All Quiet on the UNHRC Front


One of the most under reported stories of recent months must surely be the troubling developments at the United Nations Human Rights Council (the UNHRC – not to be confused with the UN High Commissioner of Refugees) writes Elle Hardy

Formed in 2006 from the ashes of the hamstrung and ineffective Commission on Human Rights, the body’s watery but noble aim is to “help member states meet their human rights obligations through dialogue, capacity building, and technical assistance.”

The UNHRC is the lead body within the UN for human rights. Its reports and recommendations can ultimately only be enforced by the UN Security Council. It serves three functions: to review and give recommendations on the self-reporting of human rights in all participating countries every country every four years, to promote and discuss human rights, and to report gross violations.

The Council’s great fame is its infamy: passing repeated resolutions to condemn Israel, while only expressing “deep concern” on Sudan’s genocide in Darfur (and subsequent nomination of Sudan for a seat on the Council by the African bloc), and the repeated resolutions on “defamation of religion” brought by Islamic states and backed by allies in despotism, such as Cuba, Russia, and China.

In July this year, envoys from both Syria and Iran announced that they would attempt to run for a seat in 2014. Presently, the Council is reviewing the human rights credentials for the nominations for the 47 seats by Saudi Arabia, Senegal, China, Nigeria, Mexico, Mauritius, Jordan, Malaysia, Central African Republic, Monaco, Belize, Chad, Israel, Congo and Malta.

Last week saw all but several western countries take to the floor to congratulate Saudi Arabia and China on their ‘advancements’ in the field. Farce is a too temperate word; irony too wry.

A seat on the UNHRC may be of little consequence to the enslaved women of Saudi Arabia, or the starving Congolese – but there is an ethical incumbency to prevent tyrants and megalomaniacs from possessing the faintest air of legitimacy, or a platform to espouse their bilious views.

Furthermore, if any institution with such gravitas, resources, and access is of vacuous morality, is it not conceivable that particular countries or voting blocs could use this standing to cover-up, to corrupt, or to abet further human rights violations?

Outside of right-aligned, pro-Israel groups UN Watch and Human Rights Voices, there is little reporting, let alone criticism. The silence on UNHRC from the major left-aligned organisations Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International has been particularly disappointing.

It must be asked whether the inherent belief in and support of the United Nations by social-democratic and progressive movements in politics, media, and civil society is informing their silence.

Their collective failure for vocal criticism of the UNHRC can be seen through three key defining planks of much of the modern left: the notion of equality, moral relativism, and environmentalism.

Belief in democracy of nations is a logical fallacy. By giving equal seats at the table and votes to countries who do not afford their citizens the same rights, the UN was flawed from inception. Such an existential right of participation is the most absurd form of collectivism.

Moral relativism defies the modern concept of human rights, which dates from the French and American revolutions – where there was universal support for the assertion that human rights both exist and are possessed equally. Strains of the apparent slur of ‘enlightenment imperialism’ pervade the UN and many of its supporters on the left.

It is essentially a front for anti-American and anti-Israel chauvinism. While both countries rightly receive criticism for their records, they are the straw men of a deeply flawed organisation.  Orwell said it best when he noted “the sin of nearly all left-wingers from 1933 onward is that they have wanted to be anti-fascist without being anti-totalitarian.”

Finally, I suspect the left has abdicated the cause in favour of fighting climate change. While many on the right also support the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there is a hybrid of lionisation of the IPCC – and by extension the UN – and a siege mentality. Do they fear criticising the UN could undermine their position in the environment wars?

The only body that can enforce findings of the UNHRC is the impotent UN Security Council – of which Australia is a temporary member. It is well established that our voice on the Security Council will be inconsequential, as the power of veto by the permanent members have rendered it almost completely ineffectual. If Australia wishes to make any use of its time, both the government and human rights groups within Australia should use this platform as an opportunity to condemn the despotic cabals of the UNHRC in the strongest possible terms.

The Human Rights Council is set to review Australia’s commitment to human rights in 2015. It is certain that opponents of the government will pounce upon any criticism of our record. If such opponents do indeed have regard for the enlightenment values of human rights, it will be the height of hypocrisy if we hear scant from them beforehand.

Elle Hardy is a banker and freelance writer with an interest in liberty, politics, international affairs, and the Oxford comma. She can be found on Twitter @ellehardytweets

‘On track’ for a surplus? Not good enough

Temporary deficits have a tendency to become entrenched – just ask the US. If Tony Abbott fails to return the budget to surplus quickly, Australia could face the same fate, writes Chris Berg at The Drum.
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Turning a blind eye, funding Indonesia’s genocide in West Papua, What’s the risk?

