Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraThe Australian Human Rights Commission has declared the government’s travel ban on Australians returning from India, including criminal sanctions, “raises serious human rights concerns”.
In a strong statement at the weekend the commission said it held “deep concerns about these extraordinary new restrictions on Australians returning to Australia from India”.
It called on the government to show the measures were “not discriminatory” and were “the only suitable way of dealing with the threat to public health”.
The commission also urged the senate committee on COVID-19 to review the restrictions immediately, and said it was approaching the government directly with its concerns.
Last week the government stopped repatriation and commercial flights from India until at least May 15, and said indirect access was also blocked. After it found there was a loophole through Doha, it took drastic action to close all gaps.
In a statement issued in the early hours of Saturday, the government said all travellers from India would be banned from entering Australia if they had been in that country within 14 days of their intended arrival date in Australia, and anyone who breached the provision could face a large fine, imprisonment for five years, or both.
The government is acting under the Biosecurity Act.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said it was “critical the integrity of the Australian public health and quarantine systems is protected and the number of COVID-19 cases in quarantine facilities is reduced to a manageable level”.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the temporary pause on returns from India under the Biosecurity Act was ‘entirely founded” in the advice of the Chief Medical Officer.
She said in the month before the decision on Indian returnees 57% of the COVID positive cases in quarantine were in arrivals from India, up from 10% the month before that.
This was “placing a very, very significant burden on health and medical services in the states and territories and through the quarantine program.”
But she flatly denied this proved the government did not have confidence in the quarantine system, and rejected any suggestion of racism.
The chair of the senate COVID committee, Labor’s Katy Gallagher, said on Sunday she would be looking to schedule a hearing on the matter as soon as the committee could do so.
Meanwhile a poll done by the Lowy Institute and released on Monday found that in the second half of March – before the issue with returnees from India blew up – nearly six in ten people (59%) believed the federal government had done the right amount in helping Australians overseas return home. A third (33%) said the government had not done enough.
The Lowy COVIDpoll, with a sample of 2222 people, is part of the Lowy annual survey of Australian attitudes to the world.
Australians were divided over how much freedom they should have to travel abroad.
The poll found 41% agreed that only Australians granted special exemptions should be allowed to leave, which is the current policy.
But 40% said those who had been vaccinated should be allowed to leave. Only 18% believed all Australians should be free to travel.
People overwhelmingly (95%) said Australia had handled COVID well.
Today, many around the world will celebrate the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty to enter into force in 50 years.
The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was adopted at the United Nations in 2017 and finally reached the milestone of 50 ratifications in October. The countries that have signed and ratified include Austria, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Nigeria and Thailand.
The countries that have signed the TPNW were fed up with over half a century of the nuclear-armed states flouting their obligation to rid the world of their weapons. They have asserted the interests of humanity and global democracy in a way the nuclear-armed states were powerless to stop.
It is certainly long overdue for the most cruel and destructive weapons of all — nuclear weapons — to be banned. But this treaty is a sign of hope — a necessary and important step toward a less destructive planet.
The treaty provides the first legally binding multilateral framework for a process by which all nations can work toward eliminating nuclear weapons.
For instance, states with another nation’s nuclear weapons stationed on their territory must remove them.
States with nuclear weapons can “destroy then join” the treaty, or “join then destroy”. They must irreversibly dismantle their weapons, as well as the programs and facilities to produce them, subject to agreed timelines and verification by an international authority.
Further, the TPNW is the first treaty to commit member nations to provide long-neglected assistance for the victims of atomic bombs and weapon testing. It also calls for nations to clean up environments contaminated by nuclear weapons use and testing, where feasible.
Nuclear-armed states have been put on notice
Currently, 86 nations have signed the TPNW, and 51 have ratified it (meaning they are bound by its provisions). The treaty now becomes part of international law, and the number of signatories and ratifications will continue to grow.
However, none of the nine nuclear powers — the US, China, Russia, France, the UK, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea — have yet signed or ratified the treaty.
Many other countries that rely on other nations’ nuclear weapons for their security, such as the 27 members of NATO, Australia, Japan and South Korea, have also not signed.
So, why does the treaty matter given these states currently oppose it? And what effect can we expect the treaty to have on them?
While any treaty is technically only binding on the states that join it, the TPNW establishes a new international legal standard against which all nuclear policies will now be judged.
The treaty, in short, is a game-changer, and the nuclear-armed and dependent countries have been put on notice. They know the treaty jeopardises their claimed right to continue to threaten the planet with their weapons, as well as their plans to modernise and maintain their nuclear arsenals indefinitely.
The strength of their opposition is a measure of the treaty’s importance. It will have implications for everything from defence policies and military plans to weapons manufacturing to financial investments in the companies that profit from making now illegal nuclear weapons.
For example, a growing number of banks, pension funds and insurance companies around the world are now divesting from companies that build nuclear weapons.
