Farming the suburbs – why can’t we grow food wherever we want?



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Some local councils are more tolerant than others in allowing residents to grow food where they want.
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Jennifer Kent, University of Sydney

Food provides the foundations for human flourishing and the fabric of sustainability. It lies at the heart of conflict and diversity, yet presents opportunities for cultural acceptance and respect. It can define neighbourhoods, shape communities, and make places.

In parts of our cities, residents have embraced suburban agriculture as a way to improve access to healthier and more sustainably produced food. Farming our street edges and verges, vacant land, parks, rooftops and backyards is a great way to encourage an appreciation of locally grown food and increase consumption of fresh produce.

Despite these benefits, regulations, as well as some cultural opposition, continue to constrain suburban agriculture. We can’t grow and market food wherever we like, even if it is the sustainable production of relatively healthy options.

While good planning will be key to a healthier, more sustainable food system, planning’s role in allocating land for different uses across the city also constrains suburban agriculture.

Two steps towards healthier food systems

Making our food systems healthier and more sustainable requires a two-step approach.

  • First, we need to fortify the parts of the system that enable access to healthy food options.

  • Second, we need to disempower elements that continuously expose us to unhealthy foods.

Although food is a basic human need, the way we consume food in many countries, including Australia, is harmful to the environment and ourselves. Many of us don’t eat enough fresh and unprocessed foods. The foods we do eat are often produced and supplied in carbon-intensive and wasteful ways.

Primarily through land-use zoning, town planners can help to shape sustainable and healthy food systems. For example, good planning can:

  • protect peri-urban agricultural lands;

  • encourage farmers’ markets, roadside stalls and community gardens;

  • prevent the location of fast-food outlets near schools; and

  • even help regulate food advertising environments.

Why have land-use zones?

Modern town planning originated in the 19th century out of the need and ability to separate unhealthy, polluting uses from the places where people lived.

This was a direct response to the Industrial Revolution, which brought with it both an upscaling of the noisy, smelly and dirty uses to be avoided, and the emergence of new ways to travel relatively long distances away from these uses.

As a result, our urban areas are made up of a mosaic of what we call zones. Within each zone, certain uses are permitted and others are prohibited. If a piece of land is zoned as commercial, for example, that land can be used for a shop, but not for a house.

While this might seem logical to us today, to those living in housing scattered among the factories and tanneries of Manchester in the 1800s it would have been quite radical.

It is this function of planning that means we cannot grow food anywhere in the city. Instead, we have regulations that attempt to ensure related activities occur only in areas where such a use is compatible with the surrounding uses.

Where food gardens are next to roads these should not carry heavy traffic, which could be a source of contamination.
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Incompatibility might relate to safety. For example, in some cities it is prohibited to locate a community garden on a main traffic-generating road due to concerns about contamination of produce.

It could also be related to amenity. For example, in some areas local produce cannot be sold on the roadside due to concerns about creating additional traffic and parking.

These are two fairly obvious examples, but problems arise when definitions of what is safe and amenable differ within the community. Does a verge planted with an over-enthusiastic pumpkin vine detract from or enhance the visual appeal of the street? Should a locality embrace a roadside produce stall even if it means traffic is slowed and parking is less available?

How do we resolve planning conflicts?

Town planners attempt to grapple with these issues by developing new policies and regulations to respond to changing demands, or by assessing applications for food growing and distribution on a case-by-case basis.

In cities that are rapidly densifying, and in a cultural environment where growing one’s own produce is enjoying a renaissance, it’s not surprising some local authorities are struggling to keep up.

This struggle is ostensibly the result of local authorities failing to recognise and prioritise their role in supporting sustainable and healthy food systems. There are immense benefits – biophysical, economic and social – to be gained from local government giving priority to urban agriculture.

Yet a recent study of the content of local community strategic plans across New South Wales found that only 10% of strategies mentioned anything about food systems as a community priority. In this sense, Australia is part of an international trend.

The ConversationSurprisingly, the local authorities in New South Wales doing the most for better food systems were regional councils. These saw food security and the opportunities presented by local food production as urgent issues. There is obviously room for our metropolitan councils to catch up and capitalise on increased cultural interest in farming our suburbs.

Jennifer Kent, Research Fellow, University of Sydney

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

There’s far more to the fair go than just economics


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We need to consider whether values are the basis of beliefs about inequality.
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Eva Cox, University of Technology Sydney

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has often argued that inequality in Australia is the worst it has been in 75 years.

Leaving aside whether that is or isn’t correct, there is a bigger, more pertinent political question: is it inequality itself, or the perception of inequality, that fuels so much of the contemporary mistrust of politicians and political systems?

The growing legitimacy of inequality is a serious problem, even among market advocates like the IMF and World Bank, which seek to confine the fix to more equitable distributions of wealth. They fail to recognise the strong possibility that the push on inequality comes from wider perceptions that the system is so unfair it creates distrust of those in power and their main alternatives, so the damage is social rather than material.