The down fall of dictators and the transition to democratic governments are opportunities to give citizens suffering under these repressive regime hope for a brighter future, writes Anthony Craig.

Opening up these countries to economic growth, democratic freedoms and opportunities is key. Yet most democracies believe or state they will, follow international treaties and conventions against torture, genocide and support for human rights.

Sadly, some regimes are not truly democratic. The fall of the Suharto regime, a military dictatorship in Indonesia in the late 1990's opened the door for those suffering years of oppression, to taste freedom for the first time. East Timorese was given a democratic vote after years of oppression, supervised by the United Nations in 1999.

The Indonesian Military who still have an enormous influence in Indonesian politics today, did not like the outcome of a free democratic vote, the aftermath resulted in a bloodbath. Thousands of East Timorese were murdered, large numbers of the population forced to relocate to West Timor and East Timor burnt to the ground.  

The evidence today in Timor is shocking. Mass graves, burnt out buildings and torture chambers can still be seen. No one has been brought to justice over these war crimes and crimes against humanity. The United Nations report on East Timor from 1975-1999 was damming on both Australia and other countries for supporting Indonesia's genocide.

The same military, murdered the Balibo Five and both Indonesia and Australia covered it up through the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. These strategies are not of a military under democratic control. West Papuans are a people who continue to suffer under Indonesian military rule today. They have suffered another slow genocide spanning 50 years.The world including Australia continues to turn a blind eye.

In June the United Nations Human Rights Committee met in Geneva  and the Indonesian government made a chilling statement. They made it very clear that Human rights are not a automatic guarantee and those pushing West Papuan separation from the Republic of Indonesia will be dealt with appropriately.  

Australia through its foreign aid program gives Indonesia over 500 million a year, when Indonesia spends over 8 billion on their military. A military which coincidentally commits mass murder and torture of the West Papuan people. People might asked the question, why worry about a few West Papuans when economic growth and trade should be the overriding consideration regarding relations with Indonesia.

The answer is very simple, dictatorships and corrupt governments when appeased, continue their corrupt practices which has a significant impact on free trade and open markets as well as companies trying to compete in the marketplace.  

So to say nothing, or turn a blind eye to these crimes, only encourages these corrupt military and government officials to continue a "business as usual" approach and does nothing to support an open, honest or responsible democratic government.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade appeasement policy with Indonesia is alive and going full steam ahead. We have seen what Indonesia appeasement does. Recent history is full of examples of making a bad situation worse. If Indonesia is a democracy, then they should be able to prove it without getting up in arms and demanding payback. When politicians and Bureaucrats believe the rules don't apply to them, all citizens of a democracy need to be alarmed.

The question has to be asked, will turning a blind eye to Indonesian atrocities in East Timor, the murder of the Balibo Five and ongoing genocide in West Papua, come back to bite us. 

Anthony Craig writes from Lithgow NSW and is a Federal Executive Officer for the DLP

Let’s open up the books at the Reserve Bank

Henry Ford, the American automobile manufacturer, once said that “It is well enough that the people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system for, if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning”, writes Sukrit Sabhlok.

Indeed, if there’s one thing central bankers have been successful at, it’s using obfuscation and jargon so the public finds it difficult to understand what exactly it is they do.

Even when experts try and figure out what central bankers do, a range of legal barriers prevent a complete accounting of their activities. When former Congressman Ron Paul tried to audit the US Federal Reserve System a few years ago, for example, he faced opposition from a range of economists and politicians keen on preserving the Fed’s secrecy.

In Australia, the opaqueness of the Reserve Bank’s discretion doesn’t seem to trouble many people. But it should, because the RBA wields a significant power that influences the level of prices in the economy and consequently affects the hip pocket. The inflation it creates hurts the poor – and if more people knew the RBA was the culprit behind rising prices, and that much of the erosion in purchasing power we have seen over the past 100 years was unnecessary, there is little doubt that there would be protests on the streets.

The RBA’s aversion to scrutiny can be seen in the way that it shies away from the media spotlight, preferring instead to stage-manage the appearances of its officials in carefully scripted testimonies before parliamentary committees. The agency also enjoys significant exemptions from freedom of information legislation, and furthermore, doesn’t provide reasons for its decisions in a way that allows the public hold individual board members accountable for their views (one can contrast this to the Bank of Japan where individual board members’ votes are recorded).

Perhaps most troubling is the Reserve Bank’s budgetary processes, which are ‘off-the-books’ in the sense that the Bank just prints the money it needs to carry out its functions without needing to seek parliamentary authorisation for its spending. Although legislation does specify that the RBA is to return profits to the Treasury, the process is removed from other departments or agencies of the state.

