Andrew Hastie on freedom of speech and freedom of conscience


An important article appeared in last week’s The Sunday Times. It was written by Andrew Hastie, the Liberal member of parliament for Canning in Western Australia. Andrew is an IPA member, as is Senator Dean Smith who Andrew mentions in the article.

Andrew’s piece is a forceful defence of freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. His key argument is about the importance of civility in public discussion. This is a vital point. And it’s particularly relevant to Australia at a time where we are engaged in some very significant public policy debates. Key debates include the proposed referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution, the upcoming plebiscite on same sex marriage and, most recently, legitimate questions raised about the Safe Schools program. In the context of these important discussions, it’s essential to have respect for those who hold a different point of view.

There is a risk of Australia developing a culture where debates are won, not by argument, and reason, and evidence, but by those who are most effective at silencing their opponents. I worry for America, where such a culture is already taking hold, particularly on college campuses. We must push back against this culture, and defend the importance of robust and open debate – as Andrew has done.

Here are my favourite parts of Andrew’s article:

At the heart of bullying is the exercise of power for the purpose of hurting, excluding and degrading others. We all know that bullying for race, sexual preference, religious belief, gender, creed or disability is unacceptable and morally wrong.

Unfortunately this misuse of power is not confined to the schoolyard. Over the past decade, we have seen the rise of bullying in our public discourse. Social media attacks, name-calling, and aggressive gestures are commonplace from all sides of the political divide. We Australians think of ourselves as accepting, tolerant and democratic, yet our spirit of liberty seems to be waning.

You only need to think of UWA’s flip-flop on appointing climate scientist Bjorn Lomborg after a ‘strong and emotional reaction’ by university staff and students who disagreed with his academic position.

Lomborg’s crime was to be the author of the ‘The Skeptical Environmentalist’ in which he challenges the prevailing academic wisdom that the global environment is getting progressively worse. Never mind that his study is rigorously footnoted and transparent in source work.

Abraham Lincoln famously said, “Let the people be aware of the facts and the country will be calm”. It is little wonder calmness is such a rarity these days when experts are being silenced by bullish mobs.

Freedom of speech must be nonnegotiable. Benjamin Franklin once said that “whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech”. Today this freedom is under threat from bullies who would silence those who disagree with them.

Much of today’s toxic discourse flows from our instinct to disbelieve any view opposed to our own, reflexively ruling out perspectives without reason. This belief devastates the possibility of intelligent, rational discussion and entrenches opposing sides of the political spectrum, leaving little room for dialogue.

… George Orwell foresaw where the abandonment of reason can lead society: to a world devoid of compassion and empathy for those who disagree with us. All that is left is raw power.

As Orwell wrote, without reason and charity in our public debate there will be nothing left but “the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”

… We must debate this [the Safe Schools program] and all issues rigorously with civility, tender hearts and a commitment to respect each other and the final outcome.

Read the full piece here.


Insights into ‘victimhood culture’


Writing for the New York Times last week, American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks offers up some fascinating insights into the problems with victimhood culture:

…victimhood culture makes for worse citizens — people who are less helpful, more entitled, and more selfish. In 2010, four social psychologists from Stanford University published an article titled “Victim Entitlement to Behave Selfishly” in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The researchers randomly assigned 104 human subjects to two groups.

Members of one group were prompted to write a short essay about a time when they felt bored; the other to write about “a time when your life seemed unfair. Perhaps you felt wronged or slighted by someone.” After writing the essay, the participants were interviewed and asked if they wanted to help the scholars in a simple, easy task.

The results were stark. Those who wrote the essays about being wronged were 26 percent less likely to help the researchers, and were rated by the researchers as feeling 13 percent more entitled.

In a separate experiment, the researchers found that members of the unfairness group were 11 percent more likely to express selfish attitudes. In a comical and telling aside, the researchers noted that the victims were more likely than the nonvictims to leave trash behind on the desks and to steal the experimenters’ pens.


The Victorian government’s war on Christmas


Today I have a piece in The Australian on the Victorian government’s dangerous Christmas carol ban:

This is a cultural turning point. The Victorian government isn’t just banning Christmas carols; this is an attempt to strip away the meaning of Christmas. It’s an overt attack on one of the most significant events in the Christian calendar.

The decision goes to the heart of good education. Christmas, and all the ceremony and custom associated with it, has been a significant religious and cultural ritual for 1700 years. A ban on these traditions is a denial of our history. Suppressing aspects of the Christmas celebration denies a cultural heritage that has formed the basis of Western civilisation and that underpins our understanding of life and liberty.

A well-rounded education should include lessons on Christianity and its contribution to who we are today. We can’t expect the next generation to defend the values of Western civilisation if they don’t know what they are.


The competition regulator’s hobby horse


Rod Sims, ACCC chairman, outlining the ACCC’s priorities for 2016 ($):

What we are trying to do is to get higher penalties awarded from the courts in competition cases because our concern is the penalties just aren’t high enough to grab the attention of company boards.

Sims, outlining the ACCC’s priorities for 2015:

The difference between a $10 million fine and a $100 million fine is quite profound. People will sit up and take notice, because it starts to show up in the profit and loss statement and it will grab attention, which is what we are trying to do with our deterrence messages.

It seems nothing has changed in the past year. The ACCC’s attempts to increase penalties which ‘grab attention’ are misguided.

Grabbing attention is what children do to their parents in toy stores. It is certainly not an appropriate enforcement objective for a regulator to pursue.


