We’re close to banning nuclear weapons – killer robots must be next



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International flags fly at United Nations headquarters, New York City.
Osugi/shutterstock

Toby Walsh, Data61

While much of the world’s attention was focused last week on the G20 meeting in Hamburg, and Donald Trump’s first face-to-face meeting with Vladimir Putin, a historic decision took place at the United Nations (UN) in New York.

On Friday, 122 countries voted in favour of the “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons”.

Nuclear weapons were the only weapons of mass destruction without a treaty banning them, despite the fact that they are potentially the most
potent of all weapons. Biological weapons were banned in 1975 and
chemical weapons in 1992.

This new treaty sets the international norm that nuclear weapons are no longer morally acceptable. This is the first step along the road to their eventual elimination from our planet, although the issue of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions remains unresolved.

Earlier this year, thousands of scientists including 30 Nobel Prize winners signed an open letter calling for nuclear weapons to be banned. I was one of the signees, and am pleased to see an outcome linked to this call so swiftly and resolutely answered.

More broadly, the nuclear weapon treaty offers hope for formal negotiations about lethal autonomous weapons (otherwise known as killer robots) due to start in the UN in November. Nineteen countries have already called for a pre-emptive ban on such weapons, fearing they will be the next weapon of mass destruction that man will invent.

An arms race is underway to develop autonomous weapons, in every theatre of war. In the air, for instance, BAE Systems is prototyping their Taranis drone. On the sea, the US Navy has launched their first autonomnous ship, the Sea Hunter. And under the sea, Boeing has a working version of a 15 metre long Echo Voyager autonomous submarine.

New treaty, new hope

The nuclear weapons treaty is an important step towards delegitimising nuclear weapons, and puts strong moral pressure on the nuclear states like the US, the UK and Russia to reduce and eventually to eliminate such weapons from their arsenals. The treaty also obliges states to support victims of the use and testing of nuclear weapons, and to address environmental damage caused by nuclear weapons.

It has to be noted that the talks at the UN and subsequent vote on the treaty were boycotted by all the nuclear states, as well as by a number of other countries. Australia has played a leading role in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and other disarmament talks. Disappointingly Australia was one of these countries boycotting last week’s talks. In contrast, New Zealand played a leading role with their ambassador being one of the Vice-Presidents of the talks.

Whilst 122 countries voted for the treaty, one country (the Netherlands) voted against, and one (Singapore) abstained from the vote.

The treaty will open for signature by states at the United Nations in New York on September 20, 2017. It will then come into force once 50 states have signed.

Even though major states have boycotted previous disarmament treaties, this has not prevented the treaties having effect. The US, for instance, has never signed the 1999 accord on anti-personnel landmines, wishing to support South Korea’s use of such mines in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) with North Korea. Nevertheless, the US follows the accord outside of the DMZ.

Given that 122 countries voted for the nuclear prohibition treaty, it is likely that 50 states will sign the treaty in short order, and that it will then come into force. And, as seen with the landmine accord, this will increase pressure on nuclear states like the US and Russia to reduce and perhaps even eliminate their nuclear stockpiles.

When the chemical weapons convention came into effect in 1993, eight countries declared stockpiles, which are now partially or completely eliminated.

Public pressure

The vote also raises hope on the issue of killer robots. Two years ago, I and thousands of my colleagues signed an open letter calling for a ban on killer robots. This pushed the issue up the agenda at the UN and helped get 123 nations to vote last December at the UN in Geneva for the commencement of formal talks.

The UN moves a little slowly at times. Nuclear disarmament is the longest sought objective of the UN, dating back to the very first resolution adopted by the General Assembly in January 1946 shortly after nuclear bombs had been used by the US for the first time. Nevertheless, this is a hopeful moment in a time when hope is in short supply.

The ConversationThe UN does move in the right direction and countries can come together and act in our common interest. Bravo.

Toby Walsh, Professor of AI at UNSW, Research Group Leader, Data61

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

Is the world really sleepwalking to war? Systems thinking can provide an answer


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South Korea’s subtly calibrated risk aversion in the face of outrageous North Korean aggression has kept the two countries from war.
EPA/KCNA

Roger Bradbury, Australian National University; Chris Barrie, Australian National University, and Dmitry Brizhinev, Australian National University

The idea the world is sleepwalking to war, much like Europe did in the early years of the 20th century, deserves to be taken seriously. One of us (Chris Barrie) set the hares running recently when he said that, as in 1914, political leaders today are doing just that.

Barrie was following the lead of eminent historians like Margaret MacMillan and Christopher Clark, who concluded that Europe did sleepwalk into the first world war – even if they are at a loss to explain why. MacMillan, like Barrie, has pointed out the “disquieting parallels with the present”.

But the problem with history is that it is always easy to gainsay such parallels. History doesn’t repeat itself – at least not in an exact way. The parallels that exist are usually at such a high level of abstraction that small shifts in local circumstances can render them useless.

History’s problem is the problem of the dynamics of all complex systems. Their futures are not determined, yet nor are they random. At any given point in time, the next step for any complex system exists as many possibilities – some of which are much more likely to occur than others.

How complex systems thinking can help

Complex systems thinking offers another approach to examine the parallels between today and the early 20th century. We can look forward with a complex systems perspective to seek the many possible futures, and then ask the question: which is the most likely?

We can do this through simulation. In this case, we need a model of the strategic interactions between countries that is sufficiently general that both the model and the real world are similar complex systems. And we need a model that is sufficiently realistic that its behaviours are easily recognisable in the real world of strategic interaction.

Until about 20 or 30 years ago, simulations of complex systems were pretty clunky and unrealistic. With advances in complex systems science, we can now build models that meet both criteria – generality and realism.

In this vein, we (Roger and Dmitry) have been building a general simulation framework that models the strategic interactions between countries. In discussion with Chris, we created a model within that framework that explores the essence of the sleepwalking hypothesis.

What we found broadly confirmed the hypothesis – but added some surprising wrinkles of its own.

What we found

The model stripped the problem to its essentials – a set of countries that interact with each other through competition (at its extreme, war) and co-operation (at its extreme, peace).

Countries can grow in wealth and power through these interactions. But there are costs imposed (especially by war) even on winners, so countries can also decline in wealth and power. Countries choose how to interact with a strategy they develop from their past experience and from observing what works for their neighbours.

For the sleepwalking hypothesis, we focused on two parameters that are part of a country’s strategy – hawkishness and risk aversion.

There is evidence of hawkishness in the rise in nationalism within countries as they adopt more aggressive postures in their international relations. In recent years, hawkishness has been growing in China, Russia, North Korea and the US.

An aggressive posture is one thing – but doing something about it is another, as countries factor in the costs and risks of aggression. So, we see risk aversion as a parameter distinct from hawkishness.

Saudi Arabia has demonstrated less risk aversion combined with high hawkishness in its Yemen excursions – as have Turkey and Iran in their Syrian adventure. But they also can be decoupled – North and South Korea are both pretty hawkish, but South Korea’s subtly calibrated risk aversion in the face of outrageous North Korean aggression has kept the two countries from war.

For instance, in 2010, a North Korean submarine, in an unprovoked attack, sank the South Korean corvette Cheonan. South Korea kept its response to the diplomatic domain.

We hypothesised that the world sleepwalks to war when hawkishness rises to high levels and risk aversion falls to low levels across the ensemble of states.

The interactive below shows the evolution of countries’ strategies when they believe war is not costly (whether it is or not), and when they have a tendency to copy other countries’ successful strategies.


The Conversation / Authors, CC BY-ND

We see that hawkishness grows very quickly and risk aversion declines very quickly across the whole ensemble. We also see that these strategies are very stable once achieved. When successful, the willingness of countries to resort to war to resolve their strategic dilemmas increases, the threshold for such a resort decreases, and this willingness is resistant to change once it is in place.

The model clearly confirms the hypothesis.

Is there a way out?

But is a de-escalation path available once the ensemble of countries is locked into high hawkishness and low risk aversion, and just waiting for a trigger for a major conflict?

Because of the in-step nature of “sleepwalking to war”, we wondered if explicit policy action by individual countries could carve out a de-escalation path. So, we drilled down into the behaviour of pairs of countries to see if we could visualise paths from war to peace.

Here we modelled, for a pair of countries, the most likely regions of war, peace and stand-off in their interactions for different degrees of hawkishness for each. We added the idea of a stand-off to our model to account for the “not-peace, not-war” phenomenon observed, for example, during the Cold War.

We then tracked the evolution of that landscape as risk aversion increased, as shown below.


The Conversation / Authors, CC BY-ND

We can see clearly that increased hawkishness alone will not lead to war unless risk aversion is also low. When risk aversion is high, there is plenty of peaceful space available even in the highly hawkish parts of the landscape.

In the Cold War, even though both sides mirrored each other in highly hawkish ways, their mutual risk aversion actually created a long, if tense, peace – a stand-off. And statesmanship on both sides continually steered the strategies towards the more peaceful parts of the landscape.

But we can also see that the peaceful domain in the landscape shrinks rapidly as risk aversion decreases, such that, at low risk aversion, even low levels of hawkishness can drive countries to war.

What does all this mean?

Taking both sets of results together, we think that, in walking countries away from war, statesmanship might find much more purchase on risk aversion than on hawkishness.

It seems hawkishness is more about values (as seen, for example, in emotional calls to nationalism and populism). Risk aversion, by contrast, seems more about the rational balance of war’s costs and benefits.

With hawkishness strongly influenced by the behaviours of other countries, it is easier to talk it up than down. And, with high emotional content, it’s likely to be resistant to statesmanship – that is, policy actions that go against the grain of the moment.

But risk aversion, as a rational action, depends to a significant degree on a country’s internal policy environment – how its citizens feel about the costs of war – and so may be more amenable to change.

The ConversationIn an increasingly hawkish world, this may be our best bet for maintaining peace.

Roger Bradbury, Professor, National Security College, Australian National University; Chris Barrie, Honorary Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, and Dmitry Brizhinev, Research Assistant, National Security College, Australian National University

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

Asia’s dangerous new geopolitics


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Reuters/KCNA

Nick Bisley, La Trobe University

The first week of July is not normally one that brings great events in world politics. Around that time, the northern hemisphere normally shifts into summer holiday mode.

Recently, this has become less true. Coups in Egypt, Turkey, and a terror attack in France have bucked the trend. Asia’s early part of July 2017 has also defied the languorous tendencies of the seventh month.

Presenting it as a gift to the US on its national day, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un proved his isolated country now has the ability to fling death and destruction across the Pacific. Contrary to US President Donald Trump’s declaration that it “won’t happen”, North Korea has successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile and is now within touching distance of a viable nuclear weapon capability.

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China’s approach to the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong sought to underscore Beijing’s power and prestige. But it only succeeded in reminding us of the party state’s insecurities and increasingly militarised approach to its regional dealings.

The over-the-top martial parades, China’s first aircraft carrier sailing into the harbour city, and President Xi Jinping’s powerful warnings not to “use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland” made clear China’s intent to signal that it is firmly in charge of the upstart entrepot.

However, Xi did so in a manner which reminds us of the party-state’s military instincts and its thin skin.

In the Himalayas, China and India had another of their high-altitude standoffs as Chinese military engineers constructed roads and buildings in territory that is disputed, as well as in land that no one regards as anything other than Bhutan.

Tensions have escalated, with China’s ambassador in New Delhi reminding India of the “bitter lesson” of the 1962 border war.

And in the South China Sea, the US deployed B1 bombers to fly over the disputed features – much to China’s chagrin.

