DFAT boss gives brilliant speech on values and free speech at Australian universities  

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade head Frances Adamson, in a courageous speech to the Chinese government-funded Confucius Institute at the University of Adelaide, has urged students against the call for censorship of challenging ideas.

‘No doubt there will be times when you encounter things which to you are unusual, unsettling or perhaps seem plain wrong,’ Adamson said in comments directed at international students. ‘If you aren’t encountering strange and challenging things you aren’t getting out enough.’

Adamson calls for students to ‘respectfully engage’ with ideas they disagree with. ‘The silencing of anyone in our society from students to lecturers to politicians is an affront to our values,’ she correctly identifies.

Adamson’s speech comes following four known occasions this year that Chinese students have demanded lectures align materials more closely with Chinese policy. The University of Sydney apologised after a lecturer presented a map with borders that did not align with the Chinese government line on disputes with India and Bhutan. In another case, Monash withdrew a textbook after a quiz question caused controversy.

As I wrote for ABC Online last week, ‘that some students find an idea offensive is not a good enough reason for it to be silenced. Education requires hearing a range of viewpoints’. I continued:

Universities must show international and domestic students alike that they are most welcome to study on our campuses. However, all students must respect fundamental Australian values and appreciate the core feature of a liberal education system which challenges, not coddles, students.

Adamson’s comments could also be directed at Australia’s domestic students and university administrators, who are increasingly pursuing censorship of ideas through speech codes and various actions, as IPA research has found.

The IPA’s Free Speech on Campus Audit 2016 found eight-in-ten Australian universities have policies or have taken action that unambiguously threatens free speech. This includes speech codes that prevent offence on the basis of national origin – which, in practice, provides institutional backing for those seeking censorship.

If free expression is a core Australian value, as Adamson correctly identifies, our universities must go much further to protect it from current attacks.

Sydney Uni Taking Us To Year Zero, Dr Bella d’Abrera Tells Young IPA Podcast

The IPA’s Dr Bella d’Abrera joined The Young IPA Podcast to discuss her recent article in the Daily Telegraph on the University of Sydney’s ‘Unlearn Campaign’. Here’s what she had to say:

“They have to unlearn everything that they know. They have to break the old rules, and then start again. It’s a crazy idea of starting at Year Zero.”

“Everything they know about climate, about love, about medicine. Everything that they know, they have to unlearn.”

“This is the opposite to the point of a university…this is creating a generation of people who won’t know anything. And it’s quite terrifying, because how are they going to make decisions if they don’t know anything? How are they going to be leaders of the country?”

Pete and James also join the John Batchelor show with John Batchelor and Mary Kissel to discuss the Australian economy. Also hear from IPA Research Fellow Andrew Bushnell discuss his new report: Indigenous Australians and the Criminal Justice System.

Listen to the full interview on iTunes, Soundcloud or on our website. Make sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode.

Rural Vs Urban Discontents Deconstructed

When I was a kid I read the story of “Town Mouse and Country Mouse”, in which cousins visit each other and much is made of their dining together, contrasting the fare on offer. Having initially been charmed by the distinctive features of country life and city life, but then realising the contrasting style of dining between simple and natural versus elaborate and fussy, they ultimately decide that they prefer their milieu. The country mouse feels unsafe in the big city, the town mouse realises he would miss the sophisticated food and entertainment of the big city. Having moved from the country to the city, I have often thought of this story, but the conversations I have with my friends and family at either end of the freeway express nothing like the contentment of the mice at the end of it. Thanks to work by the economist Philip Auerswald, I’m starting to understand why this might be the case.

Years after reading the story I learnt that it was one of Aesop’s fables, later quoted by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, popularised in Mediaeval times, and adapted by Beatrix Potter, which may have been the version I read.  The fable in my memory is fundamentally warm-hearted. Each mouse returns to his home, content, realising that ‘tastes differ’.

