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IPA unsure about free speech

August 10th, 2014

The reaction of the Institute of Public Affairs to the Abbott governments backdown on the race-hate proviions Section 18C has been, by its own admission, intemperate (“white hot anger” is the description they used; I think I also saw “ice-cold rage”.

By contrast, the IPA has been much more ambivalent on freedom of speech. I noted a while ago, this piece suggesting that environmentalists who questioned the viability of the coal industry could be prosecuted either under securities legislation or as an illegal secondary boycott. This view isn’t unanimous however. Following some Twitter discussion (must get Storify working properly for things like this) Chris Berg pointed to a piece he’d written arguing against such a use of secondary boycott legislation (and against such legislation in general).

I was, naturally interested in how Freedom Commissioner and former IPA fellow Tim Wilson would respond to proposals to suppress free speech coming from his former organization. However, my Twitter interactions with him were thoroughly unsatisfactory. His initial response to my suggestion that he had been silent was rather snarky

um, go and read the transcript of the last senate estimates I appeared at

I did so, and found only a brief statement that he would be looking at the secondary boycott issue. Pressed, he said the issue would be discussed at the the Free Speech 2014 conference. The day came and I couldn’t find anything relevant in reports of Wilson’s remarks. So, I tweeted again and got the response “Mark Dreyfus just talked about it!

Indeed Mark Dreyfus (Shadow Attorney General) gave a great speech. But I was still interested in what Wilson had to say on the topic. Alas, my tweet on this went unanswered. Judging by a previous response, Wilson intends to duck the issue.

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  1. Pete Moran
    August 10th, 2014 at 13:22 | #1

    Yet another instructive example that the IPA operatives, current and former, follow whatever master is paying the bills.

  2. TerjeP
    August 10th, 2014 at 13:30 | #2

    Senator Bob Day has said he will introduce into the senate as a private members bill the 18c repeal legislation that the government proposed and then dumped. Abbott will look like a twit whichever way the coalition votes. If this was going to die it should have died on the floor of parliament not in some back room stitch up.

  3. kevin1
    August 10th, 2014 at 13:30 | #3

    It seems Tim’s attitude is you can speak but I won’t respond. So putting your hands over your ears when the other person is talking is support of free speech?

  4. Pete Moran
    August 10th, 2014 at 13:31 | #4

    Speaking of the IPA, there was a fairly disgraceful episode on The Conversation where Sinclair Davidson was given a platform, which was essentially a trolling article, then proceeded to boost about both his motives (provoke the lefties) and the fact he succeeded on his own blog.

    I thought The Converstion handled it extremely poorly AND it highlights (yet again) why it is they should avoid entertaining these paid-for-IPA-hacks as should the ABC.

  5. Pete Moran
    August 10th, 2014 at 13:36 | #5

    TerjeP :
    If this was going to die it should have died on the floor of parliament…

    Great. I look forward to it being voted down comprehensively. Then will the faux-Libertarians shut up please?

  6. Ernestine Gross
    August 10th, 2014 at 13:56 | #6

    Good to get a little bit of information on the type and amount of ‘work’ that is offered in exchange for $350,000 of tax payers’ money. A disgrace.

  7. paul walter
    August 10th, 2014 at 14:30 | #7

    I think in this case, the IPA are actually just trying to alibi the government.

  8. Hermit
    August 10th, 2014 at 16:00 | #8

    I think those wanting secondary boycott penalties may now settle for impeding rightful work, a misdemeanor on safer legal ground. Thus if a protester chains him/herself to a logging machine or part of a coal loader the cops should respond asap because regular people can’t do their job. There may also be a trespass issue. In contrast devaluing the share price of a coal company, while almost certainly the most heinous of crimes, doesn’t actually stop the digging of coal. Ditto pointing out to the Japanese that wood chips came from a pristine forest. If taunted but not physically impeded workers must grin and bear it.

  9. Watkin Tench
    August 10th, 2014 at 19:31 | #9

    Another case in which a prominent Australian libertarian used an expansive interpretation of secondary boycott laws to argue against free speech.

    Right-wing libertarianiam is a creepy American import that would never have made it through border security if the sniffer dogs did their job properly.

