NSW election likely to be close, and Mark Latham will win an upper house seat



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One Nation’s Mark Latham will likely win a Senate seat at the NSW election.
Joel Carrett/AAP

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The New South Wales election will be held on March 23. Last week, a Newspoll had a 50-50 tie, while a ReachTEL poll gave Labor a 51-49 lead. At the 2015 election, the Coalition won 54 of the 93 seats, Labor 34, the Greens three and independents two. The Coalition won the two party vote by a 54.3-45.7 margin.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Labor gains in Newspoll after weak economic report; Labor barely ahead in NSW


Since the 2015 election, the Coalition has lost Orange, to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, and Wagga Wagga, to an independent at byelections. The Coalition enters this election with 52 seats, and would need to lose six seats to lose its majority. Labor needs to gain 13 seats for an outright majority. If Labor gains ten seats and the Greens hold their three seats, a Labor/Greens government could be formed.

On the pendulum, the Coalition holds six seats by 3.2% or less. The current poll swing is about 4.8% to Labor, so Labor would be expected to win these six seats, depriving the Coalition of a majority unless they gain a seat held by a crossbencher.

Labor’s difficulty is that the Coalition has no seats held between a 3.2% and a 6.2% margin. On the pendulum, Labor would need a 6.7% swing to gain the ten seats needed for a Labor/Greens majority. This suggests Labor needs to win the two party vote by a 52.4-47.6 margin.

The pendulum is a useful tool, but swings are never completely uniform. Owing to random variation in the size of swings, analyst Kevin Bonham expects a seat outcome of about 44 Coalition, 41 Labor, three Greens and five Others on the current polls. One side or the other could get lucky and win more seats than expected.

The last NSW statewide polls are a week old now. A key question is whether the final two weeks make a difference. The unpopularity of the federal government could assist state Labor.

The Poll Bludger has details of Daily Telegraph YouGov Galaxy seat polls of Goulbourn and Penrith, presumably conducted last week from samples of 530-550. In Goulbourn, there was a 50-50 tie (56.6-43.4 to Liberal in 2015). Primary votes were 38% Liberal, 37% Labor, 8% Shooters, 6% One Nation and 4% Greens. Gladys Berejiklian led Michael Daley as better Premier by 43-30.

In Penrith, the Liberals led by 51-49 (56.2-43.8 to Liberal in 2015). Primary votes were 42% Liberal, 38% Labor, 9% One Nation and 6% Greens. Berejiklian led Daley by 51-30 as better Premier. Seat polls have been very unreliable at past elections.

One Nation’s Mark Latham will win an upper house seat

The NSW upper house has 42 members, with half up for election every four years. The 21 members are elected using statewide proportional representation. The quota for election is low: just 1/22 of the vote, or 4.55%.

NSW uses optional preferential voting for its upper house. A single “1” above the line will only apply to that party’s candidates. Voters may put “2”, “3”, etc above the line for preferences to other parties after their most preferred party is eliminated. To vote below the line, voters must number at least 15 boxes for a formal vote. There is no group ticket voting in NSW.

In the current upper house, the Coalition holds 20 of 42 seats, Labor 12, the Greens four, the Shooters and Christian Democrats two each, Animal Justice one and former Green Jeremy Buckingham has the last seat.

The seats to be elected in 2019 were last up at the massive Coalition landslide of 2011. Eleven Coalition, five Labor, two Greens and one each for the Christian Democrats, Shooters and Buckingham are up for re-election. As the Coalition will not do as well as in 2011, they are certain to lose seats, and Labor is certain to gain.

According to the ABC’s Antony Green, 83% of ballot papers in 2015 were single “1” votes above the line. Owing to the high rate of exhausted preferences, parties with primary votes about 2% win seats. In the four elections since the current system was introduced in 2003, the lowest primary vote to win was Animal Justice in 2015 with just 1.8%, and the highest primary vote to lose was Pauline Hanson in 2011 with 2.4%.

As a result of the low quota for election, One Nation’s lead candidate, former federal Labor leader Mark Lathem, is certain of election. The Shooters are also certain to win at least one seat; they are assisted by drawing the left-most column on the ballot paper. Various left and right-wing micro parties could be fighting it out for the last seats.

SA Galaxy: 52-48 to state Liberals

A year after the March 2018 South Australian election, we have our first SA state poll. In this YouGov Galaxy poll for The Sunday Mail, conducted March 12-14 from a sample of 844, the Liberals led by 52-48 (51.9-48.1 at the election).

On primary votes, both major parties are up at the expense of SA Best. Primary votes were 42% Liberals (38.0% at the election), 37% Labor (32.8%), 7% SA Best (14.1%) and 7% Greens (6.7%). Incumbent Steven Marshall had a 46-26 lead over Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas as better Premier.

Additional national Essential questions

The full report from last week’s national Essential poll is now available. 51% (down two since December and down five since October) thought Australia is not doing enough to address climate change), 27% (up three and up four) thought we are doing enough and 11% (up two and up four) thought we are doing too much. The biggest decline in not doing enough since October was with Coalition voters (down 11 to 34%).

In a question on trust in institutions, there were 5-7 point improvements since September in trust in state parliament, federal parliament, trade unions and political parties. There were 3-4 point declines in trust in federal police, the High Court and the ABC. Police were on top with 66% trust, with the ABC trusted by 51%. Despite a seven-point improvement, political parties are still last on 22%.

Electoral system not at fault for Fraser Anning

In the wake of the far-right terrorist atrocity in Christchurch, there has been much condemnation of independent senator Fraser Anning’s anti-Muslim comments. Anning won just 19 personal votes below the line, so how was he fairly elected?

The whole One Nation ticket had over 250,000 votes or 1.19 quotas in Queensland at the 2016 federal election. Pauline Hanson was immediately elected, and her surplus was passed on to One Nation’s second candidate, Malcolm Roberts, who had just 77 below the line votes. Roberts was then elected on strong preference flows from other populist right parties. When Roberts was disqualified by the High Court in October 2017 over Section 44 issues, his seat went to Anning, One Nation’s third candidate.




