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Tag Archives: Tim Wilson

Human Rights “Roundtable” – has Australia become a Soft Theocracy?

By Brian Morris

Has the Christian lobby influenced the Human Rights Commission (HRC) in discrimination against gays? If the answer is “no”, why has the HRC set up a ‘Religious Freedom’ Roundtable for the faithful, on 5th November?

This forum is not about ‘religious freedom’, it simply reflects a resurgent Christian lobby clamouring for new exemptions from anti-discrimination laws. As one clear example, Church leaders want special “religious liberty” for any Christians in the lucrative wedding industry to refuse services to gays, once same-sex marriage is finally legalised. They want to give caterers, photographers, outfitters, and others the “liberty” to snub gay couples who violate their religious beliefs.

It’s been brewing since the HRC’s Tim Wilson took office in 2014, and while he is also “defacto” Commissioner for LGBTI issues there are legitimate questions about how far he’ll go in shaping HR policy, to accommodate Christian anger at the very idea of marriage equality. He is reported as saying, “…we can design a law that’s more mindful of religious freedoms.”

‘Freedom of religion’ has been mandated for decades under a UN charter, adopted by Australia, and religion already has many ‘extended freedoms’ — including exemptions from anti-discrimination laws in education, health and aged care.

Consider also their grants and annual tax breaks worth billions; that Australia has the largest number of religious schools per capita in the OECD; that religious instruction and a national Chaplaincy Program persists in public schools — despite government funding twice being ruled unconstitutional by the High Court.

It can be said these privileges, even now, violate the basic tenets of a secular Australia. Many will add that the nation is already a “soft theocracy (1) — where Church and State share a cosy symbiotic relationship. And this image may harden if anticipated policy recommendations flow from the upcoming Roundtable.

Clearly, Human Rights are central to secular philosophy, but so too is the separation of Church and State. ‘Freedom of religion’ does not mean a ‘right’ to Christian privilege, or to use any faith as the pretext for exemptions from the law”.

Recently, the ABC reported comments by Anglican Bishop, Robert Forsyth, who argues that “wedding service providers should have the ‘religious freedom’ to refuse to cater for gay couples.” The report included references to countries where same-sex marriage is legal, but none have seen the backlash predicted in this new wave of Christian opposition.

Bishop Forsyth heads the Religious Freedom Reference Group and is expected to attend HRC’s forum. So too is Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, who goes further by calling for “religious Liberty” to nullify secular policy.

Clearly there are two sides to this vexed question, so it’s surprising that invitations to submit ideas for the event were sent primarily to faith-based organisations. Secular and rationalist groups, who have much to say on this issue, appear to have been an afterthought.

Of the 200 invitations to make submissions, only four are reported to have gone to secular organisations. At the forum they will be joined by forty representatives from Australian Churches and faith-based institutions. By any yardstick there is considerable imbalance in representation — a disconcerting factor given that the non-religious viewpoint is determined as having equal rights to ‘freedom of expression’, under international conventions. It’s particularly strange when Australians are now more than 50 percent non-Christian.

The HRC decision only to invite national bodies creates an inbuilt bias — with scores of Churches and national religious lobby groups, compared to a handful with a “secular” voice. By comparison, the Australian Bureau of Statistics called for “all submissions” with ideas for changes following the 2011 Census — including on the “Religious Affiliation” question.

Commissioner Wilson loses sight of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR). It serves to protect both ‘Religions and Beliefs’ — a mandate that specifically includes rights of expression for all non-religious and atheist beliefs. The Roundtable should be focused on ‘Freedom of Belief’, not solely for ‘Religion’.

So, what are we seeing here? Surely not a religious Trojan Horse to lobby for new anti-discrimination exemptions when gay marriage is finally legalised — adding to Church exemptions already enjoyed in education, health and aged care?”

Bishop Forsyth and Archbishop Fisher are among many religious leaders campaigning for exclusive powers to discriminate against those who offend their beliefs. Religion cannot be regarded as occupying the moral high ground — it is in no way superior to secular values; and human rights does not mean religious privilege . . . !

There are elements of concern that also surround the Human Rights Commissioner and his agenda — when Tim Wilson was appointed he was dubbed the “Freedom Commissioner.” In principle that may sound laudable but we might also consider that prior to his role with the HRC he was a policy director with the conservative think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs, and we need to finally understand his objectives in terms of new ‘freedoms’ for the religious.

Shortly after assuming his new role he gave a speech at the Australian Catholic University. It was titled ‘The forgotten freedom of worship’ and in it he said, “In short, religion is about everyone’s relationship to their creator“. That sentiment is not shared by a public majority — and in matters that may lead to people of faith having a superior privilege we need to exercise extreme care; and this HRC Roundtable is no exception.

From the outset there has been a drive for a religious forum, and points of contention include; ignoring the UNDHR definition of ‘religion and belief’; inviting predominately faith-based groups to make submissions; allowing only token secular inclusion at the Roundtable; permitting the forum to appear heavily biased towards a Christian view of ‘Religious Rights’ under the law; and aiming to frame policy from what seems a predicable outcome.

We should also reflect on the HRC wording of its “Guiding Principles” for this ‘Religious Freedom’ Roundtable — particularly items 3 and 10 — which give an unmistakable Christian perspective on morality and the supernatural. Passages refer to religion as, “the moral and spiritual guidance of our nation” and with an objective to, “uphold the law and improve Australia’s moral and spiritual guidance”.

It is unacceptable, in a supposed secular democracy, to suggest that religion has some moral superiority — over and above the broad philosophical ethics and humanitarian values shared by most non-religious Australians. One can only trust that in the wash-up of this religious Roundtable, the Human Rights Commission will not allow it to be just another gateway for politicised Christianity to win new legal exemptions — and harden Australia’s image as a Soft Theocracy”.

 

(1) Soft Theocracy — “A state where church and government purposes coincide to garnishee taxpayers’ money and resources, structurally through tax exemptions and functionally through grants and privileges.” Realising Secularism: Australia and New Zealand. 2010. Ed. Max Wallace.

About Brian Morris: World travel shaped Brian’s interest in social justice — wealth, poverty and religion in many countries. His book Sacred to Secular is critically acclaimed, including from the Richard Dawkins Foundation. It’s an analysis of Christianity, its origins and the harm it does. It’s a call for Australia to become fully secular. More information about Brian can be found on his website, Plain Reason.

 

No word from our Freedom Commissioner about offshore detention

When George Brandis gifted the IPA’s Tim Wilson the high paying job of Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom despite his qualifications being “woefully inadequate”, he said it was to “restore balance”, believing that the HRC was too focused on discrimination.

Senator Brandis said Mr Wilson was ”one of Australia’s most prominent public advocates of the rights of the individual”.

But apparently that advocacy does not extend to the rights of asylum seekers illegally incarcerated by this government.

When the HRC produced their report on children in detention, the government’s response was to launch a very personal attack against Gillian Triggs.

Tim Wilson’s response was to say “I’m not going to get involved in fuelling the debate around this report.”

So what the hell is our freedom commissioner there for?

When reports of rapes and the sexual abuse of minors on Nauru surfaced last October, Scott Morrison’s response was to sack the people who made the allegations public and to report them to the AFP on the basis of “an intelligence report” by the security company running the detention centre that claimed it was “probable” that staff were coaching asylum seekers to manufacture situations where evidence could be obtained to pursue a political and ideological agenda in Australia.

“I have been provided with reports indicating that staff of service providers at the Nauru centre have been allegedly engaged in a broader campaign with external advocates to seek to cast doubt on the government’s border protection policies.”

Whilst saying “the allegations of sexual misconduct are abhorrent and I would be horrified to think that things of that nature have taken place,” Morrison seemed far more interested in pursuing the messenger and commissioned former integrity commissioner Philip Moss to conduct an independent review.

Released late on Friday after news of Malcolm Fraser’s death, the report found no proof of misconduct by the Save the Children staff, 9 of whom are now preparing to sue.  I would suggest they have a far stronger case than Joe Hockey so if he wants to set a $1 million precedent, this could cost the government a lot of money.

The report, which the government has had for a month, did however detail many allegations against the security guards and the fact that 12 of them have been dismissed so far.

Mr Moss found compelling evidence that at least three women have been raped inside the detention centre and raised concern that sexual assault is likely to be under-reported due to a climate of fear and detainees worrying about their future refugee status.

“The review became aware of three allegations of rape (two female and one female minor), one which the Nauruan Police Force is investigating and two which the victims do not want to pursue by making a complaint. These allegations are concerning. They are also concerning because two of the victims do not feel able to bring forward these allegations to relevant authorities,” the report states.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said “Nauru would work to solve problems highlighted.”

