Explainer: what’s new about the 2018 flu vaccines, and who should get one?


File 20180417 101509 1kd2t6r.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The flu shot is free for at-risk groups, and available to others for around $10-$25.
Shutterstock

Kanta Subbarao, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

As winter draws closer, many Australians are wondering whether this year’s influenza season will be as bad as the last, and whether they should get vaccinated.

For most of us, influenza (the flu) is a mild illness, causing fever, chills, a cough, sore throat and body aches, that lasts several days. But some people – especially the elderly, young children and those with chronic diseases – are at risk of serious and potentially deadly complications.

While not perfect, the seasonal influenza vaccine is the best way to protect against influenza viruses. It’s free for at-risk groups, and available to others for around A$10A$25 (plus a consultation fee if your GP doesn’t bulk bill). In some states people can also get influenza vaccines from pharmacies.

Different viruses

There are four influenza viruses that cause epidemics: two type A viruses, called A/H1N1 and A/H3N2 and two type B influenza viruses, called B/Yamagata and B/Victoria viruses. All four cause a similar illness called influenza.

In any season, one of the viruses may dominate, or two or even three viruses could circulate.




Read more:
Influenza: The search for a universal vaccine


Last year’s influenza seasons in Australia and the United States were caused by A/H3N2, while B/Yamagata viruses predominated in Asia, and a mix occurred in Europe.

Influenza A/H3N2 viruses cause more severe epidemics that affect the entire population, from the very young to the very old.

In contrast, influenza B and A/H1N1 viruses tend to cause disease in children and young adults, respectively, sparing the elderly.

Developing the vaccine

Although influenza activity around the world is monitored throughout the year, influenza viruses mutate continuously and we can’t predict which virus will dominate. For this reason, the influenza vaccine includes components that are updated to protect against all four influenza A and B viruses.

Vaccination is the best option to prevent influenza and is offered in the autumn, in anticipation of influenza season in the winter. Typically, the influenza season begins in June, peaks by September and can last until November.

For best protection, you need a flu vaccine each year. Roberty Booy, Head of the Clinical Research team at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, explains why (via the Australian Academy of Science).

It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to induce immunity and the resulting protection lasts about six months.

The 2017 influenza season was severe in all states except WA. The epidemic began earlier than usual, there were more reported cases than in previous years, and there were a large number of outbreaks in residential care facilities in several jurisdictions.




Read more:
Here’s why the 2017 flu season was so bad


Who is most affected?

People of all ages can get influenza but some people are at greater risk of severe illness and complications that require hospitalisation. These groups include:

  • older adults who are over 65 years of age
  • children aged under five years and especially children under one
  • pregnant women
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons
  • people with severe asthma or underlying health conditions such as heart or lung disease, low immunity or diabetes.
Anyone can get a flu vaccine but some people have to pay for it.
Shutterstock

While the National Immunisation Program provides vaccines free of charge for the groups listed above, anyone who wants to reduce their risk of influenza can get vaccinated.

What’s new this year?

There are two notable changes.

One change is that several states (Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and the ACT) are now offering free vaccination for children under five years of age.




Read more:
Thinking about getting your child the flu vaccine? Here’s what you need to know


This is important because children are prone to severe illness and they spread the virus to their contacts, at home and in daycare. Previously, only WA offered children the influenza vaccine free of charge.

The second change is “enhanced” vaccines are available for adults over the age of 65. The standard influenza vaccine is not optimally effective in older adults.

Two products have been developed to improve the immunity offered by the vaccine: one is a high-dose vaccine four times the strength of the standard vaccine and the second is an “adjuvanted” vaccine, that contains an additive that boosts the immune response to the vaccine.




Read more:
Here’s what you need to know about the new flu vaccines for over-65s


These vaccines have been available in other countries for many years but are being introduced in Australia for the first time in 2018. Older adults will be offered one of the two enhanced vaccines for free.

What happens if you still get influenza?

Even if you’re vaccinated, you can still get influenza.

The effectiveness of the seasonal influenza vaccine varies and is usually around 40-50%. But last year’s vaccine was only around 33% effective overall, because it was not effective against the A/H3N2 virus though it was effective against the A/H1N1 and influenza B viruses.

While vaccines are given ahead of time to prevent influenza, antiviral drugs are available via GP prescription for people who get infected.

The antiviral drugs for influenza are most effective when taken within two days of illness and are only effective against influenza viruses. But they’re not effective against other respiratory viruses that cause colds and respiratory symptoms.

Influenza is a contagious virus that spreads through contact with respiratory secretions that are airborne (such as coughs and sneezes) or that contaminate surfaces (after wiping a runny nose, for instance). If you have influenza, stay home to avoid spreading the virus.

The ConversationUnfortunately, we can’t predict whether the 2018 influenza season will be mild or severe. Once we know which virus or viruses are circulating, we may be in a better position to predict how severe the season will be for older adults.

Kanta Subbarao, Professor, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

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

Advertisements

Expect 2018 to be a year of ‘rewards’: Turnbull


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will hold out the prospect of 2018 as a year of “rewards” after 2016 and 2017 were “the years of reform”, in a scene-setting speech delivered in the regional Queensland city of Toowoomba on Thursday.

Two days after Opposition Leader Bill Shorten focused on cost-of-living pressures, flat wages and rising health insurance costs, Turnbull’s pitch will be that dividends will start to flow from government policy.

“In 2018 lower tax rates kick in for businesses with a turnover up to A$50 million; genuine needs-based funding begins for our schools; child care will be more affordable for low-income families from July; and we will continue to put downward pressure on energy prices,” he will say.

