Section 18C change appears doomed in Senate


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has announced a watering down of the controversial Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, in a major victory for the conservatives in the Liberal Party. The Conversation

Under the proposal the words “offend, insult, humiliate” will be replaced by “harass”. The word “intimidate” will remain.

Turnbull argued the government was “strengthening” the act, not weakening it.

In a series of changes to the act and the Human Rights Commission legislation, the government will introduce a “reasonable member of the Australian community” standard by which contraventions of 18C should be judged (rather than the present “reasonable member of the relevant community”), and toughen the commission’s processes to stop spurious claims and give greater fairness to those subject to complaints.

The legislation will raise the threshold for the commission to accept a complaint, provide additional powers for it terminate unmeritorious complaints, and limit access to the courts for unsuccessful complaints.

The change was unveiled on Harmony Day.

The Coalition partyroom overwhelmingly backed the measures, but five MPs – Julian Leeser, David Coleman, Julia Banks, Russell Broadbent and Craig Laundy, who is an assistant minister – opposed the change in wording. There is concern among some Liberals that the issue will lose them votes in seats with large ethnic communities.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told the partyroom if MPs kept talking about 18C, votes would be lost because it would distract from the government’s agenda.

Turnbull said the new 18C would “strengthen the protections of Australians from racial vilification and strengthen the protection of free speech – one of the fundamental freedoms upon which our democracy depends”.

The wording of the present law had “lost the credibility that a good law needs”. “If you have language that is too wide, too general, it has a chilling effect on free speech,” he said.

He admitted there would be many critics and opponents of the change – “but this is an issue of values … free speech is a value at the very core of our party”.

In parliament Labor MP Anne Aly, who said she had been subject to racism time and again, pressed Turnbull on what he wanted people to be able to say that they could not now. He replied: “The suggestion that those people who support a change to the wording of Section 18C are somehow or other racist is a deeply offensive one”, listing a number of critics of 18C.

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In the Senate, Indigenous senator Malarndirri McCarthy said Turnbull had “on at least 16 occasions ruled out his government amending Section 18C”.

Before the election Turnbull indicated he did not plan to revisit 18C. His predecessor, Tony Abbott, had moved to reform it but then retreated. Abbott at the party meeting congratulated Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis, saying the situation had altered since his experience.

Asked at his news conference what had changed since his earlier stand, Turnbull cited the experience of the QUT university students who endured a long court case, which finally failed, and the late Bill Leak being taken to the commission over a cartoon in The Australian, a complaint which was dropped.

The changes will be introduced in the Senate and their fate will depend on what the Nick Xenophon Team does. Xenophon told the ABC that he supported comprehensive reform of the commission’s processes but did not support overhauling the wording.

“Let’s get rid of those frivolous and, some would say, vexatious claims by improving the process and then we can then look down the track, if there are still problems in respect to the wording,” he said.

He said there was strong feedback from a whole range of ethnic communities, including the Jewish community and Islamic communities, saying the wording should be kept as it was.

Xenophon later in a statement confirmed his Team’s opposition to changing 18C’s wording.

Conservative Liberal senator Eric Abetz, who has campaigned for change to 18C, said that: “Today’s announcement will be welcomed by Australians who prioritise freedom of speech above politically correct left-wing groupthink”.

“I am also pleased that the government will rein in the Australian Human Rights Commission which has morphed into self-appointed thought police,” Abetz said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the 18C change “isn’t about free speech, it’s about the prime minister appeasing his party”.

“The only two cases the prime minister held up today as his rationale could both have been addressed by improving the process – not by changing the law,” Shorten told parliament. He said the change to the Racial Discrimination Act would “make it easier for people to be insulted or humiliated on the basis of race”.

Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane tweeted:

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The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils expressed dismay at the proposal to change 18C. Chairman Joe Caputo said it sent “a strong signal that racism is acceptable”.

“Australia’s international reputation as a strong, successful multicultural and multi-faith community is threatened by this proposal,” he said.

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Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

The government’s multicultural statement is bereft of new ideas or policies – why?



