Brown Study

Brown study

18 March 2017

9:00 AM

18 March 2017

9:00 AM

My sadness at Bill Leak’s death is compounded by the fact that I never met him. But his influence on me was profound. I have no doubt that he influenced the way I wrote and even the way I thought about the big issues that he forced to the centre of the public psyche. In particular, the whole Aboriginal issue is now forever personified in his searing cartoon of the alcoholic and fly-blown father who, when challenged to take care of his own son, replies ‘Yeah righto, what’s his name then?’

That concept and the concise, laser-like precision of the words he used to get his message across, is a masterpiece. It got into my brain because, together with the powerful cartoon itself, it summed up more than could be done by any other words, the monumental task of achieving aboriginal self-reliance and responsibility, and more generally, the ease of ignoring our own role in human tragedy. ‘Righto, what’s this got to do with me then?’I saw the effect that Bill Leak’s work had on me when earlier this year I was writing a bit of a spoof on Wagner’s Ring Cycle that had just been performed in Melbourne. It is on our Flat White blog for 18 January (www.spectator.com.au). I had got to the point where Sigmund stumbles upon a house way out in the forest where lives, by a miraculous co-incidence, his long-lost twin sister, Sieglinde, albeit with her odious husband. She sings that she would like to go to bed with Sigmund because he looks like her long-lost twin brother. As I reconstructed the ensuing dialogue it went: ‘Righto,’ he replies, ‘What’s your name then?’ ‘Sieglinde,’ she replies. He comes back with a very smart retort: ‘But that’s me sister’s name.’ And she replies in turn: ‘Of course it’s your sister’s name! I am your sister!’


To use a leitmotif, as you do with Wagner, Leak’s cartoon will forever beat us over the head with the notion that our personal responsibility is greater than we had thought.

In recent times, of course, Bill Leak had been through the wringer of the Australian Human Rights Commission and his death has made me reflect again on the role of that entity and its leadership and how they have so effectively degraded their own standing, to the extent that they have now given human rights a bad name. I wonder, for instance, if Professor Gillian Triggs has ever reflected on the stress and harm her Commission inflicted on Leak and others who have been made subject to their secret trials and delays. I wonder if Tim Soutphommasane has ever thought of saying how grateful he is to Australia for letting him live in a tolerant country that is supposed to practice free speech, instead of branding us all as racists. In fact, I have also been thinking that this is the first time in my life where I could be investigated by a government body simply for writing or speaking, assuming of course that they deign to tell me that such an investigation is underway; judging from the way they treated the QUT students, they are not familiar with that part of the rules of natural justice. So I would like to have a bit of protection myself, something to even up the balance with the almighty state, something to guard me from our guardians and, at the same time, something tangible by which to remember Bill Leak.

So I am proposing a short Act of Parliament that will have only 4 clauses and which will go something like this.i

It is unlawful for a member or employee of the Australian Human Rights Commission to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate a person or to act unreasonably towards such person.

It is unlawful for the Australian Human Rights Commission to conduct any investigation other than in accordance with the rules of natural justice.

Any question arising under Sections 1 and 2 shall be decided by a jury sitting in the Federal Court.

If the jury finds that an unlawful act has been committed under Sections 1 or 2 by the Australian Human Rights Commission or a member or employee of that body, the jury may award damages, including punitive, exemplary and aggravated damages against the person or body found by the jury to have committed the unlawful act and may also make an award of legal and other costs against such person or body.

It is unfortunate that the Liberal Party in Victoria is taking leave of its senses again with a campaign to unseat Michael Kroger as its state president. Why do I care? The Liberal party which now does not believe in anything except retrospective tax legislation, (although same sex marriage is coming up on the rails as a close second) probably deserves every wound it inflicts on itself. But I hope the party avoids this singularly foolish piece of blood letting, because, first, it is important to have a strong, viable and united non-labor party and, secondly, because in the harsh cruel world of politics, we should hang on to people like Michael Kroger who is of good character and possesses highly polished political skills. (Note to those north of the Murray: this attempted coup is another spin off from Malcolm Turnbull’s unleashing chaos by urging a cabal of troublemakers to dump Tony Abbott. Cabals, like this one, have a habit of becoming mesmerised by their power and vaulting ambition. So they are throwing their weight around. What on earth will they say when the number of lost Newspolls makes its relentless way to 30?).

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