How realistic are China’s plans to build a research station on the Moon?


Joshua Chou, University of Technology Sydney

The world is still celebrating the historic landing of China’s Chang’e-4 on the dark side of the moon on January 3. This week, China announced its plans to follow up with three more lunar missions, laying the groundwork for a lunar base.

Colonising the Moon, and beyond, has always being a human aspiration. Technological advancements, and the discovery of a considerable source of water close to the lunar poles, has made this idea even more appealing.

But how close is China to actually achieving this goal?

If we focus on the technology currently available, China could start building a base on the Moon today.




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Will China’s moon landing launch a new space race?


The first lunar base

The first lunar base would likely be an unmanned facility run by automated robotics – similar to Amazon warehouses – to ensure that the necessary infrastructures and support systems are fully operational before people arrive.

The lunar environment is susceptible to deep vacuum conditions, strong temperature fluctuations and solar radiation, among other conditions hostile to humans. More importantly, we have yet to fully understand the long term impact on the human body of being in space, and on the Moon.

Seeds taken to the Moon by the Chang’e-4 mission have now reportedly sprouted. This is the first time plants have been grown on the Moon, paving the way for a future food farm on the lunar base.

Building a lunar base is no different than building the first oil rig out in the ocean. The logistics of moving construction parts must be considered, feasibility studies must be conducted and, in this case, soil samples must be tested.

China has taken the first step by examining the soil of the lunar surface. This is necessary for building an underground habitat and supporting infrastructure that will shield the base from the harsh surface conditions.

3D printed everything

Of all the possible technologies for building a lunar base, 3D printing offers the most effective strategy. 3D printing on Earth has revolutionised manufacturing productivity and efficiency, reducing both waste and cost.

China’s vision is to develop the capability to 3D print both inside and outside of the lunar base. 3D printers have the potential to make everything from daily items, like drinking cups, to repair parts for the base.

But 3D printing in space is a real challenge. It will require new technologies that can operate in the micro gravity environment of the Moon. 3D printing machines that are able to shape parts in the vacuum of space must be developed.




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Want to build a moon base? Easy. Just print it


New materials are required

We know that Earth materials, such as fibre optics, change properties once they are in space. So materials that are effective on Earth, might not be effective on the Moon.

Whatever the intended use of the 3D printed component, it will have to be resistant to the conditions of lunar environment. So the development of printing material is crucial. Step-by-step, researchers are finding and developing new materials and technologies to address this challenge.

For example, researchers in Germany expect to have the first “ready to use” stainless steel tools to be 3D printed under microgravity in the near future. NASA also demonstrated 3D printing technology in zero gravity showing it is feasible to 3D print in space.

On a larger scale we have seen houses being 3D printed on Earth. In a similar way, the lunar base will likely be built using prefabricated parts in combination with large-scale 3D printing.

Examples of what this might look like can be seen to entries in the 3D printed habitat challenge, which was started by NASA in 2005. The competition seeks to advance 3D printing construction technology needed to create sustainable housing solutions for Earth, the Moon, Mars and beyond.

NASA’s Habitat Challenge: Team Gamma showing their habitat design.
NASA 3D Printed Habitat Challenge

Living on the Moon

So far, we’ve focused on the technological feasibility of building a lunar base, but we also need to consider the long term effect of lunar living on humans. To date, limited studies have been conducted to examine the the biological impact on human physiology at the cellular level.

We know that the human organs, tissues and cells are highly responsive to gravity, but an understanding of how human cells function and regenerate is currently lacking.

What happens if the astronauts get sick? Will medicine from Earth still work? If astronauts are to live on the Moon, these fundamental questions need to be answered.

In the long term, 3D bioprinting of human organs and tissues will play a crucial role in sustaining lunar missions by allowing for robotic surgeries. Russia recently demonstrated the first 3D bioprinter to function under microgravity.




Read more:
Five reasons to forget Mars for now and return to the moon


To infinity and beyond

Can China build a lunar base? Absolutely. Can human beings survive on the Moon and other planets for the long term? The answer to that is less clear.

What is certain is that China will use the next 10 to 15 years to develop the requisite technical capabilities for conducting manned lunar missions and set the stage for space exploration.The Conversation

Joshua Chou, Senior lecturer, University of Technology Sydney

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

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Morrison’s Vanuatu trip shows the government’s continued focus on militarising the Pacific


Michael O’Keefe, La Trobe University

The foreign policy community met with relief the announcement Morrison’s first overseas trip for 2019 would be to Vanuatu and Fiji. The trip is a long overdue symbol of a priority outlined in the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper: “stepping up our engagement in the Pacific”.

There had been much criticism of the PM’s failure to attend last year’s Pacific Islands Forum given the white paper’s stated aims to

engage with the Pacific with greater intensity and ambition, deliver more integrated and innovative policy and make further, substantial long-term investments in the region’s development.

Although Vanuatu’s prime minister, Charlot Salwai, visited Australia last year, Morrison’s trip to Port Vila on Wednesday is the first by an Australian PM since Bob Hawke in 1990.

The trip had a strong defence focus, with Morrison saying Australia’s contribution to Vanuatu’s police and security will ensure “the stability of our region”. He is also reportedly negotiating a bilateral security agreement. This represents a deeper militarisation of Australia’s Pacific foreign policy.

Morrison’s aims to formalise security relations are an attempt to gain influence in the face of China’s rising competition. Australia’s undiplomatic and somewhat hysterical response to rumours of a Chinese military base being built in Vanuatu in 2018 highlights Canberra’s sensitivity to “foreign” intervention in the South Pacific.

Although Vanuatu was quick to deny the rumours, debate in Australia raged over the geopolitical implications, with some commentators saying a strike could be launched from the base to Australia.




Read more:
Response to rumours of a Chinese military base in Vanuatu speaks volumes about Australian foreign policy


The government’s recent pattern of providing support for PNG’s Manus Island naval base, Fiji’s Black Rock Base, or new Patrol Boats to 12 Pacific Island nations, is part of a tectonic shift that has occurred in foreign policy toward the Pacific.

