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Making voting both simple and secure is a challenge for democracies



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The US compares relatively poorly with equivalent countries when it comes to voter registration.
Reuters/Bria Hall

Pippa Norris, Harvard University; Sarah Cameron, University of Sydney, and Thomas Wynter, University of Sydney

Recent elections around the world have raised concerns about the procedures used for voter registration and their potential consequences. The effects include disenfranchisement (voters being prevented from casting a ballot) and voter rights, fraud and security, and mismanagement and accuracy.

It’s critical to strike the right trade-off between making registration accessible and making it secure. But how many countries are affected by these sorts of issues? And which is more problematic – lack of security or lack of inclusion?

Our study

Our Perceptions of Electoral Integrity survey asked experts for their assessments of electoral integrity in 161 countries that held 260 national elections from January 1 to June 30, 2017.

The study used three criteria to monitor the quality of the voter registration process: inclusion, accuracy, and security.

These aspects can be considered equally important to ensure all and only eligible citizens are able to vote. The items can be analysed separately and also combined into an index.

As illustrated below, the results show the quality of the voter registration process in Northern Europe and Scandinavia performed well, as did several Latin American countries like Brazil.

At the same time, voter registration proved problematic in many countries in Africa and the Middle East, as well as in India and parts of Asia.

The US compared relatively poorly with equivalent liberal democracies on voter registration. This is in no small measure due to the partisan polarisation over the issue, and past reliance on self-registration. By contrast, governments in many other countries register voters on their behalf.

The quality of voter registration worldwide.
Authors

Inclusiveness versus security

The global comparison below shows mean ratings on the measure of inclusion on the vertical axis. The measure of security is shown on the horizontal.

Some countries performed well on both indicators – notably Sweden, Denmark and Finland, as well as Slovakia, Costa Rica and the Czech Republic.

By contrast, many other places (located in the bottom left quadrant) performed poorly on both measures, such as Syria (which failed to allow citizens to vote if they had fled to neighbouring states as refugees), Haiti (which lacked the capacity to administer elections), Bahrain (with internal conflict), and Afghanistan (with high levels of electoral corruption).

Finally, several countries scored worse on inclusiveness than on security. In these elections, experts thought the more serious problem was the exclusion of eligible citizens.

These problems can arise for many reasons – such as disputed citizenship rights, attempts at voter suppression, lack of capacity to include young people, women, linguistic or ethnic minorities and hard-to-reach rural populations, or failing to maintain up-to-date electoral rolls.

Monitoring inclusion and security worldwide. Scale ranges from strongly agree (1) to strongly disagree (5). Regimes classified according to Freedom House.
Authors

Responding to the challenges

So, the challenge is to strike the optimal balance between security and accessibility, to make ensure eligible citizens – and only eligible citizens – cast a ballot. Doing so strengthens public confidence in the electoral process and democracy.

Easier registration processes, such as the availability of online applications and same-day registration, usually strengthens voter turnout. But the introduction of more accessible registration without sufficient verification raises security risks of abuse and fraud.

In the US, parties are deeply polarised over whether the use of strict photo ID at polling places helps maintain accurate and reliable lists, or whether this suppresses voting rights for eligible citizens who lack such ID.

A 2012 report found many American states faced major challenges of accuracy, cost, and efficiency in their voter registration systems. Since then, they have made many efforts to upgrade electronic procedures by allowing citizens to register and check their records online.

An initiative sweeping the US – led by Oregon in 2015 – is states requiring citizens to opt-out rather than opt-in to being registered to vote.

But new risks have also became evident, not least Russian meddling and cyber-security threats to official voting records. To tackle this, the US Electoral Assistance Commission has recently issued new guidelines, working with the states and the Department of Homeland Security to implement them. Yet the overhaul of America’s ageing voting equipment will carry a hefty price tag.

Foreign attempts at interference in voting have been reported in other countries, including Germany and France.

Following the 2017 UK general election, the Electoral Commission expressed concern about the risks of double voting and duplicate registration applications.

In populous developing countries like Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, without reliable census information or identification documents, the challenges are even greater. Poor quality records can create opportunities for vote manipulation.

The ConversationStrict registration processes, such as those relying on biometric technologies for ID, may remove ineligible applicants but simultaneously throw out legitimate voters and make the list less accurate, not more. And biometric voter registration, which many African countries have adopted, presents challenges for the protection of personal information.

Pippa Norris, ARC Laureate Fellow, Professor of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney and McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics, Harvard University; Sarah Cameron, Electoral Integrity Project Manager and Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Sydney, and Thomas Wynter, Research Associate, University of Sydney

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

Here’s how Australia can act to target racist behaviour online



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Racists take advantage of social media algorithms to find people with similar beliefs.
from www.shutterstock.com

Andrew Jakubowicz, University of Technology Sydney

Although racism online feels like an insurmountable problem, there are legal and civil actions we can take right now in Australia to address it.

Racism expressed on social media sites provided by Facebook and the Alphabet stable (which includes Google and YouTube) ranges from advocacy of white power, support of the extermination of Jews and the call for political action against Muslim citizens because of their faith. Increasingly it occurs within the now “private” pages of groups that “like” racism.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center 2017 Digital Terrorism and Hate Report card.
Simon Wiesenthal Center

At the heart of the problem is the clash between commercial goals of social media companies (based around creating communities, building audiences, and publishing and curating content to sell to advertisers), and self-ascribed ethical responsibilities of companies to users.

Although some platforms show growing awareness of the need to respond more quickly to complaints, it’s a very slow process to automate.

Australia should focus on laws that protect internet users from overt hate, and civil actions to help balance out power relationships.


