What is notable in the impassioned defence of Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Attorney-General George Brandis, and Christopher Pyne (what’s he do again?) is the choice of descriptors such as eminent, esteemed, distinguished, above reproach, honourable . . . the list is long, but you get the idea.
While Dyson Heydon may well enjoy some or all of those qualities in certain aspects of his life and personality, we ought to know by now that such attributes in no way preclude their bearer from undesirable and even unethical actions, neither do they make those actions any the less heinous.
We know this from the frequent exposure of esteemed, respected, eminent, irreproachable, honourable men (sorry, but they are overwhelmingly men) who are publicly revealed to have a darker and more dangerous side, from the eminent legal and political members of pedophile rings, to the growing list of globally renowned entertainers who’ve sexually preyed on women and children, to the irreproachable religious leaders who’ve succumbed to worldly temptations. You think we’d know by now that the words eminent, irreproachable, distinguished, honourable and so on mean, unfortunately, absolutely nothing when used in defence of men of achievement who’ve been outed as alarmingly two-faced.
And yet Abbott et al seem to believe that the increasingly desperate enunciation of these linguistic accolades will put Dyson Heydon beyond accountability, in much the same way as Abbott’s description to the court of the convicted pedophile Father Nestor as a virtuous and upright man was intended to distract from, or at the very least ameliorate, his crimes. These blokes make mistakes but they are essentially honourable men, so come on. Yes. Indeed.
It’s beyond belief that Dyson Heydon, given his experience and eminence in his profession, could be unaware that he is required to be free of all political allegiances. If by some oversight he was unaware of the nature of the Liberal Party invitation to give the Sir Garfield Barwick lecture, rumour has it that Attorney-General George Brandis was also invited to the same event some time back in April. Surely he noticed that looming conflict of interest? No?
Indeed, did no legal personage in the ranks of Liberal lawyers grasp the ethical implications of a Royal Commissioner heading an investigation into trade unions and the Labor party simultaneously giving the keynote address at a Liberal party fundraiser? Because if they are that thick, how are they making a living?
The collapse of institutions once respected and even revered has eroded popular faith in the perceived trustworthy and honourable nature of authority, simply because it is authority. Too often those who wield the power of authority have been shown to have abused that power and we are increasingly disillusioned. Or perhaps we’re on the road to a more healthy realism and self-responsibility. Like believing in the sky fairy, trusting a man because he is eminent in his profession, no matter what his field, is, sadly, a loony and outdated idea. It belongs in the era when a man’s word was binding: how many centuries ago was that?
Besides, if Abbott found Nestor virtuous and upright that tells us everything we need to know about his capacity for good judgement.