Blocking Huawei’s 5G could isolate Australia from future economic opportunities


Marina Yue Zhang, Swinburne University of Technology

Trade conflict between the US and China has accelerated towards the brink of trade war.

A recent Trump executive order preventing US companies from working with “adversaries” (China fits this description) was hammered home by a ban on selling US high-tech products to Chinese tech company Huawei.




Read more:
Blocking Huawei from Australia means slower and delayed 5G – and for what?


Australia too has put a halt on 5G infrastructure coming from China.

But this is about more than just which company’s poles and wires will provide internet for your phone and movie downloads in the future.

Choices the US, Australia and other nations make around how they set up 5G will determine how we use technology for collaboration, innovation and global business.

Huawei’s 5G is becoming a global standard

5G is the fifth generation network for mobile connectivity. It has been described as “game changing” due to high speeds and high capacity, and provision of superior service to high numbers of users.

5G relies on standardisation – the technical specifications used in mobile networks – supported by patents and licensing agreements.

In mobile networks, standard essential patents (SEPs) are those patents that any company will have to license when implementing 5G. History suggests companies holding SEPs benefit significantly from royalties.

Data from April 2019 shows China, collectively, owns over one-third of the world’s SEPs for 5G.

China lost its opportunity in 1G and 2G, learned an expensive lesson from its failed 3G standard, and achieved substantial catch-up in 4G. It is determined to lead in 5G.

Chinese tech companies such as Huawei and ZTE understand that transition to 5G opens a window of opportunity for them to achieve this goal. To do this they need to build followers – and momentum is already moving in this regard.

By the end of March 2019, Huawei had reportedly been awarded 40 5G commercial contracts from carriers around the world (including 23 from Europe, six from the Asia Pacific, ten from the Middle East and one from Africa).

The battle of radio spectra

In addition to standardisation, radio spectrum is another critical factor in 5G. Radio spectrum is a limited resource that is used for communications from Earth to space.

Spectrum allocation is at the heart of 5G competition.

Huawei’s 5G technology has been developed for mid-band spectrums which are available for commercial use in many countries, including Australia.

The best plan for Australia is that mid-band solutions be used to cover the bulk of 5G networks, with high-band technologies to provide complementary coverage in densely populated areas.

The US has limited access to mid-band spectrums for commercial 5G, as most in this range are for defence use. So the US developed its 5G technologies for high-band spectrums – which presents that country with a dilemma.

It is not easy for the US to switch from high-band to mid-band 5G in a short time. And it’s not likely the rest of the world will give up using mid-band solutions, which provide wider coverage and require less investment in infrastructure.

A short-term answer is for the US to push its allies to jointly exclude Huawei from their 5G networks. This might be sought to protect the US from 5G “isolation”, and perhaps have other commercial or political implications – or a combination of these factors.




Read more:
US ban on Huawei likely following Trump cybersecurity crackdown – and Australia is on board


The consequence is that Australia, as one of those allies, would likely need to spend more money on base stations and the necessary infrastructure and wait a longer time for a fully operational 5G system.

For example, a Huawei 5G base station is only one-third the size of its 4G equivalents and weighs only 20 kilograms: it’s easier to install, and the technology is at least 18 months ahead of its competitors such as Nokia. This advantage is lost if Australia continues to block Huawei.

Australia’s fourth mobile telco, TPG, argues that there is “no credible case” to rollout its 5G as planned without Huawei.




Read more:
Stakes are high as US ups the ante on trade dispute with China


Fractured globalisation?

5G will support many applications such as industry automation, self-driving cars, massive machine-to-machine communications, internet of things, smart cities and more.

This means the growth of 5G will accelerate development of an ecosystem in which different countries can co-exist and co-develop, supported by interconnected and interdependent supply chain networks.

Such ecosystems are built on mobile network infrastructures, upon which are layered technology platforms for manufacturing, medical treatments and payments (for example) and then applications for working, studying and living.

For example, in the future this sort of system might be used by Australian and Chinese academics and industry experts to work together on innovations related to health care, environmental protection or industrial automation.

But this may fall down if the involved countries build their 5G infrastructures differently.

