Why are lawyers so expensive?

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.

Everyone complains about the cost of lawyers, but few look at the cause: occupational licensing laws. Occupational licensing requires anyone who intends to become lawyer to comply with a range of requirements to practice law. These including studying a law degree that is too long, formally applying for “admission” into the profession in an unnecessary ceremony, as well as meeting cumbersome training and supervision requirements that are sometimes unnecessary. These requirements cost law students years of time and tens of thousands of dollars to comply with. The more expensive it is to become a lawyer, the fewer lawyers there will be and the more they can charge. There can be no doubt that this partly explains why lawyers are expensive.

The sheer expense of hiring a lawyer undermines the individual right to obtain legal representation. It means that hiring a competent, effective lawyer can be unaffordable for poorer members of the public. Even wealthier people may find their resources drained by legal fees. The expense of becoming a lawyer also undermines the right to pursue a career of one’s choice, especially poorer students who lack the financial support to study full-time for years and comply with red tape. Lastly, these laws reduce the quality of legal services. The fact that competent would-be lawyers are being excluded from the profession means that existing lawyers have less incentive to operate competently because they have less competition.

The problem starts with the law degree, which must include 11 “core compulsory subjects” but takes three years of full-time study to complete as a result. The degree costs about $10,000 per annum with government subsidies and more without them. Many solicitors may never encounter some of those subjects in practice. Few lawyers practice in constitutional or administrative law. Some solicitors exclusively practice in criminal law or commercial law. Only some do both. It is simply not necessary to study them all in order to practice law. Students should have the choice of studying criminal law and procedure, commercial law subjects or both. Splitting up the degree will reduce costs and create new pathways to legal practice.

But the red tape doesn’t stop there. Graduates must undertake “practical legal training” before they can practice law. They must pay several thousands of dollars to learn what they otherwise should be learning as junior lawyers. If they are not, they can take the course. The problem is that everyone is forced to take it whether or not they have learnt the basics of legal practice. Even experienced overseas barristers have been forced to undertake this training. Forcing this requirement on everyone is unnecessary and wasteful.

Formal admission ceremonies further increase costs. As of 2015, Victorian admission ceremonies alone cost $926. This is a substantial hit to the savings of many graduates. The ceremonies take place monthly, but applicants must apply months in advance to become admitted—further delaying their careers. In the meantime they are simply expected to make ends in meet.

The restrictions pile on after admission. As of 2011, would-be barristers must pass a bar exam and undertake a 2 month readers course, costing thousands of dollars in total, to practice. The exam is unnecessary: barristers typically spend hours to prepare for specific cases, and thinking up answers on the spot will not get you far in the courtroom. Moreover, the exam covers material that graduates may have just covered at university. It’s no wonder practising barristers, even junior barristers, weren’t required to sit the exam: it has nothing to do with upholding standards.

Similarly, solicitors are required to practice for two years under the supervision of another lawyer before they can do so independently—unless they are overseas, or happened to open a practice before that rule was imposed. The inconsistencies in these requirements expose both their arbitrariness and their actual purpose: keeping people out of the profession.

Running a law firm is also unnecessarily cumbersome. By law, all practitioners must obtain “practising certificates” and insurance coverage from a single government-appointed insurer. A competitive insurance field would reduce costs. On top of that, barristers must buy robes and wigs. Costumes can cost thousands. Renting chambers (if practitioners choose to do so) and paying for practising certificates and insurance every year, taken together, costs thousands more.

While there is a great deal of concern about the supposed oversupply of law graduates, the simple fact of the matter is that they are legally forbidden from working without complying with these requirements. The expense of doing so means they cannot compete with established practitioners, which brings prices up.

It is also hard to argue that these regulations protect the public, given that so many current practitioners were exempt from them when they entered into the profession.

By contrast, deregulation will help society at large—especially the poor. Legal fees are just one factor at the margin that can lead to financial insecurity. Reducing costs will help those who are financially at risk.

Nor are regulations the only way to protect the public. Lawyers’ societies could still accept, reject or expel members on the basis of reputation, skill, honesty or competence just as the regulators do now. Ratings systems and online review websites  can also serve an important role in keeping the profession honest. These measures are informative and cost effective. Lastly, in serious cases incompetent lawyers can still be sued by clients for breach of contract, just as they are today.

Those concerned about upholding the standards of the profession forget that some legal work is already competently performed by non-lawyers with knowledge of the law. Tax agents and accountants, police prosecutors, patent attorneys, and industrial advocates all provide legal representation in their chosen fields right now. Indeed there are prosperous, stable nations with reliable justice systems like Sweden and Finland in which anyone can practise law without a licence. There is no reason why Australia cannot adopt a similar system for lawyers or other trades and professions, for that matter.

The case for deregulation is clear: it empowers the poor, the public as a whole and law students. Occupational licensing laws must be repealed. The law must recognise that for many lawyers, the years of study and tens of thousands of dollars spent obtaining a licence to practice is unnecessary.

In Defence of the Establishment

971753_10151574401276107_283040900_nChristopher Rath outlines why the establishment of the Liberal Party exists, and why change from within is the obvious choice for Classical Liberals, Libertarians, and Small Government Conservatives.

The Liberal Party of Australia today is still the John Howard party. The majority of Federal Liberal MPs and Senators served in his Government, most advisers and apparatchiks worked for his Government, and most Young Liberals were inspired to join the Party because of his Government.

