Quad group makes vaccine deal as a wary China watches on



AAP/AP/Ryohei Moriya

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

American officials and those representing other parties to a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) may try to pretend that a summit of Quad leaders was not driven primarily by concerns about a China threat.

Briefing reporters after the meeting and the announcement of a vaccine deal to help low-income countries fight the COVID pandemic, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan sought to play down the issue when he said the Quad was not fundamentally about China:

The Quad is not a military alliance; it’s not a new NATO, despite some of the propaganda that’s out there.

But the fact is there would be no Quad, and no inaugural summit of the leaders of the US, Japan, India and Australia if it were not for deepening alarm among the US and its allies about how China’s rise might affect peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

The leaders’ joint statement leaves no doubt a China preoccupation is driving the elevation of this body to national leader status. In doing so, it invests it with much greater significance. The statement reads:

We strive for a region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values and unconstrained by coercion.

If this is not “fundamentally about China”, it’s not clear what it is about.

It remains to be seen whether the first Quad summit bolsters the group’s ability to counter a rising and increasingly assertive China, or whether differing priorities among its participants expose its limitations.

The Quad is being marketed as a constellation of liberal democracies against an illiberal China. But there is a world of difference between how each of the participants view and interact with China.




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Not just about China

In assessing the likely effectiveness of the Quad, it is well to keep in mind that nations do not have permanent friends or permanent enemies – just permanent interests.

Canberra would be foolish to invest too much faith in what is, at this early stage, a consultative body that will meet semi-regularly to discuss regional challenges and conduct military exercises.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison would be advised to contain his exuberance in describing the Quad as the arrival of a “new dawn”.

This is not a “new dawn” in Asia, even if we are witnessing a Chinese sun rising.

In a paper – How Biden can make the Quad endure – the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argues the body needs to avoid a “China Trap” – becoming a narrowly-defined China-obsessed body – and seek to broaden its scope.

In this regard, it is a positive development that Quad leaders have undertaken to supply up to one billion coronavirus vaccines across Asia by the end of 2022. This is a practical demonstration of the Quad’s potential and one aimed at countering China’s soft power.

The Quad must ensure it doesn’t fall into the ‘China trap’, making everything about Beijing’s rising power.
AAP/AP/Andy Wong

A ‘new kind of diplomacy’

History is important to understanding the Quad’s genesis and where it might head. The body owes its start to the establishment in 2004 of an ad hoc grouping formed to deal with the devastating Boxing Day tsunami.

The United States, Japan, India and Australia established what was described then as the “Tsunami Core Group”. This initiative represented a “new type of diplomacy” to face an existential challenge.

In 2007, the first meeting of the Quad was held on the fringes of the ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila. The Quad showed promise as a regional grouping, but the Kevin Rudd government, elected that year, abandoned the Quad dialogue on the grounds it would be perceived as being part of a China containment policy.

This did not align with Labor’s strategic impulse, which was to continue to elevate relations with Beijing.

In 2017, under the Turnbull government, the grouping was revived. It has been described as “Quad 2.0”, to distinguish it from its first iteration.

Since then, participants elevated a dialogue among themselves to defence and foreign minister level. Quad countries have also participated in regular military exercises. However, until last week, when newly-elected President Joe Biden decided that in his first significant foreign policy initiative he would bring together Quad leaders, the body had lacked head-of-government imprimatur, and thus credibility.

That has changed.

Biden’s description of the Quad as a “vital arena for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific” means it has the potential to become an important component of a regional security architecture.

This is provided it does not get bogged down in a defensive anti-China mindset in dealing with regional concerns from China’s power to climate change to health challenges.

Helping to put the Quad summit into perspective is the planned meeting late this week in Anchorage, Alaska between US Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken, Sullivan and their Chinese counterparts. This includes Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

This will be the first high-level meeting between senior American and Chinese officials since the inauguration of the Biden administration on January 20. The Anchorage meeting will be critical to Washington’s efforts to establish a better working relationship with Beijing.

Top of the agenda will be discussion about a prospective summit between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

This is shaping as one of the more important encounters of the modern era.

Testifying last week before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Blinken said the Anchorage meeting would be an opportunity

to lay out in very frank terms the many concerns that we have with Beijing’s actions and behaviour.

The Blinken-Sullivan meeting with Chinese counterparts will be framed by a discussion Biden had last month with Xi in which he told the Chinese leader the US intended to challenge China’s “coercive and unfair economic practices” as well as its record on human rights, and its crackdown on Hong Kong.

According to the White House summary of that discussion, Biden also said he hoped to cooperate with Xi on matters like the coronavirus, nuclear proliferation and climate change.

There was no indication from the summary whether Xi had raised with Biden his election description of the Chinese leader as a “thug”.




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China’s response to the Quad meeting has been predictable, although less florid than might have been anticipated. This no doubt reflects an understanding in Beijing that attitudes in New Delhi, Tokyo, Washington and Canberra are not identical. This is how Beijing’s mouthpiece the Global Times put it in a commentary:

The Quad is not an alliance of like-minded countries as the US claims. The three countries other than the US would probably take a tactic of coordinating with the US in narrative while sticking to their own approaches to China.

Beijing will seek to wedge Quad members where it believes opportunities arise. Its wedge diplomacy will be a test for the group’s solidarity in its efforts to provide a regional counterweight to China.

Consolidation of the Quad’s importance will depend on self-interest of its various participants and circumstances. Beijing’s willingness to acknowledge the legitimate interests of Quad members will determine whether it proves to be a useful addition to a crowded regional architecture, or another irritant in an increasingly fractious relationship between China and the West.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Vice-chancellor’s fellow, La Trobe University

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

We’ve just signed the world’s biggest trade deal, but what exactly is the RCEP?


