Australian Politics 2020-05-31 15:32:00


Pubs and clubs allowed 500 people, beauty salons open and restaurants and cafes back with a bang from Monday

Life in Australia will get considerably easier from Monday as many states including NSW, Victoria and South Australia cut their coronavirus restrictions.

Pubs across Sydney will reopen as the customer limit is raised from 10 to 50 and Victorians can have small house parties of 20 friends.

Very big venues like RSL clubs may even be able to fit 500 people in by using a loophole spreading the 50 people across multiple bars and bistros.

Bigger weddings and funerals will also be allowed and nail salons and gyms will open in some states.

Other areas like Western Australia and the Northern Territory will have the most relaxed, almost back to normal, conditions by week's end.

Victoria is the only state to record new cases of coronavirus this weekend, bringing closer the day when Australia records zero additional cases.

The 11 new cases reported in Victoria on Saturday took the national total to 7,185. Just 22 of the 475 active cases nationwide are being treated in hospital.

More than six million of an estimated 16 million people with smartphones have downloaded the federal government's COVIDSafe tracing app since it was launched on April 26, helping authorities trace contacts of any diagnosed cases.

Several states have moved to lift restrictions early as students flock to public transport to return to school and workers to their offices.


Queensland is ahead of both NSW and Victoria in reopening, and brought forward further cuts to restrictions by almost two weeks.

From Monday, gatherings of 20 people will be allowed outside and inside, and all businesses that are open can have 20 customers. 

These include playgrounds, skate parks, outdoor and indoor gyms, health clubs, yoga studios, Museums, galleries, libraries, amusement parks, zoos and arcades.

Also allowed more people are restaurants, cafes, pubs, RSL and other clubs, hotels, casinos, cinemas, theatres, auditoriums, arenas, concert venues and stadiums.

Beauty, nail and tanning salons, tattoo parlours, and spas can also 20 20 customers.

Queensland's tourism industry is pressuring the government to open a coronavirus travel bubble to support business. Pictured: a turtle at Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef    +14
Queensland's tourism industry is pressuring the government to open a coronavirus travel bubble to support business. Pictured: a turtle at Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef

However, as with the 10-customer limit in much of Australia, many businesses may choose to stay shut as that is not enough people to stay profitable.

Open homes and auctions and places of worship will also be allowed 20 people.

The states borders will remain firmly closed despite attacks on the policy from the tourism sector and the NSW Government. 

The border closures are set for review at the end of this month however Ms Palaszczuk has said it was likely they would remain closed until September.  

Tourism bodies from Cairns, the Whitsundays, Mackay and Townsville have called for a North Queensland travel bubble of free movement to help the tourism industry.


Science and free speech under challenge from Greenie correctness

A court case this week in front of three judges of the Federal Court was a further stage in Peter Ridd’s fight for freedom of speech on climate change. The case, James Cook University v Peter Vincent Ridd, has enormous significance for the future of Australia’s universities and scientific institutions.

Ridd’s case is a dramatic illustration of the free speech crisis in Australian universities, not least around matters as politically and emotionally charged as climate change. It will determine, in effect, whether universities have the ability to censor opinions that threaten their sources of funding. It is one of the most important cases for intellectual freedom in the history of Australian jurisprudence.

The Ridd case has resonated around Australia — and has attracted significant attention worldwide — for good reason. It confirms what many people have suspected for a long time: Australia’s universities are no longer institutions encouraging the rigorous exercise of intellectual freedom and the scientific method in pursuit of truth. Instead, they are now corporatist bureaucracies that rigidly enforce an unquestioning orthodoxy, and are capable of hounding out anyone who strays outside their rigid groupthink.

JCU is attempting to severely limit the intellectual freedom of a professor working at the university to question the quality of scientific research conducted by other academics at the institution. In other words, JCU is trying to curtail a critical function that goes to the core mission of universities: to engage in free intellectual inquiry via free and open, if often robust, debate. It is an absurd but inevitable consequence of universities seeking taxpayer-funded research grants, not truth.

