View from The Hill: Coronavirus hits at the heart of Morrison’s government, with Peter Dutton infected



David Gray/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

It was a sensational day in the ever-escalating coronavirus story, with Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton on Friday testing positive for COVID-19 and admitted to hospital.

Meanwhile, sporting and other organisations prepared for massive changes, after the government’s announcement of the latest moves to try to contain the spread of the virus.

In a sweeping set of measures, based on medical advice and unveiled by Prime Minister Scott Morrison following a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), organisations have been advised against mass gatherings of 500 people or more, a national cabinet of federal and state leaders is being formed, and Australians are being told not to travel abroad unless they really need to.

The revelation about Dutton – who recently visited the United States – threw the Prime Minister’s Office into a spin. Dutton had attended cabinet on Tuesday. Did this mean he could have infected the whole upper echelon of the government as a job lot?

Well, no, came the word from the PMO. The medical advice was that only people who’d had close contact with Dutton in the 24 hours before he showed symptoms needed to self-isolate.

The latest indication is the Prime Minister doesn’t plan to be tested, because he doesn’t need to be. But don’t take that for gospel. Everything can change in a few hours. For example, on Friday afternoon Morrison was proposing to go to the football on Saturday; on Friday night he wasn’t.

The coronavirus crisis is moving so fast that by Friday, the government’s $17.6 billion stimulus package, critically important though it is, seemed very much Thursday’s news.




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On Friday morning, praise for the government’s handling of the crisis suddenly seemed to be changing into criticism, with attention shifting sharply from economics to health and questions mounting. Why was it so tardy with its advertising campaign? Where was the “clear plan” it said it had to deal with the virus and was it adequate?

By mid-afternoon Friday – and a few hours after the Melbourne Grand Prix was cancelled – the dramatic new stage of the fight against COVID-19 started to unfold.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the “national cabinet” – a sort of health war cabinet – has no precedent in Australian history. To meet weekly from Sunday, it is a too-rare example of the federation working at its best, across state boundaries and party lines. In this highly complex situation, maximum co-ordination of effort and resources is vital.

The advice on mass gatherings – to apply from Monday – had seemed inevitable sooner or later. Critics were saying it should have been already in place. It is not a formal ban, but that’s unlikely to be necessary. What organisation would fly in the face of the recommendation?

Both Morrison and Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy were at pains to say this action was being taken early, to keep ahead of the rapidly evolving situation.

“This is a scalable response,” said Morrison. “What we’re doing here is taking an abundance-of-caution approach”.




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“What we’re seeking to do is lower the level of overall risk and at the same time ensure that we minimise any broader disruption that is not necessary at this stage.”

“There is every reason for calm,” he insisted, even as the general community becomes, understandably, increasingly alarmed.

Earlier Morrison told Alan Jones: “I think it’s important for our economy and just our general well-being … that people sort of get on about their lives, you know, ‘keep calm and carry on’ is the saying.”

The government cannot avoid the inherent conflict between the duelling imperatives of health considerations and economic ones.

The greater the restrictions, even voluntary ones, on activity, the worse for the economy.

Some people might have spent at least part of their $750 cash handout from the stimulus on attending sporting events and the like.

More generally, while ramping up the protection measures is designed to make people not just safer but also feel safer, it equally could make them more anxious.

That could not just be a disincentive for individuals to spend their handouts, but also discourage businesses from buying new equipment, or even hanging onto workers, despite the encouragement they are being given.




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The attempt to contain the spread of the virus for as long as possible is vital for the health system. An early big surge could overwhelm the intensive care facilities, which will cope much better if admissions are stretched over an extended period.

But for the economy, extending the duration in this manner worsens the impact.

This is an indication of the “wicked problem” the coronavirus is. Every policy response may produce some negative reactions, as well as the desired ones.

On some fronts the governments are trying to hold the line. They are not, for example, recommending schools or universities shut. A distinction is being made between “non-essential” gatherings and essential activities, like going to school or work.

In practice schools – which come under state responsibility – are shutting down on an individual basis for varying lengths of time when cases of the virus are discovered.

The Dutton diagnosis has raised the question the government hasn’t wanted to confront – how the parliament handles the outbreak when it spreads to one of its own.

Parliament resumes the week after next, with the priority to pass the legislation for the stimulus. It then adjourns until the May budget.

Asked on Friday about the implications of the “mass gatherings” edict for parliament, Morrison said parliament fell into the “essential” category but he flagged that visitors to the public galleries might be banned.

At that stage, Dutton’s illness had not become public.

It should be remembered that parliament doesn’t just belong to the government – making the question of its coming sittings still a live issue.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

The coronavirus stimulus program is Labor’s in disguise, as it should be


John Quiggin, The University of Queensland

The spread of the coronavirus has brought us all face to face with the remorseless logic of exponential growth. A handful of cases has turned into dozens, then hundreds, then thousands.

If current attempts at containment fail, we can expect many millions of cases around the world.




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The government’s economic policy response reflects this dawning reality. The exponential growth of the virus has been matched by growth in the magnitude and scope of the required response.

While the virus was developing in China, and even in the midst of the bushfire crisis, the government was insisting that its wafer-thin surplus would be delivered as promised.

Denial for a while…

Even after it became evident that the budget would be in deficit and the economy close to recession (at least in terms of the widely-used “two quarters of negative growth” criterion), the government’s primary concern was to avoid validating the Rudd government’s response to the global financial crisis.

