The Rudd Government suffers from a lack of what Maggie Thatcher used to call ‘intestinal fortitude’. It responds to pressure, not with ideas, but with inquiries.
Rudd appears to think inquiries, position papers, consultations and other ephemera equate to concrete action. But in reality they’re a pollie’s boy-toy, a combined Stalling Tactic/Responsibility-Avoidance Device, with a handy Excuse and Justifications Generator attached.
The Brennan Inquiry into a possible human rights act also declined to produce anything concrete, generating instead a word salad of limp recommendations finished with a generous syrup of feelgood sentiment.
Hours of discussions, meetings and roundtables have brought forth 400+ pages telling us a human rights act would be a good idea, but awfully difficult and expensive in practice, and anyway people are divided over the issue.
The report goes on to recommend the ‘dialogue’ model — which would not apply to the states and under which politicians and not judges would have the final say — as the easiest to implement and with the fewest teeth. But if that’s still too tough, there are some even softer ‘fallback’ options.
If the PM thought the inquiry would take the heat off him over euthanasia, abortion, same-sex marriage or religious exemptions, it’s failed. He won’t be able to pass the buck to the judiciary.
“Australians generally would not want to see judges having the last word on matters such as [these]”, says the report, adding such matters “would be best left for the parliament to resolve.”
This is a disappointment for those of us who think the whole point of a human rights act is to protect people like us from the ‘tyranny of the majority’. This proposal chucks us straight back into the arena with the lions.
Curiously, the only GLBTI issue that seems to rate with the inquiry is same sex-marriage. I found around 1000 words on the issue (out of at least 120,000 in the whole report). On other issues, we are invisible. Either that or I didn’t look hard enough. It’s not exactly a fun read.
And even on marriage, the report fudges. It recommends that ‘everyone’, without specifying genders, should have the right to marry and found a family, but places this on the list of conditional, not absolute, rights.
Elsewhere, zilch. The Report Summary mentions, “individuals and groups whose rights are most under threat”, listing Indigenous Australians, homeless, the disabled, the mentally ill, people in rural and remote areas, the ageing, and children.
We don’t make that list, nor could I find any discussion about the double-discrimination affecting those of the above who might also be gay.
Yes Minister taught us that governments don’t initiate inquiries unless they know the outcome. So what outcome was this engineered to produce?
Inquiry chair Father Frank Brennan gave the game away in The Australian.
He said “enormous practical problems” would prevent the High Court from taking on the expanded responsibilities it would have under his proposed charter.
He said, “My own view is that I think this provision is not going to be workable.”
A perfect excuse for Rudd to leave a human rights act where he found it: in the too-hard basket. What a surprise.

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