The first decade of the twenty-first century has seen a sharp decline in respect for human rights and the international rule of law. The legal conventions of the new realpolitik seem to owe more to Guantanamo than Geneva.
Australia has tarnished its reputation in the field of human rights, through its support for illegal warfare, its failure to honour international conventions, its refusal to defend its citizens against secret rendition and illegal detention, and its introduction of secretive anti-sedition legislation and draconian anti-terror laws.
In Watching Brief, noted lawyer and human rights advocate Julian Burnside articulates a sensitive and intelligent defence of the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees, and the importance of protecting human rights and maintaining the rule of law. He also explains the foundations of many of the key tenets of civil society, and takes us on a fascinating tour of some of the world’s most famous trials, where the outcome has often turned on prejudice, complacency, chance, or (more promisingly) the tenacity of supporters and the skill of advocates. Julian Burnside also looks at the impact of significant recent cases — including those involving David Hicks, Jack Thomas, and Van Nguyen — on contemporary Australian society.
Watching Brief is a powerful and timely meditation on justice, law, human rights, and ethics, and ultimately on what constitutes a decent human society. It is also an impassioned and eloquent appeal for vigilance in an age of terror — when ‘national security’ is being used as an excuse to trample democratic principles, respect for the law, and human rights.
‘Watching Brief provides a fascinating patchwork of thoughts and responses that gives an insight into the atmosphere and political climate surrounding key human rights issues over the past decade.’
Tilda Hum, Precedent
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‘Watching Brief astounds with the range of subject matter covered and the brilliant narrative which emerges from that range. Watching Brief incites the compulsion of the thriller in a text which covers autobiography and recent political and legal history against a background of the more distant human rights struggles on which the foundation stones of modern democratic practice and theory are based. And that’s not all.
Mr. Burnside displays one of the key attributes of storyteller and teacher, the ability to find themes across different subject matter and to use those themes to draw comparisons. Thus lessons are drawn, and the familiarity of well worn narratives are used, to enhance and emphasise political points made concerning current and recent events.’
Stephen Keim QC
‘A fascinating read for anyone who burns with a passion for human decency and an interest in ethics.’
’[Watching Brief] is a glorious intermingling of reminiscence ...’
Sydney Morning Herald