How to challenge racism by listening to those who experience it


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People across the world paid their respects to those who lost their lives during the terror attack in Christchurch.
Andy Rain/EPA, CC BY-SA

Mohan Jyoti Dutta, Massey University

The terrorist attack in Christchurch was an expression of racist hatred that is being disseminated systematically across the globe by some media, think tanks and grassroots groups.

To actively challenge and dismantle racism, we need to create communication platforms for people who experience it. At the Center for Culture-centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), we have developed an activist-in-residence programme as a framework for moving voices from the margins to the centre.

This month, Māori activist Tame Iti completed his residency.




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


Global network of racist Islamophobia

The Christchurch terror attack is a manifestation of Islamophobia, cultivated by images, disinformation and false narratives that are anchored in the portrayal of a Muslim threat to civilisations, especially western civilisations.

An entire industry has built up to manufacture and amplify hate. It is funded by a small network of foundations, political interests and private donors. They profit from the circulation of hate and propel Islamophobia for political and economic gains.

Hate generates ratings. It captures viewers, justifies neocolonial policies and spawns an entire industry of hate products such as video games and music videos. Individual acts of racist violence have to be seen within this wider context.

Manufacturing a threat

The attack is part of a global network of racist terror that is often legitimised by the structures of the state. We need to examine the close relationship between donors and political parties and grassroots right-wing groups that circulate hatred toward Muslims.

Media images are rife with racist narratives of the Muslim threat, often juxtaposed with narratives of threats posed by migrants and refugees.

The alleged perpetrator of the Christchurch attack referred to US President Donald Trump as an inspiration for the fight to protect white supremacy. This offers an insight into the global reach of the Islamophobia industry. In several speeches on his campaign trail, Trump amplified the trope of Sharia law, stating that Muslims would have to denounce their commitment to Sharia before being granted immigration visas to the US.




Read more:
Explainer: what is ‘sharia law’? And does it fit with Western law?


Similarly, politicians of various right-wing parties across western democracies have routinely circulated the image of the Muslim migrant threatening western civilisation. In the US, groups such as ACT for America, led by Brigette Gabriel with over 750,000 members, manufacture the threat of the Muslim “other” to organise communities around hatred of Islam. The group positions itself as a national security organisation, drawing up accounts of unwed Muslim migrant and refugee men who threaten white purity and exaggerating links between the influx of Muslim refugees and the threat of rape. Similarly, the image of the Muslim terrorist is often deployed as a heuristic for cultivating the fear of Muslims.

The effects of hatred

The effects of racism are documented in a substantive body of research. A study comparing reliance on media versus personal contact for information about Muslims found that media spread stereotypes, negative emotions and support for harmful policies. The opposite was found for those who relied on personal contact to learn about Muslims.

The study also observed that perceptions of Muslims as aggressive were associated with support for public policies harming Muslims, including military action in Muslim countries and restricting civil liberties of Muslims. Similar studies have observed that white Americans who rely on media as the primary source of information about African Americans – as opposed to personal contact – are more likely to express stereotypical beliefs and hold prejudicial attitudes.

In our own ethnographic work with African Americans in Gary, Indiana, we have documented the effects of racist attitudes and behaviours on the well-being of communities of colour. Racist discourse not only creates continued stress for people of colour, but has a direct impact through threats of violence. The colonial context of New Zealand is embedded in racist ideology that has an impact on the health and well-being of Māori.

Images of the Muslim “other” help sell entertainment programmes and video games, political campaigns cultivating the narrative of “white genocide” and weapons and new technologies sold by the arms industry.

Transforming Islamophobia through voice

Our research suggests that giving voice to people who experience racism forms the basis for a transformation of racist and colonialist structures. A commitment to challenging the industry of hatred targeting Muslims requires regulation and democratic processes. Everyday forms of normalised Islamophobia need to be challenged as much as extremist articulations of “white genocide”.

Acknowledging racism is the first step toward countering hate. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern responded to the attacks by saying “this is not us”. But we can only have a conversation about racism if we acknowledge the white privilege that enables and upholds it.

We need to create opportunities for face-to-face interactions with Muslims in societies that often normalise racism. This means listening to voices that express the uncomfortable experiences of racism.

Recognising the links between racism toward Muslims, immigrants and indigenous peoples is the first step toward dismantling it and beginning a process of decolonising anti-racist interventions.The Conversation

Mohan Jyoti Dutta, Dean’s Chair Professor, Massey University

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

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Everyday racism fuels prejudice and hate. But we can challenge it



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Establishing relationships with people who are different from ourselves is one of the best approaches to reducing prejudice.
(AAP/Jono Searle, CC BY-ND

Kumar Yogeeswaran; Chris G. Sibley, University of Auckland; Danny Osborne, University of Auckland; Marc Wilson, Victoria University of Wellington, and Mike Grimshaw

In the aftermath of the Christchurch terror attacks a month ago, New Zealanders are grappling with difficult, albeit necessary, questions about discrimination and casual racism.

The response to the horrific attack has been heartwarming. Tens of thousands of people from different backgrounds offered support to the Muslim community and paid their respects to those senselessly killed and wounded. The response of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been similarly refreshing, and has become a global talking point. This gives us hope for a better future.

But lurking behind news articles and commentary proclaiming that this is “not us”, debate is growing about what this atrocity also tells us that we have been reticent to acknowledge.




Read more:
How to challenge racism by listening to those who experience it


Everyday racism links to extremism

In some ways, both of these narratives ring true. On the one hand, we have bought into New Zealand’s high global ranking for tolerance and inclusion. On the other hand, New Zealand’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) and those of us who research prejudice and bigotry routinely find evidence for everyday experiences of casual racism. These experiences give extremism the space it needs to breathe.

