Loungeroom scientists

Another day, another bunch of “sceptic” letters published in The Australian to the exclusion of any mainstream scientific opinion. It is hard to decide which is more fatuous: the loungeroom scientists who reckon it’s the moon or the mud that is making the seas rise, or the stolid types who “do not understand what all the fuss is about” because they can’t see any difference at their local beach.

How does this fit with The Australian’s purported aim of “creating a climate for people to reach informed conclusions”?

Universal suffrage and plastic bags

Nick Cater (The Australian, “Victory of the bagmen: a new temperance crusade”, 16/1) is correct: the banning of plastic bags is not up there with “the emancipation of women, the abolition of child labour or the end of the White Australia policy” as a great progressive victory. Neither was the banning of DTD, CFCs, lead petrol, or a myriad other tiny improvements.

The problem is not that some reforms were small, nor even that not all were equally effective. The problem is certainly not the irrelevant “moral vanity” of which Cater accuses the reformers. The real problem is that conservatives and vested interests have fought all these reforms, big and small, effective and ineffective, from universal suffrage to plastic bags, every step of the way.

One thing is certain: the conservative approach, articulated by Cater as waiting for problems to “eventually ban themselves”, has never worked.


If it is true that “at The Australian, we believe the public are entitled to all the available information and a range of expert views — creating a climate for people to reach informed conclusions”, (Editorial, 17/1) why are most of their published opinion pieces sceptical of AGW, when informed opinion is overwhelmingly of the opposite view?

Occam’s razor

Anthony Caughey (The Australian, Letters, 16/1) inadvertently gives climate science a boost by articulating the alternative theory: that the scientific consensus is the result of “decades of educational indoctrination”. It would be entertaining to hear how this posited infiltration of the world’s academies was organised and funded, by whom and for what evil purpose, but I suspect that Occam’s razor would favour the simpler hypothesis: the scientists have it right.

Three options worth pursuing

The Australian’s editorial in favour of optional preferential voting (“An option worth pursuing”, 11/1) makes the lucid point that an electoral system should be chosen “not because of which side of politics it might favour…but because it would enshrine the sound principle of choice”. Yet almost in the same breath it argues against voluntary voting on the basis of imagined political outcomes, speculating that it “would result in parliaments unrepresentative of a large proportion of citizens”.

Similar criticisms are sometimes made against proportional representation (PR, generally regarded as the fairest type of system) on the grounds that it may fail to deliver an outright majority. Such arguments from hypothetical consequences are irrelevant to the purpose of an electoral system, which is to accurately reflect the people’s will, whether or not that happens to be convenient. On that criteria, each of the three modes, optional, voluntary, and proportional, is an improvement on the current system.


False balance

The Australian’s editorial (“Deciding whether it’s climate”, 12/1) presents an even balance between the views of those who believe that human induced climate change poses a threat, and those who do not – and that is the problem. The former group includes the vast majority of climate scientists, while the latter, apart from a handful of sincere scientists, is composed for the most part of conservative activists who mistake it for a political issue and shills employed by polluting industries. This is no finely-tuned debate between equally learned adversaries. The balance presented is a false one.

Not so simple

By pitting the rarefied ideals of classical liberalism against a straw man of authoritarian “progressivism”, Tim Wilson (“Both sides of politics should cease nanny-state meddling”, The Australian, 8/1) reduces complex issues of individual freedom versus social good to a simple black and white cartoon. So devoted to these ideals is Wilson that he indignantly defends even the freedom to sell addictive carcinogens. This is unsurprising since his employer, the IPA, is funded by the tobacco industry. But I wonder if his outrage extends to speeding and seatbelt laws, or restrictions on guns and explosives, or the prohibition on the sale of heroin. After all, as adults we all know the risks and responsibilities our actions entail.

In the real world, the very existence of society has always meant some restriction of individual freedom. In some cases it is because the individual may not be capable of a true choice, as in the case of addiction. In others, it is because the social consequences of a bad individual decision are too severe, thus gun laws. It is not as simple as black and white.

Ripped off

The Australian’s editorial (“Despite challenges, the spirit of progress endures”, 2/1) acknowledges that on most average long term economic measures, life is improving globally, including here in Australia, despite the groundless carping we endure from our insatiable “aspirational class”.

However, the suggestion that increased incomes have resulted from declining union membership is the opposite of what global data shows. In fact, the decline in collective bargaining has softened the link between productivity and pay, meaning that workers benefit less from improvements in the economy.

The editorial cites a real wage rise of about 50% since 1984, but given that real per-capita GDP rose by about 85% in the same period, it could just as well be argued that had more Australians remained in collective bargaining, we may have received more of our fair share of the increased wealth.

Right to punch

It is inspiring to see so many letters in The Australian defending our democratic right to call someone “nigger”, “kike”, “faggot” and of course, “c*nt”. It’s what we fought all those wars for, after all.

But seriously, while the reversed onus of proof is of concern, the content of the new anti-discrimination laws is nothing new. Speech is already unremarkedly subject to many legal restraints including defamation, privacy, anti-terror and intellectual property, and it is already possible to sue for distress under common law.

Like any action, speech has consequences for which we may be held accountable. To insist on a “right” to publicly use words like those above, in order to offend and without consequence, is like arguing that a punch in the face is an expression of freedom of movement.