Liberals’ Georgina Downer trailing in early Mayo poll


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie, who quit parliament in the citizenship crisis, has an early lead in her fight to win back her South Australian seat of Mayo, according to a ReachTEL poll.

Sharkie is ahead of her opponent, the high-profile Liberal Georgina Downer, 58% to 42% on a two-party basis.

The poll was commissioned by the Australia Institute, a progressive think tank.

The Liberals have been hopeful of capturing Mayo, thus increasing their parliamentary majority. They held the seat until Sharkie, as part of the Nick Xenophon Team (since renamed the Centre Alliance) won it in 2016 from Jamie Briggs, who earlier had to resign from the ministry over a personal indiscretion.

Georgina Downer is the daughter of Alexander Downer, a former occupant of the seat who was foreign minister in the Howard government.

The vote is on July 28, when five byelections will be held in a Super Saturday across the country. The Liberals believe the long campaign will favour them in Mayo because Sharkie has much less in terms of resources. She is, however, well known in the electorate.

The poll has her on a 40.1% primary vote, with Downer on 34.4%. Labor is polling 7.7%; the Greens 10.7%. The vote for “other/independent” is 3.5%, with 3.6% undecided. The sample was 1031 with polling on the night of June 5.

The poll also asked whether company tax for large companies like banks, mining companies and supermarkets should be increased, kept the same or decreased. The results were: increased, 25.4%; kept the same, 44.9%; decreased, 24.8%.

People were overwhelmingly opposed to the banks receiving a company tax cut (69.1% against).

Asked how they would prefer to spend the $80 billion proposed to be spent on company tax cuts, 51.4% chose “infrastructure and government services like health and education”, 6.5% said personal income tax cuts, 29.1% said decreasing the deficit and repaying debt, and 8.7% said proceeding with the company tax cuts.

The ConversationAsked how the Senate should vote on the third stage of the budget’s income tax policy, which “removes the 37-cent income tax bracket altogether, meaning someone earning $41.000 would pay the same marginal tax rate as someone earning $200,000”, about two thirds (65.3%) said the Senate should oppose it, while 25.2% said it should vote in support.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

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Government needs to slow down on changes to spying and foreign interference laws


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Attorney-General Christian Porter wants the legislation passed before the “Super Saturday” byelections on July 28.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

What’s the rush? If you believe Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter, unless two pieces of security legislation are in place in the remaining two weeks of parliament before the winter recess, the country will be in peril.

This was the line Porter was taking yesterday on the release of the Advisory Report on the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill.

His argument is nonsense. Labor should also be taken to task for being party to a hasty process that appears on the face of it to be expedient. Labor’s persistent concern is to avoid being wedged on security issues.

Under the proposed legislation, bodies such as Amnesty International that have been critical of Australian government policies may be vulnerable.

Porter wants two separate tranches of legislation – the Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill and a Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill – to be passed before the Super Saturday byelections on July 28.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Government and Labor unite to erect the barriers against foreign interference


Porter’s argument appears to be that unless the legislation passes in the concluding two weeks of the midyear session of parliament, those byelections will be conducted in a perilous atmosphere. He said:

There’s an unprecedented level of foreign intelligence activity in Australia and that means more foreign agents and more foreign power using more tradecraft and more technologies to engage in espionage and foreign interference and the attempted foreign influence of our democratic processes.

And that increase in volume is detectable even in the period of time that this piece of legislation has been under consideration by the committee.

No reasonable person would argue against the need for beefed-up legislation to deal with challenges to democratic processes such as those witnessed during the recent US election.

Russian cyber interference in the US political process is hardly in question, nor attempts by Russian agents of influence to suborn the system. The question is to what degree?

What is proposed in Australian legislation foreshadowed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull late last year is a new and far-reaching suite of laws aimed at limiting foreign interference.

An initial version of the bill was poorly drafted. It represented an unreasonable threat to individual liberties and freedom of expression.

It was particularly antagonistic to journalists operating in the security space. Long jail terms for publication of unauthorised security material were incorporated.

The insertion of a public interest amendment has somewhat alleviated that risk.

Fairfax Media’s publication overnight of leaked documents dealing with alleged war crimes by members of the Special Air Service might have fallen foul of such provisions, and may still do so.

Media coverage of the draft amendments to the Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill has been relatively favourable. However, this might have less to do with the merits of the legislation than with relief the bill is less threatening to legitimate inquiry than an earlier draft.

In all, parliament’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security made 60 recommended amendments to the Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill.

Most of these recommendations are cosmetic, except those relating to journalistic inquiry. They include the need for security certifications to be validated before proceedings could be initiated for an espionage or secrecy offence, and a review of the legislation by the National Security Legislation Monitor after three years.

Urging quick action on the Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill, Porter argued that a second bill, the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill, was required to complement the main piece of legislation.

This refers to legislation that sought to proscribe involvement in Australian political processes not just by foreign governments and their agents, but by entities like GetUp, which has drawn part of its funding from foreign sources.

The scope of this proposed legislation – which is yet to be agreed by the JCOIS – has now been limited to foreign governments, foreign-related entities, foreign political organisation and foreign government-directed individuals.

