Morrison, compassion and coronavirus: when crisis refines leadership


Sen Sendjaya, Swinburne University of Technology; Mulyadi Robin, Alphacrucis College, and Nathan Eva, Monash University

News that the Morrison government paid A$190,000 last year for advice on how to empathise with the Australian people was met with ridicule.

Yet it might be worth the money.

In late January, Morrison was continually criticised for appearing to lack compassion over the bushfires.

He himself said, “there are things I could have handed on the ground much better”.

There are signs he has taken that to heart during the coronavirus outbreak.




Read more:
Mr Morrison, I lost my home to bushfire. Your thoughts and prayers are not enough


He has acknowledged unknowns and people’s fear of the unknown, and used inclusive language along the lines of, “together we will get through this”.

It’s been more than getting the narrative right. We’ve seen capable and compassionate leadership, even “servant leadership”.

Problems, not projects, make leaders. Real leaders faced with real problems put their followers before themselves.

Servant leadership works

Research shows that “servant leaders” make good leaders.

Their stories explain the success of many of the Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, including Zappos.com, Marriot International, and TDIndustries.

In a recently published state-of-the-art review of servant leadership, we argue that servant leadership makes sense empirically, financially and psychologically.

Our review of 285 studies on servant leadership in 39 countries finds the approach creates better leader-follower relationships, in turn boosting performance metrics including employee satisfaction and well being, commitment, and innovation.

It can help in the polls

It is probably why we react positively in the polls when our political leaders show compassion.

The latest Newspoll suggests his approach to the coronavirus has done him no harm.

Financially, servant leadership is a worthwhile investment because it is correlated with individual, team, and organisational performance better than other forms of leadership.

Psychologically, it helps individuals shift from a concern for themselves towards a concern for others, creating a culture of service.

Servant leadership is made up of six dimensions that can be applied on a daily basis:

It is a common misconception that in times of crisis we need leaders with a command-and-control and domineering approach, and those who demonstrate compassion will be seen as weak.

Compassion needs genuine strength

The truth is that being compassionate does not signal weakness, inferiority, or a lack of self-respect.

On the contrary, only those with a secure sense of self, strength of character, and psychological maturity are able to put aside themselves and instead serve others in times of crisis.

Being compassionate isn’t easy, as Morrison knows.

But it’s never too late to start.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Morrison looks to his messaging on coronavirus and climate


The Conversation


Sen Sendjaya, Professor of Leadership, Swinburne University of Technology; Mulyadi Robin, Senior Lecturer, Alphacrucis College, and Nathan Eva, Senior Lecturer, Monash University

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

Coronavirus: 5 ways to manage your news consumption in times of crisis



Victoria Heath/Unsplash

Mark Pearson, Griffith University

Thousands of employees internationally are already working from home in COVID-19 self-isolation because of their recent travel, related symptoms or immune system vulnerability.

But to do so while habitually checking the news on devices – and allowing 24/7 news channels to play non-stop in the background – might erode your productivity and increase stress and anxiety.

A foundational element of media literacy in the digital era is striking an appropriate balance between news consumption and other activities. Even before the current crises, Australian research demonstrated news avoidance had risen among news consumers from 57% in 2017 to 62% in 2019, driven by a sense of news fatigue.

Self-help expert Rolf Dobelli implores us to stop reading the news. While he advocates going cold turkey and abandoning all packaged news consumption, Dobelli makes exceptions for long-form journalism and documentaries.

So too does philosopher Alain de Botton in The News – A User’s Manual, while proposing more positive news and journalism’s examination of life’s deeper issues, emotions and aesthetics.

In journalism education there has been a move towards “peace journalism”, “mindful journalism”, “constructive journalism” and “solutions journalism”, where the news should not merely report what is wrong but suggest ways to fix it.




Read more:
How peace journalism can help the media cover elections in Africa


Of course, it would be a mistake to abstain from all news during the COVID-19 pandemic and its unpredictable economic and social consequences.

Often it is best to navigate a middle path, so here are five suggestions on how you can stay in the loop at home while you get your work done – and help maintain your mental health.

1. Switch off

Avoid the 24/7 news channels and feeds unless it is your business to do so, or unless the information is likely to impact you directly.