Patricia Ranald, University of Sydney

The giant Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership between Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the ten members of ASEAN (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) was signed online on Sunday, November 15.

India left negotiations in November 2019, but even so, the deal will cover one third of the world’s population and economy.

Australia and the other governments refused to release the text until after signing, continuing Australia’s regrettable secrecy about deals it is about to sign.

India left the RCEP because of concerns about its potentially negative impact on local industry development.

Since Australia already has free trade agreements with all of the remaining members, India’s absence significantly diminishes what might have been in it for Australian exporters.

What’s left are some agreements on common standards and the claimed ability for Australia to talk to China more than it can through its own one-on-one trade agreement.




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The text was completed before the pandemic and has not been revised since.

As it happened, Australia took actions during the pandemic that were technically contrary to the rules embodied in the RCEP in order to boost local manufacturing capacity for essential products.

We’ve already bent the rules

The prime minister has since announced longer term local industry support and the trade minister has said that the challenge for the future is about getting “the balance right”.

But the rules signed up to on Sunday will integrate Australia further into regional production chains and commit Australia to avoid assistance for local industries of the kind that will arguably be needed to rebuild and strengthen the economy.

Other rules signed up to on Sunday open essential services such as health, education, water, energy, telecommunications, finance and digital trade to foreign investors and restrict the ability of governments to regulate them in the public interest.

Sunday’s virtual signing ceremony.
Lukas Coch/AAP

It remains to be seen whether these rules will give governments the flexibility they will need to get “the balance right”

Oddly for an agreement dealing with standards, there’s nothing in it about forced labour or child labour, and no mention of climate change.

Its members include countries like China and Myanmar in which there is mounting evidence of labour rights and human rights abuses.

But there are also welcome omissions.

No further rights for foreign investors

The final text confers no special rights on foreign corporations to sue governments through what are known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement clauses common in other agreements, although there is an opportunity for the members to revisit the idea two years after ratification

Nor are there increases in patent monopolies for medicines of the kind included in the original Trans-Pacific Partnership. These were suspended in the revised Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership now ratified by Australia and six other countries.




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The RCEP will be reviewed by a parliamentary committee which, as is usual in these agreements, will be unable to change the text.

The Coalition has a majority on that committee.

Broader manoeuvring

Some commentators see the RCEP through the lens of US-China competition..

Looked at this way, the US has been weakened by the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the original Trans Pacific Partnership.

It is argued that the RCEP is China’s creation, and the incoming Biden administration will need to counter it by re-joining the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership, which excludes China.

But this is a US-centric a view that downplays the leading role of the ASEAN countries in creating the RCEP.




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A Biden administration is unlikely to re-join the Trans Pacific Partnership any time soon. Parts of the Democratic party remain strongly opposed to it.

The US will rejoin genuinely multilateral organisations such as the World Health Organisation and the Paris Climate Agreement.

But Biden’s trade policy is likely to focus on domestic priorities such as the pandemic and climate change, about which the RCEP says nothing.The Conversation

Patricia Ranald, Honorary research fellow, University of Sydney

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

India’s not joining the latest free-trade deal which limits Australia’s market access


Pat Ranald, University of Sydney

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison and other leaders involved in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) announced late yesterday that 15 of the 16 countries have finalised the text, and are prepared to sign the trade deal in early 2020.

India is the only one not to join, a joint leaders’ statement saying the country had “significant outstanding issues”. Negotiations will continue in the hope it may join later.

The RCEP now involves Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, South Korea and the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, covering 2.5 billion people.




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A lost Indian market, for now, and concerns about corporate power

India’s absence severely diminishes the market access Australia hoped to gain. Australia already has a free trade agreement with ASEAN, and has bilateral free trade agreements with all of the other countries.

India would have been the main area of additional market access for Australian agricultural and other exports.

RCEP negotiations have dragged on since 2012. Much attention has focused on India’s resistance to lower tariffs and emphasised the importance of concluding a major trade deal in the face of US president Donald Trump’s America-first protectionism.

But there is a hidden contentious agenda of non-tariff issues that has influenced India’s decision and could restrict future government regulation by giving more rights to global corporations.

These deserve more public discussion in Australia, and reflect the widely divergent levels of economic development of RECP countries.

A secret deal

As usual, the wording of the RECP deal is secret. The final text will not be revealed until after it is signed.

It’s a process widely criticised by both civil society groups and the Productivity Commission.

This secrecy favours corporate players, which have the most resources to lobby governments.

Leaked documents reveal the industrialised countries, including Japan, South Korea and Australia, have been pushing non-tariff rules that suit their major corporations, similar to those in the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

These have been resisted by developing countries, which have more vulnerable populations, and wish to preserve regulatory space to develop local industries.

Concern over foreign investor rights

The contested proposals include foreign investor rights to bypass national courts and sue governments for millions of dollars in international tribunals if they can argue a change in law or policy will harm their investment. This is known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ISDS.




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Tobacco company Philip Morris used ISDS to sue our government for compensation over our plain packaging law, a public health measure designed to discourage young smokers. Australia won in the end, but at a cost to taxpayers of $12 million.

Most of the 983 known ISDS cases have been taken against developing countries, with increasing numbers against health, environment, indigenous land rights, labour laws and other public interest regulation in both developing and industrialised countries.

RCEP members India and Indonesia have policies to exclude or severely restrict investor rights in new agreements.

ISDS has been reportedly excluded from the RCEP text. India was one of the main opponents of ISDS. We won’t know for sure whether ISDS is still excluded until the text is released after signing.