One in three of the complaints received by the HRC in New Zealand is about racial discrimination. In 2017, the commission launched a Give Nothing to Racism campaign fronted by acclaimed film director Taika Waititi.

The New Zealand Human Rights Commission launched a campaign in 2017 to highlight everyday racism.

Everyday, or “casual” racism and bigotry can appear relatively subtle or blatant. It may include comments such as complimenting someone who doesn’t fit the dominant group for being “well-spoken”, calling someone a “good” Muslim/Māori/Asian, excusing race-based jokes or comparisons as “just joking”. These seemingly benign comments are often accompanied with more blatant experiences of ethnic slurs, being told to go back to one’s country, or managers admitting they do not hire people with “foreign” sounding names (a violation of New Zealand law).

Compounded with such day-to-day experiences is research spanning decades and using a variety of tools (including neuroscience methods, reaction-time measures, and behavioural measures) to show bigotry lies on a continuum from blatant to subtle.

It’s worth mentioning, even subtle biases contribute to negative outcomes for minority groups’ health, well-being and participation in wider society. And even subconsciously perceiving minorities as “less civilised” can fuel intergroup conflict and violence towards minority groups, as shown by decades of research

While terrorism may represent the actions by a small number of extremists, they are fuelled by social norms that allow these ideologies to take root and propagate. As acclaimed French theorist Jean Baudrillard observed in The Spirit of Terrorism:

terrorism merely crystallizes all the ingredients in suspension.

Social norms shape attitudes

This does not imply that communities themselves are responsible for acts of terrorism, but rather that terrorism reflects what circulates in geopolitics, national politics, normative beliefs of those around us, the media and the influence of other ideological and social forces. Global context is, of course, important, but New Zealand now needs to reflect on how social norms within our own community can inadvertently promote hate and prejudice.

In Christchurch, and New Zealand more generally, extremist groups have been omnipresent for decades. Just last year, there was a white supremacist march down a main street in Christchurch that received numerous car horn toots of support. Students in Auckland have reported an increase in extremist group messaging on campus, even after the disbanding of a controversial European student association.




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


More broadly, data from the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Survey (NZAVS) show that 28% of New Zealanders are willing to express negative feelings toward Muslims. Fortunately, this is where all of us may be able to contribute to reinforcing the inclusive and tolerant society we tout in international rankings.

Where to from here

Well-intentioned and fair-minded people are often unaware of everyday experiences of members of minority groups. They often dismiss them as unrepresentative because the majority has a psychological investment in believing it “doesn’t happen here”. But such experiences do happen here as empirical research consistently finds, and these experiences cannot be undone simply through a similar number of positive experiences. People have a “negativity bias”, which means that negative events are weighed more heavily than positive ones. And if we have limited opportunities to forge meaningful close connections with people from other groups, then all it takes is a handful of negative experiences to wash away the benefits of other positive interactions and create distrust and social distancing between groups. Research shows although positive experiences are more common, negative experiences influence our attitudes more strongly.

Even as we work in increasingly diverse workplaces, our social circles tend to be fairly homogenous. Data from the NZAVS show that as recently as 2017, 64% of White New Zealanders report that they did not spend any time in the last week socialising with someone Māori. Some 83% say the same about socialising with someone Pasifika, and 77% report spending no time with someone Asian, suggesting that for many of us, our social networks are largely homogenous.

While this is similar to patterns elsewhere in the world, these homogenous networks create psychological distance between “us” and “them”. This also insulates us from hearing differing perspectives because minorities often fear that they will be seen as complainers if they share negative experiences in casual settings.

Instead, establishing relationships with people who are different from ourselves promotes positive intergroup contact, which is one of the most well-established approaches to reducing prejudice. Similarly, promoting social environments that encourage dialogue and cooperation, establishing common goals and providing opportunities for multicultural experiences offer some starting points for how to move forward.

At a time when the UN estimates more than 250 million people live outside of their country of birth, cultural diversity is an inevitable reality. It means we must learn to live and work together, and at the very least tolerate our differences. If each of us works to remove everyday bigotry within our immediate environment, we make it that much harder for extremist ideologies to take hold.The Conversation

Kumar Yogeeswaran, Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology; Chris G. Sibley, Professor, University of Auckland; Danny Osborne, Associate Professor of Political Psychology, University of Auckland; Marc Wilson, Professor of Psychology, Victoria University of Wellington, and Mike Grimshaw, Associate Professor of Sociology

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

The latest citizenship-stripping plan risks statelessness, indefinite detention and constitutional challenge


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Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiling tough new proposals to strip extremists of their Australian citizenship.
Joel Carrett/AAP

Sangeetha Pillai, UNSW

This week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton announced the federal government’s intention to introduce changes to Australia’s citizenship-stripping laws. The proposed changes would likely make Australia’s regime for citizenship-stripping the most expansive in the world. I’ll outline how the proposal would change the current law, and analyse its key elements.

What are Australia’s current citizenship-stripping laws?

In 2015, Australia introduced one of the most expansive regimes anywhere for citizenship deprivation on national security grounds. Under the current law, people can lose Australian citizenship against their will in two key ways:

  • Conduct-based citizenship deprivation: In certain circumstances, a citizen outside Australia can lose citizenship where the person has engaged in activities defined by reference to national security offences. A person does not need to be convicted of an offence to lose citizenship in this manner.

  • Conviction-based citizenship deprivation: The Minister for Home Affairs also has the power to revoke a person’s Australian citizenship where the person has been convicted of particular national security offences, and sentenced to at least six years’
    imprisonment. This is generally the only way in which people within Australia can be stripped of Australian citizenship against their will.




