Australia Censored Episode 2: Was The Voice Defeated Due To Misinformation With Professor James Allan

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16 February 2024
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In this episode of Australia Censored, host John Storey, Director of Law and Policy at the Institute of Public Affairs talks to Professor James Allan, Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland.

Professor Allan and John discuss the 2023 Voice referendum and how the Yes campaign blamed the result on “misinformation”. Will this be used to help justify the federal government’s internet censorship laws?

Below is a transcript of the show.

John Storey:

Welcome to the inaugural episode of Australia Censored. I’m your host, John Storey, Director of Law and Policy at the Institute of Public Affairs. Today’s guest is Professor James Allan, Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland, and I couldn’t think of a better person to kick this series off than someone who has been such a free speech crusader, especially in respect to our university campuses. Welcome to the show, Jim.

Professor James Allan:

Thank you, John. It’s nice to be here.

John Storey:

Great. Well, I thought we’d kick off by talking about the government’s proposed new misinformation laws, the Communications Legislation Amendment (Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill. Now, the Australian Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland, at a Press Club address said she’s committed to introducing this bill into Parliament early next year, and she said that doing nothing in respect to misinformation is not an option. Before we get into it, how does this bill, how is it intended to work in practice?

Professor James Allan:

Well, I think to be bipartisan here, we have to remember that the original idea, disgracefully, was the Liberal Party’s idea. Paul Fletcher during COVID thought this would be a good idea, the geniuses in the Liberal Party, and it was largely because they didn’t like the fact that regular citizens were pointing out that the Morrison government’s handling of COVID was basically.

And so the original idea, and this is a disgrace, came from the Liberal Party. They lost government and I actually was glad that Morrison lost. I have to say I thought he was a disgrace. As prime minister, man doesn’t understand free speech. Having said that, the Labor iteration of this bill is worse. I would like to see Mr. Dutton draw a line with the pass and just come out and say, “If this bill passes, we will repeal it,” come what may, even if it’s a double dissolution.

So basically there are so many problems. Here are some basic ones. It exempts any information that’s produced by government. It exempts stuff that comes out of the legacy press and the universities. So in other words, the elite set of understandings of the world that you might link to a Guardian journalist, that’s all exempted from any claims as to misinformation or disinformation. Another problem is the bill is premised on this idea that we can know what the truth is. If you go back to COVID, Stanford, and he’s one of the top five epidemiologists in the world, but Jay Bhattacharya said… let me get the quote right, I looked it up. “Governments have been the most important and most damaging source of COVID misinformation during the pandemic.” So the elite sort of mouthpieces got just about everything wrong. These would be the people who are exempted under this bill. You can imagine John Stuart Mill rolling in his grave.

So how do you identify what truth is? And the bill is sort of tricksy. We’ve got this regulatory body, and effectively what this bill does is has the executive regulating speech, and they got this body and they say, “We are not going to identify truth. We’re handing it over to third-party fact-checkers, like all the people who got everything wrong in the Voice. It’s going to be Guardian readers, judging Guardian readers, and we know that they’re going to be pretty happy with what they see in the Guardian.

The definition of serious harm is loose. They pretend that it’s not going to hit the individual, but they’re going to have these codes of conduct that they can apply to social media. It’s basically a disaster. So far, I don’t think the Liberal Party has been nearly vitriolic enough about contesting this bill. I thought Dutton did okay on the Voice, but he took a year or two long to come out against it. I hope he is not going to wait around too long to come out against this bill. It’s a really terrible bill.

John Storey:

Yeah, maybe the fact their fingerprints were on the original idea is holding them back somewhat. It’s interesting that you say that the initial conception was in response to the government, the then Morrison government not liking some things that were being said about their COVID policies. And I see that very much as part of the new drive for this version of the bill. I’ll give you a couple of quotes. These were taken from referendum night from the recent Voice referendum in October. The Yes23 campaign director, Dean Parkin said that the referendum result was due to, and I quote, “The single largest misinformation campaign that this country has ever seen.” And that the Voice activist Thomas Mayo blamed the, again a quote, “Disgusting No campaign, a campaign that has been dishonest, that has lied to the Australian people.”

