NSW to pass laws rewarding ICAC


Terrible ($):

The NSW government will pass retrospective legislation to validate the independent Commission Against Corruption’s past actions, effectively overruling a High Court decision which restricted its powers to investigate private individuals.

Of course, the High Court did not “restrict” the powers of ICAC, but ruled that the commission was acting beyond its jurisdiction, as set out in the legislation.

It is appalling for the state government to effectively reward a state agency for arbitrarily misusing their power.



Aftermath of Eatock v Bolt not so ironic

In a forthcoming paper in the Melbourne University Law Review, Professor Adrienne Stone examines the “ironic” campaign to amend or repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, following the Federal Court decision in Eatock v Bolt [2011].

Unfortunately, Professor Stone missed a number of key facts. Sinclair Davidson has a must read post over on the Catallaxy Files, explaining just how error-riddled the article is.


Blocking websites is censorship


On The Drum today, the IPA’s Chris Berg discusses the looming copyright amendments:

There are lots of problems with this bill. Its language is absurdly vague and broad. What counts as “facilitating” copyright infringement? Maybe it would block sites that offer virtual private networks, perhaps – those VPNs that Malcolm Turnbull has been encouraging us all to use.

But these are legislative technicalities. More importantly, blocking websites is censorship. The bill is an internet filter, no matter how stridently the Abbott Government rejects the comparison.

For more on this bill, and the nature of intellectual property, continue reading here.

Read Chris’ expert comments to the senate inquiry into Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015, held last week, here.


The hidden benefits of the minor parties


Crossbench Senators Bob Day (South Australia) and David Leyonhjelm (New South Wales)

The senate crossbench has been the target of considerable contempt, since the 2013 election. Frustrated by the election of minor party candidates, the Australian political class is demanding reform. The frustration of failing to pass legislation has even prompted the Prime Minister to label the senate ‘feral’.

There are electoral reforms worth pursuing. But this contempt and hostility ignores the benefits of having minor party MPs.

Less constrained by electoral pragmatism, and the excessive party discipline that has infected Australian politics, minor party MPs are able to expand public debate and raise issues that would otherwise be unrepresented.

Immigration reform is on such example.

In an issues paper released on Friday, the Productivity Commission raised the prospect of a price-based immigration system—similar to the system proposed ($) by Nobel Prize winning economist, Gary Becker. As The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

The Australian government would sell the right to immigrate to Australia – with migrants no longer accepted based on their skills or family connections – under radical proposals being examined by the government’s independent think tank.

The Productivity Commission is investigating a price-based immigration system that would use entry fees as the primary determinant for who gains entry to Australia.

This reform would be enormously beneficial—as the IPA’s Jason Potts explained on The Conversation.

Rather than government determining the optimal number of immigrants, and the skills they should possess—knowledge the government does not have—immigration rates would be subject to supply and demand. Setting a price would attract those who most valued living in Australia, companies could attract employees by offering to pay their immigration fees, and a HECS style loan system could ensure poor people are not excluded.

Concerns that Australia’s welfare state would attract immigrants who refused to work could be solved by building a wall around the welfare state.

This proposed reform is not yet government policy. Lacking the support of either major party, it is unlikely to be implemented any time soon.

It is on the agenda because of an agreement between the government and Liberal Democratic Party Senator David Leyonhjelm.

Because he is not a member of a major party, Senator Leyonhjelm was able to expand Australia’s immigration debate beyond the narrow issues that have dominated it for more than a decade—457 visas and asylum seekers. The fundamental structure of our immigration system is now being discussed. And this is surely a good thing.


More bureaucracy gone mad


A PARK Orchards man says he will have to pay more than $17,000 in “green offsets” to axe 11 dead or diseased trees on his property.

Harry Miriklis wants to remove the ailing native trees to protect his children from falling branches and provide better vehicle access to his home.

But after applying for a permit, Mr Miriklis was told by Manningham Council he would need to stump up thousands of dollars through a broker to counterbalance the environmental loss of the trees.

One of the quotes from a broker for the offsets reached $17,820 — not including the cost of removal — with the money to be used to maintain a parcel of greenery in the Melton area.