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Currently, it is possible for the government to strip a person of Australian citizenship only if the person is a dual citizen. This means that, at present, Australian law does not allow a person to be deprived of Australian citizenship if this would render them stateless.

Dutton has said that the existing citizenship-stripping laws have been used to deprive nine people of their Australian citizenship. Very little information on the circumstances of these deprivations is available. However, it is clear that at least six of these instances involved citizens outside Australia who lost their citizenship on the basis of conduct committed overseas. There has been no reported instance of a person within Australia being deprived of Australian citizenship, or of the conviction-based ground for citizenship deprivation having been used.

What changes would the proposed laws introduce?

The government’s new proposal would make it easier for people to be stripped of their Australian citizenship in two ways.

Changes to the dual citizenship requirement

If the proposed changes become law, it will no longer be necessary for a person to definitively hold dual citizenship before losing Australian citizenship. A joint media release from the offices of Morrison and Dutton states:

The Government will…change the threshold for determining dual citizenship. This change aims to improve the minister’s scope to determine a person’s foreign citizenship status.

A bill has yet to go before parliament, and it is not clear from this statement exactly what the government envisages. One possibility is the legislation will give the minister the power to decide whether or not a person is a foreign citizen. This is likely to raise constitutional difficulties. As the High Court has made clear on many occasions, whether a person is a foreign citizen is a question determined by the law of the foreign country concerned.

Another possibility is that the legislation will allow a person to be stripped of Australian citizenship where the minister thinks it is reasonably likely, but not certain, the person has dual citizenship. As the recent referrals of multiple federal parliamentarians to the High Court over potential foreign citizenship illustrate, it can often be difficult to conclusively determine when a person has foreign citizenship. However, many people – including those born in Australia to Australian parents – hold dual citizenship as a result of a familial connection to a foreign country.

A change of this nature could also raise constitutional problems. The High Court has not yet determined the extent of the Commonwealth’s power to deprive a person of Australian citizenship. There is a plausible argument that certain citizens, especially those who hold only Australian citizenship or who have no substantive connection to a foreign country, are part of the Australian constitutional community, and are protected against citizenship deprivation.




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Government’s own ‘freedom commissioner’ Tim Wilson questions citizenship plan


On a practical level, enabling the minister to revoke a person’s Australian citizenship without it being clear the person has citizenship in a foreign country creates a very real risk of rendering the person stateless. This would place Australia in violation of its obligations under Article 8 of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which prevents signatory countries from depriving people of their nationality if it would render them stateless.

Australia has signed up to an international agreement not to render people stateless.
Shutterstock

Where a person inside Australia is deprived of Australian citizenship they become vulnerable to removal from Australia, and immigration detention until removal is possible. Where it is not clear that the person has citizenship in a foreign country, there is a likelihood of such detention being lengthy, or even indefinite.

Changes to the minimum sentence for conviction-based deprivation

The government’s media release also says:

The proposed changes would enable the minister to cease the citizenship of anyone who is convicted of a terrorism offence in Australia, irrespective of the sentence they receive. This removes the current requirement that a terrorist offender must be sentenced to at least six years’ imprisonment.

Currently, the minister has power to revoke a person’s citizenship only on conviction-based grounds where a person is convicted of a select list of national security offences. It is not clear whether the government intends to retain or expand this select list of offences.

An anti-terrorism exercise at Cologne Bonn airport in Germany on November 20.
Marius Becker/dpa

Either way, the proposal is concerning. In 2015, before the current citizenship revocation laws were introduced, the Abbott government attempted to attach citizenship revocation to a much wider range of national security offences, with no requirement for a minimum sentence. A number of experts advised that this ran a risk of falling foul of the Constitution.

The more limited current legislation was ultimately arrived at following an inquiry by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. It found that restricting the list of offences and requiring a minimum six year sentence was necessary to “appropriately target the most serious conduct that is closely linked to a terrorist threat”. Since 2015, the national threat level has not changed.

In this context, the government should clearly explain why removing the six year sentence threshold for conviction-based citizenship deprivation is necessary and proportionate. Given that the conviction-based citizenship-deprivation powers have not been used since their introduction, the need for a clear justification is particularly strong. The government’s media release states:

We now need to focus attention on strengthening the citizenship loss provisions which commenced in 2015 as they relate to terrorists within Australia, in order to protect our community.

As the Law Council has stated, this justification is not nearly strong enough.The Conversation

Sangeetha Pillai, Senior Research Associate, Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW Law School, UNSW

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

View from The Hill: A shocker performance, even by coup standards



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Scott Morrison is sworn in as the 30th prime minister of Australia by Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

When they turn nasty, politicians can be an extraordinarily ugly lot. This week, the Liberals looked hideous – feral, self-indulgent, thuggish and contemptuous of an electorate that would like to be able to have MPs respect its choice of the country’s prime minister.

No wonder ordinary people caught by the cameras in the vox pops were disgusted. This was a shocker performance, even by coup standards.

As Malcolm Turnbull said, an “insurgency” by the conservatives brought him down. But, in a sort of perverse justice, the insurgents were punished. Their reprehensible behaviour blasted out the leader they hated but failed to deliver them the prize they desired – installing their own man in the Lodge.




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How the hard right terminated Turnbull, only to see Scott Morrison become PM


Turnbull, by delaying the ballot, and getting the Solicitor-General to give an opinion on a question mark over Dutton’s eligibility to sit in parliament, helped to thwart them.

Dutton thought his prospects better than they were; Turnbull judged his own prospects to be worse than the reality.

The spill motion was carried 45-40, a tiny margin. In other words, 40 people wanted to keep Turnbull. Yet three cabinet ministers – Mathias Cormann, Mitch Fifield and Michaelia Cash – had previously insisted to Turnbull that he had lost the party room’s support and then resigned, ensuring his political death.

