Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

  • Written by The Conversation
imageDoes relentlessly criticising Australia's human rights record risk doing more harm than good? Courntey Biggs/AAP

Perpetrator of crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide. Documented serial violator of international law and the most fundamental human rights. Complicit in territorial aggression.

All these accusations, and countless more like them, have recently been made by mainstream commentators, respected academics and official international figures.

Of whom do they speak? Australia, of course.

But does such insistent, brutal critique create a misleading picture of actual moral performance?

Relentless, powerful criticism

Most readers will be familiar with these accusations. Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers attracts well-publicised accusations of crimes against humanity and prompts serial reports of its serious breaches of human rights. Australia has recently been accused of racist and discriminatory acts of cultural genocide, ethnic cleansing and “acts of war” for proposals to remove basic services to its remote indigenous communities. Australia’s (lack of) action on climate change allegedly amounts to crimes against humanity and its involvement in Middle East conflicts is tantamount to the crime of aggression.

Meanwhile, major human rights reports highlight a “grim outlook” for Australia.

It is little wonder that respected international figures should thus mention Australia in the same breath as brutal regimes like Islamic State (IS), Syria and North Korea.

Actual moral performance

With all this in mind, you might be surprised where Australia sits in global human rights rankings. Australia consistently places in the very top echelon of such rankings, as seen here, here and here. Equally, it is a strong performer on governance values, democracy indexes and combined measures of happiness.

There is a reason desperate refugees flood to Australia, rather than flee from it.

What explains this gap?

Of course, one can be comparatively a top performer and still be plagued with serious problems. But instead of using language appropriate to talking about serious problems, commentators routinely invoke notions of horrifying criminality. Through talk of genocide and atrocity, commentators often fail to distinguish between, on the one hand, savage slaughter and full-throttle repression and, on the other, rash, botched, insensitive, unilateral, ham-fisted or politicised responses to genuinely tough ethical questions.

imageSpeaking truth to power is vital, but hyperbole can reduce the impact.Howard Jones/AAP

Equally, the debate can be skewed towards criticism. Political discourse, media and activism are all prone to invoking crisis, sensation and scandal.

Even academia is not immune. Social “critique” rightly bears a special place in academic life, but can direct attention towards what is going wrong, rather than what is going right.

Some of these practices – for example, politicians' confected outrage – are lamentable. Other practices, such as academics and independent bodies speaking truth to power, are vital. Nevertheless, these many different phenomena combine to paint a misleadingly depressing picture of the country’s moral landscape.

But aren’t there benefits?

Even if the picture is skewed towards critique, real benefits arise. A negative slant can head off the natural tendency towards venerating one’s own community. Such a tendency can tempt us towards ugly nationalism or delusions about inherent cultural superiority.

Having high local expectations can also help secure important reforms and prevent complacency. For example, by congratulating ourselves on our high global rankings, Australians might spurn the call for new human rights legislation — even though this might be a powerful method for responding to the serious problems we do face.

imageThousands of people rallied for Indigenous rights in Melbourne, May 1.Tracey Nearmy/AAP

But at what cost?

Hyperbole can undercut support for important causes when objective, balanced argument would work better.

Rather than changing their behaviour, people might switch off from critique. They might see the United Nations and human rights itself as nothing but unrelenting sources of shame and rebuke.

So, too, can other countries easily brush aside Australia’s entreaties to respect rights and international law. Who are we to preach to others — like Russia or Indonesia — if our own brand is irreparably tainted (as Iran recently queried)?

But perhaps the most serious ramifications of this cultural phenomenon lie in the potentially corrosive effect on ordinary people’s moral character.

Like every society, Australia needs to encourage reasonable allegiance and commitment to its social and political processes. We are all shocked when young people choose to betray Australia’s values by joining a genocidal regime like IS. Yet our own “public relations” efforts showcase our flaws, not our successes.

If people give up on the society around them, then they can tend to excuse their own moral failings and self-righteously disconnect from political life. Why play fair if the system is corrupt?

Finally, while it can feel good to scold wrongdoers, encouragement sometimes works better for achieving results.

In the current environment, Australians would struggle to feel any kind of “cultural ownership” of human rights. This is a real shame. From the most inauspicious beginnings, Australians have built their country into an extraordinary human rights success story.

They should be inspired to go on living up to that status.

Hugh Breakey does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Authors: The Conversation

Read more http://theconversation.com/is-australia-as-bad-as-is-skewed-criticism-may-leave-you-wondering-40825

Writers Wanted

How Australian vice-chancellors' pay came to average $1 million and why it's a problem

arrow_forward

The Average Water Bill in Sydney

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

BEN FORDHAM: Scott Morrison, good morning to you.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Ben. How are you?    FORDHAM: Good. How many days have you got to go?   PRIME MINISTER: I've got another we...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Business News

Nisbets’ Collab with The Lobby is Showing the Sexy Side of Hospitality Supply

Hospitality supply services might not immediately make you think ‘sexy’. But when a barkeep in a moodily lit bar holds up the perfectly formed juniper gin balloon or catches the light in the edg...

The Atticism - avatar The Atticism

Buy Instagram Followers And Likes Now

Do you like to buy followers on Instagram? Just give a simple Google search on the internet, and there will be an abounding of seeking outcomes full of businesses offering such services. But, th...

News Co - avatar News Co

Cybersecurity data means nothing to business leaders without context

Top business leaders are starting to realise the widespread impact a cyberattack can have on a business. Unfortunately, according to a study by Forrester Consulting commissioned by Tenable, some...

Scott McKinnel, ANZ Country Manager, Tenable - avatar Scott McKinnel, ANZ Country Manager, Tenable



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion