Sunday, May 15, 2022

Disturbing implications of the Peter Ridd case

Ridd was fired because he questioned the integrity of the research behind a claim that the Barrier Reef was threatened by global warming.

Now that he is gone there is no-one in a position to critique the latest panic. In the circumstances this year's panic lacks all credibility

In October last year when the High Court handed down a short, unanimous decision in Peter Ridd’s case, it was a tragic outcome for a world class professor of physics who tried to defend his right to engage in robust professional discourse – no matter who took offence.

After 27 years at James Cook University, Ridd had failed to overturn his dismissal. Officially, James Cook University won this case. But it’s a pyrrhic victory.

The university was left with a big legal bill and a judgment that identified its improper attempts to silence an academic who questioned the rigour of other scientists.

The High Court broke with normal practice and refused to order Ridd to pay the university’s costs. But James Cook University lost something far more important than money: the reputation of this institution has been trashed.

The world has been left with the impression that this university did not understand the principle that lies at the heart of the scientific method: when searching for truth, robust debate is more important than professional courtesy and collegiality.

So to describe this university as a winner does not capture the full impact of what happened.

The High Court’s ruling falls into two parts: the first is a defeat for one man based on the peculiar circumstances of the case and the court’s even stranger form of reasoning. That aspect of Ridd’s case is best viewed not simply as an aberration, but wrong.

From Ridd’s perspective it was utterly unjust. On the substantive issue of academic freedom, the court’s judgment shows he was right and the university wrong when it tried to silence his criticism of what he considered shoddy science.

Yet these wrongdoers still managed to salvage victory after the court used a form of reasoning that was right out of Kafka: Ridd had failed to respect the confidentiality of an improper disciplinary process that targeted his legitimate right to engage in robust professional discourse.

That form of reasoning is less than persuasive and will eventually be seen for what it is: an embarrassment that sits uneasily with the rest of the ruling.

The lasting significance of this decision is in the second part of the judgment, which is an entirely convincing exposition on the importance of academic freedom and why robust scientific debate needs to prevail over bureaucratic demands for courtesy.

If the next federal government builds on this foundation, the real winners will be future generations – not just of academics but of all those who benefit from academic rigour.

This part of the ruling serves as a warning to university bureaucrats. The nation’s highest court is united on the importance of intellectual freedom and seems likely to side with academics should this issue again come before the court.

That, of course, assumes that other academics will have the fortitude and resources to follow Ridd’s example and fight for the right to speak their mind. That is quite an assumption.

In the real world, it would be a rare soul who would be prepared to risk their career and finances in a fight over an issue of principle. That is why the next federal government has an obligation to build on the foundation laid in the second part of this judgment.

The next education minister needs to ensure academics will never again need to resort to private litigation to defend their right to engage in robust professional discourse.

We have already seen how government action can nudge universities in the right direction through the development of a voluntary code on academic freedom by former High Court Chief Justice Robert French.

This code, however, fails to take account of the fact that universities are sensitive to threats to their revenue and the interests of influential stakeholders. Public policy therefore needs to support those who challenge academic orthodoxy, regardless of who takes offence.


The costs of ignoring the powderkeg men

Did restrictive feminist ideas of what is allowed in a relationship lead to a dreadful explosion?

Bettina Arndt

Three months prior to the appalling homicide of Hannah Clarke and her children, Clarke visited her local police station concerned about her husband’s behaviour, particularly following the break-up of their marriage.

She spoke to Senior Constable Kent who told the inquest last month that at first, she wasn’t “greatly concerned” by what Hannah was telling her – “just because they’re not a very pleasant man doesn’t mean it’s necessarily domestic violence,” she told her.

But then came the revelation. “She disclosed to me he makes her have sex every night. Then I went, ‘Ok, now we’ve got something.’”

There had never been violence. It was just that Clarke didn’t particularly want to do it every night - “She said that she did it so the house would be peaceful the next day.”

That was enough for Kent. She explained to Clarke that such “controlling behaviours” constituted family violence and referred her to a domestic violence support service.

Wow, how’s that for concept creep? Now having sex to keep a difficult hubby happy is domestic violence.

Of course, most long-married women aren’t interested in having sex every day, and it isn’t a healthy relationship if she feels she can’t say no. But plenty of wives choose to sometimes have sex simply because they know everything is better if they maintain that intimate connection. It’s their choice and they have agency in that decision.

But that’s not good enough for Sen Const Kent. She decided that Hannah Clarke’s reasons for having sex breached the new rules – rules underpinning enthusiastic/affirmative consent laws currently being introduced across Australia. Legal sexual relations now require more than just consent but rather, constant expressions of enthusiasm.

Now we discover that demand for enthusiasm will also be used to define when a married woman needs protection from unwanted sex. Clearly for Kent, having sex to keep hubby happy is a sure sign that a woman doesn’t know what’s good for her.

Kent is a domestic violence officer, after all. She’s used to imposing domestic violence laws requiring police to slap apprehended violence orders on the male partner at any hint of potential trouble, even over the objections of the woman concerned.

The Senior Constable felt entitled to decide what was good for Hannah Clarke and to inform her that daily sex was a sure sign that she was a DV victim. The assumption is that behind every woman having sex without appropriate enthusiasm is a dangerous, coercive man. “Sex demand a sign you could be in danger,” read the alarmist headline, reporting Kent’s evidence to the inquest.

This red flag was enough for Kent to swing the whole domestic violence apparatus into place to target Hannah Clarke’s husband, Rowan Baxter.

Let it be understood that in discussing these issues, I totally condemn Rowan Baxter for his heinous crime. His actions are inexcusable – there is no possible justification for the abhorrent act of setting fire to a car containing a woman and three children. But the question remains as to whether what led him there is potentially preventable.

It is shameful that we have allowed the mob to silence any proper discussion of the motivations and trigger points that resulted in Baxter committing this dreadful crime – information which could one day prevent other similar tragedies. This month’s inquest was not a fact-finding mission to determine the truth of what happened. It had no interest in understanding the systemic factors required to prevent such tragedies in the future.

It was a posthumous show trial, parading Baxter’s head on a spike to promote the twin towers of the latest feminist edifice – enthusiastic consent and more importantly, coercive control.

Remember what happened when the investigating officer, Detective Inspector Mark Thompson, announced at a press conference that the police would investigate with “an open mind”, including the possibility that this was an instance of “a husband being driven too far.”

His statement was greeted with outrage, the mob descended, the police officer taken off the case. Regular readers will be aware that after I supported him in a tweet, I was condemned by the Australian Senate which falsely claimed I’d raised this question, rather than quoting Mark Thompson. My treatment made all too clear the dire consequences of breaching the gag on public discussion of this issue.

Well buried in the huge mountain of evidence given at this month’s inquest, is the sequence of events that, from Baxter’s perspective, fuelled the escalating crisis, culminating in his appalling crime, followed by his own stabbing suicide. Kent’s decision to link too much sex to domestic violence seems to be the initial trigger which led to Clarke’s sudden rationing of access to the children and eventually, as everything unravelled, the restraining order preventing him from going near the family. Read this revealing message Baxter wrote to Clarke which was found on his phone, describing his bewilderment at what was happening to him.

Naturally this is given short shrift in the carefully constructed coercive control narrative dominating the inquest. Indeed, counsel assisting the coroner, Dr Jacoba Brasch, announced after eight days of hearings that nothing could have stopped Baxter from killing his family. “Why? Because Baxter was evil.”

Brasch marshalled abundant evidence of the evil man’s controlling behaviour. Witnesses trotted out bizarre stories about Baxter working people so hard in his gym that they vomited and dropping his mother-in-law on her head in a gym exercise.

Here’s a selection from a list of 17 red flags compiled by Hannah Clarke’s parents, with the help of The Guardian:

isolating Hannah from her friends and family; controlling where she could go and who she could see; depriving her of food, clothing and sleep; belittling her; monitoring her phone; printing and sharing intimate photos she had taken of herself; becoming violent towards other people when drinking to excess; throwing away children’s toys.

Baxter apparently had previously threatened to kill his previous wife and son and had been charged with assault both in New Zealand and Australia.

There’s no doubt that Baxter was a volatile man with a troubling history, and a propensity for predatory behaviour. A man set up to respond to stressful situations with behaviour destructive to himself and to others.

Within weeks of the homicide, Hannah Clarke’s grieving parents, Lloyd and Suzanne Clarke, were speaking out about the need for coercive control laws - they went on to raise $330,000 through their small steps 4 hannah campaign. It’s totally understandable that people facing this type of unspeakable loss would seek to make a difference, hoping to protect others in similar circumstances.

But their recruitment into this latest feminist campaign parallels the capture of our former Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, who initially spoke so movingly about how her ex-husband’s mental illness contributed to the tragic murder of her son. But she quickly became a spokesman for the feminist cause, with her take on domestic violence narrowing to the party line - that male misogyny and patriarchal control is the real cause of such dreadful events.