Now normally after… it was a pretty thumping loss. I mean 60% to 40% is about as bad as it gets in Australia. And normally that would instill a bit of introspection and reflection on that policy. But instead, the approach has been, “We lost because of the lies of the No case. And I see that there’s no coincidence between them saying that and the fact that we’re getting this misinformation bill. The narrative that the Voice was lost because of misinformation is going to be used to drive home this new censorship law. Is that your take?

Professor James Allan:

Well, firstly, I think all of us on the No side need to get down and think that people who led the Yes campaign for being the most incompetent people in the history. I mean I am delighted that Yes lost, but I think John, you and I could have done a better job running the Yes campaign. We first of all wouldn’t have called everyone who disagreed with us a racist, and we wouldn’t have run the most incompetent campaign in the history of Australian politics. So maybe we can get these guys to be in charge of getting the disinformation bill through and then there’s no hope of it getting through that. So that’s the first point. Secondly, my day job as a constitutional law professor, I don’t think the No campaign said anything that was factually incorrect. They just say it was misinformation. But you get examples like, “Oh, when the No people said this is legally risky, that’s misinformation.” On what basis?

Well, they point to the expert panel. All of those people were appointed by Albanese. All of them were in favour of the Voice. On the other hand, we have former high court justices like Ian Callinan. Is he dealing in misinformation when he points out the problems? And when you point out that we have a judiciary that’s very activist, that is just a fact, and the Voice, had it gone through, would’ve given them new tools. This expert panel said it wasn’t going to give a group right? And No people said Yes it was, and that was deemed misinformation. Well, it is a group right? You’re giving special entitlements to just some people.

So again, they can’t point to anything other than contested arguments. And then they say if you… here’s their definition of misinformation, if you disagree with me, that’s misinformation. Now, that might be the basis for some people’s marriages… I don’t want to get that wrong. But let’s be honest, when you’re dealing with contested… leave aside value judgement , so normally… the great philosopher David Hume distinguished facts and values, is’s and oughts, even on the level of is, it’s not easy to know what the truth is. It wasn’t clear at the beginning of COVID whether the thing came out of a lab or not.

And what they wanted to do was silence one group of people who said it came out of the lab. Now that’s the predominant view by the way. Matt Ridley said, “Had they released all the information, it would’ve been clear early on that it came out of a lab.” And I guess when you think about it, you’ve got a lab working on this thing in one part of China and nowhere else in the world, and it’s discovered like 25 yards from the door of the lab. And people went, “Oh, you’re a racist if you think it came out of the lab.”

So governments have a strong desire to stifle anyone who disagrees with them, and that’s on both sides of the political spectrum. But as far as I can tell, no one’s pointed to any claims made by the No camp that were clearly factually wrong. You can disagree about what future judges are going to do. There are people who think we’re going to have a highly constrained judiciary. That’s possible. We haven’t seen it in the last 15 years, but it’s possible. But when people say, “I don’t think the judges are, they’re going to use this to become even more activist,” that’s equally possible. And just because people who are chosen, handpicked by the Albanese government and paid and get the title “Expert Group”, say something, that doesn’t make it true. The solicitor general led the government in the Love case. He certainly didn’t see the result coming from the high court in the Love case.

So I have great problems with this idea that some two-bit little academics at RMIT or somewhere else are going to tell the rest of Australia what’s true or not. And then when you leave the realm of fact and move into opinion, there’s just no way to arbitrate whose opinion is worthier than someone else’s. This is why John Stuart Mill said, “The best way of moving society forward is through the cauldron of competing views.” And if you think you’re right, go out into the marketplace of views and try to convince a sufficient number of other people. You’re never going to convince everyone. There’s people who think the moon landings didn’t happen. I mean, so if your criterion is you have to convince everybody in Australia, you can’t do that. But normally over time, the stronger view prevails. It doesn’t happen right away always.

