Clarity in politics

What people miss in our politics is decisiveness – people who are prepared to take a position.

A cartel occurs when corporations collude to control supply to drive up prices.  Cartels are illegal, and the illegality derives from laws made in the bastion of capitalism, the U S, called anti-trust laws.  When, therefore, a leading Oz miner, Twiggy Forrest, proposed setting up a cartel, the Feds pricked up their ears.  It was therefore surprising that when our Foreign Minister, Rubber Lips, heard of the idea, she said it was ‘worth considering.’  Someone had a word in her ear, and the Foreign Minister backed off.  She was not, after all, an expert on iron ore.  That does beg a few questions, but she said: ‘I do not know the detail of Andrew Forrest’s proposal, but I have since been discussing the matter with the Treasurer, and the Treasurer thinks the specifics of Mr Forrest’s proposal would not be acceptable.’  Now, there you have it – the problem is the specifics – possibly, specifically iron ore. Might it be different with specifically gold or diamonds – God knows, diamonds are cartel heaven.  Is the suggestion generally acceptable?  Perhaps the Foreign Minister should have consulted a lawyer.

What then of the Treasurer, the lip curling champion of razor gangs of days past?  ‘We’re not very supportive of cartels at all’.  Nor are we very  supportive of rape and murder.  The Treasurer could see revenue for the government but there was an ideological issue.  ‘It’s important that we continue to believe, as we always have with liberals, in free markets.’

Nonsense, bromides, evasion, inanity, and motherhood – the bullshit that is OZ politics.

Let us then compare this bullshit to someone who is prepared to take a position – Ted Cruz.  Ted knows how to take a position. He took one speaking non-stop for 21 hours in the Senate on the evils of his President’s views on health care.  Ted is no moderate on God, guns, money, or anything else.  He will really shake up the race for the next President, and this is good.  The prospect of a Bush v Clinton contest is, at its lowest, unappetising.  ‘We need to run a populist campaign standing for the hardworking people of America’, and abolish the IRS.  Ted opened his campaign at Liberty University founded by that Godly populist Jerry Falwell.  His wife Heidi spent time living in Kenya and Nigeria as the daughter of missionaries.  ‘She and her brother compete baking bread.  They bake thousands of loaves of bread to go to the local apple orchard where they sell the bread to people coming to pick apples.’  It sounds like a Nordic idyll.  ‘She goes on to a career in business, excelling and rising to the highest pinnacles, and then Heidi becomes my wife and my very best friend in the world’.

This was not Ted at his plainest.  Heidi has God – big time.  But she also has money big time.  Ted omitted to mention that Heidi is a managing director of Goldman Sachs.  She is the regional head of private wealth management at Houston.  You need more than $40 million to walk through her door.  Goldman Sachs represents different things to different people.  One of its greatest sins is to run a health insurance plan for staff, thus infecting the pinnacle of capitalism with the dross of socialism.  Still, since Heidi doubtless earns seven figures, we need not ask whether Ted is covered by Heidi’s plan.

Finally, I congratulate the BBC for sacking Clarkson and showing that money is not everything.  If they had not sacked him, I would have sacked them.  One of his vastly over-rated mates said that he was gutted to hear of the sacking – straight to the Blacklist.

The Last Oz Tory


When Malcolm Fraser gave his concession speech after losing the 1983 election, his bottom lip trembled. Straight away, my mate Jim Kennon was on the blower saying that he had not noticed anything like that on 11 November 1975. Fraser was all very stiff upper lip back then.

Jim was a member of the ALP, and he would later be in government in that party in Victoria. I have never been a member or supporter of that or any other political party, but Jim knew that I admired Gough, and that I was outraged by his dismissal. It may have been the daylight between us politically that led Jim to being so close with me, but I did feel a kind of mordant relief when Fraser got voted out. I did not however take to his successor, and I would not feel the same kind of satisfaction again until Keating removed Hawke.

The stiff upper lip of Fraser stood then for a lot of what I did not like about him or the way that he came to power. Old money, Western District, Oxford University – each tolerable in itself, but not with that born to rule attitude of the Establishment back then. It was beautifully caught by a Tandberg cartoon. When Kerr, the man Gough called the last of the Bourbons, got full at the Melbourne Cup before he presented it, and looked so sadly common, Tandberg had him standing there cross eyed under that silly top hat, saying: ‘I like making presentations in November – like when I presented the nation to its true owners.’

