Submission: National Integrity Commission

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Last week, Simon Breheny and myself sent this submission to the Senate’s select committee relating to the establishment of a ‘National Integrity Commission’.

Drawing on the historical experience with state level anti-corruption agencies, we argue that a “federal ICAC” would lack accountability, invite abuses of power and wield coercive powers which violate the legal rights of individuals.

Such a body would have characteristics that are inconsistent with democratic principles and the rule of law.

Read our submission here.

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Annual reports now silent on senior public servants’ pay packets

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Details of salaries paid to senior federal public servants are no longer included in government departmental annual report, according to a news report in today’s Herald Sun:

In a blow to transparency, a requirement for the reports to reveal specific data on senior public servants’ remuneration has been quietly removed.

A Finance Department spokesman said this represented financial reporting “best practice”, and aligned the public sector with private firms.

But Institute of Public Affairs executive director John Roskam said the public deserved to know the pay details.

“After all, it’s our money and we’re paying for them. There’s no excuse for not being open and transparent about public service salaries in annual reports,” he said.

“It’s things like this that have the public lose faith in politics and politicians.”

Until recently, departmental annual reports included a list of salary bands for senior executives and the number of people in each band getting those salaries.

For example, the Department of Finance annual report for 2013-14 showed that the top earner enjoyed a total remuneration of $1.3 million while the second-highest-paid official got $408,223.

But such detailed information is missing from the department’s latest annual report – it provides only one figure of $20.9 million, showing the total remuneration for all senior executives.

The Herald Sun checked the 2014-15 annual reports of 16 other federal agencies, including the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and found the same situation.

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Obituary: Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal | 16 April 2012 – 18 April 2016

We note the passing of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, in Canberra this week, aged 4 years. The tribunal was abolished this week by the federal parliament after a short but intense battle with owner-drivers.

The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was established in 2012, under the Gillard Labor government and fathered by Labor minister Anthony Albanese. The tribunal’s godparents were the Transport Workers Union, which had campaigned for the wage setting body under the ruse of “road safety”.

As Grace Collier explained in The Australian:

In November 2011, Prime Minister Julia Gillard lunched with union powerbrokers at Kirribilli House. “She gave the unions everything they wanted,” Martin Ferguson later said. “It was ‘lock in behind me and I will deliver for you’.”

And Gillard did, in so many ways, although not all of these ways became apparent until much later on.

In 2012, not long before Gillard was overthrown by Kevin Rudd, “safe rates” legislation was passed and a new body, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, was set up. Hansard shows that in 2014, the Coalition’s Minister for Northern Australia Matthew Canavan reflected on the event: “I remember thinking, ‘I do not exactly know how this is going to deal with safety’ … it was something that was pushed by the Transport Workers Union at the time.”

The Coalition government made a commitment before the last election to review the tribunal. The review in 2014 recommended that the tribunal be stripped of its power to set mandatory rates. The system was reviewed again in 2016 which showed that the orders of the tribunal will result in a net cost to the economy in excess of $2 billion over fifteen years.

These reviews found no link between rates of pay and road safety.

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Australians want less spending, not more tax

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Last week “the fatuous 50” of usual left-wing suspects were calling for higher taxes and more spending, a move supported by The Age editorial yesterday.

As usual, the elites are out of step with mainstream opinion. A special question in Newspoll released yesterday has revealed Australians actually want a reduction in government spending, not more taxes:

A special Newspoll question found 39 per cent of voters believe the priority for the next government should be to reduce spending to pay down debt, with 59 per cent of Coalition voters backing this option, but just 27 per cent of Labor voters.

Reducing spending and using the money to cut taxes was backed by 26 per cent, with the result consistent across the political parties, including the Greens, where 24 per cent support tax cuts despite the party’s official position being to increase taxes.

Some 23 per cent supported increasing spending on government programs, with this option the most favoured among Labor voters (35 per cent) and Greens supporters (41 per cent), but by only one in 10 Coalition voters

A whopping 65 per cent of Australian voters support reducing government spending, to be spent on either reducing debt or lower taxes.

Australia’s public expenditure as a percentage of GDP has now surpassed the levels at the height of the GFC in 2007-08. The latest budget update revealed our national debt will reach $667 billion in the next 10 years, around $30,000 per a person. Our spending has reached extraordinary levels, placing a massive burden on future generations to pay back today’s excesses.

The message from the Australian people is clear: the government has a spending problem. The Turnbull government’s foremost responsibility in the upcoming budget is to fix it.

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So-called “Science Guy” open to jail-time for sceptics of a scientific theory

A scene from Explorer: Bill Nye's Global Meltdown. (Photo Credit: NG Studios)

Popular U.S. television personality Bill Nye is the latest public official to show contempt for free speech and intellectual inquiry.

Known for the PBS show he hosted in the 1990s, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Nye is a prominent advocate for action on climate change. And when Climate Depot’s Marc Morano recently asked him what he thought of Robert Kennedy Jr.’s comments that some climate sceptics should be prosecuted as war criminals, Nye seemed supportive. The Washington Times reports:

“We’ll see what happens… In these cases, for me, as a taxpayer and voter, the introduction of this extreme doubt about climate change is affecting my quality of life as a public citizen… So I can see where people are very concerned about this, and they’re pursuing criminal investigations as well as engaging in discussions like this.”

The irony of quashing dissent in the scientific community was apparently lost on Nye, who added “That there is a chilling effect on scientists who are in extreme doubt about climate change, I think that is good.”

The mere fact such a position could be seriously contemplated by a public intellectual, let alone a member of the scientific community — which holds scepticism as a central plank of the scientific method — is a sad reflection on society.

But this won’t come as a surprise to readers of FreedomWatch. Whether through trigger warning and microagression policies in the U.S., the scourge of “no-platforming” in the U.K., free speech is under a sustained attack across the Western world.

Last year alone Australia witnessed Bjørn Lomborg’s acceptance, and subsequent expulsion, from a position at the University of Western Australia — not for being a climate sceptic, but for being insufficiently supportive of the anti-fossil fuel agenda promulgated by the Greens.

Then there is the atrocious behaviour of an academic at Queensland University of Technology, Cindy Prior, who has taken a group of students to court under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. The students supposed crime was a few innocuous Facebook posts about being kicked out of an indigenous-only computer lab. These statements included:

“Just got kicked out of the unsigned indigenous computer room. QUT [is] stopping segregation with segregation” [and] “My Student and Amenity fees are going to furbish rooms in the university where inequality reigns supreme? I believe if we have to pay to support these sorts of places, there should at least be more created for general purpose use, but again, how do these sorts of facilities support interaction­ and community within QUT? All this does is encourage separation and inequality.”

I still have enough faith in the Australian legal system to hope this case will be thrown out. But it is still likely to leave these young students with excessive legal bills of more than $200,000.

It’s at this point that I’m reminded of the words of the great NSW upper house MP, Peter Phelps:

“We should not be so surprised that the contemporary science debate has become so debased. At the heart of many scientists — but not all scientists — lies the heart of a totalitarian planner.”

Maybe Phelps’ statement could be extended to other areas of academia, as well.

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IPA research: The state of legal rights in Australia is getting worse

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Great coverage ($) from Chris Merritt today in The Australian on new IPA research showing the declining state of fundamental legal rights in federal legislation passed in 2015:

The audit, by the Institute of Public Affairs, shows that federal statutes contain 290 provisions breaching legal rights, up from 262 the year before.

The attack on legal rights is ­focused on the privilege against self-incrimination where federal laws now contain 116 separate breaches of this privilege compared with 108 in 2014.

The fastest-growing category of breaches is laws that abrogate the right to silence.

The number of breaches of this right has more than doubled — up from 14 in 2014 to 33 last year.

