6 actions Australia’s government can take right now to target online racism



Paul Fletcher, Australia’s recently appointed minister for communications, cyber safety and the arts, says he wants to make the internet safe for everyone.
Markus Spiske / unsplash, CC BY

Andrew Jakubowicz, University of Technology Sydney

Paul Fletcher was recently appointed as Australia’s Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts.

One of his stated priorities is to:

continue the Morrison Government’s work to make the internet a safer place for the millions of Australians who use it every day.

Addressing online racism is a vital part of this goal.

And not just because racism online is hurtful and damaging – which it is. This is also important because sometimes online racism spills into the real world with deadly consequences.




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An Australian man brought up in the Australian cyber environment is the alleged murderer of 50 Muslims at prayer in Christchurch. Planning and live streaming of the event took place on the internet, and across international boundaries.

We must critically assess how this happened, and be clearheaded and non-ideological about actions to reduce the likelihood of such an event happening again.

There are six steps Australia’s government can take.

1. Reconsider international racism convention

Our government should remove its reservation on Article 4 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

In 1966 Australia declined to sign up to Article 4(a) of the ICERD. It was the only country that had signed the ICERD while deciding to file a reservation on Article 4(a). It’s this section that mandates the criminalisation of race hate speech and racist propaganda.

The ICERD entered into Australian law, minus Article 4(a), through the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act (RDA).

Article 4 concerns, such as they were, would enter the law as “unlawful” harassment and intimidation, with no criminal sanctions, twenty years later. This occurred through the 1996 amendments that produced Section 18 of the RDA, with its right for complainants to seek civil solutions through the Human Rights Commission.

With Article 4 ratified, the criminal law could encompass the worst cases of online racism, and the police would have some framework to pursue the worst offenders.




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2. Extend international collaboration

Our government should extend Australia’s participation in the European cybercrime convention by adopting the First Additional Protocol.

In 2001 the Council of Europe opened the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime to signatories, establishing the first international instrument to address crimes committed over the internet. The add-on First Additional Protocol on criminalisation of acts of a racist and xenophobic nature came into effect in 2002.

Australia’s government – Labor at the time – initially considered including the First Additional Protocol in cyber crime legislation in 2009, and then withdrew it soon after. Without it, our country is limited in the way we collaborate with other country signatories in tracking down cross border cyber racism.

3. Amend the eSafety Act

The Enhancing the Online Safety of Australians Act (until 2017 Enhancing the Online Safety of Children Act) established the eSafety Commissioner’s Office to pursue acts which undercut the safe use of the internet, especially through bullying.

The eSafety Act should be amended by Communications Minister Fletcher to extend the options for those harassed and intimidated, to include provisions similar to those found in NZ legislation. In effect this would mean people harassed online could take action themselves, or require the commissioner to act to protect them.

Such changes should be supported by staff able to speak the languages and operate in the cultural frames of those who are the most vulnerable to online race hate. These include Aboriginal Australians, Muslims, Jews and people of African and Asian descent.

4. Commit to retaining 18C

Section 18C of the RDA, known as the racial vilification provisions, allows individuals offended or intimidated by online race hate to seek redress.

The LNP government conducted two failed attempts over 2013-2019 to remove or dilute section 18C on grounds of free speech.

Rather than just leaving this dangling into the future, the government should commit itself to retaining 18C.

Even if this does happen, unless Article 4 of the (ICERD) is ratified as mentioned above, Australia will still have no effective laws that target online race-hate speech by pushing back against perpetrators.

Legislation introduced by the Australian government in April 2019 does make companies such as Facebook more accountable for hosting violent content online, but does not directly target perpetrators of race hate. It’s private online groups that can harbour and grow race hate hidden from the law.




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5. Review best practice in combating cyber racism

Australia’s government should conduct a public review of best practice worldwide in relation to combating cyber racism. For example, it could plan for an options paper for public discussion by the end of 2020, and legislation where required in 2021.

European countries have now a good sense of how their protocol on cyber racism has worked. In particular, it facilitates inter-country collaboration, and empowers the police to pursue organised race hate speech as a criminal enterprise.

Other countries such as New Zealand and Canada, with whom we often compare ourselves, have moved far beyond the very limited action taken by Australia.

6. Provide funds to stop racism

In conjunction with the states plus industry and civil society organisations, the Australian government should promote and resource “push back” against online racism. This can be addressed by reducing the online space in which racists currently pursue their goals of normalising racism.

Civil society groups such as the Online Hate Prevention Institute and All Together Now, and interventions like the currently stalled NSW Government program on Remove Hate from the Debate, are good examples of strategies that could achieve far more with sustained support from the federal government.

Such action characterises many European societies. Another good example is the World Wide Web Foundation (W3F)) in North America, whose #Fortheweb campaign highlights safety issues for web users facing harassment and intimidation through hate speech.




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Slow change over time

Speaking realistically, the aim through these mechanisms cannot be to “eliminate” racism, which has deep structural roots. Rather, our goal should be to contain racism, push it back into ever smaller pockets, target perpetrators and force publishers to be far more active in limiting their users’ impacts on vulnerable targets.

Without criminal provisions, infractions of civil law are essentially let “through to the keeper”. The main players know this very well.

Our government has a responsibility to ensure publishers and platforms know what the community standards are in Australia. Legislation and regulation should enshrine, promote and communicate these standards – otherwise the vulnerable remain unprotected, and the aggressors continue smirking.The Conversation

Andrew Jakubowicz, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Technology Sydney

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

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We’re not just living for longer – we’re staying healthier for longer, too



Improvements in heart health accounted for more than half of the improvements in our overall health.
From shutterstock.com

John Goss, University of Canberra

In the 12 years to 2015, life expectancy in Australia increased by 2.3 years for men (to 80.4) and 1.6 years for women (to 84.6). Our health-adjusted life expectancy increased along with it – by two years for men (to 71.5) and 1.3 years for women (to 74.4).

Health-adjusted life expectancy estimates the number of full health years people can expect to experience over the course of their lives. By comparing this measure to life expectancy, we can see whether longer life expectancy is accompanied by more years lived in full health.

