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IPA Research Into Anti-Vilification Protections In Victoria

The Institute of Public Affairs (“the IPA”) Is committed to undertaking research to promote the human dignity of all Australians. At the heart of human dignity is individual freedom. This is why a key focus of the IPA’s research is on freedom of speech, legal rights, and the rule of law which are at the core of Australia’s liberal democratic traditions.

This current inquiry has been launched in response to the introduction of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Amendment Bill 2019 (“the RRTA Bill”) in August 2019. The RRTA Bill is designed to amend the state’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (“the RRT Act”) by vastly expanding the anti-vilification framework by expanding the number of protected classes and will attempt for the first time in Australia to target so-called hate speech and trolling on social media. This submission addresses the relationship between Victoria’s vilification laws and the fundamental right to freedom of speech, and the impact that the RRTA Bill will have on this relationship.

Currently, sections 8 and 9 of the RRT Act make it unlawful for a person to engage in conduct that ‘incites hatred against, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule’ of another person because of their race or religious belief or activity. Sections 24 and 25 make it a criminal offence to engage in ‘serious vilification’. The RRTA Bill would add gender, disability, and sexual orientation as new ‘protected attributes’ and lower the threshold for serious vilification offences.

IPA research identifies three Fundamental flaws in Victoria’s current anti-vilification framework: firstly, Victorian vilification laws are illiberal and undemocratic restrictions on freedom of speech which damage social cohesion and individual human dignity; secondly, Victorian vilification laws are based on vague and subjective standards that require judges to make arbitrary determinations about lawful and unlawful speech, which is inconsistent with the rule of law; thirdly, Victoria’s “serious” vilification provisions are poorly defined and set a threshold that is too low for imposing criminal penalties. Each of these flaws would be amplified by the RRTA Bill.

Download the IPA’s full submission here.

Their ABC Peddles Panic In A Crisis

A must read thread by Institute of Public Affairs Director of Policy, Gideon Rozner on some shocking reporting by the ABC during the COVID-19 health and economic crisis:

Why Deny the Beautiful Coral Reefs Fringing Stone Island?

We live in an era when it is politically incorrect to say the Great Barrier Reef is doing fine, except if it’s in a tourist brochure. The issue has nothing to do with the actual state of corals, but something else altogether.

Given that the Great Barrier Reef is one ecosystem comprising nearly 3000 individual reefs stretching for 2000 kilometres, damaged areas can always be found somewhere. And a coral reef that is mature and spectacular today may be smashed by a cyclone tomorrow – although neither the intensity nor frequency of cyclones is increasing at the Great Barrier Reef, despite climate change. Another reason that coral dies is because of sea-level fall that can leave some corals at some inshore reefs above water on the lowest tides. These can be exceptionally low tides during El Niño events that occur regularly along the east coast of Australia.

A study published by Reef Check Australia, undertaken between 2001 to 2014 – where citizen scientists followed an agreed methodology at 77 sites on 22 reefs encompassing some of the Great Barrier Reef’s most popular dive sites – concluded that 43 sites showed no net change in hard coral cover, 23 sites showed an increase by more than 10 per cent (10–41 per cent, net change), and 17 sites showed a decrease by more than 10 per cent (10–63 per cent, net change).

Studies like this, which suggest there is no crisis but that there can be change, are mostly ignored by the mainstream media. However, if you mention such information and criticise university academics at the same time, you risk being attacked in the mainstream media. Or in academic Dr Peter Ridd’s case, you could be sacked by your university.

After a career of 30 years working as an academic at James Cook University, Dr Ridd was sacked essentially for repeatedly stating that there is no ecological crisis at the Great Barrier Reef, but rather there is a crisis in the quality of scientific research undertaken and reported by our universities. It all began when he sent photographs to News Ltd journalist Peter Michael showing healthy corals at Bramston Reef, near Stone Island, off Bowen in north Queensland.

More recently, I personally have been ‘savaged’ – and in the process incorrectly labelled right wing and incorrectly accused of being in the pay of Gina Rinehart – by Graham Readfearn in an article published in The Guardian. This was because I supported Dr Ridd by showing in some detail a healthy coral reef fringing the north-facing bay at Stone Island in my first film, Beige Reef.

