This week’s Newspoll showed the Coalition and Labor in a 50-50 tie on a two-party preferred basis, a two-point gain for Labor since the previous Newspoll three weeks ago.
This is Labor’s best result in Newspoll since late April.
Primary votes were 41% Coalition (down two points), 36% Labor (up three), 11% Greens (steady) and 3% One Nation (down one). (The figures are from The Poll Bludger.)
Nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) were satisfied with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s performance (down four points) and 32% were dissatisfied (up three), for a net approval of +32, down seven points. While Morrison’s ratings are still very good by historical standards, this is his worst net-approval since early April.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese’s net approval, meanwhile, dipped one point to +2. Morrison led Albanese as better PM by 58-29% (compared to 60-25% three weeks ago).
In late July and early August, new coronavirus cases peaked in Victoria, reaching more than 700 per day. Since then, new cases have dropped back to just 73 today. While the Victorian Labor government was blamed for its initial handling of the outbreak, it is likely now receiving credit for controlling it.
While coronavirus deaths have not slowed, the vast majority of these are connected with aged care, which is a federal government responsibility. Conservative attacks on the Victorian government also likely appear partisan to many voters, and this may have further contributed to the Coalition’s slide.
In an additional question, 80% of respondents thought premiers should have the authority to close their borders or restrict the entry of Australians who live in other states, while just 18% disagreed. Support for this was over 90% in Western Australia and South Australia.
Labor wins NT election with at least 13 of 25 seats
Analyst Kevin Bonham has followed the late vote counting after the recent Northern Territory election. Labor has now won 13 of the 25 seats, the Country Liberal Party (CLP) six and independents two, with four seats still in some doubt.
If doubtful seats are assigned to the current leader, the result would be 15 Labor (down three since the 2016 election), seven CLP (up five), two independents (down three) and one Territory Alliance.
Electoral College may save Trump
This section is an updated version of an article I had published for The Poll Bludger last week.
In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, President Donald Trump’s ratings with all polls are 42.0% approve, 54.2% disapprove (net -12.2%).
In polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 42.9% approve, 53.4% disapprove (net -10.5%). Since my article three weeks ago, Trump’s net approval has improved about one percentage point, continuing a recovery from July lows.
Just over two months from the November 3 election, FiveThirtyEight’s national polling aggregate has Democratic challenger Joe Biden’s lead over Trump slightly increasing to a 50.4% to 42.2% margin, from a 50.0% to 42.5% margin three weeks ago.
In the key battleground states, Biden leads by 6.9% in Michigan, 5.9% in Wisconsin, 5.4% in Pennsylvania, 5.3% in Florida and 3.9% in Arizona. FiveThirtyEight adjusts state polls to the current national vote trends.
On current polling, Pennsylvania and Florida are the most likely “tipping-point” states — that is, these states are most likely to give Trump or Biden the magic 270 electoral votes needed to win the Electoral College and the election.
So, if Biden wins either of those states (and all the other states more favourable for him), he become president.
Trump, however, can win the election by capturing Pennsylvania, Florida and all of the more reliably Republican states.
The problem for Biden is the gap between his national polling advantage and his lead in those two tipping-point states has widened from three weeks ago. Biden leads Trump by 8.2% nationally, but only by 5.4% in Pennsylvania and 5.3% in Florida.
This makes the scenario where Trump loses the popular vote, but sneaks a win in the Electoral College more realistic.
In 2016, Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 2.1%, but won the tipping-point state by just 0.8% — giving him the election.
FiveThirtyEight now has a model forecasting the presidential election result, which currently gives Biden a 69% chance to win, down from about 72-73% a week ago.
How is the American President elected?
Biden has received virtually no bounce from the Democratic national convention two weeks ago, while Trump could get some bounce from the more elaborately staged Republican convention that concluded last week.
Why has Biden’s advantage in tipping-point states shrunk recently? One possible reason is that the Midwestern states have a higher percentage of non-university-educated whites than nationally. Trump’s general behaviour has offended better-educated voters, and they are likely to vote for Biden.
