Anti-vilification legislation for marriage ballot to pass this week


File 20170912 12493 1pohfb0
Mathias Cormann gave an assurance that there would be a bias towards freedom of speech.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The parliament is preparing to rush through anti-vilification legislation to apply during the postal ballot on same-sex marriage.

Under the bill a person must not vilify, intimidate or threaten another person because of their views, expressed or believed to be held, or because of their religious conviction, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

The safeguards bill will be introduced on Wednesday and passed before parliament rises on Thursday. It has a sunset provision that means it only lasts for the duration of the ballot, the result of which will be announced on November 15.

Civil penalties will apply, to a maximum of A$12,600. But the attorney-general, George Brandis, must consent to a person taking enforcement action under the vilification and related provisions.

People are also protected from being discriminated against – in employment or by being denied access to membership of a union, club or other body – for making a donation to the campaign.

The bill requires that broadcasters, if they give opportunities for one side to put their views, must provide the other side with reasonable opportunities.

The government negotiated the emergency legislation with the opposition over the last few days.

The bill also includes requirements for authorisation of advertising and other provisions that apply to ordinary elections but did not automatically cover this voluntary postal ballot.

In the Coalition partyroom meeting one person objected to the anti-vilification provisions. But Acting Special Minister of State Mathias Cormann gave an assurance that Brandis’ approach would have a “bias towards freedom of speech”.

Labor claimed credit for securing “important concessions from the government that prohibit vilification and hate speech” during the ballot. But opposition spokespeople Mark Dreyfus and Terri Butler said in a statement: “Let’s be clear – this safeguards bill does not in any way legitimise this survey process, which has been foisted upon Australians at a massive cost”.

The ConversationThe ballot papers started to go out on Tuesday.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/fr3g9-72ed6d?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.

Advertisements

Ipsos 53-47 to Labor, but Shorten’s ratings slump; Qld Newspoll 53-47 to Labor


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

An Ipsos poll, conducted 6-9 September from a sample of 1400, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, unchanged from the last Ipsos poll, taken after the May budget. Primary votes were 35% Coalition (down 2), 34% Labor (down 1), 14% Greens (up 1) and 17% for all Others (up 2). Ipsos has given the Greens higher votes than any other pollster.

42% approved of Turnbull’s performance (down 3), and 47% disapproved (up 3), for a net rating of -5. Shorten’s net approval slumped 11 points to -16. Usually Ipsos gives both leaders better ratings than Newspoll, but not so much for Shorten this time.

Reflecting other polls, Labor’s lead was reduced to 52-48 when respondents were asked for preferences. In 2016, all Others preferences split roughly 50-50 between the major parties. Currently, it appears that Others will be more favourable to the Coalition, as some Abbott-supporting voters have deserted the Coalition, but will probably return after preferences.

Scott Morrison had a 42-38 approval rating as Treasurer, much better than Joe Hockey’s 58-33 disapproval rating in April 2015. Morrison led Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen 38-29 as better Treasurer, and the Coalition led Labor 38-28 on economic management, with 3% opting for the Greens.

By 56-25, voters thought Turnbull had provided better economic leadership than Abbott, another result showing the electorate overwhelmingly prefers Turnbull to Abbott.

Economic management has always been a strength for the Coalition, so their leads on preferred Treasurer and the economy are expected. However, while voters may prefer the Coalition to manage the overall economy, low wages growth is a key reason to vote Labor for personal economic reasons.

Shorten’s ratings may have been damaged by the Coalition’s attacks on him, and also by his negative parliamentary tactics. However, most people do not focus on the opposition and its policies until the election campaign.

In a March UK poll, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump were almost equally unpopular, with both at less than -40 net approval. Corbyn and UK Labour’s popularity surged in the election campaign, and the Conservatives suffered a shock loss of their majority at the June UK election.

65% of Ipsos’s sample said they were certain to vote in the same sex marriage plebiscite. Of certain voters, there was a 70-26 margin in favour of same sex marriage. Ipsos is a live phone pollster, so it is likely to be biased against politically incorrect views.

Essential 54-46 to Labor

This week’s Essential, conducted over the last two weeks from a sample of 1830, gave Labor a 54-46 lead, a one point gain for Labor since last fortnight. Primary votes were 37% Labor, 36% Coalition, 10% Greens, 9% One Nation and 2% Nick Xenophon Team. These primary votes are virtually the same as last week, but rounding helped Labor this time. Additional questions are based on one week’s sample.

Turnbull’s net approval was -5, up 3 points since August. Shorten’s net approval was -11, down four points.

Nine measures were proposed to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy. 86% supported regulating electricity and gas prices, and 81% supported increasing investment in renewables. At the bottom were stopping coal-fired power stations from closing (51-30 support), more onshore gas exploration (48-26 support) and building new coal-fired power stations (48-34 support).

By 73-8, voters thought renewables were better than fossil fuels for the environment. Renewables were also thought better for electricity costs (41-27), the economy (40-28) and jobs (34-26). There has been movement towards fossil fuels in the last three categories since May 2015.

Labor was thought more likely to deliver lower energy prices by a 28-19 margin over the Coalition, with 35% opting for no difference.

Queensland Newspoll: 53-47 to Labor

A Queensland Newspoll, conducted from July to September from a sample of 1335, and released 6 September, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a 2 point gain since the May-June 2016 Queensland Newspoll. Primary votes were 37% Labor (down 1), 34% LNP (down 6), 15% One Nation (not asked in 2016) and 8% Greens (steady). The next Queensland election must be held by early 2018.

41% (down 3) were satisfied with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, and 46% (up 4) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of -5. Opposition leader Tim Nicholls’ net approval fell 11 points to -16.