Worse still, it is taxpayers who are funding JCU’s court case. Following a Freedom of Information request by the Institute of Public Affairs, the university was forced to reveal that up until July last year, it had already spent $630,000 in legal fees. It would be safe to assume that university’s legal costs would have at least doubled since that time. The barrister who JCU employed in the Federal Court this week was Bret Walker SC, one of Australia’s most eminent lawyers. Barristers of his standing can command fees of $20,000 to $30,000 a day. And all of this is happening at the same time as the vice-chancellor of the university, Sandra Harding — who earns at least $975,000 a year — complains about the impact of government funding cuts.

While Australian taxpayers are funding the university’s efforts to shut down freedom of speech, Ridd’s legal costs are paid for by him, his wife and voluntary donations from the public. As yet, neither the federal nor the Queensland Education Minister has publicly commented on whether JCU is appropriately spending taxpayers’ money and, so far, both have refused to intervene in the case.

Ridd describes himself as a “luke-warmist”. “I think carbon dioxide will have a small effect on the Earth’s temperature,” he told an IPA podcast recently. “But it won’t be dangerous.” He has been studying the Great Barrier Reef since the early 1980s and was even, at one point, president of his local chapter of the Wildlife Preservation Society.

But Ridd is sceptical about the conventional wisdom that the Great Barrier Reef is dying because of climate change. “I don’t think the reef is in any particular trouble at all,” he says. “In fact, I think it’s probably one of the best protected ecosystems in the world and virtually pristine.”

The problems Ridd’s views cause for JCU are obvious. The university claims to be a leading institution when it comes to reef science, and has several joint ventures with taxpayer-funded bodies such as the Australian Research Council Centre for Excellence in Coral Reef Studies.

Ridd challenged his sacking in the Federal Circuit Court on the basis that the university’s enterprise agreement (which determined his employment conditions) specifically guaranteed his right to “pursue critical and open inquiry”, “express unpopular or controversial views”, and even “express opinions about the operations of JCU and higher education policy more generally”. In September last year, Ridd won his case as the court found he had been unlawfully sacked and he was awarded $1.2m in damages and compensation for lost earnings.

The case in the Federal Court this week was an appeal by JCU against that decision. At issue was whether the intellectual freedom clauses in the enterprise agreement covering JCU staff protected his criticism of quality assurance issues in reef science at the university. The university alleges that in going public with his concerns that organisations such as the ARC Centre “cannot be trusted” on reef science, Ridd committed several breaches of the university’s staff code of conduct, with its vague, faintly Orwellian requirements to act “collegiately”, and to “uphold the integrity and good reputation of the university”.

In other words, even though the enterprise agreement specifically declared that staff had the right to intellectual freedom, it was for the university to determine the limits of what that freedom actually permitted. If it is accepted, it will be the death knell of free intellectual inquiry in Australia’s universities. As Ridd’s barrister, Stuart Wood QC, said to the Federal Court: “If you can’t say that certain science cannot be trusted because it is ‘discourteous’ and ‘not collegial’, then you cannot call out scientific misconduct and fraud. It’s not just the end of academic freedom, it’s the end of the scientific method. At that point, JCU ceases to be a university and becomes a public relations outfit.”

An academic who doesn’t have the ability to challenge the research findings of their colleagues because those questions threaten the university’s funding doesn’t have intellectual freedom. And if academics know they could get sacked, as Ridd was, for asking uncomfortable questions, they will stop asking uncomfortable questions.

Academics should of course be open to criticism — particularly for some of their more outlandish conclusions — but as a matter of public policy it is vital that universities be places where bad ideas can be expressed as well as good ones. The difference between the former and the latter should be resolved by free and open debate, not opaque “disciplinary processes”. We may not like what university professors say, but a strong university sector requires that we defend to the death their right to say it.

