Five questions about Nazi Germany and how it relates to Australian politics today



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The primary legacy of Nazism was the second world war, which led to the deaths of more than 50 million people.
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Matt Fitzpatrick, Flinders University

Almost every day comparisons of contemporary politics to Nazi Germany are cropping up in the news. But are these comparisons historically grounded, or are they an abuse of Godwin’s law? Here are some answers to some questions that have cropped up recently.

1) What is Nazism? What is fascism? Would Australia’s right-wing populists fit into either of these categories?

Nazism and fascism were aligned far-right political movements that came to power in Germany (Nazism) and Italy (fascism) after the first world war. There were also fascist parties elsewhere, including in Britain and in Nazi-allied states like Croatia and Romania.

Their policies were grounded in radical nationalism (which often drew on racist ideas), economic corporatism (that is, a particularly authoritarian form of capitalism), anti-democratic, authoritarian and violent politics, anti-unionism and anti-communism.

These parties were an outgrowth of the specific political and economic conditions of the post-war period, but they have attracted some on the radical right globally, who either consider themselves or are considered by others to be neo-Nazi or neo-fascist. In Australia, there are few avowed neo-Nazis or neo-fascist parties, and those that exist are not popular.

Populist parties in Australia that are seeking to gain votes by appealing to anti-immigration and racist sentiments are generally outgrowths of the long-standing tradition of such politics in the political history of post-1788 Australia.




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Unlike the Nazis and the fascists, who ruthlessly destroyed democratic institutions upon coming to power, the most prominent anti-immigration parties in Australia don’t claim to want to abolish democracy. Instead they want to use the liberal democratic system to entrench what might be called “white” or “settler” privilege, at the expense of migrants and Indigenous people. Their model is generally the White Australia Policy, not Nazi Germany.

2) Why do people talk about Nazism or fascism with such fear and horror?

The primary legacy of Nazism was the second world war, which led to the deaths of more than 50 million people. Nazis killed almost 6 million European Jews and (directly and indirectly) around 20 million Russians, all in pursuit of an illusory territory secure from racial or political threats. It has been usefully referred to as thanatopolitics – a politics of death founded on the false promise of securing life.

3) Senator Fraser Anning used the phrase ‘final solution‘ and it upset people. Why?

The phrase is a direct reference to the Nazi term Endlösung der Judenfrage (The final solution of the Jewish question), which in the end meant genocide. It is clear that this goes well beyond “dog whistling”. It is instead the kind of language that (until now) only the most rabid and marginal of Nazis would deliberately choose to use.

The term recalls the desire of the state to kill its citizens and the citizens of states around it to secure its own racial fantasy. Anning argues that his usage was unintentional. This is difficult to believe, given the context of the speech.

What is especially chilling about it is that evokes not only the genocidal policies of the Nazi regime, but also its earlier “final solutions” (grounded in the global eugenics movement for ‘racial hygiene’) which included halting Jewish migration, then taking away the civic rights of Jews, then expelling Jews, and then finally murdering them.

To use this kind of historically and racially charged language to talk about migrants was a new low, even in Australian politics, where tolerance of racially charged political statements is extraordinarily high.

4) Some Australian press commentators have said that Nazism was left-wing. Is this right?

No. Nazis and fascists were decidedly right-wing and fervently anti-communist. There was a small and short-lived group of Nazis clustered around the Strasser brothers who were interested in a racial strain of anti-capitalist politics. They might loosely be termed “socialist”, but they were completely purged from the Nazi party very early on.

On coming to power, the first targets of the Nazis were communists and socialists. The formal name of the Nazi party, the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party), was a failed attempt to attract workers to the party and away from the left. It failed, and the main voters for the Nazis remained the lower middle classes – the economically vulnerable who most feared the spectre of socialism.

5) Some activists have likened Australia’s offshore detention centres to concentration camps **Is that a fair description?

It pays to be careful here. Firstly, not all concentration camps were in Nazi Germany. Concentration camps were used by the British in South Africa, by the Spanish in Cuba and by the US in the Philippines.

Secondly, when talking about Nazi Germany, a distinction should be drawn between concentration camps (which were places of detention without trial used by the state to sequester undesired non-criminal elements from other citizens) and extermination camps, which were places of execution.




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It was in the extermination camps (among other, less organised sites) that the Nazis perpetrated the Holocaust.

No two historical examples of concentration camps are exactly alike, but Australia’s offshore mandatory detention centres fit most elements of the description. Those in them are detained without trial. Their purpose is political rather than penological. These are not places of rehabilitation or even punishment. They are indefinite holding centres for those classed as politically problematic.

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However, to say Australia is running a detention network with many of the attributes of earlier concentration camps does not mean that Australia is a dictatorship, or that the policy is intrinsically “fascist”. Liberal democracies have their own forms of inhumanity and nations such as Britain and the US have also made use of such camps in the past.

Matt Fitzpatrick, Associate Professor in International History, Flinders University

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

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Vital Signs: Turkey shows the economic pain of global democratic backsliding


Richard Holden, UNSW

Vital Signs is a regular economic wrap from UNSW economics professor Richard Holden (@profholden). Vital Signs aims to contextualise weekly economic events and cut through the noise of the data affecting global economies.