Live and let live: the latest micronation a bastion of liberty


In one of the more fascinating recent news items, the worlds latest micro-nation has received its first 100 citizens, while another 300,000 more have applied.

Liberland, the self-proclaimed libertarian state along the Danube, also has a draft constitution, which includes such provisions as an absolute ban on budget deficits, and limiting Cabinet to five government (or “public administration”) departments only, can be seen here.

The founder, Vit Jedlicka, chose an non-populated parcel of land (about 7 square kilometres) which, due to the dissolution of the Yugoslav republic in the 1990s, had not been formally claimed by either Croatia or Serbia.

While such experiments tend to fail to gain legitimacy, its popularity so far may yet see Liberland become a capitalist haven like Monaco or Lichtenstein. More power to them.


High Court appointments show indifference to upholding the consitution

Australian_masthead_resizedThe federal government had only two opportunities this term to restore some pro-federalist balance to the High Court. Professor James Allan was scathing in The Australian on Friday:

[Y]ou might have thought an Abbott government would want to make High Court appointments based on, you know, who will take a ­conservative approach to interpreting our Constitution. That sort of thing. Instead, after seeing their two High Court appointments thus far, I basically haven’t got a clue what our Attorney-General George Brandis and Prime Minister Tony Abbott are treating as core factors in deciding whom they appoint. The most recent was Michelle Gordon. Was she an obvious “interpretively conservative” appointee? No. Sure, if your core criterion was “find the most palatable woman from Victoria” then fine. But why should that be the criterion? Is identity politics the main game in town now?

Continue reading here.


More research showing e-cigarettes can help smokers quit

France Europe Tobacco

Electronic cigarettes can help smokers to give up regular cigarettes, according to joint research from the Australian Catholic University and the University of Melbourne.

From a sample size of 1242 smokers, 18 per-cent reported that they gave up smoking by using e-cigarettes, while also helping those who continued to smoke to cut back on the number of cigarettes smoked.

From Dr Aziz Rahman, the lead researcher:

E-cigarettes are becoming an increasingly popular method of giving up smoking, especially for middle-aged smokers. As cigarettes contain more than 4,000 toxic chemicals and cancer causing agents, e-cigarettes are a better choice, in terms of a harm reduction strategy. However, we still do not know their long term health effects.

If the safety of e-cigarettes is proven in the long run, they may assist healthcare providers to address smoking cessation challenges more effectively.

As my colleague Simon Breheny argued here in The Daily Telegraph earlier this year, the Therapeutics Goods Administration should recognise the benefits and efficacy of e-cigarettes, and approve their use for Australians as a tool for quitting smoking.

The joint ACU/UM research can be read here.


The 5 best op-eds this week you must read


Dr Jennifer Oriel

1. In The Australian, Jennifer Oriel examined the ideology ($) which is driving the academic hysteria over Bjorn Lømborg’s appointment to a University of Western Australia think-tank.

2. With unelected government agencies in the United States proposing and adopting a staggering 80,000 pages of regulations in 2013, Ed Feulner asks the question: is the US ruled by politicians, or regulators?

3. In the United Kingdom, Leo McKinstry demolishes Labour leader Ed Miliband’s dangerous proposal to criminalise ‘Islamophobia’. Read his article here in the Daily Express.

4. David Harsanyi at  The Federalist  gave a powerful reminder that freedom of speech is does not depend on what ‘social good’ it may have.

5. Finally, former Treasurer Peter Costello had some common-sense budget advice for all governments this week. See it here in The Daily Telegraph.


Senate inquiry into the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015

Intellectual property

My colleague Chris Berg just gave expert evidence at the Senate inquiry into the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015. These were his opening remarks:

* * *

Copyright is a privilege granted by the state to authors of creative works for a specific, utilitarian purpose: to encourage the development of new creative works.

This is the proper frame in which to consider any changes to copyright law or any new mechanisms to control copyright infringement such as are proposed in the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2005 . To what extent will changes encourage or discourage the creation of new works?

Here parliament has a complicated balancing act to perform. Copyright constrains what we might be otherwise able to do with our property. It prevents us from exercising common law rights to how we might use our printing presses, musical and television equipment, or internet connections.

Continue Reading →