Is Alabama about to resolve the marriage dispute?

by on 26 May, 2015

By Damion Otto 

Alabama’s state Senate has passed a bill that will end the need for government sanctioned marriage licenses, leaving it to individuals and civil society to decide what marriage is. After July 1st—if the bill becomes law—couples will only be required to lodge a contract with the authorities to keep a legal record of the marriage.

 

Critics have accused Senator Greg Albritton, the bill’s sponsor, of trying to stifle the move towards marriage equality, an accusation he denies:

 

“When you invite the state into those matters of personal or religious import, it creates difficulties… Early [in the] twentieth century, if you go back and look and try to find marriage licenses for your grandparents or great grandparents, you won’t find it. What you will find instead is where people have come in and recorded when a marriage has occurred.”

 

Regardless of his motivations, Albritton makes a valid point.

 

When the state monopolises the right to define marriage and excludes certain citizens, political conflict is inevitable.

 

Proponents of same-sex marriage feel that same-sex couples are victims of state-mandated discrimination. Conversely, opponents believe that marriage is a sacred institution, primarily for the purpose of procreation, that cannot—or should not—be tinkered with to cater to people with a non-traditional lifestyle.

 

Government intervention in the institution of marriage is a relatively recent phenomenon. It has created friction in society and inevitably results in a zero-sum game: whoever wins the debate will force the other side to abide by their values. By invading the private lives of its citizens in this manner, the government facilitates a cultural clash that undermines social cohesion and creates political turmoil.

 

By abolishing the requirement for government approved marriage licenses, the Alabama Senate is moving to placate anxieties on both sides of the debate.

 

Ousting the government from the personal lives of its citizens means that same-sex couples will no longer feel marginalised by government, whilst opponents can maintain their traditional conception of marriage without fear of top-down changes to the definition.

 

The issue of same-sex marriage needn’t be a zero-sum game, nor does it need to be a political one. The Alabama Senate has recognised that if it uses its power to define marriage, the policy tug-of-war will be unending. Its solution to the acrimonious dispute is to deregulate the institution of marriage. This allows people the freedom to choose the type of marriage they want, leaving the decision to recognise it up to civil society.

 

Whether there is a right or wrong answer to the same-sex marriage debate is beside the point. The issue is about the legitimacy and social harm of allowing the government to enforce a particular view on society and invade our personal lives.

Damion Otto is a student at the University of Western Australia and a Liberal Party member.

 

Take A Stand For Academic Freedom

by on 25 May, 2015

 

Academic Freedom in Australia is in grave danger – and we need to act now before it is too late.
Last week, cowed by a shrill vocal minority of far-left activists, the University of Western Australia cancelled its contract with internationationally renown academic Bjørn Lomborg to establish a leading research centre to apply cost-benefit analysis to development projects .

For daring to apply evidence to public policy, Bjørn Lomborg was hounded out of our universities.

What have we become?

Academic freedom is at the heart of any university. To expose students to new ideas, to teach them to think critically, to challenge accepted wisdom – this is what a university should be about. And it is this fundamental principle that is now in grave danger.

By giving in to a few shrill online protests, the University of Western Australia has admitted that it is a closed shop. That it is shut to ideas. That challenging the accepted left-orthodoxy is not permitted.

Is this what we want our education system to be?  Run not by evidence or ideas, but by what the mob wants?

I think we are better than this. I want our universities to be world-class. But that means we need to take a stand now.

This is why I am calling on you to join our campaign in support of academic freedom:  We need to send a loud message that can not be ignored- academic Censorship will NOT be tolerated!

The Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance will be running an open letter in full-page newspaper advertisements proudly supporting academic freedom.

By joining our campaign, you will be publicly stating your opposition to this disgraceful attempt at academic censorship, and putting your commitment to intellectual freedom on the record. 

Rise and Rise of the Leftie-Conservative

by on 22 May, 2015

Christopher Dowson

Christopher Dowson

Yesterday Mark Latham published an opinion piece for the AFR entitled ‘Rise and Rise of the Right-Leftie’. It was a critique of left wing economic policies infecting the right wing of the ALP: “While one expects the party’s Socialist Left to be soft on spending, this problem has also infected Labor’s Right faction” wrote a disappointed Latham, who reminisced about the late ALP ‘free-marketeer’ Mr Peter Walsh. It got me thinking about the Liberal Party recently and the Abbott Government’s seemingly unrelenting pursuit of becoming, as the IPA’s Chris Berg observed, a Fraser Government ‘Mark II’.

Abbott and Hockey came in with a wrecking ball in the 2014 budget but failed to sell any of their budget measures to reduce Australia’s ‘debt and deficit disaster’ bequeathed to it by the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years. Instead of reducing the debt, Hockey and Abbott increased spending and added new taxes, culminating in this year’s budget which even the ABC described as ‘almost Keynesian’. What happened to the so-called right ‘conservative’ faction of the Liberal Party? Have they been squeezed out by (heaven forbid) Liberal ‘Moderates’ and ‘pragmatists’ (I call them Leftie-Conservatives).