 

I joined the Young Liberals in 2006 at the very young age of 16 because I believed in the economic reform being pursued by the Howard/Costello era. I was a “dry” before I knew what the term meant. I was also a “dry” before I knew that there were “wets” in the Party. I thought that “dry” was the only game in town and Party divisions only existed on social issues.

 

This is because by the time the 2000s came along the Liberal Party establishment had become “dry”, with the “wets” a minority of outsiders. The “wets” had been the establishment in the 1970s under Fraser but they lost the long bitter war that was waged in the 1980s and 90s. In fact you could say that Fightback! was the final nail in the “wets” coffin; certainly Howard led a thoroughly “dry” government for over eleven years. If the Party establishment was not “dry” perhaps I would have never joined. After all it was Hawke and Keating rather than Fraser who reduced tariff protection, floated the dollar, and began privatising government assets.

 

I love the Liberal Party establishment because I am bone dry, not in spite of it. My critics in the Young Liberals may call me an “establicon” or establishment conservative as a pejorative, but I wear it as a badge of honour. Being an “establicon” means being “dry”, it means supporting the Premier and Prime Minister, campaigning, raising money, supporting branches to grow, pre-selecting talented men and women, and fostering our best future leaders. It means loving the Liberal Party and our greatest living Australian, John Howard.

 

Howard was also an “establicon”, from being NSW Young Liberal President in the 1960s to seeking a parliamentary career as quickly as possible. He loved the Party and the establishment more than anyone, perhaps even more than his mentor John Carrick. When he lost the 2007 election and his seat of Bennelong he could have blamed his Treasurer, Cabinet, Parliamentary colleagues or Party machine. Instead, even after he had given 40 years of his life to the Party, 16 years as leader and over eleven years as Prime Minister, he humbly took complete blame for the election loss. In fact he defended and praised the Party on election night 2007- “I owe more to the Liberal Party than the Liberal Party owes to me”.

 

The people I’ll never understand are those who attack the Party or threaten to resign or somehow think that they’re above the Party. They are not. Not even a Prime Minister of eleven and a half years is above the Party. Similarly I’ll never understand those who claim ideological purity as a reason for preventing their party membership. If you don’t like the Party leadership or policies, you should join the party and make a difference or contribution towards promoting your deeply held beliefs. You’re going to have more influence inside the Party than from the sidelines. You’re not going to change the fact that the Liberal Party is the natural Party of government, being in power two thirds of the time since WWII.

 

The Liberal Party establishment is not perfect. Not every Liberal Party policy is perfect. But isn’t it better to get 80% of something than 100% of nothing? Isn’t it better to be pragmatic and win an election than being a purist and let Bill Shorten and the trade unions run the nation? All great right-wing leaders understand the importance of pragmatism and the broad church, but again Howard is the master:

“The Liberal Party of Australia is not a party of the hard Right, nor does it occupy the soft centre of Australian politics. It is a party of the centre Right. It is the custodian of two great traditions in Australia’s political experience. It represents both the classical liberal tradition and the conservative tradition.”

 

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher understood this and similarly they turned their parties into “dry” pragmatic parties built in their own image. Even Turnbull understands the importance of pragmatism and has neutralised the issues of climate change and same sex marriage early on. But he also understands that the establishment today, unlike the establishment under the other Malcolm in the 1970s, is inherently “dry”. This is why he went out of his way in his victory speech to prove his “dry” credentials, careful not to scare away people like me- “This will be a thoroughly liberal government. It will be a thoroughly liberal government committed to freedom, the individual and the market.”

 

Turnbull’s Ministry is also packed to the rafters with establishment dries, including Mathias Cormann, Paul Fletcher, Arthur Sinodinos, Andrew Robb and Josh Frydenberg. Andrew Robb, the archetypical establishment dry, was an economist, staffer, government relations professional, and the federal director of the Liberal Party responsible for the 1996 campaign that brought the Howard Government to power. As Minister for Trade and Investment he has successfully negotiated three free trade agreements. Similarly Josh Frydenberg is an establishment dry, securing the safe seat of Kooyong after being an adviser to Alexander Downer and John Howard and a Director of Global Banking with Deutsche Bank.

 

So to all of the libertarians, classical liberals and small government conservatives out there, my plea to you is to join the Liberal Party, support the inherently “dry” establishment which now exists, try to make a difference by pushing for your agenda and philosophy within the natural party of government, and understand that in politics a level of pragmatism is required.

 

“Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best.” (Otto Von Bismarck)

Christopher Rath is a Young Liberal Branch President and currently works in the private sector. He previously worked as an adviser to state and federal Liberal Parliamentarians and has degrees in economics and management.

“Move on” laws target civil liberties, protesters, and the homeless

Victoria's unions should be proud of their efforts to strengthen freedom of association in Australia.

Victoria’s unions should be proud of their efforts to strengthen freedom of association in Australia.

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.

Do you think police should have the power to fine anyone they like on the spot for any reason? New South Wales’ new “move on” laws come dangerously close to doing exactly that. They empower police to fine anyone for just looking suspicious, even if they are innocent of any crime. Backed by the Baird government and the NSW Labor opposition, they are an affront to our civil liberties, including the right to freedom of movement, a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. And they are also a danger to the homeless, who will be their most likely victims. Still, we should be thankful that it is not as extreme as its recently repealed Victorian equivalent, which imposed extraordinary restrictions on the right to freedom of movement and protest.