Read more: Tech companies can distinguish between free speech and hate speech


Three actions on the legal front

At the global level, Australia could withdraw its reservation to Article 4 of the International Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Such a move has been flagged in the past, but stymied by opposition from an alliance of free speech and social conservative activists and politicians.

The convention is a global agreement to outlaw racism and racial discrimination, and Article 4 committed signatories to criminalise race hate speech. Australia’s reservation reflected the conservative governments’ reluctance to use the criminal law, similar to the civil law debate over section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in 2016/7.

New data released by the eSafety Commissioner showed young people are subjected to extensive online hate. Amongst other findings, 53% of young Muslims said they had faced harmful online content; Indigenous people and asylum seekers were also frequent targets of online hate. Perhaps this could lead governments and opposition parties to a common cause.


Read more: Australians believe 18C protections should stay


Secondly, while Australian law has adopted the European Convention on Cyber Crime, it could move further and adopt the additional protocol. This outlaws racial vilification, and the advocacy of xenophobia and racism.

The impact of these international agreements would be to make serious cases of racial vilification online criminal acts in Australia, and the executive employees of platforms that refused to remove them personally criminally liable. This situation has emerged in Germany where Facebook executives have been threatened with the use of such laws. Mark Zuckerberg visited Germany to pledge opposition to anti-immigrant vilification in 2016.

Finally, Australia could adopt a version of New Zealand’s approach to harmful digital communication. Here, platforms are held ultimately accountable for the publication of online content that seriously offends, and users can challenge the failure of platforms to take down offensive material in the realm of race hate. Currently complaints via the Australian Human Rights Commission do elicit informal cooperation in some cases, but citizen rights are limited.

Taken together, these elements would mark out to providers and users of internet services that there is a shared responsibility for reasonable civility.

Digital platforms can allow racist behaviour to be anonymous.
from www.shutterstock.com

Civil strategies

In addition to legal avenues, civil initiatives can empower those who are the targets of hate speech, and disempower those who are the perpetrators of race hate.

People who are targeted by racists need support and affirmation. This approach underpins the eSafety commissioner’s development of a Young and Safe portal, which offers stories and scenarios designed to build confidence and grow skills in young people. This is extending to address concerns of women and children, racism, and other forms of bullying.

The Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI) has become a reservoir of insights and capacities to identify and pursue perpetrators. As proposed by OHPI, a CyberLine could be created for tipping and reporting race hate speech online, for follow up and possible legal action. Such a hotline would also serve as a discussion portal on what racism looks like and what responses are appropriate.

Anti-racism workshops (some have already been run by the E Safety commissioner) have aimed to push back against hate, and build structures where people can come together online. Modelling and disseminating best practice against race hate speech offers resources to wider communities that can then be replicated elsewhere.

The Point magazine (an online youth-centred publication for the government agency Multicultural New South Wales) reported two major events where governments sponsored industry/community collaboration to find ways forward against cyber racism.

What makes a diverse Australia?

The growth of online racism marks the struggle between a dark and destructive social movement that wishes to suppress or minimise the recognition of cultural differences, confronted by an emergent social movement that treasures cultural differences and egalitarian outcomes in education and wider society.

Advocacy organisations can play a critical role in advancing an agenda of civility and responsibility through the state, the economy and civil society. The social movements of inclusion will ultimately put pressure on the state and in the economy to ensure the major platforms do in fact accept full responsibilities for the consequences of their actions. If a platform refuses to publish hate speech or acts to remove it when it receives valid complaints, such views remain a private matter for the individual who holds them, not a corrosive undermining of civil society.

We need to rebalance the equation between civil society, government and the internet industry, so that when the population confronts the industry, demonstrating it wants answers, we will begin to see responsibility emerge.

Governments also need to see their role as more strongly ensuring a balance between the right to a civil discourse and the profitability of platforms. Currently the Australian government seems not to accept that it has such a role, even though a number of states have begun to act.


The ConversationThe Cyber Racism and Community Resilience Project CRaCR explores why cyber racism has grown in Australia and globally, and what concerned communities have and can do about it. This article summarises the recommendations CRaCR made to industry partners.

Andrew Jakubowicz, Professor of Sociology, University of Technology Sydney

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

In Trump we trust: why continual disasters fail to shake the president’s loyalists


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Donald Trump’s overall approval ratings are low, but among his base they remain relatively strong.
Reuters/Joshua Roberts

Kumuda Simpson, La Trobe University

Who are the people who make up US President Donald Trump’s base? They are the loyalists who not only supported and voted for him, but also seem impervious to his more outrageous scandals. It’s those who continue to strongly approve of his performance despite his failure to get signature policies through Congress, his support for white supremacists in Charlottesville, and who probably won’t abandon him despite his scandalous neglect of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

A recent article claiming that Trump was on track to win the 2020 presidential election has once again focused attention on that elusive group of voters who remain loyal to him despite everything and will provide the cornerstone of any re-election strategy.


Further reading: All the lessons Donald Trump has taught us


Among those who voted for Trump in 2016, there seem to be two categories: those who supported other Republicans but eventually voted for Trump once he won the nomination, and those who have supported him right from the beginning. Of those who voted in the election last year, about 20-25% seem to make up his base.

There is, however, something interesting happening with Trump’s approval ratings. While they have been consistently low, currently sitting at around 37%, his base – that 20-25% – has consistently “strongly approved” of his performance.

That figure has experienced two sharp declines – each one after Trump’s failure to reform health care. Trump can’t win a general election without appealing to those beyond this base, but digging deeper into the polling to understand those who still strongly support him can tell us something about the divisions in the US and what drives his behaviour.

