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Australian Notes

5 November 2011

2:00 PM

5 November 2011

2:00 PM

To paraphrase the old adage, ‘political correctness may not be all that easy to define, but I know it when I see it.’ Take the International Rugby Board’s post-World Cup $5,000 fine of France for the grievous sin of breaching a ‘cultural ritual protocol’. Apparently the All Blacks can perform what amounts to a war dance, often a version that finishes with all the players symbolically threatening to slit the other side’s throats, but the opposing team are not allowed to join hands and walk towards them in a sort of reverse intimidation gesture. The other team, no doubt because the haka has Polynesian roots, has to stand there and watch. ‘Something is rotten in the state of rugby union.’

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Speaking of political correctness, what is it with so many Coalition state leaders? Take Queensland’s State Opposition Leader, or truth be told its Premier-in-Waiting, Campbell Newman. He was the headline act at a big State Liberal National Party dinner last month in Brisbane. And didn’t Newman start his talk with the perfunctory ‘acknowledgement of the traditional owners’ genuflecting rigmarole. When there was a smattering of groans throughout the large LNP crowd, Newman went on to add that improving the plight of Queensland’s aboriginals was crucially important, and no one need apologise for seeking that improvement. That is clearly correct. It just wholly and completely misses the point of why people in this Newman-friendly crowd were groaning. Starting all speeches with this formulaic acknowledgement does absolutely nothing — zero — to help a single aboriginal anywhere in this country. It may make a few middle-class whites who spout this stuff fleetingly feel better about themselves, in the same way that people who indulge in bumper-sticker moralising have a momentary sense of sanctimonious superiority as they attach the ‘End War Now’ or ‘No To Coal’ sticker on to their new BMW. But surely this sort of smug and empty posturing is best left to those who do it best, namely the Greens. Thank God John Howard, who spoke at the same event and gave a tremendous talk, did not indulge in this pap. Let’s make this ‘a custom more honoured in the breach than the observance’, please.

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And while I’m on this topic, I can’t omit to mention an actual Coalition Premier and his seeming proclivity for political correctness. Not all that many prizes for guessing I refer to Ted Baillieu of Victoria. Last weekend I was in Melbourne at the invitation of some in the State Liberal Party to speak to them on their egregious Charter of Rights, and why it ought to be repealed. This is the 2006 Rob Hulls-initiated and George Williams-aided Charter, the direct cost of which is estimated at nearly $14 million to date, with the indirect costs still unknown (though whatever they are we know that lawyers account for the lion’s share of them). Last month a Victorian Parliamentary Committee recommended four to three, along party political lines, repealing all the main provisions that give unelected judges extra powers. This is not as good as a full repeal, but it’s pretty good. Alas, there have been a depressing number of reports that Premier Baillieu, a one-time critic of this charter, is distancing himself from the majority recommendation of the Parliamentary Committee, meaning the view of the four members of his own party, in favour of something closer to the view of the minority Labor party recommendations. Put more bluntly, Baillieu is having second thoughts about offending all the self-styled human rights lobby groups and lawyers pleading special interests. You know, all those people who are so likely to vote for the Coalition. At any rate, we are all wondering why the Victorian government’s response to this Parliamentary Committee report has been taken out of the office of the Attorney General (a big sceptic) and put into the Premier’s. ‘Political correctness, thy name is Baillieu.’

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Crossing back over the Tasman, a great New Zealander died this week. Roger Kerr, the New Zealand Business Roundtable’s only executive director since 1986, succumbed to cancer. Roger was a stalwart supporter of free markets and free market thinking, not least when it came to business campaigns to reform labour markets, to push for greater productivity, and to opt for policies that would have some chance of closing the wealth and income gap with Australia. Roger had been a stern critic of the Helen Clark Labour government era of big, big, big government spending, about which time is already proving him to be correct. Roger was also a long-standing critic of the MMP voting system that is being put to a national referendum later this month at the same time as the national election. I think Roger was right about MMP too. It needs to go for a host of reasons, not least if there is to be any chance of making the hard decisions New Zealand must make to fix its economic wealth-creating fundamentals. (The current supposedly conservative New Zealand Prime Minister won’t even contemplate raising the existing retirement age!) Roger Kerr’s loss will be sorely felt in New Zealand. ‘To die: to sleep; No more.’

James Allan is Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland. Peter Coleman is on leave.


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