Australia’s focus is security, concentrating on external threats and the possibility of internal instability. The Pacific’s concern, however, is sustainable development and climate change, which Australia seems to ignore.

The question is whether Canberra will simply continue framing the Pacific through the lens of Australian policy priorities or focus on what the Pacific wants.

Australia’s relationship with Vanuatu

Australia already has significant defence relations with the other Pacific Island military nations – PNG and Fiji. Canberra has a longstanding defence cooperation relationship with PNG and this trip will likely lead to greater defence cooperation with Fiji – especially as Australia beat China in the bid to build the Black Rock Base.

And in 2017, under then Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Australia negotiated a bilateral security treaty with the Solomon Islands security cooperation agreement. This agreement allows Australian police personnel to deploy rapidly to Solomon Islands (with the consent of both countries) if there is a threat, which includes natural disasters.

With regards to Vanuatu, Australia is already its main development assistance partner. And Australia’s trading and investment relationship with Vanuatu is as significant as is possible with a small island nation of 285,000 people. And out of the Pacific nations and Timor Leste, Vanuatu has the larger number of workers in Australia and New Zealand as part of the Seasonal Worker Program.




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In the 1980s Australia gave Vanuatu a patrol boat to police its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and will give a modern advanced vessel as part of the Pacific Maritime Security Program. This program, detailed in the 2016 Defence White Paper, is a A$2 billion commitment to the region over 30 years, and seeks to support regional countries in defending their maritime boundaries from transnational crime and illegal fishing.

The Australian Federal Police also has a longstanding training relationship with the Vanuatu Police through DFAT’s Policing and Justice Support Program. In 2018 it was announced that Australia would train 300 new recruits.

Despite all of this, the Morrison Government is reportedly placing increased security cooperation with Vanuatu high on the agenda. So, why now? Perhaps because Canberra’s Pacific “step up” has not all been plain sailing and relations with Vanuatu have been strained recently.

Australia at odds with the Pacific

In the past, Australia’s relations with the Pacific had been characterised by aid and development rather than security. Canberra remains the region’s number one aid donor. However, under successive Liberal governments, the aid budget has declined.

This has continued under the Morrison government and there is concern militarisation will draw funds away from development projects that more closely meet the interests of Pacific Island nations.

The other key plank in the government’s Pacific “step up” was the announcement of a infrastructure development bank. This multi-billion dollar initiative is short on detail but plans to provide loans for “high priority” infrastructure projects including telecommunications, energy, transport and water.




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If there’s one thing Pacific nations don’t need, it’s yet another infrastructure investment bank


The loans will be provided at concessional rates and the bank is aimed at countering Chinese influence. Australia has criticised China’s debt book diplomacy, so increasing the debt pool of Pacific countries seems at odds with these concerns.

Morrison’s Pacific pivot is in full swing. So far, the Infrastructure Bank raises more questions than it answers. The security focus of Morrison’s trip is likely to lead to more speculation about what Australia wants to give. If we want to build sustainable relationships, we should be listening closely to what Vanuatu wants to get from any security agreement.The Conversation

Michael O’Keefe, Head of Department, Politics and Philosophy, La Trobe University

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

From robo calls to spam texts: annoying campaign tricks that are legal



File 20190116 152968 yjzfxg.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Politicians are allowed to spam you with campaign texts.
from shutterstock.com

Graeme Orr, The University of Queensland

“Make Australia Great.” So began several million text messages, sent last week from Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party. Palmer’s bumptious campaign techniques actually predated those of Donald Trump.

But now he is aping Trump’s slogans and nationalism, if with a less reactionary, more third-way ethos. The chances of Palmer rising again, like the proverbial political soufflé, are remote. But what of his campaign methods?

Mass texting (I’ll dub it “mexting”) is nothing new in electoral politics. Fifteen years ago it proved controversial, during a local election on the Gold Coast. Late night texts were sent to target young voters while they were out on the town.

The message – which came from nightclubs, urging voters to keeping licensed venues open all hours – was lost in a backlash. In those days people paid not just per text they sent, but often to receive them as well.

Mobiles have since become more ubiquitous, intimate fixtures, and we no longer pay to receive messages, nor do many of us pay for individual texts.

Palmer’s party admits to receiving more than 3,000 complaints (which he claims were robo-calls by trade unions), and he says there’s more to come. But why risk alienating the very people you are reaching out to? And how, if at all, does the law regulate such in-your-face campaign techniques?

The law on ‘mexting’?

For once, the legal how is easier than the political why. The national Spam Act of 2003 regulates unsolicited electronic messages via telephone and email. But only commercial messages, about goods and services or investments, are prohibited.

Social and political advocacy is not treated as suspect. On the contrary, it is encouraged. The Privacy Act, in particular, lets MPs and parties collect data on citizens’ views, to better personalise their messages.

Exempting politicians from privacy laws is based on the philosophy that freedom of political communication is vital to Australia’s democratic process.




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Even when government agencies, charities or political parties offer services or solicit donations or membership, they are given a free hand. All they have to do is include a link about who authorised the message.

The licence to advocate, provided it is not done anonymously, is an old one under electoral law in English-speaking democracies. The obligation to “tag” messages enables the speaker to be traced and helps us discount the source of political opinions.




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That is merely a rule about form, not manner or content. When it comes to manner, there are laws against offensive messages via mass media – whether broadcast or sent by post. (Good luck enforcing that rule in the back passages of the internet.)

There are also, famously, rules against discriminatory “hate” speech.

When it comes to content, you need to avoid defaming people. But there is no general requirement of truth, in the media or in politics, outside rules against misleading parliament, and a limited offence of materially false, paid, election-time ads in South Australia.

At the 2016 general election, the Labor Party dismayed the government and many observers, by mexting as part of its so-called “Mediscare” campaign. The texts looked like they came from Medicare itself. The trick led to a tightening of rules and a new offence of “impersonating” a Commonwealth body.

