For the first time in a long time, we’re setting up a generation to be worse off than the one before it



The avocado latte is indeed a thing, but young Australians are spending less on luxuries than they used to, while older Australians are spending more.
Shutterstock

Kate Griffiths, Grattan Institute and Danielle Wood, Grattan Institute

We’ve become used to each new generation of Australians enjoying a better standard of living than the one that came before it. Until now. Today’s young Australians are in danger of falling behind.

A new Grattan Institute report, Generation gap: ensuring a fair go for younger Australians, reveals that younger generations are not making the same economic gains as their predecessors.

Economic growth has been slow for a decade, Australia’s population is ageing, and climate change looms. The burden of these changes mainly falls on the young. The pressures have emerged partly because of economic and demographic changes, but also because of the policy choices we’ve made as a nation.

Older generations are richer than before, younger ones are not

For much of the past century, strong economic growth has produced growing wealth and incomes. Older Australians today have substantially greater wealth, income and expenditure compared with Australians of the same age decades earlier.

But, as can be seen from the yellow lines on this graph, younger Australians have not made the same progress.



The graph shows that the wealth of households headed by someone under 35 has barely moved since 2004.

It’s not young people’s spending habits that are the problem – this is not a story of too many avocado lattes (and yes, they are a thing).

In fact, as the graph below shows, while every age group is spending more on essentials such as housing, young people are cutting back on non-essentials: among them alcohol, clothing, furnishings and recreation.



Wage stagnation since the global financial crisis and climbing underemployment have hit young people particularly hard. Older people tend to be better cushioned because they have already established their careers and are more likely to have other sources of income.

If low wage growth and fewer working hours becomes the “new normal”, we are likely to see a generation emerge into adulthood with lower incomes than the one before it.

It has already happened in the United States and United Kingdom.

Our generational bargain is at breaking point

Budget pressures will exacerbate these challenges.

Australia’s tax and welfare system supports an implicit generational bargain. Working-age Australians, as a group, are net contributors to the budget, helping to support older generations in their retirement.

They’ve come to expect that future generations in turn will support them.

But Australia’s population is ageing – which increases the need for government spending on health, aged care and pensions at the same time as there are relatively fewer working age people to pay for it.

Demographic bad luck is one thing (some generations will always be larger than others) but policy changes are making the burden worse.




Read more:
Expect a budget that breaks the intergenerational bargain, like the one before it, and before that


A series of tax policy decisions over the past three decades – in particular, tax-free superannuation income in retirement, refundable franking credits, and special tax offsets for seniors – mean we now ask older Australians to pay a lot less income tax than we once did.

Disturbingly, these and other changes mean older households now pay much less tax than younger households on the same income.



Added to this have been substantial increases in average pension and health payments for households over 65.

It has meant that net transfers – government benefits minus taxes – have dramatically increased for older households but not for younger ones.

The overall effect has been to make current working Australians increasingly underwrite the living standards of retirees.



A typical 40-year-old today contributes much more towards the retirement of others through taxes than did his or her baby boomer predecessors.

As it happens, it is also more than the typical 40-year-old is contributing to his or her own retirement through compulsory super.



This can’t be what Australians want

Most Australians want to leave the world a better place for those that come after them.

It’s time to make sure we do it.

Lots of older Australians are doing their best, individually, supporting their children via the “Bank of Mum and Dad”, caring for grandchildren, and scrimping through retirement to leave their kids a good inheritance.

These private transfers help a lucky few, but they don’t solve the broader problem. In fact, inheritances exacerbate inequality because they largely go to the already wealthy.

We need policy changes.

Reducing or eliminating tax breaks for “comfortably off” older Australians would be a start.




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Boosting economic growth and improving the structural budget position would help all Australians, especially younger Australians. It would also put Australia in a better position to tackle other challenges that are top of mind for young people, such as climate change.

Changes to planning rules to encourage higher-density living in established city suburbs would help by making housing more affordable.

Just as a series of government decisions have contributed to the challenges facing young people today, a series of government decisions will be needed to help redress them.

Every generation faces its own unique challenges, but letting this generation fall behind the others is surely a legacy none of us would be proud of.

It’s time to share the burden, and perhaps an avocado latte while we’re at it.The Conversation

Kate Griffiths, Senior Associate, Grattan Institute and Danielle Wood, Program Director, Budget Policy and Institutional Reform, Grattan Institute

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

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Frydenberg outlines financial sector reform timetable


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has issued a timetable for the government’s dealing with the recommendations from the royal commission into banking, superannuation and financial services, which aims to have all measures needing legislation introduced by the end of next year.

The opposition has accused the government of dragging its feet on putting into effect the results of the inquiry, which delivered its final report early this year.

“The need for change is undeniable, and the community expects that the government response to the royal commission will be implemented swiftly,” Frydenberg said in a statement on the timetable.

Fydenberg said that in his final report Commissioner Kenneth Hayne made 76 recommendations – 54 directed to the federal government (more than 40 of them needing legislation), 12 to the regulators, and 10 to the industry. Beyond the 76 recommendations, the government had announced another 18 commitments to address issues in the report.

The government had implemented 15 of the commitments it outlined in responding to the report, Frydenberg said. This included eight out of the 54 recommendations, and seven of the 18 additional commitments the government made. “Significant progress” had been made on another five recommendations, with draft legislation in parliament or out for comment or consultation papers produced.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: How ‘guaranteed’ is a rise in the superannuation guarantee?


Frydenberg said that, excluding the reviews to be conducted in 2022, his timetable was:

  • by the end of 2019, more than 20 commitments (about a third of the government’s commitments) would have been implemented or have legislation in parliament

  • by mid 2020, more than 50 commitments would have been implemented or be before parliament

  • by the end of 2020, the rest of the commission’s recommendations needing legislation would have been introduced.

When the Hayne report was released early this year, the government agreed to act on all the recommendations.

But one recommendation it has notably not signed up to was on mortgage brokers.

Hayne found that mortgage brokers should be paid by borrowers, not lenders, and recommended commissions paid by lenders be phased out over two to three years.




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Wealth inequality shows superannuation changes are overdue


The government at first accepted most of this recommendation, announcing the payment of ongoing so-called “trailing commissions” would be banned on new loans from July 2020. Upfront commissions would be the subject to a separate review. Four weeks later in March Frydenberg announced the government wouldn’t be banning trailing commissions after all. Instead, it would review their operation in three years.

