Brandis breathes his own exhaust

Of course both parties make political appointments, but some are more political than others. In terms of extremity, putting a first-order public ideologue like Tim Wilson in charge of the Human Rights Commission is equivalent to, say, handing the reins of the ABC to John Pilger.

Yet George Brandis (The Australian, 23/13) blithely tries to persuade us of Wilson’s independence, citing disagreements they have had over social and law-and-order issues. These are no more than a manifestation of the ongoing schism in the Liberal Party between its libertarian and conservative wings.

If Brandis expects the electorate to swallow this flimsy argument, then either he has been breathing his own exhaust for too long, else he takes us for fools.

Former Human Rights Commissioner Brian Burdekin (The Australian, 21/12) reminds Wilson that human rights are “not a matter of competing philosophies”. Unfortunately, in the neo-conservative world in which Mr Wilson has hitherto made his living, including the oil and tobacco funded IPA, they are just that: rights which bolster that ideology, such as private property or freedom of trade, are given special priority and are accorded a status of “natural” rights which precede social organisation. Others, such as education or health, are seen as social fictions and therefore dispensable.

The neocon aphorism that “rights are not what the government gives but what it cannot take away” has a nice ring to it, but it is mystical nonsense. There are no rights in the jungle. In reality, all rights are social constructions that have social value but come with a social cost of enforcement. We choose them according to our values and they are universal if we say they are. This is validly expressed through international law, however “perverted” Mr Wilson may find it.

I join Mr Burdekin in wishing Mr Wilson well in his new job, but my advice is blunter: when you go to work, leave your talk of “positive rights and negative rights”, and the rest of your ideology, at the door.

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