Other in-your-face campaign methods

Mexting sits in a long line of in-your-face campaign methods. The century old tradition of handing out flyers lives on, as letterboxes in marginal electorates will surely testify later this year.

Another was the “soap box” speech, trundled around shopping precincts via a loudspeaker on the back of a ute. In the middle of last century it was so typical that, as a young candidate, Gough Whitlam is said to have campaigned this way via a boat, to reach outlying suburbs not well serviced by roads.

Sound trucks show the ‘soap box’ method of campaigning is still used in Japan.
Wikimedia Commons

It is all but dead today in Australia, but lives on in the “sound trucks” of Japan.

More recent innovations are the ubiquitous “direct-mail” – a personalised if expensive variant of letterbox stuffing. Plus the “robo-call”, where a pre-recorded message is automatically dialled to thousands of telephones. I well recall picking up my landline, over dinner in 2007, to hear John Howard greet me. He happily ploughed on despite my unflattering response.

As for how, practically, a campaign assembles thousands of valid mobile numbers… well, Palmer’s party says it has no list. It may have hired a marketing firm to send out the texts. Commercial entities, notoriously, collect and trade files of phone numbers, postal and email addresses, and more.

Still, why? A cynic might say that for Palmer, any notoriety is good notoriety. His gambit has people talking about him again. Minor parties expect to alienate people: their goal is to attract a few percent of the vote.

Why major parties employ such tactics is another matter. They have to build broader coalitions of voters. But there is a cost-benefit analysis at work. Electronic messaging can reach swathes of people more cheaply than broadcast advertising, which in any event lacks the reach it once had. And negative advertising, like Mediscare, tends to work.

As it is, modern parties lack mass memberships and cannot rely primarily on organic influence or door-knocking by activists.

So while spamming, in text or audio, seems perverse – and is unlikely to be as effective as targeted or viral messaging on social media, or community-based campaigning – it won’t disappear.

For my part, I won’t grumble about a text from Mr Palmer popping up in my pocket. It beats his huge yellow billboards in terms of a blight on our public spaces.The Conversation

Graeme Orr, Professor of Law, The University of Queensland

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

New figures put it beyond doubt. When it comes to company tax, we are a high-tax country, in part because it works well for us



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The latest figures put Australia near the top when it comes to company tax collections, even though our total tax take isn’t particularly high.
OECD

Miranda Stewart, University of Melbourne

In international tax circles, as in other areas, we often talk about American exceptionalism.

But these days, it is becoming increasingly clear that Australia is exceptional in taxation, among members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and indeed, compared to countries around the globe.

The OECD has just produced its first-ever detailed comparison of company tax collections and rates and effective rates around the world. The “statutory” or headline rate comparisons cover 94 countries. The harder to calculate “effective” tax comparisons cover 88 countries.

The bad news – for companies – is that Australia is close to the top among the 94 countries, and in one of the measures, the effective marginal company tax rate (more on this later), third from the top.


OECD Corporate Tax Statistics.
OECD

Interestingly, in another recent report, the OECD shows that Australia clearly falls into the “low tax” group among OECD countries, with a tax-to-GDP ratio below 30%. But within that context we rely heavily on company tax.

Company tax revenues are high

Australia’s A$80 billion in company tax collections in 2016 was about 4.6% of GDP, ranking Australia twelfth out of the 88 countries for which the OECD had information.

Company tax accounted for 16% of Australia’s total tax revenue, the 27th highest out of the 88 countries.

The statistics have oddities. Luxembourg and Switzerland also have a high share of company tax revenues because they attract so much global capital. In contrast, the overall high-taxing countries of France, Denmark and Finland collect much less revenue from company tax.


OECD Corporate Tax Statistics.
OECD

Headline rates are heading down

Corporate tax rates have been trending down for at least two decades. The Trump tax changes in 2017 that lowered the US federal rate to 21% was the latest dramatic change, but the United Kingdom now has a rate of 19% and many European countries sit at or below 25%. The change since 2000 has been dramatic and the global average is now 20%.

In our Asian region, the average headline corporate tax rate is 15%. As a result of tax incentives available around Asia, companies involved in manufacturing and supply chains often face a lower, or zero, rate.

This trend was identified by the Henry Tax Review in 2009, which recommended transitioning to a 25% rate, which today could be financed with a 1% increase in Australia’s GST rate, according to recent modelling by Chris Murphy.


OECD Corporate Tax Statistics.
OECD

What matters are effective tax rates

The OECD also compares effective marginal tax rates (EMTRs), and effective average tax rates (EATRs), for corporate investment. These combine the headline rate with the rules for corporate investment, depreciation allowances for plant and equipment, and intellectual property investment.

In theory, investors choose to invest based on the expected after-tax rate of return, taking into account tax breaks and special rules.

The EMTR determines the tax cost of expanding an existing investment: putting one more dollar into that investment. In the EMTR ranking, Australia is third highest.

Countries that provide a tax break known as allowance for corporate equity, including Belgium and Italy, actually have negative tax rates on increased investment.

The EATR reflects the tax rate that would be paid on an entire new investment. In the EATR ranking, Australia is, again, near the top in ninth place, at 30% – the same as our statutory rate.


OECD Corporate Tax Statistics.
OECD

Unlike many other countries, Australia has few tax incentives. We do not have a low tax regime for intellectual property or accelerated depreciation for new equipment – except for small businesses, and mining exploration. Only in research and development did Australia provide higher tax subsidies than some other countries and the R&D concession is being tightened.

Overall, Australia’s high rate and broad corporate tax base makes new investment, or the expansion of existing investment, expensive relative to other countries.

Why are we such an outlier?

Australia is a resource extraction and exporting economy.

We haven’t had to compete quite as hard for foreign investment as other countries.

Our relatively high rate of company tax serves two purposes: to tax company profits and to get a fair return on resources in the ground which state governments, through royalties, don’t properly charge for.