But in the countryside what we see the phenomenon of populism. An anti-elite expression of dissatisfaction with local socioeconomic outcomes, and a degree of resentment of the apparent concentration of wealth in the cities. For the very same elites, ‘populism’ is used as a term of disparagement, and all manner of moral deficiencies are trotted out. The IPA has challenged that later narrative with articles like In Defence of Populism and Populism is not a Dirty Word.

But in the city, where I live, the people I hang out with (and me and my family for that matter) don’t feel like elites living a life of opulence. They are struggling with the cost of living, the human cost of rapid population growth and consequent congestion, and (unless they’re older and debt free), either on the mortgage treadmill associated with exploding property prices or unable to get into the housing market at all. Living cheek by jowl with people from all over the world, they are tolerant of people from other cultures because it is both necessary and basic good manners, but they are perhaps a little too ready to attribute prejudice to those in more settled and homogenous rural communities.

Change in the Intensity of Republican / Democrat Voting

So, to Philip Auerswald, of George Mason University in the US, whose thesis on populism predates the seismic election that put Trump in the White House. On the way to the office today I was listening to him being interviewed by Russ Roberts on the wonderful Econtalk podcast (nearly as good as the IPA’s!). Auerswald essentially says that what we call populism is a response to a global phenomenon based on the tremendous growth in population in the cities in contrast to economic dislocation and depopulation in rural areas. This is the common element he sees behind Brexit, Trump, Erdogan’s support in Turkey and even Putin (who probably would win a fair vote in Russia). This is not to say that ideologies are the same, but that the rural support for the anti-elitist programs is the same in each case.

We should rightly be suspicious of any theory which reduces complex phenomena to one cause, but I wanted to reflect upon it in this because of the intrinsic appeal of a theory that simultaneously explains both rural AND urban discontents. I can quote from it to my friends in both the country and the city. My take-outs from the podcast are:

  • Unemployment and depopulation in rural areas is actually a bad thing for the people who live there (who knew?). Acknowledgement of that fact by policy makers might be a good start.
  • Absent sub-Saharan Africa, all of the population growth going on in the world is taking place in cities of more than 1 million people.
  • The concentration of wealth in the cities is driven by the underlying economics of the knowledge economy, as it is organisational knowhow that drives competitiveness, and proximity allows for a learning curve in knowhow (the ‘water cooler effect’).
  • Population flooding into the cities is, naturally, driving up land prices.
  • This increase in land prices almost entirely accounts for the supposed shift in the share of wealth towards capital from labour identified by neo-Marxist economist Thomas Piketty (as shown by Matthew Rognlie, here), and therefore all Piketty’s causal explanations (and remedies) are wrong.

This is just a blog post so I won’t go too far in what this means for Australia other than to speculate:

  • Unlike the US, we do not have the safety valve of growing cities with lower land prices, like Houston. The cities we do have that are affordable, are not growing, and those that are growing, like Melbourne and Sydney, are not affordable. Markets and innovation can drive growth in places like Adelaide, and attract population, provided the self-destructive policies of the command economy are no longer pursued. And the bigger cities can reduce the cost of housing by targeting land release and planning restrictions
  • The rural/urban divide is masked in Victoria, where the major regional cities are within two hours travel of Melbourne and so there is a substantial economic spillover effect, and daily labour migration. The effect is the same in Sydney, but compared to Victoria a greater proportion of the State lies outside the capital city’s economic hinterland.
  • Due to the historic very high concentration of population in the capital cities in Australia, populism in its classic form is likely to remain a minority position at the national level, unless it can form a bridge to the discontented in the cities (this brings to mind this article which suggests urbanist/real estate/housing concerns explain the incursion into urban areas by LePen in France)
  • One Nation will do quite well in the Queensland election, outside of South-east Queensland, and the reasons for this will be systematically misunderstood by everyone in the SydMelberra triangle (except perhaps at the IPA!).