Try to develop a routine of checking in on the main headlines once, twice or three times a day so you stay informed about the most important events without being sucked into the vortex of click bait and news of incremental changes in the number of coronavirus cases or the ups and downs of the stock markets.

2. Dive deep

Look for long-form journalism and in-depth commentary on the topics that most interest you. Articles by experts (Editor’s note: like those in The Conversation!) include the most important facts you need to know, and are likely to have a constructive angle presenting incisive analysis and a pathway to a solution or best practice.

Spend your time engaging with well-researched and accurate stories.
Eugene Zhyvchik/Unsplash

On radio and television, look for big picture current affairs programs like the ABC’s AM and 7.30 – or on a lighter and more positive note Ten’s The Project – so you don’t have to be assaulted by a disturbing litany of petrol station hold-ups, motorway chases and celebrity gossip in the packaged morning and evening news.

3. Connect

Use social media wisely – for communicating with family and friends when you might be physically isolated and by following authoritative sources if something in the news is affecting your life directly, such as emergency services during cyclones, fires and floods.

But avoid the suggested and sponsored news feeds with dubious and unfiltered information (often shared as spam by social media illiterates).

Keep your social media commentary civil, empathetic and supportive – mindful of everyone’s mental health during a crisis.

4. Interrogate

Ask the key question: “What is the best source of the information I absolutely need to know?”

Go to primary sources where possible. Subscribe to official and authoritative information feeds – for example, daily summaries from the World Health Organisation) and the Commonwealth Department of Health on COVID-19 and your preferred bank’s summary reports on the sharemarket and economic indicators.

5. Be mindful

Bear in mind the well being of any children in your household with the timing and selection of your hard/live news consumption. International research has shown more constructive news stories have fewer negative mental health impacts on children, particularly when combined with the opportunity to discuss the contents with their peers.

It’s important to think about where your children get their news, too.
Shutterstock.com

Finally, you might also use these crises to build your own media literacy – by pausing to reflect carefully upon what news you really need in your family’s life. This might vary markedly according to your work, interests and passions.

For many of us it will mean a much more critical diet of what we call “traditional hard news” – allowing us the time to read and view material that better contributes to the quality of our own lives and to our varied roles as informed citizens.The Conversation

Mark Pearson, Professor of Journalism and Social Media, Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research, Griffith University, Griffith University

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

Vital Signs: Australian and US rate cuts underline seriousness of the coronavirus crisis


Richard Holden, UNSW

This week the Reserve Bank of Australia did something everyone expected and the US Federal Reserve did something almost nobody expected. Both are revealing.

At its monthly meeting Australia’s central bank cut official interest rates by 25 basis points to a record low of 0.5%.

The Fed cut rates by 50 basis points – not at a regular meeting but “off cycle” – in response to the COVID-19 crisis, which looks likely to become a global pandemic.

The Reserve Bank of Australia’s announcement of its decision made it seem COVID-19 was the main, if not only, reason it was cutting rates.




Read more:
One word repeated 9 times explains why the Reserve Bank cut: it’s ‘coronavirus’


In reality, the bank was always going to cut rates sooner rather than later. Australia’s economic growth remains sluggish on a per capita basis, wage growth is still hovering about 2%, unemployment is 5.3% and inflation has been below the 2-3% target band for Philip Lowe’s entire time as governor (since September 2016).

The US economy, by contrast, is doing better on all these measures. Unemployment is at its lowest rate in several decades. Wage growth is above 3.6% on an annual basis.

That makes the US rate cut far more revealing about the Fed’s view on the economic effects of COVID-19.

The Fed’s Open Market Committee is worried. US stock markets responded to the announcement by dropping about 3%, before recovering the next day.

One tool in the box

There is a narrative in Australian business circles, among certain commentators – and voiced by former treasurer Peter Costello – that the Reserve Bank’s interest rate cuts no longer do anything to spur investment and growth because rates are already so low.

Moreover, the argument goes, by cutting rates the central bank sends a negative message about the state of the Australian economy.

The hard truth is the economy is in bad shape.