And we are geographically isolated, meaning that, even in the global digital economy, it is hard for companies to service us from offshore. Many have to be here and subject to tax.

Also, and importantly, our reliance on corporate tax is not as dramatic as it seems, because of our almost unique dividend imputation system. About one third to one half of corporate tax revenues are handed back to shareholders in credits against company tax already collected. (New Zealand, which has an imputation system, also has high corporate tax revenues).

Kevin Davies suggests that the “real” corporate tax rate in Australia, taking account of dividend imputation, is below 20%.

But that assumes a closed economy. The reality is that the imputation system subsidises some domestic investors – especially tax-free retirees with self managed super funds – while pushing the full weight of company tax onto foreign investment, at the expense of the economy as a whole, and at the expense of Australians who could potentially benefit from that investment.




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Tax reform aside, there’s no real case to kill off dividend imputation


The political heat generated by Labor’s proposal to end the payment of imputation cheques to retirees who don’t pay tax shows their high value to domestic investors. Self-managed super funds are massively overweight in stocks that provide imputation credits, skewing the Australian share market and the dividend policy of our largest companies.

Does it matter?

Australia’s high company tax rate, and the bias in our imputation system against foreign equity, mean that large multinationals will increasingly borrow to finance Australian investment rather than issue shares.

They will get tax deductions for outbound flows of interest, service fees and royalties, while shifting more and more of their sales, marketing and intellectual property offshore where they can.

Australia can, and is, clamping down on profit shifting, but it’s a never-ending battle.

A bold suggestion is that we should scrap our system of dividend imputation and use the money saved to dramatically cut the rate of company tax. It would make Australia much more attractive to foreign investors, although much less attractive to retirees.

Another idea aired in The Conversation late last year is that we should make new capital investment fully tax deductible, turning company tax into a “cashflow tax”.




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Here’s a long-term budget fix that would boost investment: replace company tax with cashflow tax


What we’ll probably end up with is a compromise – a combination of permitting greater deductions for new investment and lowering the rate will be the answer, while limiting or ending dividend imputation.

There’s much to be proud of in being a weird mob.

But as David Ingles and I argued in a research paper last year, it is not smart to ignore what’s happening in other places.

It is true we are geographically isolated, and it is true our resources make us different, but we exist in a global tax environment in which investors consider tax when they decide where to put their money. It is beyond our control.




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Myth busting claims on the impact of the company tax cut


The Conversation


Miranda Stewart, Professor, University of Melbourne

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

Why the Indian Ocean region might soon play a lead role in world affairs



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The economics of countries in the Indian Ocean region are rapidly growing.
from shutterstock.com

Craig Jeffrey, University of Melbourne

In recent days, Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne announced efforts to strengthen Australia’s involvement in the Indian Ocean region, and the importance of working with India in defence and other activities. Speaking at the Raisina Dialogue in Delhi – a geopolitical conference co-hosted by the Indian government – Payne said:

Our respective futures are intertwined and heavily dependent on how well we cooperate on the challenges and opportunities in the Indian Ocean in the decades ahead.

Among Payne’s announcements was A$25 million for a four-year infrastructure program in South Asia (The South Asia Regional Infrastructure Connectivity initiative, or SARIC), which will primarily focus on the transport and energy sectors.

She also pointed to increasing defence activities in the Indian Ocean, noting that in 2014, Australia and India had conducted 11 defence activities together, with the figure reaching 38 in 2018.




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Payne’s speech highlights the emergent power of the Indian Ocean region in world affairs. The region comprises the ocean itself and the countries that border it. These include Australia, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Madagascar, Somalia, Tanzania, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

In terms of global political significance, the Atlantic Ocean can be viewed as the ocean of our grandparents and parents; the Pacific Ocean as the ocean of us and our children; and the Indian Ocean as the ocean of our children and grandchildren.

There is an obvious sense in which the region is the future. The average age of people in the region’s countries is under 30, compared to 38 in the US and 46 in Japan. The countries bordering the Indian Ocean are home to 2.5 billion people, which is one-third of the world’s population.

The countries in the Indian Ocean region host a wide variety of races, cultures, and religions.
from shutterstock.com

But there is also a strong economic and political logic to spotlighting the Indian Ocean as a key emerging region in world affairs and strategic priority for Australia.

Some 80% of the world’s maritime oil trade flows through three narrow passages of water, known as choke points, in the Indian Ocean. This includes the Strait of Hormuz – located between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman – which provides the only sea passage from the Persian Gulf to the open ocean.

The economies of many Indian Ocean countries are expanding rapidly as investors seek new opportunities. Bangladesh, India, Malaysia and Tanzania witnessed economic growth in excess of 5% in 2017 – well above the global average of 3.2%.

India is the fastest growing major economy in the world. With a population expected to become the world’s largest in the coming decades, it is also the one with the most potential.

The strait of Hormuz is one of the world’s most strategically important choke points.
from shutterstock.com

Politically, the Indian Ocean is becoming a pivotal zone of strategic competition. China is investing hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure projects across the region as part of its One Belt One Road initiative.

For instance, China gave Kenya a US$3.2 billion loan to construct a 470 kilometre railway (Kenya’s biggest infrastructure project in over 50 years) linking the capital Nairobi to the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa.

Chinese state-backed firms are also investing in infrastructure and ports in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Bangladesh. Western powers, including Australia and the United States, have sought to counter-balance China’s growing influence across the region by launching their own infrastructure funds – such as the US$113 million US fund announced last August for digital economy, energy, and infrastructure projects.

In security terms, piracy, unregulated migration, and the continued presence of extremist groups in Somalia, Bangladesh and parts of Indonesia pose significant threats to Indian ocean countries.

Countries in the region need to collaborate to build economic strength and address geopolitical risks, and there is a logical leadership role for India, being the largest player in the region.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the Shangri La Dialogue in June, 2008:

The Indo-Pacific is a natural region. It is also home to a vast array of global opportunities and challenges. I am increasingly convinced with each passing day that the destinies of those of us who live in the region are linked.

