Only The Sangfroid

Mark is of fair average intelligence, who is neither perverse, nor morbid or suspicious of mind, nor avid for scandal. He does live in an ivory tower.

These are his draft thoughts…

IPA gives 25 examples of how Australian conservatives are out of ideas

It’s difficult to write about the free speech worriers at the IPA without sounding relentlessly negative.  But they’re shit.  They really are fantastically, amazingly shit.  And they have Deductible Gift Recipient status, so their fantastic, amazing shitness is practically subsidised by the taxpayer.

Around the world, there are some great think tanks.  Even when they’re clearly pushing an agenda — which, in fairness, they probably should — they still seem to engage with policy debates in a meaningful, constructive way.  They lead public debates, providing the general public with the language to express their views and the evidence to effect their democratic will.

Australia has garbage think tanks.  I can’t think of a single one that is worth the lost tax revenue.  But the right wing think tanks seem, somehow, to excel in their awfulness, taunting us with their mediocrity.

The IPA’s ‘25 more ideas for Tony Abbott‘ article took three people to write:

  • John Roskam, who repeatedly fails to get preselected by the Liberal Party because he’s too much that guy
  • Chris Berg, who wrote In Defence of Freedom of Speech: From Ancient Greece to Andrew Bolt
  • James Paterson, who’s only idea is to privatise the ABC.

In a week where conservative columnist Miranda Devine claimed that the domestic violence awareness campaign is a meaningless ‘bandwagon’, and where conservative columnist Andrew Bolt compared himself to Jesus because he lost a defamation case and then wrote a blog defending actual Nazis, it really seemed like the IPA was actively trying to prove my thesis that rightwing Australia is a waste of time.

The IPA’s article is a series of thought bubbles from people so disconnected from the real world that NASA could employ them to take photographs.  First off the rank:

Have State Premiers appoint High Court justices

Because State Premiers do such a funking marvellous job of appointing Supreme Court justices already.  You wouldn’t trust State governments to choose what they’ll have for dinner, let alone give them any say in appointing justices to the High Court.  Of course, this IPA brain nugget is motivated by a desire to see more pro-States justices on the High Court, who’ll oppose centralisation in favour of broken government (which suits libertarians).

Allow ministers to be appointed from outside parliament

So much for Bagehot.  The secret to our style of government is the almost complete fusion of the executive (/Cabinet) with the legislature (/Parliament).  It means that Ministers are directly responsible to Parliament and that Parliament can remove them (it’s a standing electoral college).  Allowing ministers to be appointed from outside parliament means cronyism: instead of having Ministers accountable to their electorate, Ministers will rely on the favour of the Prime Minister alone to retain their positions.

And on and on it goes.  Abolish departments.  Abolish the Human Rights Commission.  Reduce the number of sitting days of Parliament to reduce the amount of legislation it can pass… sigh.

As a conservative, I remain — almost religiously, despite all the very clear evidence to the contrary — that conservatives are a necessary part of a thriving democracy.  A good, rational, engaged conservative force brings out the best in progressives, who have a habit of being sloppy degenerates.  A lot of the contemporary policy positions from progressive Australia are ridiculously half-baked, but there are no conservatives engaging meaningfully with public discussions to thresh the wheat from the chaff.

Instead, we have the IPA’s 25 ideas.

Here are 10 Conservative Ideas That Would Have Been Put Forward If Conservatives Were Intellectually Serious.

1. Investment in Australian cultural output

We have children growing up who aren’t experiencing Australian stories through any medium.  Australian fictional content on television is all but non-existent, and it’s not pitched to family audiences.  It’s a sad state of affairs when the two local soap operas are the only Australian dramas that most children will encounter through television.  Significantly increasing investment in Australian arts, particularly in popular culture, will better shape an Australian society and push Australian values on to the rest of the world.

2. Investment in Indigenous Australia

Fundamentally, conservative Australians and Indigenous Australians want the same thing: the next generations to be brought up with the cultural resources of the previous generations.  ‘Closing the Gap’ (a horrible phrase) relies upon Indigenous empowerment, which relies upon investment.  If I were Dictator of Australia, I’d establish the Australian Indigenous University for the purpose of promoting Indigenous-led research, Indigenous-led education, and Indigenous-led cultural outreach.  Partnering it with a teaching hospital would also improve health outcomes.

3. Investment in Southeast Asia/Pacific region

Australia can’t maintain its security without a strong, vibrant, and stable region.  Investment in the region would promote economic and cultural growth.  Our reputation for self-interested engagement with the region needs to be expunged, and the best way to achieve that is to be a good neighbour.

4. Nationalisation of Education Policy: reopen technical colleges

Australia’s education system is a 21-year long baby sitting programme.  The States are incompetent at running schools and the responsibility for bringing students up to speed is falling on universities, by which time it is far, far, far too late.  Reopening technical colleges would allow families to promote trade-based education, where most of the problem children would prefer to be anyway.  This would allow grammar schools to focus their attention on scholarship, preparing students for higher education.

5. Abolish the Australian Research Council

It’s a policy failure.  It’s so bad.  The government should not be telling universities what research should be funded.  It also shouldn’t be telling universities how much it costs to educate students (so bring on deregulation).

6. Restructure the Public Service

The Australian Public Service should employ our best and brightest policy thinkers, but it’s a frustrating place to work.  Part of the problem is the integration of service delivery public servants with policy advisers.  It’s simply not true that an APS6 in service delivery is interchangeable with an APS6 in policy.  A restructure of the public service (even outsourcing service delivery to focus on policy advice) would promote a better quality public service.

