Knives are sharpening on the new home affairs office



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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announces the new Home Affairs office, a major political win for Peter Dutton.
AAP/Mick Tsiakis

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

If you wanted a case study of how media sausages are made – the purveying of news and opinion – you would need to look no further than argument about the establishment of a super department of Home Affairs, modelled on the UK Home Office.

Not much explains better political cross-currents in a beleaguered government than the leaking that has informed much of the commentary about this proposal.

A rule of thumb in Canberra holds that leakages damaging to the prime minister of the day increase in proportion to the trouble they are in. If that’s the case, Malcolm Turnbull is in a heap of trouble.

Commentators aligned with former prime minister Tony Abbott have been at the forefront of those lambasting the idea. In office, Abbott rejected setting up a Home Affairs department on bureaucratic advice.

Then there are the ministers who would yield terrain in Canberra’s endless turf wars. This principally applies to Attorney-General George Brandis, who would lose responsibility for one of the crown jewels of the intelligence establishment, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. I have no idea whether Brandis has been briefing journalists. But I do know he has long opposed the establishment of a mega homeland security department.

Allied with Brandis has been Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who has been against such a development from the start.

Again, I have no idea whether Bishop has been briefing against the proposal. But she has let it be known she was not present at a meeting of the National Security Committee of the cabinet where the matter was canvassed.

Bishop would have another reason for resistance to the idea as odds shorten on her as an alternative to Turnbull, given the difficulties the government finds itself in.

Turnbull’s decision to confer security tsar-like status on her potential rival, Peter Dutton, will not please Bishop. Bishop and Dutton represent polar opposites in more ways than one.

Then there is the bureaucracy. Elements of the bureaucracy will be unhappy about changes that would alter lines of command and areas of responsibility. Canberra bureaucrats will be finding ways to make their views known.

A significant part of the bureaucratic unease about the Turnbull proposal revolves around Michael Pezzullo, head of Dutton’s immigration department and in line to be crowned as the most powerful Canberra official in recent memory.

Pezzullo, who has worked for former Labor foreign minister Gareth Evans, and for Kim Beazley in opposition, is a ruthless political operative. Some might believe this would be a necessary attribute for such a job.

At this stage, the Department of Home Affairs is a work in progress, and its future is far from guaranteed. For a start, it will require legislation to make its way through a fractured Senate. However, fearful of being wedged on security issues, Labor may well go along with the bulk of the proposal.

After all, it follows fairly closely a similar package advanced by Beazley as opposition leader under the tutelage of Pezzullo, then his deputy chief-of-staff.

In the grinding of meat, and adding of seasoning and other bits and pieces to be placed in a sausage skin, the Turnbull initiative is far from a finished product. Nor is there an end in sight to negative commentary about his political judgement – exemplified, in the view of some, by his handling of the homeland security issue.

Much of this commentary has centred around Turnbull’s perceived machinations to save his own political skin. His alliance with the conservative Dutton is widely regarded as his attempt to take out insurance against moves within his own partyroom.

Whether that is the case or not, it is true that in recent months Turnbull and Dutton have moved close to each other for reasons that might be regarded as serving their respective political aspirations.

Dutton has emerged as the standard-bearer of the right in a prospective leadership tussle, having overtaken Treasurer Scott Morrison for this mantle.

So, the question becomes whether the decision to centralise intelligence and security operations in one department makes sense, or whether it will prove be an unwieldy response to burgeoning challenges, not least those relating to cyber-security?

This is what Turnbull said when announcing the decision both to establish a Home Affairs department, and also beef up oversight of Australia’s intelligence agencies:

The government will establish an Office of National Intelligence headed by the Director-General of National Intelligence, and transform the Australian Signals Directorate into a statutory agency within the Defence portfolio.

The government will also establish a Home Affairs portfolio of immigration, border protection and domestic security and law enforcement agencies.

The new Home Affairs portfolio will be similar to the Home Office in the United Kingdom: a central department providing strategic planning, coordination and other support to a federation of independent security and law enforcement agencies including the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Border Force and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.

While Turnbull contends the Australian Home Affairs portfolio will have similar responsibilities to those of the UK Home Office, a better comparison may be the US Department of Homeland Security in the breadth of its responsibilities.

US Homeland Security, established in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, has responsibility for a plethora of federal agencies, inviting criticism that it is unwieldy.

When established in 2003, it combined 22 agencies with oversight of everything, from airport security to disaster relief. It is not responsible, however, for the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the latter being the responsibility of the attorney-general.

In the case of the Turnbull proposal, the Australian Federal Police, equivalent to the FBI, would come under the new mega department.

Sceptics might read a contrarian view of the US Homeland Security department by Chris Edwards of the libertarian Cato Institute, who takes issue with an explosion in the DHS budget, and also risks of “mission creep”.

It would seem almost inevitable, given the Australian home affairs office will have such broad-ranging powers, that it would continue to expand. This is one of the immutable laws of bureaucracy.

Finally, the former head of ASIO, David Irvine, has defended of the Turnbull-Dutton proposal, insisting the changes will:

… seek to reorganise the intelligence and law enforcement communities to achieve even greater operational effectiveness.

