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.”

The outside looks no good and there ain’t nothing underneath… One truth @BernardKeane can’t admit

  1. The ‘Professor of Everythingology’ model of the commentator is bad for democracy

Twitter is often exhausting.  Perhaps there was once a time when the number of opinions you heard on a subject was countable.  Maybe you had an extremely opinionated colleague at work.  It could be that a family gathering meant that you were exposed to the fiery views of some uncle or idiot cousin. But now!  Now I get several thousand half-cooked (and several dozen deeply cooked) opinions on every subject under the sun.  Hot takes on everything from macroeconomic policy, national security operations, and Greek citizenship law can come streaming forth from the same source: some nerd with a BSc in Information Technology from a university I’d struggle to locate on a map.

This sneering condescension might be unfair given our media outlets seem to encourage exactly this kind of behaviour.  Communications specialists, editors of student newspapers, and former speech writers from the bowels of the public service have sprouted in the daylight, a fertile ground for unforgiving opinions on literally everything.

And such it was with Bernard Keane’s ’10 truths the Left can never admit’, dishing out stone cold facts on a wide range of topics including the benefits of capitalism, asylum seeker policy, s 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, and education funding.  What a magnificent mind to be an expert in such a diverse spread of complex policy areas.

Except, of course, he isn’t.  I have a professional background in two of the areas he dished out ‘truths’ and he got them wrong.  I’m also right wing.  So it seems passing strange that declarations disbelieved by some conservatives on account of their factual inaccuracy should be in this list of ten truths the Australian left refuses to accept.

Continue reading “The outside looks no good and there ain’t nothing underneath… One truth @BernardKeane can’t admit”

Elementary hallelujahs; Annalise’s dulcet tone… Yet another Western Civilisation hot take

What benefit do we get from engaging with Australia’s right wing columnists about the merits of Western Civilisation?  Why is it that we disregard their opinion on practically everything, except when it comes to the definition of contested subjects?

And yet that’s where our public debate has brought us.  Whatever discussion we might have about Western Civilisation (its definition, its function, its merits), we can’t have because we’re trapped in this death spiral with Australia’s worst commentators talking steaming garbage instead.

But what sort of conversation could we have instead?

Continue reading “Elementary hallelujahs; Annalise’s dulcet tone… Yet another Western Civilisation hot take”

You know the power of silence… A conservative take on ABC funding

There are a lot of hot takes about the ABC.  The problem with most of the hot takes is the unasked question at their heart: what is the point of the ABC?  Because people do not articulate clearly and precisely what they think its purpose is, we get a wild and stormy sea of opinions.  The ABC should do this, not do that, be run like this, or sold off like that.  The Charter, the Charter, the Charter.

One of the key policy intents behind the public broadcaster is outlined in the Budget papers:

Informed, educated and entertained audiences – throughout Australia and overseas – through innovative and comprehensive media and related services.

What this means in practice, however, is left open to people to interpret.  There are a wide variety of ways to meet this goal but, perhaps surprisingly, not a lot of ways objectively to fail to meet it.

I was interested in reading a new book on the subject by Chris Berg and Sinclair Davidson of RMIT’s Blockchain Innovation Hub.  A check of local bookstores, newsagents, and petrol stations came up empty, so I was disappointed not to know their argument for selling off the ABC.   Given their other books and work, I imagine it treads the path of other libertarian rightwing arguments: the ABC presents views which with some group of taxpayers disagree and this is morally wrong.

As a conservative myself, I’ve always been confused by this view.  It makes some sense intuitively but doesn’t hold up, thus the question of how to sell it off doesn’t arise.

Continue reading “You know the power of silence… A conservative take on ABC funding”

If I could take her down and run, then I’d call her… The confused call for diversity in opinion writing

As a conservative, I have long been opposed to the call for more conservatives on the ABC.  With the pseudo-controversy around Kevin Williamson and The Atlantic, it’s worth digging into the argument a little bit deeper from a conservative perspective to see why it’s so noxious.

Continue reading “If I could take her down and run, then I’d call her… The confused call for diversity in opinion writing”

Can I take this for granted with your eyes over me? … Is @JulianBurnside’s ‘social again’ social media dystopian?

Every so often, somebody feels the need to clean up social media.  Twitter is full of trolls and Something Must Be Done.

My answer, of course, is regulation.  If the State would hold Twitter accountable for its content, it will immediately clamp down on antisocial content like Nazis.  But that smells too much like ‘censorship’ for liberals, and so the option is drowned out by a chorus of Voltaire-quoters.  Letting the State regulate public discourse is, apparently, a bigger problem than actual Nazis.  In my view, this ignores the lesson of history: the reluctance of the State to regulate its extremes is what results in the worst of collective human action.

But that’s for another day.

Without formal regulation, we are left with informal regulation.  Into this issue stepped Julian Burnside, one of Australia’s most prominent liberals, with a modest proposal:


But is this wise?  Do we want public megaphones curating Twitter blocklists?

Continue reading “Can I take this for granted with your eyes over me? … Is @JulianBurnside’s ‘social again’ social media dystopian?”