All eyes on November’s G20 meeting as tensions between China and the US ratchet up



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Much attention will be on the next meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump at the G20 in late November.
AAP/EPA/Roman Pilipey

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

When G20 finance ministers met in Bali last week to review economic developments in the lead-up to the annual G20 summit, they could not ignore troubling signs in the global economy driven by concerns about an intensifying US-China trade conflict.

Last week’s slide in equities markets will have served as a warning – if that was needed – of the risks of a trade conflict undermining confidence more generally.

China’s own Shanghai index is down nearly 30% this year. This is partly due to concerns about a trade disruption becoming an all-out trade war.




Read more:
The risks of a new Cold War between the US and China are real: here’s why


IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde’s call on G20 participants to “de-escalate” trade tensions or risk a further drag on global economic growth might have resonated among her listeners in Bali, but it is not clear calls to reason are getting much traction in Washington these days.

Uncertainties caused by a disrupted trading environment are already having an impact on global growth. In its latest World Economic Outlook, the IMF revised growth down to 3.7% from 3.9% for 2018-19, 0.2 percentage points lower than forecast in April.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde has called on G20 members to
AAP/EPA/Made Nagi

The IMF is predicting slower growth for the Australian economy, down from a projected 2.9% this year to 2.8% next year. The May federal budget projected growth of 3% for 2018-19 and the following year.

Adding to trade and other tensions between the US and China are the issues of currency valuations, and a Chinese trade surplus.

In September, China’s trade surplus with the US ballooned to a record U$34.1 billion.

This comes amid persistent US complaints that Beijing has fostered a depreciation of the Yuan by about 10% this year to boost exports, which China denies.

These are perilous times in a global market in which the US appears to have shunned its traditional leadership role in favour of an internally-focused “America First” strategy.

So far, fallout from an increasingly contentious relationship between Washington and Beijing has been contained, but a near collision earlier this month between US and Chinese warships in the South China sea reminds us accidents can happen.

This is the background to a meeting at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires late in November between US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. That encounter is assuming greater significance as a list of grievances between the two countries expands.

US Vice President Mike Pence’s speech last week to the conservative Hudson Institute invited this question when he accused of China of “malign” intent towards the US.

Are we seeing the beginning of a new cold war?

The short answer is not necessarily. However, a further deterioration in relations could take on some of the characteristics of a cold war, in which collaboration between Washington and Beijing on issues like North Korea becomes more difficult.

By any standards, Pence’s remarks about China were surprising. He suggested, for example, that Chinese meddling in American internal affairs was more serious than Russia’s interventions in the 2016 president campaign.

He accused Beijing of seeking to harm Republican prospects in mid-term congressional elections and Trump’s 2020 re-election bid. This was a reference to China having taken its campaign against US tariffs to newspaper ads in farm states like Iowa.

Soybean exports to China have been hit hard by retaliatory tariff measures applied by Beijing in response to a first round of tariffs levied by the US.

“China wants a different American president,” Pence said.

This is probably true, but it could also be said that much of the rest of the world – not to mention half of the US population – would like a different American president.

All this unsteadiness – and talk of a “new cold war” – is forcing an extensive debate about how to manage relations with the US and China in a disrupted environment that seems likely to become more, not less, challenging.

Australian academic debate, including contributions from various “think tanks”, has tended to focus on the defence implications of tensions in the South China Sea for Australia’s alliance relationship with the US.

This debate has narrowed the focus of Australia’s concerns to those relating to America’s ability – or willingness – to balance China’s regional assertiveness.

This assertiveness increasingly is finding an expression in China’s activities in the south-west Pacific, where Chinese chequebook – or “debt-trap” – diplomacy is being wielded to build political influence.

Australian policymakers have been slow to respond to China’s push into what has been regarded as Australia’s own sphere of influence.




Read more:
Despite strong words, the US has few options left to reverse China’s gains in the South China Sea


Leaving aside narrowly-focused Australian perspectives, it might be useful to get an American view on the overarching challenges facing the US and its allies in their attempts to manage China’s seemingly inexorable rise.

Among American China specialists, few have the academic background and real-time government experience to match that of Jeffrey Bader, who served as President Barack Obama special assistant for national security affairs from 2009-2011.

In a monograph for the Brookings Institution published in September, Bader poses a question that becomes more pertinent in view of Pence’s intervention. He writes:

Ever since President Richard Nixon opened the door to China in 1972, it has been axiomatic that extensive interaction and engagement with Beijing has been in the US national interest.

The decisive question we face today is, should such broad-based interaction be continued in a new era of increasing rivalry, or should it be abandoned or radically altered?

The starkness of choices offered by Bader is striking. These are questions that would not have entered the public discourse as recently as a few months ago.

He cites a host of reasons why America and its allies should be disquieted by developments in China. These include its mercantilist trade policies and its failure to liberalise politically in the three decades since the Tiananmen protests.

However, the costs of distancing would far outweigh the benefits of engagement to no-one’s advantage, least of all American allies like Japan, India and Australia.

