Australia has the wealth to ensure a sustainable future, but too many people are being left behind



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Many Australians are feeling less secure about the future, despite rising income levels since 2000.
Dan Peled/AAP

Sue Richardson, University of Adelaide

The purpose of our social, economic and political systems is to enable all Australians to lead good lives. Australia is doing well on some fronts. It ranks third out of 188 countries on the UN Human Development Index, which takes into account life expectancy, education and national income per capita. We also rank 19th on national income per capita.

This suggests Australia is rather good at converting national income into social well-being. But a key question is whether we are using our income in a way that will continue to enable all Australians to lead materially, socially and environmentally enriching lives. That is, are we acting in a way that is both fair and sustainable?

A report released by the National Sustainable Development Council, in collaboration with the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, provides robust data on many of the specific indicators related to environmental, social and economic well-being. These indicators give us a clear idea how well we are doing in the important goal of “leaving no one behind” and providing the same opportunities for future generations.

Inequality remains high despite economic growth

A remarkable feature of Australia’s economy is that, with some fluctuations, real income per capita rose by over 40% from 2000 to 2012, but has not increased at all since. This has left many people feeling stressed and disgruntled about living costs.

There is a sense that a high income is not enough to lead a good life – a continuously rising income is needed. Coupled with the high inequality in society and a worsening environmental footprint, it all points to threats to the sustainability of our current standard of living.




Read more:
Growth without direction: How Australia measures up against UN targets


The large rise in income in recent years was accompanied by a decrease in the rates of poverty and material disadvantage, especially before 2013. The increase in the value of the age pension made a material contribution to this. In contrast, the falling relative value of Newstart has had the opposite effect.

Overall, inequality remains high by Australian and international standards. The government continues to play a very important role in offsetting at least some of this inequality. However, this is sustainable only if people remain willing to pay the necessary taxes and support transfer payments to help those with lower incomes.

Australia is also doing well in the health of the population. Life expectancy is among the highest in the world, reflecting comparatively low rates of illness and injury. Good health is supported by a well-resourced, universal healthcare system, substantial gains in reducing deaths from road accidents, and world-leading tobacco control policies.




Read more:
Australia’s UN report card: making progress, could do better on inequality and climate


However, our good health and well-being is challenged by high rates of obesity and alcohol consumption. Further, the proportion of the population experiencing high to very high levels of psychological distress has not fallen. Between 15% and 20% of young and middle-aged women now report having high to very high levels of distress.

And we do leave people behind. Indigenous people have much poorer health and lower life expectancy than the general population – a stain on our society.

Early childhood education is lagging behind, too

Australia is performing well in some areas of education: we have high rates of post-secondary school education, our students consistently perform well in collaborative problem solving, and Australian adults rate well above the OECD average in technological problem solving.

But, again, we’re performing poorly on sustainability. Student performance in literacy, maths and science on the international PISA tests has fallen and the percentage of children aged five who are developing normally in overall learning, health and psycho-social well-being has remained stagnant.

Australia is also a laggard among OECD countries in its public support of early childhood learning and development. The only improvement has been in language skills for children aged five.




Read more:
Australia falls further in rankings on progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goals


In other societal issues, the Monash report showed that Australians are increasingly fearful of violent crime, despite low crime rates. Tougher laws have been introduced in response to this fear of crime, and imprisonment rates have risen significantly in recent years. This fear undermines social trust, which is very hard to recover and is a threat to the sustainability of our social cohesion.

Australia is also lagging on gender equality. Women continue to face far greater economic insecurity than men. This is particularly evident at retirement, when women’s superannuation balances are 42% below that of men’s, reflecting their substantially lower lifetime earnings.

Most disturbingly, the proportion of women and girls subjected to physical, sexual and psychological violence remains unacceptably high. Domestic and family violence remains the leading preventable contributor to death and illness for women aged 18–44.

Australia has done remarkably well on some of its UN Sustainability Development Goals. But there is definitely room for improvement, particularly in the way we are degrading our natural world and key areas of health, education and social inequality. We need to address these threats to sustainability if we’re going to ensure our people enjoy good lives now – and in the future.


This article is part of a series looking at Australia’s progress toward meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, based on a report published by the Monash University Sustainable Development Institute.The Conversation

Sue Richardson, Adjunct professor, University of Adelaide

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

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Influence in Australian politics needs an urgent overhaul – here’s how to do it



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Transparency isn’t a silver bullet, but increasing it would go some way to changing the secrecy around who has access – and how much – to the government of the day.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Kate Griffiths, Grattan Institute; Carmela Chivers, Grattan Institute, and Danielle Wood, Grattan Institute

Public policy should be made for all Australians – not just those with the resources or connections to lobby and influence politicians. And mostly it is. But sometimes bad policy is made or good policy is dropped because powerful groups have more say and sway than they should.

Australia’s political institutions are generally robust, but many of the “risk factors” for policy capture by special interests are present in our system. Political parties are heavily reliant on major donors, money can buy access, relationships and political connections, and there’s a lack of transparency in dealings between policymakers and special interests.

A new Grattan Institute report, Who’s in the room? Access and influence in Australian politics, reveals that access and influence are heavily skewed towards the businesses and unions that have the most to gain (and lose) from public policy.



Grattan Institute, CC BY-ND

Many examples of special-interest influence over policy look contrary to the public interest: special deals for insiders (for example, James Packer’s Sydney casino), interest groups with a seat at the table in deciding how their own industry is regulated (such as pharmaceuticals pricing), and lobby groups blocking reforms that have broad support (such as climate change policy and pokies reforms).




Read more:
Time for the federal government to catch up on political donations reform


Better checks and balances are needed. But the question of what to do about undue influence is tricky. Interests should be able to advocate for themselves, and donate money to support causes they believe in. Lobbying helps to introduce new ideas and reduce the likelihood of uninformed or damaging decisions by those in office. We propose a suite of reforms to reduce the risks of policy capture while still protecting the rights of all individuals and groups to contribute to policy discussions.


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Start with transparency

Transparency isn’t a silver bullet, but it can play an important role in reducing the sway of special interests. Greater transparency means more opportunity for the public, media and the parliament itself to scrutinise the policy-making process and call out undue influence or give voice to under-represented views.

