Poll: Australians value freedom of speech

Ahead of an appearance before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights’ inquiry into section 18C today, the Institute of Public Affairs has released polling conducted by Galaxy Research that shows 95% of Australians value freedom of speech:

The committee has received more than 11,000 written submissions and is this week conducting hearings in five capital cities. Today in Melbourne it will be given polling by Galaxy Research commissioned by the Institute of Public Affairs showing rising public support for changes to counter criticism that the campaign is a niche or fringe issue.

The poll of 1000 people taken last month shows 48 per cent approve of calls to remove the words “insult” and “offend” from section 18C, an increase of three points from the previous survey in ­November.

Some 36 per cent of people were opposed to the change, down from 38 per cent. The Galaxy Poll found 52 per cent of men approved of the change to remove the words compared with 44 per cent of women…


IPA director of policy Simon Breheny said the poll also showed that 95 per cent of Australians rated freedom of speech as important with 57 per cent saying it was very important.

“Much to the surprise of some members of the media and the political class, free speech matters,” Mr Breheny said.

“It is time for our elected representatives to listen rather than trying to tell the public it is a niche or fringe issue.

“On top of the incredible overwhelming support for freedom of speech, support is also growing for changes to be made to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act so that it is no longer unlawful to insult or offend someone.”

Read the whole article here ($).

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The IPA’s 18C report welcomed by The Australian

The IPA’s latest report – The case for the repeal of section 18C – was also featured in the editorial of The Australian today. Here is the key paragraph:

In this unrepentant climate, the Institute of Public Affairs’ submission calling for the repeal of 18C is welcome. It argues the law smothers free speech and is anti-democratic because it limits the airing of ideas. It contends the provision is self-defeating because freedom of expression makes society more cohesive and it mounts the case that the extent of the law — particularly the words offend and insult — put it beyond what is required by UN treaties, making it unconstitutional. Yet the more obvious criticisms probably carry more weight. Under this law the process has become the punishment, so justice can be denied at the outset. Also, to the extent speech does cause harm (such as inciting violence or damaging reputations) it is covered by other laws, making 18C redundant. If the law aims to defeat racism, it cannot — no law can dictate how people think. The best way to combat racist attitudes must be through open dialogue and the organic adoption of community standards.

Read the full editorial here ($).

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IPA report: only full repeal will fix problems created by 18C

Dennis Shanahan’s coverage of the IPA’s comprehensive Case for the repeal of section 18C was featured on page 2 of The Australian today ($):

… the Institute of Public Affairs argues the laws deny freedom of speech, erode democracy, undermine attempts to combat racism and have a “chilling effect” on debate about serious social issues.

“Only by removing the law from the statute books entirely can parliament restore Australians’ right to freedom of speech, improve our liberal democracy, and eliminate the sundry abuses that it has caused,” the submissions from the conservative think tank says.

… The IPA said section 18C “does not protect any other natural right that might reasonably be said to countermand the right to freedom of speech. There is no right not to be offended. Nor does individual dignity demand this kind of restriction on free ­expression”.

The submission said 18C was also bad for democracy and limited the range of ideas people could express by its “chilling ­effect” on debate.

“Moreover, freedom of speech strengthens social cohesion by exposing bad ideas and malevolent actors, rather than allowing them to fester in silence,” the submission said. “The third limb of the case for repeal is that in practice the law has proved unworkable and unfair. The law does nothing to prevent the kinds of racism that people are most likely to encounter, overlaps with other laws to the point of redundancy, and is so poorly drafted that significant uncertainty about its key terms persists.

“Indeed, the law may well be an unconstitutional exercise of the external affairs power or an unconstitutional burden on Australians’ implied right to freedom of political communication.”

It said proposals to amend the act and substitute “vilify” for ­“insult” or “offend” or simply remove insult and offend and leave “humiliate” would be inadequate.

Read the full coverage here ($). For the IPA’s report, The case for the repeal of section 18C, click here.

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IPA research: prisoner numbers costs $3.8bn a year

The IPA’s latest report, “The use of prisons in Australia: reform directions”, released today, was featured in The Australian by legal affairs editor Chris Merritt:

Groundbreaking research has revealed that the rate at which the nation is sending people to prison has jumped by 40 per cent in a decade and is costing taxpayers $3.8 billion a year.

More than 36,000 people are now in prison around the nation — at an annual cost of $110,000 per prisoner — compared to a ­national total in 1975 of just 8900 prisoners.

The rate at which people are going to prison in Australia is now 196 for every 100,000 people — which is the highest since just after federation.

With the exception of the US, Australia has a higher incarceration rate than other major common law countries and the democracies of continental Europe.

About 46 per cent of those in prison have been jailed for non­violent offences and taxpayers are paying $1.8bn every year to keep them there.