Commentator Ross Gittins has argued that the collapse of the “neoliberal consensus” is as apparent in Australia as it is in Donald Trump’s America and Brexit-ing Britain. Yet the data here do not reveal the serious poverty it brings with it.

The local focus on inequality has very much been more on tax rorts and the presumed sins of the rich than on the poor, either on or off welfare. This looks to be the basis of Shorten’s next policy bid for power, which he promises to release via inequality policies at the New South Wales ALP conference this weekend.

Shorten’s targeting of the voters’ desire for the “fair go” by claiming inequality in Australia creates a “sense of powerlessness that drives people away from the mainstream so creating a fault line in politics”.

His emphasis on the wider effects of inequality suggests he recognises it as a symptom of wider issues, rather than a single economic cause of problems. However, if his proposals are primarily focused on increasing tax takes, he is not tackling the wider damage, such as system distrust, that is widely evident.

He is not alone in this limitation; it dominated the debates on his proposals. The immediate responses from Treasurer Scott Morrison and several economic commentators disputed whether the Gini coefficient (a measure of how wealth is distributed in a society) supported the claims of rising inequalities. They ignored the many other indicators, such as that workers’ share of income is at its lowest level in a half-a-century.

The complex data shown in The Conversation’s factcheck come down mainly on Shorten’s side. These varied sources show the problem of defining what counts as inequality. Are voters very aware of income differentials? Or do most judge inequality by tightening budgets and everyday hardships such as rising utility bills?

It is in fact these perceptions of wider inequality as unfairness that affects how we relate to those in power. These are toxic effects that need to be fixed, not just through adjusting tax or individual payments.

There is considerable evidence that inequality is increasing and, importantly, that it is affecting the views of possible voters. The long-running Australian Election Study in 2016 found voters showed both increased distrust of politicians, and income concerns. More than half – 55% – supported incomes being redistributed versus 19% who did not. There have been other recent polls that show the lack of trust of the mainstream parties.

Who do you trust? Increasingly the answer seems to be: nobody.

After a year when voters worldwide thumbed their noses at mainstream politics and the elite, a landmark annual survey has found trust in major institutions is eroding at a rapid rate. And the effect is particularly pronounced in Australia.

The 2017 Trust Barometer by Edelman, the world’s largest PR outfit, has documented an “implosion of trust”. It found that Australians believe their entire political system is failing and they harbour deep fears of immigration, globalisation and changing values.

We need to consider whether values are the basis of beliefs about inequality. My thesaurus offers eight synonyms of the word: four simply describe it, while four signal negative feelings and perceptions: discrimination, unfairness, inequity, disproportion. None expresses inequality as a material or monetary difference. This indicates how often inequality connects with growing distrust of mainstream parties.

So is inequality a significant but limited indicator of wider issues that need attentions? The current special issue of Australian Quarterly features articles on this topic. The journal’s opening remarks state:

Inequality is arguably the catch-cry of our times, but, when you pick it apart, what does it actually look like in the Australian context? Is it economic, is it political; is it tax breaks for big business, or the everyday homelessness of our capital cities; is it the rot crumbling the sanctified pillar of the ‘fair go’, or has it become a convenient catch-all so broad as to be meaningless?

The ConversationIf this is so, the question will be whether Shorten’s policy options stay within the narrow confines of fairer taxes. If they do, it may be too simply economic to interest voters – unless he creates a broader vision of a trustworthy (fairer) Australia.

Eva Cox, Professorial Fellow, Jumbunna IHL, University of Technology Sydney

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

Constitution’s wide net catches even MPs who had no idea they’re foreign citizens



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Matt Canavan has been told that he is an Italian citizen.
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Helen Irving, University of Sydney

Cabinet minister Matt Canavan has become the latest federal MP to be tripped up by the Australian Constitution’s ban on dual citizens serving in parliament. On Tuesday, the Nationals senator resigned from cabinet, pending an investigation into whether he holds Italian citizenship.

Canavan’s case, and those of the two Greens senators – Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, who resigned from parliament entirely over their dual citizenship earlier this month – have provoked calls for changes to the Constitution.

Section 44(i) of the Constitution states “any person who is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power” is ineligible to stand for, or sit in, federal parliament.

At the heart of the current controversy is that the senators were either ignorant of their second nationality or believed themselves to have lost it. For some this amounted to carelessness – even “incredible sloppiness”, in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s words – by them or their party.

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) advises potential parliamentary candidates with a foreign nationality that they will be:

… disqualified from election to parliament if they do not take “all reasonable steps” to renounce their other citizenship before nomination.

The AEC also says:

Taking all reasonable steps necessitates the use of renunciation procedures of the other country where such procedures are available.