The Australian Lawyers Alliance said the Commonwealth cannot outsource care of asylum seekers and could be liable for a “swathe of future compensation claims”.

“The nature of allegations raised in the Moss Review of sexual harassment, rape, trading sexual favours for marijuana and cigarettes and children being touched inappropriately, if proven, show that the Commonwealth has failed in its duty to take reasonable care of asylum seekers.”

So I went to our Commissioner for Freedom’s page on the HRC’s site to find what he had to say.

Tim Wilson’s latest article on March 11 begins well.

“Behind human rights is the still revolutionary idea that every human being is free and equal, that individuals own their own bodies and should be free to pursue their lives, opportunities and enterprise. Human rights provide the foundation for our liberal democracy, our market economy and our civil society.”

He goes on to say

“the biggest international frontier for human rights is ensuring the legal, social and cultural tolerance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.”

Another article published the same day criticised an advertisement by the Australian Marriage Forum (AMF) against marriage for same-sex couples.

On January 19 he had written an article about Charlie Hebdo and Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act and last October he wrote that it was time for the transgender talk.

I could not, however, find one thing about children in detention, or our continuing violation of human rights in offshore detention centres where we are legally liable for detainee’s safety and well-being.

Gillian Triggs, on the other hand, addressed the UN Human Rights Council yesterday.

They’re here, they’re there, they’re everywhere. So beware!

When the IPA published their wish list of 75 plus 25 ways to “reform” Australia, they conceded that it was “a deliberately radical list. There’s no way Tony Abbott could implement all of them, or even a majority.”

They suggested that if he “was able to implement just a handful of these recommendations, Abbott would be a transformative figure in Australian political history. He would do more to shift the political spectrum than any prime minister since Whitlam.”

Perhaps they were right but not in the way they intended.

Tony is assiduously working his way through their list and he has certainly shaken the Australian public out of their political apathy.

Even before we get to the list, the article introducing it gave us a picture of what was to come.

“The vast Commonwealth bureaucracies and the polished and politically-savvy senior public servants have their own agendas, their own list of priorities, and the skill to ensure those priorities become their ministers’ priorities.  Fresh-faced ministers who do not have a fixed idea of what they want to do with their new power are invariably captured by their departments.

So when, in the first week as minister, they are presented with a list of policy priorities by their department, it is easier to accept what the bureaucracy considers important, rather than what is right. The only way to avoid such departmental capture is to have a clear idea of what to do with government once you have it.

We should be more concerned that senior public servants shape policy more than elected politicians do.”

The IPA highlight “Gillard’s National Curriculum” as an example of ministers acquiescing when they should have been opposing.  And why should they be opposing?

“The National Curriculum centralises education power in Canberra, and will push a distinctly left-wing view of the world onto all Australian students.”

So, presumably, when you put a lawyer in charge of education he should not listen to his department, he should not listen to the state ministers, he should not listen to the education experts.  He should have already decided what he wants regardless of any advice from the public servants that have worked in that area for decades, and he should instruct them to implement his ideas.

But where does the lawyer get his ideas if not from all those paid to assist him?

Enter the IPA-aligned former chief-of-staff to Kevin Andrews, Kevin Donnelly, who has written many publications over the years arguing that the Australian school system is failing because schools have been taken over by radical educators who see their role as being to “liberate students by turning them into new-age warriors of the Cultural Left.”  Pay him to reaffirm those oft published views in a “review” of the National Curriculum.

And while we are at it, get the former head of the Business Council of Australia (BCA), Tony Shepherd, to do an audit commission which came out like a wish list of BCA/IPA policy prescriptions, neatly cut and pasted, but not very well backed by facts.

The IPA go on to warn us of the real danger posed by the Australian National Preventive Health Agency – “a new Commonwealth bureaucracy dedicated to lobbying other arms of government to introduce Nanny State measures.”

Sure enough, it was one of the first agencies to be axed in Joe Hockey’s contribution to the wish list.

As the Melbourne Age’s economics editor, Peter Martin, noted in a piece of post-budget analysis: “Big food, big tobacco and big alcohol have been thrown the carcass of the Australian National Preventive Health Agency.”

The IPA also demanded an end to food and alcohol labelling, and to end “all government-funded Nanny State advertising” against unhealthy habits such as smoking, drinking and junk food consumption.

And so in February last year we saw the health department ordered to take down its new healthy food ratings website, and then $130 million was cut from a program to tackle Indigenous smoking despite it making significant inroads into reducing the high percentage of smokers in the Aboriginal community.

The IPA also quoted a previous Intergenerational Report and came to the following conclusion:

“Australia’s ageing population means the generous welfare safety net provided to current generations will be simply unsustainable in the future. Change is inevitable.”

No mention of the generous superannuation tax concessions which will soon overtake the aged pension, a stance also adopted by this government.

Whilst Brandis may not yet have satisfied the IPA’s desire to abolish the Human Rights Commission, the government has cut $1.65 million from its budget, refused to renew the position of its disability commissioner and appointed – absent the usual due process – one of the IPA’s own, Tim Wilson, as one of the remaining six commissioners. Attorney-General George Brandis flagged an intention to “further reform” the HRC which seems to be what this attack on Gillian Triggs is all about.

Brandis also flexed his muscles when, a month after being sworn in, he announced the forced resignation of ABC journalist Barrie Cassidy from his new job as chairman of the Old Parliament House Advisory Council.

Brandis said in his media release that Cassidy “accepted the importance of the Museum of Australia [sic] Democracy [in Old Parliament House] maintaining its apolitical and nonpartisan character”.

To have someone in the job currently engaged in politics, even if only as a political journalist, was “not consistent with that character”, Brandis said and then promptly replaced him with David Kemp who is a former Liberal minister and continues to practise politics through his work with the IPA.

The institute wants all media ownership laws eliminated along with the relevant regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, and requirements put in place that radio and TV broadcasts be “balanced”.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull is duly considering changes to Australia’s regime of cross-media ownership. The likely outcome: more concentration in Australia’s media, already the most concentrated and least diverse in the developed world. More influence for the IPA and Rupert Murdoch.

Not that the IPA need more exposure.  In the year to June 2013, according to the IPA’s annual report, it clocked up 878 mentions in print and online. Its staff had 164 articles published in national media, mainly in the Murdoch press which, considering he is a long-time IPA director, is not surprising. They managed 540 radio appearances and mentions, and 210 appearances and mentions on TV.

The allegedly bias ABC, which the IPA would break up and sell off, gives the IPA a lot of air time too. One count, by Independent Australia, clocked 39 appearances by IPA staff in the year 2011-12 on The Drum alone. That’s almost as many Drum appearances as the combined total of all other think tanks, left, right and centre.

The repeal of section 18C of the RDA is number four on the IPA’s policy wish list, and before you knew it, Attorney-General George Brandis was up there championing the right to be a bigot.

On October 5, 2011, the IPA ran a full-page advertisement in The Australian supporting Andrew Bolt, paid for and signed by more than 1200 people including federal politicians Mathias Cormann, Jamie Briggs, Michaelia Cash, Mitch Fifield and Andrew Robb, to name a few, and literally dozens of other ex-pollies, staffers, and advisers.

Before he won the prime ministership, in April 2013, at a dinner celebrating the IPA’s 70th anniversary where Andrew Bolt was the MC, Abbott noted the IPA had given him “a great deal of advice” on the policy front, and promised them he would act on it.

“I want to assure you that the Coalition will indeed repeal the carbon tax, abolish the department of climate change, abolish the Clean Energy Fund. We will repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, at least in its current form. We will abolish new health and environmental bureaucracies. We will deliver $1 billion in red-tape savings every year. We will develop northern Australia. We will repeal the mining tax. We will create a one-stop shop for environmental approvals. We will privatise Medibank Private. We will trim the public service and we will stop throwing good money after bad on the NBN.”

In fact, one might argue that Abbott under-promised at that dinner and has over-delivered since. Other major items on the IPA’s published wish list included stopping subsidies for the car industry (done), eliminating Family Tax Benefits (part-done), the cessation of funding for the ABC’s Australia Network (done), abandonment of poker machine reforms (done), the introduction of fee competition for Australian universities (part-done), and negotiating free trade deals with Japan, South Korea, China and India (almost done).

While several of the IPA’s wish list are being held up in the Senate, they do have flesh in the game, and even more so should PUP Senators hold to their threat of abstaining from every vote until the leadership turmoil is resolved.

Cross benchers Bob Day and David Leyonhjelm are both “long-term IPA members”.

Bob Day was a driving force behind the IPA front organisation, the Owner Drivers’ Association, which purports to represent the interests of independent contractors in the transport industry. In reality, says Tony Sheldon, National Secretary of the Transport Workers Union, the ODA has consistently campaigned against laws improving working conditions and safety for drivers.

