Grattan on Friday: 2018, the year of governing badly


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Looking back on the federal politics of 2018, voters can conclude
they’ve been given a rough trot.

What’s been dubbed “the permanent election campaign” to which we are
subjected these days is a curse. Too often it encourages expedient
rather than sound decisions and ugly behaviour dominated by noise and
stunts.

Added to that, we’ve had from the Coalition this year an extraordinary
series of leadership, policy and individual meltdowns. A government
that started 2018 with a one-seat majority ends it in a minority,
after the loss of a byelection and a defection to the crossbench.

This has indeed been the year of governing badly.

As the Coalition struggles towards Christmas it has been buffeted this
week by a sex scandal involving an obscure Nationals MP and an attack
from its own side over its energy policy.

The cavorting of Andrew Broad in “sugar baby” land has left the
Nationals looking for a candidate for the Victorian seat of Mallee,
safe in normal circumstances, but not to be taken for granted in these
days of community independents and when the incumbent has been
disgraced. (Broad will be around until the election –
there is no byelection.)

Senior Nationals want a woman to run. The party’s deputy leader,
Senator Bridget McKenzie, is not ruling out seeking preselection but
has no connection with the area. One government source says “it would
be pretty late for her to be carpetbagging” into the seat. A strong
local would seem better.

Whether the Liberals will make it a three-cornered contest is an open
question (though they probably wouldn’t field a candidate if McKenzie
ran).

In 2016 the Nationals contested Murray after a Liberal retired, and won the seat; the Liberals might think they could
benefit in this contest from any backlash against the Nationals over
Broad’s conduct. On the other hand, would they want to spend money on this seat in an election when dollars will be tight?

The Nationals have often been a steady and stabilising force within
the Coalition. Coming out of this year they look like a chaotic rump,
unable to manage their personal and political lives.

Barnaby Joyce destroyed his leadership with an affair and has been
undermining his party as he attempts to get it back. McCormack is a trier
facing a job that often looks beyond him. He’ll last to the election
(well, presumably) but probably not after that.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is the ultimate trier, believing the
only possible salvation for the government is constant activity. For a
very short time, he looked reasonably effective. But then all the
freneticism started to appear contrived and fake.

One big challenge Morrison has not been able to handle is the
Coalition’s “woman problem”. Minimal female representation in both
Coalition parties, claims of bullying in the Liberals, and the
defection to the crossbench of Liberal MP Julia Banks will inevitably
put off female voters. The Broad scandal feeds into the negative
narrative.

Morrison himself has a “blokey” image that might turn away some female
voters although Liberal sources dispute this.

It’s ironic that neither Coalition party will embrace quotas but
Morrison wanted a female candidate in Wentworth (only to be rebuffed
by the preselectors) and now Nationals president Larry Anthony urges a woman for Mallee.

Women are thought to be useful in desperate circumstances, it seems.

Amid all the year’s bedlam in conservative politics, one major policy
issue remains a complete muddle – or more precisely it is the intersection of
two issues, energy and climate.

The bitter battle within the Liberals over energy didn’t just bring
down Malcolm Turnbull – it stopped the formulation of the sort of
viable policy business pleads for, to give certainty to investors.

This week the Berejiklian government called out its federal
counterpart; state energy minister Don Harwin declared it “out of
touch” on energy and climate policy, saying “it’s time for them to
change course”. But at a testy meeting of the COAG energy council
federal minister Angus Taylor was defiantly unmoved.

Also this week came criticism from the Energy Security Board, which
says in its 2018 Health of the Electricity Market report that when
investment is needed “it is not helpful for the Commonwealth
government to be threatening powers of divestment, price setting and
discretionary asset write-downs.”

Energy policy both symbolises the deep ideological divide in the
Liberal party and is at the core of it. The party won’t be credible on
policy until it can formulate a broad position that is acceptable to
stakeholders and the community. If it goes into opposition next year,
doing so should be a top policy priority.

Its plan for a National Energy Guarantee was scuttled by the
government itself during those crazy coup days in August. But this was
not before devising the scheme had given then energy minister Josh
Frydenberg a chance to show his credentials, as a policy formulator
and a negotiator.

