May 28

General Sir Peter Cosgrove: Don’t leave the Bill


General Peter Cosgrove AC MC is precisely the sort of person who should have long ago been knighted. In more sensible times, when envious republican ideologues did not dominate policy in our country, this would have occurred with the almost universal approval of the people.  

It is ironical that this sense of republican equality does not apply to the benefits the republican politicians determine for themselves. The latest is the decree that the next generation work until they are 67, while the republican politicians can access their mainly taxpayer funded superannuation and other generous benefits when they attain the ripe young age of 55. That age limitation was only introduced recently, and applies only to recent politicians.


The better time for The Queen or the Governor-General to have dubbed the General was when he returned from leading the international forces, INTERFET, in its very successful 1999 peacekeeping mission to East Timor. We should recall that this finally liberated the people from years of brutal subjugation.

This was the moment when the Howard government should have advised the restoration of the awards of Knight of Australia, AK and Dame of Australia, AD.

While General Cosgrove delivered the military success, John Howard and Alexander Downer were responsible for the very brave political decision to do this and to do it in accordance with international law.

Had the General been knighted then, even republicans would have rejoiced, or would have been rendered silent – at least the sensible ones.

 A great opportunity was missed, but it is not too late to knight the General, so that as Sir John Monash was, he will henceforth be known as Sir Peter Cosgrove.

(Years ago when it was obsessed with republicanism, The Australian newspaper decided to drop all titles.  It was a silly policy from which they had to make exceptions. But referring to Sir John Monash without his title was jarring. He treasured it and no ideologue should have tried to remove it posthumously. I remember an opinion piece in The Australian under the name “Harry Gibbs”. Sir Harry Gibbs, please.)

…a bill of rights…

I saw General Cosgrove when he launched a book against the proposed bill of rights on Monday. In introducing him, I think Julian Leeser said that General Cosgove had done more for more peoples’ human rights than a battalion of human rights lawyers.

In his speech General Cosgrove mentioned the republican referendum, and referred to the “silent wisdom’ of Australians. General Cosgrove said he believed a bill of rights was "possibly more important" than the republic. I would not of course agree with that.

He warned that the Australian public was unimpressed with "me-tooism", the tactic of telling Australians they it must have a bill of rights because others have them. He said such laws "have made not a jot of difference to crushing inequities" in other societies. "Enduring laws ought not to be a fashion statement," he said, declaring “Don't leave us with the bill."

Among the glittering array of writers in the book are former Governor-General Sir Ninian Stephen, who wrote the foreword with chapters from the Queensland Chief Justice Paul de Jersey, Senator George Brandis,  former Prime Minister John Howard, former High Court Justice Ian Callinan, Professor James Allan, Alan Anderson, Acting Justice Kenneth Handley, Dr. David Bennett, Dr Helen Irving, former Keating government minister Professor Gary Johns, General AJ Molan, Professor Geoffrey Blainey, Dr John Hirst, Bronwyn Bishop MP, the Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell, Rabbi John Levi, and Brigadier Jim Wallace.

Paul Kelly reported extensively on the book in “Rights bill won't pay” The Australian on 27 May, 2009

One of the editors, Julian Leeser, a director of the Menzies Research Centre, says the matter is so important it should not process without a referendum.

The other editor, Ryan Haddrick casts doubt on the validity of the proposed legislation. He argues it may be invalid because it would purport to give the High Court an advisory jurisdiction, which the High Court long ago ruled was unconstitutional, wisely in my view.

(That said, the Canadian Court does have such a jurisdiction)

Further information about the book and the launch may be obtained from the Menzies Research Centre.

…another view….

The book follows the release and extensive promotion of Geoffrey Robertson’s latest publication, The Statute of Liberty. In a critical review in Quadrant Online, John Izzard argues that every Australian should read this book. “Their future liberty may just depend upon their doing so.”

In a recent piece in Quadrant in May, (“Religion, Conscience and the Law,” – available only to subscribers; but the paper on which it is based is available as a PDF from the University of Melbourne) republican Jesuit Father Frank Brennan expresses the quandary he must find himself in.

Father Brennan fears that a Bill of Rights will deliver results inimical to Catholic moral teaching. But in the nineteenth century, the US Supreme Court used it to preserve slavery and invalidate laws trying to improve standards and safety in factories. Father Brennan said:

“We need to do better if faith communities and minorities are to be assured that a Victorian-style charter of rights is anything but a piece of legislative window dressing which rarely changes legislative or policy outcomes, being perceived as a device for the delivery of a soft-Left sectarian agenda—a device which will be discarded or misconstrued whenever the rights articulated do not comply with that agenda.”

…a kangaroo committee?….

Father Brennan heads the Federal government’s consultative committee into a bill of rights, and as with the other members, is thought to be in favour of such a bill. This has led Julian Leeser to refer to the body, with some justice, as a “kangaroo committee”, drawing an analogy with a kangaroo court .

As with Paul Keating's  Republican Advisory Committee chaired by Malcolm Turnbull and the 2020 Summit, its decisions were determined in advance by the simple expedient of choosing the right people.         


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