Labor changed the electoral system from optional preferential to compulsory preferential voting, and this could disadvantage Labor if One Nation’s vote is high. For its two party calculations, Newspoll is assuming that 80% of Greens preferences flow to Labor, 55% of One Nation preferences go to the LNP, and that Others split 50-50.

The ConversationThis good Newspoll for Labor contrasts with a Galaxy poll in early August that had Labor just ahead 51-49, with the LNP leading 36-35 on primary votes.

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

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

Violent politics and the disintegration of democracy in Cambodia


Caroline Bennett, Victoria University of Wellington

Kem Sokha, the leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was charged with treason last week, amid allegations of conspiring with a foreign power to overthrow the government.

In all likelihood, the charges mean the imminent dissolution of the main opposition party, leaving the ruling party – the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) – the only real contender in next year’s general elections.

The charges are the latest in the rolling back of democratic processes in the nation. They also reflect a shift in global democracy.

Destroying democracy

The latest development follows a pattern that has included alleged electoral intimidation in the recent commune elections, media suppression, and increasing threats of violence and conflict should the opposition win.

In the last three weeks, 17 radio providers that gave airtime to the opposition and aired programs produced by the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia – two Washington-based outlets that often include political critique – have had their licences revoked.

Last Monday, The Cambodia Daily, an English-language newspaper renowned for hard-hitting journalism, closed after 24 years, after being hit with an unaudited tax bill of US$6.3 million, with no course of appeal.


Read more: Cambodia Daily closure a major blow for freedom of information and expression in the country


In August, the National Democratic Institute’s office in Cambodia was forced to close, and its foreign staff were deported, following alleged infringement of the Law on Associations and Non-governmental Organisations (LANGO). This law was passed earlier this year, severely restricting the rights of civil society actors across the nation.

These actions are largely agreed to be manoeuvres to consolidate the political power of the CPP under the increasingly autocratic rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who, following Sokha’s arrest, has declared he will rule for another ten years.

The violence of Hun Sen

My research shows that Cambodian politics has always been a sphere of violence, but that since the 1993 UN-backed elections, it has happened under a veneer of liberal democracy.

According to Human Rights Watch, Hun Sen has the worst human rights record of any “democratic” leader.

Although his party lost the 1993 elections, he forced a coalition, before seizing power after violent clashes in 1997. Elections since then have been plagued by accusations of fraud, corruption and voter intimidation. Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard is implicated in much public violence, including brutal beatings of political opponents.

But these current moves are happening in increasingly public spaces. Their intensification appears to be aimed at preventing a replay of the shock results of the 2013 general elections, when the ruling party lost 22 seats to the CNRP, giving the ruling party its lowest share of seats since 1998.

2013: the beginning of the end

I was in Cambodia for the 2013 elections doing research for my PhD on the legacy of the Khmer Rouge regime. My work involved examining contemporary Cambodian politics.

The success of the opposition took many of us by surprise. Despite the allegations of fraud and corruption, the result seemed promising for its indication of free voting – there was hope that it marked a positive move for democracy. But among threats of civil conflict and unrest, the result also provoked tension.

Protests occurred in the capital, and several people were shot. Rumours started to circulate that Hun Sen had mobilised the army and that the deputy prime minister, Sok An, was planning a coup. Fear and tension bubbled below the surface for many of the people I was working with.

Hun Sen has repeatedly threatened civil war should he lose the elections. His threats are grounded in the all-too-well-remembered violent history of the Khmer Rouge, when up to 1.7 million people were killed.

In 2011, following the Arab Spring, Hun Sen threatened to kill anyone resisting his rule. Earlier this year he said:

To ensure the lives of millions of people, we are willing to eliminate 100 or 200 people.

Some in Cambodia fear he will be true to his word. It seems unlikely that Hun Sen will let the 2018 election result get as close as it did in 2013. After all, he has never shunned the threat of violence as a means of control.

Hun Sen also has the support of Tep Vong, supreme patriarch of the Cambodian Buddhist sect of Mohanikay. He has previously condoned controlling the freedom of the people, thereby ensuring spiritual legitimacy as well as political impunity for Hun Sen’s actions.

Global shifts in despotism, crumbling democracies

The moves towards media control and suppression of the opposition parallel turns across the globe. They reflect the rolling back of democracy and a rise of autocratic leaders in so-called democratic countries.

In April this year, a referendum in Turkey voted for constitutional reforms that give President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan single-handed rule with the right to pass new laws and dissolve parliament at will.

This legislation followed the failed coup in 2016. In the subsequent crackdown thousands of journalists, academics and lawmakers were jailed, and at least 156 media outlets forced to close. Turkey now has more journalists in prison than any other nation.


Read more: Turkey’s constitutional referendum: experts express fear for a divided country


Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has admitted murder, threatened killings of drug dealers (and likened himself to Hitler in the process) and said he would pass political impunity laws to protect himself. More than 7,000 people have reportedly been killed in the last year.

In Poland, the ruling party passed legislation restricting the freedom of the press and giving itself increasing control of the courts. Only the prime minister’s signature is needed for action.

According to US think tank Freedom House, 2016 was:

… characterised by an erosion of democratic institutions and a rise of autocratic practices across the globe.

Political violence, open suppression

Violence in politics is not new. The control of the people in Cambodia is not new. What is new is the increasing confidence of leaders, such as Hun Sen, to flex their political muscles openly and violently with complete confidence in their political impunity.

Cambodia is often heralded as a nation with an exciting future due to high levels of investment and development support. But the success of its peace and democracy is openly crumbling.

The ConversationThe CPP needs a powerful opposition to prevent complete disintegration of democracy and human rights. It’s making sure that is not possible.

