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Referendum disaster for democracy in Australia

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The text of the Gillard government’s referendum proposal confirms the worst held fears that Canberra is intent on controlling local government, according to free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

‘The proposed seemingly minor changes to the Constitution would lead to an upheaval of Australian democracy through a massive power grab of local communities,’ said IPA Senior Fellow Dr Julie Novak.

‘Federal dollars tend to come with strings attached, so this plan is really about centralising more power in Canberra, and further away from local communities.’

‘Anything from local planning applications to welfare services for those in need will be affected by federal bureaucratic conditions attached to funding, and not in line with local community preferences.’

‘People living in regional and rural areas will be hurt the most by Canberra infiltrating every town hall, because their shires have a lower capacity to raise their own funds than metropolitan councils,’ said Dr Novak.

The latest proposal to include local government in the Constitution is at odds with the will of the Australian community, expressed in two previous referendums.

‘The Gillard government’s proposal only confirms what average Australians find frustrating about this government, and that it doesn’t pay heed to the will of the people,’ said Dr Novak.

‘In 1974, and again in 1988, the Australian people voted against local government recognition, but this government is outrageously forcing taxpayers to fork out $12 million to fund a campaign for yet another referendum.’

‘It is essential that the Liberal National Coalition, which philosophically supports federalism and our constitutional fabric, doesn’t side with the Labor elites and strongly oppose the proposed Canberra takeover of local government.’

‘If this referendum is successful, that level of government closest to Australians will become the puppet of the most distant and disconnected government, a prospect which should be rejected in September,’ said Dr Novak.

Delingpole Press Council ruling shows threat to free speech

The Australian Press Council’s ruling against an article by journalist James Delingpole is yet another example of why the APC cannot be trusted with statutory powers, says John Roskam, executive director of the free market think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs.

“The Press Council thinks they should decide what is allowed to be written about climate change or any controversial topic. But in a free society journalists and newspapers should be able to publish whatever they want on any topic of public debate,” says John Roskam.

The APC today declared that it was unacceptable to compare renewable energy to a Ponzi scheme, and that journalists should not be allowed to quote people who equate others with pedophiles. According to the APC “the level of offensiveness is so high that it outweighs the very strong public interest in freedom of speech.” It follows a decision last week where the APC dictated to Andrew Bolt what he is allowed to write about climate change.

“This is extraordinary on two levels. Firstly, there should never be an ‘offensiveness’ test for freedom of speech. Freedom of speech means nothing at all if it doesn’t allow for discussion that some people find offensive. Secondly, only this week the ABC declared there is nothing wrong with equating climate sceptics to pedophiles. This is a clear case of double standards depending on which side of the climate debate you are on,” says Mr Roskam.

Many in the Gillard government are believed to favour giving the Australian Press Council statutory powers and government funding as part of their response to the Finkelstein and Convergence reviews.

“This ruling is yet another piece of evidence in the mounting pile which shows why the Press Council cannot be trusted with statutory powers. Already the APC tries to dictate what Australians can read and hear – imagine how much further they would go if they were given the legislative ‘teeth’ they have been lobbying for,” says John Roskam.

James Delingpole’s article was published in The Australian on 3 May 2012 as part of his tour of Australia, sponsored by the Institute of Public Affairs.

For further information and comment: John Roskam, Executive Director, Institute of Public Affairs, jroskam@ipa.org.au, 0415 475 673

Excerpts from the IPA’s appearance before the parliamentary committee considering data retention

Chris Berg, Director of Policy and Simon Breheny, Director of the Rule of Law Project at the Institute of Public Affairs appeared before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security on Wednesday 5 September. The Committee is currently considering potential reforms of national security legislation. Here are a few excerpts from the IPA’s committee appearance (which lasted for over 45 minutes). Continue Reading →

Coalition’s free speech reform welcome but needs to go further

The Coalition’s announcement that it would reform the Racial Discrimination Act is an important and necessary step towards restoring freedom of speech, but should go further, said Chris Berg, Research Fellow with free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

Mr Berg is the author of a forthcoming book on threats to freedom of speech.

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act makes it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” because of a person’s race, colour or national or ethnic origin. Opposition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis announced that an Abbott government would remove the words “offend” and “insult” from the Act.

“Freedom of speech is our most basic and fundamental right”, said Mr Berg.

“The Coalition’s proposal is welcome but restrictions on opinions which ‘humiliate’ or ‘intimidate’ would remain. Only a full repeal of Section 18C will ensure that a case like Andrew Bolt’s will never occur again in Australia,” said Mr Berg.

The Institute of Public Affairs this week launched the Repeal 18C campaign, which seeks the abolition of this restriction on freedom of speech entirely – freespeech.ipa.org.au.

“The Andrew Bolt case shows that Australians’ freedom to express their sincerely held opinions has been severely limited by Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

“In a free and open society we will sometimes be offended, embarrassed, even humiliated by the opinions of others, but that should never be an excuse to use the law to shut them up,” said Mr Berg.

For more information please visit http://freespeech.ipa.org.au

ACMA should be shut down

“The Australian Communications and Media Authority is a threat to freedom of speech and should be shut down,” said Chris Berg, Research Fellow with the Institute of Public Affairs, a free market think tank.

“ACMA’s finding against Alan Jones today shows that the regulator is being used for political purposes to attack conservative views.”

The communications regulator found that Alan Jones breached the Commercial Radio Codes of Practice by not making “reasonable efforts” to “present significant viewpoints”.

The investigation was in response to a complaint that the broadcaster described bureaucrats from the NSW Department of Environment as “scumbags that run around preying on productive people”.

“This is an obviously political attack on freedom of speech. It is not up to the government to decide what viewpoints should be broadcast on political matters and in what quantity,” said Mr Berg.

“2GB is a private company and Alan Jones is a private individual. They should not be forced by the government to air views they disagree with.

“Freedom of speech also means freedom not to speak.”

The Federal Government’s Independent Media Inquiry is investigating the possibility of enforcing similar regulations on newspapers.

“This recent finding against Alan Jones underscores how threatening to freedom of speech forcing ‘balance’ can be.

“ACMA’s remaining powers managing the broadcast spectrum should be handed to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. The regulator should then be shut down,” said Mr Berg.

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