No wonder that after the spill numbers were given to the party room, Turnbull said “what a farce”.

In choosing Scott Morrison, the Liberals went for the safest option among the three candidates on offer. Dutton was seen as too risky and hardline; Julie Bishop started too far behind.

But while Morrison was the best of the trio, his elevation just further emphasised the bizarre nature of it all.

There is no compelling evidence to suggest Morrison will be much more competitive than his predecessor at the election. With some voters – Liberals on the progressive side – he might be less attractive.

And what about the gnashing of teeth over Queensland? After Longman, the Dutton people insisted he was needed to hold up the vote, because Turnbull was so unpopular.

In the new order, Queensland remains unrepresented in the leader/deputy team. And if Morrison has an advantage over Turnbull there, it would be a matter of degree, hardly worth ripping apart the party.

One vulnerable Queensland seat is Dickson, held by Dutton on a 2% margin. His actions may – and should – cost him votes, although they won’t cost him a position on the frontbench. Morrison has flagged Dutton will be in his cabinet.

Josh Frydenberg is a good choice as deputy leader, a unifying rather than a divisive figure, who’s done some heroic work on the National Energy Guarantee, the fate of which is up in the air.

Frydenberg becomes the new treasurer. He’s diligent and competent, but it will be a steep learning curve, facing a savvy and experienced opponent in Chris Bowen.

As he crafts his ministry, Morrison has to balance the factions and wrangle with the Nationals, out to get the most they can after the turbulence. Nationals leader Michael McCormack has every incentive to fight hard – he’s seen by his critics as not standing up strongly enough to the Liberals.

On the policy front, Morrison has an immense vacuum on energy, a major issue for the public, at the cutting edge of the ideological divide, and the catalyst for this week’s calamity.

Is he going to keep or reshape the NEG? He wouldn’t be drawn at his news conference. He said he’d talk to his cabinet.

Will he be able to get any sort of sensible energy policy through the party room? And will he want to?

Will he pursue an energy policy that is relatively bipartisan, as business desperately wants, to get investment certainty, or will he decide to go down the route of maximising the differences with Labor, in the hope of an electoral advantage and under pressure from the ideologues?

The energy wars will continue, one way or another.

A changing of the guard, especially in circumstances like these, is always disruptive – the ripples are felt through the administrative structure of government. New ministers have to learn new jobs. Initiatives in the pipeline must be paused and reviewed. All that alone is advantageous to an opposition that is already well organised.

Not surprisingly, Morrison flagged he doesn’t want an early election. But given Turnbull says he will leave Parliament “before too long”, he seems likely to face a byelection in Wentworth. It’s on a whopping 17.7% margin, but Turnbull had a strong personal vote, and a big swing would be a setback for the new leader.

Tony Abbott’s sister Christine Forster is being encouraged to seek Liberal preselection. Just another twist in this saga replete with dark irony.




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Memo Scott Morrison: don’t chase the ‘base’


How the disappointed conservatives behave will determine what internal trouble Morrison faces. One thing seems clear: they won’t be satisfied unless the change of personnel produces changes in policy, notable on climate and immigration.

Abbott seems unlikely to go silent. He harbours a deep resentment towards Morrison, accusing him of disloyalty in the 2015 coup.

It will be fascinating to watch Morrison construct his post-Treasury, pre-election persona. There are multiple Morrisons. The aggressive, shouty, attack dog tearing at Labor. The lower-key, more compromising negotiator. The knock-about bloke, always talking about “the (Sutherland) Shire” and the Sharks.

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Then there is the Morrison who is ambitious to leave his mark as a reformer – who’d hoped to reshape the GST until Turnbull pulled the pin on him. Now he has his chance to set his own direction. But he will be buffeted by cross winds and has little time to plot his course.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

The economics of Australia’s too-common leadership spills


Brendan Markey-Towler, The University of Queensland

At the end of another week of chaos in Canberra, we’re all asking why this keeps happening. Why are our leaders playing politics instead of governing?

A somewhat esoteric sub-field of economics known as Public Choice Theory suggests it really does come down to two things. First, the technological advances that have given politicians feedback in real time. Second, Australia’s comparatively small parliament.

Politicians aren’t mad or bad, they have an incentive to do what is necessary to hold their seat in parliament. They have no incentive to govern except insofar as it helps them keep their seat.




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Moment after moment of madness: Liberals manage the ugliest, messiest leadership challenge in history


The trouble is, the vast volumes of data we generate create a never-ending tsunami of information. It’s not just traditional opinion polls such as Newspoll, but also Twitter and Facebook “trending” feeds and hashtags, Google search data, YouTube, endless online polls and petitions.

All of this changes the incentives politicians face almost in real time. Of course they’d be changing leader more often! And with a comparatively small parliament, it is comparatively easy to do just that.

The irony then is that for all we say we wish the politicians would respect our say and get on with governing, our revolving door prime ministers are the result of the politicians being too responsive to what we think, and our having too few of them.

The perverted incentives of spills

Public Choice Theory starts from the presumption politicians aren’t principled heroes or evil dictators in waiting. They’re just regular people like you and me. They face incentives to which they try to respond as rationally as they can.

Now it doesn’t really matter whether a politician has conviction, hunger for power or they’re simply a hack. They can’t do anything unless they win elections. Hence, as Anthony Downs realised in his seminal work on Public Choice Theory, they have an imperative incentive to do and say what they can to win elections.

What some might call slavish adherence to public opinion is actually, from the perspective of Public Choice Theory, perfectly reasonable behaviour. Politicians can’t do anything unless they can get the votes of the public first, so they need to know what to say and to do to get them.