This tweet by Cook Political analyst Dave Wasserman shows whites without a university education made up over half the 2016 vote in most battleground states, but only 44% nationally.
Whites without a university education may have moved slightly back to Trump because new coronavirus cases are slowing and the economy is improving.
On the economy, there is a clear downward trend in new jobless claims since their peak in April, and also a downtrend in continuing jobless claims.
If the jobs situation continues to improve, and there is no resurgence in coronavirus cases, Trump could win another term in the same way he won his first term — by exploiting the greater share of whites without university education in the electoral battlegrounds than nationally.
In the RealClearPolitics Senate map, meanwhile, Republicans currently lead Democrats by 46 seats to 44, with ten toss-ups. If toss-ups are assigned to the current leader, Democrats lead by 51 to 49, unchanged from three weeks ago.
Both those pressing for states to re-open borders, and defenders of their resistance to doing so, will look for arguments to support their cases in Saturday’s Northern Territory election results.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner has taken a tough line on the NT border. With the NT COVID-free, people can’t go to the territory from COVID “hotspots” without quarantining at their own expense.
Labor’s loss of seats – while retaining government whether in majority or minority – is seen by the “open borders” urgers as carrying lessons about putting all (or most) eggs in a keep-safe basket.
It’s accepted that if he hadn’t had COVID to run on, Gunner would have been much worse off, given the NT’s pre-COVID economic problems.
But if he had taken a softer approach to the border, and there’d been a major COVID outbreak, he would have worn serious blame. With indigenous people – who, like the elderly, form a high risk group for COVID – forming about 30% of the NT community, a big outbreak could have been catastrophic.
And while the NT economy remains in poor shape, especially the tourist sector, the state is open internally (they were all hugging at those party functions on Saturday night).
Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan are unlikely to see the NT result as sending a signal their border policies will be a political handicap.
That doesn’t mean Palaszczuk and McGowan can afford to rely on their performances on COVID alone when they go to the polls in October and early next year respectively. Their voters will expect more. But as things stand, restrictive border policies are popular and the NT hasn’t said otherwise.
Scott Morrison’s relative powerlessness on the border issue was illustrated at Friday’s national cabinet.
Progress is being made on specific problems, such as the needs of agriculture in border areas, and health matters.
But on the basic question of opening or closing, the premiers remained firm. Only NSW is Morrison’s ally in this battle.
While commentators see the war over borders as a sign of the federation’s dysfunction, voters in particular states read it differently.
Morrison announced at his Friday news conference national cabinet had asked the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), including state and federal health advisers, to define a “hotspot” and consider movement restrictions relating to these spots.
He hopes such a definition would put pressure on premiers and chief ministers to limit border closures.
It is apparently trodden and tricky territory. Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly told the news conference: “It is a piece of work we have had an attempt at before. And we’ll continue to try to get consensus there in AHPPC about a definition of a hotspot.”
It remains to be seen whether this committee can agree. And if it does, whether that would make any difference to what leaders do.
But when parliament resumes on Monday, it won’t be borders that will be the front of mind issue – it will be aged care.
With a majority of COVID deaths being people who lived in aged care facilities, and an absolute shocker of a performance from Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck on Friday, the opposition has a lot of ammunition.
Colbeck, appearing before the Senate COVID committee, was asked two simple questions. How many deaths had there been of residents of facilities, and how many COVID cases were there among residents at present. He could neither remember, nor find the numbers immediately. This was appalling preparation.
Forced to defend Colbeck, Morrison said, “on occasion, I can’t call every figure to mind”.
But the PM knew such a lapse has an impact beyond its strictly objective importance.
An example from long ago makes the point. Late in the Hawke government, then treasurer John Kerin at a news conference was unable to explain an economic term. It was hardly a hanging offence. But it damaged Kerin, and the government.
With the Colbeck clip shown over and over, it quickly becomes a symbol of both the minister’s failure, and the failure of the government to do enough to protect aged care residents.
