Education cannot be a safe space


In The Drum this week I looked at the movement in American higher education towards trigger warnings and safe spaces – apparently benign initiatives that are starting to morph into a distinctly illiberal and counterproductive ideology:

The entire higher education experience is being reconceptualised as a zone of post-trauma, in which students demand faculty protect them from the expression and thoughts of others.

Using the language of psychological harm, ideas are condemned, rather than rebutted. Students can receive “pain” from the decision of another person to write an email. It is wrong to “privilege” free speech, a mere “abstract right”, over personal emotional experience.

It’s hard to think of anything more contrary to the purpose of education – which is, in the broadest sense, the systematic exposure to ideas outside personal experience – than that.

Continue reading here.


India seeks $100b per year renewable energy fund ahead of Paris climate talks


With COP21 fast approaching, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked G20 countries to hurry up and allocate money to the UN’s Green Climate Fund so that the Fund can start spending $100 billion per year on the deployment of renewable energy in developing countries.

Yes, you read that right – the $100 billion Green Climate Fund is actually expected to allocate $100 billion per year, which logically means that the Fund will need over $1 trillion in the kitty.

In fact, the Indian government’s submitted proposal to COP21 notes that:

While this would evolve over time, a preliminary estimate suggests that at least USD 2.5 trillion (at 2014-15 prices) will be required for meeting India’s climate change actions between now and 2030.


Of course while accepting money for renewables with one hand, India will still be increasing COemissions by 90 per cent over the next 15 years, with China’s CO2 emissions to rise by 150 per cent over the same period.

But you are unlikely to hear about this from the environmental movement or mainstream media. Western nations like Australia, who actually pledge to cut carbon dioxide emissions, are criticised for not doing enough, while developing countries who intend to increase emissions are praised for “cutting emissions intensity.” The two measurements are completely different.

Take a look at how the The Guardian and the ABC covered China and India’s COP21 submissions (emissions intensity) versus how Australia’s target (actual emissions) was described on the ABC and in The Conversation.

Given that the Australian government announced last December that it would donate $200 million to the Fund (not enough for the Greens), will co-chair the Fund in 2016, and is still to figure out how to actually achieve and pay for its 26-28 per cent reductions, it appears that Australian taxpayers will be paying for this hypocrisy many times over.


Tobacco control measures still not having the desired impact


The above graph is taken from the KPMG’s latest report into the Australian illicit tobacco market, which was released today. It shows the volume of illicit tobacco consumption, and the proportion of the total tobacco market which is attributable to that illicit consumption.

As you can see, in recent years, where the federal government has become even more active in the tobacco market, mandating certain rules of packaging and frequently increasing taxes, the illicit tobacco rate is steadying after a sharp increase between 2012 and 2014.

Since the same point 12 months ago, total tobacco consumption in Australia has decreased 0.1 per cent, while the share of that market attributed to illicit tobacco is steady at 14.3 per cent.


When you consider that long term tobacco trends show declining consumption, and the federal government’s annual 12.5 per cent excise increases, a total decrease in 0.1 per cent must be very underwhelming for those public health experts who for too long have applauded the “success” story of artificial government controls in the tobacco market.

Illicit tobacco maintains a significant proportion of the Australian market, and total consumption has remained practically unchanged. Some success.


Wrong perspective on native vegetation

Here’s this issue with native vegetation, with environmentalists and the like concerned by how many trees are cut down to build roads:

However, there is encouraging evidence VicRoads is willing to find ways to reduce the environmental damage of its projects, if road users are also willing to accept a cut to the speed limit.

In recent weeks it changed its proposal for a road widening project in Rushworth in northern Victoria that would have killed 100 trees, after the authority met with community anger.

A third of those trees will be retained in the new design, which reduces the road’s speed limit from 100km/h to 80km/h. The lower limit means a narrower road reserve can be created.

That’s right: the speed limit was slashed to spare approximately 33 trees.

Of course, there is a serious native vegetation issue: that landowners are not compensated for the loss of rights over what they do with their own land arising from native vegetation laws.


Inheritance tax: A harmful solution to the revenue deficiency non-problem


The latest bad policy idea to come out of the woodwork, encouraged by the Turnbull government’s continuing refusal to rule‑in or rule‑out anything, is the suggestion that Australia reintroduce inheritance taxes.