Caroline Bennett, Lecturer in Cultural Anthropology, Victoria University of Wellington

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

Religion is not the only reason Rohingyas are being forced out of Myanmar



File 20170909 32313 a67736
Minorities in Myanmar, including the Rohingya, are resilient in the face of persecution.
Giuseppe Forino, Author provided

Giuseppe Forino, University of Newcastle; Jason von Meding, University of Newcastle, and Thomas Johnson, University of Newcastle

Recent weeks have seen an escalation of violence against the Rohingya in Rakhine, the poorest state of Myanmar. A tide of displaced people are seeking refuge from atrocities – they are fleeing both on foot and by boat to Bangladesh. It is the latest surge of displaced people, and is exacerbated by the recent activity of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

Religious and ethnic differences have been widely considered the leading cause of the persecution. But it is becoming increasingly hard to believe that there are not other factors at play. Especially given that Myanmar is home to 135 official recognised ethnic groups (the Rohingya were removed from this list in 1982).

In analysing the recent violence, much of the western media has focused on the role of the military and the figure of the de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Her status as a Nobel Peace prize laureate has been widely questioned since the latest evidence of atrocities emerged.

She continues to avoid condemning the systematic violence against the Rohingya. At least the media gaze has finally shifted somewhat towards their plight.

But there remain issues that are not being explored. It is also critical to look beyond religious and ethnic differences towards other root causes of persecution, vulnerability and displacement.

We must consider vested political and economic interests as contributing factors to forced displacement in Myanmar, not just of the Rohingya people but of other minorities such as the Kachin, the Shan, the Karen, the Chin, and the Mon.

Major ethnic groups in Myanmar.
Al Jazeera

Land grabbing

Land grabbing and confiscation in Myanmar is widespread. It is not a new phenomenon.

Since the 1990s, military juntas have been taking away the land of smallholders across the country, without any compensation and regardless of ethnicity or religious status.

Land has often been acquired for “development” projects, including military base expansions, natural resource exploitation and extraction, large agriculture projects, infrastructure and tourism. For example, in Kachin state the military confiscated more than 500 acres of villagers’ land to support extensive gold mining.

Development has forcibly displaced thousands of people – both internally and across borders with Bangladesh, India, and Thailand – or compelled them to set out by sea to Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia.

In 2011, Myanmar instituted economic and political reforms that led it to be dubbed “Asia’s final frontier” as it opened up to foreign investment. Shortly afterwards, in 2012, violent attacks escalated against the Rohingya in Rakhine state and, to a lesser extent, against the Muslim Karen. Meanwhile, the government of Myanmar established several laws relating to the management and distribution of farmland.

These moves were severely criticised for reinforcing the ability of large corporations to profit from land grabs. For instance, agribusiness multinationals such as POSCO Daewoo have eagerly entered the market, contracted by the government.

A regional prize

Myanmar is positioned between countries that have long eyed its resources, such as China and India. Since the 1990s, Chinese companies have exploited timber, rivers and minerals in Shan State in the North.

This led to violent armed conflicts between the military regime and armed groups, including the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and its ethnic allies in eastern Kachin State and northern Shan State.

In Rakhine State, Chinese and Indian interests are part of broader China-India relations. These interests revolve principally around the construction of infrastructure and pipelines in the region. Such projects claim to guarantee employment, transit fees and oil and gas revenues for the whole of Myanmar.

Among numerous development projects, a transnational pipeline built by China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) connecting Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, to Kunming, China, began operations in September 2013. The wider efforts to take Myanmar oil and gas from the Shwe gas field to Guangzhou, China, are well documented.

Pipeline from the Shwe gas field to China.
The Shwe Gas Movement

A parallel pipeline is also expected to send Middle East oil from the Kyaukphyu port to China. However, the neutral Advisory Commission on Rakhine State has urged the Myanmar government to carry out a comprehensive impact assessment.

In fact, the Commission recognises that pipelines put local communities at risk. There is significant local tension related to land seizures, insufficient compensation for damages, environmental degradation, and an influx of foreign workers rather than increased local employment opportunities.

Meanwhile, the Sittwe deep-sea port was financed and constructed by India as part of the Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Project. The aim is to connect the northeast Mizoram state in India with the Bay of Bengal.

Coastal areas of Rakhine State are clearly of strategic importance to both India and China. The government of Myanmar therefore has vested interests in clearing land to prepare for further development and to boost its already rapid economic growth.

All of this takes place within the wider context of geopolitical maneuvering. The role of Bangladesh in fuelling ethnic tensions is also hotly contested. In such power struggles, the human cost is terribly high.

Compounding the vulnerability of minorities

In Myanmar, the groups that fall victim to land grabbing have often started in an extremely vulnerable state and are left even worse off. The treatment of the Rohingya in Rakhine State is the highest profile example of broader expulsion that is inflicted on minorities.

When a group is marginalised and oppressed it is difficult to reduce their vulnerability and protect their rights, including their property. In the case of the Rohingya, their ability to protect their homes was decimated through the revocation of their Burmese citizenship.

Rohingya settlement near Sittwe.
Thomas Johnson

Since the late 1970s around a million Rohingya have fled Myanmar to escape persecution. Tragically, they are often marginalised in their host countries.

With no country willing to take responsibility for them, they are either forced or encouraged to continuously cross borders. The techniques used to encourage this movement have trapped the Rohingya in a vulnerable state.

The tragedy of the Rohingya is part of a bigger picture which sees the oppression and displacement of minorities across Myanmar and into neighbouring countries.

The ConversationThe relevance and complexity of religious and ethnic issues in Myanmar are undeniable. But we cannot ignore the political and economic context and the root causes of displacement that often go undetected.

