Transcript of Trump-Turnbull call shows just how hard it’ll be to deal with the president



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Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Malcolm Turnbull’s opponents, including those reflexively opposed to Australia’s asylum-seeker policies, would be hard put to take exception to the substance of a leaked conversation with US President Donald Trump soon after January’s presidential inauguration.

In an early round of congratulatory phone calls from world leaders Turnbull broached an agreement reached with the previous Obama administration for the US to take 1,250 such refugees in exchange for an Australian undertaking to resettle displaced people from Central America.

The latter “understanding” has not been publicised as far as I know, but it was integral to the quid pro quo that enabled an agreement to be reached by the Turnbull government to relocate asylum seekers stranded on Manus Island and Nauru.


Further reading: Five quotes from the Turnbull-Trump call show the folly of Australia’s refugee policy


The incarceration of would-be refugees, economic or otherwise, who have arrived by boat on Australia’s shores is the running sore of Australian politics.

The Turnbull government has maintained a steadfast “stop the boats” policy, which was instituted by Turnbull’s predecessor, Tony Abbott, to widespread international condemnation and persistent domestic criticism.

The Labor opposition supports such a policy, while seeking to convey the impression it would apply it more humanely. In reality, there is virtually no difference between the two sides of politics.

When Washington Post published leaked details of a fractious conversation between Turnbull and Trump earlier this year, an impression given then was that Australia’s prime minister was treated disrespectfully, and indeed had yielded ground to a bombastic president.

What the now-leaked full transcript shows is that far from yielding, Turnbull held his ground as he patiently – and courteously – sought to explain the complexities of Australian asylum-seeker policy to a cantankerous president who had himself been elected on a “stop the illegals” platform.

A fair judgement is that Turnbull set out Australia’s position in a manner that would not have been out of a place in a barrister’s deposition to an interlocutor who had little clue about the complexities of Australian immigration policy, and seemed to care less.

Typifying the dysfunction of a conversation between two men who appeared locked in a cycle of mutual incomprehension are the following extracts.

Trump: Does anybody know who these people are? Who are they? Where do they come from? Are they going to become the Boston bomber in five years? Or two years? Who are these people?

Turnbull: Let me explain. We know exactly who they are. They have been on Nauru or Manus for over three years and the only reason we cannot let them into Australia is because of our commitment to not allow people to come by boat. Otherwise we would have let them in. If they had arrived by airplane and with a tourist visa then they would be here.

Trump: Malcolm, but they arrived on a boat.

Turnbull: The only people that we do not take are people who come by boat.

Trump: What is the thing with boats? Why do you discriminate against boats? No, I know, they come from certain regions. I get it.

Turnbull: The problem with the boats is that you are basically outsourcing your immigration program to people smugglers, and also you get thousands of people drowning at sea.

And so the conversation continued like a Beckett play, with Trump venting about the bad deal struck by his predecessor.

What emerges from these exchanges is that the US president was either inadequately briefed or had not absorbed what he had been told about a refugee deal leftover from the previous administration.

What it also reveals is that once fixated on a point of view, namely that he was talking about the broader problem of unauthorised immigration not the more specific issue of asylum seekers being brought to Australia by people smugglers, it was difficult for Trump to comprehend the distinction.

The ConversationIn Trump’s first weeks in office, it may have been unreasonable to expect him to be across these sorts of issues. But the transcript reflects some of the challenges America’s allies face in dealing with an administration whose chief executive knows less than he should about issues that come across his desk, and perhaps more to the point is not a good listener.

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

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

Turnbull’s chief-of-staff is the new defence head


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has appointed his chief-of-staff Greg Moriarty – who has a strong background in defence, foreign affairs and counter-terrorism – as the new secretary of the defence department.

Moriarty, who replaces the recently retired Dennis Richardson, worked in defence between 1986 and 1995, primarily in the Defence Intelligence Organisation.

He served in the headquarters of the US Central Command in the Persian Gulf during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

While in the foreign affairs department Moriarty was senior negotiator with the Peace Monitoring Group on Bougainville, ambassador to Iran, ambassador to Indonesia, and a deputy secretary.

When he was ambassador to Iran he gave two lengthy briefings to George W. Bush, in 2006 and 2007, at the Americans’ request.

In 2015 he became the first Commonwealth counter-terrorism co-ordinator. He joined Malcolm Turnbull’s office in August 2016 as adviser on international and national security, before becoming chief-of-staff.

He is described as having a good policy mind and being very steady under pressure. He is said to have been well regarded by Labor’s Stephen Smith when Smith was foreign minister.

Moriarty’s name emerged publicly quite late in the speculation about Richardson’s replacement. The field also included Mike Pezzullo, who heads immigration and border protection, and Peter Jennings, director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Presumably Pezzullo will now remain to head Peter Dutton’s new home affairs department, the core of which is the current immigration department.