According to the nonsense article by Mr Readfearn, quoting academic Dr Tara Clark, I should not draw conclusions about the state of corals at Stone Island from just the 25 or so hectares (250,000 square metres) of near 100 per cent healthy hard coral cover filmed at Beige Reef on 27 August 2019. Beige Reef fringes the north-facing bay at Stone Island.

This is hypocritical – to say the least – given Dr Clark has a paper published by Nature claiming the coral reefs at Stone Island are mostly all dead. She based this conclusion on just two 20-metre long transects that avoided the live section of healthy corals seaward of the reef crest.

I will refer to this reef as Pink Plate Reef – given the pink plate corals that I saw there when I went snorkelling on 25 August 2019.

Acropora photographed by Jennifer Marohasy just beyond where Tara Clark and colleagues ran their transects. This reef, around the headland from Beige Reef, will feature in my second short documentary.

Dr Clark – the senior author on the research report, which also includes eight other mostly high-profile scientists – is quoted in The Guardian claiming I have misrepresented her Great Barrier Reef study. In particular, she states,

We never claimed that there were no Acropora corals present in 2012.”

Yet this is really the only conclusion that can be drawn from the information presented in her report, which states in different sections the following:

Using a combination of anecdotal, ecological and geochemical techniques, the results of this study provide a robust understanding of coral community change for Bramston Reef and Stone Island.”

At Stone Island, the reef crest was similar to that observed in 1994 with a substrate almost completely devoid of living corals.”

For Stone Island, the limited evidence of coral growth since the early 19th Century suggests that recovery is severely lagging.”

… by 1994 the reef was covered in a mixture of coral rubble and algae with no living Acropora and very few massive coral colonies present …”

Clark and colleagues recorded the corals along two transects, which they explain included a section of the reef now stranded above the mean low spring sea level. The sections they studied are some metres away from healthy corals – Porites and Acropora species, including pink plate corals that I snorkelled over on 25 August 2019.

Fringing inshore reefs often show distinct zonation, with live and healthy corals growing along the seaward edge. At Pink Plate Reef, the reef edge extends for some 2 kilometres and is about 20 metres wide in parts, while much narrower in other sections.

This picture was taken with my drone, Skido, looking south east towards the edge of Pink Plate Reef
on 26th August 2019.

The more inshore section of such fringing inshore reefs, sometime referred to as ‘the lagoon’ between the beach and the reef edge, is usually muddy. This mud has a terrestrial origin. From the lagoon towards the seaward edge there may be an elevated section, which is often referred to as the reef crest.

It is uncontroversial in the technical scientific literature that there has been sea-level fall of about 1.5 metres at the Great Barrier Reef since a period known as the Holocene High Stand thousands of years ago.

It is also uncontroversial that sea levels fall with the El Niño events that occur regularly along the east coast of Australia most recently during the summer of 2015–2016.

As a consequence, the reef crest at many such inshore fringing reefs may end up above the height of mean low spring sea level. This is too high for healthy coral growth; because of sea-level fall, corals in this section of these reefs are often referred to as ‘stranded’ and will be dead.

Dr Clark and colleagues clearly state that they began their transects at Stone Island at the reef crest, which they also acknowledge is at ‘the upper limit of open water coral growth’. It could reasonably be concluded that Dr Clark’s study set out to sample the section of this reef that could be referred to as stranded.

Our society places enormous trust in scientists. It is as though they are the custodians of all truth.

Yet, as recently reported in another article in The Guardian by Sylvia McLain on 17 September, entitled ‘Not breaking news: many scientific studies are ultimately proved wrong!’, most scientific studies are wrong because scientists are interested in funding their research and their careers rather than the truth.

So, while another The Guardian journalist, Graham Readfearn, may look to scientists like Dr Clark and colleagues to know the truth about the Great Barrier Reef, reef scientists may be inclined to report what is best for their career in the longer term. This is increasingly likely to be the case, given the recent sacking of Dr Ridd for daring to speak against the consensus.

This could also to be the case for film makers. The Guardian has reported my honest attempts at showing how beautiful and healthy one of the fringing coral reefs at Stone Island is – including through spectacular wide angle underwater cinematography – the headline:

Scientists say rightwing think tank misrepresented her Great Barrier Reef study”.

This was the headline in The Guardian on Tuesday, accompanying the first review of my first film – Beige Reef. Many of the comments at YouTube now uncritically link to this misinformation.