Another IPA front organisation is the Australian Environment Foundation.  Two of its directors were IPA staff, including executive director Mike Nahan, now the treasurer in Western Australia’s Liberal government. For its first two years, the AEF shared the IPA’s postal address.

It was actually an anti-environment group. It opposed new marine parks and plans to increase environmental water flows in the Murray-Darling Basin, and supported Tasmanian woodchipping and genetically modified foods.  It also lobbied the World Heritage Committee in support of the Abbott government’s plan to de-list parts of the Tasmanian forests.

Source watch even lists Peta Credlin under former staff of the IPA.  I have not been able to verify that from any other source but she sure sings from their hymn book.

Not only are they determining policy and infiltrating all levels of government, they are also being rewarded with gifts.  Despite cutting $100 million from the Arts budget, Minister for the Arts Brandis found $1 million to give the Australian School of Ballet to put towards the purchase of a $5 million mansion to house their 28 students in luxury.  On the board of the school is Daniele Kemp, wife of former Liberal Minister Rod Kemp who is now the chairman of the IPA.

To paraphrase Pixie and Dixie…

They’re here, they’re there, they’re everywhere.  So beware!

As Jinx would say…

“How ree-dick-ul-luss.”

The real stitch-up

Tony Abbott has been sneeringly yelling at anyone who will listen, if there are any of those left, that the government has no confidence in Gillian Triggs because the timing of her report shows it is a “stitch up” designed to make him look bad, like he isn’t capable of doing that on his own.

I would like to point out that Ms Triggs told Senate estimates hearings in early 2013 of the HRC’s concern about children in detention and their ongoing investigation.  She was slapped down by George Brandis who wasn’t interested.

In February 2013, some seven months after Ms Triggs had assumed her role at the Human Rights Commission, and seven months before the election, Senator Brandis grilled her unmercilessly about why the HRC was not spending more of their budget on defending free speech.

When she pointed out that the HRC receive about 17,500 inquiries a year of which approximately three concern political opinion “so it is a very tiny part, in answer to your question, of the complaints function of the commission”, Brandis refused to accept her explanation.

Senator BRANDIS: That may very well be so, Professor Triggs, but why has it taken people other than the Human Rights Commission to elevate this debate? Why has it taken people like my friends at the Institute of Public Affairs, some of my colleagues in the coalition, columnists, editorial writers and writers of letters to the editors of the newspapers to get a debate up and going in Australia about limitations on freedom, when we have an agency, your agency, whose explicit statutory charter is to promote and advance those rights?

Prof. Triggs : I wonder if I could take another point here. I accept your question. I think it is a valuable one, as I have said. But let us look at another element of this—that is, a great deal of my time as president and that of many members of our human rights law and policy group has been responding to our profound concerns about the mandatory detention of asylum seekers. I understand that at the moment we have many thousands—and I do not know the exact number, but let us say 6,000 people—in mandatory detention in Australia, including children. Many have been there for years. Babies have been born within that environment. They have been charged with no offence, and they have not yet had their claims to refugee status assessed. That is an area that I think is of fundamental importance to human rights.

Senator BRANDIS: Well, it is.

Prof. Triggs : It concerns arbitrary detention without trial. If I may say so, I went to an interesting lecture by the foreign minister the other day to celebrate the Magna Carta, quoting the fundamental principles of the Magna Carta that no man—or presumably woman—can be charged or held without a trial of their peers. It seems extraordinary—

Senator BRANDIS: I do not think the barons at Runnymede had friends like Mr Eddie Obeid and Mr Ian Macdonald, unlike our foreign minister, who speaks with eloquence about the Magna Carta, at least.

Brandis mentions several times his “friends at the IPA”

“Whereas your commission is a dedicated and committed advocate of antidiscrimination principles, I do not see the commission being a dedicated and committed advocate of freedom principles. You have think tanks, like in the Institute of Public Affairs, which has something called a ‘freedom project’. I do not see a freedom project in the Human Rights Commission.”

Senator Brandis finishes with what was no doubt his aim all along.

Senator BRANDIS: My last question. Your commission does seem to have a superabundance of discrimination commissioners in various areas. Should the Human Rights Commission have a freedom commissioner whose particular brief is to promote the kind of balance of which you speak so that within the commission there is a person whose particular job is to promote freedom, just as, within the commission at the moment, there are, I think, five commissioners whose particular job is to promote antidiscrimination?  Would that not be a desirable balance—one freedom person versus five anti-discrimination people?

Come on down Timmy!

A couple of months later, in April 2013, Brandis attended the IPA 70th birthday bash.  He obviously enjoyed himself because he has been rewarding them ever since.

As soon as he assumed office, Brandis gifted to Tim Wilson a $400,000 a year job as a Human Rights Commissioner despite his “woefully inadequate” qualifications.  It seems apparent that Wilson was appointed to destroy from within and, if worst comes to worst and he can’t abolish the HRC as he wants, then Tim will probably be offered the top job after the “anonymous” leaks about Triggs wanting to get out.

After the predictable backlash to this obvious act of cronyism, George wrote an article in the Australian condemning those who criticized his choice.

“But some things never change, like the reaction of the claque of bilious pseudo-intellectuals who constitute what passes for a left-wing commentariat in this country. Mike Carlton, Catherine Deveney, Van Badham and their ilk were nothing if not boorishly predictable.  They and their followers unleashed a storm of hatred and bile against Wilson on social media, the like of which I have never seen.”

Or perhaps they just thought that sacking the Disability Commissioner to employ your unqualified inexperienced ideologically opposed little friend was a step too far?  And is that any way for the highest legal officer in the land to speak?

This was all the more hypocritical considering  Brandis, in opposition, had previously taken to the Australian to excoriate the appointment by Mark Dreyfus of Labor staffer-turned-intellectual Tim Soutphommasane as Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission, a role for which he was eminently qualified, labelling him as “yet another partisan of the Left”.

Dr Soutphommasane graduated from the University of Sydney with a first-class honours degree. He was then a Commonwealth Scholar and Jowett Senior Scholar at Balliol College of the University of Oxford where he completed a Master of Philosophy with distinction and a Doctor of Philosophy in political theory.

From 2010 to 2012 he was a Lecturer in Australian Studies and a Research Fellow at the National Centre for Australian Studies of Monash University.

Soutphommasane is the author of three books: The Virtuous Citizen: Patriotism in a Multicultural Society (Cambridge University Press, 2012), Don’t Go Back To Where You Came From: Why Multiculturalism Works (New South Books, 2012) which in 2013 won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award in the ‘Community Relations Commission Award’ section, and Reclaiming Patriotism: Nation-Building for Australian Progressives (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

By contrast, Wilson has a Bachelor of Arts and a Masters of Diplomacy and Trade from Monash University.  He worked at the Institute of Public Affairs for seven years.  He was a vocal critic of the Human Rights Commission and during his time there the IPA called for the abolition of the commission.

After his “surprise”appointment, Wilson wrote that:

“Attorney-General George Brandis has asked me, as Australia’s next human rights commissioner, to focus on traditional liberal democratic and common law rights, particularly article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

All rights should be defended, but the human right most being neglected is free speech. Arguably freedom of speech is the most important human right. It is the human right necessary to protect and defend all other human rights.

Article 19 of the covenant states: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

Article 19 ought to be the human rights community’s starting point. But at the moment it seems more like a footnote.

Increasingly free speech has been pushed aside in favour of laws and regulations designed to stop people being offensive to each other, a steadily expanding corpus of anti-discrimination and defamation law, and the growing momentum towards restrictions on speech online.”

Whilst the Attorney General may appoint people to the HRC, I am not sure he has the power to direct them then what to say and do, and I am wondering how Tim feels about George’s recent announcement of devoting $17 million to monitor social media to take down terrorist propaganda

When the two Tims attended Senate estimates hearings in May 2014 to discuss proposed changes to Section 18C of the racial discrimination act, George Brandis objected to Tim Soutphommasane giving his opinion even though he is the Racial Discrimination Commissioner.  Ian Macdonald, coincidentally, was also chairing this meeting as he was with the recent meeting with Gillian Triggs and he upheld Senator Brandis’ objection saying his opinion had no place in the discussion. (see video here)

But later in the hearing, Tim Wilson was allowed to re-state, at length, his clear support for changing the Act.

After the hearing, Senator Singh said Dr Soutphommasane ”was gagged, in complete contradiction to Tim Wilson who was able to share his views on the RDA.  Senator Brandis initially stopped me from asking the question and accused me of being dishonest in asking for Dr Soutphommasane’s views.  This is a man who stands for freedom of speech yet won’t allow a witness at the table to speak.”

