Yet more High Court absurdity

In the latest Section 44 news, it’s being suggested that three more MPs or candidates may be ineligible, two because they are doctors and one because they hold shares in a pharmacy business which is a partner in a Linkage project with the Australian Research Council.

For those who aren’t in the research business, the Linkage program involves research which is jointly funded by the ARC, a University and an industry partner.in this case the pharmacy business. That is, the crime allegedly committed by this MP consists of (indirectly) giving money (or support in kind) to a government program, in the hope that the resulting research will be useful to their industry in general or to society as a whole. (Work done for the private benefit of a particular business would not normally be eligible; it would be undertaken as a consultancy). On this basis, a volunteer at (say) the Commonwealth could be disqualified for using government resources.

Doubtless, the defenders of the High Court will rush to say that no such nonsensical inference can be drawn. But, if they had a shred of intellectual honesty, they will admit that, before this nonsense began, no one had ever contemplated the absurdities we have already seen.

The other defence that used to be offered was that MPs with s44 problems should have checked the rules. It ought to be obvious by now (but probably won’t be, given the human propensity for bloody-minded adherence to a fixed position) that no-one can check on the rules. Suppose you are, say, a bank clerk, and the local council banks at your branch. On a literal reading, which is the only kind on offer from this High Court, you would seem to be doing business with the government, and would be forced to quit your job rather than taking leave. Your case is even worse if your employer converts you into a contractor with a business that might continue while you served in Parliament.  Perhaps, based on past precedent, the court would let you off, but perhaps not.

There’s no easy way to fix this. Perhaps people will get sufficiently tired of this nonsense that the massive obstacles to a referendum might be overcome, but I doubt it. The only encouraging sign is that, so far, every member disqualified by the mischief-makers on the Court has been re-elected. Perhaps a few more pointless by-elections will produce some popular resistance.

In any case, the real problem is with the High Court’s entire approach to constitutional interpretation, based on the same kind of literalism that Garfield Barwick used to subvert the taxation system in the 1970s. Barwick was slapped down by changes to the Acts Interpretation Act, but Parliament can’t, I think, tell the Court how to interpret the constitution.  The only solution would be to replace existing justices as they retire, with followers of Lionel Murphy who would start from the commitment to a democratic government and strike down any interpretation (such as the disqualification of most of the population from election) that is inconsistent with that.

P@ssw0rd follies (repost from 2017)

I didn’t around to posting on the MyHealthRecord mess before the government retreated on the issue, but I just ran across this piece from 2017 which reminded me how insecure the system would have been.

Looking at the broader issue, it’s clear that the push from both governments and corporations to collect and sell our data is going to keep producing disasters unless things change. We need to address the issue comprehensively starting from the premise that any transfer of individual information without explicit consent is, prima facie unlawful, then adding in exceptions based on a clear public benefit test.

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Black helicopters and the Fairfax press

I’ve mostly given up talking about the nonsense published on a daily basis in the Murdoch press. There are more reliable alternatives, after all. At least so I thought until I looked at today’s Fairfax papers, which ran, as the lead, a piece from Peter Hartcher headlined Beijing uses infrastructure as friendly forerunner of political power. It’s as obviously loopy as anything Maurice Newman has written on Agenda 21, or Graeme Lloyd on Climategate
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Maybe we need a degree in Western Civilization after all

I’ve kept out of the latest silly culture war so far, but I couldn’t resist this from Josh Frydenberg. After decrying a “long march to the left” in Australian universities, he says

It is absolutely critical that the next generation of students understand about where the rule of law came from, where democracy came from, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, women’s suffrage

Looking through that list, it can be described as a potted summary of the “long march to the left”  in Britain (and by extension Australia) over the course of the “long 19th century” from the French and American revolutions to the outbreak of the Great War.  At the beginning of that period, Freydenberg’s conservative precursors supported the rule of law, and opposed democracy, freedom of speech and religion and women’s suffrage. It was only after long struggles that restrictions on freedom of speech and religion like the Six Acts and Penal Laws  were repealed. The fight for (initialy male-only) democracy and women’s suffrage took even longer.

