Should the law be the last word in all circumstances?
The awful shadow that hangs over our parliament, and especially the cabinet, has not been lifted by the vigorous denial made by the Attorney General at Wednesday’s press conference. As we know, law in and of itself cannot be guaranteed to deliver justice. Technicalities and the capacity of privilege to engage senior barristers almost always disadvantages the vulnerable and less resourced.
Through it all, the prime minister is insisting the matter has been considered by appropriate law enforcement instrumentalities and the matter is closed.
Neither statement is strictly correct. The law enforcement instrumentality, (NSW Police), has not properly considered the matter, they have made it plain they cannot because evidence they require to do so is held in the silent embrace of the deceased complainant. Her decision not to proceed happened the day before she took her own life. The matter is not closed, not because the Attorney General has not, and cannot, be proven innocent or guilty, but because he is Australia’s law maker, he holds one of the most powerful posts in the land and the population needs to know he is a fit and appropriate person to hold this office.
It is simply nonsense for the prime minister to insist, with colourful and exaggerated hyperbole, that an inquiry will somehow undermine the very foundations of the rule of law. There are many precedents for an independent inquiry. Indeed, the Attorney General has himself commissioned enquiries. Were one to be held, and we assume the Attorney General’s claims are accurate, presumably evidence would accumulate supporting the Attorney General’s denial, enabling empathy to turn toward him, even if such an inquiry could not fully declare his innocence, or guilt.
Context is a powerful factor in the determination of the best way forward. An enquiry would not primarily focus on criminality, which we know cannot be proved or disproved, but on character.
The fact that neighbours of mine who have previously held significant administrative positions in Canberra guessed the unnamed cabinet minister to be the Attorney General goes to the question of character.
That the Attorney General along with Mr Tudge were subject to a Four Corners investigation on inappropriate behaviour in November 2020, goes to the question of character.
That in his press conference the Attorney General spent considerable time diverting attention by comparing his situation to that of a political opponent goes to the question of character.
That in the same press conference he claimed to be the real victim through trial by media, while not supporting an enquiry which would negate the need for the media to pursue its own enquiries, goes to the question of character.
That the Attorney General has relentlessly and cruelly pursued the lawyer Bernard Collaery over the Government’s scandalous Timor L ’Este debacle goes to the question of character.
The government has senior people who have proved themselves to possess impeccable character, Mr Tony Smith, the speaker of the House, comes immediately to mind. Australia’s chief law maker needs to hold the confidence of the people of Australia regardless of the political party to which he belongs. Unless this confidence exists, he becomes the catalyst for loss of confidence in the rule of law, not those who are calling for an enquiry.