Wednesday, December 10, 2008

a human rights act for australia

these days might these activists be courting extraordinary rendition? anti-nuclear activists on a US warship in Adelaide in the '80s - link to my 'another world is possible' set on flickrUp until quite recently I had found it surprisingly easy to imagine a person like myself being the subject of an extraordinary-rendition.

It wasn't just a matter of watching it happen overseas to citizens of other countries (the 'they' that would do such things while 'we' of course wouldn't) - this notion lodged in my head while watching 100% Aussie concentration camps being created in the Pacific in order to conveniently disappear those whose only 'crime' had often been to attempt to escape from the clutches of this country's professed enemies.

And when watching in horror as our smug, repugnant Foreign Minister gave a nod and a wink to the disappearance of the rights of Habeus Corpus, due-process, and even humane treatment to an Australian national in the form of David Hicks.

All this was all surrounded by the carnival atmosphere of a turbulent public, sadly largely transformed into the kind of gleefully bloodthirsty mob that must once have populated the Roman Coliseum.

This was scary. Many of Australia's most thoughtful citizens - and its best and brightest - have never fully recovered from the distinctly uneasy feeling that if this was 'Australia', they wanted no part of it - and, further more, that they wouldn't be wanted anyway. They might even find themselves vigilantly, vigorously unwanted...

Now there's a chance to ensure that Australia reinstates itself as a land of principle, rather than one that might collapse under stress into a lightly-glossed mob-rule. Particularly given the now near-universal disdain following the collapse of the Bushite model of belligerent arrogance combined with a cavalier disregarded for the law and principle, and recognition of the need to move beyond it into true justice.

GetUp is now inviting submissions to the Australian Government on the need for a Human Rights Act that ensures a genuine fair-deal for all, and that the nation cannot be manipulated or panicked into surrendering its highest principles.

I invite you to make a submission. The next few decades are likely to be tumultuous, and we need to know that opponents of power, whether that power is endorsed by a majority or otherwise, will have unfettered access to a just right to be heard, whether this is in the public domain or the courts.

A copy of my letter is appended below -

Dear Fellow Australian,

As a person who has frequently found himself acting outside the 'safe' margins of Australian society I am greatly concerned that our commitment to Human Rights is shallow; rooted in notions that while we extend our benevolent notion of Human Rights to all, there are those others whose ideas are clearly beyond the pale to right-thinking persons, and who are therefore not entitled to the full suite of rights afforded to the respectable.

I immediately recall the grotesque David Hicks case - the smug, unprincipled actions of the Federal Government in refusing to take any steps that would ensure that this Australian Citizen was subject to humane treatment and swift due-process served as a signal warning to all those who did not meld with the National Groupthink of the day; you may well become a sacrifice to pseudo-populist political expediency!

That other first-world nations managed to successfully secure the rights of their nationals (without sustaining any of the supposedly terminal harm to their alliance with the US that we were told would inevitably result) is a sad indicator of the extent to which the Australian Polity had degenerated to the status of a rabble!

Indeed, the Howard years should serve as a general warning to all Australians capable of independent thought.

The treatment of Asylum Seekers, for example, was disgraceful, and absolutely in breach of our international obligations, and yet it only served to strengthen the Government's grip on power by pandering to the irrational hatreds of the majority (the infamous 77%).

Need I point out that a strong corporate state continually ratcheting its hold on power by reference to threats (perhaps real, perhaps imagined; certainly always exaggerated) and catering to the prejudices and vanities of a blinkered and self-satisfied majority is the origin, and basic condition, of Fascism? Didn't the world just breathe a vast collective sigh of relief that a regressive period strongly matching the conditions described may finally be coming to a close in the US after 8 years?

Democracies must not be allowed to degenerate into a series of elected dictatorships, and yet I believe our own Constitution would place no obstacle in the way of, say, a law that sought to place all Arab-Australians in concentrations camps ['for their protection and our own'], if that law had been formally passed by Parliament.

There are principles that must transcend whatever popular tyrannies the majority - or its representatives - may be manipulated and/or panicked into embracing.

This century is set to be a time of immense turmoil, and we need the solid protection of a fail-safe guarantee of our rights in order to ensure that we do not simply trade freedom and dignity [for all] for convenience and security [for some].

It is not hard to envisage escalating conflicts over the coming decades between environmental/social activists and entrenched authority - that tight nexus of corporate and state power that characterises all the current 'liberal' democracies. It is also not hard to envisage - particularly after Howard and his US mentor Bush - a scenario in which many such activists are characterised as 'Terrorists' and refused admission to the political arena, or even disappeared under various emergency statutes to 'protect the common good'?

With the collusion of a media designed to systematically serve corporate ends non-conforming citizens may easily be recast as UnPersons, 'beyond the pale' of respectability.

We need a Bill of Rights that ensures that there can be no UnPersons - that all are subject to a fair and transparent due process. All 'anti-Terror' law that allows for assignment of anyone to 'black holes' - beyond the reach of friends, relatives, the law and simple inquiry - for any period must not only be repealed forthwith, it must be permanently rendered unconstitutional.

Nor should laws be able to drafted that allow outrageous violations of basic rights to be cast as due process (the farcical Bushite Military Tribunal system, for example.)

The Israeli High Court has recently decreed that 'Democracies must fight with one hand tied behind their backs'. I agree; retaining this moral high-ground has been the essential success and allure of Democracy for centuries.

And for the results of a failure to do so we need only look to the massively successful, if inadvertent, recruiting campaign for anti-Western, anti-democratic ideology and violence undertaken by the Bush Administration at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

Think of it as enlightened self-interest: Democracy itself, the 40 hour-week, universal suffrage, the end of slavery and child labour; once these ideas were all the deluded ravings of the unrespectable, who were often persecuted by 'enlightened' governments, and held in contempt by the majority, for their trouble.

No one has the right to break just laws, but it just might be that, as in the past, it's the ideas of the UnPeople that hold the key to our future.

Yours Sincerely,

Bill Doyle

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thanks for your contribution - bill - i'm genuinely sorry about having to switch on the 'moderation' process but comment spammers have really been cluttering up this journal!