A public broadcaster that bows to political pressure isn’t doing its job



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The ABC’s independence is a global concern.
AAP/Joel Carrett

Johan Lidberg, Monash University

The ABC’s chief economics correspondent, Emma Alberici, did her job the other day. She wrote a well-researched analysis piece investigating whether the Turnbull government’s proposed company tax cuts would grow the economy and break Australia’s wages deadlock.

Alberici’s article came in for a lot of criticism from the Turnbull government for its one-sidedness and lack of balance. Later, the ABC took down the article from its website.

If you read her piece, you’ll see that, yes, she could have included more voices, and yes, the case for company tax cuts was forcefully argued against. But the argument and analysis was built on sound research, as Saul Eslake (one of Australia’s most senior and respected independent economists, who was quoted in Alberici’s story) has pointed out.

So, why on earth did ABC take the article down?

Part of the answer to this lies in the very editorial policies that are supposed to safeguard the ABC’s independence. The current wording of these polices function as a straitjacket on ABC journalists and make it hard for them to toe the line between analysis and opinion.

And that in turn makes the ABC look less independent.

High level of trust

One of the ABC’s greatest assets is the high public trust it enjoys compared to many of its commercial media competitors.

That trust is to a large extent built on the broadcaster maintaining and defending its independence from commercial, political and any other societal interests.

There are a lot of misconceptions regarding what a public broadcaster is. But one thing it is not is a government or state broadcaster.

There are certainly examples of some public broadcasters that are. One prominent recent case was when the Polish government in practice took control of the country’s public broadcaster and turned it into a government mouthpiece.

A serious case of self-doubt

The ABC Act and the ABC Charter are the safeguards of ABC’s independence from the government of the day. This independence was challenged to unprecedented levels by the Abbott government a few years ago.




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A new major challenge to the ABC’s independence is the current change, driven by One Nation, to the ABC Charter requiring it to be “fair” and “balanced” in its reporting. If you recognise these terms, that’s because it used to be Fox News’ catchphrase.




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How the government and One Nation may use media reforms to clip the ABC’s wings


The ABC is not turning into the Polish Broadcasting Corporation, but it has clearly lost a lot of confidence lately. In Alberici’s case, it appears it bowed to government pressure when it should have stood its ground.

But getting heat from the government of the day (regardless of the particular side of politics) is an indication that a public broadcaster is doing its most important job (provided you get your facts right): holding power to account. If you bow to political pressure, you’re not doing your job.

A public broadcaster with a confidence problem is a serious issue for political and democratic wellbeing.

Globally, there are between ten and 15 properly funded public broadcasters (depending on what level of funding you define as proper) with enough funding and safeguards to be able to call themselves editorially independent. This means there are only ten to 15 large repositories of in-depth public interest journalism – globally.

The ConversationSo, the case is strong for the Australian public to get behind the ABC and ask it to snap out of its crisis of confidence. Then it can get on with the job of keeping power to account – just like Alberici tried to do.

Johan Lidberg, Associate Professor, School of Media, Film and Journalism, Monash University

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

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Australia may be engaging in ‘free trade’ but it’s becoming more protectionist too


Giovanni Di Lieto, Monash University

The federal government may be aggressively negotiating free trade agreements, but in other ways it is restricting trade. The government has been giving itself extensive new anti-dumping powers, targeting steel and aluminium markets in particular.

There was a nearly two-fold increase in anti-dumping investigations in Australia in 2017. According to the Productivity Commission, these protectionist measures “raise costs to consumers and reduce competitive pressures, leading to less efficient resource use in the country levying the protection”.

Higher tariffs lift the costs of imports and disrupt global supply chains. This harms consumers, producers and workers.

The Productivity Commission estimates that for every A$1 increase in tariff revenue, economic activity in Australia falls by A$0.64. The commission also says that for “every year that higher tariffs prevailed, GDP would be lower by over one per cent”. Thus, “a household that spends A$2,500 a fortnight on goods and services would be worse off by A$100 a fortnight”.




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The Australian Department of Industry explains that:

dumping occurs when goods exported to Australia are priced lower than their “normal value”, which is usually the comparable price in the ordinary course of trade in the exporter’s domestic market.

A recent example of this in action was when the Anti-Dumping Commission found that major exporters of tinned Italian tomatoes were dumping their product in Australia. The government swiftly imposed dumping duties of up to 8.4%.

In principle, this is perfectly legitimate. World Trade Organisation agreements allow these duties to be imposed when dumping or subsidisation threaten to cause material injury to a domestic industry.

More power for the government

But recent changes to Australia’s anti-dumping laws, while purportedly aimed at “levelling the field”, place a greater legal burden on overseas businesses with more stringent submission requirements.

Moreover, legislative proposals tabled in the federal parliament in late 2017 could vastly expand the discretionary power the government has to set benchmark prices for imported products in the Australian market. These can even be set at higher levels than the prices in the home market from which they were exported.