These findings are outlined in a new report by the Institute of Public Affairs that calls for governments to make greater use of alternatives to prison for non­violent offenders.

The report, by Andrew Bushnell and Daniel Wild, warns that the overuse of prisons is failing to keep the community safe from crime and is wasting resources that could be better spent elsewhere in the criminal justice system.

“While prisons are necessary for isolating violent and anti-­social criminals, there are other ways to punish nonviolent, low-risk offenders,” Mr Bushnell said.

… In February, the Australian Bar Association described man­datory sentencing as a national disgrace and endorsed the concept of “justice reinvestment”.

The IPA report warns that ­increased use of mandatory ­sentencing will increase the incarceration rate and calls for governments to wind back the use of strict liability offences.

But while the ABA wants less money spent on prisons and more money spent on community projects, the IPA report says savings from prisons should be spent on policing.

Simon Breheny, the IPA’s director of policy, argues that because criminals are generally more likely than others to respond to immediate incentives, deterrence is better achieved by increasing the chance of being caught rather than imposing longer sentences. “This in turn implies that money saved by reducing incarceration could be profitably invested in policing,” Mr Breheny says.

The report says people are jailed for several purposes but community safety is the only aim of the criminal justice system that cannot be achieved by other reasonable means.

“The criminal law should not sprawl into domains traditionally governed by the civil law,” the report says. “In cases where the remedies available in civil law courts would suffice, the criminal law is not needed.”

It says violent offenders should be jailed in order to protect society, but it backs a series of changes intended to help keep non-violent offenders out of prison. These include:

  • Extending the use of alternative punishments such as fines and home detention to nonviolent, low-risk offenders.
  • Limiting the use of strict liability offences and restoring the requirement of mens rea — or a guilty mind — for regulatory criminal offences. Where strict liability is imposed, the report calls for alternatives to prison when the offender has not demonstrated a propensity for violence or anti-social behaviour.
  • Ending the practice of sending people to prison for victimless crimes such as insider trading or mishandling trust accounts.
  • Allowing offenders to make restitution to victims of crime and taking this into account in sen­tencing.

Read The Australian‘s coverage here ($).

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China’s new tool for control

A disturbing article in the Wall Street Journal on Monday on China’s latest innovation in social control:

Hangzhou’s local government is piloting a “social credit” system the Communist Party has said it wants to roll out nationwide by 2020, a digital reboot of the methods of social control the regime uses to avert threats to its legitimacy.

More than three dozen local governments across China are beginning to compile digital records of social and financial behavior to rate creditworthiness. A person can incur black marks for infractions such as fare cheating, jaywalking and violating family-planning rules. The effort echoes the dang’an, a system of dossiers the Communist party keeps on urban workers’ behavior.

In time, Beijing expects to draw on bigger, combined data pools, including a person’s internet activity, according to interviews with some architects of the system and a review of government documents. Algorithms would use a range of data to calculate a citizen’s rating, which would then be used to determine all manner of activities, such as who gets loans, or faster treatment at government offices or access to luxury hotels.

The endeavor reinforces President Xi Jinping’s campaign to tighten his grip on the country and dictate morality at a time of economic uncertainty that threatens to undermine the party. Mr. Xi in October called for innovation in “social governance” that would “heighten the capacity to forecast and prevent all manner of risks.”

The national social-credit system’s aim, according to a slogan repeated in planning documents, is to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”

Thus far, the pilot data-collecting systems aren’t yet tied together into what Beijing envisions as a sweeping system, which would assign each citizen a rating. It isn’t clear that Ms. Chen’s ticket infraction made it into any central system, although the notice warned that fare-dodgers risked being marked down starting Jan. 1; a station agent said only repeat offenders are reported.

Continue reading here.

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Rowan Callick on Chinese democracy

A fascinating piece from Rowan Callick in The Australian today on the repressive nature of Chinese democracy, where those insufficiently loyal to the ruling Communist party are not allowed to participate:

Today, under Xi Jinping, we are seeing clear limits on how far popular representation can go.

This approach is now being applied consistently, through mainland China and in special administrative regions such as Hong Kong, where two awkward young legislators were disqualified from taking their places on Tuesday night…

In mainland China, everyone above 18 can vote for their district People’s Congress representatives, who do not have to be party members. Those congresses meet for five years. The local congresses choose the representatives for the municipal or provincial level congresses, which choose those who form the National People’s Congress that meets every March in Beijing.

… Under China’s constitution, anyone can stand for membership of a district congress. In practice, party authorities will assess candidates. Those who pass muster initially but act too independently after being elected are soon weeded out. Others who ­appear palpably unacceptable to the authorities are prevented from standing.

All must in time, if not at the start, defer to the party hierarchy, which is superior to the civic structures and retains the power to veto or initiate policies.

No access is available to the mass media or social media for candidates to explain themselves. The only way to present a case is to meet voters in person.

