There is a long list of behaviours attracting the supposedly pejorative label “unAustralian”. Sydney Morning Herald columnist Tim Dick last year, after an extensive reading of Hansard, the federal parliamentary record, noted that politicians had used the phrase to describe all manner of things. Clearly, what this ubiquitous and contradictory phrase means exactly depends on the person doing the labelling:
“Parliament House; a duty on tractor parts; tax fraud; investigating war criminals; firebombing Chinese restaurants; abolishing compulsory voting; and gender-neutral language … to criticise operation Sovereign Borders. To not watch a film about backyard cricket set in Wagga … [T]o be for WorkChoices, and to be against it … to restrict unions, and to tolerate lawlessness in the construction industry … to be against the Iraq invasion, and to be in favour of it. It’s unAustralian not to sing carols at school, to be of a bland and passionless character, to let Dobermans loose on the wharves …”
The list goes on and on. But we can add to it lawyers representing refugees pro bono. And, in a first for farce, perhaps even the constitution. Immigration minister Peter Dutton on Monday complained to 2GB Sydney radio host Alan Jones that the government had been hampered in its attempts to deport refugees brought to the mainland for medical treatment:
“It goes back to your earlier remarks, Alan, about all the political correctness out there”, he said. “[A]nd it extends into some of our major law firms, where part of their social justice agenda is for pro bono work to be provided ... and it costs the taxpayer tens of millions each year.”
Jones called the lawyers’ behaviour “unAustralian”. Dutton replied: “Of course it is.” The thing is, the lawyers are a problem, Dutton implicitly conceded, only because of the constitution. Asked by Jones if he could legislate to force through the government’s agenda, Dutton replied: “Well, there’s constitutional issues involved … we can’t pass legislation to dispel with that difficulty of the constitution – so we defend these matters, we fight them in the courts, and it is incredibly frustrating.”
It’s not that surprising, given all the trouble the government is having with section 44, that the Liberals would be a bit down on the constitution at the moment. But it really takes the cake that the use of the country’s founding document to protect vulnerable people is now considered a traitorous act. And it says a great deal about what the federal Liberal Party and its backers consider “Australian values”.