University regulator backs down on free intellectual inquiry attack

Australia’s university regulator has backed down on a major attack on campus intellectual freedom, following public scrutiny by the Institute of Public Affairs.

In October last year the Territory Education Quality and Standard Agency quietly released a draft Guidance Note on ‘Diversity and Equity’.

The original note conflated equivalent opportunity with ‘creating the conditions for equity of outcomes’, re-defined social responsibility to include the politically loaded concept of ‘social justice’, and mandated censorious ‘inclusive language’. It even potentially required universities to teach ‘diversity’ in irrelevant contexts.

It was, as I wrote at the time in the IPA’s submission on the draft which was covered in The Australian, a breath-taking attack on free intellectual inquiry and diversity of viewpoints:

An understanding of diversity is a laudable goal. However, the implications of this are extremely problematic. By defining diversity as exclusively relating to identity groups (Page 1), and requiring “inclusive language”, TEQSA is encouraging the creation of a censorious culture on campus.

…The best-intentioned concept of “inclusive language,” to accommodate identity is, in practice, damaging to free intellectual inquiry. It encourages students and academics to not explore ideas, for fear it could hurt feelings or cause offence. This should not be encouraged by the sector’s regulator.

The note blatantly contradicted the higher education framework legislation on which it was supposed to be based, which obliges universities to have ‘a commitment to and support for free intellectual inquiry in its academic endeavours.’ The note could have been used, at the extreme, to deregister a university.

Six months after the original draft, the regulator has now released the final version of the note which is a substantial improvement. It rectifies almost all key criticisms in the IPA’s submission.

The long list of identity victim groups has been removed, the equation of equality of opportunity with equivalent outcomes is gone, social justice is no longer part of a university’s role. They have removed the sentence about including diversity in education itself. They have removed the requirement of ‘inclusive language’.

Importantly, for the first time the university regulator has stated:

Measures taken to accommodate diversity should also not contravene the pursuit of free intellectual inquiry, and more generally, freedom of expression.

This is a giant leap in the right direction.

The final guidance note is imperfect – the definitions are often vague, the prioritisation of diversity has not been removed, and the focus on student ‘self-esteem’ is maintained. Nevertheless, it is now far less dangerous in ambition and scope.

Universities must now act. The IPA’s Free Speech on Campus Audit found that four-in-five universities have speech codes, or have taken action, that seriously restricts free expression on campus. Speech codes prohibit ‘unwelcome’ comments, ‘offensive’ language, and, in the worst cases, ‘sarcasm’ and hurt ‘feelings’. Universities should abolish these speech codes and make explicit statements in favour of free expression.

Universities, to fulfil their purpose of debating and developing ideas, must remove existing restrictions on free intellectual inquiry.

Matthew Lesh is a research fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs

10 Things Oxfam Australia’s Coal Report Won’t Tell You

This week’s Oxfam Australia report “More Coal Equals More Poverty,” covered in the Guardian, repeated many of the environmental movement’s usual claims that coal-fired electricity hurts the poor, contributes to global warming and is just about to be eclipsed by renewables anyway.

Here is a quick response to some of its major points:

1) Electricity Capacity and Generation Are Not the Same

Like most pro-renewables reports, the report talks about the large increase in installed ‘renewable energy capacity’ and equates this to coal and other fossil-fuel power. Capacity to deliver is not the same as ability to deliver. Solar and wind power typically operate at 25% to 33% of their potential and of course at night or in still conditions deliver 0%. Coal, gas and nuclear machines can generate electricity 24/7.

2) The Cost of Renewables Is Not In Freefall

Renewables don’t operate in a real market where the prices are set by a buyer and seller coming to an agreement. In the renewables ‘market’ governments step in, subsidise or even directly pay to build new wind and solar, guarantee to buy their output or use ‘emissions policy’ to force cheaper energy sources like coal to close. If they are so cheap then why is electricity getting more expensive all over the world?

3) India is Not Ditching Coal for Renewables

Around 240 million people in India currently don’t have access to electricity and 840 million people burn oil, crop waste or other materials in open household ovens to cook their food. While the Government is doing everything it can to fix this problem including supporting new solar, wind and hydroelectric power, it also has 50 gigawatts of new coal (equal to about 33 Hazelwood’s) currently planned or under construction.