More than previous Indian Prime Ministers, Modi has travelled up and down the east coast of Africa to promote cooperation and strengthen trade and investment ties, and he has articulated strong visions of India-Africa cooperative interest.

Broader groups are also emerging. In 1997, nations bordering the Bay of Bengal established the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), which works to promote trade links and is currently negotiating a free trade agreement. Australia, along with 21 other border states, is a member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) which seeks to promote sustainable economic growth, trade liberalisation and security.

But, notwithstanding India’s energy and this organisational growth, Indian Ocean cooperation is weak relative to Atlantic and Pacific initiatives.




Read more:
Cooperation is key to securing maritime security in the Indian Ocean


Australia’s 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper seeks to support IORA in areas such as maritime security and international law. Private organisations, such as the Minderoo Foundation, are doing impressive research – as part of the Flourishing Oceans intiative – on the migration of sea life in an effort to advance environmental sustainability and conservation.

But Australia could focus more on how to promote the Indian Ocean. In Australia’s foreign affairs circles, there used to be a sense Asia stopped at Malta. But it seems the current general understanding of the “Indo-Pacific” extends west only as far as India.

What this misses – apart from the historical relevance and contemporary economic and political significance of the Indian Ocean region generously defined – is the importance of the ocean itself.

Not just important for trade and ties

If the Ocean was a rainforest, and widely acknowledged as a repository of enormous biodiversity, imagine the uproar at its current contamination and the clamour around collaborating across all countries bordering the ocean to protect it.

The reefs, mangroves, and marine species that live in the Ocean are under imminent threat. According to some estimates, the Indian Ocean is warming three times faster than the Pacific Ocean .

Overfishing, coastal degradation, and pollution are also harming the ocean. This could have catastrophic implications for the tens of millions of fishermen dependent on the region’s marine resources and the enormous population who rely on the Indian Ocean for their protein.

Australia must continue to strengthen its ties in the region – such as with India and Indonesia – and also build new connections, particularly in Africa.The Conversation

Craig Jeffrey, Director and CEO of the Australia India Institute; Professor of Development Geography, University of Melbourne

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

Conform to the social norm: why people follow what other people do



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Some people just follow the social norm, whether it’s right or not.
Shutterstock/LENAIKA

Campbell Pryor, University of Melbourne and Piers Howe, University of Melbourne

Why do people tend to do what others do, prefer what others prefer, and choose what others choose?

Our study, published today in Nature Human Behaviour, shows that people tend to copy other people’s choices, even when they know that those people did not make their choices freely, and when the decision does not reflect their own actual preferences.

It is well established that people tend to conform to behaviours that are common among other people. These are known as social norms.

Yet our finding that people conform to other’s choices that they know are completely arbitrary cannot be explained by most theories of this social norm effect. As such, it sheds new light on why people conform to social norms.




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Would you do as others do?

Imagine you have witnessed a man rob a bank but then he gives the stolen money to an orphanage. Do you call the police or leave the robber be, so the orphanage can keep the money?

We posed this moral dilemma to 150 participants recruited online in our first experiment. Before they made their choice, we also presented information about how similar participants in a previous experiment had imagined acting during this dilemma.

Half of our participants were told that most other people had imagined reporting the robber. The remaining half were told that most other people had imagined not calling the police.

Crucially, however, we made it clear to our participants that these norms did not reflect people’s preferences. Instead, the norm was said to have occurred due to some faulty code in the experiment that randomly allocated the previous participants to imagining reporting or not reporting the robber.

This made it clear that the norms were arbitrary and did not actually reflect anybody’s preferred choice.

Whom did they follow?

We found that participants followed the social norms of the previous people, even though they knew they were entirely arbitrary and did not reflect anyone’s actual choices.

Simply telling people that many other people had been randomly allocated to imagine reporting the robber increased their tendency to favour reporting the robber.

A series of subsequent experiments, involving 631 new participants recruited online, showed that this result was robust. It held over different participants and different moral dilemmas. It was not caused by our participants not understanding that the norm was entirely arbitrary.

Why would people behave in such a seemingly irrational manner? Our participants knew that the norms were arbitrary, so why would they conform to them?

Is it the right thing to do?

One common explanation for norm conformity is that, if everyone else is choosing to do one thing, it is probably a good thing to do.

The other common explanation is that failing to follow a norm may elicit negative social sanctions, and so we conform to norms in an effort to avoid these negative responses.

Neither of these can explain our finding that people conform to arbitrary norms. Such norms offer no useful information about the value of different options or potential social sanctions.

Instead, our results support an alternative theory, termed self-categorisation theory. The basic idea is that people conform to the norms of certain social groups whenever they have a personal desire to feel like they belong to that group.

Importantly, for self-categorisation theory it does not matter whether a norm reflects people’s preference, as long as the behaviour is simply associated with the group. Thus, our results suggest that self-categorisation may play a role in norm adherence.

The cascade effect

But are we ever really presented with arbitrary norms that offer no rational reason for us to conform to them? If you see a packed restaurant next to an empty one, the packed restaurant must be better, right?

It’s a busy restaurant so it must be good, right?
Shutterstock/EmmepiPhoto

Well, if everyone before you followed the same thought process, it is perfectly possible that an initial arbitrary decision by some early restaurant-goers cascaded into one restaurant being popular and the other remaining empty.

Termed information cascade, this phenomenon emphasises how norms can snowball from potentially irrelevant starting conditions whenever we are influenced by people’s earlier decisions.

Defaults may also lead to social norms that do not reflect people’s preferences but instead are driven by our tendency towards inaction.

For example, registered organ donors remain a minority in Australia, despite most Australians supporting organ donation. This is frequently attributed to our use of an opt-in registration system.

In fact, defaults may lead to norms occurring for reasons that run counter to the decision-maker’s interests, such as a company choosing the cheapest healthcare plan as a default. Our results suggest that people will still tend to follow such norms.

Conform to good behaviour

Increasingly, social norms are being used to encourage pro-social behaviour.

