Opinion pieces

Palace Letters implode republican conspiracy theories

Originally published in The Examiner 29 July 2020 (Available here)

"Be careful for what you wish".

The Australian Republican Movement must be choking on that wise proverb.

For 45 years peddling a conspiracy theory about the British establishment or the Monarchy being sinisterly involved in what was actually the self-immolation of the disastrous Whitlam Government.

And all that was needed, they believed, were the "secret" letters between the Governor-General Sir John Kerr and Buckingham Palace to "prove" the conspiracy.

After many a roadblock, the letters were finally ordered to be released courtesy of a recent split High Court decision.

The anticipation would have been palpable. The patience, the perseverance had finally delivered the "proof".

But alas, it was not to be. It was like an elaborately wrapped present found to be without any contents.

The release of the correspondence proved two things.

Firstly, the Whitlam dismissal was made by an Australian, the Governor-General, in Australia using Australia's Constitution to give the Australian people a say on the future of their Australian Parliament.

Secondly, and this is hugely humiliating and embarrassing for the Republicans - the only people who sought the intervention of Buckingham Palace were Labor and Republicans.

They, who had protested for 45 years asserting ''foreign" interference in our politics, were the only ones who had actually sought such foreign interference by asking Her Majesty to countermand the Australian Governor-General.

So what happened in 1975?

Two massive bulls of Australian politics had locked horns and brought the country to a standstill.

Mr Whitlam's Labor government was plagued by scandals and resignations.

Labor's Mr Whitlam was a physically imposing figure possessed of unshakeable self-belief. Ditto for the Liberals' Mr Fraser.

Labor had the numbers in the House of Representatives and the Liberals in the Senate. It is a well-established protocol/convention that a government cannot continue in office without a budget.

In those circumstances, it should seek a mandate from the people.

The other protocol is that whilst the Senate has the power to block the budget it should only do so in the most reprehensible of circumstances.

The Liberals believed those circumstances existed with the Khemlani Loans Affair seeking overseas money to bankroll the government's needs so it could bypass the democratically elected Parliament.

A stalemate had occurred.

To use an AFL analogy, when the ball is locked in between two opposing players the umpire blows the whistle, bounces the ball and play resumes.

Our democracy was similarly locked in between Labor and Liberal.

The umpire blew the whistle to allow the real umpire - the Australian people - to deliver their verdict.

The timing here is important. The dismissal was left to the last minute.

The 11th of November dismissal allowed the Australian people to vote on December 13.

A week later we would have been into Christmas and the New Year, meaning the paralysis would have continued for weeks. An unacceptable situation.

The Australian people delivered their verdict in a landslide of mammoth proportions.

Instead of reflecting on their glaring inadequacies, Labor sought to vilify the umpire and divide Australians with ugly violent rallies.

This behaviour repulsed Australians who may have otherwise instinctively thought Labor had been given a raw deal by Fraser's Liberals.

In all this, spare a thought for Sir John Kerr, our Governor-General.

Personally appointed by Mr Whitlam. They shared the same chambers as barristers.

To come to the conclusion Whitlam had to be dismissed must've occasioned substantial mental anguish.

What it showed was independence, wisdom and a concern to allow the true masters of Australia, the Australian people, to make the call.

What is clear in all this is that our Constitutional Monarchy (umpire) worked exceptionally well.

The Republicans' conspiracy theories have been well and truly debunked.

Sure, debate the merits of the Whitlam-Fraser clash.

But in the circumstances of neither giving in, the umpire had to blow the whistle to allow us the Australian people to decide our nation's future.

What was broke was not our Constitution. It was the actions of two desperate politicians. Imagine if the Governor-General were an elected president.

The "umpire" would be wearing one team's colours. The problem wasn't the constitution or the umpire. It was the political players.

The fulfilment of the republican wish to have the Palace Letters released has proven beyond doubt that our Constitutional Monarchy served us extremely well in 1975 and continues to do so today, 45 years later.

Euthanasia: eliminate the pain not the patient

The seductive smooth salesmanship of the “End of Life Choices Bill” glosses over the ugliness of state-sanctioned suicide. For that is what voluntary assisted dying or euthanasia stripped of its nice words actually is – state-sanctioned suicide. There are no choices being offered. The only option offered by the Bill soon to be debated in the Tasmania Parliament is the finality of death.

First, some clarification.