Read more:
Economic growth near an end as Treasury talks of prolonged coronavirus downturn


Interest-rate cuts alone won’t solve the problem. But it is the tool the Reserve Bank has at its disposal. There is also good reason, as I wrote late last year, to believe the normal transmission mechanisms of monetary policy are still working.

As almost every mainstream economist has said, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak the Australian economy needed significant fiscal stimulus rather than the balanced-budget fetishism of the current Coalition government (and, to be fair, also the current Labor opposition).

We are now going to see some targeted stimulus because of COVID-19, but that won’t address the Australian economy’s pre-existing problems.

Sending a message

Curiously enough, the critique of the Reserve Bank of Australia just mentioned applies quite well to the US Federal Reserve’s decision to cut rates dramatically – and do so off-cycle.

The Fed cut its rate range from 1.5%-1.75% to 1.0%-1.25%. Doing so used up a lot of its remaining monetary policy ammunition.

And the virus crisis is not just a demand-side problem where consumers aren’t spending. It’s also a supply-side problem where businesses are unable to produce what consumers might be willing to buy. No rate cut can repair global supply chains disrupted by mass factory closures in China.

What the Fed definitely did do is send a message that the virus crisis is going to be a really big deal. That helps create its own vicious cycle of beliefs on the demand side as consumers respond to the rate cut by increasing precautionary savings and cutting back on spending.

So the Fed used some of its limited ammunition in a way unlikely to be very effective, and has freaked out markets and consumers. Oops.

A time to borrow and spend

Coming back to Australia, it will be important to unpack both the Reserve Bank’s monetary response and the federal government’s fiscal response. How much is a response to COVID-19 and how much to the underlying weakness of the Australian economy?

The real fear is that too little will be done, especially with fiscal policy, to address that underlying economic weakness.

There is some hope, now the prospect of a budget surplus has essentially evaporated, the Coalition government will be free to do what it should have been doing all along – making long-term investments in the Australian economy.




Read more:
Vital Signs: Australia’s nation-building opportunity held hostage by the deficit daleks


Let’s not forget the government can borrow for 10 years at 1% in nominal terms – a negative interest rate when adjusted for inflation. Debt markets will essentially pay us to borrow from them. That is a rare opportunity to make smart investments that will pay huge dividends in years to come.The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

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

The coronavirus outbreak is the biggest crisis ever to hit international education


Christopher Ziguras, RMIT University and Ly Tran, Deakin University

The coronavirus outbreak may be the biggest disruption to international student flows in history.

There are more than 100,000 students stuck in China who had intended to study in Australia this year. As each day passes, it becomes more unlikely they will arrive in time for the start of the academic year.

Of course international affairs are bound to sometimes interfere with the more than 5.3 million students studying outside their home country, all over the world.

After the September 11 attacks in 2001, the United States closed its borders temporarily and tightened student visa restrictions, particularly for students from the Middle East. Thousands were forced to choose different study destinations in the following years.

In 2018, Saudi Arabia’s government instructed all its citizens studying in Canada to return home, in protest at the Canadian foreign minister’s call to release women’s rights activists held in Saudi jails.

A significant proportion of the 12,000 or so Saudi students in Canada left to continue their studies elsewhere, before the Saudi government quietly softened its stance.

So we have seen calamities before, but never on this scale. There are a few reasons for this.

Why this is worse than before

The current temporary migration of students from China to Australia represents one of the largest education flows the world has ever seen. Federal education department data show there were more than 212,000 Chinese international students in Australia by the end of 2019.


Screenshot/Department of Education

This accounts for 28% of Australia’s total international student population. Globally, there are only two study routes that involve larger numbers of students. The world’s largest student flow is from China to the United States and the second largest is from India to the US.

It’s also difficult to imagine a worse time for this epidemic to happen for students heading to the southern hemisphere than January to February, at the end of our long summer break.

Many Chinese students had returned home for the summer and others were preparing to start their studies at the end of February.

By comparison, the SARS epidemic in 2003 didn’t significantly dent international student enrolments in Australia because it peaked around April-May 2003, well after students had started the academic year.




Read more:
We need to make sure the international student boom is sustainable


Ending in July that year, the SARS outbreak infected fewer than half the number of people than have already contracted coronavirus. Even during the SARS outbreak Australia didn’t implement bans on those travelling from affected countries.