But what about cases where someone was not in a position to take “reasonable steps”, because their second citizenship was unknown to them?

What the High Court has previously found

The AEC’s advice refers to a 1992 case in which the High Court closely examined Section 44(i) for the first time.

The case concerned the eligibility of candidates in the 1992 by-election for the lower house seat of Wills. It included a meticulous examination of what it meant for an Australian to hold a foreign nationality, and how a nationality might be discharged.

The court recognised that Liberal candidate John Delacretaz and Labor’s Bill Kardamitsis, both naturalised Australians, had lived in and contributed to Australia for many years, and that neither had taken any advantage of their other citizenship over that time.

Nevertheless, the court’s majority concluded that any candidate who had not actively renounced their foreign citizenship was constitutionally disqualified, regardless of whether there had been any benefit from, reliance upon, or even acknowledgement of that citizenship.

The mere entitlement to a foreign nationality was enough. This interpretation has applied ever since.

But two dissenting judgments offered an alternative perspective. This may provide guidance in thinking about the meaning of the Constitution’s provision today, and even an alternative to the difficult task of constitutional change.

Although certain facts differed from the current examples – the candidates were not native-born Australians, and the naturalisation process at the relevant time included renunciation of all other allegiances – the reasoning still applies.

Two principal questions were considered:

  • Did the disqualification rule really apply in the absence of active identification with, or allegiance to, a foreign country?

  • And should the interpretation of the Constitution be subject to other countries’ laws?

In justice William Deane’s view, the whole of Section 44(i) should apply:

… only to cases where the relevant status, rights or privileges [of citizenship] have been sought, accepted, asserted or acquiesced in by the person concerned.

For an Australian-born citizen, Deane concluded, there should be no disqualification unless there was such a “relationship with the foreign power”. For a naturalised citizen, doing all that “can reasonably be expected to extinguish any former relationship with a foreign country to the extent that it involves the status, rights or privileges” of citizenship would be sufficient to overcome disqualification.

Both justices also recognised that each country has the sovereign power to determine its own citizenship law. But, in justice Mary Gaudron’s view, “every consideration of public policy and common sense tells against the automatic recognition and application of foreign law as the sole determinant” of the constitutional rights of Australian citizens.

Deane posed a hypothetical. What if a foreign power decided to:

… disqualify the whole of the Australian parliament by unilaterally conferring upon all of its members the rights and privileges of a citizen of that nation?

In other words, what are the limits in treating unintended or unwanted foreign citizenship as genuine foreign allegiance?

Many countries (Ireland, for example) automatically confer citizenship on the children of their citizens. Many Australians will not be aware they have received such a “gift”.

If, as has been said, Section 44(i) was designed so MPs “did not have a split allegiance and were not, as far as possible, subject to any improper influence from foreign governments”, surely citizenship of which one is ignorant cannot create such conflicts?

What now?

Responding to Canavan’s troubles, Attorney-General George Brandis suggested Canavan was not disqualified because his Italian citizenship was acquired “without [his] knowledge or consent”.

The ConversationThis may not be correct under current constitutional law; the government will refer Canavan’s case to the High Court. But it captures a perspective that is well worth consideration.

Helen Irving, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Sydney

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

Newspoll 53-47 to Labor, but respondent preferences better for Coalition


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted Thursday to Sunday from a sample of 1680, gave Labor its fifth consecutive 53-47 lead. Primary votes were 37% Labor (up 1 since last fortnight’s Newspoll), 36% Coalition (up 1), 9% Greens (down 1) and 9% One Nation (down 2). This is the Coalition’s 16th consecutive Newspoll loss with Turnbull as PM.

34% were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance (up 2) and 54% were dissatisfied (down 2), for a net approval of -20, up four points. Shorten’s net approval was unchanged at -20.

The biggest political news last week was Peter Dutton’s appointment to head the new home affairs “super ministry”. Turnbull’s ratings and the Coalition’s primary vote may have improved as a result of the hard right’s approval of Dutton. Progressives detest Dutton, but people who do not follow politics are unlikely to have formed an opinion of Dutton yet. Turnbull has already lost politically engaged progressives.

Essential this week found strong approval of the new super ministry, but concern that Dutton was responsible for the various security services.

The Greens have lost one point, but can consider themselves fortunate not to have lost more after a shocking five days in which Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters resigned from the Senate after finding they had unwittingly violated Section 44 of the Constitution.

Resources minister Matt Canavan today became the latest victim of the dual citizenship fiasco. He has resigned from Cabinet, but not yet from the Senate, after finding he has Italian citizenship. If the courts rule him out, Canavan will be replaced by Joanna Lindgren, the No. 6 on the Queensland LNP ticket.

