Competing foreign interests trump Syrian aspirations for political change


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International powers with conflicting interests have helped the Bashar al-Asad government to consolidate its power.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-SA

Hanlie Booysen, Victoria University of Wellington

The United States’ withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal exacerbated the violence in Syria. But to understand how Syria became the theatre for proxy wars, we have to return to the Arab uprisings.

Syria is the outlier in the Arab uprisings, as again demonstrated by last month’s air strikes.




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US airstrikes in Syria nothing more than theater


In 2011, public protests forced long-standing dictators Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak from power in Tunisia and Egypt, respectively. Scholars questioned the notion that authoritarianism is a permanent feature of Arab politics. Not anymore. At least in Syria there is no doubt that the Bashar al-Asad government is consolidating its power.

I explore what makes Syria different from Tunisia and Egypt and why Syrian aspirations for political change have not eventuated.

People want political reforms

It is worth going back to March 2011. School boys, influenced by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, wrote “al-sha‘b yurid isqat al-nidham” or “the people want the fall of the regime” on a wall in the southern Syrian city of Dar‘a. The authorities responded by detaining and torturing the boys, which sparked public protests, first in Dar‘a and then in neighbouring towns and villages.

Initially, Syrians were not calling for the fall of the regime. At a conference in April 2011, even the banned Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (SMB) preferred political reforms to outright revolution. A member of the executive recalled in an interview in 2015:

We as Syrians were calling for reform and calling for Bashar [al-Asad] to lead that reform.

This was not a new position for the SMB. From its formation in 1946, it participated in Syria’s early parliamentary democracy. The Brotherhood secured three seats in parliament in 1947, three in 1949 and ten in 1961. But the SMB’s parliamentary experience came to an abrupt end with the Ba‘th party’s military coup on March 8, 1963.

Excluded from parliamentary politics, and in the context of an Islamic insurgency turned uprising, the SMB adopted armed jihad in 1979. Membership of the Brotherhood was made a capital offence in 1980, and after the violent standoff between the Syrian government and Islamists in the city of Hama in 1982, the SMB was all but eradicated from Syria.

In exile, the SMB maintained its commitment to parliamentary democracy, and renewed its early commitment to non-violent political change. Its 2004 political platform emphasises democratic principles. It paved the way for the 2005 Damascus Declaration, a joined project between the SMB and the secularist opposition, to unseat the Bashar al-Asad government.

Bashar al-Asad survived both his international isolation in 2005, and the Damascus Declaration, only to face the Syrian uprising six years later. From exile, the SMB again confirmed its commitment to parliamentary politics in 2012, with an added emphasis on “equal citizenship”.

From uprising to civil war

By 2012 violence had become the new normal in Syria. The al-Asad government’s use of force and its pardon of radical Islamists caused the metamorphosis of the Syrian uprising, first into an insurgency, and then a civil war. Opposition groups across the political spectrum, with few exceptions, were supporting an armed struggle in 2012. In March, the SMB’s shura (consultative council) also endorsed armed jihad and pledged moral and material support to the secularist Free Syrian Army. Later, the SMB also provided financial support to armed groups that shared its moderate or “centrist” stance.

The militarisation of the Syrian uprising served the al-Asad regime’s survival. However, scholars argue that it takes “extensive resources” to create and maintain armed groups, which is where Russia, the United States and its Western allies, as well as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey entered the picture, and in turn serve to maintain the multiple wars in Syria.

The United States and its allies initially provided some support to certain rebel groups, but Washington’s priority since September 2014 has been to defeat the Islamic State group.

Russia’s primary interest in Syria is to prevent regime change, as it occurred in Libya in 2011. Apart from using its veto in the UN Security Council, in September 2015 Russia started using its military air power, which enabled the Bashar al-Asad government to reclaim territory that it lost to the rebels earlier in 2015.

Regional interests and the Syrian conflict

Iran’s focus is on countering United States and Israeli hegemony in the region, while the interests of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar initially coincided with those of the political opposition in exile, including the SMB. However, national objectives, primarily Ankara’s campaign against the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, currently drive the Turkish military campaign in the north of Syria.

Saudi Arabia’s primary interest is to contain Iran’s influence in the region, including in Syria, as well as to prevent an “uprising” at home. Qatar’s ability to influence developments in the region, and in Syria in particular, has been curtailed by the military coup against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the Saudi-led isolation of Qatar.