Frydenberg lost the NEG but won his colleagues’ respect. He received
an overwhelming vote for Liberal deputy; as things stand, he’s well
placed to lead his party at some future point.

Now treasurer, Frydenberg is one of the few senior Liberals who has
looked half way impressive this year. His next test will be the April
2 budget, although naturally ownership of that will lie as much or
more with Morrison.

The timetable for a May election is now set. The government wants to
maximise the period it has to try to regroup.

When parliament rose there was speculation the government might not
want it to return in February because the Coalition faced a House
defeat on a amendment to facilitate medical transfers from Manus and
Nauru. This might make a March election more attractive, so the
argument went.

But the government doesn’t seem so concerned about that vote now,
believing some of the crossbenchers will drop off the amendment or
want to weaken it.

Looking to 2019: the betting is firmly on an ALP victory, in the
absence of a surprising turn of events. A win by either side would at
least bring an end to the revolving prime ministerships, thanks to
rule changes.

Assuming Labor won a solid majority, hopefully the voters might also
get a little respite before the continuous campaigning started up
again.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Human rights in 2018 – ten issues that made headlines



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Rohingya women and children being moved on a truck south of Yangon, Myanmar.
AAP/EPA/Lynn Bo Bo

Louise Chappell, UNSW and Elaine Pearson, UNSW

On December 10, the world marks 70 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Regrettably, instead of the anniversary signalling the enduring impact of human rights, some are fearing the “end of human rights”. Here we highlight some of the rights challenges that captured the world’s attention this year, illustrating the struggle to secure human rights is far from over.

1. Australia’s first year on the UN Human Rights Council

Australia took its place on the UN Human Rights Council this year for a three-year term. Australia delivered a strong statement about Myanmar’s atrocities against ethnic Rohingya Muslims, but was criticised for holding refugees and asylum seekers offshore. While Australia supported important country resolutions, it failed to take a leadership role on any key issues.

2. United States’ retreat from Human Rights Council

The US faced international condemnation when it quit the Human Rights Council, calling it a “protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias”. The US has long complained of the council’s perceived bias against Israel. But, by withdrawing, the US decreased its options for confronting and addressing human rights violators. This increases the responsibility of governments like Australia’s to ensure the council addresses the world’s most serious human rights violations.

3. Violence against women

In Australia, while the #MeToo movement has spurred women to come forward with their experiences of sexual harassment and abuse, a number of high-profile cases of alleged sexual harassment by actors and politicians highlighted ongoing barriers to justice for victims. At the same time, the #countingdeadwomen femicide index reports that one woman in Australia is killed every week by an intimate partner.

4. Facebook’s reckoning

Free speech, privacy and electoral integrity came under the microscope in March, when a former employee of Cambridge Analytica blew the whistle on its practice of harvesting data from millions of US Facebook users in an effort to influence the 2016 presidential elections.

Cambridge Analytica was also investigated in the UK for a possible role in the Brexit referendum.

There is also growing criticism of Facebook for not doing enough to stop its use to spread hate speech. For example, in Myanmar it has been used as a tool to incite violence against Rohingya.

5. Rohingya crisis

In August, a UN Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar, which included Australian human rights expert Chris Sidoti, delivered a scathing report detailing crimes against humanity, war crimes, sexual violence and possible genocide by Myanmar’s security forces against the Rohingya.




Read more:
Explainer: why the UN has found Myanmar’s military committed genocide against the Rohingya


The UN Human Rights Council, in response, created a mechanism to collect and preserve evidence to aid future prosecutions for atrocity crimes in Myanmar. Australia joined other Western nations in imposing targeted sanctions on military officers named in the UN report. While the Australian government maintains an arms embargo on Myanmar, our defence forces continue to provide training to the Myanmar military.

6. Crackdown against Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang

Turkic Muslims in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region have long faced repression. In 2018, Human Rights Watch and others reported an escalation in this repression with the government detaining 1 million people in political re-education camps, with evidence of their torture and mistreatment. Muslims not detained still face pervasive controls on freedom of movement and religion. The Foreign Affairs Department revealed under parliamentary questioning that three Australians were detained in the camps.

7. Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia made international headlines when a prominent journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The case prompted a closer examination of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. The country’s repression, imprisonment and ill-treatment of activists includes the alleged torture of leading women’s rights defenders.

In Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition has committed many violations of international humanitarian law, including apparent war crimes, killing thousands of civilians. Millions of Yemenis are confronting a famine, in part because of restrictions on aid delivery. Yet the USA, UK, France and Australia sell the Saudi government weapons and military equipment that may well contribute to its Yemen campaign.

Millions of Yemenis are facing a famine.
Yarya Arhab/AAP/EPA

8. Children off Nauru

Australia’s government appeared to respond to the “Kids Off Nauru” campaign launched by civil society groups, medical professionals and lawyers. December figures show ten refugee children remain on the island, down from 119 children in August.




Read more:
As children are airlifted from Nauru, a cruel and inhumane policy may finally be ending


Mounting political pressure forced the government to remove children who had been transferred there in 2013 and 2014, though many were removed from Nauru only after legal proceedings were started. But the departure of families makes the situation even more desperate for the adults left behind. And those transferred to Australia are told they will not remain permanently, keeping them in limbo.

9. One year since the Uluru statement

Indigenous communities have fought hard throughout 2018 to have the federal government focus on the Uluru Statement from the Heart, after the Turnbull government dismissed it out of hand in 2017.

The statement calls for a constitutionally enshrined “First Nations Voice” in parliament and the establishment of a Makarrata Commission to supervise agreement-making between governments and First Nations, and facilitate truth-telling of First Nations’ histories. These steps were seen as laying the foundation for a treaty with Australia’s First Nations peoples. A 2018 parliamentary committee endorsed the need for a voice in parliament and has called for a process of co-design between Indigenous people and government appointees.

10. LGBTI discrimination

One year on from the breakthrough on marriage equality, the parliamentary year ended with Australia’s politicians unable to find a way to remove legislative exemptions allowing religious schools to discriminate against LGBTI pupils and teachers.




Read more:
Political impasse stops protection for LGBT students passing this year


Advocates and the Labor opposition rejected government amendments that sought to stop schools being able to exclude students on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics, but would also allow them to enforce rules in line with their religious teachings.The Conversation

Louise Chappell, Director of the Australian Human Rights Institute; Professor of Law, UNSW and Elaine Pearson, Adjunct Lecturer in Law, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Victoria votes: your guide to the 2018 election health promises



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There are major differences – plus a few similarities – between the health promises from Labor, the Coalition and the Greens.
rawpixel/unsplash

Vijaya Sundararajan, La Trobe University; Alan Shiell, La Trobe University; Hassan Vally, La Trobe University, and Steven Lewis, University of Saskatchewan

With health care spending accounting for 30% of the Victorian budget, or A$20 billion, health is a major policy area for the Victorian election on Saturday.

While the Commonwealth pays for general practice, private specialists, pharmaceutical benefits and aged care, the states are responsible for running hospitals, community health services and ambulance services. They also want to keep Victorians healthy and out of hospital.

This election campaign, Labor has committed $4.3 billion to health; the Coalition has promised $1.3 billion, and the Greens have pledged $1.35 billion. Much of the difference comes down to infrastructure spending.




Read more:
Waiting for better care: why Australia’s hospitals and health care is failing


Labor

Labor’s health policy emphasises its commitment to a public health system. A re-elected Labor government would build a new hospital in the western Melbourne suburb of Footscray ($1.5 billion) and spend $1.2 billion on capital improvements to other hospitals in outer suburban Melbourne and regional areas.

Labor’s hospital package also includes $675 million for ten new or upgraded community hospitals. These health services would provide day surgeries, diagnostic imaging and specialist outpatients, in addition to admitted and urgent care.

The remainder of nearly A$1 billion goes to a range of other promises, including:

The boost in hospital funding is likely to enhance care in the hospital catchment areas and ease the pressure on surrounding hospitals. Improved nurse-to-patient ratios will likely improve the safety and quality of care in the state’s emergency departments and hospital wards.




Read more:
Why do we wait so long in hospital emergency departments and for elective surgery?


Is it necessary to commit $3.3 billion to hospitals, presumably on top of current levels of funding?

Much of this goes to capital improvements. Without such investments now, the existing hospital capacity in and around Melbourne will not be able to keep up. But it’s unclear where the money will come from to run these extra hospitals and hospital expansions. It’s hoped that operating costs will not then be taken from existing hospitals.

Coalition

The Coalition’s funding commitments are spread across the key sectors of health including:

There is evidence for much of the Coalition’s commitments. In particular, palliative care has been shown in trials to not only improve quality of life, but also, in some cancers, survival.




Read more:
Assisted dying is one thing, but governments must ensure palliative care is available to all who need it


Improving access to community care for disadvantaged groups and in rural and regional areas has the potential to improve the management of chronic disease, such as asthma and diabetes, leading to better health in the long term.

Greens

The Greens’ platform is anchored in a social determinants of health and a population health approach that conceives of health more explicitly as an outcome of broader social and economic conditions.




Read more:
Want to improve the nation’s health? Start by reducing inequalities and improving living conditions


The Victorian Greens party’s main priorities are:

The Greens’ funding for free ambulance services would ensure nobody misses out on timely care for traumatic injuries and heart attacks because they don’t have ambulance cover. A similar program operates in Queensland.

The Greens have a well-developed policy, conceiving of health and well-being broadly. The package includes substantial commitments to mental health, community health care and dental health.

But there is no extra funding for hospitals beyond the current budget.

Comparing the three parties

The biggest difference in the health funding commitments between the three parties is Labor’s focus on hospital infrastructure funding (which accounts for 78% of its health promises). It’s not clear whether the Coalition and the Greens oppose the bulk of Labor’s hospital commitments or are simply silent.

Although this level of funding to hospitals may seem like an inordinate amount, it’s important to consider the role of modern hospitals. They have become the providers of not only admitted care, but emergency care (including GP-type visits), specialist care in outpatient clinics, chronic disease management and palliative care.

When this hospital infrastructure funding is taken out of consideration, the three parties are hard to distinguish. Labor is promising $960 million, Coalition is pledging $816 million and the Greens have committed $1.3 billion to a range of community, mental health, ambulance, chronic disease and prevention services.




Read more:
If we’re to have another inquiry into mental health, it should look at why the others have been ignored


The most evident gaps are Labor’s lack of funding for prevention and innovation, and the Greens’ lack of extra hospital capital funding.

A change to the Coalition would likely mean less hospital funding, particularly for a new Footscray hospital, but significant funding for community palliative care services and hospital in the home.

A more comprehensive list of the three parties’ election health promises is available on the Victorian Healthcare Association’s Election Alert.The Conversation

Vijaya Sundararajan, Professor and Head of Department, Public Health, La Trobe University; Alan Shiell, Professor of Health Economics, La Trobe University; Hassan Vally, Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology, La Trobe University, and Steven Lewis, Adjunct Professor at Simon Fraser University and Clinical Professor, University of Saskatchewan

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

After APEC, US-China tensions leave ‘cooperation’ in the cold



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US Vice President Mike Pence with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden. PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, Japan’s Shinzo Abe and Australia’s Scott Morrison were among the leaders of the 21 economies making up APEC.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Nick Bisley, La Trobe University

United States Vice President Mike Pence’s remarks at the end of this year’s summit season just about blasted the word “cooperation” out of the APEC acronym. Amid ill-concealed US-China tensions, it had already been looking out of place.

Pence unveiled US plans to help Australia and Papua New Guinea – APEC’s host this year – expand a military base on Manus Island, which is in PNG. In September, Australia had already announced funding for an upgrade of the facility.

Former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans famously declared in 1993 that APEC was “four adjectives in search of a noun”. As one of APEC’s founding fathers, he could be forgiven for getting the parts of speech slightly wrong.

But 25 years on, “cooperation” is looking doubtful. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum set sail in Canberra in 1989. Two former prime ministers, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, lay some claim to its parentage. APEC has grown to boast 21 member economies (where China, Hong Kong and Taiwan are listed as separate member economies).




