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Political Appointments: Downgrading the Australian Human Rights Commission

With all the hollering and scolding of Russian barbarity in Ukraine and Chinese viciousness against the Uighur populace, one could be forgiven for thinking that Australia’s politicians were presiding from the summit of human rights superiority. The vote to remove Russia from the Human Rights Council was also greeted in Canberra with hooting sounds of approval. The savages were being banished from such bodies that have had, over the years, the membership of such joyful paragons of human rights as Saudi Arabia.

This smugness did not convince the international standards body on human rights, which has found that the Australian Human Rights Commission should be downgraded in its standing. The reason: seemingly political appointments, without a rigorous selection process, of Ben Gauntlett to the position of Disability Discrimination Commissioner in 2019 and Lorraine Finlay to the position of Human Rights Commissioner last year.

The Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, which conducts the review every five years, considers whether the body in question meets the UN Principles on National Institutions which considers institutional independence for the purpose of ensuring the effective promotion and protection of human rights.

In a statement, the AHRC noted three possible fates: reaccreditation at the A-level; a “downgrade to a B-status institution” or a deferral of the process to permit “serious matters of compliance to be addressed.” In some ways, the Commission has been given the worst of all worlds: being neither the most appalling, nor the best in terms of practice, it has to languish in the purgatory of deferral, with the Australian government having a period of 15 months to address the problems.

The GANHRI statement had all the flavour of a committee chastisement. It acknowledged the efforts of the AHRC to address old problems but not enough had been done to heed “previous recommendations.” It took issue with a selection process where the Attorney-General “may consider that a full selection process is not required” or where the “availability of an eminent person” would make conducting a selection process fairly meaningless (as was the case of Finlay’s appointment in 2021).

Reiterating the same concerns expressed in 2016, the body stressed that “such appointments have the potential to bring into question the legitimacy of the appointees and the independence of the NHRI.”

While human rights standards are always a hard thing to measure, being often hostage to political fortune and self-interest, this was a notable threat. It means that Australia will be given, quite rightly, mere observer status, its voice, and relevance in the field, reduced.

This latest glaring spotlight on Canberra’s human rights resume continues a legacy of much contradiction. The country was very encouraging of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, being one of several nations tasked with drafting it. Attorney-General Herbert V. Evatt, who led the Australian team, saw the document as very much in keeping with the spirit of the “fair go”.

As he promoted that view, Evatt also gave a cast iron guarantee that the White Australia Policy, in place since 1901 as a barrier against the hordes of Asia, would remain unthreatened. A fair go was very dependent on who had won, to adapt that expression of Cecil Rhodes, that most ruthless of British Empire builders, first prize in the lottery of life. (For Rhodes, it was the Englishman.) As Evatt reasoned, “There is no relationship between the Declaration of Human Rights […] and the exercise by a country of its national right […] to determine the composition of its own people.”

In 2018, Australia was elected to sit on the UN Human Rights Council for a three-year term on the crest of two arguments: that it would be the first Pacific state to sit on the body; and because of the country’s commitments to civil and political rights. Its tenure did not prove particularly impressive, marked by a tendency to conduct “constructive bilateral dialogues” and meek positions. Elaine Person, Australia director at Human Rights Watch, noted that Canberra had a preference for “making generic statements of concern in Geneva.”

Those generic statements about certain countries and their human rights records have suddenly disappeared – at least regarding those selected autocratic states Prime Minister Scott Morrison is so keen to condemn. Forceful remarks can be found about Hong Kong, the Uighur populace, and Ukraine. Officials in Canberra can take some comfort that Australia’s sadistic refugee program and its inglorious record on Indigenous protection can be momentarily eclipsed.

The behaviour surrounding the AHRC is all part of a conscious bankrupting of integrity in a range of public institutions. This month has been particularly frenetic on that score, with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) proving a favourite forum. A body responsible for scrutinising decisions made by government ministers and departments is now stacked with Liberal Party loyalists. These include former West Australian Liberal state politician, Michael Mischin, who is assuming the role of deputy president, and former NSW Liberal Minister, Pru Goward, and Morrison’s former chief of staff, Anne Duffield.

Call it the pestilence of the friendship-made complex: You pick the girls and chaps of your stripe, avoid a rigorous selection process and eschew advertising vacancies. Discretion will be based on loyalty; criticism of the government will be minimised. It ensures a lack of independent thinking does much to destroy the basis of a public service above scorn and dispute. Those days, if indeed they ever existed, are gone.

 

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19 comments

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  1. Phil Pryor

    It’s just before an election and the conservative conmen and corruptioneers are sorting the bribery and corruption files for “gifts” to hand out to the loyal. Well paid sinecures and unsought contracts go to insiders, of proven prone humiliating loyalty of course. Only the top echelon of bumboys and joygirls are deserving. When Goward was under Jack Howard, she didn’t get it as easy or well paid. No. So, the Piggery Manager and his stained team of stinkers is up for refinancing. Let us blast out the rotten team from the USA intruding media maggot and muckmaker’s team of turdy tossers and non-truth advocates, the scum.

  2. Mick Bongiorno

    Love your work, Binoy,I agree with most of what you post.We may now sit back and observe the horrors and bullshit served up by the morally challenged fake and his propaganda arm.Think I’ll retire until after the circus concludes.

  3. A Commentator

    “With all the hollering and scolding of Russian barbarity in Ukraine and Chinese viciousness against the Uighur populace one could be forgiven for thinking that Australia’s politicians were presiding from the summit of human rights superiority…’
    Dear Binoy
    1. Who has claimed this?
    2. Clearly you haven’t bothered to compare the Amnesty International report on China and Russia with Australia’s.
    3. Do you think “all the hollering and scolding of Russian barbarity” is justified or unjustified?
    4. By all means analyse and criticise Australia’s record, but introducing the subject in the context of the record of Russia and China is either stupid or deliberately provocative.