Estimates of a package of A$2 to $5 billion were leaked, with a strong emphasis on a modest and targeted response, confined to specific sectors such as tourism. The universities, seen as tribal enemies by many in the government, got no sympathy.




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Rather than being treated an export earner in trouble, universities were blamed for relying too much on the Chinese market. The idea of boosting Newstart and other welfare payments was dismissed out of hand.

As the package developed, the power of the “go hard, go early, go household” logic that drove the 2008 response of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Treasury Secretary Ken Henry became evident.

…then a focus on what might work

The figure being bandied about rose to $10 billion, and the government’s attempts at product differentiation became ever feebler.

This stimulus, it was claimed, would rely on existing programs (an attempt to keep faith with the spurious attacks on Rudd programs like the school-hall focused Building the Education Revolution).

It would be wound down as soon as the crisis was over (something Rudd’s treasurer Wayne Swan spent years trying and failing to do).

Now we have the announcement of a nearly $18 billion package which is virtually a repeat of Labor’s response to the global financial crisis.

The central elements are a cash handout aimed at sustaining consumer demand, and broad measures to stimulate investment.

Allowing for inflation and population growth, the almost $18 billion cost of this package is very similar to the $10 billion cost of the Rudd government’s first stimulus. It’s highly likely that, as in the GFC, more will be needed in future.

Those numbers doesn’t take account of the impact of the crisis on tax revenues and unemployment benefits.

It is highly likely that the economic aftershocks will be felt for years to come, and to me, it seems possible the impact on the budget may be well over $100 billion by the time Australia recovers.

There’ll be lessons when this is over

The remaining targeted measures to assist specific sectors like tourism have their parallel in the Rudd government’s rescue of the car finance industry through the Ozcar scheme, which gave rise to the (then) infamous “Utegate” scandal.

Looking ahead, the crisis response should kill off not only the idea that a surplus is the hallmark of responsible economic management, but also the absurdity of extending the standard four-year forward estimates period to ten-year projections, which formed the basis of tax cuts legislated years ahead of time.




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As the current crisis and the global financial crisis have shown, even an annual budget can be derailed by an unforeseen shock. Attempting to fix policies ten years in advance is a fools’ errand.

More broadly, this is yet another instance in which policies influenced by the market ideology that took hold in the 1970s has damaged us.

The economic impacts of coronavirus will be made worse by the casualisation of the workforce and the decades-long freeze on Newstart and other welfare payments.

A modern society can only function properly with a strong government and a commitment to looking after everybody. Perhaps the enforced isolation we are likely to face in the coming months will give us time to rethink.The Conversation

John Quiggin, Professor, School of Economics, The University of Queensland

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

More ‘sports rort’ questions for Morrison after Bridget McKenzie speaks out


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison is facing new questioning over the sports rorts affair, after former cabinet minister Bridget McKenzie issued a statement denying she had made last-minute changes to a list of grants.

Evidence to a Senate estimate committee from the Audit Office this week reinforced allegations the Prime Minister’s Office – which exchanged numerous emails with McKenzie’s office during the $100 million grants process – was more deeply involved than Morrison has admitted. He has sought to portray its role as just passing on representations.

McKenzie, then sports minister and the decision-maker for the program, signed off on a list of grants on April 4 2019, and she sent this to the Prime Minister’s Office on April 10.

But in an email from McKenzie’s office to Sport Australia early on April 11, the day the election was called, one project was taken off the list and one added. According to the Audit Office’s evidence, this change was at the request of the PMO. This email was sent minutes after the parliament was dissolved.

Several hours later, with the government in caretaker mode, one project was removed and nine added, in another email from McKenzie’s office to Sport Australia. The Audit evidence about these was that “none were evident as being at the request of the Prime Minister’s Office rather than the minister’s office”.

In her statement, McKenzie said she had “become aware” through the Senate estimates process this week “of changes made to a Ministerial decision brief that I signed in Canberra on 4 April 2019” for the final round of the program.

“The brief authorised approved projects for the third round – this included nine new and emerging projects which, it must be emphasised, had been identified and sent to Sport Australia in March for assessment in line with program guidelines.

“I did not make any changes or annotations to this brief or its attachments after 4 April 2019. My expectation was that the brief would be processed in a timely and appropriate manner,” she said.

“Nevertheless, changes were made and administrative errors occurred in processing the brief.

“I have always taken responsibility for my actions and decisions as a Minister, and this includes actions by my office.

“I was the Minister for Sport and therefore ultimately and entirely responsible for funding decisions that were signed off under my name, including and regrettably, any changes that were made unbeknown to me.”

When a reporter tried to ask Morrison about the McKenzie statement at his Friday news conference, which was about the coronavirus, he cut her off before she could get her words out. He finished the news conference without taking questions on general issues.

McKenzie is due to appear before the Senate committee that is examining the sports rorts affair.

The Audit Office found she had allocated grants on a politically skewed basis, but she and Morrison have always defended the substance of the decisions made.

She was forced to resign from cabinet on the more technical ground she did not declare her membership of sporting organisations that benefited from the scheme. It is well known she feels badly done by, because it was clear Morrison wanted her resignation to try to limit the political damage of the affair.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Gaetjens criticises McKenzie’s handling of grants decisions, but defends his finding funding wasn’t politically biased


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The secretary of the Prime Minister’s department, Phil Gaetjens, has criticised “significant shortcomings” in Bridget McKenzie’s decision-making in the sports rorts affair, while outlining his argument that her allocation of grants was not politically biased.

