The Case for a Free Market University

When I hear the words “fee deregulation,” I can imagine what comes next. It is usually an arts student from Sydney University who paints the picture of an education factory. They argue that neoliberalism is taking over the world and is now extending its claws into university. We will all become chained to markets and slaves to capitalism, the doomsayers say. This is quite a compelling case; I must admit, even I believed it for a while. However, the question of equity, beyond slogans and fearmongering reveals a very different picture. It challenges the plethora of student voices who either oppose the government’s policies or are afraid of it. The former are a very vocal and sometimes violent minority. The latter are the majority of students who want universities and government to remain in a complicated relationship. Neither approach understands what a free market university actually is. My article puts forward three propositions that are usually overlooked in the deregulation debate. Firstly, student equity is not diminished under free markets. Secondly, equity for broader society only occurs under deregulation. Thirdly, contrary to various assumptions, student equity itself is only possible with full privatization. True equity is when the students who receive the exponential benefits of a degree are liable to its inevitable costs. There is no getting away from the radical bourgeois idea that a person who makes a highly profitable investment should be the same person who pays for it.

There is an intoxicating belief that deregulation will harm the rights of students. It is an often heard maxim of the left that “education is a basic human right” and that it “should be accessible to everyone.” These are all excellent ideals for an educated society. However, they would be better served by looking beyond monetary solutions to wider social problems. Student equity is not diminished when students are liable to pay the full amount of their education.

In the past, one did not have to go to university to have a career with a high income. Today, the best paying careers require a degree. As of 2010, a female who graduates earns $800,000 more than a female who doesn’t go to university. For males, this gap is even wider, stretching over $1,000,000 in a lifetime. This means that poorer students get greater benefits in entering university than the middle classes who can depend on other sources of wealth. Until 2004, Britain had a subsidized fee structure that did not see substantial enrolments from students of lower socio – economic background. A degree was not as profitable then as it is now. Between 2004 and 2014, the government decided to deregulate the prices of university to cover the costs of university funding. Many believed this policy would hurt economically disadvantaged students the most. It has not turned out to be true. 70% of university enrolments during these years came from students with lower socio – economic backgrounds. The relatively higher costs of a degree have not offset its overall return. In consideration of its lifetime benefits, it is understandable that there is an increasing demand for tertiary education amongst less well-off students. Privatization is nothing more than a true reflection of the monetary value of a degree. It does not hinder the entry of students without an alternate sources of income.

There will still be those who say deregulation continues to hurt poor students, even though it doesn’t hurt as much as they’d like to believe. Let’s put this into reverse perspective. Does social mobility increase when students are not charged for tuition fees? The historical answer is no. Whitlam’s free education policy in the 1970s led to almost no changes in accessibility for disadvantaged students. Of the 276, 339 new enrolments in 1975, 80% were made up of students who already came from privileged backgrounds. Whilst a policy may be imbued with good intentions, it is only successful if its leads to positive outcomes. The only good outcome of Whitlam’s policy is the proof that free education does not increase accessibility. Sadly, this fact is largely ignored in the deregulation debate today. This not only distorts the historical facts but ignores the real challenges in education. Ascribing monetary value to a university education is the first step to realizing that money is neither the problem nor the solution to student equity. The greatest factor to determine accessibility amongst all backgrounds is previous school performance. This is where all sides of the debate should be focused, if bridging the socio – economic divide amongst poorer students is their main concern.

I will now show how deregulation is actually the only way to make equity possible. When I say “equity,” I refer not only to the welfare of students. I’m also referring to equity in terms of the entire Australian population. This the missing part of the equation when protestors against deregulation refer to role of government. The monetary benefits of a degree evidently set university students apart from the rest of society. Some students will say that while this is true, federal funds should still be allocated to subsidize tuition fees. They either do not consider, or are unaware of, where government funds come from. Taxes, and increasingly income taxes, are the main sources of revenue for the government. It is this money that turns into the discounted fees for university students, who are essentially living off a million dollar privilege. Nothing spoils true equity than working classes having to subsidize individuals with a profitable degree. Fortunately there has been mounting electoral pressure to cut university funding so as to get off the backs of the poor. Indeed, giving money to universities has reduced and continues to reduce for this very reason. Since 1989, public universities have raised their own income to the point where no more than 25% is provided by government funds. Both as a matter of principle and practicality, governments should not be funding tertiary education. A fully privatized university is one step closer towards the government’s ability to attend to more pressing concerns – like lowering the budget deficit.

Deregulation facilitates equity not only on a societal level, but for the students themselves. This may be hard to believe, but deregulation is necessary for two reasons. Firstly, it is the only way to sustainably ensure that all students who deserve to go to university can. Secondly, it is fast becoming the sole means by which universities can continue to deliver quality services.

When the HECS system was introduced, it was an efficient solution to student equity and university funding. Just as there were caps on student fees, HECS began in the knowledge that there would be a limit to student entry. The Gillard government however, dismantled this in 2012. They established the demand-driven system which allowed unlimited student admission. This was an excellent idea in increasing accessibility, but makes little economic sense when not followed by an increase in tuition fees. In other words, Gillard established the benefits of a free market university without following through on its inevitable cost. Demand must be paid for if it is to be sustained. The NTEU noted that the strain on teaching staff and the lower quality of education would follow Gillard’s proposal. Indeed, this has been the case where the increase in student entry has not supported by the funds to accommodate it. Full deregulation completes the market process under the Gillard government. It is indeed an applauded goal to allow unlimited demand in university. This is what equity is all about. No student who deserves a place should be barred from entering because of a government cap. At the same time, this policy goal cannot be sustained when the demand does not cover the costs of running a university.

