A peace agreement in Afghanistan won’t last if there are no women at the table


Susan Hutchinson, Australian National University

Over the past weeks, the US government has been in peace negotiations with the Taliban. It has been 17 years since US and allied troops first deployed to Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban and support a democratically elected government.

The current peace negotiations have progressed further than any other attempted during the conflict. But they have two serious problems. Firstly, they have have not included the democratically elected government of Afghanistan, led by President Ashraf Ghani. Secondly, they have failed to include a single woman.

The situation so far

Peace negotiations can take many forms. At their most basic, they cover ceasefires and division of territory. But they often go further to address underlying causes of conflict and pave the way for durable solutions. They include extensive informal discussions before any formal agreement is signed.

In 1996, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. It banned women from attending school and denied them their most basic rights. The Taliban provided safe haven for those responsible for the attacks against the US on September 11, 2001.

The US is keen to withdraw its remaining troops. But they want to secure a commitment from the Taliban that Afghanistan will not be home to terrorist groups planning attacks against the United States.

The most recent reports show the Afghan government controls 56% of Afghan districts, or 65% of the population. The Taliban controls 15% of the districts, with 29% remaining contested.

Peace negotiations are often fraught with tension about who is allowed at the table. So far, the Taliban has refused to allow the government of Afghanistan to participate in the current negotiations. The chief US negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been briefing the Afghan government on the progress of negotiations taking place in various Gulf States.




Read more:
Afghanistan: the tensions inside the Taliban over recent US peace talks


Khalilzad is under pressure from US President Donald Trump to move the negotiations forward. But excluding the government is problematic. It could indicate the likely failure of negotiations, end up making the government look even weaker than it is and/or pave the way for a return to deeply conservative religious rule for Afghanistan.

It is often tempting for power brokers to prioritise the participation of armed groups in peace negotiations. But it’s important to ensure broader participation of civil society.

Research examining every peace agreement since the Cold War shows the participation of civil society makes a peace agreement 64% less likely to fail. The key reason is the peace process is perceived as more legitimate if civil society is included. But including civil society also ensures the concerns of the broader community are accounted for and that those who carried arms do not receive positive reinforcement by monopolising the benefits negotiated in the agreement.

What about the women?

Afghan women are angry about being excluded from the peace negotiations. The country’s leading women’s rights group, the Afghan Women’s Network, released a statement calling for “the full, equal and meaningful participation of women” in the negotiations.

Life for women in Afghanistan remains hard. The latest Reuters Poll said Afghanistan was the second most dangerous country to be a woman, down from the most dangerous five years earlier. The country still makes the top of the list for violence against women, discrimination, and lack of access to health care.

But significant progress has been made in the past 17 years.
Data from the UN Development Program show gender inequality dropped by ten percentage points between 2005 and 2017.

Women have strengthened their political, economic and social presence through efforts to advance their status and respect for their rights. Girls have been able to go to school. Women have become members of parliament, governors and police.




Read more:
Trump and Turnbull have little cause for satisfaction over progress in Afghanistan


Afghanistan’s 2004 constitution includes a hard won provision that enshrines the equality of men and women. But the Taliban is calling for a new constitution and it is highly unlikely if this was agreed, such a provision would survive.

Research drawing on extensive quantitative and qualitative data has shown that the way a country treats its women is the best indicator of its peacefulness. This is a better indicator than wealth, ethnic and religious identity or democracy.

We also know that women’s participation in peace processes makes for a more effective outcome. A peace processes is 35% more likley to last at least 15 years if women are at the negotiating table, have observer status, or participate in consultations, inclusive commissions or problem-solving workshops.

Women can negotiate with the Taliban

Even so, men and people from the international community often believe the struggles faced by Afghan women mean they are not in a position to negotiate with the patriarchal Taliban.

But Afghan women like Palwasha Hassan have been working for years to pursue peace with the Taliban. Hassan sits on the country’s High Peace Council and has seen how women across the country have already negotiated with local Taliban leaders. She says “the international community is failing to value what we have achieved together and the progress we have made so far.”

She conducted a workshop in 2010 with women across local communities. Stories included one woman who had negotiated to keep a local girls’ school open by arguing that educated girls could do better in Islamic studies, including learning to read the Quran. She also guaranteed to her Taliban interlocutors that a prayer space in the school would be reserved strictly for women and girls only.

