April 28, 2014 | Graham

Consensus on racism ought to be the end of 18c

One reason it is difficult to argue for the abolition of Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act is because there is no-one prepared to say that discriminating against someone based on race is OK.

It allows supporters to switch the argument from free speech to whether you support racism or bigotry, or as Van Badham said on Q&A tonight, “facilitate it”. And that is a hard argument to win because virtually no one supports either.

But that is in fact the strongest reason why it can go.

Curbs on freedom of speech can only be justified if there is some substantial threat to someone’s personal security because of it, so 18c can only be justified if there is a significant and real threat arising from the abuse.

But what is that threat when the whole of society is so convinced that racial discrimination is wrong?

It’s not going to be some sort of a political movement that is going to do real harm to a racial group.

It can only be a personal threat, but in that case why have a law like 18c which singles out only racial discrimination?

If the threat is to do physical damage to someone, then there are already laws against that, no matter whether your grounds are racial or not.

And if it is damage to reputation, then again, there are already laws that allow you to sue for that, whether your grounds are racial or not. There are also laws which deal with abuse, and bullying, in general.

So there is no justification for 18c, unless there is something special about racism.

That something special might be the fact that in recent history racism was widespread, and did terrible damage to racial minorities (or even majorities as in South Africa).

So one could argue a defence of 18c on the basis of a program to eliminate racism – that its justification is its normative effect.

But if the population in general has come to the same conclusion the legislation promotes as normal, then even this need for it has vanished.

The more I think about this issue the more I come to the conclusion that it is not Brandis who needs to justify repealing the legislation, but the proponents who need to justify retaining it. A theme which I might return to later in the week.





Posted by Graham at 11:22 pm | Comments (10) |
Filed under: Legal

April 24, 2014 | Graham

Why not retire at 81?

The whole idea of retirement is a new-fangled invention, and not one that I think has been for the good. When it comes to work, I’m with Marx – it is what defines us. A life without work is a life without definition.

Before the 20th century there was no idea that there was a right to retire and take life easy after a certain age. There were certainly leisured classes who had managed through birth or industry to collect enough capital that they could choose what work they did, and when and if they did it, but even they didn’t retire.

There was certainly no thought that the tax payer ought to maintain you after a particular age.

But the norm was to work until you dropped, more or less, and the age at which you dropped could actually be quite old.

I was doing some research on Sir Charles Todd, an ancestor of my three older children, the other day. Todd was responsible for the Darwin to Adelaide telegraph line, the NBN of its day, as well as establishing Australia’s meteorological services. He was also Australia’s first deputy postmaster general.

But what caught my attention was his later work history. He became a commonwealth public servant at the age of 75 when his South Australian department became absorbed by the newly created Commonwealth of Australia, and didn’t actually retire until he was 81, two years before he died.

This was not an uncommon story and it is only a hundred years ago.

There is no physical reason why Joe Hockey shouldn’t raise the retirement age above 70, and it is certainly about time that those of us who are older pushed for mandatory retirement ages to be abolished as a human rights issue, and the right to work elevated above the “right” to retire.


Posted by Graham at 7:07 am | Comments (9) |
Filed under: Economics,Health,Society

April 17, 2014 | Valerie Yule

Some budget thoughts from a literacy researcher

These are some thoughts from Valerie Yule, a regular OLO author.

Hockey could cut

* middle class welfare e.g. parental payments at the rate of usual income, even if high. All payments at the lowest rate.

*negative gearing

*payments for buyers of first housing as that only makes housing prices higher, and rewards the owners of housing

*baby bonuses after the second child, as that rewards people with more children than they can cope with

*some of the white beneficiaries of white organizations to help aborigines

*defence spending on so many submarines and expensive airplanes.

*numbers of staffers that members of Parliament can have

*government cars kept small and changed less often

*government advertising that could be replaced with media News that doesn’t have to be paid for

* election costs by making sensible voting laws – e.g. you can vote for 4 candidates above the line in Senate elections.

* education costs only to bring the lowest government schools up to medium income of all schools

* prevent sectarian segregation and social dislocations by no government payments to religious schools – I realise that this is out of the question!



He could make higher taxes

*for the wealthy

*introduce death duties

*companies not treated the same as individuals

*for tobacco and alcohol

* advertising where juveniles can see it.


He could nationalise all lotteries and gambling so that the nation would get all profits = billions.


No CEOs or directors to have total incomes over $1million – government to have the residue from former sums.


* Cut traffic congestion by not allowing closing and selling of city schools which prevent all children being able to walk to a government school.

* Keep Medicare Private which can pay every year, and helps keep premiums of competing insurance schemes down

* Find some way of making single-person large cars pay. (A second small car should be possible – shared, perhaps)

*No subsidies for growing rice, which water-short Australia should not grow.

* Schools only have to get new textbooks for old subjects every three years or longer, unless a conceptual breakthrough occurs.

* People are warned that in a later budget they will have to pay more themselves for hospital treatment if through alcohol, tobacco, fighting, adult diabetes, obesity.


