Moving in the open daylight, by Ashley Hogan

Ashley Hogan

'International peace is not divisible'

First let me acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, and pay my respects to their elders past and present. I would like to thank the Evatt Foundation for making this book possible, and Christopher Sheil in particular for his supportive and sensitive editing, as well as everyone at Sydney University Press who was involved in the publication. Thanks to Bruce and Yola, for making their home available for this launch. I'd also like to thank Gillian Dooley and the other librarians at the Special Collections Library at Flinders University for their assistance, and Nina Gerace, who made me welcome in her home while I was researching in Adelaide.

I would like to thank one person who is here, Lorraine Burdett, and three who aren't, Kate Deverall, Deirdre McKeown and Dy Spooner, who read early drafts and who put up with me talking - it must have seemed endlessly - about the implications of the voting breakdown for Australia's election to the Executive Committee of the United Nations Conference in 1945, and other similarly riveting topics. Their comments and insights on questions of politics, Labor history, international law and good grammar were invaluable. I also thank the rest of the usual suspects - you know who you are - who have for many years shared the frustrations, disappointments and occasional triumphs of life on the Left in NSW.

Thanks to my parents, whose life-long and principled dedication to fairness, social justice and the best of the labour movement's ideals has always been my example. And of course, I would like to thank my boss, John Faulkner, who must have had some misgivings when I told him in the middle of an election year that I wanted to write a book, but who did not bat an eyelid when, in the middle of the first Parliamentary session of the Rudd Government, I announced that I absolutely, positively had to go to Adelaide to spend a week reading sixty-year old cablegrams. More importantly, for the eight years I have worked for him, John has been a steadfast example of how to negotiate the sometimes-difficult tensions between the political imperatives of democracy and the values of the labour movement. I, like everyone who has worked for him, have benefited enormously from his generosity and understanding as an employer, and I am tremendously grateful to have had the opportunity to learn, over the past eight years, a great deal about politics, a great deal more about integrity - both personal and political - and substantially more about cricket than I ever wanted to know.

Ladies and gentlemen, one of the pleasures of writing this book was learning so much more about Doc Evatt. From Rob Chalmers' story of being a member of the travelling press party on the campaign trail in the 1950s and seeing Doc Evatt tear strips off Clyde Cameron for sexism after Clyde's unsolicited and unwelcome appreciation of a woman walking by; to Meredith Edward's story of being a little kid handing out for Evatt on election day with her father, John Burton, and finding the Doc on the doorstep the next morning with a box of chocolates and the grave assurance that he had only won his seat because of her efforts - these stories gave me a sense of the man who in our history books seems too often an enigmatic, erratic colossus.

But the thing that most brought Doc Evatt alive to me was, in fact, the first file I picked up when I sat down in the Evatt Collection at Flinders University in Adelaide. It was labelled United Nations Festival - Geelong 1950. Evatt had been invited to be the keynote speaker, and he gave a corker of a speech, several carefully amended drafts of which are preserved in the Collection. And underneath those drafts is a small pile of correspondence, in which the Doc's staff try, as politely as possible, to get him out of the subsequent rubber chicken dinner with a 'Nations of the World' pageant performed by local primary school children.

I think all of us who have worked in politics have written letters like that from time to time! And as I read them, I realised that less than two years earlier, Evatt had been, as we might have said in school, 'President of the World'; and here he was, in opposition, travelling to Geelong to give a speech in a school hall, and yet still pouring all his conviction, all his intellect, all his eloquence, into the task. Geelong brought Doc Evatt alive to me, not as a brilliant jurist or an international statesman but as a Labor politician.

Reading many biographies of Evatt, one might get the impression that his intellectual acuity was matched by correspondingly equal political naivety. And often, political ineptness is awarded to Evatt like a badge of honour - Evatt becomes, for some of his admirers, above the grubby political fray, a man whose brilliance forced the Labor Party powerbrokers to promote him but one who never stooped to master the arcane arts of internal politics.