The ineptness of Kerr, and the plain deviousness of Barwick, began the process of the softening of my position on Fraser. He was just a political leader trying to oust a very bad government – the real villains were two smart-arsed Sydney silks who should have known better.

And we should not forget just how inept that ALP government had become – it would be brought home to me every Saturday morning before breakfast at the Prahran Market by the ghastly apparition of Jim Cairns. Here was a former Commonwealth Treasurer selling political pamphlets from a cardboard box on the street – about the complete picture of a typical Australian political tragedy.

Besides, there was other form to consider. The deposition of John Gorton hardly had Melbourne Grammar written all over it, and there were other plots and putsches in the gross Oz manner.  All else paled beside the moral chasm of Vietnam – and Fraser had been in that right up to his neck. Like every member of the government, he was not subject to the ballot that sent our young men overseas to lose a bad war.

The softening up continued when Alcoa was building a huge installation at Portland. This vast project led to my first brief in the High Court. There were lots of dollars and jobs on the table, and some very big egos. The Americans were cutting up rough – until Big Mal called in on them and put them in their boxes. They called him Big Boots, and they were not going to give him any cheek.

I was most impressed – perhaps this aloof, imperious manner had its uses. It then also occurred to me that this kind of man would not find politics easy – it was not just that he was not the affable sort – he was not even prepared to dissemble, and a strong Coriolanus streak told him that chasing votes was vulgar (in the proper sense of that word). He looked out of place with the mob. On the other side, Gough was getting all the cheers – and losing all the elections.

I also changed my mind about the Establishment. For many years I was privileged to act for a number of them while a deluded NCA conducted an inane political witch-hunt. A former of partner of mine, who has authority on this point – ex officio at the moment – said that my guys were not just the Establishment – they were the Australian aristocracy. I came to admire and respect each one of them very much for at least one attribute – courtesy. As I have remarked before, it is like cutlery – it separates us from the apes. We do not put enough value on it, and that now shows in the mannerless nonsense, the plain vulgarity, of the Australian Parliament.

One of my people, Ian McLachlan, held ministerial office in a coalition government. He is as straight a man as I have met, and I was able to see close up how difficult it is for such an establishment man to come to terms with the awful mediocrity of Oz politics. I think that he and Fraser may have had a lot in common – one difference was that Ian got to a point where he could no longer stand the bullshit.

Malcolm Fraser did not leave his job voluntarily. Neither did Gough. Fraser was eventually voted out, and the slight tremble of the bottom lip may have presaged the humanity that he showed over the next thirty years, and the principles underlying which we can now see in his government. It has been a remarkable journey for a man who came under the influence of superior conflict-endorsers like Bob Santamaria and Ayn Rand – although the latter was reported to be unsure of the extent of Fraser’s commitment. She said ‘I don’t think he’s quite selfish enough.’ That statement of Ayn Rand looks to have been true.

A lot of people then and now say that Fraser was a failure as an economic manager in his three terms of office. The present government has blasted for eternity any claim by the Liberal Party to be a superior economic manager, a boast it pathetically made with the reference to the adults being back in charge. Messrs Howard and Costello in their terms of office are now criticised for wasting the mining boom by buying votes by showering dollars on a comfortable middle class in a very successful attempt to prove to them that there is such a thing as a free lunch, and that life was meant to be easy. The present government is finding out how hard it is to withdraw that largesse, either decently, or at all. If the Fraser government was a failure too, the late Dr Cairns is the only one they can beat in my adulthood.

There is a lot of blather about how Fraser moved from Right to Left, whatever that means, or whether he left the Liberal Part or it left him, as if this split was some observable event like the transit of Venus. Fred Chaney is a very decent man. As a politician, he is about my cup of tea. He said that Malcolm Fraser ‘was a very big man in every respect, and to be honest, I loved him.’ He went on to say that the two major parties are no longer recognisable. That is obviously true – the Liberal Party and Labor party are no more now in anything but name – but it is the profession of love that strikes you. Australian politicians do not talk like that, and it is hard to imagine that statement being made of any of the current crop.

Malcolm Fraser now looks like an old fashioned Tory with an old fashioned conscience. It is little wonder that the hard-liners who hunger after unelectability think that he was a wimp, and that the scrabbling vote-seekers who make up the Liberal Party now would rather not think of him at all.

