ACT’s new Uber rules a step in the right direction


Last week, the ACT became the first jurisdiction to announce ride-sharing legislation (as reported here, here and here). Companies such as Uber will face these new rules in two stages:

The first, to start from October 30, requires ride-share drivers to be accredited and registered, with criminal and driving history checks, and have safety checks done on their cars.

Drivers must be alcohol and drug free. Booking services have to have customer complaint mechanisms and surge pricing will be banned during emergencies.

A second stage of regulation, starting after legislation is passed, will require ride-share drivers to have compulsory third party and property insurance.

This is a step in the right direction for the future of ride-sharing, these rules are on the more reasonable end of realistic legislation. But I remain cautiously optimistic.

My apprehension stems mainly from new forms of licensing more broadly. Ride-sharing drivers in the ACT will now pay $150 per year in license and accreditation fees (plus other costs for various checks).

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Recognising bias in the debate on indigenous recognition

recognise-large-logoSimon Morgan has an important piece published in the most recent edition of The Spectator. His thorough analysis of Recognise – the taxpayer-funded organisation responsible for promoting the referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution – can be read online here. I’ve excerpted the opening paragraphs:

There is a tremendous cache to be found in portraying oneself as an ‘underdog’ in contemporary Australian society, whether that be in the cultural, the commercial or the political arena.Australians love the notion of a scrappy band of outsiders banding together and taking on powerful interests. The emotional appeal of insurgency is a key aspect of the public campaign being waged by ‘Recognise’ – which badges itself as ‘the people’s campaign to recognise indigenous Australians in the Constitution.’ The use of the term ‘people’s campaign’ is no doubt deliberate, and meant to evoke romantic images of a mass uprising that forces ‘the system’ to bend to its will.

There are a couple of minor problems with this narrative. The first is that a genuine ‘people’s campaign’ is an organic uprising, often social protest against the established order. In contrast, Recognise is possibly the first ‘people’s campaign’ to be not only birthed by the State, but also financed by it, around $15 million thus far.

The second, more troubling, aspect of Recognise’s evolution was its decision last month to burst into partisan politics.The catalyst was the WA Liberal Party State Conference, which among 52 policy motions listed for debate, included one that proposed the Party ‘oppose any move to recognise a single race to the exclusion of all others in the body or preamble of the Commonwealth Constitution’.


Mercatus research shows link between regulations and budgets

New research, by the RegData team at the Mercatus Center in the US, sheds light on the strong correlation between ‘government agency budgets’ and ‘regulatory restrictions’.

Mercatus has graphed the number of ‘restrictions’ – defined as the number of restrictive clauses in regulations (such as ‘prohibited’, ‘must not’, ‘shall’) – against government agency budgets producing those regulations. The strong correlation below is both unfortunate and unsurprising:

Mercatus Graph 1

Patrick McLaughlin and Oliver Sherouse describe their graph as follows:

These two lines – total agency restrictions and total agency budgets – move in the same direction. In fact, over the period for which we have data (from 1975 to 2014), the simple correlation between total of all regulatory restrictions and total of all agency budgets equals 0.91. (A correlation of 1 would indicate a perfect match.)

The scatterplot reveals more of the detail via agency through time:

Mercatus Graph 2

It seems the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the clear winner, followed closely by the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Note that while the data above shows a correlation, it doesn’t quite answer a number of other questions about causation:

While the correlation between agency budgets and the levels of agency restrictions is clearly high, the question of whether one causes the other remains unanswered. If budgets are increased, does regulatory output correspondingly increase? Do budgets change in response to changes in regulatory output? Or is a third factor—such as new legislation directing agencies to regulate or deregulate—the driving force?

This means the safest bet is probably just to stop doing both.


Top 3 articles from this week you must read


Robert Tracinski

1. In a must-read article for The Spectator, Simon Morgan analyses ‘Recognise’, the taxpayer funded organisation leading the divisive campaign for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

2. A referendum on constitutional recognition (and all other political outcomes) can only be considered legitimate if both sides of the debate are expressed and heard. Read John Roskam’s AFR article here

3. And Robert Tracinski argues at The Federalist that the free market is just like Uber – but for everything.


Grand Final Friday – when thought bubbles become law


Today is Victoria’s first Grand Final Friday Public Holiday. Hopefully it will also be the last.

While unions and some casuals have fantasised about all the extra pay, most casuals will get less because their business, unable to pay up to double time and a half for the same work, just won’t be open.

