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.