Backing Putin: Russia’s middle class is no longer a catalyst for democratic change


Cameron Ross, University of Dundee

A wave of protests rocked Moscow and scores of other cities across Russia between 2011 and 2013. The demonstrators called for free and fair elections and some even demanded an end to the Putin regime. Many Russian commentators argued these mass protests were spearheaded by members of the urban middle class, and the world’s media concurred.

History has shown that where there is expansion of the middle class, democracy develops alongside. As the middle class accumulates wealth and property, it develops a vested interest in stability and the rule of law, promoting the development of a set of democratic checks and balances on the government.

Often seen as a bastion of democracy, Russia’s middle class is popularly regarded as a major source of opposition to the Putin regime. But does it give more support to democratic values, such as support for free and fair elections, a free press and a pluralistic political system, than other classes?

Divisions have weakened the solidarity of the Russian middle class and questioned its role as a catalyst for democratic change. That crucial dividing line is between those who depend on the state for their livelihood and those who work in the non-state sectors of the economy. As commentator Andrei Kolesnikov puts it:

The … end of the post-Soviet transition created a specific kind of middle class: one that grew out of oil and gas deposits, one that demanded both bread and circuses … But there is another middle class, too, born out of something very different … the giant army of state officials and public sector workers. Then there are the security services, investigators, prosecutors, judges: the backbone of the state. The class of people working not just directly for the state but also for state corporations and banks, and private structures whose existence depends entirely on connections with the state and officialdom.

My research reveals that most of the middle class support Putin, and given the choice, will opt for stability and the political status quo, rather than risk the uncertainties brought about by democratic reforms.

Who are Russia’s middle class?

So what factors influence who belongs to the middle class? Economists focus on income and property. But defining the middle class this way fails to explain how such a diverse group of individuals could develop a shared class identity or consciousness. Income-based approaches really define middle “layers” rather than classes, and fail to capture low-income citizens who, according to other criteria such as education and occupation, would qualify for middle-class status.

Sociologists, in contrast, stress divisions between employers and employees, as well as those between “manual” and “mental” labour, and add other criteria, such as education and occupation, to those of income.

In a survey of 4,000 citizens carried out in collaboration with the Russian Institute of Sociology, we found that just 26% of the respondents could be defined as middle class, based on individuals who met criteria in three areas: income – an average monthly income not lower than the median for the country as a whole; occupation – non-manual “white collar” employees; and education – those with higher education.

Recognising the middle class’s role as a catalyst for economic development, Putin has called for an increase in its size “to encompass 60% of the population”. But his attempts to modernise the country to boost economic growth may end up sowing the seeds of its own destruction. For, as has been widely demonstrated, a society’s public values shift and become more hospitable to democracy as they become wealthier, more industrialised, more urban and better educated.

A state-dependent middle class

But it is important to stress that the middle classes are made up of a diverse group of citizens, each with a variety of political and moral attitudes, and its social composition will vary in different countries. An important factor here is the degree to which members of the middle class are dependent on the state for their livelihood, which is particularly relevant to the Russian middle class.

For example, in Russia, 76.6% of leading managers in the state sector were members of the middle class in 2011 compared to just 33% in 2007. For members of the military and security forces, the percentage of middle-class members grew from 25% in 2007 to 44% in 2011. In 2018, 48% of the Russian middle class were employed in the state sector.

We would expect there to be differences in the interests and values between those who are state-dependent for work and those who work in the private sector, and our study confirms this is the case. But the differences are not very large, and they have narrowed since the outbreak of the civil war in Ukraine
and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Support for the regime increased substantially in the wake of these developments, as the vast majority of Russian citizens supported Putin’s foreign policy towards Ukraine. Members of both sectors currently prioritise stability and economic security over liberal values, and both express high levels of trust in the Putin regime.

According to our survey, 63% of of state sector workers and 65% of private sector workers supported the idea that “Russia needs to revive national traditions and moral and religious values”, whereas just 37% and 35% respectively, supported the alternative that “Russia should move forward towards a modern way of life, such as in Europe”.

Similarly, 68% of state sector workers and 69% of private sector workers supported “strengthening the state’s power over the economy and politics”, whereas just 32% and 31% respectively, chose the option calling for “the release of citizens from excessive state control”.