Without spelling out the timing, Turnbull will say the government’s “next tax priority is further tax relief for middle-income earners” – while not compromising a return to budget surplus in 2020-21. “The stronger the budget becomes, the more we will be able to give back to hard-working Australians.”

On wages, which Shorten committed to lifting, Turnbull will say: “Let’s be very clear about this – the laws of supply and demand have not been suspended, wages growth will come because a stronger economy results in more investment, more jobs and more intense competition for workers.”

On Wednesday Labor’s workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor said on Sky that one option Labor was looking at was making the minimum wage a certain percentage of the median wage. But later Labor sources played down his comment, discounting the prospect of the ALP adopting that course.

The government is stressing the Turnbull speech is a restatement of its economic plan, not an attempt at a reset. It comes as the economic indicators have recently been encouraging.

Turnbull will say: “2016 and 2017 were the years of reform; this is the year we really start to see the rewards of that hard work.

“We are starting to see what happens when government policies are all pulling in the same direction – to build a strong and resilient economy that gives every Australian the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

“Business and consumer confidence are both up, and there has been more investment and record jobs growth.

“We are seeing growth, investment and employment right across our country – not just in the big cities.”

Turnbull will link a stronger economy to a greater ability to pay for the services people expect.

“The right mix of policies, combined with our commitment to budget repair that will return the budget to balance in 2020-21, means our economy is much stronger. And that means we can pay for the services that Australians expect.

“Put simply, a strong economy means better schools, better hospitals and better essential services that Australians use each and every day.

“We know that our plan is delivering for Australians. The challenge now is to stay the course and follow through in 2018 and beyond.”

Turnbull will reaffirm that when parliament returns next week the government will press its legislation to reduce the company tax rate to 25% for businesses with turnovers above $50 million. So far the Senate has only been willing to pass cuts for small- and medium-sized businesses.

The Conversation“With the US cutting company tax to 21% the need to remain competitive is more intense than ever. We know that if you reduce business tax you get more investment and if you get more investment, you get more and better paid jobs. Don’t take my word for it – the IMF just lifted global growth forecasts off the back of the Trump tax cuts,” he will say.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

What’s ahead for education policy in 2018



File 20180122 110081 1l522jr.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Funding dominated the schooling space in 2017, with both sides of politics debating whose funding package benefited which schools the most, and little attention paid to how the money is best spent.
Shutterstock

Megan O’Connell, Victoria University and Charlene Smith, Victoria University

As we see each year, funding is likely to dominate the headlines as major reforms across the early childhood, school, Vocational Education and Training (VET) and higher education sectors will be implemented.

But with the David Gonski-led panel set to deliver their final report and recommendations from the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools, we look forward to education policy discussions extending beyond dollar values.

Early education

In 2017, federal early years education policy was dominated by changes to child care subsidies. The primary narrative was around affordability of child care and enabling parents’ workforce participation.

Preschool funding also hit the headlines as the National Partnership Agreement on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education was given a one-year extension, providing access for the 2018 cohort, but without any ongoing assurance to the sector.

Looking ahead for 2018

Funding for preschool should be made an ongoing and permanent commitment, as it is in the school sector. But funding should not be an end point.

Offering a second year of preschool can improve children’s schooling outcomes.
Shutterstock

The international evidence base shows offering a second year of universal preschool can have a substantial impact on children’s learning. Unlike many of our peer countries, Australia has yet to embrace this opportunity. But we hope policy-makers progress towards scoping and running pilot programs.

Quality also needs to be a core part of the policy agenda. Since the introduction of the National Quality Framework in 2012, most services have been assessed, and 75% meet the minimum benchmarks for quality. This is not sufficient to lift all children’s educational outcomes.




Read more:
How are we doing on early childhood education and care? Good, but there’s more to do


Recent US research adds to the body of evidence supporting the positive long term impacts quality early learning can have on educational, social and health outcomes. In particular, researchers are starting to demonstrate these effects in state-based universal provision of early learning.

Early childhood educators play a pivotal role in supporting young children’s emerging skills, and are key to lifting quality in early education. Some of the most pressing policy work in early learning is in workforce strategy, ensuring improved conditions, and supporting educators to develop and share the knowledge and skills they need to improve children’s learning experiences.

School education

Funding also dominated the schools space in 2017, with both sides of politics debating whose funding package benefited which schools the most. Little attention was paid to how the money can be best spent.

International testing also loomed large, with Australia’s relative lack of improvement on PISA and TIMSS sparking debate on how to improve education.

A brighter note was students in Australia performed well on the PISA collaborative problem solving test – ranking 10th out of 72 countries. This test is the first in a new suite of assessments PISA is conducting to measure not just what students are learning, but “what they can do with what they know”.

The 2017 NAPLAN Annual Report was released in December and led to extensive media attention on the under-performance of boys in writing. Other analyses focused on the socio-economic factors contributing to variations in performance.

Overall the results indicate little to no changes in performance across the board, and closer analysis shows some worrying trends such as students falling behind as they progress through school.




Read more:
NAPLAN 2017: results have largely flat-lined, and patterns of inequality continue


Female students out-performed male students on NAPLAN tests in writing, and grammar and punctuation across all year levels in 2017.
Shutterstock

Schools policy in 2018

Testing will continue to dominate discussions in early 2018, with the Australian government continuing to attempt to persuade state governments to adopt a year one phonics screening. This would be a five to seven minute session one-to-one with a teacher to assess reading. Whether the screening is adopted will be dependant to a degree on the outcome of state elections.

Expect to hear a lot more about the Gonski 2.0 review this year, as the report is delivered to government in March.