Five years ago in Wukan, a ­village in Guangdong province in the country’s south, in the dying days of the Hu-Wen leadership team, a bitter dispute over an ­alleged land grab by party officials of farms was defused by ­villagers being allowed to choose their own leaders.

However, these leaders were unable to wrest back the stolen land and protests began again — this time led by Lin Zuluan, elected in 2011. The authorities’ deployed heavily armed riot police, and jailed Lin. The courts confirmed a three-year sentence last month and fined him $40,000. He and the villagers who continued to back him said the corruption charges were trumped up.

In the outskirts of southwest Beijing, villagers of Gaodiansan in Fangshan district had two rounds of voting — the first round reducing the number of candidates. Farmer Liu Huizhen, 45, received substantial support and reached the second round.

But by then the authorities had woken up to the risk of letting her reach any further. She told The Australian she was followed constantly by as many as 20 well-built agents.

Her home is a crude wooden structure, which she and her husband built on land her family had farmed until it was confiscated by the government. The compensation was $50 per adult per month — in a city where the cost of living is considerably higher than Sydney’s.

She said the local government gave police the election records from the first round and visited each of the villagers who had voted for her.

“They asked why they had supported me. After that, most of my neighbours were too scared to do so in the second round,” she said. “All my neighbours had lost land too, and I wanted to speak on behalf of them if I had been elected.”

Liu was defeated in the second ballot.

Xu Zhiyong, a lecturer at ­Beijing’s University of Posts and Telecommunications, won two terms from 2003 and opposed the forced repatriation to hometowns of those without a Beijing hukou, or registration or who represented the families of children who fell sick after taking milk powder enhanced with ­mela­mine. Soon after stepping down from the congress, he was jailed for four years for “disturbing the social order”.

 

Continue reading here ($)

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IPA Poll: Most support 18C change

A Galaxy Research poll commissioned by the IPA has found that – of those that have an opinion – most support a change to section 18C that would remove the words “offend” and “insult”. This was covered in The Australian by Joe Kelly today:

A new poll shows a majority of Australians disapprove of the Human Rights Commission for its pursuit of The Australian and Bill Leak over a political cartoon, while there is also widespread support for an overhaul of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

A Galaxy Research poll commissioned by the Institute of Public Affairs shows 64 per cent of respondents disapproved of the HRC investigating a “news­paper cartoonist” because an individual had found a cartoon offensive or insulting.

Of the 1000 people surveyed between last Thursday and Sunday, fewer than one in five (19 per cent) approved of the probe while 17 per cent said they didn’t know.

IPA executive director John Roskam said the poll showed “two-thirds of Australians know what is happening is wrong” and argued the results showed “widespread support” for restoring freedom of speech.

“It is outrageous in a free country that any citizen should be forced to justify their political opinion to the government,” he said. “Labor and the Greens claim that freedom of speech is ‘not a mainstream issue’ is just wrong. The public understands the government should not censor Bill Leak’s cartoon.”

The poll shows only 15 per cent of those older than 50 approved of the commission investigating a cartoonist, and only 17 per cent of those aged between 35 and 49.

The 64 per cent opposition to the commission’s investigation into The Australian and Leak is higher than a Newspoll recently that showed 57 per cent of respondents opposed the lawsuit against university students under 18C.

Under that action, which was rejected by the Federal Circuit Court, students at the Queensland University of Technology were being sued for $250,000 for commenting on Facebook about segregation after they were requested to leave an indigenous-only room.

The Galaxy poll also surveyed attitudes towards changing section 18C. It found 45 per cent of those surveyed approved of changing 18C so it was no longer unlawful to “offend” or “insult” someone based on their race or ethnicity, while 38 per cent ­opposed removing the terms.

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I’m sure they’ll get it right next time

James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal compiled this list of headlines from the past decade, which really speak for themselves:

  • “2006: Expect Another Big Hurricane Year Says NOAA”—headline, MongaBay.com, May 22, 2006
  • “NOAA Predicts Above Normal 2007 Atlantic Hurricane Season”—headline, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration press release, May 23, 2007
  • “NOAA Increases Expectancy for Above-Normal 2008 Atlantic Hurricane Season”—headline, gCaptain.com, Aug. 7, 2008
  • “Forecasters: 2009 to Bring ‘Above Average’ Hurricane Season”—headline, CNN.com, Dec. 10, 2008
  • “NOAA: 2010 Hurricane Season May Set Records”—headline, Herald-Tribune (Sarasota, Fla.), May 28, 2010
  • “NOAA Predicts Increased Storm Activity in 2011 Hurricane Season”—headline, BDO Consulting press release, Aug. 18, 2011
  • “2012 Hurricane Forecast Update: More Storms Expected”—headline, LiveScience.com, Aug. 9, 2012
  • “NOAA Predicts Active 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season”—headline, NOAA press release, May 23, 2013
  • “A Space-Based View of 2015’s ‘Hyperactive’ Hurricane Season”—headline, CityLab.com, June 19, 2015
  • “The 2016 Atlantic Hurricane Season Might Be the Strongest in Years”—headline, CBSNews.com, Aug. 11, 2016
  • NOAA: U.S. Completes Record 11 Straight Years Without Major Hurricane Strike“—headline, CNSNews.com, Oct. 24, 2016
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Australia’s deteriorating fiscal position