None of these countries, in Bader’s words, would risk economic ties with China nor join in a “perverse struggle to re-erect the ‘bamboo curtain’… We will be on our own”. He concludes:

American should reflect on what a world would be like in which the two largest powers are disengaged then isolated from, and ultimately hostile to each other – for disengagement is almost certain to turn out to be a way station on the road to hostility, he concludes.

Bader has been accused of proffering a “straw man argument’’ on grounds that the administration is feeling its way towards a more robust policy, and not one of disengagement. But his basic point is valid that Trump administration policies represent a departure from the norm.




Read more:
Response to rumours of a Chinese military base in Vanuatu speaks volumes about Australian foreign policy


At the conclusion of the IMF/World Bank meetings in Bali, Christine Lagarde added to her earlier warnings of “choppy” waters in the global economy stemming from trade tensions and further financial tightening. She said:

There are risks out there in the system and we need to be mindful of that…bIt’s time to buckle up.

That would seem to be an understatement, given the unsteadiness in the US-China relationship and global geopolitical strains more generally.The Conversation

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

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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One year on for Ardern’s coalition government in New Zealand



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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the General Assembly of the United Nations last month.
EPA/PETER FOLEY, CC BY-ND

Richard Shaw, Massey University

Shortly before last years’s general election in Aotearoa New Zealand, a Morrinsville farmer protesting the then opposition Labour Party’s planned water tax held up a placard describing its newly minted leader, Jacinda Ardern, as a “pretty communist”.

A year on, Ardern is New Zealand’s prime minister, the third woman and the youngest person to have held the role in 150 years. She is comfortably the most popular politician in the land, and one of the brightest stars in the international political firmament.

The Labour-New Zealand First-Green coalition government led by Ardern celebrates its first birthday this week.




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Jacinda Ardern to become NZ prime minister following coalition announcement


It has been quite the year for Ardern. It is worth reiterating just how far she has travelled since she took the reins as Labour’s leader just weeks before the election, igniting a dull campaign and resuscitating Labour’s polling.

A contemporary politician

Following the election, the conservative National Party looked odds-on to retain office. But on 19 October, after almost two weeks of negotiations, the leader of the centre-right New Zealand First (NZF) party, Winston Peters, surprised virtually everyone (including Labour’s front bench) when he used the balance of power to form a government with Labour and the Greens.

In the year since, Ardern has firmly established herself as the government’s and her party’s most valuable political asset. In an ironic turn of events, Andrew Little, the man who voluntarily stood aside so Ardern could become Labour leader, is also performing well.

An astute and effective political communicator, Ardern regularly uses Facebook Live to apprise the nation of the contents of a day in the life of the PM.
The formal set pieces that have helped established Ardern as the dominant figure on New Zealand’s political landscape include her speaking on the lower marae at Waitangi, the spiritual birthplace of the nation, wearing a Māori korowai while meeting New Zealand’s head of state, and taking a seat in the United Nations General Assembly with her child, Neve Te Aroha, and partner, Clarke Gayford.

Jacinda Ardern brought her partner, Clarke Gayford, and baby to the UN General Assembly.
EPA/PETER FOLEY, CC BY-ND

The informal, popular-culture moments – particularly those mediated by social media – have been just as important and reflect how Ardern occupies political time and space in a way no previous New Zealand prime minister has. She and Gayford have used Twitter to announce Ardern’s pregnancy, triggering stiff nationwide competition for the role of official babysitter. Social media also charted the birth of their child in a public hospital, the PM’s taste for mac’n’cheese, and the creation of a special UN pass for Neve Te Aroha.

But swooning international audiences do not vote in Aotearoa New Zealand, and what plays well on the Colbert Show does not necessarily resonate in quite the same way back home.

Not all smooth sailing

It is important to note that National continues to outpoll Labour on the preferred party vote. At times the political management of the coalition has been shoddy. Ardern has already had to relieve two members of her cabinet – Clare Curran and Meka Whaitiri – of their ministerial duties, to the disappointment of those hoping to see more, not fewer, women at the top table.

Ardern has also been criticised for not taking a stronger stand on the plight of refugees and on questions concerning possible Chinese involvement in domestic politics. While the government has established many reviews, it is taking some time for the material achievements to start racking up.

But there are signs the administration is starting to hit its straps. Finance Minister Grant Robertson recently announced a larger than expected budget surplus, thus meeting his promised public debt/GDP ratio four years ahead of schedule.

Since Ardern’s return from the UN, Peters and his New Zealand First party colleagues have looked uncharacteristically focused, although the call at the party’s recent conference for a Respecting New Zealand Values Bill was quickly slapped down by Ardern.

Meanwhile, the opposition National party is spiralling into nasty internecine strife that has gone global, may cost the party its leader, and will almost certainly damage its polling.

Changing the culture of politics

Standing back from the detail, what can be said about the political landscape in Aotearoa New Zealand one year on from the formation of the first Labour-NZF-Greens coalition? For one thing, on this side of the ditch we are cautiously re-familiarising ourselves with the idea that the state can be a force for good. The results at this early stage are patchy, as you would expect, but this administration’s belief that government can be benign rather than benighted feels new and different.

