Government sets up concessional loan scheme for drought-hit small businesses



The business drought loans will be up to $500,000, and include a two-year interest free period.
AAP/Dan Peled

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government will provide concessional “drought loans” for small businesses dependent on agriculture, as well as improving the terms of loans under the existing scheme for farmers, in a package approved by cabinet on Wednesday.

Measures to be unveiled on Thursday also include hundred of millions of dollars of direct investment into communities.

The initiatives come after intense pressure on the Coalition to do more for those hit by one of the country’s worst-ever droughts, with Scott Morrison very sensitive to how the issue is playing not just in the regions but among metropolitan voters.

Costings were still being finalised late Wednesday but sources said the package was worth more than $500 million.

The business drought loans will be up to $500,000. They will include a two year interest free period and interest only payments for years three to five, with interest and principal repayments in years six to ten.

Those set to benefit would include harvesting and shearing contractors, carriers, stock and station agents, and businesses dealing in agricultural equipment and repairs.

Businesses not directly linked to the farming sector – such as the local hairdresser or newsagent – would not be eligible.

The loans will be made through the Regional Investment Corporation – a Commonwealth body – with a small business defined as one with 19 or fewer employees.

The loans will be available immediately and no legislation is needed.

The improved terms for farmers loans will be see up to two years interest free, interest only payments for years three to five, and interest and principal payments for years six to ten. The current arrangements are interest only for the first five years and principal and interest for the rest of the 10 year loan.

The former co-ordinator-general for drought, Stephen Day, told the government that concerns had been constantly raised with him about the survival of small businesses in areas in drought.

Morrison said these businesses had been forced to seek overdrafts or other finance.

“Rural communities can’t function without these small businesses – that’s why we’re stepping in to provide this extra support,” he said.

The government says its planned extra direct investment will flow into projects that boost local businesses and jobs.

Six more local government areas will be added to the Drought Communities Program, at a cost of $6 million, and another $122 million will be available for the 122 local councils which have already received support of $1 million each.

The program funds infrastructure and local activities. An extra $50 million discretionary fund will support additional councils when needed. But this will be after a review of the program early in the new year.

Some $200 million will be redirected from the Building Better Regions Fund to set up a Special Drought Round, providing up to $10 million per project in local government areas.

Supplementary payments will be made under the Roads to Recovery program for 128 local government areas in drought for upgrades and maintenance. This is a re-purposing of $138.9 million.

Drought minister David Littleproud said the federal package was not linked to any requirement for state funding, which would have carried the risk of the states not matching the money. But he called on state governments to provide some relief on rates and payroll tax.

“We’re going to cut the cheque and we’re going to get the money out, because that’s what these local economies need now. They need stimulation …. We’re not going to play politics, we’re going to get on with the job and deliver, and hopefully the states will complement us with things like rate relief and also payroll tax”.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said: “This suite of measures go to the heart of what matters to these communities. From small businesses to primary producers, we are working with communities to take the pressure off one of the worst droughts in history.

“Not only is the government continuing to respond as the drought progresses, but we are working on measures to assist in the recovery when the rains come, which includes the government’s billion dollar investment in water infrastructure.”

Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie said: “I know our farmers and our communities are doing it really tough right now but despite the current drought Australian agriculture has a bright future”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Trump could win again despite losing popular vote, as Biden retakes lead in Democratic polls



Despite poor polling and an impeachment inquiry, Donald Trump has a reasonable chance of being elected again.
AAP/EPA/Mark Lyons

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

A year away from the November 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump has a 41.4% approval, 54.6% disapproval rating with all polls in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate. His net approval is -13.2%, down 0.8% since my October 10 article.




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Trump’s ratings slightly down after Ukraine scandal as Warren surges to tie Biden in Democratic polls


With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s approval is 42.4% and his disapproval 54.6%, for a net approval of -12.2%, down 0.7% since October 10.

In the FiveThirtyEight tracker, 47.5% support actually removing Trump from office by impeachment and 45.7% are opposed (47.4-44.7 support four weeks ago).

On October 31, the Democrat-controlled House officially voted to begin an impeachment inquiry by 232-196. As I said previously, while the house will very probably impeach Trump, the Senate is very unlikely to reach the two-thirds majority required to remove him.

In national general election polling against the three leading Democrats, Trump trails Joe Biden by 10.2% in the RealClearPolitics average (7.4% on October 10). He trails Elizabeth Warren by 7.3% (4.5% previously) and Bernie Sanders by 7.9% (5.2%).

How the Electoral College could save Trump again

To win the presidency, a candidate needs at least 270 Electoral College votes. The 538 total Electoral Votes (EVs) are apportioned winner-takes-all by state with two minor exceptions. Each state’s EVs is the sum of its house seats (population-based) and senators (always two).

While Trump’s national ratings and general election match-ups are poor, a poll of the six closest 2016 Trump states gives him a real chance. In this Siena College poll for The New York Times of the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina, Trump trails Biden by two points overall, is tied with Sanders and leads Warren by two.

In 2016, Trump won these six states collectively by two points. Despite losing the national popular vote by 2.1%, Trump exceeded the magic 270 Electoral Votes when he won Wisconsin by 0.8%, so the difference between the national vote and the “tipping-point” state was 2.9%.