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Malcolm Turnbull often claims Australia is the world’s most successful multicultural nation.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Andrew Jakubowicz, University of Technology Sydney

The slogan for the federal government’s newly released multicultural statement – United, Strong, Successful – sounds somewhat like a soundbite from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The Conversation

It starts with an untruth – that Australia is the world’s most successful multicultural nation. Canada would win that race on any rational criteria. But the new policy stays fairly much in the place where government rhetoric has been located for the past generation – social control and integration.

Conservative multicultural policies in Australia tend to stress social integration into the pre-existing social order, aspirational core values, and signing on to “Team Australia”. More progressive policies tend to stress social, economic and political participation, social justice, and access to education.

What’s in it and where did it come from?

Labor’s last multicultural policy in government in 2011 began with similar statements about multiculturalism meaning a fair go. It noted the importance of reciprocity and recognition. It also emphasised the rule of law and the importance of English as the national language.

The policy created an anti-racism partnership. Its key message was social inclusion.

Since then, a parliamentary committee on migration unanimously supported key innovations in its 2013 report. These included a strong national research program, the promotion of multiculturalism as a policy of rights, responsibilities and obligations in community languages, the promotion of inter-faith and intercultural dialogue, and a focus on employment-related issues.

The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia, a peak body of many multicultural groups, has criticised the Coalition government’s new statement for not tackling the need for either a national Multicultural Australia Act – which was first foreshadowed in 1989 – or a national language policy. This would mirror some of the benefits created for Canada by its own legislation from the early 1980s, and in the Australian states since 1978.

The statement accepts many of the traditional rhetorical elements of the multicultural narrative. “Fair go” reappears, for one. Three groups of values are presented – respect, equality and freedom. These grow from the seven values espoused by the Howard-era Citizenship Council report and the four principles in Labor’s policy.

However, the statement has no interest in social justice. Multiculturalism seems to depend on maintaining the Nauru and Manus Island offshore detention options in order to have strong borders.

In the examples given of how multiculturalism is being implemented, the anti-racism strategy created by the previous government and continued until now is no longer mentioned. The statement offers no new policy initiatives – only a beefing up of the surveillance and integration priorities.

The idea that cultural difference creates productivity which ensures greater wealth and prosperity perhaps reflects Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s input.

“Multiculturalism” as a philosophy is never mentioned. “Multicultural” is defined through its application to a lot of people of different cultural backgrounds living in the same society.

What now?

The statement claims the government will “condemn people who incite racial hatred”. But the ongoing attempts by many government MPs to reduce the protections Section 18C provides against this suggest the level of racial hatred that will be condemned will need to meet a much higher test than now exists.

There is something for nearly everyone in the rhetoric. Even One Nation likes it. But there’s nothing for anyone in terms of new ideas or actions.

The statement’s main effect will be inaction. The critical need for an Australian Multicultural Act to ensure a strong espousal of values and strong and funded delivery to implement them has once more been rejected.

The sector is left without any program bite, just more rhetoric. Its limited and highly vulnerable projects can be abandoned at the government’s whim.

Multicultural Australia remains on the very edge of government, the most junior of the junior assistant ministries. It’s dependent for any movement on weak product champions for its cause scattered through other parts of government.

There’s much ado about not very much at all in this announcement. And key areas like anti-racism are always at risk of disappearing in the next round of budget savings.


Further reading: Interculturalism: how diverse societies can do better than passive tolerance

Andrew Jakubowicz, Professor of Sociology, University of Technology Sydney

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

With battery storage to the rescue, the Kodak moment for renewables has finally arrived


Kevin's Walk on the Wild Side

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AAP/Lukas Coch

David Holmes, Monash University

Who would have thought that, scarcely five weeks after Treasurer Scott Morrison, paraded a chunk of coal in parliament, planning for Australia’s energy needs would be dominated by renewables, batteries and hydro? The Conversation

For months now, the Coalition has been talking down renewables, blaming them for power failures, blackouts, and an unreliable energy network.

South Australia was bearing the brunt of this campaign. The state that couldn’t keep its lights on had Coalition politicians and mainstream journalists vexatiously attributing the blame to its high density of renewables.

But this sustained campaign, which would eventually hail “clean coal” as Australia’s salvation, all came unstuck when tech entrepreneur Elon Musk came out with a brilliant stunt: to install a massive battery storage system in South Australia “in 100 days, or it’s free”.

The genius of the stunt was not to win an instant contract to…

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Gas crisis? Energy crisis? The real problem is lack of long-term planning


Kevin's Walk on the Wild Side

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The long view: energy policy needs to stay firmly focused on the horizon.
Mattinbgn/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Alan Pears, RMIT University

If you’ve been watching the news in recent days, you’ll know we have an energy crisis, partly due to a gas crisis, which in turn has triggered a political crisis. The Conversation

That’s a lot of crises to handle at once, so lots of solutions are being put forward. But what do people and businesses actually need? Do they need more gas, or cheaper prices, or more investment certainty, or all or none of the above? How do we cut through to what is really important, rather than side details?

The first thing to note is that what people really care about is their energy costs, not energy prices. This might seem like a pedantic distinction, but if homes and businesses can be helped…

View original post 780 more words

Turnbull unveils Snowy plan for pumped hydro, costing billions



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The Snowy Hydro scheme already provides back-up energy to NSW and Victoria.
AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In its latest move on energy policy, the Turnbull government has unveiled a plan to boost generation from the Snowy Hydro scheme by 50%. The Conversation

The government says the expansion, which it has labelled the Snowy Mountains Scheme 2.0, would add 2,000 megawatts of renewable energy to the National Electricity Market. This would be enough to power 500,000 homes.

Claiming the upgrading would be an “electricity game-changer”, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that in one hour it would be able to produce 20 times the 100 megawatt-hours expected from the battery proposed this week by the South Australian government, but would deliver it constantly for almost a week.

Turnbull flew to the Snowy early Thursday to formally announce the plan. The commonwealth is a minority shareholder in the Snowy Hydro, with a 13% stake. New South Wales and Victoria have 58% and 29% stakes respectively.

The government, through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), would examine several sites that could support large-scale pumped hydroelectric energy storage in the area, Turnbull said.

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said the cost would run into “billions of dollars”. It is being suggested it would be around A$2 billion. Frydenberg avoided being tied down on when it would be completed.

He said three new tunnels were being looked at, stretching 27 kilometres for the pumped hydro-facility. It would not involve new dams, but connect existing reservoirs and recycle water.

The plan had the potential to ensure there would be the needed renewable energy supply for those on the east coast at times of peak demand, Frydenberg said.

Tony Wood, energy program director at the Grattan Institute, cautioned that the plan would involve technical and economic issues, including whether it could make money, and to what extent it could contribute to solving the short-term power crisis.

“This isn’t some sort of magic panacea,” Wood told the ABC. Some hard-headed thinking was needed on what it would do and how it would work.

Turnbull said: “The unprecedented expansion will help make renewables reliable, filling in holes caused by intermittent supply and generator outages.

“It will enable greater energy efficiency and help stabilise electricity supply into the future,” he said – adding that this would ultimately mean cheaper power prices.

He said successive governments at all levels had failed to put in place the needed storage to ensure reliable supply.

“We are making energy storage infrastructure a critical priority to ensure better integration of wind and solar into the energy market and more efficient use of conventional power.”

Turnbull said an “all-of-the-above” approach, including hydro, solar, coal and gas, was critical to future energy supplies.

Snowy Hydro already provided back-up energy to NSW and Victoria and could extend to South Australia when expanded, he said. The expansion would have no impact on the supply of irrigation water to NSW, South Australia and Queensland.

The feasibility study for the expansion is expected to be completed before the end of this year, with construction starting soon after, he said.

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Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

The case for holding politicians to the same disclosure standards as company directors



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Cory Bernardi was recently caught up in a dispute over whether he had correctly disclosed a property he owns.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Bede Harris, Charles Sturt University

Recent commentary on the rules governing politicians’ declaration of financial interests has highlighted the ease with which they are circumvented and the laxity with which they are enforced. The Conversation

Senator Cory Bernardi was recently caught up in a dispute over whether he had correctly disclosed a A$1 million commercial property he owns in South Australia. He denies any wrongdoing and says he complied with the rules.