There is something to be said for the Tory view that those who have a stake in the country have a duty to see that it is well administered. It used to be called noblesse oblige. That is just about dead in this country, as, sadly, is the involvement of the Establishment in the governance of the nation. It would of course be as wrong as it would be absurd to revert to the old Tory view that the government should be controlled by the biggest stake-holders, but if you want to know how bleak it gets when they are driven out of government altogether, just look again at the frightful motley that we have in Canberra now.

If not in government, then certainly after it, Malcolm Fraser stood for bringing people in from the cold rather than locking them out. This frightfully exclusive member of the Melbourne Club was far more inclusive than his weasel successors who would hardly be invited in as guests.

What I detect in the public mood in the nation is that they could see in Malcolm Fraser a political leader who was prepared to announce and stand for a position, and, just as importantly, who was a man of both integrity and compassion. In other words, they could see some of the makings of a statesman, and God only knows, there is not much of that about now. It was, I think, not issues of economic management or political ideology that came between people like Fraser and Chaney, and people like Howard and Abbott, but issues of conscience and compassion for people for whom life is not so easy, like refugees and blackfellas. This is what I see so many people are missing in our politics now.

Two things caught my eye in the press reaction, apart from a few matters mentioned above. (I might say that my Kyneton wine merchant and I had a long chat yesterday along the lines above.) One of those expressing his sadness on the TV last night – I do not remember if it was the SBS that Fraser set up – was the Governor of South Australia. That gentleman was born in Vietnam. This was a very moving moment. His Excellency the Honourable Hieu Van Le AO arrived by boat with his wife as refugees in 1977, when Fraser was Prime Minister. They started life here at a migrant hostel. Their two sons are named after Australian cricketers, Bradman and Kim Hughes. His Excellency and his wife were boat people and they may have got a different reception from other prime ministers of Australia.

The other item in the press today is one of the greatest political cartoons of all time. It is by Bill Leak in The Saturday Australian. Gough and Malcolm are in heaven, seated on a cloud. Gough is seated on Malcolm’s right hand reading The Australian. The caption is ‘Seated at left hand of Gough.’ With that ineffable and lofty ease, Gough says: ‘They’re all still at each other’s throats I see.’ To which Malcolm knowingly replies: ‘Don’t bother with that, Comrade – death was meant to be easy.’

Qantas – Is anyone there?

The other day I booked by phone – at a price for the cheek of wanting to talk to a human being, and possibly even an Australian – flights with Qantas to Darwin and from Broome.  I had to use the phone because this laptop has a virus.  I did not get the promised email confirmation.  The next day the hire car company offered me a real inducement to reverse the air travel and fly to Broome and from Darwin.

Back on the phone.  After about twenty minutes, of waiting while those parroted ads drive you mad in cycles, I put the phone down  – and I lost the connection.  I started again.  At nearly forty minutes, I thought I might explode.  A remarkably sane operative pacified me, and changed the flights.  She said that the previous booking had not been confirmed because it was unworkable, but she said I would shortly get an email confirmation.

That has not arrived.  My unwell computer shows no sign of recent activity on my Frequent Flyer account – except that they recently cancelled 120,000 points without warning to me.  So I look for an address to send a query to.  Not on your Nelly mate.  We are not into talking to people, much less long standing customers.

This confirms my view that if you have any option, you are a mug to fly Qantas.  They must be the most notorious business in the world for abusing their best customers.

I recall that I wrote a note about nasty and incompetent corporates many years ago.  I will try to attach a copy.  Nothing has changed.  I then had to hire a travel agent to do combat with the flaks at Frequent Flyers.  Well, they have now seen to that, and I just have to get ready to give up half an hour or so for aural abuse, and then run smack into a wall of inept silence.

A little bird tells me that management – yes, they do claim that title – are getting ready to get rid of the flak-catchers they have on shore.  Perhaps the Indians are tougher as well as being cheaper.

In the unlikely event that you trip over someone connected with Qantas, could you ask them to let me know about my flights.  They know where I am – which is more than I can say for them.

Further reflections on the decline and fall of courtesy follow.




Nat King Cole

Ella Fitzgerald had as good an enunciation of English, certainly as a vocalist, as I have ever  heard.  Not all baby boomers would be familiar with Ella – but they will all remember Nat King Cole, and his unforgettable style and articulation. ( ‘Unforgettable’ was one of his big hits. )  His style helped to define the 50’s and carried on into the ’60’s.  People forget that Cole started as a pianist, and developed a trio that became famous.  I have a CD of twenty songs done by the trio, all first recorded in 1947.