  •          Refusing treatment has always been allowed and is not the same as deliberately killing someone.
  •          Administering pain relief which may as a side effect hasten death is materially and morally different to administering a substance the only purpose of which is to kill. This has always been allowed.
  •          Poor medical practice and poor palliative care should never be the reason for state-sanctioned suicide.

Heartrending stories of difficult deaths countered by heartwarming stories of last day/hour reconciliations and unanticipated recovery provide an emotional element to the debate. But ultimately any consideration needs to rise above the anecdotal ping-pong to the principle – what value do we place on the life of our fellow citizens?

Once administered, state-sanctioned suicide remains permanent. Death is irrevocable. Let’s campaign for a right to live rather than a so-called “right to die” which will inevitably come to us all.

Opposition to state-sanctioned suicide is based on the premise that every life irrespective of its circumstances is worth living. There is no such thing as an “undignified” human life. Sure, life can be tough, excruciatingly tough. Human dignity is not dependent on an individual’s utility to society or their health but their humanity. Intentionally killing someone even if motivated by a sense of “compassion” is never dignified.

As a society we have a choice. Provide the support, succour and solace to the afflicted affirming their intrinsic value as a precious member of our community or agree with the ailing person that their life isn’t worth living anymore. A truly caring, compassionate community will not adopt the latter. Killing should never be seen as a solution to human misery.

In an era where elder abuse has become such a scourge that public service announcements are necessary to protect the elderly against financial, physical and emotional exploitation, it is unbelievable that “legalised suicide” might be considered let alone allowed. A culture of disdain for the disabled and elderly persons awaits.

Another societal scourge is suicide also necessitating compassionate community messaging offering support.

Yet there are some willing to send the message that suicide is okay if you believe your circumstances are too difficult. What’s more, we will legalise people to facilitate your death. This is mixed messaging madness.

How do you tell a troubled teen their pain and anguish is not as real as someone else’s? It’s impossible. That’s where integrity and consistency of message, especially to protect those with suicidal thoughts, is so important.

Having authored the Senate committee report into this vexed issue some years ago I was able to garner majority support from senators across the divides – Liberal, National, Labor, Australian Democrat and independent. A common concern, even amongst those instinctively attracted to “choice”, was that with the best will in the world you could never provide adequate safeguards against family manipulation, wrong diagnosis and a false sense of fear in the subject that they would become a burden on others.

To deliberately assist in someone’s killing is to deny our common humanity and value.

Surely our task as a humane, compassionate and caring society is to eliminate the pain not the patient.

Children deserve our protection

Originally published in The Examiner 14 July 2020 (Available here)

Your repulsion, my repulsion, indeed society's repulsion at child abuse is so strong we rightly demand unambiguous punishment for perpetrators and the strongest protection for our vulnerable children.

Yet too often our legal system appears to side with the perpetrator and vague prospects of rehabilitation rather than expressing abhorrence and adopting a precautionary principle for the protection of our most precious ones.

Senator Claire Chandler, my Tasmanian Liberal Senate colleague, told the Senate recently, "From 1st February 2014 to 31st January 2019, 40 per cent of Commonwealth child sex offences did not result in a custodial period. For those offenders who did receive a custodial sentence during this time, the most frequent custodial period recorded was just six months."

This judicial failure to appropriately sentence, punish and send a loud, clear message of deterrence to perpetrators or would-be perpetrators is of catastrophic proportions. Which is why the Liberal governments (both state and federal) committed to legislating for mandatory sentencing. The courts having failed, the community rightly wanted action. And so it was that at the last elections (state and federal) the Liberals adopted firm policy platforms for mandatory sentencing for child sex offenders.

Our policy was based on a commitment to protect our children against the horrific statistics that last year saw the Australian Federal Police receive almost 18,000 reports of child exploitation involving Australian children or Australian child sex offenders. These statistics are horrific in themselves. But they aren't just numbers. Even more horrific is the consideration that each number represents a violated life. And the numbers are rapidly rising; confirming the sentencing approach currently adopted is not working.

The legislation to give expression to society's demand for penalties to protect our children was contained in Crimes Legislation Amendment (Sexual Crimes Against Children and Community Protection Measures) Bill 2019. Readers will be surprised and concerned to learn that it was only their Tasmanian Liberal representatives that voted for these vital child protection measures. Labor, Greens and independents opposed the mandatory sentencing provisions thus seeing the defeat of the legislation.

Labor reluctantly allowed the measures through after the Liberal government immediately reintroduced them. The Greens and independents continued to oppose. Talk about misguided writ large.

