Free speech under attack in Tasmania

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Freedom of speech is under attack after the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner’s decision to hear the case against Archbishop Porteous.

Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Commission has decided the Catholic Church has a case to answer in response to a complaint made by Greens candidate Martine Delaney this year. Delaney complains that a booklet outlining Catholic teachings on marriage, which was distributed to parents of Catholic high school students throughout Australia, is offensive and therefore breaches Tasmania’s anti-discrimination laws.

“The complaint against Archbishop Porteous ought to have been dismissed,” says Simon Breheny, Director of the Legal Rights Project at free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

“The booklet produced by the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference carefully outlines the Catholic position on marriage. The booklet was distributed to parents of students at Catholic schools. The booklet is a reasonable statement of Catholic teaching couched in a measured tone.”

“If the Catholic Church cannot distribute a booklet on Catholic teaching to Catholics, who can it distribute them to?”

“This case highlights the attack on free speech represented by anti-discrimination law. It should never be a crime to offend a person.”

“The position outlined by the Catholic Bishop’s Conference is the position that had been taken by every leader of the two major political parties right up until last year – and it is now potentially illegal,” says Mr Breheny.

The decision not to dismiss the complaint is relevant in the context of the upcoming plebiscite on the redefinition of marriage.

“The legitimacy of the result in the upcoming plebiscite depends upon the existence of a free and open debate. Both sides must have the opportunity to present a case to the Australian people,” says Mr Breheny.

“This is why both supporters and opponents of same sex marriage ought to be concerned about the complaint against the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference,” says Mr Breheny.

For media and comment: Simon Breheny, Director, Legal Rights Project, Institute of Public Affairs, [email protected] or 0400 967 382.

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Only 13 Victorian MPs vote against a blatant attack on free speech

Terrible laws which elevate the right to walk around certain buildings without seeing something objectionable at the expense of peaceful protest passed the Legislative Assembly of Victoria late yesterday, with barely a dozen MPs opposing.

The Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Safe Access Zones) Bill 2015 seeks to establish 150 metre exclusion zones around fertility clinics, and to criminalise, not only that which is already unlawful (such as harassment and obstruction of access to private premises) but also prohibits:

communicating in relation to reproductive health services in a manner that is able to be seen or heard by a person accessing, or attempting to access, premises at which reproductive health services are provided

That this restrictive piece of legislation has passed the lower house with such little opposition is a disgrace. Any attempt to argue the laws are reasonable is not credible, as 150 metres is immensely disproportionate to the already illiberal objectives of the bill. The penalties too are disproportionate: section 185B provides that engaging in prohibited activity within a “safe access zone” will result in 500 penalty units (which equates to approximately $75,000 this year) or 12 months in prison.

The Legislative Council should give this bill more consideration than the Assembly gave it, and reject it altogether.

UPDATE: The 13 MPs to oppose the bill were Neil Angus, Richard Riordan, Gary Blackwood, David Southwick, Tim Bull, Murray Thompson, Robert Clark, Bill Tilley, Martin Dixon, Nick Wakeling, Michael Gidley, Graham Watt and David Hodgett.

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Can political correctness be taken seriously now?

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You might have heard about the protests at the University of Missouri this week, where a group stopped a student journalist from approaching a “safe zone”, with a journalism professor going so far as to call on ‘muscle’ to remove him.

Jonathan Chait in the New York Magazine explains why the episode demonstrates that political correctness can no longer be laughed off:

Even if it were the case that political correctness was totally confined to campuses, it would not make the phenomenon unimportant. Colleges have disproportionate influence over intellectual life, and political movements centered on campuses can spread well beyond them (anti-Vietnam began as a bunch of wacky kids, too). But to imagine p.c. as simply a thing college kids do relieves us of taking it seriously as a coherent set of beliefs, which it very much is. Political correctness is a system of thought that denies the legitimacy of political pluralism on issues of race and gender. It manifests itself most prominently in campus settings not because it’s a passing phase, like acne, but because the academy is one of the few bastions of American life where the p.c. left can muster the strength to impose its political hegemony upon others.