Two thirds (66%) of state sector workers and 63% of private sector workers agreed that “it is necessary to introduce moral censorship over the media”, while 34% and 37% respectively, agreed that “the mass media and art should be free from censorship”. Finally, 73% of state sector workers and 64% of private sector workers expressed trust in the president.

In 2019, after almost two decades of Putin, it would appear untrue to say that Russia’s middle class universally supports liberal and democratic values. As has been the case in countries like China, those doing comfortably well seem quite happy to prop up an authoritarian regime if their interests are protected by the state.The Conversation

Cameron Ross, Professor in Politics, University of Dundee

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

Why a code of conduct may not be enough to change the boys’ club culture in the Liberal Party



There has been sustained criticism of the Liberal Party for its under-representation of women in parliament.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Marija Taflaga, Australian National University and Katrine Beauregard, Australian National University

Last week, two former Liberal Party staffers, Dhanya Mani and Chelsea Potter, made claims of sexual harassment and sexual assault against two Liberal party staff members.

It highlighted again how hostile political life can be for women and the fact the Liberals lack any mechanism to manage sexual harassment and assault claims. In response, the party’s federal council has decided to introduce a new code of conduct, likely by the end of the year.

But the Liberals’ “woman” problems go deeper than this. There has been sustained criticism of the party for its under-representation of women in parliament and claims of a bullying culture dominated by a “boys’ club.”

Will a code of conduct help to change this culture? And how well do these kinds of codes actually work?

Dhanya Mani’s request for the Liberal Party to investigate an alleged sexual assault by a fellow staffer never went anywhere. ‘No one seemed to care about my life, or my career,’ she says.
Supplied by Women’s Agenda

A problem across the political spectrum

Decades of research have shown how legislatures continue to be hostile work environments for women. In Australia, research by Marian Sawer and Marian Simms, for instance, has catalogued multiple instances of sexism and sexual harassment in the Australian federal parliament.

The Liberal Party is hardly the only political organisation to be confronted with this issue. Virtually all major Australian political parties have faced scandals relating to sexual harassment in recent years.

The Nationals were criticised last year for their handling of a complaint against Barnaby Joyce. In the Labor party, former NSW leader Luke Foley resigned after allegations that he inappropriately touched an ABC journalist.




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


The Greens have been wracked by internal infighting over allegations of sexual harassment, resulting in the development of both formal and informal complaints processes.

The varied nature of these cases alone shows just how complex – and all too common – the problem remains.

Sexual harassment of women in politics is not limited to Australia, either, as the
sex-pest” scandal in the UK and recent sexual misconduct allegations against two MPs in Canada have demonstrated.

Given the prevalence of sexual harassment scandals, what is the most effective way for legislatures and political parties to respond?

Luke Foley denied the allegations against him, but quit as Labor leader nonetheless.
Dan Himbrechts/AAP

The role of the parties

Organisationally, political parties straddle ambiguous ground. Parties are professional organisations that employ small numbers of staff and are subject to regulations and rules. Yet, they are also civic institutions that rely on volunteer labour. Their budgets fluctuate wildly from feast to famine. Further, political staff are paid for by the taxpayer, but they are not considered public servants.

As such, it is not always clear what recourse is available to party members who want to file a complaint for sexual harassment. For the most part, they are entirely reliant on whatever processes have been put in place by the parties.




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Perhaps it’s this complexity, as well as the fact that countless organisations seek to cover up bad behaviour, that has led so many in the Liberal Party to argue these matters should be referred to police.

It raises the issue of what responsibilities and obligations the parties have when it comes to managing sexual harassment complaints.

This is not an abstract question. There are implications for how safe people feel in their workplaces and within their civic institutions. It also has implications for which MPs are selected and elected to represent us.

How Canada’s code of conduct works

Canada has been a pioneer in this regard. In 2015, the country was the first with a Westminster-style government to adopt a legislative-wide code of conduct to govern all non-criminal sexual harassment between MPs, regardless of party.