Indeed, according to international trade law practitioners, “dumping duties at high rates will give the Minister an unprecedented price-fixing power over imported products, to the extent that foreign exporters and their Australian importers may be unable to compete in Australian markets”.

In other words, this proposal could exacerbate the trend of covert trade protectionism in Australia.

According to a 2017 WTO report on trade measures in the G20 countries, new anti-dumping actions have outpaced terminations by three to one. This is the largest gap since 2012. Australia also had a fourfold increase in new countervailing duty measures (trade retaliations, in other words) from 2015 to 2016, second only to the USA. In 2016 Australia started nearly one-third of all G20 trade retaliations.

Initiations of anti-dumping investigations in G20 countries (2016-17)
World Trade Organization
Initiations of countervailing duty investigations in G20 countries (2015-16)
World Trade Organization

The subjects of anti-dumping actions are usually technical barriers to trade that measurably affect certain industries. In the G20 countries most of these relate to agricultural policies.

Australia has in recent times raised specific trade concerns about the European Union’s agriculture policies, India’s minimum prices for wheat and sugar, Canadian subsidies for milk and wine, and the United States’ purchase of cheese stock, export credit guarantees and international food aid.




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The anti-dumping data and legislative trends clearly show that Australia is at the forefront of the trend towards greater (covert) trade protectionism among developed countries.

Several government policies, including the abolition of the temporary work 457 visas, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s exemption of certain foreign financial suppliers from particular regulatory requirements, and the Mobile Black Spot Program (to improve mobile coverage in regional and remote Australia) have also come under scrutiny by the World Trade Organisation

The ConversationThis does not completely undermine Australia’s leadership in new free trade agreements in the Asia Pacific region and beyond. But it does show that Australian trade diplomacy is taking place within the creation of a less-than-liberal order of global economy.

Giovanni Di Lieto, Lecturer of international trade law, Monash Business School, Monash University

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

Joyce tells WA Nats to leave his future to those with ‘skin in the game’


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Barnaby Joyce has dismissed a call from the Western Australian state Nationals for him to stand down, bluntly telling their leader they are irrelevant to the issue.

WA Nationals leader Mia Davies contacted Joyce on Tuesday to tell him he no longer had the support of the WA parliamentary National Party as the Nationals’ federal leader.

Davies said in a statement she was concerned as WA leader at the “ongoing damage” Joyce was causing the Nationals’ organisation.

“The Nationals’ brand across regional Western Australia has suffered as a result of Mr Joyce’s actions and he has become a distraction at both the federal and state level,” she said.

The state MPs urged him to consider his position “in the best interests” of both the federal party and its state branches, believing that position “no longer tenable”.

In his reply Joyce pointed out the WA Nationals didn’t have a federal MP – their last member (Tony Crook) spent his time “almost exclusively as an independent”. The WA Nationals were also not in a state coalition and prided themselves on “their ferocious independence”, he said.

“Therefore I find it surprising that a federal issue has so much momentum in the west when people in the east in the National Party have in the majority a different view – and to be quite frank, vastly more skin in the game,” he said.

The state Nationals in Victoria and New South Wales are staying out of the battle within the federal party, with Victorian leader Peter Walsh saying: “The federal leadership of the National Party is a matter for the federal partyroom”.

The Nationals crisis was no closer to resolution on Tuesday. If anyone wants to challenge Joyce next week there will have to be a move for a special party meeting because some senators will be missing from the routine Monday meeting, given that Senate estimates hearings are on.

By making it clear he would have to be blasted out, Joyce has transferred the burden of a leadership change squarely onto his colleagues, a number of whom had hoped he would just go quietly, saving them angst.

Resources Minister Matt Canavan, a strong Joyce supporter, said Joyce had the majority of support in the partyroom. “They see first-hand what he has done here in Canberra, the fights he takes up for us on our behalf, sometimes difficult ones to deliver big projects.”

“It’s my assessment the vast majority of my colleagues want to see Barnaby there and want to see him fight for regional Australia,” he said.

Canavan employed Joyce’s former staffer and now partner Vikki Campion when the Joyce office was seeking to move her on because her relationship with her boss was causing difficulties. Asked on Sky whether at that time he knew she was having an affair with Joyce, Canavan said: “Absolutely not”.

Campion had got the job on her skills and experience, Canavan said. “We were looking to expand our digital media presence.”

NSW Nationals senator John Williams said the feedback he was getting was that “you must stick with Barnaby” and that people were “over the media running [the story] all the time”.

In the US – for which Malcolm Turnbull leaves on Wednesday – comedian John Oliver has ridiculed the Joyce saga on his show Last Week Tonight. Joyce was already comedy fodder in America after his colourful threats to euthanise Johnny Depp’s dogs after they were brought to Australia illegally.

