Is this the next step, following mandatory data retention?

Draft national security legislation revealed last Friday would add little value to Australia’s efforts to combat terrorism, and will be a significant regulatory burden on the telecommunications sector.

According to the exposure draft, the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 would if passed compel carriage service providers to “do their best” to

protect telecommunications networks and facilities from unauthorised interference, or unauthorised access, for the purposes of security. Carriers and carriage service providers must notify changes to telecommunications services or telecommunications systems that are likely to have a material adverse effect on their capacity to comply with this duty 

Since such service providers would naturally “do their best” to see that their networks are uncompromised, it is unclear what is added by the bill. It is fuzzy law at best, and would be remarkably difficult for a person to know if they are meeting their legal obligations.

While the national security benefits are unclear, the proposed regulatory burdens are not. For instance, section 314A(3) of the bill requires carriage service providers to notify the government (the “Communications Access Co-ordinator“) of its intention to implement a change to telecommunications services. Sections 315A and 315B could potentially see the Attorney-General issue directions to carriage service providers to “cease using or supplying… carriage services” or “to do, or to refrain from doing , a specified act or thing within the period specified in the direction.”

From mandatory data retention, to online piracy legislation, 2015 has seen a suite of burdensome but ineffectual laws passed at the intersection of technology, telecommunications and national security. If passed, these new proposals would add to that list.

facebooktwitter

Top 3 articles from last week you must read

bigwill_0

George Will

1. Andrew Roberts in CapX last Monday advised policy makers to listen to the advice of the Confederation of British Industry – and do the exact opposite

2. George Will in the Washington Post on Friday described the collapse of the constitutional separation of powers in the United States, and the battle to wind back the executive-dominated “administrative state

3. And also on Friday, Matt Ridley and Benny Peiser in the Wall Street Journal told readers what to expect from COP21 in Paris. For your complete guide to the climate debate, read here ($).

facebooktwitter

Solar farms, wind farms… diesel farms?

Diesel_generator_oil_tanker

Just when you thought the UK’s renewable electricity market couldn’t get any more ridiculous, along comes news that some of the small diesel power generators that Matt Ridley said are offering reserve electricity are actually owned by wind and solar farms.

In a traditional electricity market, consumers demand electricity, then coal, gas, nuclear or oil fueled power stations bid to supply it, and adjust their machines up or down to deliver their product, with a price set based on the level of demand and cost of supply. Simple.

However in a renewables-rich market, because wind and solar farms have no control, grid operators are required to ensure that extra generation capacity is held in reserve, paying generously for this back-up. With many traditional power sources banned, discouraged or run down, diesel is emerging to fill the gap.

Unsurprisingly, this dirty little secret tends to be hushed up. It certainly doesn’t appear on the Hive Energy or Kettering Energy Park websites.

It is the height of hypocrisy for wind and solar farms to take taxpayer-funded subsidies to generate so-called ‘clean’ wind and solar power with one hand, while accepting subsidies to generate diesel power with the other. Especially if this is a way to subvert proposed new rules to make wind and solar farms pay for intermittency costs.

If you are in business and you can’t deliver a product then you should close, and let someone else take your place. But if your customer is the government, they will probably pay regardless.

facebooktwitter

Tongue tied by the “big stick” of the law

Interesting article by Nicola Berkovic in the Weekend Australian today, featuring recent instances of anti-discrimination laws being used to chill speech across Australia. It is well worth reading ($).

My colleague Simon Breheny was also quoted in relation to the Archbishop Porteous case in Tasmania:

The IPA’s Simon Breheny believes section 17 of Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act sets an “unreasonably low threshold” for unlawful conduct and should be amended. He says the legitimacy of the plebiscite result will rely on the freedom of Australian citizens to voice their opinions.

“It is too easy to ‘offend’, ‘humiliate’, ‘insult’ or ‘ridicule’ a person in the course of robust debate,” he says.

“These words should be removed to ensure that a free discussion can take place.”

facebooktwitter

Why Turnbull and Shorten are both wrong about our energy future

Labor leader Bill Shorten has decided to outflank Malcolm Turnbull from the left with a commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

The Coalition government has committed to 26-28 per cent cuts by 2030, which it says takes into account Australia’s position as a world energy exporter.

Targets are popular with politicians because they divorce them from the policies needed to make them happen. However it is not the target that does a country damage – it is the policies that must be implemented to achieve that target.

Taking Wednesday’s South Australian Low Carbon Economy Experts Panel report as a guide, we can expect such  policies to include more renewable electricity, more inner city apartments, discouraging the use of cars and a relocation of traditional manufacturing jobs to other countries.

Given that the Greens’ Renew Australia pledge from just last week pledged net zero emissions by 2040 with a 90 per cent renewable energy target, it stands to reason that Labor’s July pledge of a 50 per cent renewables target will need to be adjusted upwards as well.

An extra 2.5 billion people will move to cities throughout the world over the next 35 years, and emissions will continue to increase. Whatever Australia does will mean nothing for world CO₂ levels, as countries in the developing world will continue to build the homes, factories, roads, buildings and cars that they are entitled to, to achieve the standards of living we enjoy in the west.

facebooktwitter

See what this state MP had to say about FreedomWatch in parliament

peter_katsambanis

Peter Katsambanis MLC

FreedomWatch readers may be interested to read this speech from WA state MP Peter Katsambanis, who spoke in the Legislative Council yesterday afternoon to a motion in support of free speech. In the course of his speech, Katsambanis made this interesting reference:

[L]ast week I noticed something on the FreedomWatch website that is run by the Institute of Public Affairs Australia of which I am proud member. It is a great freedom fighter for freedom of speech in particular.

