordinarily eloquent advocate for liberalism and democracy”.
My thought for the day
“Life is about perception. Not what is but what we perceive it to be.”