When did dissent become discrimination?


In the Sunday Age today, Chris Berg looks at the Tasmanian anti-discrimination case against Archbishop Porteous, and the chilling effect of such laws on free speech:

[The Tasmanian anti-discrimination laws are] symptomatic of the spread of no-go areas in Australian public discourse. Governments increasingly believe that protecting us from being offended – on whatever spurious grounds – is more important than allowing us to speak our mind.

[There] is no caveat in the Tasmanian act that even purports to protect free expression… In a parliamentary debate in 2013, the Attorney-General dismissed concerns by insisting the bill “does not impinge on free speech; it provides protection from bullying”.  All words are cheap. The words of politicians – even when they’re interpreting their own legislation – are junk.Both supporters and opponents of gay marriage should be very unhappy with the Tasmanian case. Even if the Catholic Church successfully defends against the anti-discrimination complaint, damage has been done. Free-speech theorists talk about the “chilling effect” when the cost of defending oneself against baseless claims hampers the open expression of views.

Continue reading here.


Top 3 articles from this week you must read


Niall Ferguson

1. There is a crisis in Western universities: Read Ross Douthat’s article in the New York Times last Saturday on how academia have brought it on themselves

2. In the Boston Globe on Monday, Niall Ferguson drew a compelling parallel between contemporary Europe and the 5th century Fall of Rome

3. And in the Weekend Australian last Saturday ($), former Hawke/Keating government minister Peter Baldwin slammed academia’s obsession with race and political correctness.


Global survey shows Australia ranks 7th out of 38 countries in support for free expression


global survey published by the American Pew Research Center on Wednesday should give supporters of free speech some hope, after it showed Australians exhibit above average support of freedom of expression.

The results are based on responses to various questions relating to individual and media liberty. Broken down by question relating to individual liberty, it looks like this:

Freedo_Pew_Graph 1

One interesting aspect of this is that, according to the survey, the majority of Australian support people being free to make statements that are “offensive” to minority groups.

This is significant, as it suggests the suggests the 14 senators who have pledged to cross the floor in support of Family First senator Bob Day’s section 18C reforms – which propose to remove the words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ from the Racial Discrimination Act – are not out of step with the Australian people.

All of the data used in the graphs in this post is from the data given in the Pew Research Center’s global survey “Global support for principle of free expression, but opposition to some forms of speech”, which can be found here.


UK government picks gas and nuclear over wind


UK Energy Secretary Amber Rudd on Wednesday announced a reset of British energy policy, prioritising gas and nuclear power stations after acknowledging that the obsession with so-called green energy has gone too far.

Interestingly Ms Rudd has also said that wind and solar farms will be expected to pay for the extra costs they impose on the system due to their intermittency.

UK renewable energy subsidies currently total £68 per household per year and are expected to rise to £141 by 2020 and £226 by 2030. Economy-wide these subsidies will add up to £9.1 billion per year by 2020. But renewables still can’t provide reliable electricity.

However, proving that politicians like to walk both sides of the same street, the Minister also wants to phase-out coal-fired power stations by 2025. Mandating the end of coal when it is responsible for 29 per cent of the United Kingdom’s electricity and proposed new gas and nuclear plants are way behind schedule, is a bold call.

The problem is not coal – the problem is that government policies have discouraged the private sector from investing in modern coal power plants.

Governments should not be in the business of mandating which sources of energy are allowed to compete in the marketplace.


Hodgman flags review of state’s anti-discrimination laws


Good to see the Tasmanian premier at least recognises a problem. The Australian reports:

Tasmania is poised to wind back elements of its anti-discrimin­ation laws to ensure opponents of gay marriage are not silenced in the national debate on the issue.

Premier Will Hodgman, who supports same-sex marriage, yesterday flagged a review of the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act following a recent ruling that a booklet explaining Catholic opposition to the concept was a “possible breach” of the law.

“There is concern that it could become a landmark case and compromise some people’s ability to participate in the national debate as we head towards the plebiscite (on same-sex ­marriage),” Mr Hodgman said yesterday. “That is why we believe it is appropriate to look at these matters and assure ourselves the ­balance is right.”

What the premier should also realise is that regardless of the outcome of any case or conciliation, the damage is already done. That a case like Archbishop Porteous’ can go this far has a chilling effect on free speech.


The Nanny State: A failure of regulation


On 11 September, I testified on the lack of evidence in favour of regulation at a public hearing of the Senate’s “Nanny State” Inquiry at Parliament House in Canberra. As the Hansard transcript reveals, that led to a lively and good-natured exchange on the nature of regulation with the Chair, Senator Dastyari.

My testimony was based on my submission to the Inquiry (number 237) titled, “Regulating choice: The need for evidence“. I concluded from reviews of the experimental evidence on the effects of regulation, that the Iron Law of Regulation applies.

The Iron Law has been stated as;

There is no form of market failure, however egregious, which is not eventually made worse by the political interventions intended to fix it.

An honest belief in the value of regulation is presumably grounded in a faith that a wise and well-intentioned regulator could in practice increase total net welfare.

