Civil liberties

Remembering Menzies’ wise words on religious liberty


The Victorian government’s relentless push to broaden anti-discrimination laws continue, no matter what stands in the way.

In September, I noted how the Labor party’s view of “equality” was concerned more with special privileges for some, and diminished liberties for others. The most recent effort concerns ruling out a proposed exemption for religious organisations in legislation that would permit same-sex adoptions.

A faith-based adoption organisation is fundamentally concerned with where a child is placed, and the nature of the family involved. The proposed changes to anti-discrimination laws run directly counter to these organisations ability to conscientiously carry out a worthwhile service. This is problematic to say the least.

This week, Attorney-General George Brandis opened a roundtable on freedom of religion, where he quoted Robert Menzies from one of his Forgotten People broadcasts in 1942. The transcript in full is worth reading, but one quote in particular struck me as especially timely:

… religious freedom for which the Scottish Covenanters fought was freedom for all, Catholic or Protestant, Jew or Gentile, and that to deny it was to go back to the dark ages of man. Religious persecution was the denial of freedom. Freedom of worship is the victorious enemy of persecution.

And so I revert to the theme of my broadcast on the first freedom – that freedom, if it is to mean anything, must mean freedom for my neighbour as well as for myself. There is nothing defiant or sectional about a demand for genuine freedom of worship, which is freedom for all.

The Victorian government’s view of equality undermines religious freedom, and is fundamentally anti-liberty. Menzies’ wise words are worth remembering.


Union membership at lowest rate in over 100 years

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 12.19.43 AMAustralia’s union membership is at its lowest point in over a century, according to new data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

The latest employment data, released today, shows that union membership fell by more than 2 per cent—over 200,000 people—in a single year. The Australian reports:

Trade union membership declined markedly between August 2013 and 2014, according to fresh statistics published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The ABS figures show the number of people who were trade union members in their main job fell from 17 per cent in August 2013 to only 15 per cent in August 2014.

The fall in union membership occurred across the economy, with union membership in the private sector falling from 12 to 11 per cent, and public sector membership falling from 42 to 39 per cent.

This means that Australia’s rate of union membership is now less than a quarter of what it was at it’s peak in 1962 (61 per cent). Since 1992, it’s fallen by over a third, from 40 to 15 per cent.

This leaves the Australian Labor Party (ALP) as the sole place where union membership has flourished—as IPA research has found, 17 of 25 sitting ALP Senators (68 per cent), and 23 of 55 ALP MPs (42 per cent), are former union officials.

This glaring disparity between union membership and political power is a direct result of the deep interconnected relationship between the ALP and the union movement. Such disproportionate influence of a single interest group is a problem for Australian democracy.

For more on union influence in the ALP, read the IPA’s 2015 report: Unions in Labor: A handbrake on reform (by myself and James Paterson)


What’s good for a media release is not necessarily good for freedom of association


Around Australia, anti-association laws have already proven themselves to be highly arbitrary and have led to some serious unintended consequences. But anti-association laws have one advantage: they make good law and order media releases.

Hence the Victorian government introduced into parliament earlier this month its own Criminal Organisations Control Amendment (Unlawful Associations) Bill 2015, designed to prohibit “habitual consorting” and unlawful association. You can read the Attorney-General Martin Pakula’s second reading speech here.

I explained the problems with anti-association and anti-consorting laws in the Drum when, in 2012, the NSW government was offering its own reforms:

Consorting laws are good for smoothing the wheels of prosecution – if you think the goal of a legal system is to maximise prosecutions. But their ability to prevent or punish serious criminal activity are limited.

Consorting laws are clearly unjust for those accused of consorting. But they are cruel for those who have been convicted and punished for a crime. A malicious police officer could eliminate a released criminal’s freedom of association simply by issuing his friends with a warning.

When governments face law and order problems, the urge to “do something” must be overwhelming. The newspapers call for action. Talkback radio calls for crackdowns. Police call for more police power.

But police and prosecutors already have a long list of offences they can charge, and they have ample powers to do so. Nobody seriously believes motorcycle gangs are an unprecedented threat that a modern legal system is powerless against, yet for some reason everybody acts as if they are.

Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Those who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Freedom of association – a freedom that extends even to those who have in the past been convicted of a crime – is one of those essential liberties.


Beware any government committed to “anti-discrimination”


Victoria’s Equality Minister Martin Foley


The Victorian state government is grandiosely committed to expanding anti-discrimination laws throughout the state, and is prepared to throw aside any freedom it sees to achieve it.