4) India is Not Ending Coal Imports

The Indian Government has promised to end coal imports only for its government-owned stations by 2018 (though this target keeps getting moved back). Its Energy Minister has openly acknowledged that this does not affect privately owned coal power stations like Adani’s.

5) Village Renewables Will Never Power a Modern Industrial Economy Like Coal, Gas and Nuclear

In October 2015, Scientific American published an article that exposed the truth behind the environmentalist fantasy of solar panels powering villages in poor communities. After living through it, villagers demanded “We want real electricity, not fake electricity.” If solar and wind don’t generate enough electricity to power a small rural village in a poor part of India, how can they fuel a modern industrial economy?

6) Banning Australian Coal Exports Will Just Hand Money to Someone Else

While Australia has one of the world’s largest coal reserves, there is plenty of coal in the USA, Russia, South Africa, China, Indonesia and many other countries. If the environmental movement successfully closes the Australian coal export industry, someone else will just take our place.

7) The Paris Climate Change Agreement Doesn’t Actually Reduce Global CO2 emissions

The dirty little secret of the environmental movement is that the 2015 Paris climate change agreement isn’t legally binding and doesn’t actually reduce carbon dioxide emissions. If all countries actually implemented what they promised (which is itself unlikely) carbon dioxide levels will still rise. Reducing ‘per capita emissions intensity’ is not actually reducing emissions!

8) Weather Is Always Changing and Will Continue to Do So

The world’s temperatures have been going up and down for millennia. In fact, some studies have found that ice coverage in the Arctic and Antarctic has been increasing, hurricanes in the US are declining and increased atmospheric CO2 is actually helping to green the planet. Pointing to occasional extreme events and blaming them all on CO2 is not objective.

9) The Solution to Land Availability Problems is Not Renewables

One coal-fired power station can deliver cheap and reliable power to millions of people for decades and takes up a lot less land than the thousands of wind turbines or solar panels needed to match its output. The national wealth created by cheap and reliable electricity will help locals, especially those in poorer nations, to improve their local environment.

10) The World Is Not Dropping Coal

Greenpeace found in early 2017 that a total of 62 countries are planning over 800 gigawatts of new coal-fired power stations, equal to over 30 times Australia’s current coal-fired capacity. Bloomberg New Energy Finance last year found that global investment in new coal power would be worth $1.2 trillion between 2016 and 2040 and the International Energy Agency predicted last year that more coal would be consumed for electricity in 2040 than today.

If coal is so harmful and already on the way out, then why are so many countries investing their money in it? Unleashing the natural stored energy in coal, gas and uranium gives billions of people their best chance to get out of poverty.

Brett Hogan is Director of Research at the Institute of Public Affairs

Return of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill?

Chris Merritt in The Australian today reporting on the ALP’s plan to resurrect the Gillard government’s failed attempt to consolidate federal anti-discrimination laws in 2012:

Mr Dreyfus has confirmed that if Labor is elected to government he will be considering imposing a general standard for speech that infringes anti-discrimination law.

Under Labor’s proposal, advocates of same-sex marriage would be empowered, for example, to take legal action under 18C-style laws if they felt offended or ­insulted by those who publicly ­defended the traditional definition of marriage. Those at risk would include priests, rabbis, imams and other religious leaders who publicly oppose same-sex marriage.

Labor’s proposal also opens the prospect that debate over the cost of the National Disability ­Insurance Scheme could be truncated because of the risk of litigation by those who might feel offended or insulted.

Mr Dreyfus outlined Labor’s thinking during a panel discussion on Wednesday last week with Liberal backbencher Tim Wilson, hosted by the Jewish Community Council of Victoria.

In the video of the event, Mr Dreyfus said a Labor gov­ernment hoped to consolidate all federal anti-discrimination legislation and would consider whether there should be a general standard for the type of speech that would ­attract liability under that law. At the moment, separate federal laws make it unlawful to discriminate against people because of their race, age, sex and sexual orientation, disability and indigeneity.

When Mr Dreyfus was asked by an audience member if section 18C should be extended to cover gender and disability, he said Mr Wilson had reminded him of the “failed project which I hope to ­return to of consolidating the five anti-discrimination statutes when we are next in government”.

