In the light of Markus’s notion of the decent society, this contribution examines the challenges facing public intellectuals in Australia’s contemporary political public sphere. It observes, firstly, that Australia has a distinctly Benthamite political culture that listens more to bureaucratic solutions than to metaphysics, history and arguments grounded in human rights. It explains, secondly, how public opinion gives voice to underlying norms and should thus be treated as the starting point for intellectual activism. Thirdly, the article looks into confusion on the criteria for political deliberation in contemporary Australia. Consideration is then given to the growing constraints imposed on public intellectuals through various new forms of censorship and closure. The conclusion uses the gathering debates on adjustment to climate change to illustrate how public intellectual activism can break new ground.