Senate motion in support of free speech defeated

Nationals senator Matt Canavan moved this very sensible, agreeable motion in the Senate on Monday, noting:

(a) the important role freedom of speech plays in the exercise of public debate;

(b) that informed public debate requires the expression of different views, even if you disagree with them;

(c) that this nation has fought wars for democracy, for freedom of speech and for the right to protest; and

(d) that attempts by the Australian Greens and their supporters to introduce legislation banning peaceful protest from public areas is an attack on a fundamental right and should be opposed.

Somehow, this inoffensive motion was defeated: 29 noes to 29 ayes:


There was little debate prior to the vote, with Greens senator Larissa Waters (Qld) the only one to make a statement, indicating that the hostility to freedom of speech this time was due to the elevation of the right to walk towards certain buildings (in this case, providers of abortion services) without seeing something you disagree with.

It is worth noting that crossbench senators Dio Wang and John Madigan both voted yes to the motion. It’s very encouraging to see crossbench support of free speech generally, as it may indicate support for free speech specifically – including section 18C reform.


ICAC’s “abuse of the process”


From The Australian today:

ICAC investigator Paul Grainger arrived early on the morning of July 30 last year, with a “notice to produce” when he ordered sales associate Sophia Tilley and her boyfriend Stephen Wyllie to hand over their mobile phones.

ICAC officers Tim Fox and Sharon Loder took two mobile phones belonging to Ms Cunneen, a deputy senior crown prosecutor, using a similar form, signed by ICAC Commissioner Megan Latham on July 23 last year.

[Alan Sullivan QC] said the purpose of a “notice to produce” was to require a person’s attendance at a nominated time, at which point they would produce the requested materials.

It would be quite clearly, in my view, an abuse of the process to try to rely upon this document for an officer of ICAC to attend at someone’s house and then say, ‘I’m attending here, you give the documents to me’,” he said. The notice “cannot be used as a substitute for a search warrant“.

And yet, the NSW parliament is debating whether or not to give this lawless agency the power to launch its own prosecutions. The government has been pushed to amend a bill to specify that the power to launch a prosecution does not apply to ICAC unless it has approval from the Crown prosecutors, which is a marginal improvement to a bad law.

Let’s talk about abolition instead.


Polling reveals voter hostility to GST increase

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There has been much discussion from within the Australian policy commentariat for increasing the burden of the GST on taxpayers, but it would be wise to ask what do voters think of the idea?

Of course, the Turnbull government hasn’t offered any plan, and we don’t even know if the next election will be fought on the issue, but snippets of focus group polling suggest the punters might not like the prospect of a GST rate increase or base broadening:

Swing voters remain hostile towards a GST increase, according to research that echoes rising fears among the Coalition backbench that talk of an increased or broadened consumption tax is eroding support for reform.

The focus group polling, conducted by veteran pollster Tony Mitchelmore, underscores the challenge facing the government in that it finds swing voters tend to perceive talk of an increased GST in isolation and regard it as “unaffordable”, “making the cost of living even worse”, and “hitting poor people”.

The polling was conducted after Malcolm Turnbull supplanted Tony Abbott as Prime Minister and canvassed the views of marginal seat voters in western Sydney who switched from Labor to the Coalition at the 2013 election.

The partisan cynic might counter by saying the pollster concerned has been involved in Labor Party campaigns, but this doesn’t diminish the veracity of the basic point that the GST isn’t harmless, and that raising it further will only cause greater harm. It has been estimated an average family could be worse off in the order of thousands of dollars annually.

As I have said many times, it is best not to go down the European path by letting the GST‑increase genie out of the bottle and it seems the voters know this, too.


Is a sugar tax such a bad idea?


Nick Cater takes down the ‘sucrophobes’ in his column ($) in The Australian today:

The first thing that should trouble us about the sucrophobes is the simplicity of their proposal. The social, psychological and physical causes of obesity are complex. Unwanted kilos of body mass do not succumb to miracle cures, raising the price of sugar ­included.

Equally revealing is the fact its advocates seldom talk about revenue. It suggests their proposal is not principally about collecting money but has a far more lofty purpose.

Rest assured, the Obesity Policy Coalition tells us in its submission to the government’s tax review, a sugar-sweetened beverage tax would raise “considerable revenue” while increasing demand for water and low-fat milk. Yet neither proposition is backed by evidence; we are expected to take them on trust.

Fat tax proposals, like so many public policy blunders, are driven by the imperative to do something in the face of an imagined crisis. We have been struck by an “obesity pandemic”, we are told. Health costs are not just rising, they are “spiralling out of control”.

The sucrophobes back their arguments with scareynomics — the use of terrifyingly big numbers in an attempt to persuade us that their absurd proposal makes ­perfect economic sense.

If we are to believe a recent report from Obesity Australia, for example, obesity costs Australia $58 billion, a figure equivalent to 40 per cent of the health budget.


Victorian taxi industry waves the white flag


After a year-long campaign of misinformation, the Victorian Taxi Association (VTA) has finally raised the white flag. The Guardian reports:

Victoria’s Taxi Association has abandoned industrial action and campaigning as a response to Uber, admitting the industry has not responded well to customer criticism.

On Monday the association’s chief executive, David Samuel, announced an initiative calling for honest feedback from taxi customers so that the industry could adapt and respond.

To say they haven’t responded well to customer criticism is putting it mildly. As customers unhappy with the level service, availability, and convenience of traditional taxis have gradually abandoned them for new competitors like Uber, the VTA has responded with fear-mongering and calls for government crackdowns.

Their favourite claim was that Uber is unregulated, and therefore unsafe.

