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The law should not be a plaything of the government

From the beginning, the Coalition government has shown an unhealthy disregard for the law, using it for political purposes when it suits them and ignoring it when it doesn’t.

One of their first acts in October 2013 was to launch a high court challenge to overturn the ACT’s recently enacted same sex marriage laws.  The court ruled that states and territories did not have the right to overrule federal marriage law.

Yet when a citizen successfully litigated that the Commonwealth had no right to fund religious school chaplains in state schools, Christopher Pyne chose to bypass the ruling by giving the money to the states with the direction that it could not be used for secular welfare workers.

These were expensive exercises which ignored the will of the people and the intent of the law.

Then we had the saga of George Brandis’ refusing to fulfil a freedom of information request for his diary to see if he met with community legal aid stakeholders before making controversial cuts to the sector in the Coalition’s 2014 budget despite a Productivity Commission report that found it needed a huge boost in funds to meet growing demand.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal subsequently ruled Senator Brandis should process the request.  He again refused, taking it to the Federal Court who also ruled he must hand it over.  Eventually, after 1039 days and over $50,000 of public money wasted, Brandis finally handed over a heavily redacted copy of his diary.

Michaelia Cash is waging a similar battle to avoid answering questions regarding tipping off the media about an AFP raid on union headquarters.  The Federal Court has issued a subpoena requiring her to give evidence but she has instructed her lawyers to fight it.

And now we hear that the Commonwealth government and the Murray Darling Basin Authority have sought a high court injunction to prevent their staff giving evidence to the South Australian royal commission into the Murray Darling.  They contend that the SA royal commission does not have authority to require answers or demand the production of documents by federal employees.

This from the government who dragged three Labor leaders before Royal Commissions and broke a long-standing convention by demanding the release of Cabinet documents.

The government has sought to circumvent the law by bestowing special Ministerial powers and protections.

First, Parliament moved to give then Environment Minister Greg Hunt retrospective legal immunity against future legal challenges to his decisions on mining projects, effectively licensing him to avoid compliance with the EPBC Act.

Then we had Scott Morrison conferring on himself the power to revoke a person’s citizenship. The new laws provided the Minister with the power to set aside decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal concerning character and identity if, in his opinion, it would be in the public interest to do so.

Peter Dutton ignores court rulings that we are responsible for the care of refugees on Manus and Nauru and the ruling by the PNG court that the detention centre on Manus was unlawful.  He just moved people to a different place with less protection.

Nothing epitomised more the attitude that they are a greater power than the law than when three Ministers of the Crown – Greg Hunt, Michael Sukkar and Alan Tudge – had to be threatened with contempt of court charges before they would “apologise unreservedly” for their criticism of court sentencing in Victoria.

The court had previously said the ministers had “failed to respect the doctrine of separation of powers” and “breached the principle of sub judice”.

The AFP seem to be at the beck and call of the Coalition, as shown not only by the Craig Thomson arrest and raids on the AWU headquarters, but also the raids on the lawyer representing Timor l’Este in a case involving alleged industrial espionage by our government and on Stephen Conroy and a staffer when they revealed the truth about the NBN rollout.

It is also troublesome that the government of the day gets to appoint the judiciary and decide who will act as Commissioners in inquiries – Dyson Heydon being a case in point.

As rights are being stripped away from individuals with things like metadata collection, random identity checks at airports, reverse onus of proof with alleged robodebt bills, huge penalties for withholding labour, and the loss of the ability to appeal decisions, the government threatens public servants, journalists and contractors with jail time if they disclose anything the government doesn’t want them to.

The ABC has the Sword of Damocles hanging over their head with constant complaints from the government about any story that they perceive as critical, accompanied by new (weaker?) management, continued funding cuts and calls for it to be sold off.

More than ever, we need an independent national broadcaster, an independent judiciary, a federal integrity body, responsible regulators, and a knowledgeable Senate, to oversee the actions of our increasingly secretive authoritarian government.


22 comments

  1. Cynthia

    Thank you Kay, I appreciate your informative information.

  2. Graeme Henchel

    This is indeed a vicious and vindictive government without qualms about using and abusing the benefits of office to silence critics and prosecute opponents.