The Trump administration stayed its hand in trade and the South China Sea in the belief China could restrain North Korea. But North Korea’s test shows the White House either that Beijing wasn’t trying hard enough, or that it does not have necessary leverage over Pyongyang.

Either way, the Sino-American relationship, which had seemed in reasonably good condition following the “citrus summit” at Mar-a-Lago, is entering a much more difficult phase.

It is hard to recall a time at which Asia’s geopolitical circumstances have been this fraught – at least since the 1970s. The region, which had enjoyed one of the most settled strategic circumstances, is now in a period in which its great powers not only don’t trust each other but are beginning to contest one another’s interests militarily.

Over the past 40 years, American leadership has been vital to Asia’s stability. Its dominant military power provided public goods and kept regional rivalries in check. Economically, it provided much-needed capital, and its large home market was open for export opportunities.

But US leadership is visibly waning. The credibility of US power and influence is openly questioned while its economic openness is also in doubt. Rising powers realise this and are jostling for advantage.

In response, defence spending is on the rise, as countries take steps to secure their interests in an increasingly uncertain world. North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile test is only the most visible example of a region that is arming itself in the face of a shift in the balance of power.

Declining US leadership predates Trump’s election. But the sense of uncertainty has been badly exacerbated by the absence of a coherent Asia policy from his no-longer-new administration.

US policy in Asia is largely on autopilot, with the direction set by the Obama administration remaining in place. But this is due to inertia; it is not a considered strategy. If this continues, it will amplify the destabilising actions taken by those across the region who are unsettled by this uncertainty.

China’s position in the region is changing swiftly. Its gains in the South China Sea are unlikely to be reversed, and its infrastructure initiatives – both the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Belt and Road Initiative – are being widely welcomed.

Equally, China has taken the opportunity of Trump’s unwillingness and inability to lead to present its rise as a positive force on a range of issues – most obviously on climate change and the global economy.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s globe-trotting efforts to build the country’s reputation has seen him complete more than 60 trips abroad since his election in 2014. While there is some way to go to turn his ambition for India’s international heft to match its demography and civilisational legacy, it is modernising its military capacity and expanding its international influence.

As the standoff with China shows, it will be no pushover. Crucially, India sees the current period of flux as one of historic opportunity.

The region’s lesser powers are also playing their part in this geopolitical drama. Like Modi, Japan’s Shinzo Abe sees opportunity in these circumstances. He is pushing for Japan to be able to do far more militarily – something that is contentious at home and abroad. And even with its very limited capacity, Japan is proving a thorn in Chinese ambition.

Many others, such as Australia, the Philippines and Korea, are positioning themselves in relation to a larger contest for influence in Asia.

For decades, Asia’s countries took comfort from a stable balance of power underwritten by US might and economic openness. This allowed rapid economic growth. But that wealth is now powering ambition that, when paired with America’s declining influence and sense of purpose, has created an increasingly unstable Asia.

The ConversationUnfortunately, there will be many more months and weeks ahead like July 2017’s first week.

Nick Bisley, Executive Director of La Trobe Asia and Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University

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

Turnbull is right to link the Liberals with the centre – but is the centre where it used to be?


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Malcolm Turnbull’s speech reminded his Liberal colleagues that he has not stolen the party and his leadership is legitimately Liberal.
Reuters/Hannah Mckay

Carol Johnson, University of Adelaide

It is a sign of how serious the divisions have become in the Liberal Party that speaking the truth about Robert Menzies is now depicted as making a provocative attack on the Liberal right.

Yet that is the situation in which Malcolm Turnbull found himself after giving his Disraeli Prize speech in London. As Turnbull pointed out in that speech, Menzies intentionally avoided calling the new party “conservative” in case that gave rise to misconceptions. Rather, Turnbull cites Menzies’ statement that they:

… took the name “Liberal” because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary but believing in the individual, his right and his enterprise, and rejecting the socialist panacea.

As the leading academic expert on Robert Menzies, Judith Brett, has pointed out, Menzies recognised when the party was founded in 1944 that there was a strong public sentiment in favour of building a progressive, new post-war society that was far better than the old.

In other words, it was a party that pledged to reject socialism, but wouldn’t necessarily stand in the path of social progress.

In short, Turnbull is attempting to reclaim both Menzies and the Liberal Party he played a key role in founding, for a centrist rather than reactionary position. He is gently taking issue with Tony Abbott and those conservatives in the party who have focused on undermining, rather than working with him, regardless of the damage this might do to the party’s electoral prospects.

I say gently because, as even the arch-conservative Eric Abetz acknowledges, Turnbull also cites Tony Abbott’s earlier phrase that the “sensible centre” is the place to be. Nonetheless, Turnbull is reminding such conservatives that he has not stolen the party, and his leadership is legitimately Liberal.

There is a long tradition of attempting to appeal to the centre in Australian politics, not least in the hope that centrist politicians will be able to harvest votes from both major parties. Turnbull can legitimately argue that many of the “small-l” liberal positions he is associated with (despite his more recent concessions to the right) are in line with popular opinion. Same-sex marriage is an obvious case in point.

There was also a vibrant small-l liberal tradition on issues such as homosexuality in the party in the 1970s, prior to John Howard’s conservative ascendancy.

Nonetheless, there were some elephants in the room in London when Turnbull gave his speech.

It is open to debate what a modern “Menzian” position would be in regard to issues such as same-sex marriage or racial equality. After all, Menzies, like Labor prime ministers John Curtin and Ben Chifley before him, continued to support the White Australia Policy. Male homosexuality was illegal under state law for all of Menzies’ prime ministership.

Turnbull refers to Menzies’ “forgotten people”. However, the famous speech in which Menzies articulated that concept assumed (as Curtin and Chifley also did) that employees would continue to be predominantly male, and women would largely be in the home.