Australia’s final 5G plan could have profound implications for Australia’s economic development into the future.The Conversation

Marina Yue Zhang, Associate Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Swinburne University of Technology

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

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Will the New Zealand gun law changes prevent future mass shootings?



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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a ban on certain military-style weapons.
AAP/David Alexander

Rick Sarre, University of South Australia

As she foreshadowed in the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre last Friday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has just announced a ban in that country on specific military-style firearms. It will soon become an offence to own or possess semi-automatic firearms and shotguns with detachable magazines capable of firing more than five cartridges.

Later this month, the government will consider further changes to the law that will tighten licensing requirements and impose limits on certain types of ammunition. There will be a gun buy-back scheme in place in due course that will provide compensation to those who possess soon-to-be-illegal guns. Preliminary advice suggests that might cost the country between NZ$100 million and NZ$200 million.




Read more:
Why overhauling NZ’s gun and terrorism laws alone can’t stop terrorist attacks


Thoughts immediately go to the aftermath of the 1996 Port Arthur tragedy in Australia. Then-Prime Minister John Howard had been elected only six weeks before the Tasmanian horror unfolded. He immediately set in train the gun control measures that no previous government, conservative or progressive, would ever have thought possible.

The government placed a ban on the sale, transfer, possession, manufacture, and importation of all automatic and most semi-automatic rifles and shotguns (and their parts, including magazines). More than 640,000 such weapons were thereupon surrendered and later destroyed at a cost to the taxpayer of around A$250 million.

In Australia today, there continues to be bipartisan political consensus and broad community support for what was titled the National Firearms Agreement (NFA). In 2017, it was reaffirmed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

There has been some criticism that certain aspects of the original agreement have been watered down in some jurisdictions in recent years, but the requirements outlined by the agreement generally remain intact.

Did the Australian gun ban and buy-back scheme make inroads into the rate of firearm-related deaths? Did it prevent mass shootings? Jacinda Ardern appears to be convinced that answers to both questions are in the affirmative. Let’s look at the evidence from the past 23 years in this country to test her assumptions.




Read more:
No massacres and an accelerating decline in overall gun deaths: the impact of Australia’s major 1996 gun law reforms


Gun violence in Australia since the buy-back

It is unequivocal that gun death rates in Australia have been falling consistently since 1996. Some commentators object to the connection between this trend and the NFA, saying the downturn was simply a continuation of a long-term decline in gun violence generally.

But recent research found that, compared with the trend before 1997, there was a more rapid decline in firearm deaths after the implementation of the NFA.

However, this conclusion was quickly challenged by another researcher, who argued these findings were simply a consequence of the rarity of these events, and that the data were thus skewed.

The researchers on the first paper then set out to test the null hypothesis: that is, that the rate of mass shootings would remain unchanged after the introduction of the NFA. They concluded that while a definitive causal connection between this legislation and the 22-year absence of mass firearm homicides was not possible, there was nevertheless evidence that before 1996, approximately three mass shootings took place every four years. Had they continued at that rate, 16 incidents would have been expected by February 2018, but that pattern did not play out.

The evidence from the National Homicide Monitoring Program, collated by the Australian Institute of Criminology, concurs with the evidence provided by these authors. Its data indicate that the share of murders committed with firearms dropped significantly around the time of the buyback scheme. Indeed, the number of homicide incidents involving a firearm decreased by 57% between 1989-90 and 2013-14.

In 1989-90, firearms were used in 24% of homicides. In 2013-14, the figure was 13%.

Incidentally, in the United States, 60% of homicides are committed by firearms. To the extent that correlations are useful, there should be no surprises here. The US gun ownership rate (guns per 100 people) is more than five times the Australian rate.

Reducing access to firearms lowers the risk of gun deaths

The evidence that countries with higher levels of gun ownership have higher gun homicide, gun suicide, and gun injury rates is convincing. Anyone advocating gun ownership as a means of lowering levels of violence and crime is arguing against the weight of research.




Read more:
Christchurch attacks are a stark warning of toxic political environment that allows hate to flourish


Jacinda Ardern’s initiative cannot do her country any harm. Twenty-three years after Port Arthur and the NFA, firearm involvement in homicide incidents in Australia, including the involvement of handguns, remains at an historic low.