Releasing the timetable, Frydenberg said the reform program was the “biggest shake up of the financial sector in three decades” and the speed of implementation “is unprecedented”.

“It will be done in a way that enhances consumer outcomes with more accountability, transparency and protections without compromising the flow of credit and competition,” he said.

He undertook to ensure the opposition was briefed on each piece of legislation before it came into parliament.

“This will begin with the offer of a briefing by Treasury on the implementation plan. Given both the government and opposition agreed to act on the commission’s recommendations, we expect to achieve passage of relevant legislation without undue delays,” he said.

He said the industry was “on notice. The public’s tolerance has been exhausted. They expect and we will ensure that the reforms are delivered and the behaviour of those in the sector reflects community expectations.”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.

How many people have eating disorders? We don’t really know, and that’s a worry



Eating disorders disproportionately affect females and young people.
From shutterstock.com

Laura Hart, University of Melbourne

Last week, federal health minister Greg Hunt announced that more than 60,000 Australians will be asked about their mental health and well-being as part of the Intergenerational Health and Mental Health Study.

The mental health survey will be run in 2020, with new data on how common mental illness is due the year after. This is a welcome announcement for the mental health sector, because information gathered in a survey like this can be used to shape policy reform.




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But eating disorders, a major category of mental illnesses, have been neglected by all previous important data collection initiatives in Australia so far. Notably, they were missing from the last national mental health surveys in 1997 and 2007.

Eating disorders are not yet an official part of this new survey, but we understand they are being considered.

If people with eating disorders are not counted, they don’t count. In other words, we need to know who has these severe and debilitating conditions, and then work towards improving the treatment and supports available for them.




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Surveys are important

National surveys ask the public if they have experienced symptoms of various mental illnesses, either in their lifetime or during the past 12 months.

People who answer “yes” to particular clusters of symptoms are “diagnosed”, or assumed to have had the illness.

Asking the public about their symptoms is the best way to understand how common mental illnesses are. This is because most people with a mental illness don’t seek treatment and may never have had a diagnosis. So collecting data from health services or based on reported diagnoses doesn’t provide a full picture.

Also, for some mental illnesses, such as anorexia nervosa or psychosis, people might not realise they have a diagnosable illness. But they are likely to respond “yes” to direct questions about their experiences with body dissatisfaction or thinking difficulties.

Eating disorders are more than just anorexia

A person with anorexia nervosa engages in dangerous behaviours to maintain a very low body weight, or to lose more weight. Although most people have heard of it, anorexia is not common. We know this from other countries who have previously studied the prevalence of anorexia in community surveys.

That being said, it’s very serious and can be fatal. It has the highest mortality of all non-substance use mental disorders, and one in five of those deaths is by suicide.




Read more:
Disease evolution: the origins of anorexia and how it’s shaped by culture and time


Other eating disorders include bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, and “other specified feeding and eating disorders” (OSFED), a catch-all group for those who don’t fit anywhere else.

People with bulimia nervosa or binge-eating disorder experience cycles of binge-eating, often after periods of restricting foods, which cause shame, guilt and discomfort.

Those with bulimia compensate for binge-eating through vomiting, fasting, exercise or other methods, while those with binge-eating disorder do not.

Binge-eating disorder is the most common of all eating disorders and occurs more equally across men and women than other eating disorders.

As well as continued weight gain, people with binge-eating disorder are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, and other significant health problems (such as asthma, diabetes, and arthritis) than people with a high BMI (body-mass index) but no binge-eating disorder.

Binge-eating disorder is the most common eating disorder.
From shutterstock.com

One example of OSFED is atypical anorexia nervosa – when someone shows all the symptoms of anorexia and has lost a significant amount of weight but their BMI is in the “normal” or “high” range.

Eating disorders disproportionately affect females, young people, LGBTIQ individuals, and those with a high BMI.

People with eating disorders often have a negative body image, and a strong perception their self-worth is tied to their appearance or body weight.

Burden of disease

Every year in Australia, millions of years of healthy life are lost because of injury, illness or premature deaths in the population. This is known as “burden of disease”.

Like national surveys, burden of disease studies are extremely important for planning and funding health services. They use prevalence statistics, or how many people per 100,000 Australians are assumed to have a particular illness. Given we don’t have good data on how prevalent eating disorders are, we likely underestimate their burden of disease.




Read more:
To the Bone: creating eating disorder awareness or doing harm?


The recently released Australian Burden of Disease Study 2015 lists eating disorders among the most burdensome illnesses for Australian females, being the tenth leading cause of total burden of disease for females aged 5-14 and women aged 25-44.

Importantly, the most common eating disorder – binge-eating disorder – is not included in burden of disease studies, meaning all these figures miscalculate the impact of eating disorders by a long way.

Eating disorders are on the rise

Despite our lack of prevalence data, there is evidence showing eating disorders are an increasing problem and should be regarded as a national priority.

Consecutive population surveys in South Australia showed the numbers of people with eating disorders climbed over a ten-year period.

Annual youth surveys demonstrate body image, the most potent risk factor for eating disorders, is year after year among the top concerns for young people.

A recent study on adolescents in the Hunter Valley region of NSW found one in five had experienced an eating disorder.

Treatment and prevention

People with eating disorders use more health services than people with all other forms of mental illness, but often don’t receive appropriate and effective treatment. They typically receive treatment for weight loss, depression or anxiety, but are rarely treated for their disordered eating.

Eating disorders were estimated to cost the health system A$99.9 million in the year 2012 alone.

Better treatment and prevention of eating disorders would reduce the cost and the burden of disease. But we need the data to show where the treatment gaps are and how to fund better services.

There are many promising elements of the proposed Intergenerational Health and Mental Health Study. These include surveying multiple people in a family, gathering physical and mental health data, and a target of more than 60,000 Australians. But it’s time eating disorders were included.




Read more:
Therapy for life-threatening eating disorders works, so why can’t people access it?


The Conversation


Laura Hart, Senior Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

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

Scott Morrison tells public servants: keep in mind the ‘bacon and eggs’ principle



Morrison describes the “the bacon and eggs principle” where “the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed”.
AAP/Shutterstock/The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has a sharp lecture for bureaucrats about their KPIs, in a comprehensive speech laying down how he expects the Australian Public Service to operate under his government.

Morrison stresses the service must be responsive to both its ministers and the “quiet Australians”, look beyond the noisy “bubble”, and be more open to outsiders, in a Monday address to the Institute of Public Administration, issued beforehand.

