In all the words it has churned out to justify its claim that the courts, not Parliament must judge Craig Thomson, the government has deliberately clouded the issue.
The problem is not legal, but philosophical and moral. The disgraceful scenes of an elected member sitting for months mute – belittled and humiliated yet smugly complacent – reflect sadly the decline of moral values in the community.
What made me think of this was accidentally coming across a little book on one of my favourite websites: Internet Archive. This is the door to many out-of-print, out-of-copyright books and reports, as well as films, audio records and many other treasures from the libraries of the world. The book is Nos devoirs et nos Droits – Morale Pratique by Marin Ferraz, published in Paris in 1851.
In his introduction, Ferraz explains that he was trying to set out a philosophy of conduct, in which personal morality could and should be congruent with that of public morality. As he summed it up:
Je sens que je dois respecter l’humanité en moi. Comme je dois la respecter dans les autres homes et, si je ne la respecte pas, je me sens dégradé et avili.
[I am conscious of the need to respect my own humanity just as I should respect it in others. If I do not respect it in them, I feel debased and degraded.]
Having thus defined self-respect as the basis for respect of others, Ferraz went on to explain:
Our obligations to ourselves and our duty to others are of the same value, since they depend on a fundamental identity.
The parliamentary problem is that Craig Thomson lacks the self-respect which should protect the institution in which he sits. He has repudiated his constituents, dishonoured his colleagues and brought the House of Representatives into disrepute. Only decisive action by the House, not in the courts can recover the situation. And this should have happened long ago.