Second, Ardern is normalising a whole bunch of things. Being a prime minister and a new mum, breastfeeding at work, and having a male partner who is a primary carer are all becoming, well, just normal.

Third, our cultural politics are changing. Not quickly enough, to be sure, but the symbolism of the fact that Ardern and Gayford’s child carries a Māori name and will be raised speaking both te reo Māori and English has been lost on precisely no-one in this country.

Finally, the nation’s political stocks in the international arena are appreciating. That is no bad thing for a small, exporting nation. There is a powerful progressive-egalitarian narrative in New Zealand reaching back through the nation’s anti-nuclear stance in the mid-1980s to the achievement (or granting) of women’s suffrage in 1893.




Read more:
Why New Zealand was the first country where women won the right to vote


As is the case with all political narratives, this one obscures as much as it reveals. But in an age of international fear and loathing, many New Zealanders take quiet pride in the sight of the “pretty communist” defending a rules-based international order, in opposition to the stance taken by the president of the US, a nation that was once the self-appointed leader of the free world. One wonders whether the farmer from Morrinsville appreciated the irony of that moment.The Conversation

Richard Shaw, Professor of Politics, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Liberals trounced in huge Wentworth swing, bringing a hung parliament


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Morrison government has been thrown into a parliamentary minority after a crushing defeat in the traditional Liberal seat of Wentworth, which has been captured by high profile independent Kerryn Phelps.

The anti-government swing in Malcolm Turnbull’s former seat of about 20% is one of the biggest for a federal byelection in modern history.

As of late Saturday night, Phelps had achieved a 52-48% two-candidate lead over the Liberals Dave Sharma. Sharma had about 42% of the primary vote; Phelps has polled about 30%.

Labor, which ran dead in the campaign to give the maximum chance of Phelps defeating the Liberals, was on 11%, down nearly 7 percentage points.

Turnbull had a 17.7% margin at the 2016 election, with 62% of the primary vote.

The byelection fiasco will re-open fractures in the government and threatens a damaging burst of infighting between Liberal conservatives and moderates.

It is not clear how it will affect the instability wracking the Nationals, where there is a push on from Barnaby Joyce to try to regain the leadership.

The government is not in danger of falling on the floor of the House because it has enough crossbench support on the matter of confidence. But to pass legislation, it will need the support of one of the now six crossbenchers.

The thumping in Wentworth, although there were special circumstances and it is not a typical seat, will be devastating for government morale and is another major fillip for Labor.

The tearing down of Turnbull in a coup initiated by the conservatives and their candidate Petter Dutton was clearly the key factor in the huge backlash. But also climate change – where the conservatives have pushed for a weakening of policy – was a major issue in the campaign, and the treatment of refugees was also prominent.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s frantic efforts to shore up the vote, including by a major change of the government’s Middle East policy in the campaign’s final week, failed to have an impact.

Phelps told a jubilant election party: “We have made history tonight. This is a great moment for Australian democracy.”

She sent a message to “any young people, any women, any aspiring Independents out there – if you are thinking of running for parliament or running for public office: yes, it can be tough, yes, the road can be hard, but it is so worthwhile that we have the right people stepping up to represent Australia.”

She told the ABC: “People have been concerned about the direction of government for a very long time and we’ve seen a lack of decency, a lack of integrity and we have to look at what the House of Representatives is about. It is about representing the people and the people have spoken loud and clear.”

Morrison left the Invictus Games to appear at the Liberal gathering. “I know this is a tough day, but leadership requires you to turn up on the tough days and the good days, and that’s what you will always get from me as the leader of the Liberal party.”

Morrison admitted: “The Liberal party has paid a big price tonight for the events of several months ago”.

“What’s happened here in Wentworth is not unexpected. Liberals are angry,” he said.

“Tonight is a night when we listen, learn and accept the blows.

In remarks also aimed at rallying his humiliated party, Morrison declared “the bell hasn’t rung” on the bigger fight for the next election.

He defaulted to his stump speech, saying “we believe in a fair go for those who have a go. …we believe it is every Australian’s duty to make a contribution and not take a contribution….My message to Bill Shorten is you will never lead a country that you want to divide.”

Morrison has to quickly recalibrate his pre-election message about the threat of instability if the seat were lost. This was a point he stressed at the end of the campaign, warning: “If an independent is elected at the Wentworth by-election, that will throw us into a hung Parliament and a lot of uncertainty, at a time when the country doesn’t need it.”

Morrison stressed the generally-acknowledged point that Sharma was a quality candidate. “The result today is on us, the Liberals, not on Dave Sharma. When you attract the crystal quality of the man like Dave Sharma, you know your party is heading in the right direction.”

In a gracious speech paying tribute to Phelps and other candidates, Sharma admitted the campaign had been “a little bruising”, and said “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to earn the trust of the voters of Wentworth tonight”.

While some Liberals want Sharma to contest Wentworth at the election, it will be hard to dislodge Phelps, and there will also be pressure to keep him for a more winnable seat.