The Conversation

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Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Fischer calls for quick resolution of Nationals crisis, while Joyce is determined to fight to the death


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Former Nationals deputy prime minister Tim Fischer has added his voice to those pressing for a rapid resolution of the Nationals crisis, as Malcolm Turnbull admits he doesn’t know whether Barnaby Joyce retains his partyroom’s support.

“It has to be resolved quickly,” Fischer told The Conversation. Earlier on Monday another former deputy prime minister, John Anderson, speaking to The Australian, advised Nationals MPs to act swiftly to exercise their responsibility and urged Joyce to think through his situation very carefully.

But the Nationals remained apparently paralysed, with Joyce on leave, dug in and defiant, feedback coming from the party’s grassroots that he should step down as leader, and his support eroding in the officialdom of the party.

Sources in the Joyce camp say there is no way he will step down before Monday’s party meeting.

They say if Michael McCormack – considered favourite to succeed Joyce if he quits or is ousted – wants the job, he will have to challenge in the partyroom and the parliamentary party will have to own the decision it makes.

In face of Monday’s Newspoll, in which 65% said he should stand down, the Joyce sources argue the election is still more than a year away, giving time for the fallout from the current furore to pass.

Nationals federal president Larry Anthony held a phone hook up of party officials late on Monday to take soundings.

McCormack, who is veterans’ affairs minister, on Monday trailed his coat in an awkward Sky interview in which he repeatedly dodged giving backing to Joyce.

Asked multiple times whether Joyce had his support, McCormack avoided answering. “I’m sure that members of the National Party are listening to our constituent,” he said.

“Barnaby Joyce is the leader, there is no spill, there is no vacancy at the moment and certainly Barnaby Joyce will continue to be the leader as long as he gets the support of the National partyroom,” he said. “There is no challenge at the moment.” And there was plenty more of the same.

Finally, a cornered McCormack said: “Of course I support Barnaby Joyce. He is our leader”.

On 3AW, Turnbull was asked whether Joyce was safe as leader. “Are you asking me whether he commands the support of the majority of members of the National Party? … I don’t know. He says he does and others have said he does, but these are all matters in the gift of the National partyroom,” Turnbull said, adding, “a partyroom, I might add, which I have never sought to influence in any way”.

Meanwhile Turnbull is coming under media pressure over precisely what he knew and when about Joyce’s affair with his former staffer, Vikki Campion, his now-pregnant partner.

The timing question has become particularly pertinent since Turnbull’s very personal denunciation of Joyce’s behaviour on Thursday, because the rumours of the affair including the pregnancy had already been rife when Turnbull appeared with Joyce to celebrate the New England byelection win in Tamworth on December 2.

Pressed on when he initially knew about the affair Turnbull repeated that Joyce had “at no time said to me that he was in a sexual relationship with this woman … He never made that admission … to me.”

Turnbull said he couldn’t recall when he first heard a rumour about it.

Asked whether he did not consider asking him, Turnbull was evasive: “I’m not going to go into the private discussions I have had with him, other than to say that at no stage did he say to me that he was having a sexual relationship with this lady”.

Pushed on whether he had been misled, Turnbull said: “I’m not going to go into those discussions”.

Bill Shorten moved to keep all attention on the Coalition by cutting off the government’s attempt to put him in the spotlight because he had not clarified Labor’s position on Turnbull’s ban on ministers having sexual relationships with their staff.

“If we get elected, we’re not going to overturn it,” he said.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop made it clear she was less-than-impressed with the ban, having condemned any such idea when asked a week before Turnbull announced it. She said the change brought the code in line with many workplaces across Australia. Pressed on her attitude, she said: “I will abide by the ministerial code of conduct”.

Newspoll has found that 64% of voters back the ban.

The ConversationVictorian Liberal backbencher Sarah Henderson told Sky the standard should apply in every MP’s office.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

The New Payments Platform may mean faster transactions, but it won’t be safer


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The New Payments Platform could lead to more fraud and abuse.
Shutterstock

Steve Worthington, Swinburne University of Technology

Australians will finally enjoy the ability to send each other money in “real time”, with the launch of the New Payments Platform (NPP) today. The platform is a mixture of new processes for settling transactions between banks, guided by the Reserve Bank of Australia.

But while this may make payments faster, it could also make them less safe.

And data from the United Kingdom’s real-time payments platform, Faster Payments, show the take-up of Australia’s system may not be that strong. Although it was launched 10 years ago, Faster Payments has not yet become the most popular payment method in the UK. The most popular is still the traditional system, which takes three days to clear.

Research into the Faster Payments platform shows it is rife with fraud and scams. Part of the problem in the UK is that banks have trouble identifying potentially fraudulent transactions.




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The New Payments Platform will also change how you transfer money. BSB and account numbers will still exist, but individuals and businesses can create other identifiers, called “PayID”. This means mobile numbers or email addresses can also be used as a way to identify yourself, both to pay and be paid by others.