Another woman explained how she and others negotiated the release of hostages being held by the local Taliban commander. She appealed to Islamic values of life and justice, and persuaded the captors that the hostage was being held unjustly.

International agreements

The importance of women’s participation in international peace and security was codified by UN Security Council resolution 1325 nearly 20 years ago.




Read more:
As Australia takes the world stage, it’s time to fulfil promises to Afghan and Syrian women


Seventy-nine countries, including Afghanistan, have National Action Plans to guide the resolution’s implementation and the subsequent seven Security Council resolutions on Women, Peace and Security.

In October 2017, the US became the first country in the world to pass a Women, Peace and Security Act, signed off by President Trump himself. It was passed explicitly to

ensure that the United States promotes the meaningful participation of women in mediation and negotiation processes seeking to prevent, mitigate, or resolve violent conflict” across the world.

Democratic Senators have urged the Trump administration to ensure Afghan women’s involvement in the peace negotiations. But so far no one has invoked the new law.

There are few who wouldn’t hope for peace for Afghanistan, but as Palwasha Hassan says, the negotiations “have to include women, both to protect our rights and also to ensure the durability of the peace that follows.”The Conversation

Susan Hutchinson, PhD Candidate, Australian National University

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

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Health check: will eating nuts make you gain weight?



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Nuts contain “good” fats.
From shutterstock.com

Elizabeth Neale, University of Wollongong; Sze-Yen Tan, Deakin University, and Yasmine Probst, University of Wollongong

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend we eat 30g of nuts – a small handful – each day. But many of us know nuts are high in calories and fat.

So should we be eating nuts or will they make us gain weight?

In short, the answer is yes, we should eat them, and no, they won’t make us gain weight if eaten in moderate amounts. The fats in nuts are mostly the “good” fats. And aside from that, our bodies don’t actually absorb all the fat found in nuts. But we do absorb the nutrients they provide.




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Five food mistakes to avoid if you’re trying to lose weight


Dietary fat: friend or foe?

Nuts do contain fat, and the amount of fat varies between nut types. For example, a 30g serving of raw cashews or pistachios contains around 15g of fat, whereas the same amount of raw macadamias contains around 22g of fat.

There are different kinds of fats in our diet and some are better for us than others. Nuts contain mainly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These types of fats are known as “good fats”. They can help lower cholesterol when we eat them in place of saturated fats.

The type of fats present varies between nuts. For example, walnuts are rich in polyunsaturated fats, whereas other types of nuts such as hazelnuts and macadamias have more monounsaturated fat.

What the evidence says

Even if the type of fat in nuts is good for us, they are still high in fat and calories. But this doesn’t mean we should be avoiding them to manage our weight.

Studies that looked at people’s eating habits and body weight over a long period have found people who regularly eat nuts tend to gain less weight over time than people who don’t.

Nuts are a healthier option for a snack than many processed alternatives.
From shutterstock.com

We see a similar pattern in clinical studies that asked people to include nuts in their diets and then looked at the effects on body weight.

A review of more than 30 studies examined the effects of eating nuts on body weight. It did not find people who ate nuts had increased their body weight, body mass index (BMI), or waist circumference, compared to a control group of people who did not eat nuts.

In fact, one study found that when people ate a pattern of food aimed at weight loss, the group of people who ate nuts lost more body fat than those who didn’t eat nuts.




Read more:
Got high cholesterol? Here are five foods to eat and avoid


Let’s nut this out

There are several possible explanations for why eating nuts doesn’t seem to lead to weight gain.

  1. We don’t absorb all of the fat in nuts: The fat in nuts is stored in the nut’s cell walls, which don’t easily break down during digestion. As a result, when we eat nuts, we don’t absorb all of the fat. Some of the fat instead is passed out in our faeces. The amount of calories we absorb from eating nuts might be between 5% and 30% less that what we had previously thought.

  2. Nuts increase the amount of calories we burn: Not only do we not absorb all the calories in nuts, but eating nuts may also increase the amount of energy and fat we burn. It’s thought this may partially be explained by the protein and unsaturated fats in nuts, although we don’t yet know exactly how this occurs. Increases in the number of calories burnt can help us maintain or lose weight.