The ConversationThat remains the hope. The question is whether a department of the dimensions envisaged in the Turnbull reforms will prove as unwieldy as its American counterpart. If it is, we might be in the process of taking one step forward and two steps back.

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

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

Abbott scores big win on party reform as Coalition continues to trail in Newspoll


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Tony Abbott’s ‘Warringah motion’ for party reform was passed by 748 votes to 476.
Daniel Munoz/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Abbott forces are seeking to drive home their sweeping Sunday victory in winning rank-and-file endorsement for reforming the New South Wales Liberal Party by putting a three-month deadline on the changes being ratified.

A special convention of party members voted overwhelmingly for motions from the former prime minister’s Warringah federal electorate conference (FEC) backing plebiscites for preselecting all candidates and direct election by the party members of those who run the party organisation.

This comes as the latest Newspoll, published in The Australian, shows the Coalition continuing to trail Labor 47-53% in two-party terms. This is the 16th consecutive Newspoll in which the government has been behind.

The Coalition’s primary vote rose one point to 36%, while Labor also rose one point, to 37%. One Nation slipped from 11% to 9%; the Greens fell from 10% to 9% since the last poll a fortnight ago.

Malcolm Turnbull’s net satisfaction improved four points to minus 20; Bill Shorten’s net satisfaction was static on minus 20. Turnbull widened his lead as better prime minister from eight points to 11 points.

At the convention of NSW Liberal Party members, the plebiscite motion was passed by 748 votes to 476, and the accompanying motion by a two-to-one margin.

The endorsement of the “Warringah” model is a huge challenge to the factional grip of the state division held by the moderates and soft right.

The changes would likely see the division move to the right, in line with the political colour of its rank-and-file, and make it harder for moderates to win preselections.

But the reforms have to be approved by the state council before they take effect. Given the majorities on the key votes were so decisive, and backing crossed factional lines, it would be hard for the current powerbrokers to resist the general thrust. But there could be a struggle ahead over timing and detail.

Walter Villatora, president of the Warringah FEC, said after the two-day meeting: “These reforms now need to be ratified, which I expect will happen within three months.”

“Somewhere up above in Liberal Party heaven Robert Menzies is looking down and smiling. The party membership have clearly spoken. The era of brutal factionalism is over,” he said. “The NSW Liberal Party is now the most democratic division in Australia.”

But a statement by state president Kent Johns suggested there would not be any rush. “The convention result reflected the members’ desire to reform some of our organisation’s internal processes, and serves as a clear demonstration of participation by our membership,” he said.

“Members showed their support for introducing a plebiscite model to ensure that the NSW Liberal Party continues to preselect the best candidates …

“Discussions at the convention will inform the development of the party’s modernisation plan, which will be prepared by me and the state director, Chris Stone. Constitutional amendments will be prepared over the coming months by our constitutional committee, and proceed to the party’s governing body – state council.”

Turnbull positioned himself carefully in his address to the convention on Saturday so as not to be caught in the firing line if the Abbott push won.

He stressed his support for plebiscites, saying every member should have a say in selecting candidates. It was widely believed, however, that he would have preferred a more circumscribed model.

But the convention voted down or didn’t reach motions attempting to impose some restrictions. These included having a longer eligibility period and an “activity test” before members could vote, and the grandfathering of electorates with sitting members.

In the Warringah model the only condition on party members voting in the plebiscites would be that they must have been a member for two years.

The present preselection system has candidates chosen by panels comprising local delegates and non-local members.

Neither Turnbull nor premier Gladys Berejiklian were at the convention when the vote was taken.

Later a spokeswoman for Turnbull said that as the prime minister had said at the convention: “He has long supported that all Liberal Party members have a direct say in preselections. The PM wants to ensure that every member of the party knows that their voice is heard and respected.

“The PM made it clear yesterday that plebiscites for preselections are a good idea, but hardly a new one. Every other Liberal party division has adopted them,” she said.

Abbott emailed members in his electorate: “This is a great advance for our party – and it would not have happened without the hard work of the Warringah conference led by our president, Walter Villatora.

“There’s more to do, of course. Democratisation now has to run the gauntlet of state council; but this is potentially a wonderful new start for our party. A revitalised, less factionalised party will be really important to winning the next election.

The Conversation“This is a big ‘thank you’ to all Warringah Liberals. Let’s now do our best to build on this success.”

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Shorten and Turnbull to talk on four-year terms



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The prime minister’s office denied suggestions that Malcolm Turnbull had given support to Bill Shorten’s proposal for four-year terms.
Paul Miller/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has called for a pre-election agreement between government and opposition that whichever side wins will hold a referendum for fixed four-year terms.

Soon after Shorten, interviewed on the ABC’s Insiders, put up his proposal on Sunday morning, Malcolm Turnbull rang him on various matters.

The prime minister’s office said that Turnbull had said he was interested in talking with Shorten about four-year terms, while noting there were a lot of complications.

But it denied suggestions Turnbull had given to bipartisan support to Shorten’s proposal. Labor insists it did not suggest that Turnbull had given bipartisan support.

To pass, a referendum would have to get majority support, plus a majority in four of six states.

History shows the difficulty of passing referendums; the prospects are considered hopeless without bipartisan support. Currently there is bipartisan backing for a referendum on Indigenous recognition but this has been delayed and derailed.