Read more:
Final Senate results: 30 Coalition, 26 Labor, 9 Greens, 4 One Nation, 3 NXT, 4 Others


Last week’s Brexit votes

From March 12-14, there were several key Brexit votes in the UK House of Commons. I reviewed these votes for The Poll Bludger. PM Theresa May is threatening hard Leavers with a long Brexit delay if they don’t vote for her deal.

The last paragraph of the linked article about polling is out of date. A Survation poll for The Daily Mail taken March 15 – after the Commons votes – gave Labour a 39-35 lead over the Conservatives. This poll is currently out of alignment with other polls.The Conversation

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

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

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Two ways to fund NSW election promises as property prices crash



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Previous NSW election promises were easily funded. Not so this time.
Shutterstock

Gareth Bryant, University of Sydney and Frank Stilwell, University of Sydney

State elections are always about spending promises, but this time not much is being said about how they will be funded.

Last minute costings on individual announcements tend to rely on the general presumption that the state economy will keep growing and somehow produce the needed revenue.

This is evident in the costings released by the NSW Parliamentary Budget Office, which show that new spending promises from both major parties exceed new revenue promises.

The Labor Party has managed to find some new revenue through increased taxes on luxury cars, boats and vacant properties, while the Coalition has unveiled no new revenue initiatives at all.

While the property market has been climbing this needn’t have mattered that much. But for the past 20 months Sydney prices have been falling. Projected stamp duty revenues are being repeatedly revised downwards. The latest wipes A$9.5 billion off what was expected at the time of the 2017 budget.


NSW state revenue by type, A$ billion


University of Sydney Policy Lab

Austerity, or an alternative?

It’s looking as if the incoming NSW government will need to moderate spending including spending on essential services and infrastructure, but there might be a way out.

Today, we published a new report for the Sydney Policy Lab outlining two ways in which the NSW government can ready its budget for a post-housing boom economy.

Politicians of all parties tell us that fiscal rules create binding constraints for state governments and they are right.

But there are imaginative ways to strengthen state finances and to interpret those constraints.

Alternative 1: taxing residential land

Although land used for holiday homes and rental properties faces land tax, land used for owner-occupied housing is exempt in NSW, meaning as much as A$1 trillion of land is exempt.

It is a source of wealth – one of the few covered by state tax powers – that the budget can no longer afford to ignore.

Extending NSW land tax to owner-occupied residences with safeguards could fund much of the state’s needed service and infrastructure spending and wind back the outsized reliance on stamp duty.

With so many people locked out of home ownership altogether, it would make the tax system fairer.

Alternative 2: redefining ‘investment’

Under NSW budget rules spending on services is defined as cost that needs to be matched by immediate revenue. Spending on infrastructure, often on infrastructure which will later be privatised, is defined as an investment, meaning it doens’t have to be matched by immediate revenue.

It is why there is talk about a squeeze on services in the midst of record spending on infrastructure.

There’s room to change those definitions.

While there are good macroeconomic and budgetary reasons to differentiate day to day spending from investments, much of what is defined as day to day spending is in fact an investment.

There’s no reason why the state’s power to borrow to invest in infrastructure couldn’t also be used to invest in public services like health and education. With a change of rules, governments could borrow to invest in nurses and teachers at interest rates currently reserved for toll roads.

First steps

A practical starting point would be to connect spending on public services to the savings they create in other parts of the state budget, and account for this as the return on the investment.

As an example, “justice reinvestment” could fund programs aimed at reducing Indigenous incarceration out of the savings those programs would eventually deliver in other areas.

The redefinition would remove the present bias towards programs that build only physical infrastructure that has to be paid for later with tolls or privatisations.

Both ideas could help whichever party or parties form government after Saturday’s election, and help NSW. Without them, budgeting will become more difficult.




Read more:
NSW election likely to be close, and Mark Latham will win an upper house seat


The Conversation


Gareth Bryant, Lecturer in Political Economy, University of Sydney and Frank Stilwell, Emeritus Professor, Department of Political Economy, University of Sydney

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

Christchurch attack strains Australian-Turkish relations ahead of ANZAC day


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Weeks ahead of the ANZAC commemoration at Gallipoli, serious tensions erupted between Australia and Turkey, after threatening comments by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the wake of the Christchurch massacre.

Scott Morrison on Wednesday called in the Turkish ambassador to give him a tongue lashing. He demanded a withdrawal of the remarks and the taking down of a nationalist video featuring footage of the Australian gunman’s live stream.

The strength of the Prime Minister’s response has an eye to the emotional place of Gallipoli in the Australian narrative. But he also has to be careful not to cause the Turkish government to respond by hampering next month’s ANZAC commemoration.

President Erdoğan, electioneering at Çanakkale, just across from the Gallipoli peninsula, referred to the massacre, saying: “They test us with the messages they give in New Zealand […] We understood that your hatred is alive […] We understood that you begrudge our lives.”

He said: “Your ancestors came. […] Later on, some of them returned back on their feet, some of them in coffins.

“If you will come here with the same intentions, we will be waiting for you. You should have no doubt that we will farewell you just like your grandfathers”.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters, visiting Indonesia, on Wednesday highlighted that the gunman was “a non-New Zealander, an outsider”.

Peters also said he thought Erdoğan had not known the full facts but “since he’s been apprised, or informed of the facts, he’s made a very conciliatory statement today […] which would stand in stark contrast to what he said the other day.”

In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post Erdoğan has written “all Western leaders must learn from the courage, leadership and sincerity of New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, to embrace Muslims living in their respective countries”.

Peters, who is going to Turkey this week, said when there he would “set any record straight that needs to be set straight as to what went on”.

Attacking Erdoğan’s original comments, Morrison told a news conference they were “highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment”.

Morrison said he had asked for the remarks to be clarified and withdrawn. “I’ve asked for these comments, particularly their reporting of the misrepresented position of Australia on Turkish television, the state-sponsored broadcaster, to be taken down,” he said.

He would wait for the Turkish government’s response – beyond that “all options are on the table”. Asked what these options were, the Prime Minister would not elaborate.

Morrison said he did not accept as an excuse that “things are said in an electoral context”.

The travel advisory for Turkey is under review. People planning to go to Gallipoli should exercise common sense and await further advice, Morrison said. The present advice is for people to exercise a “high degree of caution”.