    Should the labor party stoop to the same low levels when they gain office?
    Part of me says they should go after these bastards. Turnbull, Dutton, Cash could suffer the same pursuit as the coalition have tried with Gillard and Rudd and Shorten and Slipper for that matter.

    But then the better part of me says that just because the coalition are corrupt abusers of the public purse for their own political purposes labor should not repeat the offence.

    This is why a federal ICAC is an absolute necessity. Of course it would need to have assured and generous funding and a mechanism to assure that the people are independently appointed and unable to be influenced by government. It is obvious that even with a federal ICAC the coalition will corrupt or neuter it by stacking it with similar minded shysters or they will simply starve it of funds.

  3. Babyjewels

    I could cry for a lost Australia. Bring on a Federal ICAC, Labor. I will vote for you if you promise it.

  4. Keitha Granville

    I am with you Babyjewels, bring it on.

    It is disgraceful – this government is corrupt in every way: legally, ethically and morally. They behave appallingly at every opportunity, and get away with it. They must be brought down and then brought to account.

  5. Kronomex

    To paraphrase Judge Dredd with regards to the LNP (capitals intentional): WE ARE THE LAW!

  6. Aichsv

    ICAC when Labor wins power wins my vote, unconditionally. Keep your Dignity Bill, you’ll need it for some time yet!

  7. Adrianne Haddow

    Great piece, Kaye Lee.

    In their cynical use of the law, (when they are not ignoring it as it applies to them) Eric Abetz has moved to investigate GetUp….. again. (4th June, The Australian)
    Senator Abetz has just directed another Government body to investigate GetUp.

    The following from a GetUp notification,

    This time it’s the Australian Securities and Investments Commission being called in to do his dirty work. And as always, his attack dogs at The Australian weren’t far behind, echoing Abetz’s call for a probe on page 2 of the paper.1

    This Government isn’t very good at the important things — like creating a fair tax system, or saving the Great Barrier Reef from dying at the hands of coal and gas giants. But they are exceptional at attacking their critics, and attempting to silence us with investigations, red tape and raids.

    They’re trying to stop your political action by mounting up the legal costs. We must show Senator Abetz and other hard right MPs that we won’t be investigated into silence.

    ASIC should do its job and rigorously regulate Australian companies. But this frivolous call for ASIC to probe GetUp — to look into some outdated drafting and an accidentally blank last page in our lodged Constitution — is the latest in a long run of Government-instigated investigations and proposed legislation designed to hobble critics and detractors.

    We’ve seen it in the Australian Charities and Not for Profit Commission’s investigation of 350.org2, and in a federal police raid on the Australian Workers Union, with the media tipped off to catch it all on camera.3

    We’ve seen it with the Government’s attempt, through its Advocacy Gag Bill, to hobble charities’ fundraising, by making mum and dad donors sign statutory declarations.4

    And of course, we’ve seen it in Senator Abetz and other hard right MPs leaning on the Australian Electoral Commission to investigate — for a third time — whether or not GetUp is an ‘associated entity’. It seems no other organisation has been investigated twice, let alone three times.5

    It’s an abuse of Government power, straight out of the Trump playbook, and we can’t let it become the norm in Australia.

  8. Glenn Barry

    I think that one word abusive summarises this governments behaviour
    The next election will be a telling time, will it be an ascent of dignity in the face of abuse or a descent into submission as a result of the abuse

  9. jimhaz

    A literal Liberal Colgate ring of confidence tricksters conducting a sting on the Ozzie public.

    To me it shows just how pathetic the ALP is, though it is of little surprise looking at Shorten and Plibersek – more of the same.

  10. totaram

    How many times can Abetz ask the AEC to investigate the same issue? Isn’t this tantamount to vexatious litigation and harassment? Can’t GetUp claim that and ask for this nonsense to be stopped? Otherwise this crypto-fascist can keep requesting further investigations forever.

  11. Pamela

    Australia characterised by Civil Lethargy of such magnitude that there are no consequences for anything.

