Every now and then we have some journalist telling us that the current generation is functionally illiterate because some young person mis-spelled “manoeuvre”, while ignoring the vast number of mistakes in the mainstream media. (One of my favourtes was when Channel 10 posted underneath a photo of Brad Haddin, alleging that he was Australia’s “wicked keeper”… Mm, perhaps they may be on to something!)
However, it’s people’s lack of a basic education in legal and economic principles that most concerns me.
For example, yesterday morning, I read this piece of nonsense in “The Age”:
“Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority head Ben McDevitt says he is very confident that Essendon players received banned drugs in an 2012 injection program, despite a tribunal finding to the contrary.”
I wish to emphasise that I’m making no judgement about the guilt or innocence of anyone here, but there was no “finding to the contrary”. The tribunal simply found that there wasn’t enough evidence for a finding of guilty.
And that’s the way the law works. When you’re found “Not guilty”, it doesn’t mean that you’re found innocent or exonerated, it simply means that there is insufficient evidence to condemn you as guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
So when Mr. Smedley is found, naked and drunk, in an illegal brothel and he claims that he was a little confused and he thought he was in the doctor’s office for a medical exam, we may doubt his story, but the job of the prosecution is to prove that his version of events doesn’t stack up. At the end of the trial, he won’t be found “innocent”, it may just be that the court decideds there isn’t enough evidence to convict him. And you can be pretty sure that after the verdict, his wife won’t be saying, “How could I ever have doubted you, I’m so sorry!”
But now that the AFL tribunal has delivered the verdict, the letters section was filled with letters asserting that this proved that people had done “nothing wrong” and that the investigation was completely unnecessary and certain people in the media owed certain people a large apology.
And then, of course, we have Mr Palmer suing his ex-PUPpets. According to the lawyer, they’ll be sued under the principle of promissory estoppel, which I find rather interesting.
Now, let’s for a moment consider what a Senator is elected to do – at least in theory. Senators are elected to represent their state. They make certain statements to the electorate and the various states elect the senators that they feel will best respresent them. While parites may support them, or donors may back them, their first duty is, of course, to the state they represent.
All right, we know that it doesn’t work in practice quite like that, but I think we can all agree that if any politician came out and actually said that they knew that this would hurt their electorate, but one of their biggest donors is for it, so their electorate can get stuffed, they’d receive a backlash at the ballot box.
So what is the principle of “promissory estoppel” under which Palmer intends to sue. Well, basically it works like this: A person makes a promise, the person to whom the promise is made then makes certain decisions based on the reasonable expectation that the promise will be kept, and, when the promise is not kept, the promisee suffers some form of economic loss. In other words, you promise me that you’ll supply me with building materials. I enter into a contract to build a house for someone else and then you tell me that you’ve changed your mind in spite of our handshake deal because you’ve found that you can get a better price, so I sue you for the lost revenue on my building of the house.
It seems to me problematic for Mr Palmer to argue that he has suffered some form of economic loss because the senators left the Palmer United Party. The money spent getting them elected has already been spent. If they suddenly rejoined the Party, then neither Mr Palmer nor his party would receive any of those funds back. So essentially Palmer’s lawyers will be arguing that their first duty is not to the electorate they serve, but to the people who financed their campaigns – in this case, the Palmer United Party – because of their “promise” to be PUPs in the Senate.
If this was successful, the ramifications of anyone making any policital donation could be huge. “I donated twenty dollars to your campaign under the believe that you were going to lower my taxes because of your promise to do that, now I’m joining in a class action because, well, I spent the money at Harvey Norman on interest free terms!”
And, of course, Mr Palmer’s lawyers need to be careful that they don’t suggest that Mr Palmer expected some future economic benefit from having senators from his party in the Senate, because surely he would expect them to make up their mind on the merits of each piece of legislation and how it affected their state, because to have a party telling people to vote against the interests of the people who elected them, well, that’d just be wrong, wouldn’t it?
And speaking of parties telling people what to do – or just plain wrong – most of you probably read about Alan Jones’ little rant on what Abbott should do:
- a judicial inquiry into ASADA, the AFL, NRL and the Gillard government
- a “drought tax”, like the Queensland flood levy introduced by the Labor government, to help farmers in NSW and Queensland;
- taxing everyone over 65 at only 15 cents in the dollar to encourage older people to stay in the workforce
- taking away the entitlements of former prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard because of their “wrecking of the economy”.
Which gets back to my point about a basic education on how the legal system works. His first point, I could dismiss with “oh no, not another inquiry”, but as I pointed out at the beginning, the fact that the Essendon players weren’t found guilty, doesn’t mean that there was nothing to investigate. And while it may be worthwhile to look at ASADA and its operations, the linking to the Gillard government makes me wonder whether Jones is suggesting to Abbott that another witch hunt is necessary, because none of the other inquiries have damaged Labor enough.
Similarly, his final point about stripping Rudd and Gillard of their entitlements has two probablems. The first is that it’s an oxymoron. If they’re “entitlements”, then people are entitled to them and one can’t strip them away. But, more seriously, where would you stop if you decided to do something like this to ex-PMs? Without entering into the rather spurious argument that Rudd and Gillard wrecked the economy – when I last looked we still had an “economy” so it clearly hasn’t been “wrecked” – could Parliaments start stripping politicians of their entitlements because they introduced legislation that they didn’t like, or didn’t reduce the Budget deficit by as much as promised?
However, it’s the second and third point that reveal most about Alan Jones. Why only to help farmers in NSW and Queensland? Aren’t there farmers in other states suffering hard times? Oh, that’s right. NSW and Queensland are Alan Jones’ audience.
And while I’m wondering about naked self-interest…
Why tax everyone over 65 at only 15 cents in the dollar? Wouldn’t that include people who could clearly afford to pay the tax? People who were earning millions as a radio shock jock for example…
And I’m still to have someone explain to me why, with such high unemployment, we’re trying to encourage older people to stay in the workforce longer. Yes, I understand that we need to plan for the future, and a few years from now, there won’t be enough younger workers to sustain all the older pensioners. But surely we should be trying to get younger people into the workforce now, so that they could earning and building up superannuation, so that they have less need for the pension when they’re older. And, in some cases, when you encourage older people to stay in the workforce, you’re depriving a younger person of a job.
But hey, I’m not an economic genius like the Liberals. The rises in the superannuation guarantee were first stopped by Howard. They’ve been stopped again by the current mob. Now, we’re hearing that we need to be putting away more for retirement, so that we’re not reliant on the pension. Perhaps, I’m missing something, but it seems to me that increasing the superannuation guarantee would be a way of doing just that.
Still maybe Jones is onto something. He should be paying fifteen cents in the dollar… Just to keep him in the workforce, not to add to his wealth… And I should be paying no tax at all, just because… well, it’d give me more money and I’d spend it and stimulate the economy and provide jobs, and that’s the only reason, I don’t just say it because it’d allow me to buy more stuff…
Ah, as Jack Lang (NSW Premier during the Depression) supposedly said: “Always back the horse named self-interest, son. At least you know it’s trying.”