“Greens’ vigilance on Gillard merits praise” – John Armstrong

Here’s John Armstrong’s view on Julia Gillard addressing Parliament, as published in the NZ Herald this morning.

Greens’ vigilance on Gillard merits praise – John Armstrong

The Greens have got some unwarranted stick for blocking Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard from addressing Parliament while it is officially in session. They were right to do so.

Their intervention has produced a compromise which most people will struggle to see as much different from what John Key had originally proposed. That saves face for him.

The compromise is significant, however, in the huge symbolic difference between what will happen tomorrow and what Key had hoped for.

The Australian Premier will be speaking to a meeting of MPs which coincidentally is being held in the parliamentary chamber outside sitting hours with the permission of the Speaker. The meeting will not become part of the official record, normal rules will not apply and the meeting will carry no special status.

The Greens’ objection to Key’s plan was made clear to MPs during closed-door meetings some months ago. Had it been ignored, there was a strong possibility they would have refused leave for Gillard to speak – only one MP’s refusal is required to halt proceedings. That would have been humiliating for her and acutely embarrassing for Key.

So what, after all, was wrong with the original plan? The Greens had two reasons for blocking Gillard.

The first follows the British constitutional line that the floor of the House remain sacrosanct and only the people’s elected representatives should tread it. This flows from English history; that MPs should not be threatened or unduly influenced by “strangers” – such as the King’s soldiers.

The second reason is that giving Gillard the full honours would have set a worrying and dangerous precedent. As Green Party co-leader Russel Norman says, no Government could avoid the Chinese President officially addressing Parliament if there was such a precedent.

The Chinese would take refusal as a massive diplomatic snub. But going ahead would provoke a huge uproar if, in Norman’s words, “the No 1 enemy of democracy” was allowed to lecture a chamber filled with democratically elected MPs.

What message would that send? Key may yet have reason to thank the Greens for their vigilance.

8 thoughts on ““Greens’ vigilance on Gillard merits praise” – John Armstrong

  1. Supportive comments (not online) from the NBR too, Russel:

    An even more cringeworthy mistake, although so far unremarked, is his idea of having Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard make a speech in parliament’s debating chamber. It’s a first, he says, apparently without understanding why it’s never been done before.

    The chamber is designed solely for debate between members of parliament. Not only are all the seats taken; there is nowhere for her to stand. To have our elected representatives subjected to a lecture from a foreign prime minister is an act of supreme constitutional cringe. It’s a wonder that the Speaker, who control entry to the chamber, is allowing it to happen.”

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  2. The same ignorance of the unwritten constitution and the same cavalier attitude is behind moves to end jury trials for most people appearing before court (and reduced requirement for the prosecution to have to prove a person guilty before they are convicted) – this with the earlier moves to enable activists and dissidents to be subject to on-going surveillance is to change the balance of power in our society, restore fear of established authority as we are brought into the global market orbit by obligation to foreign powers via TPP etc (our own government being legally accountable to foreign corporates).

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  3. The same ignorance of the unwritten constitution and the same cavalier attitude is behind moves to end jury trials for most people appearing before court

    Most people appearing before court don’t get jury trials, and never have:

    First, most poeple plead guilty, and don’t get trials at all;
    Secondly, most people who do go to a defended hearing do so on charges which have never qualified for a jury trial.
    Thirdly, most people who are tried for offences on which they could elect a jury trial don’t.

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  4. Do you question whether most people appearing before court “in defended hearings and having jury trials now” will be losing that right? I was speaking as to the change and the impact where it applies.

    That together with making it easier for convictions to be obtained, by allowing prosecutors to be prepared for defence tactics tilts the balance in favour of conviction.

    PS Do judges, unlike juries, know the priors of defendants?

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  5. I believe that trial judges rule on motions in limine, they are aware of relevant information. Whether priors are admitted at trial is a decision made by the Judge, usually in closed chambers, before the trial and always when the jury is not present. It’s up to the Judge whether priors are prejudicial ie not admitted. It’s usually only in exceptional circumstances that the jury is made aware of prior offending. All offending is available to the Judge including offenses where diversion is the outcome. But don’t quote me on that.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_limine

    PS Most people is not all people.

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  6. The point I was getting at Todd – is that jurors do not know the accused priors but if the defendant loses the right to a jury trial, will the judge at the trial have knowledge of prior offending – this speaks to the issue of a more prejudicial trial resulting. If not, then how many judges would be unable to deal with local trials in their own courts because local offenders were known to them – thus defeating the declared purpose of the legislation faster trials etc.

    Jury trials at the moment have a 3 month prison sentence threshold, this is being lifted to 3 years – thus clearly most of the people currently having jury trials are to lose this right.

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  7. … will the judge at the trial have knowledge of prior offending – this speaks to the issue of a more prejudicial trial resulting

    That’s a bit of a swipe at the judicial community; judges understand that priors are important at sentencing but irrelevant in determining fact.

    The issue with loss of jury trials is that judges do exactly what they are supposed to, and make a judgment on the merits of the case, whereas juries sometimes deviate from the strict legal position, to deliver a less “law oriented” but often popular verdict.

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  8. So you think judges will be allowed to access the past court record of those who appear before them at trial before the verdict is reached … .

    Your assumption is that juries would be prejudicial with knowledge of the persons priors (or lack of them) but judges would not be.

    Is one reason for jury trials to prevent prejudgement prejudice? Is another to prevent establishmentarianism/persecution?

    1. removing the right to choose who represents them on legal aid (so inexperienced people with no motivation to perform effectively defend people)
    2. defence having to expose their defence to the prosecution before trial
    3. those people having jury trials now (over 3 months to under 3 years) losing that right to do so.

    The whole process is to increase the power of the state.

    When added to the increasing security related surveillance powers …

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