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Barring a particularly recalcitrant Senate, 18C will be repealed in its current form.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.
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:
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:
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.
“Many times people ask me: ‘What do you think is the main danger of GM?’ And the danger is that we do not know what the main danger is.”
Dr Arapad Pusztai
In The Australian today I examine the mutated version of the precautionary principle that denies the sprit of the Enlightenment and is starving humankind of progress.
Researchers in Britain have a potato resistant to the blight that caused the Irish potato famine. We will never get to eat it, however, if Dr Pusztai and his risk-averse friends in Brussels get their way.
Let’s hear a little more from Dr Pusztai’s extended interview with Gene-Watch:
“I think this is an extremely dangerous experiment with our globe, with our Gaia, with our people. And if you ask me what are the consequences, I can only say that I haven’t the faintest idea …
“I’m not saying that there is going to be a cataclysmic consequence of this. What I’m saying is that the cataclysmic thing about it is that we don’t know what is going to happen.”
IN its first election as a united political force, the Liberal Party ran a forceful campaign against the post-war Labor government’s fondness for form filling including this full-page advertisement in the The Bulletin in April 1946.
In The Weekend Australian today I write:
Shortly before Christmas, Liberal Party Director Brian Loughnane presented a faded copy of the advertisement to Josh Frydenberg.
It now hangs on the parliamentary secretary’s wall; a reminder that for the Liberals eliminating red tape is more than a dispassionate exercise in economic efficiency.
It goes to the heart of party’s founding ideology; excessive regulation is a burden on free enterprise and an offence to personal liberty…
The arguments about central planning, nationalization and economic intervention that dominated the debate in the 1940s have been settled. Both sides of politics acknowledge the primacy of free markets, notwithstanding occasional backsliding.
Today it is not so much state intervention in industry that divides the parties, but the nationalization of everyday life.
The Coalition’s deregulation campaign represents a counter attack against the regulatory zeal of the modern technocratic state, the tendency in western democracies to extend the reach and proscription of legal codes to produce what the late political scientist Kenneth Minogue called “soft totalitarianism”.
Stephen Conroy, in his own madcap way, has exposed a deep cultural fault line on sentiments towards the military. As I write in The Australian this morning:
Clearly there are some Australians, Conroy among them, who think it is entirely possible that the Australian military would stoop to follow the base political objectives of the government of the day and that Operation Sovereign Borders is not an exercise in defending the nation but an elaborate political stunt.
Many more Australians, however, find these ideas preposterous. They are embarrassed the opposition defence spokesman would have made the allegation under the cloak of legal privilege attached to the proceedings a federal parliamentary committee.
There is no room for indifference. You either enlist or you do not. Either Conroy is on to something or he is completely barking mad.
Belatedly, I’m posting last week’s column in The Australian and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator debacle. It is an object lesson in the perils of centralisation.
The launch of the national truck regulator – 13 months behind schedule – has been a colossal disaster, as Albanese could have predicted if he had had his ear to the ground.
The transport of oversized and overmassed (OSOM) loads has been virtually frozen. The mining and construction industries have been hit particularly badly. Operators, drivers and contractors are seething. The streamlined, seamless, one-stop shop is a lemon.
Under the old state-run system, OSOM permits could be issued in a matter of hours, but by the middle of last week well over 2000 applications for special load permits had been lodged, but only 250 had been issued.
Civil Contractors Federation chief John Stewart said on Friday: “The heavy machinery and materials many companies need to operate are grounded due to ridiculous bureaucratic red tape and incompetence.”
The theoretical benefits of harmonised state and federal truck regulations are clear. But the potential pitfalls are great, and the transition costs daunting.
The easy steps of economic integration were taken long ago in the journey of federation. Rudd’s Seamless National Economy Agenda was forced to look for smaller targets.
In any case, the Canberra bureaucracy is hopeless at practical tasks (as home insulation royal commissioner Ian Hanger is about to discover) even when it decamps to Brisbane as a sop to the Queensland government.