They have been successfully used to encourage healthy eating, increase attendance at doctor appointments, reduce tax evasion, increase towel reuse at hotels, decrease long-term energy use, and increase organ donor registrations.




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The better we can understand why people conform to social norms, the able we will be to design behavioural change interventions to address the problems facing our society.

The fact that the social norm effect works even for arbitrary norms opens up new and exciting avenues to facilitate behavioural change that were not previously possible.The Conversation

Campbell Pryor, PhD Student in Psychology, University of Melbourne and Piers Howe, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Melbourne

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

New guidelines for responding to cyber attacks don’t go far enough



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If Australia’s electricity grid was targeted by cyber attack the fall out could be severe.
Shutterstock

Adam Henry, UNSW and Greg Austin, UNSW

Debates about cyber security in Australia over the past few weeks have largely centred around the passing of the government’s controversial Assistance and Access bill. But while government access to encrypted messages is an important subject, protecting Australia from threat could depend more on the task of developing a solid and robust cyber security response plan.

Australia released its first Cyber Incident Management Arrangements (CIMA) for state, territory and federal governments on December 12. It’s a commendable move towards a comprehensive national civil defence strategy for cyber space.

Coming at least a decade after the need was first foreshadowed by the government, this is just the initial step on a path that demands much more development. Beyond CIMA, the government needs to better explain to the public the unique threats posed by large scale cyber incidents and, on that basis, engage the private sector and a wider community of experts on addressing those unique threats.




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Australia is poorly prepared

The aim of the new cyber incident arrangements is to reduce the scope, impact and severity of a “national cyber incident”.

A national cyber incident is defined as being of potential national importance, but less severe than a “crisis” that would trigger the government’s Australian Government Crisis Management Framework (AGCMF).

Australia is currently ill-prepared to respond to a major cyber incident, such as the Wannacry or NotPetya attacks in 2017.

Wannacry severely disrupted the UK’s National Health Service, at a cost of A$160 million. NotPetya shut down the world’s largest shipping container company, Maersk, for several weeks, costing it A$500 million.

When costs for random cyber attacks are so high, it’s vital that all Australian governments have coordinated response plans to high-threat incidents. The CIMA sets out inter-jurisdictional coordination arrangements, roles and responsibilities, and principles for cooperation.

A higher-level cyber crisis that would trigger the AGCMF (a process that itself looks somewhat under-prepared) is one that:

… results in sustained disruption to essential services, severe economic damage, a threat to national security or loss of life.

More cyber experts and cyber incident exercises

At just seven pages in length, in glossy brochure format, the CIMA does not outline specific operational incident management protocols.

This will be up to state and territory governments to negotiate with the Commonwealth. That means the protocols developed may be subject to competing budget priorities, political appetite, divergent levels of cyber maturity, and, most importantly, staffing requirements.

Australia has a serious crisis in the availability of skilled cyber personnel in general. This is particularly the case in specialist areas required for the management of complex cyber incidents.

Government agencies struggle to compete with major corporations, such as the major banks, for the top-level recruits.

Australia needs people with expertise in cybersecurity.

The skills crisis is exacerbated by the lack of high quality education and training programs in Australia for this specialist task. Our universities, for the most part, do not teach – or even research – complex cyber incidents on a scale that could begin to service the national need.




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The federal government must move quickly to strengthen and formalise arrangements for collaboration with key non-governmental partners – particularly the business sector, but also researchers and large non-profit entities.

Critical infrastructure providers, such as electricity companies, should be among the first businesses targeted for collaboration due to the scale of potential fallout if they came under attack.

To help achieve this, CIMA outlines plans to institutionalise, for the first time, regular cyber incident exercises that address nationwide needs.

Better long-term planning is needed

While these moves are a good start, there are three longer term tasks that need attention.

First, the government needs to construct a consistent, credible and durable public narrative around the purpose of its cyber incident policies, and associated exercise programs.

Former Cyber Security Minister Dan Tehan has spoken of a single cyber storm, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull spoke of a perfect cyber storm (several storms together), and Cyber Coordinator Alastair McGibbon spoke of a cyber catastrophe as the only existential threat Australia faced.

But there is little articulation in the public domain of what these ideas actually mean.

The new cyber incident management arrangements are meant to operate below the level of national cyber crisis. But the country is in dire need of a civil defence strategy for cyber space that addresses both levels of attack. There is no significant mention of cyber threats in the website of the Australian Disaster Resilience Knowledge Hub.

This is a completely new form of civil defence, and it may need a new form of organisation to carry it forward. A new, dedicated arm of a existing agency, such as the State Emergency Services (SES), is another potential solution.

One of us (Greg Austin) proposed in 2016 the creation of a new “cyber civil corps”. This would be a disciplined service relying on part-time commitments from the people best trained to respond to national cyber emergencies. A cyber civil corps could also help to define training needs and contribute to national training packages.

The second task falls to private business, who face potentially crippling costs in random cyber attacks.

They will need to build their own body of expertise in cyber simulations and exercise. Contracting out such responsibilities to consulting companies, or one-off reports, would produce scattershot results. Any “lessons learnt” within firms about contingency management could fail to be consolidated and shared with the wider business community.




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The third task of all stakeholders is to mobilise an expanding knowledge community led by researchers from academia, government and the private sector.

What exists at the moment is minimalist, and appears hostage to the preferences of a handful of senior officials in Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) and the Department of Home Affairs who may not be in post within several years.

Cyber civil defence is the responsibility of the entire community. Australia needs a national standing committee for cyber security emergency management and resilience that is an equal partnership between government, business, and academic specialists.The Conversation

Adam Henry, Adjunct Lecturer, UNSW and Greg Austin, Professor UNSW Canberra Cyber, UNSW

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

Populism’s problems can be fixed by getting the public better-informed. And that’s actually possible


Ron Levy, Australian National University

Many commentators have been alarmed at the electoral wins of ultra conservative leaders around the world, as well as policy decisions such as Brexit made by a popular referendum. They see these as signs of a rising populism.