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The numerous and competing foreign interests in Syria have shown the UN Security Council to be an utter failure. In an unusual show of unity, the UNSC accepted the Russian plan in 2013 to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. It inadvertently strengthened Bashar al-Asad’s legitimacy.

The ConversationThe United States-led airstrikes this April against chemical weapons storage and production facilities attest to the UNSC’s inability to safeguard a rules-based international order. They also, again, served Bashar al-Asad’s political survival. As long as regime survival serves the interests of the main foreign actors involved in the Syrian conflict, authoritarianism will trump the Syrian opposition’s aspirations for political change.

Hanlie Booysen, PhD Candidate and Tutor in Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

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

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Company boards are stacked with friends of friends so how can we expect change?


Sherene Smith, RMIT University

Social connections drive board appointments and more than two-thirds of directors in the 200 largest public companies are on the board of multiple companies. So whoever replaces ex-AMP chairwoman Catherine Brenner will likely be drawn from a small pool of people.

Brenner resigned after the Financial Services Royal Commission heard AMP had misled regulators, among a number of other scandals.

Treasurer Scott Morrison expects more resignations at the Commonwealth Bank following a damning report from the banking regulator.

I’ve interviewed directors, as well as looked at data from ongoing surveys of Australia’s top 200 public companies, and found there aren’t a lot of outsiders.




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We can see this anecdotally as well. ANZ chairman David Gonski is a mentor to ex-AMP chairwoman Catherine Brenner. Gonski was also chairman of Coca-Cola Amatil when Brenner was appointed to the board in 2008.

Meanwhile Brenner’s sister-in-law, Maxine Brenner, sits on the boards of Orica Ltd, Origin Ltd and Qantas Airways.

The corporate governance crisis in Australia will not be solved by greater gender diversity on boards or director independence given how many directors sit on multiple boards and how important social connections are to get there. It shows there truly is no diversity or independence on Australian company boards.

Board diversity is barely improving

Women held just 18.1% of the board seats in ASX100 companies in 2012. This improved marginally to 25.2% by 2015.

In 2015, 58% of the directors in the ASX100 (the 100 largest companies on the ASX) and 49% in the ASX200 (the 200 largest) were personally connected to the companies. This means they were either a substantial shareholder, supplier, customer, former executive, founder, adviser or had “a material contract” with the company on which board they served.

Having a vested interest in a company can impair a director’s judgment. It may motivate a director to serve their own interests and not look after the best interests of a company and its stakeholders, as seen with the failure of Enron and HIH Australia.

Excluding outsiders

My interviews with directors suggest that board members are recruited in a fashion that excludes qualified “outsiders”. For instance, one director told me that identifying the most qualified person was not necessarily the focus of recruitment:

What was decided was that those of us who were at the board could look at who we knew … I was not comfortable with that process and I fought that process and didn’t win. My preference was that we advertise for appointed members, but the feeling around the table was we would rather have people we know rather than people who come from an ad, and I didn’t get far pushing that change. I felt it was a boys’ club and I wasn’t happy with it. Being honest, it wasn’t casting the net wide enough.

When I pressed my interviewees on how they achieved board membership, many reflected on skills, qualification and experience. However, when the interviewees spoke about recruiting new board members the process is unstructured, featuring factors such as “reputation” and “background”. One interviewee said:

The background of the candidate is very important so you feel comfortable, or you feel there’s less chance of making a mistake if you choose this person.




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My research found that the social identity of candidates is a significant criterion in the selection of Australian company boards. Closed social networks are the primary means of identifying new board members.

What attempts there are to increase diversity and independence are narrowly focused on eliminating the “boys’ club” by having more females on boards.

This violates discrimination legislation that states recruitment should be open and accessible, based on clear assessment of skills, training and relevant experience.

The use of closed networks in the recruitment and selection of board members also creates other problems related to “group think”. Group think creates a situation where board members are more concerned with being a liked and connected member of a particular social group. As a result members will conform to the status quo, which guarantees them membership perks such as highly paid directorship roles.

The ConversationA direct outcome of the group think mentality are boards signing off on questionable business practices as we currently see in the banking sector. Coupled with a self-regulated system this is a recipe for disaster.

Sherene Smith, PhD student, RMIT University

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

The government could be boosting the budget bottom line with a change to how it taxes gas


Diane Kraal, Monash University

Resources usually give the budget a healthy boost in economic boom times but the government could be reaping more revenue if it changed the way it taxes gas projects, my new modelling shows.

A small change in the method for valuing gas would increase revenue from the petroleum resource rent tax by US$15.5 billion to 2030, compared to the current US$5 billion to 2030.