Foreign companies would be excluded from this provision unless it could be demonstrated they were closely connected to a foreign government or political organisation.

In such cases, government-dominated companies, even those associated with friendly nations, would be required to register under the proposed law.

In efforts to guard against interference by individuals or companies who might be connected with a foreign government, the Attorney-General’s Department would be empowered to issue “transparency notices” to identify such individuals or companies.




Read more:
New foreign interference laws will compound risks to whistleblowers and journalists


An appeals process against these findings would be available through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Porter said:

It’s vital that our national security legislation and framework reflects the modern challenges that we face … that framework remains dangerously incomplete while these two remaining and critical bills remain unlegislated.

As interested parties digest the provisions of the proposed amendments, it’s likely more objections will be raised, such as those by Claire O’Rourke, one of Amnesty’s Australian representatives.

O’Rourke told The Guardian that under the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill charities like Amnesty that hold the Australian government to account on its human rights record could face criminal charges. She said:

This is clear government overreach and a cynical exercise by both sides of politics to shield themselves from the scrutiny of Australian society, including charities.

The ConversationThe upshot of all this? Quite simply, more time is needed to review proposed amendments.

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

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

Turnbull government shrinks Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme register


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Attorney-General Christian Porter has put forward compromise amendments to the government’s proposed register of foreign agents that will limit its reach.

The changes are designed to meet criticisms from charities, universities and others, and to get a quick agreement with Labor on the legislation.

The bill for the register is still being considered by the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, which on Thursday released a bipartisan report agreeing on 60 amendments to the legislation to counter the threat of foreign interference.

Porter wants to get both bills passed by the end of this month. “Most critically this would allow for Australia’s new legal framework designed to address espionage, interference and foreign influence in Australia’s democratic processes to be passed before the conduct of five key Australian byelections and be fully operational before the next scheduled general election,” he said.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Government and Labor unite to erect the barriers against foreign interference


There have been widespread concerns that the scope of the transparency scheme is too wide, and notably the breadth of the definitions in it, including that of “foreign principal”.

Arguments have been put by lawyers, the media, the arts, charities, not-for-profit organisations and the academic sector that these definitions will adversely affect them.

Porter said that the government had now given the committee a range of amendments “that address the most substantive stakeholder issues”.

The bill currently provides that people be required to register if undertaking certain activities on behalf of a foreign government, public enterprise, political organisation, business or individual.

The change would limit the “foreign principals” to foreign governments, foreign government-related entities, foreign political organisations and foreign government-related individuals.

“This ensures that only organisations or individuals ultimately working at the direction of a foreign government or political party are required to register,” Porter said.

The amendment would thus exclude “the vast majority of private international companies”, except where “they are closely related to a foreign government or political organisation”.

To stop some companies or individuals with opaque links to a foreign government falling through the cracks, the secretary of the Attorney-General’s department would have a power to issue notices stating a person or organisation was considered a foreign government-related entity or individual.

“This would allow the government to investigate and declare where it considers companies or individuals are hiding their connections to foreign governments,” Porter said.

Another change would mean broadcasters, carriage service providers and publishers would not have to register “where they are undertaking their ordinary business”.

The definition of “activity for the purpose of political or government influence” would also be changed “so that a substantial purpose of the activity has to be political influence, rather than just ‘a’ purpose of it”.

The ConversationPorter said that responding to the university sector and charities, the definition of “undertaking activity on behalf of a foreign principal” would be amended “so a person isn’t deemed to be undertaking an activity merely because they are supervised by, receive funding from or collaborate with a foreign principal”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Twenty years on, One Nation is still chaotic, controversial and influential



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With, for now, three Senate votes as her bargaining chips, Hanson’s impact – on government policy or on the major parties’ electoral strategy – is still being felt.
AAP/Peter Mathew

Chris Salisbury, The University of Queensland

Twenty years since its spectacular electoral debut in Queensland, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation remains a potent, if enigmatic, political force. Despite the party’s internal volatility and public displays of disunity, it’s still poised to play a significant role in the next federal election, especially in key marginal seats in Queensland.

The weeks approaching the winter parliamentary break have witnessed almost daily revelations of One Nation’s in-fighting, keeping Pauline Hanson in the headlines.

Recent ineligibility rulings, resignations and demotions have enveloped the party in a seeming storm of self-implosion.

Its stocks in the federal senate, where it had four senators elected in 2016, are now diminished. Depending on out-of-favour senator Brian Burston’s decision concerning his future with the party, there may be further attrition to come.




Read more:
ReachTEL polls: Labor trailing in Longman and Braddon, and how Senate changes helped the Coalition


Many observers have noted how these public rows between Hanson and party colleagues, and the loss of numbers in parliament through bad blood or bad management, recall events in the party’s shambolic formative years. Some predict that history is set to repeat, and One Nation is again on a rapid path to self-destruction.

But such assumptions might underestimate the stubborn persistence of Hanson and, importantly, her party’s supporters.

