Biden win offers Morrison the chance to reshape Australia’s ailing relationship with China


Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Joe Biden’s election as US president presents Prime Minister Scott Morrison with the opportunity to reset Australia’s ailing relationship with China. Encouragingly, Biden has signalled his commitment to rebuilding global alliances and restoring a degree of certainty in foreign policy.

In his victory speech, President-elect Joe Biden talked about an “inflection” moment in America’s history, the opportunity to take a different course.

Australian policymakers should, likewise, take advantage of the Biden victory to reassess China policy settings that, under present circumstances, are not serving the country’s interests.

Emphatically, this is not an argument for a quiescent China policy that disregards Beijing’s bad behavior. Rather, it is a case for more nimble policy-making in Australia’s own national interests.

China’s further stifling last week of Hong Kong’s democratic freedoms by forcing the resignation of pro-democracy legislators is another sign of its disregard of international obligations under the “one country two systems” agreement that heralded the territory’s handover in 1997.

Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers resigned en masse last week.
Jerome Favre/EPA/AAP

But whether we like it or not, whether it’s fair or not, whether China is a regional bully or not, Canberra needs to find a way to drag its relationship with Beijing out of the mire.

The Biden victory may facilitate this.

Canberra does not need to wait for a new American policy towards China to strive for a better balance between its foreign and trade policy interests and its security policy imperatives. Those efforts should begin now that the foreign policy deadweight of the Trump administration is being lifted.

The government has just signed a 15-nation regional trade deal that includes China, providing a potential avenue for improved relations. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is aimed at further liberalising trade in the Asia-Pacific.

Australia’s economic well-being demands a reset.

In its clumsy fashion, Beijing has sought to ease frictions. In an editorial foreshadowing a Biden victory, the Global Times, China’s nationalist mouthpiece, made an interesting reference to Australia

When the US-China relationship is about to see some changes there may be also a window for adjustment to the bilateral relationship between China and Australia. Australia is likely to be under less political pressure from the USA on key issues with China, and whether the Morrison government will continue to play tough with China will largely steer Australia’s economic prospects.

On the face of it, this represents a possible break in the clouds. It will reflect views at senior Chinese government level.

Former Australian ambassador to Beijing Geoff Raby had a point when he told the National Press Club that the China debate in Australia had been reduced to a binary argument between “sycophancy and hostility”. This stifles reasonable discussion of something in between. Raby said:

The main thing with diplomacy is not how loudly you speak but the outcomes you get.

He also made the sensible point that, for all the talk of alternative markets at a moment when China is restricting Australian exports, China will remain, for the foreseeable future, the world’s fastest-growing economy and dominant destination for Australian products.

Soaring iron ore prices in the first half of this year, as China sought to re-inflate an economy hit hard by the coronavirus, mask a slippage in Australian business with China more generally.

China’s economy is already springing back harder and faster from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic than its competitors.




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The International Monetary Fund predicts China’s economy will grow by 8.2% in 2021 and account for about a quarter of global growth.

These are the realities that are sometimes pushed aside by threat obsession within the Canberra political establishment.

Morrison could do worse than review an Asialink speech he made soon after he was elected prime minister to remind himself of principles he laid down then for dealing with China, and which appear to have been honoured in the breach since.

Then he decried a “binary prism” through which conflict between the US and China was seen as inevitable. He also rejected what he called the “fatalism of increased polarisation”.

“Australia should not sit back and passively wait our fate in the wake of a major power contest,” he said, while extolling the virtues of “regional agency” in which Canberra sought to work more closely with its like-minded neighbours.

This was all sensible stuff.

However, Australia’s alignment with Trump’s chaotic “America First” foreign policy has overwhelmed talk of a Morrison doctrine that emphasises regional connections. In the process, global alliances have been trashed.

This in turn has tested Canberra’s ability to apply basic principles of statecraft by maximising its strengths and minimising its weaknesses in an era in which power balances are shifting.

In all of this, the national media have played a role in amplifying the views of those who would have you believe the country is under constant existential threat. Voices calling for a more measured approach to dealing with China have been drowned out.

A low point was reached this month when a government senator in a Senate committee demanded Chinese-Australians giving evidence about difficulties in a hostile environment were asked to denounce the Chinese Communist Party. This implied a “loyalty test”.

Clunky Australian interventions on critical issues such as Huawei and investigations into the origins of the novel coronavirus have facilitated China’s strategy of portraying Canberra as Washington’s handmaiden for its own self-serving reasons.

Australia’s conspicuous and injudicious lobbying of its Five Eyes partners to exclude Huawei from a buildout of their 5G networks caused more trouble than it was worth.

Morrison’s heavy-handed intervention – after a phone call with Trump – in presuming to appoint himself co-ordinator of a global investigation into the origins of COVID-19 added further to Chinese disquiet.

An inquiry under World Health Organisation auspices was going to take place anyway. Why Morrison took it upon himself to take the lead in instigating an inquiry at a particularly sensitive moment for China remains a mystery.

Joe Biden’s election offers Australia a chance to reshape its relationship with China.
Carolyn Kaster/AP/AAP

In their efforts to get a handle on the form Biden foreign policy might take, Morrison and his advisers could do worse than review the president-elect’s contribution to the journal Foreign Affairs in which he laid out his blueprint for American global leadership.

This is a comprehensive description of how Biden’s foreign policy might evolve in a world that has changed significantly since he served as vice president in the Obama White House. It also demonstrates that Biden would not be outflanked on China policy by his opponent.

His proposal for a global Summit for Democracy to “renew the spirit and shared purposed of the nations of the free world” would be a welcome initiative.

Biden’s reference to how to meet the China challenge is worth noting.

The most effective way to meet that challenge is to build a united front of US allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviors and human rights violations, even as we seek to co-operate on issues where our interests converge, such as climate change.

This is the Biden carrot-and-stick formula. Too often in the recent past, the Morrison government has found itself aligned, whether it likes it or not, with the wrong end of the American stick.




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Note: this article was updated on November 16 to take in the trade deal announcement.The Conversation

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

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

What a Biden presidency means for world trade and allies like Australia



Eugene Hoshiko/AP

Lisa Toohey, University of Newcastle

Back in March, Joe Biden lamented “the international system that the United States so carefully constructed is coming apart at the seams”.