While it would draw too long a bow to assert conclusively that the downturn in firearm deaths in Australia can be attributed to the gun law reforms alone, the implementation of the NFA can be closely associated with the reductions in mass shootings and firearm deaths.

The choices made by the Ardern government to eliminate certain firearms from New Zealand to improve community safety are consistent with the long-term evidence from Australia.The Conversation

Rick Sarre, Professor of Law and Criminal Justice, University of South Australia

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

Future budgets are going to have to spend more on welfare, which is fine. It’s spending on us



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Lifters versus leaners is the language of the past. We are likely to see it less.
Shutterstock

Peter Whiteford, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This is part of a major series called Advancing Australia, in which leading academics examine the key issues facing Australia in the lead-up to the 2019 federal election and beyond. Read the other pieces in the series here.


Spending on social security and welfare accounts for more than a third of the Commonwealth budget.

Because of its size, it has been one of the main targets of proposed cuts in every Coalition government budget since 2014.

Despite this, social security and welfare spending has continued to grow. In fact the best way to describe the approach of the Coalition’s past five budgets is attempted rather than actual austerity, with the Senate rejecting or never considering repeated cuts. More than A$10 billion of these were served up again and again in budgets as so-called “zombie measures”.

Whoever wins government will continue to face pressure to further increase welfare and social security spending as the National Disability Insurance Scheme ramps up and a royal commission and demographic shifts build the case for more spending on aged care.

It is also widely recognised that Newstart, the main payment for unemployed Australians, is increasingly inadequate. It has slipped relative to pensions and wages each year because it is indexed to the slower-growing consumer price index. Payments for single parents are also inadequate, having been cut as a result of specific government decisions.

They say it’s us versus them…

The Coalition has responded with policy proposals that stigmatise recipients, such as drug-testing. It has introduced programs such as Online Compliance Intervention (“robodebt”) and ParentsNext that have arguably overreached in clawing back payments and imposing sanctions.

In 2014, the new Coalition government’s first budget speech classified people whose main source of income was support payments as “leaners not lifters”. In 2017, the human services minister described welfare dependency as the most pressing problem facing Australia’s social security system, likening it to “poison” for the unemployed.

And yet most of us are recipients at one time or another or have family members or friends who become recipients because of unemployment, ill health or family breakup.

… but we are them

During any fortnight, more than 5 million Australians, or roughly a quarter of the adult population, receive an income-tested social security payment. This includes an age pension, a disability support pension, Newstart, a carer’s payment, a parenting payment or one of seven other categories of income support.

Family tax benefits supplement the incomes of around another 855,000 families. And 900,000 or so families, many of them not receiving social security benefits or other family payments, are assisted with childcare costs.

As we look over longer periods, receipt of social security payments becomes ever more common.

The social services minister has used point-in-time administrative data to show that in 2018 the share of working-age Australians on welfare fell to 15.1%, “the lowest rate of welfare dependency in over 25 years”.

But the longitudinal Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey finds that over the course of an entire year (2016) about one-third of working-age households contained someone who received an income support payment for some of it.

The longer the time period, the more common becomes the receipt of payments.

Between 2001 and 2015 around 70% of working-age households included someone who received an income support payment at some point (not including the age pension or family payments).

It is one of the most important lessons of longitudinal surveys like HILDA – we, our family or friends are in this together.

While the likelihood of receiving support is greater than acknowledged, that support is less intense than is commonly believed. HILDA shows that 70% of working-age households received some social security benefits over a 15-year period. However, only around 1% of working-age households receive the bulk of their income (90%) from benefits for 10 years or more.

These were people with deep and persistent disadvantage. They were highly likely to be Indigenous Australians or people living in areas with limited job opportunities or people with long-standing disabilities or educational disadvantages.

As the 2016 HILDA report notes:

The welfare system does indeed provide temporary rather than long-term support for most recipients, and is potentially playing a very important safety net role.

The social security system is among the core institutions of contemporary Australian society. And it can be regarded as one of the main levers of not just social policy but economic policy. Australian governments have used the social security system to stimulate household spending during recessions or to avoid recessions — as happened during the global financial crisis.

An effective social security and welfare system is an essential underpinning of a modern economy, not least because security when people are in work requires security during periods when people are looking for work or outside the labour market.

