Where Ideas Go To Die

Originally published in the Autumn 2021 edition of the IPA Review.

In 2018, marine scientist Dr Peter Ridd was sacked from his professorship at James Cook University (JCU) for being critical of some of the university’s research. Few readers will be unfamiliar with the outlines of the dispute, and the support for his appeal(s) against the dismissal has been heartening. Only as the case has progressed, however, has it become clear exactly what is at stake: nothing less than the future of intellectual inquiry and free speech, particularly in the university.

The case arose from Ridd publicly questioning findings (including those by other professors at JCU) purporting to show a link between climate change and coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef. Ridd, who has made a career studying the reef, has long argued it is in good health, notwithstanding any changes to the climate and other purported environmental threats. His argument is encapsulated in ‘The Extraordinary Resilience of Great Barrier Reef Corals, and Problems with Policy Science’, his contribution to the IPA’s Climate Change: The Facts 2017.

After his dismissal, Ridd sued his former employers in the Federal Circuit Court on the grounds his comments were protected by his employment contract and was awarded $1.2 million in damages, but this was overturned on appeal to the full court of the Federal Court where two of the three judges found for the University.

In February 2021, the High Court granted Ridd special leave to appeal, and the arguments and outcomes in our highest court will have important implications not just for science, but for the issues of free speech, intellectual inquiry, and the decline of universities so often raised in the broader ‘culture wars’.

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Where populism ain’t so popular

This piece originally appeared in the Spectator Australia.

It has been five years since populism returned to prominence in the politics of Western democracies, yet it seems Australia’s political class still does not understand what it is or where it comes from. This is the overwhelming impression one is left with after reading the final report of the Senate’s Inquiry into Nationhood, nationality, and democracy, which was released last month. The report draws on more than 200 submissions from academics, think tanks, government departments and assorted quangos and provides a fascinating, and somewhat worrisome, survey of elite opinion on just what democracy entails – which, as it turns out, apparently has little to with giving the majority what it wants. And there, as they say, lies the rub.

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The Fair Go – Going, Gone: The Decline Of The Australian Way Of Life, 2000 to 2020

This is the media release for a research report that I co-authored for the IPA, along with Cian Hussey, Kurt Wallace, and Daniel Wild. The full report can be found here.

Key findings :

  • The quality of the Australian way of life is collapsing. 
  • The Australian Way of Life Scoreboard, which measures the quality of the Australian way of life, has declined by 28.5% since 2000. 
  • 23 of 25 measures relevant to the Australian way of life have declined since 2000. 
  • This decline can be found across every area of Australian life, spanning home, work, enterprise, governance, and lifestyle. 

This report demonstrates that the quality of the Australian way of life is worse than it was 20 years ago. Across a wide range of measures, each tracking a good that is essential to the Australian way of life as traditionally understood, Australia is today performing worse than in 2000. 

The Australian Way of Life Scoreboard is an index of 25 measures of different aspects of Australia’s culture and economy. These measures provide a reasonable representation of the quality of Australian life as it is really lived. The measures were selected on the basis of capturing an important feature of Australian life and on data availability. 23 of the 25 measures selected have declined across the period 2000- 2020, which shows that the decline of the quality of the Australian way of life has been felt across all aspects of Australian life. 

The Scoreboard provides a comparison of the Australian way of life as lived today and as lived in the recent past. This suggests that Australia can correct its current unfortunate course by reflecting on the values, customs, and institutions that made our country great in the first place. To improve the Australian way of life, we need to rediscover what the Australian way of life really means.

Download the report.

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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Warts And All Memorial


As its name makes clear, the Australian War Memorial exists to memorialise the service and sacrifice of Australians in war, as a reflection of our shared commitment to our country and each other. It does not exist to denigrate our national character nor to pander to the worst kinds of elite self-hatred so lamentably prominent across our national institutions. Yet there is a danger now that this place of honour might be turned to these subversive ends.

In the wake of the Brereton report on alleged war crimes committed by Australian SAS troops in Afghanistan, there have been calls for the War Memorial to immediately reflect the allegations in its exhibitions. Memorial director Matt Anderson has suggested that curators will indeed do just that. Similarly, former Chief of the Defence Force, Admiral Chris Barrie has suggested that the SAS exhibit be removed altogether. The prime minister has responded meekly, saying only that all such changes will need to be approved by the War Memorial’s board.

But it should be clear that it would not fit the purpose of the War Memorial to foreground the bad acts of a few soldiers. Of course, wherever criminality is proved, it should be punished to the fullest extent, and if this comes to pass, no one would suggest that it be whitewashed from the history of Australia’s war in Afghanistan. Yet it would not be, and should not be presented as, the sum total, or even the most important part, of that history. Nor should the war in Afghanistan, despite its unprecedented length, be allowed to overshadow Australia’s larger military history.

The War Memorial’s curators are charged with telling the full story of Australians at war. That story is overwhelmingly a story of courage, discipline, loyalty and other virtues, demonstrated in defence of our home, our values and our traditional liberties. Australians have fought honourably from the Sommes to Kokoda to Long Tan and beyond, including in Afghanistan.

This is the truth to which the War Memorial is dedicated. Undue emphasis on the bad acts of a few at the expense of this larger story would not be truthful. It would, in fact, be deeply misleading.

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