“As president,” he declared, “I will take immediate steps to renew US democracy and alliances, protect the United States’ economic future, and once more have America lead the world.”

Among the closest allies of the US, none arguably has more at stake in Biden making good on his promises than Australia.

The international system Australia wants repaired is one defined by rules and consensus. As a middle-ranking power, it has long recognised its national interests are best protected by international agreements and the rule of law, rather than one in which might makes right.




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At the heart of Australia’s desired international trade system are multilateral trade deals, rather than bilateral deals which tend to favour the stronger nation, and a strong international authority – namely the World Trade Organisation – to negotiate rules and adjudicate disputes.

Donald Trump’s presidency undermined both. His “America First”
polices were grounded in grievances about other nations playing the US for “suckers”. He obstructed the WTO, turned his back on multilateral deals and started trade wars.

A Biden presidency promises a return to multilateralism. But it remains to be seen how it approaches the WTO.

Trump’s war on multilateralism

As president, Trump rapidly undid decades of mutilateral trade negotiations.

In his first week in office he withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the multilateral trade deal intended to strengthen economic ties between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam and the US. (The agreement was modified and signed without the US as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.)

Trump’s trade war with China was also an exercise in power over principle. Both the escalating tariffs and the truce struck in January, known as the “Phase One Agreement”, repudiated established free-trade principles.

Donald Trump, holding the Phase One trade agreement signed with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He on January 15 2020.
Donald Trump, holding the Phase One trade agreement signed with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He on January 15 2020.
Evan Vucci/AP

Along with commitments to reduce “structural barriers”, China is required to buy an extra US$200 billion in specified American goods and services over two years in return for the US cutting tariffs on $US110 billion in Chinese imports.

This worries Australian exporters.

The US shopping list for China includes more American seafood, grain, wine, fruit, meat and energy – all markets in which Australia is a significant exporter to China. As former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd asked at the time the deal was signed:

How can the US pursue another $US32 billion of American beef, wheat, cotton and seafood – all listed in the agreement – without Australian exporters becoming collateral damage?

The deal, as the Minerals Council of Australia rightly noted, undermined “the principles of free trade which have underpinned Australia’s bipartisan approach to trade policy for many decades”.




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Blocking the World Trade Organisation

The Trump administration has also continued the slow strangulation of the World Trade Organisation, on the grounds it doesn’t serve American interests.

The US has blocked every recent appointment and reappointment to the WTO’s Appellate Body, which hears appeals to WTO adjudications. Appointments require the agreement of all of the WTO’s 164 member nations, and the Appellate Body requires three judges to hear appeals. US obstruction reduced the number of judges to just one by December 2019, meaning it simply cannot function.

It’s important to note that US antagonism to the WTO predated Trump. The Obama administration also blocked appointments it considered would not sufficiently represent US preferences. But the Trump administration certainly upped the obstructionism.

Indeed, just days before the 2020 election it blocked the appointment of former Nigerian finance minister Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to head the World Trade Organisation. A highly regarded development economist with a 25-year career at the World Bank, Okonjo-Iweala is widely considered to be an outstanding candidate to lead the WTO. The United States stood alone in objecting to her appointment.

What will change under Biden?

Dropping opposition to Okonjo-Iweala and other appointments so the WTO’s processes can function would be an important symbolic and practical first step for Biden. It would reassure Australia and others that global rules still matter.




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How quickly, and on what terms, Biden returns the US to multilateralism remains to be seen.

He has acknowledged the importance of deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership to ensure an increasingly powerful China “doesn’t write the rules of the road for the world”. But he has also pledged to not enter any more international agreements “until we have made major investments in our workers and infrastructure”.

For Australia – and other US allies – it is important that the US return to the multilateral negotiating table sooner rather than later. For global stability, long-term interests need to override the temptation of short-term expediency.

For “America to lead again” there’s a long and difficult diplomatic road ahead. The international trade system and the WTO are not perfect, but a world without rules would be far worse.The Conversation

Lisa Toohey, Professor of Law, University of Newcastle

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

Biden’s Electoral College win was narrow in the tipping-point state; Labor surges in Victoria



AAP/AP/Carolyn Kaster

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

With all states called by US media, Joe Biden won the Electoral College by 306 votes to 232 over Donald Trump, an exact reversal of Trump’s triumph in 2016, ignoring faithless electors. Biden gained the Trump 2016 states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia; he also gained Nebraska’s second district.

While Biden’s win appears decisive, he won three states – Wisconsin (ten Electoral Votes), Arizona (11) and Georgia (16) – by 0.6% or less. Had Trump won these three states, the Electoral College would have been tied at 269-269.

If nobody wins a majority (270) of the Electoral College, the presidency is decided by the House of Representatives, but with each state’s delegation casting one vote. Republicans hold a majority of state delegations, so Trump would have won a tied Electoral College vote.

Wisconsin (Biden by 0.6%) will be the “tipping-point” state. Had Trump won Wisconsin and states Biden won by less (Arizona and Georgia went to Biden by 0.3% margins), he would have won the Electoral College tiebreaker.

The national popular vote has Biden currently leading Trump by 50.9% to 47.3%, a 3.6% margin for Biden. This does not yet include mail ballots from New York that are expected to be very pro-Biden.

Biden is likely to win the popular vote by 4-5%, so the difference between Wisconsin and the overall popular vote will be 3.5% to 4.5%. That is greater than the 2.9% gap between the tipping-point state and the popular vote in 2016.

Prior to 2016, there had not been such a large gap, but in both 2016 and 2020 Trump exploited the relatively large population of non-University educated whites in presidential swing states compared to nationally.




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This article, written after the US 2016 election, has had a massive surge in views recently.

Relative to expectations, Democrats performed badly in Congress. In the Senate, Republicans lead by 50-48 with two Georgian runoffs pending on January 5. In the House, Democrats hold a 218-203 lead with 14 races uncalled. Republicans have gained a net seven seats so far, and lead in ten of the uncalled races.