On the first point, Uber drivers is not “unregulated”. They are regulated by the same road rules and laws that cover all drivers. They are also subject to a variety of safety measures, which include third party criminal background checks.

Perhaps most importantly, there are quality control and feedback measures embedded in the Uber app, which are intrinsic to their business model. As I argued in the Herald Sun in May, this not only makes Uber (and competitors like Lyft) more convenient than traditional taxis, it also makes them safer.

At the very least, the Victorian Taxi Association seems to have finally realized that this strategy will not work.

The industry’s only chance of survival is to adapt, innovate, and compete with Uber — and future competitors — in the marketplace. Something which, so far, they have failed to do.

But to be fair, this isn’t entirely the taxi industry’s fault. Decades of government protection insulated the industry from competition, lowering the quality of service, and making them less responsive to customer demands. The industry benefited from this protection for decades, time will tell if it will be the cause of their downfall.

The Victorian Taxi Association’s olive branch is a step towards positive legislative reform. Perhaps if they had spent less time attacking their critics — like yours truly — we might have got to this point sooner.

For more on the sharing economy, check out the IPA’s paper by Chris Berg and Darcy Allen: The sharing economy: How over-regulation could destroy an economic revolution.


Another lazy tax grab

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Latika Bourke at the Sydney Morning Herald reports on a Labor commitment to increase the tobacco excise if elected:

Labor is planning to raise taxes on cigarettes if elected to pay for the so-called Gonski education reforms, potentially pitting a slug on smokers against any Coalition plan to increase the GST rate or impose it on fresh food.

Sources have told Fairfax Media that the federal opposition is considering another round of three 12.5 per cent increases, which sources said would net $40 billion over 10 years.

The increase would push up the cost of cigarettes in Australia to well beyond $1 per stick, making Australia’s tobacco among the most expensive in the world.

This is mindless policy from an opposition that has offered very little by way of substantive ideas for reform. Instead of engaging in a thorough discussion about taxes, revenue, spending, and the size of government Labor has opted for rank intellectual laziness in the form of yet another attack on smokers.

On the plus side, Labor has handed the Liberal Party a great opportunity to stand up for its values.


New challenge to Adani Mine


The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has announced today that it will be challenging the federal government’s approval of Adani’s Carmichael coal mine in remote western Queensland.

Quelle surprise!

The ACF is alleging that the minister may not have considered the effect of the mine’s carbon dioxide emissions on the Great Barrier Reef – or the mine’s potential impact on the Black Throated Finch.

If the mine does manage to get up, it will provide thousands of jobs, billions in taxation and export income over its predicted 60 year life, and provide the means to open up that part of Queensland to significant long-term economic development.

FreedomWatch warned last month that environmentalists had emailed supporters to say that they were going to run another case – as soon as they figured out who would do it and “who will play which roles”.

This is vexatious litigation pure and simple. The so-called right to object is being twisted into a self-declared right to obstruct.

The federal governments proposed amendments to federal environmental laws to only allow genuinely aggrieved people to appeal approvals must be revisited and passed as soon as possible.


Reach rule set to go


An exciting development:

Media reform will be discussed by cabinet this month, with Malcolm Turnbull poised to abolish the population reach rule and television licence fees in the current parliamentary term.

Despite strong opposition from some players that led to the plan being ditched earlier this year, a recommendation to cabinet and a public policy announcement could be made by Comm­unications Minister Mitch Fifield as soon as this week, sources say.

A decision in the sitting week of November 23 is most likely, ­because speculation suggests draft legislation is yet to be framed, ­limiting the ability for quick ­mergers and acquisitions, as happened within days of the 2007 cross-media ownership changes when Nine and Seven both sold to private equity partners.

More at The Australian ($).

This reform is well overdue. It’s been in Turnbull’s sights for some time and the new communications minister, Senator Mitch Fifield, has also put it at the top of his agenda.


Email: Senator Eric Abetz the 14th senator to support freedom of speech

Parliamentary support for free speech continues to grow.

Liberal senator Eric Abetz (Tasmania) has encouraged his party to throw their support behind amendments to remove the words “offend” and “insult” from section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

See the full list of current senators who are on the record in support of changes to section 18C here.

The damage to science from global warming


On Thursday, an important essay by Matt Ridley was published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, categorically detailing the distortion of scientific debate, and the damage to science itself, brought about by global warming alarmists.

He says:

At the heart of the debate about climate change is a simple scientific question: can a doubling of the concentration of a normally harmless, indeed moderately beneficial, gas, from 0.03% of the atmosphere to 0.06% of the atmosphere over the course of a century change the global climate sufficiently to require drastic and painful political action today? In the end, that’s what this is all about. Most scientists close enough to the topic say: possibly. Some say: definitely. Some say: highly unlikely. The ‘consensus’ answer is that the warming could be anything from mildly beneficial to dangerously harmful: that’s what the IPCC means when it quotes a range of plausible outcomes from 1.5 to 4 degrees of warming.

On the basis of this unsettled scientific question, politicians and most of the pressure groups that surround them are furiously insistent that any answer to the question other than ‘definitely’ is vile heresy motivated by self-interest, and is so disgraceful as to require stamping out, prosecution as a crime against humanity, investigation under laws designed to catch racketeering by organized crime syndicates, or possibly the suspension of democracy.

You can find this must-read essay here. Matt Ridley also delivered the 2013 CD Kemp Lecture for the IPA, ‘Freedom and Optimism: Humanity’s Triumph.’ You can watch the video of the lecture here and his Q&A session with Bjørn Lomborg here.

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