It’s no stretch of political jargon to label Abbott a Moderate: he’s happy to tax and spend but at the same time he wants to reduce the deficit. He’s eagerly pushing to recognise Aborigines in the Constitution by 2017 but is ‘not enthusiastic’ about recognising gay marriage in the Marriage Act. He says he is becoming a supporter of Federalism, but keeps shtum when WA demands he re-examine the unfair GST distribution which subsidises mediocre economies like Tasmania and Victoria. He said he was a ‘fervent supporter of free speech’ but decided to abandon repealing s. 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act because the ‘time wasn’t right’ – whatever that means.

The media-savvy and domineering personalities of arch-Moderates like Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop have formed the centre-piece of the modern Liberal Party front bench. Bishop has wisely kept out of domestic disputes and has focused all her energy overseas in her role as Foreign Minister, scoring goals left, right, and (mainly) centre in dealing with the MH17 and MH370 tragedies, the ANZAC memorials, and the Bali executions, leaving Abbott and Hockey to cop most of the unrelenting flak from the media.

Turnbull is the consummate politician, who could have his own daily variety show on ABC if he so chose (although he kind of already does with ‘QnA’). But he’s also a Moderate with some very fundamental Catholic beliefs, which makes him all the more mysterious. He recently distanced himself from Hockey’s language about ‘double dipping’ mothers, saying that it was important for government to look after working and stay-at-home mothers – this is directly in accordance with his Catholic beliefs which put priority on protecting and nurturing the family far higher than crony capitalism. He also came out last week again to push for 18C reform, something most moderates have been reticent to do since Moderate-in-Chief of the Senate, George Brandis, totally botched the selling of the reforms to the public. But here again we have not just the consummate politician, but the consummate Moderate: Turnbull supports same-sex marriage but wants more government assistance to mum-and-dad families, one view is patently anti-Catholic and progressive, while the other is entirely Catholic traditionalist. Turnbull is a staunch Republican and small ‘l’ liberal who wants to run a tight economic ship and reduce the deficit, but simultaneously wants to penalise businesses with an ETS or some other carbon taxation scheme. A conundrum inside a conundrum, just like Abbott.

What happened to people on the Right who spoke their minds and were consistent with most of their conservative ideologies? Well:

  • Eric Abetz has been lumped with the employment portfolio and seems to have been told to ‘fly under the radar’;
  • Cory Bernardi has been abused as a bigot and racist, and rendered irrelevant by the powers that be within the PM’s office (Bernardi has even been accused of being a closeted homosexual by Liberal MP and Moderate Warren Entsch);
  • Kevin Andrews has been dumped into the Defence portfolio (where Minister careers go to die, as was the case with Stephen Smith under Rudd);
  • The talented Brett Mason was made a parliamentary secretary in 2013 and then sidelined completely in 2014 (eventually leading to his retirement this year); and
  • Former Howard stalwarts like Ian McDonald have been booted off the front bench permanently and into obscurity (or some occasional Senate committee).

Some hope remains however, with talented MPs such as Dean Smith, Scott Morrison, Mitch Fifield, Christian Porter and James McGrath still waiting in the wings for potential front-bench positions in the future. Yet at the current trajectory, the ‘right’ of the Liberal party is being dragged more and more into a Moderate hybrid, i.e. what I call Leftie-conservatism, and the issue is not so much one of personnel but rather of consistent convictions and ideology within Cabinet.

Some Moderate Liberal pundits will argue that ‘pragmatism’ is the only way to win elections in politics and might even defend Tony Abbott’s record so far as being ‘pragmatic’ with a hostile Senate. I say that is utter hogwash. The electorate respects politicians with convictions, and societies in general are, inherently, conservative not radical or progressive and don’t need to be duped into voting for you. Yes, compromise is a great tool, especially when negotiating with the crossbenchers, but negotiation requires movement around the edges, not compromise of core values. If the Senate consistently blocks policies which form the basis of your core values, the only solution is a double dissolution. Abbott demanded Gillard take the carbon tax issue to a double dissolution, but was too scared to take his important budget measures in 2014 – including university fee deregulation – to one himself. Why? Because he probably thought he would lose, which just proves a deep lack of conviction.

Moderates might point to the unheralded success of the Moderate David Cameron in the UK recently and say: ‘Aha! It works’. The reality is different however, with multiple factors leading to Cameron’s re-election (chief of which being the incompetence of Ed Milliband as well as the dire SNP threat). His Leftie-Conservatism with his pro-EU pandering, his climate change propaganda, his absurd obsession with legalising gay marriage, and his weak stance on immigration, in coalition with the Lib-Dems, alienated his Conservative base and many questioned whether the Tories were Conservative at all anymore and not simply a gaggle of opportunists.

Now go back to Churchill for example, who – although an opportunist and a poor strategist – was never shy about taking his often unpopular views to the electorate – and winning. Look at Margaret Thatcher, who knew her ‘dry’ Tory government would be subjected to scorn and disdain from unions, working Britons, and left-wing university students, but allowed none of those groups to deter her from liberalising and improving the UK economy. Look at John Howard, whose own personal polling was always a bit ropey as preferred PM, but always took his Conservative views to the electorate, and was always validated, lasting four consecutive terms without any backflipping or sidestepping of his core values. The idea that being a ‘fusionist’ or ‘pragmatic moderate’ who makes his decisions on the basis of poll numbers each month is somehow an effective way to serenade the public into voting for you is utter rubbish and such a mentality needs to end, before it festers in (and destroys) the Conservative elements of the Liberal Party. To paraphrase Latham’s words: ‘the implications of Leftie-Conservatism for a future Abbott government are horrendous’.