7. Convert a bunch of administrative statutory bodies into judicial bodies

Recent scuffles between the Attorney-General and the President of the Human Rights Commission has revealed the problems that emerge when our system promotes executive branch civil war.  Further, administrative tribunals have proliferated to reduce the amount of judicial oversight of executive power.  Most tribunals should be courts.  Many statutory bodies — particularly those which serve to check administrative and executive functions — should be judicial bodies.

There’s a technical problem with this recommendation: the judicial branch of government has been interpreted very narrowly by courts such that many of these bodies don’t ‘fit’ in.  But that seems to be an accident of the past rather than a necessary obstacle to good State structure.

8. Expand s18C of the Racial Discrimination Act to protect religious groups

For exactly the same reason that ethnic minorities deserve to have their quiet enjoyment of society protected from people who want to marginalise them without good reason, religious groups deserve similar protections.  I shouldn’t be able to ridicule, humiliate, or purposefully offend a person just because Islam isn’t a ‘race’ (as defined by the pseudo-scientists on the Internet).  I’m an atheist, by the way.

9. Reduce the entry age of primary school to 3 months old

The childcare debate is ridiculous.  Employ early childhood specialists and situate them in a primary school where they can join kindergarten and prep when they’re ready.  Too many kids reach primary school without being able to read or write because parents just aren’t equipped to educate their children properly.  Investment in early childhood through the structured education system would produce better education outcomes for everybody.

10. Abolish the States

Just do it.  They’re expensive and useless.

6 responses to “IPA gives 25 examples of how Australian conservatives are out of ideas”

  1. “Australia has garbage think tanks. I can’t think of a single one that is worth the lost tax revenue. But the right wing think tanks seem, somehow, to excel in their awfulness, taunting us with their mediocrity.”

    Hell yeah.

    “James Paterson, who’s [sic] only idea is to privatise the ABC.”


  2. “If I were Dictator of Australia, I’d establish the Australian Indigenous University for the purpose of promoting Indigenous-led research, Indigenous-led education, and Indigenous-led cultural outreach. Partnering it with a teaching hospital would also improve health outcomes.”

    Yep, cos that’s so what Indigenous people need – another white guy dictating to them what they need and want and /will/ make use of. Your cultural lens and focus is wrong.

    My suggestion is stop people having children (starting with those who can’t afford it and perpetuate a cycle of poverty)…I’m sick of paying for them.

  3. This is mostly excellent, particularly the core bit about the IPA, the first point about cultural output (why right-wingers presume to wage a culture war without ammunition or leadership is unclear), and the third point about regional engagement.

    What follows is an attempt to address the bits that are wrong.

    2. It isn’t true that there is no investment in Indigenous Australia, what investment exists is flaky and expires once people start relying on it. Only in the past 20 years or so has there developed an Indigenous leadership that is capable of articulating its own assumptions, wants and needs – Bennelong or Harold Blair could not explain their positions or develop programs like Marcia Langton, Noel Pearson, or Larissa Behrendt can and do.

    There is a lot of conservative thought on development of communities and decentralisation of power that should have been used against Barnett and Abbott in their decisions to cut services to remote Indigenous communities.

    4. No relationship there to jobs, nor to any higher notion of what education is and might be.

    5. Government might or might not tell universities (or other research institutions) what to research, but it does need a consistent basis for judging what gets funded and what does not. Any good examples, or do we just leave the snark to trump all other considerations as though we’re Spectator Australia?

    6. Assumes some sort of cleavage between policy dreamers and practical doers, which dooms any point that might come out of that.

    7. If you look at the work of the HRC it works best in a non-judicial, problem-solving sense. For example, a letter from the Disability Commissioner explaining to a shop owner that guide dogs can’t lawfully be excluded from their premises as though they were pets or random street dogs is far more effective and efficient than the emoluments of the bench.

    8. This means religious people get to define what’s “offensive”. Do you regard the earth-creation story in Genesis as a metaphor (as I do) rather than literal truth (as others do)? A cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad standing amid corpses in Syria declaiming “This is NOT what I meant!” would arouse a lot of debate and offend plenty of people, but there is no conservative, ecumenical case to adjudicate public redress for such offence – assuming that’s what you’re about here.

    I think those two examples are non-offensive but others may not take them that way, and judiciary/tribunals chew up time/resources with theological matters on which they are ill-equipped to decide.

    Other instances of religious-based hatred – defacing houses of worship, ripping off burqas, spitting – are already crimes, and conservatives oppose piling on layers of regulation for the hell of it.

    9. See 4 above – what are you trying to achieve with education, etc. The idea that children who can’t read by the time they start school have been inadequately raised/taught is false.

    10. The states are the only level of government big enough to deliver core services of government – health, education, social services, transport and judicial/penitentiary services – well, the four biggest states anyway. Again, a conservative focus on what works and what doesn’t, what’s sustainable and what isn’t, would do wonders here.

    11. There is also a conservative case to be made for the environment. Major religions (including Indigenous ones) seem to agree that we are custodians of the land for those yet to come, as our ancestors were custodians before us. Atheists can find extensive historical records to support such sentiments in word and deed.

    In the lead-up to the 1996 election the Nationals insisted that the only valid environmental concerns were ‘brown’ rather than ‘green’ – landcare and groundwater rather than rainforests or threatened species. They have spent 13 of the 19 years since then in government, and have failed so abjectly that ‘brown’ issues are being used against them (eg, CSG).

    The IPA has nothing useful to say about environmental issues, holding to Hugh Morgan’s Genesis quote about subduing the land with all the literal fervour of creationists. Their Northern Australia manifesto, where they wanted taxpayers to fund a whole lot of infrastructure for beneficiaries who would then enjoy tax breaks, was their intellectual death knell.

    If every half-witted utterance from a representative of the institute he founded caused CD Kemp to spin in his grave, it could create power that is both fossil-fuelled and renewable, but I’ve gone on too long already.

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