Morrison said Erdoğan’s remarks were “offensive, because they insult the memory of our ANZACs and they violate the pledge that is etched in the stone at Gallipoli, of the promise of Atatürk to the mothers of our ANZACs. So I understand the deep offence Australians would be feeling about this.

“The comments completely misrepresented the Australian and New Zealand governments’ very strong response to the extremist attack, he said. All Australians had condemned it.

“We have reached out to embrace our Muslim brothers and sisters in New Zealand and in Australia, quite to the contrary of the vile assertion that has been made about our response,” Morrison said.

He said he had spoken with Turkish Australian leaders on Wednesday morning. “They have expressed to me their deep disappointment about these comments. They don’t represent the views of Turkish Australians.

“I am not going to single out the comments of one person and ascribe it to a people, whether in Turkey or across Australia. I don’t think it does reflect the views of the Turkish people, or certainly of Turkish Australians,” Morrison said.

He said Foreign Minister Marise Payne would be speaking to her Turkish counterpart.

The Australian ambassador to Turkey was due to speak with Erdoğan’s advisers.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.

NSW election neck and neck as voters face a 1950s-style ‘I’ll see you and raise you’ campaign


David Clune, University of Sydney

On Saturday, March 23, the people of New South Wales will head to the ballot boxes for a state election. It is looking increasingly close, with polls showing government and opposition neck and neck on about 50% of the two-party preferred vote. This is a decline in the Coalition vote of 4% compared to the 2015 election.

The current campaign is reminiscent of a 1950s “I’ll see you and raise you” one. Government and opposition are engaged in an auction to outbid each other in the amounts committed to schools, hospitals, transport and other basic services. The campaign is one of the quietest in a long time, with little excitement about the respective leaders and no major clash of visions for the future.




Read more:
Mark Latham in the upper house? A Coalition minority government? The NSW election is nearly upon us and it’s going to be a wild ride


Mike Baird’s victory in 2015 laid the foundation for this. The then Coalition leader won a mandate to privatise the state’s electricity network, although sacrificing seats his successor would be glad to have in reserve. The mountains of money produced by this and other privatisations have allowed Premier Gladys Berejiklian to go to the election with a massive war chest.

In addition, the NSW economy is in good shape, performing well compared to most other states. The budget is in surplus and predicted to remain there. Net debt is negative. Unemployment is at a record low.

The Coalition government has a large array of infrastructure projects in progress, including the Westconnex and Northconnex motorways, Sydney Metro – the largest public transport project in Australia – and the CBD and South East light rail. The amount committed for infrastructure over the next four years is just under A$90 billion.

Berejiklian’s pitch is: don’t jeopardise all this by electing Labor. She is keen to remind the electorate of the factional bloodletting, policy paralysis and corruption that marked the final years of the last ALP government in NSW. The release during the campaign of Ian Macdonald, another ex-ALP minister, after his conviction was quashed, assisted the government by putting their misdeeds back on the front pages.

The Coalition also has some significant problems. Overdevelopment is devastating many Sydney suburbs. Residents angry at the disruption to their lives are likely to turn against the Liberals. The premier will not be presiding at many opening ceremonies for infrastructure projects before the election. More apparent are cost over-runs, delays and short-term inconvenience.

The general unpopularity of the federal Coalition government is a handicap for its NSW counterpart. In rural NSW, a belief that the Nationals have neglected voters’ interests could cost the government seats.




Read more:
Low-key NSW election likely to reveal a city-country divide


Opposition Leader Michael Daley struggled at first to gain momentum and attention. His campaign ignited three weeks out from polling day when he took on influential radio commentator Alan Jones over the Sydney stadiums issue. This has been a festering sore for the government since November 2017, when Berejiklian announced that both Allianz Stadium at Moore Park and ANZ Stadium at Homebush would be simultaneously demolished and rebuilt at an estimated cost of A$2.5 billion.

The public outcry at what was seen as wasteful expense was so great that she quickly backed off. The rebuilding of Allianz would proceed, but ANZ would now be renovated, saving A$1 billion.

Labor quickly seized on the issue, opposing the demolition of Allianz and coining the effective slogan of “schools and hospitals before Sydney stadiums”.

Jones is a member of the prestigious Sydney Cricket Ground Trust, which controls Allianz and has lobbied strongly for its rebuilding. Daley attacked Jones and promised to sack him and most members of the trust.

Daley instantly became the people’s politician, unafraid to stand up to a powerful broadcaster and an elite board. He put the stadium issue back at the centre of the campaign. It crystallised the perception that the government is more concerned about developers and big business than the community.

But does Daley have anything more positive to offer? There is some policy differentiation.

Labor has promised there will be no more privatisations and will re-regulate the electricity industry. Labor also has stronger policies on the environment and climate change than the Coalition. It will be more generous to the public sector. But the main thrust of Daley’s campaign is: we will give you more of the same but do it better.

The government has 52 of the 93 seats in the Legislative Assembly. The opposition holds 34. A uniform swing of nearly 9%, just under what it achieved at the last election, would be needed for Labor to gain a majority in its own right.

A feature of this poll is the difference between Sydney and the bush. In 2015, Labor picked up most of the low-hanging fruit in Sydney and only a handful of seats are in play this time. In rural and regional NSW, the Nationals face a strong challenge from independents and minor parties.

If the government loses six seats, it will be in a minority. After appointing a speaker, its numbers would drop to 45. The crossbench would be in a crucial position.

Currently, there are seven crossbench MPs in the lower house: three Greens, a Shooter and three independents (Alex Greenwich, Joe McGirr and Greg Piper). The Greens have already indicated they would support the Coalition. Greenwich is on the left and has close links with his predecessor, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore. The other three are more conservatively inclined. The election of additional crossbenchers would add to the unpredictability.

Daley is hoping the electorate has forgotten about Obeid and that accumulated dissatisfaction with the government will translate into a victory for him. The result hinges on whether voters have lost faith in the Coalition to the extent that they are prepared to trust Labor again.The Conversation

David Clune, Honorary Associate, Government and International Relations, University of Sydney

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

We need more than a website to stop Australians paying exorbitant out-of-pocket health costs



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For some people, high out-of-pocket costs makes it difficult to see a doctor or fill a prescription.
From shutterstock.com

Anthony Scott, University of Melbourne and Peter Brooks, University of Melbourne

In an attempt to crack down on specialists charging exorbitant fees, the Morrison government has pledged to create a website listing individual specialists’ fees.