What will the impact be?

This crisis hits hard for many Chinese students, an integral component of our campus communities. It not only causes disruptions to their study, accommodation, part-time employment and life plans, but also their mental well-being.

A humane, supportive and respectful response from the university communities is vital at this stage.

Australia has never experienced such a sudden drop in student numbers.

The reduced enrolments will have profound impacts on class sizes and the teaching workforce, particularly at masters level in universities with the highest proportions of students from China. Around 46% of Chinese students are studying a postgraduate masters by coursework. If classes are too small, universities will have to cancel them.

And the effects don’t end there. Tourism, accommodation providers, restaurants and retailers who cater to international students will be hit hard too.

Chinese students contributed A$12 billion to the Australian economy in 2019, so whatever happens from this point, the financial impact will be significant. The cost of the drop in enrolments in semester one may well amount to several billion dollars.

The newly-formed Global Reputation Taskforce by Australia’s Council for International Education has commissioned some rapid response research to promote more informed discussion about the implications and impacts of the crisis.




Read more:
What attracts Chinese students to Aussie universities?


If the epidemic is contained quickly, some of the 100,000 students stuck in China will be able to start their studies in semester one, and the rest could delay until mid-year. But there might still be longer-term effects.

Australia has a world-class higher education system and the world is closely watching how we manage this crisis as it unfolds.

Prospective students in China will be particularly focused on Australia’s response as they weigh future study options.

The world is watching

Such a fast-moving crisis presents a range of challenges for those in universities, colleges (such as English language schools) and schools who are trying to communicate with thousands of worried students who can’t enter the country.

Australian universities are scrambling to consider a wide range of responses. These include:

  • delivering courses online
  • providing intensive courses and summer or winter courses
  • arrangements around semester commencement
  • fee refund and deferral
  • provision of clear and updated information
  • support structures for starting and continuing Chinese students, including extended academic and welfare support, counselling, special helplines, and coronavirus-specific information guidelines
  • support with visa issues, accommodation and employment arrangements.

A coordinated approach involving different stakeholders who are providing different supports for Chinese students is an urgent priority. This includes education providers, government, city councils, international student associations, student groups and professional organisations.




Read more:
Coronavirus fears can trigger anti-Chinese prejudice. Here’s how schools can help


This outbreak further raises awareness within the international education sector of the need for risk management and crisis response strategies to ensure sustainability.

Most importantly, we need to ensure we remain focused on the human consequences of this tragedy first. Headlines focusing on lost revenues at a time like this are offensive to international students and everyone involved in international education.The Conversation

Christopher Ziguras, Professor of Global Studies, RMIT University and Ly Tran, ARC Future Fellow, Deakin University

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

The water crisis has plunged the Nats into a world of pain. But they reap what they sow



Angry farmers are pressuring the Nationals to tear up the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Daniel Connell, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

When farmers descended on Parliament House in Canberra this month to demand the Murray Darling Basin Plan be dumped, they reserved sharp words for Nationals leader Michael McCormack.

“The National Party is not going to exist after the next election unless you grow some spine,” one angry irrigator warned him.

“Get up there and say ‘this is not f—ing good enough’. Get angry!”




Read more:
Fish kills and undrinkable water: here’s what to expect for the Murray Darling this summer


By the end of the week, federal Minister for Water Resources David Littleproud, a Nationals MP, had announced a review of water sharing arrangements under the basin plan, claiming it would “take the politics out” of the issue.

But that hope will be in vain. If irrigators in New South Wales get more water, that means less for the environment and other water users downstream including irrigators in South Australia.

The Nationals are wedged between NSW irrigation communities and its coalition with the Liberals. But this crisis is largely of the party’s own making, and it will not go away any time soon.

Farmers say water shortages are threatening their livelihoods and communities.
AAP

A political bind

The Murray Darling Basin Plan became law in 2012. It’s meant to determine how much water can be drawn from the river system by users, mostly irrigators who use about 95% of extracted water. The plan aims to return some water to rivers, wetlands and flood plains by buying it from willing sellers on the water market, and improving infrastructure to prevent water loss.

