Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Mark Latham’s sacking more to do with free market than free speech

I don't necessarily agree with Caroline Overington (below) but she has a point about legal liability.  Latham is a well-known figure on the political Left but he absolutely abhors political correctness, particularly feminism. So he is a most refreshing voice in the media.  Like Trump, he is a bit rough around the edges but people forgive him that for the basic rightness of his messages.  One hopes he reappears somewhere in the media soon.  Fuller details of some of his "offences" are here and here

Mark Latham was sacked from Sky News this week and plenty of people are cross about it, especially our readers. This I know because I took the time to go through the comments under the story that announced his departure from Sky (which, for the record, is now 100 per cent owned by News Corp, which also owns The Weekend Australian.)

People are saying he has been sil­enced. They’re angry about the way he has been denied his right to free speech.

OK, so before we get to whether Latham should or should not have been sacked, here’s some background. Latham was this year hired by Sky to host a program called Outsiders, alongside the editor of The Spectator Australia, Rowan Dean, and former MP Ross Cameron. These three made a big song and dance, right from the start, about how their show was going to be different from all the other panel shows on TV. They weren’t going to be all leftie PC. They were going to call it like they saw it, without fear or favour.

They were going to offend, and why not? There’s no law against it, and plenty of people are thirsting for a show that has some flame-throwers on it.

And so the show began, and Latham — once the leader of the opposition, who came really close to winning the Lodge — started attacking people. His first target was Sky colleague (and this paper’s contributing editor) Peter van Onselen, whom he called a man toddler. Next was van Onselen’s wife, Ainslie, for the work she did on diversity projects while at Westpac; then he went for another Sky colleague, former Labor premier of NSW Kristina Keneally, whom Latham described as a “protege of Eddie Obeid”.

Wait … what? Obeid is a former Labor minister who is now in jail on corruption charges. So what was Latham actually saying when he described Keneally was Eddie’s “protege”?

He must have known he was sailing close to the trip wire that is defamation law in Australia with that one, and if not, well, he should have known, because Keneally promptly lodged a complaint with Sky management.

This was the moment for Latham to pause and reset. But Latham doesn’t seem to have a pause and reset button. He kept going.

His next target was the ABC’s Wendy Harmer. She had tweeted that she didn’t like Latham’s show, so he said: “Wendy, of course, we know her well. She’s a proven commercial failure, so naturally she got a job at ABC radio at the sheltered workshop there for all the lefties.

“She fits the criteria: she’s female, she’s got a disability — that’s what they mean by diversity.”

Now, I’m not a defamation lawyer, but surely even people who aren’t trained journalists can see what he’s done there. There’s a difference between expressing an opinion and saying something that isn’t true, and what Latham said wasn’t true. Harmer doesn’t have a disability, and even if she did, so what? That’s not why the ABC hired her. She’s also not a commercial failure. She’s a successful stand-up comedian, radio broadcaster, TV host and author. That’s why you know her name.

At this point, somebody should have realised that Latham was in trouble. The rules of defamation law are fairly simple. You can be offensive. You can be rude. You can be biased and revolting. But you can’t be wrong. (For the record, Harmer did not want him sacked; she wanted an apology.)

But it was already too late, since reporters had found, or been alerted to, yet another clip of Latham being offensive on Outsiders — and this time, the target was a schoolboy.

He picked on a schoolboy, saying he thought the kid, who had made a YouTube video for International Women’s Day, was gay.

OK, you wouldn’t put up with that on the school grounds, so why did Latham think he would get away with it on TV? Which of course he didn’t: as soon as Sky News chief executive Angelos Frangopoulus became aware of the comments, he sacked Latham.

And here is where it gets tricky. This is a free-speech newspaper, and if the comments on the story about Latham’s sacking are a guide, many of our readers don’t believe he should have been sacked. Here’s a sample: “I cannot tell you how appalled I am at this decision on Latham. It’s Orwell’s 1984 being played out for real.”