The website is voluntary and doctors will post their own fees. Patients will be able to compare doctors whose fees are listed, and the searchable website will have a special focus on the high fees in gynaecology, obstetrics and cancer services.

The announcement, made on Saturday, follows the release of a ministerial advisory committee’s report on out-of-pocket costs, which the government has had since November.

But while the website is a good first step, transparency alone is unlikely to be enough to ensure Australians aren’t forgoing care because of high costs.




Read more:
More visits to the doctor doesn’t mean better care – it’s time for a Medicare shake-up


What’s the problem?

A central problem is the lack of transparency around out-of-pocket costs. Patients are typically unaware of the full out-of-pocket costs they might incur at the time of referral and admission.

The Consumers Health Forum’s recent report found Australian consumers face higher than average out-of-pocket costs compared to most countries. This translates into people often avoiding visiting a GP or specialist and failing to fill scripts due to cost.

A report from the Grattan Institute using data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows many people already miss out on health care because of cost: 5% skip GP visits, 8% don’t go to a specialist, 8% don’t fill their prescription and 18% don’t go to the dentist. This will happen more if fees go up.

Those who avoid care because of cost are often those most in need, leading to concerns about equity of access. Delaying or foregoing care means when people do visit their doctor, their condition may be much worse than if they had presented earlier. This can affect long-term health outcomes and lead to higher costs over time.




Read more:
Many Australians pay too much for health care – here’s what the government needs to do


“Value” is also about providing information on the various options for care, including the evidence base of the treatments offered, waiting times for various providers, and how the quality of care might vary between the options.

Consumers, with the help of GPs where necessary, should be able to assess these trade-offs to arrive at a decision that works best for them.

But patients know little about the quality of care provided when they are offered treatment or even whether they will really get better as a result.

Significant numbers of procedures and treatments performed on patients in Australia are considered “low value care” – when treatments have little effect on health outcomes, and may even cause harm. Recent estimates for New South Wales public hospitals suggest that between 11% and 20% of treatments involve low-value care.

These issues are being tackled through the Choosing Wisely campaign which is increasing awareness of tests and treatments that are of low value and may cause harm.

The Medicare Benefits Schedule Review Taskforce is also reviewing how these procedures are funded through Medicare.

This website will make specialist fees publicly available to consumers – but only if the specialists choose to list their fees.
From shutterstock.com

Your right to know the costs of care

What are your rights as a patient in relation to the costs of medical treatment?
At present, it seems consumers have very few.

There are no consistent enforceable guidelines on health-care providers to provide information on costs. Voluntary codes of practice are in place to encourage fee transparency but cannot be enforced.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman’s website provides guidelines on informed financial consent in health care. Unfortunately these place the onus to gather the relevant information on the costs of care on consumers:

You should ask your doctor, your health fund, and your hospital about any extra money you may have to pay out of your own pocket, commonly known as a “gap” payment.

Health professionals should be required to provide information that will assist consumers make informed decisions.

Why we need more than a website

Gathering information on specialists’ fees and making sense of it is an enormous burden to place on vulnerable patients. This is especially the case for the elderly and those with little education who are reluctant to appear to question their trusted doctor.

We don’t know how effective a website of usually charged fees will be and who will use it. It’s possible it will advantage the rich by increasing their access to information, while not increasing access for poorer consumers.

Published fees may also be used by other doctors to set fees, and could potentially increase fees, if they see their prices are lower than others.

The onus should be on clinicians, and the system, to give patients easily accessible and digestible information as part of the service they provide.




Read more:
Specialists are free to set their fees, but there are ways to ensure patients don’t get ripped off


If health professionals cannot provide and interpret these costs to patients, we need to consider other trained workers – health “cost navigators” – who could advise patients as to how to decide on the best treatment for the best price.

The issues of out-of-pocket expenses are serious. They threaten the sustainability of our health system and adversely influence health. We need to ensure patients don’t face prohibitive costs that discourage them from treatment or force them into debilitating financial straits.The Conversation

Anthony Scott, Professor, University of Melbourne and Peter Brooks, Professor, Centre for Health Policy, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne

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

What the next government needs to do to tackle unfairness in school funding


Peter Goss, Grattan Institute

School funding debates in Australia are complex and messy. Stakeholders routinely complain about being hard done by. But the real unfairness is that state schools get less government funding than governments themselves say the schools need, and will continue to do so.




Read more:
Explaining Australia’s school funding debate: what’s at stake


Meanwhile, many private schools are already funded at 100% of their target level, and the rest are on the way.

This fails the playground test: the lament of a five-year-old when an adult says one thing and does another. Australian school funding is unfair because it doesn’t live up to its own rules and standards.

School resources

Needs-based funding has broad public and political support. David Gonski’s 2011 report stated differences in educational outcomes should not be the result of differences in wealth, income, power or possessions. It’s written in legislation, which defines each school’s target level of government funding, or Schooling Resource Standard.

Under the SRS, every student receives a base amount of funding. When parents choose a non-government school, base funding is reduced according to their capacity to contribute. Students with higher needs attract more funding, regardless of their parents’ capacity to contribute.

No model is perfect, but the structure of the SRS is sound. Schools get more money if their students need it.

Parents can (generally) afford to exercise their right to choose, because non-government schools that serve disadvantaged communities are nearly fully funded by government. Meanwhile, taxpayers save money – at least in theory – when parents opt out of the state school system.




Read more:
Gonski 2.0: Is this the school funding plan we have been looking for? Finally, yes


Of course the formula could be improved. The SRS is long overdue for a refresh.

A proposed new model for calculating parent’s capacity to contribute, based on their family income, still needs to be finalised and legislated. But it’s clearly fairer than the previous model based on where families lived.

Looking beyond the formula, the federal Coalition’s A$1.2 billion Choice and Affordability Fund should go. It subsidises low-fee private schools even when parents can afford to pay their way. And education systems (such as Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican, plus state education departments) need to better account for how they distribute the funding they receive as a lump sum.

Theory doesn’t necessarily translate to practice

But these issues pale in comparison with the gap between funding theory and funding practice.