Read more:
US 2016 election final results: how Trump won


Trump’s 2016 win was a result of strong backing from non-college educated whites, who make up a large share of the population in the mid-west. This poll suggests Trump’s support is holding up with non-college whites. The Democratic vote could be more inefficiently distributed than in 2016.

I do not believe there will be an eight-point difference between the national vote and battleground states, which this poll suggests when compared with current national polls. The Siena poll was taken October 13-25, a better time for Trump nationally. It may also be Republican-leaning.

US economy still good

In the September quarter, US GDP grew at a 1.9% annualised pace. The US reports its quarterly GDP rates as if that quarter’s GDP was the rate for the whole year. To convert to Australian-style GDP rates, divide by four, which means US GDP grew almost 0.5% in the September quarter. This growth rate is moderate. In the June quarter, GDP was up 2.0% annualised.

In the October US jobs report, 128,000 jobs were created and the unemployment rate was 3.6% (up 0.1% since September, but still very low historically). The participation rate increased 0.1% to 63.3% and the employment population ratio was steady at 61.0% – matching September’s highest since December 2008.

In the year to October, hourly wages grew 3.0%, while inflation increased 1.7% in the year to September, so real wages increased 1.3%.

These two economic reports are good news for Trump. If the economy was all-important, Trump would be a clear favourite for re-election. But Trump’s general behaviour has angered many who might otherwise have voted for him based on economic factors.

Trump will need the economy to stay strong until November 2020 to have a realistic chance. It is likely a weak economy is the only thing that would shake Trump’s support with non-college whites.

Biden retakes lead in Democratic polls

Three weeks after the October 15 Democratic debate, Biden leads with 29.7% in the RealClearPolitics average of national Democratic polls, followed by Warren at 20.8%, Sanders at 17.8% and Pete Buttigieg at 6.7%. Nobody else has more than 4%. In the past four weeks, Warren has lost votes to Sanders and Buttigieg, owing perhaps to her difficulties with the Medicare for All policy.

We are now three months away from the first Democratic contest: the February 3 Iowa caucus. In Iowa, Warren has 22.3%, Buttigieg has surged to 17.0%, Biden has 15.7% and Sanders 15.3%. In New Hampshire (February 11), the one poll conducted since the October debate gives Sanders 21%, Warren 18%, Biden 15% and Buttigieg 10%.

Two recent polls in Nevada (February 22) give Biden an eight or ten point lead over Warren. Biden still has a large lead in South Carolina (February 29).




Read more:
US Democratic presidential primaries: Biden leading, followed by Sanders, Warren, Harris; and will Trump be beaten?


The next Democratic debate will be held November 20 with qualifying criteria increased from October; nine candidates have qualified so far. The qualifying criteria will be increased again for the December 19 debate; five candidates have qualified for that debate.

UK general election: December 12

After failing to win parliamentary approval for his Brexit deal in time for the October 31 exit date, Prime Minister Boris Johnson won House of Commons backing for a December 12 election on October 29. The European Union had extended the Brexit deadline to January 31 at parliament’s request.

I wrote for The Poll Bludger on October 29 that Labour’s chances of winning will improve if they can make the election a referendum on Boris Johnson’s deal, which has plenty to attack from a left-wing perspective. Leave was helped by being undefined at the 2016 Brexit referendum, now it is defined.

Canada and other elections

I live-blogged the October 21 Canadian election for The Poll Bludger, in which the centre-left Liberals won a second term, but lost their majority. I also covered the Argentine and Polish elections for The Poll Bludger: a centre-left presidential candidate won in Argentina, and the Law and Justice party retained its lower house majority in Poland.

On my personal website, I wrote about the Greens’ surge at the October 20 Swiss election, where a unique system of executive government is used. Also covered: the left-wing Bolivian president was re-elected for a fourth successive term, the far-right dominated Hungarian local elections despite a setback in Budapest, and the far-right surged in German and Italian October 27 state elections.

Australian Newspoll: 51-49 to Coalition

In the latest Australian Newspoll, conducted October 17-20 from a sample of 1,634, the Coalition led by 51-49, unchanged since late September. Primary votes were also unchanged, with the Coalition on 42%, Labor 33%, Greens 13% and One Nation 6%.

Scott Morrison’s net approval was +2, down two points. Anthony Albanese’s net approval was -7, down six points. Morrison led Albanese by 47-32 (50-31 previously). Figures from The Poll Bludger.

This Newspoll was the fourth consecutive Newspoll with the Coalition ahead by 51-49. Newspoll’s lack of volatility probably contributed to the poll failure at the May federal election, but this does not appear to have changed.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.

Labor’s election post-mortem warns against ‘becoming a grievance-based organisation’



Former minister Craig Emerson and former South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill have pinpointed key weaknesses in Labor’s 2019 election strategy.
AAP/Julian Smith

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The long-awaited ALP campaign review says Labor lost “because of a weak strategy that could not adapt to the change in Liberal leadership, a cluttered policy agenda that looked risky and an unpopular leader”.

“No one of these shortcomings was decisive but in combination they explain the result,” says the report from former South Australian premier Jay Weatherill and former federal minister Craig Emerson.