The odds are short that Morrison will move Colbeck from aged care when he reshuffles his ministry following the departure of Mathias Cormann late this year.
But Colbeck is only one player in the aged care crisis, and not the most important. He’s the junior minister in the health portfolio. The Health Minister Greg Hunt, the prime minister, the government regulator of the industry (the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission), and advisers to government share responsibility. And it is important we don’t forget the private providers: did some of them not heed warnings?
Ultimate political responsibility belongs to the federal government.
Faced with questions about the Victorian aged care disaster, Morrison has tried to unload some of the blame onto the state government by saying the states have responsibility for public health.
That’s true and the Victorian government must be accountable, both for unleashing community transmission with the quarantine breach and for inadequacies in its health reaction. But the fact the federal government is responsible for the sector means Morrison, Colbeck and Hunt need to both admit the Commonwealth’s mistakes and also lay out a convincing roadmap for the future.
Some actions are being undertaken, and there is the complication that the report of the royal commission into aged care is still months away. But the issue is urgent.
The Morrison government is always reluctant to be seen to be pushed, and Friday’s national cabinet provided an interesting insight into this.
When the royal commission less than a fortnight ago suggested, based on evidence from Monash University geriatrician Joseph Ibrahim, that the government should set up an advisory unit including people with expertise in aged care, infection control and emergency responses, Morrison was publicity dismissive.
But the statement from Friday’s national cabinet said: “A time-limited AHPPC Aged Care Advisory Group will be established to support the national public health emergency response to COVID-19 in aged care. The Advisory Group will bring together expertise about the aged care sector, infection control, emergency preparedness and public health response.”
Take a bow, Professor Ibrahim and the royal commission.
With 61% of enrolled voters counted in Saturday’s Northern Territory election, the ABC has Labor winning 11 of the 25 seats, the Country Liberals (CLP) two, independents two and there are ten undecided seats. Labor needs two of the undecided seats for a majority.
Territory-wide vote shares were 39.3% Labor (down 2.9% since the 2016 election), 31.4% CLP (down 0.4%), 13.0% Territory Alliance (up 10.0%) and 4.3% Greens (up 1.5%).
The Territory Alliance had hopes of supplanting the CLP, but have disappointed. The only seat they currently lead is Araluen (by just 13 votes over the CLP), and their leader, Terry Mills, finished a distant third behind Labor and the CLP in his seat of Blain.
Several seats are in doubt because the electoral commission selected the wrong candidates for the two-candidate count, and has to realign this count. The Poll Bludger lists Arnhem (Labor vs independent), Blain (Labor vs CLP) and Fong Lim (Labor vs CLP) in this category. In Blain and Fong Lim, the Territory Alliance were expected to make the final two.
Some postal votes are outstanding. Postal votes usually assist conservative candidates, so Labor’s position is likely to worsen on late counting.
State and territory parties usually do better when the opposite party is in power federally. With the Coalition in power federally, the CLP had a difficult task against a first-term Labor government. As there is very little polling in the NT, we do not know whether the coronavirus crisis had an impact.
Federal Newspoll aggregate has Coalition leading by 59-41 in Queensland
Newspoll recently published aggregate data from federal surveys conducted from June 3 to August 8. Overall, the Coalition led by 51-49, but there were large state differences. In Queensland, the Coalition led by 59-41.
The Coalition also led by 54-46 in WA, but Labor led by 51-49 in NSW and 56-44 in Victoria. It was tied 50-50 in SA.
The Coalition led by 53-47 among voters without any tertiary education. Labor led by 52-48 among university-educated voters.
The federal Queensland Newspoll result is in line with the Queensland result at the 2019 federal election (58.4-41.6 to Coalition). The popularity of the federal Coalition in Queensland probably explains why state Labor is narrowly trailing (51-49 in the latest Queensland state Newspoll) despite the boost to Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s ratings from the coronavirus crisis.
Mixed results at Tasmanian upper house elections
Elections to the Tasmanian upper house are normally held every May, with two or three of the 15 seats up for election on a rotating six-year cycle. Owing to coronavirus, this year’s elections for Huon and Rosevears were delayed until August 1. There was no two-candidate count until the August 11 distribution of preferences.