He calls for a “step-change” in improving delivery, greater diversity of views within the service, and the “busting” of regulatory congestion.

The Prime Minister is producing his blueprint ahead of formally receiving the report from the comprehensive review led by businessman David Thodey, which is coming within weeks – although Morrison has had discussions on its content and reportedly told the panel to take a tougher line on performance standards.

His speech themes build on views he has previously articulated, directly to departmental secretaries and in media comments. His focus is heavily on better service delivery, and his message to the bureaucrats is to remember they are on tap not on top. His concept is narrower than the ideas in a report, commissioned by the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) and released last week, which highlighted the need for more creative thinking and a greater scope for public servants to speak truth to power in their advisory role.




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In his speech Morrison also has very direct words for his ministers, about running their departments. Responsibility for setting policy lies with those elected, he says – ministers must be clear about what they are asking of their public servants.

They must not allow a policy leadership vacuum to be created, expecting the public service to fill it and do their job. One of the worst criticisms politicians can make of each other is that a minister is a captive of their department.

He says he has “selected and tasked my ministers to set and drive the agenda of our government”.

Morrison points out that accountability to parliament and the public for the government’s policies rests with those who are elected.

“Only those who have put their name on a ballot can truly understand the significance of that accountability. I know you [public servants] might feel sometimes that you are absolutely right in what you are suggesting, but I can tell you when it is you that is facing the public and must look your constituents in the eye, it gives you a unique perspective.”

He says his rugby coach used to describe this as “the bacon and eggs principle – the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed.

“That is why under our system of government it must be ministers who set the policy direction.”




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Morrison can learn a lot from the public servants, but will he listen?


Morrison sets out six “guideposts” for the evolution of the public service and his priorities:

  • the “respect and expect” principle, defining the relationship between government and the bureaucracy

  • the centrality of implementation

  • “look at the scoreboard” – a strong emphasis on “priorities, targets and metrics across all portfolios”. (He says he has established a Priorities and Delivery Unit in the Prime Minister’s Department, and cabinet ministers are developing objectives and targets.)

  • having eyes on “middle Australia” – looking “beyond the bubble” of the “many highly organised and well resourced interests” that go often to Canberra and are in the media

  • following the “Ray Price principle”, a reference to a former leading Rugby League player dubbed “Mr Perpetual Motion” – adapting amid constant change

  • honouring the public service code of governance and integrity across the bureaucracy.

On implementation, Morrison says: “Ensuring services are delivered seamlessly and efficiently, when and where they are needed, is a key priority of my government.

Good government is about receiving excellent policy advice. But that advice is only as good as the consideration in detail that it gives to implementation and execution.

And this is not an exercise in providing a detached and dispassionate summary of risks that are logged in the ‘told you so’ file for reference in future memoirs.

It’s about telling governments how things can be done, not just the risks of doing them, or saying why they shouldn’t. The public service is meant to be an enabler of government policy not an obstacle.




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To restore trust in government, we need to reinvent how the public service works


Morrison says the thinking behind his establishment of Services Australia – in the post-election reshuffle – “isn’t some fancy re-branding exercise.

It’s a message to the whole of the APS – top-to-bottom – about what matters to people.

It’s about ‘doing the little things well’ – everything from reducing call waiting times and turnaround on correspondence right through to improving the experience people have walking into a Centrelink office.

Highlighting the “quiet Australians”, Morrison says “the vast majority” of people “will never come to Canberra to lobby government. They won’t stay at the Hyatt. Or lunch at the Ottoman. Or kick back in the Chairman’s Lounge at Canberra airport after a day of meetings.”

But these members of the public are the public service’s stakeholders – not the “vested and organised interests that pretend to this status,” he says.

I want the APS to have a laser-like focus on serving these quiet Australians. Those you don’t meet with and never hear from. Australians who just get on with it, but who often feel their voice gets drowned out by shoutier ones in our public square.

There is strong evidence that the ‘trust deficit’ that has afflicted many Western democracies over recent years stems in part from a perception that politics is very responsive to those at the top and those at the bottom, but not so much to those in the middle.

This will not be the case under my government.

Middle Australia needs to know that the government (including the public service) is on their side.

Declaring the public service should value diversity, Morrison says “a commitment to diversity should encompass diversity of viewpoints within the APS. There is compelling evidence that this helps teams find answers to complex problems by bringing together people who approach questions from different points of view.

It’s vital that the APS avoid the sort of stale conventional wisdoms and orthodoxies that can infuse all large organisations.

Urging more two-way flow between the public service and outside employment, Morrison says: “We need to find new ways for smart, dedicated Australians to make a contribution to public service, to see a stint in the public service as part of their career journey. And likewise for career public servants to see time outside of the APS in the non-government sector and in business as an important part of their career journey.”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.

Surge in pre-poll numbers at 2019 federal election changes the relationship between voters and parties



Another issue is that pre-polling gives an advantage to the major parties over the smaller ones, due to the latter having fewer resources.
AAP/Bianca de Marchi

Stephen Mills, University of Sydney and Martin Drum, University of Notre Dame Australia

On the morning of the last Monday in April, 2019, federal election officials opened the doors of more than 500 pre-poll voting centres around Australia, and waited for the voters to turn up. It was the first day of the three-week early voting period leading up to the May 18 election day.

They didn’t have to wait long. By the end of the day, 123,793 voters had walked through the doors and cast their votes – more than the enrolment of an average House of Representatives electorate, and a record number for the first day of pre-polling.




Read more:
Three weeks of early voting has a significant effect on democracy. Here’s why


That evening, the rush to the polls attracted comment at the first leaders’ debate. Opposition leader Bill Shorten claimed people were voting early because they wanted “change”; Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisted it showed people “deserve” to know the cost of opposition policies.

In turn, pre-polling attracted more media attention than in previous campaigns.

Pre-polling increased steadily through the campaign, culminating on the last Friday with 710,000 pre-poll voters. The total for the full three weeks was 4.7 million, or 31.6% of total turnout.

Picture.
Author supplied

Another 1.6 million voted early by post. In short, nearly four in ten voters decided, before the campaign had finished, that they had heard enough and were ready to cast their votes.

Pre-polling has come of age. While it has been on the rise in recent electoral cycles, it reached record levels federally in 2019. Casting a vote before election day has been transformed, over a very few electoral cycles, from the occasional practice of a limited number of eligible voters to the habitual form of electoral participation of a large minority of the electorate.

