Western values under attack? Not just a European problem

Western values are much in the news at the moment, notable in the newly enhanced relationship between Europe and Turkey. Europe it appears is willing to make significant concessions towards Turkey in a bid to resolve their refugee crisis, particularly as uncontrolled migration has subjected Europeans to increasing fears over security, the unproven ability to integrate newcomers and the financial implications of housing and welfare provisions for upwards of one million people in Germany alone.

The decision to co-opt Turkey as the prime mover in halting people smuggler routes into Greece has always been a curious one, especially as it appears to handover border security for Europeans to a nation with fundamentally different understandings of freedom and notably a core freedom: freedom of speech.

Underlying the new European-Turkey partnership there are deep questions for all western societies. Is this another case of the western world with an obsessive desire to remain open and tolerant having negotiated away the very values which ensure that this is possible? Recent experience with Turkey suggests that Europeans not only made financial concessions, but more importantly “values” concessions including the freedom of expression.

The Turkish Government under President Erdogan has vigorously suppressed press freedoms in Turkey. As recently as 4 March 2016, Turkish Security Police have conducted raids on the Turkish newspaper Zamen, arresting editors and staff, confiscating journalist material and suppressing protests. Many journalists, activists, opposition academics and business people are now leaving Turkey afraid of arrest and prosecution under newly enhanced terrorism laws.

The off-handed treatment of European free speech practices can be witnessed most clearly in the diplomatic scuffle over a harmless two minute comedy sketch aired on the German public broadcaster Lampooning Erdogan. The Turkish reaction saw the German Ambassador summoned to explain and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel acceding to a Turkish request to prosecute the comedian.

If freedom of the press, freedom of expression and artistic freedoms are so feebly defended, can we any longer talk in a significant way of “Western values”.

Nevertheless, before we in Australia loudly protest that such things could not happen here, they already do and we ourselves do little about them. The Australian Catholics Bishops 16 page pastoral letter “Don’t Mess with Marriage” was widely distributed to parents of students in the nation’s Catholics schools in late 2015. The document speaks out strongly against discrimination towards those who are same sex attracted, yet reaffirms the legal definition contained in the Marriage Act 1961. Tasmania’s Gay and Lesbian Rights Group describes “Don’t Mess with Marriage” as denigration and demeaning and have brought Tasmania’s Archbishop Julian Porteous before the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission. The Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group accuses the Tasmanian Archbishop of “child abuse” and “hate crimes”.

Whether it’s the President of Turkey or the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group, the practical reality is that they both seek to do the same thing: suppress free speech for ideas they disagree with and ensure an environment of fear where others will also not tread.

Western values under attack? Sure, but it’s not just a European problem.

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Venezuela: A modern socialist catastrophe

A typical Venezuelan supermarket with empty shelves: price controls have lead to massive shortages

A typical Venezuelan supermarket with empty shelves: price controls have lead to massive shortages

The situation in Venezuela is going from bad to worse.

A once relatively prosperous nation has succumb to the worst failings of a socialist system.

Joel Hirst, a Venezuelan living in the United States, has written an extraordinary blog post on the latest from his birth country:

Tonight there are no lights. Like the New York City of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”, the eyes of the country were plucked out to feed the starving beggars in abandoned occupied buildings which were once luxury apartments.

They blame the weather – the government does – like the tribal shamans of old who made sacrifices to the gods in the hopes of an intervention.

There is no food either; they tell the people to hold on, to raise chickens on the terraces of their once-glamorous apartments.

There is no water – and they give lessons on state TV of how to wash with a cup of water.

The money is worthless; people now pay with potatoes, if they can find them.

Doctors operate using the light of their smart phones; when there is power enough to charge them. Without anesthesia, of course – or antibiotics, like the days before the advent of modern medicine.

The phone service has been cut – soon the internet will go and an all-pervading darkness will fall over a feral land.

Venezuela’s impending collapse is directly linked to the policy failures of Hugo Chavez and his socialist successor, Nicolás Maduro.

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96 people who think section 18C should be reformed

The IPA has long argued that section 18C is a restriction on freedom of speech, and that it should be repealed. And we’re not alone – we’ve compiled a list of 96 prominent individuals and organisations who have publicly argued that section 18C goes too far.

The list even includes many figures on the left that believe section 18C catches conduct that should not be subject to legal sanction, including The Age, David Marr and Jonathan Holmes.

Read the full list for yourself here.

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Submission: National Integrity Commission

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Last week, Simon Breheny and myself sent this submission to the Senate’s select committee relating to the establishment of a ‘National Integrity Commission’.