Under federal law our children now have the protection so desperately needed. In Tasmania under state law our children are still being denied.

For Tasmanian children, it's a different story. The Labor party, Greens and independents are continuing to refuse to implement the Liberals' clear policy platform of delivering protection for our most vulnerable.

In my life as a lawyer, I represented countless victims of child abuse whose lives were wrecked and tormented. From substance abuse attempting to dull the pain, committing crimes and complete disregard for any authority figures, to an incapacity to form a lasting stable relationship, the damage caused by child abuse is like a wrecking ball crashing through most, if not every, aspect of the lives of victims.

Today, as a senator, I have victims' files seeking recognition of, and compensation for, that which they so devastatingly endured.

The personal and economic cost to individuals, families and our community is immeasurable. The facts, the figures, the anecdotal stories are there for all who want to know.

Child abuse devastates lives for life. The impact lingers and debilitates. The punishment of perpetrators needs to be not only proportionate to the life-long, life-shattering impact of their selfish actions to give a sense of justice to the victims but also needs to act as a forceful deterrent.

The victims are entitled to know that the community and justice system is on their side. Mandatory sentencing is the community's expression of support to the victims given the justice system has failed them.

Surely, there is nothing more important than protecting our children. In blocking mandatory sentencing the current Parliament wrongly sided with the perpetrators' interests rather than the victims' interests.

The Rosevears election on August 1 provides an opportunity for the community to express its view on an issue of paramount importance - protecting our children. If that is the only issue on which Rosevears electors cast their ballot and on which the newly elected member votes, they will have made a significant and worthwhile difference - one that will endure for generations and for which countless children will be eternally grateful.

The scourge of child abuse needs to be removed from our society. Mandatory sentencing is a worthy start.

Electors of Rosevears should ask each of the candidates if they support the Gutwein Liberal policy of getting tough on child sex offenders.

Local government review a breath of fresh air

Originally published in The Examiner 30 June 2020 (Available here)

"It's moments like these you need Minties" ... or not, if you're councillor Mike Wilson in Tasmania's most southern council (Huon Valley).

Can you believe your taxpayer dollars were spent on an inquiry into whether mints are or are not handed out at the start of Huon Valley Council meetings?

Of such great moment is this issue that a Code of Conduct complaint was made against Councillor Mike Wilson. The allegation? He lied about whether mints were handed out or not. Momentous stuff.

First, who would care, let alone think, to elevate such a matter to an official complaint? It was Mr Swan - a serial complainant and each time he complains it costs his fellow ratepayers money that should be spent on potholes.

Second, how could a self-respecting Code of Conduct Panel seriously entertain such a complaint? It should have been rejected.

Instead, the panel pontificated over the significance of this matter and thankfully determined to dismiss it.

Mr Swan also laid complaints against another popular Huon Valley councillor Mick Newell for calling him a "bloody coward" and a "parasite" and for being part of a Facebook group which "calls out the Huon Valley's biggest whinger". Cr Newell also referred to a "faceless group of people" at a council meeting. It seems Mr Swan self-identified although not being named.

All that said, Mr Swan labelled fellow ratepayers as telling "a blatant lie ... and they both know it" at a Legislative Council Committee hearing with the benefit of Parliamentary privilege. It seems what was good for the goose wasn't so good for the Swan.

Luckily I'm a senator and can call this nonsense out without having the panel shut me down for six weeks for giving expression to the views of constituents (the fate meted out to Councillor Newell).

In a robust democracy, people don't sit in circles holding hands humming flower power tunes. They will engage, disagree and yes, use colourful language. The electors will determine whether they like or appreciate that style.

It's not for a panel to pontificate about whether a democratically elected councillor's choice of language was appropriate.

After receiving 5000 votes, Councillor Newell should be able to determine, as will the voters, whether or not he demonstrated good judgement or "poor judgement" as determined by the panel. We have publicly funded panellists determining whether or not a type of language displays good or poor judgement. Pass me another Mintie.

I'm sure none of the panel members have ever exhibited poor judgement in their utterings.

Come on - we all have and more than once. But to suspend a councillor for six weeks from his democratically elected role because he called someone a few choice words is laughable.

Sir Robert Menzies referred to his opponents as "faceless". Bob Hawke referred to an older gentleman as a "silly old bastard". And they're the more printable ones. Just imagine this panel suspending Mr Menzies or Mr Hawke.