While setting up to record the qualifying sessions of the Grand Prix,   I came across a TV documentary that I could not turn off.  It had comments from Tony Bennet and Sinatra, and the two sons of the great Nelson Riddle.  Cole had a voice and style that is now as instantly recognisable as that of Louis Armstrong.  Although Cole was a jazz musician, his vocals were closer to those of Tony Bennet than Ella Fitzgerald.  He was a popular singer or crooner.  He was immeasurably assisted by the arrangements of Nelson Riddle, a man whose genius – the word is not too strong – was recognised and employed by Sinatra.  With uncharacteristic modesty, Sinatra wondered whether he and Riddle ever reached the same plateau that Riddle and Cole had.

This country has not had a good record with racism, but we have no idea what it was like in the U S.  I can remember the Nat King Cole TV show.  This kind of show was common then – remember Perry Como? – but he was the first black man to have his own show.  It was a revelation and a revolution.  The production was seamless.  There was a skit where Tony Bennet insisted on introducing himself, and another where Sammy Davis Junior told Cole he had to have a style, and then proceed to mimic it flawlessly.  The great Ella Fitzgerald swung by with her inimitable ease and grace.  All these people gave their time for free.  They finally found a sponsor.  A plainly moved Harry Belafonte spoke of how much it meant to people of colour.  It was number one in its time slot – but the South hated it, and killed it after 60 episodes.  Cole said that Maddison Avenue was afraid of the dark.

It is shocking to recall this now.  Shortly after, Cole suffered badly from a bleeding ulcer.  He was hospitalised, and the doctor forbade him to go on tour in the South – they worried that if he fell ill, no hospital would admit him.  This happened in my lifetime, to a gentle man and supreme artist.  When Cole did get to Alabama, he was  assaulted, and then his own people turned on him for being meek.

Cole died of cancer before he reached sixty.  He had smoked heavily all his life, as so many did then.  So far as I know, he had not succumbed to the darker scourge of the jazz world in his time.

Opinions vary on Mr Obama as President.  I have a very high opinion of the man, and I am glad that I celebrated his swearing in with a number of Blood Marys starting at 4 am.  But whatever else might be said of Mr Obama, the shocking cruelty handed out to Nat King Cole, and recent events in Ferguson in the South, show the colossal importance of the mere fact that Mr Obama was elected at all – and  twice.  Many have tried, but they have not been able to turn his show off.

Commercial bullshit and Energy Australia

What follows is more research for a book on how not to think or write – the subject this time is commercial bullshit.  A company called Energy Australia does a real line in it.  They can tell an aggrieved customer they have ‘escalated’ a dispute by sending it higher up.  They will have a date with destiny at VCAT in Bendigo in June and see another kind of escalation.

Some years ago now, Tom Wolfe wrote a book called Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak-Catchers. The first part was the story of a party that Leonard Bernstein gave for the Black Panthers. He did not know that Tom Wolfe was in the assembled gathering, and was planning to write about it. (To avoid having people see their black butler and maid, the Bernsteins hired white South Americans to wait on their guests.) The second part of the book was about how the beneficiaries, if that is the term, of the American social services system subject public officials behind the counter (the ‘flak-catchers’) to a reign of terror when they discuss their entitlements. (One Mau-Mau handed over ice-picks that he said were taken from gangs in return for financial grants.)

Well, we might now see the whole party for the Black Panthers as an exercise in bullshit, but we have now privatised the flak-catcher operatives, and the Mau-Mauing goes the other way. Large trading corporations now routinely train operatives not just to catch flak, but to hand it back with all of the vigour of a Mau-Mau expert. These big corporations are just walking all over us and our way of life.

The problem with so much of what the corporates tell us is not that it is sincere, but that it is anything but sincere, as in ‘Your call is important to us.’ And then they proceed to show that they are lying by keeping you hanging there while they blast your eardrums with propaganda calculated to establish that Doctor Joseph Goebbels was a person of taste and refinement.


When Tim Cook was addressing the faithful at Apple, he said: ‘at the end of the day, this is a very important day for Apple. When I step back from this terrible scenario…I think it is about the awareness piece. I think we have a responsibility to ratchet that up. That’s not really an engineering thing.’