In Huon, Labor defeated the conservative incumbent independent by a 57.3% to 42.7% margin. In Rosevears, the left-wing independent incumbent retired, and the Liberals defeated an independent by a narrow 50.6% to 49.4%.
According to Tasmanian analyst Kevin Bonham, the upper house used to be dominated by conservative independents, but now endorsed party candidates have a majority in the upper house for the first time, with eight of the 15 seats (five Labor, three Liberals).
The results are a continuation of the north vs south divide in Tasmania. Rosevears is in the north, while Huon in the south. At the 2019 federal election, Labor lost the northern Tasmanian seats of Bass and Braddon to the Liberals.
US election update
In the past two weeks, Joe Biden selected Kamala Harris as his vice presidential candidate and the Democratic national convention was held. The Republican convention will be held next week.
Biden currently leads Donald Trump by 51.1% to 42.4% in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate of national polls. In the key states, Biden leads by 7.8% in Michigan, 6.9% in Wisconsin, 6.1% in Pennsylvania, 6.0% in Florida and 4.4% in Arizona.
In the past two weeks, the gap between the national vote and the “tipping-point state” in the Electoral College has increased from about 1.5% to 2.7%. That is, Trump is doing almost 3% better against Biden in Pennsylvania than nationally. If Trump reduces the national margin to less than five points, he could win the Electoral College again.
The discrepancy between the national vote and the Electoral College is one reason the FiveThirtyEight forecast model gives Biden only a 73% chance of winning. Trump could also benefit from a strong economic recovery from coronavirus.
Editor’s note: The following is current as at April 3, 2020. Things are changing quickly so best to keep an eye on the latest information from the NT government, the Tasmanian government and the federal government.
This article adds to the information we’ve published for New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria, on South Australia and the ACT and Western Australia. We will bring you more information as we collect it.
According to Google Trends, some of the top coronavirus searches nationally in the past few days include “can I visit my parents coronavirus Australia?”, “can I go fishing during coronavirus?” and “can I go for a drive during coronavirus Australia?”
“Can I visit my boyfriend during coronavirus Australia?” was also a common one.
We asked legal experts Ros Vickers at Charles Darwin University in the Northern Territory and Brendan Gogarty at the University of Tasmania to help shed some light on what the new rules might mean for residents of their state and territory.
Can I visit my parents?
Ros Vickers, NT: The short answer is yes, provided you comply with the social distancing being less than 10 people inside or outside with 4m² available to each. The Chief Minister has announced the NT will not be enforcing the two-person gathering rules.
The answer differs if your parents are in an aged care facility. If you classify as, “a person providing care and support to a resident of the facility” you can visit for up to two hours per day.
But you must meet the other criteria of health and non-exposure to COVID-19.
Brendan Gogarty, Tas: It depends.
If they live in their own home, the policy answer is no; there is a stay at home declaration. However, this has been written on the fly and there are some significant gaps in it that suggest maybe you can.
The exceptions are to provide social support, which is not defined. The other exception is provision of care to attend to another person’s compassionate needs – well, care is a really broad word; it could mean a lot of different things.
If you are going to your parents house to provide “social support” and “care” you can probably do it.
If they live in a care facility, the owner of the facility is under strict public health rules so it depends on the facility. That includes, at the least, restricting the number of visitors in a room, the distance between them, and other measures intended to stop the transmission of COVID-19. These override a family member’s right to visit the relative.
The general policy is don’t do it.
Can I go bushwalking/fishing?
Ros Vickers, NT: Most national parks are now closed, although you can still go bushwalking on local trails provided you practise social distancing.
Campgrounds, multi-day walks, swimming spots and high-use day areas are closed.
The NT chief minister Michael Gunner said you can go fishing with your family or your housemates and maintain social distancing with other people.