  4. Michael Taylor

    A C, I think you’ve missed the point of the article. Your intense dislike of Dr Binoy is clouding your judgement, which we all know is usually sound.

  5. Phil Pryor

    Sound? The commentator is usually sound? It’s the sound of a prehistoric orifice signalling nothing. There is the intellectual nourishment of a black hole. Binoy Kampmark is several galaxies ahead of his anaemic critic here.

  6. Michael Taylor

    Said with tongue in cheek, Phil.

    The only sound I enjoy from A C is the sound of silence.

  7. A Commentator

    Binoy’s analysis of the issue of appointments to the AHRC is sound.
    The problem is that he diminishes his argument with the puerile points in his introduction.
    He seems compelled to use false equivalence tactics to diminish the outrageous record of these brutal dictatorships.
    Is it an obsession? Deliberate provocation? Ignorance?

  8. Michael Taylor

    The introduction baffled me at first, but without it I don’t think the hypocrisy on the human rights front would have been suitably exposed.

    Comparisons are good.

  9. A Commentator

    No country in the world has a perfect record.
    There isn’t anywhere that Amnesty International gives an “all clear”
    Trivialising and ridiculing Australia’s criticism of the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the CCP policy regarding the Uyghurs is deliberately provocative.
    Australia’s human rights record is entirely deficient. But Russia’s and that of the CCP is simply outrageous
    Binoy diminishes himself and his analysis with this provocation

  10. Kaye Lee

    25 JANUARY 2022

    Transparency International (TI)’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) report has put Australia in 18th place, scoring just 73 points on the 100-point scale.

    This is the worst result Australia has ever received since Transparency International’s new methodology began in 2012.

    Since 2012, Australia’s score has dropped 12 points, and our rank in the global index has fallen 11 places (from 7th place in 2012). Of all the OECD countries, Australia tied with Hungary in dropping the most points (12) over this period.

    While Australia’s score has been sliding down for a decade, countries in our region, such as Papua New Guinea, have been trending up. New Zealand again comes in at equal first.

    “The dramatic fall in Australia’s standing underscores the urgent need for the establishment of a national integrity commission with the full powers of a royal commission.

    ‘Transparency International Australia has been sounding the alarm on Australia’s deteriorating global corruption standing for years. The latest results point to systemic failings to tackle corruption, foreign bribery and strengthen political integrity.”

  11. Michael Taylor

    A C, we all see things differently, but that’s the way I saw it.

  12. Kaye Lee

    Personally, I think comparisons with how Australia used to be viewed are more relevant, particularly in the context of an election. The substance of the article is important. Tim Wilson deserved a mention too.

    I also think the language of the opening trivialises the abuses of Russia and China, similar to the cartoon villain theme, but it’s not central to the discussion that follows.

  13. Michael Taylor

    Kaye, you say things better than I do. You’re excellent at putting my thoughts into words.

    (That’s where I’m lucky to have Carol: she helps me with words and I help her with numbers.)

  14. Michael Taylor

    No country in the world has a perfect record.

    A C, that’s a cop out. There’s no reason why we can’t try harder or expect better.

  15. A Commentator

    It’s a cop out to ridicule Australia for its imperfect record, while giving brutal dictatorships cover.
    That’s Binoy’s modus operandi.
    A reasonable analysis, that meets academic rigor, is to identify the slide in Australia’s human rights performance. Using data, rational discussion and international indices.
    On Binoy’s criteria, is any country entitled to criticise the human rights record of China, Russia…or the USA?
    Binoy doesn’t bother with rationality.. His preference is ridicule. He therefore deserves some in return.
    Australia can paraphrase Gillard- “I will not be lectured by that man…who stood with the guy that got Trump into the Whitehouse”

  16. Michael Taylor

    That’s still no reason why we can’t try harder or expect better.

  17. A Commentator

    Yes, there’s no doubt we can do far better, and it’s a fact that we’ve slipped a long way. We can agree on that.
    My problem with Binoy is that he distracts from that with the low grade ridicule

  18. Kaye Lee

    Press freedom is another pertinent comparison

    Out of 180 countries, rankings are:

    Australia 25
    US 44
    Russia 150
    China 177

    “Despite appearances, press freedom is fragile in Australia. Its constitutional law contains no press freedom guarantees and recognises no more than an “implied freedom of political communication”. Federal police raids in June 2019 on the home of a Canberra-based political reporter and the headquarters of the state-owned Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Sydney were flagrant violations of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and public interest journalism. “National security,” the grounds given for these raids, is used to intimidate investigative reporters, who also have to cope with a 2018 defamation law that is one of the harshest of its kind in a liberal democracy, and terrorism laws that make covering terrorism almost impossible. Prime Minister Scott Morrison is also a climate change sceptic and his government tends to obstruct coverage of environmental issues. These political attacks on investigative journalism are all the more worrying because pluralism in Australia has been badly eroded by one of the world’s highest levels of media ownership concentration. Almost all of the privately-owned media are now owned by two media giants, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and Nine Entertainment, the heir to a consortium created by the Packer family. This oligarchic media model, in which media outlets focus above all on cost-cutting and profits, constitutes an additional curb on public interest investigative journalism.”

  19. randalstella

    Australia certainly needs a lecture on human rights from a Putin shill.
    The absurdity is repellent.

    This next salvo in this fellow’s campaign occurs just at the time of the closing down of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in Russia. Does this get a mention? Of course not.
    That is the significance of this piece.
    As so typically, it is what he omits and refuses to discuss.

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