Read more:
In his first major foreign policy test, Morrison needs to stick to the script


APEC is part of summit season in Asia in November, and the one closest to Australia’s heart, given its origins in Canberra. Three other big set pieces are also held within this week each year and bring all the key players in the region together, ostensibly to talk about advancing cooperation, community building and grappling with common problems. Two others relate to ASEAN, the grouping of 10 South-east Asian nations – its annual summit, and the ASEAN Plus 3 meeting where they bring in South Korea, Japan and China. Then there is the East Asia Summit, which comprises the 10 ASEAN members, plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, the United States and Russia. These talk-fests give states and economies, great and small, the chance to advance a broad-ranging positive agenda.

But the many handshakes, photo ops and positive sounding joint-statements could not mask the reality of hardening US-China geopolitical competition. It is a cruel irony that a group of meetings created to advance cooperation became the platform for what amounted to a very public drawing of lines of great power competition.

Feelings were mixed when it was announced US President Donald Trump would go to Europe for the centenary of world war one’s truce this year, instead of Asia’s summits. The signal sent that the president does not prioritise the region is unmistakable.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison mixes exotic dress with his passion for rugby league team the Cronulla Sharks in his APEC diplomacy.

During his visit, Pence put on a stern face on US policy, and in his speech to the APEC CEO Summit he reinforced the United States’ wish to build a relationship with China, based on “fairness, reciprocity, and respect for sovereignty”. In earlier comments to the Hudson Institute he accused Beijing of stealing military blueprints, “and using that stolen technology, the Chinese Communist Party is turning ploughshares into swords on a massive scale…”.

Washington now sees itself in full spectrum competition with China for regional and global influence. Pence portrayed China as an aggressive and almost imperial power with a malign regional vision. In contrast, he emphasised that the US wanted to protect an open and rules-based system of genuine partnerships. He underscored the long-term nature of this commitment.

The problem, both for Washington and its partners, is that this new muscular approach to China is, as yet, not fully resourced, and does not align the military aspects with trade – notwithstanding the Manus announcement.

Trump’s economic nationalism jibes badly with the interests of its partners and its long term regional strategy. A free and open Indo-Pacific sits uncomfortably with America’s economic nationalism, imposing tariffs on allies and pleas for multilateral approaches being summarily dismissed.

New Zealand’s Jacinda Arden and Canada’s Justin Trudeau share a laugh as Scott Morrison and other APEC leaders look on.

At the same CEO summit, Xi Jinping gave a rare major address outside of China. Like Pence, he sought to lay out a vision for the region that presented China as a force for economic openness, integration and development.

Continuing the themes first articulated at Davos in 2017, the unstated but obvious point of contrast was with America. Xi also rebutted criticism of the Belt and Road Initiative, declaring it was neither a trap nor a geopolitical gambit but an “open platform for cooperation”. But as with his earlier efforts to paint China as a defender of economic openness, the claims remain unconvincing.

Hosting APEC in PNG was fitting, given the south-west Pacific has become a key site of US-China competition. The Manus announcement, along with another that a group of Western allies would collaborate to drive a massive electrification project in the country, gives a concrete sense of what this means for the region. As in the Cold War, when Soviet-American rivalry led to bidding wars in the developing world, today China and the US are competing for influence in the form of infrastructure and development funding.




Read more:
Pence visit reassures that the US remains committed to the Asia-Pacific


If the speeches laid down rhetorical battle lines, APEC’s conclusion showed the consequences of this competition. For the first time in the grouping’s history, APEC members were unable to agree on the wording of a final communique. While a new Cold War is not yet here, this is another worrying step toward a serious rift in the global economy and geopolitics.

The biggest loser of the summit season is probably ASEAN. Founded in 1967 to wall off the newly independent states of south-east Asia from Cold War competition as the Vietnam war escalated, the grouping’s principal purpose has been to ensure the region does not become the wrestling mat of great power competition. It had been crucial to ensuring this goal was met in the Cold War and its aftermath. Events of this past week show it is finding that much harder to achieve as the geopolitical temperature rises.