Cultural anxiety

The FiveThirtyEight website conducted a fine-grained analysis of voting by county not long after the election. It found that a voter’s level of education was the greatest indicator of whether or not they would be likely to vote for Trump. This is particularly interesting given the earlier analysis on cultural anxiety and race relations in America.

As FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver pointed out, it’s possible that education correlates with cultural values, particularly a more progressive and inclusive outlook.

Yet in interviews with Trump supporters in rural Colorado, it was clear that economic and cultural anxiety were intertwined with feelings of exclusion and resentment towards those who lived in large cities, and were perceived to be benefiting economically in ways that they weren’t.

The fact that the partisan divide in the US is also reflected in the country’s geography is not particularly new. Rural America has traditionally voted conservative. But the overwhelming support for Trump in 2016 has focused greater attention on the ways in which this geographical divide also reflects a deep cleavage in identity and values.

Cultural anxiety can mean a lot of different things to different people, but there is also important evidence that in 2016, both racism and sexism played a key role in some people’s perceptions of the two presidential candidates.

The cultural anxiety argument is very much about race and identity, and perceptions of inclusion and exclusion.

Research conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic found that when controlling for demographic variables, three factors stood out that are key in understanding what drives Republican white, working-class anxieties: cultural change, immigration, and valuing higher education.

The analysis explored the ways in which these particular voters reported feeling like strangers in their own country. They write:

Nearly seven in ten (68%) white working-class Americans – along with a majority (55%) of the public overall – [believe] the US is in danger of losing its culture and identity.

These people were more likely to support stricter immigration controls, but not necessarily deportation. They fear foreign influence on American culture, and are far less likely to believe that higher education was a good investment.

Divided they stand

So what does this tell us about Trump’s base, and whether or not he will still occupy the White House post-2020?

I’m not sure we can ever disentangle the myriad factors that inspire people to turn out on Election Day and cast their vote for a particular candidate. As the more in-depth reporting has shown, the individuals who we divide into groups based on age, gender, education level and income are invariably more complex and diverse than any survey can possibly show.

However, we can discern important patterns in how Americans identify, and the issues they feel most strongly about. We know the country is increasingly divided along ideological lines. Recent polling shows that Republicans and Democrats have become even more sharply divided on issues to do with government, race, immigration, national security, and environmental protection.

Trump’s political strategy has so far sought to exacerbate these divisions. Health care, immigration, and economic security, as well as identity and a sense of exclusion, will probably continue to be the issues that his voters care most about.

The ConversationWhether or not his continued failure to tackle those concerns will cost him his base is an open question. What is unlikely to change, however, are the deep divisions within American society – and that has seriously worrying implications for the health of American democracy.

Kumuda Simpson, Lecturer in International Relations, La Trobe University

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

Strengthened Xi and Abe could help moves toward peace in our troubled region



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Reuters

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

They may not be co-ordinated, nor linked in any way. But two events in Asia over the next week will help define Australia’s political and security environment for the next period.

First is the convening of the five-yearly Communist Party of China congress. This gets underway on Wednesday with a much-anticipated “work report” from party boss Xi Jinping.

Second is the Japanese elections scheduled for October 22. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is bidding to become the longest-serving leader of his country. He seems determined to enlarge Japan’s security footprint by continuing to beef up its defence forces and seek changes to its pacifist post-war constitution.

From an Australian perspective, the North Korean nuclear crisis invests both the reaffirmation – and strengthening – of Xi’s leadership for another five years, and the re-election of Abe, with particular importance.

A glance at the factsheets compiled by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade underscores the overwhelming economic importance of China and Japan to Australia’s wellbeing.

In 2016, China ranked first and Japan second as a destination for Australian merchandise trade exports. Trade in services to China ranked first, and Japan ranked eighth.

Japan’s economic and security importance to Australia tends to be underplayed. But it’s worth noting that Japanese investments in Australia are more than double China’s.

Xi’s signature statement to the party congress assumes critical importance given China’s expanding global leadership amid concerns about the Trump administration’s commitment to such a role. Each word and sentence will be parsed for its implications for regional and global security, and for the direction in which he plans to take the world’s second-biggest economy over the next five years.

This will be a speech – given the circumstances of China’s continued rise – that will rank with a US presidential State of the Union address.

The party congress will stretch over the best part of a week, and will be closely observed for indications of Xi’s continuing efforts to strengthen his grip on China’s leadership. As things stand, he has emerged as the most powerful Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping.

Given his relative youth in Chinese leadership terms, the 64-year-old Xi may well be ruling for the next decade – in other words an additional five-year term past 2017 to 2022. This is well past a nominal retirement age of 68.

In a paper for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Michael Swaine painted a generally optimistic picture of China’s continued evolution under a dominant Xi. However, he also acknowledged that China’s continued rise would inevitably result in tensions over:

… trade, investment, sovereignty rights, and a variety of anxieties involving Chinese and US or Japanese military forces in the Western Pacific.

There’s no doubt Xi and the Chinese leadership are seeking to more effectively use China’s growing international presence to promote the nation’s interests in such sensitive. As a result, tensions with China will in fact likely increase.

The good news is that, rather than marking a turn toward confrontation between China and the West and Japan, the 19th Party Congress will likely signal a high level of stability and continuity in Chinese foreign policy. The bad news is that this continuity is unlikely to reduce the most serious challenges facing China’s relations with the United States and its allies.

In all of this, Japan’s importance in regional security calculations is likely to come more sharply into focus in the next period. This is investing Abe’s likely re-election with a super majority in the Diet in partnership with his Komeito allies with more-than-usual significance.

Latest opinion polls are predicting a surprisingly big win for the Abe-led Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) after indications he may have been struggling against the New Hope Party, which was formed on the eve of the election campaign by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike.

