Ideas@TheCentre – The Centre for Independent Studies


Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table.  3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.

Reconciliation requires greater free speech

Leonard Hong

08 February 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

The Victorian government, having passed legislation to authorise negotiation with Aboriginal Victorians, is advancing towards a formal treaty. Despite the entreaties of activists, the experience of New Zealand suggests a treaty is unlikely to be an end point to the process of reconciliation.

Indeed, though it’s been 179 years since the Treaty of Waitangi was signed —even that amount of time hasn’t reconciled the relations between Maoris and white New Zealanders.

On the contrary it is actually becoming increasingly difficult to have open discussion about the issues surrounding Indigenous communities on both sides of the Tasman.

Recently both Former New Zealand National Party leader Don Brash and Alice Springs Town Councillor Jacinta Price, have been targeted by the politically correct mob for putting forward their views on Indigenous issues.

Brash and Price have extensive knowledge of the problems and are more than qualified to express their opinions. It is offensive and ludicrous to dismiss their opinions as ‘hate speech’.

Brash gave a speech at Waitangi this week — the first time in 15 years he has spoken there.

At his 2004 appearance, he was pelted with mud by protesters angry about his infamous Orewa speech just weeks before; in which he criticised separatist policies, such as the mandatory levels of Maori representation on district health boards and Māori electorate seats in Parliament.

Last year, Brash was banned from speaking at Massey University due to Vice-Chancellor Jan Thomas’ fear about inciting ‘hate speech’. Brash’s supposed crime is that he’s committed to the rule of law and to equal treatment for all without privilege.

In Australia, Price was criticised for supporting retaining the date of Australia Day. She was accused by her critics of ignoring Australian colonialism in the past. Critics went so far as to suggest that she ‘legitimises racism’. This is nonsense.

Price is not a racist. She simply wants to deal with such issues as rape and domestic violence — which she spotlights as the real threats to Australia’s Indigenous communities.

Free speech and civil discourse are essential for debating controversial issues in order to find sound policy solutions. Genuine change will only come when people start listening and debating the arguments, rather than hurling accusations of bigotry or investing in symbolic gestures like treaties.

No lasting reconciliation can be built by shutting down any uncomfortable debate with accusations of racism.

Leonard Hong is a student at the University of Auckland and a research intern at The Centre for Independent Studies.


Progressives reluctant to recognise poverty progress

Anis Rezae

08 February 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

Is the declining rate of global poverty simply a neoliberal lie, spread by the likes of Bill Gates? According to a British-based academic, the answer is yes — because the data on global poverty only ‘looks’ better because of communist China’s rapid development.

This claim is blatantly wrong for several reasons. First, millions of people have been lifted out of poverty between 1981 and 2017 thanks to industrial development across the world, and the huge economic expansion brought about due to globalisation. Data from the World Bank shows that extreme poverty has still reduced dramatically — even if we exclude China from the equation.

In fact, China’s poverty rate only fell below the world average (living on less than $1.90/day) as recently as 2005. Therefore, prior to 2005, the inclusion of China made the global poverty rate look worse — not better.

Moreover, not only is his claim wrong, but — perhaps more importantly — there is no reason to exclude China in the first place.

Exclusion would suggest that reduction of poverty in China — the most populous nation in the world — is somehow less important than progress in other parts of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa.

Measures of global poverty should include all nations; it should not be about cherry-picking nations to suit particular anti-free market agendas.

Furthermore, it was not communism that reduced poverty in China. It was only after the Chinese Communist Party adopted massive economic liberalisation and exploited global trade, that it managed to lift about 800 million people out of poverty.

The country took advantage of the rise of globalisation when, in 1978, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping kicked off the ‘reform and opening-up’ campaign. Over the past few decades, this has slashed extreme poverty rates from 88% to under 2%.

Undisputedly, this is much better than starving to death under Mao.

The bottom line is: redefining poverty and excluding the largest nation in the world from the equation is a deliberate attempt to encourage a pessimistic view of capitalism. Bill Gates’ efforts to acknowledge human progress should be praised — not discredited.

Anis Rezae is a Juris Doctor student, Mannkal Economic Education Foundation scholar, and a research intern at the Centre for Independent Studies.

The problem with 'hate speech' laws

Monica Wilkie

08 February 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

When Facebook posts lead to Federal Court proceedings, a parliamentary inquiry, and a bankruptcy, something has gone seriously wrong with Australia’s ‘hate speech’ laws.

This is made clear by the news that Cindy Prior — the plaintiff in one of the most infamous Section 18C cases — has been declared bankrupt after failing to pay $250,000 of legal costs to the students she sued.

To recap: in 2013, three Queensland University of Technology (QUT) students were asked to leave an ‘Indigenous only’ computer lab by (then) staff member Prior.

Two of the students subsequently posted about the incident on Facebook; and three more became involved after they commented on the posts.

The comments were removed after Prior complained to QUT, but she subsequently complained to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) — then sued, alleging the five students breached 18C, and QUT and their employees violated section 9 of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Two students settled, paying Prior $5000. The other three won their case in court, and Prior ultimately dropped her action against QUT.

Those who support repealing or amending 18C might welcome the news of Prior’s financial distress as rightful comeuppance. But there is no good news out of this situation.

Prior should not be absolved of responsibility: she was ultimately the one who decided to pursue court proceedings that always carry the risk of a financial loss.

But if not for the existence and current terms of Section 18C, Facebook posts would not be able to be turned into a legal weapon that landed university students in years of legal strife and has now left a woman bankrupt. One of the students even filed an affidavit denying he was the author of the posts attributed to him.

Some argue 18C and other hate speech laws are necessary to prevent racism and ensure multiculturalism is a success. In his book Don’t Go Back to Where you Came From, Tim Soutphommasane argues, “Prejudice, bigotry and racism thrive in the absence of public policies that affirm the freedom of citizens to express their different cultural identities.”

But given the disastrous outcome for all involved in the QUT case it is absurd to suggest such laws are justified to prevent racism and bigotry taking hold in Australia.

The trivial nature of the original complaint, compared to the ultimate havoc wrought in the lives of all involved, demonstrates what a damaging law 18C is.