There have been reports of people cancelling their Foxtel subscriptions, such as reader Lyn, who wrote: “Rang Foxtel this morning, advised I was cancelling. The bloke at the end of the line was horrified that such a long-term customer would do such a thing.”

And this: “Pathetic from Sky News! What a disgrace. No such thing as free speech any more. Mark Latham was one of the best and most entertaining presenters. The thing we loved most was he was NOT politically correct.”

A Change.org petition has been launched to try to get the decision reversed. It says: “Mark Latham’s commentary on Sky News has been a breath of fresh air. He’s always called it as he’s seen it and many of us have appreciated his non-PC approach to current affairs. Far worse things have been said by the ABC’s Chaser boys over the years and the worst that they’ve ever copped has been a one-off two-week suspension of their show.”

The feeling is that Latham has been silenced for being politically incorrect. Now I don’t expect many people to agree with me, but I’m sorry, that’s just not so.

Latham was sacked because he picked on a schoolboy. To make the point more plainly: he’s an adult with a TV show, bullying a kid about his sexuality, or perhaps his manliness, because the kid spoke up for women on International Women’s Day.

It’s wrong for adults to try to humiliate kids. Do I really have to explain why? Should Sky have fired him for it? In my opinion, no, but I can see why it was thought he was just too loose a cannon to keep on contract.

Yet he still doesn’t seem to get it. In the days after he was sacked, his Twitter account, @RealMarkLatham, came back to life, and it is now full of complaints about how the PC warriors are winning the free speech war.

One of his followers asked him: “So where to now Mark? You have loyal followers who still want to see & hear you. Don’t give up please.” He Tweeted back: “Already fielding offers … to continue important work, free from those who cave in to pathetic PC outrage industry.”

But that isn’t what happened. Latham wasn’t sacked by Sky for speaking his mind. They let him go because they thought the risk of having somebody saying something defamatory was too high, and ultimately the costs of that outweighed the benefits. That’s not about free speech. That’s the free market.


Energy 'crisis' predictable, says former Origin Energy boss

The so-called "crisis" confronting the energy sector was predictable and stemmed from the push for renewable energy as well as restrictions on accessing domestic gas reserves, Business Council of Australia president Grant King said on Friday.

"The first of those choices relates to the RET scheme," Mr King, the former boss of Origin Energy, told a business lunch.

The scheme was intended to prompt spending on renewable energy "to a level that equalled the expected growth in demand for electricity".

"As the growth in energy demand flattened, the scheme no longer provided the new energy investment we needed, rather it displaced existing generation – a risk that was understood because there was a loud call for the scheme to be reduced," he said.

The excess capacity resulted in baseload coal-fired power stations being closed earlier than many expected and the rise in intermittent energy such as wind and solar, which had reduced the reliability of the system and increased the cost of energy, he said.

The second choice was to start gas exports from Queensland, which was based on the expectation that there would be ongoing access to domestic gas reserves to be able to "develop it ... in an effective and timely basis", Mr King said.

"This did not occur, with access being frustrated or denied, particularly in Victoria and NSW," he said.

"The result was the delayed development of [gas] resources, the result of which is a market that is now short of gas, threatening the reliability of electricity supply (because gas is the balancing fuel for more intermittent renewable generation), and eroding Australia's competitive advantage in the cost of energy.

"These two choices more than any other explain why we are in the position in respect of energy that we are today."

But even though the reliability of supply in the national energy market remained high, the rising price of energy and the rising difficulty of accessing competitively priced gas meant "it should be no surprise we think the system has failed us", Mr King said.

"The key lesson must be: Why do we need a crisis before we listen to our experts?" he asked.

"When faced with important choices, we often take the easier path on the day (something we might call populism), yet find that in the fullness of time that path often comes at enormous disruption and cost to the community (something we might call a crisis)," he said.


