Latham's Law

Latham’s law

22 September 2018

9:00 AM

22 September 2018

9:00 AM

It’s the iron law of government administration. After a new bureaucracy is established, initially with limited powers and responsibilities, it will grow exponentially, spending more money, imposing more regulation and interfering in more lives.Eventually, it will be unrecognisable from the body legislators intended. It will become an unaccountable, intensely unpopular exercise in the use of unelected power. Then the policy makers who created it have to figure out how to get rid of it.

Government always finds new things to do. It’s the nature of authority, interacting with human nature. There are very few people who having acquired power think their job is to give power away. The bureaucratic reflex is to extend their role, adding to the incremental creep of the size of the state. This problem has a habit of destroying what otherwise might be worthwhile ideals. I remember in late 1995 listening to Helmut Kohl address the European parliament on the true purpose of the EU. He was the most impressive speaker I ever listened to. A big boat of a man, the hero of German unification, he argued for the European ideal not as a Brussels behemoth churning out annoying regulations but as a way of stabilising the region. He pointed to the tragedy of Europeans slaughtering each other at war over centuries. He appealed for peace, for a geo-political union that ensured, each night, young men came home to their families, free from armed conflict. It was persuasive stuff. At Gallipoli and beyond we too had been drawn into the killing fields of Europe. The best of our youth, often raw farm boys, had gone  for adventure, only to find slaughter.

If only the Kohl vision had prevailed. Post-1995, bureaucratic expansion put the European project at risk. Instead of restricting its powers to those of a free trade and foreign policy bloc, the EU ventured into bossy commercial regulation and open-border immigration. It gave the appearance of wanting to replace the nation state, of taking away national sovereignty; a huge mistake. Voters will support limited forms of international governance but not at the expense of their yearning for nationalism. The Left portrays nationalism as a dirty word. Yet for most people, it’s a natural feeling to love one’s country. If the EU had stuck to its knitting there would have been no Brexit. There would have been no backlash against Brussels.

Here, the clearest example of state mission-creep is the Human Rights Commission. With the term of racial generalissimo Tim Soutphommasane having now expired, public focus should shift to examining the work of Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins. Poor Kate can’t take a trick. She’s on the board of the Carlton Football Club, the AFL wooden spooners. But at least Carlton has a ‘gender equity plan’ to inspire the team, which each week plays like girls. In her day job, Jenkins has been trying to prove that Australian men are sex fiends. She ran this argument about university students but then Bettina Arndt shot down her statistics. Our campuses are actually the safest place in the nation for women. Last week, Jenkins produced another publicly-funded report, this time on sexual harassment in the workplace. It included her usual trick of redefining sexual harassment to include ‘staring or leering’ at attractive women, risqué ‘jokes’ and ‘repeated invitations to go out on dates’. Not surprisingly, the report identified lots of sex fiends in our workplaces, but perhaps not those that Left-feminists expected. The worst offenders were in the ‘progressive’ media and arts industries – proving yet again the theory that most Lefties are perverts, in the style of Harvey Weinstein. By contrast, the boofy, working class industries of farming, fishing, forestry and construction recorded low rates of harassment. Jenkins is another worrying example of mission creep. When Australia’s Sex Discrimination Act was passed in 1984, it was designed as a defensive piece of legislation – to take up individual cases of bias against women. It was never intended as a mechanism for social engineering. No one thought it would redefine the meaning of words like ‘harassment’ or institutionalise new forms of discrimination against men.Yet that’s where Jenkins has taken it. At the National Press Club last week, she said she has developed two ways of interfering in the fairness of Australian employment practices. The first is through ‘targets with teeth’, quasi-quotas that abandon merit selection and reserve positions for women at the expense of men. The second is ‘special measures’ under the Sex Discrimination Act, giving employers exemptions from the law, allowing them to actively discriminate against males. This is the danger in the Jenkins agenda. She has created new forms of prejudice, supposedly to overcome old forms of discrimination. As a social justice strategy, it’s disastrous. It develops a new wrong to deal with an old wrong. It turns men and women against each other, dividing the nation along gender lines. Worst of all, it abandons the great Australian principle of merit – the fairest way to run a society.

It’s the iron law: an unelected government official is trying to control and recalibrate social relations in her own image, creating more harm than good. The challenge for ministers is to pare back the power of organisations like the HRC or better still, abolish them.

This is the circular nature of state power. Once created, the time comes when it needs to be restricted. For conservatives and libertarians, it’s a task in perpetuity. Like the Yiddish story about the man sent to the city gates to wait for the millennium. ‘Big job’, he said, ‘But at least the work is steady’.

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