The National Party has long blamed the basin plan for a raft of problems facing rural communities. This attitude might have served the Nationals’ short-term political interests. But it created a monster: stoking dissatisfaction from rural voters it is now unable to manage.




Read more:
The Murray-Darling Basin scandal: economists have seen it coming for decades


The beneficiaries are right-wing minor parties such as One Nation, to which rural voters in NSW and southern Queensland are now turning.

The Nationals’ base might be rural, but it is in coalition with the Liberals who must appease both capital city voters concerned about the environment, and constituents in downstream South Australia where voters of all persuasions think their state does not receive a fair share of water.

The Nationals are wedged between their rural base and Liberal voters.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

A history of white-anting

It is ironic farmers now accuse the Nationals of not doing enough to oppose the basin plan, given the party’s record on water policy at a state and federal level.

As far back as the 1980s, it became clear water salinity and over-extraction by irrigators was degrading river environments in the Murray Darling Basin.

Over ensuing decades the Nationals could have helped affected communities accept the need to take a basin-wide approach to water extraction. Instead they fuelled resentment by demanding more water for irrigators, implicitly dismissing the legitimate needs of the environment and downstream water users.




Read more:
Paddling blind: why we urgently need a water audit


In the early 1990s, for example, when a cap on further extractions was being planned, the NSW government (whose water policy was controlled by the Nationals) insisted water licenses not yet activated should be accepted within the cap. This substantially increased the volume of water extracted.

But even after securing the the changes, the Nationals campaigned against the policy.

Later as part of the Howard government, the Nationals reluctantly helped prepare the Water Act 2007 which underpins the basin plan. When it finally went before Parliament in 2012, McCormack, then a backbencher, opposed it. Such opposition has been a hallmark of Nationals policy ever since.

Receding waters in the NSW Menindee Lakes which is under pressure from low water flows.
Dean Lewins/AAP

In NSW, Nationals water ministers have undermined the plan in many ways, including by failing to ensure the timely delivery of “water resource plans”. These plans are supposed to outline how water will be shared between irrigators and the environment at a regional level, and are essential to the success of the broader basin policy.




Read more:
It’s time to restore public trust in the governing of the Murray Darling Basin


Meanwhile federally, Nationals MPs have insisted water for the environment be acquired by improving water infrastructure rather than taking water from irrigators. The building of this infrastructure has led to additional costs for taxpayers for little environmental benefit.

Farmers at a rally outside Parliament House. They want the basin plan scrapped.
Lukas Coch/AAP

So what next?

The basin plan now appears on the brink of collapse. The NSW government is threatening to pull out if changes are not made and Littleproud’s decision to review water-sharing arrangements is hardly a ringing endorsement of the plan.

Meanwhile the Greens and other critics say the plan was never adequate anyway,
given the low volumes of water redirected to the environment and its failure to properly recognise climate change.

If irrigators succeed in having the plan scrapped, their victory is likely to be short-lived. Public anger at ongoing environmental degradation will only grow. And depending on the party in government when a new Murray Darling policy is drafted, irrigators may be treated with far less sympathy.The Conversation

Daniel Connell, Research Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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

Australia needs a national crisis plan, and not just for bushfires



Bushfires aren’t the only catastrophic emergency Australia is likely to see.
AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

Andrew Gissing, Macquarie University and Michael Eburn, Australian National University

Calls are growing for a national bushfire plan, including from former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who says they are an issue of national security and the federal government must provide hands-on leadership.

It’s true that more people are living in high-risk bushfire areas, emergency services are stretched and the climate is rapidly changing. Future crises are inevitable. We must consider the prospect of a monstrous bushfire season, the likes of which we’ve never seen.

But bushfires aren’t the only catastrophe Australia must prepare for. If we are to create a national crisis plan, we must go much further than bushfire planning.




Read more:
12 simple ways you can reduce bushfire risk to older homes


Not just bushfires

In the decade since Victoria’s Black Saturday fires, we have improved fire predictions, night-time aerial firefighting, construction codes and emergency warnings. All of these have no doubt saved many lives.




Read more:
What has Australia learned from Black Saturday?


There are calls for more resources to fight fires, as part of a coordinated national plan. But few people have proposed an all-encompassing vision of such a plan.

For a start, it should not be confined solely to bushfires. Far more people die during heatwaves and residential housefires. Tropical cyclones, floods and hail each cost our economy more.

Any plan must provide a strategic vision across these various facets for at least the next ten to 20 years.

A national firefighting force?

Calls for a national firefighting force to supplement existing state resources are fundamentally short-sighted. A national force – quite apart from the level of duplication it would create – would spend much of its time idle.

Even during severe fires, such as those now raging, there would be limits to its usefulness. At a certain point, the size and energy of the fires means no amount of firefighting technology will extinguish them all.

Research conducted by Risk Frontiers, the Australian National University and Macquarie University through the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre, has focused on better planning and preparedness for catastrophic events.

This research concludes it is unrealistic to resource the emergency management sector for rare but truly catastrophic events. It is wildly expensive to remain 100% prepared for the worst-case scenario.

Instead of simply scaling up existing arrangements, we need to think differently.

Bush firefighting could be improved by innovation and research. Future investments must focus on rapidly detecting and extinguishing ignitions before they spread out of control.

Everyone is responsible

States and territories are traditionally responsible for emergency management in Australia. But almost by definition, a catastrophic disaster exceeds one’s capacity to cope – inevitably drawing on nationwide resources.

This means preparing for catastrophic disasters is everyone’s responsibility.

Existing plans allow for assistance across state borders, and between state and federal governments. But there is no national emergency legislation defining the Commonwealth’s role, or assigning responsibility for responding to a truly national disaster.

The Australian Defence Force has a well-defined support role in natural disasters, but should not be relied on due to its global commitments.

However, resource-sharing between states could benefit from more investment in programs that enable emergency services to work better together.

International help in massive emergencies also needs better planning, particularly around timing and integration with local agencies.

Non-government organisations, businesses and communities already make valuable contributions, but could play a more central role. We could look to the US, which successfully uses a whole-of-community approach.

This might mean emergency services help community organisation provide aid or carry out rescues, rather than do it themselves. These organisations are also best placed to make sure vulnerable members of the community are cared for.




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The most important task is to reduce the risk in the first place. The vast majority of disaster-related spending goes on recovery rather than risk reduction. Calls from the Productivity Commission and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) for more disaster mitigation funding have been largely ignored.

The federal government’s recent National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework highlights the need to identify highest-priority disaster risks and mitigation opportunities.

This would see priority investments in flood mitigation and strengthening of buildings against cyclones in northern Australia. (This will also help address insurance affordability.)

Land-use planning needs to be improved to reduce the chance that future developments are exposed to unreasonable risks.

Infrastructure must be constructed to the highest standards and, following a disaster, destroyed buildings should be rebuilt away from dangerous areas.

Finally, communities have the most critical role. We must understand our local risk and be ready to look after ourselves and each other. Governments at all levels must facilitate this spirit of self-reliance. Local leadership is crucial to any crisis plan and communities need to be involved in its construction.

Eastern Australia’s bushfire crisis has triggered emotional arguments for throwing resources at the problem. But planning must be careful and evidenced-based, taking into account the changing face of natural disasters.




Read more:
Friday essay: living with fire and facing our fears


The Conversation


Andrew Gissing, General Manager, Risk Frontiers, Adjunct Fellow, Macquarie University and Michael Eburn, Associate Professor in Law, Australian National University

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

There’s no airport border ‘crisis’, only management failure of the Home Affairs department


Regina Jefferies, UNSW and Daniel Ghezelbash, Macquarie University

In the past five years, more than 95,000 people who arrived by plane have lodged a claim for asylum in Australia, new statistics show.

Labor’s Immigration Spokesperson, Senator Kristina Keneally, has labelled this a “crisis”, stating:

Peter Dutton’s incompetence and recklessness has allowed people smugglers to run riot and traffic record-breaking numbers of people by aeroplane to Australia.

But the “crisis” is not that visa-holding travellers are flying to Australia, then later lodging a claim for asylum. It’s not unprecedented for tourists or students to later lodge a claim for asylum due to circumstances beyond their control.