As American baseball legend Yogi Berra once supposedly quipped, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Three years ago the crisis was in Greece, now it’s Turkey. Another European summer and another European economic crisis.

It’s tempting to say that being in Europe is all the two situations have in common. Greece’s population is a little over 10 million; Turkey’s is nearly 80 million. Greece’s troubles were triggered by out-of-control government debt; Turkey’s government debt-to-GDP ratio is quite low. The Greek government was on the loopy left; Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party is on the conservative right.

But the similarities between the Greek and Turkish crises are deeper than the differences.

Both were brought about by decades of ignorant, populist economics. When crisis hit, both countries had leaders who instantly made things worse. And in both cases the world’s global capital capital markets have proved to be an unforgiving judge.

Erdogan’s voodoo economics

Turkey finds itself in crisis not because of massive government debt – although it has been rising pretty rapidly of late and private-sector debt is a real issue – but because of a large current account deficit.

The current account deficit – roughly the difference between the value of what it imports and what it exports – is running at more than US$60 billion at an annualised rate.

This means Turkey is a large net borrower from the rest of the world.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has goosed GDP through cheap foreign credit and low real interest rates. But unlike tinpot strongmen who worry mainly about holding onto power tomorrow, global markets look far into the future.

And this year markets decided that Turkey’s economic future looked pretty bleak.

A plummeting lira

The Turkish currency, the lira, has fallen by more than 40% against the US dollar this year. Since more than half of Turkey’s foreign debt (government plus private) is denominated in foreign currencies, this is a big problem.

It is estimated that there is more than US$200 billion of dollar-denominated Turkish corporate debt. When the lira falls, foreign-denominated debt rises, making it hard to service, let alone repay.

At the same time, the inflationary spiral this sets off does huge damage to the domestic economy. It is estimated that Turkey’s annual inflation rate is running at more than 100%.

Erdogan doesn’t want interest rates to rise – and he has bullied the central bank into doing so later and less than the bank otherwise might have. He is on record as saying that higher interest rates increase inflation, rather than the opposite, as every first-year economics student knows.

To Erdogan, black is white, night is day, up is down.

US President Donald Trump announced last week that “Aluminum will now be 20% and steel 50%. Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!” Erdogan’s response has been to call for a boycott of iPhones and enact retaliatory tariffs of as much as 140% on a range of US goods.

Erdogan did secure US$15 billion in foreign investment from Qatar, after meeting Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Bin Al Thani in Ankara on Wednesday. That might stop some of the bleeding for now, but this gives Qatar tremendous leverage.

The real cost of this support won’t be measured in basis points.

Global contagion?

The big risk here is that the foreign holders of all this dollar-denominated Turkish debt get into trouble as Turkey struggles to repay or defaults. Even the Bank of International Settlements doesn’t easily know who all these debt holders are, but banks in Spain and France appear to be significantly exposed – especially Spain.

A run on the Turkish currency could turn into damage to balance sheets of banks across Europe, triggering a potential debt crisis in countries like Spain.

That’s some distance off for now. But it looms.

All this will likely end in some kind of International Monetary Fund assistance package – but that’s going to come with conditions. Folks who like to use the term “neoliberal” will dub such conditions as brutal austerity.

Others will consider the conditions the cost of stabilising an economy pushed to the brink by a financially illiterate megalomaniac.

Economics in a world of democratic backsliding

Turkey may be at the centre of the crisis du jour, but Erdogan is but one of a cast of nasty, illiberal characters. Although they occupy varying positions on the ideological spectrum, from Poland to Hungary to Latin America, there has been significant democratic backsliding in recent years.

These strongmen do violence to principles of liberal democracy – often literally. They also damage their economies and, as a consequence, their people.

Institutions like the International Monetary Fund will probably handle the problem in Turkey, although it would be a lot simpler if Erdogan just allowed interest rates to increase and solve the problem directly.

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But sadly we can expect more illiberal and nonsensical economics from these illiberal strongmen. It is contagious populist ideology more than financial contagion that should scare us right now.

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics and PLuS Alliance Fellow, UNSW

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

Grattan on Friday: Malcolm Turnbull’s NEG remains in snake-infested territory


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull had a party-room victory but a god-awful week, and it wasn’t because his approval plunged in Monday’s Newspoll. His energy policy is back in the mire, and Tony Abbott is being – as one colleague neatly describes it – the agent of chaos.

It’s nearly unimaginable how the Coalition chooses to replay that old self-destructive record. In Bill Shorten’s office they’ve been digging out the 2009 headlines, such as “Battered Turnbull faces mutiny” and “Abbott leaves leader in crisis”.

Well, Turnbull is not “in crisis” but things are quite a serious mess, as those who hate him, plus others who don’t, sharpen their attack in another round of the climate wars.

In Tuesday’s Coalition parties meeting, where Turnbull won strong support for his energy policy, several reserved their right to cross the floor on the emissions reduction legislation, and later more said they might do so. There was talk of up to ten.