If we extended Frydenberg’s list into the 20th century, we’d get something like this University of Sydney course which covers

struggles over labour rights and working conditions in the 1900s, women’s suffrage, Aboriginal land rights, race relations and the White Australia Policy, homelessness during the Great Depression, freedom of speech during the Cold War, the Vietnam Moratorium and sexual liberation in the 1970s, the environmental movement, refugees and asylum seekers, and LGBT rights today

This course was denounced by Bella d’Abrera of the Institute of Public Affairs in a piece supporting the need for a Western Civilization course. It’s notable that free speech and women’s suffrage occur both in Frydenberg’s celebratory list and d’Abrera’s denunciation. I’m guessing that, if pressed, d’Abrera would not defend the implication that these, and other items like the end of the White Australia policy, were things to be deplored. But it would be interesting to see her present a version of history in which all the freedoms we now enjoy appeared magically and without any strugge.

Looking at this mess, I think we might need a course in the history of Western Civilisation after all. It should be provided to people like Frydenberg and d’Abrera so they can decide exactly whether they want to stop the clock at 1970, 1950 or perhaps at 1900.

The High Court: an agent of foreign influence

In a comment posted yesterday, I said

I suppose this should be obvious, but the HC decision actually creates a perfect opportunity to generate divided loyalties where none previously existed. Suppose you want to run for Parliament but your parent came here as a 3-year old from some other country. A government official explains that the process of losing citizenship normally takes years, but for special friends of the country, it can be rushed through in time to nominate. After you have been elected, an issue arises where friends of the country concerned have an opportunity to do a favour. The logic is pretty clear.

Just a day later, we have the Oz reporting almost exactly this allegation against Labor MP Anne Aly. I have no idea of the validity or otherwise of the claim, but obviously it’s one that can now be made against anyone who has fallen afoul of the Court’s absurd rulings by having an overseas born parent, but who has been lucky enough to get expeditious treatment from the foreign government concerned.

But, just as Trump’s supporters have swallowed worse and worse things from him, I’m sure the fans of the High Court’s black letter approach to the Constitution will convince themselves that it’s all to the good that foreign governments are now in a position to interfere in our elections. That’s one of the notable things about adopting a really bad idea: the rationalizations needed to defend it pave the way for worse ideas to come.

Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain

The series of absurd rulings from our High Court has now reached the point where the majority of Australians are debarred from standing for election to Parliament, unless some foreign government chooses to help them. The latest ruling means that even renouncing a citizenship you never sought and have never exercised is not enough. Unless you start the process well before an election is even called, possibly years before, you are ineligible if you were born overseas, have an overseas-born parent and (probably) if you belong to an ethnic group which has a “right of return” to a national homeland. We have yet to explore the possible limits of other exclusion clauses.

There is some poetic justice in the embarrassment now being faced by Labor and Bill Shorten, who wrongly assumed they had prepared for the worst possible cases of High Court idiocy, and gloated over the misfortune of others. But that’s small comfort for anyone who would wish the outcome of democratic elections to be respected.

Until now, the line taken by the supporters of the High Court has been “it’s just a matter of following the rules”. It’s now been made clear that following the rules is impossible. An Australian citizen, even one who has never left Australia, can be ineligible simply because of the dilatoriness, incompetence, or even malice, of a foreign government. And, according to the High Court, there’s nothing they can do about it except wait.

The stupidity and bloody-mindedness of the High Court in this matter is matched by most of the political commentariat, and a large proportion of the Australian public, who will no doubt be represented in comments here.

From experience, I know that lots of readers will not be convinced. So, I will offer a question and answer another.
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Another High Court disaster

The High Court has done a great job in messing up Australian democracy with its absurdly literalistic reading of the Constitutional provisions on dual citizenship. It’s now added another layer of disaster with its refusal to hear Labor’s attempt to have Liberal MP David Gillespie disqualified on the basis that he rented space to an Australia Post outlet.

Of course, this case is utterly lacking in merit. Had the High Court heard it, and thrown it out without retiring for consideration, I’d be cheering them on.

In fact, however, they refused to hear the case because Labor couldn’t get the Parliament to refer the case, relying instead on a “common informer”.

So, we are now in the position where a Parliamentary majority can move to disqualify anyone on the opposing side, and the High Court will assess whether they have breached any of the byzantine rules they have constructed, rules that might potentially disqualify anyone who has ever taken money from the government, or had foreign born parents, or is Jewish, or can’t document every aspect of their ancestry back to the Paelolithic era. But if there is no such majority, it seems that there is no recourse.

What’s worse is my total confidence that there will be lots of comments explaining how the High Court has protected us from the risk that someone might serve in Parliament despite getting their paperwork wrong.