We recommend three key reforms to improve transparency.

  1. Improve the “visibility” of major donors to political parties

  2. Publish ministerial diaries so people know who ministers meet with

  3. Create a public register of lobbyists who have unescorted access to federal Parliament House. These reforms would substantially reduce the secrecy around money and access.

Transparency is not enough on its own – strong voices are still needed to call out problems, and voters still need to hold elected officials to account. But transparency gives them better information to do so.

Boost public trust in politicians

Trust in government is in decline: in a 2018 survey, 85% of Australians thought at least some federal MPs were corrupt. We recommend setting clear standards for all parliamentarians to avoid conflicts of interest – particularly around hospitality, gifts and secondary employment.

Codes of conduct for parliamentarians and lobbyists should be independently administered, to build public confidence that the high standards of public office are respected and adhered to. A separate ethics adviser could also encourage public officials to seek advice when they’re in doubt.

And a federal integrity or anti-corruption body should be established to deal with tips and complaints of serious misconduct. It should be empowered to investigate corruption risks, publish findings, and refer any corrupt activity to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

The best defence against policy capture is healthy public debate

Greater transparency and accountability would help reduce the risk of policy capture by special interests. But ultimately Australia’s best defence is countervailing voices in policy debates. Who’s in the room matters – but who’s not in the room can matter even more.

Consumers, community groups and those less privileged are consistently under-represented in public debate. Our analysis of ministerial diaries in Queensland and NSW shows well-resourced special interests account for the bulk of senior ministers’ external meetings.

People who lack the resources or organisational capacity to band together can struggle to be heard – even when they represent a large chunk of Australian society – taxpayers, consumers, small business and young people, for example. Special interests are particularly likely to win out in technical, niche or complex policy areas because they are more difficult for other groups, voters and the media to engage with.

We suggest two reforms to reduce the influence of well-resourced special interests and promote broader participation in public debate:

First, a cap on political advertising expenditure during election campaigns would reduce the imbalance between groups with very different means to broadcast political views. It would reduce the reliance of political parties on major donors and might redirect communication to less-superficial channels that are conducive to deeper discussion, such as political debates and interviews.




Read more:
Australians think our politicians are corrupt, but where is the evidence?


Second, government can boost countervailing voices through more inclusive policy review processes and advocacy for under-represented groups. This would give politicians better information with which to adjudicate the public interest.

The reforms proposed here are in line with OECD recommended practice. They would strengthen Australian democracy by enabling voters to better hold government to account and could boost the public’s confidence that the system is working for them.The Conversation

Kate Griffiths, Senior Associate, Grattan Institute; Carmela Chivers, Associate, Grattan Institute, and Danielle Wood, Program Director, Budget Policy and Institutional Reform, Grattan Institute

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

Australia’s residential aged care facilities are getting bigger and less home-like



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Residential aged care facilities should be more like a home and less like a hospital.
from shutterstock.com

Ralph Hampson, University of Melbourne

Most older people want to stay at home as long as they can. When this is no longer possible, they move into residential aged care facilities, which become their home. But Australia’s care facilities for the aged are growing in size and becoming less home-like.

In 2010–11, 54% of residential aged care facilities in major Australian cities had more than 60 places, and the size of the average facility is growing.

Today, more than 200,000 Australians live or stay in residential aged care on any given day. There are around 2,672 such facilities in Australia. This equates to an average of around 75 beds per facility.

Large institutions for people with disability and mental illness, as well as orphaned children, were once commonplace. But now – influenced by the 1960s deinstitutionalisation movement – these have been closed down and replaced with smaller community-based services. In the case of aged care, Australia has gone the opposite way.




Read more:
How our residential aged-care system doesn’t care about older people’s emotional needs


Why is smaller better?

Evidence shows that aged care residents have better well-being when given opportunities for self-determination and independence. Internationally, there has been a move towards smaller living units where the design encourages this. These facilities feel more like a home than a hospital.

The World Health Organisation has indicated that such models of care, where residents are also involved in running the facility, have advantages for older people, families, volunteers and care workers, and improve the quality of care.

In the US, the Green House Project has built more than 185 homes with around 10-12 residents in each. Studies show Green House residents’ enhanced quality of life doesn’t compromise clinical care or running costs.

Older people have a better quality of life if they can be involved in outdoor activities.
from shutterstock.com

Around 50% of residents living in aged care facilities have dementia. And research has shown that a higher quality of life for those with dementia is associated with buildings that help them engage with a variety of activities both inside and outside, are familiar, provide a variety of private and community spaces and the amenities and opportunities to take part in domestic activities.

In June 2018, an Australian study found residents with dementia in aged-care facilities that provided a home-like model of care had far better quality of life and fewer hospitalisations than those in more standard facilities. The home-like facilities had up to 15 residents.

The study also found the cost of caring for older people in the smaller facilities was no higher, and in some cases lower, than in institutionalised facilities.




Read more:
Caring for elderly Australians in a home-like setting can reduce hospital visits


There are some moves in Australia towards smaller aged care services. For example, aged care provider Wintringham has developed services with smaller facilities for older people who are homeless. Wintringham received the Building and Social Housing Foundation World Habitat Award 1997 for Wintringham Port Melbourne Hostel. Its innovative design actively worked against the institutional model.

Bigger and less home-like

Historically, nursing homes in Australia were small facilities, with around 30 beds each, often run as family businesses or provided by not-for-profit organisations. Between 2002 and 2013 the proportion of facilities with more than 60 beds doubled to 48.6%. Financial viability rather than quality of care drove the increase in size.

Today, around 45% of facilities are operated by the private for-profit sector, 40% by religious and charitable organisations, 13% by community-based organisations, 3% by state and territory governments, and less than 1% by local governments.




Read more:
It’s hard to make money in aged care, and that’s part of the problem


In 2016, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reported that residential care services run by government organisations were more likely to be in small facilities. One-fifth (22%) of places in these facilities are in services with 20 or fewer places. Almost half (49%) of privately-run residential places are found in services with more than 100 places.

