Thursday, 23 March 2017

Mixing beer, religion and politics (may result in a hissy fit)

Last week a promotional video was released online by The Bible Society  featuring two Liberal Party MPs discussing gay marriage while drinking Coopers Light Ale. The video titled "Keeping it Light" sparked a backlash against Coopers, though the Bible Society has stated that the brewery had nothing to do with the content.

The first I heard of Coopersgate from everyone’s best mate Graham Richardson in The Australian. Richo reckons that the big Gay/Green hissy fit and threat of a boycott of Coopers beer was “blind insistence against free speech” and “cruel as it was anti-democratic.”

Cruel, my word – but was the Cooper family denied their right to free speech? No. Quite the opposite in fact. They were given a free public platform where they could have exercised the hell out of free speech. We would have hung on every word. They just decided that the profits from selling beer are more important than going to the mattresses over marriage equality. And good luck to them.

Anti-democratic? No way. Democracy is a system where citizens elect representatives to form a government. Not under attack here, Richo.

Over on page 12 the delectable Jennifer Oriel (my current conservative crush) jumped aboard the freedom train under a heading of Gay censors don't want us thinking for ourselves and talked about a “grim week for freedom of expression”.

She did go on, however, to nail the issue squirmingly to the wall,

“ In their campaign for gay marriage, some activists have developed a regrettably totalitarian strategy. It is to target dissenters, gay or straight, and silence them through persistent bullying. 

They dislike civility and public reason because it exposes their intemperance.

… the video celebrated public reason on the question of marriage, which is an issue the PC class wants to monopolise. It targets dissenters, regardless of whether they are gay, bisexual or straight. The aim is to shut down all debate to create absolute ideological conformity.”

I agree (and I love your hair). But until the activists actually succeed in their aims to shut down all debate - this story is about bigotry and bullying.

Bigotry (intolerance towards those holding different opinions) is lawful in Australia and does not necessarily affect freedom of speech. A bigot's mind is closed to the speech of others. In a totalitarian state a bigot might achieve a position of power and use the forces of the state to silence dissenters. But Australia is not such a place.

Bullying is something we forbid in schools, regulate in workplaces but encourage in politics. Bullies are often admired for their ability to get shit done. Kevin Rudd was a notorious bully who became Prime Minister (twice). Mark Latham, Peta Credlin and Tony Abbott - all highly successful bullies. Outside of the schoolyard and the workplace – you can lawfully bully the hell out of all and sundry so long as you cause no physical harm to your victims.

The gay activists were exercising their lawful freedoms of expression and action whether we like it or not. They can use such freedom to campaign for or against anything they please. And so can you, so can we.

Bullies always pick the softest target - so Coopers Brewery became the focus of the attack because Liberal MPs and religious organisations are too hard to get to. Coopers however is a public company that relies on retailers to sell their product to the public making them susceptible to a boycott.

However, freedom of speech triumphs in the end by giving these bigots plenty of rope with which to hang themselves. In this case - the activists' actions will harden the hearts of the conservatives they should be wooing. They will alienate gay allies such as Liberal MP Tim Wilson who appeared in the video as an advocate of marriage equality.

And they alienate me.

And that matters because I am for marriage equality too – but simply because I cannot insist on freedom for myself but not for others. That would make me a hypocrite and no-one would take me seriously. As a libertarian I have to champion marriage equality and I will – but the intolerant shrieking of pack of bigoted bullying bastards ain't making it any easier.

As a libertarian I am seriously attempting to frame important issues from a perspective that is not Left or Right, that eschews identity and instead looks for common ground between warring parties. That common ground is freedom. I seek to persuade you that the irresistible force of freedom just might be able to shift some seemingly immovable objects. I do this by writing my most persuasive arguments in this blog – not by pissing in your beer.

If the hearts and minds of conservative people and politicians must be won for gay marriage to pass – then so be it. Bullying and beer boycotts will not persuade them - it will push them further away.

Instead, try inviting them aboard the freedom train (I'm sitting next to Jennifer).

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Associations vs Commissions (Pink Ladies vs pinko ladies)

Having put the free and fair bullet into Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, it's time to take aim at the reason why 18C became so contentious in the first place which is the controversy surrounding the recent actions of the Human Rights Commission.

The HRC is a government agency that works independently of government (to be sure). It mostly investigates complaints and prepares reports to give to the Attorney General. It's basically a human rights ombudsmen.

Unlike laws, human rights are not proscribed, they are consensual hallucination. You cannot be prosecuted by the HRC or anyone else for breaching a person's human rights because you don't specifically have any. You need to have broken a criminal or civil law to be prosecuted by anyone.

The HRC mostly concerns itself with discrimination and the federal acts which might make it unlawful - which is nice. My problem with it is that it is $22 million dollars a year worth of nice. $16 million of that being salaries. Nice work if you can get it.

Well someone's got to do it, you might say – and yes other folks do it too. In my state the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW spends another $4.5 million per year of our cash doing it – and each Australian state has a similar organisation that mirrors the federal one. And then there is the Legal Aid NSW Human Rights Committee (which keeps it's budget to itself).

At least $60 million dollars are thought to be directly spent each year on human rights monitoring agencies in this country, that is to say this figure does not include funding for NGO's. So $1.2 million per week spent on listening to folks complaining is money well spent?

I have nothing against human rights or the lawyers who make them their business. I can live with political bias from HRC President Gillian Triggs, even the questionable ethics and poor judgement that have marked her tenure. She is only human and there is no doubt she is better qualified to do the job than I am.

I just don't want to pay her $418,000 salary.