Predictably, the Clarke family homicide is being used to demand ever more stringent domestic violence measures, coercive control legislation across the country, specialist domestic violence courts, GPS electronic monitoring of perpetrators – the list is endless.

Last year I interviewed a former police officer Evelyn Rae, who explained that she dealt with many more false allegations of violence than real cases. Rae said police everywhere are aware that most protection orders are issued to women falsely claiming to be violence victims to gain advantage in family law battles. The outcome of the Clarke homicide is bound to be more stringent laws making lives miserable for the thousands of innocent men caught up in this net.

There’ll be no discussion of whether there was any possible intervention that could have prevented Baxter from going off the rails, no examination of factors in his treatment prior to the homicide which contributed to his growing instability. Note that instead of being offered help to deal with his distress over being denied contact with his children, he was told to seek a behaviour change program to control his violence. The transcript of his subsequent phone call with a MensLine counsellor is pretty revealing.

Nearly twenty years ago I wrote about powderkeg men, making the point that the pain of marital breakup leads people to do terrible things. I reported a mild-mannered man telling me how surprised he was to find himself crawling around in the bushes outside his ex-wife’s house, mad with jealously and rage. “If I had a gun, I’d have killed her,” he said.

Wounded bulls can be lethal, I wrote. “With women so often making the decision to end the marriages, men are left floundering, deprived of daily contact with their children, often losing their homes, their social and support network. Our newspapers so often carry tragic tales of separated men lashing out, doing awful damage to their families or to themselves. These are powder keg men, but it is our system which lights the fuse.”

It's thankfully very rare that powderkeg men wipe out their families. Most simply kill themselves – a fact our society prefers to conveniently ignore. The shameful secret carefully hidden by our mental health authorities is that family breakup is the number one cause of suicide in this country – I will write about this soon.

Try as we may to pretend they don’t exist, ignoring the wounded bulls is simply asking for trouble.


How Australian farmers are on track to save millions of lives

The war in Ukraine is studded with shocks and surprises. The multitude of deaths, suffered especially by Russia, is much higher than was anticipated, and a global energy crisis is feared.

Even food supplies in impoverished parts of the world are a potential casualty of this conflict.

In Australia, hardly any of us have noticed that our country – seen as a pariah at the Glasgow climate summit last year – has quietly emerged as one of the worthier nations of the world. Australian children, who in primary school often are instructed that their country has so much of which to be ashamed, will have to be told that at present it is a global benefactor.

The contrasting stories of farming and food production in Ukraine and Australia could teach us a lesson. Across Ukraine and the southwest corner of Russia is one of the world’s most extensive layers of that black soil the Russians call chernozem. Rich in decomposed plants, it is as fertile as a first-rate compost heap. Ukraine’s black soil occupies two-thirds of the arable land in a nation that has a higher proportion of arable land than all but two other countries on earth, Denmark and Bangladesh.

The damage to Ukraine’s diverse grain-belt with its wheat and corn and barley is causing increasing concern. Many farms are damaged severely; explosives and booby traps have been laid on the edge of some farmlands; and grain from last year’s harvest is pilfered from silos and trucked away by the invading Russians. Even the lumbering farm machinery, similar to the costly combine-harvesters in our wheatbelt, has been stolen by the invaders.

The harvest, normally at its busiest in just a few months, will certainly be much lower than last year’s and there is no likelihood that the surplus usually set aside for export will even reach the crucial Black Sea ports.

Mariupol, now a wreck of a city, is a wheat port as well as a hub of heavy industry. The biggest wheat port, Odesa, and various oil and wheat facilities and high-rise apartments have been hit by Russian missiles. Only as old as Sydney, this celebrated city with its terrace of 192 stone steps leading to the waterfront (I once tried and failed to count them) was the setting of a highlight in the history of cinema, the Battleship Potemkin mutiny.

One fact rarely noticed is that three of the world’s five largest wheat importers in 2020 were Muslim nations. Egypt was the largest, followed by Indonesia and Turkey. A fourth nation, Nigeria, has recently become more a Muslim than a Christian nation.

China and India as hot spots of malnutrition have been replaced by Arab nations in a typical year. According to an authoritative report issued in June last year, one-quarter of Arab children under the age of five were defined as stunted.

Egypt and its 101 million people – a larger population than any nation in the EU and still growing swiftly – now depend on foreign wheat. The country’s local output of grain always lags far behind the imports. In Cairo the government operates the ingenious Baladi subsidy scheme, which provides – largely from imported grain – cheap bread for more than half of the population.