The platform will also remove the delays caused by weekends and public holidays and mean you can make transfers after business hours.

The impetus for a real-time payment platform came from a 2012 review by the Reserve Bank of Australia. It found that Australia’s payment system lagged behind even less developed nations, such as Mexico.

But not all banks have signed on to the new payments platform. Those taking a wait-and-see approach include Bank of Queensland, Suncorp and Rabobank. Even some of the subsidiaries of one of the big four banks, Westpac (such as Bank of Melbourne and St George), will not be involved in the launch of the New Payments Platform.

Fraud and abuse in real time

Before the New Payments Platform, numerous safeguards were built into Australia’s payment system that limited fraud and abuse. For instance, if you were planning to buy a car, you would likely go into your bank and ask for a bank cheque. This cheque would be made out to the name of the dealership or person selling the car.

A number of protections are built in to this system. The money is guaranteed by your bank and will clear within three days once deposited. If someone with a different name tries to deposit the cheque, then the cheque will not be accepted and hence the payment will be revoked.

Under the terms and conditions issued by one of the participating banks, banks are not liable for losses that are a result of you giving the wrong account information. Furthermore, a transfer instruction given by you, once accepted by your bank, is irrevocable.

This also applies if you were fraudulently induced to make a transfer via the New Payments Platform. In this case your bank might be able to help you recover the funds, but the recipient of the funds (potentially a fraudster) will have to consent to repay your funds. So if you have a dispute with a recipient of your funds transfer, you will need to resolve the dispute directly with that person or organisation under the new scheme.

It is likely that similar terms and conditions will apply to all the institutions that are members of the New Payments Platform.

The problem will only get worse as the “cap” on transactions is lifted. This happened in the United Kingdom once the Faster Payments cap was raised to £250,000 in 2015.

According to the managing director of the UK Payment Systems Regulator, Hannah Nixon: “There is no silver bullet for [authorised push payment] scams and some people will still, unfortunately, lose out.” Nixon added that account holders also need to take “an appropriate level of care” in protecting themselves.




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The UK experience shows that the New Payment Platform is likely to speed up transactions. It took two years for Faster Payments to pass 500 million transactions, but it sped up and passed 5 billion transactions in just over seven years.

In June 2017, Faster Payments processed 135.7 million payments, which was a 15% increase on the previous June. These payments amounted to a total of £115 billion for that month.

But Faster Payments is still not the biggest payment platform in the United Kingdom. Although we don’t know exactly why, there are many possible reasons – including customers not wanting to switch from something they are used to and a fear of fraud.

It could also be that British financial institutions are not promoting Faster Payments to their customers as they can charge higher fees on the traditional payment platform.

The ConversationAbove all, the big concern is detecting fraudulent activity in real time – something that will concern banks’ risk management and which may have led to some choosing to hang back. Payments on the New Payments Platform may be faster and easier to make, but will they be safer? It could just make fraud faster and easier for fraudsters, and harder to undo for victims.

Steve Worthington, Adjunct Professor, Swinburne University of Technology

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

Tesla’s ‘virtual power plant’ might be second-best to real people power



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Researchers talk to Bruny Islanders who have signed up to an experimental new method of managing energy.
Chris Crerar

Hedda Ransan-Cooper, Australian National University; Archie Chapman, University of Sydney; Paul Scott, Australian National University, and Veryan Anastasia Joan Hann, University of Tasmania

The South Australian government and Tesla recently announced a large-scale solar and storage scheme that will distribute solar panels and batteries free of charge to 50,000 households.

This would form what has been dubbed a “virtual power plant”, essentially delivering wholesale energy and service systems. This is just the latest in South Australia’s energetic push to embrace renewables, make energy cheaper and reduce blackout-causing instability.




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The catch is that more than a third of the costs of a power system are in the distribution networks, as are most of the faults. A virtual power plant on its own can’t necessarily solve the problems of costly network management.

The bundling of batteries together to power a network doesn’t consider the needs of either households or the network.

To address these problems, we’re trialling technology in Tasmania that intelligently controls fleets of batteries and other home devices with the aim of making networks more flexible, reliable, and cheaper to operate.

The Bruny Island Battery trial

Part of what we need to transition to a more reliable and cleaner grid is better control of power networks. This will improve operation during normal times, reduce stress during peak times, and remove the need for costly investment over the long term.

For instance, sometimes the network simply needs more energy in one particular location. Perhaps a household doesn’t want the grid to draw power from their battery on a particular day, because it’s cheaper for them to use it themselves. Most models of virtual power plants don’t take these different needs into account.

Bruny Island in Tasmania is the site of a three-year trial, bringing together researchers from the the Australian National University, the University of Sydney, the University of Tasmania, TasNetworks and tech start-up Reposit Power.




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Thirty-three households have been supplied with “smart battery” systems, charged from solar cells on their roofs, and a “controller” box that sits between the house and the power lines.