How does the RBA justify its lack of accountability? The organization’s defenders have typically pointed to the doctrine of ‘central bank independence’ which rose to popularity in the 1990s. The doctrine aims to remove political considerations from central banking by insulating the technocrats at the RBA from transparency so they can carry out their work in the ‘best interests of the community’.

But a degree of latitude from intervention by politicians, while a noble objective, has become a code-word for secrecy. The need for free and frank discussion outside of the democratic realm is cited by central bankers as a reason for not releasing transcripts of the open market committee or for keeping hidden agreements with foreign central banks and governments.

This should be viewed as the self-serving tripe it is. The High Court as the nation’s highest court exercises equally important responsibilities yet its judges provide detailed reasons for their decisions so the public can hold them accountable for their views, and also has a budget authorized through the parliamentary process. It is doubtful that the RBA, as the custodian of the nation’s money supply, is so special that its individual board members should not have to justify every cash rate decision made.

In practice, the much vaunted ‘independence’ of the RBA is greatly exaggerated, so the doctrine of central bank independence fails to persuade in any case. Appointments to the board, which are made by the Treasurer, have been politicised, undermining its so-called independence. It makes sense that Treasurers would take into account more than just merit when making appointments: they are likely to select someone that already agrees with Cabinet’s own policy preferences. A blatant example of this was the appointment of Robert Gerard – a donor to the Liberal Party who had contributed $1 million to its coffers and was said to be a supporter of low interest rates – by Peter Costello.

The board itself is a coalition of vested interests populated with representatives from lobby groups and commercial entities who are heroically asked to set aside their sectional interests and prioritise the ‘public good’. The current board comprises powerbrokers with links to Walmart, Origin Energy and other major firms. Even the only academic member of the board, Professor John Edwards, was formerly employed by HSBC Bank and was an advisor to Prime Minister Paul Keating – a detail that would’ve been looked upon favourably by the Labor government that appointed him.

Consider also, that the RBA seems to accommodate its political masters through its reluctance to raise interest rates before elections. Ian McFarlane himself admitted in Australia’s Money Mandarins that "[the 2001 election] did have some small weight in our decision. If there was a really strong case to do something, we would always do it regardless of the election campaign. But it would have to be a pretty strong case". Since it gained ‘independence’, the Bank has only raised rates once before an election, and that was during the 2007 campaign.

It’s little wonder, then, that between 1991 and 2007 Australia was a high inflation country. Investor Chris Leithner points out that monetary aggregates rose at a rapid rate: M1 increased 404%, at an annualised compound rate of 10.2%. Naturally, this has significantly devalued the currency in Australians’ pockets and reduced standards of living – and all the while the Bank has continued to keep a lid on information that could be crucial in evaluating its performance.

Although it has been argued by central bankers that their role requires secrecy, they are overstating their case. To the contrary, when markets get more information, this can be expected to reduce uncertainty, bolster confidence and improve economic outcomes. Economic historian Robert Higgs, for instance, has shown how lack of investor knowledge about the government’s expected policy actions delayed recovery during the Great Depression. Similarly, studies have shown that greater transparency is often associated with less inflation variability.

A monetary system consistent with the rule of law – where accountability and transparency is the norm rather than the exception – demands opening up the books at the RBA. The public deserves to know.  

Sukrit Sabhlok is a Masters candidate at Monash University and editor of the Journal of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom

Centenary of the 1913 Federal Election

A couple of weeks ago on 31 May 2013 was the centenary of the 1913 federal election, which went unnoticed.  It was one of the most critical elections in Australian history and its story needs to be retold, writes John Ruddick 

Between 1901 and 1910 Australia had eight Prime Ministerships with no party having a majority in either the House or the Senate.  The backdrop to this period of political flux was the seemingly inexorable rise of Labor. 

In 1901 Labor had just 14 seats in the House (out of 75) making it the smallest of the three parliamentary parties.  In 1903 the Labor tally almost doubled to 23 and then strengthened in 1906 with 26 seats.  The election of 1910 saw Labor not only win a clear majority in the House (42) but almost two thirds of the Senate.  It was a historic victory – Labor was the first openly socialistic party to win a national election in the world.

At the following election in 1913 Labor lost office to the Commonwealth Liberal Party by a single seat.  Australia was in its formative years and the election of 1913 is arguable one of our most consequential – it embedded free enterprise but only just. 

Chris Watson served as the first Labor leader from 1901 to 1907.  During Waton’s leadership Labor held the balance of power between the two pro-business parties – the Protectionists and the Free Traders.  Watson was a Labor moderate who aimed to advance the Labor cause through trading the two other parties off against the other. 

Watson was PM for an inconsequential four months in 1904 (as a result of a parliamentary realignment, not an election) but when the two other parties patched things up he resigned.  Watson remained as Labor leader but his compromises were increasingly resented by the Labor caucus.