While it says Labor’s big tax policies didn’t cause the defeat, the size and complexity of its spending plans “drove its tax policies” exposing it “to a Coalition attack that fuelled anxieties among insecure, low-income couples in outer-urban and regional Australia that Labor would crash the economy and risk their jobs”.

Labor failed to “craft a simple narrative” bringing together its policies, the reviews says.

Its analysis is damning while seeking to be positive for the future, at a time when the ALP remains in shock at its unexpected loss and divided and uncertain about the way forward.

Looking ahead, the report says “policies can be bold but should form part of a coherent Labor story, be limited in number and be easily explainable, making them less capable of misrepresentation”.

“Labor should position itself as a party of economic growth and job creation. Labor should adopt the language of inclusion, recognising the contribution of small and large businesses to economic prosperity, and abandon derogatory references to ‘the big end of town’.”

The report’s emphasis on the importance of Labor tapping into economic growth and being attuned to business reflects the direction in which Anthony Albanese has been seeking to take the party since becoming leader.

The criticism of the “top end of town” language is a direct slap at the rhetoric of Bill Shorten.



The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Just ahead of the report’s release, Shorten said in a Thursday statement that “were the universe to grant reruns” he would have fewer campaign messages, put more emphasis on the opportunities provided by renewable energies, and take a different position on franking credits.

He also said he should have promised bigger immediate tax cuts for working people.

Shorten reiterated his intention to remain in politics for the next 20 years.

The report warns that “care needs to be taken to avoid Labor becoming a grievance-based organisation,” saying it “has been increasingly mobilised to address the political grievances of a vast and disparate constituency”.

“Working people experiencing economic dislocation caused by technological change will lose faith in Labor if they do not believe the party is responding to their needs, instead being preoccupied with issues not concerning them or that are actively against their interests.

“A grievance-based approach can create a culture of moving from one issue to the next, formulating myriad policies in response to a broad range of concerns.”

Addressing the swing against the ALP by low-income workers, the report says the party’s “ambiguous language on Adani, combined with some anti-coal rhetoric, devastated its support in the coal mining communities of regional Queensland and the Hunter Valley.”

In contrast, higher-income urban voters worried about climate change moved to Labor, despite the potential impact on them of the opposition’s tax policies.

Labor lost some Christian voters, “particularly devout, first-generation migrant Christians”, but the review does not find that people of faith in general deserted Labor.

The review does not believe Labor’s values – “improving the job opportunities, security and conditions of working Australians, fairness, non-discrimination on the basis of race, religion and gender, and care for the environment – were the problem at the election, and says Labor should retain its commitment to these values.

“Labor’s policy formulation should be guided by the national interest, avoiding any perception of capture by special interest groups.”

As a debate has raged within the ALP on how Labor should reshape its climate change policy, and notably its targets, the report says: “A modern Labor Party cannot neglect human-induced climate change. To do so would be environmentally irresponsible and a clear electoral liability.

“Labor needs to increase public awareness of the costs of inaction on climate change, respect the role of workers in fossil fuel industries and support job opportunities in emissions-reducing industries while taking the pressure off electricity prices.”

The report says that high expectations of victory caused Labor incorrectly to assume it had a stronger campaign machine and better digital capacity than the Coalition. It also led to “little consideration being given to querying Labor’s strategy and policy agenda”.

Following Clive Palmer’s huge advertising blitz, the review urges caps on spending by high wealth individuals. Also, influenced by the scare campaign that wrongly asserted Labor had in mind a death tax, the review said the issue of truth in advertising should be looked at.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Australia is spending less on diplomacy than ever before – and its influence is suffering as a result



Scott Morrison has heavily promoted his government’s ‘Pacific Step Up’, but it hasn’t invested the requisite funds to support the initiative diplomatically.
Darren England/AAP

Melissa Conley Tyler, University of Melbourne

Ten years ago, the Lowy Institute published a report on the state of Australia’s diplomatic capacity that painted a “sobering picture” of overstretched foreign missions and declining resources.

In the words of then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who was quoted in the report:

Given the vast continent we occupy, the small population we have and our unique geo-strategic circumstances, our diplomacy must be the best in the world.

However, since then we haven’t put enough resources into our diplomacy as we should. New research by Asialink at the University of Melbourne published in Australian Foreign Affairs shows continuing under-investment in Australia’s diplomatic capacity, with funding for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) now at a new low of just 1.3% of the federal budget.

Still in deficit?

According to Allan Gyngell, the founding director of the Lowy Institute, the reason for its 2009 report, Diplomatic Deficit, was simple.

For Australia to do things in the world, it needs a number of assets. These include the instruments of foreign policy, including the overseas network of posts.

The idea for the report was to go beyond the usual suspects and involve people like business leaders in making the case for diplomacy. It made 24 recommendations, many of which were not specifically about funding. These have mostly been met.

Sadly, the situation is less positive for recommendations that called for additional funding. Since 2013, Australia’s total diplomatic, trade and aid budgets have fallen from 1.5% of the federal budget to 1.3%. In pure dollar terms, this is a fall from A$8.3 billion to A$6.7 billion.

At the same time, the budgets for defence, intelligence and security have ballooned. In the almost two decades since the September 11 terror attacks, the Department of Defence budget has increased by 291%, while the allocation for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation has grown by 528% and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service by 578%.