June 13 marks the 20th anniversary of the 1998 Queensland state election, when Peter Beattie was first elected Premier amid One Nation’s storming onto the electoral scene. The election returned the ALP to office in Queensland, beginning a 14-year period of Labor hegemony in that state, but also created a legacy of a different kind for One Nation and its controversial figurehead.

That same election set a benchmark for minor party disruption of the status quo that others (including, lately, the revived One Nation) have aimed for but fallen well short of ever since.

Fifteen months after the party’s formation in March 1997, One Nation won 22.7% of the primary vote and 11 seats in Queensland’s parliament, delivering a shock to the political “establishment”.

But within the space of eight months, punctuated by its MPs’ ill-discipline and organisational turmoil, the party disintegrated into a handful of independents and the newly-formed (and short-lived) City Country Alliance party. With the exception of two of these independents, all other former One Nation MPs lost their seats at the next state election, in Peter Beattie’s landslide 2001 victory.

One Nation’s barnstorming debut at that 1998 election was subsequently thought to be a “flash in the pan”. But this perhaps overlooks that One Nation retained seats in Queensland’s parliament until the party’s last remaining MP, Rosa Lee Long, lost her seat of Tablelands in 2009.

More recently, Hanson very nearly won the state seat of Lockyer for One Nation at Queensland’s 2015 election. The “unschooled” behaviour of the party’s elected MPs and officials was not enough to turn all its supporters away from the maverick fringes of politics and back toward the mainstream parties.

The intervening years haven’t seen the major parties entirely recoup earlier losses of support. In the absence of One Nation, voters abandoning the established parties have been attracted to the likes of Katter’s Australian Party, the Palmer United Party, and other eponymous state and federal groupings.

Recent elections at state and federal levels have seen diminishing primary vote support for the major parties and a surge in popularity (if not exactly translated to electoral success) of smaller parties.

Since re-emerging in recent years, One Nation has attracted 5-15% of the primary vote at state elections in Western Australia and Queensland – despite falling well short of expectations. In the electorates it actually contested, the proportion is much higher, climbing into the 20s and low 30s.

It seems the “protest vote” element in the electorate hasn’t really gone away since One Nation first departed the scene, and is now at record levels. As witnessed in Queensland’s recent state election, almost 31% of primary votes were cast for non-major parties, exceeding the 30% non-major primary vote at the 1998 election.

In this atmosphere of volatile voter sentiment, Hanson – in addition to a slew of other, newer minor party identities – has well and truly established herself on the political scene again.




Read more:
Despite the election hype, some of the media attention on One Nation was justified


Polling undertaken in the federal seat of Longman, due to go to a by-election in late July, has shown increased support for One Nation. This is at the potential cost of the former Labor incumbent, Susan Lamb – who narrowly won the seat from the government in 2016 in part due to One Nation preferences.

This underlines the extent to which Hanson’s party is likely to influence the outcome in several Queensland seats at the next federal election, making the state again a key electoral battleground.

One Nation has now been on the political scene almost as long as the DLP or the Australian Democrats – perhaps its period in the political wilderness extended the party’s shelf-life and appeal to a new swathe of “disaffected” voters.

The ConversationDespite its dysfunction – frequently laid at Hanson’s feet – and often inconsistent policy positions, the party has cemented an influential place in the federal arena, albeit a status that’s on the verge of diminishing drastically.

Chris Salisbury, Research Associate, The University of Queensland

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

Grattan on Friday: Government and Labor unite to erect the barriers against foreign interference


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government couldn’t have had a more appropriate week for the release of the report from the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security which has examined its legislation to counter foreign interference.

Bipartisan agreement in the report, tabled Thursday, on the 60 recommendations, covering minor and more substantive amendments, has paved the way for the bill – that has infuriated Chinese authorities – to clear parliament within weeks.

A couple of current instances have highlighted how China engages in unsubtle pressure.

Qantas confirmed it would bow to China over how the carrier refers to Taiwan in its advertising and on its website. This followed a demand to three dozen airlines that they make clear that Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau are part of China.

The government was understanding of Qantas’s position, accepting it had little choice.

On a very different front, former foreign minister Bob Carr, an outspoken friend of China, who heads the Australia China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney, was unable to get visas for journalists (including from Fairfax and News Corp) to go on one of the sponsored visits to China he hosts. Carr says “the assumption is that [this] is part of the freeze China is applying to bilateral visits” – a freeze that has hit ministers.

Then there is the much-publicised controversy about Facebook sharing user-data with, among many companies, several Chinese ones including Huawei, a telecommunications-equipment giant that the Australian government has not permitted to tender for National Broadband Network contracts.

We’re well past the optimistic days when we believed it could be all upside in our relationship with China, which has over the years delivered an economic bonanza for Australia.

Trade Minister Steve Ciobo tries to shrug off problems as minor irritants, but presumably that’s just his job. Others in the government have become more forthright.

It’s notable that of recent prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, both very knowledgable about China, have been the most openly tough-minded towards it. Before becoming PM, each was regarded as China-friendly.

Of the various causes of current tensions in the relationship, the legislation against foreign interference is on the top shelf (together with Australia’s stand on the South China Sea).