These include the Norwegian Pension Fund (the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund), ABP (Europe’s largest pension fund), Deutsche Bank, Belgium’s largest bank KBC, Resona Holdings, Kyushu Financial Group and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group in Japan, and the Japanese insurance companies Nippon Life, Dai-ichi Life, Meiji-Yasuda and Fukoku Mutual.
A ‘dangerous’ belief nuclear weapons enhance security
Would joining the treaty mean nations like Australia, Japan, South Korea and NATO members would have to end their military cooperation with nuclear-armed states like the US?
No. There is nothing in the TPNW that prevents military cooperation with a nuclear-armed state, provided nuclear weapons activities are excluded.
Countries like New Zealand and Kazakhstan have already demonstrated that joining the treaty is fully compatible with ongoing military cooperation with, respectively, the US and Russia.
In a recent letter urging their governments to join the treaty, 56 former presidents, prime ministers and defence and foreign ministers from these nations said
By claiming protection from nuclear weapons, we are promoting the dangerous and misguided belief that nuclear weapons enhance security.
As states parties, we could remain in alliances with nuclear-armed states, as nothing in the treaty itself nor in our respective defence pacts precludes that.
But we would be legally bound never under any circumstances to assist or encourage our allies to use, threaten to use or possess nuclear weapons. Given the very broad popular support in our countries for disarmament, this would be an uncontroversial and much-lauded move.
The signatories include two former NATO secretaries-general, Willy Claes and Javier Solana.
Ban treaties have been proven to work with other outlawed weapons — landmines, cluster munitions and biological and chemical weapons. They have provided the basis and motivation for progressive efforts to control and eliminate these weapons. They are now significantly less produced, deployed and used, even by states that haven’t joined the treaties.
We can achieve the same result with nuclear weapons. As Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow said at the UN after the treaty was adopted,
This is the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.
The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will finally come into force after the 50th country (Honduras) ratified it over the weekend. The treaty will make the development, testing, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons illegal for those countries that have signed it.
This is an extraordinary achievement for those who have suffered the most from these weapons — including the hibakusha (survivors) of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the islanders who lived through nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific.
Since 1956, the hibakusha in Japan, South Korea, Brazil and elsewhere have been some of the most strident campaigners against the use of these weapons. Among them is a group of Japanese Catholics from Nagasaki whom I interviewed as part of my research collecting the oral histories of atomic bomb survivors.
A 92-year-old hibakusha of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945 and a brother in a Catholic order, Ozaki Tōmei, explained the significance of the treaty to survivors like him. He was orphaned from the bombing at 17 and never found his mother’s body.
The Germans made tools for war including poisonous gas, which was [eventually] banned […] However, when the USA made an atomic weapon, then they … wanted to try it out. It was a war […] they were human.
And so this is why we say we have to eliminate nuclear weapons […] They said they did it to end the war, but for the people who were struck, it was horrific […] there was no need to use it.
Treaty does not have support of nuclear powers
The treaty was adopted at the United Nations in 2017 by a vote of 122 nations in favour, one against and one abstention.
Sixty-nine nations, however, have not signed it, including all of the nuclear powers such as the US, UK, Russia, China, France, India, Pakistan and North Korea, as well as NATO member states (apart from the Netherlands who voted against), Japan and Australia.
Since the treaty was adopted, it needed ratification by 50 countries to come into force. This will now happen in 90 days.
The campaign for the treaty has relied heavily on civil society and organisations such as the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).
And from the beginning, it has exposed political fault lines. The United States has been particularly outspoken in its opposition to the treaty, warning last week the treaty “turns back the clock on verification and disarmament and is dangerous” to the 50-year-old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
The NPT sought to prevent the spread of nuclear arms beyond the five original weapons powers (the US, Russia, China, UK and France). It has been signed by 190 countries, including those five nations.
The head of ICAN, Beatrice Fihn, says the new treaty banning nuclear weapons merely builds on the nonproliferation treaty.
There’s no way you can undermine the nonproliferation treaty by banning nuclear weapons. It’s the end goal of the nonproliferation treaty.
States like Japan and Australia have opposed the treaty on the grounds their security is boosted by the US stockpile of nuclear weapons. Japan’s former prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has said the treaty
was created without taking into account the realities of security.
The efforts of hibakusha in advocating for a treaty
Making the bomb illegal turns an old US justification for the weapon on its head. Harry Stimson, the former US war secretary, argued in 1947 the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary to compel the Japanese to surrender at the end of the second world war.
The atomic bomb was more than a weapon of terrible destruction; it was a psychological weapon.
The damage from the bombings was colossal. It is unknown how many people were killed, but estimates range from 110,000 (the US army’s toll) to 210,000 (the figure accepted by ICAN and others).
At the forefront of the campaign to support the nuclear weapons ban treaty have been the voices of hibakusha who experienced the carnage firsthand.
Another Catholic hibakusha, Nakamura Kazutoshi, told me the stockpiling of nuclear weapons enables states to carry out genocide.
