Implausibly described by Andrew Bolt as “a leader speaking frankly as he wisely finds, free of spin or timidity”, is this shameless collection of half-truths, catch-phrases and outright bullshit from John Howard, speaking the other week at the launch of some new Quadrant facility, on the subject of a “Bill of Rights”:
Pretentious Vivaldi-type music.
JWH: Every good intellectual force needs a cause. If ever there were a cause for many of the people in this room, can I say that cause is fighting with all our might the very notion of any kind of bill of rights for this country.
QUADRANT AUDIENCE: HEAR HEAR
Nothing fires us up like opposing human rights for ordinary people!
JWH: There are many things that bring my Irish out as far as a bill of rights is concerned, and perhaps more than anything else is this insulting proposition that this country is so devoid of respect for individual human rights, that we have to import them from overseas.
Nice. It’s unpatriotic to respect other Australians’ human rights. That’s just what those foreigners want us to do!
The notion that we should transfer to unelected judges, much as I respect the incorruptability and the high intelligence of Australia’s judiciary…
Some of my best friends are judges, honestly!
…the idea that we should transfer to unelected judges decisions which ordinary citizens are just, indeed more capable of resolving than they are.
Nothing more insulting than judges making decisions. Can I get a chant in here? TEAR DOWN THE COURTS! TEAR DOWN THE COURTS! (Much as I respect them.)
I think of all the things that can be said about the notion of the bill of rights is that it would represent the ultimate triumph of the elitist view of politics in Australia. And that elitist view says that you out there, the mob as they are occasionally called – and I occasionally invoked that expression when I was Prime Minister – are not capable of making decisions between right and wrong, that we are not capable of applying our own moral compass to the direction of the country, that we are incapable of resolving the great moral and other issues of the day, and that somehow or other, gifted though they may be, the men and women who sit on the various judiciaries of our nation, are able to do so.
By the same token, it’s insulting to you out there, the mob as you’re occasionally called, that we have laws against ordinary crimes. Doesn’t that also suggest that you’re not capable of making distinctions between right and wrong? What are they saying – that we need laws to stop Australians robbing and assaulting each other? Those elitists!
Come on – TEAR DOWN THE COURTS! TEAR DOWN THE COURTS! (Gifted though they may be.)
I think the diminishing in the role of the parliament, I mean we hear from time to time the the bewailing of the role of Parliament in our society, and the role of Parliament would be massively reduced and would decline enormously through the introduction of a Bill of Rights.
He says that, even though he’s talking about proposals where the bill of rights is just an Act passed by Parliament, so the claim doesn’t make even the slightest amount of sense. Howard is deliberately conflating a constitutional bill of rights like the Americans have – that can only be changed by referendum (nothing less democratic than asking the people directly what the law should be!) – with a bill of rights that can be amended by parliament, which is what is actually being proposed.
The only way that what we’re discussing would limit parliament’s power would be if parliament promised to protect a right and then actually didn’t – and, of course, if the courts did overturn a piece of legislation because it was incompatible with part of the bill of rights, then it could always simply abolish the inconvenient right, as it could any other piece of legislation. It would just have to do so openly and publicly.
In other words, a bill of rights would actually be a form of accountability for parliament – it would still have all the power it has now, only it couldn’t get away as much with saying one thing and doing another.
You can see why the idea gives John Howard the screaming heebie-jeebies.
(We’ll leave the rest of John’s rant about our “distinctive high quality cultural identity” and how courageously he’s willing to invoke the “Islamic fascist” bogeyman for another day.)