I modelled what would happen with an alternative but accepted method to tax the revenue from Australia’s four largest gas projects in Western Australia – Inpex’s Ichthys, Woodside Petroleum’s Pluto and Chevron’s Wheatstone and Gorgon. The method is called “net back” and it calculates back from a gas market price to get the gas transfer price, in a similar approach to that currently used for state gas royalties. It netted an average of A$1 billion per annum in Queensland and Western Australia from 2012 to 2016.




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The production capacity of the four largest projects is 38.3 million tonnes of gas per annum (about 44% of Australia’s natural gas). But these projects currently raise no petroleum resource rent tax and scant income tax. This gas is earmarked for export and little is reserved for domestic consumption.

A small tax regulation change is required

When businesses shifts or transfers gas between different stages (upstream to downstream) of a project they are required by petroleum resource rent tax regulation to use a combination of methods (“cost plus” and “net back”) to value gas at the transfer point. My alternative of the net back method alone, uses the LNG market price from which costs are deducted back to the point, prior to gas being processed into liquid form.

My submissions to both Treasury, and the Senate inquiry into tax avoidance for the offshore gas industry, explain how the current gas transfer pricing method can be legally manipulated by gas operators. For instance, timing differences in recognising capital or operating costs.

The petroleum resource rent tax regulations prescribe an arbitrary gas valuation method for integrated gas projects, which devalues the transfer price of gas, meaning less revenue for the government.

The current method is not a transparent approach for businesses to use to value gas on its transfer from upstream to downstream. It incentivises tax minimisation through easily manipulated calculations.

Since September 2017 the Turnbull government has yet to respond to the Treasury inquiry’s interim report on gas. The Senate inquiry report has also been delayed.

Another variation to increase revenue along with the “net back” method would be to shift the gas taxing point from just before liquefaction, to after the gas-to-liquid process, at what’s called the “custody transfer meter”. The price per the metered volumes is accepted by the buyer and the seller of gas as the basis for a transaction.




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Australia needs to follow in the footsteps of countries like the Netherlands, which has already reformed its inequitable, regulated gas pricing to market-linked pricing. The Netherlands government changes, which increased tax revenues, mainly targeted their current (not future) Groningen gas field, partly owned by Shell and Exxon.

Any change to resource taxing will bring the usual chorus of concern about sovereign risk so often heard in Australia when tax reform is raised. However sovereign risk concerns overt changes, such as nationalisation of resources, certainly not regulatory changes to promote transparency in taxation.

Changes to the petroleum resource rent tax have been part of pre-budget negotiations between the Turnbull government and certain independent senators. However these changes will only affect new projects that will not start for at least 10 to 15 years, so the expected revenue will have no impact on next week’s budget.

The current petroleum resource rent tax regulations prescribe an arbitrary gas valuation method for integrated gas projects. It devalues the transfer price of gas, meaning less revenue for government.

The ConversationAs a first step, the government should reform tax regulation to the net back method for existing projects. This change could easily be part of next week’s federal budget.

Diane Kraal, Senior Lecturer, Business Law and Taxation Dept, Monash Business School, Monash University

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

Women have been neglected by the Anzac tradition, and it’s time that changed



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Australian nurses and patients at the Auxiliary Hospital Unit in Antwerp during the first world war.
Australian War Memorial

Robyn Mayes, Queensland University of Technology

The Anzac legend remains firmly centred on the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign of 1915, and the sacrifice of “sons and fathers” in frontline combat. The place of women in this foundational story is also made clear – that of onlookers and supporters.

In concluding her 2017 dawn service address at Gallipoli, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told a story about Len Hall, one of the original “diggers” who fought at Gallipoli. He is said to have noticed a girl in the crowd who had gathered to farewell departing soldiers, and given her an emu feather that he plucked from his slouch hat. When he returned to Australia at the close of the war, this girl — who later became his wife — was waiting in the crowd to return the feather.

This is a story of hope, and of an ongoing fascination with and idealisation of the “digger”. It is also a story about the passive role of women as waiting mothers, wives and sisters. But women’s contributions are more complicated, varied and controversial than these stories allow.




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Undervalued women’s work

Women were entirely absent from the Gallipoli landings; the only women in the vicinity were nurses serving on hospital ships and in the field hospital in Lemnos. These crucial and dangerous roles as nurses and ambulance drivers were publicly acknowledged in the early Anzac commemorations.