Turnbull clearly assumes that a modern “sensible centre” position would have kept pace with changing social attitudes. But at least on some issues, other Liberals will disagree.

The bigger elephant in the room is the issue of Menzies’ economic beliefs at the time the Liberal Party was founded, and what a modern day centrist position on economic policy would be. After all, contemporary Australian voters seem to be concerned about their economic futures, the power of big business, and cuts to social services.

Turnbull does briefly acknowledge in his speech that, by modern standards, Menzies:

… was hardly an economic liberal. He believed in a highly regulated economy with high tariffs, a fixed exchange rate, centralised wage fixing and generally much more Government involvement in the economy than we would be comfortable with.

Indeed, Menzies was more of a Keynesian economically, not a market liberal like Turnbull.

Furthermore, Menzies characterised the middle class as the “forgotten people” partly because he believed that unskilled workers were not forgotten but were already well-protected by unions and had “their wages and conditions safeguarded by popular law”. Meanwhile, the rich were “able to protect themselves”.

While strongly supporting individual endeavour, he argued that the new politics should not “return to the old and selfish notions of laissez-faire”. Rather, “our social and industrial laws will be increased. There will be more law, not less; more control, not less.”

Menzies was strongly anti-communist and anti-socialist, but he was not a neoliberal.

Voters could be forgiven for thinking that at least some of Menzies’ words sound more like those of the contemporary Labor Party than the modern-day Liberal Party. The Liberal Party itself acknowledges that a belief in “social equality” was one of the principles on which the party was founded.

However, despite some concessions in this year’s budget, Turnbull may have his work cut out trying to convince centrist voters that his economic liberalism can adequately address today’s scourge of rising inequality. Keynesian-influenced solutions are on the rise again in the wake of the global financial crisis.

The ConversationTurnbull argued in his speech that the terms “left” and “right” had begun to lose all meaning. However, there is another, more unpalatable truth that he may need to face. It may be more that “left” and “right” are moving conceptually, because the “centre” has shifted too.

Carol Johnson, Professor of Politics, University of Adelaide

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

Three charts on: G20 countries’ stealth trade protectionism


Giovanni Di Lieto, Monash University and David Treisman, Monash University

It is clear that trade protectionism is alive and well in the G20, whose countries account for 78% of global trade. But this protectionism isn’t in the form of tariffs, which are duties placed on imports, making imported goods and services more expensive than they would be otherwise. Instead, trade protectionism is being pursued through “non-tariff barriers” such as import quotas, restrictive product standards, and subsidies for domestic goods and services.

This shows that while countries are reducing the obvious barriers to trade, like tariffs, they are still pursuing stealth forms of trade protectionism through non-tariff barriers.

Our research on trade protectionism in the services sector shows that the lower the barriers to trade, the greater company profits. Lower trade barriers create a larger market for Australian goods and services.

We also found that increased domestic regulation leads to higher profits as standards improve across the sector. For Australia this is very significant because the services sector employs four out of five Australians and accounts for 20% of Australia’s total exports.

Eliminating trade protectionism is also good for consumers, as it means a larger market for goods and services. This leads to lower prices and more choice of goods and services.

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The World Trade Organisation uses the term “trade restrictive activity” for measures like the imposition of a tariff. “Trade facilitation” refers to the simplification of export and import processes, making it easier to trade across countries. “Trade remedies” refers to actions taken by states against certain imports that are hurting domestic industries.

For example, in 2016 the Australian Anti-Dumping Commission slapped duties on Italian tomatoes that were being sold in Australia for less than they sold in Italy.

The data show that tariffs have been declining in the G20 over the past few years, while countries have been easing the processes of exporting and importing. However there have been a lot of trade remedies, as countries try to protect their domestic industries.

But looking at data on non-tariff barriers to trade tells a very different story.

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Until 2015 there was a huge increase in non-tariff measures, which then sharply declined. Since then not many measures have been removed. This shows that non-tariff barriers are currently the major mechanism for trade restrictions in the most developed economies.

As in the case of technical standards and regulations, non-tariff barriers can be used as a form of covert trade protectionism.

Technical standards and regulations can be quite legitimate and necessary for a range of reasons. They could take the form of a limit on what gases cars are allowed to emit, earthquake standards in regions prone to seismic activity, and even nutritional information on food and drinks.

But having too many different standards makes life difficult for companies that wish to access a market, as one product or service will need to comply with different standards in many countries.

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What has occurred in Australia echoes what has happened throughout the G20. There has been little activity recently in tariffs, but a significant use of non-tariff and technical barriers to trade.

This is a huge shift in Australia’s economic policy, which had until recently emphasised trade liberalisation as a recipe for growth.

According to the Australian Productivity Commission, trade restrictions directly raise the cost of both foreign and domestic goods and services, negatively impacting both Australian consumers and businesses.

Where to from here?

President Donald Trump’s trade agenda aims to distance the United States from the World Trade Organisation, which was setup to remove barriers to international trade.

In response, companies in the United States are now filing a huge number of anti-dumping cases against foreign goods and services.

At first glance, Australia appears to be off the hook when it comes to Trump’s hardline approach. We already have a bilateral trade agreement with the United States, not to mention a US$28 billion trade deficit with the US.

The ConversationBut the dangers of Trump’s trade doctrine could affect other countries and this disruption to global supply chains and financial security would eventually flow on to Australia.

Giovanni Di Lieto, Lecturer, Bachelor of International Business, Monash Business School, Monash University and David Treisman, Lecturer in Economics, Bachelor of International Business, Monash Business School, Monash University

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

Turnbull loses 15th successive Newspoll, 53-47. UK Labour doubles support in YouGov since April


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted 6-9 July from a sample of 1600, gave Labor its fourth consecutive 53-47 lead. Primary votes were 36% Labor (down 1 from three weeks ago), 35% Coalition (down 1), 11% One Nation (steady) and 10% Greens (up 1). Primary vote shifts suggests some movement to Labor after preferences, but not enough to change the headline figure.