Fishing in remote communities is not allowed as you are not able to get a permit to enter Remote communities in the NT. The following places are open for fishing:
- Darwin Harbour
- Leeders Creek
- Bynoe Harbour
- Channel Point
- Adelaide River (mouth)
- Cox Peninsula
- Shoal Bay
Brendan Gogarty, Tas: No and no. But also maybe yes.
All national parks and state reserves are closed by law in Tasmania. That means no camping, walking, or any recreational activity – some research and volunteering exceptions exist, but these are limited – and all gates and access points are shut. Some smaller parks do fall under local council authority and those may be on a case-by-case basis.
Fishing is not an exception to the stay at home declaration, so technically this is not permitted (unless you count it as “exercise”).
However, there is conflicting policy (not law) advice from the department that regulates recreational fishing in Tasmania, which says you can do it so long as you respect social distancing rules. Of course, departmental websites aren’t law, but it could be seen as a “reasonable excuse” under the present stay at home declaration.
For the minute, it is better not to do it, although you probably could make an excuse to do it.
Can mosquitoes spread coronavirus?
Can I go for a drive?
Ros Vickers, NT: Essential travel is allowed, being travel to work, education, grocery shops or medical help.
At present there are no police checks regarding movement, and no indication that this will be monitored by police. You can ride a bike within certain restrictions.
Border restrictions apply at the NT borders.
Brendan Gogarty, Tas: You can drive to and from whatever essential service you need to get to like work, going to the vet or to get food. But no recreational driving.
Can I visit my girlfriend/boyfriend?
Ros Vickers, NT: Yes, you can visit their private residence or exercise with them. Essential travel does not clearly include visiting partners, however visiting others and allowing guests in your house is allowed while practising physical distancing. It is also recommended that to reduce the spread of germs in households, handshaking and kissing be avoided.
Brendan Gogarty, Tas: That’s the same as your parents. The policy is you shouldn’t do it. You should both stay in your homes for the period of the crisis. But you have the same exceptions – provision of social support and care and attending to a person’s compassionate needs.
Again, I don’t think the police would necessarily stop you but its contrary to the policy behind the law – reducing people’s movement outside of their “primary” residence to only those journeys which are absolutely essential to sustaining life and health.
Can I go for a walk around my neighbourhood or sit on a park bench?
Ros Vickers, NT: Yes, as long as you maintain social distancing of 1.5m with those who are not part of your household.
You can also go for a bike ride alone or with one other person, or with the people that you live with. (See Michael Gunner, chief minister of NT’s Facebook page.)
Brendan Gogarty, Tas: Yes, you can go for a walk if it is exercise. Sitting on a park bench is not exercise so I’d avoid doing it.
An agreement between Darwin’s city council and an overseas municipal counterpart normally wouldn’t attract much attention. Local government officials love signing such deals. Darwin already has no less than six “sister city” arrangements, including with the Chinese city of Haikou.
But attention has been drawn to Darwin’s newly minted “friendship” deal with Yuexiu District, in Guangzhou, due to Chinese media describing it as part of President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative.
This suggests Chinese authorities regard Darwin as having strategic significance.
It invites reflection on the wisdom, three years ago, of the Northern Territory government deciding to lease the Port of Darwin (now known as Darwin Port) to a Chinese company for 99 years – and of the federal government going along with it.
At the time the new owner, billionaire Ye Cheng, claimed the Darwin port deal was “our involvement in One Belt, One Road”. This was discounted by some commentators as hyperbole, an attempt to curry favour with the Chinese government.
But now, by design or not, the Darwin port deal increasingly looks like a blueprint for how Chinese interests can take control of foreign ports – as it is doing by various means around the world – without arousing local opposition. Quite the reverse. All levels of Australian government have encouraged it.
It makes Darwin an interesting case study – a point of contest between the strategies of the US and China. Darwin’s port is under Chinese control, while thousands of US marines are based in the city, as part of the US “Pacific pivot” seen by many as an effort to contain China’s influence in the region.
How the port deal was done
The deal to lease parts of the port followed successive federal governments refusing to fund necessary upgrading of the port’s infrastructure to meet growing demand.