However, as Anzac Day rituals evolved into the current dawn service, veterans’ march, and afternoon celebrations and sporting events, public recognition of this service declined.

Ex-service women are often involved in the Anzac Day March.
Shutterstock

For many years, ex-service women attended Anzac Day marches as spectators or walked in marches without service identification and without mention in the official program. While some were satisfied with this, others were not.

In a 1963 newspaper article the President of the Australian Women’s Army Service shared the group’s experience of “being ignored”. She pointed out they had until then received “less recognition than the boy scouts” (who were officially included in the march).

The Australian Women’s Army Service was actually formed in 1941 to free up men for combat roles. Women performed a wide range of (largely uncelebrated) work, ranging from intelligence analysis to operating fixed gun emplacements in Australia, to working as canteen staff.

In 2002, Annie Leach headed the Perth Anzac Day march on the 100th anniversary of the army’s nursing corps, noting that WA nurses returning from the second world war were largely “a forgotten race”.




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Mary Beard and the long tradition of women being told to shut up


Challenging core Anzac beliefs

Women have not only had to fight to be recognised for their noncombatant war service, but are also credited with presenting the most serious of all challenges to Anzac core beliefs and rituals. This took the form of non-violent Anzac Day protests seeking to draw public attention to the issue of rape in war, and to oppose the system supporting wars and rape.

In the 1970s and 80s, groups such as the Women Against Rape in War collective bravely staged several such protests around Australia. These protests included the attempted laying of “rape wreaths” during dawn services as a way to mourn women raped in war. This stands in stark contrast to the comforting notion of wartime women waiting safely at home.

Such activity was vilified and indeed punished. In Sydney, 160 women protesters were charged with participating in the Anzac Day march without permission, which they had sought and been refused. As sociologist Catriona Elder has documented in her 2007 book Being Australian: Narratives of National Identity three women were jailed for one month for failing to keep a minimum distance of 400 metres from the end of the Anzac Day parade.

Keepers of the tradition

ABC coverage of the 2017 Gallipoli dawn service reported many people were moved to tears, as evidenced by inclusion of a photograph of a young woman wearing an “Anzac Day” beanie wiping her tears away. Other coverage of Anzac Day 2017 features an image of a woman “watching as people sleep overnight”.

An examination of media coverage of Anzac Day in Perth since the 1980s shows a growing expectation around women’s emotional engagement with, and support for, Anzac Day rituals. It also shows the emergence of an explicit contemporary role for women as guardians of the ongoing relevance and importance of the Day. This includes making sure that the family attends Anzac Day marches.




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Flies, filth and bully beef: life at Gallipoli in 1915


The ‘modern’ digger

In a contentious move, since the first of January 2013 women currently serving in the ADF have been entitled to take up front line and combat roles while direct entry to these roles has been permitted from January 2016. In 2015, women constituted close to 15% of the deployed force. In 2017 the official definition of “veteran” was revised so that many older service-women will for the first time be officially recognised on Anzac Day 2018 as veterans.

Word is that in Sydney, Perth and Melbourne this year the march will be led by service women.

Even though it is mooted as a “one-off” occurrence, is this a turning point after which women will be more equally recognised for their military service to the nation? Will women veterans be accorded the revered title of “digger”?

The ConversationThe role of women in the Anzac tradition is not just about the “one day” and fair recognition of women’s sacrifice and service; it’s also about how we understand quintessential “Australian” characteristics and the formation of the nation as the preserve of not just men but also women, and not just those who support but also those who challenge.

Robyn Mayes, Senior Research Fellow, Queensland University of Technology

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

Turnbull’s ‘sex ban’ speech reveals that politics is still not an equal place for women – but it is changing


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Malcolm Turnbull announces changes to the Ministerial Code of Conduct in the wake of the Barnaby Joyce affair.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Carol Johnson, University of Adelaide

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”.

Turnbull went on to say:

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.)




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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.

Malcolm Turnbull poses with female ministers in December 2017.
AAP/Lukas Coch

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.

Furthermore, it isn’t just a case of the majority of ministers being male – so are the majority of politicians.

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.




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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.

The ConversationAll 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.

Carol Johnson, Professor of Politics, University of Adelaide

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

The Cabinet Files show that we need to change the nature of record-keeping



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We need to redesign our records so that they are more accessible.
shutterstock

Paula Dootson, Queensland University of Technology; Marek Kowalkiewicz, Queensland University of Technology, and Peter Townson, Queensland University of Technology

Punishing the person or persons responsible for this week’s Cabinet Files leak does not address the underlying issue. The real problem is that the way governments and businesses keep records is broken.