Giuseppe Forino, PhD Candidate in Disaster Management, University of Newcastle; Jason von Meding, Senior Lecturer in Disaster Risk Reduction, University of Newcastle, and Thomas Johnson, PhD Candidate in Disaster Vulnerability, University of Newcastle

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

World must act to end the violence against Rohingya in Myanmar



File 20170908 19911 10iilao
Rohingya refugees carry their child as they walk through water after crossing the Naf River border by boat to Teknaf, Bangladesh.
Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

Chris Wilson

A new phase of massive violent ethnic cleansing is under way in Rakhine State in western Myanmar. An estimated 160,000 men, women and children of the Muslim Rohingya community have crossed into Bangladesh, fleeing indiscriminate attacks by the armed forces.

The military crackdown was in response to a co-ordinated assault against police posts by a Rohingya militant group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). The militants killed 12 security personnel. In the armed forces’ “clearance operations” that followed, 400 people have died so far.

This is the latest wave of violence involving the local Buddhist Rakhine ethnic community and the Rohingya since 2012. Around 1,000 have died over this period, amid reports of mass rape and the deliberate razing of villages by the military.

About 250,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh in the past five years. Others have embarked on an often deadly journey to find asylum, while many more remain in squalid detention camps within Myanmar, to which aid workers or outside observers are regularly denied access. Satellite images suggest that over 100km of land has been burned in the recent attacks.

A boat carrying Rohingya refugees leaves Myanmar on the Naf River while thousands of others wait their turn in Maungdaw, Myanmar.
Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

Survivors have recounted numerous atrocities such as beheadings and the slaughter of children. These are often acts of intimidation intended to ensure communities do not return. It seems likely that another round of violent, intentional and perhaps permanent expulsion has occurred.

History of the conflict

The causes of the turmoil are as complex as they are old. Rakhine State is the poorest region in Myanmar. Both the Muslim Rohingya and the indigenous Buddhist Rakhine community have suffered longstanding injustices at the hands of the military regime and each other.

Many Rakhine believe they lost large tracts of traditional land when the British encouraged Bengali labourers to move into Burma after assuming control in 1824. Large-scale violence between the two communities has occurred several times since the second world war.

Many Rakhine died when the Rohingya fought for Muslim-majority parts of northern Rakhine State to be integrated into East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Subsequent military campaigns drove many Rohingya into Bangladesh: 250,000 in 1978 and a further 250,000 in 1991 and 1992, although many were forcibly repatriated to Rakhine.

Many Rakhine now seemingly support the expulsion of the group from the state, with some participating in recent military-led attacks. The ARSA attacks have dramatically worsened the already perilous position of the 1 million Rohingya left in Rakhine.

The broader political context

Also driving the contemporary violence are two broader phenomena. The first is political liberalisation since 2005; the second is a national discourse that denies the Rohingya rights as citizens of Myanmar.

A 1982 citizenship law stripped the Rohingya of the status of one of Myanmar’s “national races”, deeming them to have entered the country after 1823. This means they have no citizenship, voting rights or the right to travel. Any property they own remains vulnerable to expropriation.

Now that a partial democracy has come to Myanmar, both national and Rakhine-based political parties (such as the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party) deride the Rohingya as “Bengalis”, “interlopers” and the perpetrators of brutal crimes. This is a way of radicalising and thereby capturing the Buddhist vote.

The historical record suggests that these claims of the Rohingyas’ recent arrival in Myanmar are questionable. Many are descended from Bengali labourers who arrived after 1823, but this means they have resided in the state for almost two centuries.

And many Rohingya also lived in Rakhine before 1823. In 1799, Francis Buchanan, a visiting representative of the East India Trading Company, reported meeting “Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan (Rakhine), and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan”. Many Muslims were living in Rakhine under the Kingdom of Mrauk-U between the 15th and 18th centuries.

Has the hatred become genocide?

Buddhist nationalists, in particular the Ma Ba Tha (Patriotic Association of Myanmar) led by the monk Ashin Wirathu, are promulgating much of the hatred of the Rohingya. Despite Muslims constituting only 4% of Myanmar’s population, he and other nationalists have portrayed the Rohingya as a potentially devastating cultural and physical threat to Buddhists in Myanmar.

Wirathu’s extremism has brought him a large following and, with it, political influence. He successfully pushed a series of “race and religion” laws through parliament, including a population control bill he described as necessary to “stop the Bengalis”.

Boys stand among debris after fire destroyed shelters at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya in western Rakhine State near Sittwe, Myanmar.
Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

Many observers now say that recent events in Rakhine constitute genocide. The bar to this most heinous of crimes is set very high, reserved for events intended to eliminate a group in whole or in part.

The difficulty of proving intent has left many large-scale killings uncategorised as genocide. But it seems increasingly apparent that the military’s campaign against the Rohingya meets this restrictive criterion. The repeated mass violence, the execution of civilians, destruction of villages, and atrocities designed to engender terror and effect permanent exodus, combined with the government’s ongoing denial of citizenship and other rights, all point to an intention to eliminate the Rohingya as a distinct group within Myanmar.

Using a phrase commonly used in genocides around the world, the Myanmar army chief said recently that the Bengali problem was a longstanding one which has become an unfinished job.

How can and should the international community intervene?

It is difficult to see how these waves of killings and forced expulsions will cease without international involvement. While her supporters will say she can do little in the face of ongoing military power, government leader Aung San Suu Kyi has chosen to inflame rather than calm the situation. Her office has referred publicly to “Bengali terrorists”, claimed aid agencies are assisting Rohingya militants, stated Muslims are burning their own houses, and denied any wrongdoing by the military.

Regional and international states should intensify their pressure on the Myanmar government and the military to halt the violence and protect all civilians, whether citizens or not. ASEAN states in particular should pressure Myanmar to bring the crisis to an end.

Once this has been achieved, several measures might help reduce the frequency and intensity of the violence. The first and most important step is to grant the Rohingya naturalised citizenship and the rights that go with it. The group would then continue to live in the state, be allowed to vote and hold politicians to account.

