It demonstrates how poor we are at protesting and engaging in political debate that a protest about asylum seeker policy has generated more discussion about the nature of protest and about the adequacy of security of Parliament House. Don’t get me wrong: the protest was clearly wrongheaded and nonsensical, and I wonder if people’s position on the nature of protest is mostly determined by how they feel about the message of the protest. But I worry that the public is hostile to protest and political spectacle.
There’s probably another post in me about the nature of disruption, protest, and legitimacy, but it’s fairly dense and full of legal theory issues. The short version of that post amounts to: ‘Asking if disrupting parliament is legitimate is asking the wrong question.’
In this post, I want to tackle the other limb of the conversation: the security of Parliament House.
War on Everyone opens with two corrupt cops running down a mime with their car. It was therefore difficult for me not to enjoy this movie. That is definitely my jam. It also helps that the film is extremely beautiful, an aesthetic that feels 1970s while the characters talk about XBoxes. The performances are flawless — even Theo James shines (which is why it took me ages to realise he was the plank of wood from the woeful Divergent series).
The script, on the other hand, does not match the film. It is hideously inconsistent. When it is bad, it is tone deaf and in poor taste, confusing being simply politically ‘incorrect’ with being funny. The worst of it is a transphobic piece which neither advances the plot, and feels wildly out of place. It’s not clever or intelligent, and yet the vast majority of this film is both.
Since the election of Trump, we have been saturated in Harry Potter nonsense. We turn to popular culture to understand our legal, political, ethical, and social frameworks. It teaches us and reinforces the adoption of norms that we need to navigate our complex worlds. But there was so much Harry Potter. So much. And it’s not even like Harry Potter is any good. It was like the only coping mechanism available the lumpenliberals who riddle our commentariat was to escape into mediocre white fantasy.
So it’s against this background — utterly, utterly sick to death of everything J.K. Rowling — that I went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
People sometimes accuse me of being incapable of fun. ‘Mark,’ they say with an exasperated look about them, ‘You need to go to a movie, switch off your brain, and just enjoy the ride.’ I’m too critical. I look for meaning. I want to know why we think the good guy is good and how punishment works. I want my characters to represent something bigger, and my plots to explore some deeper question.
Dr Strange is a watery fairy-floss movie. It feels a lot like an early draft and it takes forever to set up. It is a film without substance and it doesn’t even make up for it by being an attractive film.
Some of the worst pop political writing involves a commentator opining on the politics of another country. My eyes could not have rolled harder when the New York Times and the Economist wrote editorials on Australia’s asylum seeker policy. And I have no idea why Australian taxpayers funded an ABC unit to go to the United States to cover the election when the Internet gives us instant access to some of the best American-authored commentary.
So I promise that I won’t contribute to the bin fire of superficial takes on American politics.
I want to focus instead on what Brexit and Trump are saying about Anglophone Conservatism.
Statutory authorities are a weird beast, and they occupy a weird place in popular folk legal intuitions.
I should make a few comments up front lest I be misread. My support of the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Solicitor-General as institutions is unwaveringly positive. It is a triumph of our system of government that we have these institutions. I absolutely love that the AHRC can intervene in proceedings against the Commonwealth, for example. And the position of Solicitor-General — since the time of Sir Robert Garran — has ensured a continuing line of excellent legal advice to Parliament, allowing more politicians to function without themselves being legal boffins.
But they’re both creatures of the Executive. They are created by statute and are accountable to Parliament. This is creates a weird dynamic in our system of government where there is a very significant fusion of the legislative and executive branches of government. The dynamic is further complicated by ideas of independence: how can a statutory body be independent of government and accountable to the same parliament that generates government?
The unsavoury parts of Australia’s right wing are gloating about events at the University of Sydney:
A male staffer for a Liberal MP attempted to identify himself as a woman as part of a sneaky factional deal to win a $12,000 executive position in a student election.
Alex Fitton, who works for New South Wales state MP Mark Taylor, vowed he was not a cisgender male in order to become joint general secretary of the University of Sydney Students’ Representative Council on Wednesday night. [Source]
One of Australia’s right wing commentators claimed that this was ‘perhaps the single greatest prank in the history of University of Sydney student politics’ and said that Fitton’s gender was ‘as plain as the penis between Caitlin Jenner’s legs’. For any person of ordinary intellect, such crassness would suggest that the problem was some toxicity within their own views, but not so for the contemporary mainstream right wing in Australia. Where once the conservative right stood for the preservation of culture and tradition, now conservative values seem only to protect moral imbeciles and degenerates.
It will become obvious that the problem is obviously not with the University of Sydney’s policies, but with Fitton.
For whatever reason, people are worried about clown attacks.
The topic should get us excited because it reveals a whole lot of intuitions about what people think is acceptable behaviour and how we should regulate that behaviour. Let’s start with the easy case.
On Wednesday, the High Court will deliver judgement in a rather strange case called Cunningham v the Commonwealth. On the face of it, the case is absurd. And when you dig into it more, it’s even more ridiculous. It’s ridiculous turtles all the way down.
But teasing apart the case lets us discuss a few interesting legal ideas, not least: what is ‘property’?