John Storey:

Yeah, I think you’ve hit on two key problems with censorship in general. One is, it is just a really bad way to establish the truth. The best way to establish the truth is to have that conflict of ideas and let a good idea be challenged by a bad idea and the winner prevails. But the other one, which it just amazes me how one side of politics will push for censorship under the assumption that they’ll always control the institutions. Because one of the main problems with censorship is, who gets to decide? Who gets to decide? And you’ve already alluded to it, but I just want to give a couple of quotes from a Guardian newspaper article two days before the Voice just to stick on that theme, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that there’s a world apart between the views of the Guardian newspaper and probably the public servants that will be running these censorship agencies like ACMA.

So they had an article that was called, “Voice referendum: fact checking the seven biggest pieces of misinformation pushed by the no side.” Now, I won’t go into all of them, but it includes these three. So these were the three of the biggest pieces of misinformation. “The Voice is legally risky, the Voice will divide the nation, and there is no detail.” Now, those three arguments were some of the main arguments pushed by the No case. The saying vote No to the voice of division or the government hasn’t provided the detail. I don’t think people quite understand how scary it is to think that if that is the standard of misinformation, if that’s the standard, if that’s treated as misinformation and it’s these left-leaning journalists that run these fact-checking outfits and who will be in charge of it, that pretty much, the No case, the way it was argued would be censored from the internet if it was rerun with these new laws in place. I find that deeply disturbing.

Professor James Allan:

Again, why Mr. Dutton hasn’t just raised the red flag on this, I don’t know. You always wonder where they pick seven from. Is it like they have, they got a commitment to the seven deadly sins? They just pluck seven out of the air, but all three of the ones you just voiced. Well, the Voice was legally risky in my opinion. And I think many, many lawyers thought so, too. Barristers were a bit constrained. They make their living in front of the judiciary, which disgracefully largely came out for Yes, but I certainly got quite a few phone calls from top lawyers saying, “Look, we can’t really say anything, but we’re really worried about this. It will divide the nation. In losing it divided the nation.” I mean, I don’t know how you could say it’s misinformation to say that’s a real possibility and there is no detail.

Well, Mr. Albanese said we’re going to leave it to Parliament later to decide this. And remember, it would’ve been a Parliament controlled by Labour and the Greens, both houses. So who knows what the detail would’ve been. It’s the only referendum ever where you weren’t really getting any detail at all. It’s the only referendum I know of… it’s the only Constitutional amendment I know of anywhere where you didn’t need the Constitutional amendment to do what they wanted to do. Parliament could set up a statutory Voice body tomorrow. They have the power under Section 51. So they were actually wanting to put something into the constitution to enable something they could already do, and they only wanted to do that to make it unfixable and undeletable. So these people who are going to be deemed fact-checkers, they get just about everything… they’re just articulating left of centre views. In the litigation in the U.S. in discovery, Meta or whatever you call Facebook, admitted that these are just their opinions.

They call it fact checking, but these are just their opinions and this labour government will set up bodies who enforce the sort of Guardian left progressive worldview. And government will be exempt, universities which are equally left, there’s basically no conservative, there’s no diversity viewpoint on universities. It’s like early Christians in the Roman Empire and the same’s going to go for the legacy press. So, you can’t imagine a more orthodox stifling environment, as you say. I mean the only good thing about this is I suspect that it just drives everything underground and what they’re worried about is the sort of fringe nutcases. Well, those people aren’t going to be silenced. They don’t care. If anything, the fact that you’re censoring sensible views, like this is risky, is going to give a gloss of respectability to the loonier views. Censoring just in the long term is a bad strategy for everybody.

John Storey:

Yeah. You mentioned The West. It seems like across The West there’s this tendency for governments’ knee-jerk reaction to things they don’t like is censorship. So we’re seeing that in recent weeks in Ireland where there have been some mass protests against government immigration policy and the government’s response is to propose new hate speech laws and to launch an investigation against one of the prominent critics, the UFC fighter, Conor McGregor. The West used to be the bastion of free speech. It used to be the area, the place in the world, where there was a commitment to protecting free speech. You’re from Canada, you’ve studied extensively the legal systems across the Anglosphere. Is there a decline in respect for free speech across The West and why is this happening?