To deflect the concerns of Rakhine, the Rohingya will need to rescind their claim to indigenous status and their ties to a traditional homeland in Rakhine. The implementation of certain electoral mechanisms – such as requirements for parties to win a portion of the votes from each community and for pairs of running mates to include a member from each group – will also slowly depoliticise ethnicity in the state.

The provision of aid, which must be rapid and substantial, must be carefully balanced so as not to cause further anger. It should be delivered to both displaced and non-displaced communities from both Rakhine and Rohingya.

The ConversationNone of these measures will be easy. All will face substantial resistance. But the alternative is ongoing mass killing and displacement, and further radicalisation.

Chris Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations

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

Time for pragmatism, not panic, for the electricity market



File 20170908 9568 7l6kzd
There are many viable options for Australia’s energy future.
Shutterstock

David Blowers, Grattan Institute

There was a familiar kneejerk reaction to last week’s announcement by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) that there are risks to our electricity supply after the scheduled closure of the Liddell coal-fired power station in New South Wales in 2022. The sight of the Prime Minister looking for options to keep Liddell open raises the spectre of further reflexive government intervention that can’t end well.

Governments, understandably, want to make sure the lights stay on. But now is the time for perspective, not panic. Because, as the latest Grattan Institute report – Next Generation: the long-term future of the National Electricity Market – shows, there are emerging challenges to the NEM that need dealing with. Make the right decisions now and a return to affordable and reliable electricity supply is on the cards.


Read more: The true cost of keeping the Liddell power plant open


The NEM is an energy-only market. This means that generators only get revenue when they sell their electricity into the market. All costs – including the capital costs of building the plant – need to be covered by the revenue they make when they sell electricity. Anyone who wants to build new generation capacity wants to be pretty certain that the market is going to deliver the revenue they need to cover their costs.

But right now no one is building any generation, unless it is government-backed renewables. This is despite a ripe environment for investment: high current and future prices in the wholesale market and the closure of old power stations. The result, as AEMO pointed out last week, is potential shortfalls in generation and potential blackouts in South Australia, Victoria and NSW over the next few years.

Much of the blame for this investment hiatus can be placed on politicians and the climate change policy mess that is creating so much uncertainty for potential investors.


Read more: Turnbull is pursuing ‘energy certainty’ but what does that actually mean?


But the rise of wind and solar power is also causing problems. Wind and solar energy have zero marginal cost: once the facility is built, the energy produced is essentially free. And they are intermittent suppliers: they don’t produce energy unless the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. So when wind and solar plants are operating, the wholesale price of electricity is forced down. This means there needs to be high prices – sometimes very high – when wind and solar are not operating. This price volatility makes investors nervous that they will not be able to cover the costs of building new generation.

Governments may be tempted to conclude that the market has failed. But intervention may be premature.

There are still five years until Liddell is scheduled to close. Just because a new coal-fired power station will not be built in time to fill the gap doesn’t mean the market cannot respond. Coal was never going to be the market response, given climate change risks. But new gas-fired generators, or batteries to store electricity, could be built in this time frame. Or the market could finally get its act together on what is called demand-response: that is, paying consumers to reduce their electricity consumption during periods of peak demand, so that less new generation is required.


Read more: Managing demand can save two power stations’ worth of energy at peak times


There are no guarantees for government, however. The risks that the market won’t deliver the new generation that is needed are increasing. If nothing changes, Australia will need, in the words of AEMO, “a longer-term approach to retain existing investment and incentivise new investment in flexible dispatchable capability in the NEM”.

Many countries have responded to these same pressures by introducing a capacity mechanism. A capacity mechanism pays generators for being available, regardless of whether they actually sell electricity. Payments for capacity provide extra income for generators, giving them greater assurance that they will make enough revenue to cover their costs.

Any new market-based mechanism in Australia is likely to be better than the scattergun approach of various governments in recent years. Building Snowy 2.0, extending Liddell’s life, or providing state-based backing for new renewable generation might deliver the results needed. But the lack of coordination, planning and strategic thought that sits behind these policies means they probably won’t.

Getting it right

Our report suggests a better way. First, governments should give the market a chance. This means sorting out climate change policy, and quickly. Dithering about a Clean Energy Target, or arriving at a solution that cannot be supported across the political spectrum, will guarantee that investors’ hands remain firmly in their pockets.

Second, work should begin immediately on an additional capacity mechanism, so it is ready if needed. Capacity mechanisms are complex and take a long time to design and implement. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, so careful consideration needs to be given to how one would work in the Australian context.

Finally, AEMO should be asked to provide a more robust assessment of the future adequacy of generation supply. On the basis of this information, the newly formed Energy Security Board should make the judgement on whether an additional capacity mechanism is needed to make sure enough new generation is built.

The ConversationIt is understandable that politicians feel the need to act when faced with the threat of blackouts. After all, they are the ones who get the blame when the lights go out. But caution is needed. Capacity mechanisms are expensive; the peace of mind they bring comes at a price. A pragmatic and planned approach is the best way to ensure that, if a decision is made to redesign our electricity market, that decision is the right one.

David Blowers, Energy Fellow, Grattan Institute

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

What about the people missing out on renewables? Here’s what planners can do about energy justice



File 20170904 8529 hdlc69
Solar panels are integrated into a block of flats in the Viikki area of Helsinki, Finland.
Pöllö/Wikimedia, CC BY

Jason Byrne, Griffith University and Tony Matthews, Griffith University

The rapid shift to new energy sources is outpacing land use planning in cities. As interest in renewable energy burgeons, another concern has emerged – energy justice.

Improvements in renewable energy generation, energy efficiency and storage technology benefit more advantaged populations like homeowners. These innovations are generally beyond the reach of more disadvantaged groups like renters, pensioners, students and the working poor. Researchers see this as an emerging energy justice concern.