Following the claims of sexual harassment against the Liberal MPs Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews, the Canadian House of Commons adopted the code in June 2015. It includes a series of measures aimed at preventing sexual harassment, as well as a specific rule that prohibits one MP from sexually harassing another. When a claim is made, the code spells out a seven-step resolution process.

Research by Canadian political scientists Cheryl N. Collier and Tracy Raney identifies some issues with the code of conduct that could be useful to consider for those seeking to implement a similar code in Australia.

One is the distinction between criminal and non-criminal sexual harassment. The Canadian code specifically addresses non-criminal actions. If a criminal offence has occurred, the matter will only be referred to the “appropriate law enforcement agency” if the complainant agrees.

But this distinction between non-criminal and criminal is blurry. Confusion over where criminal behaviour begins may prevent victims from using the code if they are unsure how to categorise their specific experience.

This is especially relevant given the recent cases of Mani and Potter in Australia. They were advised to go to the police when they made an internal party complaint. They have strongly argued, as has Liberal party veteran Kathryn Greiner, that such advice allows the party to sidestep responsibility for its culture.

Problems with the Canadian model

The Canadian code of conduct also delegates responsibility to party whips to facilitate conversation, mediation, investigation and resolution of complaints. Whips are elected offices, held by politicians. Their main job is to ensure party discipline, which might conflict with addressing claims of sexual harassment.

This may result in quick and quiet resolutions to ensure that minimal damage is done to the party. If the code is simply used to keep people quiet, this would do little to bring about a meaningful resolution process.

Further, the adoption of a code of conduct that emphasises confidentiality raises issues about what is in the public interest. This could mean the public will never know if an MP has been found to have sexually harassed someone. And this information, many would argue, is intrinsically in the public interest.




Read more:
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A final important lesson from the Canadian code of conduct relates to parliamentary privileges. Importantly, it does not cover speeches inside the House of Commons, meaning that MPs can use any language they want without fear of reprisal.

As David Leyonhjelm’s use of a sexist slur against Sarah Hanson-Young in the Australian Senate last year shows, this freedom of speech can create a sexist and toxic working environment for women.

This incident, as well as previous scandals, has shone a light on the fact that political parties, just like other civic institutions, need to think about how they will respond to abuse perpetrated within their organisations.

However, as the Canadian example demonstrates, adopting a set of rules is not enough if there aren’t transparent pathways toward a resolution.

Strong leadership is also critical

This lies at the heart of Mani and Potter’s advocacy for rules that extend beyond the individual parties and would cover the behaviour of all MPs. To that end, they are trying to create a forum for women to share their stories and organise.

It also helps explain why these cases have so quickly been linked to the ongoing debate about gender quotas within the Liberal Party. The aim is to change the norms of acceptable behaviour within the party, not just deal with individual complaints of harassment when they happen.

Just 23% of the Coalition’s MPs are women, compared to 47% for Labor.
Lukas Coch/AAP

We already know it’s hard for women in political life. While a code of conduct is a step in the right direction, it is unlikely to change the internal culture of the Liberal Party, or any other party.

What’s needed is strong leadership and sustained public pressure that makes it is harder for political parties to turn a blind eye to sexual harassment and assault.

After all, it’s difficult to know how many budding careers have come to an end because of this kind of behaviour across the political spectrum. As Mani herself put it, when describing the party response to her allegations:

I was told ‘You do realise you could ruin his life and he could lose his job, don’t you?’ No one seemed to care about my life, or my career.The Conversation

Marija Taflaga, Lecturer, School of Political Science and International Relations, Australian National University and Katrine Beauregard, Lecturer, Australian National University

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

Why the Australasian Health Star Rating needs major changes to make it work



Most consumers are unaware that the Health Star Rating system is compensatory, and that one negative nutritional attribute, such as high sugar, can be cancelled out by a positive attribute like fibre.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

Jessica C Lai, Victoria University of Wellington; Alana Harrison, Victoria University of Wellington; Hongzhi Gao, Victoria University of Wellington, and Samuel Becher, Victoria University of Wellington

Unhealthy diets cause multiple physical and mental health problems. To help consumers make healthier choices, Australia and New Zealand introduced the voluntary Health Star Rating (HSR) system in 2014.

The system is supposedly designed to provide consumers with an overall signal about a food’s healthiness. Presumably, this should nudge consumers to make more informed and healthier decisions.