All of this means that more older Australians are living out their last days in an institutional environment.

Once larger facilities become the norm, it will be difficult to undo. Capital infrastructure is built to have an average 40-year life, which will lock in the institutional model of aged care.

The built environment matters. The royal commission provides an opportunity to fundamentally critique the institutional model.The Conversation

Ralph Hampson, Senior Lecturer, Health and Ageing, University of Melbourne

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

Essential reading to get your head around Australia’s aged care crisis



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Almost half of residents in Australia’s residential aged care facilities suffer from depression.
from shutterstock.com

Sasha Petrova, The Conversation

Tonight ABC’s Four Corners will air the first of a two-part investigation into the often shocking treatment of the elderly in aged care homes around Australia.

The timing coincides with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s weekend announcement of a royal commission into Australia’s aged care system. The prime minister said poor standards had led authorities to close one aged centre per month since the Oakden aged mental health home scandal.

South Australia’s Oakden facility closed nearly a year ago, following revelations of abuse and neglect dating back a decade.

While the terms of reference are yet to be determined, the royal commission will likely look into issues already raised by previous inquiries into the sector. These include the changing demands of Australia’s ageing population, staffing ratios, funding levels and the mental health, well-being and safety needs of nursing home residents.

Below are five articles in which our experts have previously explored the complex aspects of Australia’s aged care system, drawing on research which has exposed where the problems are, and have been for some time.

Lack of medical care

Our ageing population, and the focus on helping the elderly stay at home for as long as possible, means by the time people enter aged care they are older and sicker than before. Around half of people living in aged care today have dementia, depression, or another mental health or behavioural condition.

In fact, the proportion of older people requiring high care for complex needs, which includes assistance with all activities of daily living such as eating and bathing, has quadrupled from 13% in 2009 to 61% in 2016.

Yet there is no legal requirement for all aged care facilities to provide 24-hour registered nursing care. In the article below, Jane Phillips, David Currow, Deborah Parker and Nola Ries explore how today’s nursing home residents have minimal access to quality medical care.

1. Australia’s aged care residents are very sick, yet the government doesn’t prioritise medical care

In a separate piece on health care in nursing homes, Sarah Russell has also written:

nursing home providers looking to cut costs are bypassing registered nurses and employing less-skilled personal care attendants (PCAs) who aren’t adequately trained for the job.

2. Here’s why we need nurse-resident ratios in aged care homes


Funding for older Australians to stay at home

Research consistently shows more people want to stay in their own homes as they age. In the 2018-19 budget, the government announced an extra A$1.6 billion over the next four years for an additional 14,000 Home Care Packages. These deliver an agreed set of services to meet the specific needs of aged Australians who want to remain at home.

The government also subsidises a number (currently around 283,000) of residential care places for older people unable to continue living independently.

Aged care subsidies are allocated through a ratio, which aims to provide 113 subsidised care places for every 1,000 people aged 70 and over. This ratio will increase to 125 places for every 1,000 by 2021-22. Within the overall number of places, the government also sets sub-targets for the numbers of Home Care Packages and residential care places.

The government is aiming to amend the ratio in favour of more home care packages. By 2021-22, the target for home care packages will increase from 27 to 45 per 1,000, while the residential target is to reduce from 88 to 78 per 1,000.

But as Professor of Health Economics at University of Technology Sydney, Michael Woods has written, this still won’t be enough to meet demand.

3. There is extra funding for aged care in the budget, but not enough to meet demand


Poor mental health

Older Australians living in nursing homes represent one of society’s most vulnerable populations. More than 50% of residents in nursing homes suffer from depression compared to 10-15% of adults of the same age living in the community.

Recent research conducted by Briony Murphy and Professor Joseph Ibrahim from Monash University’s Health Law and Ageing Research Unit, found around 140 Australian nursing-home residents took their own lives between 2000 and 2013.

The authors found nearly 70% of those who took their own life were male, 66% had a diagnosis of depression and nearly 80% were experiencing one or more major life stresses, such as health deterioration. Around 43% were experiencing isolation and loneliness, and nearly 30% had trouble adjusting to life in a nursing home.

They wrote:

The small proportion of adults over 65 living with depression in the community shows that depression is not a normal part of the ageing process… the much larger figure of those suffering depression in nursing homes raises some serious questions.

4. Too many Australians living in nursing homes take their own lives


Poor oral health

Stories of abuse and neglect in nursing homes have also highlighted the issue of poor nutrition and oral health. In November 2017, the dire state of this was shown in a report of a nursing home resident in NSW who was found with maggots in her mouth the day before she died.

Researchers have long highlighted people living in aged care have substantially poorer oral health and three times the risk of untreated tooth decay than people living in the community.

Bronwyn Hemsley, Andrew Georgious, Joanne Steel and Susan Balandin collated a list of ways family members can help ensure their loved ones’ oral health is adequately looked after. This includes visiting your family member around mealtimes

…or helping the person to eat… Ask the resident permission to look into her mouth to check if she is swallowing or removing leftover food promptly.

5. The shocking state of oral health in our nursing homes, and how family members can help


If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or another mental health problem, contact Lifeline 13 11 14, beyondblue 1300 22 4636 or SANE Australia 1800 18 7263.The Conversation

Sasha Petrova, Deputy Editor, Health + Medicine, The Conversation

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

Labor leads 54-46% in Newspoll that shows slight improvement for government


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government would be trounced at an election held now, although the Coalition has clawed back slightly in the past fortnight and Scott Morrison has improved his lead as better prime minister, according to the latest Newspoll.

The Coalition trails 46-54% in the poll, published in Monday’s Australian, compared with 44-56% in the first two Newspolls after the change of leader. This is the government’s 41st Newspoll loss in a row.

The Coalition’s primary vote is up 2 points to 36%, while the ALP primary vote has fallen 3 points to 39%.

Morrison leads Bill Shorten as better PM 45-32%, compared with 42-36% two weeks ago.

Morrison’s net satisfaction was plus 5; Shorten’s net rating is minus 22. In the previous Newspoll, Morrison’s net satisfaction was plus 2, while Shorten was on minus 14.