In its benign forms, populism can simply mean ordinary citizens’ desire to see their interests and preferences better reflected in policy making. It may also mean greater direct involvement in government by the people themselves.

But in its more dangerous manifestations, populism can mean a reckless, extreme distrust in governmental expertise. It can be under-informed, and divide communities between “us” and “them”. And – in its impatience to see change – it can tear down useful democratic values and institutions such as inclusivity and a neutral judiciary, which safeguard our rights in a democracy.




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There is at least one way we could harness the populist trend and turn it in a more useful direction: deliberative democracy.

As the name suggests, deliberative democracy aims to promote not only democratic majority rule, but also deliberation. This means well-informed, inclusive and reflective decision-making. While populism gives a greater role to ordinary citizens in the affairs of government, deliberative democracy models can improve this by ensuring citizen input is robustly inclusive, reflective and well-informed.

So far, deliberative democracy is the best answer we have to the challenge of populism.

Deliberative democracy at work

One form of deliberative democracy is to enlist ordinary citizens in deliberation, such as in the case of citizens’ juries. Here, randomly-picked groups of citizens are invited to attend a series of organised sessions, where they become well-informed on a specific policy matter before advising governments on the best way forward.

This model has been used hundreds of times around the world, including in the ACT (on matters such as housing) and South Australia (on nuclear waste).




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To many, such an approach seems fanciful. Their cynicism is based on the assumption members of the public couldn’t possibly deliberate about public matters thoughtfully. But many studies show that creative approaches to democracy, such as citizens’ juries, can increase how well ordinary citizens deliberate about the matters put to them. Citizens’ juries can be informed, inclusive, thoughtful, fair and intellectually supple.

Citizens’ juries have a particular kind of democratic legitimacy. Since they are randomly-selected, and often demographically representative of the larger population, the public tends to see jury members as “just like me”, which creates more trust in the process.

But citizens’ juries have limitations. One is that the process has so far only included a handful of citizens at one time. And some critics will insist that only a vote in which all eligible voters can participate confers democratic legitimacy. This is where the referendum can be used as part of the deliberative democracy model.

Referendums can provide a neutral, democratically robust input into matters of public interest that politicians cannot resolve themselves. They can, for example, spur governments to act where a clear majority of the population has a considered view, but the government is divided and therefore powerless to act on that view.

Think of climate change mitigation, as well as other environmental matters such as coal seam gas mining and fracking.

But when a policy matter is put to a referendum or plebiscite – in which all eligible citizens could vote – it is a hard task to bring most of the people up to speed. It is far easier to inform people on a citizens’ jury, which might include just 50 people.

The conundrum is therefore that the citizens’ jury is deliberative but (according to some) democratically insufficient, while a referendum or plebiscite is more democratically robust but not always deliberative. But we can take useful steps toward making referendums or plebiscites more deliberative.

Around the world a number of academics, including the author, have proposed the “deliberative referendum”. Those who doubt referendums can be deliberative may prefer the term “informed referendum”.

The deliberative/informed referendum

Reforming a referendum or plebscite to make it more deliberative can be done through several methods – some already common. They include:

Voting online or at computer voting stations, which is already in use in many places. This can permit more interactive voting than a mere yes/no vote. In a new approach, before they could cast their votes, voters are asked to interact with a 15-minute tutorial informing them of the relevant issues. For instance, a vote on a local housing development plan would canvass environmental, economic and social arguments for and against greater urban density.

Multi-option voting would depart from the traditional yes/no vote, presenting voters with several options and avoiding the artificial reduction of complex matters into a binary choice. Preferential voting could still allow a single option to emerge with majority support.

Value-based voting could take place, meaning one set of ballot options put to voters would concern not just final choices, such as urban density levels adopted in a city plan, but also the values underlying them. Voters could rank values such as environmental sustainability and economic development. This would encourage voters to think more thoroughly about their final choices.

Citizens’ juries should be held in the lead up to a referendum. This has happened in many cases, such as in the recent Irish abortion referendum. A citizens’ jury could help to inform the broader public about the issues at stake. As a neutral body, the jury would write the questions on the ballot and the content of the information tutorials.

An optional measure would be a political misinformation law enacted to prevent politicians and others from uttering false statements likely to mislead voters. This method has been common, most of all, in Australia. Granted, around the world it has been subject to challenges under constitutional free speech and communication guarantees. But in Australia political misinformation laws were upheld by judges who cited the value of accurate information for voters.

Robust anti-misinformation laws would have been useful in the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign, which had a number of whoppers. For instance, campaigners greatly overstated the costs to the UK of both staying in and leaving the EU.

Referendums on Australia becoming a republic, and on Brexit (again), may be on the horizon. Other cases, such as the urban density example, are perennially unresolved matters in localities around Australia – in part because governments cannot decide whether to favour homeowners, developers, environmentalists or other groups. Even societies experiencing war often turn to referendums to try to jolt them out of their entrenched cycles of violence.

Referendums and plebiscites can be democratic circuit-breakers in a system of government that is in theory dedicated to serving the public, but that in many cases falls short.




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Of course, there is still a risk the circuit-break may end up merely giving greater voice to a coarse populism, which knows it wants to tear down elitism and expertise, but not what to replace them with. However, work on deliberative referendum design suggests we needn’t be quite so fearful of populism. At least sometimes, and to some degree, populism can be remade so the public can have a more deliberative input into government decision-making.The Conversation

Ron Levy, Associate professor, Australian National University

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

Shorten’s subsidy plan to boost affordable housing



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Labor would work with community housing providers, the residential construction sector and institutional investors.
Flickr, CC BY

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Institutional investors would receive long-term subsidies to build new dwellings – on condition they rented them out below market rates – under an affordable housing program Bill Shorten is announcing on the first day of Labor’s national conference in Adelaide.

A Labor government would offer 15-year subsidies – $8,500 a year – for investors building new homes provided they charged rent at 20% under the market rate.