In war, we are at a level below animals. Among monkeys, or chimpanzees, there are no animals who would carry out a genocide.
A third hibakusha, 90-year-old Jōji Fukahori, told me about how he lost his mother and three younger siblings in the Nagasaki bombing.
His younger brother, Kōji, died an excruciating death around a week after the bombing, walking in the hot ash with no shoes and complaining to his brother, “I’m so hot!”
At the site where Fukahori’s brother was exposed, the temperature was about 1,000 degrees Celsius. Fukahori said,
You would have thought everyone would have turned into charcoal.
For Fukahori, the lasting effects of radiation exposure is a major reason why nuclear weapons must be banned. He continued:
the terror of radiation has to be fully communicated … The atomic bomb is unacceptable. I still cannot get over it.
Since 2009, Fukahori has been speaking out at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and on the Peace Boat, a non-governmental organisation that organises cruises where passengers learn about the consequences of using nuclear weapons from hibakusha.
Pressure building on Japan
The Japanese government is now under mounting pressure to ratify the treaty. Major Japanese financial institutions and companies have said they will no longer fund the production of nuclear weapons and nearly a third of all local assemblies have adopted proposals calling on the government to act.
The government, however, has been unmoved. In August, Abe gave a speech at a memorial service in Nagasaki, in which he suggested the effects of the bombings had been overcome.
Seventy-five years ago today, Nagasaki was reduced to ashes, with not a single tree or blade of grass remaining. Yet through the efforts of its citizens, it achieved reconstruction beautifully as we see today. Mindful of this, we again feel strongly that there is no trial that cannot be overcome and feel acutely how precious peace is.
A Japanese atomic researcher, who knows how Fukahori and other hibakusha have not been able to move on, told me Abe’s words don’t go far enough:
Rather than placing a ‘full-stop’ at the end of damages such as this, we have a necessity to make our claim that the damages are not finished.
The nuclear weapons ban treaty offers a moment of hope for all the hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still with us after 75 years. It is certainly their hope the ratification of the treaty now moves us one step closer to a world free of nuclear war.
But people may not realise there is also a ban on overseas travel for all Australian citizens and residents, subject to a limited number of exemptions.
Since March, about one in three requests to leave the country have been granted. This comes amid reports of Australians facing huge hurdles to see sick and dying relatives overseas.
So, what’s going on? Who can actually leave Australia at the moment?
What is the ban?
The ban on leaving Australia was put in place by Health Minister Greg Hunt on March 25, as an “emergency requirement” under the Biosecurity Act. It is the first time Australia has had such a ban, and it was made on the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.
An Australian citizen or permanent resident … must not leave Australian territory as a passenger on an outgoing aircraft or vessel.
The accompanying statement explains,
[This] is in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to represent a severe and immediate threat to human health in Australia and across the globe.
Is this legal?
The government legally made the determination under the Biosecurity Act, which gives the health minister power to put in place “any requirement” they believe is necessary to prevent or control the entry or spread of the virus into Australia.
International law recognises the right to leave any country, including your own, but there is no equivalent constitutional protection in Australia.
In other words, Australians don’t have a constitutional right to leave Australia.
Strict exit bans for citizens are generally associated with authoritarian states, like North Korea and the former USSR. But the Health Department has said the ban is needed because of the burden returning residents place on quarantine arrangements, the health system and testing regimes.
The government has also argued it is “impossible” to only ban travel to specific places, due to the fast-moving nature of the pandemic in different countries.
Who can leave Australia at the moment?
Anyone who is isn’t a citizen or resident is allowed to leave Australia.
Some Australians are also still free to leave. This includes those who are “ordinarily resident in a country other than Australia”, airline and maritime crew, outbound freight workers, and essential workers at offshore facilities.
All other citizens and residents must have an exemption if they want to leave. They need to apply online (which is free) and then bring the approved exemption to the airport.
To be granted an exemption, you must have a “compelling reason” for needing to leave Australian territory, and your travel must fall into one of the following categories:
compassionate or humanitarian grounds
part of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak
essential for the conduct of critical industries and business
to receive urgent medical treatment unavailable in Australia
urgent and unavoidable personal business
in the national interest.
Most applications to leave are not successful
Despite these exemptions, it is still difficult to get permission to leave. Only about one in three requests are being granted.
According to Border Force, between March and mid-August it received more than 104,000 requests to leave Australia. About 34,300 exemptions have been granted.
Exemption applications are assessed by Border Force and applicants are advised to apply at least two weeks but not more than three months before departure.
Border Force adds:
If you are travelling due to death or critical illness of a close family member, you can apply inside this timeframe and we will prioritise your application.
However, timeframes haven’t been guaranteed and people have reported significant delays even in emergency situations. If a request is refused, an applicant can reapply.
Failing to comply with the ban is a criminal offence, punishable by up to five years’ prison, a $63,000 fine, or both.
Are Victorians especially banned?