Former minister Craig Laundy, a strong Turnbull supporter, appearing on Sky, lashed out at right wing commentators, urging colleagues who listened to them to realise they “do not shift votes”.

NSW Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman, who was on the ABC panel, said the result was “not a distinctly Wentworth message” and the Liberals had to heed the lesson. Zimmerman said Liberal research showed that the two biggest things working against the Liberals were the removal of Turnbull as prime minister and concern about climate change.

“I think what we’re seeing tonight is a reflection of the anger in the broader community, but particularly in his own seat … on what happened on that mad week two months ago,” Zimmerman said.

NSW Labor MP Linda Burney said Morrison should consider calling an election.

Turnbull’s son Alex, who urged a vote against the Liberals, tweeted: “Incredible result and proud of the people of Wentworth. A hearty congratulations to @drkerrynphelps who fought a great campaign. A great day for Australian democracy”.

The vote has raised speculation that Tony Abbott could face a threat at the election from an independent in his seat Warringah.

There had been speculation the result could be close, but it was obvious from nearly the start of counting – ABC analyst Antony Green called the result at 7:18pm.

There were 16 candidates in the field.

*This story has been corrected to say one of the biggest swings rather than a record swing.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Wentworth mightn’t be typical but it’s the shrill canary in the mine


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Fittingly, given the perennial instability of federal politics, the
Wentworth byelection looked clearcut on Saturday night only to become
very murky on Sunday morning.

But as things stand, although a lot of postals are still outstanding,
independent Kerryn Phelps is expected to take the seat and the
Coalition is poised to go into minority government, and potentially to
descend into yet more infighting on the way to seemingly inevitable
defeat next year.




Read more:
Phelps consolidates her lead in Wentworth after nail biting day


In Wentworth Phelps’ support appears to have strengthened late. She
improved her messaging, while the government’s shambles last week
reinforced in voters’ mind why it needed a walloping.

Regardless of the narrowing in the count, the top line message is that
these voters shouted their outrage at the political assassination of
Malcolm Turnbull. They also strongly signalled they care about climate
change and are not satisfied at the government’s policy response; as
well, they want something done about the offshore refugees who have
been treated inhumanely for so long.




Read more:
Government raises glimmer of hope for New Zealand deal on refugees


Defenders of the leadership switch will say Wentworth isn’t Australia,
voters elsewhere won’t feel so strongly, and Scott Morrison cuts
through better than Turnbull.

But a large number of Australians are disgusted with the expedient
coup culture that has overtaken our politics. As Liberal candidate
Dave Sharma told Sky on Sunday, “Australians are sick of this
[instability]”. The Coalition can’t avoid paying a price for that at
the election – the question is only how high a one.

To think that the Nationals could be even remotely contemplating a
coup by Barnaby Joyce against Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack
shows that some politicians find it hard to learn the most basic
lessons.

McCormack is lacklustre but cutting him down would be simply to court
danger. Not least, some rural women are so against Joyce that the
party might face active opposition from them. Yet, Nationals sources
still don’t rule out a move before Christmas.

As for Morrison, as much as bringing him new problems, Wentworth has
put up in lights the ones that were already there.

Even if those in other electorates are not as agitated about climate
change as Wentworthians, that issue is more important to the broad
Australian community than it is to the government.

Morrison may have held the line against the right wing Liberals
arguing for quitting the Paris agreement but he errs by
brushing away people’s concerns about climate change with his
singleminded focus on power prices. Many voters won’t see that
approach as adequate.

Morrison remains wedged between his Liberal right wing ideologues and
mainstream voters. The right claims to speak for the “mainstream” on
climate (and other things) but it doesn’t.

Morrison needs a way out – to show that he understands a more
sophisticated policy is required – but none is in sight.

Liberal deputy leader Josh Frydenberg was holding firmly to present
policies on Sunday, even though he has previously admitted his bitter
disappointment at the death of the National Energy Guarantee, which in
its totality integrated energy and climate policy.

The story is a little more positive on the refugees. Finally, the
government shows a willingness to settle some in New Zealand, but it
demands that Labor pass the legislation to close the “back door” to
stop these people (and boat people settled elsewhere) ever setting
foot in Australia. Labor says such a ban is too wide but the pressure
is on for a deal. One “push” factor is that progress on a New Zealand
solution, albeit partial, would take some weight off Bill Shorten at
Labor’s December national conference.

A hung parliament, assuming it happens, will make everything harder for the government, including building a platform for the election. To pass any
controversial legislation, it would have to get the support of at least one of six crossbenchers. The crossbenchers will exploit their enhanced importance.




Read more:
Explainer: what is a hung parliament and how would it affect the passage of legislation?


Generally, risks will be higher. The possibility of a successful no
confidence motion is remote. But Home Affairs Minister Peter
Dutton might be a little more nervous about the chances of his eligibility to sit in parliament being referred to the High Court.

The government’s worsened situation may impose more discipline on its backbenchers – or it may encourage backbench grandstanding in the pursuit of survival.