Pleasingly, these trends show we’re not just living for longer – but we’re staying healthy for longer, too.




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In the Australian Burden of Disease study, released today, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has mapped the impact and causes of illness and death in Australia between 2003 and 2015.

The improvement in health-adjusted life expectancy alongside life expectancy in the last 12 years builds on continual improvements in life expectancy seen in Australia over several decades.

These improvements in our health can be accorded to advancements in science and medicine, and certain changes we’ve made in our lifestyles. But there’s still plenty of room to do better.

How have we achieved this?

Some 89% of the health improvement between 2003 and 2015 was due to improvements in heart health, reductions in cancer, and improved infant health.

Health improvement refers to reductions in the burden of disease, measured in disability adjusted life years (DALYs). DALYs take into account premature death as well as the burden of illness and disability caused by disease and injury.

Heart disease and stroke

In the period from 2003 to 2015, there was a 36% reduction in the age-standardised burden of disease due to heart disease and stroke. Improvements in heart health accounted for 56% of the overall improvement in health.

The vast majority of the reduction in the cardiovascular disease burden has been due to reductions in smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Some of the improvement is due to better treatment (for example, surgical interventions like stent insertions).

We’ve been seeing strong progress in this area over many years. The chance of dying from heart disease or stroke is now one sixth of what it was in 1970.




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Cancer and infant health

The reduction in the burden of disease from cancer, which accounted for 25% of the improvement in health, has been partly due to the reduction in risk factors such as smoking. Prevention through screening has also played an important role.

But improved treatment, in the form of drugs, radiation and surgery, has been the most important factor. Five year survival rates for cancer increased from 50% in 1986-1990 to 69% in 2011-2015.

Reductions in the burden of disease due to infant and congenital conditions accounted for 8% of the improvement in health between 2003 and 2015. This was due to improved treatment of infants with congenital conditions and better prevention of problems such as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Advances in medicine – both prevention and treatment of disease – contribute to Australians living longer than they used to.
From shutterstock.com

Managing our risk factors is key

Overall, reductions in risk factors has been responsible for 51% of the health improvement we’ve seen between 2003 and 2015.

Although some risk factors like overweight and obesity have worsened, the decline in smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and alcohol use has more than compensated for those risk factors which have worsened or those risk factors, like physical inactivity, which have not improved.

We’re by no means reaching the end of the line in terms of opportunities to improve our health.

Some 38% of the burden of disease in 2015 was due to risk factors like smoking (still accounting for 9.3% of the burden), overweight and obesity (8.4% of the burden), poor diet (7.3%), high blood pressure (5.8%), excessive alcohol intake (4.5%), high cholesterol (3%), insufficient physical activity (2.5%) and child abuse and neglect (2.2%).

Health isn’t equal

The report reveals significant inequalities in health, with those living in the poorest areas having a health-adjusted life expectancy at least five years lower than those living in the richest areas.

The burden of disease in the poorest areas is 50% higher than in the richest areas. For some diseases like heart disease, the burden of disease is 70% higher in the lowest socioeconomic areas, whereas for cancer the burden of disease is 40% higher.




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So the news isn’t all good. While there’s opportunity for us to manage our risk factors on an individual level, these health disparities warrant urgent attention on a broader health policy level.The Conversation

John Goss, Adjunct Associate Professor, Health Research Institute, University of Canberra

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

Uber in the air: flying taxi trials may lead to passenger service by 2023



Air taxis could soon offer passengers rapid transport from an airport to a city.
from www.shutterstock.com

Matthew Marino, RMIT University

Uber Air will start test flights of its aerial taxi service in 2020, and move to commercial operations by 2023, the ABC reported today.

Melbourne, Dallas and Los Angels have been named as three test cities for the trial.

As a researcher in unmanned aerial systems, I was asked recently if I would ride on an Uber Air taxi. After a brief ponder, my answer is “yes”.

The introduction of Uber Air in 2023 may feel way out of reach for many people, but I believe this is a feasible and exciting development in air travel.

If Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has signed off on the safe operation of this new aircraft I would love to experience an aerial taxi.




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Passenger drones

The aviation industry is well developed, and various aircraft share the skies.
Helicopters, general aviation and large commercial aircraft are all regarded as a safe and considered an acceptable form of transportation.

A newer addition to the industry is the passenger carrying drone, and one which is being introduced at speed.

Boeing’s GoFly competition has been set up to “foster the development of safe, quiet, ultra-compact, near-VTOL personal flying devices capable of flying twenty miles while carrying a single person”. (VTOL refers to vertical take-off and landing).

US$2 million is up for grabs for successful designs and prototypes. Of the competitors, five phase two winners were announced in March 2019, and the competition is still ongoing to find the most innovative and optimum solution for a passenger-carrying aircraft.

Dubai’s police force is reportedly conducting trials with a hovering vehicle, something that resembles a flying motorcycle.

Uber says it has a vision to provide VTOL ride share services for passengers throughout the world.

Whether the first Uber Air vehicle will be piloted by a human on board or remotely, or via an autopilot is still unknown. This will depend on the required levels of safety set by CASA.

I believe the end goal would be to be fully autonomous, however, this would require extensive proof these system are completely safe.

Quite simple technology

Unlike a helicopter, the technology base of a drone is far simpler. Controlled by computers, they use electricity as a primary power source from batteries and brushless electric motors to make them thrust into the sky. This type of system has been used with great success with smaller drones in the commercial market.

Current smaller drones have the capability of flying autonomously: no pilot is needed. A pick up location and a return location can be programmed into the drone, and it is able to land, takeoff and fly without pilot assistance.

This is not strictly considered to be an artificial intelligence system. Drones operate through a series of checkpoints in the sky, which they track all the way to the final destination. This is reliant on GPS, much like the GPS in your phone or navigating the streets using a Google Maps.

The scaling up of this technology to carry passengers was only a matter of time.

But the clear next step is research on how safe these aircraft are going to be. This is important not just for future passengers on board, but also for the people and property they will fly over.




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Like traditional aircraft which go through a rigorous certification process, drones may be subjected to the same amount of scrutiny.