In 2011 when his opinion polling was down, then opposition leader Daniel Andrews said that it would be nice to have a new public holiday to celebrate the AFL Grand Final – a commitment that wasn’t scrutinized at the time because nobody took it seriously.

Turns out he was serious, and interestingly the negative reaction has been ferocious.

The holiday has ruined the traditional Friday Grand Final Parade, which drew people into the CBD and was a bonanza for city restaurants and pubs. It was always entirely voluntary and proof that you don’t need a big government plan to make something work.

The parade will now be diverted out of the CBD as nobody will be around to watch it.

The Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry is lobbying for the new holiday to be a once-off. Even The Age has run a story about the government’s sham consultation process and lost production for the Victorian economy of some $852 million.

While Aussies tend to believe that public holidays are all about time off, they actually exist to remind a diverse nation of its shared values. For example Australia’s oldest Public Holiday, the Queen’s Birthday, acknowledges our system of democratic government; Easter and Christmas the nation’s Christian heritage, ANZAC Day the sacrifice of our war veterans and even Labour Day acknowledges our balance between work, rest and play.

Most public holidays have stood the test of time because they are neither politically motivated, commemorations of events that some citizens find divisive nor just an excuse for a day off.

Victoria also has complicated rules for substitute and additional public holidays. When Australia Day falls on a weekend there is a substitute holiday the following Monday and when New Year’s Day and Boxing Day fall on a weekend you get the actual day but ALSO the following Monday. Some employers have to pay twice.

2015 is one of those years where Victorians will get 14 public holidays including two Boxing Day holidays (one on Saturday 26 December and one on Monday 28 December).

Hopefully next year the Victorian Government will say that it delivered its promise for a public holiday in 2015, but listened to feedback and decided not to do it again in 2016.

But we won’t hold our breath.


Any excuse for a moral panic

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 25: Fremantle fans celebrate after a goal is scored during the 2015 AFL First Preliminary Final match between the Fremantle Dockers and the Hawthorn Hawks at Domain Stadium, Perth, Australia on September 25, 2015. (Photo by Will Russell/AFL Media)

Last Friday night at the football a man assaulted a woman. Alcohol advertising should be banned during daytime sporting telecasts.

Now, while most people might think that the assertion in the second sentence does not logically flow from the facts in the first, John Rogerson, CEO of the Australian Drug Foundation, was eager to link the two.

In an interview on ABC Radio’s PM programme, Rogerson managed to use one incident at one football match to push a range of anti-alcohol arguments. He advocated changes to the taxation and marketing of alcohol, and emphasised the need to remove the exemption which allows alcohol ads during televised sporting events, but not general programming, before 8.30pm.

While the assault by a spectator on an off-duty policewoman during an AFL Preliminary Final at Subiaco Oval was an ugly incident, part of the reason it got such saturated coverage was because of the rarity of such occurrences at major sporting events in modern Australia. In this case, the perpetrator was arrested, charged with a variety of offences and banned from the stadium for life, which is all as it should be.

There were also 11 other people evicted from the ground for less serious misbehavior and a couple of idiots leaning over the fence to abuse opposition players were highlighted on the television coverage. Not a great look, but hardly an excuse for the kind of moral panic we have seen in the past few days, with a mixture of general laments about the state of society today and the more specific agendas of the likes of Rogerson.

After all, while a tiny minority of the Perth crowd were behaving badly, more than 40,000 others were not. As a Hawthorn supporter who was there at the ground with a couple of my children, we experienced no untoward behavior from the home fans. Some people around us were drinking, some people weren’t, but all of them seemed capable of both making this decision for themselves and behaving in a responsible manner.

However, no matter how many people behave well, the vigilantes of the Nanny State will use any excuse to try to impose more restrictions on everyone.


PM must live up to his promise of a government “committed to freedom”


Malcolm Turnbull’s promise to lead a “thoroughly Liberal government committed to freedom, the individual and the market” must be backed up with policies. This is an argument put forward by the IPA’s James Paterson, in an article for The Australian, which is well worth a read.

In particular, Paterson had this to say on freedom of speech, and section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975:

A core issue for the free-market Right is freedom of speech… Turnbull is on the record as supporting a compromise measure proposed by Family First senator Bob Day, and co-sponsored by Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm and Liberals Dean Smith and Cory Bernardi. Day’s bill would remove the words “offend” and “insult” from 18C, meaning it would still be an offence to “humiliate” or “intimidate” someone on the basis of their race. It’s a proposal so reasonable many on the Left support it. An announcement that it will vote for Day’s private member’s bill would be a powerful demonstration of the values of the Turnbull government.