Gaetjens has made his first public comments in a submission to the Senate inquiry set up to investigate the affair, which cost McKenzie her cabinet job and the deputy leadership of the Nationals.

The government has been under intense pressure to release his report, commissioned by Scott Morrison, which was used to determine McKenzie’s fate. Gaetjens, a one-time chief of staff to Morrison, exonerated her from any breach of ministerial standards on the substance of her decisions but found she had breached them by not disclosing membership of gun organisations.

While his report remains confidential Gaetjens has set out his findings in detail, which were at odds with the Audit Office conclusion the allocation of grants had a political bias.

At a bureaucratic level, the sports affair has become something of a head-to-head between the Auditor-General and the country’s most senior bureaucrat.

Gaetjens says in his submission his advice to Morrison was based on information from Sport Australia, McKenzie, and her staff.

He says there were “some significant shortcomings” in McKenzie’s decision-making role, as well as in the way Sport Australia administered the assessment process.

These included “the lack of transparency for applicants around the other factors being considered, and the disconnect between the assessment process run by Sport Australia and the assessment and decision-making process in the Minister’s Office”.

“This lack of transparency, coupled with the significant divergences between projects recommended by Sport Australia and those approved by the Minister have given rise to concerns about the funding decision-making,” he says.

“The discrepancy between the number of applications recommended by Sport Australia and the final list of approved applications clearly shows the Minister’s Office undertook a separate and non-transparent process in addition to the assessment by Sport Australia”.

Gaetjens says McKenzie informed him her approvals were designed to get “a fair spread of grants according to state, region, party, funding stream and sport, in addition to the criteria assessed by Sport Australia”.

He rejects the Audit claim McKenzie’s approach was based on the much talked about spreadsheet of November 2018 that was colour coded according to party, and says she told him she had never seen that spreadsheet.

“The ANAO Report … asserts that the Adviser’s spreadsheet is evidence that ‘the Minister’s Office had documented the approach that would be adopted to selecting successful applicants’ before funding decisions were made. However, there is persuasive data that backs up the conclusion that the Minister’s decisions to approve grants were not based on the Adviser’s spreadsheet,” Gaetjens writes.

The evidence included the significant length of time between the spreadsheet and the approvals. Also, 30% of the applications listed as successful on the adviser’s spreadsheet did not get funding approval .

“So, on the evidence available to me, there is a material divergence between actual outcomes of all funded projects and the approach identified in the Adviser’s spreadsheet. This does not accord with the ANAO Report”, which found funding reflected the political approach documented by McKenzie’s office.

Gaetjens says had McKenzie just followed Sport Australia’s initial list, 30 electorates would have got no grants. In the final wash up only five missed out (no applications had come from three of them).

“I did not find evidence that the separate funding approval process conducted in the Minister’s office was unduly influenced by reference to ‘marginal’ or ‘targeted’ electorates. Evidence provided to me indicated that the Adviser’s spreadsheet was developed by one member of staff in the Minister’s Office, using information provided by Sport Australia in September 2018, as a worksheet to support an increase in funding for the Program.

“Senator McKenzie advised me in response to a direct question that she had never seen the Adviser’s spreadsheet and that neither she nor her staff based their assessments on it.

“Her Chief of Staff also told the Department of the Prime Minster and Cabinet that the Adviser had categorically stated she had not shown the spreadsheet to the Minister.”

Rejecting the Audit Office conclusion of a bias to marginal and targeted seats, Gaetjens says “180 ‘marginal’ and ‘targeted’ projects were recommended by Sport Australia, and 229 were ultimately approved by the Minister, representing a 27 per cent increase. This is smaller than the percentage increase of projects recommended (325) to projects funded (451) in non-marginal or non-targeted seats which was 39 per cent.”

“The evidence I have reviewed does not support the suggestion that political considerations were the primary determining factor in the Minister’s decisions to approve the grants”. So he had concluded she did not breach the section of the ministerial standard requiring fairness, Gaetjens writes.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Nationals have long valued stable leadership and being strong Coalition partners – this shouldn’t change now



Lukas Coch/AAP

Geoff Cockfield, University of Southern Queensland

The National Party turned 100 on January 22, but celebrations were overshadowed by leadership turbulence, with Barnaby Joyce challenging Michael McCormack for the leadership.

The failed move to restore Joyce as leader of the party was driven, according to Joyce and some supporters, by the “need” to have a determined and independent voice within the Coalition. As Joyce put it,

we have to speak with our own voice, we have to drive agendas.

The Nationals are a distinct party, but working within the Coalition has provided them with considerable policy influence throughout history. And Coalitions have worked best in the past with adroit leadership and by resolving conflicts out of the public eye.

McCormack may grow into an adroit leader but he is at risk of being set aside because of ambition and impatience, as well as a hazy view of the history and place of the party.

Early electoral successes for the party

The Australian Country Party, the precursor to the modern National Party, was integral to establishment of non-Labor politics in Australia. It started in 1920 with representation from all states and immediate electoral impact.

The party’s share of lower house seats peaked at the 1937 federal election, and from then until the 1980s, it was routinely able to win about 10% of the vote and 15% of lower house seats.

The golden age for the Country Party was from 1949-83 – a time marked by solid parliamentary representation, the routine holding of key portfolios and strong influence on agricultural and rural policies.