Due to the simplicity of the drone system, this type of certification may take less time than a traditional aircraft (which can take many years, depending on the complexity of the design being certified).

Fortunately, we have a very proactive regulatory body in CASA. This authority is seen as a world leader in not only drone policies and procedures for safe drone operation, but it already actively consults and assists people in the drone industry.

It’s likely CASA played a role in getting Uber Air trials assigned to Melbourne.

A few nerves

Much like the helicopter when it was introduced back in the 1940s, people are likely to be apprehensive about a passenger-carrying drone in the first instance. The idea that unmanned vehicles may soon be flying through the sky raises many questions and concerns about the implications on people’s lives and the safety of the community.

This is a natural response. It takes time to develop confidence in new technology – especially one that has the responsibility of flying people around cities.

Over time helicopter technology progressed, and it was made safe and reliable – it was eventually seen as an acceptable mode of transportation. A similar progression with drones is likely.

We can be confident the technology will be properly tested and proven safe before the common citizen will be able to phone order an Uber Air trip across town.

Australia is the perfect place for testing, especially this country’s capacity for rapid development and continuous testing in outback Australia.

Google and other international bodies have tested new drone technology in Australia in a safe and regulated manner.

The Uber Air taxi will be no different with extensive testing to improve the technology, efficiency and reliability.




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The Conversation


Matthew Marino, Lecturer and Researcher, RMIT University

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

Australia’s asylum seeker policy history: a story of blunders and shame


Carolyn Holbrook, Deakin University

This article was developed from a series of interviews with politicians, officials and other key players, including former Immigration minister Chris Evans and former Victorian premier Steve Bracks. Others preferred to remain anonymous.


We know very little about the kind of government Scott Morrison runs. After beating Peter Dutton and Julie Bishop to the prime ministership in August last year, most commentators assumed Morrison was keeping the chair warm until Labor’s Bill Shorten won the 2019 election.

Following the Coalition’s unexpected victory, it’s time to ask more searching questions, not only about Scott Morrison’s political values and policy aspirations, but about his prime ministerial style.

Recent history suggests processes of policy decision-making can make or break governments.




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Labor’s shambolic attempts to create asylum seeker policy during the Rudd-Gillard years are emblematic of the dire consequences when tried-and-tested processes of policy advice fail.

In the face of internal dissent, thousands of asylum seekers arriving by boat and a marauding opposition leader, the government rejected its most vital source of advice, the public service.

It began in 2009

In mid-October 2009, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was informed that a vessel carrying 78 Sri Lankan asylum seekers was in danger of sinking in Indonesian waters. Rudd negotiated directly with the Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and decided to dispatch a Customs vessel, the Oceanic Viking, to rescue the asylum seekers and return them to Indonesia.

The then immigration minister Chris Evans first heard of the plan when he received a phone call from Rudd’s chief of staff, Alister Jordan.

Jordan was not consulting the immigration minister, but rather informing him of a plan that had been enacted. Evans rang his departmental secretary, Andrew Metcalfe, who told him the plan would not work because the asylum seekers would refuse to disembark.

As Metcalfe had foreseen, the asylum seekers refused to leave the Australian boat at Bintan. Australian voice surveillance revealed there was talk of mass suicide.




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The standoff lasted four weeks, until a deal was struck that saw the Sri Lankans resettled in countries including New Zealand.

Officials in the Immigration Department were dumbfounded. One told me:

The Oceanic Viking was a thought bubble from Rudd … It was an absolute debacle. It was crazy. It had nothing to do with immigration but we were asked to go in and fix it up. And that scuttled any possibility of us doing anything with Indonesia for a long time.

The boats kept coming. There were 6,555 boat arrivals in 2010. On the night he lost the prime ministership to Julia Gillard, Rudd told the Labor caucus that if he won the leadership vote, he would “not be lurching to the right on question of asylum seekers”.

What Rudd didn’t mention was that the government had been actively exploring offshore options for some time.

The Immigration Department had prepared a list of possible sites for offshore detention that included Malaysia, Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia, and East Timor.

Sounding out the East Timorese government

Evans was focused on pursuing a multilateral solution. His officials consulted with members of the refugee lobby, including the prominent lawyer David Manne, about being part of a broader regional arrangement that had the approval of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Evans and his department worked on an offshore deal that would meet with the approval of Australian stakeholders, neighbouring countries, and the UNHCR. But meanwhile, a small group of ministers focused on East Timor.




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The former Victorian premier, Steve Bracks, was approached at an airport and asked to sound out the East Timorese government about a processing centre. Bracks reported back that Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao was interested, but he would need some time to win support within his government.

Gusmao wanted negotiations to be done through the president, Jose Ramos Horta. This process was in train when Kevin Rudd was overthrown as prime minister on June 24, 2010.

In a speech to the Lowy Institute on July 5, the new prime minister, Gillard, announced she had discussed with Horta the possibility of establishing a regional processing centre in East Timor. But in going public, she had pre-empted the internal East Timorese process. Gusmao distanced himself from the plan and it quickly fizzled.

Meanwhile, the public servants who had been working on the multilateral solution were left scratching their heads. One official told me:

I have no idea where [East Timor] sprang from.

We were working on arrangements … and one of the really difficult things was thought bubbles kept coming from funny quarters and then you’d have the media onto it, laughing at it or making a joke of it.

Failed Malaysia initiative

After the 2010 election, the new immigration minister Chris Bowen secured an offshore processing arrangement with Malaysia. Immigration Department officials had encouraged Bowen to bring refugee stakeholders and the UNCHR on board.




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But Bowen, who was facing immense political pressure from opposition leader Tony Abbott, preferred to deal unilaterally with his Malaysian counterpart, Hishamuddin Hussein, with whom he had developed a strong rapport.

Hours before the first 16 asylum seekers were due to be transported to Malaysia, Manne obtained an injunction against their removal from Australia, pending a challenge to the legality of the government’s agreement with Malaysia.

In September 2011, the High Court decided in a six-to-one decision that the Malaysia agreement contravened the Migration Act because the refugees would not be given the protection required by the Australian legislation.