32% were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance (steady) and 56% were dissatisfied (up 1), for a net approval of -24. Shorten’s net approval was -20, up three points.

Over the last three months, Turnbull has been more centrist, alienating the right wing of his party. Since Newspoll uses the previous election’s results for its preference flows, it may be overstating Labor’s lead. As I wrote here, respondent allocated polling from ReachTEL and YouGov implies that the hard right voters who have left the Coalition will return after preferences.

This is the 15th consecutive Newspoll loss for the Coalition under Turnbull, so he is halfway to Tony Abbott’s 30 successive losses when he was dumped. If the string of Newspoll losses continues, Turnbull is likely to be dumped before the end of the year.

If Turnbull is replaced by a more right-wing Liberal leader before the next election, hard right voters would return to the Coalition, but they would lose some centrist voters, and preferences would probably be more favourable to Labor.

Since the dispute between NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon and the rest of her parliamentary party, the Greens have gained a point in both Newspoll and Essential. The Greens could be attracting some Labor voters who would prefer a genuine socialist.

In an additional Newspoll question, 46% favoured a plebiscite to resolve the same sex marriage issue, and 39% favoured a parliamentary vote. The results have been compared with a September 2016 poll (48-39 in favour of the parliamentary vote). However, this comparison is misleading since the previous poll asked about a plebiscite in February 2017, which some might object to even if they supported a plebiscite.

Kevin Bonham has written about the large differences between the pollsters on whether same sex marriage should be decided by a plebiscite or a parliamentary vote. He concludes that all polling on this issue has problems.

According to Kevin Bonham, this year there have been six 3-week breaks between Newspolls, and two 2-week breaks. In previous years that did not have an election, Newspoll was usually published once a fortnight. In general, there has been a pullback in media-commissioned polling this year, with just two Fairfax Ipsos polls and one Channel 7 ReachTEL, although two Sky News ReachTELs have been released.

Essential at 54-46 to Labor

In this week’s Essential, Labor led by 54-46, a one point gain for Labor since last week and a two point gain since last fortnight. Primary votes were 36% Labor, 36% Coalition, 11% Greens, 7% One Nation and 3% Nick Xenophon Team; the Coalition has lost three points since last fortnight. Essential used a two-week sample of 1830, with additional questions based on one week.

Turnbull’s net approval was -12, down three points since June. Shorten’s net approval was -8, up one point.

64% had at least some trust in security agencies to store personal data, while 32% had little or no trust. For the government, this was 52-43 in favour of little trust, and for telecommunications companies 67-29.

ReachTEL polls of ministers’ seats

The left-wing Australia Institute commissioned ReachTEL polls of seven Federal ministers’ seats on 8 June, with samples of 620-700 per seat. Results and swings from the last election can be seen on GhostWhoVotes’ Twitter feed.

Overall, these are good results for Labor with 2-7 point swings against the government in five of the seven seats. The exceptions are Christopher Pyne’s Sturt (no swing) and Peter Dutton’s Dickson (a four point swing to the Coalition). Individual seat polling has been far less accurate than national or state polling at recent elections.

In seats where One Nation had a high vote, respondent allocated preferences favoured the Coalition. In Scott Morrison’s Cook (One Nation at 18%), minor party preferences favoured Morrison 64-36. In Dickson, One Nation had 15.7% and minor party preferences favoured Labor by just 52-48 despite the Greens holding 10.5%.

In April, UK Labour had 23%, now they have 46% according to YouGov

In mid-April, just before PM Theresa May called the 8 June election, the Conservatives led Labour by 44-23 in YouGov. After the election was announced, the Conservative lead stretched to 48-24.

A YouGov poll taken last week gave Labour a 46-38 lead, representing a doubling of Labour’s vote share since April. Labour’s 46% share is its highest in YouGov’s history, which started its voting intention surveys in 2003.

The ConversationOther polls are not so strong for Labour as YouGov, but Labour has led in most polls conducted since the election. By being reduced to a minority government, the Conservatives have lost much authority, and their deal with the Democratic Unionist Party will not go down well with the UK outside Northern Ireland. Divisions within the Conservatives over austerity and Brexit are unlikely to help.

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

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

Turnbull finds the ‘sensible centre’ a slippery patch



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The reference to Tony Abbott in his London speech gave Malcolm Turnbull some body armour.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

It’s passing strange when Eric Abetz, the navy-blue conservative sacked from the ministry by Malcolm Turnbull, is out defending a prime ministerial speech on the Liberal Party’s history and positioning.

But, then again, these are indeed the strangest of times on the non-left side of federal politics.

Turnbull’s Monday address in London to the centre-right Policy Exchange think-tank presented a fairly conventional set of references to Robert Menzies’ founding of the Liberal Party, most of which you’d find in the standard texts on the party’s past.

He noted that Menzies: “went to great pains not to call his new political party, consolidating the centre right of Australian politics, ‘conservative’ – but rather the Liberal Party which he firmly anchored in the centre of Australian politics.

“He wanted to stand apart from the big money, business establishment politics of traditional ‘conservative’ parties of the right, as well as from the socialist tradition of the Australian Labor Party, the political wing of the union movement.”

He quoted Menzies’ words: “We took the name ‘Liberal’ because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary but believing in the individual, his right and his enterprise, and rejecting the socialist panacea.”

Turnbull declared: “The sensible centre, to use my predecessor Tony Abbott’s phrase, was the place to be and it remains the place to be now.”

Talk of the two streams in the Liberal Party (John Howard’s “broad church”) is familiar. Wars over Menzies’ philosophical legacy have long been waged among the faithful. Menzies is an icon that both conservatives and liberals in the party try to claim for their own. And every Liberal leader wants, indeed needs, to link to Menzies.

In fact they can all find succour from the Menzies well – he was prime minister for a long time, a pragmatist, and dealt with and responded to varying circumstances.