Drawing on the historical experience with state level anti-corruption agencies, we argue that a “federal ICAC” would lack accountability, invite abuses of power and wield coercive powers which violate the legal rights of individuals.

Such a body would have characteristics that are inconsistent with democratic principles and the rule of law.

Read our submission here.

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Annual reports now silent on senior public servants’ pay packets

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Details of salaries paid to senior federal public servants are no longer included in government departmental annual report, according to a news report in today’s Herald Sun:

In a blow to transparency, a requirement for the reports to reveal specific data on senior public servants’ remuneration has been quietly removed.

A Finance Department spokesman said this represented financial reporting “best practice”, and aligned the public sector with private firms.

But Institute of Public Affairs executive director John Roskam said the public deserved to know the pay details.

“After all, it’s our money and we’re paying for them. There’s no excuse for not being open and transparent about public service salaries in annual reports,” he said.

“It’s things like this that have the public lose faith in politics and politicians.”

Until recently, departmental annual reports included a list of salary bands for senior executives and the number of people in each band getting those salaries.

For example, the Department of Finance annual report for 2013-14 showed that the top earner enjoyed a total remuneration of $1.3 million while the second-highest-paid official got $408,223.

But such detailed information is missing from the department’s latest annual report – it provides only one figure of $20.9 million, showing the total remuneration for all senior executives.

The Herald Sun checked the 2014-15 annual reports of 16 other federal agencies, including the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and found the same situation.

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Obituary: Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal | 16 April 2012 – 18 April 2016

We note the passing of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, in Canberra this week, aged 4 years. The tribunal was abolished this week by the federal parliament after a short but intense battle with owner-drivers.

The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was established in 2012, under the Gillard Labor government and fathered by Labor minister Anthony Albanese. The tribunal’s godparents were the Transport Workers Union, which had campaigned for the wage setting body under the ruse of “road safety”.

As Grace Collier explained in The Australian:

In November 2011, Prime Minister Julia Gillard lunched with union powerbrokers at Kirribilli House. “She gave the unions everything they wanted,” Martin Ferguson later said. “It was ‘lock in behind me and I will deliver for you’.”

And Gillard did, in so many ways, although not all of these ways became apparent until much later on.

In 2012, not long before Gillard was overthrown by Kevin Rudd, “safe rates” legislation was passed and a new body, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, was set up. Hansard shows that in 2014, the Coalition’s Minister for Northern Australia Matthew Canavan reflected on the event: “I remember thinking, ‘I do not exactly know how this is going to deal with safety’ … it was something that was pushed by the Transport Workers Union at the time.”

The Coalition government made a commitment before the last election to review the tribunal. The review in 2014 recommended that the tribunal be stripped of its power to set mandatory rates. The system was reviewed again in 2016 which showed that the orders of the tribunal will result in a net cost to the economy in excess of $2 billion over fifteen years.

These reviews found no link between rates of pay and road safety.

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Australians want less spending, not more tax

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Last week “the fatuous 50” of usual left-wing suspects were calling for higher taxes and more spending, a move supported by The Age editorial yesterday.

As usual, the elites are out of step with mainstream opinion. A special question in Newspoll released yesterday has revealed Australians actually want a reduction in government spending, not more taxes:

A special Newspoll question found 39 per cent of voters believe the priority for the next government should be to reduce spending to pay down debt, with 59 per cent of Coalition voters backing this option, but just 27 per cent of Labor voters.

Reducing spending and using the money to cut taxes was backed by 26 per cent, with the result consistent across the political parties, including the Greens, where 24 per cent support tax cuts despite the party’s official position being to increase taxes.

Some 23 per cent supported increasing spending on government programs, with this option the most favoured among Labor voters (35 per cent) and Greens supporters (41 per cent), but by only one in 10 Coalition voters

A whopping 65 per cent of Australian voters support reducing government spending, to be spent on either reducing debt or lower taxes.

Australia’s public expenditure as a percentage of GDP has now surpassed the levels at the height of the GFC in 2007-08. The latest budget update revealed our national debt will reach $667 billion in the next 10 years, around $30,000 per a person. Our spending has reached extraordinary levels, placing a massive burden on future generations to pay back today’s excesses.

The message from the Australian people is clear: the government has a spending problem. The Turnbull government’s foremost responsibility in the upcoming budget is to fix it.

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So-called “Science Guy” open to jail-time for sceptics of a scientific theory

A scene from Explorer: Bill Nye's Global Meltdown. (Photo Credit: NG Studios)

Popular U.S. television personality Bill Nye is the latest public official to show contempt for free speech and intellectual inquiry.