According to a key player, the High Court ruling was the product of a profound failure of process:

the government did a very bad job at … going to the organisations who would be part of any solution. And, instead, pissed them off so comprehensively they went to the High Court.




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After the failure of the Malaysia initiative, the Gillard government hurriedly reopened the Nauru and Manus Island processing centres.

In 2013, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott debate about asylum seeker policy, and the ‘PNG solution’.

When Rudd replaced Gillard in June 2013, he announced that no one who arrived by boat would ever be settled in Australia. The boats slowed, but it was the institution of boat turnbacks under the Abbott government’s Operation Sovereign Borders that stopped them altogether.

The consequences of the Rudd and Gillard governments’ blundered handling of asylum seeker policy were considerable. Indonesia and East Timor were unnecessarily offended, the government’s political fortunes suffered and, most significantly, asylum seekers were again subjected to processing on Nauru and Manus Island.




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It is conceivable that Manus and Nauru would have remained closed and Operation Sovereign Borders rendered unnecessary had the Rudd and Gillard governments heeded the advice of the Immigration Department to bring key refugee stakeholders and UNHCR on board into the process.

The institution of rigorous decision-making processes will not guarantee Scott Morrison’s success, but they could help him avoid many of the pitfalls that contributed to the downfall of the Rudd and Gillard governments.


Carolyn Holbrook is presenting a talk on this topic at the Australian Policy and History ‘History and the Hill’ Conference at Deakin University on Thursday, June 13The Conversation

Carolyn Holbrook, ARC DECRA Fellow at Deakin University, Deakin University

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

Australians are less interested in news and consume less of it compared to other countries, survey finds



More Australians rely on just one source to get their news.
Shutterstock

Caroline Fisher, University of Canberra; Glen Fuller, University of Canberra; Jee Young Lee; Sora Park, University of Canberra, and Yoonmo Sang, University of Canberra

Australian news consumers access news less often and have lower interest in it compared to citizens in many other countries. At the same time, Australians are more likely to think the news media are doing a good job keeping them up to date and explaining what’s happening.

These findings are contained in the Digital News Report: Australia 2019. In its fifth year, the Digital News Report Australia is part of a 38-country survey coordinated by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.

In comparison to the other countries, the survey of 2,010 online adults shows that Australian news consumers:

  • are the “lightest” news consumers out of 38 countries
  • use fewer sources to access news
  • are less interested in news and politics
  • are more likely to subscribe to Netflix than news
  • are less likely to check the accuracy of a story.



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‘Light’ consumers of news

The survey finds almost half (48%) of Australian news consumers are “light” users, who access news once a day or less, whereas the global average across the 38-countries was one-third (34%).

Correspondingly, Australia also has the lowest number of “heavy” news consumers, who access news more than once a day, at 52%. This is compared to an average of 66% across the other countries.

Participants were asked how often they typically access news, meaning national, international, regional/local news and other topical events accessed via any platform (radio, TV, newspaper or online).
Author provided

Reliance on a single news source

Australians also use fewer sources or platforms to access news. Just one third say they get their news from four or more sources, such as online, social media, TV, newspapers, social media and so on. This is well below the 38-country average of 44%.

More Australians rely on just one source to get their news (21%), which is higher than the 38-country average (17%). Only three other countries in the survey (Japan, South Korea and the US) have more people relying on just one source to access news than Australia.

The data tell us that Australians who rely on just one source of news also tend to consume less of it. Those who use four or more sources to get their news, also seek news more often.

Participants were asked which, if any, of the following they have used in the last week as a source of news.
Author provided

Preference for Netflix over news

Globally, news consumers are more likely to pay for video streaming services such as Netflix than news, but Australians have a stronger preference for entertainment over news than consumers in other countries.

More than a third (34%) of Australians say they would prioritise a subscription for a video streaming service, compared to an average of 28% across 16 countries where the question was asked. Only 9% of Australians say they would choose online news first.

This year, survey participants were asked whether they thought the news media in their country was doing a good job across five areas:

  • scrutiny
  • relevance
  • negativity
  • keeping them up to date
  • explaining.

Australians delivered a mixed report card on these questions and the results vary compared to the global average. On a positive note, two-thirds of Australian news consumers (66%) agree the news keeps them up to date, which compares favourably to the global average of 62%.

But Australian news consumers are also more likely to think the news is too negative (44%) compared to the country average (39%). Australians are also slightly more likely to agree that the news is not relevant to them (28%) compared to the international average of 25%.

Participants were asked to indicate whether they thought the news media in their country was doing a good job or not according to five criteria.
Author provided

According to the data, perceptions of news performance are strongly influenced by age and gender. Younger news consumers are the least likely to feel the news is relevant to them, particularly Gen Z women. This points to opportunities for more content that speaks to this age group.

Significantly, Australian news consumers who rely on legacy media for their main source of news, such as TV and newspapers, are more likely to think journalism is performing well. This highlights the ongoing importance of well-resourced traditional news brands as part of the hybrid mix of online and offline news sources.




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Australians are less interested in politics

The lower rates of news consumption in Australia can perhaps be explained by the fact that Australian news consumers are less interested in both news and politics.

58% of Australians say they have a high interest in news, which is below the 38-country average (60%). When compared to other English-speaking democratic countries (UK, US, Canada and Ireland), Australians and Canadians are the least interested in news, and Americans and UK news consumers are the most interested (67%).

Australians are also slightly less interested in politics. Two thirds of Australians (65%) said they have little or no interest in politics, compared to 63% across the other countries. In contrast, Turkish news consumers have the highest interest in politics (67%) and Malaysians the lowest (19%).

When compared to other English-speaking democratic countries Australians are the least interested in politics, and news consumers in the US are the most interested (59%).

Participants were asked how interested, if at all, they would say they are in politics.
Author provided

Analysis of the data clearly shows that interest in politics is one of the strongest indicators of engagement with news. Those who are interested in politics are more likely to have a high interest in news, access it often, use more sources, have higher trust in it and are more likely to pay for it.