It is up to the Federal Court now to decide exactly how far universities can go to censor and sack their staff. But in Ridd, James Cook University has one professor who will not go quietly.


University ignores lessons of the past

It has taken 50 years, but in their pursuit of anti-China student protester Drew Pavlou, the University of Queensland has achieved what Joh Bjelke-Petersen could not.


Fifty years ago this month, 200,000 people marched through Australia’s cities in the first ­Vietnam moratorium. The period leading up to the demonstrations had been tumultuous on campuses across the country, including at the University of Queensland. ­Already by 1967, opposition to conscription had merged there with protests against the state ­government’s restrictions on civil liberties, unleashing an escalating tide of agitation.

Yet even when that mobilisation was at its peak, expulsions were not on the university’s agenda. And on the rare occasions when they were mooted, it was for offences involving violence and the destruction of university property rather than for demonstrating, insulting the administration or engaging in strident debate.

The university’s reticence was hardly due to lack of pressure. Infuriated by the unrest, the state government, which controlled the university’s funding, repeatedly demanded action, with premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen naming the “ringleaders” to be expelled.

But those calls fell on deaf ears. As distinguished biochemist Ed Webb, who was deputy vice-chancellor (academic), explained, when “there are real issues in society that need to be addressed”, the university had an obligation to permit “individuals in the university to see that others are made aware of them”. Yes, that might provoke a hostile reaction; but fear of that reaction could never be a “reason for prohibiting the expression of opinions on things of great importance”.

Five decades on, those lessons have plainly been forgotten. Instead, the university chose to commemorate the anniversary by initiating disciplinary proceedings against Drew Pavlou.

That Pavlou’s actions incensed the Chinese regime is entirely unsurprising. Organising protests in support of the pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong and against China’s repression of the Uighurs was bad enough; ridiculing the university’s cosy relationship with China by posting a “COVID-19 ­Biohazard” warning at its Confucius Institute can only have elevated the 20-year-old’s conduct into a hanging offence.

How many hundreds of thousands in Australian tax payer dollars has UQ's duumvirate of two Peter's burnt on their little ego trip vendetta against me?

After all, as Charlie Chaplin said on releasing The Great Dictator, with its merciless portrayal of Hitler as “Adenoid Hynkel”, “let’s laugh them to scorn”, for mockery is the little person’s most powerful weapon against the jackboots and truncheons of tyrants.

That truth has been confirmed time and again. “The surest defence against Evil is extreme individualism, originality of thinking, whimsicality, even — if you will — eccentricity,” declared Joseph Brodsky, the Nobel prize-winning poet who, before being expelled from the Soviet Union, was incarcerated in its insane asylums for denouncing the Soviet regime’s madness.

One might have expected the university’s leadership to know all that. And rather than submitting Pavlou to months of uncertainty for the crime of satire, one might have expected them to focus on identifying the Chinese students who assaulted the pro-democracy activists, as well as on removing from his position as an adjunct professor China’s consul-general in Brisbane, Xu Jie, who blatantly breached the university’s code of conduct by publicly commending the assailants.

Facing expulsion over his anti-Beijing stand, student activist Drew Pavlou has launched a blistering 11th-hour attack on the University of Queensland, branding vice-chancellor Peter Hoj “a barefaced liar.”

It is too easy, and too generous, to explain their decision to instead turn on Pavlou by pointing to the university’s dependence on Chinese students. No doubt, that figured in their minds; but the reality is that their predecessors’ dependence on Bjelke-Petersen’s government was far greater.

If that earlier generation didn’t buckle, it wasn’t because their choices were without con­sequence: it was because those choices involved matters of principle. There is, in that comparison, a crucial point. The problem is not that the leaders of our universities, in responding to incentives created by successive governments, have let themselves become vulnerable to the Chinese regime’s blackmail. It is that their ethical moorings are so fragile, the blackmail has every chance of success.

Unfortunately, they are not alone in leaving ethical standards behind. There is, as those with long memories will know, no doubt that if the administration had acted then as it has now, the university would have ground to a halt.