There is nothing to exclude Victorians, currently under Stage 3 and 4 restrictions, from applying to leave Australia.
The Victorian government directs residents to federal government advice regarding overseas trips.
However, Victorians would also need to comply with or seek exemptions from state-based restrictions (including for travel to the airport, for example) where an exemption was granted.
What are the problems with the ban?
Usually when governments pass legislation, they provide definitions of key terms. However, no definitions for any exemptions are included in the travel ban determination, which was made by Hunt and not reviewed by parliament.
What exemptions like “urgent and unavoidable personal business” cover is unclear, to say the least (luxury yacht, anyone?).
There have been repeated stories of Australians having enormous difficulties getting permission to see family and loved ones overseas. Although recent reports suggest the process is becoming easier.
One woman reported difficulty meeting the “compassionate grounds” exemption because her dying step-parent was not in hospital, due to a choice to spend his last days at home. Another received three different responses to the same request.
Applicants must provide sufficient documentation, but it is also unclear what documents are required. People whose documents are not in English must have them officially translated as part of an application. Those in distressed or bereaved states must nonetheless gather complex documentary evidence, which may include death certificates, or proof of an event or relationship.
Due to this lack of clarity, some people are seeking the advice of migration agents to help them leave Australia.
This adds to the ever-growing costs of mobility during the pandemic, while creating the extraordinary circumstance where legal advice is needed to help residents and citizens depart their own country.
When will the ban end?
Australia’s complete travel ban has not been adopted in similar countries. In New Zealand, Canada and Britain, overseas travel is strongly advised against but not banned.
Other countries to have completely prohibited travel include Kazakhstan, Lithuania and Uzbekistan.
In response, a deal is being negotiated between TikTok’s parent company ByteDance and US software giant Microsoft. If successful, Microsoft will take over the app’s operations in the US and potentially also in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
A US ban would not be unprecedented. India barred TikTok last month, alongside dozens of other Chinese-owned apps and websites.
… continuing dialogue with the United States government, including with the president.
Moving ownership to a US company could help address concerns surrounding the perceived influence of the Chinese government over TikTok. But there will need to be strong oversight to ensure existing user data is transferred entirely to Microsoft’s control.
While Microsoft has pledged to ensure TikTok data are deleted “from servers outside the country after it is transferred” – it would be difficult to prove copies had not been made before control was handed over.
TikTok won’t be alone though – Facebook and Twitter are both due to attend. It is, however, unlikely the Microsoft acquisition will have much influence on the proceedings as the deal is still in the early days of discussion.
Microsoft’s acquisition may introduce fresh concerns about the US government’s influence over TikTok. Although, this is perhaps more politically palatable than potential Chinese government influence over the app – given the Chinese Communist Party’s unsavoury record of privacy abuses.
Perhaps the only winner from the deal would be ByteDance itself. A product that is increasingly disliked by foreign governments will only become harder to sell with time. It would make sense for ByteDance to cash out its asset sooner rather than later.
The deal would also likely earn it a significant payout, given TikTok’s millions of users.
Despite ongoing allegations, there is no solid evidence of a threat to either national security or personal data from using TikTok. Many of the concerns hinge on data sovereignty – specifically, where data are stored and who can use and access them.
TikTok has responded to allegations by stating its user data are not stored in China and are not subject to Chinese government influence or access.
That said, while TikTok user data may well be stored outside China, it is unclear whether the Chinese government has already secured access, or will seek to do so later through legal channels.
There are, however, other potential issues that may be driving the US’s concerns.
For instance, in 2018 an unexpected consequence of sharing fitness tracker data through the Strava website inadvertently revealed the locations of secret US military bases.
Thus, services such as TikTok which are meant to be relatively benign (if used ethically) can, under certain circumstances, present unexpected threats to national security. This may explain why Australia’s defence forces have banned the app.
A number of TikTok users reserved tickets to the Trump rally and didn’t show up, as a protest against the president. The rally saw only a few thousand supporters attend, out of hundreds of thousands of allocated tickets.
TikTok, the made-in-China, video-sharing platform beloved by youth and influencers alike, is suddenly everywhere in our new world of COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing.
The platform’s growth has been tremendous, but this has come at a cost: it has come under increasing scrutiny from politicians in the US and allies like Australia over concerns about potential breaches of data security and the platform’s perceived ties to the Chinese government.
There are some reasons to be concerned. The platform is known to censor material deemed sensitive by the Chinese government.
Last year, for example, TikTok was accused of manipulating videos relating to Hong Kong pro-democracy protests and was forced to apologise for censoring a video criticising China’s crackdown on Uyghurs. This prompted claims of it being an arm of China’s state-run media system.
Digital security experts also point to the potential for the data TikTok collects from users to be sent to China’s servers.
But there is not clear evidence yet that TikTok poses a threat to the national security of countries like the US or Australia, or that the CCP interferes in the overseas operations of the company.