Who votes early?

Despite the popularity of pre-polling, there is a puzzling unevenness about it. Some voters love it more than others. Australian Electoral Commission data show the Northern Territory, with its own particular geography and demography, had the highest form of pre-poll voting at 42.9% of turnout. Victoria (37.2%), ACT (36.5%) and Queensland (35.6%) were well above average, while Tasmania (19%), SA (21.7%) and WA (22.9%) lagged. NSW sat just below the national average at 30.1%.

While the rates of all states and territories were lower in 2016, their relative percentages were very similar.

Pre-polling is particularly strong in rural electorates. Ten of the 15 electorates in the country with the highest pre-poll percentage were rural electorates, despite the fact that the AEC has less than one third of seats classed in this category. All 15 of these seats are in Victoria, NSW or Queensland.

By contrast, 13 of the 15 electorates with the lowest percentage of pre-poll voters came from WA, Tasmania and South Australia, and just three of these were from outside the main metropolitan areas.

In terms of political allegiance, the inclination of early voters is well known: those voting early have tended to lean towards the Coalition. As psephologist Peter Brent has shown, this gap has only widened in recent electoral cycles, despite the growing number of early voters.

In 2004, the Coalition did 4% better in early voting than voting on election day; by 2019 this gap rose to just over 5%. There is strong evidence for Coalition mobilisation of postal voters, with 312,391 postal vote applications received from Coalition parties in 2019, and just 149,582 from the Labor party.

The reasons why people vote early are still widely debated, but the key reasons are convenience and access.

There is also evidence that indicates older people like voting earlier. Such arguments are borne out in those figures, given the older demographics of rural areas, and the greater distances that voters may need to travel to access voting booths.

Has deregulating early voting made a difference?

One factor cited as an explanation for the increase in early voting is the easing of restrictions on the practice. A number of jurisdictions including Victoria (2010), Queensland (2015), and Western Australia (2016) have made it easier to vote early at pre-poll booths for state elections by removing the need for voters to provide justifications for doing so. The rationale when doing so has been that this would make such voting forms more accessible.

While we would expect to see these jurisdictions record higher levels of pre-poll voting, the outcomes of these changes in legislation have been mixed (see chart two).


Author supplied, Author provided

Victoria’s 2018 state election recorded the highest levels of pre-poll voting of any state, at 37.29%, and this may be linked to their decision to deregulate the practice earlier than elsewhere. But at their last state elections, WA, while recording a boost in postal voting (which remains regulated) had a pre-poll rate of 15.47%, and Queensland of 19.64% – both still well short of Victoria.

While pre-poll voting in Queensland and WA increased after deregulation, it did not increase any more markedly than other jurisdictions that retained regulation.

Moreover, each of these jurisdictions recorded a prepoll rate for the 2019 Federal election equal to, or higher than, the previous state election, despite the Commonwealth retaining the need for voters to justify their decision to do so.

While in Victoria the rate was almost identical, in WA and Queensland the Federal rate of pre-poll was much higher.

Conclusions: unexpected implications

An examination of early voting data, particularly around the practice of pre-polling, demonstrates clear but unexplained trends. Tasmania, WA and South Australia lag well behind the other states and territories in pre-polling. There is even clearer unevenness within states, where rural and regional voters are voting early in significantly higher numbers than their metropolitan counterparts.

The data also indicate that making forms of early voting more accessible (such as by deregulating pre-polling) has in itself not led to marked increases in the practice.




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What we also know is that the large rates of early voting have changed the relationship between voters and the people or parties they are choosing to vote for, in that many voters cast their ballots before the parties have released all their policies.

Other unanticipated effects have emerged. In 2019, we saw many early voters casting votes for candidates who were later disendorsed by their own parties.

This arises because the early voting period occupies the maximum available time on the campaign calendar, beginning as soon as possible after close of nominations. This may create a dysfunction between voters and the parties candidates claim to represent on the ballot.

Pre-polling also leads to uneven playing fields between major parties as opposed to minor parties and independents, due to the latter having fewer resources.

There are also additional challenges faced by electoral commissions in the provision of pre-poll centres and staff to manage this surge. This research has been published in The Conversation and in a previous report on voting flexibility late last year.

The increased uptake of early voting in 2019 only exacerbates these implications, many of which may not have been anticipated until recently.

While early voting is important in providing greater accessibility to voters and encouraging turnout, thought should be given to reviewing the full implications through the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM).

One possibility is to retain the current forms of early voting but limit the pre-poll period to two weeks rather than three. This would retain flexibility for voters, but make the process more manageable for all the stakeholders concerned.The Conversation

Stephen Mills, Hon Senior Lecturer, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Sydney and Martin Drum, Lecturer Politics and International Relations, University of Notre Dame Australia

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

No, eating chocolate won’t cure depression



If you’re depressed, the headlines might tempt you to reach out for a chocolate bar. But don’t believe the hype.
from www.shutterstock.com

Ben Desbrow, Griffith University

A recent study published in the journal Depression and Anxiety has attracted widespread media attention. Media reports said eating chocolate, in particular, dark chocolate, was linked to reduced symptoms of depression.

Unfortunately, we cannot use this type of evidence to promote eating chocolate as a safeguard against depression, a serious, common and sometimes debilitating mental health condition.

This is because this study looked at an association between diet and depression in the general population. It did not gauge causation. In other words, it was not designed to say whether eating dark chocolate caused a reduction in depressive symptoms.




Read more:
What causes depression? What we know, don’t know and suspect


What did the researchers do?

The authors explored data from the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. This shows how common health, nutrition and other factors are among a representative sample of the population.

People in the study reported what they had eaten in the previous 24 hours in two ways. First, they recalled in person, to a trained dietary interviewer using a standard questionnaire. The second time they recalled what they had eaten over the phone, several days after the first recall.

The researchers then calculated how much chocolate participants had eaten using the average of these two recalls.

Dark chocolate needed to contain at least 45% cocoa solids for it to count as “dark”.




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The researchers excluded from their analysis people who ate an implausibly large amount of chocolate, people who were underweight and/or had diabetes.

The remaining data (from 13,626 people) was then divided in two ways. One was by categories of chocolate consumption (no chocolate, chocolate but no dark chocolate, and any dark chocolate). The other way was by the amount of chocolate (no chocolate, and then in groups, from the lowest to highest chocolate consumption).




