Tim’s tawdry trick

This article originally appeared in the Spectator Australia on 6 October 2017.

As the saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So naturally, when the Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, decided last week to share his view of Trump, Brexit, and conservative populism, he described it as ‘xenophobic and racist’. In the name of ‘equality and non-discrimination’ and ‘rationality and civility’, the populism that has swept the West should be shunned, if not made unlawful altogether.

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Ideological Evasion

This article originally appeared in the Spectator Australia on 22 July 2017.

Malcolm Turnbull’s speech to London think tank Policy Exchange on 11 July provided an insight into his government’s ideology, and there was little to like for conservatives.

In a speech dedicated to Benjamin Disraeli, one of the founders of the United Kingdom’s Conservative party, Turnbull mounted an argument for the state’s role in securing the borders and fighting terrorism, rightly framing this as necessary for defending liberal values. The speech, though, ultimately showed a government bereft of sound philosophy and trapped in the language of its opponents, its leftward drift distinguished by vague gestures towards pragmatism.

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Remember when art was beautiful?

This is a review of Sohrab Ahmari’s book, The New Philistines. It was originally published in the IPA Review in June 2017.

Corrupted by identity politics, high culture in the West is no longer about the search for truth or beauty, but merely a tool for the advancement of leftist social engineering. So argues Wall Street Journal editorial writer Sohrab Ahmari in The New Philistines, a polemic about contemporary art.

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It’s The Values, Stupid

This piece originally appeared on the cover of the IPA Review in April 2017.

Before it finally announced its intention to amend section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in March this year, the Turnbull government professed a very strong view on where section 18C ranked in its list of political priorities.

Eliminating this threat to freedom of speech—one of the most fundamental democratic liberties—by scrapping 18C ‘wouldn’t create one job’, according to Treasurer Scott Morrison. It ‘won’t build a road’, declared Malcolm Turnbull.

There are many things the government does that won’t create jobs or build roads, but its throw-away dismissal of freedom of speech shows that it understands very little about the forces behind Brexit and the victory of Donald Trump. For the last few decades, an entrenched political class has chipped away at the key institutions of liberal democracy: the rule of law, free speech and tolerance, impartial justice, and a limited state. At long last, conservatives have lost patience.

In 1992, Bill Clinton’s election strategist James Carville coined the campaign slogan: ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’ Economics matters, of course. Understanding the moribund economic growth since the Global Financial Crisis is a big part of understanding the politics of 2017. Morrison and Turnbull are therefore right to be concerned about jobs and roads, but democracy is more than a mechanism to agree on the best company tax rate. More than anything, when we vote, we vote our values. Continue reading

Courting freedom

This article was cowritten with Morgan Begg, and originally appeared in the IPA Review in April 2017.

Since 2013, the federal judiciary has been substantially reshaped, with four appointments to the High Court, along with 30 other appointments to other federal courts. In January 2017, for instance, retiring Chief Justice of the High Court, Robert French, was replaced by Susan Kiefel. Yet few Australians could name any of the recent appointments made by the government. Even fewer could explain their judicial philosophies.

Silently appointed High Court judges have been quietly undermining our freedoms for
more than 90 years. The only way to arrest this trend is by democratising the appointment process. Continue reading