TikTok’s physical distancing from Beijing
TikTok is owned by the Beijing-based technology company Bytedance, which also operates a Chinese version of the platform called Douyin.
TikTok and Douyin are completely separate entities. They store their data in different centres and are governed by different sets of rules and business operations. TikTok is designed for the overseas market with its data stored in Singapore and the US, while Douyin targets solely the Chinese domestic market with its data stored in China.
As the pressure has mounted against the platform in the West, however, TikTok has shifted into survival mode through de-Sinicization. While users are posting videos on TikTok from the safety of their bedrooms, the company is deliberately distancing itself from Beijing.
Part of this distancing strategy involves announcing plans to move its operational headquarters outside China. According to industry reports in China this involved disbanding the Beijing-based overseas operation team, as well as cutting off the Chinese team’s access to its international data pool.
TikTok’s most prominent PR move has been hiring key international players in communications, entertainment, government relations, IP protection, cybersecurity and global business solutions to change the way the company is structured and run in its overseas markets.
The appointment of non-Chinese executives, such as new US CEO Kevin Mayer (Walt Disney’s former top streaming executive), illustrates its global aspirations.
Of course, bringing foreigners into the corporate tent is not a new strategy for a Chinese tech firm. Alibaba and Huawei have done this with mixed success; Huawei, in particular, has failed to convince Western governments it would not pose a security risk to their 5G networks.
But TikTok is a different kind of proposition. Unlike other Chinese tech companies and platforms (such as WeChat), TikTok does not operate in China. The platform was created to be global.
TikTok and tit-for-tat retaliations
The response to TikTok’s rise in the US comes from the Donald Trump manual of political strategy. When the trade war between the US and China broke in January 2018, the two nations engaged in a tit-for-tat series of tariffs, from steel and automobiles to pork and soybeans.
In the latest round of recriminations and political bluster, Trump suggested he was considering using TikTok as a way to retaliate against China for its handling of the coronavirus. The idea is to erect a barrier against TikTok and ask like-minded allies to do the same.
What this reaction precipitates, however, is a move toward national internet sovereignty. Some are calling this the age of the “splinternet”, rather than the internet as we know it, a borderless space.
For starters, erecting barriers against platforms offers limited effectiveness because users will find a way around them.
But banning TikTok, or any other Chinese platform, is also taking a page directly from Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “little red book” for the digital age.
The list of Western platforms and news sites now blocked in China is very long. Playing China’s game of shuttering foreign sites will only provide more ammunition for Chinese propaganda against the West – and lead to more tit-for-tat closures.
Blacklisting companies or individuals based on country of origin and citing national security concerns sets a dangerous precedent. It’s akin to going down the path of digital McCarthyism; not only will this erode online freedom, it won’t address the more significant problems of data harvesting and news manipulation — practices that are not unique to Chinese platforms.
Some critics have instead argued for more coordinated global governance of tech companies. As Samm Sacks writes in Foreign Affairs,
we need stricter rules for data security and privacy for all companies, not just Chinese ones … regardless of country of origin, [to] manage online content in an era of misinformation.
As with all user-driven platforms, content moderation on TikTok runs up against issues of freedom of speech. Censorship will continue be a concern for the platform, and TikTok’s content moderators will inevitably be tested by those who want to use it to challenge China.
In the interest of maintaining its brand credibility as a truly global company, TikTok’s smartest move would be to continue to distance itself from Beijing — and for Beijing to do the same.
Up until Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s announcement of a ban on military-style weapons yesterday, New Zealand had a system of licensing firearms holders and used a process of application, vetting, reference checks and attendance at firearms safety lectures.
Knowledge of the Firearms Code was required and tested. A firearms license holder was able to then legally acquire any number of firearms. New Zealand has not set up an arms register since the Arms Act was enacted in 1983.
There is no tally of how many firearms are in New Zealand, and no log of how many firearms any individual may have. There is an estimated 1.3 million firearms legally owned in New Zealand, and nothing beyond speculation about how many illegal weapons have found their way in.
With a certain class of license, military style semi-automatic weapons (in unlimited numbers) could be acquired legally. Some 14,000 of these weapons are thought to be legally owned in New Zealand.
Loop holes in current legislation abound. These make it possible to modify weapons and obtain large magazines, and even to buy armour-piercing bullets. Why, in a peaceful, democratic and open society, does anyone need a military-style automatic weapon and armour piercing ammunition?
Prime Minister Ardern has shown the decisive leadership we should see from a leader who genuinely cares about the people she leads. She has finally grasped the nettle, exploiting the current situation to drive through the changes New Zealand should have made 23 years ago following the Port Arthur massacre. She has outwitted those who might oppose her move, because there is no argument that anybody could muster now that would in any way resonate with the vast majority of New Zealanders.
Ardern has announced the ban on a number of weapons, signalled changes to the firearms licensing regime and the need to keep tabs on the national recreational arsenal. But there is a tough road ahead.
