Labor seizes 55-45 lead in Ipsos with the Greens at an unrealistic 16%


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Ipsos, conducted Wednesday to Saturday from a sample of 1400, had Labor leading 55-45, a 4 point gain for Labor since late November. Primary votes were 34% for Labor (up 4), 33% for the Coalition (down 3) and 16% for the Greens (steady). The headline figure in Ipsos uses the last election preferences method; by respondent allocated preferences, it is 56-44 to Labor, a 5 point gain for Labor. The Conversation

Ipsos’ two polls since the last election have both had the Greens on 16%, while no other poll during that period has had the Greens on more than 11%. In the lead-up to the last election, Ipsos had a strong skew towards the Greens. If anything, that skew appears to have increased.

40% approved of Turnbull’s performance (down 5) and 48% disapproved (up 3), for a net approval of -8. Ipsos has given Turnbull far better ratings than Newspoll. Shorten’s net approval was -18, down 2 points.

Surprisingly, 44% supported reducing company tax rates to 25% over the next ten years, with 39% opposed. Two weeks ago, Essential found that 46% disapproved of the $50 billion in cuts to medium and large business, with 24% approving. Presumably, Ipsos did not mention the cost, or which companies would benefit.

63% thought that more businesses would not open on Sundays and public holidays following the reduction in penalty rates, while 29% thought more businesses would open. A Newspoll question from last week found that 59% thought penalty rates should be higher on Sunday, 29% wanted Sunday penalty rates reduced to Saturday rates, and 10% wanted penalty rates for weekend work abolished.

In Ipsos, 78% thought it should be unlawful to “offend, insult or humiliate” someone on the basis of race or ethnicity, with just 17% for lawful. However, Essential this week found 45% approving of the proposed change to replace “insult, offend or humiliate” with “harass”, with 34% disapproving. Question wording can make a large difference.

With Ipsos at 55-45 to Labor, and Essential at 54-46, it looks as if last week’s Newspoll that showed a 3-point recovery for the Coalition to close to 52-48 may have been an outlier. The next Newspoll will be interesting.

Essential at 54-46 to Labor

This week’s Essential, conducted over the last two weeks from a sample of 1810, was at 54-46 to Labor, a one point gain for the Coalition since last week. Primary votes were 37% Labor, 35% Coalition, 10% Greens, 8% One Nation and 4% Nick Xenophon Team – this is the lowest One Nation support recorded in Essential since January. Additional questions are based on one week’s sample.

40% thought racial discrimination laws were about right, 26% too weak and 16% too strict; these figures are little changed from November.

A question on priorities for the government had 46% nominating health, followed by “ensuring big businesses pay their fair share of tax” at 30% and unemployment at 26%. Cutting company tax was at the bottom, with only 3% nominating it as a priority. Since July 2016, health is down 9 points, education and deficit reduction both down 7 points, renewable energy up 6 and same sex marriage up 4.

41% thought Australia’s relationship with the US was becoming worse, with just 6% for better, presumably due to President Trump. 59% approved of the proposal to expand the Snowy Hydro scheme, with just 12% disapproving.

Newspoll’s additional questions are sometimes skewed to the right

While voting intentions and leaders’ ratings questions are asked in the same format every Newspoll survey, additional questions on the public’s attitude to various issues have sometimes been skewed towards the viewpoint of Newspoll’s publisher, The Australian.

In this article, Kevin Bonham was critical of Newspoll’s question last week on Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Yesterday, we were told that 47% were in favour of a new coal-fired power station, with 40% opposed (paywalled link).

The question is, “Would you be in favour or opposed to the Federal government helping fund the construction of a new coal-fired power station to improve energy security?” It is not established that a new coal-fired power station, which would take years to construct, would improve energy security. Those four last words should have been omitted from the question.

A February Essential found 45% opposed to new coal-fired power stations in Australia, and 31% in favour.

Rebecca White replaces Bryan Green as Tasmania’s Labor leader

Even though the party vote shares indicated a Labor/Greens parliamentary majority, the last EMRS Tasmanian poll had Premier Will Hodgman crushing Labor leader Bryan Green as better Premier 52-20. Partly as a result of this poll, Green resigned from Parliament on 17 March, and Rebecca White was elected unopposed by the Labor caucus. The next Tasmanian election is due early next year.

A November 2016 ReachTEL poll had 31.5% preferring White as Labor leader, followed by Scott Bacon on 19%, Lara Giddings on 15% and the incumbent Green on just 14%. White was ahead in all five electorates, including Green’s electorate of Braddon.

A countback using Green’s votes will be held to decide his parliamentary replacement. Shane Broad and Brenton Best are the contenders, although only Broad has so far announced he will contest. A Best win would be bad for Labor, as he was rebellious in the last Parliament.

