Malcolm you old lefty!

Malcolm Fraser should have been a member of the Labor Party.

Over at Australians All, he has written a short article which I’m blatantly stealing and quoting in full in order to make sure i’m not savaged by links going bad in future (The emphasis, though, is mine):

Judith Brett, professor of Politics at La Trobe University, has compared the way Robert Menzies dealt with the perceived threat of communism to the way John Howard has and is dealing with terrorism. “The big moral question though for any historical judgement of John Howard is his handling of asylum seekers and the war on terror,” she wrote. “Did he manipulate fear, racism and xenophobia to win the 2001 election? Has he over reacted to the threat of Islamic terrorism by introducing draconian legislation which breaches fundamental principles of civil liberties?”

These questions go to the very heart of the current debate about Australian values. No government has spoken more of what it calls Australian values than the current one, but the government has implied that those values are unique to Australia and that some people don’t adhere to or accept them. So often it seems to glorify the outcome of war.

It is a good thing that more and more young Australians recognise Anzac Day and give thanks for the courage, the heroism, the mateship of Australians and others who fought at Anzac Cove. It is a good thing to remember all those who fought for freedom and liberty. It is questionable though whether this relatively new found sense of nationalism carries with it only “good” for the future of Australian society.

The great Australian icon of Anzac was born out of a political decision by a British cabinet minister that was unrealistic, that cost thousands of lives and had no chance of success. As we remember the heroism of those fighting Australians, we should also remember the futility and terror of war. Especially we should always let the Anzac story remind us that ordinary people can be sacrificed by political decisions which are sometimes unforgivably wrong. Do we use that experience to caution us against leaders who campaign using fear of the unknown, to magnify a danger out of all proportion?

I was speaking only the other day to somebody who suggested that a nation cannot be truly a nation unless it has been bloodied in war. We must hope to build a world better than that. We need to guard against those who seem to use, even glorify, heroism as a means of upholding those same values in a new war. There is nothing about the Anzac legend that suggests Australians should forgo any of their basic rights as human beings because of the War on Terrorism.

Extreme action by any government needs to be questioned with great severity. One of the tragedies of Australia in recent years is that a weak opposition has failed to question, and has often supported, government decisions which many argue are misguided and wrong.

How many of us give due thought to the fact that once a government accepts that the Rule of Law and due process under the law is broken in relation to any one individual or to a small group of people, then the Rule of Law, effectively, does not apply to any citizen of that country. Unless such a government is hauled back, as it can be in the United States by their Bill of Rights, by a political opposition that is vigorous or by public opinion, that breach in the Rule of Law tends to grow larger as every moment passes. Four hundred years ago evidence taken under torture was outlawed in British courts. Now it is accepted by the United States and implicitly by the Australian Government. Is this an advance, or is a step backwards into a darker age?

Too many of us seem prepared to accept that the Rule of Law need not apply to people who are different. If it does not apply to every person without exception, it cannot be guaranteed to protect any person from the arbitrary exercise of power by government. It is not possible to exempt any person, for reason of background, of origin, of race, or circumstance. You can’t legislate retrospectively to make a person, doing something lawful at the time, guilty after the event.

The Rule of Law is indeed the most precious aspect of our democracy and it is the only protection that average people have against arbitrary and excessive use of power by government.

One Comment

It seems whenever a really successful politician passes into retirement and throws off the shackles of party politics they are often exposed as being quite sage individuals.

How nice it would be if we came across a Leader who had the bravery to be sage in power too.

Dunc.

Comment by Duncan Margetts | October 14th, 2007 7:39 am | Permalink

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