Posted by Valerie Yule at 8:01 am | Comments (9) |
Filed under: Economics

April 16, 2014 | Jason Hall

Some budget thoughts from a Tassie Tradie

As a Tasmanian who has endured a destroyed budget in recent years, it frustrates me no end to see the same issues played out nationally, and be completely missed by the media.

99% of media focus on gov’t spending / taxation – nothing about how our economy grows and contracts.

In other words all focus is on how to cut up the pie, nothing on what size it can be. Government of course has a lot of control over this.

We can, to give some examples – lower interest rates and the dollar, assist international marketing of our products, allow sensible development on public land, allow coastal development ( in Tas we don’t ).

We also now days expect a developer to pay in full up front for all environmental / social impact studies, with no input from the beneficiaries the public.

Another huge impost on the economy is workplace safety / injury law. If some idiot walks off the edge of something it is invariably someone elses fault, we are at the point now where ladders are banned on many work sites.

I believe this dumbing down of the workforce benefits no-one but the lawyers/insurers – it will change one day because we simply cannot afford it.

I think we should be starting the conversation now.

To tax the remaining businesses and workers into oblivion will only worsen our economic situation, the solution is surely to actually start supporting business to grow the economy for the benefit of all.

The simpleton tax centric commentary by the media completely misses the real issues in my view.

Jason Hall is a tradie in Tasmania, and this is his first contribution to Ambit Gambit.

Posted by Jason Hall at 8:03 am | Comments (8) |
Filed under: Economics

April 15, 2014 | Graham

Strong Choices

The Queensland government has a debt problem and it’s asking for your help to solve it, or at least that is the pitch for Strong Choices, a website which gives you some say in the process by allowing you to decide how to repay debt using actual figures.

It’s an interesting experiment in participatory democracy which I suspect will never again be attempted in this format.

I’m interested in feedback, as I’m certainly not opposed to this type of exercise in principal. I just have problems with the practice.

The premise is that you can adjust government expenditure, income and assets and see what effect each of them has on the state debt.

This is confusing for a number of reasons.

  • We vote for Liberal governments because they promise to be low tax, so why does this site put tax increases on the agenda?
  • There are just too many choices. In practice many of these would be ruled out by government right from the beginning. That they are left in the website process makes completing
  • The site is meant to help the government sell its plans to privatise assets, but the way it is set up I think it highly unlikely it will lead many people to conclude asset sales are necessary.
  • There are different economic consequences for different actions that need to be modelled. For example, if I take away assistance to first home buyers it may have a flow-on effect on stamp duty income, not to mention state taxes paid by people in the housing industry.

Worst, at the end of the process there is no guarantee that the government will pay any attention to what you have submitted.

I suspect very few will complete the survey, and those that do will be like me – curious, and not to be taken seriously.

There is room for computer simulations to educate people about the choices that governments have to make, but if that is what you want to do you call in a computer gaming company to design a game, rather than a pollster. And you don’t make any promises about paying attention to the game results.


Posted by Graham at 9:29 am | Comments (1) |

April 13, 2014 | Graham

Carr diary – told you so

It’s one of my few appearances on The Drum, but it’s got to be some of my most prescient writing – when Julia Gillard appointed Bob Carr as foreign minister, it was hailed by most commentators as a masterstroke, but I was among the few honourable dissenters.

Labor is seen as being desperately in need of reinvention. But does Labor really understand this when the best candidate that can be found for Foreign Minister is a 64-year-old former state premier who most people in his state regard as such a failure that they just turfed the last of his hapless line of successors out of office by a record margin? If he couldn’t save NSW Labor, what does he bring to federal Labor?

You really do need to regenerate when you have to reach that far outside your elected talent pool to find someone to fill a cabinet position.

At the same time they’ve forgone the opportunity to inject new young talent. While 64 is no longer old, it is fair to say that Bob Carr is on the home stretch of his career and will be unlikely to be in parliament in 10 years time.

Should Tony Abbott win the next election there is a good chance he won’t even be in parliament in two years time once the position of Foreign Minister is no longer available.

He’s a stop gap solution.

Labor should have been looking for a more durable solution. Gillard could have filled the cabinet position with an existing minister, like Stephen Smith and filled the Senate spot with someone who could look ahead 20 years or more.

They had at least one option to do that in the form of Warren Mundine. He’s nine years younger than Carr and not only would be seen as fresh blood, but would shift the public perception of Labor back towards its working class roots, as well as reaching out to Aboriginal Australians.

It would have had idealism, utility and regeneration written all over it. And he is an impressive performer who could have balanced out the strident left-wing voice of fellow New South Welshman Senator Doug Cameron.

Carr confirms the disconnect between Labor and its heartland. He is one of the Labor politicians least likely to connect with the voters Labor needs to win. He’s a bookish nerd who might be able to finesse the press gallery but holds no appeal outside elite circles.


Posted by Graham at 9:52 pm | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

April 11, 2014 | Graham

Schools places of indoctrination rather than learning

A new British report pings the British education system for indoctrinating students on questions of climate change and sustainability. In this, Australia is no better.