The present federal term is three years, with the prime minister having discretion on when to call the election. Shorten said the federal political system seemed “out of whack in that everything is so short term”, with the average term being two-and-a-half years rather than three.

“We need both Labor and Liberal to co-operate on four-year terms,” Shorten said. “Governments can be more daring and more determined if they’re not constantly thinking about the next election,” he said. “What this country needs is long-term policymaking.”

He would be prepared to come to an agreement with Turnbull that whoever won the election, the government and opposition would put an agreed change to the Constitution for four-year terms to the people.

On the tricky question of the Senate terms, which are six years at present, he said that could be worked out if there was agreement on four-year terms.

“It shouldn’t be a deal-killer in my opinion,” he said.

While four-year terms have substantial backing in the business community and elsewhere and operate at state level – Queensland last year passed a referendum for a four-year term – dealing with Senate terms is a central problem in winning support.

Eight-year Senate terms would not be publicly acceptable, and a move to four-year Senate terms, with all senators facing the people at each election, would be unlikely to be embraced by the Coalition.

The ConversationIn 2002, Turnbull backed longer terms while saying the real issue was getting bipartisan support. When opposition leader in 2008, he said the then NSW Labor premier, Nathan Rees, was “exhibit A in the case against fixed four-year terms”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

The ACCC threatens to take Telstra and other ISPs to court over misleading NBN speeds



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Not up-to-speed.
NBN Co

David Glance, University of Western Australia

Rod Sims, chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumers Commission (ACCC), has signalled that the regulator is going to take a tougher stance against internet service providers like Telstra, Optus and Vocus about misleading consumers about NBN broadband speeds.

In particular, Sims has said that Telstra’s continued use of terms like “Very Fast” and “Super Fast” to describe theoretical, but often unobtainable, broadband speeds needs to stop.

The ACCC has indicated that it is likely to bring court cases before the end of the year if these practices don’t end.

In a speech at the Unwired Revolution Conference, the ACCC talked of the findings of a Australian communications sector review.

In particular, Sims drew attention to the fact that the Australian public were opting for slower speeds on the NBN mainly because ISPs were unwilling to sell faster speeds due to the high costs of the connections (CVC) provided by NBN Co.

The pricing of wholesale connections provided by NBN Co are set in order for them to recoup money that has been invested, in large part by the Australian federal government, and so unless NBN Co is directed to do this differently by the government, the situation is unlikely to change.

Part of the problem is the lack of transparency. Many properties that are being supplied with a Fibre to the Node (FTTN) connection may never be able to get the fastest connection plan of 100 Mbps because they are too far from the node. As the chart below shows, speeds of 100 Mbps can only be achieved if the house is within 500 meters of the node.

FTTN speed slows with distance from the node.
NBN MTM

A map of properties in Australia highlights that two houses on opposite sides of a road can have very different maximum speeds because of the nodes they are connected to. Telstra has previously admitted that some customers were sold plans for speeds they would never be able to attain at their premises.

NBN street map showing distance from node and calculated speed.
NBN MTM

In addition to this, there are the number of connections to that node and in particular, the capacity of the ISP to handle peak demand by having spare CVC capacity. There are also other factors that would affect a property’s connection, including the state of the copper wiring between the node and the house.

What the ACCC wants ISPs to do is to tell customers not only what the theoretical maximum speed may be for their property using a given technology, but also what the speeds may drop to during peak demand.

NBN Co has this data and could make it public, but it won’t because it claims that it is the responsibility of the ISPs to tell their own customers. Shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland has filed a freedom of information request for the NBN data of theoretical speeds for each property.

The ACCC is recruiting volunteers to install special hardware and software to monitor speeds and the quality of internet connections in their homes.

The results of a pilot trial reported in 2015 showed that the problems with peak demand and variability of internet speeds existed on pre-NBN internet services like Telstra’s HFC cable service. As the figure below highlights, even fibre to the premises (FTTP) connections from one provider varied dramatically, dropping significantly every evening.

Average download speed of FTTP connections.
ACCC

While the data that the ACCC is collecting will be useful and will ultimately assist in highlighting ISPs that are not providing promised services, it would be far better if NBN Co provided this data publicly in the first place.

If the politics and economics of the NBN mean that consumers are going to mostly stick to slower speed plans, many of the proposed economic and social outcomes that were originally envisioned will not be realised.

The ConversationWhile it may represent a slightly better situation for some people who currently have a poor connection via ADSL, it is hard to justify the AUD$20.3 billion that has been invested by the Australian government in the network so far.

David Glance, Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice, University of Western Australia

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

How history can challenge the narrative of blame for homelessness



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While homelessness is becoming more visible, it is not new in affluent societies like Australia.
AAP/Joe Castro

Anne O’Brien, UNSW

Homelessness is a pressing humanitarian problem – one that is increasingly in the public eye. The evictions, protests, personal histories and statistical profiles of people experiencing it appear regularly in the media.

While some reports are negative, intent on portraying wasters or frauds, most seek to explain how people came to be homeless and show the experience as traumatising. Whatever their politics, almost all use the language of crisis.