In 1907 Labor elected Andrew Fisher as leader.  Like many of early British Labour leaders Fisher was a devout Christian and a teetotaller and unlike today’s ‘Labor’ leaders had spent two decades actually labouring at the bottom of mines. 

Fisher’s colleagues, political opponents, the press and the public would soon admire Fisher as a man of integrity and conviction.  A contemporary noted Fisher: 

has a kind of Olympian dignity, an unruffled and quite impenetrable calm. 

Fisher was an avowed radical socialist who did not think of hiding it.  When campaigning for the leadership he told Caucus: 

it would be cowardly for the man who believes that nationalisation is a proper principle not to express his views in the House.  We have too long shrunk from maintaining propositions which we clearly believe in.

Fisher had absolute confidence that by boldly declaring socialism a majority of the public would soon agree.  He told the Labor Party conference in 1908: 

In the church, the Parliament, in the streets and newspapers all over the civilized world there are no more sneers and scorn for socialism.  Everyone has this one great question to consider: we are all socialists now and indeed the only qualification you hear from anybody is that he is ‘not an extreme socialist.

In late 1908 Labor under Fisher withdrew its support of Protectionist PM Alfred Deakin.  Such were the hostilities between the Protectionists and the Free Traders that Deakin gave his votes in parliament to support Fisher as PM. 

In this first of his three non-consecutive terms as PM, Fisher knew passing socialist legislation was impossible without a majority … so from 1908 to 1909 Fisher principally used the office of PM, not to legislate, but to travel the nation, give speeches and campaign for socialism at the upcoming 1910 election. 

He spoke of: 

soon having a sufficient number in Parliament to express our views in legislation,” and of “Australia being able to lead the world with Socialistic legislation in such a way that it would be helpful to those great countries of the world with congested populations.

Talk like this soon made the two pro-business parties put aside their differences.  The free-traders had lost the debate over tariffs and with socialism a far greater threat the two merged into the Commonwealth Liberal Party. 

It was now obvious Fisher would be removed as PM as soon as Parliament resumed so Fisher mischievously delayed recalling Parliament for as long as he could.  He extended his tour of the nation and his enthusiastic crowds grew. 

After a six month recess Parliament finally returned and Fisher was voted down as PM immediately.  Fisher asked the Governor General for an election but was denied and Deakin returned as PM.  Deakin however was by now tired and probably suffering the onset of dementia while Labor under Fisher had the momentum.

Prior to the formation of the Commonwealth Liberal Party the Protectionists had cut into the working class vote.  The new political environment of two parties (not three) played into Fisher’s hand.  The electorate had a clear choice – the workers versus the capitalists – and Labor’s primary vote leapt from 36.6% 1906 to 49.9% in 1910 making it easily Labor’s biggest ever swing. 

Fisher was Australia’s first powerful PM and he set about using that power.  An unprecedented 113 pieces of legislation passed easily – almost more than all previous governments combined.  Welfare programs and payments boomed. 

Government money was thrown at the arts and sport.  Taxes were hiked as were the number of public servants … but the power Fisher most wanted was to nationalise monopolies and start government owned businesses to compete with the private sector. 

Fisher feared the High Court would declare such laws unconstitutional … so within a year of winning office Fisher put forth two amendments to the Constitution via referendum.  They sought to take the power over commerce and industrial relations away from the states and give it to the federal government.

The referenda lost 61-39%.  Most politicians would back away from such a rebuff but Fisher had often said he would rather return to labouring in the mines than back down on principle.  Fisher immediately announced he would put the questions again to the electorate … and he raised the stakes.  He added six more socialist referenda and timed the vote to be on the same day as the next federal election in 1913.  Fisher reasoned his personal popularity (which was high) would this time get the referenda passed.

In 1913 Fisher’s opponent was the long term anti-socialist campaigner Joseph Cook.  During the campaign Cook focussed not on attacking Fisher but his eight referenda declaring “Labor wants to get in a position of socialistic supremacy over the whole Commonwealth”.

A hundred years ago Cook defeated Fisher by one seat despite Fisher narrowly winning the popular vote.  All eight referenda were defeated just as narrowly.

Fisher did return as PM for a year at the outset of World War One but the war consumed his agenda and he resigned in mid-1915.  He then lived out his days in London depressed at failing to bring about his socialist utopia in the Antipodes. 

One hundred years ago living standards in Argentina were higher than they were in Australia but today the OECD says Australia is the happiest nation on Earth.  Had Fisher’s Labor Party won one more seat in 1913 that may not have been the case.

John Ruddick is a Sydney based mortgage broker