It Reeks Of Blasphemy, But Might More MPs Give Us Better Service?


Australian democracy faces a crisis of representation. People feel alienated from our politics and our institutions. Donkey votes are up, minor parties’ votes are up, and the major parties are riven by internal dissent. In a way, even the proposed Indigenous Voice to Parliament can be seen as an attempted end-run around the dysfunction of our electoral process. In short, no-one seems to think that our Federal Parliament can do its job of representing the Australian people’s diverse interests. 

One intriguing, and perhaps counterintuitive, response to this problem was floated recently in the Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters report into the 2019 election. The report recommends further consideration of an expansion of the number of seats in the House of Representatives, and the repeal of the nexus clause of the Constitution, which links the membership of the House to that of the Senate.   

That is, the solution for dissatisfaction with the political class is to hire more politicians. 

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What The ACT Election Results Tell Us About Our Rulers In The Bubble


Last weekend’s ACT election results have again revealed how out of touch our nation’s capital city is with mainstream Australians. While it is tempting to write off the ACT Legislative Assembly as little more than a glorified city council, ACT elections are one of the clearest indicators of elite opinion that we have – and the results are alarming. 

ACT Labor will continue to govern, as it has done since 2001, but the big winners were the Greens, who have more than doubled there representation. The 25 seat ACT Assembly will have ten Labor members (down from 12), nine Liberals (down from 11), and six Greens (up from two). The Greens already have a seat in cabinet, in exchange for propping up the minority Labor government, and will now be even more influential. The radical Greens are a party of government in the ACT.  

Overall, the ACT electorate is markedly out of step with the country. Labor, the Greens, and minor left-wing parties received more than 58 per cent of the first preference vote – a tally even exceeding the left’s primary lower house vote in Victoria’s landslide 2018 election (approximately 56 per cent).  

Of course, this pattern diverges wildly from that seen in more conservative states. At the 2019 New South Wales election, left-wing parties received only 44 per cent of the first preference vote (in the lower house), and at the 2017 Queensland election, the figure was 45 per cent. 

Many Canberrans are transplants who have moved to the city to work in the federal bureaucracy, so the political differences are quite striking. Canberra, it seems, both attracts a certain type of person and instils in people a certain set of beliefs and attitudes. These sorting mechanisms have gradually separated the capital from the country over which it rules, encasing it in a bubble of ideology. 

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More Regulation Is Not The Solution To Westpac Revelations


Yet another scandal among Australia’s banks suggests the industry is in dire need of a clean-out. Westpac has committed one of the most startling failures of corporate governance in Australian history. After a year-long investigation, the bank stands accused of failing to report, as required by law, 23 million transactions that it had facilitated, and, in particular, failing to notice a series of suspicious transactions originating from South-east Asia that have been implicated in child exploitation.

The consequences for Westpac continued to mount. The bank is expected to be fined more than $1 billion. It lost $6 billion in market capitalisation, or 7 per cent of its value. Its chairman and chief executive have both resigned. All of this is fair enough. The allegations are extremely serious and, if proved, demonstrate an almost-incredible negligence.

Inevitably, these facts raise the question of whether a policy response is required, and what kind. Given the recent Hayne inquiry into various kinds of malfeasance by Australia’s banks, it would be understandable if the first recourse that comes to political minds is more legislation or regulation. But this would be a mistake.

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Sydney Motorists Do Not Want A Congestion Tax


If there were fewer poor people on the roads, rich people could get to work more easily and everyone would be better off. This, in a nutshell, is the argument for the congestion tax, a charge on drivers of vehicles seeking to enter and exit the city during morning and evening peak times.

The idea has returned to public debate this week after the Grattan Institute released a report recommending its implementation in Australia’s capital cities.

Pointing to international examples London, Singapore and Stockholm, the report argues for a flat fee to be imposed on vehicles crossing a cordon around the inner city in peak hour.

The fee would be roughly equivalent to the cost of a public transport ticket.

This enables the remaining vehicles to move through the city more efficiently. People deterred by the fee would be expected to use alternatives like public transport, cycling and walking.

According to the Grattan Institute, we should care about congestion not only because it is uncomfortable to sit in traffic but because transportation inefficiency reduces the economic benefits of cities. Delays impose opportunity costs, limit employment mobility, and make it harder to access goods and services.

If this all seems familiar, that is because the congestion tax is a zombie idea, one that has already consumed many brains.

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Outrage Culture Is Killing Free Speech


Australia is becoming increasingly intolerant of speech. From the Australian Rugby Union terminating Israel Folau’s playing contract to the fake controversy about the impending visit of British writer Raheem Kassam to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference in Sydney, examples of a growing outrage culture mount every day.

Adding to this list is today’s decision by the High Court to unanimously uphold the sacking of a public servant for posting criticism of government policy using an anonymous Twitter account. Michaela Banerji had been employed at what was known at the time as the Department of Citizenship and Border Protection (it is now part of the Department of Home Affairs) but was fired when it was discovered she was running the account, which she had used to comment on immigration policy and the detention of asylum seekers.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal originally found that the sacking violated Banerji’s constitutional implied right to freedom of political communication, but the High Court held that the restrictions placed on public servants’ freedom of speech by the Australian Public Service code of conduct are proportional to the public’s right to have an apolitical public service that can be trusted to administer the policies of governments no matter the results of elections.

What should concern Australians about this decision is not whether the High Court interpreted the law correctly—a unanimous decision suggests the court had no doubt about that. Instead, what we need to start thinking about is whether we want to have a country in which codes of conduct for employees purport to govern such a wide range of speech. Moreover, we should wonder whether we can have democratic government if every time anyone says anything about anything, we jump all over each other.

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