Donald Trump’s Obamacare repeal attempt flops

At the 2016 election, Republicans won a 241-194 majority in the US House, and a 52-48 Senate majority. Despite the large House majority, Republicans were unable to pass a bill in that chamber to repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan was forced to withdraw the repeal bill, and said afterwards that Obamacare would be the law for the “foreseeable future”.

The repeal bill failed because it lost the support of both hard right and more moderate Republicans. Appeasing the hard right Freedom caucus would have lost more support from the more moderate Republicans, and vice versa. Of course, Republicans could have made their bill centrist enough to attract some Democrats, but that would have been unthinkable!

It did not help Republicans that the public was strongly opposed to their Obamacare replacement plan. Midterm elections will be held in November 2018, and some Republicans were afraid that supporting this bill could cost their party many seats.

Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website has Trump at 42% approval, 52% disapproval using a poll aggregation method. Over the last few weeks, Trump’s ratings have dropped a net six points, likely due to the health care debate.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tracking the storm: the science behind Tropical Cyclone Debbie


Liz Ritchie-Tyo, UNSW

Tropical cyclone Debbie has made landfall in Queensland as a category 4 cyclone with winds of more than 150 kilometres per hour. The Conversation

The cyclone crossed the coast near Airlie Beach on Tuesday afternoon. Reports of wind gusts in excess of 200km per hour and rainfall of more than 200mm of rain have been made in some areas along the central Queensland coast.

The Bureau of Meteorology forecasted an average to above-average number of Australian cyclones in its October severe weather outlook. Australia receives 11 cyclones on average each year, with about four of those in Queensland. Debbie is the fifth cyclone of the season for Australia as a whole and the most intense of the season so far.

Anomalously high moisture, warm ocean temperatures, and low environmental pressures seem to have created the conditions that allowed TC Debbie to form and grow in intensity.

Perfect storm

Tropical cyclones are low pressure systems that form over warm tropical oceans. The warmth and moisture of the oceans are what gives a cyclone its energy. The low pressure, which meteorologists measure in “hectopascals”, draws in the surrounding warm, moist air, which then rises into deep thunderstorm clouds. As the air is pulled into the centre of low pressure, Earth’s rotation causes it to spin cyclonically and it continues to intensify.

TC Debbie formed at the eastern end of an active monsoon trough extending from the Indian Ocean across the top of Australia and into the Coral Sea. The monsoon trough is a region of low air pressure and thunderstorms that forms over northern Australia in the summer months, bringing with it the wet season. On March 22, a large region of active thunderstorms began to organise into a weather disturbance off the eastern tip of Papua New Guinea.

Over the following two days the thunderstorms organised about a circulation centre as sea level pressures began to drop and moist air converged into the area. By late on March 24 a tropical depression, a forerunner of a cyclone, had formed and begun to drift south, making a long S-shaped track.

Tropical Cyclone Debbie was named on March 25. It then came under the influence of the subtropical ridge, a zone of stable high pressure that gives much of Australia’s fine weather during the summer. This drove Debbie west-southwest towards the Queensland coast while it gradually intensified further.

Because of the relatively high amounts of moisture in the atmosphere, and relatively warm ocean waters, Debbie intensified to category 4 by 10 pm on March 27, with the strongest wind gusts reaching 225-280km per hour. On Tuesday afternoon Debbie was a strong category 4 cyclone with a central pressure of 943 hectopascals and surface sustained winds of 185 kilometres per hour. The Bureau of Meteorology downgraded TC Debbie to a category 3 at 4:00 pm EST.

To put Debbie in context, there has been only one cyclone since 1980 to have made landfall in Queensland with a lower central pressure. That was Yasi in 2011.

Of the 46 cyclones to have made landfall in Queensland since 1980, only three others arrived at the coast with pressures of less than 960 hectopascals: Dominic in 1982, Winifred in 1986, and Ingrid in 2005.

Predicting cyclones

Tropical cyclone forecasters use a variety of tools to forecast the storm’s track, intensity, storm surge, and rainfall. Because it is difficult to obtain observations of wind at the ocean’s surface under a cyclone, meteorologists have developed tools based on satellite imagery to estimate a storm’s intensity, location, and where the strongest and most destructive winds are found.

Several models are also used to aid in making forecasts – from the complex numerical weather prediction models, to statistical models. Models start by using observations of the atmosphere, and then use these data to make a forecast.

Depending on their level of complexity the models can predict the future track, intensity, rainfall, wave height, and/or storm surge. The forecasters access all of this information to then make their forecast.

Cyclone forecasts have improved considerably over time. In particular, track forecasts have improved so that the 48-hour forecast is now more accurate than the 24-hour ones were back in the early 1990s. Track forecasting has become so reliable that the US National Hurricane Centre now produces 120-hour track forecasts.