This absolute championing of freedom of speech seems very much at odds with Tony Abbott’s stand against Hizb ut-Tahrir, taken after Alan Jones urged him to “proscribe the movement”.

“We are changing the law that will make it easier to ban organisations like Hizb ut-Tahrir. But before that even we should have a system in place which red cards these hate preachers and stops them coming to Australia.”

The response from our “Freedom Commissioner” was totally devoid of any legal facts, or gumption for that matter, as reported by Michelle Grattan in October:

“Wilson fears florid talk about “hate speech” can “justify censorship all over the place”. He is considering putting in a personal submission to the current parliamentary inquiry into the legislation, urging a tighter definition of the advocacy of terrorism. Wilson says it is unclear where the line would be between the advocacy of terrorism and for example attacking the coalition’s air strikes in the Middle East.”

Apparently, he either didn’t get around to his “personal submission” or it was ignored.

Abbott is right…this has been a stitch-up – one that began well before George Brandis was in a position to reward his “friends at the IPA” and, with the help of Senator Macdonald, take his revenge on that pesky woman.

Regaining goodwill

Joe Hockey said “We are going to give economic reform a red hot go in 2015.”

He went on to say “The taxation discussion with the Australian people next year will not be about increasing the revenue take for the Commonwealth, it needs to be how we can have a taxation system that makes us a more efficient and productive nation, and is fairer for all Australians.”

If we want to make revenue collection fairer, and we want to cut wasteful spending, then I have a few suggestions of where to start.

Corporate tax avoidance

Tackling corporate tax avoidance is an urgent priority; Australia does not have a spending problem, it has a revenue problem and it must be fixed.

Up to $80 billion was foregone by the taxman between 2004 and 2013.

Superannuation tax concessions

Superannuation tax concessions will cost the budget around $35 billion in 2013-14 projected to rise at a staggering 12 per cent annually to be $50.7 billion in 2016-17.

Capital Gains Tax and Negative gearing

Generous government tax breaks for property investors see them benefit from a 50% discount on capital gains tax (at a cost to the government’s budget of $4.4 billion per year) and negative gearing (costing $2.4 billion a year).

Fossil fuel subsidies

The Government will spend almost $14 billion in the next four years on fossil fuel subsidies to the big mining corporations.

Fighter jets

Tony Abbott said Australia will acquire another 58 Joint Strike Fighters at a cost of around $90 million per plane; $24 billion has been budgeted to purchase and operate the aircraft until 2024.

Submarines

A decision to spend more than $20 billion on up to 10 Japanese submarines will be announced before the end of the year (maybe?)

Offshore detention

The Commission of Audit’s report shows that in the past four years, the Australian government has increased spending on the detention and processing of asylum seekers who arrive by boat by 129 per cent each year. Costs have skyrocketed from $118.4 million in 2009–10 to $3.3 billion in 2013–14.

This is the fastest growing government program and projected costs over the forward estimates amount to more than $10 billion.

(It costs $400,000 a year to hold an asylum seeker in offshore detention, $239,000 to hold them in detention in Australia, and less than $100,000 for an asylum seeker to live in community detention.  In contrast, it is around $40,000 for an asylum seeker to live in the community on a bridging visa while their claim is processed.)

Transfield

The Abbott government has given Transfield Services a $1.22 billion government contract to run immigration detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

(Tony Shepherd, who was the chairman of Transfield until he resigned in October to Head the Commission of Audit, left with more than 200,000 Transfield shares, allocated to his family superannuation fund, on top of his final salary of $380,000.  Shares in Transfield soared 20.8 per cent on the news, lifting the company’s market capitalisation by about $80 million. He now heads the WestConnex Delivery Authority where money from the East-West link may be redirected)

Employment Service Providers

The Coalition Government has released its exposure draft of the purchasing arrangements for a new employment services model – a $5.1 billion investment over three years from July 1, 2015 – which includes the new Work for the Dole scheme.

Emissions Reduction Fund

Under the ERF the government will spend $2.55 billion to purchase emissions reductions through auctions.

Public Service redundancies

The federal government is on track to fork out $1 billion in redundancy payouts to public servants even before entitlements such as leave are paid.

School chaplains

School chaplaincy will be continued for another five years at a cost of $245.3 million. Under the program, 3700 schools are eligible for up to $72,000 funding to employ chaplains.

Marriage guidance vouchers

NEWLYWEDS across Australia will be given a $200 voucher for marriage counselling from July 1, as part of a $20 million trial to strengthen relationships and avoid family breakdowns.

Tim Wilson

TONY Abbott’s hand-picked human rights adviser has been given a $56,000 expenses package to top up his six-figure salary.  Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson now has a total salary of $389,000 plus vehicle and telephone expenses following a recent decision by the Remuneration Tribunal.

Hope that gets you started Joe, or whoever is now doing the budget.  (Cormann?  Frydenberg?  Thawley?  Credlin?  Rinehart?)

PS:  In light of the above potential savings, you may want to read my plan to get half a million people employed at a cost of $8.8 billion

PPS:  In South Africa, Boxing Day was renamed Day of Goodwill in 1994.  May you use it to contemplate wisely.

Trust, transparency and accountability or gimme gimme gimme?

Buoyed by their success at the 2013 election, the Abbott government has wasted no time in using their power to feather their own nest and to promote, reward and employ their backers.  Whilst all governments do this to a degree, Abbott has taken it to a whole new level of blatant nepotism and servitude to his masters at the expense of the public interest.

On the 9th of September 2013, before the count was even finalised, Julie Bishop flexed her muscles by her petty and vindictive decision to revoke the appointment of Steve Bracks as consul-general in New York.  He had been appointed in May, long before the caretaker period, and was due to start that week.

It’s not as if Ms Bishop had a better person in mind. The position remained vacant for six months until it was gifted to Nick Minchin, the man who gave Tony Abbott leadership of the Liberal Party in return for his conversion to climate change denial.

And she didn’t stop there. Despite having 18 months of his term left, Mike Rann was booted from the position of High Commissioner to the UK to make way for Alexander Downer.  This is the man who, under the guise of providing foreign aid, authorised the bugging of the cabinet offices of the East Timor parliament to further the commercial interest of Woodside Petroleum who coincidentally employed him after he left politics.

Rather than investigate this matter, which is before the International Court of Justice, George Brandis authorised raids to steal the evidence and cancelled the passport of the prime witness.

Brandis also hit the ground running to look after his mates. So appalled was he by the conviction of Andrew Bolt, he immediately set about changing the laws to protect the rights of bigots.  To champion the cause, he made the inexplicable decision to sack the Human Rights Commissioner for the Disabled, Graeme Innes, and appoint the IPA’s Tim Wilson (without advertising, application, interview, relevant qualifications or experience), to fight for the repeal of Section 18c of the racial discrimination laws,

After a huge backlash from the public, Brandis was directed to drop his crusade, and there sits Tim Wilson, drawing a salary of $400,000 including perks, with nothing to do.

Mr Wilson’s appointment followed Senator Brandis’ announcement that he had chosen former Howard government minister David Kemp – the son of IPA founder Charles Kemp – to chair the advisory council of Old Parliament House.  This position had been given to Barrie Cassidy but Brandis forced him to resign.  Along with Kemp, two others were appointed: Heather Henderson, the only daughter of Liberal Party founder Sir Robert Menzies; and Sir David Smith, whose place in history was assured on November 11, 1975, on the steps of Old Parliament House, when as official secretary to governor-general Sir John Kerr he was required to read out the proclamation sacking the Whitlam government.

Brandis, as Minister for the Arts, also appointed Gerard Henderson as chairman of the judging panel for the nonfiction and history category of the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, Australia’s richest book prize.

Tony Abbott only took a few hours to begin his Night of the Long Knives. The swearing-in ceremony had barely finished when the Prime Minister’s office issued a press release, announcing three departmental secretaries had had their contracts terminated and the Treasury Secretary would stand down next year.

The head of Infrastructure Australia also quit or was sacked for his criticism of the government’s interference with the independence of his organisation.  The head of the NBN, along with the entire board, were also replaced.

All funding for the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples was withdrawn.  Countless charities and advisory groups have been defunded.

Climate change and renewable energy bodies have been under constant attack with many disbanded and the rest hanging on temporarily by the grace of the Senate.

To replace all these experienced experts, we have seen an astonishing array of people appointed to high-paying positions as advisers, reviewers, commissioners, consultants, board members, envoys –

Maurice Newman, head of Tony Abbott’s 12-member Business Advisory Council, aged 76, a former head of the stock exchange and the ABC and a founder of another of the right-wing think tanks, the Centre for Independent Studies. Climate sceptic.

