Section 18C, Human Rights, and Media Reform: An Institutional Analysis of the 2011–13 Australian Free Speech Debate

With Sinclair Davidson. Published in Agenda (2016) vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 5-30.

Abstract: The paper examines two Australian freedom-of-speech controversies between 2011 and 2013 – the debate over section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, and the debate over the Gillard Government’s print media laws. These controversies featured rhetorical and ideological debate about the limits of free speech and the nature of human rights. The paper applies a ‘subjective political economy’ framework to these debates in order to trace the effect of increased perceived ‘disorder costs’ and ‘dictatorship costs’ of freedom of speech restrictions. The paper concludes that policy change is driven by exogenous changes in perceived institutional costs. In the case of the Gillard Government’s media laws, those costs were borne by the Gillard Government, and one would not expect print media laws to be a major political issue in the absence of a further exogenous shock. In the case of section 18C the revealed dictatorship costs of legislation, which includes the words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’, suggest the section 18C controversy will endure

Available at Agenda

The Curtin–Chifley Origins of the Australian Bank Deposit Guarantee

Published in Agenda (2015) vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 21-43

Abstract: In 2008, the Australian government introduced a guarantee of bank deposits. However, in 1945 the Curtin–Chifley government had already introduced what it believed was an explicit bank deposit guarantee. Using archival material, this paper shows how it was understood to be a guarantee by the cabinet, Labor parliamentarians, and the Commonwealth Bank. The guarantee was an important yet almost entirely forgotten part of the Curtin–Chifley government’s social reform program. This paper uncovers the origins of the perception of a deposit guarantee in this forgotten 1945 debate, the attempts by policymakers and the Commonwealth Bank to roll back those perceptions in subsequent decades, and the Rudd government’s reversion to an explicit guarantee scheme in 2008.

Available at Agenda