Five years on, the Australian and New Zealand governments are conducting a system review. Our research shows that, while the initiative is noble, the devil is in the details. There is a need, and hopefully an opportunity, to improve the system and reconsider some of its key aspects.




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Loopholes and consumer misconception

Under the HSR system, products are labelled from 0.5 stars (the least healthy score) to 5 stars (the healthiest products). The rating is determined by evaluating the overall nutritional value of the product. It compares the content of “good” ingredients (i.e. fibre, protein, fruit, vegetables, nuts and legumes) with the “bad” ones (i.e. saturated fat, energy, total sugar and sodium).

But we believe most consumers are unaware that the HSR system is compensatory. This means one negative nutritional attribute can be cancelled out, or balanced, by a positive attribute. A manufacturer can receive a high HSR score for a product rich in sugar by adding a healthy ingredient such as fibre.


CC BY-ND

It is also likely that most consumers are unaware that the HSR rating is calculated on an “as prepared” basis. This means a product can enjoy a high rating based on the nutritional value of preparatory ingredients.

Milo found itself embroiled in controversy for displaying 4.5 stars on its chocolate powder, though the powder itself clearly does not merit this rating. The 4.5-star rating was based on consuming merely three teaspoons of powder combined with skim milk. But who actually consumes Milo this way?

Furthermore, HSR scores are intended to allow comparison only among similar products. A four-star rating for a cereal cannot be compared to a four-star rating given to milk. While the two products display the same number of stars, their healthiness may differ significantly.




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What holds the system back

There is scepticism about the HSR’s authenticity, reliability and effectiveness. This stems in part from the system being self-regulated.

In addition, the system is non-mandatory, leaving manufacturers free to decide when and how to use it. For instance, only around 20% of packaged goods available in New Zealand and Australian supermarkets have an HSR. To add to the distortion, a disproportionate number of these show high ratings. This indicates that manufacturers only use the HSR for their healthier products.

A voluntary system does little to counter the inbuilt incentive that manufacturers have to use unhealthy components such as sugar, salt and saturated fats. These produce pleasure and create “craveable” foods and food addiction. Manufacturers likely do not use a HSR for these products. However, consumers do not interpret missing information as “the worst-case scenario”, but assume average quality.

Finally, the system does not effectively assist the vulnerable consumers who need it the most. While HSR does help some middle- to high-income consumers, it does a poor job with respect to consumers of low socio-economic status. This suggests that the label requires consumers to be educated about its meaning.

Time to move forward

Some improvements could carry the HSR forward a great distance.

If the system were made mandatory, it would likely raise consumers’ awareness. There should also be more education initiatives about the HSR. This, in turn, would incentivise manufacturers to produce healthier foods and beverages.

At the same time, we should strive to minimise the costs involved and consider backing the system with government funding. This would allow all businesses to participate in the program, including less profitable or smaller businesses. It would also prevent costs from being passed onto consumers.

As a minimum, if the system is not made mandatory, a general “non-participation” label should be introduced. If a producer opts not to label its product, it should be required to use a conspicuous cautionary statement. Such a statement should declare, for instance, that “the manufacturer has chosen not to verify the health rating of this product” or “the healthiness of this product cannot be verified”.

Studies show the HSR rating would have a bigger impact if placed in the upper left corner of the packaging and used colours. It could use a traffic light system, with 0.5-2.5 stars on a red background, 3 to 4 stars on amber and 4.5-5 star products on green. The colour-coded system has proved to be more effective with marginalised groups of consumers.

All easier said than done.

Healthy diets are important for physical and psychological well-being and for strengthening our communities and economies. However, any regulation of the food industry is likely to be resisted by its strong and well-organised lobbying power. To fight this battle, the consumers’ voice is crucial to ensure we can all make good and healthy foods choices.The Conversation

Jessica C Lai, Senior Lecturer in Commercial Law, Victoria University of Wellington; Alana Harrison, LLB(Hons) & BCOM Undergraduate Student, Victoria University of Wellington; Hongzhi Gao, Associate professor, Victoria University of Wellington, and Samuel Becher, Associate Professor of Business Law, Victoria University of Wellington

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

Young Australians champion ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ in designing constitutional change



Many high school students are politically engaged. But how would they change the preamble to the Constitution?
AAP/Lukas Coch

Benjamin T. Jones, CQUniversity Australia and John Warhurst, Australian National University

When the Australian constitution was written in the 1890s, the authors did not envision an independent nation, but a self-governing dominion of the British empire. As such, the preamble does not contain flowery language about national values. Instead it is a dry, legalistic introduction simply noting that some of her majesty’s “possessions” have federated. One unsuccessful attempt to change it was made in a 1999 referendum.

