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It’s too late to refom the Australian ABC

cassidy_caricature.Illustration: Eric Lob

There are unfortunate parallels between the UN Human Rights Council and the Australian Broad­casting Corporation. 

Both have lofty ambitions, the former to promote human rights and expose abuses, the latter to represent Australian voices and deliver quality news. Both suffer from an intractable culture of bias that works against them fulfilling their charter.

So it was with yawning predictability that ABC's premier Sunday political show, Insiders, went "straight to the politics" as host Barrie Cassidy said during a panel chat to deride Australia's decision to vote against a UNHRC resolution to launch an inquiry into the deaths of almost 60 Palestinians in Gaza last week. In fact, the resolution went much, much further than that, but more on that later.

Cassidy kicked off discussion with this: "There are 47 organisations on this Human Rights Commission. Two opposed the ­inquiry - two of them. Who are they, Karen?"

"The United States and Australia were the only two countries, Barrie, to oppose this resolution in the HRC," said Karen Middleton, from The Saturday Paper. "Australia's campaigned to get on to the HRC for a couple of years, and it seems in order to vote no."

Then it was the turn of Fairfax's David Crowe: "If Theresa May's government can abstain, surely that would be an option for Australia to abstain. Britain, Germany and Japan all abstaining, that's certainly a legitimate option."

"Absolutely. You wonder why we're on the council," added ­Middleton.

For bias and shallow analysis, it's hard to go past three people all miffed that Australia voted no to a resolution from a UNHRC with a core prejudice against Israel. Gerard Henderson was the token conservative.

Notice the constant outnumbering of any conservative voice on the ABC? This makes a mockery of its charter that the ABC should reflect the diversity of Australian voices. Instead, our ABC keeps breaking its end of the $1 billion deal it gets from tax­payers to abide by its charter.

Given that Insiders didn't provide informed and fair analysis of the UNHRC and the resolution last Friday, let's do it here.

First, some background on the successor to the UN Commission on Human Rights, a body so cor­rupted by anti-Western bias that UN aficionados said it needed ­reforming.

Instead, there was just a name change in 2006. Since then, the UNHRC has convened 22 urgent sessions with the following tally: eight on Israel, five on Syria, two on Myanmar, one on Central African Republic, one on Libya, one on Ivory Coast, one on Democratic Republic of Congo, one on Sudan, one on Burundi, one on South Sudan and zero urgent sessions to consider issues on China, Iran, North Korea, Turkey, Venezuela, Yemen or Zimbabwe.

Since its creation, the UNHRC has condemned Israel in more than 70 resolutions - almost more than the rest of the world combined. The anti-Israel bias is still so firmly entrenched, the council has only one permanent agenda item aimed at one country, Item No 7, dedicated to "human rights abuses by Israel".

A democrat needs a hazmat suit to enter this place safely, which may explain why the Israeli Prime Minister has sug­gested another name change: "The Council for Resolutions Against the Only Democracy in the Middle East."

Last Friday's resolution is part of a long history of anti-Israel bias detached from facts and fairness. Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop pointed out in her statement that Australia voted against the council's commission of ­inquiry because the resolution's language prejudges the outcome of the inquiry.

Nowhere among its 800-plus words does the resolution mention the role of Hamas. And note to Cassidy: the inquiry's geographical mandate stretches ­beyond the Gaza border with ­Israel to the entire Gaza Strip, the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem - and it covers an unlimited time period.

Bishop said she supported an ­independent and impartial investigation - but this is neither. The resolution overreaches, presumes the outcome and continues to embed anti-Israeli bias at the UN.

Australia's "no" vote was the only principled position. Malcolm Turnbull ­deserves credit for his quick and honourable response, as does Bishop.

Abstaining was the coward's option, a disappointing choice by Britain and Germany given their serious reservations about the council's resolution.

Australia stood firm, opposing the determined bias at the UNHRC and among its members, who routinely and deliberately omit facts in an effort to demonise and isolate Israel.

Hamas's intention was crystal clear when ­orchestrating tens of thousands of Palestinians to head to the border between Gaza and Israel. Hamas's leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, said: "We will take down the border and tear out their hearts from their bodies."

Which country would allow its border to be breached with threats of such violence?

Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar admitted that Hamas was engaged in a "deception" when describing the protests as peaceful to the public. Protesters intent on tearing down the border fence brought knives, grenades, fire kites, guns and other explosive devices to the area ­because Hamas instructed them to do so. Hamas published maps on social media showing protesters nearby Israeli communities for when the fence was breached. ­

Israel sent out flyers and social media messages warning civilians not to get caught up in the violence instigated by Hamas.

Hamas official Salah Bardawil ­admitted that 50 of the 62 people killed were members of the terrorist organisation.

Just as terrible suffering by ­civilians in Gaza has been insti­gated by Hamas trying to demonise Israel in the eyes of the international community, that bloody day in Gaza last week was caused by Hamas for the same purpose. And it worked: the UNHRC mentioned only Israel in its long­winded resolution.

Australia joined the UNHRC with a view to reforming the body, including getting rid of Item 7, which separates Israel from the rest of the world as an abuser of human rights. To that end, Australia voted against each of five council resolutions under Item 7 in March last year.

Reforming the UNHRC is a noble sentiment. But the sheer weight of its bias is a reminder that good intentions, if they can't ­deliver good outcomes, count for nought. Over more than a decade, the council has shown ­itself unreformable. And last week was more of the same, when only two countries stood for facts and fair-minded principle: the US and Australia.

Shame on Labor, then, for signalling it would have voted in favour of the UNHRC's kangaroo court of inquiry.

On Insiders ­Anthony Albanese revealed what's wrong with growing sections of the ALP. He was ­either clueless or deliberately misrepresented facts when he said that "ongoing expansion of (Israeli) settlements" in the West Bank and Gaza undermine a two-state solution. In fact, Israel ­withdrew every last soldier and settler from Gaza in 2005. Sadly, Cassidy was not the person to correct that error.

I joined the ABC board in 2005 with a similarly naive hope that the national broadcaster could be reformed to meet its fine mandate. Alas, it suffers a similarly ­entrenched and biased culture as the UNHRC. Given that both ­institutions are unreformable, it raises the question: why bother with them at all?


Columnist @jkalbrechtsen

Janet Albrechtsen is an opinion columnist with The Australian. She has worked as a solicitor in commercial law, and attained a Doctorate of Juridical Studies from the University of Sydney. She has written for numerous other publications including the Australian Financial Review, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Sunday Age, and The Wall Street Journal.

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