Coming up on the policy front is the issue of the response to the religious freedom report. Here Morrison is on a hiding to nothing. His right wing wants
more religions protections to be legislated. But in the run up to
Wentworth he had to promise legislation to remove the existing right
of religious schools to discriminate against gay students – and he is
resisting calls to do the same for teachers. The religious freedom
debate is going in quite another direction to that foreseen by the
right and Morrison himself.

Morrison would do better to simply bury the (still unreleased) report.
But the right won’t allow that.

Then there is the Middle East policy U-turn Morrison put on the table
in the campaign’s last week – to consider shifting the Australian
embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A decision is due by year’s end.
Is Morrison going to stick to this controversial path – or make an
ungainly retreat? Either way, there’ll be a fresh argument.

After the Wentworth debacle Turnbull’s critics predictably are
intensifying their attack on him – firstly for jumping ship ahead of
the election and secondly for his failure to intervene to help Sharma.
Both Morrison and Sharma appealed personally to Turnbull to come to
the aid of the party.

Turnbull can say he made it clear he would quit parliament if rolled,
and that ex-PMs shouldn’t hang about. The former prime minister can
argue that weighing into the campaign would have been viewed cynically
and thus counterproductive.

If, however, Sharma misses out by a relatively modest margin, the
question will hang in the air: might Turnbull have swung a few votes?
His decisions will seen even by some of his supporters on the
negative side of his legacy ledger.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Explainer: what is a hung parliament and how would it affect the passage of legislation?



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A minority government is still possible to manage, but will make Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s job that bit tougher.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Anne Twomey, University of Sydney

If, as predicted, the Morrison government loses the Wentworth byelection, it will have a minority on the floor of the lower house. Although the Coalition would have 75 members and the non-government parties and independents would have 75 members, the Coalition supplies the Speaker (who only votes when a vote is tied). This would leave the Coalition with 74 on the floor of the house, with the possibility of 75 votes opposing it.

The Morrison government could offer the speakership to one of the cross-bench members or a disaffected opposition member in order to restore its majority on the floor. But given the Gillard government’s unhappy experience with making Peter Slipper as Speaker during its minority government, it would seem unlikely the Morrison government would take the same path. This is especially so given the relatively short period left until an election is expected in May.




Read more:
Wentworth byelection called too early for Phelps as Liberals recover in late counting


Does this mean there could be change of government without an election?

Technically, a government may fall on a vote of no-confidence and a new government can be formed, without an election occurring, if the incoming government can command the confidence of the lower house. However, on the current numbers, that appears to be inconceivable.

This is because the Australian Labor Party only holds 69 seats, which is significantly fewer than the Coalition’s numbers on the floor of the House. The rest of the non-government seats are, or are likely to be, held by three independents: Cathy McGowan, Andrew Wilkie and (subject to confirmation) Kerryn Phelps, along with Adam Bandt from the Australian Greens, Bob Katter from Katter’s Australian Party and Rebekha Sharkie from the Centre Alliance. They support views across the political spectrum and would be extremely unlikely, in a bloc, to support Labor to form government.

Moreover, even if it had the united support of the cross-bench, once Labor had to supply a Speaker, it would be in the same position as the Morrison government, having a minority on the floor of the House. So unless the numbers changed dramatically (for example, through MPs defecting from one party to another or changes in seats in other by-elections) this is not going to occur.

It is also in the Labor Party’s political interests to have the backing of the people in an election when it takes office. It would therefore be likely to bide its time until an election.

Does the government have to prove to the Governor-General that it has the confidence of the lower house?

As the Morrison government is already in office, it does not have to convince the Governor-General of anything. The Governor-General has no role to play unless Morrison resigns, or requests a dissolution, or unless extreme circumstances arise that call for the dismissal of the government.

Governments can continue to operate when in minority in the lower House, particularly where no other party has majority support. The Gillard minority government continued to function and pass legislation for a full term, despite being in minority in both Houses.

While Gillard had an agreement on “confidence and supply” with the cross-benchers in the House of Representatives (meaning that they agreed not to vote no-confidence in the government or block the supply of money to the government, except in particular extreme circumstances), it would not be necessary for a minority Morrison government to negotiate such an agreement. Minority governments can operate without such an agreement – which in any case is not in any way legally binding on the parties to it and has no more than “political” force.

What effect will this have on the passage of legislation?

The Morrison government already has to negotiate with a range of cross-benchers in the Senate, or get the support of Labor, to pass its legislation. If it falls into minority, it will have to achieve the support of at least one of the six cross-benchers or Labor in the House of Representatives as well. This does not seem to be a terribly difficult task, particularly as a number of the cross-benchers are generally supportive of a conservative philosophy.

However, there is a small risk that a Labor-supported bill, which achieved the support of all the cross-benchers, could be passed against the wishes of a minority government. The type of bill that might attract the support of the cross-benchers would be likely to be one that increased government accountability. A bill to institute an anti-corruption body at the federal level, for example, might have some prospect of being passed by both houses. A bill to enhance accountability of political donations might also have some prospect of success.