Finally, I would say that notwithstanding Auerswald’s finding of real economic and demographic phenomena behind the rural/urban divide, the specific values expressed in populism are not reducible to economics. If populism expresses a continuing adherence to the nation State and its symbols, historic ethical norms, and traditional notions of personal responsibility, then even urban elites must accord them the respect they deserve. After all, tastes differ.

Scott Hargreaves is Executive General Manager at the Institute of Public Affairs

Highlights Of David Leyonhjelm On The Young IPA Podcast

Senator David Leyonhjelm was our guest on The Young IPA Podcast this week. Listen to the full interview on iTunes, SoundCloud and our website.

Here’s some of what Senator Leyonhjelm had to say:

On energy

“No one cares about poor people [in this debate]”

“There are bound to be deaths…as a result of higher electricity prices and people not keeping warm in the wintertime [as a result of rising prices].”

On free speech laws introduced surrounding debate over same sex marriage survey

“I actually feel a bit guilty that I didn’t kick up more of a fuss about that.”

“I hadn’t even looked at the Bill until Monday morning in the Senate [when I saw it included] harassment and vilification…so I wasn’t too happy about it.”

“It went through with no opposition whatsoever…and I thought ‘well, what hope have I got of doing much about it?’”

“It’s a crack in the door for anti-vilification and anti-blasphemy laws”

On libertarianism in Australia

“Not many people are prepared to apply [the harm principle]. They might say ‘well, I’d like to have lower taxes because I’m better at spending my money myself, but on the other hand I’m too stupid to ride a bicycle without smashing my head or knowing when to fall off, so therefore the law should make me wear a helmet.’”

“A lot of people equate disapproval with the law. You can disapprove of people riding a bicycle without a helmet, and that’s fine… but when you invoke the law, that’s when you step over the line. And then you go from being a libertarian to an authoritarian.”

When non-libertarians debate libertarians on free speech “they omit the fact that there’s no obligation to listen. You can turn your head, or walk away, or block on Twitter…but you shouldn’t invoke the law to prevent a person from saying something [offensive] in the first place.”
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Process is still the punishment under section 18C

Despite the federal government’s amendments earlier this year, the process is still the punishment under section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. The Australian’s legal affairs editor Chris Merritt today explained the latest instance of baseless litigation under section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act that is proceeding into the federal court system – against him and others at The Australian:

The Federal Circuit Court is about to deal with a claim under section 18C of the Racial ­Discrimination Act that could well be the last involving accusations that have already been found to be baseless….

The complainant, Sokhom Prins, alleges that a March 10 column of mine in The Australian, and subsequent email ­exchanges involving Hedley Thomas and Janet Albrechtsen, breached section 18C’s ban on speech that offends, insults, ­humiliates and intimidates ­people on the basis of their race, colour, nationality or ethnic background.

The column was a response to being accused by Ms Prins of being part of a “white racist posse”. I wrote that I was offended and insulted on the basis of my race and ethnic background and “I feel sure that my Tamil ­antecedents from southern India would share that opinion”.

Ms Prins wants the column removed from the internet and $1.6 million in damages.

The Australian Human Rights Commission terminated the complaint in July for being without substance, and the Federal Circuit Court will undoubtedly throw the complaint out in due course. But under laws like section 18C the process is the punishment. According to Merritt, The Australian will incur “possibly tens of thousands of dollars” in legal fees and wasted time defending itself against the frivolous litigation.

But will this really be the last instance of a baseless 18C complaint reaching the courts? The federal government’s procedural amendments to the AHRC that were passed in April intend to ensure that complainants no longer have an automatic right to take their terminated complaints to the courts, but must first persuade a judge to allow it to be heard. As the complaint against Merritt and the others at The Australian was made in March, the new rules do not apply, and as Merritt explains, the complaint is one that “could well be the last involving accusations that have already been found to be baseless.”