According to a poll in the Yomiuri newspaper and Kyodo news agency, the LDP-led coalition is on track to win 300 or more seats in the 465-member lower house. This would be an improvement on its standing in the previous parliament.

If the Abe-led coalition is returned with a substantial majority, he is likely to push forward with attempts to revise Japan’s pacifist post-war constitution to enable a clearer definition of Japan’s military to enable it to assert itself militarily – if necessary.

Such a development would have implications for Australia’s growing security relationship with Japan. This partnership has not attracted much attention, but it has been substantial and evolving since a Joint Defence and Security Agreement was struck in 2007.

The two countries have progressively upgraded a bilateral Acquisition and Cross Services Agreement that enhances interoperability between the Australian Defence Force and the Japanese Self-Defence Force. Australia and Japan have also declared a Special Strategic Partnership aimed at strengthening security ties in the Indo-Pacific.

What’s driving closer defence co-ordination between the second world war protagonists is concerns about China’s rise, and the implications for a regional power balance. This would seem to be a prudent course.

In the aftermath of the Communist Party congress and the Japanese election, with Xi and Abe’s positions enhanced, it might be reasonable to assume that the sometimes-tense relations between China and Japan will take a turn for the better. Concerns about instability on the Korean Peninsula should provide a catalyst for greater co-operation, and a lessening of tensions over territorial disputes.

An early opportunity for a show of amity will come at next month’s APEC forum in Vietnam. This will also be attended by US President Donald Trump.

Abe is thought likely to press China for a long-delayed summit with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. North Korea would be a focus of those discussions. For its part, China is anxious that Japan lend its weight to the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

One indication that Abe is anxious to improve ties with China is that no cabinet ministers in Abe’s party visited the Yasukuni Shrine on the August 15 anniversary of the war’s end. China has previously angrily protested these visits.

From an economic perspective, close attention will be paid to statements by Xi and others at the party congress on China’s GDP growth targets and economic priorities for the next five years. Indications from the first half of this year are that China’s growth will exceed a 6.5% target for 2017. The economy has been strengthening in the second half of this year thanks, in part, to a construction boom.

But China’s debt-to-GDP ratio remains a significant concern. In the first quarter of 2017 total debt to GDP reached 257.8%. This is up from 187.5% five years ago.

In the end, China-watchers will be animated by personnel shifts in the Chinese leadership evidenced by announcements of a newly constituted Central Committee, Politburo, and, most importantly, Standing Committee of the Politburo.

The ConversationWhen these personnel shifts are unveiled they will reveal the extent to which Xi has strengthened his power over the party apparatus, and thus over China. The betting is this will be a win-win for Xi.

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

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

Household savings figures in Turnbull’s energy policy look rubbery


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The big questions about Malcolm Turnbull’s energy policy will be, for consumers, what it would mean for their bills and, for business, how confident it can be that the approach would hold if Bill Shorten were elected.

The government needs to convince people they’ll get some price relief, but even as Turnbull unveiled the policy the rubbery nature of the household savings became apparent.

Crucially, the policy aims to give investors the certainty they have demanded. But the risk is this could be undermined if Labor, which is well ahead in the polls, indicated an ALP government would go off in yet another direction.

And most immediately, there is also the issue of states’ attitudes, because their co-operation is needed for the policy’s implementation. Turnbull talked to premiers after the announcement, and the plan goes to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) next month.

Turnbull describes the policy as “a game-changer” that would deliver “affordability, reliability and responsibility [on emissions reduction]”.

Unsurprisingly – given it would end the subsidy for renewables, rejecting Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s recommendation for a clean energy target – the policy sailed through the Coalition partyroom with overwhelming support.

Finkel later chose to go along with it rather than be offended by the discarding of his proposal. The important thing, he said, was that “they’re effectively adopting an orderly transition” for the energy sector, which was what he had urged.

In the partyroom Tony Abbott was very much a minority voice when he criticised the plan; his desire for a discussion of the politics was effectively put down by a prime minister who had his predecessor’s measure on the day.

The policy – recommended by the Energy Security Board, which includes representatives of the bodies operating and regulating the national energy market – is based on a new “national energy guarantee”, with two components.

Energy retailers across the National Electricity Market, which covers the eastern states, would have to “deliver reliable and lower emissions generation each year”.

A “reliability guarantee” would be set to deliver the level of dispatchable energy – from coal, gas, pumped hydro, batteries – needed in each state. An “emissions guarantee” would also be set, to contribute to Australia’s Paris commitments.

According to the Energy Security Board’s analysis, “it is expected that following the guarantee could lead to a reduction in residential bills in the order of A$100-115 per annum over the 2020-2030 period”. The savings would phase up during the period.

When probed, that estimate came to look pretty rough and ready. More modelling has to be done. In Question Time, Turnbull could give no additional information about the numbers, saying he only had what was in the board’s letter to the government.

So people shouldn’t be hanging out for the financial relief this policy would bring. Although to be fair, Turnbull points to the fact it is part of a suite of measures the government is undertaking.

Business welcomed the policy, but made it clear it wanted more detail and – crucially – that it is looking for bipartisanship.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the policy’s detail “and its ability to win bipartisan and COAG support will be critical”. Andy Vesey, chief executive of AGL, tweeted that “with bipartisan support” the policy would provide investment certainty.

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The Australian Industry Group said it was “a plausible new direction for energy policy” but “only bipartisanship on energy policy will create the conditions for long-term investment in energy generation and by big energy users”.

It’s not entirely clear whether the government would prefer a settlement or a stoush with the opposition on energy.

Turnbull told parliament it had arranged for the opposition to have a briefing from the Energy Security Board, and urged Labor to “get on board” with the policy.