The poll comes after Morrison’s burst of intense activity to get on the front foot, including last week announcing a royal commission into aged care, and a multi-billion dollar deal aimed at placating the Catholic education sector, as well as passing tough legislation through parliament in response to the strawberry contamination.




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VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on strawberries, Sudmalis, schools, and the au pair affair


But the Newspoll two party vote remains much worse than the last days of Malcolm Turnbull, and the controversy over his ousting continues.

In an interview on Nine on Sunday night former foreign minister Julie Bishop said she had had many calls from foreign ministers “asking why I’m no longer the foreign minister and what happened to the prime minister?

“They have been some rather unkind comments about Australia being the Italy of the South Pacific and the coup capital of the world,” she said.

Bishop said the change was perplexing “because Malcolm Turnbull was way ahead as preferred prime minister. We were coming back in the polls. It was quite close and there were no deep policy issues that divided the party”, because Turnbull had given way on a number of issues.

Bishop renewed her criticism of parliament’s Question Time, saying it “probably does more damage to the reputation of the political class than any other issue.”

“Question Time is only 70, 80 minutes a day, yet it’s what is televised. So people are concerned that that is what their well paid representatives are doing all day, every day in the parliament.

“They don’t see the thoughtful contributions and the more intelligent speeches that can be given in the Parliament because they’re not televised,” Bishop said.

“I’m afraid that not withstanding the best efforts of the Speaker and the standing orders, there’s far too much throwing of insults, and vicious behavior, name calling, and the like. And the public see that as no better than school children. In fact, not as well behaved as school children,” she said.

On the policy front, Labor at the weekend announced that if elected it would require Australian companies with more than 1000 employees to reveal how much they paid women compared with men.

“The gender gap is stubbornly high. On average, women working full time still get paid almost 15% less than men working full time. It is unacceptable that this has barely changed over the last two decades,” the opposition said.

“Companies already report their gender pay data to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. Labor will make it public”.

In response, Morrison warned of “setting up conflict in the workplace”, while saying he was not ruling out such an idea.

“We’re open to all suggestions but these things are already reported at a sector-wide level and at an economy-wide level.” he said.

Meanwhile Kerryn Phelps, high profile independent candidate in Wentworth, has sought to make the government’s push for religious freedom protections an issue in the byelection.

She challenged the Liberals to say whether the government would release the Ruddock report on the issue before the October 20 vote, pointing out it had been sitting on it for months.

Morrison has flagged he plans to strengthen the law but it is thought the government wants to keep the detail under wraps until after Wentworth. Phelps said she was strongly opposed to any watering down of the anti-discrimination legal provisions.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.

Just a regular Joe (or Bill or ScoMo): how our leaders work hard at being ‘ordinary’



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Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Frank Bongiorno, Australian National University

Is it sufficiently dignified to call a prime minister, as distinct from an immigration minister or treasurer, ScoMo? Is this part of Scott Morrison’s “ordinary bloke” persona? It does sound a bit like Joe Shmoe, which Wikipedia tells me means “no one in particular” and “is one of the most commonly used fictional names in American English”. But it also sounds a bit Hollywood, evoking JLo.

So it may well be the kind of game that virtually every politician with serious leadership aspirations has to play. They need to convince us that they are not so far above us that they are out of touch. (“How much is a litre of milk, Prime Minister?”) Yet when they do present themselves as just like us, we can’t really take them seriously. We do, in the end, expect our leaders to be different.

Each leader plays the game differently. William Shorten is, of course, Bill – who tweeted about doing the shopping with his young daughter on Father’s Day.

Minus the shopping trolley, Robert Menzies and Robert Hawke were both Bob, and William Hughes and William McMahon were Billy. Curtin was Jack to his mates but John to the public. Chifley was Ben to all, and the unassuming Lyons was happy enough with Joe. It was hard to do much with Gough or Paul, and Malcolm Fraser only became Mal when he was being ridiculed. Everyone knew he was no Mal, and nor was Turnbull. “Johnny Howard” was almost never complimentary, especially when preceded by “Little”, and Kevin might have been from Queensland and here to help, but he never became Kev – not even when worrying over the shaking of sauce bottles – any more than Julia became Jules.

Politicians have long fretted over these matters. When Stanley Melbourne Bruce became prime minister in 1923, he issued a note to the press:

Mr Bruce would be very glad if the newspapers would not refer to him by his Christian name, as Mr Stanley Bruce, but always as Mr S.M. Bruce.

Today’s journalists, cartoonists and comedians – to say nothing of one’s political opponents – would be in raptures if a newly minted prime minister issued such a notice. And it was clearly unthinkable that the golf-playing, spats-wearing Bruce would be just plain Stan.

Here is a reminder that there is more than one way of performing the role of Australian prime minister. The late political psychologist Graham Little used to give a set-piece lecture on political leadership at Melbourne University, whose major details I can still recall 30 years later – so it must have been good.

Little thought there were broadly three types. Margaret Thatcher was a “strong leader” – the children’s TV program that demonstrated the style was Romper Room. Boys wore boys’ clothes and looked like boys. Girls wore girls’ clothes and looked like girls. Miss Helena dressed conservatively and had a mirror through which she could keep an eye on us at home. Moral codes were strictly defined, with the help of Mr Do Bee (“Do be an asker. Don’t be a help yourself”). Good conduct included being able to walk around with a basket balanced on your head.

“Inspiring leadership” was exemplified by Gough Whitlam – and Play School. Each, in turn, went out of their way to demonstrate good, inclusive citizenship, and creative, inclusive play, yet without pretending to become an ordinary citizen, or an ordinary child.

Like Miss Helena, Play School leaders were grownups. But unlike her – and like Whitlam – they spoke to their audience of children as intelligent equals, dressed a bit like kids (possibly in overalls, not skirts, for women) and played along with them rather than laying down the law. Big Ted was a more gentle soul than Mr Do Bee – who presumably had a sting. Gender differences are more frankly acknowledged, but explored rather than taken for granted.




Read more:
What kind of prime minister will Scott Morrison be?