Dick Warburton, 72, the former chairman of the petrochemical company Caltex, among other corporate affiliations. Appointed  to review Australia’s 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target (RET).  Climate sceptic.  Also appointed was Brian Fisher.  Climate modelling done by his firm has been presented to the review panel by the oil and gas sector, as part of its campaign against the RET.

Tony Shepherd, former head of the Business Council of Australia (BCA), aged 69. Appointed to head the Commission of Audit.  Climate sceptic.  Former Liberal senator Amanda Vanstone and Liberal staffer and Chicago-school economist Peter Boxall were on the commission’s panel. Peter Crone, director of policy at the BCA, was head of the secretariat.

David Murray, 65, the former CEO of the Commonwealth Bank, appointed head of the government’s Financial System Inquiry. Climate sceptic.

Henry Ergas, 62, regulatory economist and columnist for the Australian. Appointed to Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s “expert panel” to assess the costs and benefits of Turnbull’s “copper magic” NBN-lite.  Climate sceptic who recently made a video with Christopher Monckton.

Kevin Donnelly, the IPA-aligned former chief-of-staff to Kevin Andrews and champion of corporal punishment. Appointed to review the National Curriculum.  He then appointed Barry Spurr, author of racist sexist ranting emails, to advise on the literature curriculum.

Warren Mundine, son-in-law of Gerard Henderson. Appointed to advise on Indigenous affairs.  Has set up a nice new office, 10km away from his department.

Jim Molan, retired general and author of the tow-back policy. Appointed as Special Envoy to fix the asylum seeker problem and to advise on the defence white paper, a position he quit after three weeks citing differences with the Defence Minister.

Janet Albrechtsen, columnist for the Australian, and Neil Brown, former deputy Liberal Party leader. Appointed to the panel overseeing appointments to the boards of the ABC and SBS.

It seems the pool of “experts” nowadays is confined to the IPA, the Australian, the Business Council, and the Howard government, and climate change scepticism is an essential criterion.

Aside from jobs for the boys (and a couple of girls who think feminism is a dirty word), we have also seen the blatant promotion of the coal industry with fast-tracking of approvals. We have seen the repeal of gambling reform laws.  We have seen the delay and watering down of food and alcohol labelling laws.  We are seeing an attack on the minimum wage and penalty rates.  All of these measures are against the best interests of the people and purely designed to reward business donors.

Our Prime Minister personally introduces James Packer to international government and business leaders around the world to promote his quest to build more casinos. This is despite the fact that his company, Crown, has been implicated in bribery to a Chinese official.

In a recent report, the OECD was scathing of Australia’s record, pointing out that Australia “has only one case that has led to foreign bribery prosecutions, out of 28 foreign bribery referrals received by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) … this is of serious concern”.

One of the 28 cases referred to the AFP related to two properties in Chinese Macau part owned by James Packer’s company, Crown.

A former Macau official is currently serving a 289-year sentence for accepting bribes of up to $100 million, with various suspect projects named, including the casinos.

The OECD report notes Australian police did not launch a domestic investigation into any possibility of Crown’s involvement.

In another scandal, former Leighton Holdings construction boss Wal King has denied all knowledge of a $42 million bribe Leighton is accused of having paid in Iraq. Leighton Holdings continue to be awarded lucrative government contracts.

Another of the 28 cases referred to by the OECD relates to payments made by BHP Billiton in China. They note that, unlike Australia, the US has launched two investigations into BHP Billiton

The OECD’s lead examiners expressed concern that the “AFP may have closed foreign bribery cases before thoroughly investigating the allegations”.

The only foreign bribery investigation that has resulted in prosecutions in Australia is the highly publicised case involving the Reserve Bank subsidiaries Securency and Note Printing Australia over which, interestingly, Dick Warburton has been investigated as a former director of Note Printing Australia.

One must wonder about a police force that can spend hundreds of thousands investigating and prosecuting Peter Slipper over $900 worth of cab charges, that can mobilise over 800 police to conduct raids leading to the arrest of one teenager who got a phone call from a bad person and the confiscation of a plastic sword, but who refuse to investigate widespread corruption in industry.

And every day it gets just a little bit worse.

A Sydney restaurant owned by Tourism Minister Andrew Robb and his family is being promoted by a government-funded $40 million, 18-month Tourism Australia campaign that targets 17 key global markets to sell the Australian “foodie” experience to the world.

The Robb family restaurant, Boathouse Palm Beach, is showcased on Tourism Australia’s “Restaurant Australia” website, which was launched in May, as the “ultimate day trip destination” just an hour from Sydney and the “perfect place for a relaxed family outing”.

Perhaps Tony Abbott’s daughters earned their job at the UN and $60,000 scholarship.  Perhaps the contract to BMW had nothing to do with them giving an Abbott girl a gig.  We will never know.

This is only a sample of how the ruling class are using our nation as their personal plaything, of how they openly flaunt convention and even the law, of how they silence dissent and promote their agenda, of how they bestow rewards.

Until this abuse of power is curtailed, politicians will rightly be reviled as the least trustworthy people in the country.

Bigots or the disabled?

There could be no starker signal of this government’s intentions than the appointment of Tim Wilson as the Human Rights Commissioner for ‘Freedom’ at the expense of disability commissioner Graeme Innes.

In opposition, Senator Brandis was prepared to publicly criticise Mr Innes for advocating on behalf of Australians with a disability, blaming the ‘ideological culture’ within the Human Rights Commission.

The following biographies come from the Australian Human Rights Commission website.  I will leave it to you to judge who you feel is better qualified and able to make an important contribution to our society.

Graeme Innes has been Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner since December 2005. During that time he has also served as Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner for three and a half years and as Race Discrimination Commissioner for two years.

Graeme is a Lawyer, Mediator and Company Director. He has been a Human Rights Practitioner for 30 years in NSW, WA and nationally.

As Commissioner, Graeme has led or contributed to the success of a number of initiatives. These have included the Same Sex: Same Entitlements inquiry, which resulted in removal of discrimination across federal law; the drafting of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and its ratification by Australia.

Graeme was also crucial to the development of the National Disability Strategy and the Disability (Access to Premises – buildings) Standards 2010; as well as the establishment of Livable Housing Australia.

Graeme has also been an active high profile advocate for the implementation of cinema captioning and audio descriptions and, as Human Rights Commissioner, undertook three annual inspections of Australia’s Immigration Detention facilities.

Graeme has been a Member of the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal; the NSW Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal; and the Social Security Appeals Tribunal. He has also been a Hearing Commissioner with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

Graeme was Chair of the Disability Advisory Council of Australia, and the first Chair of Australia’s national blindness agency, Vision Australia.

In 1995 Graeme was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). In 2003, he was a finalist for Australian of the Year.

Graeme is married with an adult son and a daughter in high school. He enjoys cricket (as a spectator) and sailing (as a participant), and relaxes by drinking fine Australian white wine.”

Tim Wilson was appointed Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner in February 2014.

Dubbed the “Freedom Commissioner”, Tim is a proud and passionate defender of universal, individual human rights. As Commissioner he is focused on promoting and advancing traditional human rights and freedoms, including free speech, freedom of association, worship and movement and property rights.

Prior to his appointment Tim was a public policy analyst and a policy director at the world’s oldest free market think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs. He has also worked in trade and communication consulting, international aid and development, as well politics. He has served as a Board member of Monash University’s Council and on the Victorian Board of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. Tim is a Director of Alfred Health.

He has extensive experience in public debate and has had many regular radio and television commitments, with both commercial and public broadcasters. The Australian newspaper recognised Tim as one of the ten emerging leaders of Australian society. He has written extensively for newspapers, journals and books. He recently co-edited the book Turning Left or Right: Values in Modern Politics.

Tim graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Policy) and a Masters of Diplomacy and Trade (International Trade) from Monash University. He has also completed executive education at Geneva’s Institut de Hautes Etudes Internationales et du Développement and the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s Worldwide Academy.

Tim lives with his partner, Ryan.”

Graeme has vast experience and many practical accomplishments to point to in his years of active service as an advocate for the disabled and a defender against discrimination.  Tim Wilson is an aging Young Liberal from the IPA who goes on TV a lot.

Wilson did not have to go through any application or interview process to land this job.  George Brandis must have been impressed with the cut of his jib when they spent an enjoyable evening together at the IPA’s 70th Anniversary bash in April last year because, as soon as he had the power, George rang Tim to tell him he had created a new job for him that would pay well over $300,000 a year and he still got to do his tv gigs.

Unfortunately, George did not offer any new money to the HRC to take Tim on.  Instead, he abolished Graeme’s position.

