Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Constitutional Federalism In Australia: A Brief History

July 6, 2010

Facilis descensus Averno, Sed revocare gradum, superasque evadere ad auras, Hoc opus, hic labor est” – In Defence Of Federalism, Chief Justice Harry Gibbs

It is hardly a great secret that Federalism & the Australian Constitution is a great passion of mine. Indeed, I freely admit that back in the day I would read rulings of the Griffith High Court – rulings that, in my mind, were not merely legal opinions, but works of beauty sublime – in my spare time, and that I still speak about the subject whenever I get the chance (I recall a few months ago – quite literally – putting a poor American to sleep with my rants on the matter). So I’m a Con Law geek. Deal with it.

In light of this, though, it is of great sorrow to me that of the few people remaining on our side of politics in Australia who remain committed to the core Liberal-conservative principle of Federalism, there is little understanding of how we got into our present morass, and that, outside of the membership of my beloved Samuel Griffiths Society (which ought really consider renaming itself to The Society of St. Jude), few are aware of how the High Court of Australia rode roughshod over the Australian constitution, and, in the course of 80 years, ripped up the Framers intentions, and turned very limited powers into a blank cheque for the Commonwealth.

I’ve also noticed that no real summary exists of how this occurred.  As such, I thought I would prepare a very brief history of Federalism in Australia, as seen through the few landmark cases which act as signposts to the Tartarus we are now in. Hopefully some of you will find it useful. (Also if people are interested, I may follow this up with a discussion on how the Australian Constitution was based primarily on the U.S. Constitution in terms of Federalism, and, more importantly, how even following Federation there were strong links between U.S. and Australian jurisprudence, to the effect that the Australian High Court adopted U.S. rulings carte blanche, but we shall see). I note that much of this post is adapted from an Independent Research Project I wrote at Law School, which, if you wish to download, you may here.


Quick Question For Australian Factional Hacks

June 3, 2010

A very quick question for all factional hacks: do you believe there is anything either ethically or legally wrong about giving someone a job in return to them not contesting in a preselection?

I’m curious to gauge general opinion – consider this like a mini-poll – so if you could just state your view (even if it’s one word), it would be appreciated.


The Virtue Of Loyal Political Tribalism

May 10, 2010

Reading Stephen Fry’s blog post on the UK election the other day, I came across the following line: ”one thing has remained constant in my political affiliations, and that is a deep contempt and fear of tribalism”.

I should not have been surprised, of course. This is a rather popular attitude to take these days, after all, and is a measure of political “sophistication”. The idea of political tribalism is seen as a mark of anti-intellectualism; the very use of the term conjures up negative connotations of a long-gone, more backwards era. If you wish to be taken seriously as a political commentator, defending tribalism is the last thing you would wish to do.

Yet, nevertheless, tribalism is something I actually do wish to defend. In fact, I wish to go beyond merely defending it, or saying that it is necessary: I wish to say that it is, in fact, virtuous.

The most common argument for tribalism is that by sticking together you will achieve more outcomes than if you fight alone; that conceding occasionally is worthwhile for the greater good. According to this line of reasoning, tribalism is a pragmatic course of action.

Whilst certainly accurate, this argument of necessity is not the reason for my endorsement of ‘tribalism’ as a concept. Rather, my support stems from a deeper notion of virtue: one based upon the principle of loyalty.

When we speak of loyalty generally, we primarily refer to it as regarding our friends or family members; that we stick by our friends, through thick and thin. That we defend our kin Yet, upon reflection, loyalty manifests wider than this. Loyalty to a sporting team, or to a country, are both things we readily accept as positive, with little question. Few will doubt that a man who abandons his sporting team because they have lost a season is little more than a cad, nor that life-long nationalist decides suddenly to attack his country simply because of a governmental decision he disagrees with is a man of little moral fibre,(in just the same way as friendship is rooted in the concept that we stick by our friends not only in the good times, but in the bad; not only when they are virtuous, but when they have committed ill-acts). To do otherwise, to be a ‘fair-weather friend’, would render the concept of loyalty meaningless.