Participants were asked their MAIN source of news, how interested they would say they are in news, and how interested they would say they are in politics.
Author provided

The connection between political interest and news interest is supported by a range of academic studies examining citizen participation in politics and the role of the news media. Generally speaking, the research finds a reciprocal relationship, but some types of news consumption inspire greater interest in politics than others.

A 2018 study found those who rely on commercial TV for news, rather than a public broadcaster, have lower interest in politics. Given the high rates of commercial TV news consumption in Australia this might help partly explain the lower interest in both news and politics – but this requires further research.

Interest in news by age and gender

It’s possible that people’s interest in news and politics has been displaced. Rather than adverse events causing people to disconnect, their interest and attention has been drawn to other things. This is the primary thesis of the “attention economy”, and we see evidence of this in the levels of interest in news between genders and generations, and the platforms they tend to get news from.

Participants were asked how interested, if at all, they would say they are in news.
Author provided

Women and Gen Z have lower interest in news, but they are also more likely to get their news from social media than men, and older generations. Whereas, men and older generations are better conditioned to engage with politics and news via traditional channels.




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Trust in news and politics is low overall

A further contributor to Australians’ low interest in news could well be the general malaise among the Australian population toward the news media and politics. Research shows trust in politics, politicians and the news media to be at an all-time low.

This year’s Digital News Report also finds general trust in news is low, at 44%. Trust in news found on social media (18%) and search engines (32%) is even lower. Given that more Australians (57%) use online sources as the main source for news, this isn’t surprising.

Over the past year, there has been a lot of turbulence in the news media, with takeovers, closures, job losses and a leadership crisis at the national public broadcaster. This general turmoil in the news media was echoed in the corridors of power, with a third prime minister installed in as many years.

This overall climate of instability reflects a degraded political and news environment, which can be seen in some of the findings this year.The Conversation

Caroline Fisher, Assistant Professor in Journalism, University of Canberra; Glen Fuller, Associate Professor Communications and Media, University of Canberra; Jee Young Lee, Research Associate; Sora Park, Associate Dean of Research, Faculty of Arts & Design, University of Canberra, and Yoonmo Sang, Assistant Professor, University of Canberra

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

NASA and space tourists might be in our future but first we need to decide who can launch from Australia


A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, US, May 2019.
NASA Kennedy , CC BY-NC-ND

Melissa de Zwart, University of Adelaide

In a sign the Australian Space Agency is already opening up new doors for Australian industry, NASA says it will be launching rockets from Arnhem Space Centre, in Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory, in 2020.

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews has also indicated she will encourage space tourism from Australia. She wants passengers to experience zero-gravity from the convenience of a domestic airport.




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But who gets to decide what can be launched into space? That depends on where the launch takes place, and in the case of Australia those rules are currently under review.

International treaty

The authority for who approves, supervises and grants permission for launch of space objects is based on UN treaties that provide a framework for international space law. The most important is the Outer Space Treaty (OST), which entered into force in 1967.

Article VI of the OST provides that nation states (that is, countries) bear “international responsibility” for “national activities” undertaken in outer space by government and commercial users alike.

States remain responsible for activities undertaken by commercial entities – for example, companies such as SpaceX – and are obliged to undertake ongoing supervision of such activities.

How individual countries choose to conduct such supervision is left entirely up to them, but in most cases it is done by way of domestic space law.

Another international treaty, the Liability Convention provides that the liability of the state extends to all launches that are made from that state’s territory. For example, the US is legally responsible for all launches that take place from that country as well as for launches elsewhere that it procures.

This imposes a significant burden on the state to ensure that international requirements are complied with.

Domestic space law regulates matters such as the granting of launch permits, and insurance and indemnity requirements. In Australia, this is achieved through the Space Activities (Launches and Returns) Act 2018. In New Zealand, the Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Act 2017, applies.

The Starlink network

In the US, it’s the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that gave Elon Musk’s SpaceX permission to launch thousands of Starlink satellites as part of a plan to create a low-orbit internet network.

The licence is for one constellation of 4,409 satellites and a second constellation of 7,518 satellites. The FCC requires launch of half of the total number planned within six years.

The first 60 satellites were launched into orbit last month, and have already given rise to a number of concerns.




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Scientists and astronomers are worried such a large constellation of satellites will be visible to the naked eye in the night sky. In response, Musk has already agreed to make the next batch less shiny.

Penalties apply

As well as granting launch licences, the FCC can also issue fines for any unlicensed launch by US operators.

Swarm Technologies launched four SpaceBee satellites from India in January 2018, after having been denied a licence from the FCC. The FCC was concerned the satellites were too small to be effectively tracked by the US Space Surveillance Network.

FCC subsequently fined Swarm US$900,000, partly as a way to spread the word that licensing of launching is a serious business but because the company had also performed other activities that required FCC authorisation.

In addition to presenting issues for tracking, new satellites also presented a hazard in terms of their potential to create large debris fields.

Notably, there are no binding international laws with respect to the creation of space debris. There are non-binding Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines issued by the UN Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee. But these are only guidelines and are frequently overlooked in the interests of commercial expediency.

The 2018 Australian Act does require the applicant for various Australian licences (such as a launch permit) to include “a strategy for debris mitigation”. This may include, for example, a plan to de-orbit the satellite after a certain number of years.

Launches from Australia

Australia’s first claim to fame as a space-faring nation was the launch of WRESAT (the Weapons Research Establishment Satellite) from Woomera, South Australia, in 1967.

But the launch platforms on nearby Lake Hart were dismantled following the departure to French Guiana in 1971 of the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO) – whose name ELDO still graces the sole hotel in Woomera, in outback South Australia.

The ELDO hotel in Woomera.
Flickr/kool skatkat, CC BY-NC-ND

From this time until the late 1990s there was little interest in space launches from Australia.




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The Space Activities Act 1998 was enacted in response to a brief interest in US company Kistler Aerospace developing a spaceport at Woomera, SA.

But no spaceport was constructed nor any launches conducted. A review of the Space Activities Act and of the Australian space industry in 2016-2017 led to the new Space Activities (Launches and Returns) Act in 2018.

This Act envisions a broader role for domestic space industries, including but not limited to, launch.