“Move on laws” have created an entirely new category of victimless “crime”, which consists entirely of arousing police suspicions. Bear in mind that suspicions are, by definition, unfounded beliefs. So the laws empower police to fine any person who refuses to move on from their current location if that person is suspected  being a hindrance to passersby, or of committing a crime or even of being likely to commit a crime. It is not clear how the police can judge you likely to commit a crime; however if we assume police possess the supernatural power to predict the future then we can begin to make sense of these laws. The scope for  abuse of these powers is enormous.

Importantly, innocence is not a defence to the “crime” of arousing police suspicion. Police are entitled to fine you even if you are innocent of any crime. If you choose to fight the fine, all the police had to do was show that their suspicions were “reasonable” when they fined you. Far from being a tool to fight militant unions or extremist protesters, the evidence indicates that move on laws have primarily targeted homeless people.

The power to fine individuals on the basis of police suspicions, without any proof of guilt, is an extraordinary attack on our right to freedom of association, the presumption of innocence and a fair trial. Most people simply will not fight a fine in Court. Some of the fines issued by police may be unjust. They might be caused by simple mistake or selective prosecution and vindictiveness. We are not likely to know this simply because such fines will go unreported.

While the Victorian Liberals claimed that these laws were necessary to clamp down on militant unionism and extremist protesters, they have not pointed to a single instance in which these powers have actually been used against militant trade unions or extremist protesters. Nor have they produced any evidence that these laws have played any role in reducing crime. This is because there is no such evidence.

The Victorian Liberals’ claim that the police have failed to enforce the laws on the books to deal with militant unionism or extremist protesters is simply false. Threats, intimidation and violence are already illegal. They are criminal acts, punishable by jail time if necessary. If the prosecution proves that a person has committed an act of violence beyond reasonable doubt than they will go to jail. If people are not being prosecuted it is because there is not enough proof to prove their guilt. It is that simple. There is no evidence nor any suggestion that the police are too incompetent or unwilling to prosecute violent offenders simply because of their links to trade unions or extremist political organisations and frankly, if that were the case there is no reason to believe that police would be any more capable or honest if they were given more powers. This is not to suggest that none of the protesters have broken the law; it is simply to say that we deserve to know whether they have or not before we punish them. If we punish them without knowing if they are guilty or innocent, we could well face the same treatment next. The Victorian Liberals’ claims are a substance-less scare campaign, pure and simple.

Thankfully, NSW police have no power to move on those who appear to be protesters. Nor, thanks to the Andrews’ ALP government, do Victorian police enjoy that power. But the existence of these powers is objectionable regardless.

And there is always a risk that police will use these powers against protesters anyway in the hope that they might get away with it if the protests do not take place directly in the public eye.

One thing we do know about move on laws is that in practice they are used to drive homeless people into the criminal justice system. As Lucy Adams of legal support organisation Justice Connect notes,

“Laws that regulate public space are rarely intended to punish people for their homelessness – but this is often the effect…. Circumstances that cause people to be sleeping rough, begging or drinking in public are almost always health and social issues, not criminal ones… prison should not be a substitute for supported housing, mental health care or substance dependence treatment.”

It is worth noting that police are also empowered moving on persons affected by drugs or alcohol in New South Wales, and the likelihood is that the homeless will still be targeted by these laws as well as other move on laws.

In practice, move on laws target the homeless on the nonsensical premise that it is better for them to be in the criminal justice system than receiving support and care from charitable organisations.

Not only are these laws totally ineffective in reducing crime and a means for police to harass innocent citizens; they probably increase crime rates by needlessly throwing already marginalised groups such as the homeless, youth and Aboriginals into the criminal justice system. Indeed, in Queensland, 76.8% of homeless persons surveyed reported having received a “move on direction” by police. For example, because the homeless cannot drink in their own homes, they are more likely to be moved on as some of them may get drunk in public instead. These groups face an increased risk of police confrontation or detention that could needlessly open the gateway towards a life of crime. It is a destructive process, it unnecessarily burdens the criminal justice system and, ultimately, endangers the public far more than being a nuisance in public ever would. In that respect, police involvement in the lives of the homeless will prove not only pointless but dangerous.

Of course, it doesn’t help that begging for money is actually a crime in Victoria, which means police can actually take money from the homeless as the supposed proceeds of crime, fine them $100 for begging and further involve them in the criminal justice system. I daresay that if it were anyone but the police taking money from the homeless they would be pilloried as the worst kind of despicable thief. But these are the laws our elected officials have instituted and continue to maintain, and these are the laws our law enforcement agencies enforce every day. It is simply shameful.

The strengthening of NSW’s “move on laws” is an appalling development which should be condemned.  By contrast, the winding back of these laws in Victoria should be cause for celebration.

Notes:

1. NSW’s move on laws are defined in sections 197-204B of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW). The laws were introduced in mid-2011 by the O’Farrell Liberal government.

2. Victoria’s move on laws are now largely equivalent to New South Wales. See s6, Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic).

A modern day witch hunt: how unexplained wealth laws victimise the innocent

Pictured: how unexplained wealth laws combat organised crime

Pictured: how unexplained wealth laws combat organised crime

We like to think of ourselves as superior to our ancestors, but as I look at Australia’s unexplained wealth laws I venture to disagree.  The laws have empowered police to confiscate the property of the innocent without a trial, and they have been introduced in every State, every Territory and federally. Indeed, in New South Wales, the Coalition is promising to increase their scope in the run up to the election. Punishment without a trial is a process that is equivalent to a medieval witch hunt.