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Assistant minister Keith Pitt, from the Nationals, let rumours run that he might stand down from the frontbench to oppose the legislation (a cynical Nationals source said: “he’s made hollow threats before”).

Resources Minister Matt Canavan (also a National), asked in the Senate whether he’d attempted to persuade Pitt on the National Energy Guarantee, said he’d “tried to persuade all I’ve spoken to about the common sense of adopting” the NEG.

The Nationals’ federal council meets this weekend in Canberra, where there will be a lot of chatter about the NEG. Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack in his council address will emphasise the vital importance of lowering power prices – very safe ground – but given his divided ranks, he isn’t expected to come out with a passionate advocacy of the technology-neutral NEG. A motion on the council’s agenda calls on the government “to support the building of high-energy, low-emissions, coal-fired power stations”.

It’s one thing for backbenchers to talk about crossing the floor, quite another to do it. Turnbull is working hard on the rebels – though obviously not on Abbott – to try to bring them around.

They have wish lists, and Turnbull, the ultimate transactional politician, is seeking doable ways to mollify them. The government has already indicated it will accept the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s recommendation to underwrite new dispatchable power projects.

On Thursday night a senior source said Turnbull was considering “heavy-handed intervention” to bring down prices. “The prime minister is not afraid to pull out the big stick on electricity companies if that’s what it takes,” the source said.

The stakes are clear. If everything went pear-shaped and there were enough floor-crossers in the House of Representatives to sink the package’s emissions reduction legislation, that would effectively (though not literally) amount to a vote of no confidence in the prime minister.

Hard to imagine, and probably only Abbott is thinking that far ahead. When other dissidents contemplate what could happen, some can be expected to fold on that ground alone.

Meantime, things fray as pressure mounts.

Take Peter Dutton’s Thursday interview with 2GB’s Ray Hadley. Hadley challenged Dutton over the energy policy, demanding to know, “Are you blindly loyal [to Turnbull]?” Instead of mounting a full-throttle defence of the policy, Dutton said he gave frank advice in private as a member of the cabinet and didn’t bag out colleagues or the prime minister publicly. This just left a question mark over what Dutton actually thinks about the policy.

Turnbull is up against multiple obstacles, apart from the insurgents.

He needs to get the states and the ACT onboard for the NEG, but the Victorian Labor government has a particular interest in procrastinating, and may do so until it goes into caretaker mode in October. It is judging what’s best for itself electorally, especially given its battle with the Greens in Melbourne’s inner metropolitan electorates.

Impatient as the federal government is to get finality on the NEG, it could be risky for it to press the Victorians too hard before the November state election. That might just increase the chances of a firm “no”. As one federal source says, Victoria needs to be accorded some space.

After the state election, things would be easier. If the government changed in Victoria, the new administration would sign up. If Labor was returned – and had left open its position on the NEG during the campaign – it might be more readily persuaded to fall into line.

Then there is federal Labor. It is generally thought the government will need ALP support to pass the emissions reduction legislation in the Senate, and defections could mean Labor was needed in the lower house too.

The argument has gone: Labor would try to amend the emissions reduction target in the legislation but, assuming that failed, it could then pass the legislation in order to take the climate/energy issue off the 2019 election agenda. That would leave a Shorten government able to increase the target later.

If Labor sees Turnbull being wounded by the internal battle, however, it would have every incentive to hold out on the emissions legislation, leaving the prime minister unable to deliver it.

Another set of players in Turnbull’s energy problems comprise the media shouters: Alan Jones, Hadley, Peta Credlin, Andrew Bolt.

They direct their megaphones to the so-called Coalition “base” and their messages resonate particularly with the Liberal National Party’s grass roots in Queensland. This makes some backbenchers nervous, inclining them (in one description) to “virtue signal” to the base.

Coalition backbenchers generally, increasingly frightened for their seats, are caught in a swirl of pressures and emotions. Some are angry at Abbott. Some look for an unrealistic nirvana, where prices suddenly plunge in time for the election.

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Some just want the NEG out of the way, a policy in the kit bag, whatever they think of it. NSW Liberal senator Jim Molan, who describes the NEG as “sub-optimal” told Sky he supported the package on the basis that “we’ve got to focus on getting re-elected”, noting: “I’ve spent all my life making rubbish policy work.” An endorsement of sorts.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

In the outrage over the Trump-Putin meeting, important questions were overlooked



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The outrage over Trump’s comments at the joint press conference meant an opportunity for meaningful debate about policy was lost.
AAP/EPA/Anatoly Maltsev

Filip Slaveski, Deakin University

In a now famous Fox News interview with Donald Trump in February 2017, Bill O’Reilly asked the new US president if he respected his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. The following discussion ensued:

Trump: Well, I respect a lot of people but that doesn’t mean I’m going to get along with him.

O’Reilly: But he’s a killer though, Putin’s a killer.

Trump: There are a lot of killers, we’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think — our country’s so innocent?

Not a few viewers in countries on the wrong end of US foreign policy may have had to stop and catch their breath at Trump’s final sentence. A common thread of so many of their experiences of US foreign policy is not only the bombing from above. Many share a deep repugnance toward what they see as a well-manicured facade of American moral superiority, which helps to frame, water down or justify the violence and humiliations to which they are regularly subjected.




