Chris Berg

The IPA’s opening statement to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights’ hearing into section 18C

The following remarks were given by the IPA’s Simon Breheny to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights’ hearing into section 18C in Melbourne yesterday. The opening statement was followed by questioning directed to Simon and the IPA’s Dr Chris Berg. Readers can watch the video at this link.


Freedom of speech is a basic Australian value.

A survey commissioned by the Institute of Public Affairs, published today, finds that ninety-five per cent of Australians say freedom of speech is important. Fifty seven per cent say it is very important.

Australia’s commitment to freedom of speech makes this country one of the most diverse, prosperous and socially welcoming on the face of the planet.

Laws that undermine free speech put at risk our success story as a socially inclusive nation.

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act is one of the most significant restrictions on freedom of speech in this country.

Along with the rest of the provisions in Part IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act, Section 18C ought to be repealed outright.

It is an excessive, unnecessary and counterproductive restriction on Australians’ liberties.

Alternative proposals for reform would not solve the problems with the legislation that have been identified by recent court cases involving section 18C.

Simply removing some of the words from the section or, worse, replacing them with new words, would be, in our analysis, either ineffective, or redundant, or create even more uncertainty about the scope of the law.

Some participants in this debate argue that freedom of speech is protected by section 18D. But section 18D is a weak and unstable foundation for such an important right.

Section 18D has been applied in just three out of more than 70 cases that have been decided by the courts since Part IIA was first inserted into the Racial Discrimination Act in 1995.

Nor should parliament imagine that section 18D provides any certainty about the law. In the QUT case Judge Jarrett noted a “conflict in the authorities about the way in which s.18D might operate.”

More fundamentally, section 18D places a burden on the respondent to prove why he or she should have the right to speak freely. This is not a requirement that a free country like Australia should be proud of.

Offence is not a moral trump card. Australia is driven by other values – including individual freedom and democracy. Section 18C harms these values.

We urge this committee to recommit to the liberal democratic values that make this country great, and to recommend the full repeal of Part IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Thank you.

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UK Nanny State bullies family restaurants

The UK government’s nanny statist food ingredients and portion size policies are now being expanded to restaurants, cafés and pubs of all sizes.

The government plans to set sugar reduction targets, calorie caps for particular products such as chocolate bars and muffins, and push for smaller portion sizes.

If foot outlets, of any size, don’t follow the punitive guidelines they will be named and shamed – possibly on an offical government website. This comes on top of a plan announced in this year’s UK budget to introduce a “sugar tax” on soft drinks. (I have previously written for The Spectator Australia that such taxes are illiberal, ineffective and regressive.)

UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is reported to have told a private meeting of over 100 food companies that he wanted to “shine a light” on non-complying companies, The Times reported in a front page story on Friday:

“We can’t ignore the changing habits of consumers. This means we expect the whole of the out-of-home sector — coffee shops, pubs and family restaurants, quick service restaurants, takeaways, cafés, contract caterers and mass catering suppliers — to step up and deliver on sugar reduction.”

Tim Wilson first wrote on FreedomWatch about Britain’s the impending portion size regulation back in 2013. At the time these were particularly targeted at larger food manufactures. The IPA’s Chris Berg has also warned in 2012 that draconian portion size regulation was recommended by the Rudd/Gillard government’s now-abolished Preventative Health Taskforce.

The basic idea that individuals should be able to choose what they consume, and restaurants allowed to decide their own ingredients and portion sizes, appears to have been lost. Instead the UK government intends to go after family restaurants that don’t comply with their arbitrary standards.

It is apparently now the role of government to decide what we are allowed to eat, and circumstances in which we can eat it.

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Metadata mission creep? Who would have thought?

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The latest proposal from Victoria Police to monitor mobile phone use highlights the danger of mission creep under mandatory metadata retention laws:

The so-called textalysers… are able to analyse metadata to determine whether someone was using their mobile phone at a specific time – while driving, for example.

… The model proposed by New York authorities involves the analysis of a mobile device’s metadata after a road incident to determine whether the device had been used in the lead up to the event.
… Privacy laws are slowing progress of the proposed new legislation, although Israeli company Cellebrite, which produces the technology, claims that the textalyser system doesn’t have the ability to read the content of text messages and social media updates, but rather to determine whether the device was used at a certain time to send text messages.

However, Australia’s new metadata retention laws, which allow for the time and basic surface details of every message sent to be stored and made available to law enforcement agencies, could speed the technology’s introduction here.

While the government justified the introduction of metadata laws largely to fight terrorism, the inherent danger with gathering mountains of personal data (beyond privacy and data security issues) is that once it exists other entities will inevitably demand access (see that list here).

