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Chris Merritt
Legal Affairs Contributor
15 December, 2023
Rule of law requires us to defend Jewish citizens

As the year draws to a close and we take stock of all we have done and all we have left undone, our assessments – both positive and negative – will inevitably be based on personal guiding principles.
Without such a framework we are lost, incapable of telling the difference between good and evil, success and failure. Without principles we might not even notice as we become vulnerable to manipulation.
The same is true of nations.
The guiding framework for this country’s system of governance is set down in the Constitution. And underpinning the Constitution is the rule of law – a set of doctrines that together are liberty’s bulwark.
One of the most powerful of these doctrines is equality before the law, which tells us not just who we are, but who we are not.
We are not a nation that is supposed to tolerate any one of us being singled out and excluded from equal protection of the law whenever the state finds this convenient.
Liberty is also protected by other great components of the rule of law: the separation of powers between the legislature and judiciary, and the idea that punishments can only be imposed for breaches of a law.
Courts, not parliaments, are supposed to impose punishments and only after testing the evidence.
These ideas arrived in this country in 1788 and took root, just as they took root in the US and, most notably, in Israel.
By impeding arbitrary rule they protect individuals who might otherwise be vulnerable.
This explain why Jews, more than anyone else, have a personal interest in the health of the rule of law.
Last century the first targets of authoritarians were Jews and democracy.
This century the targets are same.
But this time, Australia is wavering – not just on support for Israel, a fellow democracy, but on equal protection under the law for Jewish Australians.
This country still welcomes new citizens with the promise that Australia, unlike most places in the world, is governed by the principles of the rule of law. Together they contain the promise of a commonwealth where the law, not some individual, is the true king.
But in the closing days of 2023, it is beginning to look as though many of those in authority have little time for equal protection under the law.
Since October 9, when a Jew-hating mob chanted “gas the Jews” outside the Sydney Opera House, a nation committed to equal protection would have acted decisively to build confidence in community safety.
Yet look at the results.
Jewish schoolchildren are being urged not to reveal their religious affiliation. It was a Jew who was arrested outside the Opera House on October 9, not the thugs with genocidal intent.
In NSW, the problem goes beyond the plight of Jews.
A Labor government committed to equality before the law would have corrected the abuses of that principle by the Coalition governments of former premiers Barry O’Farrell and Mike Baird.
In 2014, O’Farrell’s government pre-empted the justice system by stripping two companies of coal exploration licences based on accusations that had not been tested in court.
This took place amid a media frenzy that had been fed by reputation-killing show trials conducted by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, which is a government agency, not a court.
When the madness subsided and the justice system was allowed to do its work, nobody associated with either company – past or present – finished up with a conviction against their name.
The two companies that were treated so unjustly were NuCoal Resources – which was not even accused of wrongdoing by ICAC – and Cascade Coal.
They did nothing wrong. Yet their property was seized by NSW without just cause, without due process of law and without compensation.
The Coalition, when in office, did nothing to set things right. And so far, the Labor administration of Chris Minns has not yet committed itself to correcting this abuse.
The most blatant attack on the rule of law under the Coalition took place in 2015 and still taints its standing.
Mike Baird’s government rushed through legislation that had the effect of changing the outcome of a court case that was about to be finalised.
Parliament was never told that Baird’s law would prevent four men from securing a legal victory over ICAC that had already been endorsed in draft form by the Court of Appeal.
One of the four men who were stripped of their legal rights, Travers Duncan, died last year.
The others have never stopped pressing for a day in court against ICAC without the corrupting influence of Baird’s legislation which retrospectively “validated” that organisation’s wrongdoing.
Baird’s law abandoned the idea that everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law and equal treatment under the law, even when they have been wronged by a government agency.
The three surviving victims of Baird’s law are businessmen John McGuigan, John Atkinson and Richard Poole.
The common factors in these cases are disregard for equality before the law and an apparent determination by the Coalition to appease ICAC – even when that means hurting people who have done nothing wrong. Labor has an opportunity to distance itself from these episodes.
Against this background, nobody should be surprised that Jews now fear for the safety of their children, or that the federal government has sided with Israel’s foes at the United Nations.
Recent history shows that a baying mob can persuade weak politicians to abandon principles and adopt an approach to public administration that is best described as pusillanimous.