Intensity forecasts have improved more slowly, but as models have become more refined and satellite technology has improved, the ability of forecasters to accurately estimate and predict intensity is also getting gradually better.

The prediction of rainfall, the extent of the damaging wind field, and storm surge forecasts are also slowly improving. Now that they are receiving more attention, we can expect considerable improvements in these over the next decade.

Liz Ritchie-Tyo, Associate Professor, School of Physical, Environmental, and Mathematical Sciences, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cyclone Debbie: we can design cities to withstand these natural disasters


Rob Roggema, University of Technology Sydney

What happens after Cyclone Debbie is a familiar process. It has been repeated many times in cities around the world. The reason is that our cities are not designed for these types of events. The Conversation

So we know what comes next. Queenslanders affected by Debbie will complain about the damage, the costs and the need for insurers to act now to compensate their losses. The state and federal governments will extensively discuss who is to blame.

The shambles will be cleared and life will eventually get back to normal. Billions of dollars will be spent on relocating people and on repairing the damage and public works. A state-level levy may even be necessary to pay for all the extra costs. Two storms, Katrina and Sandy, cost the United States more than US$200 billion between them.

Yet we know what cyclones do. They bring, for a relatively short time, huge gusty winds. These are inconvenient but have proven not too damaging.

The greatest risk comes from storm surge and rainfall. Both bring a huge amount of water. And all this water has to find a way to get out of our living environment.

Despite knowing, approximately, where cyclones tend to occur, we never thought about adjusting our cities to their effects. It would make a huge financial difference if we did.

So, what can we do to build our cities differently to ensure the impacts of cyclones – and the accompanying rainfall and storm surges – do not disrupt urban life? The answer to all of this is design.

The usual design of current cities and towns brought us problems in the first place. We need to fundamentally rethink the design of our built-up areas.

Rethinking coastal and urban design

It starts with coastal design. We are used to building dams and coastal protection against storm surges happening once in 100 years. For comparison, the protection standards in the low-lying Netherlands are designed to protect the country against a once-in-10,000-years flood. But nature has proven to be stronger than our artificial constructs can handle.

An alternative design approach is to rely on the natural coastal processes of land forming – such as reefs, islands, mangroves, beaches and dunes. Humans can help the formation of these natural protectors by providing the triggers for them to emerge.

As an example, when we put sand in front of the coast, the currents and waves will transport the sand towards the coast and build up new and larger beaches. This example is realised in front of the Dutch coast and is known as the sand engine. But nature will build them up to form a much stronger system than humans ever could.

Instead of coasts, beaches and real estate being washed away, new land and larger beaches may be formed as a result of these processes. This requires design thinking, insights into the resilience of the coastal system, and understanding of the natural forces at play.

Second, urban design should reconsider the way we build our cities. Most urban areas do not have the capacity to “welcome” lots of water. And it is about lots of water, not the average shower or two.

Until cyclones are gone, these enormous amounts of water need to be stored for a short period in dense urban areas. This goes beyond water-sensitive urban design.

Despite the benefits of water-sensitive design in many urban developments, when the going gets tough, this is just not enough. Water-sensitive urban design can barely cope with average rainfall peaks. So, in times of severe weather events, cities need to have additional spaces to store all this water.

The general rule here is to store every raindrop as long as possible where it falls.

How and where should we redesign our cities?

So, what can be done to cyclone-proof our cities? We can:

  • Create larger green spaces, which are connected in a natural grid, increase the capacity of these green systems by adding eco-zones and wetlands, and redesign river and creek edges. Remove the concrete basins from every creek in the city.

  • Use large public spaces, such as parking spaces near shopping centres, ovals and football pitches, for temporarily capturing and storing excess rainwater. Small adjustments at the edges of these places are generally enough to capture the water.

  • Turn parking garages into temporary storage basins.

  • Redesign street profiles and introduce green and water-zones in streets. Out of every three-lane street, one lane can be transformed into a green lane, which can absorb rainwater.

  • Redesign all impervious, sealed spaces and turn these into areas where the water can infiltrate the soil. Use permeable materials.

  • Think in an integrated way about street infrastructure, green and ecological systems, and the water system.

These design interventions are not new and have been done abroad in cities such as Rotterdam, Hamburg or Stockholm. If we could add to these the redesign of roofs and gardens of industrial and residential estates and turn these into green roofs and rain gardens, the city would start to operate as a huge sponge.

When it rains, the city absorbs the huge amounts of water and releases it slowly to the creek and river system after the rain has gone. This way, green spaces and water spaces not only play an important role during and just after a cyclone, but they then add quality to people’s immediate living environment.

And maybe the best of all this: the bill Debbie and other natural disasters would present to government, industries and insurers could be much lower.

