Political donations are political speech

Lawyer and deputy Victorian state director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance Vladimir Vinokurov has a thoughtful piece on a recent decision of the High Court on political donations. This is Vinokurov’s most important point:

If special interest groups are banned from making political donations, the public is denied the right to hear their arguments, at least to a degree. To that extent the public is left less informed than they would otherwise be. If the point of our electoral laws is to ensure that the public make an “informed choice” during the election campaign as the Court claims, then it is illogical to censor the information they receive.

Moreover, those who lack the capacity to argue their case have every right to donate to political candidates that do.

Read the piece on Menzies House here.


The 13 senators who support changes to section 18C


Senator Zed Seselja

FreedomWatch readers will be delighted to learn that senators Zed Seselja, Ian Macdonald and Chris Back all spoke in favour of restoring freedom of speech in the Senate today.

The speeches were delivered in the context of parliamentary debate on Family First Senator Bob Day’s Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill 2014, which proposes to remove the words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ from section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

Senators Seselja, Macdonald and Back join co-sponsors of the bill, senators Bob Day, David Leyonhjelm, Dean Smith and Cory Bernardi who all spoke in favour of the bill on 2 October 2014.

The complete list of current senators who are on the record in support of amendments to section 18C are as follows:


Renewables no substitute for grid power for the poor


On Tuesday, the Courier Mail published my opinion piece on the exciting role that Australian coal can play in helping to bring millions of people in India out of energy poverty.

Opponents to increasing coal exports typically cycle through a range of invented arguments including the alleged health effects (ignoring the health effects of cooking with dung, oils or refuse), the coal price (ignoring that it is merely back to its historic average) or the move to divestment (ignoring that it hasn’t really taken off).

One of the strongest cases put in favour of a mainstream electricity grid can be found in this June article from The Guardian, a paper not exactly considered pro-fossil fuel.

The piece by Edinburgh University lecturer in social anthropology Dr Jamie Cross explains the reality of life for people who have no access to a modern electricity grid. One telling anecdote is of a family that used to crush seeds to make its own castor oil for light and heat, and now burns kerosene in a home-made lamp.

Interestingly, the solar lanterns previously distributed throughout the local village by Dr Cross and others lie largely unused.

While the inventiveness of the human mind is something to be celebrated, products like solar lanterns and gravity lights are hallmarks of innovation, and nobody knows what future options technology may bring, the last line of Dr Cross’ article sums it up best of all:

People living without electricity don’t just want to see in the dark, they want to live in light as others do.


No room for freedom in safe spaces


Brendan O’Neill’s latest article in The Spectator provides a chilling insight into the effect of political correctness, moral relativism and speech codes in modern universities:

During my speech, students had hollered ‘Shame! Shame!’ when I suggested that Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ should not be banned on campuses. And yet they listened intently, with soft, understanding, patronising liberal smiles on their faces, as [Agshar] Bukhari [of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee] implied that Charlie Hebdo brought its massacre on itself. This is how screwed-up the culture on Western campuses has become

The slow march of universities towards an enforced conformity of views and censored speech has been going on for quite some time. Nowhere is this pathology more evident than in the concept of the “safe space”.

Safe spaces are designated places within university campuses where students can gather and not be exposed to ideas or expressions that they may find hurtful, distasteful or objectionable. In recent years, these spaces have been rolled out in universities across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, while Australian universities have also toyed with the idea.

There is something particularly perverse about a culture which deems fully functioning and legally responsible adults as too fragile to be exposed to ideas that may confront, challenge or even, heaven forbid, offend them. The freedom to challenge the consensus and subject a statement to the rigours of a free market of ideas lies at the very heart of Western Civilisation. To prevent university students from engaging in this process is to deny them participation in one of the essential aspects of free society.

University students have a choice. They can be safe from words they don’t like. Or they can be free. But they can’t be both.


Bob Day confronts “a plague of political correctness”

Ahead of further debate in the Senate tomorrow on Senator Bob Day’s Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill 2014, the Family First Senator for South Australia delivered an important speech on free speech this afternoon:

A plague of political correctness seems to be sweeping this country, seeking to push out of the public arena those who the ruling elites don’t agree with. When in opposition, those who are now in government spoke powerfully about the need to halt the growing threats to free speech. However, in office they seem to have gone quiet. Yes, the Human Rights Commission is reviewing rights and responsibilities focussing on religious freedom. That begins next month. However, the central and specific commitment to reform 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act was abandoned until Senators Leyonhjelm, Smith, Bernardi and I picked it up again. I look forward to further debate on that tomorrow.

Language is very powerful. The framing of these debates is powerful. Opponents of free speech like to talk about ‘hate speech’. They say that certain things should be censored because they might offend or insult someone. Simply calling words ‘hate speech’ is an affront to free speech.

You can watch Senator Day’s whole speech here:


Free speech bill an opportunity for the Turnbull government


Senator Day’s Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill 2014 is a significant opportunity for the Turnbull government to demonstrate its commitment to freedom of speech, according to free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

The Senate will debate Family First Senator for South Australia Bob Day’s Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill 2014 today. The bill proposes to remove the words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ from section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, which currently makes it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” a person on the basis of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin.

“The Day amendment allows the Turnbull government to show where it stands on freedom of speech,” says Simon Breheny, director of the Legal Rights Project at the Institute of Public Affairs.

“Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has promised to lead a ‘thoroughly liberal government committed to freedom, the individual and the market’. A sure way to prove this would be by supporting a bill that helps to restore free speech in Australia.”