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Just for that breathless moment, it seemed this sentence of moral relativism tore a hole in this façade and threatened the moral protection it provides to members of the American establishment.

It is these elected politicians from both major parties, military, state department and security officials, spies, advisers and lobbyists who have reacted most vociferously to Trump’s moral relativism in international affairs. This was perhaps most evident in his accommodating attitude to Putin in general, and especially in Helsinki last month.

In the blanket and largely uncritical Western news coverage of the establishment’s expressions of outrage, commentaries and interviews in response to the July meeting, Trump was depicted as a traitor to the US, Putin’s puppet and now even a greater threat to US national and, indeed, international security.

They may or may not be correct on some or all counts. But it is worth examining exactly what or whom Trump was betraying in Helsinki. So what did Trump do? He accepted uncritically (then later awkwardly back-tracked) Putin’s denial of election meddling and adopted much of his critique of US foreign policy over the last couple of decades.

As far as we know, Trump did not even interrogate Putin over his deadly meddling in Ukraine. He may not be particularly interested. In the lead-up to Helsinki, Trump trash-talked old US allies (including NATO).

Taken together, this conduct exacerbated the establishment fear that Trump was threatening to dismantle well-established Western political structures geared toward containing Russian influence carried over from the Cold War. These structures have been essential to cementing a broader post-Cold War US unipolarity. This has given the US political establishment a free hand to pursue its foreign policies without much restraint but with terrible consequences for those affected in, for example, the Middle East.

I doubt Trump is pursuing a grand strategy to unravel these structures, especially when his rhetoric displays a penchant, even a fetish, for the US unipolarity these strategies help foster.

Furthermore, his rhetoric has not really translated into significant foreign policy changes so far. Much of it is meaningless. But there is whole body of scholarship and commentary that would encourage Trump in any dismantling efforts, as it argues that the carrying over of Cold War structures of Soviet (Russian) containment such as NATO after 1991 have stood in the way of the development of more peaceable relations between Russia and the West. Indeed, structures like NATO fuel Russian anxieties and aggression, which NATO was founded to combat.

More traditional scholarship disputes these “revisionist” ideas, citing Russia’s aggression as evidence of the indispensability of containment to international security.

Scholars on both sides can find evidence to support their arguments in Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Ukraine. But these revisionist ideas, or even the debate with more traditional ones, were hardly mentioned in the blanket media outrage over Helsinki. Critically, then, an examination of the object of Trump’s supposed “treachery” was also lacking when it was most needed.




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The focus on outrage may just be the reality of covering an outrageous president in politically sensitive times. In any case, an issue remains for us in Australia to re-examine our own approach to Russia.

This could mean advocating a “new” revisionist or “new” traditional approach toward Russia in response to its conduct, especially in Ukraine. But it would also mean at least trying to untangle the latter from the broader implications of supporting American unipolarity and, hopefully, avoiding its consequences.

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This larger project beyond Russia is worth pursuing, if not for the sake of those who suffer its consequences around the globe, then at least for our own. Mass population dislocations, food shortages, terrorism and economic disruption threaten more than ever to reverberate all the way from those far-flung borders straight to our doorstep.

Filip Slaveski, Research Fellow, Alfred Deakin Research Institute, Deakin University

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

Australia could house around 900,000 more migrants if we no longer let in tourists



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International tourists use many of Australia’s resources, including adding to fossil fuel consumption.
from shutterstock.com

Raja Junankar, UNSW

Many who fear Australia’s population boom believe we should be cutting down on immigration. They blame immigration for congestion and expenditure of environmental and other vital resources. They say Australia’s cities are becoming overcrowded and cannot sustain more people.

But if Australia were to cut down on immigration, it would also then make sense to introduce policies that limit numbers of international tourists and students. Why single out one group of people? If any person living in Australia drains a certain amount of resources, it stands to reason this is also the case with short-term visitors arriving year after year.




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Not only do tourists and international students add to crowded trains, trams and buses, think of all the environmental resources they consume – such as the water hotels spend on frequently washing their sheets.

Just as with migration, tourist numbers are on the rise in Australia. The number of international tourists (blue line) increased from just over 4 million in 1997-98 to nearly 8 million in 2015-2016. Settler arrivals (people living in Australia who are entitled to permanent residence) increased from 81,000 in 1998 to 135,000 in 2016.

Tourist numbers are on the rise in Australia.
Australian Bureau of Statistics, Author provided

My crude calculations show that if Australia were to allow zero tourism, it could accommodate roughly 900,000 more migrants. As a comparison, Australia’s total migration intake is around 190,000 per year.

But of course curbing tourism, or immigration, isn’t a feasible option. Tourists, international students and migrants all add positive value to Australia.

Our calculations

As a general rule, the monetary amount spent across a group of people in a population is considered a rough approximation of the amount of resources that have been used. So, to get an idea of the resources short-term visitors to Australia (which includes tourists and international students who stay for less than a year) might use, I extracted data on how much they spend on goods and services.