Recently, we collaborated with Queensland State Archives to design a bot to automatically identify, appraise, store, and secure their records. No human intervention, or compliance, is required.

This kind of system is called “compliant-by-default”, and it is just one way we can re-imagine record-keeping to address low levels of compliance in our organisations.




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A compliant-by-default system manages issues of security and restricted access by ensuring that only people with appropriate permission can see the contents of a record, while others are still allowed to see that the record exists, alongside high-level attributes of what the record contains.

This is essentially the difference between seeing the outside of an envelope versus its contents. The information written on the envelope is public, to aid in searching data, while the contents of the envelope are private.

Bot: Security and permissions logic.

The federal government’s current record-keeping system relies on employees fully understanding all the rules and standards associated with creating, storing, managing, preserving, and destroying records. Getting this right 100% of the time is not only improbable, but is unnecessary when it could be automated.

But it’s not just in government that record-keeping needs updating. A recent report found that in Western Europe, 57% of office workers spend an hour or more a day looking for missing documents.

This is the most basic example of a broken record-keeping system.

From record-keeping to record-using

The cabinet files were published by the ABC because there is an appetite for transparency around political decision-making.

But how many of us actually go and search the records that are already available? There is an opportunity here to re-imagine the way government agencies keep records, so that they not only become more usable, but more accessible for the public as well.

For instance, if someone inside an organisation starts a project with blockchains, a system like ours would make it easier to search and connect with other teams working on similar projects. This would not only allow for more collaboration, but give better transparency through the organisation and avoid duplicate spending (taxpayer money or private funds).

Record-using: gaining context surrounding a record.

This also has the potential to unlock new revenue streams, by using the records to provide services that were not previously possible. This is similar to how the advent of MP3 technology and high-speed internet made it possible to buy and store music libraries online.

The process of record-keeping could be monetised by mining the archival data, to look for efficiency gains in business processes, for example, or sell business insights to the public and private sector.

The digital vs physical debate

While the general perception may be that physical records are easier to secure and manage, the reality shows that this is not the case. There are finite possibilities of what can go wrong with digital – copy, hack, share – but there is always a trace.

With physical records, there are infinite possibilities of things that can go wrong, and no way to trace it. There is no way to know what is being photocopied, if a record leaves a building, or who has the key to the cabinet.

While the sheer scale of potential attacks on a digital storage system may be much higher, a well-designed digital system can be protected.

It would be absolutely fine to print the records that need to be printed for the time they are needed. Systems should be designed to allow individuals to work in the way they prefer to work. Such a “digital first” approach is now being championed by the Queensland Government in its recent strategy.

Bot: a compliant-by-default recordkeeping concept.

The Cabinet Files story is not about who lost the key, or who sold the cabinet. It is about why these papers existed, were in a filing cabinet, and how such a range of documents ended up together.

The need for fundamental record keeping reform is imminent.

If we must continue keeping records, then digital records offer new value to both government and business. Archival agencies have an opportunity to redefine what record keeping means to people and why it’s important, and to turn it from a chore to a superpower, from a back-end operation to front-facing business intelligence.

The ConversationA digital record isn’t something to be locked away in an archive, it is the currency of knowledge transfer. What is unique about this solution is that we are not looking to make humans more compliant, rather, to making the system compliant-by-default.

Paula Dootson, Research Fellow in the Chair in Digital Economy, Queensland University of Technology; Marek Kowalkiewicz, Professor and Chair in Digital Economy, Queensland University of Technology, and Peter Townson, Senior Designer, Queensland University of Technology

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

The dual citizenship saga shows our Constitution must be changed, and now



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Jacqui Lambie bids a tearful farewell in the Senate this week, after becoming the latest politician caught up in the dual citizenship saga.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Joe McIntyre, University of South Australia

It is time to accept that Section 44 of the Australian Constitution is irretrievably broken. In its current form, it is creating chaos that is consuming our politicians. This presents a rare opportunity for constitutional change. A referendum could address not only the citizenship issue but the entirety of Section 44, which no longer looks fit for purpose.

The “brutal literalism” adopted by the High Court means that there can be no quick or stable resolution to the citizenship saga consuming the national political class.

Even a thorough “audit” of current politicians, such as the deal announced this week by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, will offer only a temporary respite. Not only can it be extremely difficult to determine if someone has foreign citizenship, the agreed disclosures will not capture all potential issues (for example, it only extends back to grandparents).