The rules which flesh out the details of the application of that licensing regime are currently open for public review and comment. The deadline for making a submission closes at the end of this week.The Conversation

Melissa de Zwart, Professor, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide

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

To protect press freedom, we need more public outrage – and an overhaul of our laws



This week’s police raids have forced us to think again about the role of the media in a democracy.
David Gray/AAP

Peter Greste, The University of Queensland

A few days ago, Waleed Aly asked a not-so-rhetorical question in The Sydney Morning Herald. He wondered how many Australians were worried about the fact that the Australian Federal Police had spent a good portion of this week raiding the offices and homes of journalists who’ve published stories clearly in the public interest.

His conclusion? Not many. He went on to argue that it is because we have developed a culture of accepting excessive state power, with no real thought about the consequences for civil liberties or the functioning of our democracy.

Sadly, I would have to agree with Aly, but as with so many surveys, the answer you get depends on the question you ask.

What if we asked, “Hands up who feels comfortable with relying on the Facebook posts and Twitter feeds of our politicians and departmental spokespeople for information about what our government is up to? Who thinks that is a good way to run a democracy?” Then, I bet you’d get a very different answer.




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I agree that Australian media are hardly trusted by the public, but I am also convinced that most Australians recognise the need for some kind of independent watchdog keeping track of politicians and the government on our behalf. It might be imperfect and messy, but a free press has performed that role well enough to keep us broadly on track for much of our history.

Earlier this week, my colleague and fellow University of Queensland researcher Rebecca Ananian-Welsh laid out the intricate web of national security laws passed in recent years that collectively serve to straight-jacket journalists and threaten legitimate whistle-blowing.

In a number of research projects, we have been looking at both these laws and their impact on reporting, and while we still have a long way to go, the early results suggest something deeply troubling.

While they may have helped shore up national security, the laws have also led to a net loss of transparency and accountability. It has become harder for journalists to reach and protect sources and keep track of wrong-doing by government officials. It has also become harder for them to safely publish in the public interest without risking long years in prison or cripplingly expensive and traumatic court cases.




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An overhaul of Australia’s legal landscape

My organisation, the Alliance for Journalists Freedom, has published a white paper that offers a better way of balancing those two crucial elements of our democracy – national security and press freedom.

The most important of its seven recommendations is a Media Freedom Act. Australia has no legal or constitutional protection for press freedom. It isn’t even formally recognised in law; the High Court has merely inferred that we have a right to “political communication.”

That needs to change. The AJF is proposing a law that would write press freedom into the DNA of our legal system. It would both prevent our legislators from unnecessarily restricting journalists from doing their jobs and give judges a benchmark they can use whenever they are adjudicating cases that deal with media freedom issues.

That alone isn’t enough though. The second recommendation in the white paper calls for changes to the national security laws themselves.

Currently, many of the current laws that Ananian-Welsh laid out in her article include a “public interest” defence for journalists. But as we have seen in this week’s raids, that does nothing to stop the AFP from trawling through journalists’ documents for sources and forcing everyone into court.




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Media raids raise questions about AFP’s power and weak protection for journalists and whistleblowers


Instead, there should be an exemption for journalists and their sources when reporting on matters of public interest.

That isn’t to suggest that journalists should be immune, though. Rather, the onus should be shifted to the authorities to show why the public interest defence should not apply. It is also important that the exemption include whistleblowers.

Beyond national security, there are a host of other laws that have contributed to a wide culture of secrecy at odds with the principles of open government.

Payouts under defamation laws now routinely run to millions, potentially destroying news organisations and chilling further investigative work. Shield laws that allow journalists to protect their sources in court are also inconsistent across states and need to be strengthened.

Suppression orders that judges use to smother reporting of certain court cases are being applied with alarming frequency and urgently need review. And whistleblower legislation needs to be strengthened to encourage and protect anybody speaking out about wrongdoing in government or elsewhere.

While the raids of the past week have been shocking, they have forced us all to think again about the role of the media in a democracy. If it leads to better legislation that both protects national security and media freedom, then some good might have come out of it after all.The Conversation

Peter Greste, Professor of Journalism and Communications, The University of Queensland

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

Health Check: why do women live longer than men?


Biology and behaviour can explain why men tend to die younger than women.
From shutterstock.com

Melinda Martin-Khan, The University of Queensland

In Australia, an average baby boy born in 2016 could expect to live to 80, while a baby girl born at the same time could expect to live until closer to 85. A similar gap in life expectancy between men and women is seen around the world.

As we better understand why people die, we’re learning how biological and behavioural factors may partly explain why women live longer than men.

Scientific advancements also impact the health of women and men differently.




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Biology and behaviour

While women may live longer than men, they report more illnesses, more doctor visits and more hospital stays than men. This is known as the morbidity-mortality paradox (that is, women are sicker but live longer).

One explanation is that women suffer from illnesses less likely to kill them. Examples of chronic non-fatal illnesses more common in women include migraines, arthritis and asthma. These conditions may lead to poorer health, but don’t increase a woman’s risk of premature or early death.

But men are more susceptible to health conditions that can kill them. For example, men tend to have more fat surrounding their organs (called visceral fat) and women tend to have more fat under their skin (called subcutaneous fat). Visceral fat is a risk factor for coronary heart disease, the leading underlying cause of death for Australian men.

Coronary heart disease, which results from a combination of biological factors and lifestyle habits, is a major reason for the difference in mortality between men and women.

Other biological factors may contribute to men ageing faster than women, but these remain to be fully understood. For example, testosterone in men contributes to their generally larger bodies and deeper voices. In turn, this may accelerate the age-related changes in their bodies compared to women.

On the flip side, women may have a slight advantage from protective factors connected with oestrogen. Coronary heart disease has been observed as three times lower in women than in men before menopause, but not after, indicating that endogenous oestrogens could have a protective effect in women.




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Some behaviours that can lead to an earlier death are more common in men. Accidental deaths, including those caused by assault, poisoning, transport accidents, falls and drownings, are particularly high among young males aged 15-24.

Men also have a greater tendency to smoke, eat poorly and avoid exercise. These habits lead to often fatal chronic illnesses, including stroke and type 2 diabetes, and are also risk factors for dementia.