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Monday’s medical myth: chocolate is an aphrodisiac


The researchers assessed people’s depressive symptoms by having participants complete a short questionnaire asking about the frequency of these symptoms over the past two weeks.

The researchers controlled for other factors that might influence any relationship between chocolate and depression, such as weight, gender, socioeconomic factors, smoking, sugar intake and exercise.

What did the researchers find?

Of the entire sample, 1,332 (11%) of people said they had eaten chocolate in their two 24 hour dietary recalls, with only 148 (1.1%) reporting eating dark chocolate.

A total of 1,009 (7.4%) people reported depressive symptoms. But after adjusting for other factors, the researchers found no association between any chocolate consumption and depressive symptoms.

Few people said they’d eaten any chocolate in the past 24 hours. Were they telling the truth?
from www.shutterstock.com

However, people who ate dark chocolate had a 70% lower chance of reporting clinically relevant depressive symptoms than those who did not report eating chocolate.

When investigating the amount of chocolate consumed, people who ate the most chocolate were more likely to have fewer depressive symptoms.

What are the study’s limitations?

While the size of the dataset is impressive, there are major limitations to the investigation and its conclusions.

First, assessing chocolate intake is challenging. People may eat different amounts (and types) depending on the day. And asking what people ate over the past 24 hours (twice) is not the most accurate way of telling what people usually eat.

Then there’s whether people report what they actually eat. For instance, if you ate a whole block of chocolate yesterday, would you tell an interviewer? What about if you were also depressed?

This could be why so few people reported eating chocolate in this study, compared with what retail figures tell us people eat.




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Finally, the authors’ results are mathematically accurate, but misleading.

Only 1.1% of people in the analysis ate dark chocolate. And when they did, the amount was very small (about 12g a day). And only two people reported clinical symptoms of depression and ate any dark chocolate.

The authors conclude the small numbers and low consumption “attests to the strength of this finding”. I would suggest the opposite.

Finally, people who ate the most chocolate (104-454g a day) had an almost 60% lower chance of having depressive symptoms. But those who ate 100g a day had about a 30% chance. Who’d have thought four or so more grams of chocolate could be so important?

This study and the media coverage that followed are perfect examples of the pitfalls of translating population-based nutrition research to public recommendations for health.

My general advice is, if you enjoy chocolate, go for darker varieties, with fruit or nuts added, and eat it mindfully. — Ben Desbrow


Blind peer review

Chocolate manufacturers have been a good source of funding for much of the research into chocolate products.

While the authors of this new study declare no conflict of interest, any whisper of good news about chocolate attracts publicity. I agree with the author’s scepticism of the study.

Just 1.1% of people in the study ate dark chocolate (at least 45% cocoa solids) at an average 11.7g a day. There was a wide variation in reported clinically relevant depressive symptoms in this group. So, it is not valid to draw any real conclusion from the data collected.

For total chocolate consumption, the authors accurately report no statistically significant association with clinically relevant depressive symptoms.

However, they then claim eating more chocolate is of benefit, based on fewer symptoms among those who ate the most.

In fact, depressive symptoms were most common in the third-highest quartile (who ate 100g chocolate a day), followed by the first (4-35g a day), then the second (37-95g a day) and finally the lowest level (104-454g a day). Risks in sub-sets of data such as quartiles are only valid if they lie on the same slope.

The basic problems come from measurements and the many confounding factors. This study can’t validly be used to justify eating more chocolate of any kind. — Rosemary Stanton


Research Checks interrogate newly published studies and how they’re reported in the media. The analysis is undertaken by one or more academics not involved with the study, and reviewed by another, to make sure it’s accurate.The Conversation

Ben Desbrow, Associate Professor, Nutrition and Dietetics, Griffith University

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

Biden still leads US Democratic primaries, Trump’s ratings fall slightly after gun massacres, plus Australian preference flows



Joe Biden remains the favourite to win the Democratic nomination.
AAP/EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

After the first Democratic presidential debate on June 25-26, Joe Biden fell in Democratic national presidential polls, and Kamala Harris surged. In the lead-up to the July 30-31 debate, Biden recovered lost support while Harris lost some of her gains.




Read more:
US Democratic presidential primaries: Biden leading, followed by Sanders, Warren, Harris; and will Trump be beaten?


Since the debate, the biggest movement is clear gains for Elizabeth Warren, while Harris has continued to fall. In the RealClearPolitics national Democratic poll average, Biden currently leads with 30.8%, followed by Warren at 18.0%, Bernie Sanders at 16.8%, Harris at 8.3% and Pete Buttigieg at 6.3%. All other candidates are at 2% or less.

As I wrote previously, four states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina – hold their primaries or caucuses in February 2020, while all other states need to wait until at least March 2020. So early state polls are important.

In the only poll conducted since the second Democratic debate in Iowa, Biden led with 28%, followed by Warren at 19%, Harris at 11%, Sanders at 9% and Buttigieg at 8%. In New Hampshire, there have been two polls since the debate. One has Biden at 21%, Sanders 17%, Warren 14%, Harris 8% and Buttigieg 6%. The other gives Sanders a lead with 21%, followed by Biden at 15%, Warren 12%, Buttigieg 8% and Harris 7%.

In general election polling, Biden has a high single-digit lead over Donald Trump, Sanders a mid single-digit lead, and both Warren and Harris have low single-digit leads. Biden’s perceived electability is crucial in explaining his continued strong polling, as this tweet from analyst Nate Silver says.

For the next Democratic presidential debate, on September 12, the threshold for participation has been increased. As a result there are likely to be far fewer candidates than the 20 in each of the first two debates.

Trump’s ratings slightly down after gun massacres

On August 3-4, 31 people were murdered in two separate gun massacres in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Trump’s ratings are slightly down since these massacres. With all polls, Trump’s ratings are 41.9% approve, 53.6% disapprove, for a net approval of -11.7%. With polls of registered or likely voters, his ratings are 42.6% approve, 53.3% disapprove, for a net approval of -10.7%.

Perhaps due to his anti-immigrant rhetoric, Trump’s net ratings have fallen about 1.5 points since my previous article a month ago, and this trend has continued after the massacres.

In the latest US jobs report, the unemployment rate remained at just 3.7% as 164,000 jobs were added in July. These jobs reports have been good news for Trump. I wrote an old but still relevant article on my personal website last year about how the low US participation rate holds down the unemployment rate compared to Australia.