There are differences between the regimes governing politicians and directors of public companies; the former relate to assets whereas the latter govern transactions. But they both serve the same end – ensuring transparency and reducing the risk of conflicts of interest.

Why, then, are the rules so lax for politicians?

Why MPs aren’t pursued

Parliamentary rules require MPs declare a broad range of interests. They must also declare interests they are “aware” are held by their spouses and dependant children.

Politicians file interests late – sometimes only after media exposure. They frequently disregard the rules relating to minor assets and defy the rule relating to reporting spousal assets. The requirement of awareness in relation to family assets makes ignorance an easily available defence.

However, the chief problem is enforcement. The relevant law says events occurring within parliament, which would include breaches of financial disclosure rules, cannot be judged by the courts.

This rule is important because it protects free debate. But it ultimately makes the enforcement of internal parliamentary rules subject to political forces rather than purely legal considerations. This is because of how parliament’s internal processes work.

The initial decision on whether an MP has acted in contempt of parliament – for example, by failing to declare assets – is made by the relevant house’s privileges committee.

The government has a majority on the House of Representatives committee, so there is obviously little chance it will find against one of its own MPs. And even if a committee does make an adverse finding, it amounts only to a recommendation. It is up to the entire house (in which, again, the government has a majority) to make the final decision as to whether contempt has occurred and, if so, what punishment to impose.

Where an opposition MP is under the spotlight, a finding of contempt is theoretically more likely. But the reason this is only theoretical is that a party with a majority is aware the time will come when it will lose that majority. For this reason, it will not want to establish a precedent that can later be used against it.

So, it is in the interests of both major parties not to pursue contempt matters too vigorously.

This was strikingly illustrated in 2002, when former defence minister Peter Reith refused to appear before a Senate committee investigating the “children overboard” affair. On the face of it this amounted to contempt. Also, the Coalition parties did not hold a Senate majority. But Labor refrained from compelling Reith to give evidence or face contempt proceedings.

The upshot is there is no real likelihood MPs will face punishment for breaching financial disclosure rules. All that happens is they are allowed to “correct the record” – which makes failure to disclose essentially risk-free.

Company directors face stringent requirements

Contrast this with the requirements imposed on directors of public companies.

If any “related party” of a company – including a director, their spouse, child, parent or other company that any of these parties controls – wants to enter into a transaction with the director’s company, the shareholders’ permission has to be obtained in advance.

So, for example, if the father of a director wanted to purchase a vehicle owned by the company of which she was a director, the shareholders would have to approve the transaction before it took place.

Most importantly, any person involved in a breach of the rules is subject to a civil penalty of up to A$200,000 if the breach is not dishonest (that is, if it is unintentional), and faces criminal prosecution and a fine of up to A$200,000 and/or imprisonment for five years if the breach is intentional.

The consequences of MPs breaching financial disclosure rules could easily be toughened by amending the relevant law. Breaches should be subject to normal court proceedings, rather than being left to parliament’s dubious procedures. There should also be a penalty regime mirroring that applicable to company directors.

Bede Harris, Senior Lecturer in Law, Charles Sturt University

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

Australians could get faster broadband with more kerbside NBN connections



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The National Broadband Network comes to Hobart.
STRINGER Image/Shutterstock

Rod Tucker, University of Melbourne

The latest complaints about the National Broadband Network (NBN), including concerns about slow download speeds and frequent dropouts, show that all is not well with the NBN. The Conversation

A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) also flags Australia’s broadband speeds as among the worst in the OECD, beating only Mexico, Chile and Greece in terms of internet speed and penetration.

This raises questions on NBN’s continued use of fibre to the node (FTTN) over a large proportion of the total NBN footprint.

When the coalition government came to power in 2013, it instructed a new NBN management team to stop rolling out fibre to the premises (FTTP) and instead build a multi-technology-mix (MTM) version of the NBN.

But, as predicted, it is becoming clear that the FTTN component of the network is inadequate for Australia’s future needs.

Who’s to blame?

NBN chief executive Bill Morrow has deflected some of the blame for low speeds away from NBN and onto retailers, suggesting that their networks might not be up to the task.

He has correctly pointed that part of the problem is that many customers are opting for cheaper, slower services rather than the more costly faster ones.