Yet for some reason our society’s ‘intellectuals’ seem to think that loyalty should cease to exist when we engage in political activity. That politics is a sphere of action in which virtue and ethics should play no part. That we should boldly go at it alone, and care not for our fellow men-at-arms, or, more importantly, for the banner under which we fight.

Nothing can be further from the truth.

As human beings, we are intrinsically such that we seek community with people; we form societal groups and bond over common principles. Politics is no different. And whether it be to a party, or as a broader ideological movement, loyalty matters.

Human action is about more than simply making the most logical or rational decision in the short term. Making decisions does not make you a good person. Rather, you are a good person because of your character; because you actually hold principles. And this is what loyalty to your political tribe comes down to. Because we define ourselves, we define our character, by our interactions with those around us, and to absent ourselves of this bond to our peers, to say we have no responsibility to the movement we fight for, denigrates a very fundamental part of our humanity. Because our humanity, indeed our identity, depends on our interaction with others. Even the most rabid individualist still defines himself by virtue of his individualism, which in and of itself is a relationship with other people, and the outside world. And as such, our relationship with a political party or movement matters.

Some might retort that it is impossible to have loyalty to a ‘soulless’ entity. But the thing is, political parties do have an inherent nature to them that goes deeper than simply its actions at a given time. They have a history and character that transcends simply its members; we personify them to the degree we speak of their character, their desires, their almost-meta nature. Members of political parties often describe it as their family, and use fraternal terms to describe their co-members. As such, political parties, or even more abstract entities such as political movements, are just as human, and just as deserving, of our loyalty as our closest friends.

Indeed, throughout  history, the greatest examples of loyalty have never been to individuals; they have been to a cause, to a movement. The greatest heroes have been those who submitted themselves to an ideal, a higher authority. Who recognised that they were simply one part of something greater.

Because ultimately, loyalty requires the maturity to recognise the importance of submission and trust to an authority; it is the relationship between an individual and something greater. And that is why loyalty applies in politics.

It is this understanding that interactions between the individual and those around him ought be governed by codes of conduct that separates libertines who foolishly believe in radical individual freedom at all costs, from conservatives and libertarians, who recognise that freedom from government control does not equal absolute license to do whatsoever. True conservatism, or libertarianism, has never been about absolute freedom, rather, freedom from government coercion alone. To the contrary, in opposing government intervention those of us on the right place far greater importance upon communal bonds than the left, and ought recognise the importance of virtue even more acutely than our opponents.

Yet this is not only limited to political parties; as I indicated previously it extends to broader political movements. This is why, even if you disagree with the ‘conservative’ or ‘libertarian’ movement on a point, you do not make a scene about it. There are, after all, enough attacks coming from the opposing side for you to subject your comrades (:-p) to friendly fire.

To accept that there is a time to keep quiet enforces modesty and humility, and for a person to accept their own personal limitation in deference to something far greater than they themselves can be. This is why there is no lower form of life than the apostate who attacks his party or movement, seeking personal credit or recognition for themselves, at the expense of their brothers in arms. Indeed, taking a ‘stance on principle’ is often little more than an excuse for taking the route of cowardice. It is abandoning ethics, virtue, and honour, simply to satisfy an ego-driven craving to ‘be right’, and pander for the approval of the masses.

If we wish to be mature about our politics, we need to recognise the underlying principles of virtue and ethics that underpin all our interactions. We need to recognise the importance of loyalty to not only friends, but political movements. We need to have the humility and inner strength to submit ourselves to that greater authority.

Most importantly, we need to have true character. And when it comes to politics, tribalism and loyalty lie at character’s very core.

Leadership & Character: The Fatal Flaws of Malcolm Bligh Turnbull

May 9, 2010

Five months have now elapsed since the end of Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership of the Liberal Party. Since then, in  a dramatic turnaround, polls have gone from showing a  60-40 2PP Labor electoral landslide in December, to Newspoll and Neilson both showing a Coalition lead.

With Mr. Turnbull deciding to re-contest the seat of Wentworth, the time has come to pen a few words of sober reflection on his downfall, in the sincere hope that as he continues his political career he shall learn from his mistakes, a chart a new course for the future

In my humble opinion, all of Mr. Turnbull’s mistakes can be distilled into two fatal flaws: a failure to understand the relationship between voters and politics, and a failure to understand the nature of leadership. These are flaws that go deeper than simply incorrect policy, or making a wrong decision. Rather, they go to the very room of the man, and his character.