Immediate priorities…

The first welfare priority for a new government has to be to increase the Newstart unemployment benefit. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has promised that, if elected, Labor will do this via a “root-and-branch review”.

Crossbenchers Rebekha Sharkie and the departing Cathy McGowan want to go further. They have introduced a private member’s bill that would create an independent commission to examine the adequacy of all social security payments other than family payments and payments to veterans. The commission would make recommendations rather than set rates.

The review promised by Shorten and the ongoing commission proposed by crossbenchers need not be mutually exclusive. An immediate review could be used to increase payments in the short term, while an ongoing commission could examine longer-term priorities.

Another urgent priority should be to reform the employment services network. It operates more like a system of penalties than an employment service, requiring participants to apply for 20 jobs a month or go on Work for the Dole programs rather preparing them for work.

… and beyond

There is a case for going further. We are overdue for a comprehensive review of Australia’s social security system. This should be undertaken in an integrated fashion and include tax, family payments and payments for childcare and to support people who study and work.

Looking further ahead, the ageing of Australia’s population is going to force us to spend more on health and aged care.

Population ageing and increased life expectancy represent a fundamental challenge that will inevitably be met by collecting and distributing more of our economy in tax and benefits than at present.The Conversation

Peter Whiteford, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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

The future of the internet looks brighter thanks to an EU court opinion



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What is illegal in one country may be perfectly legal in all other countries.
Shutterstock

Dan Jerker B. Svantesson, Bond University

Imagine an internet where you couldn’t access any content unless it complied with every law of all the countries in the world.

In this scenario, you would be prevented from expressing views that were critical of many of the world’s dictatorships. You would not be able to question aspects of some religions due to blasphemy laws. And some of the photos you post of your children would be illegal.

A development like this is not as far fetched as it currently may seem.

Every country wants its laws respected online. The scenario above may be an unavoidable outcome if countries are successful in seeking to impose their laws globally. Even though they can’t prosecute the person who posted the content, they can try to force the internet platforms that host the content to remove or block it.

A legal opinion released last week in a case currently before the courts in the European Union argues content should generally only be blocked in countries where it breaches the law, not globally. This is a sensible approach, and a necessity if we wish to continue to enjoy the benefits currently offered by the internet.




Read more:
Country rules: the ‘splinternet’ may be the future of the web


A trend of global orders

There have been numerous examples of courts seeking to impose their content restrictions globally by ordering the major internet platforms to remove or block access to specific content.

The most recent high profile case is a 2017 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, in which the court sought to compel Google to block certain search results globally. That dispute is still ongoing after a US court sided with Google.

Courts in Australia and the United States have also opted for global content restrictions, without regard for the impact on internet users in other countries. For example, in the Australian case, Justice Pembroke ordered Twitter to block all future postings globally – regardless of topic – by a particular Twitter user.

This is troubling. After all, what is illegal in one country may be perfectly legal in all other countries. Why should the harshest laws determine what can be posted online? Why should duties imposed by one country trump rights afforded to us by the laws in many other countries – particularly international human rights laws?




Read more:
Innocence or arrogance? US court oversteps on internet regulation


The Google France case

The latest case to address this question is an ongoing dispute in the EU. The French data protection authority (CNIL) sought to force search engines to remove search results (known as de-referencing) globally where those results violate the EU’s so-called “right to be forgotten” legislation.

The right to be forgotten is an aspect of the EU’s data privacy law that, in simplified terms, gives people the right to have online content blocked on search engines, where the content is no longer relevant.

Google disputed this and the matter has reached the EU’s highest court – the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). On 10 January 2019, an Advocate General of the court issued his opinion on the matter (so far only available in French). Such opinions are not binding on the court, but the judgment often follows the reasoning of the Advocate General. The judges are now beginning their deliberations in this case and their judgment will be given at a later date.

In his opinion, the Advocate General concluded that, in relation to the right to be forgotten, search engines:

…must take every measure available to it to ensure full and effective de-referencing within the EU.

He went on to say that de-referencing of the search results should only apply inside the EU.

But he didn’t rule out the possibility that:

…in certain situations, a search engine operator may be required to take de-referencing actions at the worldwide level.