Moreover, as foreign citizenship is dependent on foreign law, a foreign court decision or legislation may subsequently render a person ineligible.

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This issue will continue to dog all future parliaments.

The idea that the Constitution provided a “flashing red light” on this issue is mistaken. The dual citizenship problem has long been an open secret. It has been the subject of numerous parliamentary reports over the last 40 years, the most recent in 1997.

A royal commission was once suggested to audit all politicians. This has been a time bomb waiting to go off, but one that stayed strangely inert for more than 100 years.

Current version of Section 44.

Moreover, no-one really knew how the High Court would resolve the “citizenship seven” case. Turnbull was widely mocked for his initial certainty about Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s eligibility.

Following the High Court’s unexpected same-sex marriage decision, few commentators felt any confidence in predicting how it would decide the “citizenship seven” case. The result could easily have gone the other way.

More significantly, the court has imposed a far harsher test than expected. Not only is knowledge of potential ineligibility irrelevant, it is not sufficient that a person takes “reasonable steps” to divest foreign citizenship. Unless a foreign law would “irredeemably” prevent a person from participating in representative government, the fact of dual citizenship will be sufficient to disqualify a person.

It is this strict new interpretation that has cast doubt over the eligibility of politicians such as Labor MP Justine Keay. Keay had renounced her British citizenship prior to nomination, but did not receive final notification until after the election.

Arguably, she is ineligible. This was not a failure to undertake “serious reflection”, but a consequence of it.

Prospective politicians would be required to irrevocably rid themselves of dual citizenship early enough to ensure this is confirmed prior to nomination. The Bennelong byelection provides a graphic illustration of the issue – the ten days between the issuing of the writs and the close of nominations would be far too short for any effective renunciation.

Serious unresolved issues remain, even before we get into the difficulty posed by the “entitled to” restriction in Section 44. This provision could, for example, render Jewish politicians ineligible under Israel’s “right of return” laws.

Section 44 is not only unworkable, it is undesirable. The spectre of Indigenous leader Patrick Dodson being potentially ineligible, or Josh Frydenberg facing questions after his mother fled the Holocaust, reveal the moral absurdity of this provision. In a modern multicultural society, where citizenship rights are collected to ease travel and work rights, a blanket prohibition is archaic and inappropriate.

Perhaps by giving us an (unnecessarily) unworkable interpretation, the High Court has unwittingly provided the impetus to reform the entirety of Section 44.

That section is concerned with more than just citizenship. Disqualifying attributes including jobs in the public service, government business ties, bankruptcy and criminality.

In disqualifying Senators Bob Day and Rod Culleton earlier this year, the High Court again interpreted the provisions unexpectedly strictly. Again, this strict interpretation has invited challenges to other politicians.

Under the current law, it seems a potential candidate must irrevocably rid themselves of all (potentially valuable) disqualifying attributes prior to nominating, on the chance they may be elected.

Jeremy Gans, one of the most vocal critics of the High Court’s decision, has described this as “one of the Constitution’s cruellest details”. Moreover, as Hollie Hughes’s case illustrates, a defeated candidate may need to avoid these activities even after the election on the off chance of a recount.

Proposed version of Section 44.

Constitutional change offers a chance to break this deadlock. The process does not need to be long and convoluted. We already have a draft text. The proposal suggested by the 1988 Constitution Commission scrapped all disqualifications except the prohibition on treason, and offered a reworked restriction on employment. Other matters would be left to parliament

This well-considered proposal is compelling. We could have an act passed by Christmas, and a referendum early in the new year. The same-sex marriage survey, a matter that will affect many more people far more substantially, has been organised and executed in a far shorter time.

This is a technical issue, but it is consuming vital public resources and distracting our politicians from the role of governing Australia. Changing the Constitution is the only way to draw a line under this chaos.

Our Constitution was never meant to be a static document. It is now more than 40 years since we successfully amended the Constitution, and nearly 20 years since a referendum was even held. Both of these are record periods of time for our Federation.

The ConversationThis has perpetuated the myth that constitutional change is effectively implausible. A referendum on Section 44 would re-engage the Australian people in this vital process. This will, in turn, make it easier for other causes, including Indigenous rights and the republic, to be taken to referendum.

Joe McIntyre, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of South Australia

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

Don Dale royal commission demands sweeping change – is there political will to make it happen?