But while homelessness is becoming more visible, it is not new in affluent societies like Australia. What is new is the copious evidence showing that it is possible to end – or at least radically reduce – homelessness. And taking the long view can reveal patterns that explain how and why people get caught up in conditions not of their making.

A lack of coherent policy

The concept of “housing first”, which has been in operation in Britain since the early 1990s and in the US since the early 2000s, shows that when people are provided with housing and support, they maintain tenancies.

Its premise is that housing is a human right. It also costs less. Research has found that people who were chronically homeless used A$13,000 less government services annually once they were housed.

So, if the problem is not lack of know-how, and if a more cost-effective option is available, why can’t we decide to end homelessness?

Some steps have been taken in Australia. In 2008 the Rudd government introduced a policy shift from managing to eradicating homelessness, promising to halve it by 2020 through a 55% increase in funding. But the Coalition cut funding in 2013.

While the 2017 federal budget increased funding by $375 million over three years, this is not enough to implement long-term strategies. The uncertainty of the budget cycle severely constrains what service providers can do.

This is a depressingly familiar scenario, but it is not set in stone. Activists and advocates achieved bipartisan support for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and, despite efforts to curtail it, it has survived. So why not bipartisan support for ending homelessness? For reviving and sustaining “housing first”?

But it’s hard to convince politicians that this is both good policy and won’t lose them the next election. And it’s even more difficult to assure voters that people experiencing homelessness are not getting it easy, when much of the tabloid media perpetuates a narrative of blame.

Why can’t we decide to end homelessness?
Homeless Persons Union of Victoria/Facebook

Challenging the narrative

A clear strategy is to challenge that narrative. A recently aired SBS program, Filthy Rich and Homeless, sought to do this by showing how hard it is to lift yourself up if you have nothing. Its interviews with people actually experiencing homelessness showed the brutal combination of circumstances that got them where they were.

Understanding homelessness in historical perspective also undermines the blame narrative. Knowing that homelessness increases as a result of devastating mega-events, such as war and depression, or at times when supplies of affordable housing and paid work diminish, challenges the waster/fraud idea.

Not all become homeless in these contexts. Historical records provide strong evidence that people from violent or luckless families are more liable, that macro and micro conditions intersect to precipitate homelessness.

Showing that homelessness has waxed and waned is a key to changing the narrative, just as fluctuations in employment refute the “dole bludger” label.

Few people applied for “the dole” during the post-war boom – but once the economy retracted in the early 1970s, applications increased. Not surprisingly, this was when the notion of the “dole bludger” took off.

It is difficult to get figures on homelessness in the past. But newspapers and reports from governments and NGOs give a sense of surges in homelessness at various times.

In the 1920s, when so many survivors of the first world war suffered physical or mental disability, reports of “diggers” sleeping in the Domain were common. By the late 1930s, care homes for “burnt-out diggers” were being built in the major cities, and some veterans were utilising the resources of the old city missions.

Civilian homelessness surged in the 1930s depression – and not just among itinerant men, but among the less-visible women and young people. Records of Sydney’s YWCA hostel show women escaping family violence or suffering mental illness, both of which were exacerbated by war and depression.

One of the first surveys of homeless youth in Australia, published by the Brotherhood of Saint Laurence in 1942, shows homelessness being produced systemically across generations. Most of the boys at their hostel had run away from home “because of cruel punishments or unhappiness” or had spent their childhoods in “care”.

So, if there is a crisis of homelessness, it has been going on in Australia for a long time. This should not be cause for despair. Instead, it is a call to deploy the big picture in the campaign to eradicate the narrative of blame.


The ConversationThis piece was co-authored by Heather Holst, deputy CEO of community housing provider Launch Housing, who is the co-researcher on this project.

Anne O’Brien, Professor of History, UNSW

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

Just one small step for Australia’s space industry when a giant leap is needed


Andrew Dempster, UNSW

An expert review of the Australian space industry’s capabilities to participate in a global market was announced last week by the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Arthur Sinodinos. He said the aim is to “develop a long-term plan to grow this important and exciting sector” and report in March 2018.

Interestingly, the words “space agency” do not appear in the announcement, but this was addressed later when the minister spoke to the media.

The space community had been expecting an announcement of this sort for some time. Many expected one to be made for maximum impact at or near the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) to be held in Adelaide in September, when Australia’s space community will be on show to the world.

Another failure to launch

Many also expected that the announcement would be of the establishment of an agency, rather than yet another committee and review of the industry. There seems to be at least one of these every year, with the past year alone seeing the Space Activities Act review, the Space Industry Association of Australia (SIAA) white paper and the annual State of Space report.

That frustration was voiced by the Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Labor Senator Kim Carr, when he said Australia “desperately” needed to move towards having its own space agency.

This is a little rich, as Labor had the opportunity to go to the last election with a comprehensive space policy that included an agency, but failed to do so (like every major party). The 2016 NSW Labor Party Conference event asking if Australia should have a space program (at which I presented) did not lead to substantive action.

In commissioning a review that will not report until next March, the federal government has effectively ensured that there will be no Australian space policy of any merit to discuss at September’s IAC conference.

Australia will not have a space agency, or even a plan for one, when the eyes of the space world are on us. When all that international attention has disappeared next year, the idea could be shelved yet again.

That all sounds rather negative, and may imply an expectation that nothing substantial will happen as a result of this new review.

