Criminal Justice Can Never Be An Arm Of The Welfare State

This piece originally appeared in The Australian on 17 February 2017.

Crime is caused by people who decide to commit crimes. It is not caused by society. The criminal justice system exists to punish criminals and protect the community, not to fix societal ills.

This is a very simple principle. But it bears restating because it seems to have eluded Rob Hulls in his commentary, published in these pages last week, on our criminal justice report. Continue reading

‘Comfort Women’ Statue Row Shows Absurdity Of 18C

This piece originally appeared in The Australian on 19 December 2016.

A law against offending people is a stupid idea, a truth that is not being confirmed on an almost daily basis.

In recent months we have seen the farce at Queensland University of Technology and the ludicrous spectacle of the government demanding a cartoonist explain himself. But a new complaint made under section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act may be the silliest yet,

The Australia-Japan Community Network is lodging a complaint against a Uniting Church in Sydney’s Ashfield that hosts a statue erected by Sydney’s Korean community commemorating the suffering endured by women and girls at the hands of the Japanese army during World War II.

Section 18C makes it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” a person or group of persons because of their race, colour, nationality or ethnicity.

The Japanese community group argues that the statue is politically motivated and should be prohibited under the law in the name of protecting social ­cohesion.

This complaint is absurd on its face. By this logic, indigenous Australians would not be able to discuss the worst parts of Australia’s history, lest it offend the descendants of settlers.

Jewish Australians would also be prohibited from commemorating the Holocaust in the presence of Australians of German extraction. Given that no culture is without sin, and that the story of humanity is littered with atrocities, the entire study of history would effectively be presumed unlawful.

This should concern us all. Understanding history in all of its complexity is central to civilisation. Turning a blind eye to history’s crimes will not help us redeem them. This is why we all learn at school that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it — though even this saying is probably now problematic, despite being as true as ever — or perhaps because of it.

Section 18C is not concerned with truth. Under this law, it doesn’t matter whether what was said was true. It doesn’t even matter whether anyone was truly offended. Section 18C, intended as a shield, became a sword with which to attack the politically incorrect. And now it is to become an airbrush, erasing from history anything that someone doesn’t want to know.

Not content to censor opinion, the speech wowsers now want to select their own facts. And we are expected to believe that this wilful ignorance is for our own good.

However, section 18C is not good for social cohesion.

Section 18D gives the lie to this argument. That provision exempts artistic works and works done for academic and scientific purposes from section 18C. But it is unclear why an act done in these circumstances shouldn’t be considered as bad for social cohesion as an act done elsewhere.

As was pointed out to the Senate by the minority report on the legislation when proposed in 1994, there is no good reason to permit a racist joke told on national television but prohibit the same joke on a street corner. If the aim is to protect social cohesion by preventing offence, this is a perverse outcome.

In any event, freedom of speech is better for social cohesion than arbitrary restrictions such as section 18C.

Supporters of section 18C often claim that the law is necessary to protect the dignity of individuals by allowing them to participate in society as equals. But this definition of dignity is oddly self-defeating because it actually conflicts with social cohesion.

The dignity of individuals comes from recognition of their equal worth. As such, the law must apply to everyone in the same way.

Section 18C does the exact opposite. It starts from the premise that people belong to different groups and therefore the law owes them differing levels of respect. By providing a venue for the grievances of one group against another, section 18C necessarily divides Australians. To see this, just consider that in the present case the only identity the people involved don’t seem to care about is the one they share.

In the interest of social cohesion, the commonwealth should act only to reinforce our common Australian identity. While groups of Australians may differ, just as individual Australians differ, that is not a proper concern for the law.

As we are reminded incessantly these days, identity is complex. By contrast, the proper public policy response is simple. Repeal section 18C, and leave individuals to determine identity politics for themselves.

Key Lesson Is That A Bold Agenda Is Possible

This piece originally appeared in the Australian Financial Review on 6 December 2016. It was co-authored with John Roskam.

The New Zealand prime minister is rightly being showered with praise from over this side of the Tasman. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Key’s resignation was “a great loss to New Zealand and a great loss to the world”. Tony Abbott congratulated Key for a “fine innings”.

Key’s shock resignation yesterday comes with his three-term government, first elected in 2008, in a strong position to retain government at next year’s election.

Our political class should not only ponder Key’s electoral success but the bold policy agenda that made it possible. The lesson of Key’s stint in office is that it is possible to stand on principle and build widespread popular support for economic reform. Continue reading

South Australia’s New Home Detention Laws Should Not Be About Coddling Criminals

This article originally appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser on the 28th of October 2016.

Lindsay Bassani, a former Education Department bureaucrat and football coach, was sentenced to home detention after stealing almost $10,000 from the South Australian Aboriginal Sports Training Academy. Despite being allowed to avoid prison, he is now complaining about his electronic tracking bracelet because of the stigma of being seen with it.

The fact that Mr Bassani is complaining is a good thing. It means he feels like he is being punished, which is precisely the point of his sentence. Continue reading

We Need To Raise The Bar Of Our Criminal Justice System

This piece originally appeared on Huffington Post Australia on 29 July 2016.

The recent Four Corners exposé of mistreatment of young people in juvenile detention in the Northern Territory shocked all Australians. The Prime Minister has correctly called a Royal Commission into the abuse.

Although the terms of reference for the review are quite narrow, Australia should take this incident as an opportunity to reconsider our approach to criminal justice more generally. Because the kids who suffer in abusive detention centres will have a tough time staying off the path to a life of crime, where they will join a growing number of their countrymen, and from which there is currently little chance of escaping given the way our criminal justice system operates. Continue reading

Let’s Get Fine Defaulters Out Of Our Jails

Appeared in the Canberra Times 28th of July 2016

Reporting of Andrew Leigh’s reappointment as shadow assistant treasurer has been dominated by the strange decision of the Labor Party to reduce his salary by $40,000. This is particularly a shame because Leigh is the author of a policy where Labor and a free market think tank like the Institute of Public Affairs can rightly see eye to eye.

During the election campaign, Leigh announced a Labor government would allow fines for administrative and criminal violations to be paid off via an income-contingent fine recovery process. This makes great economic and moral sense. It should be welcomed by both sides of politics. Continue reading