  3. Nuts help us feel full for longer: As well as fat, nuts are rich in protein and fibre. So, nuts help to keep us feeling full after we eat them, meaning we’re likely to eat less at later meals. Recent studies have also suggested providing people with nuts helps improve the overall quality of the types of foods they eat. This may be because nuts replace “junk foods” as snacks.

  4. People who eat nuts have healthier lifestyles in general: We can’t rule out the idea that eating nuts is just a sign of a healthier lifestyle. However, randomised controlled trials, which can control for lifestyle factors like eating habits, still find no negative effect on body weight when people eat nuts. This means the favourable effects of nuts are not just the result of nut eaters having healthier lifestyles – the nuts themselves play a role.




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Want to improve your mood? It’s time to ditch the junk food


Overall, the evidence suggests nuts are a healthy snack that can provide us with many of the nutrients our bodies need. We can confidently include the recommended 30g of nuts a day in a healthy diet, without worrying about the effect they will have on our waistlines.The Conversation

Elizabeth Neale, Career Development Fellow (Lecturer), University of Wollongong; Sze-Yen Tan, Senior Lecturer in Nutrition Science, Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, and Yasmine Probst, Senior lecturer, School of Medicine, University of Wollongong

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

Here’s what you need to know about melioidosis, the deadly infection that can spread after floods



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People typically become sick between one and 21 days after being infected.
Goran Jakus/Shutterstock

Sanjaya Senanayake, Australian National University

The devastating Townsville floods have receded but the clean up is being complicated by the appearance of a serious bacterial infection known as melioidosis. One person has died from melioidosis and nine others have been diagnosed with the disease over the past week.

The bacteria that causes the disease, Burkholderia pseudomallei, is a hardy bug that lives around 30cm deep in clay soil. Events that disturb the soil, such as heavy rains and floods, bring B. pseudomallei to the surface, where it can enter the body through through a small break in the skin (that a person may not even be aware of), or by other means.

Melioidosis may cause an ulcer at that site, and from there, spread to multiple sites in the body via the bloodstream. Alternatively, the bacterium can be inhaled, after which it travels to the lungs, and again may spread via the bloodstream. Less commonly, it’s ingested.




Read more:
(At least) five reasons you should wear gardening gloves


Melioidosis was first identified in the early 20th century among drug users in Myanmar. These days, cases tend to concentrate in Southeast Asia and the top end of northern Australia.

What are the symptoms?

Melioidosis can cause a variety of symptoms, but often presents as a non-specific flu-like illness with fever, headache, cough, shortness of breath, disorientation, and pain in the stomach, muscles or joints.

People with underlying conditions that impair their immune system – such as diabetes, chronic kidney or lung disease, and alcohol use disorder – are more likely to become sick from the infection.

The majority of healthy people infected by melioidosis won’t have any symptoms, but just because you’re healthy, doesn’t mean you’re immune: around 20% of people who become acutely ill with melioidosis have no identifiable risk factors.

People typically become sick between one and 21 days after being infected. But in a minority of cases, this incubation period can be much longer, with one case occurring after 62 years.

How does it make you sick?

While most people who are sick with melioidosis will have an acute illness, lasting a short time, a small number can have a grumbling infection persisting for months.

One of the most common manifestations of melioidosis is infection of the lungs (pneumonia), which can occur either via infection through the skin, or inhalation of B. pseudomallei.

The challenges in treating this organism, though, arise from its ability to form large pockets of pus (abscesses) in virtually any part of the body. Abscesses can be harder to treat with antibiotics alone and may also require drainage by a surgeon or radiologist.

How is it treated?

Thankfully, a number of antibiotics can kill B. pseudomallei. Those recovering from the infection will need to take antibiotics for at least three months to cure it completely.

If you think you might have melioidosis, seek medical attention immediately. A prompt clinical assessment will determine the level of care you need, and allow antibiotic therapy to be started in a timely manner.

Your blood and any obviously infected body fluids (sputum, pus, and so on) will also be tested for B. pseudomallei or other pathogens that may be causing the illness.

While cleaning up after these floods, make sure you wear gloves and boots to minimise the risk of infection through breaks in the skin. This especially applies to people at highest risk of developing melioidosis, namely those with diabetes, alcohol use disorder, chronic kidney disease, and lung disease.