… The upsurge of political correctness is not just greasy-kid stuff, and it’s not just a bunch of weird, unfortunate events that somehow keep happening over and over. It’s the expression of a political culture with consistent norms, and philosophical premises that happen to be incompatible with liberalism. The reason every Marxist government in the history of the world turned massively repressive is not because they all had the misfortune of being hijacked by murderous thugs. It’s that the ideology itself prioritizes class justice over individual rights and makes no allowance for legitimate disagreement.

The whole article is well worth reading.

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The battle for Ningaloo Station

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Ningaloo Station is a large pastoral lease about 130 kilometres south of Exmouth, WA.

The station has been managed by the Lefroy family since the 1930s. The Lefroys currently run the station as a camp site, dedicated to conserving this pristine slice of Australian natural beauty.

The Lefroys have been in a long-running battle with the Western Australian government over the future of Ningaloo Station. The current lease has been renewed from 1 July 2015, however a condition of renewal was that the lands minister could remove parts of the land to be managed by government, as provided for under the Land Administration Act 1997.

In 2002, the then-Labor government attempted to do just that. The 22 hectares of land represented not just 48% of the entire pastoral lease but also the lion’s share of the critical infrastructure, including watering points, laneways, holding paddocks, sheep yards, an air strip, workshops, and the heritage-listed Ningaloo homestead.

After initially agreeing not to excise land from pastoral leases in the lead up to the 2005 state election, the Coalition government is now attempting to do just that. Lands Minister Terry Redman has indicated that he wants to incorporate a series of local pastoral leases into the neighbouring Ningaloo Marine Park.

The land should remain in the hands of the Lefroy family. From both an economic and a conservationist standpoint this is the most sensible course of action, a point well made by Pastoralists and Graziers Association of Western Australia president Tony Seabrook:

“People up there who know that country and know it well.

“They are far better off to manage it than a government department working a five-day week with little understanding of how the rangeland works.”

Bureaucratic management of the station will not improve the environmental outcomes in this beautiful part of the world. Private operators are incentivised to manage resources well.

The Lefroy family has also spent considerable sums of money over many years improving and developing the land. They have the right to enjoy the fruits of their labour.

The Lefroys should be left to manage their own small piece of paradise.

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Potato hero Galati loses court battle but vows to keep fighting the war

WA farmer Tony Galati

WA farmer Tony Galati

The Western Australian government restricts the number of potatoes that farmers are allowed to grow.

That’s not the start of an awful joke, it’s the incredible reality for WA’s potato producers.

I’ve previously commented on these absurd arrangements in WA. And after initial resistance, the Barnett government has finally relented and will abolish this antiquated tool of competition suppression.

In the meantime, producers like Tony Galati are being pursued through the courts for growing too many spuds:

Spud Shed owner Tony Galati has lost part of his battle with Western Australia’s potato industry regulator, but has vowed he will continue to grow as many potatoes as demand requires.

To his credit, Galati isn’t giving up:

Mr Galati said the State Government should be embarrassed for allowing a Supreme Court injunction against potato growers for merely growing potatoes.

“I can’t believe it. We’ll definitely fight back,” he said.

“I’m not afraid of going to jail.”

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New ban on live betting ads to hit NSW in 2016

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Back in 2013, the Gillard government started down the path to banning live betting advertising at a Commonwealth level.

A code regulating the broadcast of live betting odds during sporting matches came into effect on 1 August 2013 following agreement by media companies to be regulated by the Australian Communications and Media Authority after they were threatened with a broader legislated ban.

In a textbook example of the law of unintended consequences, the enforcement of the new code precipitated a significant increase in the number of gambling ads overall. Not to be discouraged by an obvious case of policy failure, the NSW government now wants to finish what Julia Gillard and Stephen Conroy started.

Seemingly without any thought to the fact that a government restriction on what ads a broadcaster can air is a clear attack on free speech, the NSW Liberal government will be enforcing the new laws from next year:

From March 1, live odds advertising will be banned during sporting fixtures that last four hours or less, with maximum fine for breaches up to $5500.