The first is a mistake often made by “conservatives” in opposition: they see a poll that the public support something, and so refuse to fight this for fear of electoral loss. This cowardice was the reason Mr.  Turnbull primarily gave the partyroom for supporting the ETS: we would lose in a landslide if we opposed it. And, indeed, in December, 60% of Australiansdid support governmental action against “climate change”.

Rather than this being evidence of Australian support for an ETS, however, it was merely evidence for the fact that they were not shown the other side. How do we know this? Because since Mr. Abbott has taken a strong stance against it, now, just six months later, two-thirds of Australians doubt the existence of anthropogenic global warming.

This is the fundamental point Mr. Turnbull failed to grasp: good politicians don’t merely respond to opinion, they help shape it. A strong, concerted, principle-based campaign against bad policy will triumph, irrespective of what initial polls say.

No-where is this more evident than in the United States in what has occurred in the last year, where President Obama’s net approval rating has plummeted from +28, to a staggering -21 just after Obamacare was passed; a whopping 50 point turnaround. Indeed, healthcare is an instructive example: Initially, 72% of Americans supported President Obama’s healthcare takeover, after a concerted Republican campaign against it, 59% oppose it. But the same occurred with the so-called “stimulus”, and with cap & trade in the US: initial public support, a concerted conservative opposition, and then strong public opposition.

Having a backbone, and not being afraid of debate, or pushing unpopular views, is vital. And Mr. Turnbull – not just on the ETS, but on so much else, did not have the mettle to do so.

The second fatal flaw is even more fundamental, and is what ultimately cost him the leadership: his failure to realise that a leader is first and foremost a servant. Throughout the ETS debate, Mr. Turnbull demonstrated his complete, total, and utter misunderstanding of leadership, and the nature of The Party.

To be elected to any position of office is not a mark granting you dictatorial power. To the contrary, it is a position of servitude. The bonds of party loyalty that bind all members do not evaporate once you become leader, rather, they constrict you tighter. The key lesson to be learned: as you progress in an organisation, you gain not more freedom, but rather less. You become bound by the intangible forces of duty and loyalty.

In the weeks leading up to his downfall, Mr. Turnbull’s line was “I’m the leader, the party does what I tell it to”. Such a simplified – and indeed arrogant – view of leadership might work at Goldman Sachs, but not in the political sphere. To the contrary, it is the very antithesis of what makes a good leader. But it got even worse when Mr. Turnbull threatened a veritable Samson act, and effectively stated that if he was defeated, he would drag the Liberal Party down with him. In doing so, Mr. Turnbull committed the ultimate crime – that of treason. He demonstrated that his loyalty was not to the party, but rather only to himself. And when he walked out of a partyroom meeting that overwhelmingly opposed the ETS, declaring he did not care what the partyroom thought, that was the final straw. For in doing so he demonstrated himself not as a great leader, but rather, as little more than a petulant child.

Again, a failure of character.

As Mr. Turnbull continues his political career, it is my genuine wish he learns these two valuable lessons. After all, he certainly has the potential to make a positive contribution (in particular, some of his musings on reducing income tax are rather solid). But there is more to politics than simply having a few good ideas. Rather, success means understanding the value of principled opposition, and of the true nature of leadership. Because, the end of the day, Mr. Turnbull’s loss of leadership wasn’t about policy, it was about character.  Yet until Mr. Turnbull recognises this, and demonstrates he has changed his ways, I hold out few prospects for him indeed.

The Sanctimonious Smugness of Ideological Puritans

April 25, 2010

It would be an understatement to say that I am annoyed easily. You all would know that I flare up at the simplest provocation. Yet nothing annoys me more politically than the sanctimony of those I generally agree with.

I am, of course, talking about puritan libertarians. Those who seem to think it okay to retreat from political discourse, and instead, do little more than spend their times in the echo-chamber of those who they agree with.

Oh, it’s so easy to be “pure”. To “stand up for what you believe”. I’m sure the people who espouse politically puritanical views sleep so well at night, knowing that they “have not compromised their ideals”.