Infrastucture Australia advised privatisation. Rather than sell outright, the territory government decided to lease the port, and sell a controlling stake in the port’s operator.
Landbridge Australia, a subsidiary of Shandong Landbridge, won the 99-year lease with its bid of A$506 million in November 2015.
Shandong Landbridge has substantial and varied interests including port logistics and petrochemicals. Though privately owned, like many Chinese companies it has strong ties to the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
The company knows how to cultivate political connections. In Australia it gave influential Liberal Party figure and former trade minister Andrew Robb an $880,000 job just months after he retired from parliament.
But the deal put Darwin directly in the crossfire between US and Chinese interests. Then US president Barack Obama expressed concern about the lack of consultation. Former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage said he was “stunned” that Australia had “blind-sided” its ally.
While the centre of US-Chinese tensions is the South China Sea – where China has militarised reefs in disputed waters – Darwin is important because it is the southern flank of US operations in the Pacific.
Managing the tensions
Zhang Jie, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, wrote in 2015 about the concept of “first civilian, later military” – in which commercial ports are to be built with the goal of slowly being developed into “strategic support points” – to assist China defending maritime channel security and control key waterways.
Military-civilian integration was among the goals China set in its 13th five-year plan for 2016-20. President Xi subsequently established an integration committee to oversee civilian and military investment in technology.
As with other Chinese port acquisitions, such as in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Greece and Djibouti, Landbridge is interested in acquiring and developing not only Darwin’s port facilities but nearby waterfront property.
But the Darwin port deal differs in significant ways to other port acquisitions.
Landbridge has bought the lease, rather than a Chinese bank lending funds to the Northern Territory government to develop the port. If Landbridge was to default, it would lose its money. Any attempt by Landbridge to use the port as security to borrow money from a Chinese bank would trigger renegotiation of the lease.
The territory government retains a 20% stake in the port operator and has a say in key appointments such as the chief executive and chief financial officer. But it will not share any profit that Landbridge may eventually make.
That potential is a long way off. Landbridge Australia reported a loss of A$31 million for the 2017 financial year, with its total borrowings rising to A$463 million. If the deal falls over, the government will need to seek new equity partners. But its immediate commercial risks are relatively contained.
Yet risk exposure may take other forms. China’s strategy is very long-term. Darwin is now on the front line in managing tensions between Australia’s most important strategic ally and partner and its major trading partner. Balancing between powerful friends with competing interests may not prove easy.
There are indications of some recognition of this at the federal level. Australia’s foreign investment review processes have been tightened. A Critical Infrastructure Centre has been created to give extra national security advice. There has been some tweaking of rules about political parties accepting foreign donations.
But others may have learnt valuable lessons too.
Weaknesses in Australian governments at all levels have been revealed. They have been reactive, readily accepting the lure of pearls cast on our shores without considering longer-term currents. Foreign and strategic policy has effectively been left to the local level. While the federal government now seeks to shore up its interests in the Pacific with cash for infrastructure, similar commitments to investing in local infrastructure are essential.
Clumsiness and indecision do not serve Australian interests well.
Darwin was directly in the path of Cyclone Marcus and suffered severe impacts from wind gusts up to 130km/hour on Saturday, March 17. Northern Territory authorities made no declaration of emergency, but the Insurance Council of Australia declared it a “catastrophe” for the Greater Darwin region. Marcus is considered the city’s second-worst cyclone since Tracy, which devastated Darwin on Christmas Eve 1974.
The good news is that no deaths have been reported. But had it been a category 4 or 5 cyclone, instead of category 2, how would the city have fared?
The post-Marcus chaos in Greater Darwin is not just “a real wake-up call”, but a typical case of lessons yet to be learned. For example, large shallow-rooted trees planted after Cyclone Tracy and overhead power lines brought down in the cyclone were both hazards that could have been avoided. Darwin is now engaged in a long, difficult and costly clean-up.
Cyclones are to be expected
There are on average 7.7 days per season when a cyclone exists in the Northern Region.