Evidence needed before education changes

The working lives of people entering the Australian workforce in 2017 are different to those of the previous generation. Technology and automation, as well as the decline in industries where entry level positions have a low skill requirement, are reducing the employment options for people with low academic achievement and without post-school qualifications.

These developments have had several flow-on effects. Youth unemployment has been increasing, going up to 14% in February, putting pressure on job services and the welfare system. Rather than be unemployed, more young people are staying at school to Year 12 (84.3% of youth in 2016 compared to 75% in 2006), compelling schools to accommodate a cohort of senior secondary students who are not academically motivated. More young people are going to university, many of whom are not well-equipped for university level study, which perhaps helps explain the recent data showing around one-third of university students drop out of their degrees. In addition, they often choose degrees that have low prospects of employment.

The obvious reasons for these problems are structural change in the Australian economy, and a mismatch between the industries that have employment demand and the education choices being made by prospective employees. Indeed, the bright light in the current employment situation is apprenticeships — 92% of individuals graduating from apprenticeships and traineeships are employed full time post-completion. It is not difficult to understand why: there is a direct match between training and employment.

These are real problems and require a response from our education and training systems. A recent report from the Mitchell Institute sets out the problem well and acknowledges the reasons posited above, but devotes much of its space to arguing that the most ‘ready solution’ is for schools to prioritise the development of ‘competencies’ and ‘capabilities,’ like creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking.

It is hard to argue that these are not important capabilities but it is easier said than done. Schools are still struggling to teach the core curriculum, as shown by the decline in Australia’s results in international assessments. It is not at all clear that ‘capabilities’ can be taught in a general way, and whether they can be assessed. Further, no evidence is presented that employers see the lack of these capabilities as key impediments to youth employment.

A wholesale refocusing of the education system amidst the disruption of twenty-first century globalisation and automation without solid evidence is a big risk.


More "takers" must become earners

Our tax base is concentrated in an ever-diminishing group of lifters. Nearly 60 per cent of corporate tax is paid by just 0.1 per cent of companies whilst nearly half of all personal tax is paid by nine per cent of earners

Cory Bernardi

The “Statement of National Challenges” report was released this week by the Menzies Research Centre. It is very sober reading for anyone concerned about the future of our economy and our quality of life.

The subtitle of the report is ‘why Australians are struggling to get ahead’ and I think that is a sentiment shared by many of us.
The report’s author, former head of the National Commission of Audit, Tony Shepherd AO states:

“For generations the great promise celebrated in our national anthem - wealth in exchange for toil - has given us an enviable lifestyle. Yet Australians are beginning to doubt that promise…they have become distrustful of government and nervous about the future."

It’s a message that regular readers of this column have heard repeatedly over the years. The question remains, why aren’t the political class doing much to fix it?

At some levels, I don’t think many in politics are equipped to see the long term implications of their decisions. They justify our escalating national debt as less bad than others and therefore ok. They legitimise our high taxes by comparing them to socialist countries. They excuse the rorting of our generous welfare system as a human right rather than a hand-up.

It’s as if living beyond one’s means is a moral obligation for government.

The Shepherd report also contains some telling statistics under the heading ‘a strong economy is the basis of a just and fair society’; highlighting our borrowing for recurrent spending and our ageing population.

We currently spend in excess of $155 billion annually on welfare and $72 billion on health. That’s over half the budget on these two measures alone and both are growing well in excess of inflation.

Alarmingly, our tax base is concentrated in an ever-diminishing group of lifters. Nearly 60 per cent of corporate tax is paid by just 0.1 per cent of companies whilst nearly half of all personal tax is paid by nine per cent of earners.

Clearly this is not sustainable and makes a mockery of the cacophony of chanting ‘make the wealthy pay their fair share’ mantra. These lifters are doing that - and more.

I realise such statistics may not sit well with those who see others doing better but we have to confront the reality of the problem facing our nation.

Too many are expecting too much from government. Unfortunately too many in government seek to placate those demands for political expediency.

The real price of that opportunism will be borne by the next generation.


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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