Before the election, Democrats were expected to win the Senate and extend their House majority. The House would be worse for Democrats if not for a judicial redistribution in North Carolina that gave Democrats two extra safe seats.

US polls understated Trump again

New York Times analyst Nate Cohn has an article on the polls. Biden was expected to greatly improve on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance with non-University educated whites and seniors, but the results indicate that Trump held up much better with these demographics than expected.

Trump also had large swings in his favour in heavily Latino counties such as Miami Dade, Florida; polls suggested a more modest improvement for Trump with Latinos.

After the 2016 election, most polls started weighting by educational attainment, but this did not fix the problem. Cohn has some theories of what went wrong. First, Republican turnout appears to have been stronger than expected. Second, Trump’s attacks on the mainstream media may have convinced some of his supporters to not respond to polls.

A third theory is that coronavirus biased the polls’ samples, because people who followed medical advice and stayed home were more likely to respond to pollsters and more likely to be Democrats. Polls had suggested Biden would win Wisconsin, a coronavirus hotspot, easily, but he only won by 0.6%.

While US polls understated Trump in both 2016 and 2020, it is not true that international polling tends to understate the right. At the October 17 New Zealand election, polls greatly understated Labour’s lead over National. Polls also understated UK Labour at the 2017 election.

Victorian Labor surges after end of lockdown

In a privately conducted Victorian YouGov poll reported by The Herald Sun, Labor led by 55-45 from primary votes of 44% Labor, 40% Coalition and 11% Greens. Premier Daniel Andrews had a strong 65-32 approval rating, while Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien had a terrible 53-26 disapproval rating. The poll was conducted from late October to early November from a sample of 1,240. Figures from The Poll Bludger.

A Victorian Morgan SMS poll, conducted November 9-10 from a sample of 818, gave Labor a 58.5-41.5 lead, a seven-point gain for Labor since the mid-October Morgan poll. Primary votes were 45% Labor (up five), 34.5% Coalition (down 5.5) and 11% Greens (up two). In a forced choice, Andrews had a 71-29 approval rating, up from 59-41 in mid-October. Morgan’s SMS polls have been unreliable in the past.

Labor wins Queensland election with 52 of 93 seats

At the October 31 Queensland election, Labor won 52 of the 93 seats (up four since 2017), the LNP 34 (down five), Katter’s Australian Party three (steady), the Greens two (up one), One Nation one (steady) and one independent (steady). Labor has an 11-seat majority.

Primary votes were 39.6% Labor (up 4.1%), 35.9% LNP (up 2.2%), 9.5% Greens (down 0.5%), 7.1% One Nation (down 6.6%) and 2.5% Katter’s Australian Party (up 0.2%). It is likely Labor won at least 53% of the two party preferred vote. The final Newspoll gave Labor a 51.5-48.5 lead – another example of understating the left.

Labor gained five seats from the LNP, but lost Jackie Trad’s seat of South Brisbane to the Greens. Two of Labor’s gains were very close and went to recounts, with Labor winning Bundaberg by nine votes and Nicklin by 85 votes.

Federal Newspoll: 51-49 to Coalition

In last week’s federal Newspoll, conducted November 4-7 from a sample of 1,510, the Coalition had a 51-49 lead, a one point gain for Labor since the mid-October Newspoll. Primary votes were 43% Coalition (down one), 35% Labor (up one), 11% Greens (steady) and 3% One Nation (steady). Figures from The Poll Bludger.

Scott Morrison is still very popular, with 64% satisfied with his performance (down one) and 32% dissatisfied (up one), for a net approval of +32. Anthony Albanese’s net approval jumped eight points to +4, but he continued to trail Morrison as better PM by 58-29 (57-28 previously).

A YouGov poll in former Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon’s seat of Hunter had a 50-50 tie; this would be a three-point swing to the Nationals from the 2019 election. Primary votes were 34% Labor, 26% National, 12% One Nation, 10% Shooters and 8% Greens.The Conversation

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

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

We’ve just signed the world’s biggest trade deal, but what exactly is the RCEP?


Patricia Ranald, University of Sydney

The giant Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership between Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the ten members of ASEAN (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) was signed online on Sunday, November 15.

India left negotiations in November 2019, but even so, the deal will cover one third of the world’s population and economy.

Australia and the other governments refused to release the text until after signing, continuing Australia’s regrettable secrecy about deals it is about to sign.

India left the RCEP because of concerns about its potentially negative impact on local industry development.

Since Australia already has free trade agreements with all of the remaining members, India’s absence significantly diminishes what might have been in it for Australian exporters.

What’s left are some agreements on common standards and the claimed ability for Australia to talk to China more than it can through its own one-on-one trade agreement.




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The text was completed before the pandemic and has not been revised since.

As it happened, Australia took actions during the pandemic that were technically contrary to the rules embodied in the RCEP in order to boost local manufacturing capacity for essential products.

We’ve already bent the rules

The prime minister has since announced longer term local industry support and the trade minister has said that the challenge for the future is about getting “the balance right”.

But the rules signed up to on Sunday will integrate Australia further into regional production chains and commit Australia to avoid assistance for local industries of the kind that will arguably be needed to rebuild and strengthen the economy.

Other rules signed up to on Sunday open essential services such as health, education, water, energy, telecommunications, finance and digital trade to foreign investors and restrict the ability of governments to regulate them in the public interest.

Sunday’s virtual signing ceremony.
Lukas Coch/AAP

It remains to be seen whether these rules will give governments the flexibility they will need to get “the balance right”

Oddly for an agreement dealing with standards, there’s nothing in it about forced labour or child labour, and no mention of climate change.

Its members include countries like China and Myanmar in which there is mounting evidence of labour rights and human rights abuses.

But there are also welcome omissions.

No further rights for foreign investors

The final text confers no special rights on foreign corporations to sue governments through what are known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement clauses common in other agreements, although there is an opportunity for the members to revisit the idea two years after ratification

Nor are there increases in patent monopolies for medicines of the kind included in the original Trans-Pacific Partnership. These were suspended in the revised Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership now ratified by Australia and six other countries.




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The RCEP will be reviewed by a parliamentary committee which, as is usual in these agreements, will be unable to change the text.