“It should not be unlawful to offend or insult someone. Freedom of speech goes to the heart of liberal democracy.”

“Senator Day’s bill is not a full repeal of section 18C. Removing the words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ does not fully restore freedom of speech in Australia. But the bill is a significant improvement.

“Supporting this bill would send a positive message about the direction of the Turnbull government,” says Mr Breheny.

For media and comment: Simon Breheny, Director, Legal Rights Project, Institute of Public Affairs, [email protected] or 0400 967 382.


Bet on stupid ideas in Gambling Awareness Week


Poker machine participation rates in Victoria have declined by 50 per cent since 1999.

That is one of the interesting facts which can be found on the website of the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation (VRGF), a statutory body set up by the Victorian government “to foster responsible gambling”.

Much of the material produced by the VRGF contains sensible advice on how to avoid becoming a problem gambler. However, this week the VRGF is running Responsible Gambling Awareness Week, and the special week has prompted a spate of public reports and commentary.

Given the decline in poker machine participation rates, it is perhaps unsurprising that the VRGF’s main focus has been on gambling’s big growth area, sports betting. Equally predictable is the fact that much of the commentary has been predicated on the assumption that sports betting is a social evil which should be subject to ever tighter regulation.

A report on “The Marketing of Wagering on Social Media” has allegedly found that wagering companies are using cartoon characters to make impressionable kids grow up thinking gambling is “cool and fun“. Victorian gambling minister, Jane Garrett has weighed in with her concern about sports betting ads contributing to “the normalisation of gambling as part of sport“.

Sports betting’s status as the main source of gambling concern has been caused not just by its growth, but because, unlike the pokies or the races, it intrudes much more into the world of non-gamblers who, like Minister Garrett, see ads for it while watching televised sport.

These ads may sometimes be irritating, but that does not mean that there is anything abnormal about betting on sport.


Mandatory helmet laws no help on Ride2Work Day


Today is the national Ride2Work Day, where commuters are encouraged to ditch cars and public transport in favour of their bikes. However, it’s an uphill battle, as irrational mandatory helmet laws are still discouraging people from cycling in the first place.

Indeed, statistics on cycling in Melbourne was cited in an article at the Wall Street Journal this week. From the article:

Some Australians have pushed back against that nation’s decades-old, all-ages bike-helmet laws, arguing that they’re hurting a nation with rapidly growing obesity levels. Observers in Melbourne stationed at the same 64 locations and observation times before and after the 1990 enactment of a state law found a higher rate of helmet use—but also 29% fewer adults and 42% fewer children bicycling at all.

The whole article is a broad collection of the arguments against (and outcomes of) mandatory helmet laws in Australia and the United States, and well worth reading. Check it out here.

MHL’s are a clear infringement of individual liberty, and fail in their primary public policy goal – to save lives – while undermining other public health goals by keeping people off bikes altogether. For more, read this 2012 IPA Review article.


Victorian public sector union wants “serious love”


Another day, another week, and another Victorian public sector union trying to take advantage of a Victorian Labor government.

Reports in yesterday’s papers (here and here) suggest that the CPSU is after a 20% pay rise over four years (inflation is currently under 2%), five weeks’ annual leave and automatic salary progression.

According to The Age the CPSU is also after “a new team reward bonus paid to workers whose bosses perform strongly” and “less monitoring of emails”. The head of the union was also quoted saying that state public servants needed “a dose of serious love”

The Herald Sun reveals that public servants want more holidays to match the 12 weeks of school holidays.

This ridiculous log of claims is on top of the ambulance workers dispute which the premier settled on coming to government, and the railways and tram strikes which have been the subject of a previous FreedomWatch column. There is no mention of the productivity improvements that the CPSU has offered in exchange, and this claim is separate from new industrial agreements still to be negotiated with health workers and police.

Victoria’s public servants clearly feel hard done by at the moment. In June of this year they organized their own Public Sector Week to recognize and celebrate their own achievements. However, the CPSU needs to get into the real world: working in the public sector is a privilege, with job security the traditional trade-off for lower-than-private-sector wages. However it appears that nowadays the union wants more workers at higher pay.  The IPA’s Mikayla Novak has previously published research that found that in 2014 the number of Victorian public servants exceeded the notorious Cain-Kirner era.

Public sector wage rises exclusive of productivity at double the rate of inflation are just not on and should be rejected by the Victorian Government.


Mandatory internet data retention comes into operation today

Simon Breheny and I have been arguing the case against data retention since it was first mooted by the Gillard government – it violates the privacy of every Australian just in case they are later accused of criminality, it will be used for more than just anti-terror policies, and there are alternative policies and approaches which better respect individual liberty. You can read the IPA’s submission to the parliament’s data retention inquiry here.

But all the critiques aside, data retention is shaping up to be a case study in poor policy implementation.

Internet service providers have long argued that retaining that amount of data would be prohibitively complex. In fact, one of the most striking things about the whole debate has been the gap between how easily government has suggested implementing data retention would be and how ISPs have said it would be.

No surprise then that Fairfax is reporting that 80 per cent of ISPs are not actually going ‘live’ with data retention compliance today, but have applied for extensions of 18 months. There is widespread confusion about how much data is to be retained, and no transparency on how the ISPs will be compensated for storing masses of information on their customers’ activity.

Implementation was going to always be a problem with data retention. But it is hard not to conclude that the implementation problems ISPs are now experiencing are the direct result of the government’s lack of conceptual and technical clarity about how data retention relates to current ISP practices.