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Our present trouble with “revolving door” prime ministers makes a lot of sense from this perspective.

In the internet age, politicians’ knowledge of what to do and what to say to get the votes and win the elections is changing almost in real time.

Release a National Energy Guarantee policy? You’ll find out within weeks what the public thinks about it. Make a statement about immigration? You’ll find out within hours how it’s playing with the kids on social media. You’ll find out day to day how your leader is performing relative to the other guy just by monitoring the news sites.

Now of course that’s not limited to Australia, and countries with similar systems haven’t had the same revolving door leadership as us.

What sets Australia apart is that our parliament is very small compared with other countries (because of an obscure part of the constitution known as the “nexus” provision). We have only 150 members of the lower house compared with, for instance, Canada (which has 338) and the UK (which has 650).

It’s therefore much easier in Australia to respond to changing incentives by building a faction in favour of changing the leader simply because there are fewer people to persuade.

Put that all together, and of course you’d have a revolving door prime minister! What else would you expect?

Can a stable majority exist?

So what’s to be done?

One possibility is to do as the ALP has done, and require a supermajority of the party room to spill the leadership. This (in theory) makes it much more difficult to change the leadership.

Another, probably unpleasant possibility, is to significantly increase the size of parliament. A larger parliament makes it much more difficult to build factions in favour of changing the leadership.

Another, more direct response is to simply break the cycle and for us to take responsibility for the state of our own democracy. That is, if we actually do care about stable government.




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Reporters or players? What is the media’s role in leadership struggles?


The politicians will always respond to their incentives. They’re people. It’s never going to change. So we need to stop changing the incentives they face in real time as much as we can.

You yourself can do something about that. Stop responding to pollsters. Stop “liking” and retweeting the political topics. Stop endlessly following the political clickbait. Ironically, stop paying attention to politics and get on with your life except where your civic duty absolutely demands it.

Public Choice Theory suggests our increasingly regular leadership spills are because politicians are, ironically, too responsive to what we think and there are too few of them. If we want stable government, we can tinker with party constitutions to disincentivise leadership spills: we can increase the size of parliament to make it harder to build factions for changing the leader.

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But the most direct way to achieve it is to stop telling them what we think incessantly, and deliver judgement only where it matters most – the ballot box.

Brendan Markey-Towler, Researcher, The University of Queensland

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

Moment after moment of madness: Liberals manage the ugliest, messiest leadership challenge in history



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Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Frank Bongiorno, Australian National University

Tolstoy’s famous remark in Anna Karenina may well apply to political parties: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

It certainly applies to spills. Each unhappy event is unique in its particular combination of ambition, rancour and absurdity. But the present debacle contains so many wheels within wheels that it is virtually impossible to imagine anyone being able to keep all of them in view at once.

Yesterday’s shutting down of the House of Representatives was one result. It is arguably the worst debauching of Australian parliamentary democracy since John Kerr refused to see the Speaker to receive the House’s no confidence motion in the Fraser Government on November 11, 1975.

The Liberal Party gained office, but would pay the price for its misdeeds. The Coalition’s decision to exploit its numbers yesterday to shut down the House because it had become an inconvenience is also likely to live on in infamy as the tawdry, desperate act of a failed government.




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‘Balmain basket weavers’ strike again, tearing the Liberal Party apart


The problem of the numbers in the House is an example one of the moving parts that have made this leadership contest the messiest in Australian history.

The Liberal Party has run the spill as if it were a political billionaire; in other words, as if it had a 30-seat majority in the House of Representatives. It doesn’t. It is already within a whisker of becoming a minority government, a prospect that is likely if Peter Dutton becomes prime minister and there is resulting movement from the government to the crossbenches. More than one National Party MP has already indicated they will, or might, go down this path.

The government prevented the referral of the matter of Dutton’s eligibility to sit in parliament under Section 44 of the Constitution by a single vote.

It won the subsequent division to adjourn the House by two votes. But as the government unravels, it is doubtful whether it can count on much of the crossbench in any vote on confidence and supply. And it will only take a couple of Coalition votes to peel away to bring down the government entirely. That, at least, would end our nightmare.

We have probably been closer, over the last 24 hours, to a government falling on the floor of the parliament than at any time since 1941, when two Independents combined with the Labor Party to put the Fadden government out of its – and Australia’s – misery.

Another of the moving parts of this leadership crisis was the subject of that first vote: the matter of whether Dutton should be disqualified on the grounds that his family trust has an interest in two childcare centres who benefit from millions of dollars in government subsidies. Like all of the Section 44 matters that have arisen over the last couple of years, it is impossible to predict which way it would go if the High Court deliberated on it.

But the fact the Liberal Party is seriously contemplating the elevation to prime minister of a parliamentarian over whom such a cloud exists is nothing short of a folly.

That the parliamentarian concerned is Peter Dutton is another of those wheels within wheels. Dutton is not an ordinary centre-right politician; not in the Australian political context, at any rate. The polls tell us that as preferred prime minister, he barely registers. He is in serious danger of defeat in his own marginal Queensland electorate.

Dutton was among the tiny number of MPs who thought it would be a beaut idea to boycott Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generations. He opposed same-sex marriage. And, in a country that, so far, has largely resisted the populist revolt that has afflicted so many other Western countries – a country where recognition of the benefits of immigration and the value of multiculturalism has been robust – he has recognised the political capital to be gained from tapping into the darker recesses of the Australian imaginary.

There is not a shred of evidence on the public record that a Dutton prime ministership would make the slightest difference to the slide in public opinion being suffered by the Coalition in Queensland, as reflected in the LNP’s ghastly result in the Longman byelection.