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 and is a member of the WA Liberal Party Policy Committee.

Reform or Risk Missing the Gas Boom

by on 21 May, 2015

By Damion Otto

Leaders in the resource-industry have warned that unless Australia immediately reforms its economy, it is in serious danger of missing out on the benefits of the looming natural gas boom.

Politicians know- all-too-well that Australia’s resource boom is drawing to a close – it is the leading excuse they use to defend their budget deficits and fiscal mismanagement. However, it is not true that our resource-rich country has ran out of things to offer.

The second-wave of the liquid natural gas (LNG) boom is beginning to take hold globally. With its large stocks of natural gas Australia should be well-placed to benefit, as long as governments can properly respond to the challenges the industry faces.

Instead of complaining about how the declining price of iron ore impacts their budget deficits, governments need to dismantle the barriers to investment that they have created in the Australian marketplace.

At the Australian Petroleum and Exploration Association conference recently staged in Melbourne, Roy Krzywosinski, Chevron’s Australian managing director highlighted the impediments to the industry:

“Among the problems were too much regulation to get approvals, an inflexible industrial relations systems, high labour costs and taxes and government policies that don’t support investment”

These comments illustrate the clear need for reforms to make Australia more conducive to business investment if it is to avoid the “serious risk” of missing out on the benefits of the upcoming LNG boom.

Industrial relations regulation needs to be relaxed to allow a more dynamic workforce and tax incentives need to be extended to all job-creators in the economy, not just to small business.

There is more to lose than just the Abbott Government’s legacy if it stays on its current path as Fraser Government Mark II. With budgets going into the red all over the country, and political pressure to keep it that way, economic reform is urgently needed to ensure that Australia’s standard of living continues to be the world’s envy.

Abbott has claimed: “[T]he age of reform has not ended, it was merely interrupted.” But he is yet to put these words into action. If our governments fail to act, then Australia could miss out on the fruits of another resource boom. And we will all be poorer for it.

Damion Otto is a 3rd year university student at UWA Perth and a member of the Liberal Party.

FTB or no FTB – That is the question

by on 11 May, 2015

Christopher Dowson

Christopher Dowson

…Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous budget cuts, or to take arms against a sea of libertarianism.

In addition to a slew of cuts to the Howard era legacy of the Family Tax Benefit (FTB), according to Treasurer Joe Hockey’s Mother’s Day announcement, almost 80,000 new mums will lose some or all of their government parental leave payments under the Federal Government’s upcoming budgetary measures. According to news reports, it will see almost half of new mothers lose access to the full $11,500 available under the Government’s existing scheme from July 2016. The situation at the moment is that mothers can access parental leave payments both from the Government scheme and from their employer, if their workplace has one. The Government scheme provides 18 weeks of leave at the minimum wage to primary care givers earning $150,000 a year or less.

Tony Abbott told reporters that he was a big supporter of paid parental leave (PPL), but for a “whole host of reasons” the government had decided “the time was not right for the fullness of the policy that we took to the last election”. I find this utterly cowardly and it smacks of the same backflipping and ignorance of core Liberal values as did the 18C debacle. Mr Abbott once touted himself as a member of the Conservative faction of the Liberal Party, as opposed to the Turnbull-ite libertarians and their ilk (with their repulsive “every individual for themselves”- Ayn Rand mentality). Of course, all Liberal Party members agree that subsidies are generally a bad thing and distort the free market. Government meddling is always to be resisted when it comes to the dollar sign. But when it comes to issues of social conscience, culture, and morality – it is a whole other issue and should not be sacrificed for the sake of budgetary outcomes. It takes temerity, guts, and adherence to your core values to produce lasting and effective social policies. Ask John Howard.

Subsidising Australian mothers is not something to be labelled as ‘double-dipping’. Just because an employer might choose to provide parental leave schemes does not automatically disqualify the government from complementing such schemes with its own family policies. Large cuts to Howard’s flagship Family Tax Benefits scheme are also in the works, with an emphasis on childcare subsidies instead of family subsidies.

Abbott waxed lyrical about the economics of the matter: “We are changing the economics of going back to work so that we will get more work, so that families will have more opportunities to increase their income.” Oh excuse me. I’m expecting the Prime Minister to release a new autobiography soon called: “How I Helped the Budget by Hurting Families: My Ayn Rand Enlightenment and Other Libertarian Pipe Dreams”. What utter tosh. Supporting families does not mean encouraging them to outsource their responsibilities as parents to childcare centres. Supporting families means facilitating parents, especially mothers, to provide quality one-on-one time with their children so that the crucial developmental stages of the child’s life are enhanced. This mentality of becoming a careerists, relentlessly pursue promotions, quickly popping out a kid, and then getting back to the daily grind ASAP in order to boost the economy, get more cash, and “launch” generally, is repulsive and completely anti-Conservative in every way.