The problem is,such an attitude achieves nothing. It makes no difference to the world, it achieves no change. It does nothing other than to make the holder feel smug and morally superior.

Yes, politics is difficult. Yes, compromise is tough. But at the end of the day, those of us on the right – conservatives and libertarians both – need to recognize that we hold 95% of our principles in tandem. And for someone to take the easy road, and refuse to even dialogue with their ideological compatriots – then that is cowardice of the highest order.

The only way to achieve change is to build alliances. Those of us who decide to declare war on everyone who isn’t “pure” have little interest in that. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that they have little interest in affecting change; all they care about is being able to continue riding their moral high horse.

The real political heroes are not those who “remain pure”, proclaiming to all and sundry how difficult this must be for them. Rather, the real heroes are those who toil away at actually changing things. Who have the backbone and moral fortitude to put aside their own arrogance, and actually work with others to achieve change.

Look, I think more than most people involved in partisan politics, I have a general detestation towards political compromise. I certainly believe principles matter. But there is a point where ideological puritans are no longer fighting for principles, but rather, simply to sate their ego. To be able to tell people that they are “pure” and damn the consequences.  And such selfish action I can not tolerate.

Illegal Immigrants, Police Powers, Soviet Russia, and Arizona SB 1070

April 25, 2010

Back in 2004, when I visited Russia, one thing more than anything else stood in my mind: the power of the police to “check your papers”. Even after the fall of communism, an agent of the State could, with no provocation, with no reason, with no cause, demand to see your “documentation”. Everyone carried their passports (or their domestic equivalents) around with them at all times. Failure to produce could lead to jail time.

And I remember thinking to myself, “thank God I live in a free country”. Thank God I can walk the streets and not have a policeman demand to know why I’m doing so. Because, despite my (many!) gripes with government, we in the west, to a large degree, are still pretty much free.

Which is why I’m so disturbed by the passage of Arizona SB 1070, which effectively states that members of the police can, at their discretion, demand to see documents proving you are eligible to be in the U.S. if you do not have them on you, they have the power to incarcerate you.  Essentially the law gives members of the police power to stop you at whim, and demand to ‘see your papers’.

Now, it is well known I deviate from many libertarians on the issue of migration. Personally, I feel that whilst we should increase the number of migrants, border protection is a legitimate role of the state, and as such, I have relatively little sympathy for those who cross the border illegally (of course, the situation is somewhat different in the U.S. to Australia, because the legal migration system in the U.S. is just so screwed up, but that is beside the point).

Except this is not about immigration. Rather, it is a matter of the role of the state, and whether or not, in a free society, it is okay for the police, with no probable cause, to demand to see your ID.

This kind of state action was considered perfectly acceptable in the old Soviet Bloc. To have it viewed as legitimate in the United States – the “land of freedom” is disturbing at best.

Let us hope the Supreme Court (rightly) strikes it down as unconstitutional posthaste.

Why Nick Sowden Should NOT Have Been Expelled From The LNP

April 18, 2010

It would be fair to say that after Nick Sowden was expelled from the Liberal Party and I posted a rather spirited defense of him, I received a flurry of emails by persons wondering why on earth I would do such a thing. After all, the political history between me and Mr. Sowden would be described as bitterly acrimonious at best. What’s more, he is a self-proclaimed moderate, something I feel is a scourge upon the Liberal Party. He attacked the Tea Party movement in the United States (of which I am a part). Together with a few other malcontents, in the University of Queensland Student Union elections he worked with the Labor club against the Liberal ticket. And his personality and approach to politics is the polar opposite to mine.

Yet I stand by my previous comments. As much as I may differ with him personally, I strongly believe that he should not have been expelled from the Liberal National Party over this, and that a very damaging precedent that has been set. And, rather than this being something to laugh about, this is a very, very important issue. Because principle should triumph over personality. (more…)

Nick Sowden, Twitter, & Party Loyalty

April 15, 2010

It is rare for me to rise in defense of an individual on my blog. It is even rarer for me to rise in defense of someone who was complicit to bitter, despicable, and underhanded attacks upon me. And who is certainly not my friend.