I have been in the space sector in some capacity since the 1980s and, despite there being many strong reasons (at least 10) to support an agency, I’ve seen this type of thing happen over and over again without result.

Reasons to act now

But this time around there are real grounds to expect that things should be different. So what are they?

First, there is what you might call the “Rocket Lab” effect. When a company started preparing to launch rockets from New Zealand, the logical reaction from the government there was to create an agency, effectively trying to build an industry around this project. In other words, the innovators forced a response from government.

Arguably, this effect is stronger in Australia. Several startup companies are effectively putting the same type of pressure on the Australian government. Two that recently achieved early funding are Fleet in South Australia (doing the “internet of things” from space) and Gilmour Space Technologies in Queensland (launching small satellites). There are at least a dozen others.

Second, an Australian space agency makes more sense now than ever before, with the emergence of what has been called “Space 2.0”. The old paradigm of big, expensive satellites and big, clunky agencies has been disrupted by easier access to space and the increasingly commercial use of space. Australia can leapfrog the old way of doing things, because most local start-ups are working on Space 2.0 applications.

The small satellite market causing this disruption is growing at more than 20% per year and will be worth about US$7 billion by 2020. Nanosatellites or “cubesats” are fundamental to this growth.

Recently, three cubesats deployed from the International Space Station were the first Australian-built satellites in 15 years. The story of my team establishing contact with two of them after they were initially silent was a great feat of engineering.

So Australia is already participating in Space 2.0 – we have active nano-satellites launched and innovative companies funded.

Third, the committee appointed by Sinodinos has a healthy number of members not aligned with traditional agency thinking. These include David Williams from CSIRO. He set up the UK agency, which is a good model for Australia to follow given it is focused on industry growth.

Also on the committee are local entrepreneurs Jason Held (Saber Astronautics) and Flavia Tata Nardini (Fleet), who run small companies with new approaches to space.

The absence of large multinationals has been lamented by some commentators, but not by me. The Communications Alliance is a voice for Australian’s communications industry, including those involved in the satellite industry, and its chief executive John Stanton was quoted in a Communications Day newsletter saying the review was “remarkably light on industry participants”.

In any case, large companies are represented by Michael Davis of the Space Industry Association of Australia (SIAA), which lists almost 400 Australian organisations as members.

Fourth, most of the case for an agency has already been made by the SIAA in its recent white paper. This does much of the new review committee’s work for it, and allows it to use the time between now and March to try to define the role and structure that any agency will take.

Fifth, the current government has already shown a willingness to facilitate growth in the sector by reforming the Space Activities Act. Although the Act is primarily regulatory, and its reform is an exercise in removal of red tape, the move will genuinely make it easier to run space businesses in Australia.

Finally, this industry attracts innovators like almost no other – Elon Musk’s efforts to get to Mars are only one high-profile example.

There is a groundswell of activity right here, right now, with a critical mass of brilliant young minds developing a 21st-century space industry, but needing supportive infrastructure to make it happen.

In other words, the environment and timing are right for the establishment of an Australian space agency. This review is just one small step towards that goal. At least it’s in the right direction, but is it necessary at all?

The ConversationWith Labor’s only complaint being that an agency is not being launched soon enough, bipartisanship on the issue seems assured. So why not take the giant leap?

Andrew Dempster, Director, Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research; Professor, School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications, UNSW

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

Grattan on Friday: Abbott shapes up in Liberals’ fight over their ‘internals’



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Tony Abbott is showing no sign of backing off his continual challenges to the government in his public commentary.
Brendan Esposito/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Cory Bernardi, the senator who defected from the Liberals to found the Australian Conservatives, sits like a crow on a fence as those in his former party fight bitterly over its directions and organisation.

Whatever the future holds for the Australian Conservatives – and it will inevitably be an uphill battle – Bernardi could not ask for more auspicious circumstances in which to recruit.

Bernardi’s party has nearly 13,000 members nationally – the youngest 15 and the oldest almost 102 – with around 4,000 in New South Wales. The NSW figure compares with a Liberal Party membership in that state said to be about 11,000, although some internal critics claim the number is much smaller.

The Australian Conservatives have three state MPs: two South Australian upper house members as a result of its absorption of Family First, and a former DLP member of the Victorian parliament.

Bernardi says about 40% of Australian Conservative members were formerly members or active supporters of the Coalition parties. Some former Liberals probably see the Australian Conservatives as “the party they joined originally”, he says.

Bernardi might have an eye on potential pickings following this weekend’s NSW Liberal convention.

The issue at the special meeting is the rules – for which read the distribution of power – in the party’s NSW division, which is controlled by a tight factional combination of moderates and soft right.

Tony Abbott and other disgruntled conservatives are trying to win support for reform in how candidates are preselected and party officials are chosen. A motion from Abbott’s Warringah federal electorate conference (FEC) proposes plebiscites for all candidates and direct election for the party positions. Although other states have plebiscites, in its sweep the Warringah blueprint is radical change on steroids.

Some predict a loss of members to the Australian Conservatives if there is not significant change. Bernardi already has a following within the NSW Liberals – he has been invited to appear at its Roseville branch next month.