Politicians have an unquestioning faith that legislation is sufficient, but it is largely impotent without adequate resourcing for the enforcement of new rules. With only an estimate to work on, New Zealand Police (the administrators of firearms regulations) will have to identify and locate the owners of these weapons and implement the buy-back and amnesty that will be required.
Many owners will give them up. Their humanity will outdo their desire to have them, but the shocking reality of panic buying of semi-automatics since the Christchurch tragedy signals that clearly there are those who will seek to subvert the government’s intent. Police will have to investigate those who fail to cooperate, safely seize the weapons and prosecute the offenders.
Most firearms license holders in New Zealand do not own military style semi-automatic weapons. Many are rural, recreational hunters or use their weapons on ranges. They look after their weapons responsibly, secure them safely, own them legally and use them at no risk to the general public.
Most who own semi-automatic weapons are no different. We should not demonise a section of society simply because of the horrific, obscene and brutally inhuman actions of one lonely individual who no more represents gun owners than he does any other group of New Zealanders.
Illegal weapon imports
But this is not the issue. The issue is that the privilege of owning a certain class of weapons is not worth the terrible cost of 50 people being gunned down in prayer. New Zealand is already seeing the steady illegal importation of firearms, often tied to the increasing movement of illicit narcotics. Banning semi-automatics will increase the demand for the importation of these weapons illegally, adding extra pressure on law enforcement agencies.
For a ban on military style semi-automatics to have meaning, New Zealand’s long coast line, its airports and sea ports, through which illegal commodities are moving, will need resources that allow fit-for-purpose enforcement powers, people and tactics.
The changes New Zealand will now make will not guarantee it will be free of terrorism in the future. Other countries have much stricter firearms regulations, having taken far stronger measures years ago, but they have still suffered terrorist attacks. Firearms reform is one small step for a country that will need to address a plethora of gaps in its security approach.
New Zealand’s terrorism legislation is inadequate. It was found wanting when police attempted to apply it in 2007 during the “Urewera raids”, but charges could not be laid then. New Zealand’s then Solicitor General David Collins described the Terrorism Suppression Act then as incoherent and unworkable. How New Zealand manages social media needs review, and the traditional minimalist approach to national security will no longer suffice.
New Zealand has faced security crises before during the Russian scare in the 1880s and the second world war in the 1940s. It has often been caught out doing “too little, too late” to be saved only by its distance from any potential threat. The internet has extinguished that distance. It has brought the ills of the rest of the world to us. It is already too late. We must ensure that what we do now, is not too little.
If politics is a factor, then several possibilities present themselves in what has been a rocky relationship over the past several years. Beijing could be signalling its displeasure over Australia’s decision to bar the technology company Huawei from participating in the build-out of Australia’s 5G communications network.
Other possible causes of Chinese unhappiness include Canberra’s decision to deny a re-entry permit to Australia for businessman Huang Xiangmo. This follows a decision to deny Huang Australian citizenship on grounds that his links with the Chinese Communist Party render him a security risk.
Delicate late-stage negotiations between the US and China on trade could also be a factor. Beijing might regard meting out a bit of grief to one of America’s closest allies as a reminder of its ability to exact retribution if things do not go its way.
Then there are the twin issues of the South China Sea and China’s push into the southwest Pacific.
Canberra is a persistent – if low-key – critic of Beijing’s militarisation of disputed territory in waters that are subject to claims and counter-claims before international tribunals.
These waters span trade routes through which the bulk of Australia’s seaborne trade passes to its markets in north Asia, including trans-shipment points like Dalian.
Beijing will also not have overlooked a vigorous campaign against its interests being waged by elements of the Australian foreign and security policy establishment.
Sections of the Australian media, feeding off ASPI criticism of cyber breaches, will have added to Chinese displeasure.
Then there are irritants like the continued detention on security grounds of Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun. Yang has been a persistent critic of the Communist Party.
While a freeze initiated by Beijing – during which no senior Australian official visited China for high-level talks for the better part of two years – has been lifted, relations remain problematic.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne went to Beijing late last year for talks with her Chinese counterpart. These were designed to “re-set” the relationship. But episodes like the “ban” on coal shipments foreshadow further difficulties in the Sino-Australia relationship as China’s power and influence grow.
These coal shipments, it should be noted, amount to a relatively small proportion of the 300 million tonnes shipped annually.
About 7 million tonnes passes through Dalian. This is coking or metallurgical coal for the steel industry, to distinguish it from thermal coal for power generation.
In 2017-19 coal exports to China were worth about A$13 billion, second only to exports of A$50 billion of iron ore and concentrates.
However, if the ban spreads to other ports Australian exporters will have cause for much deeper concern.
Uncertainties among Australian exporters are not helped by an opaque Chinese system that denies transparent explanations – unless it suits Beijing – of actions that are unfriendly to its trading partners.
China’s slowdown in imports of Australian wine last year is a case in point. The problem has eased, but the episode unnerved wine exporters whose production is geared significantly to a booming Chinese market.