  12. Kenny Ring

    A Federal ICAC is an absolute essential to investigate the wide range of abuses of office made by ministers in the TURNBULLY and ABBOTT governments. Part of the process of improving the integrity of the parliament is to hold accountable for their actions ministers who have abused their office. The public can have no confidence in Royal Commissions as these are used to undertake political witch hunts (the Heydon Royal Commission that cost $80 MILLION dollars and produced nothing except a recommendation of charges against union officials which have now been withdrawn). The AFPs involvement in politically motivated raids whether it be the AWU raid, the Scott Thompson raid or the raid on Stephen Conroys Office all these have been political orientated and the AFP has done nothing to advise the public how the media was tipped off about the raids. Their investigation of the AWU raid and their view that they have more important things to do is an absolute insult to the Australian people. The Australian public can have Zero confidence in the AFP.
    Without some form of independent investigation into many of the issues that are being swept under the carpet by this LNP government and where appropriate ministers being held accountable for their actions it will give license to all future politicians to abuse their positions at the expense of the Australian people and our government will continue its race to the bottom in integrity, ethics, and standards.
    Whether it be LNP or Labour in government any ICAC must be absolutely above political interference otherwise we will have achieved nothing.

  13. Pierre Wilkinson

    More than ever, we need an independent national broadcaster, an independent judiciary, a federal integrity body, responsible regulators, and a knowledgeable Senate, to oversee the actions of our increasingly secretive authoritarian government.
    Whole heartedly agree, Kaye Lee.
    I really appreciate your articles as they are so informative, factual and amusing… thank you.

  14. guest

    Thank you, Kaye. When I read this I think it cannot possibly be true, but it is.

    If someone were to write all this into a novel, it would be canned as a dud bit of clunky fiction. But it is true! It is worse than “1984” or “Animal Farm” – at least they had some narrative and resolution.

    But the misdemeanors you describe are an appalling horror show of political claptrap. As Mr Micawber said about other things: If the law thinks that, the law is a ass.

    In Dickens’ stories, the masses of the community overcome the wicked. We must hope that the masses wake up and bring down the corruption of this government. That it gets away with it is beyond belief.

    That blame is laid against Shorten or Plibersek is pathetic. The perpetrators are out of control, apparently. The bet thing is to vote the government out.

  15. Kaye Lee

    guest,

    These were just a few examples. They are endless.

    The government fought a three and a half year legal battle that ended in them settling a compensation claim from 1700 refugees for $70 million. Yet they STILL maintain there is no wrongdoing. They only settled so they didn’t have to hear an adverse court ruling.

    And whatever happened with the Securency/One Note bribery case? What was Dick Warburton’s involvement and why did he continue to be given government appointments?

    Why has James Packer remained unscathed when his partner in Macau was convicted of bribery, his employees in China were held on charges of illegally wooing Chinese gamblers, he has been accused of bribing the Israeli PM (and seeking Israeli citizenship in return for a tax deal), and the pokies in Crown Casino were rigged. Yet he travels the world with our PM and the apparent imprimatur of the government.

    Why did we have to pay for Nigel Hadgkiss’ unsuccessful defence when he had clearly broken the law and why was he given the job of head of the ABCC when he was under investigation?

    Why was Peter Slipper’s alleged $900 debt referred to the AFP?

    Why is Kathy Jackson still at large while Craig Thomson was dealt with with such crushing alacrity?

    Why does James Ashby seem untouchable?

    So many questions….

  16. Jack Russell

    Sustained white-hot outrage here … quite something for a happy peaceful person to feel in old age.

  17. New England Cocky

    But Kaye, you forget that the Liarbral Party are perfect in every way and only ever tell the truth as they see it for their own personal benefit.

    In the last 2017 NSW local government elections following the forced amalgamation of councils, the NSW LNP government allowed five (5) employed Administrators to nominate for civic office as councillors in their own council, despite such actions being contrary to the NSW Constitution Act, the Local Government Act 1993 and the Australian Constitution. The justification was a clause in the Regulation under the Local Government Act that specifically allowed such action.

    Interestingly, the NSW Crown Solicitors Office defended these actions as appropriate and legal????