However, that presupposes that the complaint is actually terminated by the AHRC for being trivial, vexatious, misconceived or lacking in substance. In the legislation, there are three ways to take a complaint to the courts:

  • the court concerned grants leave to make the application; or
  • the complaint was terminated under paragraph 46PH(1)(h); or
  • the complaint was terminated under paragraph 46PH(1B)(b).

The first requires complainants to convince a judge to allow the case to be heard. The second (Section 46PH(1)(h)) refers to complaints that involve issues of public importance that should be considered by the courts. The third (Section 46PH(1B)(b)) refers to complaints where the AHRC president is satisfied that “there is no reasonable prospect of the matter being settled by conciliation.”

That is an exceptionally broad exception. In fact, the vast majority of terminated complaints at the Commission are terminated for this reason. It was for this reason that the infamous complaint against the students at the Queensland University of Technology was terminated by the AHRC in August 2015.

The government’s procedural amendments do not resolve the chilling effect of the 18C regime. The main effect of the law is not to directly punish offensive speech but to cause people to avoid the risk of legal repercussions by silencing themselves from engaging in lawful activity. This has a profound effect on freedom of speech undermines our democracy.

It is only a matter of time until another QUT – or another Merritt case – happens under the new laws. The only way to stop the assault on free speech is to repeal section 18C and similar laws altogether.

Socialism. Always. Ends. Badly.

After first praising Venezuela, the left now claim it’s ‘not real socialism’

According to Jim Mciloy at  Green Left Weekly, I’m part of a global imperialist conspiracy aiming to bring down the Venezuelan government.  Mcilroy’s was writing in response to my piece in The Australian, about the Australian government’s conspicuous silence on Venezuela. The socialist country is facing an extraordinary humanitarian disaster, assaults on democracy, violence towards and, even, the murder of opposition members or supporters.

Despite this deteriorating situation and their recent statement by the UN that the regime should be investigated for committing ‘crimes against humanity‘, there has been no condemnation from the Australian government. Recently our foreign minister, Julie Bishop, sent a letter to Venezuela’s representative in Australia to distance the government from criticism of the regime by a Greens senator.

The response by some to the situation in Venezuela is nothing beyond extraordinary. The Australian left has a long history of backing the regime. In 2007, dozens of Australian unionists, journalists, and Labor, Greens, and Democrat politicians wrote an open letter to Venezuelan socialist leader Hugo Chavez inviting him to visit Australia. “We have watched developments in Venezuela with great interest,” they wrote. “We have been impressed by the effort your government has taken to improve the living standards of the majority of Venezuelans.” This letter was signed by Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, former Democrat Leader or politician Natasha Stott-Despoja, commentator Phillip Adams, and academic John Pilger.

Rather than admit their stupidity, sections of the left refuse to give up the cause – and some even use the trope that its ‘not real socialism’. Mcilroy’s piece claims there has been a “concerted attack” on the regime, including currency manipulation, hoarding, and corruption. In late July, as the situation was worsening, the CFMEU and the Maritime unions unanimously passed resolutions backing the conspiracy line in support of the totalitarian government.

They’re absurd, patently false claims aim to deflect blame from the real cause of the problems in Venezuela: socialism. They ignore that the beginning of food and other shortages began after the introduction of price controls, the loss of productivity in nationalised sectors and the widespread corruption. In the short term the regime was popped up by its oil revenue – however when the oil price went down, drying up the rivers of gold, the government could no longer afford to import goods.

(And yes, there is a perfect irony in a supposedly green publication backing the Venezuelan government  – who could only ever stay themselves afloat by selling oil. Or, hopefully, its a sign that the left is finally starting to appreciate the benefits of cheap reliable energy.)

The result of Venezuelan socialism has been sadly predictable: mass starvation, political unrest, and crackdowns on any opposition. You don’t have to be part of a global conspiracy – just a sensible human being – to be concerned about a spike in child morality, the contraction of an economy by 40% and nine-in-ten households not having enough food.