All of your property—gone. Unexplained wealth laws empower law enforcement officials to permanently confiscate your property without being convicted of a crime. If you’re suspected of committing a minor criminal offence, the police are empowered to confiscate everything you own. In Queensland, it can be as trivial as recreational marijuana possession. There is no need to even accuse you of having committed a crime in obtaining the property; no need to charge you with a crime; no need to bring your trial; and no need to prove you guilty. Punishment without a trial or due process is the agenda. It’s up to you to defend yourself in Court against the allegation that you obtained the property unlawfully.

Absurd law, absurd results. In one instance, recreational marijuana possession was in fact used as the pretext for the confiscation by police of almost $600,000.00 of cash belonging to one man, Mr Henderson, and his siblings in 2002. [1] Mr Henderson proved in Court that he obtained that money legitimately from the sale of a family heirloom belonging to himself and his siblings. But the money was confiscated anyway, for the absurd reason that he could not prove that the family heirloom was legally acquired by his now-dead parents. Police did not offer any other explanation as to how the property was acquired. They did not produce a victim claiming the heirloom was his, or even a police report. They did not allege that Mr Henderson or his property acquired the property illegally. They weren’t required to. Mr Henderson was a member of the vulnerable underclass which unexplained wealth laws seem to target and victimise.

That money sure looks suspicious. Unexplained wealth laws also empower the police to permanently confiscate specific items of your property on the suspicion that it was acquired illegally. Again, the onus is on you to get it back.

Carrying cash is a crime? Thus in another case in Western Australia, police targeted a man, Mr Morris, for carrying around his life savings of over $100,000.00 in cash in a plastic bag.[2] It was suspicious. So when police pulled him over while he was driving back in 2011, they took the cash. He kept his savings in cash because he was suspicious of banks; he had lost his meagre savings due to a bank failure in the 80’s. He was planning to use the money purchase and open a fitness training centre. Police did not allege that the man had committed a crime of any kind. They simply suggested that he had obtained the bag of money from a friend. This single suggestion was the entirety of the prosecution case. Mind, they had no proof of it. No witness came to the stand in their favour. Nor did they offer any evidence the man’s friend had gotten the money illegally.  Mr Morris got his money back, but the case took two years to be disposed of—a punishment in time and money in and of itself. If Mr Morris had been subjected to the traditional process of criminal procedure, this would never have happened at all. The police could not and did not charge him with the “crime” of carrying around a bag of money. But with unexplained wealth laws, they confiscated it anyway. This is not justice.

No evidence of effectiveness. Witch hunters could only practise their trade because witchcraft was popularly thought to be real and dangerous. Similarly, our modern day law enforcement officials confiscate on the premise that they are combating organised crime. The dangers of organised crime are no superstition, of course. But then again, neither were the diseases witches pretended to cure. And much as peasants never asked witch hunters for evidence, few people seem to ask for any evidence that these laws do anything to combat organised crime. There’s a reason for that. There is none. Unexplained wealth laws are designed to catch people who haven’t been proven guilty of a crime. That does nothing to assist police in their investigation of actual crimes.

A wider net catches more innocent people. It is more likely than not that some of the people caught by police will be innocent. Some indeed might be guilty of something, but if they are subject to unexplained wealth laws then we often cannot be sure what they are guilty of, if anything. With unexplained wealth orders, there need be no convictions or sentences, nor even any reported crimes to justify a confiscation. The accused and the prosecution can simply consent to an order being made against the accused for his property to be confiscated. Nobody knows what they are accused of or whether the punishment is in proportion to the crime.

Disproportionate, draconian punishments. We should not assume that the punishment is just simply because the accused did not contest it. The accused may not have had the funds or the time to contest the accusations against him. While he may have been guilty of some offence that might justify confiscating the proceeds of crime, it does not follow that law enforcement officials should be empowered to take everything that person owns. The punishment has to match the crime. The typical punishment for a marijuana user is a counselling session or a small fine—not the confiscation of all of their property.

A pointless, hysterical distraction from punishing real criminals. Finger pointing hysteria may sweep up a lot of innocent people together with the guilty. But there’s no evidence that organised crime is likely to suffer as a result. Indeed, unexplained wealth proceedings will distract police from the actual task of investigating real crimes and real criminals. They will be too busy investigating loosely hypothetical possibilities that might warrant a confiscation order to worry about any real criminals. Therein, I suspect, lies the appeal. Police and politicians can look like they are doing something about crime without doing much at all.

Reversing the presumption of innocence undermines our liberal society. The Coalition like to market themselves as tough on crime, but unexplained wealth laws punish suspects, not proven criminals. Punishing suspects means punishing more innocent people. The traditional, conservative view of law enforcement sees the presumption of innocence as the cornerstone and a distinguishing feature of the English legal system. It is as old as the English Treaty of Magna Carta:

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.

Or as famous English jurist Sir William Blackstone put it:

“It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”

People must have confidence that the legal system will not unfairly target or persecute them. With the introduction of unexplained wealth laws, the Coalition, the ALP and the Greens have renounced their commitment to this fundamental principle of liberal society. They have undermined a core, embedded principle of our legal system and our society. This is a remarkable and troubling tri-partisan consensus indeed. The only politician to have spoken against these laws to date is David Leyonjhelm of the Liberal Democrats. Leyonjhelm has separately pointed out that reversing the presumption of innocence is tantamount to accepting the “just world fallacy”:

The just-world fallacy holds that a person’s actions always result in fair and fit consequences, and it exists because people are uncomfortable accepting [that] suffering is random and that sometimes bad things happen for no reason at all. It is common to believe people must have done something to deserve what they get, including being accused of a crime. The argument goes: if bad things only happen to those who deserve them and I am a good person, then I can be sure nothing bad will ever happen to me.”