Other concerns over patents and e-commerce

Even more contentious are proposals that pharmaceutical companies should be given longer patent monopolies on medicines than the current 20 years. This would delay the availability of cheaper medicines, at greatest cost to developing countries.

There are also proposals to extend to developing countries’ rules on patenting of seeds and plants that apply to industrialised countries. This would make it more difficult for millions of small-scale farmers in developing countries to save and exchange seeds with each other as they have done for centuries. They lack the capacity to use the legal system to obtain patent rights and lack the funds to buy patented seeds.

The RCEP also includes an e-commerce chapter that mandates free cross-border data flows for global corporations such as Google and Facebook. This makes it more difficult for governments to regulate them.

For example, if trade rules forbid requirements to store data locally, then national privacy laws and other consumer protections cannot be applied to data stored in other countries.

The recent Digital Platforms report of the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission recommended more, not less regulation of these corporations. That was in the face of scandals about violations of consumer privacy, misuse of data in elections and tax evasion.

Developing countries are also concerned rules favouring the global tech companies will lock in their market dominance at the expense of local IT industry development.

These conflicts between governments have been deepened by national pressures from civil society groups in RCEP countries including Australia. When RECP negotiations were held in Australia in July this year, 52 community organisations, including public health, union, church, environment and aid groups endorsed a letter to the trade minister Simon Birmingham. They asked him to oppose ISDS and longer medicine monopolies in the RCEP, and to release the text for independent evaluation before it is signed.

Show us the deal

Even without India in the deal, the Australian government says it will boost local jobs and exports.




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But without India, claimed market access gains are marginal for Australia and must be evaluated against the costs of expanded corporate rights and restraints on future government regulation.

That’s why the text of the RCEP deal should be released before it is signed and there should be independent evaluation of its costs and benefits for both Australia and its trading partners.The Conversation

Pat Ranald, Research fellow, University of Sydney

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

Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal: what’s in it and how is it different to Theresa May’s version?


Simon Usherwood, University of Surrey

Against seemingly all the odds, we have a new Brexit deal. As an apparent vindication of UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s strategy to ramp up the threat of a no-deal departure from the EU and to force concessions from Brussels, one would imagine that Number 10 is rather happy right now. But that happiness will be tempered with caution, because some major issues lie ahead.

Negotiations in Brussels have produced legal texts on arrangements for Northern Ireland and on the political declaration, which outlines the broad outline of what the two sides want from their future relationship. These are the product of months of planning by the British government, so it’s reasonable to ask what has actually changed since former prime minister Theresa May struck her original deal.

Reading the text, the first impression is that there’s much more that hasn’t changed than has.

Northern Ireland

The protocol on Northern Ireland and Ireland has long been in the firing line. It proposes a backstop arrangement that would keep Northern Ireland in close alignment with the EU unless and until both UK and EU agreed to change that.

On that front, the introduction of a section on “democratic consent” is an important shift on the EU side. This provides a mechanism for the Northern Ireland Assembly to vote on whether to maintain the provisions of the protocol, with a requirement to have cross-community support. That means the UK is now no longer subject to the EU’s approval if it wants to end the backstop arrangement.

That said, a voting requirement to have majorities from both unionist and nationalist groupings makes it very hard to achieve – especially since the Northern Ireland Executive broke down several years ago and is still not in operation. While the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) might control unionist voting, it can only do the same with nationalists if it creates a much more benign and cooperative environment. And even if that does happen and arrangements are voted down by Stormont, there is still a long phasing-out period, so things cannot move too quickly.

From the EU’s perspective, this arrangement provides a degree of security, mainly because any decision to overturn the system is not solely in the hands of the UK – which has not been the most reliable partner of late.

Customs arrangements

The other big change is on customs arrangements. Instead of creating a temporary customs area for the whole of the UK, the revised Protocol makes Northern Ireland a part of the UK’s customs territory. Because that would imply border controls, a rather convoluted system of custom duty collection is set out.

In essence, the system collects duties from businesses, dependent upon where goods are coming from and going to, with the possibility of various exemptions that will be agreed down the line.

It’s a much more complex system than before, but it does allow Johnson to argue that the entire UK is leaving the EU’s customs union, allowing it to benefit from any new trade deals that might be concluded.

Meanwhile, the political declaration, the main change is that the UK now suggests it is looking for a much looser future relationship, based on a free trade agreement, rather than anything that might include participation in the EU’s single market or customs union.

Less is more?

While these are all noteworthy, they do represent only a very small part of the totality of the withdrawal agreement, as agreed by May last November. The Protocol still kicks into effect at the end of a transition period and the effect is still that Northern Ireland is kept very close to EU’s regulatory standards for many years. The future relationship remains as aspirational as May’s plans – until such a document is negotiated and ratified, by some future British government, no one can be sure what it will look like.

Nor did this negotiation touch on citizens’ rights, financial liabilities, the power of the EU’s courts to issue definitive rulings on matters of dispute (an important matter for hard Brexit supporters in the Conservative Party) or the institutional arrangements for managing all of this. Even as Number 10 goes into its selling mode, those continuities from last year’s text will be present in many people’s minds.

The plan still seems to be for the government to present this deal to the UK parliament in a special Saturday sitting on October 19. We already know that the DUP has issues with the revised text because it places Northern Ireland in a different legal position to the rest of the UK, so winning that vote looks even harder than it already did. The government will hope that it can present the deal to MPs as the last, best hope for a Brexit settlement – but, with wobbles from the DUP, Johnson will struggle to get close to a majority.

Even if he does, the potential to keep that majority together for the subsequent passage of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill looks even less likely. And remember that, as things stand today, this text isn’t even signed off by the 27 EU member states – there’s now not really enough time for them to digest and approve something that moves them off their previous position.

In short, this might still fall apart for Johnson, just as it did for May.The Conversation

Simon Usherwood, Professor in Politics, University of Surrey

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

Iran nuclear deal is hanging by a thread – so will Islamic Republic now develop a bomb?



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Annie Waqar, University of Westminster

The most ambitious effort to peacefully constrain the nuclear aspirations of a nation hangs by a thread. Eight years of patient and difficult negotiations to reach an agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme were cast aside when president Donald Trump withdrew US support for the deal in May 2018.

Since then, tensions between Iran and the US, a signatory to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – alongside the UK, Germany, France, Russia and China – have escalated. Last November, the US inflamed things further by re-imposing economic sanctions targeting both Iran and the states that trade with it.

The US decision in early May to deploy an aircraft carrier strike force and B-52 bombers, in response to what Washington said was an imminent Iranian plan to attack US assets, has kept tensions at a boil.

Washington stated that the latest show of force was in response to a “campaign” of recent attacks, including a rocket launched into the Green Zone in Baghdad, explosive devices that damaged four tankers near the entrance to the Gulf, and drone attacks by Yemeni rebels on a key Saudi oil pipeline. Iran has denied any association with the incidents.

More recently, the US withdrew waivers which were part of the JCPOA deal with Iran. By revoking the waivers that enabled Iran to ship abroad excess supplies of enriched uranium and heavy water, the US has left the Islamic Republic pondering whether it should continue to comply with certain key parts of the deal.




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Iran’s foreign affairs minister, Javed Zarif, and Iraq’s foreign minister, Ali Alhakim, held a joint news conference in May, during which Zarif called on European states to do more to preserve the nuclear deal. Zarif also called the deployment of extra US troops to the Gulf region “extremely dangerous and a threat to international peace and security”.

A supportive Alhakim stated: “The sanctions against sisterly Iran are ineffective and we stand by its side.”

Certainly, sanctions have damaged Iran’s economy. The Iranian currency has hit a record low against the US dollar amid continued economic difficulties following the reimposition of sanctions, and the purchasing power of Iranians has dropped significantly. Indeed, Iran’s economy in 2019 is expected to fall deeper into recession, with estimated negative growth of 5.5% or higher.

Iran’s choice

Tehran has requested that the European signatories to the nuclear accord – France, Germany and the UK – keep the pact alive. The JCPOA sets a 3.67% limit on uranium enhancement (enough to fuel a commercial nuclear plant) and bars Iran from accumulating supplies of more than 300kg of low-enriched uranium and 130 tons of heavy water, a coolant used in nuclear reactors.

Tehran has rightly said the deal agreed to end Iran’s financial isolation in return for the strict limitations on its nuclear activities. But by bolstering sanctions, the US has scared organisations and banks into diminishing, ceasing or avoiding altogether business with Iranian partners, with serious repercussions for Iran’s economy.

Europe, by and large, has supported diplomacy with Iran. It has argued that Trump’s rejection of the deal compromises the pragmatic wing of Iran’s administration and plays into the hands of hardliners. The EU has long had questions about Tehran’s missile program, and its involvement in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, but it has viewed these as separate from the nuclear agreement.

Hassan Rouhani: under pressure.
Shutterstock

The economic sanctions have certainly put the moderate Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani under pressure, both internationally and domestically. Iranian hardliners argue that Iran surrendered too much in the agreement.

Rouhani has perhaps come up with a clever way of deflecting domestic criticism of him – at least for now – by suggesting that the Islamic Republic hold a referendum over its nuclear program. The official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) stated that Rouhani, who recently was openly chastised by the nation’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made the suggestion at a gathering of senior Iranian editors on May 25.

Khamenei, who has the last say on all issues of state in Iran, has not yet responded to Rouhani’s recent proposition. The Islamic Republic has seen just three referendums since 1979: one on its change from a monarchy to an Islamic republic, and two on its constitution.

A nuclear threat?

In the meantime, Iran has also threatened to quadruple its uranium-enrichment production limit, but stressed that even this uranium would not be enhanced beyond the 3.67% limit set by the JCPOA, making it unsuitable for developing a nuclear weapon. Rouhani has also said that Tehran will keep its excess enriched uranium and heavy water rather than exporting it.

If Europe fails to find a way for business and investors to work with Iran without being penalised by US sanctions, however, Rouhani has said that Iran will begin enriching uranium even further. In principle, this more highly-enriched uranium could be used as the fissile core of a nuclear weapon. This would send Iran back on its way towards making a bomb, and mark the end of the JCPOA.

According to the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) most recent quarterly report, Iran’s enriched uranium and heavy water stocks have grown but have not exceeded the ceilings set in the nuclear agreement. This suggests that Iran continues to comply with the JCPOA – for now, at least.

So far, Iran has also abstained from getting entangled in military brinkmanship with the US. But Trump may soon face a tough choice: either engage in a military clash with Iran or return to the JCPOA. The latter may be a u-turn too far for the bellicose president.

Either way, it is difficult to convince nations to surrender nuclear weapons once they have them. In this case, everything peaceful should be done to ensure that Iran is prevented from acquiring one in the first place.The Conversation

Annie Waqar, Lecturer/Academic consultant, University of Westminster

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

State of the states: Palmer’s preference deal and watergate woes



File 20190424 19293 v5vonm.png?ixlib=rb 1.1
The Coalition is expected to announce a preference deal with Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party on Monday.
Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Chris Aulich, University of Canberra; Ian Cook, Murdoch University; Maxine Newlands, James Cook University; Michael Lester, University of Tasmania, and Rob Manwaring, Flinders University

Our “state of the states” series takes stock of the key issues, seats and policies affecting the vote in each of Australia’s states.