Because by paying the salaries of various Human Rights Commissioners I become an accessory to their bias, to their poor judgement and dishonesty. I am complicit in their failure to uphold free speech and treat others fairly. By all means be social justice warriors. Damn the government and signal your virtues - I don't care as long as I am not funding your folly. In fact, I don't want to fund HRC at all.

Maybe you do. And that's fine too. So you pay for it. 

How? By abolishing the Commission and replacing it with an Association. A non- government not for profit no-nonsense organisation devoted to all the same stuff. Funded by you. Or not.

If it is so damn important that we be constantly monitored and reported on in case we discriminate against someone then good men and women will rise to the challenge and answer the call to arms and get the job done for free. Don't believe me?

For more than 26 years, Refugee Legal has been providing free legal advice and casework services for asylum seekers, refugees and disadvantaged migrants in the community and in immigration detention across Australia.

Since 2014, as those arriving in Australia without visas are unable to access legal aid unless considered "exceptionally vulnerable", so Refugee Legal has relied on philanthropic grants and donations to fund their services. Migration agents, law students, paralegals and corporate lawyers from a dozen firms work at their clinic free of charge to directly assist more than 12,000 people last year.

Then there is the Human Rights Law Centre, Liberty Victoria, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, Amnesty International and others. Associations not commissions. Citizens serving a public cause. Getting the job done and not a six-figure salary in sight.

Admirable, yes - but does this sound fair to you? Public servants making their fortunes in the discrimination industry while the private sector works for free?

I'm a public servant too - I work part-time in a regional hospital in NSW. For the last few months we have had a serious shortage of the IV pumps that regulate the drip that goes into a patients arm. They cost about $500 each and we urgently need half a dozen more.

Meanwhile, Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane is so under-worked that he has called for Australians to complain to the Commission about a cartoon. For this we pay him $340,000 per year. If Tim was to instead work part time for 3 days per week and we reduced his salary accordingly - that $136,000 would get us three nurses for a year, or 272 pumps.
And Tim would have $204,000 per year and 2 whole days each week to devote to the welfare of the community - perhaps as a volunteer for Refugee Legal. Or the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association, Surf Life Saving NSW or his local Hospital Auxiliary (formerly known as the Pink Ladies). 

Keep the state agencies if you must – at least we know where the money will be spent and we know that Legal Aid persecutes no-one and actually does something other than write reports.

But the federal Human Rights Commission should go – or rather, we should set it free.

Remember you, also, are free.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Offend, insult, humiliate (and die)

One hot November day back in 2004 Cameron Doomadgee was arrested on the streets of Palm Island in Queensland. Cameron was drinking beer and full of cheek on a Friday morning, probably looking forward to the weekend as heavy drinkers do. Inside the bucket he carried a mud crab waited patiently for oblivion. Who would have thought it would outlive the man who had caught it?

Sergeant Chris Hurley of the Queensland Police Service was having a tough morning dealing with drunkenness and domestic violence common to the community in which he served.

Sergeant Hurley was in the company of a man named Lloyd - a Police liaison officer on the island. Cameron taunted Lloyd by singing “Who let the dogs out” and had a go at him for helping the Hurley “lock up his own people”. Cameron ended up swearing at both officers for which he was arrested. Offensive language - usually a $100 fine.

A struggle took place at the cop shop and to cut the story short – Cameron was severely beaten by Hurley and died 40 minutes later alone in a cell.

The autopsy report was a ridiculous attempt to cover up the killing. The locals rioted. The police station and barracks, the courthouse and Hurley's house burned when word passed around that Cameron had been “murdered” by the police.

A state of emergency, 28 arrests, a second autopsy, three coronial inquiries, several criminal trials, Supreme Court appeal, a suicide, resignations and incarcerations followed.

In 2006, a coroner found that Cameron was killed as a result of punches by Sergeant Hurley. Four of his ribs were broken and driven into his liver with such force that it tore it apart.

Two legal questions arose from the death. Firstly was the arrest of Cameron lawful and secondly, whether the injuries that killed him were intentionally caused by Sergeant Hurley.

Yes the arrest was lawful and no, Hurley was not guilty of manslaughter.

The years of controversy focused on the second question which was never really resolved to the satisfaction of all. Controversy swirled around the actions of the police, the police union, the state government, the coroner and other agencies as some sought to protect Hurley while others wanted him hanged.

And then there was the issue of race. Cameron Doomadgee was a blackfella and Chris Hurley was white. As a result the case became about Aboriginal deaths in custody – an issue which has haunted Australia for the last 50 years at least.

In all the drama the importance of the first question was overlooked. Perhaps because it was never really disputed that a cop can put you in a cell for offensive language. In fact, in Queensland a magistrate can theoretically put you in one for 6 months.

But it was not race that set these two men on a collision course. It was a law designed to ensure that we all be nice to each other in public.

Criminalising common behaviour unleashes the forces of the law upon ordinary people who may not deserve it and may not have the strength and resources to withstand it. And it can gets rough out on there on streets, in the emergency rooms and the lock-ups. Tempers flare, bones break, bodies bleed. In my time on the front lines I have hurt people too. Some quite badly, though never intentionally. My ribs too have broken by punches and I have broken the ribs of others.

So before tweeting your tribal war-cries and quaffing your pinot noir. Before you go signalling your virtues and superiority to others with your big-hearted concern for the feelings of minorities - you might consider what Cameron Doomadgee's position might have been on offensive behaviour laws as he lay dying in that cell. Ask of his ghost if he and his people felt protected by such laws as his body cavity filled with his own blood. Ask him if it was worth an agonising death that others should not be offended by his conduct. And ask yourself if you have given any real thought to the consequences of such laws at all.

If you really care about people like Cameron Doomadgee – then don't let the dogs out.

And remember you are free.