To say that is not to claim that things were better, nearly golden, in more or less remote times. Nor is it to gloss over the grievous faults of the students and staff who regularly packed the “forum” at St Lucia, as the campus’ main meeting ground was called. They were, on the contrary, blind to the crimes of the North Vietnamese and ignored the horrors their victory would bring.

But while they were almost wilfully naive, their commitment to freedom of expression was beyond question. The fact many of the university’s most influential activists came from the Catholic Newman Society and the Christian social movements, with their emphasis on sincerity, witness and engagement, merely made that commitment more intense.

Faced with cases such as ­Pavlou’s, they would have felt compelled to act. But, all too often, today’s staff and students feel no such imperative.

In part, that reflects the withering of campus life that had occurred even before the present lockdowns came into effect. With vast numbers of students working part-time, faculty routinely address empty lecture halls, eliminating the questioning and interaction that are central to teaching and to the formation of social networks.

The ever-growing number of foreign students, who struggle with English, and so tend to associate with their colingual peers, has compounded the social fragmentation, converting once bustling campuses into spiritual wastelands.

But if the commitment to free speech has waned it is also because students and staff can espouse the fashionable causes of the day without any danger to themselves. Far from risking prison sentences and hefty fines for demonstrating, as was the case in Queensland, they can indulge in protests about ­racism, refugees and “carbon pollution” basking in the glow of ­public approval. Goethe’s warning that “Man must win his liberty every day afresh” therefore means nothing to them, no more than Mill’s admonition that the freedom that really matters is that of those with whom we passionately disagree.

To that extent, Marx was right. Once they were comfortably dominant, he predicted, the bourgeois intellectuals would jettison the liberal values they had championed when they were an exiguous minority. Like the Anglican bishops with their 39 “articles of religion”, they would, at that point, far more readily scuttle 38/39ths of their principles than 1/39th of their ­income.

Marx could have had the ­University of Queensland in mind. But if an education is worth having, it is not because of the earnings it unlocks; it is because the ability to look at the world for oneself is the greatest gift of all. By pursuing Pavlou for doing just that, the university has accomplished, 50 years later, what Bjelke-Petersen could never achieve.


School closures are all pain and no gain

School closures have wiped valuable weeks from students’ learning, and disadvantaged students will be hardest hit.

This has happened because some state and territory governments — Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT, New South Wales, and Queensland — ignored the consistent expert medical advice to the National Cabinet that it was safe for schools to remain open, and decided instead to close schools for most students for almost a whole term.

Many children from disadvantaged backgrounds have been set even further back as a result. They tend to have less access to effective parental support, educational resources, and fast internet at home, so they were always going to be hurt disproportionately by government school closures.

According to our new research, the educational cost of school closures to disadvantaged students amounts to between 2 and 3 weeks of lost learning in numeracy, and between 1 and 2 weeks of lost learning in reading. This will exacerbate existing inequities.

It’s true parents were told students would not be turned away from school and children of essential workers could attend — albeit with mixed messages about safety. But this is still ultimately closing schools, because the small minority of children who still attend school learn in basically the same way as students learning from home, without normal face-to-face classes.

Most parents kept their children home — amid the naïve, unreasonable government expectation that parents could simultaneously work from home and supervise their children’s education — with serious economic consequences.

But is there evidence of a public health benefit, at least? A study of NSW schools by the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance found the Covid-19 transmission rate in schools was “extraordinarily low” and there were no cases of students infecting staff. So it appears there was little or no public health benefit of closing schools — all pain and no gain.

The South Australia, Western Australia, and Northern Territory governments should be commended for following the Commonwealth’s lead and only closing schools for one or two weeks, meaning their disadvantaged students would be just minimally affected.

But the other five governments should reflect on the unnecessary educational and economic damage inflicted. They made a decision based on politics — influenced by teacher unions — not evidence.


 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