Deregulation is the only way to cover university costs when government funds are declining. It is no surprise that Vice Chancellors have championed it for a long time. Many students protest directly against these authorities, claiming they are solely interested in the bottom line of profits. I find this amusing, considering universities would go bankrupt if Chancellors didn’t take profits seriously. One Chancellor however, strikes me as particularly useful in the case for deregulation. Greg Craven may be the head of Australian Catholic University but he considers himself “a pinko academic.” He supports deregulation, not because he supports the Liberal government but because it makes economic sense. Craven points out that if universities cannot set their own prices, vital research will suffer, quality teaching will decline and international competitiveness will go down. This comes from a university that caters for only 20,000 students. Imagine how much more relevant for Macquarie University with 30,000 students and Sydney University with more than 40,000 students locally. Craven makes the case that there is no other way to funnel resources into the university system. Whether you wish for government intervention within education or not, the reality is that it’s declining. The only way for universities to thrive is to deregulate.

A university that creates unbridled economic opportunities for students. A university that does not impinge on its financially disadvantaged. A university that does not punish those who take a different career path. A university that is accessible to all who earn a place. A university whose quality is superb and competitive. This is the free market university – whose prices I am indeed willing to pay.

Geert Wilders and the ALA do not stand for liberty–they undermine it

Geert Wilders

Geert Wilders, Dutch politician. Photo c/- wikimedia

Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician famed for his anti-immigration views, recently launched the Australian Liberty Alliance, a political party whose platform calls for banning Muslim migration to Australia. While there is no denying that radical Muslims exist in our community and overseas, Wilders and the ALA’s call to ban Muslim immigration amount to a call for tyranny of a different kind: a tyranny that denies individuals the right to live and migrate here merely because of their religious background. I do not dispute their right to express their views, but they are profoundly mistaken.

Those who argue that our laws should ban Muslim immigration overlook the profound impact on civil liberties these laws will have. Collective punishment undermines the presumption of innocence. Migration bans presume that all foreign Muslims are completely incapable of respecting our freedoms. They are found guilty of that charge without a trial. Abandoning the right to a fair trial and imposing an ideological test for migration is the antithesis of liberty.

The ALA and Wilders no doubt wish to trade liberty for security. But where does that stop? Should we lock up all of the Muslims here from fear that some of them might be extremists, as Roosevelt did to Japanese-American citizens? Deport them? What will come next? If we concede that individuals do not have the right to a fair trial merely because of their religion, anything seems possible. Those who think they can build and control anti-Muslim sentiment and abolish the right to a fair trial without any repercussions forget the lessons of the French and Russian revolutions, which led to waves of collective punishments for imagined crimes.  They may find themselves next in the firing line.

There are many secular and moderate religious Muslims in our community. They speak their minds openly and without fear of retribution. Nothing would do more to breed distrust, division and suspicion of Australia among them than establishing a religious test for immigration. Nothing would do more to breed extremism amongst Muslims than laws that ban perfectly innocent, law-abiding people from migrating here on account of their religion.

Contrary to Mr Wilders’ claims, Islam is not a fundamentally extremist creed. Islam is simply a set of religious texts. It is not fundamentally anything. All religious texts contain passages that condone religious war of some kind or another. Centuries ago, Muslim lands were ruled in a manner that was far more tolerant and accepting than their Christian European counterparts, which quashed all dissent. To claim that Islam is a fundamentally extremist creed is an obvious instance of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.

While Muslim extremists do advocate violence against non-believers, their influence in Australia should not be overstated. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of Australian Muslims are law-abiding. Terrorism remains exceedingly rare, and most attacks have been prevented by law-enforcement action, sometimes as a result of cooperation with the Muslim community. You are more likely to be hurt climbing a ladder.

Those who argue that Muslim refugees are more likely to be terrorists overlook that these refugees are fleeing a civil war wrought by extremists. These refugees are the people most likely not to adhere to extremist ideologies in the first place. They are also the most likely people to abandon those views once living in our flourishing and free society.

Far from banning Muslim migrants, we must embrace them together with migrants of all backgrounds. Migrants enrich our community and contribute valuable skills in a range of areas in the economy. For decades the bulk of them have integrated successfully into our liberal society. We should celebrate their presence and contribution.

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.

Germaine Greer shows us the Tyranny of Trans-mania

There is perhaps no issue in the world today more hostile to free and open discussion than transgenderism. Indeed, to talk these days about transgenderism in terms that don’t lavish unqualified praise and admiration upon those who abandon their gender of birth is to basically label oneself as a mean-minded bigot.

Caitlyn Jenner’s apotheosis from long suffering patriarch of the Kardashian clan to the newly inaugurated Queen of the trans movement  has seen trans-mania hit dizzying new heights. At the start of April this year, Bruce Jenner was a father, former Olympian and sordid reality TV star. Now just eight months later, Caitlyn has been crowned ‘Woman of the Year.’ And should you want to offer anything other than gushing adulation for Caitlyn’s putative heroism, expect to be exiled from polite society.

This is why it was so amusing when last week Germaine Greer, a (now former) stalwart of the left, bluntly confronted the First Commandment of transgenderism that gender is ‘fluid.’

Here’s what she said:

“Just because you lop off your d— it doesn’t make you a woman… a man who get his d— chopped off is actually inflicting an extraordinary act of violence on himself.”

“I’ve asked my doctor to give me long ears and liver spots and I’m going to wear a brown coat but that won’t turn me into a f— cocker spaniel.”

Greer’s turn of phrase was perhaps gratuitously crass. But the media lynch mob now baying for her blood reveals just how narrow the bounds of reasonable discussion have become on all things trans. In achieving this veritable chokehold over public opinion, the invention of the word ‘transphobia’ has been most useful. It serves as a convenient epithet that discredits anyone who expresses a view out of step with the trans-worship orthodoxy as an irrational bigot.

Now at this point you might be asking why there is any need to say anything critical about people who choose to change genders. After all, it’s their decision isn’t it? What good do you achieve by bringing this vulnerable group of people down?

The hard truth is that the jury is still very much out on whether undergoing complex, expensive and radical medical procedures is really the panacea for disillusionment with ones birth gender that trans-mania would have you believe. To start with, the suicide rate is just as high for people who have transitioned as it is for those yet to undergo treatment – a fact which of itself casts serious doubt over whether transitioning is really the ‘cure’ that it’s made out to be.

Moreover, hormone therapy is a publicly subsidized in Australia and prescribed to children wanting to avoid the puberty of their birth gender. And once a child has used hormones to forego puberty, going back the way you came isn’t all that easy. What’s more, a Monash Medical Centre Study has found that out of a cohort of children with gender identity disorder, the condition persisted into adolescence and adulthood in only 16% of cases. Children aren’t deemed to have the capacity to sign a contract, vote and in many instances commit crimes before the age of 18. So why should we deem them capable of changing their gender before they’re even teenagers?

And for those who think talking about these issues is nothing more than excuse for thinly veiled bigotry, it’s worth noting that these misgivings are widely shared amongst the medical profession. According to eminent former Psychiatrist in Chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital Paul McHugh, the desire to change genders is a type of body dysmorphic disorder, which physical change will not cure. McHugh argues that wanting to change gender is similar to that of anorexia or the desire to remove ones limbs known as apotemnophilia in the sense that they are all body integrity identity disorders that produce a powerful urge to for radical physical transformation. McHugh’s colleagues agree and John Hopkins has now ceased performing gender reassignment surgery.

To be sure, there is no shortage of scientific literature and LBQTI encyclicals on all things trans that directly rebut the views outlined here. The point however, is that there are good reasons to believe that changing gender is more complex than simply this heroic act of bravery it is popularly conceived to be. And when there are conflicting views on a difficult subject, offense and confected outrage are without doubt the worst reasons to silence those who challenge the status quo.

The Blair Affair (2003-2015): Growing out of Neoconservatism

Chris Dowson

Christopher Dowson explains the left-wing origins of a political ideology and foreign policy attitude commonly thought of as right-wing.

This is a difficult piece for me to write today, partially because it caused a healthy dose of self-reflection on my own political attitudes over the last decade and a bit. I was 14 years old when the Coalition of the Willing put boots, and carpet bombs, on the ground in Iraq circa 2003 and I was very confused – but excited. I remember tuning in to news broadcasts from Fox and CNN watching the ‘brutal and corrupt’ Saddam Hussein and his deviant sons being given a fresh blast of ‘freedom’ from the American F-15Es above. I was glad that such a horrible human like Hussein was being brought to justice.

Plus the ‘fact’ that he was close friends with Al Qaeda and was storing ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ to unleash upon us all. Who was I to question? If Colin Powell and Dick Cheney said so then it must have been true, right? Well, no. It all turned out to be wrong. And now I’m watching Fox and CNN looking at men in balaclavas bearing black flags and shouting ‘Praise Allah!’ in the very same locations where USA and Co. detonated so much freedom all those years ago.

As a 26-year old now, with a far more stoic view of foreign affairs, I find myself forgiving, but still disappointed in, my 14-year old neoconservative self, but thankfully – like measles – you tend to grow out of it the older and wiser you get.

Enter Tony Blair: The illegitimate son of two actors who wanted to be a rock band promoter before resigning himself to study law at Oxford. According to sources, he tried to act like Mick Jagger at school, earning the ire of his teachers who were ‘glad to see the back of him’. He dated feminist film director Mary Harron at Oxford (famous for her American Psycho (2000) movie, but more on Americans and psychos later).

Blair was a man who wanted to be famous, no matter what. Whether it was singing in a punk band called Ugly Rumours or pretending to care about workers during Hackney and Shoreditch by-elections. Blair admitted he was on the ‘soft Left’ of the Labour Party after joining in the mid-70s where he ‘came to socialism through Marxism’. Sounds like having a double coronary bypass, very unpleasant stuff.

But speaking of coronary bypasses, a man not too dissimilar from Blair had risen to the ranks of the Republican Party over in the US, a man named Dick Cheney (who had an angioplasty in 2001 coincidentally). Although a decade older than Blair, Cheney came into politics around the same time (the 70s) and was elected to the US House of Reps in 1978 to represent Wyoming (yee ha!) Cheney would soon be re-elected five times and end up as Secretary of Defense, despite having dodged the Vietnam Draft not once but five times. Shooting a gun can be scary I guess, although in 2006 Cheney accidentally shot a friend of his while quail hunting. Probably for the best that he was never drafted, friendly fire isn’t looked upon too kindly by US soldiers.

When questioned about his draft dodging by the press, Cheney allegedly replied: ‘I had other priorities in the ’60s than military service’. So in 1989, Cheney was a natural choice for Secretary of Defense and over the next four years, ordered the Invasion of Panama, and the Invasion of Kuwait and Iraq under Operation Desert Storm, while also being awarded the Presidential Medal of ‘Freedom’.

So it was that after 9/11, after the Invasion of Afghanistan and the Cave Search for Bin Laden, the White House under George W. Bush came across the idea to invade Iraq, again. The light-bulb moment ostensibly came from the procurement of evidence indicating that Saddam was close mates with Bin Laden and was trafficking chemical and biological weapons to his terrorists pals. Colin Powell even showed a viral of anthrax to the UN Security Council in February 2003 – I guess to prove that if Powell could access anthrax so easily then surely Saddam could too!? At any rate, the causus belli was to ‘disarm Saddam’ and ‘free the Iraqi people’ (can I have another ‘yee ha’ people?)

Poor Dubya wasn’t left with many options though. All his top advisors, including our mate Dick, had convinced him that Saddam was a bad guy working with terrorists – even if there was no concrete evidence to indicate anything of the sort.

The Blairites over the Atlantic saw it as their time to shine. Tony was an ambitious guy and wanted to get on the freedom bandwagon as soon as possible. He was so enthusiastic that he met with Bush multiple times (including once at Bush’s ranch in Texas) the year before the invasion. Somehow, in between Blair’s hectic travel schedule, meeting Bush and Cheney, and scheduling secluded island visits with Rupert Murdoch in Australia, he decided upon a course of action for Iraq.

Mr Blair’s spin doctor, Alistair Campbell, even plagiarised bits and pieces of a doctoral thesis by one Ibrahim Al Marashi a student at Oxford University. The thesis discussed the secretive world of Saddam Hussein’s rule (but had no account of WMDs, nor terrorists) and Blair used it as ‘evidence’ of Saddam’s shady dealings. The plagiarised passages formed part of the magic ‘Dossier’ which was claimed to be the smoking gun when it came to Saddam’s possession of chemical and biological weapons. If you’ve ever seen the satirical comedy In the Loop (2009), the plot quite lucidly, if not farcically, summarises the inner-workings of the Blair administration during this time.

Of course, just this month it was revealed that Tony, Dick and some other of Bush’s ne’er-do-wells, had been planning the invasion up to a year before they even crafted – er, found – the evidence. US documents obtained by the Daily Mail were published as part of a batch of emails from the private server of Hillary Clinton, which the US courts have recently coerced her into disclosing. Among the leaked papers is one from March 2002 by Colin Powell to Bush, where he said: ‘On Iraq, Blair will be with us should military operations be necessary…He is convinced on two points: the threat is real; and success against Saddam will yield more regional success.’ The leaked documents also reveal that Blair, and his spin doctor Campbell, agreed to act as the de facto PR people for the Bush administration in order to convince lawmakers and the public at large that Iraq posed a ‘real and imminent threat’.

Yet without getting bogged down in the dodgy doctoring of evidence and the sham which was perpetrated on the public by the UK and US governments (and, complicit in all of this, Western media), the crux of the matter comes down to one word: neoconservatism.

Did anyone ever once ask why political ideologues like Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, and Donald Rumsfeld were so close with the Blair administration? The 2010 movie The Special Relationship clumsily documented the close bond between Bill Clinton and Tony Blair (two left-wing ideologues), and media coverage frequently reported that Blair and Bush possessed a good working relationship. But how can we explain why Bush’s political advisors and Blair’s Boys got on like a madrasa on fire? One word: neoconservatism.

Neocons are not on the ‘right wing’ of the political spectrum, in fact they sit rather comfortably in the heart of progressivism and leftist foreign policy. It is because they both descend from a common ideological patriarch: Leon Trotsky. Trotsky’s ‘Permanent Revolution’ theory had first and foremost as its aim: to spread Communism across the globe through interventionism.

Trotsky stated that the Revolution must quickly spread to capitalist countries, bringing about a socialist revolution which ‘must spread worldwide’. Yet Trostsky and his supporters were also strident promoters of a centralised global democracy, which made Stalin supporters hate Trotskyites more than Capitalists. In a statement in 1936, Trotsky proclaimed: ‘A nationalised planned economy needs democracy, as the human body needs oxygen’.

The seeds of the neconservative movement were planted by thinkers such as Irving Kristol, Albert Wohlstetter, Nathan Glazer, and Sidney Hook, who all belonged to the so–called ‘anti-Stalinist far left’ (1930s-40s) with Trotskyite ties. As early as 1963, historian Richard Hofstadter commented on the progression of many ex-Communists from the paranoid left to the paranoid right. Four decades later the dominant strain of neoconservatism was declared to be a mixture of ‘geopolitical militarism’ and ‘inverted socialist internationalism’. By the the late 90s, there was also a formal recognition of think-tanks and lobby groups promoting neoconservative causes, usually through foreign policy, such as the Project for the New American Century (founded by William Kristol and Robert Kagan).

Such groups often recruited Jewish-Americans, as was the case in the 30s and 40s where Jewish political thinkers had successfully made the transition from hard left Trotsky followers to the centre-right of the political spectrum. Now however, the main focus was not sociological or industrial but mainly on the role of Israel as the yardstick against which much of the USA’s foreign policy endeavours would be measured. The yardstick would also include ‘democracy’, which was equated with ‘freedom’. Freedom/democracy, the necons demanded, must be delivered to every corner of the globe, just as a centralised democracy needed to be spread and promote Communism under Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution theory.

Modern necons such as Jonah Goldberg today seek to disassociate from the Trotskyite past and revise their ideological lineage. In a recent article for the neoconservative publication The National Review, Goldberg protests:

‘While it might be fun to wade deep into the weeds to demonstrate the ludicrousness of this assertion, let me just say that of the scores of famous neocons I’ve met, none of them have ever expressed any fondness for Trotsky. He’s never quoted as an authority in neocon op-eds or journals, and he’s never invoked — save in jokes — in neocon debates or conferences’.

That argument isn’t persuasive. Goldberg’s gripe was specifically with paleoconservatives like traditionalist conservative Pat Buchanan, who labelled the current Republican neocon establishment as the ‘War Party allied with Israel’.

So from this genealogical survey of the neocon and Communist families, it was no coincidence that the perfect storm of international socialism (made manifest in Iraq in 2003) would in fact culminate with a Republican President goaded by his neocon advisors and a self-absorbed Marxist PM from the Labour Party, banging the war-drum for the spread of centralised (i.e. Washington-centric) ‘democracy’ and ‘liberating the Iraqis’ with extra special freedom.

Trotsky would no doubt have been proud, ‘down with the bourgeois Saddam!’ And like her Republican predecessors, necon and leftist par excellence, Hillary Clinton, would refuse to learn from the 2003 mistakes and sought to ‘liberate’ the people of Libya from the ‘horrible’ Muammar Gadaffi. By focusing on his ‘horrendous’ human rights record, Hillary and Obama replaced a dictator with terrorists.

All of this just demonstrates how intimately close Leftism and Neoconservatism is, how misguided both ideologies are, and why we must say no to them at all costs.

As the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq Invasion ponderously delays the release of its Final Report (due in 2016), the revelations from Hillary’s email scandal in the meantime have forced Blair to apologise for his role in the Iraq Invasion 12 years post facto (possibly pre-empting a scathing review). Whatever the reason, Blair has obviously put himself back under scrutiny and many more horror stories will likely come out of the woodwork. The world seems to have outgrown neoconservatism and has become more realistic and circumspect about foreign interventionism, hence the rising popularity of pundits like Donald Trump or Jeremy Corbyn.

Those who cheered on the Iraq Invasion, like I did as a 14-year old, have hopefully sobered up and realised that it was not, is not, and never will be the West’s duty to ‘spread democracy’ across the world, to topple dictators or to ‘liberate’ their subjects. Such naivety, as we all know, is the perpetual affliction of the Left.

Don’t listen to what Hillary Clinton, Dick Cheney, Tony Blair, David Cameron or many of the current Republican candidates are telling you about Iran, Iraq, or the Middle East in general. If you want to know what they all think about foreign affairs, go back and read some Trotsky, it’s all there. And as a completely unrelated stock tip: Keep a keen eye on the crude oil price.

Christopher Dowson works in government policy and legal areas and also holds an LLB/BA(Hons) and MA. He was co-founder of the WA current-affairs show The Oak Point on WestTV.

Back to this Future?

October 21st 2015 – Wednesday this week – saw the coming of the fictional date that Marty McFly found himself flung into the future in the 1980s classic Back to the Future II.

For most part, ‘Back to the Future day’ was marked by social media fanfare and television featurettes recounting which of the films gaudy gimmicks have been realised by modern technology.

But besides musing about the lack of hoverboards, self tying shoes and flying rubbish bins in the 2015 of reality, it’s worth asking what Marty McFly would actually think if he was once again launched through the space-time continuum into the 2015 of today. What differences between the world of the mid 1980s and now would he catch his eye?

Here are a few thoughts

  • As a movie star himself, Marty would probably be fascinated by a number of developments in the entertainment industry. For instance, the world’s highest paid actress Jennifer Lawrence has launched a scathing rebuke of Hollywood’s grossly sexist gender pay gap, taking one for the team for the rest of Tinseltowns chronically underpaid female A-Listers. Lawrence cites her XX chromosones as the reason why she was only able to negotiate a meagre $52 million pay cheque for her work over the last calendar year.
  • Meanwhile, a reality TV star who no more than eight months ago regarded himself as male has been crowned woman of the year. Who knew that in the future gender could be both so fluid, yet so oppressive?
  • Turning to global politics, Marty might be struck by the fact that the United Nation’s Human Rights Council is headed up by Saudi Arabia, a country where it is illegal for women to drive and also known for executing homosexuals.
  • Incidentally (or perhaps not), this Human Rights Council has issued more condemnations of Israel – an oasis of democracy and civility amidst a region plagued by barbarism, sectarian violence and anarchy – than every other country combined. More than North Korea, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Syria.
  • The President of the United States has also signed a nuclear non-proliferation treaty with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism that doesn’t allow for any inspections of said terrorist sponsor’s deeply secretive military facilities
  • Despite trusting the future of the Middle East in the good-faith and compliance in this regime whose leaders have openly chanted ‘death to America’, this President is still regaled as an international celebrity everywhere from New Zealand to Timbukto
  • Central Europe now looks more like a refugee camp than it did in the years after World War II
  • Germany (one can only assume as penance for past atrocities) has decided to open it’s doors to more than a million of said refugees while the much closer gulf states of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait take none. But as Marty would soon learn, cultural relativism tells us it’s wrong to pass judgement cultures that aren’t white.
  • The western world has given up on breeding. In fact, every European country has a negative birth rate.

What about if Marty McFly decided to take his DeLorean for a trans-pacific spin down to visit us quaint folk here in Australia?

  • Not having lived through the horrors of 9/11, Marty might find it strange that in the event of a terror attack Australia’s first impulse is to pre-emptively apologise to minorities (preferably with a hashtag) over a presumed backlash from rambling hoardes of white racist bogans
  • The government cares so much about our wellbeing that it cloaks cigarette packets with photos of decaying foetuses, rotting feet and a remarkably unphotogenic poor sod named ‘Brian’
  • The Australian government prohibits a sentient adult from using his/her phone to connect with another sentient adult to arrange a paid lift to a designated location. This threat to civil society is otherwise known as ‘ridesharing’
  • An Australian university student can be deemed to ‘live in poverty’ despite owning an IPhone 6, inhabiting a house with high speed internet and air conditioning while still having enough change left over to get comprehensively blind drunk at least twice a week
  • One of the country’s two major political parties wants to spend $100 billion building solar panels and wind farms to produce the same amount of electricity it’s already making now, just to prevent a (hypothetical) rise in the earth’s temperature of about 0.0000012 degrees.
  • This comes after the same party spent $2.8 billion on filling up the rooves with expensive fluff to stop Australians turning up their air conditioners so high in the summer.
  • If an Australian subjectively offends someone on the basis of race, they could find themselves hauled before a judge and formally reproached by a court of law
  • The government subsidizes breeding proportionally to how ill equipped an Australian is to raise their child. For instance, a single mother working as a nurse would receive very little recompense for bearing a child. But if she were to quit her job and become a heroin addict before procreating, the government would reward her handsomely.
  • Australians care deeply about the natural world. Just a few months ago a mine promising $16 billion of investment and 10 000 jobs was halted because the Minister in charge had failed to consider the impact of the project on a dainty reptilian vertebrate known colloquially as a ‘skink.’

Banning so-called bigots from our shores lays waste to freedom of speech

It would truly be a shame if Australia became a place where your opinion on a controversial subject could disqualify you from entering the country. Yet the recent denial of visas to pro-life advocate Troy Newman and rapper Tyler the Creator along with hard fought attempts to ban Dutch MP Geert Wilders suggests this is less of an Orwellian musing than it is our new reality.

These chronically outraged wowsers who spend their days pressuring our immigration system to stop pro life activists, critics of Islam and degenerate rappers sound reasonable enough at first. But when you dig a little deeper, it can be tricky to see where the intolerance starts and ends.

Long time free speech pessimist Penny Wong remonstrated that “Mr Newman’s public comments go well beyond what would be regarded as acceptable debate in this country.” By exceeding the limits of ‘acceptable debate,’ one can only presume Wong meant that Newman challenges the feminist credo that to be pro life is to necessarily be a bigoted misogynist.

Similarly, Perth based Iman Yahya Ibrahim seems to think that Geert Wilders, an outspoken critic of Islam, could seriously inflame fickle racial tensions. He implored the government to deter “Anything that is going to be divisive, split people up, on any lines,” lest a couple of speeches upend the social fabric of Australia’s multicultural society. To be sure, Ibrahim knows what he’s talking about. Having previously called Jewish people “apes and monkeys” this impetuous Iman seems to know firsthand the risks of giving people with strong opinions a platform to speak freely.

The feminist razor gang over at Collective Shout used a little more melodrama in their attack, asking how “as a nation trying to fight against violence, which in 2015 is claiming the lives of two women EVERY week, how can we allow someone like Tyler the Creator in our country?” It’s a good thing we have people like the moral guardians of Collective Shout to ensure Australia’s consumption of popular music befits that of a right-minded, upstanding society. I mean, how else were we meant to know that the character of the musicians who tour Australia could be such a grim portent for how seriously we take the scourge of violence against women?

Predictably enough, the feminists, the Imans and the Labor Party moralisers have each framed their argument as being over the public good, not freedom of expression. And can you bet that if you asked them, they would all say they believed in free speech, but within ‘limits’ or some other mealy mouthed caveat.

Yet as defenders of free speech from Voltaire right through to Andrew Bolt have stressed time and again, the right to express views that are agreeable, innocuous or nondescript needs no defending. It is only opinions that elicit revulsion, ideas that provoke our most raw sensitivities where the question of free speech comes into play.

At this point we should dispense with a few misconceptions. Troy Newman has never advocated violence against abortionists. Rather, he has said that abortion is murder and that murderers should be subject to capital punishment. Extreme? Perhaps. But there’s a difference between believing the law should be changed and rallying for vigilante justice.

Like many artists, including rock stars, poets and novelists, Tyler the Creator has written disparagingly about women in the context of his work. Unlike tens of thousands of Australians however, he has never been arrested for any act of violence towards anyone, including a female for that matter. It’s also worth noting that since Tyler’s songs have never been banned under Australia’s classification system, they are perfectly legal despite their vulgarity.

So let’s be clear, banning someone from Australia because they make a living performing depraved two-bit rap songs or because they believe in no uncertain terms that life begins at conception is very much about free speech. Isn’t it also a matter of keeping the public peace? Perhaps. But only to the extent that you think Australians are so dim witted and febrile that a few lone preachers of unsavoury ideas would be enough to turn us into a country of islamophobic, women-bashing Neanderthals.

Do we think that people are so brittle that they need to be cosseted from ideas that they might find confronting or offensive? Is social cohesion in Australia really so fragile that a lone preacher could upset the applecart badly enough to send race relations into a national tailspin? Are we really so puerile, indeed do we think women are so sensitive that we need to shield them from a perspective on abortion that challenges feminisms pro-choice orthodoxy?

Those campaigning to see Newman, Gilders and Tyler banished from Australia profess the noblest of intentions. But the assumptions that lie behind those intentions are at once paternalistic and condescending. They fundamentally don’t trust Australians to reach sensible conclusions on controversial issues. And why would they? If they did, what need would we have for a professionally outraged class of moral guardians to stop undesirables from setting foot on our shores?

