August 29th 2015


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Same-sex marriage and the SOGI ideological agenda

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Canada: basic freedoms lost since same-sex marriage came to town

CANBERRA OBSERVED Abbott, Shorten fixin' for some feudin' next year

OBITUARY RIP Frank Scully, last survivor of the Labor Split

EDITORIAL Colleagues digging holes Tony Abbott has to fill in

EDUCATION There must be a better plan than Naplan

HISTORY OF INDONESIA Sukarno makes way for Suharto's "New Order"

HISTORY Fateful indecision: the tragedy of Rabaul

FAMILY LIFE A father's presence in the home: part I

SCOTUS: JUDICIAL ACTIVISM On the having of the cake and the eating of it too

LIFE ISSUES When an abomination becomes good business

CINEMA Spy sequel vies with a spy history repeat Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

BOOK REVIEW An important biography of B.A.

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EDITORIAL
Colleagues digging holes Tony Abbott has to fill in


by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, August 29, 2015

It began with revelations of former speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s $6,000 helicopter trip to attend a Liberal fundraiser. It continued with deep divisions over the “same-sex marriage” issue.

Then came the unfortunate invitation to royal commissioner into trade unions Dyson Heydon to address an event linked to the NSW Liberal Party.

The result is that for two months the Government has been pilloried in the media, attacked in Federal Parliament, and suffered an inevitable loss of support in the opinion polls. And its efforts to reset its agenda in the 2015 budget have been lost.

Each of these events was outside Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s control, but he is being blamed for the Govern­ment’s inability to get on top of these issues. And it matters not at all that the Labor Party is as vulnerable as the Liberals on each of these issues.

The Prime Minister has announced a “root and branch” review of MPs’ entitlements, with a view to ensuring that MPs’ expense payments meet com­munity expectations. In this, he should look to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, established in Britain after a public outcry over the misuse of MPs’ entitlements in 2009.

On the issue of same-sex marriage, the conduct of some ministers in publicly dissenting from the agreed government position was totally unac­ceptable. The Government formally resolved that it would continue to support the accepted definition of marriage during its current term, and refer the matter to the people after the next election.

Turnbull Pyne Bishop Brandis

In particular, Malcolm Turnbull, Christopher Pyne and Senator George Brandis have conducted a public campaign on same-sex marriage in ways that undermined the credibility of the Government on this issue. Opinion in the party room is not only divided, but becoming poisonous.

Responsibility

The gravity of the issue of ministerial responsibility – a convention which underpins the parliamentary system – is set down in various official documents, including The Cabinet Handbook and A Guide on Key Elements of Ministerial Responsibility (December 1998).

It is required by convention that all ministers be prepared to accept collective responsibility for, and defend publicly, the policies and actions of the Government. The Cabinet Handbook states: “All ministers are expected to give their support in public debate to decisions of the Government.”

Those who cannot give that support should have resigned. Their failure to do so has been the cause of widespread dismay at the divisions within the Government.

The third issue relates to the role of Dyson Heydon, the former High Court judge who is conducting the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.

The royal commission has unearthed widespread criminal activity in the building and construction industry, and has also raised serious questions about the conduct of Opposition Leader Bill Shorten when he was national secretary of the Australian Workers Union.

Mr Shorten is shortly to reappear before the royal commission, which helps to explain the vitriol directed at the royal commissioner by Labor spokesmen, who clearly want to force him to resign to bring the royal commission to an end.

If he does not resign, they will attack the royal commission as politically motivated, to discredit its findings.

The issues at stake were referred to by Duncan McConnel, the president of the Law Council of Australia, a body which represents the legal profession at the national level.

Mr McConnel said: “The public attacks on the commissioner being played out through the media are unacceptable and damage the basis on which tribunals and courts operate.

“Commissions of inquiry, like courts, are conducted impartially and independently of government or political influence. Where circumstances arise that would create a reasonable apprehension of bias in the judge or commissioner, the proper course is for an application to be made to the court or inquiry for the judge or commissioner to stand aside.

“Royal commissions provide a vital forum for understanding significant and often far-reaching issues which affect the Australian community, such as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the commissions of inquiry into Queensland floods or Victorian bushfires.

“The person who sits as a royal commissioner is entitled to the same respect, inside and outside of the inquiry, as a judge in a court.

“In this case, Mr John Dyson Heydon AC, QC, is a highly regarded former judicial officer. The proper way for dealing with any question of bias, including apprehended bias, is to make an application for the commissioner to recuse himself, and for the commissioner to consider and rule on the application.”

On each of these issues, common sense is being overwhelmed by prejudice and rancour. The challenge for the Prime Minister is to present a coherent and persuasive defence of his Government’s decisions.

Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.




























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