Unfortunately, the world is not fair, and law enforcement officials are not perfect. They are fallible human beings. They are capable of making mistakes. They are capable of persecution, not merely prosecution. Judging people guilty before proven innocent is tantamount to a sacrilegious worship of law enforcement officials as nigh-infallible human beings. Unexplained wealth laws turn them into the witch finders of our modern day witch hunts.

Revenue raising gone mad. Add to the mix the fact that confiscations generate revenue for the government and you will see a dangerous combination at work. Police who return more money towards government coffers than they put in will naturally be in line for more funding. Politicians will be more inclined to give it to them. It is not hard to see how law enforcement officials might be more inclined to prosecute law abiding citizens when their pay packet is on the line. That’s the experience in the United States, at any rate, where law enforcement officials get every penny they confiscate back into their own local police department. Then they spend it on holidays, nice cars and other like perks, as the Institute for Justice, an American civil liberties law firm, has recorded. If law enforcement officials get their way we could witness much the same here. It is a comfortable revenue stream indeed.

Would you do it to your neighbour? A final thought. If you took your neighbour’s property and refused to return it to him, without even telling him why or caring to prove that he acquired the property illegally, what would that make you? A thief. It’s one thing to confiscate the proven proceeds of crime, but unexplained wealth laws are something else entirely.

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.

[1] See Henderson v Queensland [2014] HCA 52.

[2] See Director of Public Prosecutions v Morris [2010] WADC 148. (Note: you will need access to a subscription service such as LexisNexis to access this decision).

There’s nothing edgy about ‘honour killings’

I can’t believe this needs to be said, but the choices of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas suggests it does.

Uthman Badar, spokesman for Hizb ut-Tahrir in Australia, will be speaking at the Festival on the topic “Honour killings are morally justified”.

How clever.

It has been many years since FODI has shown any desire to live up to its name. Their existences hinge on the flow of government grants, directly or indirectly through the units that make up the art establishment. It’s not here to disrupt the status quo. It is here because, as a Facebook friend snarked, “the whole idea of a Festival of Dangerous Ideas [is to be] some white–person wankery for inner–city latte drinkers to indulge themselves in a trip to the opera house and [provoke] the special feeling of belonging to that special part of society that attends ‘cultural’ events.

So whilst I am openly impressed that FODI has actually gone and proposed a dangerous idea in that context, as far as dangerous ideas go this is quite safe… which is what makes it so dangerous.

It is dangerous in the first instance because the material is justifying murder. Violence is generally accepted as dangerous.

For anyone who, say, might like to think of themselves as culturally enlightened, the barest of philosophical forays will lead you to the subjectivity of morality and/or its experience by the individual.

Armed with this, it is totally conceivable that people who commit what we call “honour killings” have reasons for doing so. It’s a scary rejoinder to the idea of monstrosity as other and seemingly perfect for a crowd seeking “danger”.

This makes it a safe bet. It’s destined to light up blogs like this, and papers and talkback tomorrow, and possibly the 6pm news from earlier this evening. Helen Dale – who has lit up the local media a few times, including this week – called the decision to give Badar a platform “the intellectual equivalent of streaking”, which is so right not just because it’s flashy, insubstantive, and guaranteed to get your eyeballs on the dangly bits, but also because it isn’t novel.

We know that attention will be paid because we have had these debates before. We have had these debates before because there are millions of people who believe murder is a prurient respond to the exercise of certain kinds of autonomy – but they’re other, safely ‘over there’, and the unbridled, uncritical acceptance of the other is how the worst sort of unthinking leftist gets their counter-cultural jollies.

It will be controversial. Why millions of people would hold values so far removed from our own always will be.

And thus we have Badar at FODI, surrounded by the latte elite, who have already started falling over themselves to demonstrate their open-mindedness by paying to listen to a man who fronts the national arm of an organisation that opposes the close-mindedness of a Western liberalism that would go back to stoning women if the culture wasn’t so close-minded.

If an open-mind is worth keeping on this issue this is still not a justification for FODI’s decision. The point of keeping an open mind is to think, judge, and close it eventually. If it never closes it is no great feat of mind, but the simple abrogation of critical thought. FODI is, by choosing to give this violent idea a platform, abrogating that responsibility in the name of whoring themselves out for attention. This is not an act without consequences; what we say in public sends a powerful message about (are you ready for this?) what is is acceptable to say and do in public.

They’re not concerned about that, nor are they actually concerned about whether we should kill slutty sluts for slutting. They’re concerned about how they can leverage Uthman Badar and the Hizb ut-Tahrir brand and the white guilt that creates the cultural relativism that baby leftists are injected with when they submit their first protest poster for assessment, in service of painting the Festival and it’s supporters as open-minded, critically engaged and edgy, and getting the attention that gets them paid. With taxpayer dollars.

If open engagement is what we desire there’s an endless supply of literature on the subject that could be privately consumed. Somehow I don’t think that’s what Hizb ut-Tahrir wants.

That is what I find the most dangerous – it’s lovely to have organisations like FODI that self-consciously hike their skirts and whore their stages in the pretence of glorying in liberalism while trying to undermine it. These ideas don’t deserve to be paraded on a platform as flimsy as amusement. There is no honour in giving a microphone to a man who doesn’t want to give the microphone back, when he will use it to promote a ban on microphones.

FODI sets its own agenda. They made a considered choice to offer the stage to a lobbyist for Islamototalitarianism to promote the murder of (mostly) women.