The success of this period was not just about electoral performance. During the Coalition’s many years in government, the partner parties were also ideologically close on issues that mattered to the Country Party, which helped minimise open conflict.




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These shared ideologies are no longer as strong as they once were, in part due to the increasing influence of market liberalism within the Liberal Party in the 1980s and ‘90s.

Furthermore, the Nationals are now an even smaller parliamentary party in 2020 than in 1980, holding only 10.6% of lower house seats.

Given tensions over policy, a need to maintain a rural identity and the rise of populist parties such as One Nation and The Shooters, Farmers and Fishers Party, the Nationals are now facing a challenge: how to express their independence, while remaining good partners in the Coalition.

Why good leadership and stable Coalitions have mattered

Throughout the history of the Country and National parties, it’s been critical for their leaders to maintain a fine balancing act.

It didn’t start out this way. The Country Party’s first leader, William McWilliams, wanted pure independence for the party, as was expected by the various farm organisations that supported “country” candidates in the 1920s.

However, his successor, Earle Page, set the model for future federal Coalition arrangements.

Earle Page.
National Library of Australia

After the 1922 federal election, Country Party members fired some warning shots in their tactical voting on legislation and procedures. This led to the offer of a Coalition with the Nationalists, who even sacrificed a leader to allow this to happen. The Country Party secured key portfolios and Page formed a strong working relationship with the new Nationalists leader, Prime Minister Stanley Bruce.

This also ushered in a long period of relative stability in the leadership ranks of the Country Party. For 63 years, the party had only five leaders. And four of those served for more than 12 years each: Page (1921-39), Artie Fadden (1941-58), John McEwen (1958-71) and Doug Anthony (1971-84).

Each of these leaders had a strong working relationship with their Liberal counterparts in the Coalition. Fadden and McEwen both worked well with Robert Menzies, while Anthony had a close partnership with Malcolm Fraser.




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Coalition stability was challenged briefly in 1939 when Page made an intemperate personal attack on Menzies, then leader of the United Australia Party. Page declared in the House that Menzies was unfit to lead government because he had not served in the first world war.

Page refused to work with Menzies, jeopardising the Coalition and leading to Page’s resignation as party leader. The internal turmoil contributed to Labor’s 1941 election win.

National leaders standing firm with Coalition partners

Since 1983, no Nationals leader has made it to 10 years at the top, though until the attempted Joyce resurrection, there had been only one direct leadership challenge.

Anthony’s successor, Ian Sinclair (1984-89) was one of the Country/National Party strongmen of the Fraser-Anthony era and an ardent coalitionist.

Ian Sinclair with his portrait when it was unveiled in parliament in 2001.
Alan Porritt/AAP

However, he was politically wounded by the “Joh for Canberra” push, an attempt by Queensland National Party premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen to become prime minister. This resulted in a Coalition split and the loss of the 1988 federal election, leading Charles Blunt to challenge for and win the National leadership.




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Most of the other National leaders in recent times, from Tim Fischer to Warren Truss, were strong coalitionists and worked to keep policy and personal conflict behind closed doors.

Even when the Nats felt pressure from their supporters for adhering to Coalition policies, their leaders held firm to maintain stability in government. Fischer, for example, stood shoulder to shoulder with John Howard on gun laws, despite the blow-back he received in many rural areas.

Prior to the 2019 election, McCormack also supported Coalition preferencing of minor parties like One Nation over Labor on ballot papers and attacked the Greens and animal activists in true agrarian populist style.

The result was good for the Nats: he led the party to unexpectedly retain 16 lower house seats.

Joyce has warned the National Party could cease to exist if more MPs decide to leave.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Why Joyce’s return would be a mistake

Yet, for Joyce’s supporters, this is still insufficient. Joyce’s time in leadership (2016-18) was a step back from diplomatic coalitionism with a more publicly combative style and demands for shifts in Coalition policy in key areas such as water.

But based on recent history, it is hard to argue the government isn’t paying enough attention to rural policy, given Prime Minister Scott Morrison has frequently been on the Wombat Trail to provide assistance to victims of floods, fires and droughts.




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Even so, there will be no return to the golden age of rural policy-making in Australia, and the Nationals could be content, though they won’t be, with a long history of punching above their weight.

Coalitions have worked well for the Nationals, in terms of electoral success and policy outcomes, relative to their representation in parliaments. The party should bear this in mind when selecting its leaders, since the fracturing of Coalitions hasn’t served it well in the past.The Conversation

Geoff Cockfield, Professor of Government and Economics, and Deputy Dean, University of Southern Queensland

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

Behave as a team, Morrison tells the troops


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

As he battles to put containment lines around the damage the Nationals’ meltdown is causing his government, Scott Morrison has given his party room a pointed lecture about unity.

He has also obtained a letter from Llew O’Brien in which O’Brien reaffirms he will support the government. O’Brien quit the Nationals this week and then won the deputy speakership thanks to the votes of several rebel Nationals.

O’Brien, who remains a member of the Queensland Liberal National Party, sent the letter after meeting Morrison on Monday night.

Before Tuesday’s Coalition meeting, the word was put out for members to show restraint, after recent public airings of differences over coal in particular.

Addressing the party room, Morrison reminded members they were there as a team, declaring the government had a “contract” with the Australian people.