Australian officials will also be concerned about action taken against Canadian nationals who have been detained in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest – pending extradition to the US – of the daughter of the Huawei founder.
The arrest of two Canadians – former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor – for allegedly endangering China’s national security is widely viewed as retaliation against Canada for the arrest of Meng.
What all this tells us is that dealing with a more nationalistic, assertive and ruthless China in pursuit of what it regards as its national interests will become more, not less, difficult.
Western officials can talk about a rules-based international order until they’re blue in the face, but if the rules don’t correspond with Beijing’s own preferences, then chances are it will disregard them.
This is a reality that has taken some time to impress itself on those who might have believed that encouragement to China to live up to expectations of it becoming a “responsible stakeholder” will survive an encounter with Chinese self-interest.
The appropriateness of Malcolm Turnbull’s trenchant criticisms of Barnaby Joyce’s “shocking error of judgement” and his announcement of a ban on ministers having sex with staffers has already been widely debated.
However, when he made those statements, Turnbull also raised much broader issues about the position of women in parliament that are worth discussing in more depth.
Turnbull acknowledged that there were “some very serious issues about the culture of this place, of this parliament” that involved gender.
He stated: “Many women … who work in this building understand very powerfully what I am saying”. Consequently, the old Ministerial Code of Conduct needed to be revised because it didn’t adequately reflect the values “of workplaces where women are respected”.
I recognise that respect in workplaces is not entirely a gender issue, of course. But the truth is, as we know, most of the ministers, most of the bosses in this building if you like, are men and there is a gender, a real gender perspective here.
Turnbull is crafting an image of “protective masculinity”, of a fatherly protectiveness toward potentially vulnerable women, which he hopes will appeal both to social conservatives and feminists.
Leading Liberal Party social conservatives such as Scott Morrison have supported his ban. As has been pointed out, Turnbull’s position also references the challenging of conventional gender power relations in the workplace by movements such as #MeToo. (Though it should be noted that both some social conservatives and feminists may have reservations about the specific measures Turnbull advocates.)
It was an acknowledgement of gendered power relations in parliament that more socially conservative predecessors such as John Howard or Tony Abbott would have been unlikely to make. Indeed, Turnbull’s broader statements also raise feminist issues that may cause some tensions with social conservatives in the longer term.
For example, why, as Turnbull acknowledges, are most of the ministers in parliament male?
Turnbull was pulled up when he mistakenly claimed to have the most female cabinet ministers of any Australian government so far. It was pointed out that, at best, his record equalled Kevin Rudd’s, and that number has actually dropped since the resignation of Sussan Ley.
Indeed, Rudd had a higher percentage of female cabinet members – 30% compared with Turnbull’s initial 27% that dropped to 24% after Ley’s resignation, and to 22% when Turnbull expanded his cabinet from 21 to 23. Furthermore, there is only one female minister out of the seven in the Turnbull government’s outer ministry.
Turnbull should be praised for having both a female foreign minister and defence minister, since these are senior portfolios not traditionally held by women.
Nonetheless, Peter Van Onselen has written tellingly regarding the apparent gender bias in Liberal cabinet selections, and the serious female talent that has been overlooked as a result, in both the Abbott and Turnbull cabinets.
Despite this, the situation has obviously improved markedly under Turnbull.
Julie Bishop has talked about her experience of being the only woman in Abbott’s first cabinet, and of how she’d put forward excellent ideas that were ignored, only to have a male colleague repeat the same idea and be lauded for it.
It was, she said, a form of unconscious bias that resulted in “almost a deafness”. Clearly cultural change and more respect for women in the workplace were needed there.
Women are seriously underrepresented among Liberal MPs. As of November 2017, only 22% of Liberal politicians were women (with Labor’s proportion then being 45%).
Consequently, it isn’t just the culture in ministers’ offices that needs changing. Some female Liberal politicians, such as senator Linda Reynolds, have drawn attention to the need for broader cultural change in the Liberal Party to ensure more female politicians are recruited and women’s abilities are recognised.
Some have even suggested that, given merit is clearly not being recognised in candidate pre-selection, the Liberal Party should consider introducing quotas like Labor has done.
Parliamentary culture in general remains highly gendered, with women often bearing the brunt of sexist attitudes. The culture is also one that has often rewarded particularly macho conceptions of masculinity that can disadvantage some men as well as women.
No wonder women can become the target or collateral damage, often aided and abetted by highly gendered media coverage. The problems are not just confined to the Coalition, pervading most if not all parties, although some are doing better than others.
Indeed, while it has substantially increased its number of female politicians, Labor sometimes falls back on some of its old habits in regard to gender. These include appointing exceptionally capable female candidates to try to improve Labor’s image after male politicians have made a mess of things — a scenario that former premiers Carmen Lawrence and Joan Kirner knew well.