Published on that FreedomWatch site were the results of a global survey from Pew Research Center. It indicated that Australians have strong support for free speech and free expression. Australia is ranked seventh out of 38 countries that were polled on their attitudes to freedom of expression…

It found that 95 per cent of Australians supported criticism of government policies, 56 per cent supported statements that are offensive to minority groups and, interestingly, 62 per cent of Australians supporting freedom of expression even when that expression led to statements that were offensive to their own religion or beliefs, because Australians value the opportunity to debate rather than to be shut down. They value the opportunity to have a proper public discourse rather than to hound away people with threats, intimidation and criticism.

Well done to the Institute of Public Affairs for continuing to highlight those figures.

See his whole speech on page 18-19 of Hansard, here.

facebooktwitter

Special treatment for environmentalists corrupts the rule of law

Australian_masthead_resized

Legal affairs editor Chris Merritt in The Australian today:

The next time some lobby group demands special treatment by federal law, keep in mind how things turned out when politicians caved in to green activists. It cost taxpayers dearly.

The losses are real but they are not the only problem. [A] fundamental tenet of the rule of law has been corrupted by the special treatment of green activists. The most obvious consequence is the ease with which these groups have been using the courts to delay major development projects.

By giving green activists automatic standing to challenge major developments, the politicians in Canberra have given them a level of access to the courts that is denied to everyone else.

This has made it possible for millions of dollars in taxpayers’ funds — and shareholders’ funds — to be lost.

Continue reading here.

facebooktwitter

Electric cars – powered by coal

electric-cars-chargeProving again that government intervention rarely goes quite as intended, yesterday’s Australian Financial Review featured an article which explained how Dutch tax incentives to increase the use of electric cars has led also to an increase in coal-fired power to charge them:

Three new coal-fired power plants, including two here on the Rotterdam harbor, are supplying much of the power to fuel the Netherlands’ electric-car boom.

… Alongside the boom has come a surging demand for power to charge the vehicles, which can consume as much electricity in a single charge as the average refrigerator does in a month and a half.

The adoption of electric cars throughout the world will significantly increase demand for electricity. Given the intermittency problems of wind and solar, this is much more likely to be fuelled by coal or gas.

Environmentalists typically offer no solution to this dilemma and, as in this article, instead choose to talk up car batteries as an additional source of, or storage mechanism for, electricity. Of course, batteries don’t create electricity and can only store the excess that someone else has to create.

facebooktwitter

Judges are not perfect

michael-sexton

Michael Sexton SC

Michael Sexton SC makes a good point ($) in The Australian today:

…the Tasmanian legislation — and similar legislation in some of the other states and territories — poses real problems on its face for churches and other religious groups.

To take an example, as anyone who has read Brideshead Revisited will recall, it is Catholic teaching that unmarried heterosexual couples are “living in sin” and so doomed to the eternal fires of hell.

Why is it not open to such a couple to complain that they are offended and insulted by church publications to this effect because those publications are made on the basis of their relationship status?

It then would be up to the church to argue that a reasonable person would not have this reaction but that decision might depend very much on the personal views of the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner.

This last paragraph is an important point, and it’s one that tends to be missed by lawyers. Judges are not automatons. Judges are people that bring their own values to bear on legal decisions they are required to make. They are not infallible, and personal biases often play a role.

The correct response is to ensure that contentious decisions about thoughts, ideas, and the limits of public debate are not left to judges, but are debated freely by individual citizens.

facebooktwitter

Historic home demolition could be FIRB’s fault

leafy-melbourne-street
The leafy suburbs of Australia’s major cities are full of laments about historic homes being knocked down and replaced by McMansions or units.

One of the chief recipients of blame for this phenomenon is overseas buyers, particularly the Chinese. However, an article about a historic federation home slated for demolition in the Melbourne suburb of Kew has highlighted the fact that one of the causes of demolitions is actually a measure designed to restrict foreign ownership.

Current foreign investment rules only allow foreign investors to buy residential property if they intend to construct a new dwelling on the land. They cannot buy property just to live in, or rent out, the existing dwelling. This distinction is designed to increase the housing stock and stimulate the building industry but, as with so many government regulations, this one is having unintended consequences.

Kew locals have perceptively pointed out that the restriction is one reason for the spate of demolitions of historic homes in their neighbourhood. The particular house in this case was recently renovated and has a tennis court and swimming pool, so would seemingly be very liveable for the new overseas owners, who bought it for $9.4 million.

However retaining the historic home is not an option for the owners when FIRB rules state that “the existing dwelling must be demolished and continuous substantial construction of the new dwellings must commence within 24 months”. Further, if the owners fail to comply, FIRB will take a dim view of any application for residency they might subsequently make.

Who knows whether these owners might demolish anyway, but next time you see a beautiful historic home being demolished, please consider the real culprit might be the federal government, not the overseas owners.

facebooktwitter