If there were any doubts, Asia’s summit season confirms that the region has entered a new phase. Great power competition is now Asia’s most important dynamic. Even though the set piece theatre is about community building and cooperation, the reality is that China and the US have irreconcilable visions for the region and its future.

The only question is how much they are willing to pay to prevail in the contest for Asia’s future.The Conversation

Nick Bisley, Head of Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of International Relations at La Trobe University, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australian Politics 2018


View from The Hill: With apologies to Mathias, Hanson blows away government hopes on company tax


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Not so long ago, new South Australian independent senator Tim Storer and Victorian crossbencher Derryn Hinch were set to be the pivotal players determining the fate of the government’s tax cut for big companies.

But after the evidence from the banking inquiry Hinch’s doubts about the measure hardened further, while Storer continued to agonise.

The government then looked towards the Centre Alliance senators, Stirling Griff and Rex Patrick, for the two crucial numbers it needed. The rest of the votes were in the bag.

Only it turned out they weren’t. Pauline Hanson, who commands three Senate votes and thus a veto, has suddenly withdrawn the support she earlier pledged. Hanson has flipped-flopped before but she insists this is for real – that she won’t change her mind again.

Hanson says she’s “so disappointed in this government” after the budget it produced. She has a litany of complaints: inaction on debt; intransigence on immigration; the absence of changes to the petroleum resource rent tax; no appearance of promised apprenticeships, and many more.

Hanson denies her reneging is driven by her political needs in the Queensland seat of Longman, though that claim lacks credibility. Tax cuts for the wealthiest companies, including the banks, would hardly appeal to potential One Nation voters, and this byelection will be a test for Hanson’s party, just as it will be for Labor and the Coalition. Bill Shorten had already been exploiting her closeness to the government.




Read more:
Research check: we still don’t have proof that cutting company taxes will boost jobs and wages


As much as the Senate is unpredictable, this does look like the end of the government’s chances of getting its company tax package through parliament before the election.

Senate leader Mathias Cormann, the government’s chief negotiator, said he hoped “that this is not the last word” but admitted “it might well be that we won’t ever get there”.

Once again, Shorten has had a lucky break. The tax cut for big companies, which Labor has strenuously opposed, is still on the political agenda. If the Senate had passed it, Labor would have a diminished target.

It also remains on the books. Admittedly the cost is way into the future, but in these times when parties like to talk in terms of a decade, those notional future dollars are useful to Labor.

Also, if the package isn’t passed, Labor doesn’t have to cope with the question: how can you be sure a Shorten government could persuade a post-election Senate to repeal the cuts?

Most immediately, the opposition on Tuesday was making merry with questions about what “secret deal” the government had with Hanson to try to get the company tax cut through.

A Senate estimates hearing saw an angry clash between Labor’s Senate leader Penny Wong and Cormann, when Wong pursued whether the government was willing to meet Hanson’s various demands. As she went through these, Cormann retorted “I know that you always like channelling Senator Hanson”.

Wong, of Asian heritage, responded ferociously: “Don’t tell me I channel Pauline Hanson. I find that personally offensive. I can tell you what happened to me and my family and people like us, when she stood up in the parliament, possibly before you were here, saying Australia was in danger of being swamped by Asians. I will never do anything other than fight her.”

Cormann accused Wong of “confected outrage”; Wong countered “How dare you!”.

But a few hours later the two had made up.

Wong tweeted: “I will never do anything other than stand up to Pauline Hanson and her views, but I know Mathias is one of the decent people in this Government and accept his assurance he did not mean to cause offence.”

Cormann replied: “While we are fierce political competitors, I value the fact that we always aim to engage in the political contest professionally and with courtesy and mutual respect.”

It’s notable how much genuine respect Cormann commands in a parliament characterised by the lack of it.

Hanson went out of her way to stress she wasn’t blaming Cormann for anything – “his colleagues and the government” had let him down, she said. She told her news conference, “I know he’s devastated”, and she’s said to be genuinely upset that she’s left him in the lurch.

The government says that if there’s not a new turn of Senate fortunes, it will take the company tax policy to the election.