While the possible implications for Bernardi’s party are an intriguing aspect of the weekend’s debate, the immediate focus will be on its consequences for the Abbott-Turnbull conflict, in which – despite disclaimers – it is being seen as another episode.

The party’s open wound has been on full display again this week. On Sunday new Liberal federal president Nick Greiner warned of the damage being done and called for the two men to resolve things “face to face”.

“If we are not able to present a compelling unified face to the Australian public we won’t win the election in two years time – I think it is as simple and as stark as that,” Greiner said.

He’s right, of course. But highlighting the problem is only useful if it helps get a solution – otherwise it just draws more attention to it, putting Turnbull in an awkward position.

On Thursday he was asked by 3AW’s Neil Mitchell: “what’s wrong with picking up the phone and saying, ‘Tony, green tea, my office, let’s talk about it’?” Turnbull replied: “I look forward to catching up with him again soon when parliament gets back if not before”, adding that he’d been going to say he’d known Abbott “for a million years – it may feel like a million years – it’s about 40 years”.

Indeed. Even right back in those early days, these two were on different pages, as recalled in a BuzzFeed article this month. Turnbull, writing for The Bulletin in 1978, disparaged student politician Abbott’s “rather boisterous and immature rhetoric” and argued that his “conservative moral views” were too much for the general student constituency.

Turnbull can’t fix his Abbott problem. Even if he brought him into cabinet, which he won’t, it would likely eventually end in tears.

Abbott, for his part, is showing no sign of backing off his continual challenge to the government in his public commentary. His latest criticism was of this week’s decision for a home affairs department; he said the advice to his government was that such a “massive bureaucratic change” wasn’t needed.

Abbott has invested a great deal in his push for party reform, and so has a lot of credibility at stake in the convention’s result. No-one is sure how it will unfold. Open to all party members, and subject to “stacks”, about 1,400 have signed up to attend. Its outcome won’t be the end of the matter – decisions rest with the state council.

Turnbull, squeezed between factional allies who want to limit reform and militant rank-and-filers, addresses the convention on Saturday morning. He has previously indicated he is in favour of plebiscites, but looks for measured changes rather than Warringah’s full monty.

Compromise positions are being pressed by backbencher Julian Leeser and assistant minister Alex Hawke.

Among the restrictions proposed for plebiscites are a longer qualification period (three or four years membership rather than two) and an “activity test” before party members could vote, as well as “grandfathering” electorates with sitting members to the current preselection system.

In an email this week to party members Walter Villatora, president of the Warringah FEC, and Jim Molan, the retired major-general who helped devise the Coalition’s border security policy, denounced the compromise positions as “window dressing”.

“The Hawke/Leeser reforms will cement in factional domination for another generation,” they said.

The Warringah supporters are arguing an all-or-nothing line. That leaves Abbott in a corner if there is a compromise, making it harder for him to claim any ownership of more limited change. Not that he worries too much about the odd contradiction, as we’ve often seen.

If he fails to get what he wants and seriously kicks up the dust, that is likely to encourage some disgruntled members to pay their A$25 to Bernardi – who incidentally is holding a meeting for his party’s NSW members next Friday.

The ConversationOn the other hand, if the Warringhites have a victory, Turnbull will suffer yet another bout of bad publicity, with more trouble to come from a much-emboldened Abbott.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Victoria may soon have assisted dying laws for terminally ill patients


Ben White, Queensland University of Technology and Lindy Willmott, Queensland University of Technology

An independent group of experts set up by the Victorian government has today delivered its final report outlining 66 recommendations for how voluntary assisted dying would work in the state.

Chaired by former head of the Australian Medical Association, Brian Owler, the Ministerial Advisory Panel’s role was to work out how legislation should be drafted to allow terminally ill people to receive assistance to die. The panel based its report on the recommendations of the Parliamentary committee’s Inquiry into end of life choices in December 2016.

Legislation giving effect to the report is likely to be tabled in the Victorian Parliament within a month.

Who does the law cover?

At the heart of debates about assisted dying are eligibility criteria – who can get assistance to die and who cannot. The panel’s recommendations are broadly consistent with the report of the parliamentary committee. Access is allowed for an adult who can make their own decisions, is terminally ill and their suffering cannot be relieved. They must also be a resident of Victoria.

But the panel widens the committee’s earlier recommendation that a person must be “at the end of life (final weeks or months of life)” to be granted their request. Instead, the current report states the “incurable disease, illness or medical condition” must be expected to cause death in no later than 12 months.

While we agree eligibility should be based on a terminal illness, we don’t favour time limits as they are arbitrary and difficult to accurately predict. They can also lead to people taking harmful steps to fall inside them, such as starving themselves.

But the panel’s recommendation to extend the time to 12 months is still a better approach than the committee’s, as it is likely forming a clinical view about prognosis will be more manageable in that time. Providing a set time frame also avoids the uncertainty of the vague use of the phrase “at the end of life”.

Former AMA president, Professor Brian Owler, chaired the Ministerial Advisory Panel.

Also of note is that the panel specifically stated mental illness alone and disability alone will not satisfy eligibility requirements; but nor will they exclude access to voluntary assisted dying.

What assistance can be provided?