Participants are paid when their batteries supply energy to the Bruny Island network, which is sometimes overloaded during peak demand. Their bills will also go down because they’ll be drawing household power from their battery when it is most cost-effective for them.

In a world first, Network-Aware Coordination (NAC) software coordinates individual battery systems. The NAC automatically negotiates battery operations with the household (via the controller box), to decide whether the battery should discharge onto the grid or not.

In these negotiations, computer algorithms request battery assistance at a price that reflects the value to the network. If the price is too low for the household, for example because they are better off storing the energy for their own use later in the day, the controller will make a counter-offer to the network with a higher price.

The negotiation continues until they find a solution that works for the network, at the lowest overall cost.

The NAC-based negotiation is half of the economic equation. Battery owners will also be compensated for their work in supporting the grid. The trial team are working out a payment system that passes on some of the networks’ savings created by avoiding diesel generator use on Bruny Island.

Solving big problems

The problem of co-ordinating Australia’s 1.8 million rooftop solar installations in one of the longest electricity networks in the world is not trivial.

Distributed battery systems, such as in Tesla’s South Australian proposal, represent one possible future. The question that we’re exploring is how to coordinate large numbers of customer-owned batteries to work in the best interests of both the consumer and the network.

The primary feature of virtual power plants, to lump together resources, runs counter to what is required for targeted distribution network support. Nor do virtual power plants necessarily have to act in the best interest of householders.




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In contrast, we’re trialling technology that acts in the financial interests of householders, to earn value from their batteries by providing location-specific services to networks, at a time and price that suits the customer.

As currently conceived, the South Australian scheme may not be the most cost-effective solution to dealing with our evolving electricity system’s needs. The Bruny trial shows a different possible future grid – one which allows people to produce and store energy for themselves, and also share it, reducing pressure on the network and allowing higher penetrations of renewables.

The Conversation
The Bruny trial is funded by ARENA, and is a collaborative venture lead by The Australian National University, with project partners The University of Sydney, University of Tasmania, battery control software business Reposit Power, and TasNetworks.

Hedda Ransan-Cooper, Research fellow, Australian National University; Archie Chapman, Research Fellow in Smart Grids, University of Sydney; Paul Scott, Research fellow, Australian National University, and Veryan Anastasia Joan Hann, PhD Candidate – Energy Policy Innovation, University of Tasmania

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

Russia not so much a (re)rising superpower as a skilled strategic spoiler



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Much of the interest in Russia centres around its experienced and skilled political leader in Vladimir Putin, speaking here with Donald Trump.
Reuters

Alexey D Muraviev, Curtin University

Russia keeps posing a massive intelligence puzzle to the West: it is never as weak as we may want it to be, nor is it as strong as we fear it may be.

So, how can we classify Russia as an international power? It is not the Soviet Union reincarnated, so it is not a reborn counterpoint to US global supremacy. Nor does it intend to be. But it remains a major strategic spoiler of the US’ ambitions to retain its rules-based global order.

Moscow is trying to strengthen its relationship with like-minded major powers. China is one of Russia’s comrades-in-arms, although not a formal ally. China and Russia are not forming any sort of anti-Western/anti-US alliance; both great powers have their own national agendas.

Over the past ten years, Russia and China have developed very close military ties, but their economic relationship remains uneven and quite low on the common strategic agenda. They are de facto engaged in soft competition across Central Asia and the Asia-Pacific.

But their intention to change the status quo in support of their ambitions aligns with their security and strategic agendas, at least for now. Just like China, Russia seeks to maximise its strategic autonomy by aggressively fending off any perceived challenges to its national interests or sovereignty.

The time cannot be better. US President Donald Trump keeps puzzling allies by reversing major political decisions of previous administrations, while prioritising an inward-looking approach to running his country. And he is no match for Vladimir Putin in terms of experience, charisma, domestic popularity and global influence.




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Try a simple experiment: search any publication about Russia published by the Australian media and try to find an article on anything Russia-related that does not have a reference to Putin. We see in Putin a manifestation of Russia’s ambitions; its political, military, economic and even sport successes and failures; defence of traditional values and criticisms of the Western way of life.

Putin wants for Russia a “place under the sun”: that is, dominance over the immediate neighbourhood combined with Russia’s recognised right to have interests in other parts of the world. The big question is: does modern Russia have what it takes to be a global superpower? The reality is there is no definitive answer to that.

On the one hand, Russia possesses key elements of a superpower: it is self-sufficient when it comes to natural resources and it is an energy superpower; it is a space power with a developed sovereign capability; it has a world-class scientific capability; it is the second-biggest military superpower in the world behind the US. Finally, it has global ambitions and a global agenda.

On the other hand, like China, Russia does not have a civilisational agenda – a competitive political model that could be an alternative to Western liberalism based on a free-market economy. After all, the Cold War was a clash of competitive socioeconomic systems supported by geopolitical and military-strategic competition. There is none of that today.