“One of the things we’ll be looking at is this very point of whether or not we should set a standard about speech generally,” Mr Dreyfus said.

“I want to have standards set in a community which respect the dignity of every Australian. I think it’s very important and something to be fought for.”

When asked yesterday about his remarks, Mr Dreyfus said Labor would never support changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

“The consolidation of discrimination law was a policy of the Gillard Labor government,” he said. “My discussion of this issue last week was clearly hypothetical, and is not relevant to the current proposed changes to section 18C which will do nothing but weaken protections against racial hate speech in this country.”

Labor’s proposal has come to light at a time when the Australian Human Rights Commission is dealing with a surge in complaints by those claiming to have been ­offended and insulted under section 18C. Section 18C makes it unlawful to do anything that causes people to feel offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated because of their race, colour or national or ethnic background.

Read the rest of the article here ($). And check out the IPA’s fact-sheet explaining then why the proposal was so dangerous.

How many US federal agencies are there?

From the Wall Street Journal on the extent of the red tape problem in the United States:

[President Trump] will need every bit of political skill he can muster if he wants to provide emergency relief to citizens caught in another blizzard that is emanating daily from Washington. According to a report out today from the indispensable Wayne Crews of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, on top of the thousands of rules the federal government churns out, the feds have also been issuing nearly 25,000 “notices” every year telling Americans what to do in the absence of any new law or regulation. Mr. Crews also finds that not even federal agencies can agree on how many federal agencies there are. Estimates range from 61 to 443. The United States Government Manual guesses there are 316. It seems that our government has forgotten more of its departments than some countries will ever know.

Yesterday we mentioned Mr. Trump’s plan to reorganize the government. He’s giving his budget director Mick Mulvaney a year to produce a plan to cut agencies that are redundant, fail to provide public benefits worth the cost or “would be better left to State or local governments or to the private sector through free enterprise.”

This might seem like a hopeless effort, like so many previous initiatives dedicated to fighting Beltway waste, fraud and abuse. What makes this effort more intriguing is that Mr. Trump has nominated to the Supreme Court a judge who actually cares about this stuff and even seems to understand the problem.

“Executive agencies today are permitted not only to enforce legislation but to revise and reshape it through the exercise of so-called ‘delegated’ legislative authority,” wrote Judge Neil Gorsuch in a 2016 opinion. “The number of formal rules these agencies have issued thanks to their delegated legislative authority has grown so exuberantly it’s hard to keep up. The Code of Federal Regulations now clocks in at over 175,000 pages. And no one seems sure how many more hundreds of thousands (or maybe millions) of pages of less formal or ‘sub-regulatory’ policy manuals, directives, and the like might be found floating around these days,” added Judge Gorsuch.

Once on the court, perhaps he can persuade his new colleagues to strike down rules issued by regulators whose existence cannot be verified.

Continue reading here.

Bill Leak’s final speech

Bill Leak wrote his last public speech for the launch of his new book, Trigger Warning, which he delivered at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney on Wednesday night. Here’s an excerpt below:

Ladies and gentlemen, I know it’s International Women’s Day, so first I must apologise for not being a woman. It’s particularly regrettable that I’m not a glamorous Sudanese-Egyptian-Australian woman who wears a hijab promoting a book about what it’s like being a glamorous Sudanese-Egyptian-Australian woman who wears a hijab. If I was, this wouldn’t be the only event I’ve got lined up on my non-government-funded whirlwind Trigger Warning awareness-raising tour.

When I met the great cartoonist Bill Mitchell about 34 years ago, he said, “Mate, a cartoonist only has to be funny once a day, but it’s a lot harder than you’d think.” He was right, but he had no idea how much harder it would be for me than it ever was for him.

For a start, for Mitchell to come up with a cartoon, all he had to do was take a serious political issue, exaggerate it to the point of ridiculousness, then draw what he saw when he got there. But I can’t do that because the ideas our politicians come up with these days are utterly ridiculous to begin with. And if you’re starting at the point of absurdity, where do you go from there? I mean, what am I going to have to come up with to make teachers in the Safe Schools program look ridiculous when they actually start giving jobs to gimps? And how long do you think it will be then before some gimps’ rights campaigner accuses me of gimpophobia? It’s only a matter of time.