The Independent Review into Regional, Rural, and Remote Education is also expected to be published early in the year.

Major reviews are also due out from the newly established Schools Resourcing Board, firstly into calculation of socio-economic status (SES) scores, and then loadings for students with disability.

The SES review is currently underway to assess the extent to which the current approach properly measures the capacity of parents to contribute financially towards the resource requirements of non-government schools. The board is tasked with making recommendations on the changes or alternative approaches needed to ensure confidence in the process. Public submissions on the issues paper are open until 20 February.




Read more:
Changes to school funding – your questions answered


The Melbourne Declaration is primed for a renewed look. In 2008, the Declaration set aspirational goals for education around equity, excellence and ensuring all students are “successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens”.

Yet, in the decade since we have failed to establish effective system-wide strategies for meeting and measuring these aspirations. Measuring all students along a singular ranking, as we do with the ATAR at the end of Year 12, may reflect to some degree who is a successful learner, but isn’t a strong reflection of these broader outcomes.

If these are the goals we continue to aspire to, then measuring students against them is a must. The general capability strands in the Australian curriculum provide a promising path and we hope to see sustained support for schools to cultivate these capabilities in their students.

Beyond school

Late in 2017 the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) revealed funding for Commonwealth supported places in universities would be frozen at 2017 levels over 2018 and 2019.

Meanwhile, vocational education expenditure fell further despite the critical role VET plays as a pathway for young people and in equipping the workforce with essential skills.

What’s ahead for VET and higher education

The changes to university funding will no doubt be a topic of discussion as university offers emerge.

Similarly in the VET sector, the Skilling Australians Fund which was announced in the 2017 budget is scheduled to commence in 2018. The fund is expected to focus on supporting apprentices and trainees, and will be financed through a proposed levy on firms employing skilled migrants.

There is an obvious disjuncture in policy approaches towards VET and higher education which has seen the VET sector go backwards in recent years. Projected employment growth is equally strong for people with vocational qualifications as university degrees.


https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/soF2N/1/


The ConversationBoth sectors play a critical in training a high calibre workforce. So, policy and funding conversations should consider the two sectors as part of a different but connected system. In 2018, we’d like individual students to be able to see potential pathways for themselves and their aspirations in our tertiary education and training system.

Megan O’Connell, Director, Mitchell Institute, Victoria University and Charlene Smith, Early Childhood Policy Fellow, Mitchell Institute, Victoria University

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

Asia is set for a difficult year in 2018 – much of it centred around China



File 20180123 182965 1hfj219.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
China is increasingly viewed by the United States as a full-spectrum adversary.
Shutterstock

Nick Bisley, La Trobe University

In 2017 we finally realised that the four decades of geopolitical stability enjoyed by Asian countries and societies had come to an end. In 2018, the major patterns that will come to dominate the region will become increasingly clear.

China and the United States worked out a way to live with one another in the 1970s, and that paved the way for the region’s remarkable economic growth. The US actively sought to engage China in the belief that Chinese economic integration with the world would eventually lead to the liberalisation of China’s political system.

But as Xi Jinping’s first five years in office have made clear, that optimism was misplaced. A more affluent China has become more authoritarian, more nationalistic, and increasingly intent on changing the international environment to one it perceives better reflects its interests.

In his first year in office, US President Donald Trump surprisingly played a gentle hand with China. In contrast to this campaign rhetoric, his administration approached China with moderation, focusing principally on establishing a good personal relationship with Xi and trying to garner Chinese help to manage North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.




Read more:
At APEC, Donald Trump and Xi Jinping revealed different ideas of Asia’s economic future


That is likely to change in 2018. As signalled in the National Security Strategy and the National Defence Strategy, the US sees strategic competition among major powers as the most important feature of the country’s security environment.

The active engagement of China by the US, even one tempered by a degree of containment, is coming to an end. China is viewed now as a country that seeks to mould the international environment in its own image. Expect the US to increasingly contest China’s power and influence, both in the region and globally.

This is likely to take both military and economic forms, as China is increasingly viewed by the US as a full-spectrum adversary. This will mean some kind of action on what the US perceives as China’s predatory trade policy, as well as a ratcheting up of military steps to push back on Chinese activities, particularly at sea.

China will not respond to the likely increase in American pressure with equanimity. Indeed, one real risk in 2018 is that China will overplay its hand. Its lesson from 2017 is that Trump is a paper tiger. Trump is perceived as being neither able nor willing to match his bombastic words with deeds. China could be emboldened to act provocatively because it miscalculates how the US might respond.

Much attention this year will focus on the power struggle between the US and China.
Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

The disputed islands in the East China Sea are probably the most likely place for this to happen. The South China Sea disputes have a slightly lower risk in 2018, as China has largely achieved its objectives in that area, and while the US would prefer that this hadn’t occurred, it can live with the consequences for the time being.

While Sino-American competition will increase the regional temperature, it is by no means the only way in which great power rivalry will shape the region.

Last year’s Doklam crisis reminds us that the extensive border between China and India is highly contested. Expect India’s ambitions and China’s confidence to lead to further tensions in the Himalayas.

China was slightly surprised by India’s response in Doklam, and will have learned from that occasion. When, and not if, China next tests India, it will probably involve a higher level of military risk.

In late 2017, senior officials from the US, Japan, India and Australia met, reviving the “quadrilateral initiative” of a decade ago.

The move is publicly framed as efforts to coordinate policies of countries that value an open and free Indo-Pacific. In substance, it is about collaborating to limit Chinese influence and sustain the liberal order. The “new quad” will take further steps in 2018 and China will respond in ways that will further heighten regional tensions.