Second, Russia does not have the economic might of China and its intertwined economic interaction with the US. The Russian economy has suffered a great deal from the tight sanctions regime implemented after the Ukraine crisis, and is only beginning now to show signs of recovery.

That is not to say Russia has lost the economic means to support itself and its global ambitions. Over the past two years, it has achieved a major breakthrough in exporting grain and other agricultural produce, making it one of the top-three foreign currency earners. In 2017 alone, Russia earned some US$20.5 billion by exporting agricultural produce.

Russia’s energy exports also remain high. In 2017, Russian energy giant Gazprom generated total revenue of US$103.6 billion. This year’s revenue is expected to reach US$108 billion. In Europe alone, Gazprom controls 34.7% of its energy market, thus making it an important element of Russia’s regional geoeconomics.




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The Russian defence sector plays its traditional role of both earning much-needed cash and furthering Russia’s geopolitical agenda. In 2017, Russian arms exports were worth US$17 billion, while the total portfolio of foreign orders of Russian armaments and military equipment is about US$45 billion, effectively retaining the number-two position in global arms sales.

Still, Russia has no means of global economic expansionism. It is desperately seeking new economic opportunities and partnerships with other countries that do not want all the power focused on the US. This gives China a strategic lead because of its diversified extensive economic partnerships with the US, Europe and Asia.

Yet it would be premature to crown China as the sole superpower rival to the US. Unlike Russia, China clearly lacks political and diplomatic experience – the ability to play complex games on a global chessboard.

As an incoming superpower with global ambitions but limited experience in great power politics, China studies carefully the Soviet and Russian experiences and leaves Russia to fight all the major fights at international forums. North Korea and the South China Sea are among the few exceptions where the Chinese show strategic activism.

Apart from its extensive diplomatic experience, China also needs Russia’s strategic nuclear and conventional military might.

Under Putin, the Russian military managed to close the capability gap with the most advanced Western militaries and transformed itself from a large, under-equipped and understaffed army into an effective, highly motivated and battle-hardened force. Putin has given the once-cash-strapped military machine a massive financial boost – and, more importantly, full political support.

Between 2013 and 2017, Russia landed in the world’s top-three nations on defence expenditure, just behind the US and China. In Europe, Russia has remained the single largest defence spender and buyer of major combat systems.

From 2012 until early 2017, the Russian military received 30,000 new and upgraded armaments and items of heavy military equipment. The Syria campaign and Russia’s ability to exercise strategic reach has once again made the military factor supported by active diplomacy one of the key determinants of successful realising its national strategic agenda.

In short, Russia is a major global power in outlook and reach, locked in a values-based confrontation with the West. But it still lacks all elements of a developed superpower.

The ConversationBut what it does most effectively is play the role of a strategic spoiler in times when the world is gradually accepting a new international configuration with a suite of established and emerging great powers that would dominate a future world order.

Alexey D Muraviev, Associate Professor of National Security and Strategic Studies, Curtin University

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

The first charges over Russian involvement in the US election have been laid – are there more to come?



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Special Counsel Robert Mueller (centre) has laid the first charges from his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
Reuters/Aaron Bernstein

Sandeep Gopalan, Deakin University

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has issued an indictment outlining charges against the Internet Research Agency LLC (and two related entities which had “various Russian government contracts”) and 13 Russian individuals. The defendants are charged with:

knowingly and intentionally conspiring with each other (and with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury) to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the US political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.

The defendants, posing as activists, allegedly created “false personas” and fake accounts to operate social media accounts and pages on divisive social issues. The indictment does not specifically state that the individual defendants were connected to the Russian government, although at least one of them is known to be close to Putin. Specific to the 2016 election, the defendants’ goal was “supporting” the campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, and “disparaging” Hillary Clinton.

Their activities were not merely online. They gathered intelligence, staged rallies posing as Americans (in New York, Pennsylvania, Florida) and “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign.”

Some of their efforts were effective. For instance, the fake Twitter account “Tennessee GOP”, which falsely claimed to be operated by the Republican Party in that state, attracted 100,000 followers.




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The indictment lists political advertisements taken out by the defendants. These included such messages as “Donald wants to defeat terrorism … Hillary wants to sponsor it”, “Ohio Wants Hillary 4 Prison”, and “Hillary is a Satan, and her crimes and lies had proved just how evil she is.”

Their tactics were insidious. They targeted vulnerable groups such as African-Americans and Muslims to sow hate and reduce Clinton’s turnout.

The indictment provides rich detail about the Russian agency: it was incorporated in 2013, based in St Petersburg, employed hundreds of people for its online work, and had a budget of millions. It described its work as “information warfare” against the US and wanted to “spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general” during the 2016 election. Again, no direct link to the Russian government or Putin is mentioned in relation to these actions.

