Look. LNP voters.I know we haven’t always seen eye to eye, but, I get it. I really do. I understand how, if you see national economies as analogous to household finances, you might have been tremendously concerned about a “debt and deficit disaster”. I can empathise with your feelings of distress about drowned asylum seekers and can certainly see that a cast-iron promise to stop the boats might have seemed seductive as you approached the ballot box. Furthermore, I absolutely agree that the characterisation of the former Labor government as one which had simply lost its way is ridiculously inadequate and that their failure to stabilise their leadership and address their other internal problems had rendered them fairly well unelectable. I get all that, I really do. I understand why you felt you had to put a number 1 in the box belonging to your local LNP candidate. But seriously, have we all had enough now?
Those of us further to the political left may well remember the despair we felt on the evening of the 7th September 2013, as the news rolled in that the coalition had won the election and an absolute majority in the lower house. Our hard-won carbon pricing scheme to be repealed. Further erosion of the human rights of asylum seekers. Gonski under threat. Massive cuts to the public service. With hindsight, it seems that we should have been dancing a wild jig under the waxing moon to think that these were the worst things that could happen. A mere twenty months later, and it seems that Mr Abbott and his cabinet full of henchmen and two henchwomen are doing their best to adulterate the foundations of our democracy.
The rule of law, in essence, means that all people are accountable to the law, and no-one is above it. Not the king, back in the day, and not the government executive today. It’s enshrined in our constitution and it exists to protect us from the exercise of absolute power without judicial oversight. It differentiates us from countries like Zimbabwe, Rwanda, North Korea, and China. Important, right? Something that everyone in our great democracy can agree on, regardless of where you are on the political spectrum? Yet, three weeks ago, an article in the Sydney Morning Herald carried a quote from an unnamed minister that we were “lucky to have half a dozen ministers who still care about the rule of law.” What the hell, Australia? How could we, one of the most stable and functional democracies in the world, be in a situation where only half a dozen of the people responsible for government policy could be bothered even giving lip service to one of the most fundamental values of our society? Peter Dutton, the Minister for Immigration, in one of the more terrifying pronouncements by a minister in recent times, has said “The government’s not going to have the courts second-guessing ministerial decisions.” In other words, this government has decided that it, alone of all the governments since Federation, and all the global governments which are formed on the basis of the Westminster system, is not answerable to the law. It’s profoundly terrifying, dear voter, don’t you agree?
Maybe I’m over-reacting, you’ll say. Ministers shoot their mouths off all the time. Unprepared remarks, and all that. He didn’t mean it. It’s not like the government are taking away people’s rights to have migration decisions reviewed by courts. Or making it illegal to talk about things witnessed in detention centres. Or simply changing the law when a High Court decision goes against them. Or launching character attacks on statutory office holders who attempt to hold them to account. Oh wait. Yes, they actually are.
The irony of the fact that all of these encroaches on our democratic freedom are being done in the name of protecting our democratic freedom is only magnified by the fact that they are being perpetrated by the party for whom individual freedom is supposedly paramount. As their matriarchal Speaker, Bronwyn Bishop, said on Q&A last week, the first role of government is to protect its people. But if we let the rule of law slide, who is to protect us from them?