Professor James Allan:

Well, firstly, just as an aside, back in the 1300s, if you were accused of an offence, you could opt for trial by combat. I think Conor McGregor would do pretty well under trial by combat. I’m not seeing him convicted of anything under the trial by combat route, but it is a problem and it’s a problem around the Anglosphere. For some reason, the Anglosphere used to do better than the rest of the democratic world. In the last 20 years, we’re doing worse. In the U.S. It’s now become plain that the Biden administration was coordinating with the social media companies to censor views during COVID. There’s lawsuits that some of the Republican state attorneys general have launched. I think those are going to win. I think when you get to… provided they can get to the Supreme Court soon enough. I think that is… it’s not a breach of the First Amendment for the social media companies to do that. I think they need to change that law. But once you can draw a link with government, government is not allowed in the U.S. to pick sides. That’s why they did it covertly.

So free speech is under threat in the U.S. It’s worse in the UK. Some of the Public Order Act and some of those… and again, the way policing has been done, it hasn’t been even-handed policing. You’ve got police here in Australia, they’re kneeling and celebrating with Black Lives Matter protests, but anti-COVID protests, they’re just thugs. They’re beating people up, kicking them in the head, arresting a pregnant woman and handcuffing her in her home. I grew up in the most pro-police, middle class Toronto family. I went through law school as the biggest defender of the police, I think most of my time as a law professor. But the last three years has really put me off the police because they have been a disgrace.

They’re here. I mean, not every police officer but the sort of one-sidedness of what they’re doing. And in Britain we’ve seen it with the way they went after Tommy Robinson and they’re just not treating Gaza protestors the way they’re treating other protestors. Or one guy who waves an Israeli flag and he’s the guy who’s arrested. You’re thinking, what is going on with the police officers? You want a cause? Well, clearly one long-term cause is that the left has taken over most of the cultural institutions. I work in universities and these are dominated by the left. You come into work every morning wondering whether they’ve added a new flag to the registry building. Are they going to try to get up to seven? That’s the magic number for the left, seven. How many flags do we need? The one they’d like to get rid of is the Australian flag, but they haven’t been able to do that yet.

So universities are a problem because many students just don’t get exposed to… forget right-of-centre views. Let’s take views that might align with Bill Shorten. Even those views, they’re sort of right side of the Labor Party. I think to some extent you could make a pretty strong case that in many ways multiculturalism has failed and governments are so afraid of these group identities that they’ve imported into the country. And some cultures do better than others. Some have fit in with Western standards and some haven’t. And if your first response is, “You can’t say that, we’re going to kill you,” that doesn’t fit in very well with a sort of enlightenment western view.

In some ways, multiculturalism has scared the bejesus out of governments. Ireland’s a perfect example, and the short-term fix is to try to stop people from talking, because if they talk, they’re going to point out that the sort of political caste over the last 20 or 30 years has failed voters in the Western world. We have been completely let down by our political caste. They won’t take on the difficult issues and they don’t want to be criticised and they don’t want to upset this sort of state of affairs they’ve created. So I don’t know, there’s probably myriad causes. No one really knows how these things all factor in, but the commitment people have to free speech is not what it was.

It used to be when I went through university in the ’80s, the left wing, the American Civil Liberties Union, they had the commitment to free speech. They went out and defended the Nazis walking through Skokie, these despicable people, but it was the left who said, “Let them speak.” The American Civil Liberties Union today is just a left… they don’t care about free speech. They’ve just become a left-wing political organisation. So the odd thing is you’ve now got conservatives on the right who are the supporters of free speech. That was never the case in the ’60s and ’70s. There might’ve been a commitment to free speech, but the really strong commitment came from the political left. That’s just gone. It’s gone. I mean, there’s some dinosaurs around, and oddly enough, some of the strongest supporters for free speech on the left are the really old-fashioned redistribution-of-wealth hard left people. I have certain affinity with them. I think they’re just wrong on the economy, but they’re solid on just not lying about what’s in front of their eyes and wanting a competition of ideas and that sort of thing.