Although some argue the measure should be ditched, which is the superficially attractive course, that would potentially bring fresh difficulties. Not only would it open a brawl with business, but it would undermine the economic argument the government has been making for two years. Killing an albatross can be a dangerous business.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Can the Turnbull government make the election all about tax?


It would, however, be popular with the public. Tuesday’s Essential poll reported that when people were asked which in a list of measures they would support to cut government spending, the top item nominated (on 60%) was “not providing company tax cuts for large business”.

The Essential poll brought mixed news on the tax front for the government.

Asked to choose between the budget’s income tax plan and the alternative outlined by Shorten in his budget reply, Labor’s plan was preferred by 45% to 33%. On the other hand, Labor and the Coalition were equal (on 32% each) when people were asked which party they trusted most to manage a fair tax system.

The ConversationParticularly interesting was the poll’s voting figure. The two-party Labor lead has now narrowed to 51-49% (compared with 52-48% in the last poll). This is the closest result since late 2016, and in line with the most recent Newspoll. It reinforces the point that the contest is tightening.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Don’t give anyone a tax cut: Greens


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Greens are standing out against the bipartisan consensus that tax cuts are needed for middle and lower income earners.

They are ruling out supporting all the budget’s tax relief, and say they are also opposed to the package of larger cuts the opposition has proposed, which would be confined to people in the lower and middle income ranges.

Instead, the funds should be spent on services, the Greens say.

The Coalition tax package will be a focus of this parliamentary fortnight, which sees the House of Representatives sitting and the Senate holding estimates hearings.

The legislation will be passed in the House, while estimates will be used by the opposition to seek the annual cost in the latter years of the seven-year plan, which the government has so far declined to provide. Treasury is before the estimates hearings next week; the Prime Minister’s department is up this week.

The opposition has submitted ahead of time a list of detailed questions about the tax package to try to prevent the delay of answers by officials asking for questions to be put on notice.

Labor supports the first stage of the three-part plan, is vague about the second stage, but has expressed opposition to the third stage, which flattens the tax scale and favours high income earners.

The government says it will not split the bill. It is not clear whether the opposition would vote against the legislation if the government holds firm, or whether the government would be flexible if pushed.

The shadow cabinet meets on Monday night, when the legislation is set to be discussed.

Labor’s alternative tax cuts, announced in Bill Shorten’s budget reply, would be confined to those on incomes up to about $125,000.

While the immediate concentration is on the future of the government’s legislation, the uncertainty of a post-election Senate also raises the issue for Labor of whether an ALP government could get its legislation through.

The Greens said in a statement that the government’s proposed income tax cuts were just a bribe to get the massive company tax cuts passed. People on the minimum wage wouldn’t even see $4 a week, while the wealthiest would benefit the most.

“Both parties’ plans will worsen inequality, and see us lose vital revenue for the essential services people rely upon,” the Greens said.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale said with inequality rising, reinvestment in public services should be the priority.

“For years, politicians have been telling Australians that the budget doesn’t have money to properly fund our public schools, build a world-class NBN, or take action on climate change,” Di Natale said.

“Yet when an election is rolling around both old parties are giving away cheques like a breakfast TV show trying to increase their ratings.”

“This reckless tax auction is nothing more than a distraction from the millions of dollars stripped from our schools, hospitals and social safety net over the past decade.

The Conversation“While Turnbull is busy squabbling with Labor over how much they want to rip out of Australia’s institutions, the Greens are proud to stand up for Medicare, our public schools and hospitals and the environment”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

What was missing in Australia’s $1.9 billion infrastructure announcement


Virginia Barbour, Queensland University of Technology

When we think about infrastructure it’s most often about bridges or roads – or, as in this week’s federal government AU$1.9 billion National Research Infrastructure announcement, big science projects. These are large assets that can be seen and applied in a tangible way.

It’s not hard to get excited over money that will support imaging of the Earth, or the Atlas of Living Australia.

But important as these projects are, there’s a whole set of infrastructure that rarely gets mentioned or noticed: “soft” infrastructure. These are the services, policies or practices that keep academic research working and, now, open.