We all know economics-obsessed libertarians rely on statistics to justify concepts like unrestrained free trade, deregulation and so on, so let’s indulge them. In 2010 – 2015 the Australian fertility rate was stable at around 1.9. Now let’s look at some of the countries from which Australia receives a large proportion of its permanent migrants: In India (from which we received 29,018 permanent residents last year) the fertility rate is around 2.5. Now, other countries from which we receive a large amount of refugees include: Afghanistan with 5.1, Bangladesh 2.2, Somalia with a staggering 6.6, South Africa 2.6, Iraq 4.0, South Sudan 4.9, Syria 3.0, and so on. You don’t really need to be an ABS statistician to argue that Australian families are on the lower end of fertility rate rankings.

Encouraging Australian families to have larger families, or at least more families, is a long overdue policy imperative which John Howard successfully attempted in his time in government (after his FTB policies and baby bonus initiatives, the fertility rate climbed from 1.5 to 1.9). The benefits of a society based on strong family structures are manifold and include: safer and more cohesive communities, better educational outcomes, stronger interpersonal relationships within communities, and obviously the strengthening of the population and its traditional welfare institutions such as volunteer groups, churches, charities and so on, mitigating the need for massive state welfare spending.  Even Malcolm Turnbull, the Libertarian par excellence, revealed his semi-traditional Catholic mindset with his speech to the 2003 Population Summit, where he said the key goals in Australia’s family policy for the future ought to include:

…the promotion of pro-natalist policies designed to ensure that, ideally, our birth rate increases closer to the replacement level of 2.1…the recognition that children are a social good and not merely a private, optional pleasure…[and] the recognition that there is nothing any of us are likely to do which is more important to the future of this nation than to bear and raise children.

I could not agree more with the Communication Minister, and I believe these goals are being utterly jettisoned by the Abbott government’s new budget agenda which would probably make even David Leyonhjelm ask: “I thought I was the Libertarian here?” Putting the almighty dollar above the nurturing, strengthening, and development of children and families is national self-sabotage of the highest order, geared towards corporations and crony capitalists instead of the most fundamental units of society: communities and families. Yes, in an Ayn Rand world (perish the thought!) we would put the individual at the centre, whose choice to have children is a luxury, a mere private ‘pleasure’ as criticised by Mr Turnbull above. Yet such a narcissistic mentality will have devastating consequences for Australian culture and its traditional values of faith, family, and freedom as opposed to progressive capitalist ones such as wealth, consumerism, unrestrained liberty, and individualism. Just look at what’s happening to Europe. As John Paul II wrote in his 1981 encyclical Familiaris Consortio:

…signs are not lacking of a disturbing degradation of some fundamental values [of the family]…At the root of these negative phenomena there frequently lies a corruption of the idea and the experience of freedom, conceived not as a capacity for realising the truth of God’s plan for marriage and the family, but as an autonomous power of self-affirmation, often against others, for one’s own selfish well-being.

In his autobiography entitled Battlelines, Tony Abbott stated in a section entitled ‘Child Drought’ that:

Supporting women who have children should one of the important duties of government…Through the provisions of significant childcare benefits, government policy supports mothers in the paid workforce, especially full-time ones. What government does not currently do is provide help for women in middle-income families or for women taking time off work to have a baby. The result is that many women have fewer children that they would like.

That was then. Nowadays, Tony has adopted a disposition of ‘pragmatism’ where core values are mere impediments to achieving legislative outcomes. Like Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard before him, Abbott is living up to the title of consummate ‘politician’, with Machiavellian guile, backflipping where politically expedient, and tossing out principles and convictions for the sake of opinion polls. Credlin has taught him well.

My final message to the Conservatives who still hold out against the Liberal Party apparatchiks in Canberra is this: Stay true to your values, fight the good fight, stand up for culture and tradition over cash and fiscal ends, protect and encourage Australian families, and please do not support Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey’s anti-family agenda in the upcoming budget. And as the old Battlelines Ghost of Tony Past begins to fade away as Budget Morning dawns I feel like a miserable young Hamlet:

But, soft: behold! lo where it comes again!

I’ll cross it, though it blast me. – Stay, illusion!

If thou hast any sound, or use a voice.

Speak to me.

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 and is a member of the WA Liberal Party Policy Committee.

Why ‘taking on big business’ is a poor idea

by on 9 May, 2015

sean-jacobs

Dropping tax rates is an effective but underappreciated revenue maker

By Sean Jacobs

‘Some regard private enterprise as if it were a predatory tiger to be shot,’ said Winston Churchill. ‘Others look upon it as a cow that they can milk. Only a handful see it for what it really is – the strong horse that pulls the whole cart.’

Thirty-one year old ALP Senator Sam Dastyari is clearly not one of the handful. A recent profile of Dastyari exposes not only an alarming ignorance of tax and economic growth but everything that is slowly becoming wrong with Australian politics, which catapults people with little knowledge of the wider world (and commerce) into positions of power and responsibility.

Dastyari is currently Chair of the federal Senate Economics Committee, and has used his position not to generate ideas on economic growth but to attack companies like BHP and Leighton while leading the so-called Coalition of Common Sense that has blocked much-needed reforms to reduce Australia’s debt.

He wants to talk about ‘tax avoidance’ in Australia as a priority issue. But this is at a time when the list of more urgent economic reforms is getting longer – unemployment and debt are becoming fused parts of the Australian landscape, regulation and compliance is increasing, productivity is dropping and China’s internal attributes, upon which Australia heavily relies, aren’t showing the same enchanting metrics of dynamism. This is on top of an older Australian population that is increasingly evacuating the workforce.

