Sunday, March 10, 2013

The left is misguided when it uses a bill of rights to distribute wealth

Protecting rights means more than doling out money

How protected are our rights to free speech? Two rulings of the High Court last week have brought the question into focus.

The court upheld an Adelaide bylaw that bans preaching on a city street and a federal law that forbids offensive material being sent through the post. These rulings can be added to the Gillard government's anti-discrimination bill (which would make it unlawful to offend someone's political opinions at work) and the proposed regulation of newspapers and blogs.

All of these laws, existing and proposed, would be quickly slapped down in US courts as laughably unconstitutional. The American bill of rights is very powerful. The First Amendment unambiguously protects free speech, free press and religion.

Yet in Australia, bills of rights haven't had much support by liberals and conservatives. The reason is simple. The First Amendment was written more than two centuries ago. Modern bills of rights tend to increase government power, rather than limit it. This is because our human rights advocates believe that to protect human rights we simply have to transpose United Nations treaties onto Australian law.

In recent inquiries, those advocates have called for a rights act to guarantee everything from free university to welfare - all because they're in UN documents. The UN even thinks we have a human right to high speed internet.

Instead of protecting people from the government, these "rights" are all about obligations - obliging taxpayers to give more money to the government so it can fund more stuff.

The distinction is important. America's Bill of Rights starts bluntly: "Congress shall make no law" restraining speech or religion. It's all about protecting people from their government. By contrast, the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights says governments must guarantee food, clothing, and housing; that governments have a responsibility "to improve methods of production, conservation and distribution of food"; that governments must ensure an "equitable distribution of world food supplies".

In other words, governments should control more things, tax more things, redistribute more things.

If the left want to understand the reason their opponents are sceptical about modern human rights, well, there you have it.

What would a conservative or liberal bill of rights look like? It would have to be entrenched within the constitution. It would have to mean something.

Courts would be able to enforce it. Labor attorney-general Rob Hulls was very proud of introducing Victoria's Charter of Rights in 2006 but the government can - and his government did - ignore that charter whenever convenient with no consequence. Why fill the statute books with motherhood statements? A bill of rights is a radical measure, not a tool for political self-congratulation.

Yet politicians don't like the idea of a constitutionally entrenched bill of rights. It might prevent them from doing whatever they want. The Rudd government forbade the National Human Rights Consultation report (which received 35,000 submissions) from considering anything that would reduce Parliament's "sovereignty". But that's the point - to stop Parliament from trampling our liberties. Anything less is a waste of time.

In Britain, Tories opposed to Tony Blair's labyrinth Human Rights Act want to replace it with a minimalist British Bill of Rights. Their proposal would protect "headline" liberties rather than a mishmash of economic and cultural aspirations. We could introduce something similar.

Such a bill would guarantee freedom of religion and association and protect people against incarceration without trial and all that good stuff. It could also have rigorous protection for property rights, for instance, and it would not dilute its right to free speech with a right not to be offended.

Yes: a bill of rights need not just be a wish list of the left. Let's haggle.

Many conservatives object that a bill of rights would give unelected and unaccountable judges the ability to dictate public policy. Fair point. But that ship sailed a long time ago.

A century of High Court cases has taken our constitution in directions that would shock the founders. We no longer have any meaningful division of power between state and federal governments. The court has "discovered" rights in the constitution that are "implied" but not written down. Any conservative who believes we can restore a strict interpretation of the constitution is bizarrely optimistic.

So instituting a bill of rights wouldn't be handing power to judges. They already have it. A bill of rights could take it back - allowing the Australian public to have a say on the fundamental rights with which Parliament may not tamper.


Sales of coconut products go through the roof but nutritionists warn it should not be overused

THE coconut craze has reached new heights, with health food retailers struggling to meet demands for the superfood trend, as consumers spend up big for coconut-derived waters, flours and dairy replacement products, despite the high saturated fat content.

Organic food retailer Deborah Wray reports that coconut water sales have tripled in the past six months, and her eight Wray Organic stores are unable to import enough coconut flour to keep up with customer demand.