Turnbull’s new chief-of-staff will be Peter Woolcott, currently high commissioner to New Zealand.

The ConversationWoolcott has previously served as ambassador for the environment, where he dealt with international climate change issues, permanent representative to the UN in Geneva and ambassador for disarmament, ambassador for people-smuggling issues, and ambassador to Italy. Between 2002 and 2004 he was chief-of-staff to the then foreign minister, Alexander Downer.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/axx2w-6d8662?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.

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.

Knives are sharpening on the new home affairs office



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

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Shorten and Turnbull to talk on four-year terms



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

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

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



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

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

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



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

Adele Garnier, Macquarie University

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

Immigration mismanagement

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

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

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

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

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

What’s in a name?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Critical timing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new Department of Home Affairs is unnecessary and seems to be more about politics than reform



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Peter Dutton (right) is set to assume responsibility for the newly created home affairs portfolio.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

John Blaxland, Australian National University

It is difficult not to give in to cynical impulses over Tuesday’s announcement that the government will create a Department of Home Affairs.

Described as a “federation of border and security agencies”, the home affairs minister – set to be the current immigration minister, Peter Dutton – will be responsible for ASIO, the AFP, Border Force, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, and the Office of Transport Security.

The Home Affairs department was announced at the same time the government released an eagerly awaited review of Australia’s intelligence agencies. But the rationale for the creation of a “super ministry” seems to conflate the well-intentioned and important intelligence review with an inadequately justified yet major rearrangement of federal government executive agencies.

Fraught with danger

The Home Affairs model appears to stand on contestable grounds.

There may be an argument to be made about potentially improving internal bureaucratic efficiencies by having power centralised under one minister. However, this is debatable. And the move upends long-standing conventions on how security intelligence and executive police powers are managed separately.

Bringing ASIO and the AFP together in one department and away from the attorney-general is a fraught move.

Multiple royal commissions and a protective security review following the Hilton Hotel bombing in February 1978 saw the police, security and intelligence functions tried and tested by fire. They were found wanting, but were then subject to significant review and reform.

That reform led to an understanding about how best to delineate and maintain the separation of powers while upholding robust accountability. That understanding has come to be broadly accepted as the best way of managing intelligence and security affairs.

This model includes a high degree of healthy contestability concerning intelligence judgements and operational options. This is thanks in large part to the diffusion of power between ministries, and authority between agencies, departments and ministers. These arrangements mean there are clear lines of accountability and responsibility.

Mechanisms for prioritisation and avoiding overlap exist with the Heads of Intelligence Agencies Meetings, the Secretaries Committee on National Security, cabinet’s National Security Committee, and the National Intelligence Collection Requirement Priorities mechanisms. It’s unclear how the new arrangements will alter the dynamics in these contexts.

Under the previous arrangements, in authorising a warrant the attorney-general had to be satisfied it was justified, recognised as consistent with agreed-upon national intelligence collection priorities, resourced appropriately, executed within the legal guidelines, and then suitably reported on in a timely manner.

Under the new arrangements, the attorney-general – having relinquished management responsibility for ASIO – will retain responsibility for issuing warrants and ministerial authorisations. Yet the attorney-general will not, seemingly, be responsible for seeing the process through to its completion.

This change risks diminishing the prospects of a clear connection between ministerial authority and ministerial responsibility. The two functions look set to be performed separately, by the attorney-general and the home affairs minister.

The attorney-general also will gain responsibility for two important oversight agencies: the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. These are two little-understood but important offices that have been performing significant roles to ensure intelligence agencies are accountable and compliant with legislation.

The inspector-general, for instance, has the enduring powers of a royal commissioner. They are able to walk into any sensitive intelligence facility and ask to see any files virtually at any time.

Like the monitor, the inspector-general can report directly to the prime minster. This is a powerful tool to ensure accountability. It is hard to think of a compelling reason for their lines of reporting responsibility to be altered.

What role did the intelligence review play?

Announcing the changes on Tuesday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull did not speak about the intelligence review – undertaken by former senior public servants Michael L’Estrange and Stephen Merchant – in great detail.

However, Turnbull did mention the headline items. These include:

  • the creation of an office of national intelligence (a sensible and graduated move);

  • the better resourcing and management of intelligence capabilities (also a reasonable step);

  • the establishment of the Australian Signals Directorate as a statutory body within the Department of Defence (something talked about for years by insiders); and

  • a bolstering of the profile and placement of the Australian Cyber Security Centre (an unsurprising step given the high profile of cyber affairs this year).

The review also proposed:

  • an expansion of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security’s remit to cover agencies with intelligence collection and reporting functions not previously counted as part of the six agencies in the Australian Intelligence Community over which he exercised oversight; and

  • a slightly expanded, operationally-oriented role for the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to request briefings and initiate inquiries.

These recommendations are sound. But they were made in isolation of the Home Affairs proposal.