This year will also see a further decline in the stock of liberalism in Asia. For a period in the early 2000s, liberalism seemed ascendant. China joined the World Trade Organisation, democracy was on the march in Southeast Asia, and economic globalisation was seen as an unalloyed good thing.




Read more:
China’s ambition burns bright – with Xi Jinping firmly in charge


No longer. There are no democracies in continental Southeast Asia. Rodrigo Duterte is undermining liberalism in the Philippines, shutting down a vibrant news website, and some fear that the martial law he imposed in the restive south may be expanded across the country in 2018.

Cambodia has stripped away its thin democratic veneer, while Myanmar’s democratisation process remains highly limited. Even in Japan and India, liberal ideas are under challenge from thin-skinned nationalists.

In 2018, liberal ideas in Asia will face an increasingly difficult environment, particularly as the geopolitical competition will encourage erstwhile champions of liberal ideas to put interests ahead of values in order to manage that contest.

This year will sadly see the Rohingya crisis linger on, with insufficient political incentives for international actors to help end the crisis. The alignment of interests between the military and the government in Naypidaw will mean the region’s worst humanitarian crisis in decades will continue.

There is also a good chance that in 2018 we will work out how to live with a nuclear North Korea. The US will ultimately realise that it has no options for managing the crisis – or at least none that carry acceptable costs – and that a nuclear north can be managed. Indeed, a North Korea that feels secure may finally undertake the kind of economic reforms that its populace needs, and which could integrate the isolated country into the regional economy.

The ConversationContested Asia has become a geopolitical and geo-economic reality. In 2018 we will see just how sharp the contests will become. The wounded nationalism of China, the erratic and unpredictable US, and the weak political leadership in many regional powers mean the coming year in Asia is going to be even more challenging than 2017.

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

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

Where will the global political hotspots be in 2018? (Spoiler alert: it’s not all about Donald Trump)



File 20180115 101489 1ffdjrp.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
With so many global flashpoints, and so little diplomacy, 2018 could be a turbulent year.
AAP/The Conversation

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Writing for Foreign Policy, Robert Malley, the newly appointed head of the International Crisis Group, makes a good point when discussing global challenges in 2018:

It is not all about Donald Trump.

To be sure, an erratic American presidency contributes to unsteadiness around the globe. American global leadership is now contested as never before since the Allies triumphed in the second world war.

Even in the depths of a Cold War marked by various crises – including the Berlin Blockade, an ill-starred military adventure in Vietnam, and the Cuban Missile Crisis – American leadership would still assert itself.

Let’s not forget American post-second-world-war diplomacy spawned international institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the United Nations and NATO. In Australia’s case, it also gave birth to the ANZUS Treaty, initialled in 1951.

… although it is a little bit about Donald Trump.
Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

There was hardly any component of post-war global architecture that did not involve Washington in a leading role.

ANZUS, and with it the American alliance, remains the cornerstone of Australia’s security arrangements – notwithstanding a frequent misinterpretation of the treaty as a security guarantee as opposed to an agreement to consult in the event of either party’s security being threatened.

In essence, America is godfather of post-war multilateralism. An American-led consensus on how best to manage its global responsibilities is now in danger of unravelling, buffeted by domestic “America First” disagreements at home and a contested security environment abroad.

Australia’s place in the world

From an Australian perspective, it is all about a shifting power balance in the Indo-Pacific.

This might be described as the pre-eminent challenge in the year(s) ahead, as Australia navigates between the idiosyncracies of a Trump White House and its successors. Then there is the relentless Chinese push to spread its power and influence.

Above all in the foreign policy sphere, Australian policymakers are faced with the task of expanding Canberra’s foreign and security policy room for manoeuvre between its security guarantor and principal trading partner, without endangering the alliance relationship itself.

China, led by Xi Jinping, will continue to push to spread its power and influence.
Reuters

This will require a sophistication that has not always been apparent among policymakers. Their instinct has been to cling to the alliance like a life raft and, on occasions, discreditably, use it as a wedge issue against political opponents.

China’s rise is encouraging a more realistic view of Australia’s geopolitical circumstances, and none too soon.

The following extracts from Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper, released in November, provide a flavour of that greater realism:

Navigating the decade ahead will be hard because as China’s power grows our region is changing in ways without precedent in Australia’s modern history.

And:

Powerful drivers are converging in a way that is reshaping the international order and challenging Australia’s interests. The United States has been the dominant power in our region throughout Australia’s post-second-world-war history. Today, China is challenging America’s position.

And:

The government recognises there is great debate and uncertainty in the United States about the costs and benefits of its leadership of the international system.

And:

In the decades ahead we expect further contestation [between the US and China] over ideas and influence, directly affecting Australia. It is imperative that Australia prepare for the long term.

All of this exposes Australia’s biggest challenge in the next several decades. Simply put, this is to build its own self-reliance, including smart investments in defence capabilities, along with nurturing security relationships in its own region.

Most desirable in all of this would be to involve – not exclude – China in building a regional security architecture. This could possibly be along the lines of the Helsinki Accords, which helped stabilise Europe during a long stand-off with the former Soviet Union.

Australian officials might want to expand a quadrilateral Indo-Pacific security partnership – involving the US, Japan, Australia and India – envisaged as a hedge against China to others, including China itself.

Creative regional diplomacy of the sort that brought about the establishment of the Australia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) forum would seem to be required.

Closer to home

This is the big global challenge for Australia in 2018 and beyond. Now to what might be described as “localised” challenges.