The Coalition has a majority on that committee.

Broader manoeuvring

Some commentators see the RCEP through the lens of US-China competition..

Looked at this way, the US has been weakened by the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the original Trans Pacific Partnership.

It is argued that the RCEP is China’s creation, and the incoming Biden administration will need to counter it by re-joining the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership, which excludes China.

But this is a US-centric a view that downplays the leading role of the ASEAN countries in creating the RCEP.




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What a Biden presidency means for world trade and allies like Australia


A Biden administration is unlikely to re-join the Trans Pacific Partnership any time soon. Parts of the Democratic party remain strongly opposed to it.

The US will rejoin genuinely multilateral organisations such as the World Health Organisation and the Paris Climate Agreement.

But Biden’s trade policy is likely to focus on domestic priorities such as the pandemic and climate change, about which the RCEP says nothing.The Conversation

Patricia Ranald, Honorary research fellow, University of Sydney

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

Courting the chameleon: how the US election reveals Rupert Murdoch’s political colours


Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

Joe Biden’s victory in the US presidential election raises a perennial question about what Rupert Murdoch does when the candidate he has opposed wins.

Answer: He adapts and he waits. Electoral cycles last three, four or five years. Murdoch has been wielding power for five decades.

Murdoch is a chameleon. It is true that when political and business conditions are favourable he glows brightly in blood-red conservatism. But when, as now, conditions are uncertain, the colour dims and takes on a more complex hue.

The voices and front pages of the empire become more diverse. It gets harder to exactly pin down where the emperor himself stands. He deflects awkward questions by saying he defers to his editors, or he claims to have retired and says he will speak to the heir, his son Lachlan.

These are the first steps in a shadowy repositioning, and we have seen it happen time without number.

Reactionary ideology is important to Murdoch, but not as important as making money.

Money not only keeps the shareholders happy, it provides the means by which he can subsidise his unprofitable or barely profitable newspapers because they are crucial to the way he wields power.




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So the priority when a disfavoured candidate or party wins is to do nothing to antagonise the new regime and instead proffer a small olive branch. Last Sunday’s New York Post banner headline – “It’s Joe Time” – was a classic of the genre.

Over on Fox News, he remained quiet when the Fox “decision desk” called the crucial state of Arizona for Biden, absorbing pressure and entreaties from Trump’s people to intervene.

All of a sudden, the chorus of pro-Trump voices on Fox became a discordant racket. Some, like Sean Hannity, amplified Trump’s claims of electoral fraud. Others, like Neil Cavuto, cut off Trump’s press secretary for making the same claims.

The New York Post, which ran a highly questionable story against Hunter Biden in the last week of the campaign, was suddenly dismissing Trump’s claims as baseless and urging him to accept the result.

Conflict, confusion and contradiction are part of the strategy. Murdoch allows it to unfold. It sends a signal to the Biden White House: we can live with you.

The strategy was helped along on November 13 when Trump sent out a tweet saying the daytime ratings on Fox News had collapsed because they had forgotten what made them successful – the “Golden Goose” – an immortal self-description if ever there was one.

There was a similar pattern to the Murdoch strategy in Australia in 2007 when it looked certain that Labor under Kevin Rudd would end the long reign of John Howard.

In his book Rupert Murdoch: A Reassessment, Rodney Tiffen recounted that, while Murdoch did not want to be backing the losing side, it was difficult for his editors to persuade him to back Rudd.




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In the end, some of Murdoch’s papers, including The Australian, backed Rudd, while others, including Melbourne’s Herald Sun, were allowed to back the Coalition.

The endorsements were pallid, nothing like the full-throated propaganda characteristic of the Murdoch papers when they are unified behind a conservative cause. The chameleon had turned into a blur of pale reds and blues.

Then in 2018, when it looked as if Labor might beat Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition in 2019, Murdoch once again showed how the business pragmatist triumphs over the ideologue.

According to Turnbull in his autobiography, A Bigger Picture, Murdoch told the West Australian media mogul Kerry Stokes: “Three years of Labor wouldn’t be too bad.”

He prefers it when the Labor side is led by moderates who are amenable to business: Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, Britain’s Tony Blair. But, even then, his endorsements tend to be muted, nothing like “Kick this mob out” on the front page of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph when he opposed Labor in 2013.

In Britain, Murdoch has employed the same tactics. Although his mass-circulation Sun supported Labour in 1997, 2001 and 2005, he allowed the prestigious Sunday Times to support the Conservatives.

But when it comes to endorsing the conservative side of politics, there is no pussyfooting around.

When he turned on Labour after Gordon Brown had succeeded Blair as prime minister, he unleashed the full Murdoch treatment.

Just as Brown was about to deliver his speech to Labour’s annual conference in September 2009, The Sun declared Murdoch’s abandonment of Labour with the banner headline “Labour’s lost it”.

From then until the 2010 election, Murdoch’s ruthless campaign in support of David Cameron’s Conservative Party was carried by all his papers, The Sun in the vanguard with headlines such as “Brown toast”.

At elections, Murdoch has two priorities.

One is always to try to ensure the new regime, whatever its political colour, does not implement regulatory change that will disadvantage the business.

The second is to be on the winning side. This is important to the maintenance of the belief – at least in the minds of politicians – that he is a kingmaker.

When it is clear the progressive side of politics is in the ascendant, the chameleon can start changing colours early and might even complete a transformation before election day.

When it is not a sure thing, however, the skin-deep transformation has to begin when the results come in.

That is what is on display in the US now.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

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

What’s behind Trump’s refusal to concede? For Republicans, the end game is Georgia and control of the Senate



BRANDEN CAMP/EPA

Markus Wagner, University of Wollongong

The world may have expected the chaos and uncertainty of the US presidential election to end when Joe Biden was declared the winner last weekend. But these are not normal times and Donald Trump is not a conventional president.

Concessions that used to be a part of the political process have been replaced by baseless allegations of voter fraud and election stealing, loud, all-caps shouting on Twitter and plans for a “Million MAGA March” on Washington.

The courts are the proper venue for candidates to challenge the results of elections. But a legal process requires evidence of illegality — and as of yet, the Trump campaign has produced very little.