Known for the PBS show he hosted in the 1990s, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Nye is a prominent advocate for action on climate change. And when Climate Depot’s Marc Morano recently asked him what he thought of Robert Kennedy Jr.’s comments that some climate sceptics should be prosecuted as war criminals, Nye seemed supportive. The Washington Times reports:

“We’ll see what happens… In these cases, for me, as a taxpayer and voter, the introduction of this extreme doubt about climate change is affecting my quality of life as a public citizen… So I can see where people are very concerned about this, and they’re pursuing criminal investigations as well as engaging in discussions like this.”

The irony of quashing dissent in the scientific community was apparently lost on Nye, who added “That there is a chilling effect on scientists who are in extreme doubt about climate change, I think that is good.”

The mere fact such a position could be seriously contemplated by a public intellectual, let alone a member of the scientific community — which holds scepticism as a central plank of the scientific method — is a sad reflection on society.

But this won’t come as a surprise to readers of FreedomWatch. Whether through trigger warning and microagression policies in the U.S., the scourge of “no-platforming” in the U.K., free speech is under a sustained attack across the Western world.

Last year alone Australia witnessed Bjørn Lomborg’s acceptance, and subsequent expulsion, from a position at the University of Western Australia — not for being a climate sceptic, but for being insufficiently supportive of the anti-fossil fuel agenda promulgated by the Greens.

Then there is the atrocious behaviour of an academic at Queensland University of Technology, Cindy Prior, who has taken a group of students to court under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. The students supposed crime was a few innocuous Facebook posts about being kicked out of an indigenous-only computer lab. These statements included:

“Just got kicked out of the unsigned indigenous computer room. QUT [is] stopping segregation with segregation” [and] “My Student and Amenity fees are going to furbish rooms in the university where inequality reigns supreme? I believe if we have to pay to support these sorts of places, there should at least be more created for general purpose use, but again, how do these sorts of facilities support interaction­ and community within QUT? All this does is encourage separation and inequality.”

I still have enough faith in the Australian legal system to hope this case will be thrown out. But it is still likely to leave these young students with excessive legal bills of more than $200,000.

It’s at this point that I’m reminded of the words of the great NSW upper house MP, Peter Phelps:

“We should not be so surprised that the contemporary science debate has become so debased. At the heart of many scientists — but not all scientists — lies the heart of a totalitarian planner.”

Maybe Phelps’ statement could be extended to other areas of academia, as well.

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IPA research: The state of legal rights in Australia is getting worse

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Great coverage ($) from Chris Merritt today in The Australian on new IPA research showing the declining state of fundamental legal rights in federal legislation passed in 2015:

The audit, by the Institute of Public Affairs, shows that federal statutes contain 290 provisions breaching legal rights, up from 262 the year before.

The attack on legal rights is ­focused on the privilege against self-incrimination where federal laws now contain 116 separate breaches of this privilege compared with 108 in 2014.

The fastest-growing category of breaches is laws that abrogate the right to silence.

The number of breaches of this right has more than doubled — up from 14 in 2014 to 33 last year.

“The long-term trend indicates that more legal rights are being breached over time,” said Simon Breheny, the IPA’s director of ­policy.

… While the Coalition government had raised expectations by commissioning an inquiry by the Australian Law Reform Commission into fundamental rights and freedoms, the government had not lived up to those expectations.

Mr Breheny believed regulators, bureaucrats and politicians still considered it legitimate to abrogate legal rights in the interests of regulatory goals.

“Over time, there has been an erosion of respect for the importance of common law rights and fundamental legal rights and this culture has led to a bureaucracy and political class that consistently undermines rights,” Mr Breheny said.

“Labor and Coalition governments are equally responsible and the failure of either side of politics to arrest this trend is deplorable.”

The IPA’s report, Legal rights audit 2015, can be accessed here.

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Now the wowsers want a tax on soft drinks

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Last week they were calling for an increase in the the drinking age, this week our friendly neighborhood Nanny Statists want a tax on soft drinks.

ABC News reports on a research from the Obesity Policy Coalition, the Cancer Council and Diabetes Victoria calling for a 20 per cent tax on soft drinks:

“Even a small change in consumption can have a big impact over time; a small change in body mass index and weight can have a big impact on someone’s health outcomes,” Jane Martin, from the Obesity Policy Coalition said.

“This would have a bigger impact on people who are high consumers, so particularly young people, and they’re more price sensitive.

“The potential to change behaviour in adolescents … who are high consumers, drink a lot of soft drink, that can be very impactful because that can take them through the rest of their life and change habits early.”

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