Read more:
Methodology: finding the numbers on Australia’s foreign aid spending over time


Lost opportunities

This systematic under-funding of DFAT has run down Australia’s diplomatic capacity to the point that it is under-resourced to confront current foreign policy challenges.

To give an idea of what this means, these are some examples of what Australia’s diplomats do on a day-to-day basis:

  • consular work assisting Australians in trouble with law enforcement, such as visiting them in prison and advocating for fair treatment

  • counter-terrorism cooperation, working with overseas governments to build capacity and help keep Australian travellers safer

  • business promotion of Australian products and services and investment promotion for companies considering setting up operations in Australia

  • networking with influential politicians and business people to try to impact decisions that will affect Australians.

When Australia’s diplomats are asked to accomplish more with fewer resources, they have to cut back what they can do.




Read more:
As Australia’s soft power in the Pacific fades, China’s voice gets louder


Scaling back has a real effect on Australia’s influence. If Australia reduces the scholarships to bring future regional leaders to study in Australia, for instance, they’ll likely study and form bonds elsewhere.

If Australia reduces its investment in Indonesia’s education system, it will be dominated by the country’s other major funder, Saudi Arabia.

When Australia pulls back on its diplomacy, other countries take up the slack.

One impetus for the Morrison government’s much-vaunted “Pacific Step Up” was the realisation that cuts in aid and diplomacy had led to lessened Australian influence in its neighbourhood. In the words of one diplomat I spoke to, “China had been eating our lunch”.

The problem is that the “step up” did not come with increased funding for diplomats, meaning that DFAT’s new Office of the Pacific is being formed by taking staff and resources from other parts of department.

Getting back in black

We recommend an immediate increase in spending on diplomacy, trade and aid to 1.5% of the federal budget. This is closer to the spending of countries such as Canada (1.9%) and the Netherlands (4.3%), though still much lower than the challenging era after the second world war, when Australia was spending 9% of the federal budget on diplomacy, trade and aid.

If nothing else, DFAT should be granted an exemption from the efficiency dividend – an annual funding reduction for government agencies – until its budget rises to a more normal, historical level. This measure, usually levied at 1% to 1.25% of the administrative budget, reached 4% in 2012–13. With DFAT cut to the bone, the focus should be on increasing its budget, not constant cuts.




Read more:
Next government must find Australia’s place in a turbulent and rapidly changing world


The aspirations for our diplomacy must be upgraded beyond the bare minimum. Ten years on from Diplomatic Deficit, Australia must resist the magical thinking that foreign affairs and trade somehow happen by themselves. In the 2009 report, former DFAT Secretary Richard Woolcott is quoted as saying:

I do feel that the Department of Foreign Affairs … has been allowed to run down to a dangerously low level … we can’t go on doing more with less … these sorts of undertakings do need to be properly resourced.

If only this had changed in the last 10 years.


Mitchell Vandewerdt-Holman, a Master of International Relations student at the University of Melbourne, contributed to this report.The Conversation

Melissa Conley Tyler, Director of Diplomacy at Asialink, University of Melbourne

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

India’s not joining the latest free-trade deal which limits Australia’s market access


Pat Ranald, University of Sydney

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison and other leaders involved in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) announced late yesterday that 15 of the 16 countries have finalised the text, and are prepared to sign the trade deal in early 2020.

India is the only one not to join, a joint leaders’ statement saying the country had “significant outstanding issues”. Negotiations will continue in the hope it may join later.

The RCEP now involves Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, South Korea and the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, covering 2.5 billion people.




Read more:
Arrogance destroyed the World Trade Organisation. What replaces it will be even worse


A lost Indian market, for now, and concerns about corporate power

India’s absence severely diminishes the market access Australia hoped to gain. Australia already has a free trade agreement with ASEAN, and has bilateral free trade agreements with all of the other countries.

India would have been the main area of additional market access for Australian agricultural and other exports.

RCEP negotiations have dragged on since 2012. Much attention has focused on India’s resistance to lower tariffs and emphasised the importance of concluding a major trade deal in the face of US president Donald Trump’s America-first protectionism.

But there is a hidden contentious agenda of non-tariff issues that has influenced India’s decision and could restrict future government regulation by giving more rights to global corporations.

These deserve more public discussion in Australia, and reflect the widely divergent levels of economic development of RECP countries.

A secret deal

As usual, the wording of the RECP deal is secret. The final text will not be revealed until after it is signed.

It’s a process widely criticised by both civil society groups and the Productivity Commission.

This secrecy favours corporate players, which have the most resources to lobby governments.

Leaked documents reveal the industrialised countries, including Japan, South Korea and Australia, have been pushing non-tariff rules that suit their major corporations, similar to those in the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

These have been resisted by developing countries, which have more vulnerable populations, and wish to preserve regulatory space to develop local industries.

Concern over foreign investor rights

The contested proposals include foreign investor rights to bypass national courts and sue governments for millions of dollars in international tribunals if they can argue a change in law or policy will harm their investment. This is known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ISDS.