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Opposing 18C reform would tar Turnbull’s government with the image of unstable government

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Hal GP Colebatch’s latest article in The Spectator warns Turnbull of the danger to his premiership in opposing Senator Bob Day’s section 18C amendments:

Family First Senator Bob Day put forward a sensible compromise – to remove the vague words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ from the [Racial Discrimination] Act but to retain the words ‘humiliate’ and ‘intimidate’ in the definition of offences – words which are at least relatively justiciable.

Despite his previous support of this, Turnbull said in Question Time recently that he would not be reopening the matter, and that ‘the government has no plans to change the Racial Discrimination Act at all’. This is the man who used his forensic skills in favour of freedom of speech and expression in the Spycatcher trial.

The Day amendment is supported by a number of government Senators, and was co-sponsored by Liberal Senators Cory Bernardi and Dean Smith as well as Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm. To have such a significant revolt right at the beginning of his prime ministership would be disastrous for Turnbull and would tar him further with the Rudd-Gillard image of unstable government.

Well worth reading.

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Why Sir John Kerr got it right 40 years ago

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While 11 November should be the day that we all remember the end of World War I and those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom, today also marks 40 years since the Whitlam government was dismissed by Governor-General Sir John Kerr. An event, like Woodstock and Watergate, which is cited ad infinitum by baby boomers determined to re-live their childhood to the fatigue of the rest of us.

The Whitlam government was Australia’s most erratic and incompetent. The 1975 budget was blocked by the opposition in the Senate – a tactic Labor used 169 times in opposition between 1949 and 1972 (the only difference was that they weren’t successful). After months of political wrangling, with the prime minister refusing to call an election, the opposition refusing to compromise and the people stuck in the middle, the Governor-General commissioned Malcolm Fraser to form a government on the condition that:

(a) his MPs pass the 1975 budget;

(b) he not introduce any major policies while he was only the caretaker prime minister;

(c) the dissolution proclamation include 21 blocked Whitlam government bills so that if Whitlam won the election he could pass them in a joint sitting of parliament; and that

(d) he immediately call a general election so that the people could decide the government.

There was no coup – there was an election. Gough Whitlam lost the 1975 election by the biggest landslide in Australian history, and lost heavily again in 1977.

For this, Sir John has been treated abysmally by history, with his memory and actions subject to bizarre allegations questioning his sobriety, the alleged impropriety of seeking legal advice (are people suggesting he should have spoken with nobody?), and even the involvement of America’s CIA.

Sir John Kerr did the best he could to navigate the massive egos of Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam, while also respecting the Constitution, finding a way for the budget to the passed and ensuring that the final decision was made by the Australian people.

His memory deserves a lot more respect.

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High Court decides separation of powers case

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The High Court today handed down its judgment on a case which tested “paperless arrest” laws, and the separation of powers itself, in the Northern Territory.

Relatively new arrest and detention powers in the territory added to the Police Administration Act (NT) gives a police officer the power to arrest and then detain a person for up to four hours without a warrant where the officer believes, on reasonable grounds, that the person has committed, was committing, or about to commit an ‘infringement notice offence‘. These offences range from the relatively minor, and somewhat peculiar offences, such as dumping a refrigerator or other container without first removing the door, to more serious public order laws prohibiting “riotous” behaviour.

It’s important to note that these powers had little oversight from the courts. Only after the four hours were up and someone was brought before the court was the judiciary involved. This formed an important plank of the plaintiff’s argument that the laws gave the executive a power to detain which was punitive or penal in character, and thus beyond the legislative power of the territorial government.

The court held that the four hour time limit is not penal, but administrative in character. However, the case does highlight whether such laws are appropriate. For instance, it’s unjustifiable to detain a person for four hours without recourse for dumping a refrigerator.

And while the power to arrest and detain for infringement notice offences already applies to 35 prescribed offences, the government can simply add more by passing new regulations. These laws deserve more scrutiny.


The High Court’s full judgment, and a summary of the case, can be found here.

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