When presenting the Derek Fielding Memorial Lecture a few days ago, president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, singled out 2001 as the year “something went terribly wrong” with Australia.
Facing electoral defeat, John Howard latched on to the 11 September attacks and the so-called Children Overboard and Tampa affairs to redirect attention away from domestic economic matters focusing instead on the issues of border protection and national security.
The racists and bigots who had gathered around Pauline Hanson were legitimised. Refugees were potential terrorists trying to invade our shores. They were queue jumpers who would take our jobs. The hellholes of Manus and Nauru became our ‘solution’.
And now we are subjected to awkward facebook posts of Tony Abbott courting Hanson and telling us all we must respect her special brand of ignorance.
Howard was flattered to be included with Bush and Blair as he, in 2003, committed us to the unjustifiable invasion of a country who posed no threat to Australia, leading to the death of tens of thousands of innocent civilians.
Not content with the racism his ‘tough guy’ approach was causing, Howard turned his bigotry towards gays.
In 2004, he decided to change the Marriage Act to exclude gay couples and ban same-sex couples from adopting children from overseas.
“We’ve decided to insert this into the Marriage Act to make it very plain that that is our view of a marriage and to also make it very plain that the definition of a marriage is something that should rest in the hands ultimately of the parliament of the nation,” Howard said.
“(It should) not over time be subject to redefinition or change by courts, it is something that ought to be expressed through the elected representatives of the country.”
Interesting that the party who used their majority to inflict their definition of marriage on us, now refuses to allow parliament to undo the damage that they insisted was their right to impose.
Howard was also recalcitrant on the issue of indigenous affairs, failing to recognise the significance of an apology for the Stolen Generation.
Mr Howard said he did not believe that one generation could apologise for the actions of another, and, anyway, some children had been removed from their parents for good reason and others were given up voluntarily.
In 2008, then Opposition indigenous affairs spokesman Tony Abbott revealed the politics behind their eventual change of heart.
“When we were in government we could decide whether an apology happened or not, but in opposition all we could decide was an attitude to an apology which was ultimately in the hands of others,” he told The Age. “My own view was if an apology was going to happen anyway why not make the most of the situation and at the very least not rain on the parade.”
Abbott, self-described as the ‘love child’ of a PM who shamelessly used lies to win and Bronwyn Bishop, the worst, most biased, Speaker of all time, gleefully took up the cudgel, adding climate change to the list of wedge politics.
The erosion of human rights continued apace, with the government passing counter-terrorism laws that were “disproportionate to any legitimate aim to protect national security”.
“Indeed Australia has been accused of hyper-legislating counter-terrorism laws, enacting far more such laws than comparable states like the United States and United Kingdom,” Professor Triggs said.
For the first time, Australia was mentioned in the Human Rights Watch list in 2014. We have continued to receive criticism for our failures to actively address issues surrounding asylum seekers and refugees, aboriginal incarceration, disability rights, marriage equality, poverty among the elderly, and freedom of expression.
As Gillian Triggs pointed out, Australia, “the former bastion of support for fundamental freedoms has explicitly passed laws that violate our common law rights as well as international law.”
She calls on all Australians to be “alert and alarmed” at the failure of our politicians and judiciary to halt this erosion of our rights.
We rely on our government to protect us from the excesses of capitalism and to protect our human rights. We rely on the Opposition to protect us from the excesses of the executive. We rely on our judiciary to keep our politicians in line.
We are being let down.
Howard started the rot. Who will stop it?
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