If Turnbull on Monday was having a calculated slap at conservatives in the party, it was a pretty mild one. If he was emphasising he’s a centrist, that is hardly a surprise, although when he translates it into policy it annoys the hell out of those on the right.

Turnbull had made the same point in his April 1 speech to the Victorian Liberal council, when he told it that Menzies knew the future “was in the sensible centre”. “Menzies was proudly liberal and conservative and he understood that you build on the continuity of the great institutions which gave our democracy birth … but above all, you build from the centre, bringing people together and that is our commitment.”

The reference to Abbott in his London speech gave Turnbull some body armour.

It was actually a latish insert. It was in the speech Turnbull delivered, and in the version sent out at 3:32am EST. But the excerpts handed out very much earlier to the travelling media and reported in Tuesday morning’s papers in Australia did not contain it.

As it turned out, it was a judicious addition.

Abetz picked up on the Abbott reference to dispute a media report that said Turnbull’s remarks were likely to inflame the internal party battle. “I’m not sure how Prime Minister Turnbull quoting Prime Minister Abbott approvingly could be inflammatory.”

Of course everything Turnbull now says is taken as inflammatory. Being ready to combust is the default position of Turnbull’s party enemies (though not Abetz or some other notables on this occasion), the right in general, and a good section of the media.

Former Victorian Liberal premier Jeff Kennett was scathing, questioning why “Malcolm has chosen to actually have a brawl with his own from overseas”, showing “an appalling lack of political judgment”. Shock-jock Alan Jones described the speech as “rather indecipherable”. Former Liberal senator Cory Bernardi claimed: “I have no doubt that Sir Robert Menzies would be joining the Australian Conservatives.”

While what he said in the London speech was perfectly reasonable, as well as being previously walked territory, whether he should have said it is open to argument.

The cautious approach would have been for Turnbull, when making an address overseas, to avoid anything that could lead to trouble in the ranks. Until the speech, his trip had given him a respite from the wrangling.

The ConversationOn the other hand, if Turnbull can’t say a few obvious – indeed can we say sensible – things, he will have forfeited his leadership in everything but the title.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/b9kr9-6cf745?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Explainer: what can Tesla’s giant South Australian battery achieve?


Ariel Liebman, Monash University and Kaveh Rajab Khalilpour, Monash University

Last Friday, world-famous entrepreneur Elon Musk jetted into Adelaide to kick off Australia’s long-delayed battery revolution.

The Tesla founder joined South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill and the international chief executive of French windfarm developer Neoen, Romain Desrousseaux, to announce what will be the world’s largest battery installation.

The battery tender won by Tesla was a key measure enacted by the South Australian government in response to the statewide blackout in September 2016, together with the construction of a 250 megawatt gas-fired power station.

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The project will incorporate a 100MW peak output battery with 129 megawatt hours of storage alongside Neoen’s Hornsdale windfarm, near Jamestown. When fully charged, we estimate that this will be enough to power 8,000 homes for one full day, or more than 20,000 houses for a few hours at grid failure, but this is not the complete picture.

The battery will support grid stability, rather than simply power homes on its own. It’s the first step towards a future in which renewable energy and storage work together.

How Tesla’s Powerpacks work

Tesla’s Powerpacks are lithium-ion batteries, similar to a laptop or a mobile phone battery.

In a Tesla Powerpack, the base unit is the size of a large thick tray. Around sixteen of these are inserted into a fridge-sized cabinet to make a single Tesla “Powerpack”.

With 210 kilowatt-hour per Tesla Powerpack, the full South Australian installation is estimated to be made up of several hundred units.

To connect the battery to South Australia’s grid, its DC power needs to be converted to AC. This is done using similar inverter technology to that used in rooftop solar panels to connect them to the grid.

A control system will also be needed to dictate the battery’s charging and discharging. This is both for the longevity of battery as well to maximise its economic benefit.

For example, the deeper the regular discharge, the shorter the lifetime of the battery, which has a warranty period of 15 years. To maximise economic benefits, the battery should be charged during low wholesale market price periods and discharged when the price is high, but these times are not easy to predict.

More research is needed into better battery scheduling algorithms that can predict the best charging and discharging times. This work, which we are undertaking at Monash Energy Materials and Systems Institute (MEMSI), is one way to deal with unreliable price forecasts, grid demand and renewable generation uncertainty.

The battery and the windfarm

Tesla’s battery will be built next to the Hornsdale wind farm and will most likely be connected directly to South Australia’s AC transmission grid in parallel to the wind farm.

Its charging and discharging operation will be based on grid stabilisation requirements.

This can happen in several ways. During times with high wind output but low demand, the surplus energy can be stored in the battery instead of overloading the grid or going to waste.

Conversely, at peak demand times with low wind output or a generator failure, stored energy could be dispatched into the grid to meet demand and prevent problems with voltage or frequency. Likewise, when the wind doesn’t blow, the battery could be charged from the grid.

The battery and the grid – will it save us?

In combination with South Australia’s proposed gas station, the battery can help provide stability during extreme events such as a large generator failure or during more common occurrences, such as days with low wind output.

At this scale, it is unlikely to have a large impact on the average consumer power price in South Australia. But it can help reduce the incidence of very high prices during tight supply-demand periods, if managed optimally.

For instance, if a very hot day is forecast during summer, the battery can be fully charged in advance, and then discharged to the grid during that hot afternoon when air conditioning use is high, helping to meet demand and keep wholesale prices stable.

More importantly, Tesla’s battery is likely to be the first of many such storage installations. As more renewables enter the grid, more storage will be needed – otherwise the surplus energy will have to be curtailed to avoid network overloading.

Another storage technology to watch is off-river pumped hydro energy storage (PHES), which we are modelling at the Australia-Indonesia Energy Cluster.