And then there were “group leaders”, like Bob Hawke – and Humphrey B. Bear. Humphrey, seemingly male yet somewhat ambiguously defined, runs around without trousers (any resemblance here to an Australian prime minister, living or dead, being purely coincidental). He is also a child, not an adult, and to this extent he shares a common identity with his audience. But they are not entirely deceived: Humphrey’s not really the same as the kids watching at home. In short, he’s rather like Hawke, who at his best convinced us that he was one of us even while being unmistakably “special”.

Not all have even attempted this balancing act. Neither Bruce nor Menzies ever pretended to be everyman, although Menzies occasionally pointed to his humble origins as the son of a country storekeeper. Keating barely made the effort; his adoption of Collingwood Football Club when he became prime minister was widely ridiculed for its cynicism, coming as it did from a man whose interests ran more to classical music and French clocks.

Malcolm Turnbull’s leather jacket, never entirely convincing, did not survive his elevation to prime minister. His persona in the job more resembled a Renaissance Florentine merchant-statesman – albeit without the art or culture, which may well have been Turnbull’s major concession to the common folk.

Like Keating, the very Sydney-ish Morrison is looking south for an AFL club, and he has cultivated what journalist Phillip Coorey calls a “daggy ordinariness”. But his everyman act is already running up against his evangelical Christianity. The classic Australian plain man is not an evangelical.

Russel Ward sketched the “the typical Australian” most influentially in The Australian Legend 60 years ago. He is, Ward writes, “sceptical about the value of religion and of intellectual and cultural pursuits generally”. The latter certainly fits Morrison, but not the former.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Worst reaction to midterm PM change in Newspoll history; contrary polls in Dutton’s Dickson


That said, he leads Shorten as preferred prime minister in Newspoll. It is worth pausing to ask why Shorten, former Australian Workers’ Union leader, has never been able to break through as a personally popular figure. He has clearly modelled aspects of his career on Hawke, but no one would ever accuse him of possessing Hawke’s charisma. He will never approach his stratospheric approval ratings. Perhaps there are too many stories around of his cosy relations with filthy rich businessmen.

He became a national figure on the back of his media profile during the Beaconsfield mine disaster and rescue in Tasmania in 2006, and he campaigned most effectively in the 2016 election. Yet he often seems wooden in front of a camera, as distinct from when talking with ordinary voters. On the couple of occasions I’ve witnessed him deliver prepared speeches, he was engaging if not magnetic, and improved as he warmed to the message he was delivering.

Hawke moved in similar business circles to Shorten, and had his deficiencies as both a public speaker and parliamentary performer. But he was brilliant if unpredictable in a TV interview, before he cut the drinking and learned better to control his temper. His media image in the 1970s, while ACTU president, overwhelmed any popular suspicion that he was in the pockets of the top end of town, although there was a growing chorus of complaints about rich mates during his prime ministership.

Shorten, much more than Hawke, has been damaged by the perception of backroom dealing; with bosses, while a union leader, and over the internecine warfare within the Labor Party. Voters might have a sneaking respect for his doggedness – think John Howard – but they don’t love him and probably never will. Nonetheless, they may well elect him.The Conversation

Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

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

Vital Signs: the GFC and me. Ten years on, what have we learned?



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Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd spent big and spent bold, and it almost certainly kept us out of recession.

Richard Holden, UNSW

A little more than a decade on from the the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the largest bankruptcy in history, many of the world’s advanced economies are only now beginning to recover fully.

I was on the faculty at the University of Chicago at the time and, like many, followed the events of the 2008 US summer with a combination of interest and outright fear.

It is hard to describe how scary the two months around the Lehman bankruptcy were. Two anecdotes convey some of that fear, however.

The first was when I spoke to an economics official in the Obama administration who said: “Go get cash and bottled water. Automatic teller machines might not be working two days from now.”




Read more:
Anniversary of Lehman’s collapse reminds us – booms are often followed by busts


The second reflects just how severely money markets froze up. Goldman Sachs – Wall Street’s most venerable firm – was largely on the good side of trades on credit default swaps, the instruments behind much of the crisis. Yet its stock price was utterly hammered. It wasn’t until legendary investor Warren Buffett sank US$5 billion into Goldman that confidence was restored.

On one day Goldman stock was down by a staggering nearly 50% in intra-day trading. It very nearly went the way of Lehman – all because of what amounted to a modern-day bank run.


Golden Sachs stock price: YahooFinanceChart.


The Obama administration responded with spending (including on tax rebates for households and firms), big interest rate cuts and measures to ensure banks had access to funds. Combined, these helped avoid a repeat of the Great Depression.

When Australia splashed cash

Australia, too, spent big: A$10 billion in October 2008 and a further A$42 billion in February 2009. More than half of the second sum, $A26 billion, went on infrastructure. Another $12.7 billion was spent on cash bonuses, including $900 for every Australian on less than $80,000.

And we cut interest rates, massively, and guaranteed bank deposits.

The International Monetary Fund, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and most good economists think what we did was essential to ensure Australia avoided a severe downturn.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his treasurer, Wayne Swan, deserve a lot of credit.

Yet there are those on the conservative side of politics who claim the stimulus spending was wasteful, not that helpful, and locked in an era of higher government spending.

Wasteful? Not really

As prime minister in 2016, Malcolm Turnbull encapsulated the view that the spending was a waste when he told the ABC’s Leigh Sales: “I think what shepherded Australia through the GFC successfully was the Chinese stimulus and the large amount of cash that John Howard left in the bank.”

Here’s what I think.

The Chinese stimulus helped, but China didn’t do it to help Australia. It did it to help itself, with a happy byproduct being continued demand for Australian resources.

Does Mr Turnbull really think the Chinese government was either mistaken (because stimulus spending doesn’t help) or benevolent (because it wanted to help Australia)? These are not terms normally associated with Beijing.

The “large amount of cash” left by the Howard government was indeed very important. It allowed the Rudd government to spend big without running up huge government debt. As the noted UC Berkeley economists Christina and David Romer have pointed out, using evidence from 24 advanced economies, fiscal and monetary policy “space” is important in ensuring the stimulus programs work.