So, then, how long can Trump string things out — and, more importantly, what’s the end game?

More lawsuits are filed, with little chance of success

Lawsuits can be filed for a number of reasons after an election: violations of state law by local election officials, discrimination against voters, political manipulation of the outcome or irregularities in the ballot counting process.

The Trump campaign has filed numerous lawsuits in both state and federal courts. Some challenges in Georgia and Michigan were quickly dismissed.




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In one case filed in Pennsylvania, Republicans sought to stop the vote count in Philadelphia on the grounds Trump campaign officials were not allowed to be close enough to the ballot-counting process.

Under questioning from the judge, the Trump campaign lawyers were forced to admit a “non-zero number” of Republican observers were present. The judge, clearly exasperated, responded by asking, “I’m sorry, then what’s your problem?”

Trump supporters demonstrate near the Pennsylvania state Capitol last weekend.
Julio Cortez/AP

In another filing before a federal court in Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign alleges voting by mail runs afoul of the Constitution’s equal protection clause, a claim bound to fail.

The most interesting – and perhaps most viable – case concerns whether a state court can extend the time limit for mail-in ballots to arrive.

In this case, the Trump campaign challenged a decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to allow mail-in votes received up to three days after election day to be counted.




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The US Supreme Court twice declined to halt the counting of these votes, but did order the ballots to be segregated, leaving the door open to a challenge after the election.

A group of Republican attorneys-general filed a brief at the US Supreme Court this week urging it to take up the case.

Amy Coney Barrett, the newly appointed Supreme Court justice, did not participate in the earlier decisions, and it remains to be seen if her vote would change the outcome should the case reach the court.

Hoever, this may all be a moot point, as there are likely not enough late-arriving ballots for Trump to make up the sizeable gap to Biden in the state.

Even with a conservative majority, the US Supreme Court is unlikely to play a role in the election outcome.
Patrick Semansky/AP

Attorney-general steps into the fray

Attorney-General William Barr has also inserted the Department of Justice into the post-election drama, authorising investigations by US attorneys into alleged voter fraud across the country. The move outraged the top official in charge of voter fraud investigations, prompting him to resign.

The Department of Justice has historically stayed out of elections, a policy Barr criticised in his memo, saying

such a passive and delayed enforcement approach can result in situations in which election misconduct cannot realistically be rectified.

The department’s about-face is important for several reasons. It changes long-standing practice, as Barr himself admits. The general practice, he wrote, had been to counsel that

overt investigative steps ordinarily should not be taken until the election in question has been concluded, its results certified, and all recounts and election contests concluded.

Of course, Barr has ingratiated himself with Trump before, most notably in his 2018 memo to the Justice Department expressing concerns over the Mueller investigation.

Many had wondered why Barr had remained unusually quiet for so long on the election. It appears he is back, and willing to support Trump and the Republican cause.

The end game: Georgia and the US Senate

Given Trump and Republicans have very little chance of overturning the result through these tactics, the question remains: what is the goal?

Yes, this all could be explained simply as Trump not liking to lose. But setting such indulgences aside, the reason for this obstruction appears to be two upcoming US Senate runoff elections scheduled for January 5.

Georgia state Rep. Vernon Jones speaks at a Trump rally in Atlanta this week.
Mike Stewart/AP

Under Georgia law, a runoff is required between the two candidates that came out on top if neither wins 50% of the vote in the state election.

The Republicans currently hold a 50-to-48-seat edge in the Senate, meaning control of the chamber now comes down to who wins the two Georgia runoffs.

The positions taken by Republican senators in recent days are telling — they have stood firmly behind Trump’s challenges and gone out of their way not to congratulate Biden on his victory. Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota put it bluntly,

We need [Trump’s] voters […] we want him helping in Georgia.

The Senate plays a crucial role for the Biden presidency. If it remains in Republican hands, this could leave Biden with few avenues to implement his favoured policies on the economy, climate change or health care and would deny Democrats the ability to expand the Supreme Court.

Already, it’s clear the focus of the GOP is shifting toward Georgia. The two Republican Senate candidates this week called for the resignation of the secretary of state, a fellow Republican, repeating Trump’s baseless claims over voter fraud in Georgia.




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According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, this was done to appease Trump

lest he tweet a negative word about them and risk divorcing them from his base ahead of the consequential runoff.

Is democracy at stake?

It appears all these efforts are aimed at one goal: energising the Trumpian base for the Georgia run-off elections by delegitimising not only Biden, but the election process itself.

The long-term implications are momentous. The US is already bitterly divided, as demonstrated by the large voter turnout on both sides in the election. This division will only deepen the more Trump presses his claims and signals he won’t go away silently.

This continued fracturing of the US would prevent Biden from achieving one of the main goals he set out in his victory speech: bringing Republicans and Democrats together.

If half the country buys into his claims of a stolen election, the real danger is the erosion of democracy in the US as we know it.The Conversation

Markus Wagner, Associate Professor of Law, University of Wollongong

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

Biden will place Asia back at the centre of foreign policy – but will his old-school diplomacy still work?



Carolyn Kaster/AAP

Nick Bisley, La Trobe University

The election of Joe Biden represents not only a repudiation of Donald Trump and his divisiveness, but an embrace of centrism and a mainstream approach to government and policy.

On the global stage, as at home, Biden is likely to follow a familiar script. Most obviously, he will embrace America’s alliances and strengthen its engagement with multilateral institutions. Rhetorically at least, he will give human rights and democracy a much more prominent role in Washington’s approach to the world.

In short, he is likely to pursue a global role much more in line with how the US has acted globally since the end of the Cold War. While it might be tempting to assume Biden will run foreign policy as a continuation of the Obama administration, there will be some points of continuity but also key changes. And some very significant challenges will remain.

Asia, and particularly China, in focus

One area of continuity, with both Obama and Trump, will be the centrality of Asia to US global strategy. This is in part for the same reasons his predecessors made the region a priority: it will be the most consequential part of the world for decades to come. But it is also because stretched US finances will mean the country will be unable to sustain a significant European presence or the kinds of policies it has pursued in the Middle East.