Climate Control: Brainwashing in schools lays out in detail instances not just of bias, but active coercion, at a number of levels from core curriculum down to the choices that teachers make in the classroom.

For instance, despite a British court deciding that Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was propaganda and had to be appropriately labelled before use in the classroom, it is still being recommended in the curriculum materials, without any counter recommendation to movies, such as the Great Global Warming Swindle, which could provide an alternative perspective.

To those of us who believe that educations’s function is to teach thinking and knowledge, this is deeply disturbing, but hardly surprising.

The current Australian Curriculum is full of references to “sustainability”, which is a concept without any intelligible meaning in most of the contexts in which it is used, apart from in the very short-term.

I’ve had personal experience of how the system works through the daughters of a friend who studied geography in a Queensland school. Their teacher, Ms P, was not just a global warming warrior, but also imparted valuable information to them over the course of the years, such as that only the Greens care about education.

At one stage, in response to a perception imported from the classroom that rainfall had decreased in Australia I produced a Bureau of Meteorology graph demonstrating that rainfall had in fact increased. I was told they weren’t interested in the facts, they wanted to pass the subject.

The teachers I had at school, who were Socratic in approach, and never ever gave me a hint of who they might vote for, would have welcomed the intrusion into the classroom of an unruly fact and the discussion which would have ensued.

If this approach has survived in any discipline in school you would expect it to be in philosophy. Alas, you would be wrong. Modern philosophy classes consist not of discussions of Socrates, Plato, Descartes, Hegel, Mill even Wittgenstein or Marx and what it means to be good or the nature of human rights, but pop-cultural tours of issues like abortion guided by bit players like radical utilitarian, vegetarian and eugenicist, Peter Singer.

They still teach them the logical concepts that underpin philosophy, but without seeing them applied by anyone with any skill, leading to lowest common denominator thinking.

There is hope.

A spokesman for Michael Gove [UK Secretary of State for Education], has said that teachers who do not offer a balanced view on issues like climate change are breaking the law.

Would be nice to think it could be the same here – teachers actually legally required to be balanced – but even better if there were no need in the first place.

Posted by Graham at 7:36 am | Comments (15) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

April 06, 2014 | Graham

Environmentalists behaving badly over wind turbines?

Wind farms blight the landscape where they are erected, but apart from that, I was unsure whether they posed any real environmental, as opposed to economic, threats.

That includes environmental threats to humans.

Yet there has been a sustained campaign against wind turbines on the basis that they represent a threat to human health. In Australia this has been led by the Waubra Foundation and the Australian Environmental Foundation.

On Line Opinion has been happy to facilitate the debate and we’ve published  a number of articles suggesting detrimental health effects from turbines, including this one last week.

I haven’t been convinced by those arguing there are health issues. The research evidence is scant (which the AEF admits), and it is not unknown for people who oppose something on sentimental grounds to suddenly develop an ailment to bolster their case.

So I was interested to read this article on Principia Scientifica, a website offering open peer review: “Wind Farms and Health” written by Alun Evans, Professor Emeritus at Belfast University.

The article contains a lot of interesting links, including one to an experiment where the health of people living within 1.4 kms of a windfarm was compared to those living further away.

A recent case-control study conducted around two wind farms in New England has shown [2] that subjects living within 1.4 km of an IWT had worse sleep, were sleepier during the day, and had poorer SF36 Mental Component Scores compared to those living further than 1.4 km away. The study demonstrated a strongly significant association between reported sleep disturbance and ill health in those residing close to industrial wind turbines.

The discussion and the proposed mechanism for linking sleep disturbance to wind farms was reasonable. I was particularly impressed that rather than campaigning against wind farms altogether, Professor Evans merely suggested that they be sited further away from the nearest human habitation.

Evans also produces evidence of bad behaviour by wind farm proponents:

The wind industry has at times acted in a way that is reminiscent of the tobacco industry in the past. Recently a Vestas Powerpoint presentation from 2004 has surfaced [26] demonstrating that Vestas knew a decade ago that safer buffers were required to protect neighbours from wind turbine noise. They knew their pre-construction noise models were inaccurate and that “we know that noise from wind turbines sometimes annoys people even if the noise is below noise limits.” Some of this is due to the methods they use to measure noise. Presenting mean amplitude data means that 50% of the peak noise is disguised. In 2011 the CEO of Vestas wrote [27] to the Danish Minister of Environment admitting that it was not technically possible to produce wind turbines which produced less noise. Simiarly, we are repeatedly told that modern turbines are quieter and produce less ILFN which in reality is the reverse of the case [28].

One can compare these allegations to allegations of bad behaviour by anti-wind farm campaigners like the Waubra Foundation, contained in this Background Briefing program.

I’m not sure where this debate will end up, but there are definitely issues to settle. And in this context it is ironic to see environmentalists being accused of using the tactics of tobacco companies.

Posted by Graham at 3:52 pm | Comments (9) |
Filed under: Uncategorized