So was there complacency among some residents, as emergency services warned? Did infrastructure providers underestimate the threat? In hot and humid weather, over one-third of Darwin’s population went without power for several days and safe-to-drink tap water for 48 hours. Communication networks were patchy for days.
How well has Darwin coped?
There have been at least two opposing views on the impact of the cyclone. The first is a more optimistic one, largely because no one got killed or seriously injured. Community members spontaneously helped one another in the immediate aftermath.
On this view, although preparedness might have varied, people in general were prepared. Power outages for a few days were a “first world problem”. Most households were ready, for example, to use camping gas cookers.
Volunteers visited and helped vulnerable groups such as aged and sick people. Emergency responders, defence staff and infrastructure restoration teams are working tirelessly to return the city to normalcy.
On the other hand, Marcus uprooted thousands of trees across Greater Darwin, mostly African mahoganies, which were planted for revegetation after Tracy.
Around 25,800 of about 60,000 properties across Greater Darwin were cut off from power. Even after a week many are still living in darkness. Power outages had cascading effects: traffic signals weren’t working for days at many places and food was left to rot in the heat.
Water was cut off in places. For about 48 hours people were urged to boil tap water before drinking, cooking or brushing teeth. The Health Department issued a warning about melioidosis, a life-threatening disease spread by contact with soil, mud and surface water.
Fallen trees blocked many roads and caused mild to severe damage to residential, commercial and public premises. Outdoor areas were cordoned off for safety.
At several locations, tree branches are still hanging dangerously over roads, pavements, parks and roofs. Anywhere in the city or suburbs, you see major and minor roads, parks and beachfronts dotted with uprooted trees and fallen branches. The roadside piles of logs and green waste are likely to remain there for some time, as their removal is not an “emergency priority”.
What does a city do with so much waste?
Waste facilities are struggling to cope. The morning after the cyclone, vehicles queued for hours at the green waste facility. It is yet to be ascertained if arrangements can be made to manage the huge quantities of green waste.
United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) guidelines note that waste debris presents opportunities as “either a source of income or as a reconstruction material, and [can] reduce burdens on natural resources that might otherwise be harvested for reconstruction”.
An evaluation of green waste would help understand its recovery value. Research suggests that disaster waste management can account for 5–10% of the total recovery costs, often exceeding that of health care and education.
In October 2004, a typhoon devastated Toyooka in Japan, producing 45,000 tonnes of waste – 1.5 years of the city’s usual waste production. The 2011 tsunami in Japan produced the equivalent of of 9 years’ worth of municipal solid waste in Iwate prefecture and 14 years’ worth in Miyagi prefecture.
What can Darwin learn from this?
Globally, environmental dimensions of disasters are less recognised compared with social and economic dimensions. However, the loss of dense trees and the valuable ecosystem services these offer calls for environmental recovery to be a priority as well.
A 2013 study reveals that large sums of taxpayers’ money is typically spent following disasters, whereas increasing pre-disaster investments can achieve cost savings and resilience.
As an example, the territory government is offering relief payments between A$250 and A$650 for households that were without power for 72 hours or more. The importance of putting power lines underground was recognised more than a decade ago but the work is incomplete due to lack of political will.
This is the time to ask questions such as: what will be the scale of devastation and cost and duration of recovery if a category 4 or 5 cyclone hits Darwin? The next cyclone after Marcus, Nora, was expected to be a category 4 storm but was downgraded to category 3 when it hit the western coast of Cape York on March 25.
Why not prioritise transformation of critical infrastructure, such as shifting all power lines underground? What role can cost-benefit analysis play to achieve resilience to category 4 or 5 cyclones and other natural disasters?
More broadly, how can we learn from the past? What are the new lessons we can take forward from Cyclone Marcus? And how do we inspire a city to work towards creating “Resilient Darwin’”?