Their outlook is also more than a little self-regarding. Multiculturalism and state subsidized abortions might today be treated as preconditions for any decent and progressively minded society. But at what point do we say an opinion is accepted enough for a contrarian to be silenced? If you a believer in free speech – not a fair-weather supporter but a true believer – the answer is simple. Never.

What’s more, the finer points of race relations, abortions and the censorship of lurid music are all issues on which reasonable minds can differ. They’re the kinds of issues where no one person has a pipeline to universal moral truth. And for that reason, we should be loathe to censor anyone, irrespective of how subjectively offensive their views may strike us. As John Stuart Mill famously pointed out, the fact that an idea is wrong or bad gives no grounds to have it silenced. We can all benefit and learn from bad ideas, even if only by appreciating what makes them wrong helps deepen our understanding of what makes the good ones right.

This is why we should resist the lynch-mob mentality of do-gooders who want to co-opt the immigration system to give their views ascendancy over society at large. The principle really has nothing to do with abortion, misogyny or racism. No amount of noise-making or confected outrage from activists should be allowed to prevent an otherwise eligible person from gaining entry into Australia.

The word bigot is now the go-to pejorative label for figures like Wilders, Newman and pretty much anyone whose views fly in the face of whatever happens to be the progressive-minded wisdom of the day. The irony is that bigotry’s actual meaning – an obstinate belief in the superiority of one’s own opinions – is far more befitting of those who wish to see the force of law silence their opponents than someone who happens to think that terminating a pregnancy is the wrong thing to do.

Those who wish to see Newman, Gilders and Tyler the Creator banished from Australia all act as though their cause is about protecting civil society. Yet the fact that these self-anointed moral guardians want to adjudicate which views are acceptable for consumption by mainstream Australia reveal just how little faith in civil society they actually have.

 

The NSW Liberals’ Self-Destructive Internal Campaign

11008068_10155751799055227_8539700716839453238_nTim Andrews discusses Liberal Party values and freedom of speech – with a very large “I told you so” from his past:

The Liberal Party of Australia – from its very inception – has prided itself on its committment to individual freedom. It lies at the core of the Party’s beliefs  and affects not just the party’s philosophy of government, but internal organisational structure. In stark contrast to the Australian Labor Party, where all members must pledge their support for the party platform and policies, Liberal Party parliamentarians have consistently enjoyed the right to cross the floor over any issue, and to express dissent in party platforms. Indeed, Since the days when Menzies created the Liberal Party, ‘the concept that an individual parliamentary member had the right to a conscience vote became central to party lore“. As Prime Minister McMahon stated, the ‘Liberal party member is not prepared to surrender his personal judgment to the Party machine or to the corporate Parliamentary Party’

Even prior to existence of the contemorary Liberal Party, its antecedent, the Commonwealth Liberal Party, was founded upon similar lines. As Alfred Deakin told its inagural meeting: “In contrast to Labor’s tightly disciplined ‘machine’, the Commonwealth Liberal Party is ‘free union of free members’. ‘We do not turn out our citizens are mere duplicates in politics. They remain free. We unite them upon a broad national programme, conserving their independence. To “join the Labor Party and sign the pledge was to give up one of the things that made them human: freedom of conscience, independence of judgement, control over moral integrity and character”

It is with this proud history in mind that many Liberal Members greeted with dismay a motion presented to Young Liberal State Council calling for the expulsion of a member for criticising certain party policies in NSW he believed contrary to Liberal Party values. 

At a time when the ability to speak dissenting voices is under considerable attack in our society, with contrary viewpoints suppressed in the media, at universities, and in society at large, seeing this same culture appearing to have taken over elements of the Liberal Party is concerning to say the least. And what does it say about the security of the Liberals that rather than trying to convince someone they disagree with, and win the battle of ideas, they attempt to simply shut out dissent through expulsion. Is this a sign of a healthy and strong movement? One confident that they are right? I think the history of such matters has a lot to say about the answer to that…

However it is concerning not just because it is contrary to Liberal values. It is concerning because it is fundamentally politically stupid and self-defeating.

As political campaigning has developed in the digital era, one-size-fits all centralised party messaging is no longer sustainable as a long-term campaigning structure. It is only through embracing – and managing – diversity that in the long term parties on the right shall be able to prosper, something taken on board particularly with the UK Conservatives at the last election.

We are already seeing the negative effects of centralisation and excessive party discipline here. Ii is fairly universally acknowledged that one of the major failings of the Abbott Government,  which ultimately contribued significantly to his downfall,  was the centralisation of all decision making in his office, and stifling of dissenting voices. When every single parliamentary staff member had to be approved by the PMO, when disagreeing could lead to dismissal, the result was inevitable –  a a lack of ability to adapt, and respond flexibly to new challenges as they arose, and ultimately failure.

As often seen in centralised regimes, what is perceived as strength is actually brittleness, and ultimately shatters.  In the same way that it is the flexible buildings that survive earthquakes, while the ‘strong’ ones crumble unable to adapt, the same is true in politics. 

While I am no longer a member of the Liberal Party, and have not been for a number of years, it saddens me to see an organisation I still have a lot of love for act in a manner that is utimately so self-defeating.

And doubly so – because I predicted this very thing.

In early 2009, when the new media guidelines were institutioned for the NSW Division of the Liberal Party, I was still a member of the Division, although was living in DC at the time. Being in the hub of where cutting-edge centre-right campaigning was, and highly involved in the DC centre-right online campaigning community, I was horrified not just by how this policy could be abused, but by how damaging it was to the Party’s long-term electoral prospects. Attepting to stop its implementation, I was repeatedly told “Tim, you are worrying about nothing. This will be limited only to people who comment on internal preselections and the like. It will never be used to stop members speaking out in disagreement with the party”.