In March 2019, 120 high school students from around Australia met in Canberra for the 24th National Schools Constitutional Convention. Their mission was to write a new preamble, with the authors of this article serving as facilitators. Over two days of lively debate, sometimes heated but always civil, a final version was drafted.

In a referendum-style vote, a majority of students and a majority from each state ratified the preamble (83 “yes”, 34 “no”, two voted informal, one abstained). The students’ preamble was presented to the federal Senate on April 2 and entered into Hansard.

The referendum result.

The students’ preamble

We the Australian people, united as an indissoluble Commonwealth, commit ourselves to the principles of equality, democracy and freedom for all and pledge to uphold the following values that define our nation.

We stand alongside the traditional custodians of the land and recognise the significance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in shaping the Australian identity, their sovereignty was never ceded.

As a nation and indeed community, we are united under the common goal to create a society catered to all, regardless of heritage or identity.

We pledge to champion individual freedom and honour those who have served and continue to serve our nation.

As Australians, we stand for the pursuit of a democratic state that upholds the fundamental principles of human values as set out by this Constitution.

The student’s preamble differs enormously from the one written in the 19th century. It is noteworthy that it includes the words “democratic” and “freedom” twice – neither are in the current preamble or the constitution. From the students’ preamble, three elements emerge that young people want to see enshrined.

Acknowledging First Nations

During the debates, the most contested issue was whether to explicitly recognise First Nations people and if so, how. Ultimately, the students, including a representative group of Indigenous students, voted strongly in favour of constitutional recognition. In particular, the phrase “sovereignty was never ceded” is significant.

It is a rallying cry for many First Nations people and a rejection of assimilation. Indigenous Australians are still fighting for self-determination and the right to be heard. The Voice to Parliament put forward by the Uluru Statement is still being debated. Constitutional recognition that sovereignty was never ceded is a more radical proposal. It suggests that Indigenous justice is important to young Australians.

Egalitarianism is still key

The egalitarian ideal has a long history in Australia. The concept of the “fair go” is mythical in one sense, but a cherished part of the collective imagination.

The first line of the students’ preamble commits the nation to the principle of equality. The third line stresses the importance of a “society catered to all”.

Although not explicitly stated, the word “identity” suggests the LGBT community was in mind. Young Australians overwhelmingly supported the same-sex marriage plebiscite in 2017. The government is currently considering new religious freedom laws in response to the sacking of Israel Folau by Rugby Australia.

It is significant, then, that young Australians place such value on society being catered for all, “regardless of heritage or identity”.

Values matter

What permeates through the students’ preamble is the message that values matter. Unlike the original constitutional writers, young people want their preamble to be a mission statement that articulates the “values that uphold the nation”. The trident of “equality, democracy and freedom” are highlighted.

The preamble also notes the twin priorities of a free state that sit together though sometimes in tension. As the third line notes, Australia is a “nation and indeed community”. But the fourth line tempers this with a commitment to “champion individual freedom”. The ideal democratic state for these young Australians places value on both the individual and the collective.

Dr Benjamin T Jones addresses the convention.

Time for change?

At the 1999 referendum, Prime Minister John Howard, despite being against a republic, campaigned in favour of a new preamble. The one he and republican Les Murray authored did not gain much popularity. But it is significant that even an ardent monarchist like Howard was convinced the preamble needed to be updated.