The purpose of the legislation, unveiled late last year, is to “comprehensively reform key offences dealing with threats to national security, particularly those posed by foreign principals”.

Among its provisions, it “introduces new foreign interference offences targeting covert, deceptive or threatening actions by foreign actors who intend to influence Australia’s democratic or government processes or to harm Australia”.

At its core, what this legislation does is to criminalise foreign interference that is one step below espionage. ASIO has always been able to investigate such interference, but it hasn’t actually been a criminal offence.

While the government goes out of its way to say the legislation is not aimed at any individual country, everyone knows China is in its sights. As is Russia, after the experience in the United States and elsewhere.

Duncan Lewis, head of ASIO, emphasised the foreign threat in evidence to Senate estimates last month, describing the current scale of foreign intelligence activity against Australian interests as “unprecedented”.

“Foreign actors covertly attempt to influence and shape the views of members of the Australian public, the Australian media, officials in the Australian government and members of the diaspora communities here in Australia,” he told the hearing.

“Foreign states maintain an enduring interest in a range of strategically important commercial, political, economic, defence, security, foreign policy and diaspora issues,” he said.

Critics of the legislation seized on sloppy drafting as well raising substantive issues. The Law Council of Australia warned that “many of the offence provisions are broadly drafted to capture a range of benign conduct that may not necessarily amount to harm or prejudice Australia’s interests”.

Some with concerns were within officialdom. The Commonwealth Ombudsman pointed out that “the current drafting of the amendments appears to produce several unintended consequences for my office,” and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security had some worries.

The media feared being caught by too wide a net.

Where possible, Opposition leader Bill Shorten tries to stick like glue to the government on national security issues, for reasons of politics as well as substance. Given this, and the usual bipartisan functioning of the intelligence and security committee, it is not surprising that agreement has been reached on a refined version of the bill.

Many of the changes, as Attorney-General Christian Porter noted, are to definitions and drafting – which doesn’t make them unimportant.

These include clarifying that “prejudice to national security” has to involve an element of harm, not just embarrassment. There’ll be clarification of “espionage”, “sabotage”, “political violence” and “foreign interference”.

Changes will reduce the maximum penalties for the new secrecy offences, and require the attorney-general’s consent for a prosecution under them.

An amendment will ensure the staff of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security are properly protected.

The changes will give greater protection to the media, expanding the public interest defence for journalists, and making it clear that editors, legal advisers and administrative staff will all be covered by the journalism defence.

Before a journalist can be prosecuted over reporting classified documents, the head of the relevant agency will have to certify that they were properly classified, and the attorney-general must consent to the legal action.

The government, accepting some criticisms of the legislation, itself put forward certain amendments.

The committee – which is still examining an accompanying bill to set up a register of those working on behalf of foreign governments and other interests – said that after three years there should be a review of the operation of key parts of the foreign influence legislation.

The agreed changes haven’t satisfied critics such as the Law Council and Amnesty International. But the political deal is now in place.

Meanwhile Porter explicitly cast an eye to coming elections. “Activity which is designed to interfere or influence our democratic processes is at its most acute when democratic processes are taking place and that means five by-elections in late July and then the full general election”.

The ConversationThe government, saying it wants the legislation passed before the parliament rises at the end of June for the winter recess, is preparing for more angry reaction from Beijing.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Here’s what a privacy policy that’s easy to understand could look like



File 20180606 137315 1d8kz0n.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
We need a simple system for categorising data privacy settings, similar to the way Creative Commons specifies how work can be legally shared.
Shutterstock

Alexander Krumpholz, CSIRO and Raj Gaire, CSIRO

Data privacy awareness has recently gained momentum, thanks in part to the Cambridge Analytica data breach and the introduction of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

One of the key elements of the GDPR is that it requires companies to simplify their privacy related terms and conditions (T&Cs) so that they are understandable to the general public. As a result, companies have been rapidly updating their terms and conditions (T&Cs), and notifying their existing users.




Read more:
Why your app is updating its privacy settings and how this will affect businesses


On one hand, these new T&Cs are now simplified legal documents. On the other hand, they are still too long. Unfortunately, most of us have still skipped reading those documents and simply clicked “accept”.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could specify our general privacy preferences in our devices, have them check privacy policies when we sign up for apps, and warn us if the agreements overstep?

This dream is achievable.

Creative Commons as a template

For decades, software was sold or licensed with Licence Agreements that were several pages long, written by lawyers and hard to understand. Later, software came with standardised licences, such as the GNU General Public Licence, Berkeley Software Distribution, or The Apache License. Those licences define users’ rights in different use cases and protect the provider from liabilities.

However, they were still hard to understand.

With the foundation of Creative Commons (CC) in 2001, a simplified licence was developed that reduced complex legal copyright agreements to a small set of copyright classes.

These licences are represented by small icons and short acronyms, and can be used for images, music, text and software. This helps creative users to immediately recognise how – or whether – they can use the licensed content in their own work.