Rather, this is one for what the Americans call the “base” – the bloc of right-wing opinion you’ll find well-represented in many Liberal Party branches – the kind of opinion that passes resolutions calling for the privatisation of the ABC.

It is one for the op-ed columnists and the radio shock-jocks who, if they can’t have their hero Tony Abbott back, are hardly less pleased by the prospect of elevating the latest version of the conservative tough guy. It is one for those who hate Malcolm Turnbull with an intensity that far exceeds their attitude to any other political leader of the modern era – on any side of politics – except perhaps Julia Gillard. It is one for those who believe that Australia can have its Brexit and Trump moments, and that Dutton is the man to deliver. It is one for the political fantasists, who believe that Australian voters would be attracted to hard-right policies if only they really understood their own interests.




Read more:
Your time starts now: how leadership instability and revenge became woven into our political fabric


They might be right. But it is difficult not to harbour the same suspicion that has always clung to the removal of Kevin Rudd in 2010 – that Malcolm Turnbull, far from being unable to win the next election, had been showing every sign of being competitive, if the party had only been able to get its loathing of him under control.

The 45-55 result in the recent Fairfax Ipsos poll was bad for the coalition, but its Newspoll results had been competitive – usually 49-51. And Turnbull was streets ahead of anyone else in the parliament as preferred prime minister.

How long ago that all seems. Whatever happens next – whether we have a Prime Minister Turnbull, Dutton, Morrison or Bishop – we can be certain it will not be sweetness and light among those who find themselves at the “out-group” when the dust begins to settle.

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The government’s problem is not so much that it has produced yet another of Australia’s famous leadership crises. It is that it has looked like a government in an advanced state of political decay, and one that has largely forfeited its right to be taken seriously. It is hard to escape the conclusion that it is time the voters were given a say.

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

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

Solicitor-General’s advice on Dutton’s eligibility to come before Friday Liberal vote


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will invite a leadership “spill” motion at midday Friday, once a majority of Liberals formally ask for a party meeting.

He will not contest the subsequent ballot if – as anticipated – the spill is carried, Turnbull announced to a lunchtime Thursday news conference.

Before the meeting, the Solicitor-General on Friday will provide an opinion on the constitutional eligibility to sit in parliament of challenger Peter Dutton.

Early Thursday afternoon, the final signatures for the party meeting request were being gathered.

The delay and the early provision of the Solicitor-General’s advice give Treasurer Scott Morrison extra opportunity to build support for his own bid for the leadership as an alternative to Dutton.

After a morning of chaos and multiple ministerial resignations, including that of Senate leader Mathias Cormann, Turnbull told his news conference that if he is ousted he will quit parliament – increasing the prospect of an early election.

He said he had “made it very clear that I believe former prime ministers are best out of the parliament”.

The government has a one seat of majority and his seat of Wentworth, although it has a strong margin, would be vulnerable in a byelection because Turnbull is personally very popular there. A byelection would not be needed if there were an early election.

Turnbull said that assuming the spill was carried, the new prime minister would “have to obviously satisfy the Governor-General that they can command a majority on the floor of the House of Representatives.

“In the case of Mr Dutton, I think he’ll have to establish that he is eligible to sit in the Parliament.”

Turnbull delivered a swingeing attack on those who have undermined him.

“A minority in the party room, supported by others outside the parliament, have sought to bully, intimidate others into making this change of leadership that they’re seeking.

“It’s been described by many people, including those who feel they cannot resist it as a form of madness,” he said.

“It is remarkable we’re at this point, where only a month ago we were [in the public polling] just little bit behind Labor and in our own polls a little bit ahead – but in any view thoroughly competitive.”

Turnbull has been under consistent assault not only from Tony Abbott and other Liberal critics over a range of issues, especially energy policy and immigration, but also from commentators in the Newscorp media, especially on Sky, and from shock jocks on 2GB.

Turnbull said that what was happening was “a very deliberate effort to pull the Liberal party further to the right.”

Stressing how vital it was to resolve the issue of Dutton’s eligibility, he said: “This is a very, very significant point. As we all know, section 44 has been a companion of this 45th parliament.

“I cannot underline too much how important it is that anyone who seeks to be prime minister of Australia is eligible to be a member of parliament – because a minister, let alone a prime minister, who is not eligible to sit in the House is not capable of validly being a minister or exercising any of the powers of a minister.”

Legal experts suggest Dutton could be ineligible under the constitution’s section 44 provision on pecuniary interests. This says a person is incapable of sitting if they have “any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth”.

Dutton through a family trust has an interest in child care centres that receive Commonwealth funding. The key question is whether this involves an agreement with the public service.

Dutton’s legal advice is that he has no constitutional problem, and on Thursday he issued updated legal advice.

The government shut down the House of Representatives but does not command the numbers in the Senate so had to endure question time with senior ministers who had resigned on the backbench.

3:15pm

UPDATE: JULIE BISHOP JOINS THE RACE

Liberal deputy and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will throw her hat into the leadership ring.

Bishop, from Western Australia, has been deputy Liberal leader since 2007 under multiple leaders. She is a moderate, rates well in the opinion polls, and has a high profile internationally as well as locally. She is in much demand from backbenchers to visit their seats and is a good fund raiser.

But she will go into the ballot with the disadvantage of having made many enemies in a long political history.

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Her entry into the field complicates the situation and makes the outcome even less certain.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Dutton camp presses for quick second leadership ballot


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Dutton forces mounted a push on Wednesday night to get a quick second vote on the leadership, seeking names to petition Malcolm Turnbull to call a meeting.

Peter Dutton and his supporters do not want Liberal MPs to disperse late Thursday without a vote, fearing a loss of momentum for his campaign.