I feel that Australians, especially future Australians, need to reacquaint with the pivotal role that business plays not just in a free market economy but a free society. Australian companies, both small and large, already pay tax. They also provide capital and jobs, while adding to innovation, lowering costs, enhancing productivity and stimulating economic growth. The government does not do this – business does. And the penalty of higher taxes simply makes these great outcomes harder.

We also forget that some companies take years to be successful. McDonalds and Amazon, for example, operated at a loss and teetered on bankruptcy for years before turning a profit. ‘We have learned that true rising standards of living are the product of progressive enterprise,’ said Robert Menzies, ‘the acceptance of risks, the encouragement of adventure, the prospect of rewards.’

If companies do not pay tax, or operate outside the rule of law, they face obvious penalties. Ensuring compliance with the law is good and decent. But enforcing show trials and shaking down business, all in the service of public awareness campaigning or shock value, is not the best way to either grow the economy or collect more revenue.

So-called big businesses, just like wealthy individuals, respond when tax rates shoot up. The volume, timing and nature of income can be shifted to ultimately pay less tax and, when it’s time to actually collect any money, leave the government empty-handed.

This is basically what has happened between the high spending days of Rudd’s 2008 stimulus spree and current reality – future income was overstated and now a wider gap exists between spending and revenue. Now unsurprisingly, on top of debt payments and an expanding social welfare system, more money is required and someone needs to pay more tax.

Constantly changing legislation, in an attempt to keep up or get ahead of private enterprise, is actually a blunt and rarely optimal revenue tactic. The government, quite simply, cannot keep up. Australia, instead, should actually lower taxes. Seemingly counterintuitive, reduced tax rates have long been proven to stoke dynamic growth and greater revenue in other meritocratic and like-minded economies. Going back to 1920s America, for example, the United States Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon was surprised to observe that ‘a decrease in taxes causes an inspiration to trade and commerce, which increases the prosperity of the country so that revenues of the government, even on a lower basis of tax, are increased.’

Even the great Adam Smith, from the mid-to-late eighteenth century, simply observed that ‘high taxes, sometimes by diminishing the consumption of the taxed commodities, and sometimes by encouraging smuggling, frequently afford a smaller revenue to government than what might be drawn from more modest taxes.’

Economists will argue tooth and nail about the validity of tables, formulas and data. But if there’s any common sense allowed into the public discussion on Australian tax reform it most certainly lies in this approach – drop taxes and create jobs, growth and opportunities. More revenue and a growing economy awaits.

Liberal Party restricts free speech through anti-terror laws

by on 8 May, 2015

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.

Prime Minister Abbott’s new law criminalising “hate preachers”—those who advocate, but do not themselves commit, acts of terrorism—is illiberal and entirely unjustified. Abbott has flagged that it could be used to target groups like Hizb ut-tahrir, an Australian Islamist group that is often silent on whether it condemns acts of terror here, and often praises acts of terror abroad. The law carries a harsh penalty of up to 5 years’ imprisonment, and they could have a range of unintended consequences. It could also censor some of the same controversial material as section 18C of the Racial Discrimination, which the government once promised to repeal. And in an eerie echo of one of his predecessors, Prime Minister Robert Menzies, Abbott is risking a constitutional challenge in enacting these laws. So why is he introducing them?

In considering whether restrictions on advocating terrorism are justified, we must remind ourselves that living in a free society means allowing every person to live express themselves as they see fit unless they are actually harming others. Obviously causing people physical harm is something we shouldn’t tolerate. Nor should we tolerate direct threats of immediate harm: threats to kill, or the like. But the onus must be on those who would restrict our speech to prove that the restriction in question is justified.

This law is unnecessary. There are already laws that criminalise incitement to violence. These laws should adequately address those circumstances in which extremists counsel their followers to commit specific acts of violence.

The problem with banning terror advocacy lies in its vagueness. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and advocating terrorism is not the same as threatening specific people with immediate harm.  Consider this: is calling for the overthrow of Kim Jong Il and the North Korean government an act that “condones” terror? What about the Iraqi government? What about the Australian government? Are the manifestos of our ineffectual socialist movement, which regularly call for revolution in Australia, cause for harsh jail terms and imprisonment? Moving further afield, some Australian writers have even penned articles in newspapers in support of what is commonly regarded as a terrorist group—Hamas. Hamas is a listed terrorist group in Australia, Europe and the United States. Should we jail all of these writers? Surely, for real liberals the answer must be no: people should not be jailed for words unless there is a real and immediate threat of violence expressed by their author. Debates about wars and the discontented rumblings of the far left, or other peaceful extremists are simply not a matter for law enforcement.

Even if advocating terrorism can be harmful because it persuades people towards extremist views, the costs of banning such speech could be even higher. That’s why we shouldn’t restrict people from advocating for terrorism. Restrictions could incite unrest amongst extremists, activate their membership and cause their ideas to become even more popular as a result. This may create even more terrorism in turn.