Read more:
Explainer: Creative Commons


Imagine you have taken a photo and want to share it with others for non-commercial purposes only, such as to illustrate a story on a not-for-profit news website. You could licence your photo as CC BY-NC when uploading it to Flickr. In Creative Commons terms, the abbreviation BY (for attribution) requires the user to cite the owner and NC (non-commercial) restricts the use to non-commercial applications.

Internet search engines will index these attributes with the files. So, if I search for photos explicitly licensed with those restrictions, via Google for example, I will find your photo. This is possible because even the computers can understand these licences.

We need to develop Privacy Commons

Similar to Creative Commons licences under which creative content is given to others, we need Privacy Commons by which companies can inform users how they will use their data.

The Privacy Commons need to be legally binding, simple for people to understand and simple for computers to understand. Here are our suggestions for what a Privacy Commons might look like.

We propose that the Privacy Commons classifications cover at least three dimensions of private data: collection, protection, and spread.

What data is being collected?

This dimension is to specify what level of personal information is collected from the user, and is therefore at risk. For example, name, email, phone number, address, date of birth, biometrics (including photos), relationships, networks, personal preferences, and political opinions. The could be categorised at different levels of sensitivities.

How is your data protected?

This dimension specifies:

  • where your data stored – within an app, in one server, or in servers at multiple locations
  • how it is stored and transported – whether it is plain text or encrypted
  • how long the data is kept for – days, months, years or permanently
  • how the access to your data controlled within the organisation – this indicates the protection of your data against potentially malicious actors like hackers.

How is your data spread?

In other words, who is your data shared with? This dimension tells you whether or not the data is shared with third parties. If the data is shared, will it be de-identified appropriately? Is it shared for research purposes, or sold for commercial purposes? Are there any further controls in place after the data is shared? Will it be deleted by the third party when the user deletes it at the primary organisation?




Read more:
94% of Australians do not read all privacy policies that apply to them – and that’s rational behaviour


Privacy Commons will help companies think about user privacy before offering services. It will also help solve the problem of communication about privacy in the same way that Creative Commons is solving the problems of licensing for humans and computers. Similar ideas have been discussed in the past, such as Mozilla. We need to revisit those thoughts in the contemporary context of the GDPR.

Such a system would allow you to specify Privacy Commons settings in the configuration of your children’s devices, so that only appropriate apps can be installed. Privacy Commons could also be applied to inform you about the use of your data gathered for other purposes like loyalty rewards cards, such as FlyBuys.

Of course, Privacy Commons will not solve everything.

For example, it will still be a challenge to address concerns about third party personal data brokers like Acxiom or Oracle collecting, linking and selling our data without most of us even knowing.

The ConversationBut at least it will be a step in the right direction.

Alexander Krumpholz, Senior Experimental Scientist, CSIRO and Raj Gaire, Senior Experimental Scientist, CSIRO

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

The world’s economic crisis-fighting mechanisms are dangerously inadequate


Adam Triggs, Australian National University

It was only in January that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was celebrating the strength of the global economy, heralding “the broadest synchronised global growth upsurge since 2010”.

How quickly things have changed.

Argentina has since sought a bailout from the IMF, Turkey is facing a potential currency crisis, Indonesia is seeing investors flee, alarm bells are sounding for Italy and Spain, China’s debt remains a serious concern, and the only thing more uncertain than the fallout from Brexit is the outcome of Donald Trump’s trade war.

It’s time to review the world’s capacity to respond to crises.




Read more:
Vital Signs: Italy is broke, and the markets have lost all faith in its elected politicians


The “global financial safety net” refers to the mishmash of global, regional and bilateral institutions and mechanisms designed to help countries facing economic and financial crises and to prevent these problems from spreading.

The most well-known institution is the IMF, which has around US$1 trillion in crisis-fighting resources. The World Bank, with around US$263 billion, has provided assistance in previous crises.

There is also a range of regional mechanisms, such as Asia’s Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralisation agreement (with US$240 billion) and the European Stability Mechanism (with US$600 billion). Bilateral currency swap arrangements, under which one country’s central bank can exchange its currency for that of another, are also an important part of the safety net.

Make no mistake, the safety net is big. In total it has about US$4.6 trillion in crisis-fighting firepower, seven times what it was in 1980. But this large number can be misleading and, as I argue in a recent working paper at Brookings, is both inadequate and causing a dangerous sense of complacency.

First, not all of this money is immediately available. Some of it is tied up in existing programs (such as in Greece) and central bank governors interviewed for my research (including former US Federal Reserve chairs Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke, and current Reserve Bank of Australia governor Philip Lowe) warned that many currency swap lines would not be made available during a crisis. This shrinks the safety net to US$2.5 trillion.

Second, not all resources are available to all countries. The European Stability Mechanism won’t help you if you live in Latin America. And if your country wasn’t offered a swap line with a major central bank, well, that’s tough luck.

The size of the safety net depends entirely on the country. It is twice as large for some G20 countries as for others, or four times as large if you include foreign exchange reserves (which are more accurately described as domestic resources rather than part of the global safety net).