Read more:
Government spending explained in 10 charts; from Howard to Turnbull


So, yes, Howard’s debt-free budget was important, but only because it gave the government room to spend.

There is an important point here. Namely, that prudent fiscal management through ordinary times is essential in order to build up the firepower to respond in extraordinary times.

Australia still enjoys government debt to GDP that is low by OECD standards, but its growth has been very rapid even in post-crisis years because of the structural gap between government revenues and expenditures. Both sides of politics say they are committed to narrowing it. We shall see.

Space matters

“Space” to act with monetary policy (official interest rates) is also important.

It’s the basis for much of the talk about a “new monetary policy framework” that would lift interest rates from their present lows in Australia and overseas to around 5%. It’s a goal articulately and forcefully argued for by former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. Getting there would give central banks the firepower they might need.

These lessons have been learned to varying degrees, but are now thankfully at least part of the mainstream debate.

And regulation

One thing that everyone should have learned from the financial crisis in general, and Lehman in particular, is the need for effective regulation of financial institutions.

The combination of massive leverage, opaque financial instruments and radical interconnectedness of financial firms in the US was a disaster waiting to happen.

In many ways it still could be.

Republicans in the US want to dramatically roll back the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act introduced by President Obama in response to the financial crisis.

Although far from perfect, it helped de-risk the US financial system.

In Australia the failings of financial regulators play out every day at the Hayne Royal Commission, in excruciating detail.




Read more:
Royal commission scandals are the result of poor financial regulation, not literacy


It entitles us to ask if Australian regulators can’t prevent outright theft by financial institutions, how equipped are they to prevent more complicated transactions that might put the financial system at risk?

The answer is: not very.

We’ve learned some things

A decade after Lehman it’s fair to say we have learned lessons.

We know how to use big and bold fiscal (spending) policy and monetary (interest rate) policy to create a virtuous circle of beliefs that can pull us out of a downturn.

And we know that we need to reload both fiscal and monetary policy in the good times so we are ready for the bad times.

But on financial regulation the US might be about to go backwards, and we never really went forwards.The Conversation

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

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

Quotas are not pretty but they work – Liberal women should insist on them


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Liberal women such as those in the Morrison ministry, pictured here, should organise to achieve structural change – the only kind that ever sticks.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Chris Wallace, Australian National University

It is an historic moment for Liberal Party women. Individual complaints of sexist bullying invariably end with the lone complainant being isolated and getting crunched.

But since the Liberal leadership spill, several women have spoken out and two MPs, Julia Banks and Ann Sudmalis, have foreshadowed their exit from parliamentary politics over it. This post-#LibSpill moment holds immense promise – but only if the collective momentum is seized and built upon.

From Prime Minister Scott Morrison down, Liberal Party men are pushing back against women pressing for cultural change within the party. They don’t want to share power for ideological reasons: conservative men like women to know their place, and that place is not in the House of Representatives or the Senate. This ethos is intensifying as fringe and evangelical Christians make ever deeper inroads into Liberal Party branches and preselection processes.

Respected Liberal women like former Liberal Party vice-president Tricia Worth and former Liberal senator Sue Boyce have poured scorn on the internal party mechanisms proposed so far to deal with the problem. They point out the implausibility, for example, of making a bullying complaint to Victorian Liberal Party president Michael Kroger who denies such bullying exists.




Read more:
A ‘woman problem’? No, the Liberals have a ‘man problem’, and they need to fix it


Liberal Party women face an immediate choice. They can be cowed by the “quota girl” sledge of hostile male colleagues, and other unsupportive comments by these men’s female enablers such as NSW Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.

Alternatively, Liberal women can organise to achieve structural change – the only kind that ever sticks – arguing that if it’s good enough for “quota boys” like Senator Abetz and Michael McCormack, quotas are all right by them too.

Practical politics runs on quotas. They are the tool of last resort when dominant powers refuse to share power fairly or could refuse to in the future. They work.

The most striking example of a quota in Australian politics is that underpinning Federation. The Australian colonies would not agree to federate without agreement to an upper house in which each state, even the smallest, was represented by the same number of senators as the biggest.

That’s why NSW, with a population of 7.9 million, and Tasmania, with a population of 524,000, both send 12 senators to Canberra every election. This makes the ranking Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz arguably the biggest beneficiary of quotas currently in the federal parliament.

There are 76 senators. Would anyone seriously suggest that on merit Eric Abetz would make the list of the top 76 Australians elected as senators in Australia’s upper house if they were elected in a single nationwide ballot? The state-based quota system established at Federation ensures he gets there.

The next most striking example is the quota agreement that enables Australia’s two main conservative parties to form government in coalition, since each usually returns too few MPs at federal elections to govern in its own right.

The National Party’s price for supporting the Liberals in forming government is a quota of ministerial positions reserved for National Party MPs, along with the deputy prime ministership. This quota arrangement today underpins the cabinet position and deputy prime ministership of National Party leader Michael McCormack. Does anyone really believe that without this quota McCormack would have naturally risen to become Australia’s second most senior politician? Of course not.

The third most striking example of quotas in Australian politics is their use by the Australian Labor Party to normalise the presence of women in progressive parliamentary politics. Attempts to establish quotas in the early 1980s, backed by then Labor opposition leader Bill Hayden, foundered when ALP conference delegates, including many women, voted them down on factional lines. It was not until 1994 that an enforceable formula guaranteeing women preselection in one-third of winnable seats was established.


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In her memoir Catching the Waves, Hawke Government cabinet minister Susan Ryan wrote:

These rules are bitterly resented by many men in the Party, and when they favour a woman from the wrong faction they upset some women as well.

Quotas are “a blunt tool”, Ryan readily conceded, but she supported them after experience showed nothing else could “change the gender balance among Labor members of parliament”. It worked. Labor now has a critical mass of women in caucus making a big contribution, their presence normalised and unremarked on except by misogynistic conservatives across the aisle.

People don’t have to like quotas. But no reasonable person can fail to accept that they are a regular part of political life, not the intrusive tool of progressive pinot noir drinkers pushing their own political barrows. Hundreds of examples beyond Australia’s shores could be cited, but here are just a few.