I did not accept those assurances – and the events of last week seem to have vindicated my position.

Given at the time I extensively commented on Liberal Party campaigning, policy, and strategy, on my personal blog, I felt I was unable to do so under the new guidelines, so when these reforms were enacted. As such  I wrote the following letter to Mark Neeham, then the State Director of the Liberal Party, requesting exemption from the policy, and tendering my resignation if this was not provided. I wish to note I have only the utmost respect for Mark, and in many ways he dragged Liberal Party campaigning forward a generation in NSW. I am aware this directive did not come from him, and in no way blame him for it, and the fact that he is no longer involved in Liberal Party Campaign leadership is a great loss to the party.

Here is the email I sent. I would like to think it is even more true now than it is then. Continue reading

The High Court has it wrong: banning political donations undermines free speech

Last week, the High Court wrongly decided that the NSW government could cap political donations at up to $5,000.00 for individuals and ban property developers, tobacco, liquor and gambling companies from making any political donations at all.[1] According to the Court, “unreasonable” and “disproportionate” restrictions on political discussions are unconstitutional,[2] but bans on political donations are “reasonable” and therefore permitted because they reduce political corruption. That reasoning is flawed, and overlooks the vital role political donations play in democratic society. What these laws really do is undermine freedom of expression. Far from reducing the power of special interests, the law empowers the political establishment.

The Court’s reasoning overlooks that there are probity issues inherent in any political decision. There were probity issues when the ALP enacted the Fair Work Act because it is reliant on unions. There were probity issues when the Liberals introduced Workchoices because it is reliant on small business. More often than not, political interests and special interests align–for good or for ill. Just because a special interest agrees with you, supports you and has convinced you to change your view doesn’t make you corrupt. I don’t deny that special interest politics can be corrupt, particularly when those groups start asking for handouts from the taxpayer. Indeed I emphasise that this is what special interest groups often do. But the reality is that any time a law is passed or repealed, whether you think it a good idea or not, there is a special interest behind it. Special interests are inseparable from our democracy, which requires politicians to cater to them to win elections.

If special interest groups are banned from making political donations, the public is denied the right to hear their arguments, at least to a degree. To that extent the public is left less informed than they would otherwise be. If the point of our electoral laws is to ensure that the public make an “informed choice” during the election campaign as the Court claims, then it is illogical to censor the information they receive.

Moreover, those who lack the capacity to argue their case have every right to donate to political candidates that do. We all have a right to freedom of expression, subject to limited exceptions.[3] Financial limits on how we express ourselves are arbitrary and unjustified. If we limit the amount of paint an artist can buy, we limit artistic expression. In the same way, if we limit the number of  political donations people can make, we limit political expression. If we deprive a person of access to a lawyer, we strip them of their legal rights indirectly. If we deprive a person of the right to donate to a politician, we strip them of their right to be represented by their candidate or representative. Because bans on political donations restrict our ability to influence politics and rely on our political representatives, they are a form of indirect censorship.

Banning political donations means that the politicians who make the rules will be the only special interest group with any say. They will decide how much taxpayer funding their election campaigns get. Taxpayers will foot the bill for their campaigns even if they disagree with their political platforms. It is absurd for Liberal taxpayers to pay for the Greens’ election campaigns and vice-versa. As Thomas Jefferson put it-

“To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

Additionally, candidates outside the major parties will stand less of a chance of raising enough money to compete. Bans on political donations undermine freedom of conscience and empower the political establishment at the expense of independents and minor parties.

Make no mistake: the special interests targeted by these laws are being silenced. They are being treated as guilty without being given the opportunity to put their case to the public during election season. Yet even this supposed rogues’ gallery of special interests can benefit us. The wealthy have lifted millions out of poverty: look to how the invention of cars has brought affordable transportation to billions of people. Property developers construct dwellings that increase housing affordability and reduce homelessness. As for the liquor, gaming and tobacco industries, they allow people to legally enjoy themselves. As long as they are legal, organised criminal gangs do not operate these industries. We are all safer for it. That’s not to suggest that special interests always benefit us–far from it. But they deserve the right to have their say.

What’s more, the fact that some people can make greater contributions to public life, whether financial or not, is no argument for restricting freedom of expression. We all have different skills and abilities. It is impossible for every individual to have an equal opportunity of contributing to the political discourse, and no law can change that or bring about a state of “perfect equality.” This is not to suggest that it would be desirable to do so. Calls for “equality” in politics strike me as a call for boring uniformity in the political arena.

Special interests will always run politics. The only question is which special interests should predominate. If everyone can donate freely, a wider array of competing special interests can hold politicians to account. If not, more power will be concentrated in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats–at our expense.

[1] See McLoy v New South Wales [2015] HCA 34; Election Funding and Expenditure Act 1981 (NSW), Division 2A, 4A and s96E.

[2]  It should be noted that the implied right of political communication may not be a constitutional right as such. Unlike the American Constitution, our Constitution is largely silent on civil rights. For a good discussion of the historical context of the Australian Constitution, freely available online, see e.g. Chief Justice Robert French, Protecting Human Rights Without a Bill of Rights, 26 January 2010: http://www.hcourt.gov.au/assets/publications/speeches/current-justices/frenchcj/frenchcj26jan10.pdf

[3] For example, it is rightly illegal to verbally threaten other people with immediate acts of violence. Such threats constitute assault. See further Tuberville v Savage [1669] EWHC KB J25. A lay summary is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuberville_v_Savage

 

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.