The historical record shows how this has occurred in places such as Weimar Germany. Weimar Germany’ many attempts to censor vehemently racist and anti-Semitic opinion only stirred the Nazi movement into a frenzy of outraged activity, and Nazi leaders were quick to use episodes like the imprisonment of Nazi propagandists as an excuse to hold rallies or protests in their support. Julian Stretcher, the editor of the Nazi newspaper Der Sturmer, was reportedly jailed and then released to cheering crowds. These incidents demonstrate how censorship can bolster support for extremist movements by giving them attention and activating their supporters. The acts of censorship committed by the Weimar regime may well have normalised subsequent acts of censorship by the Nazis—even if it was censorship for a different cause entirely.

Hizb ut-tahrir’s leaders are not blind to the power of censorship: they have accused Australia’s political class of being hypocrites who use the rhetoric of liberalism as a tool for the maintenance of political power, even as they seek to suppress extremist opinions like their own.

What Abbott seems to forget is that people’s views can change. Reason and persuasion will win over far more extremists than brute force ever will. Indeed, part of the point of tolerance is to teach people to be tolerant in turn. People’s views can be, and often are turned away from extremist opinion in Western society for precisely this reason. That is partly how our liberal, tolerant society came into being: through the successive decisions of many people to live and let live, and extend tolerance to more and more people of different backgrounds and beliefs.

The laws have other drawbacks. Conceivably, even expressing understanding for the motives of combatants in war time might be regarded as a breach of this law. For instance, columnists often write that they can empathise with the motivations of terrorists even as they condemn their means. Human empathy is normal; even those who oppose terrorists should attempt to understand them. But if a columnist also strongly condemns the present policies of the government, he may fall afoul of these laws if he does not trouble himself with also explicitly condemning terrorism. It is all too easy to see how the controversial conflicts of our time and the columnists who write about them might fall afoul of these restrictions in the right circumstances.

It is not to the point to claim that these laws do not exclude “genuine debate.” What constitutes genuine debate lies in the eye of beholder. The potential for censorship remains. Just as Andrew Bolt got himself into legal trouble because a judge thought he wasn’t being sufficiently sensitive to the feelings of his subjects, so too, a judge might find that a columnist was advocating terror rather than engaging in debate because he was not being sufficiently sensitive in making the case for an unpopular rebel cause.

From a classical liberal perspective, therefore, the government’s approach to this issue is befuddling. On one hand it once claimed to support freedom of expression, particularly if the subject matter is offensive, in calling for the repeal of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act (which bans racially offensive speech). On the other it condemns offensive speech in support of ‘radical’ causes of which it disapproves. There is a profound contradiction here. No doubt the spread of racially offensive speech is a justification for the censorship of racist ideas under the Racial Discrimination Act; but many of those very same offensive ideas will be expressed by those who fall afoul of these provisions. Indeed, the government’s explicit intent is to repress the expression of extremist views like those put forward by the increasingly prominent Islamist group Hizb ut-tahrir. But ultimately, this law, like section 18C, could substantially restrict the scope of political debate even further than its enactors may intend.

It is also worth noting the historical irony: Abbott is in a sense the ideological successor of the first Liberal Prime Minister, Robert Menzies. Menzies led a campaign to ban the Communist Party and criminalise the expression of communist beliefs in Australia and was nearly successful in the attempt.

The High Court struck down the laws Menzies introduced on the basis that they were outside the scope of the Commonwealth’s law-making powers and had nothing to do with national defence. After all, a political party is merely a group of people, and communism, like Islamism, is a set of beliefs, not a bomb. A person’s associates and ideas, in and of themselves, are not the same as acts of violent terrorism and revolution.

Today, Mr Abbot’s law could also infringe upon another constitutional limit to legislative power: the implied freedom of political communication, invented by the High Court in the early 90’s.

Despite Menzies’ failure to ban communism, Australia survived the Cold War—and Robert Menzies lived on to become Australia’s longest serving PM. Perhaps Mr Abbott hopes to follow in his footsteps.

Privacy and what it means for Australia’s metadata laws and the NSA’s phone tapping

by on 6 May, 2015

By Edward James

"Edward James is just one voice among seven billion. To Edward, it matters not what happens to him personally but; rather, what you do with what you have read. For is an idea only worth the value of its speaker or should the merits of every statement be assessed in its own right?"

“Edward James is just one voice among seven billion. To Edward, it matters not what happens to him personally but; rather, what you do with what you have read. For is an idea only worth the value of its speaker or should the merits of every statement be assessed in its own right?”

The issue of privacy goes far beyond the government intercepting telecommunications. However, the relatively recent leak by Edward Snowden regarding the activities of the US government serves as a good lesson in privacy in general.

In regards to this specific issue, there were some people that actively endorsed the government listening in, some that did not care as they have nothing to hide and others that were concerned about what this type of surveillance means for civil liberties. It is fair to be concerned about the matter. In most cases, people are expecting to have private interactions to later find out that what they have communicated has been received by unexpected parties.

There are probably plenty of conversations that you have had where, at the very least, you would not like the subject of these conversations to know what was being said about them. Or, there have probably been a number of very personal things you have said about yourself that you only wanted a selected group of people to hear (like your doctor for example). It should be noted though that, even in these circumstances, there is still a chance of others finding out. Someone may overhear what is being said or an intended recipient may pass the information on to others.

What the mass phone-tapping scandal of the NSA did was raise the likelihood of people whose opinions you care about finding out information that may sour their opinion of you. For that is all that privacy really is, stopping others from having a complete/fuller picture about your life. There are things you do and say which you would prefer that some others did not know about.