“The long-term trend indicates that more legal rights are being breached over time,” said Simon Breheny, the IPA’s director of ­policy.

… While the Coalition government had raised expectations by commissioning an inquiry by the Australian Law Reform Commission into fundamental rights and freedoms, the government had not lived up to those expectations.

Mr Breheny believed regulators, bureaucrats and politicians still considered it legitimate to abrogate legal rights in the interests of regulatory goals.

“Over time, there has been an erosion of respect for the importance of common law rights and fundamental legal rights and this culture has led to a bureaucracy and political class that consistently undermines rights,” Mr Breheny said.

“Labor and Coalition governments are equally responsible and the failure of either side of politics to arrest this trend is deplorable.”

The IPA’s report, Legal rights audit 2015, can be accessed here.

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Now the wowsers want a tax on soft drinks

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Last week they were calling for an increase in the the drinking age, this week our friendly neighborhood Nanny Statists want a tax on soft drinks.

ABC News reports on a research from the Obesity Policy Coalition, the Cancer Council and Diabetes Victoria calling for a 20 per cent tax on soft drinks:

“Even a small change in consumption can have a big impact over time; a small change in body mass index and weight can have a big impact on someone’s health outcomes,” Jane Martin, from the Obesity Policy Coalition said.

“This would have a bigger impact on people who are high consumers, so particularly young people, and they’re more price sensitive.

“The potential to change behaviour in adolescents … who are high consumers, drink a lot of soft drink, that can be very impactful because that can take them through the rest of their life and change habits early.”

Continue Reading →

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Left wing establishment have no idea about the real world

In The Australian today ($), John Roskam responded to recent calls from the usual suspects for tax increases:

A high-profile group of unionists, academics and former public servants who oppose a corporate tax cut in the budget has been dubbed “the fatuous 50” by a conservative think tank.

Institute of Public Affairs chief John Roskam said many in the group had “spent so long on the public teat and no doubt have ­defined benefits superannuation schemes and won’t be affected by changes to superannuation”.

“Their real world experience, for so many of these people is limited to the university common room. They have little idea about what it takes to run a business, ­employ people and create wealth,” he said.

Mr Roskam’s jibe sparked an immediate backhander from the progressive Australia Institute think tank, which declared the group spoke for most Australians who wanted a clampdown on tax concessions for “the big end of town”.

In an open letter published in Fairfax newspapers, the group urged Malcolm Turnbull “not to cut tax at this time — and certainly not for companies”.

The letter comes as the government debates income and company tax levels as a proportion of GDP, which next year is set to rise above its long-term average of the past 30 years, and bracket creep puts more workers into higher tax brackets.

The “fatuous 50” letter also cite OECD data that suggests Australia is a low taxing country. Comparing us to other countries which are even worse is irrelevant, and reveals nothing about what Australian workers are experiencing.

In fact, recent OECD data confirms that Australian are working longer to pay the tax government already demands of them. I’ve collected the data hear:

Working-Longer-to-pay-higher-taxes

For a single, childless individual at the income level of the average worker, you have to work an extra week to pay your taxes than seven years ago (and this doesn’t even account for compulsory superannuation).

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Culture of victimhood: The rise of argumentum ad victimam

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Now that argumentum ad hominem has become a bit old hat, (unless of course said hominem is in a category utterly beyond the pale, such as old white males), clearly there is a need for another form of argument which;

(a) doesn’t require an analysis of the issue at stake,

(b) has the firepower to shut down the opposing view, and

(c) provides an opportunity for ‘virtue signalling’.

Luckily the authoritarian, censorious and would-be virtuous among us can call upon what I would label argumentum ad victimam. Habitually employed by the opponents of any reduction in government spending, it is commonly heard at budget time. Indeed, it sometimes seems that the only examination of the budget that matters is an ad victimam one. Should an incumbent Treasurer propose, for example, to reduce the public spend on childcare by 0.5 per cent over the next four years, the Opposition and press will, in the blink of an eye, produce some benighted parent whose life will be made intolerable by their child no longer being eligible for subsidy.

