I’ve been enjoying a fine smorgasbord of speakers and ideas at the Centre for Independent Studies’ Consilium in Coolum. A highlight has been a session titled ‘The Language of Denial: Freedom of Speech in an Age of Political Correctness’, featuring James Allan, super smart Canadian law professor formerly at Otago and now at the University of Queensland.  Janet Albrechtsen, columnist with The Australian and a regular guest speaker at Business Roundtable events, Brendan O’Neill, editor of The UK’s Spiked, and Thilo Sarrazin, author of Germany Abolishes Itself (the publication of which forced him to resign from his role as a Bundesbank director).

The session covered the chilling effects on free expression of political correctness in such matters as the science behind climate change, immigration, religion, the plight of Australia’s Aboriginal people, the justification of ‘hate speech’ laws, and the problems posed by the newfound prominence of Islam in Western society.  While Australia’s problems in this regard are greater and more complex than ours, there are plenty of lessons here for New Zealand. 

Less edifying was a session titled ‘An Uncertain Harvest: Investigating Global Food Security’. Malthus seemed to have a couple of seats at the table in a round of agonizing about food security and whether the world can feed its population in the 21st century.

I made the point that food security is often the code word for agricultural protectionism. It has been the excuse for the common agricultural policy and protection of Japan’s rice farmers, for example. If markets are allowed to work, trading is free, and property rights and contracts are secure, it is hard to see why global supply and demand will not balance over the longer term.  As one delegate said, there’s never been a famine in a democracy.  




I’m at Consilium this week in Coolum as a guest of the Centre for Independent Studies and the recipient of their Alan McGregor Fellowship.  Consilium is the CIS’ annual ideas and think fest that brings together a great cross section of Australia’s leaders of business, politics, academia, and the wider community to deliberate on the major economic, social, cultural and regional issues facing Australia and New Zealand. It’s an impressive gathering with all 150 attendees microphoned and seated around a massive oval table.

The forum opened with a dinner last night where I and former Australian PM John Howard were presented with the two annual Alan McGregor Fellowships. The late Alan McGregor AO was a former CIS chairman who played a major role in the organisation’s development and success. The awards are given to honour individuals ‘who have made a significant contribution to the advancement of the principles for which the CIS stands’ – free markets, a liberal society, and personal responsibility  I’ve enjoyed a close collaborative relationship with the CIS over more than 30 years and greatly appreciated the honour.

The awards ceremony was followed by ‘Life Under Challenging Regimes’,a conversation with Professor Ricardo Lopez Murphy, Argentine economist, and Senator David Coltart, Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture, Zimbabwe, moderated by Paul Kelly, Editor-at-Large of The Australian.  David Coltart is the only white elected MP in a cabinet of 39, and represents a constituency that is 98 percent black.  He spoke of a once highly successful country devastated by a succession of fascist governments, draconian political restrictions, genocide, economic ruin and inflation beyond the believable (a hundred trillion dollar note, that even after 21 zeros were taken off it, still did not buy a loaf of bread).  Yet in the last three years, he explained, while life in Zambabwe remains fraught with risk and social turmoil, the currency has been abandoned, exchange controls and tariffs are coming down, economic growth is picking up – to over 8% last year – and there is hope that Zimbabwe could yet regain its former status as the jewel of Africa.

Ricardo Lopez Murphy was an unsuccessful candidate for the Argentinian presidency on two occasions. He told a similar story of a man committed to achieving democracy and economic prosperity for his country.

The session was, in short, a tale of two people explaining why they love their countries and stick with them, and their grounds for hope that through the restoration of the rule of law and common sense economics, these two countries will rise again.