Rob Roggema, Professor of Sustainable Urban Environments, University of Technology Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Government behind 45-55% in Ipsos poll


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Turnbull government trails Labor 45-55% on the two-party vote in the Fairfax Ipsos poll, as the Senate prepares to drastically restrict the proposed company tax cuts and reject changes to Section 18C in parliament’s last week before the pre-budget break. The Conversation

The Ipsos poll has found 44% support the government’s ten-year plan to reduce the company tax rate to 25%, while 39% oppose.

But the Senate is set to back the cuts only for smaller businesses. Malcolm Turnbull on Friday flagged the government would continue to push the full plan, even after a Senate defeat.

The Nick Xenophon Team has indicated it will shoot down the government’s proposed changes to the wording of 18C, which is being rushed to a vote.

Meanwhile, the government is stepping up its moves on energy policy by directing the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to review retail energy prices.

Announcing the review, Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison said it would examine electricity retailer behaviour, as well as contracts offered to residential and business customers, to ensure consumers benefit from competition in the National Electricity Market.

The government is behind in the polls generally, with some differences in the degree. In Newspoll last week, the Coalition trailed Labor 48-52%, while Essential had the two-party vote at 45-55%.

Taken between Wednesday and Saturday, the Ipsos poll found Labor’s primary vote on 34% and the Coalition’s at 33%. The Greens were on 16%, and the “other” vote was 17%. The two-party vote is on the basis of preferences at the 2016 election.

Turnbull’s approval is 40%; his disapproval is 48%. Bill Shorten’s approval is 35%, while 53% disapprove of his performance. Turnbull leads 45-33% as preferred prime minister. Fairfax has not polled since November, when Labor had a 51-49% two-party lead.

The latest move on energy policy follows Turnbull recently seeking guarantees of domestic supply from the gas producers and announcing the government will expand the Snowy Hydro. There is an inquiry into the future security of the national energy market underway chaired by the chief scientist, Alan Finkel.

In their statement Turnbull and Morrison said that competition in retail energy markets should mean lower prices for householders and businesses. But “retail electricity markets don’t appear to be operating as effectively as they could”. The government was “determined to ensure Australians get a better deal for their energy”.

They said that recent work, including by the Australian Energy Market Commission, Energy Consumers Australia and the Grattan Institute, had highlighted significant concern about the causes of recent electricity price increases on the east coast. Submissions to the Finkel review had also raised concerns.

The ACCC inquiry would identify cost components of electricity retail pricing and how they affect the retail offers made to customers. It would look at whether electricity retailers’ margins and profitability are in line with their costs and risks, as well as considering impediments to consumer choice, such as the clarity of contracts.

It would also examine the competitiveness of offers available to larger business customers, taking into account the conduct of the wholesale electricity market.

The inquiry will have until June 30 next year to report, with the ACCC producing a paper on its “preliminary insights” within six months.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/egvg5-68f11e?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Drawings reveal the struggles and triumphs of child refugees in their first six months of high school



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Starting a new school can often feel overwhelming.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Amanda Hiorth, University of Melbourne

Transitioning into high school can be overwhelming for any student, but for those coming from a refugee background, there are even more challenges. The Conversation

While we know a fair bit about the academic experience of child refugees starting school in a new country, we know little about how students feel in their new school environment – how they are coping, and if they are making friends.

Numbers of child refugees across Australia are rising. There are around 9,000 students enrolled in Victorian government schools, and around 8,000 in New South Wales – with 1,500 refugee students enrolling each year.

These young people have often faced many interruptions in their school lives – this might mean having to regularly change schools, or drop out for a period of time due to the uncertainty and turmoil that comes with being a refugee.

They also often have gaps in their knowledge within areas such as literacy and subject content. This can make learning about subjects such as science much more difficult, as they are doing so in a second language.

We know little about child refugee’s school experiences

The research I conducted gives some insight into this little-discussed area of how students are coping in their new school environment.

For one year, I analysed students’ experiences – through interviews, observations, work samples and reports – of the move from Victorian English language school (for which students receive six to 12 months of funding) into high school through the medium of pictures.

Pictures have been found to be a powerful data source for vulnerable young people, providing them with an alternative to express their voice and conceptualise their thoughts without the need for language.

Feeling alone

Moo Dar Eh feeling isolated at her new high school.
Student drawn picture

Moo Dar Eh was 12 years old, born and raised in a Karenni refugee camp in Thailand. Six months after transitioning into Year 8 at high school, she drew a picture reflecting on her experience.

She features herself alone in the foreground, with the new school in the background. Her face is glum and drawn with a frown. Her hands are splayed wide, her feet shoeless. Without any books or bags, she seems unprepared for what lies ahead.

She also features herself alone and without any clear pathway to the school. The building captures the essence of “school as institution” with the detail and intricacy used to outline the school. It seems large and looming above her, without a soul to welcome her.