The ConversationThe South Australian Tesla-Neoen announcement is just the beginning. It is the first step of a significant journey towards meeting the Australian Climate Change Authority’s recommendation of zero emissions by at least 2050.

Ariel Liebman, Deputy Director, Monash Energy Materials and Systems Instutute, and Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University and Kaveh Rajab Khalilpour, Senior Research Fellow, Caulfield School of Information Technology, Monash University

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

All tip, no iceberg: a new way to think about mental illness



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Symptoms of mental disorders are inter-connected.
Pixabay. , CC BY-SA

Nick Haslam, University of Melbourne

Mental disorders are traditionally seen as rather like flowering bulbs. Above the ground we see their symptoms, but we know their source lies hidden beneath the surface. If we treat the symptoms without addressing the cause – cut off the flower without uprooting the bulb – they will just flower again later.

The idea that each mental disorder has an underlying cause is itself deeply rooted. We imagine that underneath the clinical symptoms of schizophrenia or depression there is an underlying disease entity. If treatment is to be effective and lasting rather than merely symptomatic it must target that concealed origin.

People have had many ideas about the form the unseen cause might take. Medieval physicians imagined a “stone of folly” that had to be surgically removed from a mad person’s head before sanity could prevail. Funnily enough, the best known painting of such an operation, Hieronymus Bosch’s The extraction of the stone of madness, shows the “stone” to be a flower bulb.


Wikimedia Commons

More recently, psychiatrists often suppose the hidden cause is neural, such as a brain disease or chemical imbalance. Psychologists sometimes prefer to invoke specific cognitive malfunctions or conflicts. What unifies them is the idea that a cluster of symptoms can be traced back to an underlying pathology.

This way of thinking makes perfect sense in some areas of medicine. A collection of bodily symptoms often points to an underlying disease process. Scarlet fever is revealed by a bright red rash, fever and a sore throat, all caused by an underlying bacterial infection. It would be folly to treat it symptomatically. Pacifying the rash with wet towels, taming the fever with aspirin and drinking tea with honey to soothe the throat would not attack the hidden, microbial cause.

Unfortunately mental disorder is not like infectious disease. Rarely is there a single, identifiable cause underlying a group of symptoms. Most psychiatric symptoms spring from a tangled multiplicity of causes. In addition, many symptoms are not specific to a single condition.

Billions of research dollars have been spent trying to locate the unique hidden cause of each mental disorder. The results have been spectacularly disappointing, not because mental health researchers are inept but because the causes of mental disorder are extremely complex.

To extend the botanical metaphor, mental disorders are less like flowering bulbs than like bamboo. An interconnected network of underground roots (hidden causes) generates many visible stems (symptoms). No stem can be traced back to a single root, and no root feeds a single stem.

The network approach to mental disorder

If there is no one-to-one link between symptoms and hidden causes, maybe we are better off putting aside the search for those causes. A new way of thinking about mental disorder argues just that, proposing that we focus full attention on symptoms instead.

Rather than seeing symptoms as manifestations of hidden disease entities – as the tip of an iceberg – this “network approach” tells us to examine how symptoms relate to one another. It argues the symptoms of a disorder cluster together not because they share a hidden cause but because they interact with and potentially reinforce one another.

The network approach to mental disorder, developed by Dutch psychologists Denny Borsboom, Angelique Cramer and colleagues, represents each symptom as a node in network. It draws links between these nodes to reveal the symptoms that are most strongly related, such as which ones influence other symptoms most powerfully and extensively.

For example, loss of appetite and weight loss are both symptoms of major depression. If researchers found they were closely related, and appetite loss drives weight loss, then an arrow would be drawn from the former to the latter. By this means a group of dynamically related symptoms can be represented by a network diagram.

A network diagram can show how symptoms are inter-related.
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Several features of the resulting networks are particularly interesting. Certain symptoms can be shown to be central, related to many others, whereas others are more peripheral. Certain symptoms primarily cause others, whereas some symptoms are primarily caused by others.

Because mental disorders are seen as mutually reinforcing symptoms, clinicians should target central symptoms that cause many others. Successfully treating these symptoms should have broadly beneficial effects. It should reduce other existing symptoms and prevent the spread to new symptoms.

Certain symptoms may also be bridges from one disorder network to another. For example, sleep disturbance among people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may cause fatigue, and fatigue may serve as a bridge to the depression network by activating concentration problems and guilt.

Examples

Researchers have carried out network analyses of several disorders, using similar computational tools as those used in social network analysis, an approach to mapping relations among people. One study of several substance use problems showed that using the substance more than planned was usually the most central symptom. It was strongly related to having worse withdrawal symptoms and needing more of the substance to get the same effect (“tolerance”).

Several studies have explored anxiety disorders. A study of social anxiety showed that avoidance of potentially threatening social situations was a central symptom and thus a prime target for treatment. Research on PTSD following a catastrophic earthquake in China showed that sleep difficulty and hypervigilance for future threats had especially potent influences on other symptoms.

Turning to depression, a study of short term fluctuations in symptoms revealed the centrality of loss of pleasure in the symptom network. It activated an assortment of other symptoms including sadness, loss of energy and interest in activities and irritability. In contrast, sadness, crying and a loss of interest in sex were incidental.

Another study showed that depressed people whose symptoms were more densely connected were more likely to have persistent depression two years later. This finding accords with the network view that symptoms of mental disorders can be self-reinforcing. People whose symptom networks form a tighter web may therefore have greater difficulty overcoming their problems.

Implications

The network approach has several important implications. For researchers, it suggests that the search for single causes of mental disorders is quixotic. Of course, symptoms have an assortment of social and neurobiological sources, but these sources are highly unlikely to be unique to one condition.

For practising psychiatrists and psychologists the network view implies that symptoms should be taken seriously in their own right and not seen merely as pale manifestations of underlying disease. Treatments should directly target particular symptoms, not a fictitious hidden cause.