By announcing the review and the new arrangements together, the issues appear conflated. The Intelligence review is well considered and reasonable. The new governance arrangements lack the same level of intellectual rigour for the public to consider and accept.

The ConversationPut together, it suggests this is more about politics than substantive fact-based organisational reform.

John Blaxland, Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

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

Peter Dutton has his prize – now to see how he handles it


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Peter Dutton comes to the job with, at best, a middling ministerial record.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The mettle of the man who aspires to be a future Liberal leader is about to be severely tested, now that Malcolm Turnbull has handed Peter Dutton his dream home affairs ministry, overseeing a vast national security empire.

Dutton comes to the job with, at best, a middling ministerial record. His time in the health portfolio was a nightmare. In immigration he has been relentlessly political.

The former Queensland policeman is a natural political head kicker rather than a nuanced policy man.

It was Turnbull who, among other ministers, tore shreds off a 2015 Dutton submission on removing citizenship from people involved with terrorism.

A recent initiative, revamping foreign worker visas, has brought problems for and complaints from business. The announced toughening of the citizenship requirements that makes the English test excessively difficult has been sharply criticised.

Dutton has not so far managed to secure the departure of any of the refugees from Manus Island and Nauru that the US agreed to take.

When he became leader Turnbull wouldn’t have Dutton on cabinet’s National Security Committee. He fought his way back into that key group. He and Turnbull drew close. With Liberal conservatives coalescing around him as their factional heavyweight, Dutton made himself a guardsman for Turnbull.

Turnbull is understandably sensitive to suggestions that the planned home affairs ministry is all about Dutton, whose continued support is so vital to him.

Those around Turnbull insist he has long been committed to a shake-up of national security arrangements, exploring the issues on overseas trips.

But you have to ask: if there were no Dutton, would Turnbull be putting the government through what he is presenting as the biggest reorganisation in four decades, which is going to take many months and a vast amount of effort to implement? Wouldn’t it be a matter of fine tuning rather than root-and-branch change?

After all, the evidence – and the mantra from the government – is that things are working well.

Whatever the motives, and regardless of their personal thoughts, ministers have to defend the new arrangements. This led Attorney-General George Brandis – a long-time opponent of the shift that will cost him responsibility for ASIO – into an unexpected and unconvincing argument at Tuesday’s press conference, which brought together with Turnbull the winner and losers (Dutton, Brandis and Justice Minister Michael Keenan, who cedes the AFP).

Not only did Brandis speak enthusiastically about the new arrangements, but he pointed out that because of his multiple responsibilities he hadn’t been able to focus exclusively on his national security duties.

It sounded like the barrister making a case. If one had put to Brandis six months ago that the present arrangement was unsatisfactory, it’s a fair bet he’d have been dismissive.

But Brandis has retained his responsibility for issuing warrants under the ASIO Act, a power the attorney-general will share with Dutton. They will both have to approve warrants, except in cases where time is of the essence.

One-time ASIO head Dennis Richardson said on Tuesday: “It’s a good thing the attorney-general remains the approval authority for ASIO warrants”. But “it does mean ASIO is effectively responsible to two ministers not one”.

Richardson, in contrast to the government and many commentators, plays down the significance of the broad reorganisation, seeing much of it as presentational.

If Brandis had trouble with many duties, Dutton is likely to have the problem in spades, given the breadth of his responsibilities, that will range from border security to oversight of ASIO, the AFP, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, and much else. The bundle labelled “national security” has varied components.

Most security experts have either challenged the need for change, or said that what is planned is undesirable. Neither Turnbull nor Dutton will be drawn on whether the heads of ASIO or the AFP advocated that they move ministers – because, on all we know, they didn’t.

Turnbull is aware of the dangers of excessively concentrated power – hence his effort to beef up the attorney-general’s scrutiny remit. The first law officer was “the minister for oversight and integrity and that role is being reinforced”, he said. How vigorously this responsibility will be exercised will depend on who occupies the portfolio – Brandis is expected to leave parliament in a few months.

While co-ordination is vital, one risk that has been raised is that too much centralisation can push out counter opinions. It will be up to Turnbull to stop that from happening.

The planned new Office of National Intelligence (ONI), which will subsume the present Office of National Assessments, will report directly to the prime minister.

The office was proposed by the L’Estrange/Merchant intelligence review, in a report released on Tuesday. That review, incidentally, did not recommend a Home Affairs portfolio – although those in the prime ministerial circle stress that it did not recommend against one.

The review says the ONI “would be headed by a director-general who would be the prime minister’s principal adviser on matters relating to the national intelligence community”.

The ConversationWho gets this job and how much Turnbull listens to them will be absolutely critical in how the new centralised system under a highly assertive minister operates. Turnbull and the director of the ONI potentially could be the counterweight to Dutton and the home affairs department.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/b9kr9-6cf745?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.