Having to wait until after a fortnight’s break for the next pariliamentary sitting could put Dutton under much more scrutiny over policy, and risk negative feedback when MPs return to their electorates.

Delay could also possibly see the emergence of other contenders, such as Treasurer Scott Morrison.

But on Wednesday night the government whip’s office said there was no special meeting planned and “there never has been any special meeting”.

Rumours circulated during the evening about the number of names that had been gathered for the petition for the meeting, which requires 43 signatures.

Turnbull supporters accused the Dutton camp of generating “fake news”.

As the Dutton forces ramped up the pressure, frontbencher James McGrath, assistant minister to the Prime Minister, announced he had met Turnbull to “insist” he accept the resignation offered by McGrath on Tuesday.

McGrath was one of multiple frontbenchers who offered their resignations after voting for Dutton on Tuesday.

McGrath said his resignation had now been accepted. “Like Peter Dutton has said, we must do everything in our power to stop Bill Shorten ever becoming Prime Minister,” he said.

His Tuesday letter said: “The people who have for all their lives counted on us to look after them and their families are now questioning our commitment to them. Our people feel forgotten, ignored and spoken down to. As a Liberal National Party senator for Queensland, this is an intolerable situation.”

This takes the actual frontbench resignations to three – the others being Dutton and a junior minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.

Turnbull on Wednesday told a news conference that a number of frontbenchers had offered to resign and “I’ve had discussions with all of them.

“Look, what I’m endeavouring to do is to obviously ensure that the party is stable, to maintain the stability of the government of Australia. That’s critically important,” he said.

“And so, the cabinet ministers, apart from Peter Dutton of course, who came to me and told me that they had voted for Mr Dutton in the leadership ballot, have given me unequivocal assurances of continuing loyalty and support.”

In parliament a number of ministers who voted for Dutton on Tuesday – Greg Hunt, Michael Keenan, Angus Taylor, Alan Tudge and Steve Ciobo – were asked whether they retained enough confidence in the prime minister, the government and its policies, to remain a minister.

All eyes have been on Senate leader Mathias Cormann, who had not been in the Dutton camp. A switch by Cormann would be fatal for Turnbull. Sources believed he was concerned about the impact a switch would have on business confidence.

Another complication for Dutton is the attention that has come on questions around his eligibility to sit in parliament.

Labor in the House of Representatives pursued the suggestion that he could be ineligible under the constitution’s section 44 on pecuniary interests. This says a person is incapable of sitting if they have “any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth”.

Dutton through a family trust has an interest in child care centres that receive Commonwealth funding. The key question is whether it involves an agreement with the public service.

Dutton maintains his legal advice is that he has no constitutional problem. Turnbull told parliament he had not seen the advice and the Solicitor-General had not been asked for an opinion.

Subsequently Attorney-General Christian Porter said in a statement that given the matter had been raised in question time and in the media “I determined to seek advice from the Solicitor-General on the issues raised.”

Peta Credlin, Tony Abbott’s former chief of staff said this week: “it’s well known about his interests in childcare centres … he recused himself from any conversations we ever had in policy terms.”

Craig Laundy, a junior minister and a Turnbull supporter, said Dutton should release the advice “just to allay any concerns”.

Labor released advice from Bret Walker SC and James Mack that argued Dutton was incapable of being chosen for the parliament and therefore not entitled to continue to sit. They said if the issue were referred to the High Court there was a “reasonable prospect” he would be disqualified.

Dutton on Wednesday started to be tested on policy, after he proposed the GST should be taken off electricity bills.

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Morrison said this would cost some $7.5 billion over four years. “That would be a budget blower, an absolute budget blower”, Morrison said. Dutton also favoured a royal commission into power companies.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Turnbull holds off Dutton challenge – for now – by 48-35



File 20180821 30590 aleynm.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Malcolm Turnbull called on the vote in this morning’s meeting, and won.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has defeated Peter Dutton 48-35 after throwing the leadership open in a dramatic surprise move to catch his party enemies off guard.

Dutton, the Home Affairs minister, has resigned from the frontbench, which will trigger a reshuffle.

Turnbull called the vote at the Liberal party room meeting, declaring the leadership vacant, and Dutton nominated as the only candidate. While the margin was clear, Dutton’s numbers are strong enough to produce lasting instability and immediate speculation of a second challenge.

Given the short run up to this vote, the Dutton forces can hope to muster additional numbers now the battle is out in the open. Reportedly, the Dutton camp had not expected Turnbull to bring on a Tuesday vote.

The leadership crisis followed Turnbull’s Monday capitulation to the Coalition rebels over energy policy. But deep discontent has been brewing for a while, with Turnbull’s critics unhappy with him on a range of fronts, and the Coalition losing 38 consecutive Newspolls.

The dissent has been actively fomented by Tony Abbott and his supporters. The concerns have been fuelled by fear among Queensland seat holders, who have been thrown into a panic after the plunge in the Liberal National Party vote in the recent Longman byelection.

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There was also a vote on the deputy leadership but Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was the only candidate, despite speculation that Health Minister Greg Hunt had his eyes on the post.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Three reasons why the decisions of Joyce and Nash may be difficult to challenge



File 20171030 17711 1p8hzgp.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Can decisions made by former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce while he was invalidly in parliament be challenged?
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Anne Twomey, University of Sydney

Now that Barnaby Joyce, Fiona Nash and three other senators have been declared invalidly elected, questions are being asked about whether close parliamentary votes still stand and decisions made by the disqualified ministers can be challenged.

As the issue has not arisen in Australia before, there is no direct judicial authority on the question. We can, however, draw some reasonable conclusions based on how the courts have dealt with analogous issues in the past.