The authors of the students’ preamble were mainly in Year 11 and too young to vote in the May election. Nevertheless, they are thoughtful, intelligent citizens and the future of our democracy. Their voice is worth listening to.The Conversation

Benjamin T. Jones, Lecturer in History, CQUniversity Australia and John Warhurst, Emeritus Professor of Political Science, Australian National University

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

Cruel, and no deterrent: why Australia’s policy on asylum seekers must change


Alex Reilly, University of Adelaide

The Coalition’s election victory on May 18 had an immediate psychological effect on the refugees on Manus Island, with reports of several people attempting suicide.

Two class-action lawsuits currently before the High Court allege “torture”, “persecution” and “other inhumane acts” in Australia’s offshore detention centres. This action follows an action for damages in 2018 that the federal government settled for A$70 million, effectively admitting that the claims of mistreatment were well-founded.

The Iranian-Kurdish journalist and poet Behrouz Boochani, who has been detained on Manus for six years, has borne witness to a cruel system in his book, No Friend But the Mountain. Written secretly on a mobile phone, the book has won a swag of major Australian literary awards.




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As a result of the testimonials of Boochani and others, the terrible conditions on Nauru and Manus are well-known. There are regular reports of physical and mental illness due to unsanitary conditions, cruel treatment and hospitals with no capacity to deal with the extent and severity of the health crisis among the refugee populations.

These reports reinforce the underlying cruelty of subjecting innocent human beings to indefinite and arbitrary detention in the first place. And to what end?

There is no justification for offshore detention

For many years, there has been no justification for the detention of asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru.

The original justification of deterring others from making the dangerous journey from Indonesia to Australia carries no weight. The point has been well and truly made that attempting to reach Australia by boat is a futile exercise. In the words of the allegations in the class action, the journey will result in years of:

…arbitrary, indefinite detention in tents, barrack-style buildings, or small, hastily constructed dwellings where living conditions lead to poor health […] physical, sexual and psychological abuses, [and] systemic mental distress.

The government claimed that the medivac law passed in February risked a new wave of boat arrivals and spent over A$180 million reopening the Christmas Island detention centre in preparation for new arrivals. The government has since committed to closing Christmas Island again. The expense involved in this political exercise is staggering, with absolutely no benefit to the taxpayer.

There has also been no new wave of boat arrivals. Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack revealed Thursday that a boat from Sri Lanka had been intercepted near Christmas Island this month. However, the details of who was on board, and why the boat was in Australian waters has not been made publicly available.

There will always be the occasional refugee boat arriving Australian waters for a variety of reasons, but it is important to distinguish these isolated occurrences from a reigniting of the people-smuggling trade.




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It’s high time the government ceased linking detention on Manus and Nauru to stopping the boats. The evidence does not stack up. As I, and others, have argued previously, the experience during the Howard years suggests that simply the possibility of offshore detention is a sufficient deterrent.

When the government settled asylum seekers on Nauru in Australia and New Zealand from 2002-04, without dismantling the offshore detention regime, asylum seekers did not begin arriving by boat.

Most asylum seekers in Indonesia are registered with the UNHCR and are waiting for resettlement through the UNHCR process. Their situation is admittedly desperate. Nonetheless, when interviewed after the passing of the medivac law, asylum seekers in Indonesia testified that they did not see taking a boat to Australia as an option.

It’s important to remember that asylum seekers have done nothing wrong in seeking our protection. Australia is a signatory to the UNHCR Refugee Convention, which establishes a responsibility to protect people who arrive on our border seeking protection. If offshore detention can be justified as deterrence at all, it must surely be kept to the bare minimum, in the context of our protection obligations.

Long-term detention is simply cruel and rightly labelled a “crime against humanity”.

Alternatives to detention

If there is even a remote possibility of a boat arriving in response to resettling refugees from Manus and Nauru in Australia and New Zealand, the government has many deterrence strategies at its disposal.

One novel strategy that avoids the need for offshore detention is Labor’s 2011 Malaysia arrangement. The deal was a simple one. In exchange for the transfer to Malaysia of 800 asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat, Australia would provide financial assistance to Malaysia and resettle 4,000 UNHCR-recognised refugees on top of existing commitments to resettle refugees from the region.




Read more:
Refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia: the good, the bad and the unexpected


An important part of the arrangement was that those asylum seekers returned to Malaysia would not be penalised, and would be provided with housing, the right to work, and access to education for children.