If FODI wants to truly be provocative, there are orthodoxies far better challenged than the secular, liberal, individualist democracy that permits people – including women – to pursue the free thought that allows them to consider and reject the killing women who exercise autonomy could be totally sweet.

FODI has the right to offer the PR flak for totalitarian organisation a space on its platform, and its secular “cultural establishment” type audience is mature enough to consider the idea without accepting it (the way the Murdoch-media-swilling general publicans apparently cannot, no doubt). Minds aren’t likely to slip out from under the warm, prosperous blanket of liberalism for the rock hard reality of whatever backwards logic makes it okay to kill for a contorted derivative of honour. 

American Conversations Part I

Hopefully the punditry is wrong and descent into a Romanesque end isn't the final curtain call, writes Tim Humphries

It began with an interview I did with Libertarian radio host of the popular LRM.FM program Liberty Conspiracy with Gardner Goldsmith. The touchstones of North and South Korea plunged our cordial conversation into Trade, International Relations, Currency and the Economic drivers of same both at home and abroad.

The interlocking histories of Australian, American and Chinese involvement on the world stage also figured prominently. However what grabbed my attention was the idea that America was sliding from the world stage and that her pre-eminence was being usurped by China.

Competing academic debates and visions of Chinese Power in the 21st Century amount to precisely naught if we do not acknowledge the pivotal and relevant role China is playing. With American debts topping 1.17 trillion in November 2012 the question remains where to next for China's biggest customer?

The first instinct would be to answer "straight to the debt collection agency!". However there is a deeper issue at play. This relates not just to the reality of America, but America's vision of itself.

My thinking immediately returned to the question of pre-eminence and the potential for China to replace America as the dominant International hegemony within the next fifty years. Many analysts more experienced then yours truly would scoff at such suggestions. 

However all markers seem to indicate the inexorable rise of China will continue long into this decade and confirm the oft repeated and at times annoying Orwellian mantra that this is the "Asian Century".

Funnily enough as Gardner Goldsmith's North Eastern accent washed over the Skype line and explored the Libertarian angles around our discussion, I suddenly remembered the words of Clive James who said poignantly of America:

Shining because of its decay, ablaze with its consuming fires, a multiple injection of phosphorescent amphetamine's into a sky sick with brilliance, New York [America] is the world's most stunning proof that where there is light there is always darkness. And it's because the darkness runs so deep it burns so bright.

With such an image burned upon my literary retina, I suddenly realised the symbolic importance of my discussion with my New England friend.

Today's America is much like Times Square in New York City. Ablaze with financial, trade and strategic manoeuvres they flash across the screen and burn bright upon the International passersby.

America may seem powerful, however its debt ridden position is reducing that power to the residual glow that flickers and pulses from the decrepit media receptacles that spew forth the decaying and all consuming cultural fire that Clive Jame's words so brilliantly allude to. 

Hopefully the punditry is wrong and descent into a Romanesque end isn't the final curtain call.

Timothy W. Humphries is Assistant Managing Editor of Menzies House and writes from Brisbane, Queensland. 

See Clive James' Postcard of New York for more:

 

 

How to Rule: A Statists Guide

38e8fe1Austen Erickson pens this biting satirical "how to rule" guide for budding big government meglomaniacs… although I suspect the Australian Government has acted upon this already! TVA

Congratulations on obtaining your new country! Whether you were elected by a majority of citizens who could be bothered to vote, appointed by the previous (and outgoing) party elite, or you have just staged a military coup, be assured that you have not only the 

power to rule – but the right to do so! The people – your people – have implicitly agreed to a social contract listing you as the ultimate authority, so be confident in your reign!

However, ruling a country is a difficult task; radical, anti-social, elements will always exist at the edge of society seeking to criticise or even undermine your administration. Its important not to pay any attention to what they have to say, since self-doubt is the most poisonous affliction for any sovereign. After all, if they know so much, why are you the one sitting in the driver's seat while they clamour for attention at the back of the bus?

This guide will teach you how best to quash these dangerous dissidents, so that you can more easily realise your utopian vision for the nation – your nation. The techniques here are presented in an order that our experts think will be the simplest for a first time ruler, but feel free to improvise! Jump around a bit as circumstance demands, or just to watch those fringe elements squirm. Even someone as dedicated to advancing the greater good as you deserves to enjoy themselves every now and then.

Remember, the most important thing while you build the great society – your society – is to have fun!

Step 1 – Disarm the Dissidents

An armed population is an unruly population! Just like a de-clawed animal makes the best pet, defenceless people are the easiest to domesticate. Obviously, you'll have to take away their guns – but don't be afraid to go further! Knives, axes, scissors and knitting needles – all can be used against you or your agents.

Start by outlawing dangerous weapons in public places, and when this proves an ineffective deterrent to criminals you can push for more regulation and registration. Ideally you will end up with a list of every legal gun-owner. Don't worry about the illegal owners, they will always be around and are such a small minority that they don't pose a threat to your regime.

Timing is everything when you are finally ready to start taking weapons away – statistical evidence and rational argument will not be on your side, so wait for a tragedy before you make your move! Declining crime rates are no match for a pile of bodies – so stand atop it with pride while you paint your opponents as heartless.

PROTIP: While you gradually reduce the power of people to defend themselves, take the opportunity to more heavily arm your own forces in the name of “public safety.” Every local police force should have assault weapons, and at least one tank, if possible! (Armed drones are also a great idea – see Step 5)

Step 2 – Seize the Schools

Children are the future – your future. A young mind is fertile soil for growing the followers of tomorrow, and as any good farmer will tell you – if you want a good crop come harvest, nationalise education!