We’ll restrict that number to five, including:

  • North Korea’s nuclear ambitions;

  • the Middle East more generally, and potential conflict with Iran in particular;

  • the Rohingya crisis and pressures that is exerting on Myanmar and surrounding countries. Alongside this is the “identity politics” across Asia, in which minorities (like the Rohingya) are threatened;

  • Afghanistan, in which Australian forces are still involved in a training capacity; and

  • threats of cyber-terrorism: what Ian Bremmer and Cliff Kupchan of the Eurasia Group describe as a “global tech cold war”.

At the top of the regional challenges is North Korea, led by Kim Jong-un.
Reuters/KCNA

Top of this list is North Korea, where the risk of overreach and accident with terrible consequences is real. As Malley puts it in his Foreign Policy paper:

Without a viable diplomatic offramp, Washington risks cornering itself into military action. Even a precisely targeted attack would likely provoke a North Korean response.

From Australia’s perspective, and given that the bulk of its trade goes to the countries of North Asia (China, Japan and South Korea), conflict on the Korean Peninsula would be crippling.

Second on my list, as it is on Malley’s, involves the risks of open conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, egged on by the US and Israel. Such disruption could not be contained. It would spread, risking oil shipments from the region and wider conflict between Sunni and Shia.

As Malley puts it:

With so many flashpoints, and so little diplomacy, the risk of an escalatory cycle is great.

From an Australian perspective, an escalation would be alarming, given the deployment of our forces in a training capacity in Iraq.

Third is Afghanistan, where the tempo of US-led strikes against the Taliban is set to increase, along with pressure on Pakistan to desist in its covert support for the insurgency.

Malley recommends:

US allies in Afghanistan should push for a greater diplomatic political component to the US strategy. As it stands, that strategy sets the stage for more violence while closing avenues for de-escalation.

With troops in the field in a training capacity, the Australian government should be pushing for a regional settlement, involving Afghanistan’s neighbours and the insurgents.

Rohingya refugees continue to flee from Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh.
Reuters/Tyrone Siu

Fourth on my list is the issue of identity policy in southern Asia, including the displacement of the Rohingya to neighbouring Bangladesh.

As Bremmer and Kupchan put it:

Identity politics in southern Asia comes in several forms: Islamism, anti-China and anti-other minority sentiment, and intensifying nationalism in India.

From Australia’s perspective, displacement and persecution of minorities in its neighbourhood is a particularly worrying development, along with Islamic State-inspired eruptions in countries like the Philippines.

Finally, looms the issue of cyber conflict.

The biggest fight over economic power centres on the development of new information technologies. Competition for dominance in the areas of artificial intelligence and super-computing between the US and China has serious implications for Australia’s national security.

The cyber issue, which potentially includes the weaponisation of AI, is becoming the new contested space.

And that’s not all …

Now, to a less concerning issue, for the moment: the global economy.

In its latest overview, the World Bank expects global growth to edge up to 3.1% “after a much stronger-than-expected 2017, as the recovery in investment, manufacturing and trade continues, and as commodity-exporting developing economies benefit from firming commodity prices”.

As one of the world’s biggest commodity exporters, this is good news for Australia. The World Bank says:

2018 is on track to be the first year since the financial crisis that the global economy will be operating at or near full capacity.

However, it also warns of a slowdown in potential growth as stimulatory fiscal and monetary policies run their course.

The ConversationWelcome to 2018.

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

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

Will elections in 2018 see 2017’s left-wing revival continue?



File 20180112 101511 owlnjp.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
NZ Labour had been polling in the mid-20s before Jacinda Ardern became its leader and eventually won the 2017 election.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

In 2018 there will be elections in the Australian states of Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, as well as in Italy, the US and Mexico.

Essential has released polling for the five mainland Australian states, conducted from October to December. Figures are given by month for the three eastern seaboard states.

In South Australia, Labor led 51-49 in October to December, a one-point gain for the Liberals since July to September. Primary votes were 34% Labor (down three), 31% Liberals (up one), 22% for Nick Xenophon’s SA-BEST (up four) and 8% Greens (up two). The South Australian election will be held on March 17.

Newspoll had SA-BEST at 32% from polling conducted in the same period as Essential. Essential is assuming SA-BEST preferences flow to the Liberals at a 60-40 rate, but at the 2016 federal election, these preferences flowed to Labor at a 60-40 rate. Essential’s justification is that the Liberals have lost far more primary votes than Labor since the 2014 state election.

In Victoria, the Coalition led 51-49 in December, a two-point gain for the Coalition since November. Primary votes were 46% Coalition (up three), 37% Labor (steady) and 9% Greens (down one). For the October to December period, Labor was just ahead, 51-49. The Victorian election will be held November 24.

The Age commissioned ReachTEL polls of the Labor-held Victorian seats of Tarneit and Cranbourne on January 5. On the primary votes, there is a substantial anti-Labor swing in Tarneit, but little swing in Cranbourne.

There were many questions in the ReachTEL polls on youth crime. About two-thirds in both seats said the main youth crime issue was African gangs, and more than 55% said they were less likely to go out at night. A positive for Labor was that Premier Daniel Andrews had a large lead over Opposition Leader Matthew Guy on dealing with crime.

In the New South Wales Essential poll, Labor led 52-48 in December, a three-point gain for Labor since November. Primary votes were 40% Coalition (down three), 40% Labor (up three) and 9% Greens (steady). For October to December, Labor led 51-49.

I believe this is the first time Labor has led in a NSW state poll since shortly after the 2007 state election. The next NSW election will be held in March 2019.