While Labor has comfortably led in all Newspolls since the beginning of the year, Newspoll uses the previous election method to distribute preferences. Respondent allocated polling from ReachTEL shows a reduction in Labor’s lead. It is likely that most hard right voters who have deserted the Coalition will return after preferences.

At the 2016 election, One Nation preferences split nearly 50-50 between the major parties. As some of the hard right has defected to One Nation, its preferences will probably be more favourable to the Coalition at the next election, provided that Turnbull is still PM.

This week’s additional Newspoll questions concerned Tony Abbott. By 58-23, voters thought Turnbull had the best leadership credentials compared with Abbott. Coalition voters backed Turnbull by 69-23, with Abbott ahead 44-34 only with One Nation voters.

48% thought Abbott should remain a backbencher and shut up, 23% thought he should be given a senior Cabinet position, and 17% thought Abbott should remain a backbencher but not shut up.

ReachTEL: 51-49 to Labor

A Sky News ReachTEL poll, conducted 19 July from a sample presumably about 2300, gave Labor a narrow 51-49 lead, a one point gain for the Coalition since the previous Sky News ReachTEL, in late June.

The primary vote figures included 9% “undecided”, but ReachTEL asks these people which way they are leaning. However, the preferences of these leaners were not included. If these 9% undecided are excluded, primary votes are 37% Labor, 36% Coalition, 12% One Nation and 9% Greens. Applying 2016 preference flows would give a 53-47 Labor lead. The Coalition is benefiting from respondent allocated preferences, hence the narrower headline Labor lead.

Turnbull led Shorten by 54.5-45.5 as preferred PM, up from 54-46. Better PM polling without a forced choice favours incumbents, and a forced choice usually gives opposition leaders a better result.

In other findings, 75% favoured renewable energy over coal. 56% nominated power and gas prices as the biggest cost of living expenses, with other expenses at 16% or below. 47% supported a Constitutional change to create an indigenous advisory body, with 29% opposed.

Essential: 53-47 to Labor

This week’s Essential had the Coalition regaining the point they lost a fortnight ago, for a 53-47 Labor lead. Primary votes were 38% Coalition, 37% Labor, 10% Greens, 7% One Nation and 4% Nick Xenophon Team; the Coalition has gained two points since last fortnight. Essential used a two-week sample of 1800; additional questions are based on one week’s sample.

56% approved of the new national security ministry, and just 18% disapproved. 45% thought it would strengthen Australia’s national security, 28% thought it would make little difference and just 8% thought our national security would be weakened. 45% were concerned that Dutton would have responsibility for the various security services, and 35% were not concerned.

By 64-10, voters supported a clean energy target, requiring a set percentage of energy to be generated from clean sources. By 54-15, voters supported an emissions intensity scheme, where pollution over a certain level is taxed.

40% said they were connected to the National Broadband Network either at home or work. Of those who had an NBN connection, 48% thought it was better than their previous Internet service, and 22% thought it was worse.

Tasmanian ReachTEL: 43.0% Liberal, 32.9% Labor, 13.4% Greens

A Taxmanian ReachTEL poll, conducted 21 July from a sample of 2820, gave the Liberals 43.0% (down 8.2 points since the 2014 election), Labor 32.9% (up 5.6) and the Greens 13.4% (down 0.4). The next Tasmanian election is likely to be held in March 2018.

Tasmania uses the Hare Clark system with five 5-member electorates. In 2014 the Liberals won 15 of the 25 seats, to 7 for Labor and 3 for the Greens. The Liberals won 4 seats in Braddon, 2 in Denison and 3 in Bass, Franklin and Lyons. On current polling, the Liberals are likely to lose a seat in both Braddon and Franklin, and the final seat in Lyons will decide whether the Liberals cling to a majority.

After adjustment for bias towards the Greens and against Labor, Kevin Bonham interprets this poll as 43.0% Liberal, 36.7% Labor and 10.7% Greens. If the adjusted figures are replicated in Lyons, there would be a three-way race between the Liberals, Greens and Labor for the final seat.

The ConversationOverall, Bonham thinks the most likely outcome using this poll is 12 Liberals, 10 Labor, 3 Greens, but his Tasmanian poll aggregate has the Liberals ahead in Lyons, and thus more likely to win a majority.

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

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

Nationals’ Matt Canavan quits as resources minister in latest citizenship blow



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Matt Canavan told a news conference he had been informed he is an Italian citizen.
Sonia Kohlbacher/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Queensland LNP senator Matt Canavan has resigned as the minister for resources and northern Australia after being told by the Italian embassy that he is an Italian citizen.

But unlike two Greens senators who immediately quit parliament after discovering their dual citizenship, he is not resigning from the Senate but waiting for the High Court to make a judgment about his status.

Canavan told a news conference called late on Tuesday he had become aware “that according to the Italian government, I am a citizen of Italy”.