Prohibitions on peaceful speech and coercive powers to restrict religious liberty and freedom of association are all on the cards, as the government sets a course to ‘put equality back on the agenda in Victoria‘.

For this government, “equality” means special rights for some people, and diminished liberties for others. Doesn’t that sound a little discriminatory?

Just last week, the government gave its support to prohibitions on singing and displaying certain materials around particular favoured buildings. In this new age of anti-discrimination, the right to walk around certain buildings without seeing something disagreeable is paramount to freedom of speech.

Earlier this week, the Attorney-General not only failed to reject, but will consider extraordinary proposals from some “human rights” groups to give the state equal opportunity commission the power to conduct its own investigations, without first needing to receive a complaint. For some, equal opportunity laws are so essential that they must also be easy to enforce – so easy in fact, that the burden of proof is placed on the accused person to make their case, while also relieving that person of the right to silence.

That this did not immediately raise multiple flags with the first law officer of the Crown is worrying, to say the least.

The government’s view of religion and free association is also particularly concerning. Over the weekend, the state’s very own Minister for Equality, Martin Foley, “rubbished” the possibility of a religious exemption in legislation that would allow same-sex couples to adopt children. In ruling out the sort of exemptions other state’s provide, Foley said ‘let’s be clear: this is 2015’.

This, in conjunction with the Labor party’s commitment to make it next to impossible for private, faith-based schools to selectively employ people who share their values, sends a clear message: Freedom of speech, association and holding to a religious belief are a thing of the past, and rights to non-discrimination must now reign supreme.


Australia ranked 7th in human freedom rankings


Since the mid‑1980s, classical liberals have sought to develop a new basis for explaining the benefits of greater freedom to the general public – namely, index‑based quantitative measurements of relative freedom for the countries of the world.

The initial efforts (described here) in developing freedom indices were mainly centred on examining the freedom with which people can buy and sell their goods and services and invest in assets without undue interference from governments.

Now liberals are going further with their quantitative index work, empirically exploring the importance of freedom in every dimension. This includes areas such as the legal system and rule of law, security and personal safety, freedom of association, expression, movement and religion, the size of government, the freedom to trade, and regulation of business, credit, and labour.

This has culminated in the release, just this week, of the Human Freedom Index, jointly produced by the Cato Institute, the Fraser Institute and others.

What the Index shows is that Australia is, in relative terms, within the top ten most free countries in the world, placing seventh in the international league table for 2012.

Compared with other countries, we are doing pretty well, especially when it comes to personal freedoms. The freedom score for the personal freedom index components stood at 9.23 (out of 10), bested only by the likes of the Nordic and Scandinavian countries.

Despite this, the index results show we should further enhance personal freedoms in this country. For example, we should free the press by reducing the extent of government controls over media and improve the effectiveness of our criminal justice system.

Confirming the results of previous economic freedom indices in recent years, the Human Freedom Index is showing that Australia is struggling to maintain momentum retaining relatively high levels of economic freedom. Our score for the economic freedom index components in 2012 was 7.87, behind the likes of Hong Kong (8.98), Switzerland (8.19), New Zealand (8.25), and Canada (8.00).

If Australians want to become more prosperous in the future we should accept reforms, such as lower government spending, more competitive taxes and reducing the degree of government interference in our economic affairs.

No index measure is going to perfectly capture every aspect of human freedom, as complex as it all is. However, the authors of the Human Freedom Index should be commended for making a valuable start comparing freedom comprehensively in an impressive listing of 152 countries.

What is of most value to us is that the Human Freedom Index indicates we are doing less bad in a world filled with so many depredations of freedom. Still, we have much work to do to make Australians more free than ever before.


Anti-discrimination laws defeat religious liberty again

File - In this March 10, 2014 file photo, Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips decorates a cake inside his store, in Lakewood, Colo. Phillips, who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, is to argue Tuesday, July 7, 2015 before the Colorado Court of Appeals that his religious beliefs should protect him from sanctions against his business. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, file)

In March, I wrote about the mythical conflict between religious liberty and the spurious freedom to non-discrimination. There, I cited the case of a Christian baker in Colorado, US, who was found to violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

This week, an appeals court affirmed an order from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that Jack Phillips had breached the Anti-Discrimination Act, and ruled in effect that a bakery owned by a Christian could not lawfully refuse to bake wedding cakes for homosexual couples. Todd Starnes writes:

As it stands – Jack will be required by the government to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples. If he denies anyone service, he will be required to explain why. He is also expected to retrain his staff in the state’s anti-discrimination policies – including his 88-year-old mother.

