David Flint may be a pompous hypocrite – but John Howard is a bigger one, as Hillary Bray explains.

Putting the boot into David Flint? Isn’t the ruckus already more crowded that the “Singing in the Rain” sequence in A Clockwork Orange? Isn’t that Peter Costello joining in over there in the bowler hat and the false lashes on one eye?

Wait a minute, though. Here’s a new angle – and there goes Hillary’s 18 hole cherry red. Ker-runch!

What is the worst offence any public servant in any position and of any status can commit under the Howard Government? Offering their own opinion.

It doesn’t matter if national integrity – let alone national security – is at stake. There is no greater crime under John Howard than thinking for yourself. Just ask Mick Keelty.

Yup. We all saw what happened to him – and if it happens to the head of the Australian Federal Police, if it happens to senior staffers in intelligence, just imagine what happens to poor cardigan wearers in the cubicle next to the photocopier in Belconnen or the Albury-Wodonga Commonwealth Centre.

The Government is more maniacal than a mob of Maoists when it comes to the importance of Developing Correct Thoughts. Let slip a bit of revisionism, doubt the historical inevitability of whatever the Prime Minister and his advisers have decided reality is today and it will be the re-education camp for you.

National integrity doesn’t matter, national security doesn’t matter – and quaint ideas that used to be considered fundamental to a healthy democracy like the separation of powers certainly don’t stand in the way.

The Howard Government has made a fine art of intimidating the third arm of our polity, the judiciary. Think of Bill Heffernan and Michael Kirby. But also think of Tim Fischer.

Here’s the only senior Howard Government figure to have departed with his reputation enhanced – compare and contrast to, say, Michael Wooldridge or Peter Reith – yet even he made heavying “judicial activists” one of his specialities.

One of these activists on the bench, however, seems to have escaped censure. David Flint.

Legal larrikin and former Media Watch host Richard Ackland carried out a most detailed and delicate dissection of Flint in the Age on Saturday. It’s at http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/04/30/1083224579768.html

He told how the good Professor “wants the trappings of judicial authority, yet he is not prepared to abide by the restrictions”.

“Not only is he an active member of the Liberal Party and sits on preselection panels,” Ackland wrote, “but he proselytises in favour of Government policy such as the ‘reform’ of the cross-media ownership laws.

“He writes gushing Dear Alan letters on Australian Broadcasting Authority letterhead, which he conspicuously fails to disclose to his colleagues on the authority and to parties appearing before him.

“He believes he can excuse this conduct on the tenuous premise that the ABA is only a co-regulator of the industry. Yet if anything, a statutory co-regulator should be more scrupulous in its dealings with the partially self-regulating industry, not less.”

And that’s not even part of it. Flint has been actively engaged in a whole range of debates. Indeed, it has looked for a long time as if Flint is a “judicial activist”. So why no criticism?

Surely it’s merely hair-splitting to say that Flint only occupies a quasi-judicial role. Think what a comment like that does for the Professor’s ego, too.

And surely while it’s true to say in a strict sense that when Flint writes about those nasty “elites” it’s different from when Kirby J writes judgements on the validity or otherwise of a piece of legislation – but it’s surely also true to say that what both of them has to say is significant simply because of the office they hold.

So why does Flint get away with it? Ackland had some comments that shed light on this subject.

“It was widely known in industry circles that Flint was not a favourite of the former minister for communications, Richard Alston, but he was always a favourite of Howard’s,” he said in The Age.

That explains a lot.

After all, David Flint might be the more pompous hypocrite, but John Howard is a bigger one.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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