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.

Free speech vs hate speech

Monica Wilkie

15 March 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently reaffirmed the UN’s commitment to stopping hate speech, expressing his concern at what he described as, “…a groundswell of xenophobia, racism and intolerance – including rising anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred.”

Our response to hate speech needs to be carefully considered because hate speech laws need to be able to protect the public without unduly infringing on free speech.

During the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, liberal democracies including Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom, opposed the introduction of provisions against hate speech.

There were concerns about the potential implications for free speech, and they believed limitations on free speech should only exist to prevent the incitement of violence.

However, during the 1960s, attitudes to hate speech began to change. After a number of instances of anti-Semitic violence, and out of a desire to fight apartheid, new conventions against discrimination and hatred were introduced.

Two of the most prominent covenants, introduced were the International Covenant on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

These placed restrictions on, among other things, material that advocates racial superiority, hatred, hostility, and incitement to discrimination. Australia is a signatory but has reservations in both covenants.

These reservations were included because, during this time, Australia had public order acts in place that criminalised incitement to violence. They believed such laws were sufficient for addressing hate speech.

Nonetheless, since the 1970s, when Australia was introducing a variety of anti-discrimination laws, our approach to hate speech began to change. Most Australian jurisdictions now have laws that prohibit vilifying, inciting, harassing, or insulting language on the basis of a variety of protected characteristics.

The shift from prohibiting speech that incites violence to speech that offends or insults is significant. The introduction of laws such as Section 18C that include subjective offence tests has a negative impact on free speech.

Returning to the old standard of incitement to violence would help in both protecting free speech and public safety.

Duck and cover once more

James Wynne

15 March 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

At this time of year, universities across Australia welcoming a new crop of impressionable young students, who enter educational facilities that increasingly resemble Soviet-style indoctrination camps.

Given the intellectual straightjacket imposed by progressives in education, it probably should be no surprise a majority of millennials prefer socialism over capitalism. Young voters are flocking to the banner of far-left and democratic socialist voices like Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, and Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez in the US.

Students who are ignorant of history might think these are new ideas, but in fact, these are the same failed ideas of the past reaching out to infiltrate a new generation.

Millennials did not witness the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, nor did they live through the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction, so perhaps they can be forgiven for their ignorance.

However, their professors should know better. The fact that students have not been taught about the dangers of socialism is further evidence of academia’s embrace of the tribal ideas of the left.

Of course, academics have always been sympathetic to the radical ideas of the left, according to KGB defector Yuri Bezmenov. In an interview 35 years ago, Bezmenov outlined his role targeting egotistical academics and impressionable youth with Marxist and Leninist ideas that over time would brainwash a nation.

“Ideological subversion” was a form of psychological warfare that hides in plain sight and if successful the fallout would be irreversible.

The only solution to these disturbing trends is an institutional change that challenges the dominant left-wing narratives at universities. It’s either that or we start building bomb shelters again!

Though some exaggerate the dangers of the progressive stranglehold on education, it is proving to be very difficult to inject some much-needed pluralism into the culture of our universities, as the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation has discovered.

The Centre sought to provide several Australian universities with generous scholarships for students to study the great ideas of Western Civilisation. But, after being rejected from several prestigious Australian universities, their subsequent decision to partner with the University of Wollongong was met with resignation and controversy.

If the introduction of different ideas so challenges academics, there is no doubt that universities have strayed from their true purpose. It’s a sad irony that students go to universities to learn but graduate ignorant.

James Wynne participated in the CIS intern program.

Only fiscal discipline will protect us

Leonard Hong

15 March 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

Former Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan’s valedictory speech hailed the legacy of his stimulus package (but not the subsequent — and growing — government debt).

As everybody knows, debt and recession are often linked — and many speculate that another recession may be around the corner.

It’s been 11 years since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. In the aftermath, many Western governments, including Australia, pushed for fiscal stimuli to expand aggregate demand and boost the economy.

Since then, we have had a higher debt-to-GDP ratio as a result of continuous government spending and deficits by both Labor and the Coalition. On top of this, Australia’s economic performance in the last decade has been ‘lacklustre’ at best, on an average GDP per capita growth of 1.25%.

Although fiscal balance and economic performance aren’t closely related, low government debt provides countries with an optimal position and a better chance of having low interest rates.

Despite the growing debt, in contrast to other countries like Greece, Australia has a moderate debt to GDP ratio of 41.9%, and the Coalition is expected to record a first budget surplus after eleven consecutive budget deficits.

However, it is unlikely that the Australian government will continue to maintain fiscal discipline. The IMF’s Christine Lagarde warns of a global downturn, and it is possible that either side would push for a fiscal stimulus again if such a scenario happens. This leads to increased government deficit and debt.

This would put upward pressure on interest rates and the exchange rate, and crowd out private investment, both of which lead to lower wages and slower economic growth. Australians know that eventually, public debt needs to be paid back by either tax increases or cuts to essential public utilities.

For the Australian economy to prepare for an economic downturn and long term economic stability, we must have fiscal discipline that will make the economy more resilient against shocks.

Leonard Hong participated in the CIS intern program.