The question that should be asked about Trump is why, given the strong US economic performance, his net approval is well below zero. FiveThirtyEight has historical data from 12 presidents going back to Harry Truman, and Trump’s net approval is only ahead of Jimmy Carter at this point in their presidencies. If there is an economic downturn before the November 2020 general election, Trump is likely to be far more vulnerable.

An economic downturn could occur due to Trump’s trade war with China, or due to a “no-deal” Brexit in the UK. I wrote for The Poll Bludger on August 2 that the UK parliament is running out of options to prevent no-deal, which PM Boris Johnson’s hard “Leave” cabinet suggests he will pursue. In my previous Poll Bludger article on July 23, I talked about Johnson’s crushing victory (66.4-33.6) in a Conservative members’ ballot.

Trump can still win the 2020 election, despite his low approval ratings, if he is able to either demonise his eventual Democratic opponent, or win the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote, as occurred in 2016. However, recent state by state polling has Trump’s net approval below zero in ten states he carried in 2016, and in some of those states his ratings are well below zero.




Read more:
US 2016 election final results: how Trump won


If all the states where Trump’s net approval is currently negative were to go to the Democrat, the Democrat would win the presidency by an emphatic 419-119 votes in the Electoral College.

Australian election preference flows and the first Newspoll

On August 2, the Electoral Commission released data on how every minor party’s preferences flowed between the major parties at the May federal election. The Greens, who won 10.4% of the primary vote, flowed heavily to Labor (82.2%), but Clive Palmer’s UAP (3.4% of the vote) flowed at 65.1% to Coalition, and One Nation (3.1% of the vote) was almost identical in its flow (65.2%). Excluding the Greens, UAP and One Nation, Others preferences were 50.7% to Labor.

Analyst Kevin Bonham says there was barely any increase in the Greens preference flow to Labor since 2016. The Greens flow increased in four states, fell slightly in Queensland, and was weaker in SA as more moderate voters returned to the Greens after the collapse of Centre Alliance.

In 2016, One Nation preferences were just 50.4% to the Coalition, so the Coalition’s flow from One Nation increased almost 15%. In 2013, Palmer’s party preferences were 53.7% to the Coalition, so the UAP’s flow to the Coalition improved 11.4%.

Preference shifts advantaged the Coalition by 0.8% on the national two party vote compared to if no preference shifts had occurred. The Coalition’s overall share of minor party preferences (40.4%) was its best since 2001, when the Greens only had 5%.




Read more:
Difficult for Labor to win in 2022 using new pendulum, plus Senate and House preference flows


In the first Newspoll since the election, the Coalition led by 53-47, from primary votes of 44% Coalition, 33% Labor, 11% Greens and 3% One Nation. Scott Morrison’s ratings were 51% satisfied, 36% dissatisfied, for a net approval of +15, a big improvement from +1 in the final pre-election Newspoll that was biased against the Coalition. Anthony Albanese’s initial ratings were 39% satisfied, 36% dissatisfied. Morrison led by 48-31 as better PM.

This poll was conducted July 25-28 from a sample of 1,600. Bonham says there is no indication in The Australian’s report that anything has changed at Newspoll since the election’s poll failure. As I wrote after the election, there was, and still is, a lack of adequate documentation of Newspoll’s methods.




Read more:
Newspoll probably wrong since Morrison became PM; polling has been less accurate at recent elections


Spain’s Socialists fail to form government

The Spanish Socialists won the April 28 election, but as I wrote on my personal website on August 1, a lack of cooperation between the Socialists and far-left Podemos could mean another election. Also covered: a landslide for former comedian Zelensky’s party in the Ukraine, and the conservatives easily retain their hold over Japan’s upper house.The Conversation

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

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

Beijing is moving to stamp out the Hong Kong protests – but it may have already lost the city for good



Beijing has a long-term Hong Kong challenge on its hands, one that in many ways is of its own making.
Miguel Candela/EPA

Adam Ni, Macquarie University

Since the start of mass demonstrations in Hong Kong in early June, there has been a significant escalation of Beijing’s rhetoric and tactics. Instead of addressing the root causes of the public anger, Beijing has demonised the protesters and threatened to suppress them with its military.

Beijing’s shrill rhetoric, misinformation campaigns, and blatant threats have galvanised resistance in what has fast become a volatile situation. The crisis doesn’t appear to be dissipating. And things are going to come to a head very soon.

The mass protests started in response to a controversial extradition bill that was widely seen as another step in the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy. The demonstrations quickly escalated due to public anger over police violence and an unresponsive Hong Kong government.

But deeper down at the heart of this crisis is a conflict over the longer-term vision for the city – over its soul.




Read more:
The Hong Kong protesters have turned militant and more strategic – and this unnerves Beijing


Beijing’s goal is to gradually tighten its grip on Hong Kong. It aims to assimilate the city into China’s authoritarian political system, and rule over its people in the same way it does in rest of the country. Many Hong Kongers, meanwhile, are desperate to resist any further encroachment by Beijing on their freedoms and way of life. These goals are fundamentally incompatible.

In many ways, this is a problem of Beijing’s own making. It created the conditions for the current crisis by systematically undermining the “one country, two systems” framework.

A show of force: military trucks parked near the Hong Kong border.
Alex Plavevski/EPA

Beijing has effectively torn up its promises, made before the British handover, to keep Hong Kong’s political system intact until 2047. In recent years, it has undermined the “one country, two systems” framework through political interference, the changing of electoral and other laws, and the penetration of Hong Kong’s social institutions.

In doing so, it has provoked local resentment, a stronger Hong Kong identity, and a culture of resistance. According to a recent poll, the percentage of Hong Kongers identifying as Chinese is now at its lowest point since the handover in 1997.

For the ruling Chinese Communist Party, this is worrisome. And the longer the protests continue, the more it sees its authority challenged. Such resistance, in Beijing’s view, cannot be tolerated.

Beijing’s multi-pronged strategy

In the early days of the protests, Beijing adopted a low-profile approach that focused on censoring news of the demonstrations from filtering into mainland China. This approach, however, changed quickly when the Chinese government realised the protests would likely continue and it needed to mobilise public opinion.

What is Beijing’s aim now? In the short-term, it wants to end the unrest by shutting down the protests completely. It has repeatedly signalled its willingness to use force if necessary.