Read more:
Suddenly, the world’s biggest trade agreement won’t allow corporations to sue governments


Tobacco company Philip Morris used ISDS to sue our government for compensation over our plain packaging law, a public health measure designed to discourage young smokers. Australia won in the end, but at a cost to taxpayers of $12 million.

Most of the 983 known ISDS cases have been taken against developing countries, with increasing numbers against health, environment, indigenous land rights, labour laws and other public interest regulation in both developing and industrialised countries.

RCEP members India and Indonesia have policies to exclude or severely restrict investor rights in new agreements.

ISDS has been reportedly excluded from the RCEP text. India was one of the main opponents of ISDS. We won’t know for sure whether ISDS is still excluded until the text is released after signing.

Other concerns over patents and e-commerce

Even more contentious are proposals that pharmaceutical companies should be given longer patent monopolies on medicines than the current 20 years. This would delay the availability of cheaper medicines, at greatest cost to developing countries.

There are also proposals to extend to developing countries’ rules on patenting of seeds and plants that apply to industrialised countries. This would make it more difficult for millions of small-scale farmers in developing countries to save and exchange seeds with each other as they have done for centuries. They lack the capacity to use the legal system to obtain patent rights and lack the funds to buy patented seeds.

The RCEP also includes an e-commerce chapter that mandates free cross-border data flows for global corporations such as Google and Facebook. This makes it more difficult for governments to regulate them.

For example, if trade rules forbid requirements to store data locally, then national privacy laws and other consumer protections cannot be applied to data stored in other countries.

The recent Digital Platforms report of the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission recommended more, not less regulation of these corporations. That was in the face of scandals about violations of consumer privacy, misuse of data in elections and tax evasion.

Developing countries are also concerned rules favouring the global tech companies will lock in their market dominance at the expense of local IT industry development.

These conflicts between governments have been deepened by national pressures from civil society groups in RCEP countries including Australia. When RECP negotiations were held in Australia in July this year, 52 community organisations, including public health, union, church, environment and aid groups endorsed a letter to the trade minister Simon Birmingham. They asked him to oppose ISDS and longer medicine monopolies in the RCEP, and to release the text for independent evaluation before it is signed.

Show us the deal

Even without India in the deal, the Australian government says it will boost local jobs and exports.




Read more:
Myth busted: China’s status as a developing country gives it few benefits in the World Trade Organisation


But without India, claimed market access gains are marginal for Australia and must be evaluated against the costs of expanded corporate rights and restraints on future government regulation.

That’s why the text of the RCEP deal should be released before it is signed and there should be independent evaluation of its costs and benefits for both Australia and its trading partners.The Conversation

Pat Ranald, Research fellow, University of Sydney

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

The UK’s 2019 election cannot be a re-run of the 2017 campaign


Christopher Kirkland, York St John University

The UK is due to go to the polls on December 12 in an attempt to overcome parlaiment’s impasse over Brexit. Given the latest missed deadline of October 31, it seems inevitable that Brexit will dominate this campaign. Boris Johnson and the Conservatives are blaming parliament for blocking the passage of a Brexit agreement. Jeremy Corbyn and Labour are highlighting the dangers of Johnson’s deal, as well as pointing out that the government pulled the deal before parliament could vote on it, somewhat undermining the idea that MPs have blocked it.

While politicians may be keen to offer such narratives, voters may – and indeed should – express different priorities. They should ask more of candidates than a simple re-run of either the 2016 referendum or the 2017 general election, both of which have been unable to deliver change.

Politicians can help this by ensuring that debating Brexit does not come at the expense of other topics. To achieve that, the narrative on the biggest issue of the day needs to be focused and specific so that it is less likely to sprawl out and dominate everything. If politicians can do this then we can begin to talk about other issues.

Even if a new government were to agree a deal quickly and get it through the new parliament in time for the January 31 deadline, that would not be the end of the story. After the deal passes, the UK will enter a transition period with a new deadline of December 31 2020. Any agreements made here will set out the UK’s future relationship with the EU. This will be much more difficult to negotiate than the current withdrawal agreement (not least as this agreement will encompass far more than the current withdrawal agreement).

It seems remote to suggest that the future relationship – something more complex than the process of leaving – can be negotiated any quicker than the withdrawal agreement. Bearing in mind there already been two and a half years of negotiations up to now, it is likely that these negotiations will consume most of the time afforded to the next parliament. They may not even be completed before the next election in 2024.

Hopes are not plans

One problem is that without knowing when or how the big Brexit issues will be resolved, the debate can only revolve around abstract ideas. This was a key problem in the original Brexit campaign. Important questions could be left unanswered because so much was unknown. At times, voters were even fed misinformation.

One function of an election is to hold incumbent governments and MPs to account – and in order to do this in the future, greater attention needs to be placed on demanding politicians present feasible policy suggestions rather than chasing fanciful ideas.

We should be wary of MPs or candidates who appear able to promise a range of options to different (sub-groups of) voters. Even in the early stages of the campaign we can see divergence between those advocating a form of Brexit. Johnson is promoting his deal and new deadline of 31 January 2020, while Nigel Farage, at the launch of the Brexit Party, criticised the deal and suggested a further extension to July 2020 could be possible.

