In response to some recent political idiocy, I have been thinking about the politics of personal roles. This follows my earlier thoughts on how personal aspects convey your essence and representative government in general.
There are these three blokes. They were all born, raised and educated in the Melbourne suburbs and elected to Federal Parliament as representatives of Melbourne metropolitan electorates. They all hold Ministerial Offices (Health, Human Services, and Assistant Treasurer).
Hilariously, they all have local legal qualifications.
They are all:
- a local bloke,
- a member of a conservative political party,
- an elected state-based representative, and
- a federal Minster.
The Political Idiocy
I’ll be focussing one; Greg Hunt, the Minister for Health, who told journalist Simon Benson (edit: this newspaper is now behind a paywall), that the Victorian court system was becoming a forum for “ideological experiments”. In his opinion:
- “Comments by senior members of the Victorian courts endorsing and embracing shorter sentences for terrorism offences are deeply concerning — deeply concerning.”
- “The Andrews [not conservative party led State] government should immediately reject such statements and sentiments.”
- “The state courts should not be places for ideological experiments in the face of global and local threats from Islamic extremism that has led to such tragic losses.”
Was it the Minister?
The article does not make it plain how or why the Minister for Health was deemed the appropriate person to comment on Federal interest in matters of state-based legal proceedings concerning terrorism. Surely there are better candidates:
- The Attorney-General for example, even if his electorate is in Queensland?
- What about the Minister for Justice, who also happens to be the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Counter-Terrorism (WA)?
- Minister for Defence (NSW)?
- Perhaps the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection (QLD)?
Was it the Party Member?
The most probable reason The Australian (a conservative newspaper) quoted the Minister for Health is that he comes from Victorian and is entitled to express an opinion on that basis. Leaving aside for the moment that he would criticise the Victorian government regardless of their approach because his political party is not in power.
Was it the Person?
Hunt’s opinion was reported because he is a Senior Minister in the Federal Parliament. If he was Greg the fruit picker no one would care. It appears he knowingly used his position to promote a party position, if not a Federal government policy platform. And this is a popular view in less conservative media outlets.
Why this is Interesting (and amusing)
Australian members of Parliament enjoy “Parliamentary Privilege” which gives them immunity from civil or criminal prosecution for things they say in the Houses or Committees. You have the freedom to say anything you want, as Senator Hinch did when he named five convicted paedophiles in his maiden speech, without fear of legal retribution. Crucially, it only protects you in Parliamentary business, not while you are chatting with journalists.
Which makes it all the more bizarre (and short sighted) that the Minister’s attack on the Victorian Court and its Officers was made during a proceeding brought by the Federal government in the Victorian Courts. Even if, as he claimed, his comments were not about the case underway.
Disrespectful comments that could be interpreted as undermining or attempting to influence current legal proceedings may be considered “in contempt”. Contempt of Court is basically when you “diss” the court, in some ways, it’s similar to libel; publishing spiteful and untrue information about a person. Except that when you libel judges you risk prison sentences.And when your job is to represent your electorate, going to prison is the end of your political career.
When your job is to represent your electorate, a conviction, let alone a period of time in prison is the end of your political career. Plus your legal career. And many other employment avenues are also closed to you. But perhaps not fruit picking.
At which point, all the Ministers changed their opinions, backtracked, and apologised to the Court.
Did the Minister for Health consider a return to his early fruit picking for a fraction of a second before he did? We’ll never know. (And as a writer, I strongly suggest he either rewrites his biography or hires an editor.)
Patsy or Stooge?
I wonder, to quote Dr Phil, “What was he thinking?” Particularly given his 1992 position as Associate to the Chief Justice of the Federal Court. And given his Masters of International Relations (achieved at Yale University). A reasonable person would think he should know better.
With his knowledge and experience, logic suggests that he’s not a patsy. (And who wants to think that about their members of Parliament anyway).
It’s more likely that he is a willing stooge taking care of the unpleasantness on behalf of someone else. Distasteful as the prospect is, it’s a more likely scenario in politics anyway. But who? The current Prime Minister, or the former?
It’s a nice conspiracy theory, but I can’t say whether that is the way it happened or not.
What I can say, is that like certain football club presidents and the rest of us, the Minister needs to think about whose opinion he is giving when he gives it.
Who does most of your talking? Let me know in the comments below.