But Attorney-General George Brandis said it was the federal government’s preliminary view that Canavan was not in breach of Section 44 of the Constitution – which bans dual citizens standing for parliament – because the registration of Italian citizenship was obtained without his knowledge or consent.

In the latest – and most bizarre yet – twist in the citizenship imbroglio, Canavan, 36, who was born in Queensland, said that in 2006 his mother, born in Australia of Italian parents, lodged documents with the Italian consulate in Brisbane to become an Italian citizen.

“In doing so it would appear that she made an application for me to become an Italian citizen as well. I was 25-years-old at the time.”

While he knew his mother had become an Italian citizen, “I had no knowledge that I, myself, had become an Italian citizen – nor had I requested to become an Italian citizen”.

He said that after Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters resigned over their dual citizenship his mother on Tuesday evening a week ago raised with him the possibility that he was an Italian citizen.

“I have since then taken steps to check my citizenship status with the Italian authorities and that has confirmed that I was registered as an Italian citizen in January 2007.

“The Italian authorities have confirmed that the application for Italian citizenship was not signed by me. To my knowledge, until this week, I have not received any correspondence from the Italian authorities about my citizenship status, and they have not been able to provide any such records.” He has never been to Italy.

Canavan said that while he didn’t intend to resign from the Senate, given the uncertainty around his status he would stand aside until the matter was resolved and resign as minister.

Brandis, appearing with Canavan at a joint news conference at which they did not take questions, said the government had taken advice from the solicitor-general and was in the process of taking advice from experts in Italian citizenship law.

“It is the government’s preliminary view that, because the registration was obtained without senator Canavan’s knowledge or consent, that he is not in breach of Section 44 of the Constitution.

“Nevertheless, in view of the legal uncertainty concerning the matter, when the Senate convenes on Tuesday week, the government will move to refer the matter for determination by the High Court,” Brandis said.

Malcolm Turnbull said Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce would be acting resources and northern Australia minister until Canavan’s status was resolved.

Waters, who quit parliament a week ago after finding she was a citizen of Canada, which she left as a baby, tweeted:

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The ConversationLudlam resigned after finding he was a citizen of New Zealand, which he left as a child.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Sorting out what happened in UNHCR and government talks on refugees important for credibility of both sides



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The government says its position has always been that none of those on Manus Island and Nauru would ever be allowed to come here.
Darren England/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The fracas between the United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) and the government over whether Australia agreed to settle a handful of the Manus Island/Nauru boat people with family here goes to questions of fact and humanity.

UNHCR claims it consented to facilitate the Australia-US resettlement deal, reached late last year, “on the clear understanding that vulnerable refugees with close family ties in Australia would ultimately be allowed to settle there”.

The government says its position has always been – as it has consistently said publicly – that none of those on Manus Island and Nauru would ever be allowed to come here.

It should be possible to get to the bottom of what was said in the multiple meetings the UNHCR had with the government. Presumably each side, and certainly the Australian bureaucrats, would have taken notes. These should be produced. Or perhaps information will be dragged out eventually in that very useful inquisitorial forum, Senate estimates.

Asked whether Immigration Minister Peter Dutton had given an assurance, Volker Turk, UNHCR’s assistant high commissioner for protection, told the ABC on Monday: “He didn’t give us assurances because we didn’t present cases yet. But he did agree that we would be able to present such cases.”

One can imagine how, anxious to get UNHCR involvement, Dutton and officials might have let the impression be left that cases would be considered – when they had no intention of looking favourably at any of them.

Maybe this is too Machiavellian – but the record should clarify. It is important for the credibility of both the UNHCR, which made the claim in a very tough statement, and the government that what happened be made clear.

Then there is the substantive question. We are talking about very few people – some 36 identified so far with a humanitarian claim and links to Australia, according to the UNHCR.

Whether the UNHCR or the government is right about the tenor of their conversations, surely in the cases of these people, it is not asking too much to expect Australia to take them in, regardless of the policy.

Dutton and colleagues default to the standard line, conjuring up the prospects of a fresh armada if any exceptions are ever made.

When the US deal was announced there was much tough talk from the government about strengthening the iron cordon of vessels patrolling around Australia in case there was a try-on from the people smugglers.

Does anyone seriously think that cordon isn’t up to the task of discouraging any fresh attempt if we let in three-dozen needy people with relatives here?

Remember that John Howard’s Pacific solution, which stopped the boats, saw some 705 of the 1,637 detained in Manus Island and Nauru between 2001 and 2008 resettled in Australia.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the government exaggerates the threat for political purposes.

In case this be seen as just being “soft” on border protection, let me say that I believe the policy of turning back boats has been justified. Offshore processing had its place in that policy, but it is a step far too far to say now that we couldn’t keep the border secure if a few special cases were allowed to come to Australia.