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The Conversation


Sanjaya Senanayake, Associate Professor of Medicine, Infectious Diseases Physician, Australian National University

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

‘State actor’ makes cyber attack on Australian political parties



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While the government has not identified the state actor, China is.
being blamed.
Shutterstock

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

“A sophisticated state actor” has hacked the networks of the major
political parties, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has told Parliament.

Recently the Parliament House network was disrupted, and the intrusion
into the parties’ networks was discovered when this was being dealt
with.

While the government has not identified the “state actor”, the Chinese
are being blamed.

Morrison gave the reassurance that “there is no evidence of any
electoral interference. We have put in place a number of measures to
ensure the integrity of our electoral system”.

In his statement to the House Morrison said: “The Australian Cyber
Security Centre recently identified a malicious intrusion into the
Australian Parliament House computer network.

“During the course of this work, we also became aware that the
networks of some political parties – Liberal, Labor and the Nationals
– have also been affected.

“Our security agencies have detected this activity and acted
decisively to confront it. They are securing these systems and
protecting users”.

The Centre would provide any party or electoral body with technical help to deal with hacking, Morrison said.

“They have already briefed the Electoral Commissions and those
responsible for cyber security for all states and territories. They
have also worked with global anti-virus companies to ensure
Australia’s friends and allies have the capacity to detect this
malicious activity,” he said.

“The methods used by malicious actors are constantly evolving and this
incident reinforces yet again the importance of cyber security as a
fundamental part of everyone’s business.

“Public confidence in the integrity of our democratic processes is an
essential element of Australian sovereignty and governance,” he said.

“Our political system and our democracy remains strong, vibrant and is
protected. We stand united in the protection of our values and our
sovereignty”.

Bill Shorten said party political structures were perhaps more vulnerable than government institutions – and progressive parties particularly so.

“We have seen overseas that it is progressive parties that are more likely to be targeted by ultra-right wing organisations.

“Political parties are small organisations with only a few full-time staff, they collect, store and use large amounts of information about voters and communities. These institutions can be a soft target and our national approach to cyber security needs to pay more attention to non-government organisations,” Shorten said.

Although the authorities are pointing to a “state actor”, national cyber security adviser Alastair MacGibbon told a news conference: “We don’t know who is behind this, nor their intent.

“We, of course, will continue to work with our friends and colleagues, both here and overseas, to work out who is behind it and hopefully their intent”.

Asked what the hackers had got their hands on MacGibbon said: “We don’t know”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Poll wrap: Labor’s lead narrows to just 51-49 in Ipsos, but is it an outlier?



File 20190217 56240 1toyo4n.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The latest Ipsos poll has the gap between Labor and the Coalition narrowing to 51-49, but it may be an outlier.
AAP/James Ross/Grant Wells

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

An Ipsos poll conducted for Nine newspapers – previously Fairfax papers – gave Labor just a 51-49 lead, a three-point gain for the Coalition since the last Ipsos poll in mid-December. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (up two), 33% Labor (down four), 13% Greens (steady) and 16% for all Others (up two). The poll was conducted February 12-15 from a sample of 1,200.

This is the narrowest lead for Labor in any national poll since Scott Morrison replaced Malcolm Turnbull. The movement towards the Coalition will be attributed to Labor’s support for the Medevac bill, which saw the Coalition defeated in the House of Representatives on February 12.

Ipsos has a reputation for being volatile, and it always has the Greens too high. Both the volatility and the high Greens vote may be explained by Ipsos being the only live phone pollster in Australia – Newspoll, Essential and ReachTEL use either robopolling, online methods or a combination.

49% approved of Morrison’s performance (up two), and 40% disapproved (up one), for a net approval of +9. Bill Shorten’s net approval was down three points to -12. Morrison led Shorten by 48-38 as better PM (46-37 in December). Ipsos gives incumbent PMs far better ratings than Newspoll.

Labor’s Chris Bowen was preferred as Treasurer over incumbent Josh Frydenberg by a narrow 31-30 margin – a strong result for Bowen on an issue that is usually perceived to favour the Coalition. Voters trusted Labor by a 49-34 margin over the Liberals to respond to the banking royal commission. Labor’s proposal to abolish franking credit cash refunds was opposed by 43-40; last week’s Newspoll had opposition at 44-35.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Labor maintains Newspoll lead but Morrison’s ratings up, and Abbott behind in Warringah


While the Medevac bill could have assisted the Coalition, a Queensland YouGov Galaxy poll, conducted February 13-14 – at about the same time as Ipsos – gave federal Labor a 52-48 lead.