But such a bill could not be passed if it involved the appropriation of money. This is because it requires a message from the Governor-General recommending it, and the Governor-General is advised in this regard by the government. This ensures that a government retains control over the budget, even when it is in minority.

Could the Morrison government advise the Governor-General to refuse to give assent to a bill passed by both houses of parliament against its will? Such action would be extremely unwise, for two reasons.

First, there is considerable controversy about whether the Governor-General, in exercising the role of assenting to bills, is fulfilling a legislative function, acting on the advice of the two houses, or an executive function, acting on ministerial advice. The Governor-General could legitimately take the view that the principle of representative government requires him to act on the advice of the houses in giving assent to a bill that has been validly passed by both houses.

Second, if the government acted in such a high-handed way as to reject the will of both houses, this might galvanise the cross-benchers in the House of Representatives to vote no-confidence in the government. It is therefore unlikely that the government would take such a risk.

What other impacts might a loss of a majority have?

The key consequence of a loss of the government’s majority in the lower house would be that it would no longer have complete control over motions concerning the business of the house. The government would be protected to some extent by a rule that a motion to suspend the standing orders of the House, without notice, requires the support of an absolute majority of members, being 76. However, standing orders can be suspended by an ordinary majority, being the majority of members who happen to vote on the motion, if notice is given. This means that parliamentary tactics will become of heightened importance.

It also means that the government may lose votes on motions on issues such as the referral of a Member to the Court of Disputed Returns for determination of whether or not the member is disqualified from sitting in parliament.




Read more:
Explainer: is Peter Dutton ineligible to sit in parliament?


It is possible, for example, that a majority of the house might refer Peter Dutton to the Court of Disputed Returns, given that a previous resolution to this effect was only lost by one vote last time. This may re-open the cavern of horrors that is section 44 of the Constitution.

Does the government have to resign if it loses a vote in the house?

A government does not have to resign if it loses a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives. It only has to act if a vote of no-confidence in the government is passed by the lower house. A vote of no-confidence is one that expressly states the house has no confidence in the government, or one that blocks a supply bill or symbolically reduces the amount of supply granted to the government. It may also include a vote to defeat a major government bill, which the government has declared to be an issue of confidence. The loss of a vote on an ordinary bill or a procedural motion will not usually be regarded as indicating a loss of confidence.

Further, if a no-confidence motion is passed by chance (for example, because a government member did not make it to the chamber in time for the vote or was away sick) there is no immediate requirement to act, as long as restored confidence can be shown within a reasonable time. Governments should not fall by accident.

Even if the government does lose confidence, it can seek to go to an election instead of resigning. Although the Governor-General formally has the power to reject a request for an election, he would only be likely to do so if that request came shortly after the previous election and there was another person who could form a stable government. That is not the case here. We are sufficiently close to the end of the government’s term that a dissolution and fresh election would almost certainly be granted by the Governor-General if the government suffered a loss of confidence. So the consequence of a successful vote of no confidence would be an election.

Governing just became a little harder

The Morrison government would certainly find it more difficult, but not impossible, to manage the House of Representatives if it is in minority. It would require great discipline from its MPs, good organisation and high level negotiating skills to ensure that the business of the house was completed without mishaps.

In the words of a former prime minister, it would need to be “agile” in its management of parliament for the rest of its term.The Conversation

Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Phelps consolidates her lead in Wentworth after nail biting day


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Independent Kerryn Phelps was more than 1600 votes ahead on Sunday night and still on track to win Wentworth, after a dramatic narrowing of the margin earlier brought Liberal candidate Dave Sharma back into the race.

Phelps received a fillip during the day after a recount found some errors in preference tallies in the Bondi Beach and Bellevue Hill booths.

Phelps’ margin had begun to shrink at the end of Saturday night in the count of prepoll votes. Her lead was then pushed down at the start of Sunday with the count of some postal votes.

There are still several thousand postal votes outstanding, which can come in up to 13 days after the poll.

On a two-candidate basis Phelps is now leading the Liberals Dave Sharma 51.1% to 48.9%.

ABC electoral analyst Antony Green said on Sunday night that Phelps looked to have enough votes to survive a trend against her in postal voting.

Green said Phelps’ campaign peaked on polling day. “She won clearly on polling day, but the votes cast ahead of polling day were not nearly as strong for her.”

Sharma, speaking on Sky on Sunday night, conceded it would be hard for him to make up the gap.

The expected loss of Wentworth throws the Coalition into minority government.

While the government currently has pledges of confidence from some crossbenchers, they would be in a strong position to demand concessions in a hung parliament.

Phelps has said she prefers governments to run full term but has left in qualifiers, when pressed on the issue of whether she would give confidence.

She said on Sunday: “The government and all governments should go full term unless there are exceptional circumstances, and the next election is due in May next year and that’s time enough”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was in touch with Phelps on Sunday.

He repeated at a news conference his Saturday night message that the result demonstrated the great anger over the leadership coup.

Morrison also said he and Sharma had unsuccessfully asked Malcolm Turnbull to intervene in the campaign. What impact such an intervention would have had “ultimately is for others to judge,” Morrison said.

