Australian Way of Life

Let’s Keep The Lights On

Written by
27 April 2022
photo of Sydney ferry Borrowdale by Bahnfrend/Wikimedia

Australia needs so many debates right now: national security, energy security, national curriculum, climate science, the cost of housing, and national debt, to name but a few. Mainstream Australians want these debates (and action), but those in power—I don’t mean those in Government, I mean those in power—do not.

On page 30 IPA Senior Fellow, Dr Sherry Sufi, explains how Australians are losing the will and the skill to debate what is really in Australia’s interest, just when the world is becoming a more dangerous place.

On page 8, Professor David Martin Jones looks at the pernicious impacts of ‘hate speech’ laws. Rather than encouraging free speech and robust debate, legislatures across the Anglosphere are chilling debate with laws threatening prosecution for departing from the edicts of woke officialdom.

It was not always thus. On page 48 Professor Bradley Bowden and I discuss the continuing relevance of the Enlightenment (1689-1815) to Australia, in an extract from an exciting new publication from the IPA’s Centre for the Australian Way of Life. Australia is almost unique among New World societies in that European settlement occurred during the Enlightenment, and we are beneficiaries of its focus on liberty, limited government, and a scientific approach to making sense of the natural world. It is in that sense we were ‘born free’, hence this edition’s title as seen on the cover, alongside the elegant Sydney Observatory representing science.

In our article we discuss the contribution of Adam Smith, who believed that through encounters with our fellow man we learn more of the others’ differing perspectives and interests. Rather than being a problem, this encourages empathy, and creates opportunity for exchange (of ideas, and goods). But there have always been those—like the Greens—who hate exchange, and would rather we live similar lives in a rustic backwater, where everyone has equally not very much. These ‘heirs of Malthus’ have no interest in debates that would brighten the lamp of freedom (or indeed, to keep the lights on at all, once the sun goes down…).

Our two most beloved poets, Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson, once engaged in what was known as the ‘Bulletin Debate’, using poetry and humour to attack their rival world views in the pages of that famous magazine. Paterson, the optimist, gave us Clancy of the Overflow and The Man From Snowy River, while Lawson trawled the lanes and pubs of urban Australia describing a bleaker vision. But they were both, each in their own way, nationalists. They believed in Australia, and the way of life that was being built (or that should be built).

On page 38 Peter Craven, the literary critic, looks at our great poets, who were sometimes great nationalist poets. Even A D Hope, who had no wish to be nationalist, finished Australia on a note that something great may yet come from our land. (He was, perhaps, debating himself).

Hate speech laws remind us of the persecutions of the Puritans.

Both Bowden and Jones point out that after the flowering of economic and political liberty, older and malevolent world views have reasserted themselves; thus hate speech laws remind us of the persecutions of the Puritans, and the modern assertions of ‘climate consensus’ hearken to a pre-scientific desire that everyone follow infallible edicts. ‘Net Zero by 2050’ is a mantra to be chanted in return for redemption.

All that when we must have real debates about energy, and particularly about nuclear energy, as made clear by John Kananghinis on page 24. But the renewables lobby is using its wealth and political clout to shut it down. Representing all of the worst aspects of the mercantilism against which Adam Smith fought, these companies would rather Australians pay more for unreliable energy derived from solar panels imported from China than access baseload power from power plants already operating (as succinctly put by Mark Latham in a recent tweet, below). Or indeed baseload energy from nuclear, which is provided without trouble in France, the UK, and Sweden, to name but a few.

We might look to the Parliament as a place where debates can be had without fear or favour, with MPs enjoying the protections of parliamentary privilege. But, as David Leyonhjelm argues on page 54, the scope of even this ancient right is suffering encroachment by judges who have their own agendas. And we need to debate the right issues. A crowning achievement of an ascendant liberalism in Australia in the 1950s—as described by Dr Richard Allsop on page 60—was to make home ownership a central part of the Australian way of life.

We all know that goal has become more difficult, but we need to tackle the issues identified by John Dahlsen on page 16, who points out issues with housing are inseparable from problems with Red Tape and a banking system Governments have delivered to the ‘Big Four’ (speaking of mercantilism…).

That said, even the powerful enforcers of ‘consensus’ cannot hold back the tide completely. Last year the IPA said no to Net Zero and said ‘No to Glasgow’, and now in the wake of a global energy crisis there is finally a public debate on energy security, and how no national security is possible without it.

In these pages and across the IPA we shall continue to work to keep the lights on (in every sense).

This is the editorial from the Autumn 2022 edition of the IPA Review by Editor of the IPA Review, Scott Hargreaves. Articles once loaded online are listed here. IPA Members receive a print edition and online versions of articles are progressively released in the months following publication. To join/subscribe see here.

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Scott Hargreaves

Scott Hargreaves is the Executive Director at the Institute of Public Affairs

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