Sophie Russell, UNSW and Chris Cunneen, UNSW

The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory’s final report, which was handed down on Friday, revealed “systemic and shocking failures” in the territory’s youth justice and child protection systems.

The commission was triggered following ABC Four Corners’ broadcasting of images of detainee Dylan Voller hooded and strapped to a restraint chair, as well as footage of children being stripped, punched and tear-gassed by guards at the Don Dale and Alice Springs youth detention centres.

The commission’s findings demonstrate the need for systemic change. However, the commission will not, in itself, bring about that change. Its capacity to make lasting change lies with the government implementing its recommendations.

What did the commission find?

The commission found that the NT youth detention centres were not fit for accommodating – let alone rehabilitating – children and young people.

It also found that detainees were subjected to regular, repeated and distressing mistreatment. This included verbal abuse, racist remarks, physical abuse, and humiliation.

There was a further failure to follow procedures and requirements under youth justice legislation. Children were denied basic human needs, and the system failed to comply with basic human rights standards and safeguards, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The commission also found that the NT child protection system has failed to provide appropriate and adequate support to some young people to assist them to avoid prison.

Importantly, the commission found that isolation “continues to be used inappropriately, punitively and inconsistently”. Children in the high security unit:

… continue to be confined in a wholly inappropriate, oppressive, prison-like environment … in confined spaces with minimal out of cell time and little to do for long periods of time.

What did the commission recommend?

Based on these findings, the commission recommended wide-ranging reforms to the youth justice and child protection systems.

Not surprisingly, a central focus of the recommendations relate to detention. They ranged from closing the Don Dale centre to significant restrictions on the use of force, strip-searching and isolation, and banning the use of tear gas, spit hoods, and restraint chairs.

There is a focus on greater accountability for the use of detention through extending the Commissioner for Children and Young People’s monitoring role. Recommendations also cover health care (including mental health and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder screening), education, training, and throughcare services for children exiting detention.

Among its suite of proposed reforms, the commission recommended developing a ten-year strategy to tackle child protection and prevention of harm to children, and establishing an NT-wide network of centres to provide community services to families.

Youth justice reforms include improving the operation of bail to reduce the unnecessary use of custodial remand; expanding diversionary programs in rural and remote locations; and operating new models of secure detention, based on principles of trauma-informed practice.

Adequate and ongoing training and education for police, lawyers, youth justice officers, out-of-home-care staff and judicial officers in child and adolescent development is also recommended.

The commission also emphasised the importance of developing partnerships with Indigenous organisations and communities in the child protection and youth justice systems. Several organisations in written submissions to the commission identified the importance of appropriately resourcing community-controlled, and locally developed and led, programs for Indigenous young people.

Increasing the age of criminal responsibility a good place to start

One of the commission’s most significant recommendations is to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 years, and only allowing children under 14 to be sentenced to detention for serious offences.

If this recommendation were to be implemented it is likely to have far-reaching implications across Australia. Currently, the minimum age is ten years in all states and territories.

Of particular relevance to the commission is the adverse affect of a low minimum age of criminal responsibility on Indigenous children.

The majority of children under the age of 14 who come before Australian youth courts are Indigenous. In 2015-16, 67% of children placed in detention under the age of 14 were Indigenous. This concentration is even higher among those aged 12 or younger.

Nationally, 73% of children placed in detention and 74% of children placed on community-based supervision in 2015-16 were Indigenous.

Raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility opens the door to responding to children’s needs without relying on criminalisation, given its short- and long-term negative impacts.

It enables a conversation about the best responses to children who often – as the commission’s findings acknowledged – have a range of issues. These can include trauma, mental health disorders and disability, coming from highly disadvantaged backgrounds, having spent time in out-of-home care, and – particularly among Indigenous children – being removed from their families and communities.

The ConversationA positive outcome from the commission will require political will and leadership to respond effectively to broader systemic issues. Raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility is a good place to start.

Sophie Russell, Research Associate, UNSW and Chris Cunneen, Professor of Criminology, UNSW

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

With One Nation on the march, a change to compulsory voting might backfire on Labor


Doug Hunt, James Cook University

The Queensland Labor government’s change back to compulsory preferential voting could increase informal voting and actually backfire, with a strong flow of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation preferences to the Liberal National Party.

What appeared to be a masterly, if cynical, move from Labor now looks far from smart. This is especially so as opinion polling shows a strong flow of One Nation preferences to the LNP, making it the beneficiary of full preferential voting.