An executive at AT&T got positively excited: ‘We actually think that the industry is actually at a place where you can actually see line of sight to the subsidy equation just fundamentally changing, in a very short period of time.’


One corporation said that it would ‘action forward’ and asked if that ‘resonates on your radar’? PwC announced a new HR position: ‘Territory Human Capital Leader.’ When ABN Amro fired 1000 people, it said that it had acted ‘to enhance the customer experience.’ Ernst & Young trumped them comfortably. After it fired people, it said that it was ‘looking forward to strengthening our alumni network’ – with all the commanding logic of double entry accounting.


A director of KPMG who is a specialist in social media said that too many CEOs were not making enough use of social media like Twitter or LinkedIn. Some said it was narcissistic. (Perhaps they were put off by selfies, or just morons on trams or trains.) ‘They are missing the opportunity to not only follow leading thought leaders and experts in different fields around the world but also engage with a variety of stakeholders.’ The head of social media at a bank said: ‘This is not about having 100 likes on Facebook. It is about the business value, the value to our customers of doing this.’ Learned authors in the Harvard Business Review commented:

Old power works like a currency. It is held by a few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible and leader-driven. It downloads and it captures.

In case you thought that they were talking of the Nazis or the KKK, the authors showed us new power:

New power operates differently like a current. It is made by many. It is open participatory and peer-driven. It uploads and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most powerful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

That sounds like sex – but this is the Harvard business School (that knocked back Warren Buffett).


Some bishops see themselves as middle managers. It is not therefore surprising to see one church say on a new appointment of bishops that this was a ‘radical step in our development of leaders who can shape and articulate a compelling view and who are skilled and robust enough to create spaces of safe uncertainty in which the Kingdom grows.’


We might segue to political bullshit. When discussing his move from Immigration to Social Services,

Scott Morrison said ‘I have no need or interest or desire to take this policy area into a combative space.’

Bullshit in a high place and at higher expense

While researching bullshit for a chapter in a book on how not to think or write, I noted the following.

A man called Tim Wilson was appointed as Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner in February 2014 on a package that is now north of $400,000 a year according to press reports. What were his credentials for this high office and even higher pay-cheque? Mr Wilson sets out his credentials on his website as follows.

About Tim

Tim Wilson is Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner and a classical liberal public policy analyst. He is one of Australia’s most challenging opinion leaders drawing on strong philosophical principles, backed up with evidence while maintaining a real-world edge. Passionate. Controversial. Fearless. He’s not afraid to be outspoken in offering an optimistic solutions-focused perspective on local and international issues that gets people engaging and talking.

Quick summary

Appointed as Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner for five years from February 2014.

International public policy analyst specialising in international trade, health, intellectual property and climate change policy.


Recognised by The Australian newspaper as one of the ten emerging leaders of Australian society as part of its 2009 Next 100 series.

Inaugural graduate of Monash University’s John Bertrand leadership series.

Australian Leadership Award from the Australian Davos Connection 2010 recipient.

Recognised by Same Same as one of Australia’s 25 most influential gay and lesbian Australians in 2010.

Fellow of the 2010 Asialink Leaders Program at the University of Melbourne.

Participant in The Australian newspaper’s 2011 Shaping Our Future: Ideas to Change a Century series on public health financing.

Inaugural participant in the 2011 Australian-ASEAN Emerging Leaders Programme run by ISIS Malaysia, the St James Ethics Centre and Asialink…..

Twice-elected President of the Monash University Student Union.

Selected as a News and Public Affairs judge at the 2012 TV Week Logie Awards.

Media and commentary

Regularly published in print media, including The Australian, the Wall Street Journal Asia and Europe and the Australian Financial Review and newspapers across Australia and the Asia Pacific.

Appears on Australian and international television and radio.

Regular radio programs on 2CC, 3AW, 4BC, 6PR & 774.

Regular guest on New York’s nationally syndicated radio program, the John Batchelor show, with John Batchelor and US editorial board member, Mary Kissel.

Regular television programs including ABC’s Q&A, The Drum and News Breakfast, Channel Ten’s Bolt Report and Sky News’ The Nation, the Contrarians and Lunchtime Agenda.

Previously co-hosted ABC News 24 TV’s Snapshot segment.

Regularly contributes to journals and books and speaks at conferences.


Currently completing a Graduate Diploma of Energy and the Environment (Climate Science and Global Warming) at Perth’s Murdoch University.