Developments in science and public health

Many scientific discoveries have led to improved clinical practice or changes in government health policies that have benefited the lives of women.

For example, innovations in birth control have enabled greater choice and control over family size and timing. This has resulted in fewer pregnancies that may have led to dangerous births, and improved general physical and mental health for women. Improved clinical care has resulted in fewer women dying during childbirth.

As people reach an older age, the gap in life expectancy narrows.
From shutterstock.com

Public health programs such as screening for breast cancer have had impacts on life expectancy over time. Similarly, vaccines to prevent cervical cancer have now been distributed in 130 countries.

Of course, there have been similar public health policies and clinical innovations that have benefited men too, like screening for bowel caner.

So although we may have some insights, we can’t conclusively answer why women continue to live longer than men.

Mind the gap

The gap between men and women decreases the longer they live. In 2016, at birth in Australia, the gap was 4.2 years, with a male expected to die at 80 on average. But as that male gets older, the gap decreases to 2.7 years at age 65, to one year at age 85 and to just 0.3 years at age 95.

This suggests men who live to an older age have been able to avoid certain health risks, giving them a greater prospect of a longer life.




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Ultimately, none of us have control of when or how we’re going to die. But paying attention to factors that we can change (such as maintaining a healthy diet, doing exercise and avoiding smoking) can reduce the risk of dying earlier from a preventable chronic disease.

While women may always live longer than men, by a year or two, men can try to make some lifestyle changes to reduce this gap. That being said, women should work towards these goals for a long and healthy life, too.The Conversation

Melinda Martin-Khan, Senior research fellow, The University of Queensland

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

Vital Signs. If we fall into a recession (and we might) we’ll have ourselves to blame



The Reserve Bank and government have the means to keep us from recession. They’ll need the will.
Shutterstock

Richard Holden, UNSW

The facts are not in dispute.

Annual GDP growth has fallen to 1.8%. On a per-capita basis we have had three consecutive quarters of negative growth. The last time that happened was during the drought and recession of 1982, almost four decades years ago.

The most recent inflation reading was literally zero. Real wage growth has been stagnant for six years. Household debt is nearly double disposable income. And underemployment is more than 8%, on top of a 5.2% rate of unemployment.

What is in dispute is what to do about it.

We’ve entered secular stagnation

After being been told for years that the economy is in good shape and that we are “transitioning away from the mining boom”, it’s time to face the reality that, like most advanced economies, we are in a low-growth, low-interest rate, low-inflation trap.

Former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers has argued for some time that advanced economies, almost universally, are suffering from what he calls “secular stagnation” — a protracted period of low growth caused by too much savings chasing too few productive investment opportunities.

If the description applies to us, and it does, there are only two ways to escape it.

We’ve two options

One is unconventional monetary policy: measures that have the effect that pushing interest rates below zero would have.

The other is aggressive fiscal policy: either big (and if necessary, repeated) tax cuts or a big (and if necessary, repeated) boost in government spending, each of which would put the surplus at risk.

What would an aggressive-enough monetary policy look like?

The starting point is a concept known as the “equilibrium real interest rate”. It’s the real (inflation-adjusted) rate of interest consistent with stable macroeconomic performance (which means full employment without financial bubbles).

1: Aggressive monetary policy

There is compelling evidence that in advanced economies such as Australia the equilibrium real interest rate is negative.

But getting there in a low-inflation environment is hard. The Reserve Bank can, if it chooses, set the cash rate as low as 0% (this week it cut it to 1.25%) but it can’t safely move it much lower than zero. If it did, if people and firms found themselves having to pay money in order to keep money in banks, they might simply take their money out, giving the Reserve Bank even less control.

This problem is known as the “zero lower bound”. It means that if the bank needs to cut rates beyond than zero it’ll probably have to do something else that has a similar effect.

The most likely candidate is “quantitative easing” (QE), whereby the central bank buys long-term government bonds and other securities from investors that have them, effectively forcing cash into their hands, which the zero interest rate means they have little choice but to spend.

It shows up in lower longer-term interest rates (rates for borrowing 5, 10 or even 30 years into the future) and should boost spending and borrowing just as much as cutting short-term rates.




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There are at least three difficulties with QE in Australia.

The first is that because the Reserve Bank has never done it before, there are questions about how it would mechanically execute on it. The United States and European experience is helpful in providing a template.

The second difficulty is getting out. Nobody, including the US Federal Reserve, really knows what happens when QE is unwound.

Third, if secular stagnation persists, then QE needs to be a long-term strategy. But is it possible for a central bank to expand its balance sheet buying bonds and securities indefinitely, even if it was buying them at a modest pace? Again, nobody knows.

2: Aggressive fiscal policy

If nothing else, the headaches with monetary policy suggest that fiscal policy might be an attractive alternative. It might also be more effective.

As Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe noted in a speech on Tuesday, done in a good way government spending on infrastructure could both boost the economy and boost longer term productivity, giving a double benefit. It could be complemented by “structural policies that support firms expanding, investing, innovating and employing people”.

It’s hard to argue with Lowe’s logic. So hard in fact that some of us have been saying exactly what he just said for some time.

A quicker way to boost the economy would be to splash cash, either as Kevin Rudd did in the form of cash payments during the global financial crisis, or in the form of tax offsets of the kind the Morrison government announced in the 2018 and 2019 budgets.




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Delivered straight into bank accounts, both have much the same effect, even though one is classified as spending and the other as cutting tax.

The obstacle to doing such things is this government’s – make that this country’s – obsession with balanced budgets.

The surplus can wait

I have argued strongly and still believe that debt and deficits do matter, but at the moment we are in serious danger of falling into recession. That makes it imperative to act.

Given the politics of budget deficits and the narratives around economic management, it might be that the burden of action falls on the organisation the least able to pull it off in the present circumstances. That’s the Reserve Bank.

If Australia does dip into recession in the next year or two it will be an unforced error.

Not only would the government be responsible for it by not having taken strong enough action on spending when it could, the bank would also be responsible by taking action too late and letting things get to the stage where it had to act while interest rates were near zero.