Read more:
Hong Kong fears losing its rule of law; the rest of the world should worry too


Beyond that, given what has transpired over the last ten weeks of demonstrations, Beijing will seek to tighten its political control over Hong Kong even further to check continued resistance.

In order to achieve its immediate and long-term goals in Hong Kong, Beijing has put in place a multi-pronged strategy. A full picture of this strategy has emerged in recent weeks:

1) First, Beijing is firmly backing the embattled Hong Kong authorities. Chinese officials have repeatedly urged the Hong Kong police to adopt tougher tactics against protesters who they see as criminals.

And in the last week, we have seen an alarming escalation in police violence, with tear gas and rubber bullets being used with increasing frequency.

2) Beijing is also ramping up its influence operations in Hong Kong to solidify support among pro-establishment elites, businesses, and other “patriotic forces”.

Last week, the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong held a consultation forum with about 500 pro-establishment figures in Shenzhen, just across the border.

The key message was that the Chinese government was fully behind them and that their fate was tied to Beijing. This has had an immediate impact on the ground in Hong Kong, with the city’s billionaires “breaking their silence” this week and calling for the protesters to stand down.

Not with a small degree of irony, Beijing and its proxies in Hong Kong have a close relationship with the city’s organised crime groups. On several occasions in the last two months, these groups have assaulted protesters on Beijing’s behalf in an attempt to instill fear in the local population.

3) Beijing has stepped up its propaganda and misinformation efforts against the protesters in an attempt to cast them as villains in the unfolding drama. Criminal elements are also working with nefarious foreign agents to foment turmoil and undermine China, the official line goes.

Within mainland China, such blatant twists of truth are widely believed. And because Beijing has successfully mobilised public opinion there, that makes it harder for the government to back down and make compromises (not that we are seeing signs of that).

In any case, Beijing’s relentless war for hearts and minds continues.

4) Beijing is using punitive measures to cut off support for the protesters. For instance, the Chinese government ordered the Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific to block staffers who took part in the protests from working on flights to the mainland.

It did this to deliver an unequivocal message: support the protesters and we will hit your bottom line. Beijing will likely continue to target Hong Kong and international companies that it sees as being on the wrong side of the political crisis.

5) Beijing is trying to deter escalating protests by signalling its strong determination to intervene with force if necessary.

The Chinese government has repeatedly threatened the use of armed forces as a backstop measure if the unrest spins out of control. Indeed, it may at some point make the judgement the situation warrants military intervention, regardless of the high cost involved.

Beijing’s posturing is intended to send a deterrent message and is part of a wider psychological campaign against the protesters. But we are not at the point of imminent military intervention yet.

6) Despite the unrest, Beijing will likely accelerate its efforts to integrate Hong Kong into the mainland economically and through infrastructure projects. High-speed trains, new bridges, and economic cooperation are all part of this long-term effort. We are also likely to see a further tightening of control over the city’s political institutions, judicial system, and media.

A festering long-term problem

For Chinese leaders, the protest movement has reinforced an important lesson: insufficient government power, civil liberties, and perceived weakness leads to the loss of control, resistance, and social instability.

This will only serve to strengthen Beijing’s resolve to assert its control over Hong Kong more forcefully, which will, in turn, provoke further resentment and resistance from locals.




Read more:
Hong Kong: how a more assertive British government can uphold the ‘one country, two systems’ formula


To be sure, Beijing has a long-term Hong Kong challenge on its hands. If it wants to resolve the current impasse, hardline tactics are not sufficient. As unpalatable as it is to both sides, Beijing and the protesters must compromise. But there is little prospect of that in the current environment of escalating violence, inflamed passions, frayed nerves, and hardening attitudes on both sides.

But Beijing must recognise that its actions are sowing the seeds of future conflict, just as its past broken promises led directly to what we are witnessing today. As Hong Kong gallops towards tragedy, it is both mesmerising and heartbreaking to watch.The Conversation

Adam Ni, China researcher, Department of Security Studies and Criminology, Macquarie University

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

Morrison needs to take control of China policy – but leave room for dissent



The Morrison government is at risk of losing control of China policy at the most critical time in Australian history.
AAP/EPA/Thomas Peter/pool

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

The Morrison government is at risk of losing control of China policy. Push-back from within its own ranks is complicating its ability to manage relations with Beijing. China policy is being subjected to a buffeting from hawkish backbenchers who would like to see Canberra adopt a harder line.

Let’s dispose first of straw man arguments about whether Liberal backbencher Andrew Hastie was within his rights to warn of threats to national sovereignty by a rising China that is ruthlessly advancing its own interests.

Hastie has every right to raise alarms about China’s behaviour in his capacity as a member of parliament and chair of the joint parliamentary committee on intelligence and security. He was given opinion space in Nine newspapers to do so.




Read more:
View from The Hill: It’s not in the ‘national interest’ for the backbench to shut up about China


However, he was ill-advised to use a reference to Nazi Germany to advance his argument about a China threat. Hastie may not have likened China to the Third Reich explicitly, but by referencing France’s inability to withstand German aggression he was implicitly making the link.

This is what he said:

The West once believed that economic liberalisation would naturally lead to democratisation in China. This was our Maginot Line. It would keep us safe, just as the French believed their series of steel and concrete forts would guard them against the German advance in 1940. But their thinking failed catastrophically. The French failed to appreciate the evolution of mobile warfare. Like the French, Australia has failed to see how mobile our authoritarian neighbour has become.

Invoking Nazi Germany or the Holocaust to advance an argument is treacherous terrain at the best of times, unless the author is clamouring for attention.

One wonders how much notice Hastie’s commentary would have attracted if there had been no reference to the inadequacies of France’s Maginot Line.

It’s reasonable to speculate that his contribution would have gone the way of those written by other China hawks in the so-called national security establishment, many of whom have converted their hawkishness on China into a cottage industry.

One other point might be made about Hastie’s contribution. It is simply not correct to say, as he did, there was a general expectation China would continue to democratise and in time become more like us.

This is a flawed and naive point of view.

China’s ruthless suppression of the Tiananmen Square democracy protests in 1989 was not an aberration. It was consistent with its behaviour since it began opening to the outside world in the late 1970s.




Read more:
Thirty years on, China is still trying to whitewash the Tiananmen crackdown from its history


Its 1979 suppression of a Democracy Wall movement, and the arrest of prominent dissidents including human rights activist Wei Jingsheng, now in exile, attest to a regime’s ruthlessness in stifling dissent.