This is similar to a nuanced approach advocated for by the Swedish data protection authority in a parallel case currently before the Swedish courts.




Read more:
Google court ruling creates a more forgetful internet


The significance

If the EU court adopts the approach of the Canadian Supreme Court and seeks to impose EU law globally, many other countries – including repressive dictatorships – are likely to view this as a “green light” to impose their laws globally.

But if the EU court adopts the more measured approach proposed in the Advocate General’s opinion, we may see a reversal of the current dangerous trend of global content restriction orders.

It may be months until we see the final judgment. But the stakes are high and the future of the internet, as we know it, hangs in the balance.The Conversation

Dan Jerker B. Svantesson, Co-Director Centre for Commercial Law, Bond University

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

Darwin port’s sale is a blueprint for China’s future economic expansion



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Darwin Port, leased to Landbridge Industry Australia, a subsidiary of Shandong Landbridge, for 99 years.
John Garrick, CC BY-SA

John Garrick, Charles Darwin University

An agreement between Darwin’s city council and an overseas municipal counterpart normally wouldn’t attract much attention. Local government officials love signing such deals. Darwin already has no less than six “sister city” arrangements, including with the Chinese city of Haikou.

But attention has been drawn to Darwin’s newly minted “friendship” deal with Yuexiu District, in Guangzhou, due to Chinese media describing it as part of President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative.

This suggests Chinese authorities regard Darwin as having strategic significance.

It invites reflection on the wisdom, three years ago, of the Northern Territory government deciding to lease the Port of Darwin (now known as Darwin Port) to a Chinese company for 99 years – and of the federal government going along with it.

At the time the new owner, billionaire Ye Cheng, claimed the Darwin port deal was “our involvement in One Belt, One Road”. This was discounted by some commentators as hyperbole, an attempt to curry favour with the Chinese government.

But now, by design or not, the Darwin port deal increasingly looks like a blueprint for how Chinese interests can take control of foreign ports – as it is doing by various means around the world – without arousing local opposition. Quite the reverse. All levels of Australian government have encouraged it.

It makes Darwin an interesting case study – a point of contest between the strategies of the US and China. Darwin’s port is under Chinese control, while thousands of US marines are based in the city, as part of the US “Pacific pivot” seen by many as an effort to contain China’s influence in the region.


CC BY-ND

How the port deal was done

The deal to lease parts of the port followed successive federal governments refusing to fund necessary upgrading of the port’s infrastructure to meet growing demand.

Infrastucture Australia advised privatisation. Rather than sell outright, the territory government decided to lease the port, and sell a controlling stake in the port’s operator.

Landbridge Australia, a subsidiary of Shandong Landbridge, won the 99-year lease with its bid of A$506 million in November 2015.

Shandong Landbridge has substantial and varied interests including port logistics and petrochemicals. Though privately owned, like many Chinese companies it has strong ties to the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

The company knows how to cultivate political connections. In Australia it gave influential Liberal Party figure and former trade minister Andrew Robb an $880,000 job just months after he retired from parliament.




Read more:
Chinese influence compromises the integrity of our politics


The bid for the port was examined and approved by the Foreign Investments Review Board, the Defence Department and ASIO.

Strategic importance

But the deal put Darwin directly in the crossfire between US and Chinese interests. Then US president Barack Obama expressed concern about the lack of consultation. Former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage said he was “stunned” that Australia had “blind-sided” its ally.

While the centre of US-Chinese tensions is the South China Sea – where China has militarised reefs in disputed waters – Darwin is important because it is the southern flank of US operations in the Pacific.

Managing the tensions

Zhang Jie, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, wrote in 2015 about the concept of “first civilian, later military” – in which commercial ports are to be built with the goal of slowly being developed into “strategic support points” – to assist China defending maritime channel security and control key waterways.

Military-civilian integration was among the goals China set in its 13th five-year plan for 2016-20. President Xi subsequently established an integration committee to oversee civilian and military investment in technology.

As with other Chinese port acquisitions, such as in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Greece and Djibouti, Landbridge is interested in acquiring and developing not only Darwin’s port facilities but nearby waterfront property.

But the Darwin port deal differs in significant ways to other port acquisitions.