Those walking into the government party room took on serious responsibilities and must do so as a government. The government had gone to the election highlighting local plans and the capabilities of local members but also very much as being members of a team.

“The people endorsed us to be the government,” he said, emphasising the government wasn’t him or any individual. “We are together the government.”




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He said there were many parties in this government: the Liberal party, the National party, the CLP in the Northern Territory, the LNP in Queensland.

But “the contract we have with the Australian people” was to work collectively as their government. The government’s strength was its values, policies and beliefs, which were endorsed at the election.

Acknowledging the difficulties of the last couple of months Morrison told members, when they returned home after the current fortnight sitting, “to focus on the people who put us here”.

Treasurer and deputy Liberal leader Josh Frydenberg invoked John Howard’s adage about being a broad church, when Howard added, “you sometimes have to get the builders in to put in the extra pew on both sides of the aisle to make sure that everybody is accommodated”.

Frydenberg lamented Monday’s “historic moment” in the Australian-Indonesian relationship, with President Joko Widodo visiting Australia and addressing parliament, had been overshadowed in the news bulletins. He also urged MPs to focus on government achievements and policies and future plans “and put internal issues of recent days behind us”.




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Embattled Nationals leader Michael McCormack, who at the weekend did the Tumbarumba trek which was started by Tim Fischer, said he’d had a call from Fischer’s widow Judy, who’d reflected on how Tim and his team had “stuck firm through difficult periods”. She had said Tim “would want us all to stand firm and together at present”, focused on continuing to deliver the government’s commitments.

O’Brien was present at the meeting but didn’t speak.

Also quiet were the Liberal moderates, who have been recently outspoken on climate change and in opposition to any government support for a new coal-fired power station.

One of the Nationals rebels, former resources minister Matt Canavan, spruiked the advantages of the feasibility study for a Queensland coal-fired power station at Collinsvillle, but his comments were relatively non-combative.




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In contrast, earlier Canavan prodded the southern Liberals when on Monday night he hit back with heavy sarcasm against former prime minister Malcolm’s Turnbull’s comment that it was “nuts” to advocate government support to build a coal-fired power station.

Canavan told Sky, “Good luck to Malcolm, he’s welcome to have his views. In fact, I hope that Malcolm keeps expressing those views and that maybe come around the next election he can lead a convoy, let’s say, up to Collinsville, and have a rally up there, and campaign against the coal-fire power station.

“I think that would go down very well, to have Malcolm’s motorcade come up to North Queensland, and tell us all why we shouldn’t be using our own product which we export overseas to create jobs here.”

Asked in question time whether the government would be willing to indemnify a Collinsville coal-fired power station against carbon risk, Morrison said it was committed to the feasibility study but “the matter that the member has raised with me in this question is not currently before the government”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

High Court rules Indigenous people cannot be deported as aliens, but the fight for legal recognition remains



Mick Tsikas/AAP

Kate Galloway, Griffith University and Melissa Castan, Monash University

The High Court made an important decision today about whether it is possible for Aboriginal Australians to be deported from the country if they are not citizens.

By a majority of 4:3, the court decided that

Aboriginal Australians … are not within the reach of the ‘aliens’ power conferred by s 51(xix) of the Constitution.

The outcome of the decision is clear for one of the men, Brendan Thoms, who is a registered native title holder. As such, it is beyond the power of the Commonwealth to deport him.

However, the majority was divided on the question of whether the other plaintiff, Daniel Love, was an Aboriginal person as a question of fact, and so did not make a finding about whether or not he was an “alien”.

This case is significant. In some regards, it is about questions of deportation and immigration. But, crucially, it is a constitutional law case grappling with the deeper question of whether Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians can be aliens and therefore excluded from the Australian state.

Although the decision applies to only a small number of people – Indigenous Australians who are not citizens – it has a broader impact in recognising the special status of Indigenous Australians in Australia.

Background of the case

The case involved two Aboriginal men born overseas who were ordered to be deported from Australia because they each had a criminal conviction. Both men appealed to the High Court and their cases were heard together late last year.

Love, a Kamileroi man, was born in Papua New Guinea to an Aboriginal father and PNG mother. He moved to Australia in 1984 when he was five years old, but never applied for citizenship. After serving a 12-month sentence for assault occasioning bodily harm, his permanent residency visa was cancelled by the government. He was in detention but was released in 2018 pending the High Court’s decision.




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Thoms, a Gunggari man and declared native title holder, was born in New Zealand to an Aboriginal mother and New Zealand father. He has lived in Australia since 1994. Like Love, his visa was cancelled after he served part of an 18-month sentence for a domestic violence assault. He has remained in immigration detention pending the court’s decision.

The Commonwealth has maintained that since the men are not citizens of Australia, the minister for Home Affairs has the power to cancel their visas and deport them. Under Section 51 (xix) of the Constitution, the Commonwealth has the power to make laws relating to “naturalisation and aliens”.

However, lawyers for the two men argued that although they are not citizens, they cannot be aliens – and therefore cannot be deported.

As a question of law, an alien is a person who owes allegiance to another country because they were born there. For people recognised as Aboriginal Australians, with longstanding connections to community, culture and traditional land, this implies they do not belong in their own country.

As Love’s lawyers argued to the court,

as a member of the Aboriginal race of Australia and the child of an Australian citizen … [he] is not an alien.

This argument suggests a new category of person described as “non-citizen non-aliens”. And under this special category, the lawyers argued, the minister would not have the constitutional right to deport them.