Here it is important to note the language used on the campaign trail. What a party hopes to achieve in Brexit negotiations is not necessarily the same as what they can achieve. They may not even have control over the things they are promising. Remember any deal (including any alterations or new deals) will have to be signed off by the EU.

The domestic agenda

Even if we accept the narrative that Brexit can be “resolved” in the next parliament, the question then left is what comes next? What are the post-Brexit plans? Any aspiring government simply cannot wait until the end of Brexit to start implementing policies. Parliament has been bogged down by Brexit ever since Article 50 was triggered in 2017 and has carried only a fraction of the amount of work it might otherwise.

Candidates in the elections could help to offer some reassurances about Brexit by talking about other policy areas too. A government looking to hold office until May 2024 will need to address environmental changes, the future of the union, the legacy of austerity and plans for reigniting the economy, as well as traditionally salient issues such as welfare (including the NHS) and education.

Clarity on domestic policies will also have the effect of reassuring voters who are worried by the different permutations that Brexit may offer. And such clarity could, in turn, help to mitigate some of the economic risks associated with Brexit. If we can’t be sure about what will happen after Brexit, a party hoping to reach government could at least offer stability on other matters.The Conversation

Christopher Kirkland, Lecturer in Politics, York St John University

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

Twitter is banning political ads – but the real battle for democracy is with Facebook and Google



Twitter should get credit for its sensible move, but the microblogging company is tiny compared to Facebook and Google.
Shutterstock

Johan Lidberg, Monash University

Finally, some good news from the weirdo-sphere that is social media. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has announced that, effective November 22, the microblogging platform will ban all political advertising – globally.

This is a momentous move by Twitter. It comes when Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg are under increasing pressure to deal with the amount of mis- and disinformation published via paid political advertising on Facebook.

Zuckerberg recently told a congress hearing Facebook had no plans of fact-checking political ads, and he did not answer a direct question from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez if Facebook would take down political ads found to be untrue. Not a good look.

A few days after Zuckerberg’s train wreck appearance before the congress committee, Twitter announced its move.




Read more:
Merchants of misinformation are all over the internet. But the real problem lies with us


While Twitter should get credit for its sensible move, the microblogging company is tiny compared to Facebook and Google. So, until the two giants change, Twitter’s political ad ban will have little effect on elections around the globe.

A symptom of the democratic flu

It’s important to call out Google on political advertising. The company often manages to fly under the radar on this issue, hiding behind Facebook, which takes most of the flack.

The global social media platforms are injecting poison into liberal democratic systems around the globe. The misinformation and outright lies they allow to be published on their platforms is partly responsible for the increasingly bitter deep partisan divides between different sides of politics in most mature liberal democracies.

Add to this the micro targeting of voters illustrated by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and a picture emerges of long-standing democratic systems under extreme stress. This is clearly exemplified by the UK parliament’s paralysis over Brexit and the canyon-deep political divides in the US.




Read more:
Why you should talk to your children about Cambridge Analytica


Banning political advertising only deals with a symptom of the democratic flu the platforms are causing. The root cause of the flu is the fact social media platforms are no longer only platforms – they are publishers.

Until they acknowledge this and agree to adhere to the legal and ethical frameworks connected with publishing, our democracies will not recover.

Not platforms, but publishers

Being a publisher is complex and much more expensive than being a platform. You have to hire editorial staff (unless you can create algorithms advanced enough to do editorial tasks) to fact-check, edit and curate content. And you have to become a good corporate citizen, accepting you have social responsibilities.

Convincing the platforms to accept their publisher role is the most long-term and sustainable way of dealing with the current toxic content issue.

Accepting publisher status could be a win-win, where the social media companies rebuild trust with the public and governments by acting ethcially and socially responsibly, stopping the poisoning of our democracies.

Mark Zuckerberg claims Facebook users being able to publish lies and misinformation is a free speech issue. It is not. Free speech is a privilege as well as a right and, like all privileges, it comes with responsibilities and limitations.

Examples of limitations are defamation laws and racial vilification and discrimination laws. And that’s just the legal framework. The strong ethical frame work that applies to publishing should be added to this.

Ownership concentration like never before

Then, there’s the global social media oligopoly issue. Never before in recorded human history have we seen any industry achieve a level of ownership concentration displayed by the social media companies. This is why this issue is so deeply serious. It’s global, it reaches billions and the money and profits involved is staggering.




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The fightback against Facebook is getting stronger


Facebook co-founder, Chris Hughes, got it absolutely right when he in his New York Times article pointed out the Federal Trade Commission – the US equivalent to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission – got it wrong when they allowed Facebook to buy Instagram and WhatsApp.

Hughes wants Facebook broken up and points to the attempts from parts of US civil society moving in this direction. He writes:

This movement of public servants, scholars and activists deserves our support. Mark Zuckerberg cannot fix Facebook, but our government can.

Yesterday, I posted on my Facebook timeline for the first time since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. I made the point that after Twitter’s announcement, the ball is now squarely in Facebook’s and Google’s courts.

For research and professional reasons, I cannot delete my Facebook account. But I can pledge to not be an active Facebook user until the company grows up and shoulders its social responsibility as an ethical publisher that enhances our democracies instead of undermining them.The Conversation

Johan Lidberg, Associate Professor, School of Media, Film and Journalism, Monash University

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

We asked 13 economists how to fix things. All back the RBA governor over the treasurer


Peter Martin, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Thirteen leading economists have declared their hands in the stand off between the government and the Governor of the Reserve Bank over the best way to boost the economy.