It is not easy telling the truth when it comes to the state of corals at the Great Barrier Reef.

In my film Beige Reef, I show such a diversity of beautiful hard corals including species of Acropora and Turbinaria under dappled light at Beige Reef, which is a true coral garden fringing the north facing bay at Stone Island.

Meanwhile, Tara Clark and colleagues – lauded by journalists such as Graham Readfearn – write in their study published by Nature: ‘Only nine dead corals were found along transects 1 and 2, and that these corals were covered in mud and algae.’

Such a statement is perhaps politically smart, because it plays to the current zeitgeist that suggests humankind is having a terrible impact – destroying the planet everywhere, including at the Great Barrier Reef. So, the beautiful reefs that do fringe Stone Island – not just Beige Reef in the north facing bay, but also the reef along the south western edge, the reef that I’ve name Pink Plate – must be denied.

It seems an absolute tragedy to me that the beauty and resilience of these healthy coral reefs is not acknowledged. Further, the idea that the Great Barrier Reef is in peril creates tremendous anxiety throughout our community, particularly for the younger generation.

In another part of the same report, Dr Clark and colleagues state that coral cover was 0.09 per cent at Stone Island. This is not consistent with their ‘benthic survey’ only finding nine dead corals, and is certainly a lot less than the near 100 per cent coverage that I found at Beige Reef just around the corner. It is also a lot less than would have been found if their transects had been placed in that section of Pink Plate Reef with living corals – the section of reef at the seaward edge that extended for perhaps 2 kilometres.


Pink Plate Reef will be the focus of my next short film.

My travel to Stone Island and the film were funded by the B. Macfie Family Foundation through the Institute of Public Affairs.

I snapped the picture of the sailing boat with Gloucester passage in the background, as featured at the top of this blog post, from Pink Plate Reef in the early afternoon on 25th August 2019.

Experts Now Agree: Acropora Coral at Stone Island

APPARENTLY the Nature article I quote from in my new first film Beige Reef doesn’t claim there is no longer any Acropora at Stone Island. According to Graham Readfearn, writing today in The Guardian, I got it wrong.

In fact, he’s got it wrong.

Following are more direct quotes from the same Nature paper:

“Using a combination of anecdotal, ecological and geochemical techniques, the results of this study provide a robust understanding of coral community change for Bramston Reef and Stone Island.”

“At Stone Island, the reef crest was similar to that observed in 1994 with a substrate almost completely devoid of living corals.”

“For Stone Island, the limited evidence of coral growth since the early 19th Century suggests that recovery is severely lagging.”

“… by 1994 the reef was covered in a mixture of coral rubble and algae with no living Acropora and very few massive coral colonies present …”

The Nature article got it so wrong because the two transects were run across a section of reef where the corals are now dead, as I’ve explained in previous blog posts. The transect was run across the dead coral in front of our little boat as shown in the feature picture at the top of this blog post. At this reef, the live coral is at the reef’s edge, shown behind our boat in the picture. That edge of live coral runs for about two kilometres at varying widths around the south-western edge of Stone Island.

Following is the email I wrote to the journalist, Graham Readfearn yesterday with my four responses to his four questions.

Hi Graham,

Thank you for your email concerning my first film, Beige Reef. I reply to your four questions as inserts to your email, following.

By way of perspective, let me also comment that:

Beige Reef is a short film showing the condition and extent of an inshore coral reef that is part of the Great Barrier Reef.

We filmed this reef because, according to a scientific report in the journal Nature, there are no longer any Acropora corals at this location. The peer-reviewed article, coauthored by David Wachenfeld who is the chief scientist at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, claims the corals at Stone Island have been destroyed by global warming and declining water quality.

Yet we found about 25 hectares of Acropora in the north-facing bay at Stone Island.

The underwater cinematography shown in this film is irreconcilable with the claims in the Nature article.

Beige Reef, my very first film, makes the point that Peter Ridd has been making for some time: that our scientific institutions are untrustworthy, that there is a need for some quality assurance of the science.

As a journalist I ask the you dispassionately consider the evidence, which should begin with you watching the film and then reading the article in Nature.