To explain, ignoring how the NSA obtained the information for the minute, does it have any real world implications if a faceless person which you will never meet knows a few intimate details about you? The answer is no. The issue of privacy and domestic spying is a game of ‘what ifs’. What if hackers stole that information and publicly published it? What if the person who viewed this information knows the same people I know? What if I become famous and that person with the information uses it to bring down my fame?

The real reason privacy is a concern is not because others may find out about what you are doing, but because it is not socially acceptable to be your true self in a way where others are aware of what you are doing. The concern about privacy extends from a general human condition of valuing those that display an idealized version of themselves instead of the reality. It would take too long to go into the evolution of such behaviour and it is not overly important why this phenomenon exists. The point is, when you break it down – the concern about privacy is really about keeping up appearances.

For an actual example of such a thing, look no further than Facebook. People present self-styled versions of their life for others to see. Compare how many profiles there are on Facebook with, say, the number of status updates highlighting that someone is watching porn and masturbating. Considering the sheer amount of porn on the internet, the number of porn-related status updates is not in line with what is expected – should people actually present complete pictures of their lives.

Privacy in and of itself is a form of disinformation. To maintain privacy is an attempt to ensure that others do not know everything there is about you.  To look at it another way, imagine really early humans with no shelter, no private property and no clothes and so on. Let us say that you are amongst these humans. You now need to void your bowels. You can either do it in the open where everyone can see or behind a bush. All other things being equal and ignoring things like defecating where you eat, what do you choose?

In the example, if you do not want others to see you go to the toilet, it is you who has to manufacture privacy by going behind a bush. For a less on-the-nose example, imagine instead you are about to have sex with a fellow human of the group – do you do it in front of everyone or do you find a secluded spot? It is the same thing, in either case there is no entitlement to privacy. To say that there is; is to say that that others cannot explore, walk around or look in a particular direction of the open world at certain times because you feel uncomfortable.

Bring it back to today, imagine now that you have a house and a fence and so on. That said, you have decided to build everything out of transparent Perspex. Anyone standing on the street or next door can see into your property and see everything you do from going to the toilet to showering to touching yourself. It was your choice to build such a place and the people seeing into your house are freely standing on public or on their own private property. The only way to stop people seeing what you do is to have others force those that would look into turning their heads or by creating an exclusionary zone around your house.

To have an entitlement of privacy in such a situation would be to forcibly control the behaviour of others – even in their own homes. Not only that, but it is to do so for the sake of your own feelings. State entitled privacy is quite literally the limitation of the actions of others to spare your feelings. The problem on legislating by feeling will be discussed later, suffice to say, considering the gamut of emotions people can have, to legislate on the basis of feelings is to set a dangerous precedent.

What does this all mean for telecommunications privacy thought? Well now imagine you are in your regular house with its windows and its walls. One should note that people can still look into your windows as they would your Perspex house. More importantly, look at the principles of sight: a certain range of electromagnetic waves are generated or reflected off things and then these waves come across an eye which responds a particular way to these waves and by responding such a way it sends signals to your brain which then depicts the world around you visually.

The only way that people can see is if you are generating or reflecting light off of yourself or your personal belongings. It is in fact you who is broadcasting visual signals to others – regardless whether you intended to or not. If you do not want others to see what you are doing simply ensure that no light escapes the area that you are doing these things in. For who are you to say that others cannot interpret the signals that you personally are sending to them in the first place?

So now consider the electromagnetic waves one broadcasts when using Wi-Fi or mobile communications. You are creating something and distributing into through public and other people’s private areas. To demand that others not look at it is to try and prevent others from using what you have freely given them. Those unintended recipients of your broadcasts are under no contractual obligation with you to behave in a certain manner – they are not trading anything to receive what you provide. Perhaps the only people who could not look are those that provide the service in the first place – on the proviso that the initial service agreement included this as a term.

In reference to internet traffic, considering the internet makes use of public networks; to say that the government and all that use those networks cannot view your data is to demand private exclusivity in a public setting. It would be like driving down public roads and asking people not to look in your car windows. Just as the government can set up cameras and sensors to track all the details of those that use the roads so to can they do that with public networks – of which the internet is a part.

Another example would be like sending a postcard in the mail and asking those to not read what is written in plain sight. It would be an entirely different story though if a letter was in an envelope and the envelope was opened en route to its destination. In the latter circumstance, a product is being tampered without the agreement of the owner of said product. This goes back to the principle that privacy is your responsibility to manufacture.

If you do not want the government to look at how you use the internet, to intercept your telecommunications or for the public in general to see what you are doing, then you need to utilize methods of disinformation to ensure that only the intended recipients receive the message. For your Perspex house; tint your windows, for your letters; put it in a sealed envelope, for your mobile signals; set up an encryption system, for internet traffic; use private networks or proxies or, again, a method of encryption and for your Wi-Fi; set a password. Note though that none of these are foolproof and people can still attempt to overcome your obfuscation.