Boorsboom and Cramer make this point amusingly in regard to major depression.

If [depression] does not exist as an entity that exists independently of its symptoms (like a tumour does), attempting to treat it analogous to the way medical conditions are treated (cutting away the tumour) is like trying to saddle a unicorn.

The ConversationThe network approach also has a strong message for all of us who care about mental health and illness. We should abandon the last vestiges of our belief that mental disorders are best seen as medical diseases. The symptoms of depression, PTSD, or social anxiety don’t point to an underlying disorder. They are the disorder.

Nick Haslam, Professor of Psychology, University of Melbourne

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

Why a population of, say, 15 million makes sense for Australia



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Our national wellbeing probably peaked with Australia’s population at roughly 15 million in the 1970s, when this photo was taken in Hunters Hill, Sydney.
John Ward/flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Peter Martin, University of South Australia; James Ward, University of South Australia, and Paul Sutton, University of Denver

Population growth has profound impacts on Australian life, and sorting myths from facts can be difficult. This article is part of our series, Is Australia Full?, which aims to help inform a wide-ranging and often emotive debate.


Neither of Australia’s two main political parties believes population is an issue worth discussion, and neither currently has a policy about it. The Greens think population is an issue, but can’t come at actually suggesting a target.

Even those who acknowledge that numbers are relevant are often quick to say that it’s our consumption patterns, and not our population size, that really matter when we talk about environmental impact. But common sense, not to mention the laws of physics, says that size and scale matter, especially on a finite planet.

In the meantime the nation has a bipartisan default population policy, which is one of rapid growth. This is in response to the demands of what is effectively a coalition of major corporate players and lobby groups.

Solid neoliberals all, they see all growth as good, especially for their bottom line. They include the banks and financial sector, real estate developers, the housing industry, major retailers, the media and other major players for whom an endless increase in customers is possible and profitable.

However, Australians stubbornly continue to have small families. The endless growth coalition responds by demanding the government import hundreds of thousands of new consumers annually, otherwise known as the migration intake.

The growth coalition has no real interest in the cumulative social or environmental downside effects of this growth, nor the actual welfare of the immigrants. They fully expect to capture the profit of this growth program, while the disadvantages, such as traffic congestion, rising house prices and government revenue diverted for infrastructure catch-up, are all socialised – that is, the taxpayer pays.

The leaders of this well-heeled group are well insulated personally from the downsides of growth that the rest of us deal with daily.

A better measure of wellbeing than GDP

The idea that population growth is essential to boost GDP, and that this is good for everyone, is ubiquitous and goes largely unchallenged. For example, according to Treasury’s 2010 Intergenerational Report:

Economic growth will be supported by sound policies that support productivity, participation and population — the ‘3Ps’.

If one defines “economic growth” in the first place by saying that’s what happens when you have more and more people consuming, then obviously more and more people produce growth.

The fact that GDP, our main measure of growth, might be an utterly inadequate and inappropriate yardstick for our times remains a kooky idea to most economists, both in business and government.

Genuine progress peaked 40 years ago

One of the oldest and best-researched alternative measures is the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). Based on the work of the American economist Herman Daly in the 1970s and ’80s, GPI takes into account different measures of human wellbeing, grouped into economic, environmental and social categories.

Examples on the negative side of the ledger include income inequality, CO2 emissions, water pollution, loss of biodiversity and the misery of car accidents.

On the positive side, and also left out of GDP, are the value of household work, parenting, unpaid child and aged care, volunteer work, the quality of education, the value of consumer goods lasting longer, and so on. The overall GPI measure, expressed in dollars, takes 26 such factors into account.

Since it is grounded in the real world and our real experience, GPI is a better indicator than GDP of how satisfactory we find our daily lives, of our level of contentment, and of our general level of wellbeing.

As it happens, there is quite good data on GPI going back decades for some countries. While global GDP (and GDP per capita) continued to grow strongly after the second world war, and continues today, global GPI basically stalled in 1970 and has barely improved since.

In Australia the stall point appears to be about 1974. GPI is now lower than for any period since the early 1960s. That is, our wellbeing, if we accept that GPI is a fair measure of the things that make life most worthwhile, has been going backwards for decades.

What has all the growth been for?

It is reasonable to ask, therefore, what exactly has been the point of the huge growth in GDP and population in Australia since that time if our level of wellbeing has declined.

What is an economy for, if not to improve our wellbeing? Why exactly have we done so much damage to our water resources, soil, the liveability of our cities and to the other species with which we share this continent if we haven’t really improved our lives by doing it?

As alluded to earlier, the answer lies to a large extent in the disastrous neoliberal experiment foisted upon us. Yet many Australians understand that it is entirely valid to measure the success of our society by the wellbeing of its citizens and its careful husbandry of natural capital.

At the peak of GPI in Australia in the mid-1970s our population was under 15 million. Here then, perhaps, is a sensible, optimal population size for Australia operating under the current economic system, since any larger number simply fails to deliver a net benefit to most citizens.

It suggests that we have just had 40 years of unnecessary, ideologically-driven growth at an immense and unjustifiable cost to our natural and social capital. In addition, all indications are that this path is unsustainable.

With Australian female fertility sitting well below replacement level, we can achieve a slow and natural return to a lower population of our choice without any drastic or coercive policies. This can be done simply by winding back the large and expensive program of importing consumers to generate GDP growth – currently around 200,000 people per year and forecast to increase to almost 250,000 by 2020.

Despite endless political and media obfuscation, this is an entirely different issue from assisting refugees, with whom we can afford to be much more generous.


The ConversationYou can read other articles in the Is Australia Full? series here.

Peter Martin, Lecturer, School of Natural & Built Environments, University of South Australia; James Ward, Lecturer in Water & Environmental Engineering, University of South Australia, and Paul Sutton, Professor, Department of Geography and the Environment, University of Denver

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