But Labor homed in on his not giving a “guarantee” on price, as well as the smallness of the projected savings. Climate spokesman Mark Butler said it appeared it would be “just a 50 cent [a week] saving for households in three years’ time, perhaps rising to as much as $2.00 per week in a decade”.

But while the opposition has gone on the attack, it is also hedging its bets, playing for time.

“We’ve got to have … some meat on the bones,” Butler said. “Because all the prime minister really announced today was a bunch of bones.”

“We need detail to be able to sit down with stakeholders, with the energy industry, with big businesses that use lots of energy, with stakeholder groups that represent households, and obviously state and territory governments as well, and start to talk to them about the way forward in light of the announcement the government made today,” he said.

The initial reaction from state Labor is narky. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said it seemed Finkel had been replaced by “professor Tony Abbott as the chief scientist”, while South Australia’s Jay Weatherill claimed Turnbull “has now delivered a coal energy target.”

These are early days in this argument. Federal Labor will have to decide how big an issue it wants to make energy and climate at the election. Apart from talking to stakeholders and waiting for more detail, it wants to see whether the plan flies at COAG.

If it does, the federal opposition could say that rather than tear up the scheme in government, it would tweak it and build on it. That way, Labor would avoid criticism it was undermining investment confidence.

The ConversationBut if there is an impasse with the states and the plan is poorly received by the public, the “climate wars” could become hotter.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/sk78v-786f19?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Newspoll 54-46 to Labor as Turnbull’s ratings slump. Qld Newspoll 52-48 to Labor


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted 12-15 October from a sample of 1580, gave Labor a 54-46 lead, unchanged from three weeks ago. Primary votes were 37% Labor (down 1), 36% Coalition (steady), 10% Greens (up 1) and 9% One Nation (up 1). This is Turnbull’s 21st consecutive Newspoll loss as PM.

32% were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance (down 3) and 56% were dissatisfied (up 4), for a net approval of -24, down 7 points. Shorten’s net approval was -22, down two points. According to Kevin Bonham, this is Turnbull’s worst net approval since July, and Shorten’s worst since June.

By 63-23, voters favoured continuing renewable energy subsidies. However, 58% said they would pay nothing more for electricity or gas to implement a clean energy target. In a mid-September Essential poll, voters thought renewables better for electricity costs than fossil fuels by a 41-27 margin.

The general public would like more investment in renewables, and expects that renewable energy would not increase current power prices. However, the Coalition backbench is strongly opposed to renewable energy. By siding with the backbench, Turnbull is undermining his standing with the public.

Labor should ferociously attack the Coalition’s new energy policy that was announced today. In recent global elections, major left-wing parties have performed best when they have clearly distinguished themselves from conservatives. Where the left has become close to the conservatives, they have performed dismally, with Austria (see below) the latest example.

While Newspoll was good for Labor, Essential and YouGov below are not as good. All three polls this week agree that One Nation’s vote is up by 1-2 points.

Last week, The Australian published the July to September quarter Newspoll breakdowns by state, region, sex and age. Since the 2016 election, there has been an 8 point swing to Labor in Queensland, WA and outside the five capitals, but milder swings elsewhere.

SSM plebiscite turnout and polling

As at Friday 13 October, the ABS estimated it had received 10.8 million same sex marriage forms (67.5% of the electorate). The turnout is up from 62.5% on 6 October and 57.5% on 29 September. Weekly updates will be provided until 7 November, the final day for reception of SSM envelopes.

In this week’s YouGov poll, 67% of respondents had already voted, a very good match for the ABS. Among these, Yes led by 61-35. The remaining 33% favoured Yes 54-28, including 13% who were very likely to vote.

Wednesday morning update 18 October: In Newspoll, 65% said they have already voted and another 19% definitely will, implying an 84% turnout. Among those who have already voted, Yes led by 59-38, and by 49-37 among those who have not yet voted. For the whole sample, Yes led by 56-37 (57-34 three weeks ago). By 50-43, voters were opposed to the postal plebiscite (46-44 opposed three weeks ago).

Essential 52-48 to Labor

This week’s Essential, conducted over the last two weeks from a sample of 1850, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a 2 point gain for the Coalition since last week. As Essential uses two week rolling averages, this implies that this week’s sample was close to 50-50. Primary votes were 37% Coalition (up 1), 36% Labor (down 2), 9% Greens (down 1), 8% One Nation (up 1) and 3% Nick Xenophon Team (up 1). Additional questions are based on one week’s sample.

Voters approved 65-15 of the Clean Energy Target, 74-10 of renewable energy subsidies and 62-18 of Labor’s 50% renewable energy target. These questions can be said to be “pony polls”, in that the voter is asked whether they approve of something that sounds nice, without considering cost or other issues.

61% (down 10 since February) thought the government was not doing enough to ensure affordable, reliable and clean energy, 15% thought it was doing enough (up 3) and 5% that it was doing too much (up 2).

42% thought Abbott should resign from Parliament (down 1 since April), 14% that he should be given a ministry (down 4), 16% remain a backbencher (up 2) and 9% challenge Turnbull (not asked in April).

In contrast to Newspoll, last week’s Essential gave Turnbull a net -1 rating, up from -5 in September. Shorten had a net -7 rating, up from -11.

Essential asked which people’s interests the major parties best represented, with expected results. Labor was seen as best for low-income working people (+33 vs the Liberals), people on welfare (+28) and students (+22). The Liberals were best for big business (+51) and high-income working people (+49).

By 55-36, voters thought it likely there would be a war between North Korea and the US. 33% said terrorism was the biggest concern for their personal safety, with 20% selecting a car accident and 13% nuclear warfare.