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Then I calculated the approximate number of migrants who would be spending the same amount of money. This gave me a rough indication of how many extra migrants we could let into the country per drop in tourist numbers.

I was a bit generous in terms of working off the assumption that migrants spend the same amount on goods and services as “native” Australians. I used ABS data for my calculations, which were:

  • First, I subtracted the amount international tourists spend (which includes students who stay less than a year) in Australia (this was A$33,917 million in 2015-16) from the total spend in Australia (A$940,822 million in 2015-16). This gave me an idea of the amount spent by Australian residents only (A$906,905 million in 2015-16).
  • I then worked out the average consumption of residents per capita by dividing it by the population (around 24 million in 2015-16). This came to A$37,680 million for every 1,000 people.
  • Then I divided the total spend of international tourists by the per capita amount (per 1,000 residents) spent by residents. This came to 900,213 in 2015-16.
  • I also did similar calculations assuming tourists consumed 10% and 20% more than migrants.

The fact we could have 900,000 extra migrants if we had no tourists is a very rough number. The point is not the exact number. Even if the more accurate number was 400,000, that number is large. The purpose of this exercise is to show that migrants, as one group of people, don’t pose the most significant risk to our population in terms of resources drained.

These numbers are based on crude calculations, and assume that migrants spend the same way as Australian-born residents.
CC BY-SA

It’s a rough guide

As already mentioned, my calculations were crude. More detailed calculation of resources consumed by both groups (immigrants and international tourists) would compare the different impacts on growth and employment of immigration. But for the purposes of this exercise, I’ve carried out more limited calculations.




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The demographic profile of immigrants is also different from that of international tourists. And the spending patterns of immigrants would be very different from those of the tourists. Immigrants would be buying white goods, for instance, such as refrigerators, vacuum cleaners. Tourists would be buying these services indirectly through renting rooms in hotels, Airbnb and the like.

But we wouldn’t shut down tourism, as we know it has a positive impact on our economy. And research generally shows that immigration has a slightly positive effect on Australia’s employment rate and gross domestic product (GDP). A recent government report also shows that cutting Australia’s migration rate would cost the budget billions of dollars, lower living standards and reduce jobs growth.

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Both tourism and migration make a positive impact to our economy, and no one group should be blamed for draining our resources.

Raja Junankar, Honorary Professor, Industrial Relations Research Centre, UNSW

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

The renewable energy train is unstoppable. The NEG needs to get on board


Ken Baldwin, Australian National University

On the face of it, the National Energy Guarantee (NEG), adopted as Coalition policy at a party room meeting yesterday, appears to promise the certainty that industry, consumers and experts have desperately sought for the past decade. But beware: there is a renewable energy train coming down the track that is unstoppable.

The NEG cannot stop the train, but it could act as a guide rail to steer it – or even safely accelerate it – by reducing investment risk and lowering the cost of finance for renewable energy projects.




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The latest figures indicate that the renewable energy train will smash Australia’s 2020 Renewable Energy Target. Assuming that the current pace of renewable energy investment continues (and there is good reason to expect that it will, given the unarguable economics of plummeting renewable energy prices worldwide), then the electricity sector would be on track to hit the government’s 26% emissions reduction target by 2030 with virtually no policy help at all.

The unstoppable renewable energy train may even end up contributing the lion’s share of the reductions needed to achieve Australia’s economy-wide target of cutting emissions by 26-28% relative to 2005 levels by 2030.

This would particularly be the case if we ramped up the electrification of other sectors such as transport and industry, and encouraged householders to replace gas with electricity for heating and cooking.

The big issue then would be whether the rest of the electricity system can adapt quickly enough as renewable energy reaches 50% and above. This would call for significant grid upgrades and storage systems, so as to provide efficient and reliable supply.

Missing the train?

With the NEG projected to deliver no more than 36% renewable energy by 2030, one could argue that this policy is simply waving from the platform as the renewables train goes whooshing by. But this argument ignores the impetus that the NEG would provide to advancing climate policy as a whole.

The NEG is widely regarded by energy analysts as the fourth-best solution – after a carbon pricing system, an emissions intensity scheme, or a clean energy target. But while many commentators have taken issue with both its ambition and its effectiveness, legislating the NEG would undeniably break the policy paralysis that has stopped Australia from moving forward for so many years.

There is no reason why a future government could not introduce other measures – such as an economy-wide price on carbon, regarded by most economists as the most efficient way to combat climate change. Such a scheme could be laid right over the top of the NEG and would drive further transformation not just of the electricity market, but every other sector of the economy. This would be complementary to the NEG and could help decarbonise the electricity sector even more rapidly.

Yet much of the opposition to the policy has come from government backbenchers concerned that it already puts too much emphasis on cutting emissions. How, then, can the NEG thread the political needle without being compromised as an effective tool for decarbonisation?

Making the NEG better

First, the mechanism itself needs to be decoupled from the ambition. That is, the politically charged emissions reduction target needs to be set not in legislation but by regulation, so that it can easily be used as a dial to tune the level of ambition.