John Storey:

Yeah, getting to that ACLU, I mean it would be unfathomable today that they would represent Nazis.

Professor James Allan:

We can’t even get barristers in the ACT to… it was really hard for Bruce Lehrmann to get represented. What happened to… criminal barristers used to be the rock solid presumption of innocence people. Now they’re afraid to take cases. What happened to the cab-rank rule? The ACT criminal justice system is in very bad shape. It’s better in other parts of the country. Well, not in Victoria probably, but everywhere else it’s better.

John Storey:

I was pretty distressed by the groupthink, during the Voice, of the legal profession. I would’ve thought the default position for lawyers is just to be aloof from the debate unless constitutional scholars may be accepted. But the way law firms felt the need to bend the knee to get on board and the bar societies-

Professor James Allan:

John, if you want some of the most woke workplaces in Australia, go to the biggest law firms in Sydney and walk in the door. You better have a pronoun on your chest. I mean, these places are run by their HR departments and I think what many people don’t realise, it hasn’t hit them yet… 50, 60 years ago, the median lawyer, his or her views was to the political right of the median voter. Today, they’re not just to the left of the median voter. They’re an order of magnitude to the left of the median voter. And the same goes for wealthy people. I mean, if you look and see where the Voice succeeded, it was in the wealthiest constituencies and polling booths in Australia. Wealthy people around the Anglosphere now vote left. Green left.

And so that’s the sort of coalition that… on the right, you’re seeing a new coalition. It doesn’t involve wealthy corporate types. It’s the coalition that Boris put together in 2019 and then threw away. It’s the coalition that Trump put together in 2016 and could win next year. I think he’s got a really good chance. It’s what Poilievre’s doing in Canada, the new Tory leader who’s very good. And basically what they’re saying is that, the so-called Teal seats in Australia, you’re never winning those back by aiming to cater to them. You might win them back if there’s a financial meltdown because whatever else you say about wealthy people, they care about their pocketbook. But basically if you cater your policies to them, they can afford crazy net-zero policies. They don’t care about free speech. They’ve got money and the policies don’t really hit them.

And so that’s not a winning coalition for the right of centre. Your winning coalition is the rural suburban outer, and it turns out middle and lower working class people, who care about culture and care about free speech, and that’s the massive winning coalition that I think we’re going to see in the election in Canada coming up, in the U.S.

The Tories in Britain are going to be obliterated because they completely ignored that coalition, the people who voted them in. For 13 years, the Tory party in Britain has promised a lower immigration and every single year it’s gone up. They are now the highest taxing government since the war, they have been a complete failure on their own terms. Every single promise they’ve made to their voters they haven’t been able to fulfil. When the judges step in and use the European convention to block them, they do nothing. They could resolve from the convention anytime they want.

John Storey:

Some of my friends on the sort of more conservative side complain about Australian state of free speech and culture and complain about the Liberal Party. I always point them to the United Kingdom and the Conservative party. It’s much worse.

Professor James Allan:

You can fix it, John, because it was worse in Canada. And then they got Poilievre, he’s been a sort of a revelation. Now, what the Tory’s realised in Canada is you cannot let the MPs pick the leader. I know back in Churchill’s day, it worked great. You let The Party Room pick the leader, but it doesn’t work anymore.

Right, now, this guy Poilievre, the MPs in The Party Room would’ve walking over broken glass to stop him from getting the leadership. He was like a Tony Abbott on steroids and he has taken them from way behind. Right now they’re 15 points up in the polls. He says he’s going to cut a billion dollars off the CBC budget. Can you imagine Simon Birmingham standing up and saying, we’re going to cut a billion dollars off the ABC budget? No.

We need to move to the party members picking the leaders because that would fix many of the problems overnight. It would get rid of the Mark Textor view of how you run campaigns. It would get rid of these factional people outside of politics who seem to be in love with net-zero. And it would open up free speech and I think it would be a renaissance. I know some of the older politicians, and I like John Howard, but he’s just wrong on this one. He thinks that leaving it to The Party Room… The Party Room got rid of Tony Abbott. They still haven’t recovered from that. It was the worst decision ever. They would’ve been much better off to let Abbott lose. I think Abbott would’ve won, but if they’d lost, they still would’ve been better off than what they did. They have never recovered.