The United States has a quota of two senators from every state in its upper house, the inspiration for Australia’s state senate quotas. Conservative German chancellor Angela Merkel legislated board quotas for women when German business proved intractable in voluntarily improving board diversity. Singapore set racial quotas in public housing, reflecting the ethnic makeup of the country’s population, in the interests of racial harmony.


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Quotas, in short, are management tools to ensure power-sharing where it would not otherwise occur in the interests of a greater good – and they’re used by progressives and conservatives alike. No-one could accuse Angela Merkel or the Singaporean government of being subversive left-wing entities. It has been estimated that half the countries in the world use some kind of gender quota in their electoral system and there is extensive evidence that they work.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Morrison’s challenge with women goes beyond simple numbers


There is high level support from Labor for Liberal women to tackle the problem and succeed in the interests of improving Australia’s political culture overall. Labor Senate leader, Penny Wong, told parliament this week that the under-representation of women in the Liberal party room is “not only bad for women, and bad for the Liberal Party, it is bad for democracy”. She urged Liberals to walk the same difficult road to establishing quotas that so successfully fixed what had also been a chronic problem for Labor.

Failure to push on to embrace and establish quotas will see the current burst of bravery by Liberal women dissipate, and the male oligopoly in the Coalition party room become even more entrenched.

Advocates could impress on internal opponents that the only winner from the current extreme and worsening masculinist culture in the Liberal Party will be Labor, whose caucus since quotas for women in winnable seats were adopted has increasingly reflected the communities it represents – something voters very much like and ultimately reward.The Conversation

Chris Wallace, ARC DECRA Fellow, Australian National University

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

If privacy is increasing for My Health Record data, it should apply to all medical records



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Everyone was up in arms about a lack of privacy with My Health Records, but the privacy is the same for other types of patient data.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Megan Prictor, University of Melbourne; Bronwyn Hemsley, University of Technology Sydney; Mark Taylor, University of Melbourne, and Shaun McCarthy, University of Newcastle

In response to the public outcry against the potential for My Health Record data to be shared with police and other government agencies, Health Minister Greg Hunt recently announced moves to change the legislation.

The laws underpinning the My Health Record as well as records kept by GPs and private hospitals currently allow those records to be shared with the police, Centrelink, the Tax Office and other government departments if it’s “reasonably necessary” for a criminal investigation or to protect tax revenue.

If passed, the policy of the Digital Health Agency (which runs the My Health Record) not to release information without a court order will become law. This would mean the My Health Record has greater privacy protections in this respect than other medical records, which doesn’t make much sense.




Read more:
Opting out of My Health Records? Here’s what you get with the status quo


Changing the law to increase privacy

Under the proposed new bill, state and federal government departments and agencies would have to apply for a court order to obtain information stored in the My Health Record.

The court would need to be satisfied that sharing the information is “reasonably necessary”, and that there is no other effective way for the person requesting it to access the information. The court would also need to weigh up whether the disclosure would “unreasonably interfere” with the person’s privacy.

If granted, a court order to release the information would require the Digital Health Agency to provide information from a person’s My Health Record without the person’s consent, and even if they objected.

If a warrant is issued for a person’s health records, the police can sift through them as they look for relevant information. They could uncover personally sensitive material that is not relevant to the current proceedings. Since the My Health Record allows the collection of information across health providers, there could be an increased risk of non-relevant information being disclosed.




Read more:
Using My Health Record data for research could save lives, but we must ensure it’s ethical


But what about our other medical records?

Although we share all sorts of personal information online, we like to think of our medical records as sacrosanct. But the law underpinning My Health Record came from the wording of the Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988, which applies to all medical records held by GPs, specialists and private hospitals.

Under the Act, doctors don’t need to see a warrant before they’re allowed to share health information with enforcement agencies. The Privacy Act principles mean doctors only need a “reasonable belief” that sharing the information is “reasonably necessary” for the enforcement activity.

Although public hospital records do not fall under the Privacy Act, they are covered by state laws that have similar provisions. In Victoria, for instance, the Health Records Act 2001 permits disclosure if the record holder “reasonably believes” that the disclosure is “reasonably necessary” for a law enforcement function and it would not be a breach of confidence.

In practice, health care providers are trained on the utmost importance of protecting the patient’s privacy. Their systems of registration and accreditation mean they must follow a professional code of ethical conduct that includes observing confidentiality and privacy.

Although the law doesn’t require it, it is considered good practice for health professionals to insist on seeing a warrant before disclosing a patient’s health records.

In a 2014 case, the federal court considered whether a psychiatrist had breached the privacy of his patient. The psychiatrist had given some of his patient’s records to Queensland police in response to a warrant. The court said the existence of a warrant was evidence the doctor had acted appropriately.

In a 2015 case, it was decided a doctor had interfered with a patient’s privacy when disclosing the patient’s health information to police. In this case, there no was warrant and no formal criminal investigation.




Read more:
What could a My Health Record data breach look like?


Unfortunately, there are recent examples of medical records being shared with government departments in worrying ways. In Australia, it has been alleged the immigration department tried, for political reasons, to obtain access to the medical records of people held in immigration detention.

In the UK, thousands of patient records were shared with the Home Office to trace immigration offenders. As a result, it was feared some people would become too frightened to seek medical care for themselves and children.

We can’t change the fact different laws at state and federal level apply to our paper and electronic medical records stored in different locations. But we can try to change these laws to be consistent in protecting our privacy.

If it’s so important to change the My Health Records Act to ensure our records can only be “unlocked” by a court order, the same should apply to the Privacy Act as well as state-based laws. Doing so might help to address public concerns about privacy and the My Health Record, and further inform decisions about opting out or staying in the system.The Conversation

Megan Prictor, Research Fellow in Law, University of Melbourne; Bronwyn Hemsley, Professor of Speech Pathology, University of Technology Sydney; Mark Taylor, Associate professor, University of Melbourne, and Shaun McCarthy, Director, University of Newcastle Legal Centre, University of Newcastle

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

Media power: why the full story of Murdoch, Stokes and the Liberal leadership spill needs to be told



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Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is notorious for meddling in politics.
AAP/Dan Himbrechts

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

The first German chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, said there were two sights the public should not see: the making of laws and the making of sausages. To this list of enduringly nauseating spectacles we should add one more: the political machinations of media moguls.