We’ll check in with our expert political analysts around the country every week of the campaign for updates on how it is playing out.


New South Wales

Chris Aulich, Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra

There is a clear fault line in the Coalition between conservatives and moderates, reflected in the number of centre-right women challenging more conservative members.

Some sitting moderates have chosen not to renominate – Ann Sudmalis in NSW won’t recontest, while Julia Banks in Victoria has resigned from the Coalition to challenge Greg Hunt in Flinders. Other moderate women are standing as independents (Kerryn Phelps and Zali Steggall in NSW, and Helen Haines in Victoria) or as candidates for other centre-right parties (Rebekha Sharkie in SA).

What typically unites these women is a rejection of conservative social policies – and perhaps also a rejection of the alleged culture of bullying within the Coalition parties. These candidates are modernists in that they support progressive policy issues. As independents they can also sidestep the Coalition’s internal fracas about quotas and targets for women.

In NSW, independent Zali Steggall is challenging Tony Abbott in Warringah. Front and centre of her campaign is action on climate change, refugee policy and foreign aid. Her views on marriage equality contrast dramatically with Abbott’s in an electorate that overwhelmingly voted “yes” in the marriage equality postal vote.

Similarly, independent MP Kerryn Phelps, contesting Wentworth, was a significant player in the marriage equality debates and has argued forcibly for a more humane treatment of asylum seekers.

Both Steggall and Phelps have complained about “dirty tricks” and the negative campaigns being mounted against them. Billboards linking Steggall to Labor, allegations that she is receiving funds from GetUp! (she is not), the renting of premises next to her office that were then plastered with anti-Steggall advertising, and the sexualising of Steggall posters all appear to be an attempt to intimidate and demean her.

A number of articles critical of Steggall have been published by the Daily Telegraph, with free copies delivered to residents who are not subscribers to the paper. This includes a front page story in which Steggall’s ex-husband and his current wife described her as “opportunistic” and “lacking the temperament of a leader”. The couple have since declared that the Telegraph article does not reflect how they feel about Steggall’s candidature.

Kerryn Phelps says dirty tricks were behind the removal of hundreds of her election posters in her campaign to retain the seat of Wentworth. Labor’s Tim Murray has also complained that his posters had been removed and replaced by Liberal posters. Liberal challenger, Dave Sharma, rejects any allegation that this activity has been sanctioned by him or the Liberal Party. Today it was reported that Sharma’s posters have also been defaced.

The seats of Wentworth and Warringah are critical to the reelection of the Morrison government and it’s clear that some supporters of the conservative wing of the Coalition have “taken off the gloves”. We can only speculate if it’s because the independents are women or because they are moderates.




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Queensland

Maxine Newlands, Senior Lecturer in Political Science at James Cook University

Labor leader Bill Shorten’s first hustings in Herbert coincided with reports of a deal that the Coalition will preference Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP) over other populist parties.

UAP’s candidate, former NRL player Greg Dowling, will run for the lower house, while Palmer has his sights on the Senate. Palmer’s big cash splash announcement may cause more of a ripple than a bounce, considering former Queensland Nickel workers will have to wait until after the election to get their money back.

With One Nation and Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party (FACN) also throwing their hats into the ring, there’s now four right-leaning minor parties vying for votes.

Herbert’s 2019 election is shaping up to be a rerun of 2013. Six years ago, preferences played a huge role in deciding 97 of the 150 seats nationally. 40% of Queensland seats were decided on preference votes in 2013.

The latest polling shows UAP at 14% – almost the same as 2013 after preferences (15.52%), but this was before Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (PHON) confirmed their candidate. In 2016, One Nation preferences helped push the incumbent, Labor’s Cathy O’Toole, over the line. With a preference deal between LNP and UAP, Palmer’s chance of a seat in the Senate is a good bet, but it’s now a four-way spilt for the lower house.

UAP and Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) will be the benefactors in the Herbert electorate, placed ahead of Liberals and Labor on the how-to-vote cards. In a battle between UAP, PHON and FACN, it’s the Greens that could benefit the most.

With UAP aligned with LNP, the Greens candidate Sam Blackadder has a chance of picking up protest votes against Labor. The Greens could also take votes from latecomers, the Animal Justice Party, thanks to its clear policy on climate change – something that has eluded the major parties.

There’s a similar picture in Dickson, with One Nation, Fraser Anning and the Animal Justice Party all putting up candidates. Plus there’s former Palmer United Party, now independent candidate, Thor Prohaska running on a democracy ticket.

Like Herbert, PHON and FACN will have to fight for votes from UAP in Dickson. In 2013, Palmer’s party polled 9.8% of the vote in Dickson. With UAP favouring LNP over ALP like it did in 2013, it could help Dutton to retain his marginal seat this time around.

Western Australia

Ian Cook, Senior Lecturer of Australian Politics at Murdoch University

Attention was on Bill Shorten and Clive Palmer in WA election news this week.

Bill Shorten came under scrutiny when it was revealed that three WA Labor candidates had been forced to include him in their election advertising after they were found distributing pamphlets that made no reference to the Labor leader.

Polls consistently show that Australian voters prefer Scott Morrison to Bill Shorten as prime minister. But Shorten is a bigger problem for Labor in WA than he is elsewhere – although it’s not clear by how much.

A poll last month by Crosby Textor showed that Shorten had a minus 26 favourability in the Perth seat of Cowan, which is held by Labor’s Anne Aly by a margin of just 0.7%. That makes Shorten more unpopular in Cowan than he is in other marginal seats across the country. And it’s the reason that candidates would rather put Premier Mark McGowan in their campaign material.