  10. August 10th, 2014 at 19:44 | #10

    The WA liberals sure are classy:

    “But the Prime Minister seemed to think that if he walked away from this electoral commitment to restore our undoubted right of free speech he would somehow win over the Muslim community and others.

    “Well, you know, when Mr Chamberlain went to met Mr Hitler in Europe in 1938 Mr Hitler said to him ‘just give me Czechoslovakia and that’s the end of my ambitions’.

    “Mr Chamberlain fed him and came home and said ‘there will be peace in our time’.

    You don’t turn crocodiles into pets by feeding them.”

    I’m confused, are muslims Nazi’s or crocodiles?

  11. Nevil Kingston-Brown
    August 10th, 2014 at 21:39 | #11

    They’re obviously Nazi crocodiles – cousins to singing fascist octopuses. I’m sure Freedom Boy has a pit full of them in his secret base.

  12. rog
    August 10th, 2014 at 21:43 | #12

    The IPA need to show their mettle by getting behind the Greens over the issue of metadata. No?

  13. Ivor
    August 10th, 2014 at 22:24 | #13


    “Free speech” but only if capitalists want it.

    “Full employment” but only when capitalists want it.

    “Democracy” but only where capitalists want it.

    And they are not even honest enough to admit it.

  14. August 10th, 2014 at 22:53 | #14

    Not necessarily capitalists, Ivor, just rich people.

  15. Donald Oats
    August 11th, 2014 at 00:51 | #15

    Actually, IPA do argue for limits to free speech and are quite up front about it: Tim Wilson has been asked about the right of someone to blog/tweet what they like out of work hours versus the right of an employer to place limits upon what an employee can say and/or do outside of work hours. Wilson sided with the employer, effectively arguing that if an employee doesn’t like it they can get another job. What if the employer is the government, the public service for instance? I think most people would accept that an employee who handles confidential information should not discuss it outside of work, but some of the restrictions placed on employees are merely about perceptions and whether a poor quip by an employee out of hours (on twitter, for example) is grounds for punishment up to and including dismissal.

    Scientists can find themselves in very ethically challenging situations if they are restricted in what they can say outside of work hours, especially if there is a reputation versus truth issue playing out. It is easy to say that the scientist can leave their job if they don’t like its restrictions on free speech, except a scientist’s role is always to promote the truth rather than a spin-doctored inversion of it. I don’t buy it for a minute that it is acceptable for scientists to be “gagged”; we see too much destruction of the scientific value of historical data in pharmaceutical sciences, for example, as a consequence of excessive zeal in confidentiality clauses and the like. Same goes for public employers of scientists.

    If the IPA were serious about free speech, they would express revulsion at how employees can be gagged 24/7 in spite of not being at work for most of that time. Crickets chirping…

  16. August 11th, 2014 at 01:03 | #16

    @Donald Oats

    I suppose that technically, an employee could demand a contract with an employer which would restrict the employers right to fee speech.

    Me to News Limited “I’m prepared to work for you, but you will of course have to stop flogging your stupid right wing agenda”.

  17. Ivor
    August 11th, 2014 at 03:06 | #17

    John Brookes :
    Not necessarily capitalists, Ivor, just rich people.

    How do you get to be a multi-billionaire without being a capitalist?

    I doubt whether it is sensible to target so-called “rich” people as there are some forms of riches not based on capitalism. These mundane “rich” people do not need to restrict the democracy, speech and employment rights of others.

  18. rog
    August 11th, 2014 at 05:58 | #18

    IPA and by default Tim Wilson need to read the MJA on tobacco

    Plain packaging passes the tobacco “scream test” — the more the industry screams, the more impact we know a measure will have. There is nothing new about deception and distortion from tobacco companies: this has been their practice for six decades. Fifty years on from the landmark Surgeon General’s report, it is disappointing that a newspaper such as The Australian provides support for such approaches. Health campaigners should continue to promote measures that will benefit the community, especially children, even if opposed by powerful commercial interests, and to take pride in Australia’s capacity to lead the world.

  19. Nevil Kingston-Brown
    August 11th, 2014 at 10:24 | #19

    Ivor :

    John Brookes :Not necessarily capitalists, Ivor, just rich people.

    How do you get to be a multi-billionaire without being a capitalist?

    Inherit or marry.