One wonders if Dutton, Malcolm Turnbull or other ministers are ever troubled in their consciences, as they enjoy their own families, about what they are doing to the lives of children on Nauru or young men on Manus Island.

It’s as if the government buys its own propaganda, which subtly or not-so-subtly demonises these people – a majority of whom are found to be refugees – essentially suggesting they are criminals, as in Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s comments on Tuesday.

“If people seek to arrive illegally, if they pay criminal smuggling networks, they will not be resettled in Australia,” she said. Bishop, of all people, knows that the story of seeking asylum is more complicated and involves the question of rights, with “unauthorised” arrivals being the appropriate term.

The row with the UNHCR sits uncomfortably with Australia’s campaign to win membership of the UN Human Rights Council, for which the vote is in October. The council’s remit is “the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe”. But Bishop, who has been advocating for Australia’s candidature as she travels the world, on Tuesday was confident of success.

Leaving aside the contretemps with the UNHCR, some eight months after the announcement of the US deal none of the people from Manus Island or Nauru has moved to America.

We know that Donald Trump hates the Obama-era deal – under which the Americans agreed to take up to 1,250 refugees – though he has said he will honour it.

We know that the Americans are doing their own “extreme vetting” of the refugees.

We know that the US has already filled its refugee quota for the year ending September, so these people are pushed into the following quota, which starts October.

What we don’t know is how hard the Turnbull government is working to persuade the US administration to meet the agreement as soon as possible.

Turnbull makes much of he and Trump both being businessmen. Well, this can be thought of as a contract, and it is time the contract’s terms were met.

The ConversationWe have a special relationship with the US and that should be called upon. The people should be gone by Christmas, at the latest.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

UN condemnation and a sports boycott: Australia again called on to end offshore detention



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EPA/Nyunt Win

Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle

On ABC TV’s The Drum on Monday, author Antony Loewenstein called for a sports boycott of Australia. Loewenstein’s argument was that such a move from other countries could force a change in approach to the offshore detention of asylum seekers who travel to Australia by boat.

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Sports boycotts have had a colourful history in the UN era. By far the most-well-known is the boycott of apartheid South Africa.

There has been debate regarding the impact of sporting boycotts in the past. In the South African case, sports boycotts were accompanied by wide-ranging political and economic sanctions. Apartheid was almost universally condemned as a violation of the international legal prohibition on racial discrimination.

No doubt a boycott of sports-loving Australia would be hugely controversial. However, a boycott seems highly unlikely to eventuate. Criticism of Australia’s refugee policies tends to come from or through UN humanitarian bodies and NGOs more so than from individual countries.

The major sporting codes in Australia are also largely domestic. So, boycotts of Australian rules football or rugby league would likely have a negligible effect. And a boycott would potentially risk the further entrenchment of negative attitudes toward asylum seekers travelling by boat.

Australia again criticised for offshore detention

Loewenstein’s argument was prompted by the latest in a long series of international critiques of Australia’s policy of mandatory offshore detention of people who seek asylum here by boat.

Specifically, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) chief Filippo Grandi has accused Australia of misleading conduct.

The UNHCR describes as “exceptional” its decision to assist Australia in concluding a refugee transfer arrangement with the US. That arrangement has been mired in controversy. It was agreed in the final days of the Obama administration. Tensions arose early in the Trump administration over what the new president described as “the worst deal ever”.

The two countries now appear set to manage the transfer of a large number of those still in offshore detention on Nauru and Manus Island. The fate of those who do not pass US checks remains uncertain.

Yet, according to the UNHCR, Australia committed to resettling vulnerable affected refugees in Australia if they had family members already living in the community. However:

UNHCR has recently been informed by Australia that it refuses to accept even these refugees, and that they, along with the others on Nauru and Papua New Guinea, have been informed that their only option is to remain where they are or to be transferred to Cambodia or to the United States.

This means, for example, that some with serious medical conditions, or who have undergone traumatic experiences, including sexual violence, cannot receive the support of their close family members residing in Australia.

Human Rights Watch Australia regards the UNHCR’s statement as a stinging rebuke of Australia’s non-compliance with international legal obligations towards refugees and asylum seekers.

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The Human Rights Law Centre joined the call for an immediate end to offshore processing and the resettlement in Australia of the 2,000 people still on Nauru and Manus Island. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has reiterated Australia’s commitment never to resettle refugees in Australia if they have been transferred to offshore detention.

Fruitless attempts to force compliance?

The perennial problem of international law – particularly troubling for students of the area – is the often overwhelming difficulty of requiring countries to comply. The international legal system lacks a court of compulsory jurisdiction, police force, or global parliament.

When compared with a robust domestic legal system like Australia’s, the international legal system appears weak on enforcement mechanisms. Famously, though:

Almost all nations observe almost all principles of international law and almost all of their obligations almost all of the time.