Completed specialist executive education on intellectual property, diplomacy and global public health in a joint program of  New Jersey’s Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology at Seton Law School and Geneva’s Institut de Hautes Études Internationales et du Développment.

Completed specialist eexecutive education on global public health policy and diplomacy in a joint program of Geneva’s Institut de Hautes Études Internationales et du Développment and the World Health Organisation.

Completed specialist executive education on intellectual property at the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s Worldwide Academy.

Studied the WTO, International Trade and Development at Geneva’s Institut de Hautes Études Internationales et du Développment.

Trained carbon accountant from Swinburne.

Completed a Masters of Diplomacy and Trade (International Trade) from the Monash Graduate School of Business.

Completed a Bachelor of Arts (Policy Studies) from Monash University.

Completed a Diploma of Business.

Board and professional service

Current Board Director of Alfred Health (Alfred, Caulfield and Sandringham hospitals) .

Current member of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency’s Victorian Board for Nursing and Midwifery.

Former member of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s IP industry consultative group.

Previous Member of the Council of Monash University (Australia’s largest University with campuses in Australia, Malaysia, South Africa, Italy and the United Kingdom).

Previous appointed member of the Steering Committee of the Sydney Opera House’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas.

Previous Board Director of Monyx (Food and retail services company).

Previous Chairman and Board member of the Monash University Student Union Pty Ltd.


Former policy director at the Institute of Public Affairs – the world’s oldest free market think tank.

Former Senior Fellow at New York’s Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.

Worked in international development across South East Asia.

Delivered Australia’s 2006 logistical and policy aid program to help the Vietnamese government host APEC.

Trade, Intellectual Property and Environment policy consultant.


Member of the Fawkner Park Tennis Club, Melbourne Cricket Club, Melbourne Football Club, Mont Pelerin Society, Museum of Modern Art (New York), the National Gallery of Victoria, RACV Club, Royal Brighton Yacht Club and the Tate Modern (London).

Enjoys walking, running and bike riding.


Mr Wilson is represented by Shaun Levin from Profile Talent Management, +61(0)3 8598 7808……


Well, it is evident that Mr Wilson has a God-given penchant for bullshit of the purest order. The intro to his website is five star rolled gold bullshit. Mr Wilson has hardly any credentials at all for his office or pay-cheque – except a big head and a bigger mouth, and that penchant for pure bullshit. And when Mr Wilson puts that mouth to work, the results are breathtaking.  If you go to Mr Wilson’s website, you will find a post ‘Charlie Hebdo vs 18C: no contest ‘on January 19, 2015 .  For the purpose of this note, I take it as read.  It is set out below.

Which of the remarks of Mr Wilson do you find to be the most sensible, coming as they did less than a fortnight after the murders?

The post is mainly about the meaning and effects of some of our laws. Among the many tickets that Mr Wilson has collected, such as being a trained carbon accountant, a lawyer’s ticket is not one of them. Well, who says that you should have some idea about what you are talking about? This is a free country is not? When you are pulling down a salary of about the level of that of the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia?

Mr Wilson suffers from the intellectual malaise of his political masters and patrons, those most bounteous providers for his welfare. He is not long on rational thought. He prefers slogans and labels. It all comes down to ‘censorship’ and self-censorship. The point of all this invective and venom, and self-mortification, appears to be that Mr Wilson fears that the law is so badly structured that it would not be safe for him publicly to answer or refute the proposition of the man that he is so happy to vilify at our expense. That involves a legal question. Perhaps Mr Wilson may have sought legal advice about what he as saying. Then he should have been told that nearly everything that he had said was bullshit.

And notice how combative Mr Wilson gets with his opponents. Those who disagree with him – or Mr Andrew Bolt – engage in ‘cheap party tricks’. An aboriginal boxer said on TV that homosexuality and aboriginal law were incompatible and that homosexuality should not be shown on prime time TV. Mr Wilson took serious offence at this, but he did not answer the allegation by looking at the meaning and effect of aboriginal law. No, instead of rational and polite argument, Mr Wilson plays the man. In AFL terms, he hangs out a coat-hanger. ‘Mundine has probably taken too many blows to the head in the boxing ring and his comments are stupid and offensive’. Not content with branding his opponent as punch-drunk, stupid and offensive, Mr Wilson later builds up to ‘despicable’ and ‘bigotry’, the intellectual death-knell of his primary patron

If there is a substantive argument about the law that Mr Wilson refers to, you may have trouble in seeing the connection between the murders in Paris on the ground of religion and an Australian debate about offending or insulting people on account of their race. Is it any more than this? These murders in Paris deter people from speaking their mind on religion. Murders are bad. Therefore Australian laws that deter people from speaking their mind on race are bad too. Even though the abolitionists say nothing about the other more general laws to the same effect which do not mention either religion or race.