Any future government could then ramp up the electricity sector’s emissions target beyond 26%. This could be done either to cover the inevitable shortfall in other sectors (where emissions reductions are harder to achieve), or to help deliver a steeper emissions-reduction trajectory if required by the world’s post-Paris progress. Bear in mind that signatories to the Paris Agreement have agreed to periodically review and tighten their emissions goals, meaning that Australia’s current target will probably be revised upwards.

Critics of this approach might argue that it provides less certainty to industry, rather than more. But the certainty would be established by the mechanism of emissions reductions rather than the rate. If that sounds hard to envisage, consider how financial institutions plan and prepare for changes to interest rates, within a broad economic regulatory framework.

A timetable for reviewing and adjusting emissions targets could be set in much the same way as the Reserve Bank of Australia handles interest rates, although this should perhaps be done on timeframes measured in years rather than months.

Second, the states need to be able to set their own renewable energy targets, independently of those states that currently have no target, such as New South Wales. One way to implement this would be for all states to agree to each comply with the minimum 26% target so there would be no free-riding on the back of those states that decide to be more ambitious than the national baseline.




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Whatever happens, the renewable energy train is building momentum, and the debates within COAG and with intransigent elements in the federal Coalition party room may end up being irrelevant in the long run.

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But for the sake of our future, the resolution of climate and energy policy via the NEG will be an important baby step that helps to underpin the cost of decarbonising our entire economy. To do that, we must first pick the lowest-hanging fruit: the electricity sector.

Ken Baldwin, Director, Energy Change Institute, Australian National University

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

Time for the federal government to catch up on political donations reform


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The states have pulled far ahead of the Commonwealth on improving transparency around political donations.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Carmela Chivers, Grattan Institute; Danielle Wood, Grattan Institute, and Kate Griffiths, Grattan Institute

Australians should be able to see who donates to political parties, but our political donations laws fall far short of this ideal. Recent reforms in New South Wales and Victoria mean that voters will have much better information about who is donating. But when it comes to donations at the federal level, voters remain largely in the dark.

Money in politics is regulated to reduce the risk of interest groups “buying” influence. Explicit quid pro quo is probably rare: as the saying goes, “you never bribe someone when you need them”. But the risk is in more subtle influence: that donors get more access to policymakers, or their views are given more weight.




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The truth about political donations: there is so much we don’t know


Publishing information about larger donors creates a public check on this behaviour. Voters are able to see who political parties rely on for funding, and MPs are more accountable for their subsequent decisions.

States are improving transparency

The trend in the states is promising. Victoria and NSW both increased the transparency of political donations last month.

In Victoria, donations of $1,000 or more will have to be disclosed to the Victorian Electoral Commission within 21 days. Anonymous donations of $1,000 or more are banned. Victoria even capped donations at $4,000 and increased public funding for election campaigns, which might help reduce the reliance of parties on larger contributions (but also comes with other risks).

NSW’s already extensive donations regime was tightened from July 1 this year. NSW political parties are now required to disclose donations of $1,000 or more within 21 days during election campaigns (as in Victoria), and within six months otherwise.

When it comes to transparency, Queensland does one better: the 2017 state election was Australia’s first with “real time” disclosure. Donations of $1,000 or more are lodged through an online portal and are made public within seven working days. The Queensland Electoral Commission even provides interactive maps of donations by electorate.

Most other states also have decent disclosure requirements. In South Australia, parties are required to disclose donations of $5,310 or more every seven days during an election period (and every six months otherwise). The disclosure threshold in Western Australia is $2,300.

Tasmania is the only state with disclosure laws as weak as the Commonwealth’s.

These laws mean voters can know, before they go to the ballot box, who is funding parties’ election campaigns.

The Commonwealth has a long way to go

The states are taking political donations reform seriously – and that’s a good thing. But state reforms are limited by state boundaries. Until the Commonwealth catches up, we won’t be able to “follow the money” across all jurisdictions.

Under Commonwealth regulations, it can take up to 19 months for donations to be made public. That’s why Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s $1.75 million donation to the Liberal Party in the lead-up to the 2016 election was not officially made public until the start of this year.

Only donations of more than $13,800 are required to be disclosed. And there is no requirement to aggregate donations, which means an individual donor can make a series of donations below $13,800 without disclosure.

The result is a huge amount of money in the federal system that we know nothing about. Parties received more than $100 million from undisclosed sources in the two financial years spanning the 2016 federal election. Without this information, it is difficult for public scrutiny to provide a “check” on the possibility of donor influence.

Some of this money no doubt came from “mum and dad” donors contributing $100 to their preferred party. But some is probably the result of “donations splitting”, where people or organisations make multiple donations below the threshold. Some might also be income from fundraising dinners and business forums, for which attendees pay thousands for an opportunity to “bend the ear” of elected representatives.

Donations can also be filtered through associated entities of the parties. This makes money (and influence) even more difficult to track. These entities – unions, investment funds, or fundraising organisations – occasionally frustrate donations restrictions by taking money on behalf of “their” party.

In a particularly egregious case, investigations uncovered that hundreds of thousands of dollars in unlawful donations had filtered into NSW Liberal Party accounts through a federal associated entity.