Andrew Bolt, who was MC for the IPA’s birthday party, in an article titled “In praise of George Brandis”, gives some insight into the reasons behind this decision when he quotes a Brendan O’Neill interview with Brandis:

 “He describes the climate-change debate as one of the ‘great catalysing moments’ in his views about the importance of free speech.  He describes how Penny Wong … would ‘stand up in the Senate and say “The science is settled”. In other words, “I am not even going to engage in a debate with you”. It was ignorant, it was medieval, the approach of these true believers in climate change.’ … And to Brandis, this speaks to a new and illiberal climate of anti-intellectualism, to the emergence of ‘a habit of mind and mode of discourse which would deny the legitimacy of an alternative point of view, where rather than winning the argument [they] exclude their antagonists from the argument’…”

You have to be kidding, George.  The highly-funded denial campaign has not only had a very loud voice in the media, it has successfully dictated policy.  The opinion that “the science is settled” is shared by all those not in thrall to the fossil fuel industry.

Your government has systematically gone about removing any voice of dissent and silencing all argument in every arena.  Increasingly you are hiding what you are doing, not only from the public, but from other elected representatives.  Turning refugees into a military problem to escape all accountability and oversight is beyond your legitimate powers.  You have no right to act alone, refusing to answer questions from the Senate.

The O’Neill interview continues…

“The second thing that made him sharpen his pen and open his gob about the importance of freedom of speech was the case of Andrew Bolt… In 2010, he wrote some blog posts for the Herald Sun website criticising the fashion among ‘fair-skinned people’ to claim Aboriginal heritage, under the headlines: ‘It’s so hip to be black’, ‘White is the New Black’ and ‘White Fellas in the Black’… They were removed from the Herald Sun’s website. Anyone who republishes them risks being arrested and potentially jailed.

Brandis is stinging about this case. The judge ‘engaged in an act of political censorship’, he says, with a journalist ‘prohibited from expressing a point of view’. The reason Brandis is so keen to ditch the bit of the Racial Discrimination Act that allowed such a flagrant act of ideological censorship to take place in twenty-first-century Australia is because while it is justified as a guard against outbursts of dangerous racism, actually it allows the state to police and punish legitimate public speech and debate. ‘And the moment you establish the state as the arbiter of what might be said, you establish the state as the arbiter of what might be thought, and you are right in the territory that George Orwell foreshadowed’, he says …

Brandis says … he’s bent on overhauling Section 18C … because it expands the authority of state into the realm of thought, where it should never tread, he says. ‘…In my view, freedom of speech, by which I mean the freedom to express and articulate beliefs and opinions, is a necessary and essential precondition of political freedom.’

How does this gel with your direction to public servants that they may not post opinions critical of government policy on social media and that they should dob in any colleagues who do?

How does it fit in with the fact that Liberal Party MPs ban anyone who posts links to documents (eg fiscal statements) or makes comments disproving the rhetoric on their Facebook pages?

How does it fit in with new laws outlawing the right to protest?

And could I suggest that Operation Sovereign Borders is as Orwellian as you can get.

I am assuming the 5,500 submissions received about your proposed repeal of Section 18C is the kind of debate you welcome and that you and your Freedom Commissioner may learn a few things.  One can only hope that you pay attention.

 

Abbott uses society’s vulnerable as means to an ideological end

Can anybody make any sense out of what this government doing? asks Jennifer Wilson.

It seems to me that it’s a core conservative tradition to use  the most vulnerable people in society as a means to an ideological end. There are endless current examples of this: threats to pensions, restricted access to Newstart for unemployed youth, destruction of universal healthcare, proposed reduction of the minimum wage and a cap on that wage for the next ten years, all part of the Commission of Audit’s recommendations to the Abbott government prior to its first budget in a couple of weeks.

None of these measures will affect anyone as disastrously as they will affect the poor, and while middle class journalists  on a good wage, some of whom are Abbott’s most vocal supporters,  scream like stuck pigs about the flagged “debt levy” on incomes over $80,000, nobody much is pointing out the ideologically-based, systematic crippling of the lives of those who struggle hardest to keep poverty from their doors.

Conservatives seem to hold the ideological position that poverty is a moral failing, for which the individual is solely accountable, and if that individual has been incapable of taking care of her or himself and his or her family, they’ve no one to blame but themselves. If they do sink into a morass of underprivileged misery then they ought to be able to find ways to redeem themselves. If they don’t manage this feat, they obviously only deserve what little they get, and the conservative will do his or her best to take even that away.

This unexamined belief that the less financially fortunate are immoral and a drain on the prudent is, it seems, impossible to eradicate from the consciousness of the privileged and entitled, who lack any ability to comprehend context, and the myriad forces at work in society that affect the course of a life. This, coupled with the conservatives’ traditional love of a good clichéd stereotype, works to reinforce their sense of entitlement, and their contempt for anyone less blessed than are they.

The conservative disregard, some may even allege contempt,  for those other than (lesser than) themselves, allows them to use rational agents as a means to an end, contradicting the Kantian position that to use others as a means, and not an end in themselves, is to flout the fundamental principle of morality.  Perhaps this is nowhere as starkly obvious as in the current and previous governments’ treatment of asylum seekers. Both major political parties have, for many years now, used boat arrivals as a means to achieve political success, and not as rational agents deserving of consideration as ends in themselves. In this sense, the ALP finds itself on the same side as conservative politicians, something that should chill the heart of any ALP supporter.

There is no point in decrying the lack of humanity and compassion in conservative ideology. Both qualities are regarded as belonging to the bleeding hearts of the left, hindrances to freedom, obstacles to profit. So we find ourselves in the bizarre position of having a Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom, Tim Wilson, who recently claimed that McDonalds has “human rights to own property” and that “spending” is an expression of free speech.

It’s a dangerous situation when a Commissioner for Human Rights equates the ability to spend with the right to freedom of any kind, including speech.

It makes no sense to take any measures that prevent or discourage people from taking care of their health, such as co-payments for doctor visits for example. This will increase the pressure on accident and emergency departments, already stretched beyond their means, and result in people becoming chronically ill, at much greater expense to the taxpayer.

It makes no sense to continue to spend billions of dollars incarcerating a few thousand asylum seekers, for example, when there are many less expensive options  such as allowing refugees to live in, work, and contribute to the community.

It makes no sense to waste billions on a paid parental leave system when the money could be much better invested in increased child care for parents who want to work, but find it difficult to access adequate care for their offspring. Good child care is also an investment in our future: children can benefit enormously from early education and socialisation, a child care centre doesn’t simply “mind” them, it educates them.

However, none of the above is of any consequence to a political party driven by ideology. Humans are, to such a party, a means to an ideological end, not an end in themselves. Obviously, it is much easier to treat the less financially blessed as a means to an end, and if you already believe poverty and disadvantage to be  indicators of lack of morality and worth, why would you care anyway?

You may not agree with Kant’s categorical imperative, but there is something very dark about the Abbott government’s willingness to impose harsh circumstances on those already doing without in this wealthy country. It is easy, Mr Abbott, to make life more difficult for those without the power to protest. It is more of a challenge to work towards an equitable society based not on ideology, but common sense, and respect for everyone’s humanity.

Note: It’s with my tongue firmly in my cheek that I use this conservative image of Jesus.

This article was first posted on Jennifer’s blog “No Place For Sheep” and reproduced with permission.

Image courtesy of politifake.org

Image courtesy of politifake.org

Abbott’s tyrannical silencing of 1,892,100 possibly critical political opinions

Image from pinterest.com

Image from pinterest.com

‘It is tyrannical to forcibly silence critical political opinion with the threat of loss of livelihood’ writes Jennifer Wilson in her response the government’s threat to dismiss public servants who express dissenting opinions on social media.

The recent directive from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet on the lack of freedom of speech public servants have as private citizens, includes the expectation that government employees will dob in colleagues they believe are criticising the government.

This report in the Guardian, linked above, begins with a declaration by Tony Abbott before he became PM:

There is no case, none, to limit debate about the performance of national leaders. The more powerful people are, the more important the presumption must be that less powerful people should be able to say exactly what they think of them.

I’m baffled as to why this noble sentiment isn’t applied to public servants. Engaging anonymously on social media is no protection for them, as is evidenced by the sacking of Immigration Department employee Michaela Banerji who tweeted critically of the department using a pseudonym, and lost her job.

In subsequent action, Ms Banerji argued that there is an constitutionally implied freedom of political communication for public servants, however, the prospective costs of prolonged legal action caused her to withdraw and settle out of court, leaving the claim untested.

There are some 1,892,100 public servants in Australia, accounting for 16.4 per cent of the workforce. None of them are permitted to offer personal political opinions critical of the government on social media. It is unlikely that this restriction will be challenge by an individual. The government has deep pockets and access to the best advice, when it comes to defending legal action against it. Yet it would seem a matter of urgency that a challenge to such tyranny is launched.