The Marxian economist based at University of Sydney, Frank Stilwell, last week recommended a tax targeting bequests in excess of $2 million, believing ‘the wealthy … can make the payments without social distress.’

A similar suggestion was made by columnist Tim Dick: ‘inheritance tax, estate tax, death duty ‑ call it what you will ‑ a tax on large inherited windfall gains should be a part of any fair tax system.’

As recounted in this paper, Australian governments have not imposed any form of inheritance tax since the early 1980s.

This has meant, thankfully, generations of Australians have enjoyed a large measure of freedom in electing who they can pass their accumulations to, without the grabbing hand of the state taking their slice (although, it should be noted, government does this, and excessively at that, during one’s lifetime by taxing income, consumption, and so on).

These taxes are highly damaging in that they reduce the rate of investment pivotal to economic growth, and are particularly prone to tax evasion. They are also often seen as a solution for suppressing wealth inequality ‑ debatable given it would diminish incentives for people to aspire to become rich themselves ‑ but it doesn’t address several direct causes of government‑induced inequality such as land use regulatory restrictions, ultra‑low interest rates by central banks, and corporate welfare.

All in all, inheritance taxation is a terrible idea for Australia and the government should swiftly rule it out.


Abbott discusses 18C on the Bolt Report


This exchange on the Bolt Report earlier today is worth a read:

Back home, you dropped reforms to the Racial Discrimination Act, to allow more free speech, saying this would alienate the Muslim community, was that decision a mistake, don’t we need more debate about race and about Islam.
Well we certainly need to have a very vigorous community conversation on these subjects. We need to face up to the facts that Islamist terrorism is a deadly threat to everyone who doesn’t share a particular mindset.
And the Racial Discrimination Act, was that a mistake to drop the reforms?
And Andrew, what’s been absolutely obvious, for more than a year now, is that this would be terrorist empire is coming after everyone who doesn’t share their particular world view.
And the Racial Discrimination Act, was it a mistake to drop that?
When it comes to Section 18c, I made the decision, that there were some forms of speech in this country that I don’t want to see at all, I don’t want to see the hate preacher’s at work, I don’t want to see the advocacy of genocide and if as prime minister…
Just going back to the Racial Discrimination Act, was that a mistake to drop that reform?
No I don’t think it was a mistake, I think the circumstances had changed from three years ago when we made that commitment, to twelve months ago, when we dropped that commitment, because what we’ve seen, in more recent times, is the additional effectiveness and impact of these hate preachers. Now, I’m not going to go around and on the one hand and say that speech should be absolutely free, and frankly that I would like to close down some of these hate preachers because what they are doing, it may not strictly speaking be incitement to violence and terrorism, but it is effectively justifying violence and terrorism and I doubt very much that there should be a place for that in our society at this time.

The full interview can be viewed here.

Abbott’s attempt to link section 18C and hate preachers is misleading. Here’s why.

Complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission under section 18C are not made public, but if the dispute resolution process at the commission is unsuccessful, the case goes to court. And no court case has been brought against the hate preachers Abbott is talking about under section 18C.

Abbott is right to be concerned with incitement to violence. But failing to see the vital distinction between threats of violence, incitement to violence and violence itself on the one hand, and the use of language which offends, insults, or humiliates on the other is dangerous. There are several laws covering that first category of conduct (here is a non-exhaustive list of examples from around the country: section 545B of the New South Wales Crimes Act outlaws intimidation or annoyance by violence; section 75 of the Queensland Criminal Code outlaws threatening violence; section 338E of the Western Australian Criminal Code Act Compilation Act outlaws intimidation; section 19 of the South Australian Criminal Law Consolidation Act outlaws unlawful threats; section 192 of the Tasmanian Criminal Code makes illegal the causing of an apprehension of fear; section 35A of the Australian Capital Territory Crimes Act outlaws threats of violence; section 200 of the NT Criminal Code Act outlaws threats), and there ought to be none covering the second category.

This is the heart of the debate about section 18C. The distinction between words which cause violence and words which cause hurt feelings is critical to the question of appropriate legal limits on speech. Abbott is wrong to blur that divide.