Research has shown that initially, mainstream school can be an overwhelming, isolating and lonely experience for refugee students. Eager to belong, make friends and build warm connections with teachers, students struggle to find their place.

Although schools organise orientation days and other supports, such initiatives often only last the first few days. But transition, in reality, is a long-term process.

Daunting environment

Gay Paw smiling and crying at the prospect of high school.
Student drawn picture

Gay Paw, born and raised in a Thai refugee camp, was 15 years old when she started Year 9 at the beginning of term three in an Australian school.

Unlike Australian-born students who have continuous schooling and begin Year 7 in January, refugee students might start at any year level or term, depending on when they arrive in Australia. This is just one extra challenge these students must face.

Before her first day, Gay Paw admitted feeling a wide range of conflicting emotions: happiness, fear and excitement. In her picture, which she drew prior to starting high school, she notes how leaving the familiar English language school she had spent 12 months in provoked deep sadness. Confronting a new and daunting environment compelled her to draw tears on her face.

Her new school is drawn in the back corner of the page, devoid of details and lacking a pathway. She drew herself alone, marking her isolation and limited knowledge about how school works.

Feeling overwhelmed in transition is not an uncommon emotion for refugee-background students, who require explicit support to access education and advocate for their needs.

In spite of her anxiety, she still drew a smile on her face. In our interview six months after her transition, she explained that along with her fear, she also held hope and excitement for the new opportunities to come. She understood how valuable school could be in helping her make something of her future.

Determined to learn

Yo Shu’s strong resolve to the new school challenges.
Student drawn picture

For students who are on the cusp of being “too old” for high school, the most common options available are specialised work centres or adult English as a second language (ESL) courses at Technical and Further Education (TAFE) colleges.

Yo Shu, a 17-year-old boy born and raised in a Thai refugee camp, had little prior schooling and first language literacy due to a lifetime of hard labour.

Entering year 12 and successfully completing VCE would have been impossible, so he instead chose TAFE. Unlike the other students in this study who felt anxious and overwhelmed, Yo Shu felt only excitement.

In his picture drawn six months after his transition, he drew himself as larger than life. His body bulges with muscles, and his face wears a look of determination. He holds an enormous pencil and behind him is a full page of his notebook.

All around Yo Shu float the many ways in which he tries to better himself: writing, speaking, listening and reading English. The entire focus is a single-minded dedication to his studies, and the will to improve academically was a matter of complete and utter embodiment.

Yo Shu was something of an anomaly, as his experience in transition was filled only with optimism and success. This is likely due to a combination of his upbeat personality, his excitement as his first real opportunity to obtain an education, and that placement in TAFE catered perfectly to his level of English and learning skills.

For the other students in this study, and for many refugee-background learners entering high school mid-stream as is often the case, the challenges which include keeping up with subjects, passing assessments and making friends can sometimes be almost too difficult to overcome.

Students are at risk of disengaging and dropping out from school – consequences of which can lead to social isolation, welfare dependence, uptake of drug and alcohol use and greater levels of depression.

What more can schools do to support students?

Transition is a key period for all students – and continues far beyond the first day of school.

Supports offered to refugee students need to consider the long-term aspects of transition, and that students with complex needs also require complex support.

One key finding from this research was how overwhelmed and isolated students felt during the initial period of transition. Feeling part of the school was central to their feelings about school as a whole. When connections were made with teachers and peers, they felt part of the community, their confidence was enhanced and students felt they had a safe space to ask for much-needed help. Research shows that this then enables students to engage and succeed in their education.

Schools can support the development of connections and sense of belonging for students in a number of ways, by:

  • creating formal and consistent bridging programmes that span the gap between English language school and high school

  • welcoming families and students with a celebratory lunch

  • holding information sessions for parents and guardians about the school

  • establishing peer-support programmes such as transition buddies to help guide the student around the school in their first few weeks and meet new friends

  • starting homework clubs

  • working together with language schools

  • sharing information about new students to school staff.

And how can teachers help?

Teachers can also support their students, by:

  • organising class activities to welcome new students, such as fun self introduction games and encouraging peers to include new students at recess and lunch

  • implementing sensitive seating plans to encourage friendships

  • taking the time inside and outside of class to get to know students and build rapport

  • making space for students to share their stories about their life before Australia, their family, what they love to do and what they’re good at

  • integrating lessons which incorporate and build on their strengths and skills.

Pseudonyms have been used for all the students mentioned in this piece.