Its no secret that all children have the same needs and capabilities, and that's why a national curriculum is so important to your success! Of course, funding schools can be difficult with all the other great projects you will be working on – so don't be afraid to cut programs that won't serve your goals. Art, economics, mathematics and science are all fat to be discarded if necessary; but never, ever get rid of history. The social studies classroom is your arena! Its a sad, outdated notion that history is an objective study of the past. Those of us in the know are aware that its actually a perfect medium for selling ideology to impressionable youth.

PROTIP: Remember to tack these three magical words onto every educational edict you issue “…for our children.” No one can argue with that – it would mean that they wereanti-children. Its just logic.

Step 3 – Bolster the Bureaucracy

Depending on your predecessors – your rightfully unlimited power may be unfairly constrained by silly things like constitutional law or other branches of government. But modern science has given us a fantastic tool to overcome such hurdles – the bureaucrat!

A simple rule of thumb: if you can't legislate it, regulate it! Is an impasse among underlings getting you down? Create an entirely new agency to bypass the whole process! Between the Department of This and the Agency of That (not to mention the Board of the Other), there will be dozens, if not hundreds of different subordinates who you can instruct to pass any given order.

PROTIP: People love wars and they provide a great opportunity to expand the scope of state power! But sometimes a war on a neighbouring country is impractical – which is why its such a good idea to declare war on more nebulous, abstract foes: “War on Poverty,” “War on Drugs,” “War on Terror,” “War on Obesity,” “War on Badwrongness” – be creative!

Step 4 – Neuter the Newspapers

[CENSORED] (Ed. Note: Good job! You are catching on!)

PROTIP: A great way to get started on this is to establish an 'independent' agency to monitor the press – it can all be done in the name of “creating and maintaining a balanced and free media.” We couldn't have any private parties injecting their agenda into the news.

Step 5 – Surveil the Citizenry

Its no coincidence that The Police sang “Every Breath You Take,” because they'll most certainly be watching you (or rather, your subjects)! By now you might have upset some of the coarser plebeians, and the first step to removing a cancer on society is detecting it.

Thanks to the marvels of technology, its easier than ever to keep track of the average Jane or Joe Citizen. Who will complain about wanting “a chicken in every pot” when you give them “a camera on every street corner?” No one – at least not for long!

Don't forget to keep up with all the new-fangled gadgetry either – phone-tapping, internet data retention, microwave scanning, mandatory blood and saliva testing; the possibilities are just endless. The best part is, it can all be done in the name of “national security!”

PROTIP: Before you take the reigns, be as vocal as possible in your opposition to a surveillance state – then your supporters will take for granted that anything you do mustbe necessary, since you oppose it so strongly on principle!

Step 6 – Jilt the Judiciary

To paraphrase the great thinker and statesman, Benjamin Franklin “People… deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Truer words have never been spoken! You've accomplished a lot so far, and its OK to congratulate yourself for a job well done. In fact, why not declare a national day of celebration in your honour? We'll still be here when you come back, champ!

We bet that was fun! The hard work is almost done – if you haven't already all you need to do is to start enforcing your laws as arbitrarily as you create them. The notion that everyone has to follow the same rules is a ludicrous relic and has no place in an advanced society.

Besides, if you've completed Step 3 odds are everybody is guilty of something. You may as well pass sentence now and define a charge later. In fact, you can probably just drop the pretence of charging people with crimes altogether. You are the state and if you say someone's guilty, that's the way it is!

PROTIP: Setting and expanding precedent is key here! If you can get away with something once, you've proven that its always acceptable. Use a missile strike on foreigners yesterday to justify an assassination of one of your own citizens tomorrow. Dream big!

Step 7 – Profit!

Congratulations on completing the guide! You should now be in a great position to enforce your policy whims, whatever they might be! Soon your world-view will come to its full fruition. You may be interested in our companion work – How to Cope with Societal Collapse: A Statist's Guide. Until then – all hail the glorious leader!

 Originally published on Austen’s personal blog under a creative common license 


A lesson from French history

F.-WallerMenzies House welcomes Frank Waller, a new contributor who is concerned about the erosion of rights and freedoms occurring in Australia under a Labor government. Remediation will require more people like Frank to voice their opinions to force change and restore our freedoms.

 GC.Ed.

What does the Magna Carta, the storming of the Bastille and media censorship have in common? If you believe they have nothing in common, you would be wrong.  Even worse, you may be ignoring one of the most important lessons in history.

Let's begin with one of the most important documents ever written—the Magna Carta, (The Great Charter of the Liberties of England).

By 1215 the power and control exerted by the king of England was out of hand, and much of the population was becoming uneasy. There existed few restraints on royal power, and one could readily end up dead or permanently imprisoned if one fell from royal favor.

No trial was necessary—the King’s word was final. Gruesome tortures or worse, awaited those (traitors) who displeased the King for any number of reasons. However, enough became enough and the Feudal Barons eventually came together to challenge the King face to face, presenting the first version of the Magna Carta as a direct ultimatum to his unchecked power. The powerful barons eventually prevailed and the rest as they say is history. This brings us to one of the most powerful articles of the Magna Carta itself, article [29] (still on the books today).

[29.] NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any otherwise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right. [44]

 Note the reference to "lawful judgment of his Peers". This simple phrase is the circuit breaker that makes it difficult for the powerful few, to exert tyranny over the citizen.