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The conflict in this case arises because it seems contradictory for Aboriginal people to be thought of as strangers in their own land. This is especially so for registered native title holders, such as Thoms. As a native title holder, the law recognises his connection to the land.

The basis of the men’s argument, therefore, rests on the connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to their country and the obvious implication of belonging.

Impact for Indigenous Australians

The court’s decision is good news for Indigenous Australians, as it expresses a new form of relationship between Indigenous people and the state – that of a “non-citizen, non-alien”.

The category will protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians born overseas, ensuring they will not lose their right to traditional lands because of an accident of birth. The decision upholds the law’s recognition of the importance of Indigenous Australians’ connection to, and rights over, their lands.

But it does mean that a person must be able to prove their Aboriginality before the court as a question of fact.




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Because Thoms is a native title holder, his circumstances were clear. The majority was divided, however, on Love’s status as an Aboriginal person, as he is not a native title holder. And there was ultimately no finding as to whether he qualifies as an alien under the law.

The case also highlights the ongoing challenges for Indigenous Australians in their fight for proper legal recognition in relations with the state.

The minister ignored the implications of these men’s Aboriginality in seeking to deport them. And the Commonwealth argued before the High Court that these men did not belong in Australia – that they were aliens. Further, three of the seven judges agreed with that argument and decided there was no special category for “non-citizen, non-aliens”.

The fact this case was brought at all indicates that the relationship between Indigenous Australians and the state remains unresolved.

Despite the majority decision, it seems First Nations peoples’ close connection with the land is still not enough on its own to guarantee their ongoing rights to be part of Australia, and to retain their ties to community and country.

This decision will be recognised as a milestone for Indigenous Australians. But the closeness of the decision and the qualified finding in relation to Love’s case means this question of belonging for non-citizen Indigenous people will likely be raised again.The Conversation

Kate Galloway, Associate Professor of Law, Griffith University and Melissa Castan, Associate Professor, Law Faculty, Monash University

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

Scott Morrison’s gas transition plan is a dangerous road to nowhere



Flickr

Tim Baxter, University of Melbourne

As Australia continues to battle horrific bushfires, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a renewed focus on gas-fired electricity to reduce emissions and lower energy prices. This is a dangerous and completely unnecessary route.

In a speech to the National Press Club last week, Morrison claimed:

There is no credible energy transition plan, for an economy like Australia in particular, that does not involve the greater use of gas as an important transition fuel.

This statement is completely untrue, even among the “official” transition plans.

The Australian Energy Market Operator’s draft Integrated System Plan, used to plan future infrastructure needs in Australia’s largest grid, contains multiple scenarios for the coming decades. Several of these, including the “central” scenario – representing entirely neutral assumptions about the future – see no substantial increase in gas consumption over the coming decades.

But with Morrison now pursuing bilateral agreements with the states to open up more gas reserves, it is vitally important to interrogate the logic of gas as a transition fuel.

The strong case against gas

Gas is, of course, a fossil fuel and a source of greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions occur during extraction and transport as well as when it is burned to produce energy.

Nonetheless, since the 1990s it has been touted as a “transition fuel” – that is as a resource that might be drawn upon temporarily while the world switches from coal-fired power to renewables.

Proponents say gas is less emissions-intensive than coal and as such, offers a better fossil fuel alternative as renewables are constructed and energy-efficiency improvements are implemented. (This benefit is overstated: more on this later.)




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But in the 30-odd years since gas was first talked up as a transition fuel, humans have added more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than they did in all of human history before that point. We are twice as far from stable global temperatures now as we were when the the concept of a transition fuel was born, and emissions are accelerating in the wrong direction.

Last year a consortium of major international organisations including the United Nations Environment Programme released a landmark report which showed planned global production of coal, oil and gas would see the world far exceed the Paris Agreement targets. There is no room for further expansion.

Australia: a vulnerable nation

2019 was the hottest and driest year ever recorded. We reeled from crippling drought and fires worse than our most terrifying nightmares. Then came the suffocating air pollution.

The Bureau of Meteorology explicitly linked this fire season to climate change.

The world has warmed by 1.1℃ since the industrial revolution due to the burning of coal, oil and gas. Current fossil fuel developments are enough to double that temperature increase.

Australia has among the world’s highest greenhouse gas emissions per person, despite also being among the most vulnerable to climate change.

Alongside this, Australia has long been the world’s largest coal exporter and last year took the crown as the largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.

Scott Morrison’s plan for a gas transition is a dangerous route.
AAP

Overstated benefits

It is true that gas, if produced and consumed in Australia without being liquefied, is 30-50% more carbon-efficient than coal at the point it is burned to produce electricity. But this benefit is substantially eroded by the emissions created when gas is vented or flared during the exploration, extraction, transport and distribution processes.




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Gas is mostly composed of methane, the most significant climate-warming agent after carbon dioxide. Methane survives for a shorter period in the atmosphere, but over 20 years has 86 times the planet-warming potential of carbon dioxide.

In 2019, the venting and flaring of methane accounted for 6% of Australia’s emissions – and this is likely a significant underestimate. These so-called “fugitive emissions” massively detract from the purported climate benefits of a gas transition.

Renewable energy is waiting to provide the decarbonisation Australia needs.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Running out of time

It is worth remembering that to make the gas projects viable, developers expect their projects to last for several decades at least. Gas can only be a “transition fuel” if there is a clear path out the other side to net-zero emissions. Locking in gas projects for decades makes that path impossible.