Yet I rise in defense of Nick Snowden against the onslaught he has received recently for making jokes on Twitter about President Obama’s heritage.

As unseemly as they comments may have been, there can be no doubt, none whatsoever, that they were intended in jest; as a piss-take about racist attitudes. I mean, we’re talking about someone who is openly gay, yet frequently tweets “homophobic” attacks on “fags”. No-one, with any knowledge of the situation, could possibly conclude it was anything other than a parody.

Yet the harpies in the media have pounced upon this, demonstrating, yet again, their lack on interest in truth, facts, or context.

This is understandable to a large degree; it is their job to muck-rake. I certainly understand this. (I merely ask what will happen once we continue down the slippery slope to its logical conclusion, and every joke, every off-the-cuff remark, will become media fodder).

What I can not – and will not- stand for, is members of the Liberal Party willing to sacrifice Mr. Sowden upon the altar of media political correctness. I will not stand by and watch the Liberal Party throw a member under the bus, just to appease the gallery gods.

Why? Because loyalty matters. As a political institution expects its members to have loyalty to it, then it must too demonstrate loyalty to its members. And as much as I may well have personal disagreements with Mr. Sowden (and believe me, I have many), I will not stand by and simply watch the Liberal Party disavow one of our own, just to sate the blood-lust of the gallery.

As such, I will say something I would have never – never – th0ught possible a year ago. And that is that I stand in solidarity with Nick Snowden. And that he has my complete support.

Why? Because loyalty matters. And that is all there is to it.

Socially Conservative Libertarianism

February 22, 2010

I have always balked at calling myself a libertarian. In Australia, I would eschew the title completely, generally calling myself a conservative, or, if pressed, a ‘classical liberal’. Here, where the political nomenclature is somewhat different, I describe myself a conservative libertarian, or libertarian conservative (as my mood may take me).

This might come as somewhat of a surprise to those of you who do not know me that well. After all, my political views are what would be considered fairly doctrinaire libertarian (albeit tempered somewhat by pragmatism). To those of you who know me a bit better, however, I am sure that this is not that much of a surprise, for the image of the stereotypical libertarian (irrespective of how far from reality this may be) seems to conjure up tattooed and overly-pierced radical quasi-anarchists toasting “f**k authority” and “smash the state”, or as persons wishing to overthrow the established social order with their own libertine utopia of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. Neither of these images suit me, to put it rather mildly.

Instead, my libertarianism is rooted in deep conservative principles, and a deep-seeded belief that if social conservatism is to flourish and prosper, then it is only by libertarian means that this can be achieved. I take very much to heart the words of Ronald Reagan that I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianismThe basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is”, and indeed go even further in my belief that a return to a society based on socially conservative principles can only occur through what is now deemed libertarianism.

As such, it is not simply, as John Humphreys writes in Menzies House, a case of separating  personal views, and political ones. Rather, it is because these views are so interconnected, that the only way I can envisage a true conservative society emerging is where we rid ourselves of government interference, and allow institutions of civil society to once again take the rightful place in shaping cultural mores.

For in every area where we have witnessed what social conservatives term moral degeneration, it can be directly attributed to the corrosive actions of the state. Whether it be the decline in marriage caused by the 1974 Marriage Act, a welfare system that rewards and indeed promote single-parenting, or the government-run education system abolishing the stigma and shame immorality causes under the relativist banner of ‘everything goes’ and ‘accept everyone for who they are’ – all are results of government action.

Indeed, it is because I am both a libertarian and a conservative that nothing disturbs me more than how traditions that have stood for centuries are being dismantled. How codes of conduct that have stood the test for time are deemed illegal by the state. And how the enforcers of sound behaviour and a strong society in the past are piece-by-piece being dismantled by the state.