Another reason the job’s so much harder now than it was for Mitchell is because, unlike him, I can’t just breezily assume people are looking at my cartoons hoping to get a laugh. Ever since conceptual art supplanted transcendent art, all art has been reduced to the level of graffiti. And to people reared on postmodernism and cultural relativism who can’t tell the difference between Picasso and Banksy, I’m not a cartoonist drawing cartoons for a newspaper; I’m an artist exhibiting his work in a gallery that gets hundreds of thousands of visitors through the doors every day. And the work of a man like that has to be taken very seriously indeed. It has to be analysed. It has to be deconstructed. It has to be decoded by these people in a search for hidden meanings. And because art, like political activism, is a form of therapy, it’s supposed to reinforce and confirm their prejudices, not challenge them.

Well, bugger that. Political correctness is a poison that attacks the sense of humour. Luckily for Mitchell, it was tipped into our water supply at around the time he retired and, since then, it’s infected an awful lot of people. As the senses of humour of people suffering from PC atrophy, their sensitivity to criticism becomes more and more acute until they get to the stage where everything offends them and they lose the ability to laugh.

For people with chronic PC, feeling offended is about as good as it gets. A good cartoon gives them an excuse to parade their feelings of moral superiority in 140 characters or less, scrawled on the toilet door of social media where every other humourless halfwit who’s seen the cartoon and felt offended too can join in.

Well, I don’t twit, and I don’t face, so most of the time I’m blissfully unaware of all the howls of outrage and indignation directed at me in response to my cartoons — but not always. Two years ago I realised that sometimes I really do have to worry about whether people think my cartoons are funny when I discovered that bloodthirsty barbarians aren’t immune to political correctness and their delicate sensibilities are just as easily offended as those of any precious little snowflake you’ll find in a gender studies faculty at a university. And for your average Islamist terrorist, firing off a few impassioned obscenities on a Twitter feed is no substitute for the sort of satisfaction you can get by hunting down the person who’s ­offended you and chopping his head off.

Then, in October last year I realised there’s another group of people who are just as capable of making life hell for me if they fail to be amused by my wit and artistry. It’s just my luck that causing offence has been made an offence at the same time that taking offence has become fashionable. So now there’s a mob that won’t only punish you if your cartoon offends them, they’ll punish you if it’s ­offended someone else. They may be a little less murderous than your Islamist terrorists, but they’re no less unhinged and dangerous. They’re also driven by the same authoritarian impulse to silence anyone who transgresses against the unwritten laws of political correctness. I’m talking about the thought police at that rogue totalitarian outfit, the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Well, bugger them, too. Thank goodness for deplorables like you, that’s all I can say. I knew I was in the company of fellow subversives, dissidents and weirdos when I opened my remarks with a potentially explosive “ladies and gentlemen” and no one complained.

The Australian has the whole speech here ($).

Legal Rights Persistently Undermined By Parliament

The IPA’s latest report, the Legal Rights Audit 2016, was today featured in the legal affairs section of The Australian ($):

An audit of federal legislation has found that the erosion of fundamental rights by the nation’s politicians shows no sign of ending despite the expenditure of millions of dollars on publicly funded human rights agencies.

… “The extent to which legal rights are being eroded poses a significant threat to the rule of law in Australia,” the audit says.

… The growing erosion of legal rights is outlined in a report that calls for the repeal of all breaches of fundamental rights and urges politicians to show greater respect for the rule of law by refusing to pass bills that breach fundamental rights.”The research we have conducted shows the critical state of fundamental legal rights in Australia,” said Simon Breheny, the IPA’s director of policy who co-authored the report with Morgan Begg.

“It is of deep concern that the problem Australia faces when it comes to fundamental rights is getting worse and it does not seem as though there is any end in sight.”

… The report says fundamental legal rights are necessary to achieve justice within the legal system and act as a vital constraint on the coercive power of the state.On the burden of proof, it says difficulties experienced by prosecutors in proving the elements of an offence or civil remedy are an insufficient justification for reversing this right.