All 13 back Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe.

They say that, by itself, the Reserve Bank cannot be expected to do everything extra that will be needed to boost the economy.

All think that extra stimulus will be needed, and all think it’ll have to come from Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, as well as the bank.

All but two say the treasurer should be prepared to sacrifice his goal of an immediate budget surplus in order to provide it.

The 13 are members of the 20-person economic forecasting panel assembled by The Conversation at the start of this year.

All but one have been surprised by the extent of the economic slowdown.




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The 13 represent ten universities in five states.

Among them are macroeconomists, economic modellers, former Treasury, IMF, OECD and Reserve Bank officials and a former government minister.

The Bank needs help

At issue is the government’s contention, spelled out by Frydenberg’s treasury secretary Steven Kennedy in evidence to the Senate last month, that there is usually little role for government spending and tax (“fiscal”) measures in stimulating the economy in the event of a downturn.

Absent a crisis, economic weakness was “best responded to by monetary policy”.

Monetary policy – the adjustment of interest rates by the Reserve Bank – is nearing the end of its effectiveness in its present form. The bank has already cut its cash rate to close to zero (0.75%) and will consider another cut on Tuesday.

It is preparing to consider so-called “unconventional” measures, including buying bonds in order to force longer-term interest rates down toward zero.




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Governor Lowe has made the case for “fiscal support, including through spending on infrastructure” saying there are limits to what monetary policy can achieve.

The 13 economists unanimously back the Governor.

Seven of the 13 say what is needed most is fiscal stimulus (including extra government spending on infrastructure), three say both fiscal and monetary measures are needed, and three want government “structural reform”, including measures to help the economy deal with climate change and remove red tape.

None say the Reserve Bank should be left to fight the downturn by itself without further help from the government.

There is plenty of room for fiscal stimulus, particularly infrastructure spending – Mark Crosby, Monash University

I agree with the emerging consensus that monetary policy is no longer effective when interest rates are so low – Ross Guest, Griffith University

It is time for coordinated monetary and fiscal policies to boost domestic demand – Guay Lim, Melbourne Institute

The surplus can wait

Eleven of the 13 believe the government should abandon its determination to deliver a budget surplus in 2019-20.

Renee Fry-McKibbin. Ease surplus at all costs.
ANU

Economic modeller Renee Fry-McKibbin says the government should “ease its position of a surplus at all costs”.

Former Commonwealth Treasury and ANZ economist Warren Hogan says achieving a surplus in the current environment would have “zero value”.

Former OECD director Adrian Blundell-Wignall says that rather than aiming for an overall budget surplus, the government should aim instead for an “net operating balance”, a proposal that was put forward by Scott Morrison as treasurer in 2017.

The approach would move worthwhile infrastructure spending and borrowing onto a separate balance sheet that would not need to balance.

Political debate would focus instead on whether the annual operating budget was balanced or in deficit.

Former treasury and IMF economist Tony Makin is one of only two economists surveyed who backs the government’s continued pursuit of a surplus, saying annual interest payments on government debt have reached A$14 billion, “four times the foreign aid budget and almost twice as much as federal spending on higher education”.

Tony Makin. Surplus needed for budget repair.
Griffith University

Further deterioration of the balance via “facile fiscal stimulus” would risk Australia’s creditworthiness.

However Makin doesn’t think the government should leave everything to the Reserve Bank.

He has put forward a program of extra spending on infrastructure projects that meet rigorous criteria, along with company tax cuts or investment allowances paid for by government spending cuts.

Former trade minister Craig Emerson also wants an investment allowance, suggesting businesses should be able to immediately deduct 20% of eligible spending.

It’s an idea put forward by Labor during the 2019 election campaign. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has indicated something like it is being considered for the 2020 budget.

Emerson says it should be possible to deliver both the investment allowance and a budget surplus.

Quantitative easing would be a worry

Five of the 13 economists are concerned about the Reserve Bank adopting so-called “unconvential” measures such as buying government and private sector bonds in order to push long-term interest rates down toward zero, a practice known as quantitative easing.

Jeffrey Sheen and Renee Fry-McKibbin say it should be kept in reserve for emergencies.

Adrian Blundell-Wignall and Mark Crosby say it hasn’t worked in the countries that have tried it.

A quantitative easing avalanche policy by the European central bank larger than the entire UK economy has left inflation below target and growth fading. Quantitative easing destroys the interbank market, under-prices risk, and encourages leverage and asset speculation – Adrian Blundell-Wignall

Steve Keen says in both Europe and the United States quantitative easing enriched banks and drove up asset prices but did little to boost consumer spending, “because the rich don’t consume much of the wealth”.

The treasurer should step up

Taken together, the responses of the 13 economists suggest it is ultimately the government’s responsibility to ensure the economy doesn’t weaken any further, and that it would be especially unwise to palm it off on to the Reserve Bank at a time when the bank’s cash rate is close to zero and the effectiveness of the unconventional measures it might adopt is in doubt.