Australia is – across a vast range of areas – an enthusiastic proponent of the international legal system. In the human rights context, Australia routinely comments on the performance of other countries and describes itself as a global leader in human rights.

However, as I wrote last week, there is a disjuncture between Australia’s policy and practice on asylum seekers and its bid for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. Continued international critique of mandatory offshore immigration detention undermines Australia’s standing.

Political leaders of both major parties have maintained a longstanding commitment to punitive dealings with asylum seekers travelling by boat without visas. This is an area of Australian practice that seems unlikely to shift in response to international critique.

The ConversationInstead, the will to locate humanity within Australia’s refugee policy must come from within. While Loewenstein’s sports boycott proposal seems improbable, it was worth making to highlight Australia’s intransigence in this area.

Amy Maguire, Senior Lecturer in International Law and Human Rights, University of Newcastle

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

UNHCR accuses government of breaching undertaking over refugee cases



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Filippo Grandi urged an immediate end to Australia’s offshore processing of refugees.
Martial Trezzini/EPA

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, has accused Australia of breaking its word by refusing to allow refugees on Manus Island and Nauru with family in Australia to settle here – a claim denied by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

In a strongly worded statement on Monday, Grandi said that last November the UNHCR “exceptionally” had agreed to help with the relocation of refugees to the US, when the Turnbull government struck a deal with the outgoing Obama administration.

“We agreed to do so on the clear understanding that vulnerable refugees with close family ties in Australia would ultimately be allowed to settle there,” Grandi said.

But “UNHCR has recently been informed by Australia that it refuses to accept even these refugees, and that they, along with the others on Nauru and Papua New Guinea, have been informed that their only option is to remain where they are or to be transferred to Cambodia or the United States,” Grandi said.

This meant some people with serious medical conditions or who had had traumatic experiences such as sexual violence could not receive the support of close family members who are living in Australia, he said.

“To avoid prolonging their ordeal, UNHCR has no other choice but to endorse the relocation of all refugees on Papua New Guinea and Nauru to the United States, even those with close family members in Australia.”

A spokesperson for Dutton responded to Grandi’s statement by saying the government’s position “has been clear and consistent” – people transferred to regional processing centres “will never settle in Australia”.

On the ABC’s 7.30, Volker Turk, the UNHCR’s assistant high commissioner for protection, elaborated on the claim.

He said the UNHCR went into its facilitation role “after long discussions with Australian government officials”.

“We had a lot of meetings with the government, including myself with the minister of immigration in November,” he said.

“There was no doubt in our mind – and this is what we put forward to the minister at the time – that we would present to him cases that are compelling humanitarian, with close family links to Australia. We were hoping that, indeed, Australia would consider them favourably within the discretion that the minister has at his disposal.”

Pressed on whether Dutton gave any assurance that he would actually allow those people to resettle in Australia, Turk said: “He didn’t give us assurances because we didn’t present cases yet. But he did agree that we would be able to present such cases.”

“Of course we went into this agreement on the understanding that, indeed, Australia would be part of the solution for a handful of compelling humanitarian cases with strong family links in Australia.”

Only 36 people had so far been identified with such links, he said.

On the basis of the understanding that it had the UNHCR “presented these compelling cases”, Turk said.

Grandi said these vulnerable people who had already had four years in “punishing conditions” should be reunited with their families in Australia. This would be the “humane and reasonable” course.

“The Australian government’s decision to deny them this possibility is contrary to the fundamental principles of family unity and refugee protection, and to common decency,” he said.

Grandi said Australia’s offshore processing policy “has caused extensive, avoidable suffering for far too long”.

“Four years on, more than 2,000 people are still languishing in unacceptable circumstances. Families have been separated and many have suffered physical and psychological harm,” he said.

The UNHCR has referred more than 1,000 refugees to the US over the past eight months. A further 500 people are waiting for the outcome of their refugee claims, being processed by authorities in PNG and Nauru. The American deal provided for the US to take up to 1,250.

US President Donald Trump made it clear in his much-publicised phone conversation with Malcolm Turnbull that he hated the deal, though he has said he will honour it.

But so far no-one has been settled. The US, which is doing its own assessments, has been slow, and now America has filled its much-reduced refugee program for the year ending September. This has stalled any prospect of departures until the new year starts in October.

Meanwhile the Manus centre is due to close on October 31, and authorities there are trying to push people out of it.

Asked on Sky on Sunday whether there was any circumstance under which the government would allow some people to come to Australia, Dutton said: “People will not be coming to Australia … the government has said it consistently”.

He said this consistent position had been part of the reason for the success in stopping the boats. “We’ve taken the people-smuggling model away from the people smugglers. People don’t believe that they can get to Australia by paying their money and if that fails then we will see a recommencement of boats.”