Australian Medical Association takes dangerous position on e-cigarettes

France Europe Tobacco

The Australian Medical Association today released an updated position statement on tobacco and e-cigarettes. Or should that be e-cigarettes and tobacco? Because tobacco is no longer the lead concern for the AMA. E-cigs are now the main game. Here’s an excerpt from the AMA’s media release:

AMA President, Professor Brian Owler, said the AMA wants the Federal Government to work with the States and Territories to introduce nationally-consistent controls and restrictions on the marketing and advertising of E-cigarettes.

“While some States have taken a strong stance on E-Cigarettes, others have not, which sends conflicting messages to consumers,” Professor Owler said.

“The AMA is concerned that E-Cigarettes are particularly appealing to young people, and the marketing of these products builds on this appeal.

“The promotion of E-Cigarettes to young people as recreational products has the potential to undermine tobacco control efforts, and normalise the act of smoking.

“The AMA believes that E-Cigarettes should not be sold to anyone under 18 years of age.

“E-Cigarettes should not be marketed as smoking cessation aids, because this is not currently supported by evidence.

Here’s what’s telling about the AMA’s e-cigarette concerns.

The most important issue in the e-cigarette debate is whether they help smokers to quit. They do. Study after study after study has shown this to be the case. But this isn’t the first issue addressed by the AMA. It’s revealing that the AMA prefers to focus on regulatory differences at the state level (yes – Australia is a federation), and the suggestive idea that e-cigarettes are ‘appealing to young people’.

Even if there’s doubt about the evidence, the decision about whether to use e-cigarettes is a voluntary one, and the AMA has no place lobbying for laws that restrict their use on the basis of uncertainty.


Live betting ban paternalistic and pointless


Rick Wallace at The Australian has a report on the federal government’s review into illegal offshore wagering today, which features recent analysis undertaken by Chris Berg and I:

In a submission to the review, the Institute of Public ­Affairs has urged Mr O’Farrell to make in-play betting legal by repealing the Howard-era ban on betting live via the internet. “The ban on ‘live’ or ‘in the run’ betting is technologically ­illiterate and easy to avoid,” IPA researchers Chris Berg and Simon Breheny write. “Techniques that firms have used to arbitrage around the legislative framework demonstrate the weakness of legislative controls.

“Live betting offers consumers more choice, greater participation in spectator sport and the opportunity to manage betting risk more responsibility.”

The IPA also rejects the push from the betting industry in Australia to ban punters from accessing overseas betting sites, calling it “a form of rent seeking”. It ­believes moves to force internet service providers to block overseas gambling sites is a form of protectionism and censorship.

“Restrictions on online betting … are paternalistic and unjustifiable on liberal democratic grounds. Policymakers cannot assume that imposing their scepticism of the benefits of gambling is a reflection of the actual preferences of consumers,” it says.

Read our submission here.


Corporate regulator, corporate lobbyist?


From the AFR today:

The corporate regulator used a confidential letter to tell senators the government’s plan to put more independent directors on superannuation fund boards did not align with the expectations of listed companies.

The letter from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission highlighted inconsistencies between corporate law and the government’s proposed rules for independent directors on super fund boards.

Apparently decision-makers at ASIC believe it is the role of the corporate regulator to lobby parliament. ASIC’s letter to senators during a contentious debate about the makeup of superannuation fund boards is inappropriate.

There are more fundamental reforms to superannuation that need to be made, but as I outlined in the AFR last week, the government’s proposal on independent directors represented a step in the right direction. ASIC should stick to its brief.


EXCLUSIVE: Head of the Press Council joins forces with GetUp!


Professor David Weisbrot

The Australian Press Council “is responsible for promoting good standards of media practice, community access to information of public interest, and freedom of expression through the media.”

The Press Council holds itself out as an organisation dedicated to high standards of integrity, and as an independent arbiter of complaints relating to media in Australia.

So it’s of great concern to see that the head of the Press Council, David Weisbrot, has agreed to be a board member of a new activist litigation fund being established by the left-wing advocacy group GetUp!

This is more than a general problem about the independence of the Press Council. GetUp! has run a series of campaigns which demonstrate how inappropriate it is for the Press Council to join up with it.

Here are three of the most recent examples:

Continue Reading →


IPA welcomes Indigenous recognition council announcement

The Institute of Public Affairs welcomes the announcement of a bipartisan advisory council on constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“The IPA believes that all Australians are equal. The Australian Constitution should make no reference to race or ethnicity,” says Simon Breheny, Director of Race Has No Place at free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

“Two current sections in the Constitution refer to race – sections 25 and 51(26). These sections should be deleted, and no new sections referring to race should be added into the Constitution.”

The IPA has produced a booklet – Race has no place – which outlines the positive case for equality in the Australian Constitution.

“Australia’s success as a free and prosperous country is founded on the idea that all humans are of equal worth. All Australians, regardless of their ethnic background, must be treated equally by government and the law. The Australian Constitution should reflect this,” says Mr Breheny.

The IPA is looking forward to actively engaging with the council ahead of a potential referendum regarding the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

To find out more, visit

For media and comment: Simon Breheny, Director, Race Has No Place, Institute of Public Affairs, [email protected] or 0400 967 382.


The green energy contradiction

Bjorn Lomborg makes a very good point about renweable energy activists in The Australian:

Here in Paris, there are many well-meaning people who believe that we need strong carbon cuts and green energy production subsidies now and for many years to come, to get the world to move towards tackling climate change.

But at the same time, these same people argue that solar and wind is already competitive, or that this moment is just around the corner.

Those two arguments are incompatible and many people who seem to be making both points are simply wrong on one or the other.