It may be that Australia fails in its bid to obtain chairmanship of the United
Nations Human Rights Committee. That would make Greg
Barns happy, apparently.
It would also make the serial and serious abusers of human rights among the
members of the committee happy. Having at its head a country with a track record
of pluralism and equal opportunity would do serious damage to the UN’s current
status as a protest organisation rather than a force for change in the abuse
of human rights.
Barns cites the Keating era as a golden age for human rights advocacy in this
nation. Human rights was hardly Keating’s strong suit. This is the man who
the Indonesians called their "brother in arms". The man who trained the troops
who massacred the East Timorese. The only time he had a fight with any leader
of a government committed to serious abuse of human rights was when he had
a brawl with Malaysia's Mahathir – over trade.
Does everyone forget that during the Hawke and Keating eras we were urged
not to impose Western values on those from non-European cultures who came to
our shores? That was code for authorising the abuse of women by cultures which
treated women as chattels. It was the basis for ignoring the human rights abuses
in many Asian countries for the sake of trade. As for the approach to China,
Bob Hawke shed a tear for those massacred at Tienanmen (and I believe he was
genuine) but trade continued unabated.
Paul Keating was a supporter of the government which sanctioned the invasion
of East Timor and later, as Prime-Minister, became the biggest advocate of
the military dictatorship which repressed our war-time allies. By contrast,
John Howard took politically risky steps to help bring about East Timor’s independence,
then acted to clean up the mess in which people like Gough Whitlam and Paul
Keating had been complicit.
Don’t forget that when Laurie Brereton, as foreign affairs spokesman for the
ALP, came out against the previous Labor policy of support for the annexation
of East Timor, he was lambasted by Gough Whitlam, the great defender of the
people, as being uneducated. I thought Gough had educated everyone of Laurie’s
The Labor Party has a long and sorry history of being out to lunch on human
rights. The only time it has done anything serious on a fundamental issue of
human rights it has been to sell out freedom of association by reinforcing
compulsory unionism in the workplace and at universities. It was the inventor
of mandatory detention. It was the inventor (and only serious advocate) of
racially discriminatory immigration policy in Australia.
If I had a say in who was to chair a committee on human rights, I think I
would look for someone who came from somewhere where the people held pluralistic
values, abided the rule of law, gave its citizens equal rights under the law,
didn’t shoot or gas them when they dissented, fed those of its citizens who
couldn’t afford to feed themselves, looked after those of its ill citizens
who couldn’t afford to look after themselves, educated all of its citizens
and was governed according to the democratic will of the people – as opposed
to the sort of people who commonly run various elements of the UN now. Somewhere
like my country.
The UN is often in danger of being held in contempt by liberal democracies precisely
because it offers them so little despite accepting so much from them. It is
most often held in contempt by liberal democracies governed by parties (unlike
the Labor Party) which are free of historical ties to the biggest abusers of
human rights seen in the twentieth century – the communist regimes of Europe
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