For Obama, the “pivot” to Asia was a choice about where to focus efforts. For Biden, the scarcity of resources will focus the mind on Asia. It will also mean a scaling back of US activity in those other theatres.

The biggest foreign policy question facing Biden will be how to approach the People’s Republic of China. Under Trump, the US moved toward a posture, on paper at any rate, of full-spectrum strategic competition. The 2017 National Security Strategy described China as intent on eroding Washington’s global advantage, and the US would reorient the instruments of national power to contest that effort.

In practice, Trump’s China policy was incoherent and inconsistent. Trump himself pursued a peculiar relationship with Xi Jinping, even allegedly encouraging the herding of millions of Uyghurs into concentration camps.




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Biden is unlikely to move US China policy back to its “engage but hedge” setting of previous years – the mood in the US has hardened decisively, and not only because of Trump. However, the way the US competes with China is likely to change and there will be a need for co-operation. Biden won’t wind back the trade conflict significantly and moves to delink the two economies will continue, particularly in high-technology areas.

The US will continue to work to limit China’s ambitions to change Asia’s regional order, but it is likely to try to build on some areas of common interest to improve co-operation. The aim will be to advance their shared goals on that issue but also mitigate against the more damaging consequences of geopolitical competition.

This is most like to occur in relation to climate change. The Biden administration will put a very high premium on this vast threat and to advance that agenda meaningfully will require collaboration with China. So expect a more moderated approach to competition with the PRC but not an end to contestation in the region.

… and North Korea, too

North Korea was the scene of Trump’s most high-profile foreign policy gambit. While nuclear testing has stopped, it is increasingly clear that, in spite of protestations to the contrary from the president’s Twitter account, North Korea has a functional nuclear weapon capability.

The US-DPRK relationship, such as it is, has become highly personalised and the move away from Trump raises questions as to whether North Korea will revert to its bombastic past form – it has described Biden as a “rabid dog”. The most likely scenario will be a Biden administration that learns to live with a nuclear North Korea and, in contrast to Trump, works closely with its allies in South Korea to co-ordinate their approach.




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‘America First’ is no more, but can president-elect Biden fix the US reputation abroad?


Resuming normal transmission

The return to normality in Washington will greatly hearten America’s allies. They will no longer be ignored or, in some cases, overtly disparaged by the president. The Biden administration will place a strong emphasis on the role allies play in its foreign policy ambitions. It will value the alliances, rather than debase them, and use the reach they allow and political support they create to drive a more strategic approach to managing China.

But this greater value will not come cost-free. A financially constrained US will expect allies to do more to advance their shared security interests than they have in the past. This will be most evident in Asia, where treaty allies like Australia, Japan and South Korea will be under renewed pressure to play a more expansive, risky and expensive role in the region’s geopolitics. For Australia this will be a challenge in terms of both its capacity and its risk appetite.

A Biden presidency will restore dignity to US leadership and bring a much more integrated approach to managing its global interests. It will also act in stable and predictable ways.

But Biden will inherit an America whose power and credibility are in decline. The global institutions that the US built to stabilise international order and advance its interests are in a parlous state, and not only because of the attacks of the Trump presidency. It faces a global stage with ambitious emerging powers that have shrewdly used the incoherence of the Trump presidency to advance their position.

Biden’s election symbolises a return to orthodox ways in Washington. His instincts, and that of his foreign policy team, will be in line with how the US has approached the world for many decades.

We know the Trump approach has undermined US power and prestige. What remains to be seen is whether Biden’s instincts are the right ones in a dangerous and unstable global environment.




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The China-US rivalry is not a new Cold War. It is way more complex and could last much longer


The Conversation


Nick Bisley, Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of International Relations at La Trobe University, La Trobe University

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

Aung San Suu Kyi wins big in Myanmar’s elections, but will it bring peace — or restore her reputation abroad?


Adam Simpson, University of South Australia and Nicholas Farrelly, University of Tasmania

Last weekend, a few hours after the US presidential election was called for Joe Biden, Myanmar voters started lining up for their own chance to decide whether the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, would return for a second term.

With 5,643 candidates from 91 parties competing for 1,119 seats, at both the state and federal level, the country’s almost 38 million voters were asked to cast judgment on the last five years of NLD rule.

After three days of vote counting, the ruling party has claimed a huge victory, likely extending its resounding wins from the 2015 general election.

Under the military-authored constitution, a quarter of the seats in the national legislature are still reserved for military-appointed representatives, who generally vote as a bloc. The NLD, therefore, needed to win two-thirds of the elected seats to achieve a governing majority.

This requirement was designed by the military to be a high, almost impossible, threshold for any democratically oriented party in such a diverse, multi-ethnic political system. But it looks like the NLD has achieved it again, with ease.

Supporters of National League for Democracy celebrate their victory in Yangon.
Lynn Bo Bo/EPA

The NLD appears to have displaced the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) from some of its strongholds in rural areas and southern Mandalay. And its dominance in Yangon and much of the country has been met with jubilation among die-hard supporters, eager to see a further consolidation of the country’s democratic ambitions.

The renewed mandate for the NLD will also be taken by Suu Kyi’s millions of supporters as repudiation of the widespread international backlash against the government for its handling of the Rohingya crisis, which saw nearly a million people displaced in 2017.

This led to a genocide case being brought against Myanmar in the International Court of Justice and a dramatic fall from grace for Suu Kyi, in particular.




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Aung San Suu Kyi’s extraordinary fall from grace


Conflict remains a big issue

During her first term, Suu Kyi sought to broker a new nationwide peace agreement with the various ethnic minority armed groups, but was frustrated by the entrenched complexities of the country’s borderland politics.

Well-armed militias, some of which draw considerable financial strength from wide-ranging illicit businesses, proved unwilling to accept her government’s claims on their territories.

In some of these areas, the Election Commission cancelled voting in the election, ostensibly due to the ongoing fighting. Northern Rakhine state and also areas of Chin, Shan, Kachin, Kayin and Mon states, and in Bago Region, were all affected by these cancellations.

In Rakhine and Chin states, however, elections were able to be held in NLD strongholds less affected by the conflict between the military and the Buddhist ethnic Rakhine Arakan Army, while voting was cancelled in areas held by ethnic minority parties.