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Let the sun shine in

Growing public cynicism about special interest influence is partly born of secrecy. Simple changes could vastly improve what we know about money flowing to Commonwealth political parties.

The disclosure threshold should be lowered as the states have done. The current threshold of $13,800 is well above the amount that a regular voter could afford to contribute to a political cause. A lower threshold of around $5,000 would still protect the privacy of small donors while improving transparency and accountability.

Disclosure of donations should be much quicker. Queensland and South Australia now have “real time” disclosure during elections; the Commonwealth can clearly do better than a 19-month turn-around. Disclosure within three weeks – as in NSW and Victoria – would be far superior to the current system.

The ConversationThe states’ political donations laws aren’t perfect, but they are heading in the right direction. It’s time for Canberra to catch up.

Carmela Chivers, Associate, Grattan Institute; Danielle Wood, Program Director, Budget Policy and Institutions, Grattan Institute, and Kate Griffiths, Senior Associate, Grattan Institute

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

The devil is in the detail of government bill to enable access to communications data


Monique Mann, Queensland University of Technology

The Australian government has released a draft of its long awaited bill to provide law enforcement and security agencies with new powers to respond to the challenges posed by encryption.

According to the Department of Home Affairs, encryption already impacts 90% of Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s (ASIO) priority cases, and 90% of data intercepted by the Australian Federal Police. The measures aim to counteract estimates that communications among terrorists and organised crime groups are expected to be entirely encrypted by 2020.

The Department of Home Affairs and ASIO can already access encrypted data with specialist decryption techniques – or at points where data are not encrypted. But this takes time. The new bill aims to speed up this process, but these broad and ill-defined new powers have significant scope for abuse.




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New data access bill shows we need to get serious about privacy with independent oversight of the law


The Department of Home Affairs argues this new framework will not compel communications providers to build systemic weaknesses or vulnerabilities into their systems. In other words, it is not a backdoor.

But it will require providers to offer up details about technical characteristics of their systems that could help agencies exploit weaknesses that have not been patched. It also includes installing software, and designing and building new systems.

Compelling assistance and access

The draft Assistance and Access Bill introduces three main reforms.

First, it increases the obligations of both domestic and offshore organisations to assist law enforcement and security agencies to access information. Second, it introduces new computer access warrants that enable law enforcement to covertly obtain evidence directly from a device (this occurs at the endpoints when information is not encrypted). Finally, it increases existing powers that law enforcement have to access data through search and seizure warrants.

The bill is modelled on the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act, which introduced mandatory decryption obligations. Under the UK Act, the UK government can order telecommunication providers to remove any form of electronic protection that is applied by, or on behalf of, an operator. Whether or not this is technically possible is another question.

Similar to the UK laws, the Australian bill puts the onus on telecommunication providers to give security agencies access to communications. That might mean providing access to information at points where it is not encrypted, but it’s not immediately clear what other requirements can or will be imposed.




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End-to-end encryption isn’t enough security for ‘real people’


For example, the bill allows the Director-General of Security or the chief officer of an interception agency to compel a provider to do an unlimited range of acts or things. That could mean anything from removing security measures to deleting messages or collecting extra data. Providers will also be required to conceal any action taken covertly by law enforcement.

Further, the Attorney-General may issue a “technical capability notice” directed towards ensuring that the provider is capable of giving certain types of help to ASIO or an interception agency.

This means providers will be required to develop new ways for law enforcement to collect information. As in the UK, it’s not clear whether a provider will be able to offer true end-to-end encryption and still be able to comply with the notices. Providers that breach the law risk facing $10 million fines.

Cause for concern

The bill puts few limits or constraints on the assistance that telecommunication providers may be ordered to offer. There are also concerns about transparency. The bill would make it an offence to disclose information about government agency activities without authorisation. Anyone leaking information about data collection by the government – as Edward Snowden did in the US – could go to jail for five years.

There are limited oversight and accountability structures and processes in place. The Director-General of Security, the chief officer of an interception agency and the Attorney-General can issue notices without judicial oversight. This differs from how it works in the UK, where a specific judicial oversight regime was established, in addition to the introduction of an Investigatory Powers Commissioner.

Notices can be issued to enforce domestic laws and assist the enforcement of the criminal laws of foreign countries. They can also be issued in the broader interests of national security, or to protect the public revenue. These are vague and unclear limits on these exceptional powers.




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Police want to read encrypted messages, but they already have significant power to access our data


The range of services providers is also extremely broad. It might include telecommunication companies, internet service providers, email providers, social media platforms and a range of other “over-the-top” services. It also covers those who develop, supply or update software, and manufacture, supply, install or maintain data processing devices.

The enforcement of criminal laws in other countries may mean international requests for data will be funnelled through Australia as the “weakest-link” of our Five Eyes allies. This is because Australia has no enforceable human rights protections at the federal level.

It’s not clear how the government would enforce these laws on transnational technology companies. For example, if Facebook was issued a fine under the laws, it could simply withdraw operations or refuse to pay. Also, $10 million is a drop in the ocean for companies such as Facebook whose total revenue last year exceeded US$40 billion.