Pointing to the earlier 1,200 drownings at sea, Dutton said that under the Coalition’s “Operation Sovereign Borders we’ve not seen a single death at sea”.

Grandi said the UNHCR fully endorsed the need to save lives and prevent exploitation by people smugglers.

“But the practice of offshore processing has had a hugely detrimental impact. There is a fundamental contradiction in saving people at sea, only to mistreat and neglect them on land.”

He urged an immediate end to Australia’s offshore processing and for it to offer solutions to its victims “for whom it retains full responsibility”.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie tweeted:

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The ConversationLabor called on the government to release the details of the US-Australia resettlement agreement, including any side deal made with the UNHCR.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/4arpi-6d25f9?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Lessons Australia could learn from other countries to strengthen peace and stability



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The war in Syria has been responsible for many of the high number of deaths in wars in recent years.
Reuters/Abdalrhman Ismail

John Langmore, University of Melbourne

There has been an alarming upward trend in the number of deaths in war around the world since 2012.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute concludes that in the first decade of the 21st century, the total number of deaths from organised violence worldwide stabilised at around 35,000. But, by 2014, it had multiplied to 130,000. The small decline to 118,000 in 2015 didn’t reduce the severe global anxiety about armed conflict.

Half of this shocking increase was due to the war in Syria, and much of the rest to the spread of Islamic State (IS). In 2015 the number of state-based conflicts increased steeply to 50, up from 41 in 2014. This is the second highest number since 1945, due almost entirely to IS’s expansion.

However, the Syrian and IS wars are not the causes of the violent conflicts in the 23 other countries. In 2015, war was causing more than 25 battle deaths a year in these countries. They included Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Colombia, Congo, India, Kenya, Mali, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Somalia, South Sudan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine and Yemen.

Nor is IS the cause of conflicts in many areas where major violence has not yet erupted, but where it occurs spasmodically or is threatened. These include Burundi, Georgia, Israel and Palestine, Nigeria, Sudan, Western Sahara, and places where terrorists are active.

Neither do these include those situations where participants and observers consider there is a serious possibility of conflict erupting, and where efforts to ease conflict could be of great value. These include Bougainville, the East China Sea, the Korean Peninsula, Myanmar, the Solomon Islands, the South China Sea, and West Papua.

Violent conflict is causing explosive growth in numbers of forcibly displaced people worldwide, numbering 65.3 million in 2015. This is the largest number on record. Of these, 21 million are refugees, more than half of whom are under 18.

The SIPRI Yearbook 2016 argues:

… peace is not being well served by national governments or the array of international institutions, forces and instruments that are currently devoted to enhancing security and international stability.

This disastrous situation led the new UN secretary-general, António Guterres, in his first address to the UN Security Council in January this year to say:

… the priority of everything we do together [must be] preventing conflict and sustaining peace.

He continued:

… we spend far more time and resources responding to crises rather than preventing them.

And:

It has proved very difficult to persuade decision-makers at national and international level that prevention must be their priority.

Therefore, strengthening and professionalising capacity for peacemaking is vital.

In September 2015, Australia joined with every other member country in the UN General Assembly in adopting the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal Sixteen is that all UN members accepted responsibility for promoting “peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development” and for providing “access to justice for all”. The first of the targets under this goal is to:

… significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere.

Australia therefore shares in the global commitment to implement more effective means of peaceful conflict resolution. The question is: how could Australia do that most effectively?

For the last year, the University of Melbourne’s Australian International Conflict Resolution Project has been studying how seven other countries prevent conflict and build peace. The countries studied have been Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the UK and the US; the most detailed attention was given to Canada, Norway and the UK, because they focus substantial attention onto peace processes.

The conclusions focus on possible lessons and recommendations for Australia in how best to respond to conflicts and support peace processes.

Every conflict is different and requires carefully considered action. This might include:

  • preventive diplomacy;

  • the appointment of an expert committee of inquiry;

  • a political mission;

  • use of the good offices of the secretary-general;

  • reference to regional peacemaking agencies or to the UN Security Council;

  • negotiation;

  • conciliation;

  • mediation;

  • arbitration; or

  • reference to an international judicial tribunal.

More training in the range of conflict resolution skills such as mediation would be highly valuable.

Action to resolve or prevent conflict at an early stage is far more cost-effective than attempts to resolve, restore or repair once violent conflict has erupted.

To maximise the long-term effectiveness of Australia’s foreign policies, there would be great value in strengthening Australia’s conflict prevention and resolution capabilities.

The ConversationAiming to strengthen security is a fundamental goal for the process of development. Australia cannot be secure unless the countries in our region also feel secure. It is essential for Australian security that we seek and support additional ways of contributing to the peace and justice in the region and globally.

John Langmore, Professorial Fellow, Melbourne School of Government, University of Melbourne

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

Knives are sharpening on the new home affairs office



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

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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