People forget something like a third of voters don’t preference Labor or the Libs. That’s a huge percentage. If we didn’t have a terrible voting system, which is a protection racket for the two main parties, and there’s only two countries in the world that use our voting system, us and some island in the South Pacific, I think it’s Vanuatu, I could have that one wrong. It basically forces you to pick one of the two main parties. You cannot do a protest vote. And so First Past The Post lets you do a protest vote and so do proportional systems. And we’re stuck with this system where you just basically have to pick between the two parties. And in many ways they don’t offer any differences at all. I’d get rid of preferential voting the first chance I got, but it’s impossible to do that because it favours both the main parties and so they have no incentive, none, to get rid of it.

John Storey:

A lot of interesting thoughts in there, Jim. You’ve mentioned a few times the drift of the elites to the left. And I see that as not being a coincidence with the rise of censorship. It seems to me that a lot of the ideas that are being pushed by the modern left don’t age well with more exposure to sunlight. I mean, the Voice was a great example. I mean it started off very an emotional feel-good idea that was smashing it in the polls. And the more people learned about it, the more they didn’t like it. I think you could apply that theory to climate change, gender theory, and a number of other ideologies being pushed by the left. It’s because if there is a free, fair debate on some of these ideas, and if we had a fairer media and a better political system that was more like what you’ve described, more open to debate rather than conformity, I think that would go a long way to pushing back from some of those ideas.

And so there’s no surprise that those promoting those ideas consider that that sort of debate and scrutiny is hate speech or misinformation or racism or whatever other label they want to give it. What are your thoughts?

Professor James Allan:

Yeah, I think so. I think we’re seeing that a bit with Twitter now called X. If they did a study, you look at TikTok and Facebook, the amount of antisemitism on that dwarfs what you see on X. But some of the big corporations are pulling their advertising from X because of a couple of comments Musk made and he points out why aren’t you pulling your advertising from Facebook and TikTok, which are far worse if that’s your only criterion. I mean, in some ways we’re very lucky that this billionaire Musk bought Twitter because it has turned Twitter, at least, into one of the sort of most open fora, or forums.

But when you’ve got the money and the resources, like some of our corporate class, they could stand up against this and they don’t. And they were pathetic during the Voice. They just rolled over like a wet noodle. Gina Rinehart excepted. She was good, but by in large they’ve just been pathetic. And the good thing about Musk is he just says, “Well, I’m not doing that.” And that’s great. Stand on principle. And he’s trying to keep it an open forum. He’s not perfect. I don’t think it’s perfect, but it’s way better than it was. And we found out a lot of things we wouldn’t have known that we’re going on about the laptop, the Hunter Biden laptop, and the extent to which the security services and the Washington DC bureaucracy before the 2020 election, took steps to try to help Biden win. Well, we would’ve never found this out.

And to this day, the legacy media, Fox News exempted, just doesn’t talk about it at all. They knew it was actually his laptop, well, a year before the election, and you had 41, 42, I forget what it was, intelligence officers signing this letter that was carefully worded to make it sound like it was Russian disinformation. There’s that word again. So in some ways, if Trump wins next year, it’s going to be delightful because I think he’s learned and he came in as a top sort of corporate type. He’s learned that you can’t really trust the Washington bureaucracy. They will do everything they can to undermine a conservative leader.

One of the things that’s happened is, I used to spend time in New Zealand, I joined this thing called New Zealand sceptics. We used to mock people who were against vaccines, but this new vaccine is not like old vaccines. If you got rubella or chickenpox, almost no one then went on to get chickenpox. This mRNA vaccine, it’s not like those other vaccines. It’s much more dubious. It might work for people over 60, but they ran abbreviated trials and it didn’t stop people from getting it, and it didn’t stop people from transmitting it. And it’s clearly some evidence that it’s causing heart problems and stuff, and they don’t want people to talk about that. But it’s had this horrible effect in the U.S. now where A, the uptake on the latest COVID vaccine is laughably reasonably small 5% or something, and it’s affecting people taking other vaccines. Well, this is what John Stuart Mill would’ve predicted. If you’re going to lie to people or you’re going to block people from articulating evidence of dangers, they will just stop trusting you on anything.