Because I find that generally, if a tradition or institution has existed for a few thousand years, then it probably had a good reason behind it, and we should think twice before rushing to change. This is by no means to defend all practices simply because they are handed down from the past (slavery springs to mind). Rather, it is a recognition that we need to accept the fact that we do not know everything, and change ought be undertaken with temperance and restraint, and radical innovations treated with suspicion. As such, conservative libertarianism for me, is as much a mindset, as an ideology. It recognizes tradition, and defers to institutions of the past, whilst simultaneously recognising that these institutions stem from voluntary interaction, and not the state. Despite my disagreements with Prime Minister Howard on many policies (guns, middle class welfare etc), his success in ultimately ending the culture wars cannot be denied. Just look at early 90’s Australian television, and see the seeping cultural cringe that permeates, the black-armband view of history that engages in little more than destructive self-flagellation, seeking to destroy all that has gone before us, and replace it with little more than relativism and nihilism. Now, at least, this mindset is banished to the dustbin of history where it belongs, and we are beginning once again to embrace some of the lessons of the past.

For it was always the left that sought to ‘reshape’ man, and build him up in their own personal vision. The dreams of the high-modernists, as expressed in their greatest triumph, the attempt to create a. communist Heaven on Earth, however can never be realised, for man can never be perfected; their unconstrained vision of humanity shattered upon the rocks of the Gulag archipelago.

But this left-wing viewpoint also fails to recognise the key aspect of society that conservatives and libertarian grasp intuitively: the power of invisible forces to shape our lives. Just think how many times a day we follow codes of conduct that spring not from the government, but from society. How to stand in an elevator, how to walk down the street. There are a myriad of social interactions that take place every instant that can never be governed by the state. A rules-based system of governance that attempts to micromanage our lives is invariable doomed to failure (just think of how a work-to-rule strike can paralyse a business)

The failure of many people who erroneously term themselves conservatives in current times, is that they see the problems that the state has wrecked, and then, curiously, seek to use the state to cure them, a sure-fire recipe for disaster. Such social authoritarianism (as distinct from conservatism), is a radical departure from traditional conservative thought, and, like an alcoholic seeking the hair of the dog as a cure for his symptoms, by emboldening the state, we simply fuel our further destruction.

In order for conservatism to truly triumph, we must avoid the easy road of legislating morality.  Rather, we must remove the government from the personal sphere, and return our attention to engaging with society. The churches must once again have the courage to lead, social groups must have the authority to guide, and we must return to a culture where societal shaming is a more powerful guide of behaviour, than the authority of the state. In doing so, we must never forget that the absence of government coercion will not lead to an absolutist freedom, but rather a freedom restrained by the forces of society.

It is only be gradually dismantling the Leviathan of government, and replacing it with tradition, and a truly functioning society, that we shall begin to reverse the unfortunate course of history.

And conservatives and libertarians both should be happy with that.

How To Defeat Labor’s Internet Censorship: A Liberal Hack’s Perspective

December 22, 2009

As the campaign against Labor’s internet censorship plan gears up, some of the tactics (and indeed the overall strategy) of those opposed to this monstrosity troubles me somewhat, as I am unsure how effective it will be. By which I mean I think it’s been atrocious, and at this rate I think we will lose.

As such therefore, for what it’s worth, as someone who has spent a decade active in (Liberal) party politics, I thought I would offer my perspective on how to best defeat the Great Firewall of Australia for people’s consideration. Because I really, really do not want Australia joining North Korea, Cuba, China, and Iran!

Firstly, do not bother writing to Conroy or Labor party MP’s/Senators. It will not make one iota of difference. There is approximately 0% chance of Labor reversing course on this through writing to them. They have invested too much into it, and the loss of face would be something they would not be able to stomach. This is the tough realities. Sure, If you want to piss off some bureaucrats, and cause annoyance, you can follow Bernard Keane’s advice, but please note it will achieve nothing. There is only one way that targeting Labor will work, but more on that later.

This bill will pass or fail based on one thing and one thing only: whether the Coalition supports it or not. Whether you like the Coalition or not, this is the reality of the situation. As such, the only thing that supporters of an uncensored internet  should be focusing on is getting Coalition MP’s to vote to oppose it. There is no – I repeat – no other way it can be blocked. There are quite a few Coalition MP’s already publically very opposed to the filter, and it has been soundly condemned by the Australian Liberal Students’ Federation, and the Young Liberal Movement of Australia. Plus, the Coalition opposed it before the 2007 election – keep them to their promise!!! So we have a good base to start off with.

The question then is, how do you go about doing this. (more…)