Parliamentary votes

Over the years, quite a few MPs have been disqualified at both the Commonwealth and state levels, but no-one has ever challenged the validity of a law passed in reliance on the vote of a disqualified member.

The only Australian authority is the 1907 case of Vardon v O’Loghlin. In this case, Chief Justice Griffith and Justices Barton and Higgins stated that even though a senator was disqualified at the time of his election, “the proceedings of the Senate as a House of Parliament are not invalidated by the presence of a senator without title”.

Justice Isaacs added that while Vardon had not been validly elected, the “validity of his public acts as a senator prior to the declaration is, of course, unaffected”.

Although neither statement directly addressed the effectiveness of his vote in the house, the case has been taken as sufficient authority to suggest that past votes will stand, even though disqualified senators or MPs participated in them.

This view is supported by the general principle that a court will not interfere in the internal proceedings of parliament. Although courts will enforce “manner and form” requirements for a special majority to pass a particular type of bill, the courts will not look behind the parliamentary record of the votes, even when those records may be inaccurate.

If, therefore, anyone challenged the validity of a law on the basis that it was not passed by a majority of qualified MPs, it is most unlikely that a court would be prepared to hear the case and strike down the law.

Ministerial decisions

Section 64 of the Constitution provides that “no minister of state shall hold office for a longer period than three months unless he is or becomes a senator or a member of the House of Representatives”.

During the entirety of Joyce’s ministerial career – starting on September 18, 2013 – he was not validly a member of either house. Similarly, Nash was not validly a senator at any time during which she was assistant minister from 2013 and minister from 2015.

When each was first sworn in as a minister, and sworn in again after the July 2016 election, the three-month period would have run. But, after that, both Joyce and Nash would have been ministers invalidly.


Further reading: If High Court decides against ministers with dual citizenship, could their decisions in office be challenged?


Does this mean that the decisions they made during this period could be challenged? There are three important factors at play.

Standing

First, a person would have to have legal standing to bring a challenge. This means they would have to have a special interest in the decision, above that of the rest of the community, which goes beyond a mere intellectual or emotional interest in the matter.

For example, if the property or financial interests of a person are affected by a decision, then they may have standing.

There is uncertainty as to whether simply being an MP is enough to gain standing to challenge government decisions. This issue was raised in the case concerning the postal survey on same-sex marriage, but the High Court did not need to resolve it because the challenge failed anyway.

So, there is doubt as to whether opposition MPs would have the standing to challenge any decisions made by Nash or Joyce in their ministerial capacities.

The source of the decision-making power

Second, the decision would have to be one made by Joyce or Nash in accordance with a power conferred upon them as ministers by statute or another legal source.

The waters have been muddied by statements concerning the fact that ministerial decisions are often approved by cabinet.

The cabinet is a policymaking body. It does not have the power to give legal effect to its decisions. This is done through other bodies or persons. A decision to enact legislation is given effect by parliament. Many other decisions concerning appointments, the compulsory acquisition of property, and the making of regulations are given effect by the governor-general through the Federal Executive Council.

It is only those decisions made directly by Joyce or Nash on the basis that they were exercising a power conferred upon them in their capacity as a minister that could be challenged.

Timing and the de facto officer doctrine

The third issue concerns timing and the possible application of the “de facto officer” doctrine.

This is a common law doctrine that protects the validity of decisions made by a person who is clothed with the authority of an office, but is later found not to have been validly appointed to it.

If that person acts under the “colour” of the office, there is public acceptance of that authority and the government holds out that person as having the authority to exercise that power, then the doctrine is likely to give a measure of protection to exercises of that power, if they were otherwise validly made.


Further reading: The High Court sticks to the letter of the law on the ‘citizenship seven’


The doctrine is directed at protecting those who rely on the decisions in good faith, rather than protecting the decision-maker. The policy behind it is to avoid the chaos that might ensue if decisions are invalidated due to a defect in the appointment of the decision-maker.

For example, when the governor-general of the Solomon Islands was held to have been invalidly appointed as he did not meet the required qualifications, the High Court of the Solomon Islands relied on the de facto officer doctrine to uphold his actions, including the dissolution of parliament and the appointment of ministers.

In 1938, Owen Dixon wrote that there “are questions outstanding as to the limits of this principle or the conditions controlling its operation”. That remains true today. One of those questions is whether the doctrine operates when the disqualification of the office-holder is a result of a breach of the Constitution.

In 2000, the High Court unanimously held in Bond v The Queen that a question arising under the Constitution as to the powers exercisable by an officer of the Commonwealth “cannot be resolved by ignoring the alleged want of power on some basis of colourable or ostensible authority”.

The doctrine also ceases to apply when the mantle of authority is removed by the public expression of doubt as to the validity of the office of the decision-maker.

Accordingly, the decisions made by Joyce and Nash that would be most vulnerable to challenge are those made after they were referred to the Court of Disputed Returns, due to doubts as to the validity of their election to parliament. One would expect, however, that they were sufficiently prudent not to make contentious decisions during that period.

Where does this leave us?

It is most unlikely that any challenge to a law on the basis of votes in parliament by disqualified members would succeed in the courts.

There is a greater risk that a challenge to a ministerial decision, made by a disqualified MP when he or she did not validly hold a ministerial office, could be successfully challenged. But this would depend upon the action being brought by individuals or corporations that have a sufficient interest to attract standing and whether the decision was actually made by the disqualified minister (as opposed to another body, such as the Federal Executive Council).

It would also depend on the extent to which the de facto officers doctrine applied.

The ConversationIt may be the case that no decisions fall into this category, despite the feverish speculation. We can only wait and see.

Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney

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