Socialism, the ever encroaching power of the state on people’s lives, is responsible for countless humanitarian and political disasters. The Black Book of Communism estimates that as many as 94 million people have died as a result of failed socialist policies.

Venezuela is the modern exemplar of what happens when government gets too big, tries to regulate too much, and strangles business and society in the process.

The concern here shouldn’t be the false claim of a global conspiracy – the shame is that there is not a global outcry.

NBA Star Andrew Bogut Unleashes On Political Correctness, Australia Day And More

NBA champion Andrew Bogut last week appeared on The Young IPA Podcast. Here is a sneak peek of what he had to say:

On why his outspoken political views mean he could never be AFL player:

“It gets to a point sometimes where players are kind of forced to feel robotic. I have a few friends who play in the AFL and have expressed that they never want to go against the team or the coach. So if they have a certain opinion or thought on things you can’t really go against [the grain] if you believe in it or not. And I think that’s a dangerous slope to tread. You always want to have open discussion on whatever.”

On councils choosing to abandon Australia Day:

“Are we in a democracy or are we not?…You can’t poll 200 people and then come to an agreement.”

On political correctness:

“I don’t think [political correctness] is ever going to end. A lot of these politicians are employed to just push social agendas and they’re going to have jobs for life because social policies have no end. It has no finish line.”

Growing up, I learned “I’m proud to be a wog, and I’m proud to be an Australian. I’m not going sit here and demand this and demand that because someone called me a wog on a high school playground.”

Political correctness “pushes people into thinking they’re victims all the time.”

“To say that things haven’t progressed from the 80s and 90s…you’d have to be an absolute idiot. Is there a way to go? Absolutely…[but] we’re a multicultural country.”

On why there are so many Australians in the NBA now:

“We’re influenced to be team orientated at an early age. If you have one good player on a team of 22 in footy you’re not doing much, but if you 22 good blokes that are doing well you’re usually going to win…[because of that] Australians are very comfortable being told ‘we’re going to change your role a little bit’ or ‘we need you do to this better for us’.

Americans can be flashier scorers, but “if what you need is a good rebounder, or if you need a good passer, or someone who’s a great guy in the locker room, I think Australians will pull their weight.”

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A Politically Correct Walking Tour of Ballarat

Calls for the removal of statues or other historic monuments have been a feature of identity politics for some time, but recently this movement has taken a darker turn. The toppling of the statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee in Durham, North Carolina is just one example of a trend gathering momentum. The persecution of stone and metal monuments for the real and imagined sins of those so depicted is at times violent if not anarchic.

Unfortunately, this fanatical crusade which seeks to re-write history by destroying and removing inanimate objects, has also found expression in Australia’s public spaces with the vandalism of iconic statues of Captain Cook, Lachlan Macquarie, Queen Victoria and even an Anzac memorial by an one or more individuals  clearly offended by their very presence.

This made me wonder what our cities would look like if the history erasers in Australia got their way, and the trend to not only vandalise, but also destroy statues, arrived in Australia. So I went on a politically correct walking tour of Ballarat’s statues and monuments to find out, and then made a film about it.

It was not overly difficult to apply the ‘logic’ of the new determinists as to what is right and wrong to every single statue and monument which grace Ballarat’s streets, as all can offend or be said to represent something offensive, to someone, in some kind of way.

For example, it could be argued that the statue of King George V should be removed because he is representative of Western Cultural imperialism; he is descended from George III, who instructed Captain James Cook to chart the east coast of Australia, leading directly to its settlement by Europeans shortly thereafter. You could also claim that the statute of Hebe, the Greek goddess of Youth should also go because she is clearly perpetuating the female beauty myth and is thus part of a system that reinforces male dominance.

This light-hearted satire should be viewed in the light of last week’s Newspoll, which finds that 58% of those polled believe that statues should be left alone. This should be indication enough that this movement to rewrite history and sacrifice our heroes and symbols does not have the support of the majority of Australians.