Kind regards
Jennifer Marohasy

1. In your video, you say that Dr Clark’s paper says there are “no living acropora colonies” at Stone Island. But Dr Clark says her paper did not say that, and in fact said there were some acroporas at the site of Saville-Kent’s original photographs. Clark says you have incorrectly placed emphasis on a 1994 finding from Wachenfeld, which is quoted in her paper. Your IPA colleague Gideon Rozner also repeats this claim in a promotional video.


Clark et al. explain (page 11) that they took just two transects each of 20 metres at Stone Island. Based on this sampling they intended to categorized coral cover as ‘live hard coral’, ‘dead coral’, ‘soft coral’, ‘algae’, ‘other substratum’ (substrate and sediment), and ‘unknown’.

It is specifically stated that at Stone Island only nine dead corals were found along transects 1 and 2, and that these corals were covered in mud and algae.

2. Clark says that for Stone Island, her paper concentrated on the sites visited by Saville-Kent and Wachenfeld, which is a different location to much of your footage from a subtidal reef slope.


Clark et al. explain (page 11) that only two short transects were taken because the reef environment was ‘highly consistent’. Based on these two transects Clark et al. draw conclusions about the situation at Stone Island in general. My first film is about Beige Reef that is just around the headland from the location of the two transects.

My second film will be about the reef to the south south-west of Stone Island.  Here there is an extensive area of coral (including Acropora spp.) just metres from the two transects from which Clark et al draw erroneous conclusions.

3. Clark says that her 2016 paper did not make any claims about other areas of the reef and no “ill-fated prognosis” was made in that paper.


Following is just some of what Clark et al write about the corals at Stone Island:

“Using a combination of anecdotal, ecological and geochemical techniques, the results of this study provide a robust understanding of coral community change for Bramston Reef and Stone Island.”

“At Stone Island, the reef crest was similar to that observed in 1994 with a substrate almost completely devoid of living corals.”

“For Stone Island, the limited evidence of coral growth since the early 19th Century suggests that recovery is severely lagging.”

“… by 1994 the reef was covered in a mixture of coral rubble and algae with no living Acropora and very few massive coral colonies present …”

4. In the video you say you could not see any bleaching – yet Dr Clark says this is not surprising, because regardless, you visited in August 2019 – more than two years after the previous major bleaching episode.


I am delighted that Tara Clark acknowledges that there is no bleaching of corals at Stone Island. I would like to film coral bleaching at the Great Barrier Reef, but no-one has been able to tell me where I can find bleached corals. I would be happy to travel to any location at the Great Barrier Reef that shows significant bleaching for a future IPA short film. Could you, and/or Tara Clark could provide me with specific locations.

Watch the short film, Beige Reef:

Originally published at Jennifer Marohasy’s blog.

A Liberal man of letters: Peter Coleman, 1928-2019

Journalist, parliamentarian, editor, author and Spectator Australia columnist Peter Coleman has died in Sydney at the age of 90.

He was perhaps the last of his kind, a public intellectual who not only supported the Liberal Party, but also represented it in both the New South Wales and federal parliaments.

Coleman served as a member of the NSW Legislative Assembly from 1968 to 1978, spending his last year as leader of the opposition, then as the member for Wentworth from 1981 to 1986, but he will best be remembered for his journalistic endeavours.

Coleman studied at the University of Sydney under the influential philosophers John Anderson and John Passmore, then at the London School of Economics, where he was taught by Michael Oakeshott.

He first came to attention in 1958 as associate editor of the new fortnightly magazine The Observer, working under Donald Horne and alongside finance editor Michael Baume.

In 1961 it was subsumed by its CAP stalemate The Bulletin, long fallen into disrepair. Along with Horne, Coleman was instrumental in returning the weekly to the importance it enjoyed until its closure half a century later, serving as editor from 1964 and 1967.

During this period Coleman produced two unsurpassed books, Cartoons of Australian History, with the legendary cartoonist Les Tanner, and a history of censorship in Australia, Obscenity, Blasphemy, Sedition.

On his resignation from The Bulletin Coleman became editor of Quadrant, a post he held for 20 years.

After his retirement from politics Coleman produced a prodigious body of writing. This ranged from a major study of the intellectual battles of the Cold War, The Liberal Conspiracy: The Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Struggle for the Mind of Postwar Europe to biographical works on Barry Humphries, Bruce Beresford, poet James McAuley and economist Heinz Arndt, along with collections of his own writing and poetry.