Ukraine and Russia in recent years have supplied most of the grain used by Egyptian flour mills and bakehouses. Here is an exceptional somersault in world history. Egypt’s Nile Valley was a major supplier of wheat to the Roman Empire in its heyday. In the past decade, however, millions of Egyptians would have starved to death without the frequent arrival of food ships, some of which come from Australia.

The Middle East nation that depends most heavily on Australian grain is Yemen. One of the poorest nations in the world, its farms are noted more for their sheep and goats, asses and camels than their cereals, and its schools are notorious for the low attendance of girls. Yemen’s population, doubling every 20 or so years, has already passed Australia’s.

In the past two years especially, we have been a huge exporter of wheat to East Asia. In Indonesia, countless families who ate their daily bread or noodles made from wheat grown mainly in what is now the war zone in Ukraine now consume bread from Australian white-wheat flour.

In some months, Indonesia is the world’s largest importer of wheat, while The Philippines, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan and now China are also large importers of Australian wheat. Australia is one of the five or six main wheat and barley exporters in the world and a major power if a world food shortage should arise.

In this simple old-time world, if a harvest is poor, a government will try to import grain. As shipments from the Black Sea are highly unlikely, the Third World nations that urgently need wheat will pay dearly for it on the world market in the following months – even after a ceasefire or a fragile period of peace begins in eastern Europe.

In our nation, the gap in attitudes between city and countryside is wider than ever, and in a city-dominated election campaign the farms and their contribution to the economy are barely touched on. Yet we hardly hear the news that agriculture here – highly efficient and innovative by world standards – has just experienced two prolific harvests. Last summer in Western Australia and NSW the wheat harvest, for example, has been sensational.

Thus the lives of tens of millions of adults and children on the far side of the equator will be saved or prolonged.

The past two years have been record-breaking for Australian wheat and barley and canola crops, in aggregate. It is almost certain that no matching period in our history has been so productive. While the recent floods in northern NSW have been devastating, and are seen by some scientists as proof that our climate is somewhat out of control, there is hardly a mention of the fact the grain harvests in vast areas of inland Australia have been wonderful and a reason for intense satisfaction.


Large deficiencies in our political debate

None of us want to acknowledge that our runaway inflation is less a product of the war in Ukraine than it is because of free government money being poured like petrol on the dumpster fire of pandemic over-reaction.

How can we address cost of living when both sides of politics are committed to eschewing cheap and abundant coal and gas and refuse to embrace nuclear energy?

Here the Greens and Teal ‘independents’ are driving policy in an illogical direction that suits rich people who can afford to virtue signal on climate but oppresses people in the suburbs with unaffordable electricity.

We can’t have jobs and manufacturing without affordable and reliable energy and both major parties are frittering away Australia’s competitive advantage as an energy superpower by installing wind turbines and solar panels which cannot power a modern economy.

The key to reducing cost of living is a vision for energy.

The key to ensuring young people can get into a house is land supply – something Australia has plenty of yet this is barely discussed.

If we want to tackle violence against women and children, we should have pro-family policies – policies that favour mum, dad, and the kids as the basic group unit of society.

This doesn’t mean we ignore others, it just means we do our best to support the model which provides the best security for children and the least prospect of violence against women.

But loyalty and faithfulness are old-fashioned concepts, as we prefer sexual licence and keeping options open.

Political correctness means we discriminate against stay-at-home parents as money is poured into every form of childcare choice except the choice to care for one’s own kids in one’s own home.

Women’s issues are high on the agenda but there is no discussion on a major cause of violence against women – pornography.

It was good to hear both leaders give the right answer to the question, ‘What is a woman?’ but the obvious follow-up questions were not asked. Why are our children not taught this at school and why are our schools teaching harmful LGBTQI+ gender-fluid ideology?

Why can’t the government overturn the Australian Human Rights Commission’s transgender guidelines which put sporting clubs at risk of legal action if they try and protect girls’ and women’s sport and private spaces?

Woke climate and social policy is stifling debate and hobbling our future, making a mockery of Albo and ScoMo’s respective slogans for a better and stronger future.

But because Woke is viciously anti-free speech, politicians shy away from reality, preferring to appease our cultural and media elites.

So, the election campaign consists of appeals to the base-selfishness of voters who don’t seem to want leaders who will rock the boat too much but will complain about them nonetheless.

The price we pay is kicking the can of hard issues down the road until they come to bite us.




No comments: