Australians’ trust in politicians and democracy hits an all-time low: new research


Mark Evans, University of Canberra; Gerry Stoker, University of Canberra, and Max Halupka, University of Canberra

Over the past four years, we have conducted a range of attitudinal surveys with the Social Research Institute at Ipsos on the relationship between trust in the political system and attitudes towards democracy in Australia.

Our latest research, conducted in July 2018 (prior to the Liberal Party’s leadership spill), includes a quantitative survey of a representative sample of 20 focus groups and 1,021 Australians from a wide range of demographic backgrounds. We understood political trust in this survey as “keeping promises and agreements”.

Our findings should give all democrats pause for thought. We continue to find compelling evidence of an increasing trust divide between government and citizens. This is reflected in the decline of democratic satisfaction and receding trust in politicians, political parties and other key institutions (especially media). We also found a lack of public confidence in the capacity of government to address public policy concerns.

Democratic decline and renewal

Australians should rightly be proud of their hard-won democratic traditions and freedoms and the achievement of stable government, which has delivered social and economic well-being for its citizens.

The majority of Australians dislike the conflict-driven politics of the federal parliament, but don’t dislike democratic values or democracy as a system of government.

When asked to select three aspects of Australian democracy that they liked the most, the top three in 2018 were (in order):

  1. “Australia has been able to provide good education, health, welfare and other public services to its citizens”
  2. “Australia has experienced a good economy and lifestyle”
  3. “Australian elections are free and fair”.

Respondents were least likely to choose features that praised (or showed engagement) with current democratic politics. The findings suggest that Australians are happy with the underlying democratic infrastructure of Australian society that allows them to achieve a high standard of living, but are less positive or engaged about day-to-day political operations.

Australians are deeply unhappy with democratic politics

Fewer than 41% of Australian citizens are satisfied with the way democracy works in Australia, down from 86% in 2007. Public satisfaction has fallen particularly sharply since 2013, when 72% of Australian citizens were satisfied. Generation X is least satisfied (31%) and the Baby Boomers most satisfied (50%).

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At a time of the “#Metoo” movement, women are generally less satisfied with democracy and more distrusting of politicians and political institutions.

In general, levels of trust in government and politicians in Australia are at their lowest levels since time-series data have been available.




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Why do Australians hate politics?


Just 31% of the population trust federal government. State and local governments perform little better, with just over a third of people trusting them. Ministers and MPs (whether federal or state) rate at just 21%, while more than 60% of Australians believe the honesty and integrity of politicians is very low.

The three biggest grievances people have with politicians are:

  1. they are not accountable for broken promises
  2. they don’t deal with the issues that really matter
  3. big business has too much power (Liberal and National Party voters identify trade unions instead of big business).

The continued decline of political trust has also contaminated public confidence in other key political institutions. Only five rate above 50% – police, military, civic well-being organisations (such as Headspace or community services), universities and healthcare institutions.

Trust was lowest in political parties (16%) and web-based media (20%). Trust in banks and web-based media has significantly decreased since the last survey. This reflects the impact of the banking royal commission and the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

People who are more likely to feel satisfied with the status quo include those aged over 55 (Baby Boomers), those earning more than $200,000 a year and those who vote for the National or Liberal parties. They are more likely to be male and an immigrant, because those born overseas tend to be more satisfied with Australian politics than native-born.

Those who are most likely to be unhappy are Australian-born, female, aged in their 40s (Generation X) and struggling on less than $50,000 a year. They are more likely to identify with minor political parties like One Nation, Centre Alliance or independents.

The perfect storm for independents

Levels of social trust are also in decline. Social trust between people has fallen below 50% for the first time to 47%. A majority, though, still believe that people in their neighbourhood would help others out – except for the very rich (47%).

Four attitudinal shifts are on display here.

First, many voters care more about effective and competent government than promises of more dollars in their pockets.

Second, there is a group of voters who are completely disconnected from traditional politics. They are deeply distrustful not just of politicians but almost every major institution and authority figure listed in the survey, except for their local GP.

Third, we can identify an increasingly large group of Australians who are deeply critical of the main political parties and are looking for an alternative across the ideological spectrum.

And fourth, there is a group of Australians who vote independent for tactical reasons, either to secure greater resources for their communities or to register a protest vote against the two-party system.

Appetite for democratic reform is extremely strong

Our survey revealed a significant appetite for reform. Nine out of 15 proposed reforms received net agreement rates above 50%. The top five reforms favoured in the survey were:

  1. limiting money donated to parties and spent in elections
  2. the right for voters to recall ineffective local MPs
  3. giving all MPs a free vote in parliament
  4. co-designing policies with ordinary Australians
  5. citizen juries to solve complex problems that parliament can’t fix.

Reforms aimed at improving the practice of representative politics were the most popular, followed by reforms aimed at giving citizens a greater say. There was also strong support for reforms aimed at creating a stronger community or local focus to decision-making. Only reforms aimed at guaranteeing the representation of certain groups failed to attract majority support.

Remarkably, accessing more detailed information about innovative reforms led to greater support for those reforms. This is an important finding, revealing the importance of strategic communication in winning the war of ideas.

We are at the tipping point

Liberal democracies are founded on a delicate balance between trust and distrust. Our survey findings suggest we may have reached a tipping point due to a deepening trust divide in Australia, which has increased in scope and intensity since 2007.




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Yet citizens still appear to value the overall stability of their political system, even if the lack of political trust means they doubt its ability to deliver, especially on more challenging policy issues.

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Australians imagine their democracy in a way that demonstrates support for a new participatory politics but with the aim of shoring up representative democracy and developing a more integrated, inclusive and responsive democratic system. In the light of this discovery, we believe an effective path to reform is not about choosing between representative and participatory democratic models, but finding linking arrangements between them.The Conversation

Mark Evans, Professor of Governance and Director of Democracy 2025 – bridging the trust divide at Old Parliament House, University of Canberra; Gerry Stoker, Fellow and Centenary Professor, Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra, and Max Halupka, Research Fellow at the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra, University of Canberra

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

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One in four Australians are lonely, which affects their physical and mental health



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Younger Australians struggle more with loneliness than older generations.
Toa Heftiba

Michelle H Lim, Swinburne University of Technology

One in four Australians are lonely, our new report has found, and it’s not just a problem among older Australians – it affects both genders and almost all age groups.

The Australian Loneliness Report, released today by my colleagues and I at the Australian Psychological Society and Swinburne University, found one in two (50.5%) Australians feel lonely for at least one day in a week, while more than one in four (27.6%) feel lonely for three or more days.

Our results come from a survey of 1,678 Australians from across the nation. We used a comprehensive measure of loneliness to assess how it relates to mental health and physical health outcomes.




Read more:
Politics with Michelle Grattan: Andrew Giles on the growing issue of loneliness


We found nearly 55% of the population feel they lack companionship at least sometime. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Australians who are married or in a de facto relationship are the least lonely, compared to those who are single, separated or divorced.

While Australians are reasonably connected to their friends and families, they don’t have the same relationships with their neighbours. Almost half of Australians (47%) reported not having neighbours to call on for help, which suggests many of us feel disengaged in our neighbourhoods.

Impact on mental and physical health

Lonely Australians, when compared with their less lonely counterparts, reported higher social anxiety and depression, poorer psychological health and quality of life, and fewer meaningful relationships and social interactions.

Loneliness increases a person’s likelihood of experiencing depression by 15.2% and the likelihood of social anxiety increases by 13.1%. Those who are lonelier also report being more socially anxious during social interactions.

This fits with previous research, including a study of more than 1,000 Americans which found lonelier people reported more severe social anxiety, depression, and paranoia when followed up after three months.

Older Australians are less socially anxious than younger folks.
Fabio Neo Amato

Interestingly, Australians over 65 were less lonely, less socially anxious, and less depressed than younger Australians.

This is consistent with previous studies that show older people fare better on particular mental health and well-being indicators.

(Though it’s unclear whether this is the case for adults over 75, as few participants in our study were aged in the late 70s and over).

Younger adults, on the other hand, reported significantly more social anxiety than older Australians.

The evidence outlining the negative effects of loneliness on physical health is also growing. Past research has found loneliness increases the likelihood of an earlier death by 26% and has negative consequences on the health of your heart, your sleep, and levels of inflammation.




Read more:
Loneliness is a health issue, and needs targeted solutions


Our study adds to this body of research, finding people with higher rates of loneliness are more likely to have more headaches, stomach problems, and physical pain. This is not surprising as loneliness is associated with increased inflammatory responses.

What can we do about it?

Researchers are just beginning to understand the detrimental effects of loneliness on our health, social lives and communities but many people – including service providers – are unaware. There are no guidelines or training for service providers.

So, even caring and highly trained staff at emergency departments may trivialise the needs of lonely people presenting repeatedly and direct them to resources that aren’t right.

Increasing awareness, formalised training, and policies are all steps in the right direction to reduce this poor care.

For some people, simple solutions such as joining shared interest groups (such as book clubs) or shared experienced groups (such as bereavement or carers groups) may help alleviate their loneliness.

But for others, there are more barriers to overcome, such as stigma, discrimination, and poverty.

Shared interest groups can help some people feel less alone.
Danielle Cerullo

Many community programs and social services focus on improving well-being and quality of life for lonely people. By tackling loneliness, they may also improve the health of Australians. But without rigorous evaluation of these health outcomes, it’s difficult to determine their impact.

We know predictors of loneliness can include genetics, brain functioning, mental health, physical health, community, work, and social factors. And we know predictors can differ between groups – for example, young versus old.

But we need to better measure and understand these different predictors and how they influence each other over time. Only with Australian data can we predict who is at risk and develop effective solutions.




Read more:
The deadly truth about loneliness


There are some things we can do in the meantime.

We need a campaign to end loneliness for all Australians. Campaigns can raise awareness, reduce stigma, and empower not just the lonely person but also those around them.

Loneliness campaigns have been successfully piloted in the United Kingdom and Denmark. These campaigns don’t just raise awareness of loneliness; they also empower lonely and un-lonely people to change their social behaviours.

A great example of action arising from increased awareness comes from the Royal College of General Practitioners, which developed action plans to assist lonely patients presenting in primary care. The college encouraged GPs to tackle loneliness with more than just medicine; it prompted them to ask what matters to the lonely person rather than what is the matter with the lonely person.

Australia lags behind other countries but loneliness is on the agenda. Multiple Australian organisations have come together after identifying a need to generate Australian-specific data, increase advocacy, and develop an awareness campaign. But only significant, sustained government investment and bipartisan support will ensure this promising work results in better outcomes for lonely Australians.The Conversation

Michelle H Lim, Senior Lecturer and Clinical Psychologist, Swinburne University of Technology

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

Accurate. Objective. Transparent. Australians identify what they want in trustworthy media



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Trust in media is low in Australia, which is why traditional news values like accuracy and objectivity matter.
Shutterstock

Sacha Molitorisz, University of Technology Sydney

In an age of social media and smartphones, people are accessing more news than ever. The problem is, they don’t believe much of it.

Three-quarters of Australian news consumers say they have experienced “fake news” and are very concerned by it. In the US, two-thirds of adults get their news from social media, but more than half of people expect this news to be “largely inaccurate”.

This is in stark contrast to public trust in journalism before the rise of the internet. In the 1970s, more than two-thirds of Americans trusted news media. By 2016, that figure had fallen to less than one third.

This question motivated new research at the Centre for Media Transition at UTS, which was funded by Facebook as part of the company’s APAC News Literacy initiative, but conducted independently by my colleagues and me.

Our findings suggest that what Australians want most from their news media is accuracy and objectivity, not necessarily accessibility and friendliness – the hallmarks of social media.

What can be done to restore trust in news media?

In the first stage of our research, we compiled an extensive, annotated bibliography of the academic and non-academic literature focusing on trust and the news media. That bibliography includes more than 200 titles and many more authors.

Among these authors is Rachel Botsman, who argues that institutional trust in the media has largely been replaced by what she calls “distributed trust”. Where people used to trust banks, the church, the government and the news media implicitly, she argues, they now tend to trust their friends, family and even strangers.

This is evident in the success of social media, but more obviously in the rise of companies such as Uber and Airbnb, which exemplify the “gig economy” and “collaborative consumption.”.




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FactCheck Q&A: Has confidence in the media in Australia dropped lower than in the United States?


Drawing on Botsman and other authors, we postulated that today’s news consumers want a different type of news media: one that is more peer-to-peer and less top-down. And so in the second stage of our research, we held four qualitative workshops in Tamworth and Sydney to ask participants about their relationship with the news media.

In one exercise, we asked participants to design their ideal news source by choosing from a list of 13 characteristics, including “interactive”, “accurate”, “transparent”, “easy to access”, “objective” and “vulnerable” (by admitting and correcting mistakes). We also included “like a friend” and “less ‘voice of god’”. These last two, we suspected, might well be popular, especially among the young. (Of our participants, half were under the age of 35.)

But the results surprised us. Overwhelmingly, participants both young and old did not want their ideal news source to be like a friend or less like the “voice of god”. These two attributes were the least popular. Conversely, top of the list were three highly traditional journalism values: accuracy, objectivity and being in the public interest.

A closer look, however, revealed that participants did value some elements of a peer-to-peer news media – they also wanted their ideal news source to be transparent, easy to access and interactive.

Trust goes deeper than the source

If our participants are typical, these results suggest that Australians want the news media to be aligned foremost with traditional journalistic values, but also enable consumers to be part of the news-sharing, and sometimes even news-making, process.

In other words, Australians seem to want news that blends elements of institutional and distributed trust.

The workshop participants repeatedly expressed grave concerns about trusting news on social media. However, our results also suggest that Australians believe the trust problem is not wholly the fault of social media. According to our participants, part of the problem is that journalists themselves need to be better at accuracy, objectivity and working in the public interest.




Read more:
Outlawing fake news will chill the real news


This corresponds with the results of the Digital News Report: Australia 2018, published earlier this year, which found the most common form of “fake news” encountered by Australians is “poor journalism”.

In another exercise, we asked our participants to rate six trust-enhancing strategies currently being trialled by media outlets in various forms.

Tellingly, the most preferred option was “go behind the story”, which involves informing readers why a story was written and what the journalist was unable to find in his or her reporting, among other details. The second preferred option was a clear labelling of news, comment and advertising.

Clearly, consumers want a higher degree of transparency from their news sources.

People will pay for media they trust

The good news emerging from research globally is that there has been a rebound in trust in journalism. Currently, 50% of Australian news consumers trust the news, up from 42% last year. By contrast, only 24% of people trust the news they find on social media.

In his 1995 book Trust, US political scientist Francis Fukuyama argued that high-trust societies tend to be thriving societies. And this is where the media play a crucial role. As philosopher Onora O’Neill says:

If we can’t trust what the press report, how can we tell whether to trust those on whom they report?

Our workshops suggest that Australians want to trust the media, but are suspicious. This must be addressed, not least because, as the Digital News Report: Australia 2018 found, there is a strong link between trust in news, concern about fake news and people being prepared to pay for their news.

This raises an interesting prospect: if we can successfully address the issue of trust and news media, we might even begin to solve journalism’s revenue crisis.The Conversation

Sacha Molitorisz, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre for Media Transition, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney

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

Australians support universal health care, so why not a universal basic income?


Brian Howe, University of Melbourne

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In Australia, the idea of a universal basic income has floated in and out of our political arena for years, but remains only that, an idea.

The concept of a universal basic income has always been controversial. This notion – that the government should pay everyone a regular payment to meet their basic needs, despite their income – has been touted as a solution to inequality.

In the 1970s, the idea of a universal basic income looked as though it could become more.




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In 1972, the inaugural Director of the Melbourne Institute, Applied Economic and Social Research, professor Ronald Henderson, chaired the Australian government’s poverty inquiry. It was tasked by then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, to investigate all aspects of poverty affecting Australians, including race, education, health and law.

Professor Henderson’s work led to what is now widely referred to as the Henderson Poverty Line, which measures the extent of poverty in Australia in terms of the income of families and individuals relative to their essential living costs; and he advocated a guaranteed minimum income scheme for Australia, similar to a universal basic income .

More than 40 years after professor Henderson began his report of the Commonwealth Commission of Inquiry into Poverty with the line:

“Poverty is not just a personal attribute: it arises out of the organisation of society.”

The suggestion of a guaranteed minimum income scheme

At the heart of the Henderson inquiry’s final recommendations was a guaranteed minimum income scheme, in which payments to pensioners (at a high rate) and payments to all other income units (at a lower rate) would be balanced by a proportional tax on all private income. The report states:

We believe that these reforms are the best way of reconciling the conflicting ends of policy on income support… They recognise that disabilities which hinder the earning of a private income warrant favoured treatment, but also provide support for people without disabilities in this sense, and who may still easily become poor – particularly the large family. Again, support is provided in a way which does not discredit those who claim it… so that income support may be seen as a right rather than a favour.

Professor Henderson was strongly in favour of universality in social policy – as exists in Medicare today in Australia. And that’s tangible in his idea of a universal minimum payment which would have ensured that incomes for individuals and families were in excess of the poverty line.

Instead of means testing – which he opposed as it creates a separate system for the disadvantaged that can be stigmatising – he wanted to use the tax system to withdraw income from higher earners, rather than means testing pensions and benefits.

But this didn’t happen.

Instead, the Whitlam government was dismissed in 1975 – around six months after the inquiry delivered its final report, and the new government, headed up by Malcolm Fraser, hardly considered its recommendations.

Far from universality

At the time of professor Henderson’s pivotal work, post-war Australia had pursued the creation of an industrial economy where male workers played the dominant role. For the most part, employment then meant permanent full-time jobs in industry regulated and protected against foreign competition.

But, since that time, the country has pursued a very different course.

The key challenge is how Australia can maintain its commitment to fair and equitable wealth generation and distribution, in a modern world.

The precarious nature of modern labour markets puts enormous pressures on families and households, making it important to create a system that works in the interests of the truly disadvantaged.




Read more:
Universal basic income: the dangerous idea of 2016


Professor Henderson distrusted a targeted social security system, and therefore recommended a basic income so that “income support may be seen as a right rather than a favour” for Australian citizens.

Since then, despite the example of universality in the key public institution of Medicare, to which all are entitled, the social security system has become more conditional, and arbitrary, with benefits now well below the poverty line.

There is growing evidence, for example, that social security payments for unemployed people, like Newstart, now barely meet the necessities of life – let alone cover expenses involved when people are looking for work.

In this country, we increasingly celebrate entrepreneurial self-reliance, but for disadvantaged people, the certainty of an adequate income is a fundamental foundation. It may not be sufficient, but it is necessary.

The ConversationAs professor Henderson said during a speech at a Remembrance Day rally in 1984 “we all have a right to a decent minimum income: to a fair share”.

Brian Howe, Professorial Associate in the Centre for Public Policy, University of Melbourne

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

Young Australians will wear the costs of Turnbull’s middle income tax cut


Danielle Wood, Grattan Institute and Hugh Parsonage, Grattan Institute

Malcom Turnbull has promised tax cuts for middle-income earners in the next budget or even earlier. The short-term political benefits of pre-election tax cuts are not in doubt. But unless the government is willing to increase taxes elsewhere to pay for these sweeteners, there will be longer-term costs for the budget and the economy. And younger Australians will wear these costs.

Young people will pay the price

If the government goes ahead with tax cuts and nothing else changes, we can look forward to the announcement in the 2021 budget of Australia’s 13th successive budget deficit. This is despite the fact Australia is in the midst of the longest period of uninterrupted economic growth anywhere in the developed world. And the unlucky recipients of this legacy of poor budget management are the young.

Grattan Institute research shows that each year the government runs a A$40 billion deficit, it increases the lifetime tax burden for households headed by a person aged 25 to 34 by A$10,000. This is based on the share of debt they would have to repay – with interest – over time. With each successive budget deficit, the tab grows for today’s young Australians.

And the government is magnifying the cost of future economic downturns. Australia was well placed to respond to the global financial crisis because of its healthy fiscal position. But with net debt now sitting at A$322 billion (18.4% of GDP), the government has less room to respond if there is another serious downturn.

Middle-income earners are hit by bracket creep

In the 2017-18 budget, the government was clear: if the senate won’t support spending cuts, then tax increases will have to do the “heavy lifting” on budget repair. And this heavy lifting is largely happening through bracket creep – growth in income taxes as a share of wages.

Middle-income earners are particularly hurt by bracket creep. Based on the wages growth projected in the 2017 budget, the average tax rates for people in middle-income groups will increase by between 1.9 and 2.9 percentage points by 2021. For example, a person earning A$50,000 a year will go from paying an average tax rate of 17.1% in 2017 to 19.5 % in 2021 – and that’s before the government’s proposed increase in the Medicare levy.

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No government likes to go to an election with taxes going up, so the temptation to “give back” bracket creep was always going to prove irresistible in next year’s pre-election budget. And as the prime minister flagged, there is also an economic case for such tax cuts. High marginal tax rates for middle income earners can significantly affect incentives to participate in the workforce, particularly for for women with children in childcare.

Tax cuts will blow the surplus

But the kicker is the effect of the promised tax cuts on the budget bottom line. The Australian government has been running budget deficits since 2009. In the last budget, the treasurer promised a return to surplus in 2021.

That promised surplus always relied on optimistic assumptions: strong wages growth, healthy growth in profits, government spending restraint, and, importantly, no cuts to income taxes. The government’s proposal is light on details, but even modest cuts to tax rates could eliminate the forecast surplus.

For example, if the government was to reduce the tax rate only in the middle bracket (A$37,000-$80,000) from 32.5% to 30%, the cost to the budget bottom line would be about A$7.3 billion in 2021, almost wiping out the promised A$7.8 billion surplus.

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If Malcolm Turnbull wants to cut income taxes but is still serious about delivering on his commitment to return the budget to surplus, then he will need to look elsewhere for revenue. Winding back the capital gains tax discount or negative gearing, better targeting of superannuation tax concessions and tax breaks for older Australians, or increasing or broadening the GST are just a few policies we could suggest.

The ConversationBut if the PM pursues the sugar hit of tax cuts without the difficult work on paying for them, then politics will once again have trumped policy and the economic future of today’s young Australians.

Danielle Wood, Program Director, Budget Policy and Institutions, Grattan Institute and Hugh Parsonage, Associate, Grattan Institute

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

Turnbull’s government must accept responsibility for delivering an equitable NBN for all Australians



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NBN delivery is variable across different states, but also within the same local council areas.
from www.shutterstock.com

Tooran Alizadeh, University of Sydney

On Monday night Four Corners asked Australia to consider “What’s wrong with the NBN?”.

Prior to the episode airing, a lot of the debate focused on the NBN’s business model, and that it may not be profitable.

I, however, am not sure if the financial returns need be our biggest concern when referring to public service and critical infrastructure. My answer to the question “what’s wrong with the NBN?” is quite simple: the NBN is inequitable.


Read more: The NBN: how a national infrastructure dream fell short


A “train wreck”

This week started with a fiery speech delivered by the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. He said the NBN was a mistake, blamed the former Labor government for the set up, and described the NBN’s business model as a “calamitous train wreck”.

Turnbull’s remarks triggered a number of responses, including one from former Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. He attached responsibility of NBN’s failure to the current government, as they “changed the model completely” compared to the original design.

More broadly, the Four Corners program itself created mixed reactions on social media. It was criticised for being “weak”, and not “challenging enough”, but also praised as “exceptional”.

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I find it incredibly frustrating to see a national critical infrastructure project diminished to political ping pong. In my opinion, bipartisan commitment is required in order to deliver an equitable NBN for all Australians.

Inequity from the start

Introduced by Labor, the original NBN was announced in April 2009. The plan was to provide terrestrial fibre network coverage for 93% of Australian premises by the end of 2020, with the remaining 7% served by fixed wireless and satellite coverage. In other words, Labor’s NBN was mainly equitable in terms of the advanced technology adopted across the board.


Read more: Three charts on: the NBN and Australia’s digital divide


However, research on the early NBN rollout pointed out the issue of timing. Even under the most optimistic estimations, it was going to take over a decade to build the nation-wide infrastructure. So, there were always questions about who was going to get the infrastructure first, and who had to wait over a decade for a similar service.

The results of the 2013 Federal election changed the fate of the NBN. The elected Coalition government decided the NBN rollout should transition from a primarily fibre-to-premises model to a mixed-technology model.



Various/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

FTTP = fibre to the premises; FTTN/FFTB = fibre to the node/basement;
HFC = Hybrid Fibre-Coaxial


This added to the complexity of the NBN, and created new layers in the inequality concerns around the NBN. In the Coalition’s NBN, many could be waiting quite some years and yet still only receive a lower quality level of access to the service.

Inequity in 2017

Now we’re past the halfway point of NBN delivery, and inequality of the service is clear at two levels.

Large scale

Recent research shows there is a clear digital divide between urban versus regional Australia in terms of access to the NBN. Regional Australia is missing out, both in terms of pace and quality of delivery in the mixed-technology model. This pretty much means that WA and NT are the worst off parts of the nation, because of the spread and dominance of regional and remote communities within them.

“Fine grain” scale

As described on Four Corners, mixed-technology NBN within local government areas and neighbourhoods means some people are better off than others.

Some receive fibre-to-premises service while others have fibre-to-node. The quality of the service also depends on how far someone lives and works from a node, which basically suggests even people on the same fibre-to-nodes service could have varied level of (dis)satisfaction with their internet and phone services.

Research published in 2015 captured some of the frustrations on the ground at the local government level. Differing qualities of internet services available were perceived to have direct implications for local economic development, productivity, and sense of community at the local level.

The two layers of NBN inequality mean that while some customers may be happy with their NBN, many experience a frustrating downgrade of service after moving to the NBN. This may help explain the increase in the number of NBN complaints across the nation.


Read more: Lack of internet affordability may worsen Australia’s digital divide


Let’s start moving forwards

Politicising the NBN and blaming one party over another has been part of the national misfortune around the NBN. But, I believe, the inequality of the NBN is part of a bigger trend in infrastructure decision making in Australia that fails to fully account for the socioeconomic implications. Other examples of this trend are seen in major (controversial) transport projects around the nation (e.g. East West Link in Melbourne, WestConnex in Sydney).

Current and future Australian governments must accept responsibility, and find a way forward for the NBN that is built on the notion of equitable service.

We can start with questions such as who needs the service the most, and who can do the most with it. These two questions refer to the social inclusion and productivity implications of the NBN.

The ConversationThe NBN, as a publicly funded national infrastructure project, has to be equitable to be a truly nation building platform. As long as it is failing some, it is failing us all as a nation.

Tooran Alizadeh, Senior Lecturer, Director of Urban Design, University of Sydney

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

Australians left to monitor their own NBN broadband speeds



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A simple broadband speed test from speedof.me.
Shutterstock/garagestock/Screenshot from http://speedof.me

Thas Ampalavanapillai Nirmalathas, University of Melbourne

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has pledged to get tough on any Internet Service Providers that mislead consumers about National Broadband Network speeds.

But how do you know if you’re getting a good deal when you connect to the NBN? How do you know if you’ll be getting the high-speed connection you were promised?

NBN Co is building the infrastructure, with 5.7 million premises now able to connect to the network via fibre, hybrid cable, wireless or satellite. To make that connection though, you have to deal with one of almost 150 listed ISPs.

Customers are ‘confused’

The ACCC’s chairman Rod Sims says we should expect a healthy and competitive sector. But he also says many consumers are “confused about broadband speed advertising” and the industry has been “inconsistent in making clear, accurate information available”.

So it is crucial for the ACCC to ensure that companies do not mislead consumers about the speeds offered by their ISP.

The Australian market is different to that in the United Kingdom, where the regulator Ofcom actively provides accurate information to consumers to enable a comparison of services.

Australia takes a different approach, relying on protections available via consumer law, and encouraging industry self-regulation to provide the right information to the consumer.

The experience you get really depends on a range of factors relating to transmission quality, reflected as speed of connectivity and latency (delays) in exchanging information across the internet. Key factors include:

  • how you connect to the internet router in your house (such as by Wi-Fi or ethernet)
  • the transmission quality from home to the Point of Interconnect (where the ISP’s network connects to the NBN)
  • transmission quality within the ISP network
  • transmission quality of the content delivery network.

Measuring the speed of your internet connection

A basic speed test of any internet connection is a measure of the time it takes to transfer a fixed file from a server. The result is usually given in Mbps (Megabits per second).

Many ISPs, such as Telstra, Optus and iiNet, currently provide internet speed tests for their customers.

But speeds measured this way tend to reflect the connectivity from the ISP to the consumer. The speeds you experience in general use can be significantly lower than the “peak” speed advertised by the service provider.

To get a better idea of the real speed of your internet connection you should use another speed testing service, in addition to the one recommended by your ISP.

You should also repeat this measurement at various times of the day and keep detailed notes of any results. Some typical speed tests are:

Speeds can change over time for even the fastest NBN connection.

Currently most ISPs offer a higher speed for downloading and lower speed for uploading. As many users often download the same content, the network can be optimised to take advantage of this and offer higher speeds.

But users also upload unique content, such as photos to social media accounts or files to cloud storage. This does not have the advantage of scale and thus speed of access could be lower.

As cloud-based storage and content-delivery networks – such as Netflix, Foxtel and others – become more highly trafficked, our requirements are changing. Many users now prioritise more symmetrical internet connectivity, with similar download and upload speeds.

How fast should the internet be in Australia?

In Australia, premises with fibre connections to the NBN can theoretically get a peak rate of 100Mbps. In fact, in Australia there are 5 tiers of NBN connections, varying between Tier 1 (12Mbps download/1Mbps upload) to Tier 5 (100Mbps download/40Mbps upload).

But the measured speeds can often be slower than promised by your provider.

There are various reasons for this. It could be that there is a problem between the premises and the NBN network, or there could be delays or oversubscription within the ISP network.

There can be congestion and delays in national and international networks due to inadequate investment by various stakeholders to keep the capacity of the network in scale with the increasing number of customers.

Your experience can also vary across the day and from one service to another. As the number of users varies quite markedly over 24 hours, the state of the network (NBN, ISP network, Content Delivery Network) can change with various levels of congestion.

This leads to different speeds of connectivity at different times when accessing different types of services. For example, web access might be slower given the location of a server, compared with an internet video streaming service that might be optimised to deliver the most popular content within the region.

While many internet service providers advertise a typical speed, in Australia there is no expectation that they should indicate the variability (the range of minimum and maximum speeds).

When so slow is too slow

If you think your NBN connection is too slow and not what you were promised, you should raise the problem with your ISP. If they fail to resolve the issue you should report it to the ACCC.

To improve information about broadband speeds, the ACCC is currently running a A$7 million trial of NBN speed monitoring and it wants consumers to be part of it.

Australia could have anticipated these speed issues and established a broadband performance reporting framework as part of access to the NBN infrastructure by providers.

The Australian Communications Consumers Action Network (ACCAN) has been crying out for a scheme to monitor the performance of ISPs.

The ConversationBut this hasn’t happened yet. So for now it’s left to you as a consumer to monitor your NBN connection speeds, and report any ongoing problems to the ACCC which hopes to start publishing speed and performance data later this year.

Thas Ampalavanapillai Nirmalathas, Director – Melbourne Networked Society Institute, Professor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Co-Founder/Academic Director – Melbourne Accelerator Program, University of Melbourne

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

Offshore detention: Australians have a right to know what is done in their name


Johan Lidberg, Monash University

How did one of the world’s most-successful multicultural countries made up of refugees and immigrants end up harming children who came to us seeking protection and help? One of the answers to this question is secrecy.

Successive Australian governments, both Labor and Coalition, have dehumanised refugees and kept Australians in the dark about what really goes on in the offshore detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

The cornerstone of the strategy is to limit public access to information. The policy started by the Rudd Labor government in 2013 has been put into overdrive by the Abbott and Turnbull Coalition governments.

There are three pillars to the secrecy strategy:

  • outsourcing the centres to other sovereign nations;

  • outsourcing the centres’ operations to private contractors; and

  • imposing a gag on current and former detention staff through the Border Force Act.

Outsourcing detention

Australian journalists have found it very difficult, bordering on practically impossible, to obtain visas to visit Nauru. Applying for a media visa for Nauru comes with an A$8,000 fee – which is non-refundable even if the application is rejected.

The only journalists to be granted visas in the last two years filed stories that did not properly investigate or challenge the Nauruan and Australian governments’ versions of the situation for refugees.

This means the two governments directly and indirectly control who is allowed onto the island to tell the refugees’ stories of how they are treated. This leads to speculation that serves no-one – not the refugees nor the Australian government nor the public.

The second issue with outsourcing refugee processing to another country is that neither Nauru nor Papua New Guinea has Freedom of Information (FOI) laws. This means an important journalistic tool is missing when it comes to seeking information.

This, combined with the poor FOI history of Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection (and its predecessor), which have repeatedly blocked and delayed requests, makes obtaining raw and unspun information about offshore refugee processing a time-consuming and frustrating task.

Outsourcing to private contractors

Wilson Security is contracted to provide security in the offshore centres.

The 2010 amendments to the federal FOI Act significantly strengthened the requirement on government agencies to obtain information from a private contractor when asked to do so.

However, contracting out adds another layer of complexity to using FOI effectively. The practical consequences are longer processing times, delays and the increased possibility of the contractor claiming the information can’t be released due to commercial-in-confidence issues.

The Border Force Act disclosure offence

In July 2015, the Australian Border Force Act came into force. Its controversial disclosure offence section extended the questionable Australian tradition of limiting public servants’ right to public speech and participation in public debate.

The section effectively stops current and former staff, including those from volunteer organisations such as Save the Children, speaking out about conditions in refugee detention centres.

It is nigh-on impossible to see how this gag section can be in the public interest. But it is easy to see how it is in the government’s political interest.

What are the consequences?

The consequence of the fortress of secrecy built on these three pillars is that Australians don’t know what is being done in their name on Nauru and Manus Island.

It also means the refugees are dehumanised. Suffering children and families become numbers instead of human beings.

Every one of the nearly 1,300 refugees currently on Nauru and Manus has heartbreaking and crucial stories to tell. If Australians were allowed to hear and see those stories, the centres would have been closed a long time ago.

If offshore detention is to continue, the Australian government should:

  • stop outsourcing to private contractors. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection should run the centres to allow for proper accountability;

  • be completely transparent about the centres’ operations. Redact personal information, but publish as much as possible, including incident reports;

  • facilitate access to the centres for journalists and members of the public; and

  • scrap the gag section on detention centre staff, current and former, in the Border Force Act.

We don’t need a Senate inquiry or royal commission to figure out what needs to be done. More than enough evidence is available thanks to the Nauru files, former detention centre staff sharing their experiences, and the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report on children in immigration detention. The government must do the decent and right thing by the refugees and the Australian public.

The Conversation

Johan Lidberg, Senior Lecturer, School of Media, Film and Journalism, Monash University

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