Paradoxically, Labor preferences may assist the LNP in some rural seats where One Nation comes second to the LNP. One Nation, which looks set to win a few seats, will itself be helped by preferences from Katter’s Australian Party and also from the LNP.

The difference between optional and compulsory preferential voting

In April last year, Queensland parliament increased the number of electoral districts from 89 to 93. This move, initiated by the LNP with the support of crossbench members, was trumped by Labor, also with crossbench support. Labor amended the Bill to additionally re-introduce compulsory preferential voting.

The introduction by Labor of compulsory full preferential voting owed nothing to democratic electoral theory. Like all previous voting system changes, Labor expected to get some advantage.

Labor proposed two related reasons for the change: to reduce informal votes and achieve consistency between state and federal elections. However, optional preferential voting has meant that Queensland elections have the lowest rate of informality across all Australian parliaments. This is despite Queensland being having a high informal vote in federal elections.

The return to full preferential voting will actually increase the number of informal votes. An informal vote is a ballot paper where the voter has failed to put a number every box, or otherwise not complete it properly.

Compulsory, or full preferential, voting requires an elector to number every box beside each candidate on the ballot paper sequentially in order of the voter’s preference. If no candidate achieves a majority of “1” votes on the first count, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated from the ballot, and their votes allocated to the remaining candidates according to the eliminated candidate’s second preference.

This process continues until one candidate reaches a majority (50% plus one) of votes. The aim is to elect the most preferred candidate, rather than the simple plurality required under first-past-the-post voting.

FPV Formal Ballot Paper Example.
Electoral Commission of Queensland

This is the system used in federal elections and in all other states except New South Wales, which uses optional preferential voting. Queensland elections were conducted via full preferential voting from 1962 until 1992. Optional preferential voting was then introduced following a recommendation of the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission.

Under optional preferential voting, voters can choose how many, if any preferences they allocate to candidates. They can simply vote 1, or they can vote for some or all candidates in order of their preference. Counting proceeds as with full preferential voting.

This system maximises choice for voters, ensuring that they don’t have to indicate any preference for someone they don’t wish to elect. Optional preferential voting therefore seems like the most democratic form of voting.

On the other hand, full preferential voting arguably maximises the democratic principle of public participation, by ensuring that voters’ second (and so on) preferences pass on to other candidates. Their votes are therefore not wasted. So, elections more accurately reflect the will of the people, as the winner can claim the support of most voters.

Under optional preferential voting, if large numbers of electors limit their preferences to one candidate, someone without majority support may be elected.

What history tells us

The real reason for a return to full preferential voting was to assist Labor in garnering preferences from the Greens. These preferences typically flow heavily to Labor – as high as 80% in many cases.

However, optional preferential voting meant that Greens voters increasingly just voted 1 for their own candidate, robbing Labor of votes. ABC election analyst Antony Green calculated that had full preferential voting been in place in 2015, Labor would have won an additional eight seats and an absolute parliamentary majority.

Labor also hoped to pick up preferences from other candidates in order to stave off Greens challenges in inner-city districts.

The optional preferential voting experience in Queensland shows that over time, the proportion of the electorate not stating full preferences generally increases. Academic John Wanna warned of a defacto first-past-the post system, calling it a “denial of a true democratic outcome”.

In 2012, 70% of electors voted 1 only. This proportion fell to 55% in the 2015 election, apparently due to disaffection with the Newman LNP government, when many voters deliberately put the LNP last on the ballot paper.

In 2016, Labor appeared in a winning position with the change to compulsory preferential voting. 2017 is different.

The difficulty in predicting the outcome of Queensland’s state election is compounded not just by changes to the electoral system, but by volatile political factors.

Chief among these is the resurgence of support for One Nation. In the 2015 election, standing in only 11 electorates, the party garnered a statewide vote of less than 1% – though Hanson herself lost narrowly to the LNP in the seat of Lockyer.

Recent opinion polls suggest support for One Nation at around 18%, prompting commentators to assign it a “kingmaker” role in a likely hung parliament.

So it’s impossible to gauge the impact of a return to compulsory compared with optional preferential voting with certainty. In most seats, it won’t change the outcome.

However, some seats will likely be decided differently under full preferential voting. In a close election, that can determine which party wins on 25 November.

The ConversationIronically, given the LNP’s vehement criticism of the change to full preferential voting last year – it was the ‘death of democracy’, according to one parliamentarian – they are likely to be the main beneficiary of the changed system.

Doug Hunt, Adjunct Associate Professor, College of Arts, Society and Education, James Cook University

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