National Net Debt Amd-01
From the Australian Financial Review, on Australia’s deteriorating fiscal position:

The Parliamentary Budget Office has issued a fresh reminder of how Australia’s political system is struggling to grapple with one of its most basic tasks – keeping the budget in balance.

In a series of graphs, the independent body shows that failure to curb spending and manage faltering tax revenues has left the budget in an ever-deteriorating mess, despite years of positive economic growth.

… Most damning – and the primary reason Australia’s AAA credit rating is facing the very real prospect of being cut for the first time in three decades – is the never-ending rise in national debt, which is growing faster than almost every other highly-rated nation.

The budget office estimates that net debt will surge to $428.5 billion – or 22.6 per cent of gross domestic product – by 2018-19. That’s $30.9 billion more than was forecast at the mid-year budget update in late 2015.

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Albrechtsen on the “cult of taking offence”

janet-albrechtsen

Janet Albrechtsen

Janet Albrechtsen had an excellent article in The Australian today on the dangerous “cult of taking offence” ($) stifling free expression in the West:

To be sure, America is the home of the modern-day propensity to find offence. If this was a cult called Scientology, progressives would be carefully deconstructing its concerning presence in modernity. But the cult of taking offence is a slyer virus because it is largely unchecked. And it’s running rife on university campuses, where it threatens to do the most damage.

… The cult of taking offence has become a determined game of what Jonathan Rauch has called the “offendedness sweepstakes”, and it keeps lowering the bar on what words, ideas and freethinking analysis are to be mowed down to protect the hold identity politics has over academe. Political correctness, the soul brother of identity politics, may have started out briefly in some quarters as a sweet-sounding search for a very civil utopia imbued with respect for minorities. Now it is the weapon of choice in the pursuit of power and control over ideas, words, books, teaching and much more.

Students seek “safe spaces” to avoid ideas they don’t like and even comedians are not welcome: Chris Rock no longer appears on campus because students are more interested in not offending anyone than sharp humour that may offend. Jerry Seinfeld has said he has been warned to stay off campuses too because they’re too PC.

And the result, best described by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, has been the coddling of the American mind where emotional reasoning now determines the limits of university debates. “A claim that someone’s words are ‘offensive’ is not just an expression of one’s own subjective feeling of offendedness,” they write. “It is, rather, a public charge that the speaker has done something objectively wrong” and must apologise or be punished for committing the offence.

This made-in-America phen­om­e­non is no longer an only-in-America one. Students studying archeology at University College London were recently given permission to leave class if they encounter “historical events that may be disturbing, even traumatising” — in other words, if they are freaked out by bones.

The coddling of the Australian student mind is under way too. Last week at the University of NSW a well-meaning lecturer teaching a class on 20th-century European history told his students he felt obliged to issue a trigger warning about material they would cover. At the same university last year, a lecturer teaching a course on terrorism and religion issued a trigger warning too. Isn’t the trigger in the title? Isn’t history replete with traumatic events?

The Australian asked UNSW, the University of Sydney, Melbourne University, Monash University, Queensland University, Queensland University of Technology and the Australian National University in Canberra about their policies, formal or informal, about trigger warnings. Those that responded issued bland comments about having no formal policy, with some offering statements such as this one from Melbourne University: “We encourage academics to be sensitive to student needs and some may choose to give warnings about confronting content.” Or this from Merlin Crossley, UNSW’s deputy vice-chancellor education: “Some of our academics and teaching teams may choose to provide trigger or content warnings depending on course materials and in some cases possible confidential sensitivities of their students.”

In 2017 Monash University will introduce what it calls “a radical and far-reaching reform of our education and pedagogy” involving an “optional inclusion of content warnings where appropriate”.

… Indeed, there are few signs of Australian academics trying to ward off the American-born disease taking hold on our campuses. Quite the contrary. QUT vice-chancellor Peter Coaldrake told this newspaper last month that the university did not choose to be associated with the current public debate about section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. That’s unfortunate because section 18C, which makes it unlawful for someone to act in a manner that is reasonably likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone because of their race or ethnicity, is the legislative extension of trigger warnings that stifle open debate and infantilise students.

… Where does it end? That depends on where we start when it comes to freedom of expression, and currently too many self-indulgent Westerners are starting in entirely the wrong place.

Read the full article here.

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