At the 2016 election, the Coalition’s Queensland two party vote was 3.7% higher than its national vote, and in 2013 the difference was 3.5%. Even in 2007, when Queenslander Kevin Rudd was very popular, the Coalition still performed 2.3% better in Queensland than nationally.

If the Queensland Galaxy result is correct, Labor is very likely ahead nationally by at least 55-45, in contrast to Ipsos. YouGov Galaxy is the pollster that conducts Newspoll.

While the Queensland Galaxy suggests that Ipsos is an outlier, we cannot know until we get more polls. Next Sunday night’s Newspoll release will be keenly anticipated.

Queensland Galaxy: 52-48 to federal Labor

A Queensland Galaxy poll for The Courier Mail, conducted February 13-14 from a sample of 810, gave federal Labor a 52-48 lead, a two-point gain for Labor since November. Primary votes were 35% LNP (down three), 34% Labor (steady), 10% Greens (up one), 8% One Nation (down one) and 5% for Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party (up four).

The Coalition holds eight Queensland seats by margins of 4% or less. This poll implies a 6% swing to Labor in Queensland since the 2016 election.

The Coalition led Labor by 44-29 on best plan for border security and asylum seekers. This question did not ask about the medevac bill. It is a general question on an issue where the Coalition is perceived to have an advantage.

In the state politics part of this poll, primary votes were 35% Labor (down one since November), 35% LNP (up one), 11% Greens (steady), 8% One Nation (down two) and 4% Katter’s Australian Party (steady). No two party estimate was given, but Labor was ahead by 52-48 or 53-47.

48% approved of Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s performance (steady) and 38% disapproved (up one), for a net approval of +10. Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington’s net approval fell ten points to -4. Palasczuk had a 47-27 lead as better Premier (43-26 in November).

At the November 2017 Queensland election, One Nation contested 61 of the 93 seats and won 13.7% of the statewide vote – their vote would probably have been about 18% had they contested every seat.




Read more:
Labor wins a majority in Queensland as polling in Victoria shows a tie


In both the state and federal polls, One Nation is down to 8% in Queensland. I believe One Nation has been identified as a right-wing party, not a populist party. Under Turnbull, there was space to the Coalition’s right, but with Morrison that space has been reduced.

National Essential: 55-45 to Labor

Last week’s national Essential poll, conducted February 6-11 from a sample of 1,067, gave Labor a 55-45 lead, a three-point gain for Labor since Essential’s late January poll. Primary votes were 38% Labor (up two), 34% Coalition (down four), 10% Greens (steady), 7% One Nation (steady) and 11% for all Others (up two). This poll was taken before the medevac bill passed the House.

28% thought the banking royal commission would lead to significant changes in the way banks operate, 47% thought it would lead to minor changes and 25% no real difference.

Showing disillusion with both sides of politics, 27% trusted Labor to implement the royal commission’s recommendations, 23% the Liberals and 35% thought there was no difference, with another 15% undecided.

By 59-11, voters agreed that Morrison should not end parliament before it deals with the royal commission’s recommendations. By 55-15, they agreed that the banks have more power than politicians, and will find a way to block meaningful reform.

Newspoll economy questions

In additional questions from last week’s Newspoll, Morrison led Shorten by 48-33 on more capable of handling the economy (50-32 in October). In general, incumbents benefit from this type of question, and the economy is perceived as a strength for the Coalition. The 15-point gap is narrower than any Turnbull lead over Shorten on this question in the six times it was polled while Turnbull was PM.

33% thought the government should prioritise increased funding of government services, 30% paying down government debt and 27% cuts to personal income tax.

The Westpac February consumer confidence rebounded to 103.8, up from 99.6 in January – the first month since late 2017 the index had fallen below 100. While Australian economic data for December has been weak, stocks have continued to rise.