A man injured in an alleged attack by Myanmar forces in Rakhine state in late October.
Nyunt Win/EPA

In all, 22 seats in both houses of the national legislature will remain vacant until the conflicts have eased, which may not happen any time soon.

Because the decision to call off the voting in these areas benefited the NLD, it called into question the independence of the Election Commission.

About 1.5 million voters were disenfranchised by the move. There are also further Rohingya in Rakhine state and refugee camps in Bangladesh who have historically been denied citizenship and voting rights.

Human Rights Watch has called the elections “fundamentally flawed”, and many countries have qualified their support for the result by highlighting this disenfranchisement.

Is the military really loosening its grip?

At best, the military will only grudgingly accept the election results, especially since its favoured party, the USDP, performed poorly.

The past five years have seen generally amiable relations between the NLD and the military, even in light of the military’s brutal “clearance operations” of the Muslim-minority Rohingya in Rakhine state in 2017.

Election officials count the ballots at a polling station in Yangon.
Lynn Bo Bo/EPA

However, in the lead-up to the elections, the commander in chief of the military, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, released a statement criticising the Election Commission, arguing that

weakness and deficiencies which were never seen in the previous elections are appearing.

He blamed the NLD for the commission’s performance and, the next day, argued the government was making “unacceptable mistakes”, insinuating he might not accept the election result.

Recently, a reputable website run by activists investigating the military was blocked and various opposition parties had their political broadcasts censored when they appeared on state television.

In addition to other restrictions on freedom of speech, the election cancellations, internet shutdowns, disenfranchisement of ethnic minorities and campaign restrictions due to COVID-19 have cast a pall over the vote.

Outlook for the new NLD government

While the treatment of the Rohingya — and Suu Kyi’s defence of the military’s crimes against them — is impossible to accept, foreign governments have little choice but to continue providing support for the newly empowered NLD government.

International pressure should continue to be applied, however, to resolve the Rohingya crisis and protect freedom of speech.

Voters wearing protective face masks line up to cast their ballots at a polling station.
Thein Zaw/AP

If the military were to step in and take back control from the civilian-led government, this would, in every sense, be a significant backward step for democracy in Myanmar. While we have argued the chances of a coup looked relatively low during the NLD’s first term, recent events have demonstrated the military can always find an excuse to reassert itself at the centre of Myanmar politics.

To avoid further turbulence, and with its fresh mandate, Myanmar’s government will need to quickly concentrate on broad-based economic development and human security. The election result also offers a chance to focus on the peaceful resolution of longstanding conflicts in what remains a tragically divided and impoverished society.The Conversation

Adam Simpson, Program Director, Master of Communication, University of South Australia and Nicholas Farrelly, Head of School, Social Sciences, University of Tasmania

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

What’s in the ‘public interest’? Why the ABC is right to cover allegations of inappropriate ministerial conduct



Mick Tsikas/AAP

Alexandra Wake, RMIT University

Immediately after ABC’s Four Corners aired allegations about the conduct of government ministers Alan Tudge and Christian Porter, questions were raised about whether the report was in the “public interest”.

The Australian’s editor-at-large, Paul Kelly, said on Q&A that Porter was “trashed” by the program, adding

What the ABC has done tonight is that it’s crashed through some media barriers and created new media barriers. How far do we go in terms of our definition of the public interest?

We need to be very careful about the damage we do to people’s reputations here and ask ourselves is that an accurate portrait or was it a caricature?

Asked about the story in a Senate committee before the story aired, ABC managing director David Anderson defended it as “absolutely” being in the public interest.

It goes to conduct of ministers, ministers of the Crown, to be held to the highest standard in society. That’s the nature of the story.

Porter has denied the claims made against against him. He had earlier discussed considering legal options against the ABC, but played that down in an interview yesterday.




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Even tawdry stories are in the public interest

Despite Porter’s protestations, the ABC clearly had an obligation to air a story that contained allegations of ministerial misconduct (however tawdry).

News reports about politicians, sex and booze are as old as time and have brought shame to many a politician, from the former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce to Deputy Labor Leader Gareth Evans and the UK Secretary of War John Profumo.

The one clear duty of journalism is to hold those in power to account, and that appears to have been lost on those members of government as they reportedly attempted to pressure the ABC, its managers and journalists, over the broadcast.

Barnaby Joyce became embroiled in a scandal over his affair with his former media adviser.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Standards for those in government

Many ethical issues arise from the broadcast, the attempt to pressure the ABC and the legal threats that have followed.

Even before the program had made it to air, the ABC’s management found themselves under attack, with an excruciating Senate Estimates Committee hearing a couple of hours before the broadcast.

But it certainly wasn’t a quick piece of “gotcha” journalism with a blurry photo at its centre. The Four Corners team have an exacting process to their work. For this story, the ABC said they interviewed 200 people over several months. They also contextualised the story beyond the two central politicians to raise real concerns about the place and safety of women who work in Parliament House.

Anderson also said the allegations had been thoroughly sourced and checked legally. Those named in the story were given “ample” opportunity to respond.

Moreover, while the so-called “bonk ban” on ministers having sexual relations with their staff was only introduced by Prime Minister Malcolom Turnbull in 2018, Cabinet ministers have had rules governing their behaviour since John Howard first established a public ministerial code in 1996.

Turnbull says he warned Porter about ‘unacceptable’ behaviour with a young female staffer.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Members of the Morrison Cabinet now sign up to a code of conduct which says they will “act with integrity” and be “open to public scrutiny and explanation”.

Specifically, there is no grey area in these ministerial standards on the point of sexual relationships with staff:

2.24. Ministers must not engage in sexual relations with their staff. Doing so will constitute a breach of this code.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison pointedly said this week that neither Porter nor Tudge were in breach of his code of conduct.

But allegations of sexual misconduct and power imbalances, even historic ones, are still clearly a cause for community concern, and cannot not be ignored by journalists or political leaders. Such matters are no longer private affairs between consenting adults.

Just ask the complainants at AMP, the former CEO of Seven in WA, or even former US president Bill Clinton.