Like the rest of Australia, many West Australians will vote Labor even though they don’t particularly like or trust Bill Shorten. So, we can expect more ads attacking Shorten as the Liberals look to capitalise on one of the few positives (or should that be negatives) they have to work with in WA.

Clive Palmer was in WA news for the same reason he was in everyone’s news: the Newspoll that showed that his United Australia Party would change the result in some marginal seats. That includes one of one of ours: Pearce.




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Pearce is held by Christian Porter and this election is a big moment for him. Porter was Attorney-General in Scott Morrison’s government, and he has a high profile in WA. He was also on the way to becoming premier when he took a detour into federal politics. Porter undoubtedly has ambitions and is one of the bright young(ish) things in the WA Liberal Party, so his future is important to his party’s fate in the West.

After One Nation’s disastrous campaign in the last state election, WA voters are obviously looking elsewhere and Palmer has spent a lot of money on the UAP campaign. Christian Porter and the WA Liberals will be hoping that it isn’t enough to make the difference in Pearce.

South Australia

Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer in Politics and Public Policy at Flinders University

It would be ironic, to say the least, if former Labor state Premier Jay Weatherill’s legacy will be to have delivered the final nail in the coffin of the Turnbull-Morrison governments.

Last week, water policy dominated the political and campaign agenda, with the issue of water buybacks causing significant problems for the Coalition, and the Nationals in particular. Yet the groundwork for this poisonous issue was laid when the Weatherill government set up a state royal commission into alleged water theft by the upstream states.

Since then, the issue has been a lingering problem, exacerbated by the dead fish in the Menindee. Since the revelations of the water buybacks story, this has proved a problematic issue, culminating with a remarkable interview on the ABC with the former Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Barnaby Joyce.

While elections are rarely ever decided in key marginal South Australian seats, this issue could be the exception. It’s striking how it has unified South Australians. When the original allegations of water fraud were revealed by the ABC, there was a press conference with all key South Australian senators, including Sarah Hanson-Young, Cory Bernadi, Nick Xenophon and Penny Wong. Commonwealth governments rarely benefit from this issue in the state where the Murray ends.

The Nationals have no presence in South Australia, and the electoral damage is likely to be limited to the Liberals in the seat of Mayo, where Centre Alliance MP Rebekah Sharkie has been strong on water policy. But this issue, so close to South Australian politics, could prove problematic on the national stage.

Tasmania

Michael Lester, researcher and PhD student at the Institute for the Study of Social Change

The Tasmanian North West Coast seat of Braddon is sitting on a knife-edge. Braddon is notoriously fickle, having changed hands five times since 1998, and margins are always tight.

Labor’s Justine Keay won the seat from the Liberal’s Brett Whitely in 2016. She retained the seat after having to resign and recontest it in the July 2018 citizenship byelections, but failed to make any electoral gains. She is now defending a very slim 1.7% margin.

In 2018, Keay had seven opponents. This election she is up against eight:

  • Karen Wendy Spaulding from the United Australia Party
  • independents Craig Brakey and Brett Michael Smith
  • Shane Allan from Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party
  • Liberal Gavin Pearce
  • The National’s Sally Milbourne
  • Phill Parsons from The Greens
  • Graham Gallaher from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

Braddon is hard to call. In the absence of polling, local commentators are looking to the betting odds which presently place Keay as clear favourite at $1.45, with Pearce at $2.65. Despite that, some see Braddon as Liberal Party’s best chance of winning a seat in Tasmania – especially since an electoral boundary redistribution in 2017 added the more affluent Port Sorell area.




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There is no single electorate-wide issue here. Braddon is a diverse mix of regional centres and agricultural districts extending from Devonport and Latrobe in the east, through Ulverstone, Burnie, Wynyard, Stanley, Smithton and Waratah, then down the west coast to the mining towns of Rosebery, Zeehan, Queenstown and the tourism and fishing village of Strahan. It also includes King Island in Bass Strait.

Tasmania’s recent economic renaissance has been slow to reach many areas of this electorate. So, candidates are aiming their promises at people’s concerns over economic development, jobs, youth training, health services and education. And both major parties have been careful to match almost anything the other side offers up.

Labor’s commitment of a A$25 million grant to support a Tasmanian AFL team has emerged as one big point of difference in the strongly pro-football Braddon, while the Liberals run a campaign on what better uses that money could be put to.

Victoria

We’ll be back with an update on Victoria next week.The Conversation

Chris Aulich, Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra, University of Canberra; Ian Cook, Senior Lecturer of Australian Politics, Murdoch University; Maxine Newlands, Senior Lecturer in Political Science: Research Fellow at the Cairns Institute, James Cook University; Michael Lester, PhD candidate, University of Tasmania, and Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer, Politics and Public Policy, Flinders University

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

What’s the deal (or no-deal) with Brexit? Here’s everything explained


Giovanni Di Lieto, Monash University

On June 23, 2016 the United Kingdom held a referendum to decide whether it should leave or remain in the European Union. More than 30 million people took part in the vote with 51.9% choosing to leave and 48.1% to remain.

Six months later, the new Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a speech in which she said:

the British people voted for change… And it is the job of this government to deliver it.

Where it got messy is deciding how to leave the Union. Would it be a clean break, the so-called hard Brexit, or a softer version where some links to the EU remained?

But first, a bit about the EU

The European Union is an economic and political partnership of 28 European countries across the whole continent, including France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Finland, the UK and Ireland. It operates under a “single market” which means goods, services, capitals and people can move around as if the member states were one country.

Nineteen of the member countries, not including the UK, share a common currency, the Euro. The EU also has its own parliament which sets rules in areas including the environment, transport and consumer rights.