Think of Kristina Keneally replacing Sam Dastyari in the Senate – although at least she is guaranteed her spot, unlike Ged Kearney, who is faced with the difficult task of trying to retain Batman for Labor against the Greens following David Feeney’s departure.
However, clearly things are changing, and the gendered nature of parliamentary politics is under challenge. Turnbull’s acknowledgement of gendered power imbalances in parliament reveals that, even if he avoided discussing his own party’s contribution to them.
All states in Australia, other than South Australia, have now had a female premier, with some having had more than one. While Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, regularly had her gender used against her, Australians will be watching the progress of New Zealand’s third female prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, with great interest. Perhaps, one day, we will even stop discussing her baby and her shoes.
The recent revelation of a sexual relationship between Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and a young woman working in his office has created considerable embarrassment for the government and those involved. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull responded by announcing that sexual relations between ministers and their staff will be prohibited under a change to the ministerial code of conduct.
Turnbull gave several justifications for the ban. These included that although ministers were entitled to privacy in personal matters, they must lead by example because they occupy positions of responsibility and trust.
Recently in the US, sexual relationships between Capitol Hill lawmakers and their staffers were prohibited in response to multiple scandals and in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
Inappropriate and unlawful sexual behaviour at work
To judge whether workplace relationship bans are an effective or appropriate response to alleged or actual sexual misconduct, we must first understand the difference between “inappropriate” sexual relationships and unlawful sexual behaviour.
Organisational codes of conduct often set out guidelines around the behaviour of supervisors and managers over their subordinates. A power imbalance between two employees may arise due to age, seniority or other factors, such as the capacity to influence outcomes.
The development of a sexual relationship in particular – even if it is apparently consensual – creates the potential for abuse of position, for damage to the less-empowered and potentially vulnerable individual, and for conflicts of interests to arise.
A common requirement in codes of employee conduct is for the person with the greater power to notify their supervisor of the relationship and immediately cease any decision-making role in respect of the subordinate. Such guidelines raise awareness of the potential for workplace relationships that may lead to later problems for those involved, and raise risks for organisational reputation and functioning.
By providing a clear course of action, such codes of conduct also acknowledge that workplace relationships do occur.
In contrast, outright bans on consensual sexual relationships at work are likely to be seen by many employees as over-reaching into their private lives. They may also perceive that it undermines their autonomy and dignity.
Retail fashion chain American Apparel recently introduced a policy barring managers from engaging in romantic relationships with employees over whom they had a perceived or actual influence. The policy also mandated the disclosure of such relationships – not to the person’s supervisor, but the human resources department.
Romantic relationships were defined broadly, and included both casual dating as well as committed relationships.
In recent years, a considerable blurring of public/private boundaries in organisational life has occurred. Examples include the installation and monitoring of CCTV in workplaces, the enforcement of wearable surveillance devices that measure employees’ productivity in real time, and the “profiling” of job applicants through searches for private online information.
These employer actions have reshaped the boundaries between the relatively public sphere of work and the private lives of employees.
Workplace relationship bans may also be impractical and have unintended consequences. Many people meet their future partners at work or engage in short- or long-term consensual relationships that run their course.
The prospects of an employer effectively standing between two adults who are attracted to each other, or who fall in love, and preventing a relationship developing between them, seems slim.
Worse, bans may drive relationships underground. Employees who fear punitive consequences from ignoring a codified directive will likely conduct the relationship in secret. This may obfuscate loyalties and threaten the development of trust among co-workers. Engaging in a secretive relationship when those involved would prefer it was open may also prove stressful.
At its most extreme, regulating workplace relationships may damage women’s careers rather than contribute to them through a raising of professional standards.
Some male executives and senior politicians such as US Vice-President Mike Pence have been said to avoid working with women altogether to avoid being accused of inappropriate behaviour. This constrains opportunities for sensitive and strategic workplace discussions, and holds women back from key advancement opportunities.
Balancing competing interests
Joyce’s case raises several important issues insofar as preventing fall-out when colleagues engage in romantic and/or sexual relationships.
Banning relationships is likely to be ineffective and may result in disengagement, secrecy and resentment by employees of the encroachment of employment policies into genuinely private matters.
Outright bans also imply a connection between sexual misconduct and romantic relationships that is dubious at best. For example, although some sexual harassment cases arise following the breakdown of a former consensual relationship, most do not.
However, relationships of unequal power clearly need to be carefully managed to avoid the harmful consequences that may result for those involved. This can be achieved through carefully crafted and implemented policies and practices that raise awareness among employees of expectations about professional behaviour and where the greatest risks lie.
However, power comes in many forms. And it can only be judged on the basis of the particular circumstances and people involved.
Policies must also be sensitive to balancing the competing interests of employees and employers. This includes employees’ interests in privacy and autonomy, and employer interests in promoting workplace harmony and avoiding reputational damage.
Responses need to also acknowledge the reality that relationships between consenting adults are an inevitable and almost certainly enduring feature of many contemporary workplaces. Attempting to ban them is unlikely to be a panacea.