    So now four remaining former administrators, some members of the National$ Party, have sinecures paid from the public purse as rewards for their service to the National$.

  18. jimhaz

    [That blame is laid against Shorten or Plibersek is pathetic.]

    They are not rising to the occasion and in doing so may be preventing others from doing so. They are like the Democratic party – gutless fiddlers that led to Trump gaining power.

  19. guest

    Kaye, thank you for your thoroughness in gathering evidence of neo-liberal corruption. It is interesting how so many things come together. I have just been reading Dr Binoy Kampmark’s writing on Oz intervention in the Solomon Islands and the exclusion of Huawei. And before that, the writing of Kevin Donnelly about Western Civilisation and the ANU.

    Donnelly mentions a certain Eric Hobshawn whom he describes as a Marxist who advocates ‘cultural relativism’ because he claims world history should be studied because all cultures are equal. What Donnelly fails to understand is that Marxism is a child of the Enlightenment, but Donnelly tries to demonise it and prefers to promulgate the idea of Western Civilisation as supreme and more pure than the driven snow.

    By strange coincidence I had in the last few days read a review of Eric Hobshawn’s book (1994) “The Age of Extreme: A History of the World 1914-1991” reviewed by Thomas K Simpson in a Chicago University publication (1996).

    If I can be so indulgent, I would like to summarise some of Hobshawn’s points.

    neo-liberal free market ideology is at the root of the problem
    *the rich are growing richer and the poor poorer
    *we have destroyed and destabilised, but have no sense of responsibility to restore
    *no real international power to meet and address problems
    *no real statesmanship
    *global economy allows multinationals to owe no national loyalty
    *sales of military weapons lead to covert operations such as the CIA directed by the Whitehouse “until our own official violence blends imperceptibly with unrestrained terrorism and barbarity”
    *the contradiction between ‘free trade’ and ‘free society’: “The free market invests most in societies that are stabilised by firm authoritarian hands, in which the greatest concessions are made to business earnings at the expense of environmental regulations or social investment, and in which employment and a redundant labor force keep labor costs down.”
    *production transferred from rich to poor countries
    *”market oriented agriculture producing export products which large numbers of human beings cannot eat”
    *driving people out of the country side into cities where there are no jobs
    *all ideologies are dead except one – the ‘theology’ of neo-liberalism
    there are some gains, such as technology, more of a global community, transport and communication
    *but “The present society, with its shibboleths which sustain it, is morally and fundamentally unworthy of the idea of the human.”

    You can see why someone like Donnelly would not want to know about the thoughts of people such as Hobshawn and others. And here we are some twenty odd years after Hobshawn’s book – with 9/11 and Iraq and Syria and more migration in between – seeing the same problems writ large.

    No point in hiding heads in the illusions of Western supremacism. See how afraid we are about the rise of China, one of our trading partners. See how some people cling to the theatrical rantings of Trump. What to do?

    Think more about people, which is why Shorten resonates more with me than Turnbull’s obsession with money.

  20. guest

    jimhaz @12:36

    “They [Shorten and Plibersek] are not rising to the occasion and in doing so may be preventing others from doing so.”

    What is “the occasion”, jimhaz? Shorten rose to the occasion on QandA. Others here have pointed out that Labor needs to be nuanced and careful in its expression of policy at this stage. Shorten did that.

    But others, such as the media, would like to see a more bullish approach, to make more news, instead of leaving them to surmise.

    Your bit of surmising, jimhaz, is to think “may be” that others are being held back from speaking out. Plenty of people are speaking out, but our real action can only take place at the election box. That is the problem with the American Democrat voters: they did not vote!

  21. Henry Rodrigues

    Most opinions and comments expressed so far have reiterated the fact that this is a very corrupt government who consider themselves above the law and when it suits them they will change the law or alter it . Apart from the need for an independent judiciary and honest public service and fearless federal police, what is really needed is a free, independent, impartial media.What we have to contend with at present is nothing but a bunch of sycophantic followers of the coalition and their supporters. Either they are gutless, dishonest or just plain crooks, in league with the most corrupt government we have ever seen. Murdoch is not the only bastard in the Australian media world.
    A federal ICAC is very much needed.

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