May’s hard Brexit strategy

Theresa May’s vision for leaving the European Union came in a Brexit White Paper, which she delivered to Parliament on February 2, 2017. The paper explained that, in negotiating the exit with the EU, the UK would:

  • not be seeking membership of the EU’s single market
  • pursue a new strategic partnership with the EU
  • pursue a new customs arrangement with the EU to secure new trade agreements with other countries bilaterally and in wider groupings.

In substance, this white paper is a clear indication for the hard Brexit option. A soft Brexit would be where the UK would somehow remain in the European single market, or at the very least become an external member of the EU Customs Union. This is the case for Turkey and some micro-nations including Monaco, Andorra and San Marino.




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A customs union is an arrangement between two or more countries which allows goods to circulate freely in the area of the union. This is done by removing tariffs between the countries inside the union and introducing a common external tariff for the countries outside the union.

A customs union does not cover trade in services and flows of capital and people. But the treaties that have established the EU enshrine the single market (of which the customs union is a component) in four inextricable pillars: the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour. For the EU this is an all-or-nothing package, so that single market members cannot pick and choose only some of the four freedoms.

Hard or soft, deal or no deal?

The issue of a hard or soft Brexit is different from that of the deal, or no-deal, Brexit. The first issue has already been set: it’s a hard Brexit, as Theresa May is not seeking membership of both the EU single market and Customs Union.

This allows the UK to independently negotiate international trade agreements either with individual countries or other customs unions after the UK’s official withdrawal date: March, 29 2019. After this date, the UK and EU may or may not strike a deal on what happens next.

So, the post-withdrawal arrangements with the EU comprise the deal or no-deal issue currently at stake: will the UK crash out of the EU with or without shared plans, and with or without a gradual implementation period?

The Brexit deal

Both the UK government and the EU governing bodies clearly prefer to split with a deal and a more gradual separation process. To this aim, the two sides have spent nearly two years in the painstaking negotiation of a withdrawal agreement.

This is the now infamous “Brexit deal” – a 585-page legally-binding text agreed to by the EU and UK government on November, 14 2018. The deal sets the terms of the UK’s divorce from the EU and can only enter into force once ratified by the UK parliament.

But, on January 15, 2019 Britain’s House of Commons rejected the Brexit deal by a stunning and unprecedented majority of 230. More than one third of Theresa May’s majority MPs joined the opposition parties against the Brexit deal despite confirming their confidence on the government the following day.




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Theresa May Brexit deal hammered in parliament, but be wary of prospects of a new ‘consensus’ approach


So what’s the problem with the deal?

Like in an actual divorce, the rejected agreement sets the terms for splitting the assets, liabilities and people shared across the two sides. Leaving aside the numerous legal resolutions especially affecting commerce, the deal in particular defines how much money the UK owes the EU and the terms under which the estimated £39bn will be paid.

The deal also preserves the existing residency and working rights of UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU and of the EU citizens living in the UK up until the end of the Brexit implementation period set for 31 December 2020.

But the thorniest issue of the Brexit deal, and the one that proved to be its major fault line, is the proposed method of avoiding the return of a physical border between the UK’s Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – an EU member state.

Ireland is split in two, and there are no hard borders as long as everyone is part of the EU.
from shutterstock.com

The Northern Ireland backstop

The island of Ireland is divided into two separate entities: the Republic of Ireland, which is an independent nation member of the EU, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK and has 18 seats in the UK parliament.

The Northern Ireland backstop is a convoluted measure of last resort to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland until the UK and the EU can find a long-term solution for an indefinite period – even after the expiration of the Brexit implementation period (December, 31 2020).

The fact is – with or without the Brexit deal – the Brexit White Paper’s outline to stay outside the EU Single Market and Customs Union means that, eventually, a physical border will reappear on the island of Ireland.




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Would staying in a customs union after Brexit avoid a hard border with Ireland?


This is an ominous prospect as memories of the “Troubles”, the bloody Northern Ireland conflict triggered by border clashes in the late 1960s – between the majority unionist or UK loyalist Protestant population and the minority Catholic or Irish nationalist one – are still fresh.

Over the years the UK and Ireland’s EU membership eliminated any hard borders in Ireland. This played a major part in spelling the end of the Troubles in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which is also based on keeping the whole of Ireland border-free.

A hard Brexit repudiates one of the cornerstones of the Good Friday Agreements and, short of a customs union with the EU, any deal would only kick the can down the road. Theresa May’s proposed solution is the Irish border Brexit backstop.

It’s called a backstop precisely because it pushes the UK border with the EU back away from Northern Ireland. This would mean Northern Ireland would all but remain subject to the EU legal framework and be kept virtually separate from the rest of the UK for an indefinite time.

And this is why the conservative Brexit hardliners, and the small but indispensable Northern Irish Democratic Union Party (DUP), voted against Theresa May’s deal. Despite the fact a majority of Northern Irish voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum, the DUP fears the backstop would provide momentum to those who wish to reunify Ireland.




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On the other hand, despite Theresa May’s insistence, the EU is not providing any legally binding guarantee of a definite expiry date for the Irish backstop. The EU’s strategic game is clear, as the continuing existence of the Irish backstop provides yet another strong negotiating chip in respect to any future dealings with the UK.

So what are the alternatives to Theresa May’s hard Brexit deal? Wild guesses include delaying or withdrawing the withdrawal, so to speak, while some even call for a second Brexit referendum. Considering the political uncertainties and legal realities, any guess is little more than wishful thinking.The Conversation

Giovanni Di Lieto, Lecturer of international trade law, Monash Business School, Monash University

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

Government raises glimmer of hope for New Zealand deal on refugees


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Morrison government has sent qualified signals that it might agree to some refugees from Nauru being settled in New Zealand.