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Action should be taken

Regardless of the salacious allegations made on the Four Corners program, there is also a point to be made about the hypocrisy of politicians who market themselves as having “family values” and demand others follow “Australian values”.

Certainly, it is not edifying to watch details of alleged impropriety by politicians broadcast on television, and it’s uncomfortable that such stories inevitably impact those who are innocently caught up in the furore (particularly partners and children).

Tudge did issue a statement saying he regretted his actions “and the hurt it has caused my family”.




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But with this story, Four Corners has not only produced a program that has interest from the public, it is also in the public’s interest.

There are many questions to be answered from the ministers named in the story and also those who knew about the allegations and did nothing (or even worse, promoted them).

The real outcome of this program should not be a defamation case, but rather action from Morrison. Questions over ministerial conduct are important. This is certainly a matter of public interest.The Conversation

Alexandra Wake, Program Manager, Journalism, RMIT University

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

Is Canberra having a #metoo moment? It will take more than reports of MPs behaving badly for parliament to change



Lukas Coch/AAP

Marija Taflaga, Australian National University

Sex and politics is a well-established theme of political life.

Often the debate comes back to whether or not politicians deserve private lives. The short answer is yes, of course. But this question is also misleading.

Too often the scandals arise out of political workplaces. While it might be Liberal Party ministers in the spotlight this time, this is not a problem exclusive to the Coalition. It is pervasive across political systems in Australia and worldwide.

Amid fresh allegations of MPs behaving badly, we need to look past the personal drama of each individual story and consider what they tell us about the wider structures in which politicians and their staff operate.

Minister-staff dynamics

Political staff are not public servants. They are employed under separate legislation and are hired and fired at the discretion of their boss — the minister, shadow minister or MP.

Staffers’ duties are poorly defined, and can range from emotional support to high level policy work. Their employment can be terminated with no notice (although this is currently under review in the latest enterprise bargaining agreement).




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There is little oversight over who MPs appoint, with involvement from party leaders typically viewed as interference. Indeed, there is little oversight of the work of political advisers generally — they cannot be summoned to appear before parliamentary committees.

Theoretically, ministers are responsible for their staff, but as we increasingly see, advisers can also be shields for their ministers, resigning when things go wrong.

While it may not be illegal or even immoral, the issue at stake here is a power imbalance. It is hard to argue sexual relations within this work environment could meet our modern standard of a mutually consensual relationship. Even if things start well, what happens if they end badly?

Political advisers turn into politicians

What happens in political offices matters for many reasons. Beyond creating safe workplaces, it also has an impact on who rises through the political ranks.

Evidence from across Westminster systems shows politicians increasingly have a background in political advising before they are elected.

Young businesswoman looking out window.
Many MPs do time as political advisers before they are elected.
http://www.shutterstock.com

Emerging evidence also suggests a stint as an adviser is increasingly associated with the probability of selection to safe seats and, later, ministerial office.

Why? Because politics is a networks game. And as politics has become more professionalised, the skills political staff obtain are seen as more important than skills gained via community organising or pathways through party membership.

We already know this has a disproportionate impact on women. Women were less likely to gain experience via their party machines and are less likely to be promoted to the most senior ranks of political offices.




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The type of work they do in political offices tends to be of a lower status, less strategic and with less access to ministers. Put another way, they are less likely to get the valuable experience they require to move forward in their careers and less likely to have seniority and power in the office.

Adding any unwanted sexual advances, or relationships which fail, place yet another barrier for young female staff. This was reflected in the case of two Liberal staffers who came forward with claims of sexual assault in 2019.

Parliament House is a workplace

It is true federal parliament is an atypical work environment: it is more intense than most and is more likely to breed a dimension of co-dependence with support staff than most other professions.

But parliament’s status as the seat of government does not make it “special” and therefore, beyond community standards.

House of Representatives chamber
Parliament House is an atypical work environment, but it still needs to meet community standards.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

If anything, public expectations suggest politicians are held to a higher standard than most managers. This is because there is a recognition politicians are disproportionately powerful and influential. MPs regularly affirm their legitimacy by claiming to represent everyday Australians. This means they need to reflect community standards.

This trade-off between ministers’ privileges and responsibilities are reflected in the Statement of Ministerial Standards which begins with two principles:

The ethical standards required of Ministers in Australia’s system of government reflect the fact that, as holders of public office, Ministers are entrusted with considerable privilege and wide discretionary power.

In recognition that public office is a public trust, therefore, the people of Australia are entitled to expect that, as a matter of principle, Ministers will act with due regard for integrity, fairness, accountability, responsibility, and the public interest, as required by these Standards.

Importantly, the same dynamics that may result in sexual harassment for some staff, may also result in bullying for others. This is because the core issue is the asymmetry of power in the ministerial-staffing relationship, compounded by the intensity of the work environment and complicated by gender relations. All staff deserve better.

Currently, an inadequate complaints process, run by the Department of Finance, makes it difficult for staff to come forward if they feel they have been mistreated at work. It has only recently added sexual harassment and the complaints procedures are opaque.

There needs to be clearer and more effective mechanisms for all staff to seek support and redress.

What could we learn from around the world?

Both the United Kingdom and Canada have introduced new complaints mechanisms. The Canadian parliament has adopted a code of conduct and a complaints procedure. The UK Parliament has a behaviour code and complaints hotline.

However, both schemes have come in for criticism, ultimately because they do not fully address the imbalance between MPs and complainants.

This points to the fact that too much of the emphasis is on women (and junior staff) to cope, adapt or seek out resolutions after something has already happened.

Really, what is required is a deeper cultural change that sees parliament treated like any other workplace.

What happens now?

Is this Canberra’s #metoo moment? We should not get our hopes up.




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Without effective enforcement of the current ministerial code of conduct, which prohibits relationships with their staff, an adequate complaints process that does not disadvantage complainants and clear leadership that signals the need to shift the culture within parliament, it may not be.

After all, can Australians trust their politicians if there appears to be one rule for some and a different rule for others? Everyone needs to abide by, and be seen to abide by, the same rules and standards.The Conversation

Marija Taflaga, Lecturer, School of Political Science and International Relations, Australian National University

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