The program would cost A$102 million over the forward estimates to 2021-22 and A$6.6 billion over the decade to 2028-29. The costing was done by the Parliamentary Budget Office.

In his Sunday announcement, Shorten says that the ALP’s ten-year plan to build 250,000 houses and units would be Australia’s “biggest ever investment in affordable housing”. The plan includes 20,000 dwellings in the first term of a Labor government.

“This is a cost-of-living plan, a jobs plan and a housing plan. It will give working families a fair go to put a roof over their head now – and save for their own home in the future.”

He says these dwellings would be available to renters on “low and moderate incomes”. A family paying the average national rent of $462 a week could save $92 a week.

Labor would work with community housing providers, the residential construction sector and institutional investors.

“Labor’s plan will provide investors with certainty to build – knowing that they will have long-term government support and guarantees beyond the decade.”

Shorten says access to housing is one of the biggest challenges to dealing with intergenerational inequality, as an increasing “wealth gap” locks people out of the housing market.

“Increasing the supply of affordable housing is critical to addressing pressures on disposable income and, in turn, addressing inequality.

“Labor’s plan will deliver affordable, environmentally sustainable housing that helps to reduce energy consumption and cost-of-living pressures on Australian families.”

Shorten says the existing rental scheme – the National Rental Affordability Scheme – has attracted private investment of about A$12.9 billion, delivering 37,000 dwellings in a decade.

“Despite this success, the Liberals have abandoned affordable housing and axed the subsidies that encourage affordable housing. There is a severe shortage of affordable rental housing in Australia and many families are struggling to find and keep a roof over their heads. The number of Australians experiencing rental and mortgage stress is at record levels.”

The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute estimates a shortfall of more than 525,000 affordable rental properties, Shorten says.

Overseas students, temporary foreign workers and other non-residents would not be eligible to rent under the Labor scheme.

Shorten says the plan would support the ALP’s reforms to negative gearing, “which direct concessions to newly built premises and encourage housing construction”.

Labor hopes that the three-day conference will end the year on a high note for the opposition, after its strong two-party performance in polling during 2018. Maximum effort has been made to ensure that internal policy differences are managed to avoid damaging public divisions.

Shorten told a press conference on Saturday that he hoped to see “energetic, enthusiastic debate” at the conference.

He said “perhaps the most valuable proposition that Labor presents the Australian people at the federal election within the next five months – it’s a united team, it’s energetic and it’s a team with vision”.

Shorten defended his undertaking that Newstart would be reviewed ahead of an ALP government considering an increase.

“I think Newstart is too low. I don’t think anyone who says that it needs to increase is wrong.

“But what we’ll need to do from government is review the level and understand the implications of increasing Newstart, along with the impact on all of our other taxes and payment systems.

“We have to look at what we can afford as a nation. But we’re not reviewing Newstart to decrease it.”

On the sensitive issue of asylum-seeker policy, Shorten told his press conference a Labor government would put whatever resources were needed into stopping boats.

It would also support regional and offshore processing. It would take refugees into Australia – “properly, not via people smugglers”.

“We want to be a good international citizen – we also recognise, however, that we’ve got to make sure that whatever policy we adopt we can afford, and that it meets our combined goals of not keeping people in indefinite detention on Manus and Nauru but also keeping our borders strong, so we never again see the people-smuggling trade start up.”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.

NSW Governor David Hurley will be Australia’s new Governor-General


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has announced that New South Wales Governor David Hurley will become Australia’s next Governor-General, succeeding Sir Peter Cosgrove.

The Prime Minister timed his news conference in Canberra with the governor-general designate to coincide with Bill Shorten’s opening address at the ALP national conference in Adelaide.

Like Cosgrove, Hurley is a former military man. He has been NSW Governor since 2014 and served as chief of the Australian Defence Force from 2011-2014.

He will be regarded as a safe and uncontroversial choice, although some critics will say the government should have looked beyond former military ranks.

Labor frontbencher Jim Chalmers said the opposition welcomed Hurley’s appointment but was disappointed that Shorten had not been consulted. The opposition leader was only informed on Sunday morning, ahead of the 10am announcement.

“Ideally, so close to an election the opposition would have been properly consulted on an appointment which is so important to Australia and goes for such a long time” Chalmers said.

Morrison said Hurley would be sworn in on June 28, to allow him to fulfil his present duties. Cosgrove’s term, which ends in March, will be briefly extended.

Morrison in a statement said Hurley had been “a very popular governor of NSW. From his weekly boxing workouts with Indigenous children as part of the Tribal Warriors Program, to his frequent regional trips, Governor Hurley is known as being generous and approachable to young and old alike.”

Appearing at their joint news conference in the prime ministerial courtyard, Morrison said of General Hurley “I had only one choice, my first choice, and he is standing next to me,”

Asked why the announcement was made on Sunday, Morrison said “it needed to be done to provide certainty about the role going into next year”

“Next year is an election year and it is very important that … this appointment is seen well outside the context of any electoral issues.”

The start of Shorten’s national conference speech was disrupted when demonstrators, protesting about the Adani mine and refugee policy, mounted the stage. An anti-Adani protestor stood beside Shorten with a flag that said “Stop Adani”, and other protestors unfurled a banner “ALP – Stop playing politics with peoples lives. #ClosetheCamps”.

An obviously frustrated Shorten said people had the right to protest but “you have got to ask yourself when you see these protests, who is the winner? It is the Coalition”.

Security guards escorted and dragged the protesters off the stage.

In his speech, Shorten said a Labor government would be the first government in Australian history with 50% of women in its parliamentary ranks. Standing in front of the conference’s theme of “A Fair Go for Australia” Shorten said “inequality is eating away at our prosperity”.

He announced that an ALP government would make superannuation part of the national employment standards, saying it was a workplace right and that bosses who stole superannuation from their employees should suffer the same penalties as others who violated workplace rights.

He stressed that Labor’s plans were fully costed and a Labor government could “guarantee stronger budget surpluses”.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.