YouGov primary votes: 34% Coalition, 32% Labor, 11% Greens, 11% One Nation

YouGov continues to have Labor much lower than other polls. Primary votes in this week’s YouGov, conducted 12-16 October with a sample of 1067, were 34% Coalition (steady), 32% Labor (down 1), 11% Greens (steady), 11% One Nation (up 2), 3% Nick Xenophon Team (down 1) and 4% Christian parties (steady).

As usual, YouGov’s two party result, using respondent allocation, is skewed to the Coalition; they lead 51-49, though the previous election method would give Labor about a 52.5-47.5 lead according to the Poll Bludger.

56% thought Australia should have stricter gun laws, 34% thought they should remain about the same and just 7% thought they should be less strict. By 45-37, voters thought the Constitution should not be changed to allow dual citizens to run for office.

Qld Newspoll 52-48 to Labor

A Queensland Newspoll, conducted 10-12 October from a sample of 917, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one point gain for the LNP since the July to September Newspoll. Primary votes were 37% Labor (steady), 34% LNP (steady), 16% One Nation (up 1) and 8% Greens (steady). The next Queensland election must be held by early 2018.

42% were satisfied with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s performance (up 1), and 45% were dissatisfied (down 1), for a net approval of -3. Opposition leader Tim Nicholls had a net approval of -11, up five points.

The narrowing in Labor’s two party lead is partly because Newspoll are now assuming that One Nation preferences flow to the LNP at a 60% rate, up from 55% previously. Unlike most state Newspolls, this poll was taken over three days last week, rather than a period of months.

Austria election: conservative/far-right coalition likely outcome

The Austrian election was held on 15 October. The conservative OVP won 31.5% of the vote (up 7.5 points since the 2013 election), the centre-left SPO 26.9% (steady) the far-right FPO 26.0% (up 5.5), the liberal NEOS 5.3% (up 0.3), the Greens breakaway party PILZ 4.4% and the Greens 3.8% (down 8.7). Turnout was 79.4%, up 4.5 points.

Seats are awarded roughly proportional to vote share with a 4% threshold. The OVP won 62 of the 183 seats (up 15), the SPO 52 (steady), the FPO 51 (up 11), the NEOS 10 (up 1) and PILZ 8. Thus the FPO holds the balance of power, and will probably join the OVP in a conservative/far-right coalition government. Although a few votes remain to be counted, the Greens appear to have missed the threshold, losing all 24 of their seats.

The centrist parties, the SPO and OVP, had been in coalition for the last two terms. According to this article in The Guardian, both parties became more right-wing in an attempt to appeal to FPO voters. From what we have seen in other countries, this strategy only helps the far-right.

In the December 2016 Austrian Presidential election, Greens candidate Alexander Van der Bellen defeated the far-right Norbert Hofer 53.8-46.2, showing that a left-wing candidate could win. However, the SPO did not embrace a left-wing agenda.

The ConversationThis election was an utter disaster for the Austrian Greens. The Greens won 12.4% in 2013. With the major parties becoming more right-wing, this should have been an opportunity for the Greens to increase their vote. However, the Greens split into the PILZ and Greens before the election, and only the PILZ made it back into Parliament.

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

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

Federal government unveils ‘National Energy Guarantee’ – experts react


Alan Pears, RMIT University; Anna Skarbek, Monash University, and Dylan McConnell, University of Melbourne

The federal government has announced a new energy policy, after deciding against adopting the Clean Energy Target recommended by chief scientist Alan Finkel.

The new plan, called the National Energy Guarantee, will require electricity retailers to make a certain amount of “dispatchable” power available at all times, and also to reduce the electricity sector’s greenhouse emissions by 26% relative to 2005 levels by 2030.

The government says it will save the average household up to A$115 a year after 2020, while also ensuring reliability. Below, our experts react to the new policy.


Read more: Infographic: the National Energy Guarantee at a glance


“The federal government will be even less important in energy policy”

Alan Pears, Senior Industry Fellow, RMIT University

Business, state governments and the energy industry have been clamouring for more certainty from the federal government. Now they have it: the federal government will be even less important in shaping energy and climate policy than in the past, leaving states and territories, local government, business and households to focus on driving the energy revolution and cutting emissions.

The new policy will impose a reliability obligation on energy retailers, who will presumably have to select an appropriate mix of energy suppliers to meet it, and the devil will be in the detail. If the required proportion of dispatchable electricity is reasonable, and if retailers and new renewable energy generators are free to decide how to deliver it, then the cost and difficulty of compliance may be modest.

For example, retailers and generators could piggyback on the demand response capacity volunteered for the ARENA Demand Response project. This could help accelerate the rollout of a variety of energy storage solutions, in turn reducing the market power of the big generators and driving down energy prices.

On the other hand, if the options are limited, the obligation could increase the market power of the gas industry, meaning no relief from high wholesale prices.

It will also be interesting to see if the obligation is applied across all new generation. If so, it could significantly increase the cost of new coal generation, as retailers would have to cover the risk of failure of a large generation unit, as well as managing its slow response to changing demand.


“Australia’s electricity sector can cut emissions more”

Anna Skarbek, Chief Executive, ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University

The key question is whether the emissions guarantee will be strong enough for Australia to meet its current and future climate obligations under the Paris Agreement.

Electricity creates more than one-third of Australia’s total emissions. If we don’t reduce the emissions in our electricity, then we don’t unlock other emissions reduction opportunities such as electric vehicles.

If the National Energy Guarantee aims at cutting emissions by only 26% by 2030 then other sectors across the economy would have to make greater emissions
reductions sooner.