It is tyrannical to forcibly silence critical political opinion with the threat of loss of livelihood. While no one can reasonably endorse public servants using knowledge obtained in the course of their work to criticise the government of the day, general personal opinion, of the kind expressed by Ms Banerji in her tweets ought to be permitted, unless the government is so insecure it cannot bear scrutiny.

A robust and confident government should not fear robust critique. Politicians need to be reminded that they have their jobs only because the electorate allows them that privilege. Stifling dissent will never endear governments to the citizenry. Part of a politician’s job is to weather the inevitable storms of criticism, and if they are too weak to do this, they are too weak to govern a country.

Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom, Tim Wilson, has this interesting take on the responsibility of public servants to the governments that employ them, noting that respect and civilising behaviour are the admirable goals of speech conduct codes.

As Mr Wilson once tweeted that protesters should have a water cannon turned on them, his notions of civilised behaviour are likely unreliable:

@timwilsoncomau Walked past Occupy Melbourne protest, all people who think freedom of speech = freedom 2 b heard, time wasters … send in the water cannons

Wilson also draws a comparison between criticism and respect, which to my mind is totally false. Respect does not, and never has implied inevitable agreement or lack of criticism. It is a very dangerous conflation Mr Wilson makes, and it is especially concerning that the Commissioner for Freedom (I still don’t know what that means) seems unable or unwilling to consider the complexities of competing rights.

My sympathies are with the many people I know who work for the government. To live in the knowledge that one must be constantly aware of one’s speech for fear of losing one’s job is not how one expects to dwell in a liberal democracy. It is absolutely unacceptable that so many Australians must live this way, with the additional fear that a colleague may at any time dob them in. I am at a loss as to understand just what kind of society the Abbott government envisions for our country. The tyrannical silencing of so many people because it is too weak to withstand critical commentary, does not augur well.

If any public servant wants to be an un-named source, he or she is very welcome on this blog.

This article was first posted on Jennifer’s blog “No Place For Sheep” and reproduced with permission.

 

Freedom to speak badly: one rule for protestors, another for Andrew Bolt?

Andrew Bolt’s racial vilification case and the government’s subsequent hasty threat to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act has placed ‘freedom of speech’ at the forefront of political debate. But its importance is always overlooked, or shunned, when it’s those of the Left side of politics who are exercising it. The media’s response to March in March rallies is an obvious case, writes Jennifer Wilson.

Image: heraldsun.com.au

Image: heraldsun.com.au

Peter van Onselen (pictured) devotes almost an entire page in the Australian this morning (paywalled. sorry) to complaining about the “unedifying” display of bad manners by some protestors who took part in the March in March rallies, comparing them with the infamously abusive banners held aloft by the three hundred or so activists who took part Alan Jones’s 2011 Convoy of no Confidence against Julia Gillard and her Labor government.

I would appreciate someone drawing up a comparison of the two situations, given my impression that the number of participants in the Jones rally carrying offensive placards constituted a far greater percentage of the whole than those in the March in March rallies.

As van Onselen concedes, in the Jones protest virulent expressions of rage and hatred were legitimised by the presence of leading politicians photographed under the placards. No such validation took place of the relatively few offensive banners on display during March in March.

“Calling a conservative a fascist and portraying his image to replicate Hitler is deliberately designed to undermine their ideological positioning in the same way that calling a woman a ‘bitch’ or ‘witch’ carries clear sexist intent,”  van Onselen states, in his comparison of the two situations.

I would not so readily presume an equivalence between sexist intent, and the desire to critique, albeit with a degree of hyperbole, an ideology. Sexism attacks the woman for nothing other than being a woman. Describing Abbott as “fascist” in no way attacks his gender, and is merely commentary on the manner in which he is perceived to enact his conservatism.

Placards claiming that the Abbott government is “illegitimate” are not abusive, offensive or threatening, rather they are simply wrong, and likely being employed as payback for the years of the LNP opposition equally inaccurately describing the Gillard government as “illegitimate.” What is apparent is that there are hot heads and wrong heads on both the conservative and Labor side of politics. This should not come as a surprise to anyone.

Along with Tim Wilson, Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom, (I’m sorry, I don’t know what that title means) van Onselen is disturbed not at the exercise of freedom of speech demonstrated by both rallies, but at the ill-mannered, impolite, potentially violent and “irresponsible” speech used by a small number of participants in their signage. A similar rabid element is guilty of foully derailing many otherwise useful Twitter discussions, claims van Onselen, quite rightly in some instances, though there are sensitive souls renowned for “rage quitting” Twitter when they confuse disagreement with abuse.

Van Onselen and Wilson’s desire to see public speech free from offensive, insulting and at times threatening expression is shared by many people, but quite how to achieve that remains a mystery. Bad speech must be countered by good speech, Wilson has asserted, however, taking the case of Andrew Bolt as an example, it’s difficult to see how someone with a large public platform such as Bolt, or fellow shock jocks Alan Jones, or Ray Hadley can be challenged by the people they offend and insult, who rarely have an equivalent public platform from which to counter their attacker’s bad speech with good. It is for this reason we have legislation intended to protect people from racial vilification, for example, the very legislation Mr Wilson is now intent on seeing repealed, as he believes it interferes with the absolute freedom of speech he appears to favour.

I can see Wilson’s point, however, as long as there are more powerful enunciators of bad speech with large platforms than there are good, perhaps we need other precautionary measures.

I couldn’t help but wonder, as I read the article, what van Onselen and Wilson would make of public demonstrations in other countries, Mexico perhaps, where I witnessed protests in which politicians were represented by enormous papier-mache figures with grossly exaggerated sexual organs, accompanied by banners that claimed they f*cked both dogs and their mothers and ate children. Nobody saw any cause for offence. Compared to such robust expression, the complaints seem rather prim.

Amusingly, van Onselen concludes his article with the reminder that “Protest is as an important part of democracy as are institutions designed to uphold democracy, but only when practised within the spirit of Australia’s well established political structure.” I am completely unable to see how any of the offensive signage fails to fit in with that spirit. Australian politics have, for the last few years and most certainly during Gillard’s entire term of office, been such that one would think twice before taking school children to witness Question Time, and I really don’t know who van Onselen thinks he is kidding.

The ongoing discourse about how we should conduct our discourse is unlikely to change anything. Van Onselen’s piece appears to make the claim that those who offend middle-class sensitivities undermine the more moderate message and concerns of mainstream protestors, and destroy their credibility. This may well be the case, but only because people such as van Onselen make it so, opportunistically denigrating the whole on the basis of the actions of a very few.

It is not possible to eradicate voices some consider undesirable from public expression. Otherwise we would not have to put up with the Bolts. A sign held aloft at a demonstration cannot do one tiny fraction of the harm done by Bolt, Jones and the like. If we are to conduct serious conversations about how public discourse influences attitudes and behaviours, surely we must start by interrogating the enunciations of those with the furthest reach.

This article was first published on Jennifer’s blog No Place For Sheep and has been reproduced with permission.

Tony Abbott’s Picks Show His Incompetence!

After a very successful summer, where the Australian Cricket Team have pounded the English, it looked like we were invincible.

But then along comes Tony Abbott – and the Prime Minister’s Eleven. This is a game where a number of players are supposedly “selected” by the PM.

We were creamed by 172 runs. Amazing, when you consider that England have had difficulty making 172 runs against the “real” Australian team.

I expressed my concern about this a few weeks ago in this article Selection on Merit? where I suggested that it was highly likely that he’d make selections based on how much of a sycophant the player was.

I have absolutely no evidence of this, so in the absence of evidence, I’ll do what the mainstream media do, I’ll quote anonymous sources. One cricketer alleges that they were left out of the side just because they were considered “too green”. Another was prepared to speak on the condition that I didn’t spell his name correctly, and while he didn’t make a direct allegation, he did point out that Abbott was actually born in England.

Of course, if this is how Abbott’s selections are doing in something as important as sport, imagine how badly they’ll do in areas that he has no interest in. Things like Education, the Economy, Climate Change and Human Rights. Sure, Tim Wilson has shown some interest in human rights and has always argued that the issue is not what is being done to you – it’s your right to complain about it that counts. I think enough has been written about Kevin Donnelly, but I would like to point out that one of his books, “Dumbing Down” makes the terrible mistake of trying to turn “dumb” into a verb – this is incorrect, and a further example of the illiteracy of Abbott’s education appointees.

But, fortunately, we are now considering a Gallipolli Centenary Match. (That should help the lack of focus on Anzac day in schools – apparently, it’s only studied once a year.) Hopefully, it’ll be played against the Turkish Cricket Team. Even Tony’s picks would be a chance there!