And other vaccines are great. They even changed the definition of vaccine during the early part of COVID. It didn’t use to cover this mRNA thing. It would’ve been sort of like a flu shot. So they changed the definition and you ought to be able to articulate scepticism because if you block that, it’s not just going to stop there. People are going to think the public health caste is in bed with government. And it was. Just go and read the kind of horror stories that happened to Stanford’s Jay Bhattacharya or Sunetra Gupta at Oxford. She’s probably the world’s leading epidemiologist. She was censored, she was ridiculed, because she was right on just about everything.

The people that wrote the Great Barrington Declaration, they were right. And we now have terrible excess death statistics. No one’s talking about it. The ABC isn’t running a daily death count. And every time you turn on the ABC… and I apologise to your viewers for even expressing the idea that they might turn on the ABC. I gave that up a while ago. But for anybody out there who’s still crazy enough to turn on the ABC, they were propaganda agents during COVID. So all these things are connected. You have to have confidence that there’s an open discussion of views.

John Storey:

I think that’s the ultimate irony of these misinformation laws is that it relies on experts, a government agency, or expert fact-checkers to determine what we’re allowed to see online, when trust and confidence in experts has never been lower. And journalism unfortunately now because of COVID, very much in the medical profession, foreign affairs bureaucracy, it’s been disaster after disaster across The West. And so I think of all the times in history where you might have some cause to say, “Oh, maybe society would benefit from certain content not being available. And we’re going to all point some experts to determine that,” this is the worst time in history because they’ve got such a track record of failure.

Professor James Allan:

John, there’s a second order issue to that because I completely agree with you, but in the back and forth of politics, when the Libs get in, they don’t need to get their appointments through the Senate. They appoint lousy appointments, they appoint lefty progressives. The Australian Human Rights Commission, every member was appointed by the Libs. They didn’t say a word during the two and a half years of COVID. And now they’re pushing a Bill of Rights, the worst thing ever for a conservative government. And so for nine years of coalition government, they appointed every one of those people. It’s the Liberal government has appointed the majority of the High Court that gave us the Love decision and the Vanderstock decision that undermined federalism. And the latest ones releasing these people.

I don’t know what’s wrong with the right side of politics. Douglas Murray talks about this in Britain. They would rather walk over glass than appoint actual conservatives to anything because then when they go to their dinner parties, they might be criticised. I would put Andrew Bolt in charge of… I’d make him the managing editor of the ABC. That’s somebody who might shake things up. They won’t do that. Again, they appointed both the managing editor and the chief executive or the chairman of ABC. These have been terrible appointments and they would rather die almost than appoint actual conservatives to anything.

And so you’ve got the second order problem, and if you’re going to hand it over to these sorts of QUANGO bureaucratic elites, you can’t even trust their conservative side of politics to appoint anybody who might stand up for the right of centre. Where was Australian Human Rights Commission that faced with what Lord Sumption called the worst inroads in our civil liberties in 200 or 300 years? Where were they? They didn’t say anything, but somebody claiming to be a refugee slips through the net and gets… oh, well, the whole force of the Australian Rights Commission bringing their multi-billion dollar budget to bear. And then what do they all get paid? I don’t know, 400 or 500 grand?

So we can’t make appointments on our side of politics. And this is a problem not just in Australia, but around an Angloshpere, although it’s less of a problem in the U.S. because at the state level, Texas, Florida, they do make good appointments. And it sounds like Poilievre in Canada is going to just ignore all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth. There is no conservative media in Canada. There’s nothing like the Spectator or even the Australian. And people say, “Oh, well you can’t do a Donald Trump without Fox News.” But you can, because Poilevre is more articulate than Trump and he challenges journalists. And it’s going to be… I don’t know if he’s going to live up to his promise if he gets elected, but it will be a delight if his first bill says, “We’re taking a billion dollars off the CBC budget.” They would be on what, I don’t know, $1.6 billion a year, or I guess the ABC here gets what, you’d know better, $1.2 billion a year or something like that.