This is primarily a physician-assisted dying model, which means the patient is expected to take the lethal dose of medication themselves. This is a narrow approach to assisted dying as it is the person themselves who takes the final step to end life, not the doctor.

The panel’s approach is consistent with the committee’s report – both are broadly along the lines of the US assisted dying model such as the one in Oregon.

There are downsides to this and we favour a more inclusive model (like in Canada or under the European model) that permits assistance to die being directly provided by a doctor as well. This choice better reflects the autonomy that underpins these laws.

But the panel (and the committee) did recommend an exception where the person is physically unable to take the medication or digest it themselves. This may not be used often but helps address potential discrimination, for example on the grounds of physical disability which prevents someone taking the medication themselves.

What safeguards are there?

The panel has proposed a very rigorous process – comprised of 68 safeguards – that involves three separate requests for voluntary assisted dying (one which is witnessed by two independent witnesses) and two independent medical assessments.

A patient seeking assistance to die must be provided with a range of information including about diagnosis and prognosis, treatment options available, palliative care, and the expected outcome and risks of taking the lethal dose of medication. Doctors involved will have to receive special training about the law and how it operates.

Other safeguards are at the systems level, with a Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board recommended to examine each case and also to report on how the scheme as a whole is operating. The panel has also proposed a range of new offences specifically about voluntary assisted dying to deter conduct outside the scope of the regime, such as an offence against inducing someone to request assisted dying.

Will these recommendations become law?

Strong public opinion, shifting views in the health and medical professions and international trends towards allowing assisted dying mean it will become lawful in Australia at some point. But will it be in Victoria, and soon?

The politics of assisted dying are notoriously fickle and this is the latest of over 50 bills in Australian parliaments addressing this issue over the past two decades.

But as we have argued in the past, features of this law reform effort suggest it could happen. The process of examining the issue has been very careful, inclusive and thoughtful with multiple reports and engagement with expert opinion and national and international evidence.

The ConversationThis is a narrow assisted dying model with a lot of safeguards. There is also high level and public support of senior politicians on both sides of politics. But as always, the ultimate test is what happens on the floor of parliament.

Ben White, Professor of Law and Director, Australian Centre for Health Law Research, Queensland University of Technology and Lindy Willmott, Professor of Law, Queensland University of Technology

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

Social mix in housing? One size doesn’t fit all, as new projects show


Kate Shaw, University of Melbourne

A recent suggestion that new housing on inner-city public land should start from a presumption of 100% social housing prompted indignation in government circles. “We can’t condemn another generation of Victorians to live in housing poverty,” huffed the housing minister, Martin Foley.

It’s curious, then, that we heard barely a peep about the latest government announcement that the height of an apartment tower associated with the Queen Victoria Market makeover will be reduced by removing the original affordable housing component to a separate, smaller development.

It is tempting to conclude that both responses accord, naturally, with the interests of the developers of private housing. But that would be to over-simplify the complex issue of social mix. It is increasingly clear there is no one-size-fits-all.

The principle of social mix now routinely drives public housing estate renewals and new housing builds on surplus public land. This is usually expressed in a 50:50 mix of social (public and community) and private housing, though the social component is often much smaller. As the stock of public land is ever diminishing, and affordable housing is in such short supply, this is problematic.

I have argued before that government commitments to social mix are often disingenuous. They are more likely to be driven by an ideological imperative to privatise public assets, or at best to secure upgrades to public housing without having to fund them directly.

What does the evidence tell us?

Soon-to-be-published research by Abdullahi Jama and I on the Carlton public housing estate redevelopment supports these conclusions.

Our findings show that public and private residents on the new estate are not mixed. They are divided into separate buildings with separate gardens, explicitly with a view to increasing the value of the private apartments.

The case that normally follows from such a finding is that public and private households should be “salt and peppered” through new apartment buildings to encourage social mixing. While Abdullahi and I agree this is a necessary precondition for social mixing, this is not the entirety of our argument. We question the very basics of the policy orthodoxy on social mix.

The rationale for building upmarket private housing in low-income areas draws on the neighbourhood effects thesis, which says that concentrations of poverty exacerbate its effects.

This might be the case in large areas of disadvantage, such as the US Rust Belt cities, parts of the UK and even some outer suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne. But it doesn’t stand up in highly resourced, gentrified inner cities where community facilities and opportunities for interaction are plentiful.

Paul Watt talks about neighbourhood effects, the disputed idea that poor communities benefit from social mix in urban renewal projects.

Even where poverty is widespread, studies from Toronto, Vancouver, Amsterdam and London show that imposed social mix disrupts support networks and social structures. Involuntary displacement from a neighbourhood often has serious effects on physical and mental health.

Ranjan Balakumaran and Kam Sandhu discuss the displacement of poorer communities by ‘redevelopment’.

Minority communities may benefit from concentration in terms of safety and maintaining their cultural heritage. A substantial body of research shows that social mix policies do not replace the social capital they displace.

So, are there good reasons to introduce social mix?

The strongest argument is the reduction of stigma that for some people comes with public housing. If the public housing is indistinguishable from private housing, the public tenants’ wellbeing is considered to be improved.