In defence of its network, NBN points out that existing slow-speed ADSL services dominate the speed data quoted in the OECD report. It suggests that rolling out the NBN out across the entire country will help to improve Australia’s broadband ranking.

But this argument ignores any future developments in other OECD countries. There are numerous broadband initiatives in the OECD, and many of these initiatives use FTTP networks, which offer much higher speeds than FTTN.

Faster speeds overseas

Worldwide, the proportion of fixed broadband services using FTTP has increased by 77% in the past year and those using copper, such as FTTN, have decreased by 11.6%.

While the OECD and the rest of the world are moving forward with ramped-up FTTP deployments, Australia is moving backwards with its continuing rollout of FTTN.

New Zealand, for example, currently sits three places ahead of Australia in the OECD report. But in New Zealand, the telco and internet provider Chorus is installing FTTP around the country.

It announced in September last year gigabit-per-second services across its fibre footprint, starting at a wholesale price of NZ$60 (A$55) per month. This follows the announcement of gigabit services in Dunedin in 2015.

In Spain, more than one-third of customers have access to FTTP and this fraction is growing. A similar surge in FTTP connections is taking place in France.

In the United States, fibre rollouts are expanding, and countries such as Sweden and Finland already have a large penetration of fibre in their networks. Many countries in Southeast Asia either have rolled out, or are rolling out, high-speed FTTP networks.

One of the reasons why FTTP deployments are expanding worldwide is that newer construction techniques and cabling technologies are driving down the cost of FTTP.

Enter Fibre to the Curb (FTTC)

NBN Co announced last September that it will roll out Fibre to the Curb (FTTC) to around 700,000 premises originally slated to use an upgraded version of the Optus HFC network.

FTTC is a relatively new technology in which fibres link the local telephone exchange to small existing pits in the street, outside a home or business. FTTC potentially provides speeds in excess of 500 Megabits per second.

Up to the pit, FTTC is essentially the same as a FTTP. The key difference is that in FTTC, a small waterproof electronic box in the pit connects the fibre to the existing copper wires that run into the home.

But FTTC is largely untested in large deployments such as Australia’s NBN. So a rollout of FTTC will carry a degree of technological risk.

NBN says it will cost about A$2,800 to roll out FTTC to each premises, which is only $630 more than FTTN. Like FTTP, the cost of rolling out FTTC will decrease over time using newer construction techniques. FTTC and FTTP are both becoming more cost competitive.

With speeds as much as ten times higher than FTTN, FTTC has the potential to improve Australia’s rankings in broadband speeds and accelerate Australia’s transition into the digital economy. These were the original objectives of the NBN.

In a blog post, NBN’s chief network engineering officer, Peter Ryan, says that FTTC and FTTN are closely related, and uses this premise to paint a picture of how easy it will be to upgrade from FTTN to FTTC.

But FTTC has a natural relationship to FTTP and not to FTTN. In FTTN, fibres feed a cabinet on the side of a road that is connected to nearby 240-volt power lines. The power supplies backup batteries and banks of electronics that connect to the premises via the existing copper wires.

In FTTC (and FTTP, for that matter) the expensive powered node is not needed, meaning that the cabinets in the street could have to be trashed when FTTN is upgraded.

In an attempt to bolster its arguments for FTTN, NBN has asserted that those cabinets are “an extremely valuable asset … which can be used for a range of purposes”. But it is very hard to imagine what these purposes could be.

Taking stock

Despite the excitement over FTTC, it’s getting harder to cancel contracts for FTTN and move to a more sensible strategy.

Ryan points out it’s not possible to “tear up 18 months” of FTTN planning as that would only delay some connections for two to three years.

The NBN network is like an enormously long train; you can’t just bring things to a complete stop and change direction, it just doesn’t work that way and never will.

Rod Tucker, Laureate Emeritus Professor, University of Melbourne

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

How the law allows governments to publish your private information



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Controversy has recently surrounded Centrelink and its handling of ‘overpayments’ and personal information.
AAP/Dave Hunt

Bruce Baer Arnold, University of Canberra

Recent controversy over the government’s use of information provided to Human Services and Veterans’ Affairs demonstrates there are major holes in Australia’s privacy regime that we need to fix. The Conversation

Australians are accustomed to providing personal information to federal and state governments. We do it repeatedly throughout our lives. We do so to claim entitlements. We also do so as the basis of public administration – the contemporary “information state”.