Where gas does provide a small benefit, this lock-in means it cannot be enough to secure globally-agreed temperature goals.




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A separate United Nations Environment Programme report last year considered how the world might limit global warming to globally agreed temperature goals – 1.5℃ or 2℃ above pre-industrial temperatures. Both of these targets will result in a climate notably less secure than that which drove Australia’s past year of extreme weather.

To meet the 1.5℃ target, emissions from all sources must fall by 7.6% per year between now and 2030, and keep decreasing after that.

Even 2℃ of global warming – a catastrophic temperature increase by any measure – would require annual emissions reduction of 2.7% per year. This is well beyond what can be accomplished with a long, slow detour through gas.

Over and above all this, is the simple point that increasing gas supply will not reduce prices anyway. Since 2016, the spike in energy prices in Australia has occurred because of the increase in gas supply. Nothing Morrison has proposed so far is capable of counteracting the perverse dynamic which brought that about.

It is entirely unnecessary for the federal government to continue down the gas route. The renewable energy sector is waiting in the wings to deliver massive emissions reduction and lower prices.

But in the sunniest and windiest inhabited continent on the planet, investment confidence in the renewables sector is collapsing on Morrison’s watch.The Conversation

Tim Baxter, Fellow – Melbourne Law School; Senior Researcher – Climate Council; Associate – Australian-German Climate and Energy College, University of Melbourne

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

How big money influenced the 2019 federal election – and what we can do to fix the system


Kate Griffiths, Grattan Institute; Danielle Wood, Grattan Institute, and Tony Chen, Grattan Institute

Amid the ongoing bushfire and coronavirus crises – and the political kerfuffle surrounding the Nationals and Greens – you’d be forgiven for missing the annual release of the federal political donations data this week.

Nine months after the 2019 federal election, voters finally get a look at who funded the political parties’ campaigns.

The data reveals that big money matters in Australian elections more than ever, and donations are highly concentrated among a small number of powerful individuals, businesses and unions.

These are significant vulnerabilities in Australia’s democracy and reinforce why substantial reforms are needed to prevent wealthy interests from exercising too much influence in Australian politics.

Largest donations in Australian political history

The big story of the 2019 election was Clive Palmer, who donated A$84 million via his mining company Mineralogy to his own campaign – a figure that dwarfs all other donations as far back as the records go. The previous record – also held by Palmer – was A$15 million at the 2013 election.

While Palmer failed to win any seats last year, he ran a substantial anti-Labor advertising campaign, and claimed credit for the Coalition’s victory.




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There are obviously many factors in an election win, but this raises a serious question: how much influence should we allow any single interest to hold over the national debate, especially during the critically important election period?


Grattan Institute

Several other large donors also emerged at this election. A A$4 million donation to the Liberal Party from the company Sugolena, owned by a private investor and philanthropist, takes the prize for the largest-ever non-Palmer donation.

Businessman Anthony Pratt donated about A$1.5 million to each of the major parties through his paper and packaging company Pratt Holdings. The hotels lobby, which has been influential in preventing pokies reforms in past state and federal elections, also donated about A$500,000 to the Coalition and A$800,000 to Labor.

Money buys access and sometimes influence

A 2018 Grattan Institute report, Who’s in the room? Access and influence in Australian politics, showed how money can buy relationships and political connections. The political parties rely heavily on major donors, and as a result, major donors get significant access to ministers.

While explicit quid pro quo is probably rare, the risk is in more subtle influences – that donors get more access to policymakers and their views are given more weight. These risks are exacerbated by a lack of transparency in dealings between policymakers and special interests.

Big money improves the chances of influence. But it also matters to election outcomes.




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Looking back at the past five federal elections, an interesting correlation is evident: the party with the biggest war chest tends to form government.

It’s only a sample of five, and it’s unclear whether higher spending drives the election result or donors simply get behind the party most likely to win.

But in 2019, Labor was widely expected to win, so its smaller war chest supports the proposition that money assists in delivering power.



Grattan Institute

What policymakers should do to protect Australia’s democracy

Money in politics needs to be better regulated to reduce the risk of interest groups “buying” influence – and elections.

Real transparency is the first step. Half of private funding remains hidden from public view due to Australia’s high disclosure threshold and loopholes in the federal donations rules.

Only donations of more than A$14,000 need to be on the public record, and political parties don’t have to aggregate multiple donations below the threshold from the same donor – meaning major donors can simply split their donations to hide their identity.



Grattan Institute

Parliament should improve the transparency of political donations by

  • lowering the federal donations disclosure threshold to A$5,000, so all donations big enough to matter are on the public record;

  • requiring political parties to aggregate multiple donations from the same donor, so big donors can’t hide

  • requiring quicker release of donations data, so voters have information on who funds elections during the campaign – not nine months later.

These simple rule changes would bring Australia’s federal political donations regime in line with most states and OECD nations. The current regime leaves voters in the dark.

But the donations data shows transparency is not enough to protect Australia’s democracy from the influence of a handful of wealthy individuals. Ultimately, to reduce the influence of money in politics, parliament should introduce an expenditure cap during election campaigns.




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Parties and candidates can currently spend as much money as they can raise, so big money means greater capacity to sell your message to voters.