Now let's travel through time to the morning of 14 July 1789, to revolutionary France and the "Storming of the Bastille" in Paris.

The storming of the Bastille and the role it played in the French revolution are historical fact. Not so well known is the actual building’s purpose, or the reason that it became such an important flashpoint for the people at that time.

The Bastille or "Bastille Saint-Antoine" was not a palace, or a place of residence. It was primarily a royal prison. Although the Bastille played various roles including document storage, its most controversial role was as a political prison. A place where "enemies of the state" were jailed for "crimes" as trivial as disagreeing with King Louis XVIIV and breaching government censorship rules of printed media. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bastille).

Thus the Bastille prison came to represent the very aspects of heavy-handed repression that the Barons had attempted to overcome in Britain nearly 550 years before. It was a hated place; a symbol of totalitarianism and when it was over-run by the people it was torn down and demolished one brick at a time. Today, "Bastille Day" in France commemorates this important mark in French history.

Moving forward to the present, the Gillard government considers recommendations in its recently conducted "Finkelstein enquiry". These recommendations, if followed, will set up a new regulatory body whose main purpose is greater control the news media and further restrict free speech in Australia.

The Hon Ray Finkelstein QC, a retired Federal Court Judge, openly admits the purpose of the proposed new body when he says. "It could not be denied that whatever mechanism is chosen to ensure accountability, speech will be restricted. In a sense, that is the purpose of the mechanism."

Thus, a new question arises; what will happen when an Australian inevitably falls foul of such government censorship rules?  Will the offender be issued with a fine or a cease and desist order? What happens if the fine goes unpaid or the remarks continue?

Is the Gillard government really going to use taxpayer money to incarcerate an Australian citizen if they continue to speak freely in contravention of government policy?

Will there be provision in the federal budget to set up a modern-day Australian version of the "Bastille Saint-Antoine" where political prisoners can be incarcerated?

Hopefully, for the sake of all Australians the costly lessons of history will not be lost on our present Government, but instead inspire our elected representatives to consider this extremely important issue.

Frank Waller is a fourth generation Australian whose pioneering ancestors came to Southern Victoria from England over a century ago. He balances time between his young family, a busy career in aviation, and the demands of his Gippsland farm.

Frank’s libertarian ideals philosophically favour smaller Government, greater personal responsibility, and peaceful social interaction free of intrusive state intervention. He considers free speech to be one of the foremost pillars of western civilization and its free sharing of thought to be fundamental in the advancement of human understanding.


Australia’s slide towards totalitarianism

Some people ignore or even crave an all-powerful government. They don’t seem to realize that the more centralized the power structure is, the less accountable the government is to the people.

It is said that voluntary voting causes the major political parties to
become polarized, while compulsory voting leads to centralization. 

One of the benefits of so-called polarization is that when the parties
are polarized it presents a clear
choice for the electorate. This makes it easier for the people to tell the
difference between the parties and make an informed decision. Also, when the
parties are polarized, the end result of their policy debate is balance, since
the average of the two poles falls at the centre.

However, a problem that is said to arise from polarization is that it makes it more difficult for the parties to
reach compromise and legislate. Unless one of the major parties has a
significant majority, it is difficult for the parties to pass legislation.

People who see this as a problem argue that it should be easier for the
government to pass legislation and bring about change. They see the
confrontational nature of partisan politics with its inherent conflict and
debate as an obstacle or obstruction to progress. They prefer it when all
parties agree and the government is free to rule. Some call this type of
cooperation as the ‘third way’, which to this writer sounds more like the
‘third reich’.

Some people ignore or even crave an all-powerful government. They don’t
seem to realize that the more centralized the power structure is, the less
accountable the government is to the people.

When people think of polarization they imagine the poles are communism
and fascism, but communism and fascism actually reside at one pole. The pole
where the people have no freedom and the government has ultimate power: totalitarianism.
The other pole is anarchy.

Compulsory voting sees a convergence of political thought but this
doesn’t occur at the centre, it occurs at one extreme. The convergence occurs
towards the totalitarian end of the spectrum, putting upwards pressure on the
size and power of government. Centralized political thought empowers government
and weakens the people.

In a centralized system where both major parties reside at a single
pole, dangerous ideologies thrive. They thrive under the mask of centrality or
neutrality. They thrive behind the veil of agreement or balance. They thrive
because the people are left in the dark, thinking that if both of the major
parties agree, then it must be right.
And besides, what choice do they have?

People have less choice when the parties are centralized because it is
harder for them to tell the difference. They must choose between the better of
two evils.

When the parties exist at different poles, the ruling class is divided.
They are in conflict and this conflict places more power in the hands of the
people.

The political parties should be in competition, not a duopoly. Not
centralized.

When the parties exist at a single pole, it steals our power away, whether
the centralization is a result of fascism, communism or a compulsory-voting-duopoly
such as ours.

Every day that goes by our government competes with the opposition to
legislate. It’s a race to see who can legislate the most. And if the Liberals
win it will be more of the same. Both parties crave power, even though they
have different methods of achieving it.

Under voluntary voting, leaders who cannot inform, inspire, motivate,
educate and ultimately empower the electorate using peaceful means, are
replaced by leaders who can – true democratic leaders.

Under voluntary voting leaders must empower the electorate, which means
they must promote freedom. They must sell freedom. They must defend and protect
freedom.

Voluntary voting will reverse our slide towards totalitarianism.

Jason Kent

Free Our Right To Vote