Measures the government could adopt include increasing the rate of the Newstart unemployment benefit, boosting funding for schools and skills training, borrowing for well-chosen infrastructure projects with a social rate of return greater than the cost of borrowing, further tax cuts that double as tax reform (including further tax breaks for business investment) and spending more on programs aimed at avoiding the worst of climate change and adapting to it.

The economists are backing the governor in his plea for help. They think he needs it.


The 13 economists surveyed




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The Conversation


Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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

Is the Morrison government ‘authoritarian populist’ with a punitive bent?



Scott Morrison’s government may be more authoritarian populist than strictly conservative.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Carol Johnson, University of Adelaide

In a recent interview Malcolm Turnbull raised the possibility that these days many so-called “conservatives” in the Liberal Party might be better described as “authoritarian populists”.

It would be easy to dismiss his comments as being those of a bitter former leader. But maybe Turnbull has a point, and perhaps it might even be applied more broadly to the Morrison government.

Although the term “authoritarian populism” is often associated with far-right parties, it has also been used to describe mainstream governments, such as those of Margaret Thatcher (1979-1990).




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Thatcherite populist rhetoric mobilised the people against big government and elite special interests, which was combined with authoritarian measures such as increased policing of ethnic minorities and militant unions.

Authoritarian populist is a term now sometimes applied to Donald Trump. So it is well worth asking whether the Morrison government also has some authoritarian populist tendencies.

This is particularly the case given Morrison’s recent embrace of a Trump-influenced anti-globalist rhetoric, which seems partly aimed at asserting Australian independence from international human rights frameworks.

The populist tinge to Morrison’s politics was obvious during the 2019 election campaign. Morrison countered Labor’s own populist arguments (standing against the “top end of town”) by using an alternative populism that mobilised the people against big-spending, big-taxing Labor governments. He argued that Labor would rip off ordinary citizens, run up big debts and ruin the economy, costing jobs in the process.

Morrison’s election persona of “ScoMo”, the warm and friendly daggy dad from the suburbs, might not seem authoritarian. However, even then, there were authoritarian tendencies creeping in to his populism. This is not just in his attitudes to asylum seekers, but also to Australians. For example, Morrison’s slogan: “A fair go for those who have a go” implied that some welfare recipients didn’t deserve the benefits they were getting.

Morrison’s ‘daggy dad’ persona may not seem authoritarian, but there are strains of it in his populism.
AAP/Craig Golding

Indeed, the Morrison government’s authoritarian policy agenda also has a punitive element that has become more evident since the election. Not only has the government emphasised it won’t increase Newstart (despite even business groups calling for an increase), but welfare recipients have been increasingly demonised.

The social services minister reportedly rejected increasing Newstart on the grounds that many welfare recipients would just spend the money on drugs and alcohol. The government has instead revived punitive mandatory drug-testing proposals for welfare recipients.

The government has also supported an expansion of the cashless welfare card, despite trenchant criticisms from the Australian Council of Social Service.

Meanwhile, Peter Dutton has suggested climate change protesters should face mandatory imprisonment and lose their unemployment benefits.

Morrison has dismissed calls for greater media freedom with the populist argument that journalists should not be “above the law”. (In doing so, he implies journalists are an elitist group demanding special privileges denied to ordinary people.)

Yet it is governments that make the law, including authoritarian and punitive laws that can shield them from proper democratic scrutiny. Suggesting that the attorney-general should have the final say on whether police proceed with prosecutions against journalists compounds, rather than reduces, the problem.

It is not just powerful media organisations facing the government’s authoritarian streak. Attacking higher energy prices is a popular move (and easier for the Liberals than developing a full energy policy, given internal divisions).

But businesses have expressed their concern at the “big stick” potentially being wielded against them. Predictably, though, it is unions that face the government’s most authoritarian measures, with the ACTU arguing the proposed new laws are designed to bust them.

Admittedly, as I have argued elsewhere, none of these authoritarian tendencies are totally new. The Howard government had a history of tough legislation against unions and of defunding advocacy groups.

Australian governments have introduced increasingly authoritarian measures that the United Nations and human rights organisations have criticised previously for undermining Australian democracy, including under Turnbull’s watch.

Many moderate Liberals who remembered Turnbull from his libertarian spycatcher days, opposing British government secrecy, were sadly disappointed by his failure to stand up to the right-wingers in his party on such issues. (Admittedly, Labor often capitulated on so-called national security issues as well.)

Nor is it unusual for conservatives in the party to demonise protesters. Indeed, a NSW Liberal premier once reportedly urged a driver to run them over.




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However, the attitudes towards Newstart, for example, are very different from the days when Robert Menzies was proud of increasing unemployment benefits. The authoritarian industrial relations measures are also a far cry from the social liberal traditions that used to influence the Liberal Party. The eroding of civil liberties will be concerning to many small-“l” Liberal voters, as well as to more left-wing voters.

Some Turnbull supporters would have felt relieved when he was replaced by Morrison rather than the Coalition’s hard man, Dutton.

However, perhaps “ScoMo” is just a more personable Dutton in some respects. Whether his government’s punitive measures will eventually undermine Morrison’s warm and friendly election image remains to be seen.The Conversation

Carol Johnson, Adjunct Professor, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Adelaide

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