In making that state possible we trust we will not be treated as a file number or an incident. We will not be doxed.

A key aspect of that trust, consistent with international rights law since the 1940s, is that our privacy will be protected. We assume officials – and private sector entities they use as their agents – will not be negligent in safeguarding personal information.

We also assume they will not share personal information with other agencies unless there is a substantive need for that sharing – for example, for national security or to prevent harm to an individual. And we expect they will not disclose personal information to the media or directly to the community at large as a way of silencing criticism or resolving disputes.

Australia has a sophisticated body of administrative law and ombudsmen. So, there is no need for public shaming of people who disagree with ministers, officials or databases.

The complicated and inconsistent body of privacy law highlighted by law reform commissions over the past two decades attempts to provide legal protection for personal information. It is overseen by under-resourced watchdogs that – amid threats of termination – are inclined to lick the ministerial hand that feeds them.

That law has major weaknesses, illustrated by the Centrelink controversy and the furore over the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Digital Readiness and Other Measures) Bill. The Commonwealth is able to ignore ostensible protections under the Privacy Act and other statutes. That is quite lawful. It has been so for many years, evident in the watchdog’s finding in L v Commonwealth Agency.

The watchdog’s guidelines state that where someone:

… makes adverse comments in the media about the way [a body] has treated them … it may be reasonable to expect that the entity may respond publicly to these comments in a way that reveals personal information specifically relevant to the issues that the individual has raised.

Put simply, if you complain publicly about a Commonwealth agency that holds personal information relating to you, that agency can lawfully give the information to the media or publish it directly. It can do so to correct what the minister deems to be “misinformation”.

There is no requirement that your complaint be malicious, fraudulent, vexatious or otherwise wrong. Disclosure is at the minister’s discretion, not subject to independent review. You have no legal remedies unless it could be proved that the official was malicious or corrupt.

We have seen such a disclosure. The Department of Human Services gave personal information to a journalist for publication about a person who disagreed with action by Centrelink to recover an alleged overpayment of an entitlement.

There has been much discussion in the media and the national parliament about the vigour with which the government is seeking to recover overpayments. Worryingly, it remains uncertain whether many of the alleged overpayments actually exist.

Ongoing changes to entitlements policy, the hollowing out of key agencies by the annual “efficiency dividend” (that is, ongoing cuts to budgets) and problematical design and management of very large information technology projects mean overpayments might not have occurred.

Public disclosure of someone’s personal information thus looks very much like bullying, if not a deliberate effort to chill legitimate criticism and discussion of publicly funded programs.

The veterans’ affairs minister and the shadow minister have apparently not done their homework. The new Digital Readiness Bill – passed in the House of Representatives but not in the Senate – allows the minister to publicly disclose medical and other personal information about veterans. The rationale for that disclosure is to correct misinformation.

Understandably, veterans are unhappy. Legal practitioners and academics wonder about the scope for public shaming through release of department information that might not be correct.

The national Privacy Commissioner has been complacent. Labor’s veterans’ affairs spokeswoman, Amanda Rishworth, has belatedly expressed concern. The minister has simply referred to the establishment of an independent review by the Australian Government Solicitor and his department. It is difficult to understand why privacy wasn’t properly considered before the bill went into parliament.

There are too many loopholes in Australia’s privacy regime. Government agencies also need to toughen up in the face of criticism – legitimate or otherwise – and not respond by bullying people through publication of personal information.

Bruce Baer Arnold, Assistant Professor, School of Law, University of Canberra

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

One Nation’s preference deal in the WA election comes back to bite it


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Pauline Hanson after her One Nation party performed worse than expected at the WA election.
AAP/Rebecca Le May

Narelle Miragliotta, Monash University

One Nation thought it could smell sweet electoral success for much of the Western Australian state election campaign. The Conversation

The party had reason to be confident about its prospects, despite the recent debacle concerning Rod Culleton, the former One Nation and later independent senator found ineligible to stand for parliament.