The victim naturally has to elicit our sympathy, so welfare recipients need to be chosen with a little care. However, now that most of the population is in receipt of other people’s money by way of various ‘benefits’ it isn’t difficult to find personable victims for any planned curb in public spending. Children are a pretty sure bet, but even aged pensioners lacking obvious sex-appeal can enjoy their 15 minutes (or less) of fame.

This partly explains the curious phenomenon of the rise and rise of welfare expenditure in Western democracies, because it is both difficult to feel sympathy for the rich people (most of whom, let’s face it, are old white males) forced to cough up a few more tax dollars every week, and easy to feel sympathy for the children who will probably end up on drugs if they don’t get subsidised childcare.

It is not only in the arena of welfarism however, where we see the ad victimam technique employed; during the term of the previous federal government footage of a mistreated bullock in an Indonesian abattoir brought about the shutdown overnight of the entire live cattle trade to that country. A senior member of the same administration lamented, after a failed attempt to regulate the Australian press, that it might have succeeded had they had the cunning to parade a victim of Big Press (also known as Rupert Murdoch) before the Australian people.

Similarly, when Mark Steyn spoke in support of repeal of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act on Q&A recently, the response from a Labor politician on the panel was to tell the story of a child called a “half-caste” by a neighbour, in order to convince us of the critical need for the existing legislation (which incidentally did not prevent this allegedly happening).

However shallow its ethical and intellectual basis, there is no doubt that ad victimam can be a very effective technique in debate. There is a nice illustration of this from the field of public health, where the anti-vaccination movement has gained considerable traction by emphasising the harm done very rarely to individual children by vaccines, whilst failing utterly to acknowledge the enormous benefit of vaccination to countless children and the wider community.

So what is one to do for example, if invited onto the Q&A panel and served up an argumentum ad victimam? Well, as in the case of an ad hominem attack, if one is alert to the technique, at least one can recognise it for what it is. I would suggest pointing out that good intentions are not of themselves a sufficient basis for government action (and indeed if used as such almost inevitably result in unintended and unfortunate consequences).

The making of sound law requires sound principles, so that rather than focussing on individual cases, however appealing that may seem, we ought to be looking at the underlying principles as they apply to the population as a whole – but I acknowledge that these arguments are not easy to make in a public forum where issues are adjudicated by soundbite (and that is most of them).

There is a saying amongst lawyers that hard cases make for bad laws; perhaps we might borrow that concept and assert that pitiable victims make for bad laws.

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Queensland’s proposed tree laws are the very worst kind of red tape

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Today I have a piece in Queensland Country Life arguing the new proposed vegetation clearing laws in Queensland will halt economic growth, suppress entrepreneurship, and damage our international competitiveness.

The strict changes will also reverse the onus of proof, retrospectively enforce the laws back to 17 March 2016, and remove exemptions for clearing high value agricultural land.

This is the latest in a series of contentious political games between the left and right of politics, with farmers and land owners sitting in between:

Jointly understanding that clearing is necessary for growth, and that farmers have the incentive to protect and cultivate their own land, meant very few clearing controls prior to the 1990s.

However, as the 1990s came so too did the growth and spread of conservation campaigns. Legislation changes in 1999 and 2004 largely phased out broadscale land clearing by the end of 2006.

Thankfully, in 2013 the then Newman government relaxed the clearing laws. But now the Labor government, following through on an election promise, will take us back to the 2006-2013 era when almost no broadscale clearing occurred:

Of course the environment must be protected and conserved. But what happened to the importance of economic growth and development?

Effective agricultural regulation draws a reasonable line between environmental protection and agricultural production.

It is undeniable that efficient agricultural production requires the felling of trees. By entirely preventing such clearing—even for high value productivity land—policy makers have clearly lost sight of the real purpose of regulation.

The proposed bill has been referred to a state parliamentary committee, which is due to report in June this year.

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