Australia is a surveillance state

As I have argued elsewhere, the broad powers outlined in the bill are neither necessary nor proportionate. Police already have existing broad powers, which are further strengthened by this bill, such as their ability to covertly hack devices at the endpoints when information is not encrypted.

Australia has limited human rights and privacy protections. This has enabled a constant and steady expansion of the powers and capabilities of the surveillance state. If we want to protect the privacy of our communications we must demand it.

The ConversationThe Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 (Cth) is still in a draft stage and the Department of Home Affairs invites public comment up until 10th of September 2018. Submit any comments to assistancebill.consultation@homeaffairs.gov.au.

Monique Mann, Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow in Regulation of Technology, Queensland University of Technology

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

New data access bill shows we need to get serious about privacy with independent oversight of the law



File 20180814 2921 15oljsx.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

MICK TSIKAS/AAP

Greg Austin, UNSW

The federal government today announced its proposed legislation to give law enforcement agencies yet more avenues to reach into our private lives through access to our personal communications and data. This never-ending story of parliamentary bills defies logic, and is not offering the necessary oversight and protections.

The trend has been led by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, with help from an ever-growing number of security ministers and senior officials. Could it be that the proliferation of government security roles is a self-perpetuating industry leading to ever more government powers for privacy encroachment?

That definitely appears to be the case.

Striking the right balance between data access and privacy is a tricky problem, but the government’s current approach is doing little to solve it. We need better oversight of law enforcement access to our data to ensure it complies with privacy principles and actually results in convictions. That might require setting up an independent judicial review mechanism to report outcomes on an annual basis.




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Where is the accountability?

The succession of data access legislation in the Australian parliament is fast becoming a Mad Hatter’s tea party – a characterisation justified by the increasingly unproductive public conversations between the government on one hand, and legal specialists and rights advocates on the other.

If the government says it needs new laws to tackle “terrorism and paedophilia”, then the rule seems to be that other side will be criticised for bringing up “privacy protection”. The federal opposition has surrendered any meaningful resistance to this parade of legislation.

Rights advocates have been backed into a corner by being forced to repeat their concerns over each new piece of legislation while neither they nor the government, nor our Privacy Commissioner, and all the other “commissioners”, are called to account on fundamental matters of principle.

Speaking of the commissioner class, Australia just got a new one last week: the Data Commissioner. Strangely, the impetus for this appointment came from the Productivity Commission.

The post has three purposes:

  1. to promote greater use of data,
  2. to drive economic benefits and innovation from greater use of data, and
  3. to build trust with the Australian community about the government’s use of data.

The problem with this logic is that purposes one and two can only be distinguished by the seemingly catch-all character of the first: that if data exists it must be used.

Leaving aside that minor point, the notion that the government needs to build trust with the Australian community on data policy speaks for itself.

National Privacy Principles fall short

There is near universal agreement that the government is managing this issue badly, from the census data management issue to the “My Health Record” debacle. The growing commissioner class has not been much help.

Australia does have personal data protection principles, you may be surprised to learn. They are called “Privacy Principles”. You may be even more surprised to learn that the rights offered in these principles exist only up to the point where any enforcement arm of government wants the data.




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So it seems that Australians have to rely on the leadership of the Productivity Commission (for economic policy) to guarantee our rights in cyber space, at least when it comes to our personal data.

Better oversight is required

There is another approach to reconciling citizens’ interests in privacy protection with legitimate and important enforcement needs against terrorists and paedophiles: that is judicial review.

The government argues, unconvincingly according to police sources, that this process adequately protects citizens by requiring law enforcement to obtain court-ordered warrants to access information. The record in some other countries suggests otherwise, with judges almost always waving through any application from enforcement authorities, according to official US data.

There is a second level of judicial review open to the government. This is to set up an independent judicial review mechanism that is obliged to annually review all instances of government access to personal data under warrant, and to report on the virtues or shortcomings of that access against enforcement outcomes and privacy principles.

There are two essential features of this proposal. First, the reviewing officer is a judge and not a public servant (the “commissioner class”). Second, the scope of the function is review of the daily operation of the intrusive laws, not just the post-facto examination of notorious cases of data breaches.

It would take a lengthy academic volume to make the case for judicial review of this kind. But it can be defended simply on economic grounds: such a review process would shine light on the efficiency of police investigations.

According to data released by the UK government, the overwhelming share of arrests for terrorist offences in the UK (many based on court-approved warrants for access to private data) do not result in convictions. There were 37 convictions out of 441 arrests for terrorist-related offences in the 12 months up to March 2018.




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The Turnbull government deserves credit for its recognition of the values of legal review. Its continuing commitment to posts such as the National Security Legislation Monitor – and the appointment of a high-profile barrister to such a post – is evidence of that.

But somewhere along the way, the administration of data privacy is falling foul of a growing bureaucratic mess.

The ConversationThe only way to bring order to the chaos is through robust accountability; and the only people with the authority or legitimacy in our political system to do that are probably judges who are independent of the government.

Greg Austin, Professor UNSW Canberra Cyber, UNSW

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