He reiterated the government’s intention to serve its full term. There was no reason why it couldn’t serve in minority, he said.“That is not an uncommon circumstance”.

“What I will continue to do is be working closely with the crossbenchers, as I have been doing,” he said, noting the government had not had a majority during the byelection period, and hadn’t lost one vote in that time.

With parliament sitting this week Centre Alliance crossbencher Rebekha Sharkie said she and independent Cathy McGowan would seek a meeting with Morrison on Monday to discuss issues – including the instability
in the Nationals.

Sharkie, who had guaranteed the government confidence until after the byelection, said she wanted to hear how Morrison was going to deal with the children on Nauru. As well, there needed to be an action plan for tackling climate change, she said – although the government on Sunday signalled there would be no change in its climate policy.

Sharkie said: “I don’t want to hold the government to ransom but I want to hold them to account”.

She said that the issue of Barnaby Joyce seeking to return to the Nationals’ leadership was about stability.“Do we need another deputy prime minister change?”

“The instability has to stop. I hope the government will knuckle down and deliver good governance.” Her electorate of Mayo, and the rest of the country, did not want to go to an early election.

Sharkie said she was not sure, from Morrison’s Saturday night speech, that he had got the message from Wentworth, but hoped he had thought it through overnight. “I’m not sure we have an understanding of what is the vision of the Prime Minister and his team,” she said, pointing to the chaos of last week.

The government was “all over the place” on the Middle East, she said. She also expressed amazement that government senators had voted by mistake for the Pauline Hanson “It is OK to be white motion”. “I don’t buy that argument. We in the Centre Alliance go through all these motions, make notes on the notice paper and the senators keep up with what they are voting on”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Senate is set to approve it, but what exactly is the Trans Pacific Partnership?


Pat Ranald, University of Sydney

These days it is called the TPP-11 or, more formally, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership.

It is what was left of the 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership after President Donald Trump pulled out the US, after a decade of negotiation, in 2017.

Still in it are Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Japan, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. It’ll cover 13% of the world’s economy rather than 30%.

What’s in it for us?

It is hard to know exactly what it will do for us, because the Australian government hasn’t commissioned independent modelling, either of the TPP-11 before the Senate or the original TPP-12.

A report commissioned by business organisations, including the Minerals Council, the Business Council, the Food and Grocery Council, the Australian Industry Group and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, finds the gains for Australia are negligible, eventually amounting to 0.4% of national income (instead of 0.5% under the TPP-12).

The report says:

The reason is simple:
Australia already benefits from extensive past
liberalisation, especially with Asia-Pacific partners.

But it says bigger gains would come from expanding TPP-11 to many more members, all using “common rules” and the same “predictable regulatory environment”.

Gradual deregulation

Setting up that predictable environment takes an unprecedented 30 chapters, covering topics including temporary workers, trade in services, financial services, telecommunications, electronic commerce, competition policy, state-owned enterprises and regulatory coherence.

Most treat regulation as something to be frozen and reduced over time, and never increased.




Read more:
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is back: experts respond


It’s a regime that suits global businesses, but will make it harder for future governments to re-regulate should they decide they need to.

Our experience of the global financial crisis, the banking royal commission, escalating climate change and the exploitation of vulnerable temporary workers tells us that from time to time governments do need to be able to re-regulate in the public interest.


https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/Am2QK/5/


International ISDS tribunals

And some decisions will be beyond our control. In addition to the normal state-to-state dispute processes in all trade agreements, the TPP-11 contains so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions that allow private corporations to bypass national courts and seek compensation from extraterritorial tribunals if they believe a change in the law or policy has harmed their investments.

Only tobacco cases are clearly excluded.

ISDS clauses will benefit some Australian-based firms. They will be able to take action against foreign governments that pass laws that threaten their investments, although until now there have been only four cases. John Howard did not include ISDS in the 2004 Australia-US FTA, following strong public reaction against it.




Read more:
When trade agreements threaten sovereignty: Australia beware


Known ISDS cases have increased from less than 10 in 1994 to 850 in 2017, and many are against health, environment, indigenous rights and other public interest regulations.

If, after the TPP-11 is in force, a future government wants to introduce new regulations requiring mining or energy companies to reduce their carbon emissions, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that companies headquartered in TPP-11 members might launch cases to object.

Legal firms specialising in ISDS are already canvassing those options.

Even where governments win such cases, it takes years and tens of millions of dollars in legal and arbitration fees to defend them. It took an FOI decision to discover that the Australian government spent $39 million in legal costs to defend its tobacco plain packaging laws in the Philip Morris case. The percentage of those costs recovered by the government is still not known.

A limited role for parliament

The text of trade agreements such as TPP-11 remains secret until the moment they are signed. After that it’s then tabled in parliament and reviewed by a parliamentary committee.

But the parliament can’t change the text. It can only approve or reject the legislation before it.




Read more:
Sovereign risk fears around TPP are overblown


In another oddity, that legislation doesn’t cover the whole agreement, merely those parts of it that are necessary to do things such as cut tariffs.

