Kincumber Community Conversation Hour – Q&A event

[It was a great pleasure to meet the progressive parents-and members of the local community-who are actively supporting the education of students at Kincumber High School.]

When it comes to human rights are they just too ‘inconvenient’?

They are for governments because they impose an objective standard by which government decisions and legislation can be measured  and  if the rights are constitutionally enshrined it is then a standard by which they have to be measured.

In that case there’s substantial inconvenience to governments instead of being able to make decisions regardless of the consequences they’re constrained to make decisions that don’t impinge upon protected  human rights.

The other aspect of inconvenience is the difficulty of determining what human rights should be recognised and protected   because there’s a broad range of “rights” now regarded as fundamental human rights depending on who’s defining them.

So you need to sit down and work out which rights constitute fundamental human and basic rights that warrant constitutional protection.

Statutory protection is useless because it can be repealed or amended.

Your article in the Newcastle Herald was the catalyst for our contact.  Ideally, education would be an ideology free zone. Your blog was somewhat prescient when you wrote:

“…The [ education] reform needs to start from above: everything from basic items like curriculum texts and the manner in which they are selected, to more fundamental issues like funding programs, should be determined free of ideology by reference to the best possible educational outcome for students, and open to careful scrutiny by voters, communities, parents, teachers and students. The ideologues should have nothing to fear from such an approach: if their particular ideology truly has merit it should be able to withstand freethinking and informed analysis and criticism.”

So, is the deliberate denial of equitable funding a human rights issue?

The concepts are a bit rubbery. Again, depends on how you define human rights in general terms.

I’d suggest it is too far removed to say it’s a human rights issue. Certainly it’s an issue that goes to educational equality and probably educational freedom but funding decisions invariably have justifications to a greater or lesser extent and validity that means that governments can invariably justify funding decisions on purely budgetary levels.

To extend that thought, the case William v State of California (2000) makes for compelling reading. The basis of the lawsuit was that the agencies failed to provide public school students with equal access to instructional materials, safe and decent school facilities, and qualified teachers. Williams won the case and hundreds of millions of dollars in equity funding.  What about doing that here – i.e. a class action?

Only problem is that there’s no basis for it because a class action depends on breach of some legal right (eg tortious, contractual). I can’t find any requirement in the NSW Education Act that imposes a specific obligation on the Minister or the government to act in a particular way that gives rise to rights enforceable on the part of one or more citizens.

What do you consider the greatest human right challenges confronting this country?

Present government (charters course of the country). Corporate influence on government (what people think or want is irrelevant). Control of the media (controlling message of the powerful) . These are all bodies whose actions can impinge on the recognition of human rights and the recognition of breaches.

The media no longer represents any sort of intelligent think tank.  The selective information given is often of  little use to the well informed. So we have access to lots of information without informed analysis and to the extent that people are offered analysis it’s a partisan interpretation of information.

We also have an education issue. A vague interpretation of human rights from American movies.

‘Syrian jihadists’ have been  targeted for going to fight in Syria. However, during the Spanish Civil War, the International Brigades were celebrated and had among their number  Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell and Sir Stephen Spender, father of Barry Humphries’ wife Lizzie. Is there ever a clear cut freedom fighter – or are they ‘terrorists’ depending on your point of view (see Andrew Bolt – Telegraph 9/12/13 re Nelson Mandela)?

Depends on which side of history you’re on.

It depends on information given or available to the person making the assessment, particularly nowadays, throughout history the information delivered to people is skewed to support the views of the people delivering it.

There probably are many people properly characterised as freedom fighters by reference to the objectives they’re fighting to achieve but who are officially called ‘terrorists’ and widely thought of as ‘terrorists’ because of the information distributed about them.

Many people have genuine grievances. Even if you try to delve into the reality of the grievances of freedom fighters we have a hard time getting that information.  If you try and come up with a counter-narrative you are demonised as a sympathiser or traitor.

We have heard much lately about what is done in our national interest (spying, East Timor Sunrise oil fields, AWB).  By blithely accepting the benefits ‘in our name’, are we co-conspirators?)

If we’re armed with suspicions then we should be calling for the information to gain the knowledge that would refute our suspicions or confirm them.   If our suspicions are confirmed then we need to make noise or take action if we don’t do that then we certainly are complicit.

Could you please explain why using the term ‘illegals’ is not just offensive but wrong in describing asylum seekers?

Using  the term illegal is an easy way to demonise people and it puts them on the back foot in terms of public perception. It is not illegal to seek asylum in Australia, even if arriving by boat.

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