We were talking, about the space between us all… Federalism is hot garbage

I cannot say enough genuinely lovely things about Frank Bongiorno.  It is perhaps one of the most wonderful things when talent, determination, integrity, and kindness converge in one person, and I can honestly say that Frank demonstrates these qualities consistently and unfailingly.

I say these things not because he can very easily get me fired (which he can), but because his argument in favour of Australian federalism is bad.

Frank’s argument draws on the pro-States rhetoric about being ‘laboratories’.  Using examples from across Australia’s federal history, it is argued that States can innovate and push progress in areas of policy that a single, unified system of government could not.

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Reading, writing, arithmetic are the branches of the learning tree… Independence and the ABC

I’ve argued before that debates about ABC funding are poorly constructed.   The nutshell point: we should have a clear vision of what we want from the ABC before we get embroiled in arguments about its funding:

That clear vision of the public good might sound subjective, but a pluralist approach is amenable to reasons.  That is, a clear vision of the public good should inform programming and editorial decisions and we can engage in criticism where we can argue that decisions are clearly not motivated by the public good.  Calling a person standing for office a ‘c-word’, for example, seems to fall outside anybody’s reasonable articulation of the public good.  The jester liberalism nonsense that pollutes Wednesday night ABC in general is very difficult to justify with a reasonable conception of the public good.

The argument also works to motivate a defence of the ABC.  If there were a clear vision of the public good articulated by the ABC, the public would be more inclined to defend it against budget cuts.

We still don’t have that clarity of vision in the debate, but we do have a new element: the role of the Minister in running the ABC.  The prevailing wisdom is that we need an ABC that is independent of the ABC, with a few voices (like that of the former Chair, Justin Milne) saying that there needs to be a ‘conduit’ between the Government and the ABC.  It’s a point worth interrogating.

Continue reading “Reading, writing, arithmetic are the branches of the learning tree… Independence and the ABC”

My days end best when this sunset gets itself… I gave up after one session of TEDxCanberra. The puzzle of ideas festivals

My organisation was dealing with a problem.  It wanted to reform its business processes to put it in a better financial position.  The solution had already been decided long before the problem was fully understood: we were going to introduce a new piece of software.  This was contentious and, very quickly, there was little good will left to make anybody believe that the proposed software solution would work.

To address this problem, senior administrators called a meeting.  No agenda.  No real communication about what the meeting would cover.  But it was time to call everybody together into a room in order to ‘talk’.  The session began with five minutes of trying to make the audio visual system in the room work, before we realised we were going to be subjected to a TED Talk that had been uploaded to YouTube.  Make sure the important things are in the goldfish bowl before adding the unimportant things.

This is the popular association with the TED Talk: vapid ideas that focus on the presentation and style of delivery rather than critical engagement with the ideas themselves.  There’s a real problem in your organisation, life, or community?  Here’s a ten-fifteen minute hot take about what your problem is and how you can fix that with a bit of inspirational thinking and elbow grease.

Today is the ninth TEDxCanberra session.  I gave up after the first session and went home to read instead.  At $160 for a ticket, I was strongly tempted to try to endure it… but why?  The key idea on display was that ideas festivals are broken and they need to be rethought.

Continue reading “My days end best when this sunset gets itself… I gave up after one session of TEDxCanberra. The puzzle of ideas festivals”

And no one sings me lullabies and no one makes me close my eyes… Do we need to be ‘exposed’ to bad ideas?

Another week, another controversy about freedom of speech and the ‘need’ to be exposed to ideas that differ from our own.  This time, it’s Steve Bannon, a former adviser to Donald Trump, who is openly a white nationalist.

ABC’s Four Corners decided to interview Bannon, giving him a platform to claim that he wanted his style of right wing politics to come to Australia.  There are two issues here.  First, what do Australians get out of Australian journalists reporting on American politics that we don’t already get from American journalists?  More than ever before, we have easy access to the very best journalism from around the world.  Paying Australian journos to cover American politics seems weirdly redundant, especially when we have an actual need for more coverage of our local region (and even some parts of Australia).  Second — and more importantly for what I’m going to write in this glorious blog post — what do we get out of giving Bannon yet another platform to engage with Australian audiences?

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Quick post: Selections from Fraser Anning’s maiden speech

A few years ago, I had a look at Tony Abbott’s maiden speech (‘One of the depressing features of modern Australia is the low esteem in which governments and politicians are generally held‘) and Barnaby Joyce’s (‘Abortion is the slavery debate of our time‘).  Here’s some snippets from Fraser Anning’s maiden speech delivered today:

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My set is amazing, it even smells like a street… You can make politics better

It started with one of The Drum‘s hosts complaining that it was hard to find conservatives to appear on the ABC.  Dr Julia Baird listed some names of people they’d approached who had declined: Miranda Devine, Rita Panahi, Chris Kenny… all people who already have a prominent platform to voice their opinions.  Baird later claimed that the problem was ‘silos’:

It’s incredibly frustrating to witness silos of ideas calcify in Australia. But when conservative advocates, thinkers, pundits and policy analysts like those from the IPA do appear on the show, Twitter automatically erupts with abuse – irrespective of what they actually say.

And it ended with Greg Jericho using the image of a ‘virus’ to describe conservative thought:

It has led to the point where there are barely any conservative commentators worth reading or listening to. It’s not that there are no intelligent conservative thinkers, but the lunacy of climate change denial and distrust of expertise has so infected the conservative media that prominence is now almost exclusively given to those for whom a worldwide conspiracy is more believable than reports by multiple universities and public agencies.

As a conservative, I find these contributions to public debate unhelpful.  They don’t engage critically with the underlying problems of public debate that affect both ‘sides’ of politics, and they encourage smug, centrist responses: conservative thought is calcified and diseased.

And what it strangest of all is that Baird and Jericho both have platforms where they could make public debate better.  In smaller ways, we can all make debate better.  But we don’t and we need to know why.

Continue reading “My set is amazing, it even smells like a street… You can make politics better”

Quick Post: The argument for why your employer should be able to sack you for political speech… sometimes.

Cricket Australia sacked one of its employees (apparently) for her public comments in favour of changing Tasmania’s abortion law.  With the usual caveats about never believing what you read in the newspapers, that looks terrible.  And the public response is always (quite reasonably) what should we do at the general level to prevent this specific thing from occurring.  Based on the article, I think that Cricket Australia should not have sacked Angela Williamson and, certainly, the argument that she brought the organisation into disrepute is rather hard to sustain in the face of the public backlash.

So I want to move as quickly as I can to the general point about private regulation of speech.  And I want to do that via a general comment about public commentators’ habit of looking only at one side of the equation.  We perceive that somebody has suffered some wrong, we get outraged, and we wonder how we can protect everybody in that situation.  But the lived experience has been that these protections get disproportionately used by the powerful to protect themselves from scrutiny or sanction.  Classic example: the First Amendment has been a far better friend to Klansmen and Nazis than it has been to refugees and paupers.

Continue reading “Quick Post: The argument for why your employer should be able to sack you for political speech… sometimes.”