In Queensland, Labor led 55-45 in December, a four-point gain for Labor since the November election. In Western Australia, Labor led 57-43 in October to December, a three-point gain for Labor since July to September.

The Tasmanian election is likely to be held in March, and it appears Labor is ahead under its popular leader Rebecca White.

The Italian election will be held on March 4. 37% of seats in both chambers of the parliament will be elected using first-past-the-post voting, while the rest use proportional representation.

Polling gives the right-wing coalition about 37%, the left-wing coalition about 27%, and the left-wing populist Five Star Movement about 28%. As the left is more split than the right, the right will have an advantage in the first-past-the-post seats, though it will probably be short of an overall majority.

The Mexican election will be held on July 1. The president is elected by first-past-the-post, and the left-wing candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is currently ahead. By antagonising Mexicans, US President Donald Trump could cause the election of a left-winger who would strongly oppose the proposed border wall.

The FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate currently gives Democrats a 11-point lead over Republicans in the race for the US Congress. Midterm elections will be held in early November, in which all 435 House of Representatives members and one-third of the 100 Senators are up for election. The Senate seats up this year went to Democrats by 25-8 in 2012, and a few Democrats will be defending states Trump won easily in 2016.

Even though Republicans only have a 51-49 Senate majority, the House of Representatives is more likely to switch party control than the Senate.

Left-wing parties performed better than expected in 2017 elections

In 2016, Trump was elected US president, and the UK voted to leave the European Union. Trump and Brexit were triumphs for the populist right, and it was expected that the left would also struggle in 2017. However, in both Australian and overseas elections held in 2017, the left generally performed better than expected.

At the March 2017 Western Australian election, Labor won a landslide, with 41 of the 59 lower house seats.

At the November Queensland election, Labor won a majority, and One Nation won just one seat. There had been much speculation that One Nation would win many seats and hold the balance of power.

A year after Trump’s victory, US Democrats easily won the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections. In the Alabama Senate byelection, Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore by a 50.0-48.3 margin, overturning Trump’s 62-34 Alabama margin over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Jones was sworn in as a US senator on January 3, replacing Luther Strange, who had been appointed by the Alabama governor after Jeff Sessions resigned to become attorney-general. Republicans now have a 51-49 majority in the US Senate, down from 52-48.

In an April article published after Theresa May called the June 8 UK general election, I said a Conservative landslide was likely – a widely held view. Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s vote instead increased almost ten points from 2015, and the Conservatives failed to win a majority – though they clung to power with support from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.

In the May French presidential election run-off, Emmanuel Macron crushed Marine Le Pen 66-34. While Macron is a centrist and not a left-winger, he is clearly preferable to a conservative or Le Pen from a left perspective.

In October, Labour won the New Zealand election (which was held in September) after securing a coalition agreement with NZ First. Labour had been polling in the mid-20s before Jacinda Ardern became its leader in August.

While 2017 was generally a good year for the left, there were two poor results. At the October Austrian election, a conservative/far-right government was formed after more than a decade of coalition governments between the major left and right-wing parties.

At the German election in September, the far-right achieved its highest vote share since the second world war (12.6%). The major parties had formed a grand coalition, and both slumped, with the Social Democrats falling to their lowest vote (20.5%) since 1932. Despite this terrible result, it appears likely there will be another grand coalition government led by Angela Merkel.

Where there has been a clear difference between the major left and right-wing parties (the UK, the US and New Zealand), the left-wing party has performed strongly. The dismal results for the left in Germany and Austria have occurred in left/right coalitions, where there was perceived to be little difference between the left and right.

Furthermore, embracing a left-wing agenda neutralises some of the far-right’s appeal. The UK Independence Party won just 1.8% of the vote at the 2017 election, down almost 11 points from 2015, though some of this fall was caused by the Conservatives’ support for Brexit. Macron vigorously attacked Le Pen’s policies, and thrashed her by a bigger than expected margin.

The ConversationThe far-right tends to perform best when voters perceive little difference between the major left- and right-wing parties.

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

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

What we can expect from China’s economy in 2018



File 20180110 48495 16acmmv.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
This year the Chinese Communist Party will tackle some of it’s biggest economic hurdles.
AAP

Alice de Jonge, Monash University

In 2017, we saw the consolidation of China’s power and influence globally, and of Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s power nationally. This year, the party will try to use this to tackle some of its biggest economic hurdles such as financial risk, environmental pollution and maintaining social cohesion.

A first and overriding priority will be managing and preventing major financial risks within the Chinese economy. China will continue to clean up and tighten controls over its financial sector.

Beijing has already banned risk-laden Bitcoin from its financial system, and the government says it will maintain a “proactive fiscal policy and prudent monetary policy” for 2018.

This is in line with moves earlier in 2017 to curb credit growth and consolidate the country’s 100 trillion yuan (US$15 trillion) financial services asset-management industry under a single regulatory umbrella.

Regulators have also issued a 36-point code of conduct for the country’s private enterprises to follow when investing overseas. This is part of a move to clip the wings of China’s most aggressive global deal makers, firms like HNA Group and Fosun International. These businesses responded enthusiastically to the government’s “going out” policy to link China to the rest of the global economy, launched at the beginning of the century.

On the one hand, China has banned investments in gambling and “sensitive” industries and restricted investments in property, hotel, film and sports. But projects linked to China’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative are actively encouraged. So 2018 should see a continuation of China’s expanding economic influence globally through infrastructure and other major projects.

Beijing’s agenda is clear and the message from the centre is tightly controlled.
How Hwee Young/AAP

Tackling pollution, of all kinds

In line with the party’s focus on stability and risk minimisation is a clear determination to move away from high-speed growth to high-quality growth. “Quality” here means an economy that is cleaner and more user friendly.