Energy costs hit the poor harder

Rising power bills hit lower-income households particularly hard.
shutterstock

A recent report, prepared by the Australian Council of Social Service, The Climate Institute and the Brotherhood of St Laurence, highlighted the disproportionate impacts of energy poverty. Current policy settings and energy price rises make life even more difficult for people who are already struggling to pay their power bills.

Energy price rises can affect residents’ ability to cool or heat their homes, cook food and get hot water. Ultimately, this can have dire consequences for people’s health and wellbeing.

Attention has been drawn to the inability of such households to tap into renewable energy in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Less well known are the emerging opportunities to reduce energy poverty. These include solar leasing, energy co-operatives and landlord incentives.

Solar leasing

Solar leasing is a strategy where a homeowner signs an agreement with a company to install solar panels. Up-front costs are limited and the system is paid back incrementally over its lifespan. In theory, this could enable landlords and low-income owners to gain access to cheaper solar energy.

There are many variations on such leases. One involves the owner buying power back from the leasing company, which sells surplus power to the grid. Another is where the owner obtains a low-cost loan, such as those offered by the Fannie Mae foundation in the US.

Some caution is warranted before entering such agreements, not least because leases can make homes harder to sell.

The relative vacuum of Commonwealth energy policy in Australia is prompting some local governments to step in. The City of Darebin in Melbourne is an example. Its Solar Saver Program aims to help pensioners and other low-income earners get solar panels on rooftops. The panels are installed up-front and paid back through rates.

Some councils are helping pensioners and other low-income earners to install solar panels to cut their energy bills.
Michael Coghlan, CC BY-SA

Community renewable energy co-operatives

A second idea is to increase competition in the energy market by enabling communities to generate their own energy. Community renewable energy projects are an example.

But such projects need not be market-based. A recent innovation in New South Wales has been the development of an energy co-operative in Stucco apartments, a non-profit, student housing complex. This small-scale co-operative generates solar energy and stores it in batteries, selling it to tenants in the building, who are low-income students.

Larger versions exist in Germany. There whole villages have become energy co-operatives of sorts, achieving energy self-sufficiency.

Landlord incentives

A landlord who makes improvements such as double glazing should be able to claim these as a tax deduction.
Paul Flint/flickr, CC BY-SA

Several commentators have identified the need for better incentives and penalties to encourage landlords to retrofit properties to make them more energy-efficient.

This includes changing the tax system. If rental properties are upgraded – with insulation, more efficient hot water systems, energy-efficient stoves or windows – these costs should count as legitimate tax deductions. Currently, these improvements are not treated as repairs and instead are depreciated over time.

Similarly, new minimum standards for energy efficiency in rental properties are needed. The NSW BASIX system is a step in this direction.

The energy justice challenge for planners

Land use planning systems are typically future-oriented. But most of the buildings that will exist in the middle of this century are already built.

We need to update planning systems to better manage systemic changes in existing built environments. These changes include the transition to renewable energy and associated energy justice concerns.

There are possibilities for improvement. For example, planners can learn from early innovations like the Stucco model. Working proactively with community energy co-operatives could reduce uncertainty for all stakeholders, minimise time wasted and maximise returns for participants.

Planners can also develop new policies and processes – such as model town planning schemes – to work with communities in delivering other small-scale renewable energy projects such as community solar farms and microgrids. Another possibility is to alter strata title laws to make it easier to install solar in apartment buildings.

The ConversationModern land use planning was driven in large part by a desire to improve public health and social justice by regulating development. Today’s planners should regard efforts to improve energy justice as a new but entirely appropriate professional responsibility.

Jason Byrne, Associate Professor of Environmental Planning, Griffith University and Tony Matthews, Lecturer in Urban and Environmental Planning, Griffith University

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

Without proper protections, same-sex marriage will discriminate against conscientious objectors



File 20170901 26012 3x4leq
If marriage is to be redefined, substantial protections should be provided for conscientious objectors.
shutterstock

Greg Walsh, University of Notre Dame Australia

Many politicians have confidently claimed that the introduction of same-sex marriage does not have the potential to violate religious liberty or the rights of conscientious objectors.

This is clearly false considering the situation overseas and in Australia. If Australia is to redefine marriage, substantial protections should be provided for conscientious objectors.

Why do we need protections?

In countries where same-sex marriage is legal, people who have opposed it have been fired or forced to resign from their jobs.

Business owners such as florists, bakers and photographers have been forced to compromise their beliefs and provide their services or face legal sanctions. In one US case, this resulted in a $135,000 fine.

Religious organisations that have refused to allow their facilities to be used for same-sex marriages have been denied government benefits such as tax exemptions. Universities with more traditional positions on marriage and sexuality have been denied accreditation. Advocacy groups promoting the view that marriage is only between a man and a woman have lost their charitable status.

In rare situations, those who have refused to facilitate same-sex marriages have been imprisoned.

In Australia, where same-sex marriage has not been introduced, there are already many examples of individuals suffering from discrimination, intimidation, boycotts and legal action.

Hobart’s Catholic Archbishop Julian Porteous was required to appear before Tasmania’s anti-discrimination commissioner after distributing a letter defending traditional marriage. This followed a complaint that it violated anti-vilification laws. The complaint was withdrawn, but only after a substantial amount of time and money had been expended on the proceedings.

Opponents of the redefinition of marriage have also been forced to cancel hotel bookings for conferences and been refused printing services for books promoting traditional marriage.

People and businesses have also experienced intimidation, boycotts and even death threats. This has included university academics, corporate employees, businesses, concerned mothers, and lobby groups.

Governments have also been willing to donate to proponents of same-sex marriage and provide other benefits (such as flying rainbow flags) while denying any such support for opponents of change. This is despite 40% of the population supporting traditional marriage.

Importantly, supporters of change do not want to introduce same-sex marriage, but two-person marriage. This new definition will raise additional challenges for conscientious objectors.

