The rights of the bigot

April 15th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

I count myself fortunate to be among the few who are paid to express an opinion. There are much harder ways to earn a living. Yet today’s column in The Australian was one of most difficult I have written, since I find myself supporting the right of a pernicious bigot to speak his mind without interference from the law.

When holocaust denier Frederick Toben was sentenced to three months in jail for defying a Federal Court order to remove posts from his website in 2009 I confess I did not look at his case too closely, since it is hard to lose sleep at the misfortunes of a fraudulent, anti-semitic revisionist who attempts to downplay a crime against humanity.

Andrew Bolt’s case and imperative of abolishing sections 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act, however, demand that we reconsider Toben’s unsavoury brush with the courts. Holocaust denial is not a crime in Australia, neither should it be. As I write in The Australian:

… when it comes to crimes against humanity, too much discussion is barely enough.

If the revisionists force us to examine yet again the banality of Hitler’s final solution, to re-examine for example the blueprints for the factories of mass slaughter built at Auschwitz in 1943, and imagine what might have been going on the heads of architects Walter Dejaco and Fritz Ertl, we are drawn irresistibly to Hannah Arendt’s conclusion: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be either good or evil.” If Toben’s grotesque distortions oblige us to re-read the testimony of witnesses like Primo Levi then he is doing us a favour.  Levi had the measure of these close-minded con men. He declared: “Those who deny Auschwitz would be ready to remake it.”

Here is Dejaco’s plans for Crematoria IV completed in the European summer of 1943.Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 11.24.47 am


It was an attempt at an engineering and architectural solution to logistical challenges of mass murder, applying the logic of the industrial production line to the business of genocide.

There is abundant evidence to demonstrate that Toben and his ilk are crackpots, without resorting to the law.





Not your average Joe

April 8th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

‘One way or another, the Gillard years will come to be seen as a turning point in the 45-year old compact between the Labor Party and the intellectuals,’ I wrote in The Lucky Culture last year.

Illustration: Sturt Krygsman, The Australian

Illustration: Sturt Krygsman, The Australian

The grotesque end game is being enacted in Western Australia in the dispute between Labor senator-elect Joe Bullock and Senator Louise Pratt, who was number two on the party’s ticket. In The Australian this morning I note:

IT took Labor senator Louise Pratt five minutes to complete her ballot paper on Saturday, suggesting she had ignored her party’s helpful advice to vote above the thick black line.

“Am I sending a protest vote?” she asked waiting reporters rhetorically. “No. I voted for myself and I voted for Joe.”

Naturally so, since a failure to assign a number to her so-called running mate Joe Bullock would have rendered her ballot paper invalid.

The question is whether Pratt put him first, as her party recommended, or 77th, as she might have been tempted to do, given Bullock’s boorish remarks at a public meeting in November.




Presidential intervention on the limits of government

April 7th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments


Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 7.02.04 pmI’m no fan of the word meme, but here an evolving meme if ever there was one. In 1861, Abraham Lincoln wrote: 

The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves – in their separate, and individual capacities. In all that the people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere.

The words come alive in President Barack Obama’s January 25, 2012 State of the Union address:

I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed: That government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.

In Canberra a week later, Tony Abbott addressed the National Press Club as leader of the opposition:

The current leaders of the Labor Party have failed to understand what Abraham Lincoln knew in the marrow of his bones: that government should do for people what they can’t do for themselves and no more.

It turned up again in October last year, this time unattributed, in the National Commission of Audit’s guiding principles:

Government should do for people what they cannot do, or cannot do efficiently, for themselves, but no more.

As I wrote in The Weekend Australian on Saturday, Lincoln’s epithet, as paraphrased by Obama and picked up by Abbott, has become shorthand for an argument about the size of government that is emerging as the new political fault-line in federal politics. 


Jeffrey Smart would have loved this Picture

April 2nd, 2014 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Fonterra's $235m milk powder plant at Waitoa

Milking it: Fonterra’s $235m milk powder plant at Waitoa

New Zealand has become the Saudi Arabia of lactose, I write in The Australian‘s Business section this morning. While Australia muses about the Asian century, the Kiwis are milking it for all they are worth.

Ten years ago Australia had a respectable 15 per cent share of the global dairy export market, and New Zealand enjoyed a not dissimilar share.