He recorded major interviews for the National Library of Australia’s oral history collections with figures including Beresford, Garfield Barwick, Michel Kirby, Clyde Packer, father of the Dries Jim Carlton, Marxist scholar Eugene Kamenka and writers and literary figures such as Hugh Atkinson, Charles Higham, John Passmore, Peter Porter, Adrian Rawlins and Amy Witting.

His talent reached a new generation of readers in 2008 when he assisted his son in law, Peter Costello, with his autobiography The Costello Memoirs and, from 2009, his Australian Notes ran regularly in The Spectator Australia.

In a remarkable Spectator column early in 2015, Coleman told of the cartoon he received from the editor of Charlie Hebdo, Stephane Charbonnier, who signed his work Charb, “as a sort of personal message welcoming me as a new subscriber to his magazine”.

“It must have been one of the last cartoons he drew before he was murdered,” Coleman continued. “The subscription was, as it happened, a Christmas present from my granddaughter Maisie Dubosarsky who lives and works in Paris but was home for Christmas, and from her boy friend Simon Fieschi, the web-master of Charlie Hebdo.”

Fieschi had been shot in the lungs, spine and shoulder and left for dead by the Islamists. Later that year, Coleman recounted his miracle recovery and fairytale wedding by the Lord Mayor of Paris at the hôtel de ville.

Coleman will be remembered as a figure of immense importance in the literary and intellectual life of post World War II Australia.

Our nation’s left has rewritten history, dividing it into two eras, before and after Gough.

Peter Coleman will serve as a reminder that it was during the Menzies era Australia began to stir, to assert itself as a proudly independent nation and new intellectual force as seen in everything from the Colombo Plan to the works of Sydney Nolan and their impact in London.

In that time, under the shadow of the H-bomb, figures like Coleman chose the values of the West over Soviet Communist.

While figures like Donald Horne who had once embraced the Liberal Party as a force of modernisation slid over to the ever more fashionable philosophy we would now call the latte left, Coleman held firm.

For that – and his extraordinary career and body of work – he not only deserves our acclaim, but will remain an inspiration for all those who choose freedom and the fruits it brings.

The editor of The Spectator Australia, Rowan Dean, and former editor Tom Switzer – as well as his many friends and admirers at The Speccie – will all miss Peter enormously. His talent was extraordinary and his craft, attention to detail, passion and intellect put him amongst the very finest Australian columnists.

The IPA is pleased to reproduce this appreciation of Peter Coleman’s magnificent contribution, first published at Flat White, here.

Free Speech on Campus in Decline

On Monday ‘The Australian’ reported on its front page the IPA’s Free Speech on Campus 2018, which finds that free expression is slipping even further.

The audit analyses over 190 policies and actions at Australia’s 42 universities. The total Hostility Score across all institutions, which measures the number of policies and actions that limit free speech, has increased by 82 per cent between 2016 and 2018.

‘The Australian’ report says:

Australian universities are becoming increasingly hostile to free speech, with 35 of 42 institutions promoting policies that limit staff and student expressions, sparking calls for the higher education regulator to intervene.

An increasing number of universities have developed policies that threaten free speech, going as far as to outlaw “insulting” or “unwelcome” comments, even “sarcasm”, while campus protests, typically led by left-wing activists, are on the rise, an audit by the Institute of Public Affairs found.

‘The Australian’ editorial says:

More universities have devised policies at odds with freedom of expression, some prohibiting “Insulting” or “unwelcome” comments, and event “sarcasm”, according to the latest in a series of audits by the Institute of Public Affairs. Only nine institutions (a fifth of the total) had policies explicitly protecting free intellectual inquiry.

The bland uniformity of Australia’s universities has long been cause for comment. Is it too much to hope that just one vice-chancellor may pre-empt the campus free speech inquiry of former High Court chief justice Robert French by adopting a University of Chicago-style charter, leaving new students in no doubt that they have come to a place where open intellectual debate is prized, not hemmed in by identity politics?

The audit rates each Australian university, and found that:

  • Thirty-five of Australia’s 42 universities (83 per cent) are Red rated for policies and actions that are hostile to free speech on campus, an increase from 33 in 2016 and 34 in 2017;
  • Six universities (14 per cent) are Amber rated for threats to free speech on campus; and
  • One university, the University of New England, is Green rated for supporting free speech.

See more in our media release.