    Depending on your economic classification system, landlords and other rentiers (e.g. our mining magnates) may not be considered primarily capitalists. Twiggy, Gina et al are successful capitalists – they run businesses which combine capital and labour and produces a profit – but the vast scale of their wealth comes not from hard work/surplus labour but from the massive appreciation of the value of the natural resources they control.

  20. Pete Moran
    August 11th, 2014 at 10:44 | #20

    Yet again, today in ICAC hearings, it appears evidence of anti-environmental outcomes is coming out. The average concerned citizen, who thinks that issues of environmental importance are taken care of by their vote is deluded.

    It’s becoming painfully clear that these corrupt fossil fuel businesses have purchased politicians and now the only response is civil disobedience.

  21. wolfy
    August 11th, 2014 at 11:27 | #21

    Quite well put.

  22. Nicholas
    August 11th, 2014 at 12:24 | #22

    Does Tim Wilson support proposed legislation to make it an offence to publicize information about farm practices? http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bushtelegraph/the-battle-over-animal-welfare-and-ag-gag-laws/5612314

    Does Tim Wilson support changes to defamation laws to stop cashed-up litigious individuals and corporations from using defamation lawsuits to bankrupt and bludgeon their critics?

    Does Tim Wilson support comprehensive whistleblowing legislation to protect whistleblowers is all organizations – public, private, and not-for-profit? http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/06/frances-abbott-scholarship-former-worker-is-charged-with-data-breach

    I think this libertarian only supports one liberty: property rights – and a very narrow concept of property rights at that. I doubt that he defends the value of common property resources. I doubt that he recognizes the intrinsically public character of goods such as education, healthcare, childcare, clean air and water, healthy soils, natural ecosystems – and the importance of using regulation to prevent degradation of those goods.

  23. rog
    August 11th, 2014 at 12:54 | #23

    Another point that IPA could clear up is that their support for tobacco companies and tobacco company labelling ie Intellectual Property puts them in conflict with free marketeers, like Kinsell at Mises

    IP, Legislation, and Statism

    A final problem with IP remains: patent and copyright are statutory schemes, schemes that can be constructed only by legislation, and therefore have always been constructed by legislation. A patent or copyright code could no more arise in the decentralized, case-based legal system of a free society than could the Americans with Disabilities Act. IP requires both a legislature, and a state. For libertarians who reject the legitimacy of the state,[29] or legislated law,[30] this is yet another defect of IP, and a conclusive one.

  24. Watkin Tench
    August 11th, 2014 at 13:59 | #24

    An opportunity for an IPA freedom boy to defend free speech goes begging.

  25. Ivor
    August 11th, 2014 at 17:15 | #25

    @Nevil Kingston-Brown

    Does this mean that the massive appreciation of natural resources does not belong to the people who created the growth that generated the massive appreciation?

    If you inherit or marry capitalist wealth, how is this not capitalist wealth?

  26. Nevil Kingston-Brown
    August 12th, 2014 at 09:58 | #26

    Ivor :@Nevil Kingston-Brown
    Does this mean that the massive appreciation of natural resources does not belong to the people who created the growth that generated the massive appreciation?
    If you inherit or marry capitalist wealth, how is this not capitalist wealth?

    Generally I take a pretty Georgist attitude to questions of land value appreciation (and, by extension, mineral rights appreciation), which is that the increase in value of the property belongs to the community. In the case of mining it’s necessary to separate the “unearned” component of deposits increasing in value without effort from the “earned” component which comes from exploration, negotiating rights, digging it up, getting it to market, etc. That is why I said that Twiggy & Gina are capitalists, but the scale of their wealth, the thing that separates them from your average large business owner, comes from the increase in the value of their mineral resources. Since the start of the mining boom, those resources would be vastly more valuable, and whoever controlled them would be rich, regardless of whether they lifted a single shovel.

    In our context, by your argument, the growth that generated the massive appreciation in iron ore, coal, etc was the expansion of the Chinese economy, and the people who created it are the Chinese. So are you advocating we turn our natural resources over to China?

    The wealth might have its origins in capitalism. That doesn’t make the person inheriting or otherwise gaining the wealth a capitalist, unless they continue to invest it in a capitalist business. Otherwise every trust fund wastrel or white collar embezzler would be a capitalist.

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