Mr Breheny said it was disappointing that nothing practical had been done to reverse the erosion of rights — despite an inquiry by the Australian Law Reform Commission and statements by Attorney-General George Brandis.

“It is deeply concerning that we have the apparatus of the state — in the form of the Australian Human Rights Commission — actually championing legal rights abuses rather than recommending changes to the law that would protect our fundamental freedoms,” he said.

“The best example of this is that the Human Rights Commission is basically set up to enforce anti-discrimination law rather than defending our fundamental freedoms.”

This could be seen from the fact that the Human Rights Commission strongly supports “speech-restricting provisions” such as section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. That provision makes it unlawful to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate people because of their race, colour or national origin.

Mr Breheny noted that the Human Rights Commission also favoured a proposal from the previous federal Labor government that would have reversed the burden of proof in human rights and anti-discrimination law.

“That is just unforgivable, particularly when the problem, as our research has shown, is as significant as it is,” he said.

You can see the charts from the article here, and read the whole article here ($).

School’s now focus firmly on what divides us, not what we share in common

Kevin Donnelly in The Australian on Tuesday argued that it’s now clear that the education sector’s ‘politically correct embrace of diversity and difference – the new code for multiculturalism – reigns supreme’:

As reported in yesterday’s The Australian, school officials at Sydney’s Hurstville Boys Campus, based on a literal interpretation of a hadith, told Muslim students that it was permissible to refuse to greet females in the customary way.

So much for the Christian ­admonition “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. And so much for the fact that Australian society only prospers and grows when there is a shared understanding of what constitutes civility and good manners.

… Education now embraces identity politics where the rights and privileges of particular ­individuals and groups nominated by the cultural Left are granted positive discrimination… Whereas in times past schools would teach all students about the values, beliefs and institutions that bind us as a nation and the debt owed to Western culture, the focus is now firmly on what ­divides us instead of what we share in common.Even worse, instead of their ­arguments being properly ­analysed and evaluated, anyone questioning multicultural groupthink is quickly condemned as Islamophobic, racist and intolerant.

As noted by the British journalist and author Patrick West: “Tolerance in the name of relativism has become its own intolerance. We are commended to respect all differences and anyone who dis-agrees shall be shouted down, ­silenced or slandered as a racist. Everyone must be tolerant. And that’s an order.”

The Australian National Curriculum advocates identity politics and the belief that all cultures must be treated equally. Christianity, instead of being acknowledged as one of the foundation stones on which Western culture rests and continues to depend, receives the same weighting as Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.

While the National Curriculum stipulates that subjects and areas of learning must celebrate diversity and difference, with a special focus an Asian and indigenous perspectives, scant time or attention is given to the history and significance of liberalism within the Western tradition.

The NSW Statement of Equity Principles endorsed by the recently established Education Standards Council also illustrates the way education has been captured by the cultural Left’s long march through the institutions. The school syllabus, associated materials and assessment guidelines all focus on “difference and diversity in the Australian community” where all must be respected and treated equally regardless of “cultural and linguistic heritage, gender, age, beliefs, socio-economic status, location, sexuality or disability”.

… Multiculturalism ignores the reality that some cultural practices and beliefs are un-Australian and that unless we want to follow the example of Britain and Europe, where the policy has led to ethnic ghettos, violence and social fragmentation, education must teach how to discriminate between what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable beliefs and ­values.There is also the irony that the very values that cultural relativists champion, such as tolerance and respect for others, are culturally specific. The liberties and freedoms we take for granted are embedded in Western culture, our Judeo-Christian heritage, and ­historical movements like the ­Enlightenment.

You can read the full article here ($)

Federal debt to explode to $600bn within three years

From The Australian today:

Australia’s gross public debt is on track to rise from $474bn as of last month to more than $600bn within the next three years — even including the government’s reform measures — which will amount to around $23,500 a person. Such calculations include swaths of the Australian population who will shoulder little of the debt repayment.


There are 5.5 million Australians aged under 18 who can’t yet vote, and 3.3 million aged over 65, who can, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics population estimates. The debt burden per capita and per Australian under 18 has exploded since the financial crisis from $2600 and $11,100, respectively, to $20,300 and $90,300.

Read the full article here ($)