NSW Essential: 51-49 to Labor

The New South Wales election will be held on March 23. An Essential poll, conducted February 6-11 from a small sample of 544, gave Labor a 51-49 lead. Primary votes were 39% Coalition, 36% Labor, 9% Greens and 8% One Nation. Premier Gladys Berejiklian had a 35% positive rating, 25% negative. Opposition Leader Michael Daley had a 27% positive rating, 20% negative.The Conversation

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

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

Labor’s lead cut to 51-49% in latest Ipsos poll


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has substantially narrowed the two-party gap in the
Ipsos poll – it now trails Labor by just 49-51%, compared with 46-54% in December.

The poll, reported in the Australian Financial Review and other Nine newspapers, was taken between Wednesday and Friday, with the debate about the legislation to facilitate medical transfers running hot.

The result will be a major fillip to government MPs, who are hoping the revival of the boats issue will swing public opinion in the Coalition’s direction. It will reinforce the concerns in Labor about the political risk brought by supporting the bill.

In the poll, Labor’s primary vote was 33%, down 4 points; the
Coalition was on 38%, up 2 points. The Greens were unchanged on 13%. Scott Morrison leads Bill Shorten at 48-38 as preferred prime minister.

Meanwhile security staff have arrived at Christmas Island detention centre following Morrison’s announcement that it would be reopened in the wake of the legislation’s passage.

A video has also been released in which Morrison warns asylum seekers not to try to get on boats. It will be translated into multiple languages and used in the region.

Morrison at the weekend stressed the reopening of Christmas Island was on the advice of the Department of Home Affairs. “That will cost us, in the next couple of years, we estimate, half a billion dollars and $1.4 billion over the next four years.




Read more:
Morrison may reopen the Christmas Island detention centre


“Now, I can’t describe to you the fury that is within me that I have to now go spend money on opening a centre that I didn’t need to open a week ago, when the farmers and communities of North Queensland are crying out for our support”, Morrison said.

Officials will face questions at Senate estimates on Monday about the implications of the legislation.

Also under scrutiny will be Home Affairs’ decision-making in relation to the $423 million contract awarded to Paladin for security for refugees and asylum seekers at Lorengau in Papua New Guinea. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has said he had “no sight’ of the process.

The Australian Financial Review, which broke the story of a limited tender, has reported that Paladin was “thinly capitalised … with little experience and a poor reputation”.

The issue of a royal commission on the abuse of the disabled will also be to the forefront early this week.

The government won’t obstruct a Senate motion supporting a royal commission when it comes to the House on Monday but has left open how it will respond to it – although it appears to be moving towards an inquiry.

Morrison said on Sunday: “The government will do the proper work of consultation, liaising with the states and territories as appropriate, liaising with those advocates in the disability sector by working with those who work in that sector and rely on services in that, to ensure that we get the right way forward as to how we can address the issues that will support people with disability.

“I will do [that work] in a bipartisan way just as I have on the other royal commissions … and ensure that people with disability can get the support they need”.

After its defeat on the Medevac bill last week – and its filibuster on Thursday when it feared Labor had an ambush in preparation – the government is anxious at all costs to avoid another defeat in the House, where it is in a minority.




Read more:
Morrison government defeated on medical bill, despite constitution play


Manager of opposition business Tony Burke said on Sunday: “There are at least three issues returning to the House of Representatives on Monday: a royal commission into violence, abuse and neglect of people with a disability, small business access to justice measures, and stronger penalties for corporate misconduct.

“Last Thursday, the government was opposed to all three. Four days
later, the government is preparing to backflip on all three.

“Labor would welcome each of these policy reversals. But … the
government isn’t changing its mind because it’s listened to the
arguments. These backflips are from a Prime Minister who will say and do anything to stay in office, even if that means clinging to power by his fingernails,” Burke said.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Grattan on Friday: What does “reopening” Christmas Island actually mean and why do it?


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Morrison government, politically-speaking, is trying to do a
loaves-and-fishes exercise with the medevac legislation, over which the parliament defied the executive this week.

It is attempting to inflate Labor’s support for a modest measure to facilitate medical transfers from Manus and Nauru into a mini “Tampa” crisis.

Will this succeed? The short answer is surely “no”; the longer one is that this issue could take a deal of skin off Labor. The point is no one is yet sure how it will play out – both sides are operating on gut feelings until the polls and focus groups speak.

The Liberals think anything to do with “boats” is lethal for Labor; the ALP believes community attitudes have changed but is very apprehensive about how the debate would go if boats showed up.

