Sunday, May 10, 2015

Government seeks legal advice on University's axing of controversial Lomborg research centre

Both academic freedom and freedom of speech have died at the University of Western Australia

THE federal government is seeking legal advice on the University of Western Australia’s decision not to host a controversial taxpayer-funded research centre.

The university ditched a $4 million contract for climate change sceptic Bjorn Lomborg’s Australian Consensus Centre, amid strong backlash from staff, students and the public.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne is disappointed and remains committed to opening the centre.

“It is surprising that individuals at an institution of higher learning claiming to embrace the notion of academic and intellectual freedom would display intolerance and shout down a voice in the debate they simply don’t agree with,” a spokesman told AAP on Saturday.

The government believes the investment would enable the “best economic thinkers” in the world to contribute to Australia’s policy debates.

Dr Lomborg blamed the university’s decision on “toxic politics, ad hominem attacks and premature judgment” and said the centre had been used as a “political football”.

He rejected suggestions he was a climate change heretic and said the centre would have put the university at the forefront of global research efforts to improve the use of aid spending.

“This is far too important to let fall victim to toxic politics,” he said.

Yesterday, UWA announced passionate protests had forced it to scrap the think tank, which was designed to undertake economic cost benefit analysis in poverty, social justice and food sustainability.

“I have stated many times that it is not a centre to study climate change, that the University was not providing any direct funding to the centre, and that Bjorn Lomborg would not be involved in its day-to-day operations,” vice chancellor Paul Johnson said in a statement on Friday.

But he also acknowledged the centre required co-operation among people across a wide range of fields. “(So) it is with great regret and disappointment that I have formed the view that the events of the past few weeks places the centre in an untenable position as it lacks the support needed,” he said.

The UWA Student Guild said the decision was a huge victory for the hundreds of people who got involved to save the university’s reputation.

“Students, staff and graduates are the key stakeholders at this institution, and it is so important that they are being heard. It is reassuring to know that when decisions cause this kind of public response, we will be taken seriously,” president Lizzy O’Shea said in a statement.


McIntyre dismissal not a free speech issue

The dismissal of one media figure over the weekend, and the coming dismissal of another have ‘sparked a fresh debate over freedom of speech‘ in Australia.

As my colleague Simon Breheny wrote on FreedomWatch yesterday, there was much sympathy for (former) SBS sports presenter Scott McIntyre, dismissed for his abominable Anzac Day tweets. Channel Ten journalist Hugh Riminton tweeted that SBS made the ‘wrong call’, and that ‘our diggers also died for free speech’. Actor Rhys Muldoon added that it was a ‘sad day for freedom’ that McIntyre was dismissed for unpopular opinions.

There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of free speech underlying much of this commentary. Freedom of speech is an immunity from government restrictions on expression, or the use of the courts to restrict free expression. For example, section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 is a direct restriction on free speech as it provides for offended parties to use the court system to silence others.

As the Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson wrote in the Canberra Times in April 2014:

Defending the universal human right of free speech is about the legal limits of speech.It is about when the law stops someone expressing their view. It is not about voluntary conditions we accept when we take employment. Conditions that are entered into through employment are not the same as the law.

All speech is legal, until it is made specifically illegal. But just because something is legal, it does not mean it is acceptable.

By agreeing to work for the SBS, McIntyre also voluntarily agreed to abide by the ‘SBS Code of Conduct’. At the moment of entering into the contract  of employment, McIntyre, as a requirement for maintaining his employment, voluntarily restricted himself in what he could say publicly. By breaching that code, he also breached his contract of employment. Accordingly, McIntyre’s employer was well within their rights to dismiss him.

As of writing, McIntyre’s tweets are still plainly visible on his twitter feed. McIntyre’s tweets have not led to any form of coercive restraint. No court has found his tweets unlawful, and nor should they.

The dismissal of McIntyre is solely a contractual issue, and to interpret it in another way is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of human rights.


Climate change science is being used by the UN to 'create a new world order': PM Tony Abbott's top advisor dismisses threat of global warming

Climate change science is being used by the United Nations to create a new world order, according to Tony Abbott's leading business adviser.

Maurice Newman, the chairman of the Prime Minister's business advisory council, said the UN is using climate change to end democracy and establish communist rule. 'The real agenda is concentrated political authority,' Newman wrote in an opinion piece published in The Australian.

'It is opposed to capitalism and freedom and has made environmental catastrophism a household topic to achieve its objective.'

Mr Newman, a noted climate skeptic, wrote another piece last year that said governments had been hijacked by 'green gesture politics' and the world was not prepared for the problem of 'global cooling'.

Mr Newman's comments coincide with Christiana Figueres, who heads the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, visiting Australia.

Figueres used an address in Melbourne to urge Australia to move away from coal, the country's second-largest export, as the world grapples with global warming.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt distanced himself and his colleagues from Mr Newman's controversial comments, and said the government will continue to work to tackle climate change.

'We want to address the problem, we're working with other countries and we're working with the international organisations,' Mr Hunt told the ABC.

'Individuals are entitled to their views, our approach is to work constructively with all international parties.'


Australian political guru behind winning British Conservative campaign

British Labour’s campaign was guided by senior White House adviser and Barack Obama election strategist David Axelrod

Australian Lynton Crosby's reputation as one of Britain's most powerful electoral strategists remains intact after the Tories' stunning demolition of Labour.

Nicknamed the Wizard of Oz, election advisor Crosby has been credited with pulling David Cameron over the line after a late switch in tactics to counter the rise of Labour in the pre-election polls.

Conservative attacks on Labour were criticised as too negative, while the decision to contrast Tory consistency against a chaotic Ed Miliband-led Labour was deemed ineffective.

It was only when Cameron offered a show of passion - which many claimed he had been sorely lacking - in a speech ten days before the election did the tide start to turn.

Following this, the Tory emphasis on the threat of a SNP-Labour coalition helped claw back voters from the Lib Dems and Ukip - placing the Conservatives on course to claiming today's majority.

Since his return to the Conservative campaign headquarters at the end of 2013, Crosby has established himself as a leading figure among the cabinet.

Blunt-talking Mr Crosby has been called 'the Wizard of Oz' because of his legendary success in political campaigns, including winning four terms for former Australian PM John Howard and helping Boris Johnson to two Mayoralty victories.

His supporters have called him one of the most brilliant political strategists of his generation.

Born in 1957 in Kadina, South Australia, the economics graduate soon discovered he had a flair for advising parties on election-winning strategies.

Infamously, he was associated with claims in the 2001 Australian general election that asylum seekers had thrown children into the sea.

Witty, foul-mouthed and a workaholic, 'the Wizard of Oz' is blunt to his political masters.

In the 2008 London Mayoral campaign he told Boris Johnson: 'If you let us down we will cut your f****** knees off'.

The Mayor of London is said to have little doubt about Mr Crosby's abilities - he was once reported to have told Tory backbenchers they should 'break the piggybank' to hire him and give him a 'free hand' to take control of campaigning.

Those close to Mr Crosby are not offended by his plain speaking – and say it is all part of his charismatic personal style.

He is also known as the ‘attack dingo’, and for a long while was synonymous with ‘dog whistle politics’ – the repeated use of coded language which plays to the worst fears of certain voters.


1 comment:

PB said...

Newman is absolutely right, but he'd know