But our research shows that Australia’s electricity sector can cut emissions by 60% below 2005 levels by 2030. Harnessing this potential will help us to reach future targets that progressively increase under the Paris Agreement.

If you don’t achieve deep emissions reductions in the electricity sector, a major strengthening of policy will be needed for the other sectors where there is less momentum currently. For example, stronger action would be needed in transport, buildings, industry and land.

Australia’s climate policy, which is being reviewed before the end of the year, will need to cover more than just the electricity sector. Other measures should include the introduction of vehicle emissions standards, a more stringent
national building code, a dramatic improvement in the uptake of energy efficiency measures across industry and stronger incentives for reforestation.


How the reliability guarantee will work

Dylan McConnell, Researcher at the Australian German Climate and Energy College, University of Melbourne

Under the NEG retailers are responsible for ensuring continuous supply of energy. But retailers don’t always generate the energy they sell. In order to meet the NEG’s reliability obligation retailers will most likely enter into cap contracts with generators.

Unlike other kinds of contracts, which impose a fixed price, cap contracts only come into play when high demand pushes energy prices over a certain pre-agreed level. At that point, generators with flexible dispatchable power guarantee that they will provide extra energy.

The extreme peaks, where the price heads to A$14,000 per megawatt hour – only come a couple of times a year, if at all. To compensate generators for building all that extra capacity, retailers pay a daily premium. Cap contracts essentially act as insurance: they protect retailers from extremely high prices during intense demand, and they offer generators the chance of steep profits.

Cap contracts are a standard part of the market, and retailers already used them to manage their risk exposure. The Energy Security Board has said:

This reliability guarantee would require retailers to hold forward contracts with dispatchable resources that cover a predetermined percentage of their forecast peak load.

If the new reliability standards are in line with retailers own internal guidelines, the impact on the market should be minimal. But if the government imposes higher standards, retailers will have to purchase more cap contracts (or build their own dispatchable power plants).

If demand for cap contracts increase, it would most likely encourage investment in gas and hydro power plants.


The ConversationThis article was updated on October 18.

Alan Pears, Senior Industry Fellow, RMIT University; Anna Skarbek, CEO at ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University, and Dylan McConnell, Researcher at the Australian German Climate and Energy College, University of Melbourne

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

The government’s energy policy hinges on some tricky wordplay about coal’s role


John Quiggin, The University of Queensland

The most important thing to understand about the federal government’s new National Energy Guarantee is that it is designed not to produce a sustainable and reliable electricity supply system for the future, but to meet purely political objectives for the current term of parliament.

Those political objectives are: to provide a point of policy difference with the Labor Party; to meet the demands of the government’s backbench to provide support for coal-fired electricity; and to be seen to be acting to hold power prices down.

Meeting these objectives solves Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s immediate political problems. But it comes at the cost of producing a policy that can only produce further confusion and delay.


Read more: Federal government unveils ‘National Energy Guarantee’ – experts react


The government’s central problem is that, as well as being polluting, coal-fired power is not well suited to the problem of increasingly high peaks in power demand, combined with slow growth in total demand.

Coal-fired power plants are expensive to start up and shut down, and are therefore best suited to meeting “baseload demand” – that is, the base level of electricity demand that never goes away. Until recently, this characteristic of coal was pushed by the government as the main reason we needed to maintain coal-fired power.

The opposite of baseload power is “dispatchable” power, which can be turned on and off as needed.

Classic sources of dispatchable power include hydroelectricity and gas, while recent technological advances mean that large-scale battery storage is now also a feasible option.

Coal-fired plants can be adapted to be “load-following” which gives them some flexibility in their output. But this requires expensive investment and reduces the plants’ operating life. The process is particularly ill-suited to the so-called High Efficiency, Low Emissions (HELE) plants being pushed as a solution to the other half of the policy problem, reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Given that there is only limited capacity to expand hydro (Turnbull’s Snowy 2.0 is years away, if it ever happens) and that successive governments have made a mess of gas policy, any serious expansion of dispatchable power would realistically need to focus on batteries. The South Australian government reached this conclusion some time ago, making a decision to invest in its own battery storage. That move was roundly condemned by the federal government, which at the time was still focused on baseload.

The government’s emphasis on baseload was always mistaken, but the confusion and noise surrounding energy policy meant that few people understood this. That changed in September when the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) reported that Australia’s National Electricity Market faced a capacity shortfall of up to 1,000 megawatts for the coming summer, and that older baseload power stations will struggle to cope.

Clearly this situation called for more flexibility in dispatchable sources in the short term, and widespread investment in dispatchables for the long term.

A question of definition

Obviously, this presented Turnbull with a dilemma. The policy advice clearly favoured dispatchables, but vocal members of his backbench wanted a policy to subsidise coal.

The answer was breathtakingly simple. The new policy redefines coal as dispatchable, despite it having the opposite technological characteristics.

This is not an entirely new approach. Before the government decided to abandon the proposed Clean Energy Target it put a lot of effort into redefining coal as “clean”. The approach here involved creating confusion between carbon capture and storage (CCS) and HELE power stations. CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide from power station smokestacks and pumping it underground, thereby avoiding emissions. This would be a great solution to the problems of carbon pollution if it worked, but unfortunately it’s hopelessly uneconomic

By contrast, HELE is just a fancy name for the marginal improvements made to coal-fired technology over the 30-50 years since most of our existing coal-fired plants were designed and built. The “low” emissions are far higher than those for gas-fired power, let alone renewables or, for that matter, nuclear energy (another uneconomic option).

The core of the government’s plan is a requirement that all electricity retailers should provide a certain proportion of dispatchable electricity – a term that has now been arbitrarily defined to include coal. By creating a demand for this supposedly dispatchable power, the policy discourages the retirement of the very coal units that AEMO has identified as ill-suited to our needs.