John Storey:

Yeah, about that. Yeah. Yeah.

Professor James Allan:

So they’d be down to nothing and that would be great. And people say, “Oh, you can’t do that.” But it turns out that when you say that it’s incredibly popular. Poilievre is 14 points ahead of Trudeau with, I don’t know, a year and a half to go. Now, who knows what’ll happen in the next year and a half, but it’s taken quite a while for people to realise that this strategy of softly, softly, don’t challenge Labor or don’t challenge the left on anything. It doesn’t work. It’s a terrible strategy. That whole sort of Mark Textor strategy never was convincing and it’s just not working anywhere. Whereas when you go out and challenge the core views that you don’t agree with.

And it’s like people said, “Oh, if you took the Mark Textor strategy, you’d say, “Well, the Voice was at 70% when it was announced, so we can’t fight it. Focus groups say 70%. So we just have to do it. We may tinker with it.” But if you go out and you get a Jacinta Price and you say, “Here’s why it’s a bad idea, here’s the dangers, and here are all the potential problems,” you go from 70% in favour down to 40%. Well, that’s what politics is about. Anybody can run a focus group.

John Storey:

One advantage of there being such a paucity of conservative views and mainstream media is it does push people to look at alternatives such as this programme. On that, Jim, I just want to thank you so much for your time. You’ve been extremely generous as well as being a very articulate speaker on a number of topics.

Professor James Allan:

John, it wasn’t me to use the word paucity, it was you. You can’t get past paucity. That’s a fantastic sort of word. So I feel I defer to you on the vocabulary front.

John Storey:

Well, and you’re also an excellent writer. I love reading everything you write from detailed legal review articles to spectator articles. How can people find out more about you, Jim?

Professor James Allan:

Well thank you for that. That sounds like my mom wrote that little spiel at the end, John, so thank you very much. So I write weekly for The Spectator and a few other things. I don’t really do social media. I feel that when you work in a university with my views, it would just be a source of having a heart attack. So I try to avoid it. That way I don’t know what anyone’s saying. And anyway, the thing about social media is, even old-fashioned print journalism is incredibly ethereal. You try to think of a great journalist who stood the test of time, maybe H. L. Mencken in the U.S. He was a great journalist. But how many people read H. L. Mencken today? Hardly anyone. And you can’t think of a journalist whose views last more than a microsecond. Alistair Cooke perhaps. I grew up listening to him every week in Letter from America.

But again, how many young people would even know who Alistair Cooke was? Nobody, really. So by its nature, journalism is ethereal, and social media just takes that on steroids. So people get all worked up about it, but it’s got no staying power. And so you shouldn’t get too worked up about it. And add to that, the average view you get on social media is probably in line, they did a study, with the most left-wing district in Congress, somewhere in Hawaii or California. It doesn’t represent anything. And so people, and politicians particularly, should stop worrying so much. I know young advisors, all they do is look on social media, but that’s worthless. It’s close to worthless. And I don’t see why they can’t just say, “Look, we’re going to run a long-term attempt to change people’s views. We can do it. We saw we did it with the Voice.”

So I prefer writing for the magazine and Quadrant. I find it harder to get into The Australian than I used to. I used to be regular, but I find The Australian has moved left a bit, to be totally honest. I don’t know what other people take on that. Still pretty good, but definitely has moved left. I’m sad about that. And then some other sites, Daily Sceptic, The Conservative Woman. I don’t know how they define woman, but since it’s conservative, it’s probably based on your chromosomes.

John Storey:

Well, that’s the Australians’ loss, Jim. Thank you so much for your time. And yeah, keep fighting the good fight and look forward to hearing more about what you’re doing in the future.

Professor James Allan:

Thank you, John. And I’ll try to pick up a couple of zinger words for you next time. Like litigious or something.

John Storey:

Thanks, Jim.

Professor James Allan:

Okay. See you.

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