ABC political editor Andrew Probyn has skilfully violated this standard of public taste by laying out what look like very plausible entrails of the evident involvement of Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Stokes in the recent Liberal Party leadership spill.




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It is impossible to independently verify Probyn’s account because he has been careful to mask his sources. But it is plausible partly because some elements are corroborated by separate reports in the Australian Financial Review and Sydney Morning Herald, partly because Probyn worked for both Murdoch and Stokes for lengthy periods and may be assumed to have good contacts in those places, and partly because there is circumstantial evidence to support some of what he says.

The Australian reports that Stokes has denied having communicated with Murdoch over Turnbull’s leadership. Interestingly, however, the newspaper does not quote its own proprietor on the matter, which is the obvious way to corroborate Stokes’s claim.

Murdoch, of course, is notorious for meddling in politics. In Australia, it can be traced back to his endorsement of Gough Whitlam at the 1972 election, his campaign against Whitlam in 1975, which was so virulent even his own journalists held a strike in protest, his support for John Howard in 1996, his somewhat ambivalent support for Kevin Rudd in 2007 and his full-frontal support for Tony Abbott in 2013.

Front page of the The Sun newspaper, April 11 1992.
Wikicommons

These campaigns were all in support of the winning side, and much the same has been true of his equivalent campaigns in the UK and the US. After John Major led the British Conservative Party to victory in 1992, Murdoch’s London Sun newspaper proclaimed in a front-page banner headline: “It’s the Sun wot won it”.

All this has created a perception of Murdoch as political kingmaker, a perception that frightens the life out of politicians and thus confers great power on Murdoch.

But as two Australian scholars, Rodney Tiffen and David McKnight, have persuasively argued in their separate studies of Murdoch, while his media outlets routinely shred and humiliate their political targets, the evidence is that Murdoch observes which way the wind is blowing and then finds a rationale for endorsing the likely winner.

The Economist’s Bagehot column was on to this 15 years ago, as Tiffen records. Referring to the London Sun’s boasting of its political power, the column observed:

[T]hat probably says more about Mr Murdoch’s readiness to jump ship at the right time than about the Sun’s ability to influence the votes of its readers.

Even so, perceptions can swiftly harden into political reality.

According to Probyn, when Murdoch was seen to turn against Turnbull over the past couple of months, the alarm went off in the prime minister’s office.

This is where Stokes, chairman of Seven West Media, is said to have entered the picture.

He is a friend of Turnbull’s and they are said to have discussed the apparent campaign by the Murdoch media to oust the prime minister.

Stokes and Murdoch have a chequered history, to put it mildly. They have fought long, bitter and costly legal battles, but as Margaret Simons says in her biography of Stokes:

In the cosy club of media, neither love nor hate lasts forever. The only constants are power, money and self-interest.

So, according to accounts by Probyn and the Financial Review, Stokes rang Murdoch to ask what was going on and Murdoch is said to have told him: “Malcolm has got to go.”

But on the question of who should replace him, the moguls were all over the shop.

Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph was touting Peter Dutton. Three days later, when Turnbull spilled the leadership positions, Dutton nominated, lost, but lit the fuse for the ultimate detonation of the Turnbull prime ministership.

Stokes was opposed to Dutton for complex reasons, but didn’t seem to know who to go for instead. On the day before the leadership spill, his newspaper, The West Australian, was promoting Scott Morrison. The next day it was promoting Julie Bishop, a West Australian.

This shambolic confusion among the moguls is comforting in a perverse kind of way, because in the end neither of them was able to dictate the outcome.

Murdoch achieved one objective – the ousting of Turnbull – but Dutton, his preferred pick to replace him, is now clinging to political life by a single vote in the House of Representatives thanks to the hovering spectre of the Constitution’s section 44 (v), not to mention trouble with au pairs.

Stokes? Well, he is new to this kingmaking caper. He clearly did not want his friend Turnbull out, but when that became inevitable, he didn’t know where to turn. As my old editor at The Age, Creighton Burns, was fond of saying, he was caught between a shit and a shiver.

The net effect of their efforts has been to bring the Liberal-National government to the brink of disintegration within months of a general election.

This time, Murdoch may have indeed created a winner – Labor leader Bill Shorten – not by the traditional means of showering support on him, but by destroying his opponents, even though they happen to be Murdoch’s own ideological allies.

It is the latest chapter in a long and discreditable history of media proprietors using their power to advance their political ends, usually for commercial rather than ideological purposes.

Sir Frank and Kerry Packer did it; so did successive generations of Fairfaxes. In 1961 the Fairfaxes went so far as to virtually run Arthur Calwell’s campaign out of the company’s executive offices on the 14th floor of its newspaper mausoleum in Sydney’s Broadway. The Sydney Morning Herald’s journalists renamed it the Labor ward in honour of the exercise.

In Britain, the mould for the politically meddling modern newspaper proprietor was set by Alfred Harmsworth (Lord Northcliffe) in the early 20th century.

He and the other mighty British press baron of the time, Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook), were the inspiration, if that is the word, for Rudyard Kipling’s celebrated condemnation:

[The press exercises] power without responsibility: the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.

So Probyn has done Australian democracy a service by exposing the entrails of what looks like another abuse of media power, even if it makes for a nauseating public spectacle.

It also raises serious questions about media accountability.

Australia has never had a publicly trusted or effective system of media accountability. All attempts to create one have been howled down, the loudest and crudest voices belonging to Murdoch’s lieutenants.




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Australian media are playing a dangerous game using racism as currency


There is already a crisis in people’s faith in democratic institutions. A new report by the Australian Museum of Democracy and the University of Canberra shows only 41% of Australians are satisfied with the way democracy is working. That is a dramatic plunge from the 86% recorded in 2007.

In this climate of disenchantment, it is not surprising there are now calls for a public inquiry into the way Murdoch and Stokes have evidently played a manipulative role in changing the prime minister.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

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