It is alleged the company and the named individuals conspired to violate the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which stipulates certain informational requirements for agents of foreign principals who attempt to influence US public opinion, policy and legislation. They also violated the Federal Election Campaign Act, which prohibits foreigners from making contributions etc relating to electioneering communications. The indictment also alleges identity theft, bank and wire fraud, and violations of visa laws.

Crucially, the indictment does not state that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. It clearly notes that any contact with the campaign was “unwitting”.

Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein also clarified there was no allegation of collusion in the indictment and he stated that the Russians did not affect the outcome of the 2016 election. Following the indictment, President Trump has tweeted that his campaign “did nothing wrong – no collusion!”

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The president has also tweeted:

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This marks an important step for Trump. He is now apparently dismissing Russian influence after repeatedly refusing to condemn them, seeking to downplay their involvement in the election, and labelling it a hoax.

He has since pointed out that the indictment shows Russian involvement began in 2014 – before he entered the campaign. Moreover, the evidence shows that the Russians did not support only Trump. They also supported Bernie Sanders (who has blamed the Obama Administration for not doing more to tackle it), although this fact has not been adequately covered in the media. Further, the goal of the Russians was to sow distrust in the political system and undermine the electoral process – not specifically to help Trump.




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Does the indictment mean that the president and members of his campaign are in the clear? The answer is difficult to determine at this stage. The indictment leaves open the question as to whether other US individuals might have aided the defendants.

Subsequent actions by Mueller might bring forward additional charges against Trump or his team. Further, the indictment does nothing in relation to the potential obstruction-of-justice case against Trump, although the evidence on this is likely to be weak.

The ConversationFinally, from a purely political standpoint, it is hard to see from the evidence outlined that the Russian involvement was decisive. To be sure, they propped up fringe groups and spread discord, which local groups were fully capable of doing and did throughout the election. In addition, the sums of money documented in the indictment are small change in the context of the gargantuan amounts both campaigns spent during the 2016 campaign.

Sandeep Gopalan, Professor of Law, Deakin University

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

Australians support universal health care, so why not a universal basic income?


Brian Howe, University of Melbourne

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In Australia, the idea of a universal basic income has floated in and out of our political arena for years, but remains only that, an idea.

The concept of a universal basic income has always been controversial. This notion – that the government should pay everyone a regular payment to meet their basic needs, despite their income – has been touted as a solution to inequality.

In the 1970s, the idea of a universal basic income looked as though it could become more.




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In 1972, the inaugural Director of the Melbourne Institute, Applied Economic and Social Research, professor Ronald Henderson, chaired the Australian government’s poverty inquiry. It was tasked by then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, to investigate all aspects of poverty affecting Australians, including race, education, health and law.

Professor Henderson’s work led to what is now widely referred to as the Henderson Poverty Line, which measures the extent of poverty in Australia in terms of the income of families and individuals relative to their essential living costs; and he advocated a guaranteed minimum income scheme for Australia, similar to a universal basic income .

More than 40 years after professor Henderson began his report of the Commonwealth Commission of Inquiry into Poverty with the line:

“Poverty is not just a personal attribute: it arises out of the organisation of society.”

The suggestion of a guaranteed minimum income scheme

At the heart of the Henderson inquiry’s final recommendations was a guaranteed minimum income scheme, in which payments to pensioners (at a high rate) and payments to all other income units (at a lower rate) would be balanced by a proportional tax on all private income. The report states:

We believe that these reforms are the best way of reconciling the conflicting ends of policy on income support… They recognise that disabilities which hinder the earning of a private income warrant favoured treatment, but also provide support for people without disabilities in this sense, and who may still easily become poor – particularly the large family. Again, support is provided in a way which does not discredit those who claim it… so that income support may be seen as a right rather than a favour.

Professor Henderson was strongly in favour of universality in social policy – as exists in Medicare today in Australia. And that’s tangible in his idea of a universal minimum payment which would have ensured that incomes for individuals and families were in excess of the poverty line.

Instead of means testing – which he opposed as it creates a separate system for the disadvantaged that can be stigmatising – he wanted to use the tax system to withdraw income from higher earners, rather than means testing pensions and benefits.

But this didn’t happen.

Instead, the Whitlam government was dismissed in 1975 – around six months after the inquiry delivered its final report, and the new government, headed up by Malcolm Fraser, hardly considered its recommendations.

Far from universality

At the time of professor Henderson’s pivotal work, post-war Australia had pursued the creation of an industrial economy where male workers played the dominant role. For the most part, employment then meant permanent full-time jobs in industry regulated and protected against foreign competition.

But, since that time, the country has pursued a very different course.

The key challenge is how Australia can maintain its commitment to fair and equitable wealth generation and distribution, in a modern world.

The precarious nature of modern labour markets puts enormous pressures on families and households, making it important to create a system that works in the interests of the truly disadvantaged.