An Open Letter to Tim Wilson

Dear Tim Wilson,

I’m sure you’re a huge fan of Open Letters, what with your passion for free speech. I am also a fan of free speech within the bounds of reasonable conduct, and so today I’m using my free speech to write you this letter.

I’m also a fan of getting to the point quickly so I’ll put it out there right up front. I think you’re a dickhead. Unlike lots of other people who also think you’re a dickhead, I haven’t come to this conclusion recently, or after the announcement that you’ve been parachuted into perhaps the most oxy-moronic position your buddies in the Abbott Government could have handpicked for you. No, I noticed you a long time ago as the boy playing in a man’s world, as you did your best but failed not to blush from the neck up while yelling at climate scientists in a field of scientific endeavour you know nothing about. Although I did note many months ago that your profile on your then-employer’s website, that you are/were apparently undertaking a Graduate Diploma of Energy and the Environment (Climate Science and Global Warming) at Perth’s Murdoch University. What’s that about Tim? Did you complete this qualification, or were you laughed out of the classroom for your ‘opinions’ around weather, and how it’s always been windy so climate change doesn’t exist?

Capture8

Just to recap, you’re more than welcome to use your free speech to deny climate change, and I also enjoy the right to tell you you’re a dangerous, irresponsible, obstructive fool who is contributing to the demise of the planet I live on. Since you are often used as the mainstream media’s poster-boy under the guise of ‘balance’ on the subject of climate change, since they can’t find a climate scientist to go into bat for the fossil fuel companies that no doubt help fund the IPA, you are the blushing face of denial for many Australians. So we’ll think of you, and we’ll be reminding you of your contribution to the problem, for as long as you continue your charade of self-interested denial for the benefit of your career.

But I guess that’s the part that’s most disappointing, Tim. Your denial of climate change is just one small part of your public persona that I find personally offensive. What I also find really offensive about you is the apparent inconsistency of your position, which is really just a consistent suck-up to the Liberal Party, the people you need to give you jobs that you don’t deserve and are completely unqualified for. It doesn’t surprise me that you are an ex-student politician, because you don’t seem to have ever broken out of that immature mindset. So even though you paint yourself as a bastion of the IPAs agenda, encompassing small government and completely unregulated markets, when it comes to your devotion to this agenda, versus your devotion to Tony Abbott’s agenda, your priority in the pecking-order of your dedication is clearly Tony Abbott. Maybe if you were an actual academic, working for a real institute, you would have a more consistent position as the ‘classical liberal public policy analyst’ which you claim to be. Maybe if you weren’t just a Liberal hack, you would understand why it’s very perplexing that you haven’t already mounted a huge defence of the Carbon Price as a market-based mechanism used to reduce carbon emissions. And where is your outrage about Abbott’s Direct Action policy? You’re very quiet on this front Tim. I see that you diligently went along with Abbott in decrying funding to Holden, but what about fuel tax credits to mining companies? Where is your outrage about this intrusion into the free market you supposably cherish? And, of course as we’ve all seen, you’re now working at the Human Rights Commission, with the apparent goal of improving our rights to say and do whatever we like without risk of being sued for discrimination, however if people are saying or doing things you don’t like, you’re all for the police-state’s favourite silencer – the water cannon.

watercannon1

See what I mean about you being a child in a man’s world? It’s just embarrassing Tim. It’s embarrassing for you, for your Liberal mates and totally cringe worthy for all of us who have to hear about it.

A scan of your Twitter feed quickly reveals you to be far more interested in fighting what you very immaturely refer to as ‘Lefties’ (anyone who disagrees with you), than fighting for anyone’s right to free speech, let alone Andrew Bolt’s. And this morning I read that you’ve been bombarding the Department of Climate Change, a government organisation your ex-employer the IPA have lobbied to shut down, with hundreds of freedom-of-information requests, in fact 95% of all the requests they’ve had since April, no doubt with the overall goal of sabotaging their ability to concentrate on their important work of combating climate change, something you don’t believe in anyway. So you want to wreck them like a bully-boy kicking over a sandcastle. Just because you disagree with them. That’s pretty pathetic Tim, don’t you think?

From the behaviour you have exhibited throughout your career so far, I can see you are not just unqualified for the position you’ve been gifted at the Human Rights Commission. You’re also too immature to be representing any such organisation that does important work for the community. Whether you plan to get inside the commission and wreck it internally, or if you’re just interested in the substantial publically funded pay-cheque as a thank-you from your Liberal buddies for your blind support of their election campaign whilst at the IPA, you don’t deserve to be paid by the public to work in this position. Oh, and Tim, since we know you think public servants are a complete waste of space, I just wanted to remind you that you are one now. So I look forward to your gratitude towards the Community and Public Sector Union for your yearly pay-rise and the excellent entitlements that have been fought for and upheld through the unity of workers.

Yours sincerely
Victoria Rollison

UPDATE: As per Dan Rowden’s comment below, I mistakenly thought this article was from 2013. It is in fact from 2011. Apologies. Thanks, Dan.

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Who Said It? The Joker, or the Freedom Commissioner, Tim Wilson.

Image by the author

Image by the author

Ok, here’s today’s quiz. Who said the following, The Joker in “The Dark Knight” or Tim Wilson, Australia’s new Freedom Commissioner:

  1. “Haters are going to hate”
  2. “The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules”
  3. “It’s not my fault women decide to have children”
  4. See, I’m not a monster…I’m just ahead of the curve.”
  5. “time wasters…send in the water cannons.”
  6. “I like this job – I love it!”

Answers.

The Joker said all the even numbers.

Tim Wilson said all the odd things.

Other Good Quotes

Joe Hockey said, “No country ever taxed itself to prosperity.”

Tony Abbott said, “No country has ever subsidised its way to prosperity.”

So they have a clear idea on how a country doesn’t get to prosperity.

I suspect that in the next few days we’ll hear the following:

“No country ever created disability schemed its way to prosperity.”

“No country ever educated its way to prosperity.”

“No country ever broadbanded its way to prosperity.”

“No country ever planned its way to prosperity.”

and

“No country for old men.” (No wait – that’s a film)!

When will we hear how they plan to ACTUALLY NEED TO DO to get to prosperity!

Cage Match: Abbott the Destroyer and “Hulk” Hockey vs The Rest of the World

 

From a very young age, I was always cynical about the wrestling on TV. It seemed to me that it was so obviously contrived.

I mean, you’d have the tag matches where some wrestler with a name like Dead Eye Vampire would be winning, but he’d continue pounding his defenceless opponent, Mighty Freaky, while ignoring the opponent’s partner who’d entered the ring after a tag that Dead Eye somehow missed seeing. Cries of “Look behind you” were ignored, in the style of a pantomime. How could anyone not realise that the tag had taken place and that a new opponent was moving in from behing?

Ridiculous!

But the past few months have made me wonder. It seems that the Liberal Party are behaving exactly like they’re performing for the Late Night Wrestling. Actually, make that the past four years, but recent events just clinch it.

We have the Liberal Party doing as much as it can to stir up the viewers. Appointments of ex-politicians like Nick Minchin, Peter Costello, and Sophie Mirabella are one thing, but appointing Tim Wilson to the Human Rights Commission is a move clearly designed to get the audience stamping their feet and booing.

Their manager lurks in the background pulling the strings, while the members of Team Liberal and Team National shout out provocations like the referee sucks, and everyone is biased against us. The ABC, for example.

Queen Zodiac even stirred up some of his own supporters by claiming that he didn’t say what the video clearly showed him saying. (Don’t blame me, I used a site called “Pro Wrestling Name Generator”. I typed in Christopher Pyne, and that’s what it came up with. Honestly!) Then, he told everyone that they were stupid and didn’t understand what he said.

More boos!

“Hulk” Hockey called on GMH to put up or shut up! They promptly shut up shop and left. He then proceeds to claim that everything he does is because of Irksome Pounder (Rudd) and Garrulous Doom (Gillard)

And Team Liberal and Team National keep jumping in the ring to put the boot into Irksome and Garrulous.

But here’s the thing that reminds me of the wrestling.

They seem oblivious to the fact that these two are no longer in the ring, that there are new opponents circling. Sure, there’s been a little bit of trash talk with Bill Shorten’s name, but that’s not what the public want to see.

They don’t want Abbott and company to bang on about how good they are and how bad their opponents were. They don’t want a repeat of last week’s match with an invisible opponent. They want the fresh bout with the new opponent, Major Souljacker (Shorten).

Actually, I suspect what the public really want is for the Government to start behaving like a government, and to stop the theatre. If Souljacker starts to sneak up, I doubt there’ll be many calls of “Look behind you”!

doommajor irksome

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