I've heard of being kicked upstairs but this is ridiculous. I know people get promoted to their point of incompetence, but the UN? The Vatican? These are not incompetence-friendly situations.
I know that the sinecure, or cushy upstairs job, is a time-honoured tradition, but it shouldn’t just protect the douchebag from the world. It should also protect the world from the douchebag.
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Philip Ruddock announces retirement
Father of the House Philip Ruddock will retire at the next election to be Australia's envoy on human rights. Vision ABC News 24.
To anoint Philip ‘children overboard’ Ruddock as our special envoy on human rights is an irony of breathtaking proportions. It’s almost as bizarre as allowing George Pell’s dicky heart to distance him from those whose hearts he helped break. In both cases, Australia looks weak, venal and mean.
As Howard’s Immigration Minister, Ruddock designed and implemented the Pacific solution. Now, as our first-ever special envoy to the UN Human Rights Commission, he must persuade them it was a solution, not simply a tactic.
He must prove that practices that have made Australia an international human rights pariah – the “stop the boats” war cry, the indefinite incarceration of babies, rape victims and the terminally ill, the blanket secrecy – are not an outright disgrace.
Can it work? Is the UN really that gullible? Or do we, Australia, just not care that much? Is it simply domestic politics: with an election imminent Malcolm needs comfy Berowra for some numbers guy, and that’s the deal, done?
Speaking of carrots, I recall the footage from October 2001. I was making minestrone for my kids when the Immigration Minister declared that SIEV4 passengers had chucked theirs into the ocean for emotional leverage. I did a double take. Like, seriously?
Indeed, looking up, I nearly cut my fingers up for soup. But Ruddock’s face was grey and implacable as the sea those blurry figures flailed in. I squinted at the screen. Children? Were they? I couldn’t tell.
But I knew it smelt shonky then, four weeks from an election. And as it transpired, shonky was being nice. Now, with Ruddock’s preferment, the nicefication begins.
Suddenly he’s ‘Father of the House’, like some kindly old dad rather than 42 years of safe-seat fat-salary. Suddenly we hear of his early bleeding-heart years, his “lonely work” opposing racism in Parliament, the Amnesty badge he supposedly wears.
But anyone can wear a badge (and btw Amnesty politely asked Ruddock not to). It’s by their deeds ye shall know them.
Ruddock’s deeds date almost exclusively from his second 20 years in Parliament, from his sudden 1996 trade of principle for power to help puff Howard’s yeasty rise. His main deed, his main legacy, is the camps.
Last November, the UN’s Universal Periodic Review of human rights focused on Australia. 105 states spoke: 70 selected Australia’s camps for criticism. France, Germany, India, Mexico, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Argentina, Denmark and China were amongst those who voiced concern over Australia’s imprisonment of children, lack of protections, cancellation of the UN rapporteur’s visit, silencing of doctors and expulsion of charity workers.
Many worried that our detention policies were arbitrary. Arbitrary detention breaches the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 9: “No-one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”) So naturally, we denied it, huffing and puffling the usual stop-the-boats, end-people-smuggling cliches.
The pretence is that torture saves lives. But arbitrary detention is defined as imprisonment that (a) has no legal basis, (b) results from exercising legal freedoms or (c) makes no (or only partial) provision for fair trial.
Any one of these criteria makes the detention arbitrary. Our camps fulfil all three. No doubt Ruddock will deploy the same old bluster to pretend otherwise. But he shouldn’t have to.
Australia used to be good at this stuff; good as in moral, not just clever. Back in the 1940s we helped draft the UN Declaration on Human Rights. We’ve also signed the UN Convention Against Torture – of which the UN rapporteur found our camps are in breach – as well as conventions on discrimination against women, and on the Rights of the Child.
This last obliges us to make “the best interests of the child…a primary consideration” (Article 3). Yet we knowingly and repeatedly lock women and babies into these pits of human misery – filthy, sweltering, disease-ridden, abusive, privatised, secretive and, worst of all, indefinite in both cause and outcome.
We have mountains of testimony that this enduring and unfathomable trauma will wreck the children’s lives, yet we sanction it – then send the system’s architect to sell it to the world.
The Vatican itself could not invent an uglier strategy.
And so to Pell. I’m amazed how much understanding the system – both Church and state – affords the Cardinal, and how little they afford victims of his regime. I’m staggered how frail and forgetful these old bulls get when a profound moral issue needs their attention. I’m astonished how much denial, cruelty, perpetuation and victim-blaming a moral and spiritual leader can deliver and still seem a moral and spiritual leader.
The case in point relates to imprisoned priest Gerald Ridsdale, now 81, who abused and raped dozens of children – some as young as four – over several decades, possibly as far back as 1955.
In the 1970s Pell shared a house with Ridsdale and later, it is alleged, helped relocate him to other parishes. In one of Ridsdale’s schools, the commission has heard, 12 of a class of 33 have since, broken-hearted, killed themselves.
Given that the Royal Commission was initiated in response to a group of 14 of Ridsdale’s victims, and is briefed to scrutinise not just abuse but institutional responses to it, this case is pivotal.
Pell should be here. I’m sorry the Cardinal’s heart is dodgy. I am. But looking back over his alleged victim-blaming and indifference, the allegations of silence-money and cover-ups, his efforts to avoid fronting up, Pell’s heart seems to have been dicky for years. Ruddock’s too, for that matter.
But I can’t help thinking hearts that puny should see them sent to pasture. Running the Vatican, selling Australia’s torture camps; these are not jobs for the fainthearted.