Well, let me tell you, there have been plenty of extremely able men - and women - over the past century of Labor's history who have not managed to secure preselection, let alone do, as the Doc did, get pre-selected twice - at a state and federal level - then elected to the front-bench, to the deputy leadership and ultimately unopposed as Leader. It has not been my experience, nor is it borne out by the historical record, that the powerbrokers of the NSW Right are eager to put aside their own ambitions and empire building to ensure that the ranks of the parliamentary caucus are filled with talent.

Doc Evatt spent more years in Parliament than he did on the bench. He was indeed a brilliant lawyer and jurist, but his main career was politics. We are cynical about politicians and it seems sometimes can only praise individual politicians such as Evatt by distinguishing them from the 'real' politicians - who are assumed to be pragmatic, self-interested, short-sighted. Such cynicism carries over from politicians themselves to the political process.

This has really struck me this year, the sixtieth anniversary of the adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To celebrate this anniversary, there has been a lot written and said about Human Rights and the UN. The Declaration is often carefully distinguished from the UN Charter: the Declaration aspirational and inspirational, the Charter the legalistic product of pragmatic politics. It's not a new distinction. Writing on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration, Thomas Buergenthal, then a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, declared that while the Charter created the legal concept of international human rights, the Declaration gave that concept moral force. Writing earlier this year, Seamus Heaney described the 'boldness and buoyancy' of the language of the Declaration, which 'gestures so confidently towards what human beings desire that it fortifies a conviction that the desirable can in fact be realised.'

Heaney, as is perhaps inevitable for a poet, privileges the poetic over the political, the grand gesture over the pragmatic compromise. But, as I have tried to show in this book, that is not a distinction that history supports. The purpose of the Declaration was not to extend the binding commitments of section 55 of the Charter, to promote 'universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms' but to define them, as the Declaration itself says, to enable the 'full realization' of this pledge. The Declaration is as thoroughly embedded in the political negotiations that gave us the United Nations as is the Charter itself.

Policy cannot be separated from politics; without the compromises of pragmatism, idealism bears no fruit. And procedure and process, those boring red-headed stepchildren of political debate, in determining how decisions are made and by whom, have at least as great an impact on outcomes as the most fiery speech or logical argument. The Australian delegation's successful amendments to the UN Charter, extending the powers of the General Assembly to cover any aspect of international relations within the scope of the Charter, and increasing the authority of the Economic and Social Committee to make recommendations for the observance of, as well as the respect for, human rights, laid the groundwork for the development of the Declaration and the subsequent Covenants and protocols.

None of these can be viewed separately. They, like the rights they enumerate, are an integral whole. The bold and buoyant language of the Declaration can no more be viewed outside the context of the pragmatic legal compromises of the Charter than the civil and political rights of freedom of speech and association can be exercised outside the context of the economic rights of fair pay, education and social security. The UN Charter negotiated and signed at San Francisco in 1945 declared an aim as grand as any poet - even Heaney - could desire: 'to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war'.

Which brings me back to Geelong in 1950. Revising his speech for the Geelong United Nations Festival, Doc Evatt added in the margin: 'International peace is not divisible'. We live in a very different time to that of Evatt and his colleagues, not least because for most Australians today, war is something that happens somewhere else, to somebody else. But Evatt's words should remind us that, of all the indivisible freedoms the founders of the United Nations described, they held peace to be the first, the most important, and the most precious.

And I hope that this small book, with its story of how one Australian politician bent all his enthusiasm and his energy to pursue that peace, that peace which, as he said, 'all the peoples of world desire', will encourage all of us to, in some small way, emulate his example.

This is the text of Ashley Hogan's speech at the launch of her book, Moving in the Open Daylight: Doc Evatt, an Australian at the United Nations (Sydney University Press), at the home of Bruce Childs & Yola Lucire in Edgecliff, Sydney, on 10 December 2008.

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