The parliament won’t be asked to vote on Australia’s decision to subject itself to ISDS, or on many of the other measures in the agreement that purport to restrict the government’s ability to impose future regulations.

Could Labor approve it, then change it?

In the midst of internal opposition to TPP-11, the Labor opposition has decided to endorse it and then try to negotiate changes if it wins government.

In government it has promised to release the text of future agreements before they are signed, and to subject them to independent analysis.

And it says it will legislate to outlaw ISDS and temporary labour provisions in future agreements.

But renegotiation won’t be easy. Labour will have to try to negotiate side letters with each of the other TPP governments. If the TPP-11 gets through the Senate, Labor is likely to be stuck with it.The Conversation

Pat Ranald, Research Associate, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Just like home’. New survey finds most renters enjoy renting, although for many it’s expensive



File 20181008 72100 3n8lr7.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Fewer than than 5% of renters are unhappy with their landlord, but rent can be expensive.
Shutterstock

Steven Rowley, Curtin University and Amity James, Curtin University

One in every four Australian households rents, and it’s not just those on low incomes.

A new nationally representative survey of 3,182 renters, funded by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, finds that while 60% of renting households have a household incomes below A$78,000, 30% are on incomes of more than A$100,000.

Although many households on low incomes and those headed by single parents are undoubtedly struggling to meet rental costs, those on moderate or higher incomes are generally positive about the experience.

Many of us rent

Despite its reputation as a nation of homeowners, Australia has the 10th largest private rental sector in the 37 nations that make up the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.


Comparison of international private rental sectors.
OECD Housing tenure distribution 2014 or later. ABS Census data 2016

Six in ten renters do it because they can’t afford to do anything else. The rest rent by choice.

Most are happy with what they rent

Perceptions of dwelling quality are positive with only 6% reporting that their dwelling is in a poor or terrible condition. 81% report a good or excellent relationship with their landlord.

Add a property manager into the mix and this falls to a still respectable 69%. Fewer than than 5% of respondents reported a poor or terrible relationship.

Around half of respondents claim to have a good to full understanding of their rights as tenants.


Relationship with property manager or landlord.
Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre 2018 Private Rental Sector Survey., Author provided

Overall, when asked whether their rental property felt like home, just over 60% reported it did, with less than 20% being negative about their experience.

The longer a tenant lives in a rental dwelling, the more it feels like home, highlighting the importance of security of tenure.

Generally, levels of satisfaction with the sector are high given the proportion of tenants who would rather be owners.


Satisfaction with the private rental sector by age group.
Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre Private Rental Sector Survey

Security of tenure matters

Security of tenure is a major concern of private renters.

Two thirds of renters have been in their current property for less than three years. Almost 40% have rented four or more properties during their time as renters.

While two thirds of moves are by choice, around one third are forced with the primary reason being the owner selling the property.




Read more:
Home ownership foundations are being shaken, and the impacts will be felt far and wide


Moves are stressful, expensive and disruptive, particularly for households with children. Around half of all renters say they would gladly choose to sign a lease longer than 12 months if given the option because it would offer greater security and a stronger sense of home.

As does discrimination

One in five renters report some form of discrimination when applying for rental properties.

Those households most likely to suffer from discrimination are single parents with children.

In September Victoria passed landmark leglislation intended to improve the rights of renters.




Read more:
Life as an older renter, and what it tells us about the urgent need for tenancy reform


Some important issues addressed in the legislation are highlighted in the BankWest Curtin Economics Centre report which found the vast majority of respondents are on short-term leases (12 months or less).

NSW is following suit, although, disappointingly, it does not plan to outlaw no-grounds evictions.

And rent can be expensive

The typical proportion of gross income spent on rent is 28%, with almost half of all renters paying more than 30%, a figure that rises to 63% for renters over 55.

One in seven renters are paying more than 60% of their income in rent.

When asked the reasons for such high rental payments, almost six in ten report being forced to pay that much through a lack of available alternatives.

Commonwealth rent assistance was regarded as important or very important by nine out of ten of those receiving it.

What we could do to help

One of the best ways to make rent more affordable would be to reintroduce a subsidised rental scheme that offered a financial incentive for developers to invest in housing that would be leased to low-income households at below-market rents along the lines of the National Rental Affordability Scheme by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008.

It was wound up by his successor tony Abbott in 2014.

Workable build to rent schemes could also help boost supply and security of tenure, and the negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions tax available to mum and dad investors could be tied to the delivery of long–term, below market rental dwellings.

Our survey finds the private rental market is performing quite well for those on moderate to high incomes. But not for those on low incomes who will never access home ownership and need secure long term tenure.The Conversation

Steven Rowley, Director, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, Curtin Research Centre, Curtin University and Amity James, Lecturer, School of Economic, Finance and Property, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Moving Break


I will be taking a break from Blogging for the next 2 to 3 weeks. It has become necessary for me to move home and this will be taking place over this period – so it’s packing, cleaning, transporting, etc, for the next few weeks. I may be able to get back to Blogging before 3 weeks, we’ll see how the move all goes. There is a lot to do though.