Very few schools actually get their target level of government funding. Most schools get less, some much less. A few schools get more. And a handful of high-fee private schools – the schools least in need of extra cash – get nearly three times what the formula says they need.

The discrepancies are not random. Government schools educate the bulk of disadvantaged students, but in 2017 were funded at 90% of SRS on average. The non-government school average was about 95%.

Recent analysis by the ABC shows the funding gap grew over the past decade. Because parents pay fees, non-government schools should never get more public dollars per student than comparable government schools. A decade ago, one in 20 private schools did. By 2016, it was more than one in three.

What about the coming decade?

Under the Coalition’s 2017 legislation, federal funding will transition to 80% of SRS for private schools and 20% for government schools. It will be consistent across states – a big improvement. And overfunded schools finally lose funding, something Labor never managed to achieve.

The 2017 legislation also requires minimum contributions from state governments. But based on the recently signed National School Reform Agreement, it looks like most government schools will be stuck at 95% of their target level (20% federal funding, 75% state), while private schools will hit 100% (80% federal, 20% state).

And there’s one last sting in the tail. The National School Reform Agreement allows state governments – for the first time – to claim depreciation, transport and part of their expenditure on regulatory authorities as up to 4% of their contribution to school funding. But only for government schools. This reduces effective funding for government schools by about A$2 billion per year by 2027.




Read more:
Explainer: how does funding work in the Catholic school system?


Under Coalition policy, the effective funding for each state school will plateau at 91% of SRS, while non-government schools get full whack. Private schools serving disadvantaged students will continue to get more taxpayer dollars than similar government schools. As a five-year-old might say, it’s not fair.

Labor is on course to deliver fairer funding, having committed to building on the 2017 legislation. Labor should lock in the new model for calculating parents’ capacity to contribute, instigate a broader review of the SRS formula and abolish the Choice and Affordability Fund.

Labor has also promised A$14 billion extra for government schools over a decade. This would lift the federal contribution to 22.2% of SRS by 2022. Yet government schools would still be underfunded relative to SRS, especially if states could continue to count depreciation, transport and regulatory expenditures as if they represented real money for schools.

If Labor wins the 2019 federal election, it should leverage its budget war chest to renegotiate the national agreements so states can no longer claim depreciation, transport and regulatory expenditures as part of their schools funding. That would put government schools on track to reach 97.2% of SRS. Not quite full funding, but within touching distance.




Read more:
FactCheck: does Victoria have Australia’s lowest rate of public school funding?


For an average government school, the difference between 91% and 100% of SRS is about A$1,500 per student per year. With just half of that money, a typical state primary school could employ two dedicated instructional leaders to improve teaching practice and pay for relief time for other teachers to work with them. Fair funding just might transform the education of the children at that school and the thousands of schools like it.The Conversation

Peter Goss, School Education Program Director, Grattan Institute

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

View from The Hill: A truly inclusive society requires political restraint



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“Standing against hate” requires robust leadership from the politicians.
AAP, CC BY-NC

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Terrible tragedies test leaders to the full. Anyone watching from afar must be impressed with the way in which Jacinda Ardern has dealt with the aftermath of the Christchurch horror.

Ardern has kept her shocked population regularly updated, walked the talk in her embrace of the country’s Muslim community, flagged policy changes in relation New Zealand’s gun laws. She’s radiated deep compassion while publicly holding her emotions under control.

Friday’s atrocity would inevitably hit Australians hard, given the two countries’ “family” relationship. But we’ve been dragged much closer to it because the white supremacist perpetrator is an Australian.

On top of that, a federal politician has made appalling and shameful comments.

Senator Fraser Anning, ex-One Nation, who became notorious for using the words “final solution” when urging a popular vote on immigration, in his Friday statement declared Islam “the religious equivalent of fascism”, and said that “just because the followers of this savage belief were not the killers in this instance, does not make them blameless”.

A day later, when he was he was “egged” by a 17-year-old while appearing in Melbourne, Anning knocked the youth to the ground.

Unsurprisingly, some would have liked to see Anning expelled from the Senate for his comments.

The Senate doesn’t have the power to throw him out, but it would be a bad course anyway, setting an unfortunate precedent as well as making him a martyr in the eyes of the extreme right.

The voters will dispatch him soon. Before that, the Senate will denounce him, with government and opposition releasing a bipartisan motion on Sunday for when parliament resumes on April 2 for its final week. The motion censures Anning “for his inflammatory and divisive comments seeking to attribute blame to victims of a horrific crime and to vilify people on the basis of religion”.

It also “calls on all Australians to stand against hate and to publicly, and always, condemn actions and comments designed to incite fear and distrust”.

“Standing against hate” requires robust leadership from the politicians.

Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten have done what they should, and what you’d expect, in the immediate wake of the NZ attack.

Morrison’s language was direct and accurate, describing the assailant as “an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist”.

The Prime Minister and Opposition leader, and other leading politicians attended gatherings of the Muslim community.

Morrison signalled that the big internet companies need to act, after the gunman’s live streaming took time to be removed.

But is this enough? The NZ attack has opened debate about extremism and what is likely to give or deny it succour in this country.

The countering of extremism of all sorts demands action on many fronts. One of them goes to political culture – that politicians should eschew the low road that self-interest too often leads them to take. The same, incidentally, should go for those in the media.

We must put in a reality check here: history tells us it is impossible to guard absolutely against attacks from fanatics of whatever variety.

And we have to recognise also that in this battle the internet, for all its virtues, is a formidable enemy. It fertilises the spread of extremist ideologies of all brands. It both enables and encourages unbridled outpourings of hate.

Those with extreme views and seeking attention have a communications route and reach inconceivable when there was little more than the mainstream media, with its filters.

The internet is the convenient medium but it’s today’s political climate that is providing the environment for intolerant views to be given wider expression and greater legitimacy.

The culture wars and identity politics, favoured by right and left respectively, have sliced and diced the community, fracturing it rather than uniting it.

They rewrite the past, define the present, and poison the future.

The resulting conflicts and divisions are frequently marked by a degree of intensity and absolutism that carries risks for the public good.

In recent years politicians and commentators on the right have become preoccupied with what they see as restrictions on free speech.

But the commitment to “free speech”, admirable in itself, becomes dangerous when it morphs into a cover for hate speech or the targeting of minorities.

