LISTEN: Chris Berg talks food trucks on 3AW


Anybody who has been to a major American city in the last decade will have been impressed by the large number of food trucks dotting their sidewalks.

Earlier this morning I was interviewed by Neil Mitchell on 3AW to explain why we don’t see similar offerings in Melbourne. The answer, unsurprisingly, is the arcane regulatory hoops and rent-seeking prohibitions that keep food trucks mostly off our streets. Councils have limited the number of trucks allowed in their suburbs to protect existing restaurants from competition.

During the course of the interview, a number of food truck operators called in with their experiences about how hard it is to operate across Victoria, and how the permit system is holding back food diversity and choice.

You can listen to the interview here. And I wrote about food trucks in the Sunday Age back in 2013.


The problems with a sugar tax


Professor Chaloupka

Taxpayers in Western Australia have copped a double whammy from the visit to Perth of University of Illinois at Chicago professor Frank Chaloupka.

Firstly, their state’s Health Department has helped fund Chaloupka’s trip. Secondly, Chaloupka wants to increase their taxes, specifically to introduce a sugar tax.

As Healthway’s 2015 Visiting Fellow, Chaloupka is busily addressing conferences and talking directly to government and health officials. It should be noted that Chaloupka is not a professor in any health related field, but rather a professor of economics, hence his focus on taxation. He is pushing a sugar tax claiming that children and low-income groups needed to be discouraged from consuming a major driver of obesity.

However, there are significant problems with a sugar tax. If targeted at low-income groups, it is a highly regressive from of taxation which may produce perverse health outcomes. It will also be the thin end of the wedge for, if we get a sugar tax, there will surely then be calls for a salt tax, a general junk food tax and even a red meat tax.

The push for a sugar tax is certainly not unique to Australia. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver recently addressed a Health Select Committee at Westminster. As well as arguing for a whole suite of advertising restrictions, he wanted a sugar tax imposed for at least three years.

Of course, the likes of Chaloupka and Oliver never argue for restrictions on what they eat themselves or what can be cooked in high class restaurants, only on what others can consume. And it is no coincidence that so-called ‘public health’ advocates link children and low income people in their demands, because they seem to want to infantilise all of society.


Government hoists the white flag on academic freedom


Yesterday, the federal government surrendered to the hysterical demands of the vocal minority to Bjørn Lomborg’s Australian Consensus Centre.

Sarah Martin reported in The Australian today: 

The Institute of Public Affairs, a free-market think tank, accused the government of “hoisting the white flag” on academic freedom.

… IPA executive director John Roskam said the move was “terribly disappointing”.

“I think it is a victory for censorship. I think it is a victory for closed minds,” [Roskam] said. “It is a terribly disappointing day for Australian universities and for academic freedom.”

Read the full article here.


Latest claims highlight the vindictive nature of ICAC


The latest claims about behaviour from the controversial ICAC can only be described as arrogant and vindictive:

The NSW corruption watchdog re-enacted a seizure of Margaret Cunneen’s mobile from her home in order to cover-up a flawed raid a week earlier when they took her phone without a search warrant.

In a further explosive revelation, Ms Cunneen, a deputy senior crown prosecutor, claims ICAC leaked to her boss a private text message she sent in which she was critical of him – even though it was sent two years earlier and was not relevant to ICAC’s investigation.

Conducting raids without a warrant? Leaking a text just to hurt one of their targets? ICAC act as if they are a law unto themselves. Chris Merritt has more:

If substantiated, it would mean officers of this government agency misled a court and swore a false affidavit to cover up a raid that was conducted without a proper legal basis.

To obtain a search warrant… ICAC officers must have provided an affidavit explaining why such a course was necessary.

If that affidavit says ICAC wanted to seize her telephone — which it already possessed — it will destroy careers.

This would be a good start, but there is a deeper problem – the agency itself. By skirting (and breaching) the limits of its powers, asking parliament to authorise its past unlawful investigations, rejecting accountability by refusing to answer questions from a parliamentary committee, and not observing the rules of evidence, ICAC has shown it is home to a poisoned culture. And the best antidote is abolition.


Rail dispute settled – with your money

According to today’s Herald Sun, it appears that Melbourne’s train dispute has now been settled, with rail staff getting  a 14% pay rise over three years, with a 3% sign-on bonus.

While all sides typically claim a win in disputes like this, the final amount is suspiciously close to the 18% over three years demanded by the rail union which suggests that the Victorian government and rail operator Metro did indeed cave in to pressure to prevent strikes during the Spring Racing Carnival.

On top of the reported 28% pay rises over the previous six years, it is clear that these workers are indeed adept at taking people for a ride.

An average train driver is now set to earn $143,600 a year by 2018 and a driver with only two years’ experience $122,000. This is quite a good wage when you consider the average full time salary in Australia is now around $77,000 per year with a lot of people earning a lot less.

Wouldn’t it be great if MPs could be held financially accountable for the decisions they take on our behalf?


Be ideological, Hockey advises Turnbull

Yesterday, on the 21st of October, Joe Hockey farewelled public life.

As a nation whose political system has long been defined by a rigid party structure—which encourages conformity and punishes dissent—Australia was offered a rare insight into the values and motivations of one of our most senior political figures.

Readers of FreedomWatch will find much to like, and much to dislike, in Hockey’s valedictory speech.

He argued in favour of lower and simpler taxes, for a more flexible employment system (an end to penalty rates), and for an end to the age of entitlement—the topic his brilliant 2012 speech to the IEA. Less pleasing was his praise of Labor’s NBN, his celebration of imposing GST on imported goods, and his hostility towards international tax competition (in the guise of tackling so-called “profit shifting by multinationals”).