Akhilesh Surjan, Associate Professor, Humanitarian, Emergency and Disaster Management Studies, Charles Darwin University; Deepika Mathur, Researcher in sustainable architecture, Charles Darwin University; Jonatan A Lassa, Senior Lecturer, Humanitarian Emergency and Disaster Management, Charles Darwin University, and Supriya Mathew, Postdoctoral researcher, Charles Darwin University
The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory’s final report, which was handed down on Friday, revealed “systemic and shocking failures” in the territory’s youth justice and child protection systems.
The commission was triggered following ABC Four Corners’ broadcasting of images of detainee Dylan Voller hooded and strapped to a restraint chair, as well as footage of children being stripped, punched and tear-gassed by guards at the Don Dale and Alice Springs youth detention centres.
The commission’s findings demonstrate the need for systemic change. However, the commission will not, in itself, bring about that change. Its capacity to make lasting change lies with the government implementing its recommendations.
What did the commission find?
The commission found that the NT youth detention centres were not fit for accommodating – let alone rehabilitating – children and young people.
It also found that detainees were subjected to regular, repeated and distressing mistreatment. This included verbal abuse, racist remarks, physical abuse, and humiliation.
There was a further failure to follow procedures and requirements under youth justice legislation. Children were denied basic human needs, and the system failed to comply with basic human rights standards and safeguards, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The commission also found that the NT child protection system has failed to provide appropriate and adequate support to some young people to assist them to avoid prison.
Importantly, the commission found that isolation “continues to be used inappropriately, punitively and inconsistently”. Children in the high security unit:
… continue to be confined in a wholly inappropriate, oppressive, prison-like environment … in confined spaces with minimal out of cell time and little to do for long periods of time.
What did the commission recommend?
Based on these findings, the commission recommended wide-ranging reforms to the youth justice and child protection systems.
Not surprisingly, a central focus of the recommendations relate to detention. They ranged from closing the Don Dale centre to significant restrictions on the use of force, strip-searching and isolation, and banning the use of tear gas, spit hoods, and restraint chairs.
There is a focus on greater accountability for the use of detention through extending the Commissioner for Children and Young People’s monitoring role. Recommendations also cover health care (including mental health and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder screening), education, training, and throughcare services for children exiting detention.
Among its suite of proposed reforms, the commission recommended developing a ten-year strategy to tackle child protection and prevention of harm to children, and establishing an NT-wide network of centres to provide community services to families.
Youth justice reforms include improving the operation of bail to reduce the unnecessary use of custodial remand; expanding diversionary programs in rural and remote locations; and operating new models of secure detention, based on principles of trauma-informed practice.
Adequate and ongoing training and education for police, lawyers, youth justice officers, out-of-home-care staff and judicial officers in child and adolescent development is also recommended.
The commission also emphasised the importance of developing partnerships with Indigenous organisations and communities in the child protection and youth justice systems. Several organisations in written submissions to the commission identified the importance of appropriately resourcing community-controlled, and locally developed and led, programs for Indigenous young people.
Increasing the age of criminal responsibility a good place to start
One of the commission’s most significant recommendations is to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 years, and only allowing children under 14 to be sentenced to detention for serious offences.
If this recommendation were to be implemented it is likely to have far-reaching implications across Australia. Currently, the minimum age is ten years in all states and territories.
Of particular relevance to the commission is the adverse affect of a low minimum age of criminal responsibility on Indigenous children.
The majority of children under the age of 14 who come before Australian youth courts are Indigenous. In 2015-16, 67% of children placed in detention under the age of 14 were Indigenous. This concentration is even higher among those aged 12 or younger.
Nationally, 73% of children placed in detention and 74% of children placed on community-based supervision in 2015-16 were Indigenous.
Raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility opens the door to responding to children’s needs without relying on criminalisation, given its short- and long-term negative impacts.
It enables a conversation about the best responses to children who often – as the commission’s findings acknowledged – have a range of issues. These can include trauma, mental health disorders and disability, coming from highly disadvantaged backgrounds, having spent time in out-of-home care, and – particularly among Indigenous children – being removed from their families and communities.
A positive outcome from the commission will require political will and leadership to respond effectively to broader systemic issues. Raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility is a good place to start.