The arrangement would act as an effective deterrent to people taking a boat to Australia to seek asylum because their expensive and dangerous journey would just result in their return to Malaysia. The Malaysia arrangement had the benefit of refocusing Australia’s response to asylum seekers and drawing in our neighbours to a regional response.

It’s critical that the Australian government take a new direction in refugee policy and move beyond its tired and false rhetoric of deterrence as a justification for detaining refugees on Nauru and Manus.The Conversation

Alex Reilly, Director of the Public Law and Policy Research Unit, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide

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

After devastating earthquakes, Indonesia must embrace radical change


Jonatan A Lassa, Charles Darwin University

An earthquake on Lombok island in Indonesia has left 98 people dead and 20,000 people homeless, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.

Around 70% of North Lombok’s housing stock has either collapsed or been severely damaged. Just a week earlier, a 6.5-magnitude earthquake hit a nearby region, destroying tens of houses and claiming 10 lives, and injuring more than a dozen people.




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As the area recovers, we need to ask: how can Indonesia address its vulnerability to earthquakes?

We know that Indonesia can improve its response to natural disasters, which has happened with tsunami preparedness. The next challenge is to apply these lessons to seismic activity.

Prepare for tourists

Thousands of tourists were caught in panics after both earthquakes. It’s time for Indonesia’s emergency systems to address the vulnerability of foreign visitors as well as its own citizens.

With tourism on the rise in many earthquake-prone areas, solid preparation measures need to be put in place. Vulnerable hotels and fragile houses can jeopardise tourism’s future.

The past 30 years have been filled with wake-up calls. A 1992 earthquake that struck Flores island caused 15,000 houses to collapse in a single district alone. It took almost 20 years for tourism to recover.

More technology isn’t the answer

It’s often easier to attract international funding to sophisticated new technology for hazard prediction and monitoring – for example, the Australia-funded Inasafe, which has the potential to help government to develop scenarios for better planning, preparedness and response activities, and the US-funded Inaware which is a disaster management tool aimed at improving Indonesia’s risk assessment and early warning systems.

At the same time, it is not clear how these technological advancements will serve to help small hotels or households in earthquake-prone regions. What people really need is need help to build structures in accordance with proper construction codes, so that they don’t become death-traps during an earthquake.

This points to a deeper problem. Such building codes already exist, but local governments are currently showing little desire to comply with national building regulations.

For example, before 2011, less than 12% of local governments adopted and endorsed the Building Law 2002. By 2016 that figure had risen to 60% – an improvement, but still not enough.

In North Lombok, where most houses collapsed in the recent earthquakes, the local government only endorsed national building regulations in 2011. It will take years for the local administrators to actually implement them.

The no-regreat approach

To save lives, we need to move beyond the idea that perfect risk assessment exists.

Seismic mitigation measures need to start immediately, at the local level. Thousands building are built every day and right now, while many are rebuilding after disaster, is the time for local governments to put into practise the codes and standards that exist at a national level.

Local and central governments can embrace innovation. Central government and local governments in Indonesia must focus on transforming the way houses are built, including checking earthquake preparedness when issuing building permits.

Can local government radically audit all vulnerable houses? And can we create a machine of local bureaucrats who can deal with the risk assessment on every single house in earthquake prone regions?

It may seem hard, but good practices are already available. Apart from creating incentives for local engineers, contractors, and building consultants to be mindful of seismic measures, local governments can also gradually audit critical public buildings, which are particularly crucial to disaster to response (and may be especially dangerous if they collapse).

Indonesia could even follow California’s example and publicly shame the owners of buildings that the building code.

A sign from California alerting passers-by to a potentially dangerous building.

It will require radical reform in public administration, including construction at local level. Without this radical change, the status quo will remain and people will continued to be killed by their houses when moderate to big earthquakes hit their area.




Read more:
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The ConversationThe present approach is failing. Stronger political and administrative commitments are needed at all levels.

Jonatan A Lassa, Senior Lecturer, Humanitarian Emergency and Disaster Management, Charles Darwin University

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

Competing foreign interests trump Syrian aspirations for political change


File 20180510 5968 kmmr9f.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
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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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.

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



File 20180418 163986 bo28v1.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
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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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.