Beijing’s tolerance of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests will be viewed through a prism of what these might portend for the mainland. If there is any indication of contagion across borders, China will react forcefully, and may do so anyway if disturbances continue.

Before addressing what might be an appropriate response from the Australian government to an eruption of anti-China sentiment on its own backbench, perhaps it would be useful to define the challenges at play.

In its latest manifestation, China is no longer a status quo power. It is one that is seeking expand its power and influence in what it regards as its own sphere of influence in the Asia-Pacific, broadly defined to include the southwest Pacific.

These attempts to assert itself are not simply restricted to the militarisation of geographical features in the South China Sea. They also involve pursuit of an economic, diplomatic and propaganda offensive that is designed to advance Chinese interests at home and abroad.

In seeking to promote these interests, Beijing is an indefatigable exploiter of opportunities and weaknesses. If there is a rule of thumb in dealing with China in this latest phase, it is that it will seek to get away with what it can on many different fronts.

In that sense, Hastie has a point: Australia cannot simply adopt a passive response to Chinese single-mindedness in pursuit of what it perceives to be its own interests.

The question, then, becomes what to do?

This is where it becomes crucial that the Morrison government settles on a clearly defined strategy to deal with a disruptive China. What this should involve is a combination of a hedging strategy in partnership with Australia’s allies to balance Beijing’s militarised ambitions, and a separate one in which Australia’s own economic and diplomatic interests are asserted.

The government’s task will be to tread a fine line between security arrangements with its allies, principally the United States, and a relationship with China that is defined by Australia’s own interests and not those of anyone else.

In a thoughtful speech to Asialink before the G20 Summit in Osaka in June, Morrison outlined what appeared to have the makings of a “Morrison doctrine” on how to steer a course in treacherous waters between Australia’s security and economic lifelines.

The prime minister argued for a more activist diplomatic role in the region, aimed at securing Australian national interests in what are choppy waters. He said:

We should not just sit back and await our fate in the wake of a major power contest.

Australia could do worse than pursue an Asian equivalent of the Helsinki Accords that helped keep the peace in Europe during the Cold War.

This is a time for creative Australian diplomacy, not running off to Washington to hide behind America’s petticoat.

This returns us to the Hastie intervention and the national interest question.

Just as Hastie is entitled to express a personal point of view, so does the government of the day have a responsibility to assert what is in the national interest.

Clearly it is not in the national interest for political leaders to disregard comments that might have a negative impact on relations with Australia’s pre-eminent trading partner. China absorbs one-third of Australia’s merchandise exports.

This is what the prime minister had to say:

… the government is fully aware of the complexity that is involved in our region and the challenges that we face in the future… And we are careful as a government to ensure that we don’t seek to make them any more complex than they need to be. And that is what Australians can count on. We will be measured. We will be careful and we will put Australia’s national interest first.

Morrison needs to assert this point of view more forcefully if he is to avoid losing control of China policy. These is nothing inherently inconsistent between a national interest argument and one that enables dissident voices to have their say.

After all, this is not China.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.

Hong Kong fears losing its rule of law; the rest of the world should worry too



A Hong Kong pro-democracy protester on 11 August 2019.
Miguel Candela/EPA

John Garrick, Charles Darwin University

What’s happening in Hong Kong right now has direct bearings on Australia. It goes to an issue crucial to our position in a world economic order that is likely to be shaped less by the United States, still our most important ally, and more by China, our ever more valuable trading partner.

At the heart of the Hong Kong protests is the same issue that causes concern about China’s ambitions from the South China Sea to the South Pacific. It’s about the Chinese government’s commitment to an idiosyncratic idea of the rule of law.

Hong Kong has something like a constitution or bill of rights, called the Hong Kong Basic Law. It’s a legacy of British colonial rule, which the Chinese government agreed to preserve because there was value in keeping Hong Kong the prosperous city it had become.

China has a very different approach to law. Its constitution can and has been changed at the whim of the ruling party. There is no separation of powers, and no such thing as an independent judiciary.

Removing the judicial firewall

The trigger for the Hong Kong protests was a proposed law enabling China to extradite Hong Kong residents and visitors. Protesters foresaw democrats and dissidents disappearing into China’s prison system. The judicial “firewall” giving meaning to the notion of “one country, two systems” would be fatally undermined. Hong Kong’s distinctive culture and economy would be destroyed with it.




Read more:
The Hong Kong protesters have turned militant and more strategic – and this unnerves Beijing


The idea of law as an instrument of the Chinese Communist Party shapes the Chinese government’s domestic policies, and also its approach to international law. It respects international conventions when it has to, and when it is in the national interest. But there’s a point where it is quite willing to thumb its nose at the whole idea.

This willingness has stiffened under the leadership of Xi Jinping, who has reaffirmed in word and deed that the Chinese Communist Party “is the highest force for political leadership”.

Law of the sea

An example is China’s view of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in its dispute with the Philippines over island territory in the South China Sea.

In 2016 a UN tribunal unanimously found in favour of the Philippines. China refused to accept the verdict. It declared it “would continue to abide by international law and basic norms governing international relations”, but also added:

The Chinese government reiterates that, regarding territorial issues and maritime delimitation disputes, China does not accept any means of third party dispute settlement or any solution imposed on China.

It therefore continues to claim the South China Sea as an “inalienable” part of its territory. In direct defiance of the ruling, it has also built artificial islands within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, and built military bases on those islands.

Wider implications

China’s official narrative is that it doesn’t reject international law per se, but simply wants law that accommodates “Chinese characteristics”, including China’s preference for resolving disputes one on one.




Read more:
Australians’ feelings sour towards China: Lowy poll


Given that the point of establishing the United Nations and other multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organisation was to replace “might makes right” with something like an international rule of law, this is likely to prove cold comfort for smaller nations.

As Xi told the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 2017:

  • the overall goal of “comprehensively advancing law-based governance” is to “establish a system of socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics and build a country of socialist rule of law”

  • “major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics aims to foster a new type of international relations and build a community with a shared future for mankind”

  • the defining feature of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” is “the leadership of the Communist Party of China”.




Read more:
Australia has too few home-grown experts on the Chinese Communist Party. That’s a problem


Beijing’s view of the rule of law is thus very different to what most of the rest of the world understands. The potential consequences are not lost on the citizens of Hong Kong, and they should not be lost on China’s neighbours and trading partners.The Conversation

John Garrick, University Fellow in Law, Charles Darwin University

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