Amanda Hiorth, PhD Candidate and Sessional Lecturer in Language and Literacies Education, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Terror in London: Western cities will always be vulnerable to these attacks



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Five people are dead – including the perpetrator – following a terror attack in London.
EPA/Andy Rain

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Just when the Western world had absorbed the shock of a truck attack in Berlin in December that claimed 12 lives, it is reminded again of the dangers of “lone-wolf” attacks inspired by Islamic State (IS) that are almost impossible to guard against. The Conversation

When a sole attacker drove randomly across London’s Westminster Bridge towards the Houses of Parliament – one of the most trafficked thoroughfares in the Western world – killing and maiming innocent bystanders, it served as a reminder, if that were required, that open, global cities are vulnerable to such attacks.

These are moments that serve as a reality check for those in authority who are striving to maintain a balance between oppressive policing and surveillance and a free society. This is enormously challenging in an environment in which strains of fanaticism have been let loose.

Regrettably, the London terrorist attack leading to five deaths, including the perpetrator and a policeman, will find its way into a racially tinged political discourse – and not in a way that will be particularly edifying.

But there is also no point in pretending that mayhem in the Middle East can be separated from what takes place on the streets of London or Brussels or Berlin or Nice, or in other places that become victims of continuing upheaval in a crescent that stretches from the Mediterranean to South Asia.

Now that the weapon of choice for lone-wolf terrorists seems to have become a vehicle to mow down people innocently going about their business, a policing task becomes even more difficult.

Peter Bergen, a terrorism expert, noted in a post for CNN that as long ago as 2010, al Qaeda’s Yemen branch had encouraged its recruits in the West to use vehicles as weapons.

A headline on its webzine, Inspire, had described vehicles as “the ultimate mowing nachine” – not to “mow grass, but mow down the enemies of Allah”. He wrote:

These attacks are hard to defend against in free societies where crowds will gather, as was the case for Bastille Day in Nice, or the Christmas market in Berlin … and now throngs of tourists and visitors that typically crowd the sidewalks around the Houses of Parliament.

The utter cynicism and brutality of these random low-tech attacks pose enormous challenges for security.

This latest episode will not be the last such vehicle attack with the possibility that something much worse might eventuate, including the detonation of a truck packed with explosives and shards of shrapnel. Open Western cities will always be vulnerable to these sorts of attacks.

The threat of IS-inspired terrorism is now embedded in Western societies. It is no good pretending it is not.

Since 2014, when IS proclaimed its caliphate, there have been more than 70 terrorist attacks “conducted or inspired” by its followers in 20 countries (not including Syria and Iraq), according to a running total kept by CNN.

If Syria and Iraq were added, such terrorist attacks would number in the hundreds.

In 2014, CNN lists seven terrorist incidents, including the stabbing of two Australian police officers in New South Wales. Six died and 12 were injured in 2014, in Belgium, Australia, Canada, the US and France.

That was the beginning.

By 2016, the numbers of casualties from IS-inspired terrorism had risen sharply across the Middle East and in Europe. This included the Brussels bombings at a metro station and an airport, in which 32 people died and 340 were injured.

It is not least of macabre coincidences that the London terrorist attack occurred on the first anniversary to the day of the Brussels bombings.

So far this year, there have been five major incidents. Most, if not all, are linked to IS.

London was the first such episode in continental Europe. The others occurred in Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Out of all this, it is a depressing conclusion, but as IS in its strongholds in Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria is further degraded, chances are it will step up its terrorist activities elsewhere.

In other words, risks to countries involved in the war against IS will rise as its fortunes in its so-called caliphate slide. IS is on the ropes in its Middle Eastern strongholds. This makes it more dangerous to Western interests.

In London, and among Britain’s allies, political leaders have hastened to express solidarity, but all would be aware that such ritualistic professions of support and concern will not provide a foolproof shield against the next Islamist-inspired terrorist attack.

The question is not if, but when and where.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Proposed changes may confuse rather than clarify the meaning of Section 18C



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The Turnbull government’s objectives in seeking to change Section 18C are unclear.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Murray Wesson, University of Western Australia

The Turnbull government has announced proposed changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act: the law that makes it unlawful to engage in acts that are reasonably likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone because of their race or ethnicity. The Conversation

Under the proposals, the word “harass” will replace the words “offend, insult, humiliate”. A provision will also be included saying the test to be applied in deciding whether 18C has been breached is the objective standard of “the reasonable member of the Australian community”.

There are also proposed changes to the processes the Australian Human Rights Commission follows when someone lodges a complaint under 18C. For example, the commission will have to contact the people a complaint affects.

The changes to the commission’s processes are relatively uncontroversial; the commission supports many of them. They should also avoid a repeat of cases such as that involving three Queensland University of Technology students, who were not contacted until 14 months after the complaint was made.

However, the government’s objectives in seeking to change 18C are unclear. This may have the effect of confusing rather than clarifying what the law means.

Why does the government want to change the wording?

Much of the controversy surrounding 18C has focused on the words “offend” and “insult”. This is unsurprising: many people recognise these words are capable of applying to slights that should not be the concern of hate-speech laws.