In fact, the IPA’s Simon Breheny predicted this as early as 2012, and the IPA’s Chris Berg warned about the likelihood of the compulsorily acquired metadata being used for purposes other than national security at the time of its introduction in 2014:

A lot of opponents of data retention have pointed out that this creates a very real risk of unauthorised access. It’s hard to keep data secure.

Yet just as concerning is authorised access. Once these databases have been created they will be one subpoena away from access in any and every private lawsuit.

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IPA research reveals the cost of red tape to the Australian economy

unleash prosperity

New IPA research by Mikayla Novak and Chris Berg has found that red tape costs the economy an estimated $176 billion per year.

Regulation should improve the manner in which business functions, whether this be by enforcing safety standards and entitlements, or creating a more competitive market. But excessive regulation – that is, red tape – creates more problems than it solves. Employers spend time filling out paperwork when they could be growing their business. Youth and low skill labourers have their hours reduced and struggle to enter the job market as the cost to employ them outstrips the profit they are capable of generating. Rather than create competition, regulation entrenches monopolies and privileges for big businesses that have the wealth and connections to wield political influence.

Advocates of regulation often claim that their rules create a level playing field, but in fact it is the economically vulnerable, such as employees and small business, that red tape hurts the most.

In this sense, cutting red tape will do more than save $176 billion. It will create an environment where new businesses can thrive, increasing the overall wealth creation in the economy and thus giving consumers access to better services at a lower cost, creating a better quality of life for all Australians.

Disappointingly, despite consistent talk of cutting red tape, last year parliament enacted 6,453 pages of legislation over 177 bills, and the government deprioritised significant regulatory reform after repeal bills stalled in the Senate.

Eliminating unproductive regulations will create prosperity for business, jobs for the unemployed and better products for consumers. It is time for governments to begin maximising prosperity, rather than wrapping the economy in red tape for the sake of populist rhetoric and special interest groups.

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Email: Freedom of speech under attack

The latest attack on free speech – this time in Tasmania

Freedom of speech is under attack in Tasmania after the state Anti-Discrimination Commissioner decided on 13 November that a complaint against Catholic Archbishop Julian Porteous should proceed to a hearing.

In particular, the Commissioner has decided the Catholic Church has a case to answer in relation to a complaint made regarding a booklet outlining the Catholic teachings on marriage distributed to parents of students enrolled at Catholic high schools across Australia.

The IPA’s Chris Berg wrote in the Sunday Age yesterday:

To be offended by the booklet is to be offended by what was, until very recently, the mainstream view on gay marriage, and one still shared by a large minority of the population… For this reason if nothing else, the complaint ought to have been dismissed as laughably frivolous.

It should never be an offence to offend a person. This is particularly chilling in light of the proposed plebiscite on the definition of marriage. As IPA Executive Director John Roskam stated in October:

A vote in a plebiscite or referendum, in which one side is not allowed to present its case, is not a legitimate vote. That’s why both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage should be concerned by the complaint against Archbishop Porteous and the Catholic Church.

Continue Reading →

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LISTEN: Chris Berg talks food trucks on 3AW

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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.

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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.

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“Absolutely right” that controversial people are granted a visa

Controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders was granted an Australian visa last week, and the IPA’s Chris Berg had this to say in comments to WA Today:

Institute of Public Affairs senior fellow Chris Berg has written multiple books on freedom of speech and democratic rights.

“I think it’s absolutely right that Geert Wilders should be granted a visa, if he obeys Australian laws,” Mr Berg said.

“If the government banned speech, then they’re [abridging] the freedom of other Australians who might listen to him speak.”

Mr Berg said everyone in Australia had the right to listen to Mr Wilders but it comes down to choice.

“Freedom of speech is a fundamental right, not just for the speaker but also for the people who might hear the speech,” he said.

“They’re under no compulsion to listen to him, but have the right to listen to his views.

“I’m pleased that Australia, if they want to, will be able to hear the arguments of Mr Wilders.”

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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.

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Economic growth more important than tax reform

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Chris Berg in The Sunday Age argues that the key economic debate is on growth:

The new Turnbull government should stop talking about tax reform.

Tax reform is a poor use of its political capital. It is a waste of the goodwill Malcolm Turnbull brings to the prime ministership. The challenge Turnbull faces is not to make our tax system slightly more efficient. The challenge he faces is how to make the economy grow.

When he became Treasurer, Scott Morrison stated that the Commonwealth has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. That is, the government wants to focus on spending cuts rather than tax increases.

This is excellent, as far as it goes. But in truth our real problem is growth.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that the Australian economy is going to grow just 2.5 per cent this year. Back in the Howard years, growth averaged 3.7 per cent a year. The Reserve Bank governor has publicly speculated that our lower growth might be the new normal.

If you want to blame the stubborn budget deficit on anything, blame it on this. John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull: they’ve all been riding the waves of our growth figures.

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