Some of the issues relating to gender identity that have already arisen overseas include parents prevented from removing their children from programs encouraging students to consider their gender identity, religious schools threatened with closure if they do not address issues of sexuality and gender identity in a government-approved manner, and the possibility of parents losing custody of their children if they refuse to affirm their child’s chosen gender identity.

These are just a few examples that could be used to demonstrate the problems that may arise when marriage is redefined – especially when it has been redefined without providing substantial protections for conscientious objectors.

How to provide substantial protections

The importance of providing conscience protections is affirmed not just by opponents of change but also by advocates for same-sex marriage such as US law professor Douglas Laycock and Liberal MP Tim Wilson.

Their support indicates that conscience protections should not be seen as excusing bigotry. Rather, they are a legitimate means of best promoting everyone’s welfare.

These protections are particularly appropriate considering that a failure to adequately protect conscientious objectors violates the right to equality. This is the very right that advocates of change assert to be of such importance to the issue of marriage equality (despite international human rights law declaring that the right is not violated by a country deciding against introducing same-sex marriage).

The right to equality under international human rights law clearly protects attributes such as religion and political opinion. Examples include Articles 2 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

A failure to protect conscientious objectors can be regarded as a violation of their right to equality. This is because it subjects them to discrimination based on their religion or political opinion.

The merits of providing such protections can also be supported on many other grounds. These include conscience rights, religious liberty, parental rights, privacy, freedom of association, the rights of children, and freedom of speech.

To provide effective protection to conscientious objectors, legislation redefining marriage should:

  • permit individuals, companies and religious bodies to decline to facilitate a same-sex marriage or related celebration;

  • protect the freedom of individuals to express their views about marriage;

  • ensure government action does not inappropriately undermine parental duties; and

  • prohibit discrimination by government bodies, companies and individuals against conscientious objectors.

Despite the importance of providing such protections, the failure of so many politicians to recognise that redefining marriage will cause Australians to suffer discrimination does not inspire confidence that these protections will be provided. If politicians won’t even recognise the potential for harm despite overwhelming evidence it is very unlikely that they will strongly advocate for comprehensive protections for conscientious objectors.

The probability of this outcome is indicated by the bills proposed this year and previously. These provided very limited protections for religious ministers, civil celebrants and religious organisations.

The ConversationThe failure of federal politicians to take seriously the legitimate concerns that people have about the consequences of changing our marriage laws may be one of the reasons why so many will be voting “no” at the upcoming postal ballot.

Greg Walsh, Senior Lecturer, School of Law, University of Notre Dame Australia

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

The postal survey is both bizarre and typical in the history of Western marriage


File 20170907 9189 i2g80o
Marriage reform of any kind has been historically slow to take hold.
Shutterstock

Timothy W. Jones, La Trobe University

The High Court’s decision to allow exceptional government spending on the marriage postal survey makes way for the latest bizarre, but typical, episode in the history of political responses to changing social attitudes to marriage.

The voluntary postal survey is unique and bizarre, in that no government has yet conducted such a statistically unreliable exercise in gauging public opinion on a contentious social issue. Yet it is typical, in that political responses to social change in areas of sex and morality are usually slow, fiercely contested, ideologically confused, but nonetheless important.

Political change in response to changes in social values is slow

The slow and strange political processes in Australia over the political recognition of same-sex marriages are actually typical of those around the world. The legislative histories of many previous changes to marriage law have been far longer and more drawn out than the recognition of same-sex marriage in Australia is likely to be.

One of the most contested changes in British marriage law was the now-obscure reform to allow a man to marry his deceased wife’s sister.

In an era of high maternal death and limited social welfare, it was common for deceased women’s sisters to marry their brothers-in-law and assume their sister’s role as wife and mother. The churches regarded such marriages as incestuous, and fiercely opposed law reform to legalise them. It took almost 70 years for this now forgotten reform to pass.

Reforms to permit divorce, interracial marriage and to administer traditional polygamous marriages were similarly contested and slow to be formed and reformed.

It should, therefore, not be a surprise that legislative reform in Australia to allow same-sex couples to marry is taking longer than a decade.

The complex relationship between religion, law and marriage

In some jurisdictions, in some times, religious institutions have legislated and adjudicated for marriage. This has never been the case in Australia. Between 1753 and 1836, the Church of England did enjoy sole political jurisdiction and administration of marriage in the British world.

However, from federation, Australian marriage law has always been secular. Religious organisations have made their own rulings about what marriage practices their own members should engage in. But while “churches, mosques or synagogues might bless nuptials, marriage itself is not a religious institution”.

Nor is it the law’s role in Australia to impose moral standards on society. Since at least 1971, when censorship law was reformed, lawmakers have sought to use legislation to enforce current community standards, rather than impose ideologically based absolutes.

The government’s ostensible rationale for the optional postal survey is actually in line with this norm: to assess community standards. Both proponents and – especially – opponents of change have been careful to frame their arguments in relation to shared community values.

Marriage equality is about more than marriage

The case for marriage law reform to allow same-sex couples to marry has been relatively simple and consistent around the world: a claim that to include same-sex couples in marriage will increase equality and social inclusion.

As this case has gained traction in the West, opponents of change have had to innovate in order to combat rapidly changing community standards.

As I have argued elsewhere, opponents of marriage law reform are primarily motivated by religious conviction. However, in a largely secular context, where moral values cannot easily be imposed on a population, “they are attempting to hide religious and moral arguments in the Trojan horse of health and human rights discourse”.

The “No” campaign has so far largely sidestepped the social justice argument of the “Yes” campaign. Instead, they have raised fears about children in rainbow families.

Conservatives have argued that children have a “right” to a mother and a father, and that same-sex parenting necessarily involves the “removal” of a child from one of its natural parents. These are innovative arguments.