Thankfully state and federal parliamentarians don't have such stifling provisions, which would see most of us suspended and in fact would even see many letters to the editor being discarded.

And just in case the discerning The Examiner reader is thinking "typical silly Southerners ", the same problem alas festers in our northern woods as well. Just ask the highly popular Dorset mayor, Greg Howard (who has faced similar issues), or every other northern council other than the West Tamar Council where mayor Christina Holmdahl keeps the peace and Flinders Island.

In fairness to the panel though, it needs to administer the law which includes Part 7 of the Local Government (Model Code of Conduct) Order 2016, which requires that only saints run for local government. You see, according to Part 7 C1 1(b) "A councillor must not cause any reasonable person ... embarrassment".

How often are we embarrassed when reminded of misdeeds? I'm sure Labor was embarrassed when told they were run by "faceless" men and the old fellow in the Adelaide shopping mall being referred to on National TV as a "silly old bastard" was embarrassed.

And feeling "embarrassed" can be as simple as feeling "awkward" associated with mild levels of discomfort.

Tidying up the public discourse is always laudable. It's not for the strictures of official regulations imposed by one level of government (which doesn't bind itself by those standards) on to another.

The Code of Conduct Panel provisions need removal or at least a significant overhaul as otherwise these matters will ultimately end up in the High Court at great expense, which may well confirm an implied freedom of speech.

The current review of the Local Government Act needs to deal with this issue. Hopefully, someone will hand out the mints along with some common sense.

Copy-cat black lives matter protesters are to be condemned

Originally published in The Examiner 16 June 2020 (Available here)

In a democracy, we celebrate the freedom of people with all manner of views having the right to show their support or opposition for a particular issue, subject to consideration for their fellow citizens.

At a time when we deny the bereaved from gathering to farewell a loved one, the faithful from attending worship services and people from attending Anzac Day marches (when we commemorate those who paid the ultimate sacrifice so we still have the freedom to demonstrate) it was as disappointing as it was predictable to witness the Left so defiantly virtue signal at the expense of others.

The Chief Medical Officer urged people not to attend gatherings "of any kind, including protests".

The advice could not have been clearer or more urgent unlike the purpose or need for the protest.

Ostensibly people marched for black lives while knowing full well their actions could prejudice black lives the most and set back our economic recovery.

They put virtue signalling before responsibility or reason.

The left-wing who once agreed that a lockdown (is) 'the right move to minimise loss of life' and also agreed that the 'risk lingers of an even deadlier second wave' cynically turned around stating that the 'protests must be managed with pragmatism and a sense of history.'.

If the Left didn't have double standards they'd have no standards at all.

The vast bulk of Australians are justifiably dismayed at the authorities who justified fining an old lady sitting on a park bench by herself wearing a mask as an egregious threat to public health but approved gatherings of thousands where social distancing was defiantly ignored.

Whatever the motivation - be it weakness or wokeness - it definitely was not wisdom.

Consistency, let alone equality before the law are concepts that seemingly are no longer in vogue with some authorities.

The message seems clear.

If you want to gather, simply tell the authorities it's a 'protest.'

So 'protest' your religious fervour by gathering in your church or chapel, 'protest' your loved ones passing at a funeral, 'protest' your commitment to citizenry at your service club's next meeting or 'protest' your solidarity with our veterans with an Anzac Day march- after all, they ironically protected those protestors' freedoms to march!

Have our authorities really descended to this?

History will rightly judge the protesters and the weak leadership that enabled the marchers as exposing everything which is wrong with woke identity politics.

As to the issue of the protest.

The rate of black deaths in custody in Australia is no greater than those of different colour. Yes, their incarceration rate is greater.

Is this because of racial bias or because they've been convicted of crimes often perpetrated against their own?

A similar argument could be offered for white males who are clearly over-represented in gaols in comparison to their female counterparts.

Is this indicative of the systemic oppression of white males?

Of course not. But I would like to see the Left argue that one.

Setting up unsustainable arguments does not assist the cause.

Failure to take responsibility for one's actions doesn't assist the cause. Rallying when everyone else is sacrificing by abiding by social distancing requirements to protect the vulnerable including our indigenous brothers and sisters does not assist the cause.

Racism in all its forms needs to be unequivocally condemned, as does the selfish virtue signalling of the demonstrators.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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Contact

136 Davey Street
Hobart  TAS  7001

(03) 6224 3707

Senator.Abetz@aph.gov.au

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