The Coalition government has itself been torn on the issue, as shown by its internal tensions over section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Now we have its chopping and changing on an entry visa for provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos for a speaking tour.

Despite the Home Affairs department telling Yiannopoulos he might not pass the “character test”, Immigration Minister David Coleman, granted him the visa.

But following Yiannopoulos posting an offensive comment about the NZ attack, Coleman announced at the weekend he would not be allowed to come.

An increasingly polarised media has seen the right wing commentariat become more strident and minor political players from the far right gain inflated prominence.

Immigration has always been a sensitive issue and successive waves of migrants have had their adjustment challenges. But immigration has become infused with ideology, and often a lightning rod for cultural complaint and bigotry, open or thinly disguised.

Discussion of immigration these days focuses minimally on its nation-building side, and frequently homes in on Muslims, stoking fears both of and in that community.

Among the mainstream right of politics, fuelling them-versus-us sentiments has been widely used as a political tactic.

This has been seen in the government’s blatant exaggeration of the consequences that could flow from the legislation passed by parliament to facilitate medical transfers from Manus and Nauru, and in its
targeting of Labor’s plans to boost the refugee intake.

Earlier there was Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s extraordinary claim that Victorians were “scared to go out to restaurants” because of “African gang violence”.

Bile flows freely when shock jocks get together with their political favourites, a regular feature of the airways today.

Australia has always had a particularly robust brand of adversarial politics but it has reached the stage where it is in desperate need of some tempering and self-discipline from political offenders.

The desirable immigration level, the appropriate size of the refuge intake, and the like are legitimate matters for vigorous debate. But politicians (and media) should conduct those arguments much more responsibly than at present if they are serious about “standing against hate”.

A multicultural society will always require careful curation. It needs constant vigilance, general restraint and the avoidance of inflammatory language and claims for short-term political gain.

It’s no good being inclusive one day and shrill and politically expedient on another.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.

Christchurch attacks are a stark warning of toxic political environment that allows hate to flourish


Greg Barton, Deakin University

When lives are tragically cut short, it is generally easier to explain the “how” than the “why”. This dark reality is all the more felt when tragedy comes at the hands of murderous intent. Explaining how 50 people came to be killed, and almost as many badly injured, in Christchurch’s double massacre of Muslims at prayer is heartbreaking but relatively straightforward.




Read more:
Christchurch mosque shootings must end New Zealand’s innocence about right-wing terrorism


As with so many mass murders in recent years, the use of an assault rifle, the ubiquitous AR15, oxymoronically referred to as “the civilian M-16”, explains how one cowardly killer could be so lethal.

It was much the same in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando three years ago, when one gunman shot dead 49 people in a crowded space and, though the motive appears very different, the same sort of military instrument of death lies behind the 58 deaths in Las Vegas a year later. An AR15 was used to shoot dead 11 worshippers in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue last October and a similar weapon was used to kill six people in a Quebec City mosque in January 2017.

It is a credit to the peaceful nature of New Zealand society that, despite the open availability of weapons like the AR15, the last time there was a mass shooting was in 1997. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rightly identified reform of gun laws as one of the immediate outcomes required in response to this tragedy.

But lax gun laws are arguably the only area in which blame can be laid in New Zealand. Ardern, together with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, was also right to refer to this barbaric act of cold-blooded murder of people in prayer as right wing extremist terrorism driven by Islamophobic hatred.

State and federal police in Australia have long warned that, next to the immediate threat posed by Salafi jihadi terrorism, they are most concerned about the steady rise of right-wing extremism. There has been some comfort in the recognition that the most active right wing extremist groups, and there are many, are disorganised, poorly led, and attract but small crowds.

On the face of it, then, right wing extremism in Australia is nowhere near as serious as the neo-Nazi movements of Europe or the various permutations of white supremacy and toxic nationalism that bedevil American politics. In America, it is conservatively estimated that there were 50 deaths due to terrorist attacks in 2018, almost all linked to right-wing extremism.

In 2017, it is calculated that there were 950 attacks on Muslims and mosques in Germany alone. Many of last year’s attacks in America involved a common right wing extremist hatred of Islam, and a targeting of Muslims, joining a long-standing enmity towards Jews.

Almost all recent terrorist attacks have been lone-actor attacks. They are notoriously difficult to predict. Whether inspired by Salafi jihadi Islamist extremism or right wing extremism, lone-actor attacks commonly feature individuals fixated on the deluded dream of going from “zero to hero”.




Read more:
Comic explainer: what is lone-actor terrorism?


One of the main reasons authorities struggle with identifying right wing extremist “nobodies” who post online, before they turn to violence, is that it’s difficult to pick up a clear signal in the noise of a national discourse increasingly dominated by exactly the same narrative elements of mistrust, anxiety, and a blaming of the other.

In Australia, as in Europe and America, mainstream politicians and mainstream media commentators have increasingly toyed with extremist ideas in the pursuit of popularity. Many have openly brandished outrageous ideas that in previous years would have been unsayable in mainstream political discourse or commentary.

Donald Trump can be deservedly singled out for making the unspeakable the new normal in mainstream right wing politics, but he is hardly alone in this. And sadly, for all of the relative civility and stability of Australian politics, we too have now come to normalise the toxic politics of fear.

No-one put it better than The Project host Waleed Aly in saying that Friday’s terrorist attacks, although profoundly disturbing, did not come as a shocking surprise. Anyone who has been paying attention and who really cares about the well-being and security of Australian society has observed the steady growth of right wing extremist and right supremacist ideas in general, and Islamophobia particular.

They have seen the numerous attacks on Muslims and Jews at prayer and worried about the day when the murderous violence that has plagued the northern hemisphere will visit the southern hemisphere. But more than that, they have worried about the singling-out of migrants, and in particular asylum seekers, African youth and Muslims as pawns to be played with in the cynical politics of fear.

Scott Morrison is right to say these problems have been with us for many years. But he would do better to point out that our downward trajectory sharply accelerated after John Howard’s “dark victory” of 2001. The unwinnable election was won on the back of the arrival of asylum seekers on the MV Tampa in August followed by the September 11 attacks, and at the price of John Howard and the Liberal party embracing the white supremacist extremist politics of Pauline Hanson.