This fragmentation has made the safety net patchier, slower and less consistent, making crises costlier. Many countries have fallen between the cracks, particularly emerging economies such as Turkey and Argentina, which don’t have strong institutions or resilient capital markets like the ones operating in the United States, Canada or Australia.




Read more:
The G20’s economic leadership deficit


Recent research has sought to assess the safety net’s adequacy by exploring what crises might occur in the future. But instead of trying to predict these things, I pose a simple question: can the safety net provide at least the same level of support today that has been required of it in the past?

To find out, I war-gamed three regional crises – the Asian financial crisis, the European debt crisis and the Latin American debt crisis – and six country-specific crises in Argentina, Turkey, Ecuador, Russia, Mexico and Chile. While financial systems are more resilient today than they were back then, my analysis produced some alarming results.

While the safety net works well for country-specific crises, it struggles to cope with widespread shocks. Providing the same level of support today that was provided during the Asian financial crisis would exhaust all currency swap lines, all regional mechanisms, all regional development banks and the entire World Bank, and would require exceptional access to the IMF’s resources. If the European debt crisis occurred today, the entire global financial safety net would be exhausted.

Second, most crises now require access to multiple components of the safety net. The IMF is no longer capable of providing assistance alone. Countries increasingly rely on regional mechanisms which, in Asia, have never been tested and, in Latin America, are small.

Third, despite the growth in non-global resources, countries often still have to go to the IMF. This means there must be seamless co-ordination of multiple institutions during a crisis, something the IMF warns (and recent history shows) is a “very strong assumption”.

Finally, most of these results hold even when foreign exchange reserves are included. There are also many alarming developments on the horizon. Foreign exchange reserves are declining, particularly in China, and the IMF’s resources will halve by 2022 unless the US Congress approves extra funding and countries like China agree to reloan the IMF money, despite getting no additional voting power. The 63 policymakers I interviewed suggest that neither is likely.




Read more:
Vital Signs: how likely is another financial crisis? It comes down to what we believe


What can be done?

In the short term, countries must to bolster the IMF’s temporary resources and strengthen co-operation between safety-net institutions. Central banks must clarify whether swap lines are available in a crisis and, where possible, extend them to cover more economies.

In the long term, the IMF’s centrality in the safety net must be reaffirmed. It needs larger, permanent funding and more flexible lending arrangements.

The ConversationThe lead-up to the 2008 crisis was characterised by a dangerous sense of complacency. That complacency should not be allowed to take hold again.

Adam Triggs, Research fellow, Australian National University

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

Trolls, fanboys and lurkers: understanding online commenting culture shows us how to improve it



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The way user interfaces are designed can impact the kind of community that gathers.
Shutterstock

Renee Barnes, University of the Sunshine Coast

Do you call that a haircut? I hope you didn’t pay for it.

Oh please this is rubbish, you’re a disgrace to yourself and your profession.

These are just two examples of comments that have followed articles I have written in my career. While they may seem benign compared with the sort of violent and vulgar comments that are synonymous with cyberbullying, they are examples of the uncivil and antisocial behaviour that plagues the internet.

If these comments were directed at me in any of my interactions in everyday life – when buying a coffee or at my monthly book club – they would be incredibly hurtful and certainly not inconsequential.

Drawing on my own research, as well as that of researchers in other fields, my new book “Uncovering Online Commenting Culture: Trolls, Fanboys and Lurkers” attempts to help us understand online behaviours, and outlines productive steps we can all take towards creating safer and kinder online interactions.




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Rude comments online are a reality we can’t get away from


Steps we all can take

Online abuse is a social problem that just happens to be powered by technology. Solutions are needed that not only defuse the internet’s power to amplify abuse, but also encourage crucial shifts in social norms and values within online communities.

Recognise that it’s a community

The first step is to ensure we view our online interactions as an act of participation in a community. What takes place online will then begin to line up with our offline interactions.

If any of the cruel comments that often form part of online discussion were said to you in a restaurant, you would expect witnesses around you to support you. We must have the same expectations online.

Know our audience

We learn to socialise offline based on visual and verbal cues given by the people with whom we interact. When we move social interactions to an online space where those cues are removed or obscured, a fundamental component of how we moderate our own behaviour is also eliminated. Without these social cues, it’s difficult to determine whether content is appropriate.

Research has shown that most social media users imagine a very different audience to the actual audience reading their updates. We often imagine our audience as people we associate with regularly offline, however a political statement that may be supported by close family and friends could be offensive to former colleagues in our broader online network.

Understand our own behaviour

Emotion plays a role in fuelling online behaviour – emotive comments can inspire further emotive comments in an ongoing feedback loop. Aggression can thus incite aggression in others, but it can also establish a behavioural norm within the community that aggression is acceptable.




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How empathy can make or break a troll


Understanding our online behaviour can help us take an active role in shaping the norms and values of our online communities by demonstrating appropriate behaviour.

It can also inform education initiatives for our youngest online users. We must teach them to remain conscious of the disjuncture between our imagined audience and the actual audience, thereby ingraining productive social norms for generations to come. Disturbingly, almost 70% of those aged between 18 and 29 have experienced some form of online harassment, compared with one-third of those aged 30 and older.