The government is trying to reduce pollution. Measures to close down polluting factories and make local officials more accountable for environmental damage are starting to make a difference.

A major component of the shift to a cleaner economy is China’s determination to free itself from any reliance upon carbon imports.
This has potentially major implications for the Australian economy, which has done so well over the past few decades largely because of its commodity exports to China.

China is also no longer willing to accept imports of Australian waste, leaving Australia with the question of how else to deal with its accumulating stockpiles.


Read more: China’s Xi sets his sights on the world


Social stability for economic and political stability

In an unusual move during last year’s annual end-of-year economic convention, the government detailed concerns from the wider public on issues such as online scams, sex discrimination in the workplace and a lack of kindergarten services in certain regions. This reflects the party’s concern with social cohesion.

Maintaining a harmonious society has long been a concern of China’s leaders. In 2018, the anti-poverty campaign – one of Xi Jinping’s pet projects – will accelerate, with millions of rural poor being relocated to new housing with water and power. This will not only boost GDP and economic growth figures, it’s also aimed at promoting support for the party and its leaders.

Chinese leadership’s emphasis on social harmony extends to supporting the party in its policy endeavours. A series of recent measures have been aimed at strengthening party organisations in business and civil society organisations.

In line with existing provisions in China’s Company Law, these measures seek to ensure that all organisations in China (local and foreign, commercial and non-profit) make room within the organisation for the operations of a Communist Party cell. This allows the party to monitor and influence the operations of any organisation.


Read more: Why China is cracking down on overseas investment


The rolling out of a social credit system is also aimed at monitoring and influencing the behaviour of both organisations and individuals. It operates by awarding social credit points for good social behaviour, whether it be corporate philanthropy or an individual picking up rubbish on the kerbside. It also deducts points for bad behaviour, such as traffic law violations, failing to pay bills on time or domestic violence. There are even “blacklists” for the worst offenders.

Beijing’s agenda is clear and the message from the centre is tightly controlled. But the messiness and the unknowns will lie in its local implementation.

China has always struggled, and always will struggle, with the question of how to balance direction from a central government with local implementation for local circumstances.

For example, a recent decree requiring all local areas to move away from coal fired heating, towards natural gas, hit a snag when thousands of houses and schools were left without heating in freezing conditions in northern China. It forced authorities to back-track on implementing the policy.

The key for the government will be to strike a balance between reform and preserving stability. Aggressive reforms will be duly countered by other policies if they are seen as posing risks to economic stability.

The ConversationIf successful, China’s reforms will allow its economy to take the lead in adapting to a dynamic world. But the sheer size of its ambitions (both global and local) also contains the risk that failures, if they occur, could have devastating impacts.

Alice de Jonge, Senior Lecturer, International Law; Asian Business Law, Monash University

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

Turnbull has politicked himself into irrelevance on energy and climate in 2018



File 20171220 5004 14c3iro.png?ixlib=rb 1.1

Marcella Cheng/The Conversation

Alan Pears, RMIT University

As we approach the end of the year, it’s useful to look back and forward. Now is an auspicious time, as two major energy-related reports have been released this week: the federal government’s review of their climate change policies, and a discussion paper from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) on future energy paths.

The difference between the two is striking. The AEMO paper is practical, direct and realistic. On the other hand, the climate policy review relies essentially on Australia buying lots of international carbon permits to meet our Paris target (and, implicitly, on state governments taking up the challenge their Canberra colleagues have largely abanondoned).

It’s amusing to read a document that plays with numbers in such creative ways. But it is a fairy story, and it’s no way to drive national climate policy.


Read more: The federal Climate Policy Review: a recipe for business as usual


I almost feel as though I could just change the dates and reprint my article reviewing prospects for energy in 2017:

2017 is the year when many long-festering energy policy problems must be addressed. Our outdated energy market model is falling apart. The gas industry is lining its pockets at the expense of Australian industry. Climate policy is urgent, but controversial among key decision-makers. Our fossil fuel exports are under threat from global forces.

But things have in fact shifted a long way – the revolution is accelerating and unstoppable. The federal government is almost irrelevant; the public statements and policies it presents are simply aimed at getting “something” through the Coalition party room, or trying to throw blame on others. It’s very sad.

The real games are being played out within state governments; in battles between energy policy agencies and regulators; by emerging industry players who do not even have formal roles in energy legisation; and by business and the community as they defend themselves from the failures around them by implementing “behind the meter” solutions and working together.

The real heavy lifters

Medals of Valour should be awarded to Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, AEMO chief executive Audrey Zibelman, and South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill.

The government’s response to this year’s Finkel Review showed that no amount of compromise would allow a sensible energy and climate policy to pass through the minefield of the Coalition party room. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, both of whom know what they need to do, simply have too little political capital within that place to drive realistic energy policy.

But the Finkel Review also successfully recommended many changes that will help to fix the physical operation of the grid. Innovation and the laws of physics have finally begun to triumph over market politics and ideology.


Read more: The Finkel Review at a glance


AEMO worked out a way to get around the glacial and obstructive tactics of the Australian Energy Market Commission on demand-side action by setting up a “pilot project” to drive demand response. It has been clear for decades that this is a very cost-effective tool. Zibelman has been a voice of practical reality and clear understanding of the future of energy, including the demand side, and AEMO’s future energy paths reflects that.