The only time you are ‘entitled’ to privacy is when the only way that people can see what you are doing is if they enter onto or alter your private property without your authorization. Which brings this to Australia’s metadata laws. These laws force private enterprises to engage in practices that they would otherwise have a choice about in order to track the telecommunications of the people. Considering that laws are not a matter of consent but coercion – if you do not follow, you are punished and you have no choice about the creation of said laws – these laws in particular do in fact violate the only privacy you are entitled to. The government is forcibly altering matters between private enterprises in order to see something it otherwise could not.

Note here though that this assumes that the ‘right’ of the government to interfere into the actions of others is in question. Should you simply accept that this institution is freely able to determine what others may or may not do; the metadata laws are fine. And, that is fine if you do think like that. But, on that principle alone it is very hard to then draw a line between what is acceptable and unacceptable interference without it being a case of ‘because I said so’.

If one does in fact question the authority of government and should that government be a public institution then the concept of public networks extend to government information. Just as you should be able to freely stand in public and view all the world around you from that position and just as those that operate or use public networks can observe all that goes through said networks, so does the public have access to all information held by public institutions.

To describe exactly what that does or does not apply to would take many thousands of words and would be incredibly dull to read – plus it would necessitate detailing the logic used to justify each case. Suffice to say that public institutions only contain public information. Please note though that this statement cannot apply to victims of crime as they do not choose to be victims. Nor can it apply to public/civil servants under orders [of, effectively, the public] where knowledge of those orders will place them at risk of direct harm – like undercover police officers, for example.

That said, the US government loves to classify things a secret on the basis of national security. Unless a direct and logical flow of cause and effect can show that the release of such information will place an actual person at greater risk of harm the argument of necessity by security cannot hold-up.

To use an outlandish example, aliens: if there is classified evidence to their existence, this could not be kept secret on the idea that people in general would flip-out with the knowledge. Knowledge of aliens does not directly control the actions of people – you are not forced to act one way or another on that knowledge alone – and rioting still depends on the choices of rioters. Thus, there is no direct cause and effect. Even if people are prone to panic, which they are, it is just bad luck if they destroy society as you live in the world you create.

That said, public knowledge of detailed military technology or tactics does jeopardize the lives of the operators or units in defending from aggressors (assuming one’s military is used for defence against attacks or stated threats) – which is in line with protecting the identity of undercover officials.

Hopefully there is enough information here to be able to explore further cases on one’s own. The point of this piece is to highlight what privacy actually is and what that should mean if one lived in a reasonable society. Exactly how this all should be policed, including the distribution of potentially sensitive government information is another matter. Noting that the policing methods themselves would also need to be consistent with everything else as well, if one wanted to maintain reason and justice.

However, to ask and expect people to be reasonable and consistent is a foolish endeavour. The odds of it ever happening on a mass scale are slim-to-none. That does not mean people could not suddenly act in such a manner, but the presence of emotions and self-interest make it highly unlikely. This is not a bad thing; it is just a reality one has to deal with. For more on my views on how to solve issues like these, head over to my blog,  The Last Revolution.

Is Canadian Socialism In Decline?

by on 6 May, 2015

Front Politics is a strange business.

It makes celebrities of the less Hollywood-esque of us, it can create success nobody dreamed possible, bring high flying careers crashing down, expose the worst of us, bring out the best in us.

It can also be a hard beast to predict. So often the polls can get it wrong, so often the people can swing erratically to deliver something nobody would expect.

Not in Alberta, though. Alberta is solid. Alberta is strong. Alberta is certain.

To Love Thy Neighbour

by on 29 April, 2015

Sherry Sufi

For this time, this place, the death penalty is as primeval as it is an act of prime evil.

It served a purpose in the Middle Ages when criminality was rife and often the only way for authorities to get their point across was through pursuing the harshest retributive measures possible.

The death penalty is not right. Not for our near northern neighbours, not for our partners across the Pacific, not for the Middle East, not for anyone, anywhere in the world at present.

I know I am not alone in condemning the execution of convicted Australian drug traffickers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

I commend the efforts of Prime Minister Abbott and Foreign Minister Bishop for attempting to do what they could to have a more proportionate sentence pronounced upon these two.

Abbott made the point well in stressing that we respect our neighbour’s sovereignty but we do deplore what has happened.

I dedicate the following poem I wrote yesterday to these two victims of the use of state power at its worst.

What Britain calls the Far East is to us the Near North
Too close for comfort but we’ve shown our sheer warmth
Love thy neighbour, bonds built on more than a one-time favour
Prone to battle through adversity, knowing the sun shines later
East Timor was a seesaw but we did a balancing act
Drug traffickers die, terrorists live, where’s the balance in that?
When a wave charges in, we’re more than trade partners
Put our money where our mouth is yet the cleric praises his martyrs
And despite every illegal charter, we keep pumping that aid
Yet instead of showing mercy, there’s another coffin made
A mistake with the luggage so costly a blunder, I only wonder
How the two gave death the death stare as we mourned down under
Clemency is only what you ask others to show your own
What ever happened to ‘he who is without sin shall cast the first stone’?
Two wrongs don’t make a right, so if asked what I thought of you
I’d say ‘forgive them, for they know not what they do’

Sherry Sufi is a Political Editor with qualifications in Politics, History, Philosophy, Information Systems and International Studies. He has worked as a Policy Adviser to both State and Federal MPs. Sherry’s PhD research investigates the role of first language in ethnic conflict and nationalism. He can be reached via facebook here.