Skewed, stacked, biased

Getting out what you put in

When it comes to rigging consultation type committees or shamelessly stacking gatherings of the self-styled great and the good, this Labor government has what is known as ‘form’. It hasn’t seen a rigged process it doesn’t like.

Think back to when former Prime Minister Rudd came into office and announced his 2020 Summit. A more one-sided collection of pro-republic, pro-bill of rights, pro-emissions trading scheme attendees you couldn’t find even at your average pre-selection meeting for Labor Party candidates. It was an absolute disgrace.

And I’m betting that the miniscule handful of right-of-centre people who let themselves be flattered into attending don’t remind any of their friends these days that they were there. In fact, in retrospect that 2020 spectacle was one of the worst exercises in self-congratulatory ‘aren’t our moral antennae so much superior to all those plebeians who disagree with us’ puffery ever conducted outside the former Soviet world.

The ‘yuck’ factor was bad at the time. In retrospect it makes the skin crawl.

Then there was the so-called National Human Rights Consultation Committee (NHRCC) set up by Labor and the Attorney-General to look into (read recommend) a statutory bill of rights. It was chaired by someone billed as a ‘fence-sitter’ on the issue, but who – in fact – had been on the record, in print, and more than once before his appointment, as favouring a statutory bill of rights.

On top of that, there was not a single known bill of rights sceptic or opponent who was appointed to that NHRCC by Labor. The committee had the appearance of being a bill of rights love-in, so one-sided in its composition and look that I refused to make a submission. When it ended up reporting back, after hearing the views of about 0.2 percent of Australia’s population, it recommended precisely what anyone looking at its composition at the time it was set-up would have, and did, predict.

It said we needed a statutory bill of rights. Luckily the process was so flawed, and the arguments so strong against such terrible instruments, that that plan had to be dropped, at least for the moment.

And now we see that Prime Minister Gillard is right back at it, back to the same old game. She’s rigging and stacking, and stacking and rigging, in the hope of getting back into your heart.

I’m referring to her just announced ‘multi-party parliamentary climate change committee’. Don’t you just love the balanced, impartial sound of ‘multi-party’? I’m sure the ABC does.

In fact, though, this committee is multi-party in the same way that Australia is all male or that it watches only rugby league. In other words, it’s only half true; it’s also a half-lie; it’s spin; it’s not accurate. You see only political parties (and an independent) representing half the voters at the just held recent election will be on this committee. A much, much, much more accurate name for it would be the ‘Greens/Labor or Labor/Greens parliamentary climate change committee’. That’s exactly how multi-party it will be. Throw in independent Tony Windsor and you have a literal truth.

That’s where the one-sidedness starts. It only grows from there. It will be chaired by Prime Minister Gillard. There will be two co-chairs. One will be Christine Milne, the Green Party spokesperson on the climate. The other will be Greg Combet, Labor Minister for Climate Change. Then there will be one more Green and Labor member each. And Mr. Windsor. That’s six in all.

If I might be forgiven for paraphrasing Mr. Shakespeare, but keeping all of his dripping sarcasm, ‘balance and even-handedness should be made of sterner stuff’.

At this point the reader will be thinking this looks a tad rigged. Why would Mr. Abbott and the Coalition have anything to do with such a scam – or in the language, no doubt, of the ABC, with such a fair, far-sighted, impartial process?

But wait, there’s more.  You see Ms. Gillard has offered Mr. Abbott (who represents 50 percent of voters at the recent election) 2 spots on this committee. So he could have 2 out of 8. But only on this condition. He and anyone else wanting to be on it have to say up front and before the committee starts doing anything that they agree that we need to put a price on carbon. Otherwise you’re excluded from being on the committee.

Notice, by the by, that that condition would keep noted environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg off this committee. He thinks the cost of putting such a price on carbon right now is money that could be better spent elsewhere. And that exclusionary proviso of Gillard’s would also keep off all the many Australians who think we should wait to see what the US and China do before we hurt our economy on purely bumper-sticker moralising grounds. In fact, it would keep at least half of all Australians off the committee.

Never mind, I’m sure we all see that the Labor and ABC spinmeisters will say Mr. Abbott is the one being unreasonable.

But there’s more yet again. And here I do not refer to the fact Ms. Gillard promised unequivocally just 6 or 7 weeks ago that ‘there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead’. Apparently, you see, the fact she did so badly at the recent election means that none of her promises in that campaign are in any way binding on her. She’s now a free agent she tells us, and she’s free because she did so badly (which is delightfully Kafkaesque or Catch-22 or whatever literary analogy sort of makes sense of that implausible claim).

No, I refer this time to the four (wait for it) ‘independent experts’ whom Ms. Gillard has decided will be the ones who will advise this thrillingly impartial committee. They will be Ross Garnaut, who recommended an ETS to former Prime Minister Rudd. And also a welfare campaigner who chairs the Australian Social Inclusion Board. And a business representative. And an ANU professor.

We might describe these four as many things, but the group as a whole hardly seems to warrant the label ‘independent’.

Does this in Ms. Gillard seem balanced and even-handed?  To ask is to answer.

And then there’s the seeming fact that this committee’s papers and deliberations will be kept confidential.

Never in my life did I ever think I’d utter these words, but this ‘multi-party parliamentary climate change committee’ is so skewed, stacked and outrageously biased going in and in its pre-conditions that it makes the 2020 Summit look balanced.

So I suppose Mr. Rudd is again preferable in a way.

James Allan, Garrick Professor of Law, University of Queensland

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