There's also strong demand for drinking coconuts and coconut milk-based beverages, yoghurts and ice cream.

Coconut oil - used for nutritional and beauty reasons - sells for up to $32.95 per litre online, while coconut flour costs $15-20 per kg.

Demand has steadily grown since Miranda Kerr was misquoted by Cosmopolitan magazine in late 2011 saying she consumed four tablespoons - rather than teaspoons - of the oil daily.

"Two years ago we had one brand of oil, now there's about eight. Customers say they love the taste and regularly add it to smoothies," Ms Wray said.

Previous health concerns, she adds, probably related to hydrogenated coconut oil, which can convert the pure saturated fats into trans-fats, rather than the extra-virgin organic varieties now in fashion.

City-based nutritionist Jessica Cox cautions that it can be easy to overdo it.

"It's not evil but it's not a miracle cure," she said. "

It would concern me if you were having a smoothie in the morning, with loads of coconut milk, snacking on coconut chips then roasting with coconut oil.

"A certain amount of fat in the diet is really important but once you exceed that . . . it will start to affect your fatty acid profile, which can bump up your cholesterol."


WA win shows Labor 'on the nose': Barnett

SECOND-TERM West Australian Premier Colin Barnett says his party's resounding win at the polls proves the Labor party is "on the nose" nationwide.

The conservative leader also said in his victory speech on Saturday night that the Liberal's spectacular state election victory endorsed an ethical and principled government, which not only supported a strong economy, but had introduced education and health reforms.

Mr Barnett made no mention during his speech of the law and order platform the party had made the central plank of its election campaign - when it flagged more mandatory sentencing measures.

And while he said the Liberal/National coalition would be able to finish the projects it had started, he didn't emphasise the transport card WA Labor had played so hard.

"This government has been a good government," he said.

"This is the moment to enjoy.

"And I promise you a good government for another four years."

The swiftly called result surprised even blue-blooded Liberals, with predictions the Liberal/National coalition could hold as many as 40 seats in WA's Lower House on Monday.

The WA Electoral Commission put counting on hold before midnight WST, saying three quarters of the votes had been tallied and the overall result was clear.

The Liberals then held 46.9 per cent of the vote and coalition partners the Nationals six per cent, compared to 33.4 per cent for Labor.


Women choosing meek over macho in dating game

The study of almost 700 people by the University of Queensland's school of psychology showed that when the going gets tough, women choose gentler, more feminine-looking men, not more masculine-looking, macho beefcakes.

Using online dating profiles morphed to create more masculine or more feminine facial features, the study showed that women with less money or financial security preferred to date men with more feminine looks.

Research co-author and evolutionary psychologist Dr Shelli Dubbs said the women perceived the softer-looking men to be less likely to stray, kinder and more willing to share their money and assets with them and their children.

"Often women prefer that whole cute, fresh-faced, boy-next-door look."

So it's Colin Farrell out, Ed Norton in. It's less Russell Crowe and more Patrick Dempsey, less Tommy Lee and more Justin Bieber.

Dr Dubbs said the study supported the findings of other similar international studies and defied the old adage that nice guys always finish last. 

"The women of lower socio-economic status, whose career prospects weren't as good, and had less financial security overall, had very different mate preferences," she said.

"The fact they went for more feminine-looking men is an indication of how they see them as more kind, more caring, more likely to remain faithful, how good a father they might be, and while they may not be as well off as the more masculine-looking guys, they are more likely to share their resources with the women."

Dr Dubbs said while men with more masculine looks are arguably seen as having better genes, stronger, being more dominant and potentially commanding bigger incomes, women also saw them as bad-boy, Peter Pan types more likely to cheat on them.

"We always say that nice guys finish last, but this shows more masculine guys aren't always preferred by women," she said.

But other studies have shown that women still prefer bad boys for a fling. Dr Dubbs said women went for more macho men when they were ovulating.

Dr Dubbs said while the study did not test whether a tougher economic climate also steered women to softer, gentler-looking men, it's a conclusion that could be extrapolated from the research.


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