01 December 2005

Letter to the NSW Council for Civil Liberties

Dear Sir or Madam

I refer to the Motion on Notice in the September 2005 edition of Civil Liberty regarding the finances of the Council.

I am a new (post-AGM) member of the NSWCCL and as a newbie I don't want to seem to be throwing my weight around. But can I try to be helpful and make some observations?

1. If our income does not match our expenses, then either our activities must be reduced or our income must somehow be increased.

2. There are basically 2 ways of increasing our income: recruiting more members or raising annual contributions.

3. Unfortunately, it is likely that the more we increase our activities, the more new members we are likely to recruit (although not necessarily, see point 7). However, the precise relationship between these two things is, as far as I am aware, unknown.

4. It is likely that there is a fair amount of elasticity in the relationship between the size of members' annual contributions and member numbers. What this means is that we could probably raise the amount of individual membership fees without losing members. This would appear to me to be the easiest, simplest and fairest solution to our financial problem. Let's make it $70, or $100 - speaking for myself, I will still be a member.

5. I say good riddance to the Commonwealth Government's money. He who pays the piper calls the tune and all that.

6. With the greatest of respect, mortgaging our property is an extremely bad idea. Borrowing money is an extremely bad idea unless we have a clear plan regarding how we plan to use the money to repay the loan, repay the interest, and lift our financial situation to a sustainable level. I can't see us doing that. In the end, it will be a short term solution that will get us into more trouble in the medium term. What a laughing stock civil liberties as a concept will be if we, their self-appointed guardians, go bankrupt in the process! How they will snigger up their sleeves!

7. Quite frankly, I am beginning to get the feeling that the NSWCCL is a cosy little club for what Paul Keating might refer to as "Balmain basket weavers". I suggest that half the population interested in civil liberties are "righties" - they are liberals or libertarians who adhere to the principles of the Enlightenment, rather than to the principles of Trotsky. If we are going to increase our membership (and thus funding), and get taken seriously by the population at large when we are invited to add our two cents' worth on the nightly news, then we need to bite the bullet and reach out to that segment of the population.

8. A further benefit of achieving the aim set out in point 7 is that righties tend to have money and also tend to be good at managing money, and this should further help us fix our financial troubles.

9. One way of cutting expenses and reaching out to righties is to think very hard about what our core civil rights are and defending those. This may involve some sacrifice. It may involve delegating matters to sub-organisations with their own budgets. It may involve some other kind of solution. We need to be disciplined in choosing our battles and not attempt to do it all. For example, I personally believe that the right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental civil and political right, however I realise that a large percentage of my fellow civil libertarians do not agree and so I could see myself sacrificing that civil liberty for ones that we do agree on. (Relating to point 12, it would then be rather outrageously even further beyond the NSWCCL's brief to then charge off and campaign in favour of gun control.)

10. The best and fairest way to achieve the aim set out in point 9 is to settle on some very basic philosophical principles that can be referred to as an objective standard.

11. Expanding on point 9, it is important that we focus on activities that are truly related to civil liberties. For example, the NSWCCL's participation in the recent Stop the War Coalition demonstration. The stated themes of that demonstration were: "bringing Australian troops home from Iraq; defending civil liberties in the context of national security legislation; and protesting the scapegoating of Muslim Australians in the 'war on terror'". In my humble view, the 2nd and 3rd themes were clearly within our bailiwick, but the 1st was clearly not. This does not mean that we should have boycotted the march. It does not even mean that our members should not be able to march with a banner proclaiming "NSWCCL against the war", or should not use the NSWCCL network to recruit marchers, or any such thing. But I do think that the 1st theme should not attract NSWCCL funds. Perhaps an anti-war sub-organisation could set itself up under our umbrella and those members could put together their own fund. But I would argue that there is absolutely no connection between whether or not Australian troops are stationed in Iraq or not and our civil liberties. No matter how good or right that cause, it does not fall within our purview. So we should be very careful about lending that cause our good name, and especially careful about contributing funds.

12. By being disciplined in choosing our battles, and sticking closely to our fundamental principles, we will keep our message simple and thus get our message home more effectively into the minds of ordinary Australians, we will attract a wider variety of civil libertarians thus increasing our income, and we will reduce our expenditure.

13. We will then be at liberty to branch out into less fundamental causes. (For myself, I would argue that public education is an important activity, but that's another debate.)

In conclusion, I propose the following steps:

i) Increase our membership fees.

ii) Consider our most fundamental principles. Prioritise our activities. Temporarily stop undertaking activities that are are least fundamental (if we are unable to finance all of our activities). Permanently stop all activities that are not really civil liberties related.


Markus Pfister


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