But it was his defense of ideology that was most important. After restating his commitment to liberalism, Hockey declared that:

It’s true but it must be said, if you don’t have core beliefs then you have no core. When you’re asked to make very difficult decisions that have a huge impact on people’s lives, without a guiding philosophy, you’ll inevitably be indecisive, or worse, inconsistent.

If the Turnbull government takes anything from Hockey’s speech, it should be this.

As I argued in The Spectator last year, and as Chris Berg argued in The Drum last month, the Abbott government’s problem was not that it was too ideological, it’s problem was that it wasn’t ideological enough.

Without ideology—or, as Hockey put it: a set of core beliefs—politicians are left with mere populism. What results is an inconsistent, short-sighted, and ad-hoc approach to government. In an age of global competition, Australia must enact substantive reform or risk being left behind.

Malcolm Turnbull began his premiership by declaring that he would lead “a thoroughly liberal government, committed to freedom, the individual, and the market.” So far, these are just words. Time will tell if this guides his policies.

Watch Joe Hockey’s full valedictory speech, here.


Failure of Lomborg centre a victory for censorship


The Turnbull government’s decision to abandon funding for Bjorn Lombørg’s Australia Consensus Centre reveals the dire state of academic freedom in Australia, according to free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

“This is a victory for censorship and group-think,” says Morgan Begg, Editor of the IPA’s FreedomWatch.

“By making this decision, the government has surrendered to the demands of the Centre’s hysterical opponents, who only want a narrow range of views heard at universities.”

“Universities should be a place for students to expand their minds and have their beliefs challenged. This decision reflects how far away from that ideal our universities currently are.”

“The belief of the Greens’ higher education spokesman Robert Simms that ‘this is great news for the academic integrity of our universities’ reveals that opposition to Lomborg’s centre is explicitly censorious and intolerant of opposing views.”

“Bjorn Lombørg’s research on development and poverty is world-class. The real victims from this decision are the students,” says Mr Begg.

For media and comment: Morgan Begg, Editor of FreedomWatch, Institute of Public Affairs, [email protected]


Indian village makes a mockery of Green renewable energy claims

Development of solar power micro grid to electrify Dharnai villaThe Greens’ response to energy minister Josh Frydenberg’s recent comments on ABC TV about “the strong moral case” for coal and its role in bringing millions of Indians out of poverty (covered in IPA opinion pieces here and here), has already been blown out of the water by an exquisitely timed article in the Scientific American.

Greens “Co-Deputy Leader” Larissa Waters called Josh Frydenberg’s comments “deranged”, saying “building electricity grids is slow and expensive” and the “much cheaper, healthier solution is localised renewable energy.”

However, Scientific American has just published an article detailing how the remote Indian village of Dharnai near Nepal, months after the introduction of one of these so-called localised solar power grids, couldn’t wait to leave it for the national electricity grid.

Continue Reading →


Denmark is not the paradise Bernie Sanders thinks it is

Candidates on stage before the first US Democratic Presidential debate

Observers of the American political scene watched closely as the front-runners in the Democratic presidential race, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, sparred each other in a debate last week which still has tongues wagging.

One reason for that is Sanders, who said during the debate that Americans should look to Nordic Europe for policy reform inspiration:

I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.

There has long been a leftish affection within the Anglosphere for the high‑taxing, big‑spending government models offered up by the Nordic countries. But the notion that Americans, the British, or even Australians should simply replicate Danish, Norwegian or Swedish policies is not necessarily all that it is cracked up to be.

An article by science writer Ronald Bailey, which appears on Reason magazine’s blog Hit & Run, cautions against emulating northern Europe in America:

Basically, American liberals love Denmark because its government confiscates half of its citizens money and makes them pay high prices for energy. Strangely, advocating such policies out loud does not sound like a winning electoral strategy in 2016.

For some other reactions to Sanders’ call for a more Danish‑looking United States, you can read the reflections of Tim Worstall, Jeff Jacoby, and Marian Tupy.


PM kicks fundamental liberty “into the long grass”

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, 17 May 2015:

[T]here was a broad consensus among lots of interested groups and stakeholders that the words ‘insult’ and ‘offend’ could be removed [from section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975], leaving the words ‘humiliate’ and ‘intimidate’.

… I was very comfortable about that. I didn’t think that would have any negative impact.

Prime Minister Turnbull in parliament today, on whether he stood by those comments:

… Mr Turnbull said he backed debate on the issue but would not be reopening the matter.

“I think it’s very important for debates of this kind to be undertaken at the right time and place and in the right context… We have to bear in mind that we have in our society, as in all free societies, to balance the demands of free speech, of which we’re all in favour, with also ensuring domestic harmony.

“The short answer to your question is the government has no plans to change the Racial Discrimination Act at all.”

So much for the “broad consensus”. Ultimately, actions – or lack thereof – have consequences, as the IPA’s executive director John Roskam points out:

Free-market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs took out full-page advertisements condemning Mr Abbott’s decision to ditch his election promises [to repeal section 18C]. John Roskam from the IPA warned Mr Turnbull to expect another backlash from his own party.

“Malcolm Turnbull must realise just how significant freedom of speech is to so many people in Australia and to so many in his party,” he said.

“He can’t kick fundamental liberties into the long grass without consequences.”

Latika Bourke has more coverage here.

UPDATE: The prime minister’s full response is on hansard here.