No question, this is rocky for Bill Shorten. The government attack is ferocious, full of exaggeration and scaremongering.

But the Coalition’s tactics are also risky in a policy sense. Scott Morrison is running two lines. He claims that by supporting the medevac legislation Shorten has undermined offshore processing – sending a signal the borders are porous.

He goes on to say that the government, and he in particular, are ready to protect Australia against the danger of a new wave. Whatever the intelligence advisers want done will be done. The borders will stay strong.

Morrison rejects the argument that the detail of the legislation
limits the incentive to people smugglers, insisting they don’t bother with “nuance”.

Indeed. So which un-nuanced Morrison message will the smugglers hear? That the policy has been trashed – or that the borders are being fortified?

There is also the danger, which some critics have highlighted, that in its rhetoric about numerous alleged criminals on Nauru and Manus, the government could make the US more reluctant to take people (it has only accepted 456 so far – the deal was up to 1,250).




Read more:
Explainer: how will the ‘medevac’ bill actually affect ill asylum seekers?


What the government is actually doing is hard to pin down. Take the reopening of the Christmas Island detention facility – or to be more precise “a series of compounds” there – which attracted big headlines, and attention overseas.

What does “reopening” mean? Going in with the vacuum cleaners and the mops so that the centre could function if required? Or setting up some of it immediately on a serious day-to-day operating basis?

And how convincing is the rationale for this reopening, which Morrison described as for dealing “with the prospect of transfers”?

The government says that with the closing of many detention centres, space is somewhat tight. But if people are transferred because they are sick, Christmas Island is hardly the best place for access to medical practitioners.

Maybe some people currently in detention elsewhere would be moved to Christmas Island to make room for newcomers. But wouldn’t it be a lot cheaper and easier – if less dramatic and headline-grabbing – just to lease some more accommodation near currently-operating facilities?

Anyway, while some of the transferees would be kept in detention,
what’s happened previously suggests a lot could be let into the
community.

It’s true that the advice from the Home Affairs department envisaged a scenario “likely necessitating the stand-up of the Christmas Island facility”, but it had the flavour of a worst-case one. (With an election and the prospect of a change of government raising questions about the future of Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo, one wonders what he thinks about the department’s advice being used publicly by the government as a battering ram against Labor.)

If the government really intends to “reopen” Christmas Island in any major way, it could find itself spending a lot of money there on few if any people. If it is a faux reopening, it’s just a bit of spin that should be called out.




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A refugee law expert on a week of ‘reckless’ rhetoric and a new way to process asylum seeker claims


The medevac bill was passed despite the best efforts of the minority government to stop it, including a Senate filibuster on the final sitting day of last year, to delay the bill reaching the lower house then.

On Thursday a rather panicked government did a rerun of that December day.

This time, the Senate had passed a motion – opposed by the Coalition – calling for a royal commission “into violence, abuse and neglect of people with disability.” Labor, expecting the motion to reach the House on Thursday afternoon, prepared to push it through with crossbench support.

The government says it knew the message from the Senate hadn’t arrived as question time was nearing its normal end. But it was spooked by the opposition’s tactics, and fearful of what Labor might be up to. So it just kept question time running for some 150 minutes, a record.

Earlier in the day, it had to pull its legislation for applying a “big stick” to errant energy companies, because the House appeared set to amend it to prevent the government underwriting coal projects.

The government says it will take the “big stick” plan to the election. But its inability to have it bedded down before then is another failure in a long line in the energy area.

The vote on the disability motion will happen on Monday and the
Coalition will not oppose it – despite its stand in the Senate. The government says it will then consider what action it should take.

Abuse of disabled people is surely as important an issue as the
ill-treatment of the elderly. With the public increasingly demanding the facts and culprits be revealed where there is evidence of misconduct, a royal commission in parallel with the aged care one would have merit, in both policy and political terms.

The parliamentary week has been rugged for both sides – the government hasn’t been in control of the House but Labor hasn’t been in control of the debate, which it wanted to be all about banks not boats.

Then again, nothing could match One Nation’s tribulation, with its
leader Pauline Hanson accused of sexual harassment by a bitter
ex-colleague, senator Brian Burston, and her right-hand man, James
Ashby, publicly scuffling with her accuser. This is a party beyond
embarrassment.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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