But while Australian milk production has been slipping by 1.7 per cent a year on average, annual production in New Zealand has been growing at 3.5 per cent.

This year Australia will supply just 7 per cent of the international traded market, but New Zealand will enjoy a 36 per cent year.

In fact there are now more dairy cows than people in New Zealand, but it is hardly a laughing matter. Coles departing chief executive Ian McLeod told the forum there would be 1.8 billion more affluent people in the world by 2025 before posing the question, “what is holding us back?”




Special event: The case for public broadcasting

April 1st, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

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Solidarity with the people of Koo Wee Rup

April 1st, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

The Human Rights lobby is appalled at the suggestion that the values of the “ordinary reasonable Australian” should be used to judge cases of racial vilification. Naturally. It is a challenge of their presumed monopoly on wisdom.

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The Royal Hotel, Koo Wee Rup, Victoria

As I write in The Australian today, Gillian Triggs’s random attack on the town of Koo Wee Rup indicates how remote the commissioner class has become:

The drive to Koo Wee Rup from the centre of Melbourne takes barely an hour, but the two places are worlds apart. An academic lawyer like Triggs might struggle to make conversation.

The town’s 3080 residents do not have a law degree between them. Three quarters of them did not complete Year 12.

It is a town where people come home from work with dirt under their fingernails, a town of motor mechanics, carpenters, plumbers, cleaners, concreters, packers, truck drivers and earth movers. It is a place where the commissioner and commentator classes rarely venture. The Census data tells the story. Number of journalists: Nil. Media professionals: Nil. Number of university lecturers: zero.

Nevertheless, under the government’s proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, the view of people in towns like Koo Wee Rup would count for something at last. A judge would be obliged to consider what the view of the “ordinary reasonable Australian” is in decisions about racial vilification.



Making it up as you go

March 31st, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

It will take a firm hand to get the National Disability Insurance Scheme back on track, as I write in The Australian.




And all in the best possible taste

March 23rd, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

On Seven Weekend Sunrise yesterday we discussed the intersection of tragedy and comedy. My research drew me to a rich vein in Titanic humour.  

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Fixing the Race Law

March 18th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Critics from both the Left and Right are predicting that the Prime Minister will pull his punches when it comes to fixing the clause in the Racial Discrimination Act that was used to prosecute Andrew Bolt.

They are wrong. As I explain in The Australian today,  they underestimate how deeply Abbott and others of a classical liberal persuasion are offended by the perverse consequences of 18C.

They underestimate the chilling effect the act’s provisions have on those who hold the freedom of expression as a non-negotiable element of a liberal society.

And they underestimate the personal affront Abbott took to the prosecution of Bolt…

Barring a particularly recalcitrant Senate, 18C will be repealed in its current form.

Three of the four words that were lazily cut and pasted into 18C from legislation outlawing sexual harassment — “offend, insult, humiliate” have to go…

“Intimidate”, or a word that conveys a similar meaning, is likely to stay. Indeed it should be strengthened to make it a more effective weapon against acts or threats of physical violence, which were the legislation’s original target.

The “good faith” test in 18D must be removed. An opinion is an opinion, whether arrived at in bad faith or in good.


Fixing the race law

March 18th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

As our race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane correctly points out, the history of Australia’s racial vilification laws is not well known, yet his recent 7000 word essay presents a misleading picture.

Soutphommasane claims the 1995 changes to the Racial Discrimination Act mirrored the recommendations of the then race discrimination commissioner Irene Moss in her 1991 report National Inquiry into Racist Violence.

He omits to mention that Moss expressly warned the government against setting the kind of low threshold for complaints that became incorporated into the notorious 18C.

Andrew Bolt could not have been prosecuted if the Act had followed Moss’s recommendation to prohibit incitement of racial hostility and racist harassment.

These are altogether more serious acts than those which merely offend, insult or humiliate stipulated in 18C.

Moss was unequivocal on the matter on page 299:

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The commissioner was conscious of the problems experienced in New Zealand where a low threshold for complaints stipulated in section 9C of its Race Relations Act ‘was widely used and even abused by individuals complaining of insults or remarks of a relatively trivial nature.”

Moss continues on page 300:

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If Keating’s attorney general Michael Lavarch had paid attention to Moss’s recommendations, the case for amending the RDA would be less pressing.

I write more on the subject on Catallaxy Files.