Soft infrastructure was not featured in this week’s announcement linked to budget 2018.




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Ignored infrastructure

An absence of attention paid to soft infrastructure isn’t just the case in Australia, it’s true globally. This is despite the fact that such infrastructure is core to running the hard infrastructure projects.

For example, the Open SSL software library – which is key to the security of most websites – has just a handful of paid individuals who work on it. It’s supported by fragile finances. That’s a pretty frightening thought. (There’s another issue in that researchers doing this work get no academic credit for their efforts, but that’s a topic for another time.)

There are other high profile, globally used, open science infrastructures that also exist hand to mouth. The Directory of Open Access journals which began at Lund University relies entirely on voluntary donations from supporting members and on occasional sponsorship.

Similarly, Sherpa Romeo – the open database of publishers’ policies on copyright and self-archiving – came out of projects at Nottingham and Loughborough Universities in the UK.

In some ways these projects’ high visibility is part of their problem. It’s assumed that they are already funded, so no-one takes responsibility for funding them themselves – the dilemma of collective action.




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Supporting open science

Other even more nebulous types of soft infrastructure include the development and oversight of standards that support open science. One example of this is the need to ensure that the metadata (the essential descriptors that tell you for example where a sample that’s collected for research came from and when, or how it relates to a wider research project or publication) are consistent. Without consistency of metadata, searching for research, making it openly available or linking it together is much less efficient, if not impossible.

Of course there are practices in place at individual institutions as well as national organisations. The soon-to-be-combined organisations -Australian National Data Service, the National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources project and Research Data Services (ANDS-Nectar-RDS) – are supported by national infrastructure funding. These provide support for data-heavy research (including for example the adoption of FAIR – Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable standards for data).

But without coherent national funding and coordination, specifically for open science initiatives, we won’t get full value from the physical infrastructure just funded.




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What we need

What’s needed now? First, a specific recognition of the need for cash to support this open, soft infrastructure. There are a couple of models for this.

In an article last year it was suggested that libraries (but this could equally be funders – public or philanthropic) should be committing around 2.5% of their budget to support open initiatives. There are some international initiatives that are developing specific funding models – SCOSS for Open Science Services and NumFocus for software.

But funding on its own is not enough: we need a coordinated national approach to open scholarship – making research available for all to access through structures and tools that are themselves open and not proprietary.

Though there are groups that are actively pushing forward initiatives on open scholarship in Australia – such as the Australasian Open Access Strategy Group, the Council of Australian University Librarians, and the Learned Academies as well as the ARC and NHMRC who have open access policies – there is no one organisation with the responsibility to drive change across the sector. The end result is inadequate key infrastructure – for example, for interoperability between research output repositories.

We also need coherent policy. The government recognised a need for national and states policies on open access in its response to the 2016 Productivity Commission Inquiry on Intellectual Property, but as yet no policy has appeared.




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It’s reasonable to ask whether in the absence of a national body that’s responsible for developing and implementing an overall approach, what the success of a policy on its own would be. Again, there are international models that could be used.

Sweden has a Government Directive on Open Access, and a National Body for Coordinating Open Access chaired by the Vice-chancellor of Stockholm University.

The Netherlands has a National Plan for Open Science with wide engagement, supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. In that country, the Secretary of State, Sander Dekker, has been a key champion.

The EU has had a long commitment to open science, underscored recently by the appointment of a high-level envoy with specific responsibility for open science, Robert-Jan Smits.

Private interests might take over

Here’s the bottom line: national coordinated support for the soft infrastructure that supports open science (and thus the big tangible infrastructure projects announced) is not just a “nice to have”.

One way or another, this soft infrastructure will get built and adopted. If it’s not done in the national interest, for-profit companies will step into the vacuum.

We risk replicating the same issues we have now in academic publishing – which is in the hands of multi-billion dollar companies that report to their shareholders, not the public. It’s clear how well that is turning out – publishers and universities globally are in stand offs over the cost of publishing services, which continue to rise inexorably, year on year.


The Conversation


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Virginia Barbour, Director, Australasian Open Access Strategy Group, Queensland University of Technology

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