The decision was legally and logically incorrect – there is no doubt on the facts that Phillips was motivated by a religious objection to the wedding itself, and not the sexual orientation of the complainants, which the law ‘protects’.

More concerning is what the decision is indicative of. As in Victoria, religious freedom around the world is increasingly being seen as a subsidiary right, and rights to non-discrimination – with the accompanying coercive power of the state – are taking priority.


The Nanny State – turning cyclists into criminals since 1990


Boris Johnson and Arnold Schwarzenegger have both been caught by Victoria’s mandatory bicycle helmet laws.


As an Australian living in Washington D.C., I am acutely aware of the rampant crime plaguing this city. No, I don’t mean the prevalence of gun ownership – it’s virtually impossible to own a gun – nor the political corruption that undoubtedly exists. I mean the thousands of people riding bicycles without a helmet.

Okay, so this isn’t a crime in the USA. In fact there is nowhere in the world with nation-wide, all age mandatory helmet laws… except Australia and New Zealand.

Penalties for riding without a helmet in Australia vary state by state. In Victoria it is punishable by a $185 fine, and ultimately, if unpaid, possible imprisonment.

These mandatory helmet laws are symptomatic of the Nanny State mentality that has infected all levels of Australian government.

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‘Conservative’ MP calls for anti-terror laws to enforce social values


Conservative MP Mark Spencer

We have often pointed out that what is introduced as “anti-terror” policy is regularly used for economic regulation. The Australian government’s mandatory data retention scheme, for instance, was always intended to empower economic regulators as much as it was security agencies.

In the United Kingdom, one Conservative Party MP would like anti-terror laws to spill all the way over to managing social philosophy:

New banning orders intended to clamp down on hate preachers and terrorist propagandists should be used against Christian teachers who teach children that gay marriage is “wrong”, a Tory MP has argued.

Mark Spencer called for those who use their position in the classroom to teach traditionalist views on marriage to be subject to “Extremism Disruption Orders” (EDOs), tough new restrictions planned by David Cameron and Theresa May to curb radicalisation by jihadists.

National security is a fundamental responsibility of government, and few could deny the importance of anti-terror measures. However, such laws are too often used by politicians and regulators who have a very different idea of the appropriate limits of government action than those who introduced the laws in the first place.


Tasmanian upper house to debate anti-discrimination amendments


Tasmanian Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff

The Legislative Council of Tasmania will today debate amendments to possibly the most restrictive anti-discrimination laws in the country.

The laws in question concern the rights of religious schools to selectively admit students based on their religious belief.

This is important for religious schools. Being compelled to admit students who do not share their faith weakens the character of the school, and diminishes their ability to immerse their students in a religious education expected from parents.

Under the current Anti-Discrimination Act 1998, sections 55A and 55B require faith-based schools to request permission from the state Andi-Discrimination Commissioner to give preference in enrolments to students who share the faith of the school. Most schools are unable to meet the requirements, and those that could are discouraged by the regulatory burden.

Last month, education minister Jeremy Rockliff introduced the Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2015, which replaces the burdensome sections 55A and 55B with 51A, a general exemption for religious school. This will bring the law more in line with all other Australian jurisdictions.


Having your cake and eating it too


Earlier this month, a Canadian gay couple demanded a refund from a jewellery store that had been helping the couple design rings for their engagement. They did so after discovering that the owners of the store had displayed a sign that promoted the traditional conception of marriage between a man and a woman. The store has agreed to refund the deposit paid by the couple.

It’s interesting to reflect on this situation given the recent string of anti-discrimination cases against businesses that have refused to serve gay customers. The case of the Canadian jewellery store is the same issue in reverse. In this instance there was no refusal of service, there was refusal of purchase. But there is no law to deal with this unambiguous case of religious discrimination; no tribunal to which the business owners can take the customer for refusing to buy their products.

Nor should there be. That would be absurd. And there’s the rub: the absurdity is directly proportionate to the absurdity of allowing customers to take businesses to court over refusal of service. Voluntary economic exchange is a two-way street. Both the buyer and seller are entitled to take any factor they like into account in deciding whether to engage in the exchange, including the political and religious beliefs of the individuals with whom they are seeking to engage in trade.

The Canadian couple who demanded a refund are entitled to do so. But neither the jeweller nor the customer should be able to coerce the other to engage in economic exchange. It really is that simple.


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