Weatherill has weathered a storm of abuse over his state’s innovative energy strategy. His government has shown how a diversified approach can transform an energy system in little more than a year. But he needs to put more effort into long term energy efficiency and energy productivity improvement measures integrated with renewables and storage, to reduce pressure on electricity systems over time. For example, home cooling comprises a third of South Australia’s peak electricity demand, but could be slashed by efficient buildings and cooling equipment.

What lies ahead

Looking forward, the coming year will be shaped by some key issues, some of which are already playing out at a frenetic pace. Consider a small sample of many recent events:

  • As mentioned, AEMO has released a discussion paper framing a very different electricity future, and including a low-carbon scenario.

  • The new battery in South Australia has delivered remarkable outcomes, helping to stabilise the grid in ways that few imagined.


Read more: Yes, SA’s battery is a massive battery, but it can do much more besides


  • The Victorian Essential Services Commission has proposed a new “time of day” feed-in price for rooftop solar that reaches 29 cents per kilowatt-hour in afternoons and evenings. If approved, this will be a game-changer, as adding battery storage to rooftop solar will become far more attractive.

  • The Energy Networks Association, not the gas industry, has released a zero emission gas strategy at last.

  • The annual report on the National Energy Productivity Plan (remember that?) shows we’re falling behind even the government’s weak target: not surprising given the miniscule resources allocated.

Meanwhile the federal government has released energy modelling to underpin ongoing negotiation on the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) that is simply irrelevant and embarrassing. The Energy Security Board’s involvement in this has undermined perceptions of its independence, especially when it is contrasted with the vision AEMO is discussing in its paper.

While the states have agreed to continue discussion on the NEG in April, there are some major hurdles. Primarily, states must be allowed to set and achieve their own energy targets: the federal energy minister has put the blame for problems on the states, and they now have to be seen by their voters to act.

Second, the design must ensure it does not give the dominant energy companies even more power to distort markets. Some members of the Energy Security Board seem to understand the challenges, and are optimistic they can be overcome. Time will tell.

The ConversationAs Turnbull has said, we live in exciting times.

Alan Pears, Senior Industry Fellow, RMIT University

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

Vital Signs: Australia heads into 2018 with mixed economic signals



File 20171214 27593 171g8ju.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
It’s hard to get a fix on where Australia’s economy is headed.
Garry Knight/Flickr, CC BY

Richard Holden, UNSW

Vital Signs is a weekly economic wrap from UNSW economics professor and Harvard PhD Richard Holden (@profholden). Vital Signs aims to contextualise weekly economic events and cut through the noise of the data affecting global economies.

This week: the housing market is still cooling, but not disastrously so, consumers remain optimistic, but business is cautious, and all eyes will soon turn to Christmas retail sales.


Since housing is the main thing that Australians seem to talk about (even when the Ashes is on), let’s start with that.

The ABS residential house price index for the September quarter showed a small decline Australia wide, with prices falling 0.2%. Sydney prices were down 1.4%, while Melbourne was still up 1.1%.

This was, as we are now used to, met with press commentary about how the housing boom is well-and-truly over, and with various other shrieks of angst. Really? Melbourne just didn’t grow as fast is it did before. And Sydney, though down 1.4% on the quarter, is still up a whopping 9.4% over the past 12 months.


Read more: Four ways an Australian housing bubble could burst


On one level, the reaction makes no sense at all. On another, as I wrote in a previous column, the implications of even modest falls could be large, given how residential lending is structured. If Australia’s banks are lending people a massive chunk of their disposable income, marking-to-market on a regular basis and issuing a lot of interest-only loans, then even small falls can have big effects on household spending and even defaults. And. They. Are.

The Westpac consumer sentiment index came in stronger than expected, rising 3.6% in December to 103.3 points (recall 100 in these indices is the breakeven between optimists and pessimists). Westpac’s chief economist Bill Evans said:

This is a surprisingly strong result and confirms the lift we have seen in the index over the last three months.

This contrasted with the news on business confidence. The NAB Monthly Business Survey business conditions index dropped 9 points. This still left it at +12, however, which is above the long-run average of +5 index points. Moreover, it appeared that some of the business concern was about wages edging higher, which would be a good thing for workers and the economy more generally.

As I have said in Vital Signs many times, sluggish wage growth has been a persistent problem among advanced economies, and Australia is no exception. Even early signs of an increase bode well for the economy more broadly – and business will ultimately benefit from that. But these are very early signs.

Unemployment in Australia remained stubbornly high at 5.4% in November. A large 61,600 jobs were created, but the labour force participation rate rose to 65.5%, leaving the overall unemployment rate unchanged. It will be important to see in coming months if that pace of job creation can be maintained – for that is a prerequisite for a genuine drop in unemployment.


Read more: Vital Signs: economics can’t explain why unemployment and inflation are both low


Thursday morning Australian time, the US Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the third time this year, bringing the target Fed Funds Rate to the 1.25-1.50% band.

The Fed also suggested in its statement that we can expect further, gradual rises, in 2018, saying:

The Committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant gradual increases in the federal funds rate; the federal funds rate is likely to remain, for some time, below levels that are expected to prevail in the longer run.

Most market participants interpret this as meaning we can expected three 25 basis point hikes next year.

As has been the case for some time now, the recovery in the US looks to be self-sustaining and robust. In Australia, we continue to see very mixed signals across different aspects of the economic map.

The housing market looms as a huge potential problem, with regulators only taking action relatively recently to begin to rein in the extravagant lending of a decade or more. And pretty modest action at that.

The ConversationThe next major thing to watch for in Australia is the all-important holiday season retail sales figures. And, as ever, the housing market.

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics and PLuS Alliance Fellow, UNSW

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