Many also think that, in a democracy, there shouldn’t be a right not to be offended or insulted. The hate-speech laws of most other democracies don’t cover offensive and insulting acts.

The Federal Court has recognised the difficulties with 18C by interpreting it that so it applies only to:

… profound and serious effects, not to be likened to mere slights.

18C’s legal meaning is therefore different from its ordinary meaning.

However, this is not always well understood, either by critics of 18C and possibly by some people who have brought complaints under the provision. Many have argued there is a case for amending 18C to bring the law’s ordinary meaning into line with the Federal Court’s interpretation.

Against this, there have been concerns that any changes to 18C could send a problematic message to minority groups and give a green light to people who want to engage in racist behaviour. There have also been concerns about unintended effects upon a settled body of Federal Court decisions.

Clearly, any change to 18C would have to be carefully managed to clarify its meaning while avoiding these negative outcomes.

In this light, the government has not adequately explained what it is hoping to achieve by changing the wording of 18C. For example, why remove the word “humiliate” when controversy has focused on the words “offend” and “insult”? Why has the word “harass” been chosen instead of other options, like “vilify” or “degrade”?

It is also unclear if the government is seeking to bring 18C in line with the Federal Court’s interpretation, or if the government’s view is that the Federal Court’s current approach makes it too easy for race-hate complaints to succeed under 18C.

Unless the government adequately explains what it is seeking to achieve by changing 18C’s wording, it is unlikely to win broad support for its proposals, which look likely to be blocked by the Senate. It is also unlikely to achieve its stated aims of making the law clearer and more effective.

Who is the reasonable person?

Under the Federal Court’s interpretation of 18C, an “objective”, rather than “subjective” test is applied in deciding whether it has been breached.

The question is not whether the person making the complaint was subjectively “insulted, offended, humiliated or intimidated”, but whether the act was reasonably likely to have “profound and serious effects”.

In this regard, the Federal Court will often apply a “reasonable person” test. This involves considering the conduct’s likely effect on a reasonable member of the racial or ethnic group that is the target of the alleged conduct.

The government’s proposal that the standard should be “the reasonable member of the Australian community” therefore clarifies that the test under 18C is objective as opposed to subjective. However, a crucial difference is that the reasonable person is no longer a member of the racial or ethnic group that has been targeted, but is instead a member of the broader Australian community.

The government has not adequately explained what it is seeking to achieve through this change. One possible concern is that “reasonable” Australians who are ignorant of what is likely to harass or intimidate minority groups should not inadvertently breach 18C. However, a clear danger of the new test is that a law meant to protect minorities will not adequately reflect their perspectives.

One way this problem could be avoided would be for the Human Rights Commission and the Federal Court to regard the “reasonable member of the Australian community” as sensitive to minority concerns. However, in the short term, the change is more likely to confuse rather than clarify 18C’s meaning.

Murray Wesson, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Coalition rebounds in Newspoll following Snowy announcement, but Essential moves to Labor


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted 16-19 March from a sample of 1820, has Labor leading 52-48, but this is a 3 point gain for the Coalition since the previous Newspoll, three weeks ago. Primary votes are 37% for the Coalition (up 3), 35% for Labor (down 2), 10% for One Nation (steady) and 9% for the Greens (down 1). The Conversation

Despite the relatively strong result for the Coalition, Turnbull’s ratings only improved slightly: 30% (up 1) were satisfied, and 57% (down 2) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of -27. Shorten’s net approval was -28, down two points.

On Thursday, the first day of Newspoll’s fieldwork, Turnbull announced an extension of the Snowy River hydro-electric plan, and it appears that this announcement has given the Coalition at least a temporary boost. The public likes infrastructure policies that appear to offer solutions to Australia’s energy crisis.

Labor may also have been damaged by the furore over new ACTU secretary Sally McManus’ comments that workers could break “unjust” laws.

An additional Newspoll question found 47% in favour of a proposed change to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, while 39% were opposed. Kevin Bonham thinks the long preamble to this question is skewed towards supporting the proposed change.

Essential at 55-45 to Labor

This week’s Essential, conducted over the last two weeks from a sample of 1800, had Labor gaining two points to lead 55-45. Primary votes were Labor 37%, Coalition 34%, One Nation 10%, Greens 9% and Nick Xenophon Team 3%.

Newspoll and Essential disagree markedly this week, but Newspoll has performed well when measured against election results, so I trust it more than Essential.

Additional Essential questions are based on one week’s sample. On attributes of the political parties, Labor was up since June 2016 on positive attributes and down on negative ones, with the exception of being too close to the big corporate and financial interests (up 5). For the Liberals, the perception that they are divided was up 16 points, and “has a good team of leaders” down 9 points. Labor led on all positive attributes and trailed on all negative ones, with some differences of well over 10 points.