Another problem with the ICAC “reforms”

The NSW government assures us that ICAC won’t be able to initiate prosecutions without DPP approval. A report in today’s Australian reveals how problematic that still is:

The NSW corruption watchdog handed over evidence to the ­Director of Public Prosecutions that allegedly omitted statements made in favour of former NSW SES commissioner Murray Kear before his criminal trial.

State Emergency Service assistant commissioner Mark Morrow gave a long statement to ICAC that is understood to include material supporting Mr Kear that was then not provided to the DPP.

The evidence emerged … on October 14 in a case between ICAC and Mr Kear, who is charged with breaching the Whistleblowers Act. The alleged omission casts doubt over the ­effectiveness of NSW Premier Mike Baird’s compromise for the DPP to act as a check on ICAC.

The latest claim follows ICAC’s investigation into former Labor minister Ian Macdonald — who faces charges of misconduct in public office — where evidence ­favourable to him by Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese was suppressed.

The practice of suppressing ­exculpatory evidence from public hearings could be even more widespread, with ICAC Inspector David Levine confirming he had received several complaints.


It should never be a crime to offend a person

Reported today in The Australian:

Sydney’s Archbishop Anthony Fisher said it was “truly alarming” that any Australian would face proceedings before a tribunal for stating traditional Christian ­beliefs.

“Catholics, like the overwhelming majority of Aus­tralians, support freedoms of religion and speech,” Archbishop Fisher said. “Just as no one should be ­ridiculed or demeaned in the ­marriage debate, so too no one should be dragged before tribunals merely for stating one side of that debate.”

He said fair-minded readers of the bishops’ booklet “Don’t Mess With Marriage” would see that it was carefully worded and compassionate, and not designed to provoke or hurt.

… The commission’s decision was also attacked by champions of freedom of speech.

“This case highlights the ­attack on free speech represented by anti-discrimination law — it should never be a crime to offend a person,” said Simon Breheny, of free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.


Top 3 articles from this week you must read


Conor Friedersdorf

1. In London’s Telegraph on Saturday, Charles Moore argues that judges in the the home of the common law have too much power and need to be reined in

2. On Monday, Conor Friedersdorf highlighted in The Atlantic the new intolerance of student activism, and how a dispute over Halloween costumes devolved into an effort to censor opposing views

3. And in The Spectator, writer and historian Hal GP Colebatch has an excellent piece describing the political danger Prime Minister Turnbull is exposing himself to by opposing any reform to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act ($).


NSW Young Liberal President warns against “muscled-up” ICAC


NSW Young Liberal President Alex Dore has a terrific piece in the Sydney Morning Herald today criticising moves to grant increased powers to the Independent Commission Against Corruption:

…it makes sense to reconsider ICAC’s structure and reach, but time and time again ICAC has sought to do the opposite. Rather than work within the confines of its jurisdiction, it has sought to expand it.

Earlier this year, it sought to argue that all sorts of acts – for example, lying to a public official – should constitute “corrupt conduct” and therefore fit within the jurisdiction of ICAC to investigate.

It took an appeal by the eminently capable Margaret Cunneen for the NSW Supreme Court and the High Court to reject ICAC’s overstep. How many others could command Ms Cunneen’s intellect, resources, and guts to successfully do the same?

“[ICAC’s interpretation] would also enable the ICAC to exercise its extraordinary coercive powers (with consequent abrogation of fundamental rights and privileges) in areas ranging well beyond the ordinary understanding of corruption in public administration,” read the majority High Court judgment.

But this defeat, and the corollary legal costs, has done nothing to dent ICAC’s ambitions. This week, the state government has given ICAC the power to launch criminal prosecutions for common law offences by issuing a court attendance notice on the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions. It insists that it is simply restoring powers rejected by a local court judgment and that it can already do so for statutory offences.

In a liberal democracy, conservatism demands that institutions that have served us well be protected: the rule of law, including procedural fairness, is amongst them.

One of the great things about Australians is our healthy skepticism of any institution which gains too much power, and if we’re honest with ourselves, isn’t that exactly what ICAC has become?

Read the full article here.