Kirby warns CHOGM at ‘watershed’ moment

Sabra Lane reported this story on Wednesday, October 26, 2011 12:30:00
The World Today

ELEANOR HALL: Australia’s representative on the panel looking at how to revamp the Commonwealth is the former High Court justice Michael Kirby.

He spoke to our chief political correspondent, Sabra Lane.

MICHAEL KIRBY: Unfortunately it hasn’t been released to be available to citizens but it is all there and it is 116 unanimous recommendations and I do hope it will receive very careful attentions at a critical moment.

SABRA LANE: Are you worried that because the report hasn’t been released publicly that the Commonwealth is under pressure to water down what you’ve recommended, especially on things like the proposed commissioner for democracy and the rule of law and human rights?

It is known that there is a fair amount of activity happening behind the scenes for the Commonwealth not to go ahead with that.

MICHAEL KIRBY: Well, I’m not worried in the sense that I’ve discharged my duty by performing the working on the group and putting our recommendation forward now in the orderly way these things happen. It is left to the politicians to decide what should be done.

There has to be more visible action by the Commonwealth that you just can’t espouse great principles and then do nothing when they are under threat, that the machinery of the Commonwealth has to work more quickly and more visibly and that secret diplomacy is sometimes useful but it isn’t the whole picture.

So I hope all of that is realised. Of course, the British exported many very good things to the world but one of them was Sir Humphrey. Sir Humphrey was always there in the British administration – honest, cautious, integrity and that is going to be a question as to whether that stands in the way of action on this report. It may be a battle between the EPG and the Sir Humphreys of this world but time will tell. I’m optimistic.

SABRA LANE: The report also talked about the Commonwealth putting together a charter of principles, guiding principles for all Commonwealth countries. I think you’ve had a crack at writing an introductory part of that on the back of a serviette and I think you intend giving that to the secretary general this weekend.

Why is that charter important and is that true, did you write it on the back of a serviette?

MICHAEL KIRBY: The Eminent Persons Group, on the suggestion of our chair, Tun Abdullah Badawi, past prime minister of Malaysia did accept and make a recommendation that there should be a charter of Commonwealth values so that the values of the Commonwealth citizens are not given them to by politicians at CHOGMs but are asserted by the citizens as their entitlements as citizens of Commonwealth countries.

We agreed in principle with Tun Badawi’s suggestion and we were going to just put it forward as a recommendation of principle which would have been a perfectly reasonable thing to do but I said I would have a go at it and it wasn’t just the foreword or the preamble, I did the lot and it is in the report.

It is not a recommendation of a draft by the Eminent Persons Group as such but it is to get the discussion started. I learned in my years in the Law Reform Commission that if you’ve got a document, if you’ve got something that is there, then that does help people to focus their minds.

As to the serviette, well it’s true that I penned down a few of the early words of it in a Qantas jet on my back from London and that historical but somewhat tattered piece of paper will ultimately find their way to the secretary general one day, I hope. I hope soon we will have charter of Commonwealth values and I hope that my little draft will have helped that process.

ELEANOR HALL: And that’s Australia’s representative on the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, Michael Kirby, speaking to Sabra Lane.

  1. #1 by Godfather on Friday, 28 October 2011 - 4:12 pm

    Well, you can bet that Badawi’s nemesis, the Mamakthir, will go all out to discredit his successor. Mamakthir will be supported by his old friend Robert Mugabe.

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