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Professor Henderson distrusted a targeted social security system, and therefore recommended a basic income so that “income support may be seen as a right rather than a favour” for Australian citizens.

Since then, despite the example of universality in the key public institution of Medicare, to which all are entitled, the social security system has become more conditional, and arbitrary, with benefits now well below the poverty line.

There is growing evidence, for example, that social security payments for unemployed people, like Newstart, now barely meet the necessities of life – let alone cover expenses involved when people are looking for work.

In this country, we increasingly celebrate entrepreneurial self-reliance, but for disadvantaged people, the certainty of an adequate income is a fundamental foundation. It may not be sufficient, but it is necessary.

The ConversationAs professor Henderson said during a speech at a Remembrance Day rally in 1984 “we all have a right to a decent minimum income: to a fair share”.

Brian Howe, Professorial Associate in the Centre for Public Policy, University of Melbourne

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

Voters tell Barnaby Joyce to quit as leader: Newspoll


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Barnaby Joyce is coming under fresh pressure to stand down with 65% of voters saying he should quit as Nationals leader, in a Newspoll that shows the scandal hitting the government and Malcolm Turnbull.

The two-party vote has the Coalition trailing Labor 47-53%, compared with 48-52% a fortnight ago, halting the improvement the government had at the start of the year. This is the 27th consecutive Newspoll in which the Coalition has been behind Labor.

The poll comes as softer weekend messaging from Turnbull added to the confusion around the crisis, and how it will play out remains uncertain.

Turnbull and the Liberals want to see Joyce step down or be rolled by his party. But Turnbull is treading more carefully now that it is clear the Nationals could take umbrage and dig in behind Joyce if they think the Liberals are trying to dictate to them.

There is an increasing feeling in Nationals circles that Joyce’s position is untenable. The party’s MPs will get electoral feedback this week when parliament is not sitting and they are in their electorates. Joyce is desperately trying to hang onto his job despite the huge political fallout from his affair with his former staffer, now his pregnant partner. He is on a week’s leave.

In the Newspoll published in Monday’s Australian, Turnbull’s better prime minister rating fell five points to 40% and Bill Shorten’s rose two points to 33%, narrowing Turnbull’s lead to seven points. The Coalition’s primary vote declined two points to 36%; Labor remained steady at 37%.

The Australian reports that in the breakdown of voters wanting Joyce gone, 29% say he should step down as Nationals leader but stay in parliament as a backbencher; 15% believe he should step down and not contest the election; and 21% say he should leave politics at once. Only 23% said he should remain in parliament as Nationals leader.

Regional voters were more inclined to say he should go from parliament at once (25%) than city voters (20%). Men were more inclined than women to say he should leave politics immediately (23-20%).

After Turnbull denounced Joyce on Thursday and said the deputy prime minister “has to consider his own position”, followed on Friday by a counterattack from Joyce, the two men met for more than a hour in Turnbull’s Sydney office on Saturday.

On Sunday Turnbull described the talks as “frank and warm, friendly, good, constructive”, and said “of course” he could continue to work with Joyce.

He had not apologised to Joyce – “there was nothing to apologise for”, he said.

Turnbull said it was important “to meet, to work through the various challenges and issues that we face. Now the important thing is Barnaby and I are working closely together as we always have, he’s obviously taking leave coming this week and we look forward to him returning from that at the end of the week.”

He stressed “there are no issues between the Liberal and National Parties at all”.

Speaking on Nine’s 60 Minutes program, Turnbull said of his Thursday remarks: “I think Australians wanted to hear their prime minister’s heartfelt views about these events – they wanted to know what I felt about them. They wanted to hear it from my lips but also from my heart.”

He said he felt the values he expressed and the action he took “would have the overwhelming endorsement of Australians. I felt it was absolutely the right thing to do.”

Turnbull said he had discussed with wife Lucy his ban, announced on Thursday, on ministers having sexual relationships with staff and she absolutely agreed with it.

Treasurer Scott Morrison, asked whether it could be “business as usual” if Joyce stayed Nationals leader, said: “It has to be. We’re a professional government.”

Morrison dismissed suggestions that the sex ban would be hard to enforce.

“You set out a standard that says, don’t sleep with your staff”, he told the ABC. “The point of a code is preventative. If you have a code you’re telling people, ‘you do this, understand by doing it, that you’ll be gonski’.”

“Now I’m happy to have a prime minister who’s been prepared to call out a political culture in this country that has been going on for decades, if not generations.”

His message to people who argued “private is private” was “I’m sorry, if you sleep with your staff, it’s not private any more, it’s public, because you’re a minister in a position of responsibility and power over those who work for you”.

The ConversationQueensland Nationals MP George Christensen posted on Facebook: “The bonk ban is bonkers! And it shows that the whole attack on Barnaby Joyce is driven by one thing: sex. As interesting as that topic is, it’s his private life.”

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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