Capping political expenditure by political parties – and third parties – would reduce the influence of wealthy individuals. And it would reduce the donations “arms race” between the major parties, giving senior politicians more time to do their job instead of chasing dollars.The Conversation

Kate Griffiths, Fellow, Grattan Institute; Danielle Wood, Program Director, Budget Policy and Institutional Reform, Grattan Institute, and Tony Chen, Researcher, Grattan Institute

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

The ‘sports rorts’ affair shows the need for a proper federal ICAC – with teeth



AAP/Mick Tsikas

Yee-Fui Ng, Monash University

While Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie has been forced to resign over the “sports rorts” affair, the matter is far from settled. It’s likely to feature heavily in parliamentary debate in the coming days.

One of the outstanding issues is the very different findings by the Audit Office report and by the review undertaken by the head of the prime minister’s department, Phil Gaetjens. Scott Morrison has said he will not release the Gaetjens report, so we can only go on the quotes Morrison read from it in his press conference announcing McKenzie’s resignation.

Gaetjens found McKenzie had breached the ministerial standards due to her conflict of interest in failing to disclose her membership of a gun club that received funding. At the same time, he absolved the government, as he “did not find evidence” the allocation of grants was “unduly influenced by reference to marginal or targeted electorates”.




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In contrast, the auditor-general concluded that the “award of grant funding was not informed by an appropriate assessment process and sound advice”, and was contrary to principles of merit.

So, what is the status of the prime minister’s department compared to the auditor-general? And how would this have played out differently with a federal Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC)?

How was the affair handled by government?

The auditor-general is an independent officer of parliament, with the mandate to audit government finances. The position is independent from government and reports to parliament.

Alongside other integrity officers, such as the ombudsman and information commissioner, the auditor-general forms an important part of the Australian integrity framework. Their job is to hold government to account. They have significant coercive powers to compel documents and persons, which is essential to expose government wrongdoing.

The integrity officers have brought to light many examples of government maladministration. Yet they cannot compel government to change its practices – they only have the power of publicity and recommendation.

By referring the sports rorts affair to the prime minister’s department to investigate, the government is essentially conducting an internal investigation.

The department is under the full control of the prime minister. Like all senior public service executives, the department’s secretary, Gaetjens, is on a fixed-term contract without employment security.

The heyday of the mandarin is over. Departmental secretaries in the 1950s and 1960s had permanent tenure. By contrast, recent governments have been in the habit of sacking departmental secretaries and installing their allies in the positions.

This means an investigation by the auditor-general is far more independent than one by the secretary of the prime minister’s department. The auditor-general is independent of government. Unlike the Gaetjens report, his report is publicly published and tabled in parliament.

What would have happened with a federal ICAC?

A former NSW auditor-general has claimed a federal ICAC would have investigated the sports grants scandal.

So, how might this incident have played out if there was a federal ICAC?

First of all, it depends which version of a federal ICAC we are talking about. Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter has proposed a watered-down model of a Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC).

The threshold for investigation by Porter’s CIC model is high. It requires a reasonable suspicion of corruption amounting to a criminal offence before an investigation can even begin. It is doubtful the sports rort affair can meet this very high bar of suspected criminality.




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So it is unlikely the proposed CIC will even have the power to investigate this issue.

Even if the CIC could investigate, it would not have the power to conduct public hearings or make findings of corruption.

On the other hand, if a federal ICAC “with teeth” is implemented, it is more likely to have the power to investigate this alleged maladministration of public funds.

A strong federal ICAC would have the power to hold public hearings. It could more fully ventilate all issues surrounding this matter.

There have been broader questions about the alleged involvement of the prime minister’s office in the handling of the grants that remain unanswered. The prime minister has denied any such involvement.

A strong federal ICAC would have been able to compel ministers, public servants and ministerial advisers to give evidence. This would paint a better picture of political interference in Sports Australia’s decision-making.

A strong ICAC investigation would be far more independent than that of a departmental secretary, and its final report would be public. It would also be able to make findings of corruption, which could then be prosecuted in the courts.

How can things be improved?

McKenzie has resigned, which is emblematic of ministerial responsibility. The minister has taken the hit based on her failure to declare her conflict of interest.

But the Gaetjens finding that there has been no political interference in the sports grant allocation is rather convenient for the government.

Gaetjens’ conclusion was also flawed in stating that political considerations were not “the primary determining factor”.

The question was never whether partisanship was the primary determining factor: political considerations should not have been a consideration at all in awarding the grants. As the ministerial standards say: ministers must not take into account irrelevant considerations.

It would have been better if a truly independent body, such as a strong federal ICAC, conducted the investigation to assuage all doubts.

Another major issue is the interaction between the minister and Sports Australia, an independent statutory corporation.

Some jobs have been taken out of the hands of politicians and given to government corporations such as Sports Australia. This is to avoid the partisan interference and short-termism that characterises modern politics. An example is letting the Reserve Bank set interest rates, rather than politicians.

Yet, in this situation, the minister interfered with Sports Australia’s legal decision-making.

My research has shown government corporations set up by statute, such as Sports Australia, are subject to a high level of parliamentary, financial and legal accountability. They should thus be given the freedom to operate in keeping with their statutory mandate.

We still have work to do to tighten up rules to ensure the probity of procurements and grants. We also need to clarify the roles of ministers in relation to statutory corporations like Sports Australia. Only then can we say we have resolved the issues arising from the sports rorts affair.The Conversation

Yee-Fui Ng, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Monash University

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