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The Conversation


Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

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

The Section 44 soap opera: why more MPs could be in danger of being forced out


H. K. Colebatch, UNSW

One thing we learned from the recent election campaign is that the political crisis over Section 44 of the Constitution has not gone away.

Many candidates in the election had their eligibility to stand for parliament questioned and some were even forced to withdraw from their races.

Despite all the attention given to this matter over the last couple of years, and the various procedures introduced to address it, Section 44 will only continue to be a problem until the parliament steps in to address it.

To do that, we first need to address seven myths about Section 44.

1. Everyone knows their citizenship, they just need to do their paperwork

Section 44 is about more than just citizenship – it covers a variety of restrictions on who can serve in parliament.

For instance, a GP who bulk-bills a patient could be considered to have a “pecuniary interest in an agreement with the Commonwealth.” And a postman or a nurse in a public hospital could be deemed to hold “an office of profit under the Crown.”

On citizenship, the section doesn’t just disqualify dual citizens, it also bars those “entitled” to citizenship elsewhere (even if they haven’t applied for it) and those “entitled to the rights and privileges” of citizenship (basically, the “right of abode”, or being entitled to enter a country and live there).

Such entitlements are not easy to discover and almost impossible to remove, because they’re embedded in foreign legislation.




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2. It doesn’t affect many people

On the contrary, the parliamentary committee investigating the matter estimated half the adult Australian population, or more, could be disqualified by law or impeded in practice from standing for parliament.

In the recent election, we saw one potential candidate withdraw because she was an Australia Post employee and another because she was entitled under Indian law to some privileges of Indian citizenship.

As a result, the Australian parliament becomes even less representative of the Australian people.

3. The constitution framers knew what they were doing

The original text agreed to at the constitutional convention in 1898 simply said anyone who had acquired foreign citizenship by their own act was disqualified from standing for parliament.

The text that eventually became Section 44 was inserted surreptitiously by one of the key architects of the constitution (and Australia’s first prime minister), Edmund Barton, as a drafting amendment. He introduced 400 amendments on the second-to-last day of the convention, but made no mention of this change, and expressly denied there had been any changes to Section 44 apart from a minor one to another subsection.




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4. The High Court has sorted it out

Far from it. Very few cases challenging Section 44 have made it that far, partly because the court has done everything possible to fend them off, including trashing the constitutional provision giving citizens the right to challenge the eligibility of parliamentarians. Politicians have also refused to refer cases to the court unless it’s advantageous to their party.

And when the court has heard a case, it has construed its task so narrowly as to give little guidance to future action on the section. In particular, it has said nothing about the disqualification of those MPs “entitled to the rights and privileges of citizenship” in other countries.

In fact, when Senator Matthew Canavan’s eligibility was challenged because Italian laws had changed to permit citizenship to descendents of native Italians, the High Court noted that the law was fairly generous, but one had to apply. Canavan hadn’t applied, therefore couldn’t be an Italian citizen.

But if he had applied and then received Italian citizenship because he was eligible (as his brother had done), he would have been disqualified by Section 44.

This was all too much for the court to sort out. As a result, it offered no clarity on the large number of MPs whose eligibility hangs on what sorts of “entitlement” would disqualify them.

Senator Matthew Canavan was not disqualified after the High Court ruled his Italian citizenship was ‘potential,’ not actual.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

5. But there are administrative checks now, too

Well, yes, but nobody does anything about them. In 2017, all MPs were asked to fill out a form documenting their ancestry and citizenship, and the responses were then logged in a citizenship register. This showed some 15-20 MPs were entitled to foreign citizenship and a total of 59 had the “right of abode” in the UK, which the High Court has decided is the key to the “right and privilege” of citizenship.

But no action was taken on any of these cases. The register appears as a matter of record only.




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Similarly, although the Australian Electoral Commission is now requiring candidates to complete a similar form, it does not take action against those who refuse to submit it, or leave sections blank. One candidate was referred to the police, but this was clearly a pointless face-saving exercise.

6. We want our MPs to be unequivocally Australian

Having foreign ancestry does not make you un-Australian. Section 44 does nothing to establish the strength of identity or loyalty – it simply prevents an undefined, but potentially very large, slice of the population from standing for parliament.

One case illustrates the ludicrous reach of the present wording.

After Lithuania regained its independence in 1990, it passed a citizenship law that gave people born outside the country to Lithuanian parents the right to citizenship. In 2016, this provision was expanded to cover those with Lithuanian grandparents. As a result, Senator Doug Cameron, whose Scottish burr we are used to hearing on news broadcasts, became eligible for Lithuanian citizenship.

While Cameron could (and did) renounce his British citizenship to qualify for election to the Australian parliament, he cannot renounce his entitlement to Lithuanian citizenship. And while some people have very strong views about Cameron, I have never heard it suggested he was working to a Lithuanian agenda rather than an Australian one.

Senator Doug Cameron was born in Scotland, but his grandparents are from Lithuania – a fact he had to disclose on the new citizenship register.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

7. It’s too hard to change the Constitution

The same thing was said about amending the Marriage Act to permit same-sex couples to marry. The public recognises there’s a problem with Section 44 and it expects the politicians to fix it.

The best shot came with the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which recommended adding the words “until the parliament otherwise provides” to Section 44. This would not change the law, just where the law is made.

Instead of disqualifications being defined by the laws in foreign countries, as the High Court has interpreted Section 44, they could be determined by the Australian parliament. This is how qualifications of senators and members are currently decided. It’s also how women got the vote in 1902.

If this proposal was strongly supported by all the parties and clearly explained to the electorate, it would likely pass in the next election.

So where does this leave us?

It all comes down to leadership. Up to now, both the Coalition and Labor have been primarily motivated by partisan advantage: how can we use Section 44 to score a political point?

The Joint Standing Committee showed that with a willingness to collaborate, there is a path forward to solving the problem. The best we can hope for is that after the trauma of the last few years, and the evidence of the continuing decline in support for the main parties, political leaders will see that acting constructively on Section 44 might actually be in the best interests of both parties.The Conversation

H. K. Colebatch, Visiting Professorial Fellow, UNSW

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