77% thought their gas and electricity costs had increased over the last few years, with only 2% thinking prices had decreased. 75% would approve of a reservation policy where a percentage of gas is reserved for domestic use, and only 6% would disapprove. 68% approved of the SA government’s energy plan, and only 11% disapproved. 31% thought coal seam gas mining on farming land should be restricted, 25% thought it should be banned altogether, and only 14% thought there was already sufficient regulation of coal seam gas mining.

In last week’s Essential, Turnbull’s net approval was -17, down two points since February. Shorten’s net approval was -19, also down two points.

Proposed tax increases that were aimed at the wealthy and multinational corporations polled strongly, but removing GST exemptions or increasing the GST rate did not have much support. 46% disapproved of the $50 billion in tax cuts for medium and large businesses, while 24% approved. 43% thought the company tax cuts would deliver business bigger profits, and that this money should be used for schools, hospitals, etc. 25% thought the company tax cuts would bring our tax into line with other countries, and deliver more jobs through greater business investment.

Trust in various media has taken an across the board hit since February 2016, but the ABC and SBS are the most trusted media.

Essential’s polling on penalty rates from two weeks ago found 56% disapproving of the Fair Work Commission’s decision to reduce Sunday penalty rates, with 32% approving. 34% strongly disapproved with just 9% strongly approving. 57% thought the penalty rate reduction would result in business making bigger profits, while 24% thought business would employ more workers. 51% thought the government should legislate to protect penalty rates, while 31% thought the government should accept the decision.

WA election late counting: Labor wins 41 of 59 lower house seats

At the WA election held 11 March, Labor won a massive landslide in the lower house, winning 41 of the 59 seats (up 20 since the 2013 election), to 13 for the Liberals (down 18) and 5 for the Nationals (down 2). According to Antony Green, Labor’s percentage of lower house seats (69.5%) is the highest it has ever won at WA lower house elections.

In the upper house, Labor and the Greens are likely to win a combined 18 of the 36 seats. Below the line votes have not yet been added to the count. The Greens and micro parties tend to perform well on below the line votes at the expense of the major parties. The Greens will be hoping that a below the line surge allows them to defeat the Liberals for the final seat in South Metro region. Below the line votes in that region may also give the Daylight Saving party a seat at the expense of the Liberal Democrats.

If Labor and the Greens combined win 18 of the 36 upper house seats, Labor could attempt to persuade a non-Labor/Greens member to be the upper house President. The President of the WA upper house can only vote when the votes are tied, so such a manoeuvre would give Labor and the Greens 18 of the 35 floor votes.

Dutch election: far right flops again

The Dutch election was held last Wednesday. The 150 members of the Dutch Parliament are elected by proportional representation. Geert Wilders’ far right Party of Freedom had a large lead in the polls in December, but that lead fell as the election approached, and they ended the campaign predicted to win a few seats less than the conservative/liberal VVD.

In the event, the VVD won 33 seats, to 20 for the Party of Freedom. It is likely that the VVD will head the new Dutch government, after negotiations with other parties are completed.

The WA and Dutch elections have both featured far right parties slumping as election day approached. Many supporters of such parties are against established parties, but not in favour of the far right’s policies. As these policies receive more exposure closer to the election, these supporters can desert.

The main reason Donald Trump won the US Presidency is that he won the Republican party’s nomination. Had Trump run a third party campaign, he would not have come close to winning. The US Republican party is already very right wing, and most Republicans utterly detest the Democrats and Hillary Clinton. Many Republicans probably had reservations about voting for Trump, but hated the alternative more.

French Presidential election: 23 April and 7 May

The French Presidential election will be held in two rounds, with the top two vote winners from the first round on 23 April proceeding to a runoff on 7 May, barring a very unlikely majority vote victory for one candidate in the first round.

Current polls have the far right Marine Le Pen leading the first round with 26%, followed by centrist Emmanuel Macron on 25%, conservative Francois Fillon on 18%, Socialist Benoit Hamon on 13% and the hard left Jean-Luc Melenchon on 12%. Other candidates have negligible vote shares.

While Le Pen is narrowly ahead in the first round, second round polling has Macron trouncing her by over 60-40, while Fillon defeats Le Pen by about 56-44.

With the Socialists discredited by Francois Hollande’s ineffectual Presidency (he did not run for re-election), a conservative was the clear favourite to win this election. However, Fillon has been dogged by allegations that he paid his wife and children government money for fake jobs, causing his poll ratings to slide. Last Tuesday, Fillon was placed under formal investigation over these allegations, the closest French equivalent to being charged.

Despite the allegations, Fillon has refused to quit. He won his party’s US style primary in November 2016, and his party has had no legal means to replace him. Nominations closed on Friday, so it is now too late to replace a candidate.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.