Both major parties, it must be said, succumbed to the lure of giving focus groups and pollsters the tough language and inhumane policies the public appeared to demand and reward. We are now beginning to see the true price that we have paid with the demonising of those arriving by boat seeking asylum, or looking too dark-skinned, or appearing too religious.

The result has been such a cacophony of hateful rhetoric that it has been hard for those tasked with spotting the emergence of violent extremism to separate it from all the background noise of extremism.

There are, of course lessons to be learned. Authorities need to do better. We can begin with a national database of hate crimes, with standard definitions and robust data collection. Clearly, we need to pay attention to hateful extremism if we are to prevent violent extremism.

But ultimately, we need to address the permissive political environment that allows such hateful extremism to be promulgated so openly. The onus is on commentators and political leaders alike. They cannot change the past, but they will determine the future.The Conversation

Greg Barton, Chair in Global Islamic Politics, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

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

The psychology of fear and hate, and what each of us can do to stop it



File 20190316 28468 1elsvdi.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has travelled to Christchurch after yesterday’s terror attacks.
NZ Prime Minister’s office, CC BY-SA

Stephen Croucher, Massey University

As an immigrant to New Zealand, I am saddened and outraged by the events in Christchurch. The apparent innocence of New Zealand has been stripped away by acts of cowardice and evil.




Read more:
Christchurch mosque shootings must end New Zealand’s innocence about right-wing terrorism


Police remain on high alert and authorities are still responding to events following the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch that took the lives of 50 people and seriously injured many more. Three people have been arrested, and one, an Australian living in New Zealand sporadically, has appeared in court on murder charges.

My research focuses on how members of a majority perceive a growing immigrant population, and what we can all do to keep fear and hatred in check.

Migrants target of hate

The alleged gunman (whom the Conversation has chosen not to name) is a self-identified white supremacist. Before the attacks he posted an 87-page manifesto online. In his manifesto and social media accounts, he refers to the rise of Islam, and to towns and cities being shamed and ruined by migrants.

He posts photos of ammunition, retweets alt-right references and praises other white supremacists. The manifesto includes references to “white genocide,” which is likely a reference to a conspiracy theory embraced by the alt-right and white supremacists that “non-white” migration dilutes white nations.

The gunman’s motivations seem to echo those of other white supremacists who have committed similar atrocities: the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, the Charlottesville attacker, the Charleston church shooter, and attackers in Sweden, Quebec and Norway.

In each of these cases, the attackers voiced hatred toward minorities or immigrants and expressed a belief that their way of life, the “white” way, was being destroyed by these groups who were infiltrating their societies.

Over the past decade, my team has conducted research in India, France, Finland, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, analysing how members of the dominant group perceive minorities and immigrant groups. The research has shown that many dominant group members, often white Christians in the countries studied, express fear of immigrants in their nations. In particular, respondents have voiced fear of immigrants changing their cultural, political, and economic way of life.




Read more:
Hearing hate speech primes your brain for hateful actions


Combating fears to reduce hate

Normally such fears are benign and lead only to misunderstanding or lack of interaction. But as we have seen too often, they can lead to prejudice, hatred and much worse.

Recently, such fears have become more visceral with the proliferation of social media platforms. With the use of social media, individuals can easily find others who share their feelings, and therefore not feel alone. The ability to find a community that shares one’s feelings provides a sense of security and validates ones fears and feelings of hate.




Read more:
Why news outlets should think twice about republishing the New Zealand mosque shooter’s livestream


In our increasingly connected world, it’s essential we take steps to combat these fears to reduce the chances of such atrocities happening in the future. First, how families talk about minorities and immigrants is critical. In work that we conducted in Finland, we found prejudicial opinions of Finns toward Russian immigrants are largely shaped during adolescence. It’s incumbent upon parents to be role models for their children and adolescents and to promote tolerance and mutual respect early.

Second, in an increasingly computer-mediated world, it is our shared responsibility to challenge racist and hateful cyber messages. If you see a YouTube clip that you deem abusive or offensive, report it.

Third, the more contact we have with each other and learn about one another, the less likely we are to fear one another. This may sound trite, but the more we know about other groups, the more likely we are to pass that information onto one another and improve overall social cohesion. In turn, we are better able to identify and challenge those bent on dividing society. It is our collective responsibility as diverse societies to recognise our diversity and to face the psychology of hate that would attack our home and us.The Conversation

Stephen Croucher, Professor and Head of School of Communication, Journalism, and Marketing, Massey University

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

How the next Australian government can balance security and compassion for asylum seekers



File 20190213 90491 j9enr0.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Crossbenchers Kerryn Phelps, Julia Banks and Rebekah Sharkie celebrate the passing of the “Medivac” law through the House of Representatives.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Alex Reilly, University of Adelaide

This is part of a major series called Advancing Australia, in which leading academics examine the key issues facing Australia in the lead-up to the 2019 federal election and beyond. Read the other pieces in the series here.


With a rapidly changing climate and increased instability in the world order, patterns of people movement are likely to change dramatically in the future. It is not a tenable response to isolate Australia from the shocks of these changes.

Sadly, the politicisation of refugee policy since the Tampa crisis of 2001 indicates that our major political parties are incapable of the kind of honest and open decision-making that is required in this complex and vexed policy space. However, the passing of the Kerryn Phelps-led amendments to the Migration Act to facilitate medical evacuations from Manus Island and Nauru may point to a shift in the nation’s mood on the issue.

In the second half of the 20th century, Australia transformed the idea of itself into a multicultural nation. An important part of this story has been Australia’s contribution to the resettlement of refugees.

Australia was the first country outside Europe to accede to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Australia was also an early adopter of the 1967 protocol that extended the convention beyond Europe. Australia’s generous resettlement of refugees under the convention has reinforced its identity as a nation built on migrants.

Australia’s acceptance of refugees remained uncontroversial while the numbers of refugees could be strictly controlled through its immigration program. The first serious challenge to control was the arrival of boatloads of Vietnamese refugees in 1976. However, the Fraser Coalition government maintained control through an arrangement with South East Asian countries that Australia would resettle a high number of Vietnamese refugees if those countries stopped redirecting boats that arrived on their shores back out to sea.