Read more:
Peter Dutton is whipping up fear on the medevac law, but it defies logic and compassion


In 1989, for example, after events in Tiananmen Square, Australia provided refuge to thousands of Chinese students who had entered Australia with visas.

Instead, the “crisis” is the Australian government’s failure to properly manage the refugee-processing system. It gutted the ranks of experienced decision-makers and made organisational changes that undermine the quality of decisions, contributing to long processing delays and backlogs.

These organisational failures may have contributed to the increase in asylum applications over the last five years.

High staff turn-over

Protection visa decisions are highly complex. They must examine a variety of factors, including country-specific conditions and individual circumstances.

Yet, as the Australian National Audit Office noted in 2018, the Home Affairs department experienced a significant loss of “corporate memory” due to staff turn-over, “with almost half of SES officers present in July 2015 no longer in the department at July 2017”.

In a Senate Estimates hearing last year, Home Affairs officials said the average processing time for permanent protection visas, from lodgement to primary decision (not including appeals), was 257 days, or 8.5 months.

And the department’s training deficiencies are well-documented. The most recent Australian Public Service Employee Census put the department’s organisational management problems into stark relief: only 35% of employees said the department inspired them to do their best work, while two-thirds of respondents said they did not consider department senior executives to be of “high quality”.

These publicised problems raise important questions about the quality of decision-making at the primary level.

Stacking the AAT with political allies

Poor decision-making at the primary level can lead to higher numbers of appeals. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) from people who arrived by plane are also experiencing significant blowouts.

The number of active refugee cases to the AAT has ballooned from 8,370 two years ago, to 23,063 in 2019.




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


This results in a backlog. In 2017, the tribunal made 5,153 decisions on refugee claims, and so far this financial year, only 815 claims have been concluded.

In part, these worrying figures are due to the federal government appointing people with Liberal Party ties to the AAT over the last couple of years.

The Attorney-General recognised these problems in the 2019 Report on the Statutory Review of the Tribunal, which pointed to “competencies of members” as a key contributor to complications in the operation of the tribunal.

Stacking the AAT with political allies, many of whom are not lawyers and who are not appointed on merit, has removed independent expertise from the tribunal, risking errors and further delays.




Read more:
How the Biloela Tamil family deportation case highlights the failures of our refugee system


And with more errors come further appeals in the courts. This not only places a heavy burden on the resources of the Federal Circuit Court and Federal Court, but also leads to more delays and backlogs in the AAT, where the court sends matters which were unlawfully decided for re-determination.

Address organisational failures

The solution is in proper organisational management. Instead of blaming refugees for fleeing persecution by safe means, the government must address the failures of its refugee processing system.

To this end, an urgent review of the Department of Home Affairs policies and organisational failures is needed. A review could find out whether there’s a management culture stopping Home Affairs from attracting and retaining staff who can make reasoned and well-supported decisions in an environment they can be proud of.




Read more:
‘Stop playing politics’: refugees stuck in Indonesia rally against UNHCR for chronic waiting


Similarly, there must be a transparent and independent system for appointing AAT members that prioritises skills and experience over politics – exactly what was recommended by the Attorney-General’s recent review.

If people seeking asylum can have their claims assessed quickly and fairly, then those who are not refugees can be sent home, while those needing safety could receive it.

Without the chance to remain in Australia for years while their claims are assessed, there would be no loophole for traffickers and others to exploit.

In turn, the number of non-genuine claims will go down, allowing decision-makers to focus on those who are actually fearing persecution.




Read more:
Yes, Peter Dutton has a lot of power, but a strong Home Affairs is actually a good thing for Australia


We should be supporting refugees to access safety by air. If people fleeing persecution can access a flight to Australia, they won’t risk a dangerous journey by boat to find safety.

This is not an airport border “crisis”, it’s a management failure that can be fixed with more staffing, better resourcing, and transparent and meritorious appointments of decision makers.


Correction: A previous version of the article stated 815 refugee claims were concluded this year. This has been updated to clarify that 815 of claims were concluded during this financial year.The Conversation

Regina Jefferies, Affiliate, Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW and Daniel Ghezelbash, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie Law School, Macquarie University

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