Same-sex parenting is clearly not in contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The right to a mother and a father is a completely novel human right for children, and one that is impossible to guarantee. And research clearly shows that children raised by same-sex parents show no different health or wellbeing outcomes to children raised by opposite-sex parents.

Similarly, when donor assisted reproduction became popular and was debated 70 years ago, governments and churches considered it at length. However, the major objection raised in these historical debates was that donor assistance in reproduction was equivalent to adultery.

Today, individuals and couples of all sexualities access assisted reproduction technology and have done so for many decades. Equating the donation of sperm or eggs to child removal is a completely novel argument.

The ConversationAs the postal survey goes ahead, we can expect to see more of these novel arguments from the “no” campaign. But it’s important to remember that legal change around marriage is historically slow, and that this debate is not about religious values, but community values. Specifically, it is about how we value LGBTI people, their relationships, and their families.

Timothy W. Jones, Senior Lecturer in History, La Trobe University

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

Revealed: who supports marriage equality in Australia – and who doesn’t



File 20170828 17108 ydnkkz
Increasing numbers of Australians agree with the notion of same-sex couples having the same rights as different-sex couples.
AAP/James Ross

Francisco Perales, The University of Queensland and Alice Campbell, The University of Queensland

Ahead of the postal plebiscite on marriage equality, much is being written about the relative chances of a “Yes” or “No” outcome, and the strategies both sides need to influence public opinion.

However, the bulk of the public debate seems to be based on intuitive or speculative perceptions of the traits of people who are likely to oppose or support marriage equality, or on anecdotal evidence.

We used data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey (HILDA) to assess trends in the degree of support for marriage equality, and to ascertain the characteristics of those Australians who do, or don’t, support it.


Further reading: Finding balance on marriage equality debate a particular challenge for the media


The data

In 2005, 2008, 2011 and 2015, the HILDA Survey asked its national panel to rate their degree of agreement with the statement “Homosexual couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples do” on a scale from one (strongly disagree) to seven (strongly agree).

The HILDA data have strengths and weaknesses compared to recent poll data. The drawbacks are that they are relatively old (July 2015-February 2016), and do not collect information about views on same-sex marriage specifically.

However, they are collected with much more statistical rigour (probability sampling, population representativeness), feature sample sizes that dwarf those of opinion polls (>15,000 respondents), and encompass rich demographic information.

Degree of support

We find a pronounced trend between 2005 and 2015 in the degree to which Australians agree with the notion of same-sex couples having the same rights as different-sex couples.

As seen below, the percentage of people who “strongly agree” (the highest point in the scale) rose from 19.2% in 2005 to 46.3% in 2015. In contrast, the percentage of people who “strongly disagree” (the lowest point) fell markedly from 26.7% in 2005 to 12.9% in 2015.

The percentage of people who chose any of the five intermediate responses either remained stable, or decreased slightly.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/kVXI5/2/

Defining agreement as response points five to seven on the “agree side” of the aforementioned question, the 2015 HILDA Survey reveals agreement rates of 66%, up from 39.8% in 2005.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/W2grP/1/

When agreement is defined as response options four to seven, the 2015 agreement rate grows to 78%.

Who supports equal rights?

Examination of the 2015 HILDA Survey data revealed marked differences in the degree of support for equal rights for same-sex couples across population subgroups.

Such support was significantly greater among:

  • women;

  • non-heterosexual (gay/lesbian, bisexual) people;

  • younger people;

  • people with degree-level or year 12 as their highest educational qualifications (compared to lower than year 12, or a professional qualification);

  • non-religious people;

  • people born in Australia or an English-speaking country (compared to people born in a non-English-speaking country);

  • people with higher incomes; and

  • people living in major cities (compared to those living in regional/remote areas).

Once these factors were accounted for, there were few and small differences across Australia’s states and territories.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/EmG5E/1/

Who sits on the fence?

About 12.4% of the 2015 HILDA Survey respondents selected the mid-point of the seven-category response scale when reporting on their agreement with the rights of same-sex couples.

This is an important portion of the Australian population. They represent those who may be swayed in either direction.

Examining their traits reveals these respondents were more likely to be men, heterosexual, older than 40, religious, to have below-year-12 education or professional qualifications, from a non-English-speaking background, in the bottom quartile of the income distribution, and from regional/remote areas of Australia.

Social change

The longitudinal nature of the HILDA Survey data enabled us to compare trends over time in support for the rights of same-sex couples between population segments.

Between 2005 and 2015, support rates increased across all of the population subgroups under scrutiny. This was even the case among groups that expressed the lowest levels of support.

For the most part, the group differences in support rates reported before remain reasonably constant over time. Interesting exceptions included a reduced “support premium” associated with holding university-level qualifications, and increasing religious disparities.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/mJNOl/3/


Further reading: To Christians arguing ‘no’ on marriage equality: the Bible is not decisive


What does all this mean?

The figures reveal an overwhelming tide of support toward the rights of same-sex couples within Australian society.

However, certain population groups are clearly lagging behind in their support. This includes male, older, and religious Australians, and those from non-English-speaking backgrounds. These same traits are also predictive of being undecided on the issue. This implies campaigners for a Yes vote should redouble efforts in putting forward arguments that appeal to these groups.

The ConversationEven with a favourable outcome, the moral scrutiny to which the LGBT community is being subjected will likely have long-term negative consequences. Social friction and debates about the rights of same-sex couples are unlikely to disappear after the plebiscite. Our results point toward population groups that will need further convincing.

Francisco Perales, Senior Research Fellow (Institute for Social Science Research & Life Course Centre) and ARC DECRA Fellow, The University of Queensland and Alice Campbell, PhD Student, Life Course Centre and Institute for Social Science Research, The University of Queensland

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