What organisations and institutions can do

That is not to say that we should absolve the institutions that profit from our online interactions. Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter also have a role to play.

User interface design

Design of user interfaces impacts on the ease with which we interact, the types of individuals who comment, and how we will behave.

Drawing on psychological research, we can link particular personality traits with antisocial behaviour online. This is significant because simple changes to the interfaces we use to communicate can influence which personality types will be inclined to comment.

Using interface design to encourage participation from those who will leave positive comments, and creating barriers for those inclined to leave abusive ones, is one step that online platforms can take to minimise harmful behaviours.

For example, those who are highly agreeable prefer anonymity when communicating online. Therefore, eliminating anonymity on websites (an often touted response to hostile behaviour) could discourage those agreeable individuals who would leave more positive comments.

Moderation policies

Conscientious individuals are linked to more pro-social comments. They prefer high levels of moderation, and systems where quality comments are highlighted or ranked by other users.

Riot Games, publisher of the notorious multiplayer game League of Legends, has had great success in mitigating offensive behaviour by putting measures in place to promote the gaming community’s shared values. This included a tribunal of players who could determine punishment for people involved in uncivilised behaviour.

Analytics and reporting

Analytical tools, visible data on who visits a site, and a real-time guide to who is reading comments can help us configure a more accurate imagining of our audience. This could help eliminate the risk of unintentional offence.

Providing clear processes for reporting inappropriate behaviour, and acting quickly to punish it, will also encourage us to take an active role in cleaning up our online communities.




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We can and must expect more of our online interactions. Our behaviour and how we respond to the behaviour of others within these communities will contribute to the shared norms and values of an online community.

The ConversationHowever, there are institutional factors that can affect the behaviours displayed. It is only through a combination of both personal and institutional responses to antisocial behaviour that we will create more inclusive and harmonious online communities.

Renee Barnes, Senior Lecturer, Journalism, University of the Sunshine Coast

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

Fear not, shoppers: Amazon’s Australian geoblock won’t cramp your style



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Will there be fewer of these on Australian doorsteps?
Ink Drop/Shutterstock.com

Gary Mortimer, Queensland University of Technology

Online retail giant Amazon’s decision to block Australian shoppers from its US website has prompted an outpouring of anger from its customers. However, economic statistics indicate the actual value of online purchased products entering Australia from international marketplaces is relatively low. While some shoppers will be disappointed by Amazon’s decision, others will simply find ways around the geoblock.

The federal government has been under pressure from legacy retailers like Gerry Harvey, who have called for an end to the GST exemption on overseas online purchases worth less than A$1,000.

Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison last year introduced legislation for this measure, arguing it will “establish a level playing field for our domestic retailers”. From July 1, 2018, GST will apply to all overseas online purchases.

The Australian Retailers Association has proposed a “vendor collection model” under which foreign retailers would collect the GST at the time of purchase and then pay it to the Australian Taxation Office.

But the fact is that these measures won’t level the playing field. Overseas online prices for many items are so low that that even if GST were added, they would still be far cheaper than they are in Australia. For example, a recent search showed Levi’s 510 jeans for A$115 at Myer, compared with A$74.85 in the United States; and a Uniqlo Women’s ultralight down jacket for A$200 here, versus A$154.10 over there.




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Three holes in Hockey’s plan to levy GST on overseas purchases


In 2017 Australians spent an estimated A$24.2 billion online. Yet this is just 7.8% of the amount spent at bricks-and-mortar shops. And more than 80% of online spending was through domestic retailers, which are subject to GST.

With only A$4.84 billion spent via overseas retailers, a quick calculation indicates that adding 10% GST to those purchases would have added A$484 million to the government’s coffers last year.

Why has Amazon blocked Australia?

Amazon has blamed the new GST rules for its decision to bar Australian shoppers, arguing that the vendor collection model would create significant operational difficulties:

While we regret any inconvenience this may cause customers, we have had to assess the workability of the legislation as a global business with multiple international sites.

Yet rival online seller eBay seems to have managed to implement the vendor collection model without undue trouble. It looks as if Amazon, which generated almost US$180 billion in sales last year, views the Australian market as just too small to justify the hassle. In fact, one study has estimated that Amazon will only gain a 16% share of Australian online retail sales by 2025.

Amazon’s view on Australia’s red tape may well be right. Modelling by Australia Post suggests that if the postal service were tasked with assessing and collecting the GST on international deliveries, it would cost almost A$900 million to collect A$300 million in revenue.

Who are the winners and losers?

As mentioned above, Amazon probably won’t suffer much from cutting loose its relatively small Australian customer base. But what about the customers themselves, and Amazon’s competitors?

When Amazon Australia (not to be confused with the now geoblocked US site) launched in December 2017, just in time for the Christmas rush, 3.8 million Australians visited the site during that month alone. But this is well short of the 11 million Australian shoppers who visit eBay each month.

Amazon’s withdrawal will undoubtedly benefit eBay and other sites such as Alibaba, which look set to attract shoppers who are still hungry for an international bargain.