Since 1789, people in Paris and what is now Australia have been committed to the idea that we should be free to do what we like provided that it does not injure others. By the time you categorize all the ways in which others may be injured by speech, there is not much content left to the original idea of ‘freedom’ of speech – the freedom is determined by the ambit of the exceptions, and where you draw the line is where you get the arguments. This is very common in the law.

The events in Paris remind us that there are hundreds of millions of people in the world who can be greatly hurt by speech directed at their religious belief – so hurt that many of them want to kill those responsible. It is curious that that reminder leads some politically driven people in Australia to resume their campaign to abolish a law that gives another category of protection against injurious speech. Mr Wilson is clearly a man with an agenda, a man on a mission.

And do you not find it hard to banish a suspicion that Mr Wilson might think that he is just a little bit smarter than Mr Mundine – or, perhaps, just a little superior ?

Charlie Hebdo vs 18C: no contest, The Australian

Posted on January 19, 2015 by Tim Wilson

CHARLIE Hebdo would have been a legal publication in Australia. But it would have faced regular efforts to have it shut down or censored under state and federal laws.

In Australia the primary legal weapon used against Charlie Hebdo would have been section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it unlawful to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate on the basis of race, colour, national or ethnic origin.

18C doesn’t cover religion, but Charlie Hebdo published many cartoons on race as well as ethno-religious topics that could have been deemed offensive under it.

This is outlined in the explanatory memorandum to the bill that introduced 18C.

The memo said “it is intended that Australian courts would follow the prevailing definition of ‘ethnic origin’ … (which) involves consideration of one or more characteristics … this would provide the broadest basis for protection of peoples such as Sikhs, Jews and Muslims”. It’s this interpretation that led to former Sydney Morning Herald columnist Mike Carlton facing a complaint under 18C because of his disgraceful anti-Semitic language.

18C would have been used against Charlie Hebdo because it sets a low bar to restrict free speech. Administratively, 18C also makes it easy to take action; all you need is an aggrieved party and an arguable case.

Charlie Hebdo’s publishers would then have been caught up in regular disputes and subsequent legal battles if they refused to back down. After significant cost and time, courts would have had to test whether each cartoon enjoyed exemptions under the impossibly opaque section 18D of the act, which requires publication to be undertaken reasonably and in good faith.

Many cartoons were satirical, but they were also designed to strongly provoke and didn’t seek to minimise the offence caused. That may mean they wouldn’t always be covered by the exemptions. Each one would have to be assessed on its merits.

Even if 18D did apply in all cases, that doesn’t justify 18C. Section 18D doesn’t protect free speech. Arguing it does is absurd. In practice, 18C declares you guilty, 18D allows you to profess your innocence.

Censorship doesn’t just occur because a court silences a voice. Censorship also occurs because bad laws allow publications to be bullied through legal processes until their only viable option is to cower and self-censor.

Charlie Hebdo would have been destroyed through a thousand 18C complaints.

The Charlie Hebdo massacre is a tragedy, and it should be a reminder that we need to defend free speech even when speech offends and insults.

Offence and insult are subjective, emotional responses to the actions of others. Individuals can be offended and insulted by just about anything, even when it is not intended. For that reason, a law that prohibits speech that merely offends and insults sets the bar too low. Instilling these principles in law ultimately leads to self-censorship.

For example, last year Anthony Mundine did an interview on Channel 7’s Sunriseprogram. During Andrew O’Keefe’s interview Mundine said Aboriginality and the “choice” of homosexuality were incompatible and homosexuality shouldn’t be shown on prime time television. The basis of his comment was “Aboriginal law”.

Mundine has probably taken too many blows to the head in the boxing ring and his comments are stupid and offensive. We can say both those things. And in a free and democratic country Mundine should be allowed to say stupid and offensive things.