That belief is not obviously plausible, as it depends on a sequence of assumptions or conditions that are highly unlikely to apply in practice. Can you think of any regulation where the regulator has met all of the ten necessary conditions for successful regulation described on page 3 of my paper with Scott Armstrong?

Our research has investigated the effects of government regulation of speech (by way of mandatory disclaimers in advertising), corporate social responsibility and of the environment. We could find no evidence that regulation increased welfare – in most cases it caused harm. We have not found a regulation that would meet even one of the ten necessary conditions for successful regulation.


Unions campaign to retain power over industry super


The Australian Financial Review is reporting that the Australian Council of Trade Unions has launched a political campaign against the federal government’s proposed changes to industry superannuation.

Currently, under a sweetheart deal that typifies Australia’s incestuous workplace relations system, half of the directors of the five million member strong industry superannuation funds represent employer organisations and the other half represent unions. The selection of the default fund for many workers belongs with the Fair Work Commission.

The government recently asked the Productivity Commission to develop a better way to allocate default superannuation fund members to products and restated its earlier commitment to require at least one third of superannuation fund board members to be ‘independent’.

Superannuation in Australia is a two trillion dollar business and many workers get no say in where their money goes. The issue has even been examined in the Trade Union Royal Commission which looked at the leaking of CBUS member details to the CFMEU and how ‘choice of fund’ operates in the Transport Workers Union.

The people who manage these funds should be on those boards because of their financial expertise, not because they are in the right union or employer body. This process may mean such representatives are more susceptible to political divestment campaigns.

Make no mistake – the ACTU’s campaign is about protecting union power, not member interests.


Senate committee backs push to remove special privileges for environmentalists


This is from the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee’s report of the inquiry into amendments which would remove the special privilege available to environmentalists to conduct activist litigation:

The committee also notes the arguments put forward by those supporting the repeal of section 487, such as the costs to proponents and consequences for economic activity when major development projects are delayed by judicial review sought by groups granted standing by section 487. The committee also acknowledges the significant cost of these challenges to the Commonwealth. The Department of the Environment indicated that it had not recovered costs in the majority of cases where the Commonwealth had been successful in defending the validity of a decision.

The committee considers that the repeal of section 487 will not diminish the protection of Australia’s environment and the conservation of biodiversity and heritage provided by the [Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999]. … The committee recommends that the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Standing) Bill 2015 be passed.


Is there a grief emoji for the death of the English language?

There are no words.

That is at least according to the Oxford Dictionaries, which this year decided that rather than one of the more than one million words in the English language, an emoji deserved to be named the 2015 Word of the Year. To be precise, the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’.


Other options included the ‘sharing economy‘ and ‘Brexit‘, both of which would have been more appropriate and sensible, particularly given they are actually words.

Despite priding themselves as “the definitive source on language and the first point of reference”, Oxford Dictionaries, owned by Oxford University Press and responsible for publishing the Oxford English Dictionary, has effectively abandoned its post as the protector and defender of the English language.

Ironically, the motto of Oxford Dictionaries is “language matters”. Yes, it does.

Language provides us with the means to communicate, share our ideas and thoughts, and a way to connect with others or express our emotions. The English language has transformed the world over hundreds of years, spreading ideas, creating realms of imagination and new words through classical literature, and helping to fashion a modern world built on interconnection and interdependence.

Today, the English language is considered the universal language, or lingua franca, for business and communications. In a world where division is often highlighted, the English language stands today as a hallmark of Western Civilisation and a bridge between peoples.

The Oxford Dictionaries, however, seem more pre-occupied with being progressive or avant-garde than celebrating the complex, exciting and dynamic nature of the English language.

Giants of the literary world and Oxford University alumni TS Eliot, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien and Oscar Wilde would be rolling in their graves.


The failure of wind power on windless days


The always sensible Matt Ridley has written about the UK’s recent windless afternoon, which forced the National Grid to use “emergency measures” to keep the lights on, in a piece for The Times (reproduced on his own blog) saying:

  • The National Grid offered reserve generators up to 40 times the going rate to patch the electricity shortfall;
  • Britain’s low wind conditions tend to be replicated across Europe which means imported wind power can’t be relied upon (South Australia take note if you intend to rely on Victorian wind);
  • While happily pursuing renewable energy policies the UK has failed to invest in its existing or new coal, gas and nuclear power stations meaning that many now can’t be relied upon to plug gaps; and
  • Given that Britain (also like South Australia) has failed to invest in coal-fired power stations, diesel generators are now crawling out from under the carpet offering to be on standby for future power shortages.

A writer for The Guardian attempted to “debunk” Viscount Ridley’s piece by blaming… wait for it… coal!

It is fascinating that the core argument used in The Guardian is almost identical to that used in Australia following the recent South Australian blackout – that it isn’t the fault of the non-performing wind farms, but of the badly maintained back-up.

Blaming the guy forced to sit on the bench rather than the highly paid forward asleep by the goal is hardly quality advocacy.