Regarding constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, he says:

Many Australians hold the view there is no place for race in the Constitution. They may be willing to support the removal of outdated provisions that refer to race, but they will not accept any new references to race being inserted because they believe all Australians are equal and should be treated as such in the Constitution. The Constitution should be changed – to remove all refer­ences to race and the power for federal government to enact laws based on people’s race.

Check out the whole article here.


Another inconvenient truth: demand for coal still strong

Just before Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale spoke at the National Press Club yesterday, the federal government’s Office of the Chief Economist released the September 2015 edition of its Resources and Energy Quarterly publication.

The document collates important mining and energy statistics and is an interesting snapshot of the strength of the industry and developments in overseas markets.

While Di Natale were pushing the line that the coal industry was “on the way out”, the REQ contained a number of inconvenient truths including:

  • World steel consumption is forecast to increase to 1.6 billion tonnes in 2015 and to 1.74 billion tonnes in 2020
  • The world trade in metallurgical coal (the type of coal used to make steel) is expected to increase to 330 million tonnes in 2020 with Australian exports to increase to 213 million tonnes in 2020
  • While the US and Europe have signaled an intention to phase out the use of thermal coal for electricity, this will be more than offset by increased use in emerging economies.
  • There is around 350 gigawatts of new coal-fired generation capacity either under construction or approved in non-OECD countries.
  • The world trade in thermal coal is projected to increase to 1,180 million tonnes by 2020
  • China’s thermal coal imports are projected to increase to 170 million tonnes by 2020
  • India’s thermal coal imports are projected to increase to 255 million tonnes by 2020
  • South Korean thermal coal imports are projected to increase to 113 million tonnes by 2020
  • Many Asian countries are upgrading their coal-fired power plants to use the higher quality coal that is typically mined in Australia.

The mining industry, which employed 245,700 people in the September quarter of 2015, appears alive and well.


Oakes’ press freedom speech silent on Labor’s freedom of speech controversies


Laurie Oakes speaking at the Melbourne Press Club

Laurie Oakes’ Melbourne Press Freedom Dinner speech last Friday was a broadside against limits on freedom of the press in the name of national security. You can read it here.

It was revealing in more ways than one. Because national security is hardly the only domestic attack on free speech in recent years. Oakes’ speech shows – by omission – that the bulk of the journalistic community was missing in action on almost every major domestic freedom of speech controversy under the Gillard government. These are missing from Oakes’ speech.

The contest over section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act has been a centrepiece of federal politics since the Andrew Bolt case in 2011. There is a bill currently before parliament to amend section 18C right now. Section 18C is clearly, obviously, undeniably a free speech issue. Yet there was no real outcry from our nation’s journalistic corps on section 18C.

Nor was there any great media outcry when the Gillard government introduced the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill in 2012, which would have made it possible for colleagues to sue each other for expressing their political opinions. Another obvious free speech issue.

Now, it is true that media proprietors and editors got agitated about the Gillard government’s media regulation legislation in 2013. But I recall debating journalists at the time who supported the laws. And the regulation proposals had near universal support from journalism academics, those who are to instruct the next generation of journalists. This wasn’t the apathy Oakes describes about recent national security laws. This was outright advocacy.

Finally, it is notable that there was no discernible gnashing of teeth from journalists when the Abbott government decided not to pursue its promise to repeal section 18C. After all, that decision was specifically because the government wanted to push national security changes.

Telling the story of national security law changes without any context – the context of a prolonged debate about the importance of freedom of speech under the previous government – lets the media off lightly.


This man was too dangerous for Australian academia?


Earlier this year, Bjørn Lomborg was deemed too dangerous to set up a think tank at the University of Western Australia. In The Age today, he wrote in support of the government’s plan to tackle domestic violence, making such innocuous points as:

The Australian government’s decision to step up its fight against the scourge of domestic violence does not just make moral sense: it is underpinned by a sound economic case too.

Researchers for Copenhagen Consensus recently conducted one of the first analyses of the total costs of violence worldwide, and found that gender-based violence – believed to affect around one in three women globally – has a considerably higher financial impact on society than many would think.

… In too many cultures, and for far too long, we have accepted the toll of violence, especially on women. The moral case for action is overwhelming. But economic research can help us to better understand the problem and the best solutions. And it speaks volumes that there have been so few economic analyses of its impact until recently: this is a problem that has not been taken seriously. What the new economic evidence shows is that the Australian government’s decision to step up the fight against domestic violence is likely to be one that will pay dividends to society.

And yet, staff and students at Flinders University are still fighting to keep Lomborg’s Consensus Centre out of Australia.