It says it would be “more likely” to support the New Zealand option if Labor agreed to pass legislation to stop these people then being able to reach Australia by the back door, via the free travel arrangements between the two countries.

The positive note comes ahead of Saturday’s Wentworth byelection, in which the situation of the refugees is one of the issues.

New Zealand has for years had on the table an offer to take 150 of the refugees a year.

The legislation at issue – which has not been able to obtain Senate support – would prohibit anyone who’d come by boat and was settled in another country from ever being allowed into Australia.

But Labor remains opposed to the legislation in its current form.

Opposition immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann said Labor welcomed the government’s “sudden and unexplained interest” in considering a deal with New Zealand.

But the “lifetime ban” legislation “is not required to secure regional resettlement arrangements,” he said.

Labor argues the government should negotiate a special arrangement with New Zealand to stop people resettled there from entering Australia, rather than having the catch-all bill.

The issue of the children on Nauru – many of them with serious health issues – escalated in recent weeks, with campaigning by doctors for a more humane approach and pressure from government backbenchers.

On Tuesday the crossbench gave notice of a bill to temporarily relocate children from Nauru for medical treatment.

Crossbencher Rebekha Sharkie asked Scott Morrison whether he would support calls to do this.

It is understood these transfers have been increased after backbenchers Russell Broadbench and Craig Laundy made representations to Morrison in a meeting last month. Victorian backbencher Julia Banks has also spoken out.

Replying to Sharkie, Morrison hinted at more movement recently, when he offered crossbenchers an update “on the issue of transfers that continue to take place on a case-by-case basis”.

There had been quite a number of transfers undertaken, recently and over a longer period, he said, adding that “some work has been done further over the last month on these issues”.

Sources said the sick children were already off Nauru.

At the Liberal party meeting on Tuesday, NSW backbencher Trent Zimmerman asked Morrison about the children and the New Zealand option.

Shorten wrote to Morrison saying Labor would introduce legislation to ensure children received proper medical care.

Among other things this would ensure the recommendation of treating clinicians was prime when determining a temporary medical transfer for a child and ensure the minister, not the bureaucracy, was the final decision-maker on transfers.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.

Trump’s withdrawal from Iran deal could fracture alliances and jeopardise North Korea negotiations


Tony Walker, La Trobe University

President Donald Trump’s unilateral decision to withdraw from the multilateral agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program will inevitably have far-reaching consequences, including the further destabilisation of the Middle East.

More immediately, it risks fracturing a Western alliance that has provided the cornerstone of global security since the end of the second world war.

In a joint statement, the leaders of France, Germany and Britain raised the possibility of the US being in breach of a United Nations Security Council resolution endorsing the deal. The resolution remained the “binding international legal framework for the resolution of the dispute,” Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Theresa May said.




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Why Trump’s decertification of the Iran nuclear deal may prove a costly mistake


As such, France, Germany and Britain said they would still adhere to the agreement. The other participants – Russia and China – would also be unlikely to abandon the deal. And Iran itself, in a measured reaction to the Trump announcement, said it, too, would stick with the agreement.

This means the Trump administration risks finding itself further isolated from the international community, following his decision to also pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Change accords.

Possible ramifications

It is hard to exaggerate the many negative outcomes that may well flow from the decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, including an escalation of tensions between Iran and US clients in the Middle East. In fact, heightened tensions across the Middle East and an intensification of a regional arms race would seem to be almost inevitable.

Following through on his threats during his 2016 presidential election campaign to tear up the Iran deal, Trump could hardly have been more explicit in his rejection of a foreign policy centrepiece of his predecessor’s tenure in his announcement on Tuesday.

The fact is, this was a horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made. It didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace, and it never will.

What this announcement confirms – if confirmation is even necessary – is that the US leader has unshackled himself from the moderating influences of advisers who have been shoved out of his national security team in recent weeks. These include Harold McMaster, his former national security adviser, and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had both argued strenuously against a withdrawal from the Iran deal.

Trump is now in the hands of what is one of the more bellicose teams of advisers assembled by an American president in recent memory. Where this leaves James Mattis, Trump’s defence secretary is unclear. Mattis has called the verification element of the Iran deal “robust” and has been opposed to actions that would undermine an existing treaty.




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Donald Trump backs out of Iran nuclear deal: now what?


Understandably, former President Barack Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, have expressed dismay over an unravelling of an agreement that took years to negotiate with the aim of forestalling Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapons.

In a rare rebuke of Trump, Obama said the decision would make the world less safe. He described it as a “losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East.”

Understandably – as one of the architects of the agreement – Kerry also expressed his dismay. “Instead of building on unprecedented nonproliferation verification measures, this decision risks throwing them away and dragging the world back to the brink we faced a few years ago,” he said.

Possible impact on business

In addition to tearing up the deal, Trump announced a re-imposition – and strengthening – of sanctions against Iran. These will be phased in over 90-day and 180-day periods. What is not clear is what impact these sanctions will have on international companies doing business in Iran.

Under a previous sanctions regime, companies risked being shut out of the US economy if they invested in – or traded with – Iran.

An interpretation of just what is implied for international business will be an early test of America’s ability to make the sanctions stick. This is sure to get messy.

Already, US companies such as Boeing, which had negotiated US$20 billion in aircraft sales to Iran, are finding such business is now in jeopardy.

Further complicating the picture is Trump’s proposed face-to-face meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to put an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

The ConversationKim may well ask himself what value might be placed on negotiations with Trump. Under these circumstances, neither side would be likely to invest much trust in one another.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

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