It’s not entirely clear, however, whether this is due as much to the housing being new and decent as to having private residents as neighbours. Also unresolved is the question of whether stigma is felt as keenly on estates in gentrified cities, which are islands of public housing in seas of inner-city privilege, as it may be in widely disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

There is certainly evidence that, for some people, being thrust among others from different class and socio-economic groups can increase feelings of inadequacy, discomfort and sometimes hostility.

So how do we provide affordable housing?

These issues vary across place, time and individuals. What is clear is that different responses are needed accordingly.

It is also clear that, with dire shortages of affordable housing in so many cities, all opportunities should be seized to build as much affordable housing as possible. That’s not just public and community housing, but “key worker” housing, “below market rent” housing, co-op housing and community land trusts. Models for all these exist and should be encouraged and explored.

A diversity of housing types must include diverse sources of funding, with a range of support programs. Involving future residents in design and ensuring they know what they’re moving into, and enabling people to organise their own housing, are far more effective ways of building social harmony than enforcing a rigid notion of mix.

The ConversationSeparate buildings for social tenants and private residents next to the Vic Market might be a perfectly reasonable response. But it should come from nuanced public policy and optimal use of public resources, rather than the developers and their sales people.

Kate Shaw, Future Fellow, University of Melbourne

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

Australia’s new ‘Home Office’ is a worry for immigration policy



File 20170718 27190 4vf953
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the minister in charge of the new ‘super-portfolio’, Peter Dutton, announce the changes on Tuesday.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Adele Garnier, Macquarie University

When Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the establishment of a Home Affairs portfolio this week, he described it as “similar to the Home Office of the United Kingdom”. Drawing inspiration from this British model is worrisome for the immigration portfolio.

Immigration mismanagement

Planning immigration has never been a core task of Britain’s Home Office. As political scientist Randall Hansen has described, the UK in the 20th century has long managed immigration using its nationality legislation.

Migration management was set to become a priority under the Blair government. Decades after Australia did so, it introduced a points-based system for skilled migrants.

In practice, the Home Office did not anticipate the large inflow of citizens from new members of the European Union in the 2000s. This fuelled public concerns that eventually played a crucial role in Brexit.

Immigration-related Home Office activities have been mired in enforcement issues. From the 1980s to the 2000s, asylum applications took years to process.

More recently, European citizens aiming to apply for residency in the post-Brexit UK have faced a bureaucratic nightmare. This has been criticised by the EU.

What’s in a name?

The Home Office was originally established to protect British citizens, with a focus on Britain’s infrastructure and customs, and on the prevention of entry by “undesirable aliens”. It has historically been inward-looking.

This has also been the case of Australia’s Department of Home Affairs, established at Federation in 1901. After the second world war, a distinct Department of Immigration was established to plan and oversee the expansion of the country’s population. This was a major strategic and economic goal at the time.

In Australia, both the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Immigration have co-existed over the years, with two exceptions. From the late 1980s to 2007, the former disappeared as its portfolio was handed to the Department of Justice and Customs. Then, in the early 1970s, the Whitlam government abolished the Department of Immigration, because its administrative culture was considered to still reflect the White Australia policy, which had been effectively scrapped in 1966.

The Fraser government reinstated the Department of Immigration in 1976, this time with a strong multicultural rationale. Home Affairs disappeared again in 2013, while Immigration expanded to become the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

The 2013 name change already meant the department’s focus on immigration became narrower than before. It was now mainly concerned with the admission (or refusal) of immigrants. Settlement and multicultural affairs were transferred to the Department of Human Services.

The newest name change, and its close association with the British model by Turnbull, appears as a symbolic marginalisation of the immigration portfolio. It is not clear yet whether an agency under a Home Affairs “super-ministry” will carry “immigration” in its name.

In Britain, the corresponding agency under the purview of the Home Office is called “UK Visas and Immigration”. Yet it existed for several years as the UK Border Agency (UKBA), with no reference to immigration. The then home secretary, Theresa May, eventually split UKBA in two following the revelation that hundreds of thousands of people had entered the UK without the appropriate checks.

Critical timing

The creeping invisibility of the immigration portfolio comes as the government is overseeing major changes to immigration policy, and is increasingly using the rhetoric of putting Australians first.

In April, the admission of skilled migrants was overhauled with the abolition of the 457 visa. The government shortened the list of professions for which skilled foreign workers would be eligible for a four-year visa to Australia, and subsequently for permanent residence.

A citizenship reform is before parliament. It significantly extends the time permanent residents must live in Australia before they can apply for citizenship. It also introduces more stringent English-language proficiency requirements.

The legislation would require citizenship applicants to demonstrate their allegiance to Australia more strongly, with a pledge to Australian values and proof of integration.

It has been written that, rather than encouraging integration, these changes could result in newcomers feeling more distanced from Australia. The disappearance of “immigration” from the department name may contribute to this uneasiness.

And prospective immigrants to Australia may justifiably fear the changes will cause confusion about division of responsibilities, or a further delay in processing times.

Turnbull has promised the reform will involve strong oversight mechanisms. He noted that such mechanisms were essential to respect the rights and liberties of “all Australians”.

The ConversationAs Amy Maguire noted, Turnbull did not make any specific reference to the rights and liberties of non-citizens living in Australia. One can thus worry to what extent Australia’s “Home Office” will better protect them.

Adele Garnier, Lecturer, Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations, Macquarie University

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