But that doesn’t mean the basis of his offensive comments is wrong. Across the country I’ve met gay and lesbian Aboriginal Australians who have told me horrible stories of how they’re treated.

Not that poor treatment of gay and lesbian people is limited to Aboriginal culture. Many ethnic cultures engage in even more horrific treatment of gay and ­lesbian people, including in Australia.

But if we want to harshly criticise the justification of Mundine’s commentary we risk offending his ethnic origins. Because of 18C Australians have to cautiously discuss the topic, especially non-Aboriginal Australians.

The example highlights a fundamental flaw of 18C. The assumption behind the law is that racism essentially comes from the dominant racial group against minorities. That isn’t the case. Sometimes minorities judge each other horribly and harshly.

One of the cheap party tricks of 18C’s defenders is asking the leading question: “What is it that you want to say that you can’t say?” The assumption is that you want to say something racist. That isn’t the case. When Mundine made his despicable comments I censored my response because of 18C and the risk that I’d offend or insult his heritage.

Would I have been let off because of 18D? Possibly. I can’t say with confidence my comments would have been judged to have been in “good faith”.

Regardless, I don’t fancy being hauled through the Human Rights Commission or a court for refusing to apologise. So it is to self-censor rather than criticise another’s bigotry.

Chalk that up as a victory for social inclusion and harmony. 18C gives legal privileges to some to be bigots while we allow the law to intimidate others into self-censorship who want to respond.

Faith and the State

People will have different views on the address of the Prime Minister of Israel to the US Congress.  I personally found it at best demeaning to watch legislators of the Great Republic bob up and down like north Korean pop-ups while being lectured – no, harangued – by the elected leader of their number one client or puppet state.  It is not the kind of behaviour that would have gone down well with the Caesars.  Although it is none of my business, I do not see how making the security of Israel a party political issue in the US might  improve the security of Israel.  It just takes that issue out of their hands.  As I see it, that security depends on Israel maintaining the faith of the West, and this kind of vulgar politicking is precisely calculated to undermine that faith.

Still, that is a matter for others and others have different views.  Two things are clear, though.  The Israeli invitee is reported to have said: ‘I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political.  That was never my intention.’  There are two lies there, each as black as Hell.  The second thing is that this bull-nosed lying self-righteousness shows why from at least one side we will never have peace in the Holy Land.  Ever.

I am unclear where we get the right to tell Indonesia how to run its justice system.  We object to the death penalty.  It is, I think, still on our books for treason, and I think most Australians, including me, would have no trouble in enforcing that law in case of  treason against us in a real war.  But some countries still have the death penalty in times of peace.  Two of our major trading partners are examples – China and the US.  This is not an answer to the question arising from the imminent execution of two Australians in Indonesia, but it is a real question.  Why are we doing nothing about the ‘revolting’ killings conducted elsewhere?  Is it because the US is Christian and white, and Indonesia is Asian and Muslem?  Is the Muslem view of capital punishment closer to the Old Testament – where it is endorsed so often – than the New Testament?

The President of Indonesia thinks that he would break faith with his people if he acceded to the foreign pressure being applied to him and declined to execute his nation’s laws – as he is obliged to do.  Where do we get off telling him what his duty is or how to keep the faith of his people?

General Petraeus was credited with securing a better result in Iraq by the ‘surge’.  When he came back to the States one time, he met people with placards saying  ‘Do not betray us, General Petraeus.’  That was said by two journalists I respect to be in bad taste.  Perhaps it was.  So is losing a husband or son in a bad war – and few wars are good.  The general later fell from grace, and today the press reports that he will plead guilty to illegally providing classified secrets to his mistress.  He did betray them after all.

Doubtless it will be said that there has been no real harm.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The damage flowing from such a failure by the officer in command is beyond measure.  The loss of faith inside the army and out is poisonous.  I personally would characterise this offence as being at least on the level of that alleged against Edward Snowden.   I could imagine many soldiers thinking he should be behind bars for a very long time.  It will be an interesting test of equality in the US justice system.

Finally, press reports say that the supporters of the Prime Minister have been blacking Mr Turnbull in the branches – over issues like gay marriage.  The reports say that the Christian Right has been very active.  The word ‘Right’ caught my eye.  To my mind, the last sighting of the Christian Left occurred about two thousand years ago when a Jewish tearaway gave the bum’s rush to the money dealers in the Temple and in so doing signed his own death warrant.  Since then the faithful have been unrepentantly Right.