Elusive certainty?

Given that the policy is unlikely to survive beyond the next election, it’s unlikely that it will prompt anyone to build a new gas-fired power station, let alone a coal-fired plant. So the only real effect will be to discourage investment in renewables and create yet further policy uncertainty.

This undermines the basis for the (unreleased) modelling supposedly showing that household electricity costs will fall. These savings are supposed to arise from the investment certainty resulting from bipartisan agreement. But the political imperative for the government is to put forward a policy Labor can’t support, to provide leverage in an election campaign. If the government had wanted policy certainty it could have accepted Labor’s offer to support the Clean Energy Target.

The ConversationIt remains to be seen whether this scheme will achieve the government’s political objectives. It is already evident, however, that it does not represent a long-term solution to our problems in energy and climate policy.

John Quiggin, Professor, School of Economics, The University of Queensland

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

How the National Energy Guarantee could work better than a clean energy target


David Blowers, Grattan Institute

The Turnbull government has announced its new energy policy, called the National Energy Guarantee (NEG). The NEG contains two new obligations on electricity retailers. The first is to ensure we have enough electricity generation available to meet our needs (the Reliability Guarantee). The second is to drive down the sector’s greenhouse emissions (the Emissions Guarantee).

No, it’s not Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s Clean Energy Target. But it is a policy that will drive down emissions in the electricity sector after 2020 and can be adapted by the Labor Party to hit the emissions-reduction target of any future Labor government.


Read more: Subsidies for renewables will go under Malcolm Turnbull’s power plan


In other words, the NEG can offer the previously elusive prospect of a bipartisan and credible emissions reduction policy, of the kind that industry has been crying out for.

What is the Emissions Guarantee?

Under the Emissions Guarantee, retailers will be required to buy or generate electricity with a set level of emissions intensity – the tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted per megawatt hour – each year. The allowable level of emissions intensity will be reduced each year, to stay in line with Australia’s Paris climate target.

To meet this obligation, retailers will probably build or purchase their own generation assets, or sign contracts with other generators. Over time, retailers’ portfolios will become cleaner and cleaner, as new low-emission generators are built and more high-emission generators are shut off.

There are several benefits to this scheme. Australia’s emissions targets for the electricity sector should be met. And the scheme can theoretically be ramped up to meet more challenging targets over time, simply by lowering the emissions intensity limit for retailers.

It should also be reasonably cost-effective. Rather than the government imposing quotas or limits for various types of technology, retailers will be given a free hand to pick the cheapest mix of generation that will meet their emissions obligations. It is genuinely technology-neutral.

This makes the Emissions Guarantee superior to Finkel’s Clean Energy Target. The CET would have acted as a mechanism to push clean energy technologies into the system, but it would not have cared which generators left the market as a consequence.

Under a CET, a black coal generator could leave the market instead of a higher-emitting brown coal generator, if the black coal generator produced more expensive electricity. Then even more low-emission generation would have to be built to meet the target.

The Emissions Guarantee overcomes this problem. The important outcome is that the mix of generation meets a level of emissions intensity. This can be achieved by pushing in low-emissions generation and/or by pushing out high-emissions generation. The outcome will be similar to that of an emissions intensity scheme: lower levels of renewables than under other schemes, but a cheaper way to reduce emissions.

There are downsides to this approach. First, like an emissions intensity scheme and the CET, the Emissions Guarantee is not linked directly to the absolute emissions that need to be abated if Australia is to meet its Paris targets. But this problem can be overcome if the mechanism allows some flexibility around the setting of the emissions intensity target – which it appears to do.

Nor is the scheme integrated fully with the wholesale energy market – the National Electricity Market (NEM). As a result, it could produce some perverse outcomes in the NEM, where some regions have too much of particular types of generation.

What is the Reliability Guarantee?

This is where the other part of the policy comes in. Under the Reliability Guarantee, retailers will be required to contract (or own) a certain amount of “dispatchable” generation – electricity that can be switched on at will – to meet demand in each state.

The Reliability Guarantee appears to be a type of “capacity mechanism”, aimed at ensuring that generation can always meet demand. It appears to be consistent with the “retailer capacity obligation” proposed in a Grattan Institute report last month.


Read more: Baffled by baseload? Dumbfounded by dispatchables? Here’s a glossary of the energy debate


Many of the precise policy details are yet to be worked out – not least the precise definition of “dispatchable generation” under this scheme. But the hope is that it will ensure all NEM states have sufficient electricity supply. Avoiding any repeat of last summer’s blackouts and shortages has become a political imperative.

While reliability might be guaranteed under the new policy, it should be remembered that capacity mechanisms tend to be both complex and costly. The devil will of course be in the detail. But the fact the government has chosen to impose the obligation on retailers suggests the market will be given the opportunity to find the least-cost solutions to our reliability needs.

A way forward?

So the retailers will now be responsible both for delivering our emissions reductions and for making sure that the lights stay on. These obligations will strengthen the incentives for retailers to own their own generation assets, rather than being hostage to wholesale prices. The issues raised by ACCC boss Rod Sims relating to the power of the big gentailers now have increased importance.

The National Energy Guarantee is not the best policy solution. A carbon price imposed on electricity generators may have avoided the need for either of the two “guarantees” contained in the NEG. But the political reality is that a carbon price of any sort is not going to be adopted in Australia any time soon.

The ConversationSo this is not a perfect solution, but it is better than what we have now. And importantly, it is supported by all members of the newly formed Energy Security Board. Opportunity knocks for this nation’s politicians.

David Blowers, Energy Fellow, Grattan Institute

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