The party’s founder, Pauline Hanson, had resumed the leadership mantle and had emerged as a high-profile deal-maker in the Senate. Hanson used her profile to support her “down-to-earth, upfront and honest grassroots” candidates by making frequent visits to the state during the campaign.

Polls had the party as resurgent and on track to win up to 13% of the primary vote.

On the strength of its strong performance in the polls, both major parties were reported to have been jostling for One Nation’s preferences. It was the Liberals that sealed the deal in the end. Liberal leader Colin Barnett was unapologetic, even if “uncomfortable”, about the decision.

This deal was significant for One Nation.

The preference pact had the potential to enhance the electoral prospects of One Nation candidates contesting upper house regions.

The deal was also important because it signalled that One Nation was no longer a political pariah. Former Liberal prime minister John Howard defended the preference deal with One Nation on the grounds that “everyone changes in 16 years”. And high-profile Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos argued One Nation are “a lot more sophisticated”.

But the party’s supposed new-found sophistication was rarely on show during the campaign.

Hanson applauded Russian President Vladimir Putin for his patriotism and strong-man persona, but paradoxically likened a policy that made eligibility for certain forms of family payments and childcare benefits contingent on parents vaccinating their children as akin to living in a dictatorship.

“Bloody lefties” within the education system were denounced as the cause of social problems that were afflicting regional towns. Muslims were accused of having “no respect” for Australia, and making preparations to eventually overthrow Australian governments.

The party struggled to contain its candidates. Two were disendorsed and two more resigned during the campaign. Four days before polling day, two former high-ranking party officials who were sacked from the party went public with their decision to take legal action against Hanson for age discrimination.

And three days before the election, there were concerns the party’s how-to-vote cards were not legally compliant.

In a final blow to an already chaotic campaign, Hanson declared the preference deal it had struck with the Liberals had likely done the party “damage”.

What cost the preference deal?

Certainly the result reveals that One Nation failed to perform as strongly as the early opinion polls had predicted. With 67.25% of the lower house vote counted, One Nation attracted only 4.74% of primary votes.

What then does this all mean? Was the preference deal a mistake for One Nation? Can a so-called anti-establishment party enter into a preference deal with an establishment party and survive to tell the story? The prevailing opinion is “no”.

However, let’s consider the claims that have been levelled about the preference deal. The main claim is the preference deal was the primary cause of One Nation’s electoral woes.

There is definitely polling data which shows many voters were opposed to the deal. What is less clear is if this opposition translated into action at the ballot box. If, for example, we calculate (or average) One Nation’s primary vote according to the actual number of lower house seats it contested, then its primary vote is around 8.26%.

While this figure is well short of the early double-digit polling results tipped for One Nation, it suggests that its support did hold up (and this is in spite of an electoral campaign that was chaotic and ill-disciplined).

The second general claim is the idea that a preference deal for either party under any circumstances is tantamount to electoral suicide.

Again, this argument might be something of a stretch. What appeared to actually blight this agreement was the particular electoral and political dynamics that surrounded it, and not the mere fact of a deal being negotiated between the two parties.

The Liberals struck a preference deal that favoured One Nation over its historical alliance partner, the Nationals. While the Liberals might have been justified by its decision, it ultimately proved very difficult to square with the conservative base more generally. The preference deal made a desperate party appear even more desperate.

One Nation agreed to a preference deal with the Liberals even though it proposed the partial privatisation of the electricity utility, a policy One Nation rejected. The planned privatisation of the utility was deeply unpopular, opposed by as many as 61% of voters.

In spite of its protestations to the contrary, One Nation had hitched its wagon to one of the most controversial policy issues of the entire campaign.

It could be argued that under different conditions, this preference deal need not have generated as much collateral damage as this one seems to have caused.

Any damage arising from this preference deal to One Nation is likely to prove fleeting. The party is on track to win two seats in the Legislative Council, most likely with the assistance of Liberal preferences.

In the end, the real danger for One Nation lies not with who it chooses to enter into preference deals with, but how it manages it internal affairs, and the conduct of its elected members – especially its leader.

Narelle Miragliotta, Senior Lecturer in Australian Politics, Monash University

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