While some dedicated fans of Amazon’s US site are understandably annoyed, most customers simply won’t notice the difference. Customers will be automatically directed to Amazon’s domestic offering, which claims to stock more than 60 million products.




Read more:
Amazon in Australia might not be the end of retail as we know it


For Australia’s traditional retailers, the playing field still isn’t really “level”, even without access to Amazon US. Don’t expect everyone to suddenly start banging down Harvey Norman’s doors come July 1. In reality the impact will be minimal.

How to get around the geoblock

For the very determined shopper who demands access to Amazon US, there are naturally ways around geoblocking technology, such as re-shipping services, freight forwarders, and VPNs.

The ConversationBut given that the average online shopping basket was worth A$145 in 2017, it seems like a lot of trouble to go to just to avoid paying A$14.50.

Gary Mortimer, Associate Professor in Marketing and International Business, Queensland University of Technology

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

The flu vaccine is being oversold – it’s not that effective



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The protection of the flu vaccine is minimal, and may not be worth it.
from shutterstock.com

Chris Del Mar and Peter Collignon, Australian National University

Winter has started, and with it, flu season. Inevitably, all of us (young, old and sick) have been implored to be immunised against influenza, with some eligible for a subsidised vaccine. And people are heeding the message, to the point that there is now a shortage of available vaccines.

At the same time, findings from three important Cochrane reviews on the effectiveness of the influenza vaccination aren’t consistent with the advice we’re been given.

Cochrane reviews are independent systematic reviews, which are comprehensive analyses of most of the literature relevant to a research topic. Cochrane reviews summarise the results in a multitude of studies, and are regularly updated to absorb new research.

These three Cochrane reviews have been recently updated, as well as stabilised, which is what happens when it looks as if it seems unlikely new research would be published that would change the conclusions.

What the reviews found

The first Cochrane review looked at the effects of the influenza vaccine in healthy adults from 25 studies conducted over single influenza seasons in North America, South America, and Europe between 1969 and 2009. It found the vaccine reduced the chance of getting laboratory confirmed influenza from 23 cases out of 1,000 to 9 cases out of 1,000.

While this seems to be a reduction of more than 50%, that seems less optimistic expressed in absolute terms.

The infection rate in adults drops from 2% per year to 1%. You could say that’s halved, but it effectively only drops by 1%. So this means that out of every 100 healthy adults vaccinated, 99 get no benefit against laboratory confirmed influenza.




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What you need to know to understand risk estimates


The second Cochrane review – which looked at trials in children over single influenza seasons in the US, Western Europe, Russia, and Bangladesh between 1984 and 2013 – found similar results.

The third Cochrane review looked at vaccines for the elderly in nursing homes. It found much less good evidence, with only one randomised trial – considered the gold standard in clinical trials as it establishes causation rather than correlation.

While observational studies (that draw inferences from a population to establish associations) have been done to show benefits of the vaccines, bias means we cannot rely on their results.

There are also potential harms from influenza vaccines noted in the reviews. They range from serious (a neurological disease called Guillain Barre) through to moderate (fevers, in children especially – some of which will cause febrile convulsions), and trivial (a sore arm for a couple of days).

Why are we so scared of the flu?

There is a special concern about influenza from a public health point of view. This comes about from its potential to cause pandemics. The first in modern history was the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918-19, when tens of millions of people died worldwide.

There’s good evidence to show face masks protect against influenza.
from shutterstock.com

There have also been been several, less severe pandemics. These include the most recent swine flu that, although while affecting some (unexpected) groups of people (including pregnant women, those who were obese, and had asthma), caused little more effect on the overall population than the usual seasonal influenza.




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Public health experts worry about another pandemic that can be more harmful and contagious, which could be devastating. But it’s important to note the vast majority of deaths from Spanish influenza were from secondary bacterial infections and predated the antibiotic era.

The reasons influenza virus has this ability to cause new pandemics comes from its instability – it changes genetically easily, making it more difficult for our immune systems to recognise newer strains. The effect is that new vaccines must be prepared every year for a best-guess at next year’s virus, and we need vaccination every year.

Influenza can also undergo a more radical change, such as when a new form of the virus emerges from an animal host (wild or domesticated birds or pigs, for example). This moving target makes it more difficult to vaccinate against – especially with the genetic shifts of pandemics. Just when we need protection most, vaccines can provide it least.

So what, if not the vaccine?

There are physical barriers that can prevent the spread of influenza. These are the masks (to reduce the spread of aerosol-borne virus particles), hand washing (to reduce the spread if virus from hands onto shared surfaces), and quarantine measures (isolating infected people to reduce their infectivity).




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I’ve always wondered: why many people in Asian countries wear masks, and whether they work


The ConversationThere is now reasonable evidence such measures reduce infections considerably. It might take a bit of effort to change the psyche of Australians to make wearing a facemask acceptable if you have an acute respiratory infection. Even the heroic “soldiering on to work” (or school) with your virus needs to be reversed as a public health act.

Chris Del Mar, Professor of Public Health and Peter Collignon, Professor, infectious diseases and microbiology, Australian National University

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