How the Tampa changed Australian asylum-seeker policy

When boats began arriving in larger numbers from 1999 to 2001, the struggling Howard Coalition government used the rescue of 438 asylum seekers by the MV Tampa as an opportunity to implement a more restrictive policy. This included boat turn-backs, offshore processing and detention, and issuing temporary protection visas for people arriving by boat whose applications for asylum were accepted. The boats stopped arriving within months.




Read more:
Australian politics explainer: the MV Tampa and the transformation of asylum-seeker policy


In 2007, the Labor government dismantled these policy settings. Asylum seekers arriving by boat were rescued at sea and processed on the Australian territory of Christmas Island. If they were found to be refugees, they were granted permanent protection visas. This policy was premised on boat arrivals being at similar levels to those experienced previously. But this proved mistaken.

The Norwegian cargo ship Tampa collected 438 stranded asylum seekers and changed Australian policy on the issue.
AAP/Wallenius Wilhelmsen

By 2013, refugee policy was in disarray. In 2012, 17,204 people arrived by boat, rising to 20,587 in 2013. This far outnumbered the planned refugee intake of 13,750 and reinforced the fear that Australia was in danger of being “swamped” by asylum seekers.

Prior to this rapid rise in boat arrivals, the Labor government had attempted to introduce a novel policy response, the Australia-Malaysia asylum-seeker transfer agreement. The Malaysian government agreed to the return to Malaysia of asylum seekers who tried to reach Australia by boat via Indonesia. Malaysia guaranteed housing, education and work rights for these asylum seekers, but also that they would receive no advantage in resolving their application for refugee resettlement.

This arrangement removed the incentive to take a risky boat journey to Australia.
We will never know if it would have stopped the boats, as the High Court held the government did not have the power to implement the arrangement, and the Coalition and the Greens blocked an attempt by the government to amend the Migration Act to provide it with the requisite power.

In mid-2013, the Labor government changed direction radically. It committed to offshore processing for the first time, stating categorically that no asylum seeker reaching Australia by boat would ever be resettled here.

When it was returned to government in 2013, the Abbott Coalition government readily adopted Labor’s policy and added a policy of aggressive boat turn-backs covered in a veil of operational secrecy. It also reintroduced temporary protection visas for the 30,000 asylum seekers who had entered Australia during the six years of Labor government. Within a few months, boat arrivals had ceased completely.

Asylum-seeker policy becomes a national security issue

The current Coalition government has successfully cast refugee policy as an issue of border security. The ministers for immigration, first Scott Morrison and then Peter Dutton, have spun a narrative that any softening of the government’s stance on resettlement would risk relaunching a flotilla of boats.

The line they have drawn is breathtaking in its strictness. The government has been unwilling even to accept New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 refugees a year from offshore detention for fear they will then have backdoor entry to Australia. It has also made it very difficult for asylum seekers to get emergency medical treatment in Australia.

The government’s narrative of border protection does not acknowledge the human cost of long-term offshore detention. Since detention centres on Nauru and Manus were opened in 2014, 3,127 people have been transferred there. As of early February 2019, as a result of third-country resettlements and voluntary returns, about 1,000 remain. The last children on Nauru were resettled in the US in February 2019.




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


Despite strictly controlling access to information from Nauru and Manus, the government has not been able to prevent courageous medical officials bearing witness to the human suffering of refugees. This includes suicides and self-harm, and children simply giving up. It has not been able to prevent Behrouz Boochani using mobile phone messages to write an award-winning book bearing witness to the official strategies used to break the spirit of refugees on Manus Island.

Asylum seeker and journalist Behrouz Boochani wrote the award-winning book No Friend but the Mountains.
Amnesty International handout

Finding a more humane way forward

As on so many policy issues facing Australia, we need an honest discussion on refugees. On the one hand, it needs to be acknowledged that refugees are victims of regimes intent on persecuting them and are deserving (and entitled) to our protection.

As a nation, we continue to have a policy of high levels of immigration, and refugees can be a significant part of our strategy for future prosperity. We have a responsibility not to contribute further to people’s suffering, and thus long-term detention of refugees is untenable.

On the other hand, Australians believe they are entitled to determine who is provided access to the benefit of membership in the Australian state. This being the case, refugee policy must be able to control the number of people who are accepted for resettlement. The most effective mechanism of control is to prevent onshore arrivals by boat and plane, and to use planned resettlement from refugee camps in consultation with the UNHCR.

The unprecedented number of boat arrivals in 2012-13 tilted the equation towards control over compassion. However, there is a sensible middle ground more in line with Australian values.

First, it is possible to resettle all the asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus in Australia expeditiously, without triggering large numbers of boat arrivals. This resettlement must be the immediate priority of a new government. It was never envisaged that refugees would spend up to six years in offshore detention.

Retaining the architecture of offshore detention and processing for the future and the possibility of boat turn-backs is more than adequate deterrent to prevent people risking the perilous journey to Australia by boat. The Coalition governments in 2001 and 2013 demonstrated that if this proves to be wrong, introducing a hard-line policy can stop the boats very quickly.

Second, all those refugees on Temporary Protection Visas and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas in Australia need to be offered permanent protection. Temporary visas create a huge psychological and social burden on refugees in Australia, with no benefits.

Third, the movement of refugees, particularly from the Middle East, through South East Asia to Australia is a regional problem. The Australian government needs to resume discussions with Indonesia and Malaysia about a more nuanced solution.

With the Coalition cutting through with its narrative of fear of invasion and Labor still spooked by policy failure during its previous term in government, it has taken independent MPs to begin to push Australian refugee policy to a sensible middle ground.

Kerryn Phelps’ amendment to the Migration Act, supported by Labor and the Greens, provides for the evacuation of asylum seekers and refugees to Australia if two doctors assess that they require medical treatment not available on Nauru or Manus Island. The minister for home affairs retains the power to reject a transfer on security grounds. The law is also limited in its application to refugees already on Nauru and Manus Island.

In parliament, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten framed their positions on the “Medivac” law as a test of character. Morrison focused on the importance of “mettle” and “holding the line”. Shorten focused on “compassion” and “balance”.

The passing of the law ensures refugee policy will be a key election issue once again. The Australian people will determine what version of character prevails.The Conversation

Alex Reilly, Director of the Public Law and Policy Research Unit, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide

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