New concerns surround the government’s increased use of legislative powers to bypass the parliament and create laws that cannot be amended or overturned. The federal government has embedded special powers in new Covid-19 laws to make unilateral changes to non-pandemic-related legislation, using what are known as ‘Henry VIII clauses’ – named for the unchecked power they involve.
Desire to settle permanent maritime boundaries
In Foreign Minister Bishop’s letter to the editor (October 17-23) she expresses “concern” that readers will be “left with the impression that Australia’s Timor Sea policies are inconsistent with international law and unfair to Timor-Leste”, declaring emphatically that “This is not the case.” This is precisely the case. Minister Bishop is treading down the path of her predecessors continually frustrating Timor-Leste’s rights to have its maritime boundaries permanently settled. We are a patient people, but our patience is sorely tested. Australia has steadfastly foreclosed all avenues towards resolution of this issue, including negotiation and dispute resolution. At the same time, it has locked up an unfair share of the resources of the Timor Sea through the “provisional arrangements” Minister Bishop references. These “provisional arrangements” purport to restrict Timor-Leste for “up to 50 years”. This is beyond any reasonable estimate of the life of the seabed resources in the disputed areas. Timor-Leste entered into these arrangements believing that Australia, as a good international citizen, would later negotiate to settle permanent maritime boundaries. Not only has it refused to do so, but it has also prevented other resolution of the matter by withdrawing, on the eve of Timor-Leste’s May 2002 restoration of independence, from relevant international processes on matters relating to settlement of maritime boundaries. In short, Australia knows its position on its maritime boundary claims in the Timor Sea is inconsistent with international law, and has sought to preserve the pre-Timor-Leste independence status quo – one based on an illegal annexation. Australia’s conduct is inconsistent with international law and with its public position on other maritime boundary disputes, where it admonishes all to act according to international law and the Convention on the Law of the Sea. Timor-Leste remains willing to negotiate in good faith, but it cannot do so alone. We ask Australia, through its new prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, as a good neighbour and a leading power in the international community that is seeking seats on the Human Rights Council and the Security Council, to honour its obligations by negotiating permanent maritime boundaries with Timor-Leste.
– Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, Minister for Planning and Strategic Investment, Timor-Leste
Order in the court, too
I am fully supportive of Lucia Osborne-Crowley’s call for a federal bill of rights (“Reining in the rogues”, October 24-30). In her criticism of rogue governments, she overlooked the saving grace in the past two parliaments of so-called “rogue” senators, without whose opposition to government legislation, things would have been far worse. However there is a parallel change necessary to a bill of rights. Rights are expressed in words, and not infrequently end up needing interpretation of meaning. This takes place in the High Court. The members of the High Court are appointed by the prime minister. On any issue the values and beliefs of a particular justice will be significant to the outcome. I doubt that a decision by an arch-conservative such as Dyson Heydon would be identical with the “arch dissenter” Michael Kirby. Governments of different persuasions have subtly affected High Court decisions for many years. All those appointed have had impeccable credentials in law, but indisputably different values in relation to ethics and human rights. It is high time appointments to the High Court were made by an independent (if such is possible) panel rather than the politically influenced prime minister.
– Dr Rodney Syme, Toorak, Vic
Amini’s death should not be in vain
The excesses of the Abbott government in relation to legislated violations of human rights, gestated in unaccountable executive government, is well reflected by the experiences and subsequent death of Hazara asylum seeker Khodayar Amini (“You have tortured me in every way”, October 24-30).His death will not be in vain if, when the constitution of our soon-to-be-established republican government is amended, it contains provision for a bill of rights, and for the election of a president whose mandate is to ensure future governments pass legislation that is in accord with it.
– Brian Sanaghan, West Preston, Vic
Echoes of Abbott on coal
We are indebted to Mike Seccombe for his commentary on the influence of the Minerals Council over the Abbott–Turnbull government (“Coal mission of the willing”, October 24-30). With regard to the environmentally disastrous Carmichael coal project in Queensland, we are advised by Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg that there is a “strong moral case” to proceed. We witness Attorney-General George Brandis repeatedly interrupting Larissa Waters during senate estimates with the assertion that this project will “liberate literally tens of millions of people in India from energy poverty”. Brandis was clearly parroting from the same songbook as Frydenberg. Such “moral homilies about the humanitarian benefits of coal” are painfully reminiscent of the two wasted years under Abbott. Turnbull would be well advised to accept the scientific consensus, cease approving new coalmines, and develop a responsible climate policy. Here’s an idea! Instead of listening to the Minerals Council, why not consult the government’s own Climate Change Authority?
– David Nash, Manly, NSW
Not a joke, Joyce
I have little time for Qantas boss Alan Joyce. Nevertheless, it is derogatory, if not outright racist, to refer to him or any other Irish person as a “little leprechaun” (Gadfly, October 24-30). Surely he has done enough of his own accord that epithets could be found that do not disparage his country of origin.
– Gina Hay, Bayview, NSW
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 31, 2015.
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