It is a far cry from the “debt-trap colonialism” China stands accused of using to gain leverage over other foreign governments, such as Sri Lanka and Nepal.




Read more:
Soft power goes hard: China’s economic interest in the Pacific comes with strings attached


Landbridge has bought the lease, rather than a Chinese bank lending funds to the Northern Territory government to develop the port. If Landbridge was to default, it would lose its money. Any attempt by Landbridge to use the port as security to borrow money from a Chinese bank would trigger renegotiation of the lease.

The territory government retains a 20% stake in the port operator and has a say in key appointments such as the chief executive and chief financial officer. But it will not share any profit that Landbridge may eventually make.

That potential is a long way off. Landbridge Australia reported a loss of A$31 million for the 2017 financial year, with its total borrowings rising to A$463 million. If the deal falls over, the government will need to seek new equity partners. But its immediate commercial risks are relatively contained.

Other risks

Yet risk exposure may take other forms. China’s strategy is very long-term. Darwin is now on the front line in managing tensions between Australia’s most important strategic ally and partner and its major trading partner. Balancing between powerful friends with competing interests may not prove easy.




Read more:
The risks of a new Cold War between the US and China are real: here’s why


There are indications of some recognition of this at the federal level. Australia’s foreign investment review processes have been tightened. A Critical Infrastructure Centre has been created to give extra national security advice. There has been some tweaking of rules about political parties accepting foreign donations.

But others may have learnt valuable lessons too.

Weaknesses in Australian governments at all levels have been revealed. They have been reactive, readily accepting the lure of pearls cast on our shores without considering longer-term currents. Foreign and strategic policy has effectively been left to the local level. While the federal government now seeks to shore up its interests in the Pacific with cash for infrastructure, similar commitments to investing in local infrastructure are essential.

Clumsiness and indecision do not serve Australian interests well.The Conversation

John Garrick, Senior Lecturer, Business Law, Charles Darwin University

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

Australia has the wealth to ensure a sustainable future, but too many people are being left behind



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Many Australians are feeling less secure about the future, despite rising income levels since 2000.
Dan Peled/AAP

Sue Richardson, University of Adelaide

The purpose of our social, economic and political systems is to enable all Australians to lead good lives. Australia is doing well on some fronts. It ranks third out of 188 countries on the UN Human Development Index, which takes into account life expectancy, education and national income per capita. We also rank 19th on national income per capita.

This suggests Australia is rather good at converting national income into social well-being. But a key question is whether we are using our income in a way that will continue to enable all Australians to lead materially, socially and environmentally enriching lives. That is, are we acting in a way that is both fair and sustainable?

A report released by the National Sustainable Development Council, in collaboration with the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, provides robust data on many of the specific indicators related to environmental, social and economic well-being. These indicators give us a clear idea how well we are doing in the important goal of “leaving no one behind” and providing the same opportunities for future generations.

Inequality remains high despite economic growth

A remarkable feature of Australia’s economy is that, with some fluctuations, real income per capita rose by over 40% from 2000 to 2012, but has not increased at all since. This has left many people feeling stressed and disgruntled about living costs.

There is a sense that a high income is not enough to lead a good life – a continuously rising income is needed. Coupled with the high inequality in society and a worsening environmental footprint, it all points to threats to the sustainability of our current standard of living.




Read more:
Growth without direction: How Australia measures up against UN targets


The large rise in income in recent years was accompanied by a decrease in the rates of poverty and material disadvantage, especially before 2013. The increase in the value of the age pension made a material contribution to this. In contrast, the falling relative value of Newstart has had the opposite effect.

Overall, inequality remains high by Australian and international standards. The government continues to play a very important role in offsetting at least some of this inequality. However, this is sustainable only if people remain willing to pay the necessary taxes and support transfer payments to help those with lower incomes.

Australia is also doing well in the health of the population. Life expectancy is among the highest in the world, reflecting comparatively low rates of illness and injury. Good health is supported by a well-resourced, universal healthcare system, substantial gains in reducing deaths from road accidents, and world-leading tobacco control policies.




Read more:
Australia’s UN report card: making progress, could do better on inequality and climate


However, our good health and well-being is challenged by high rates of obesity and alcohol consumption. Further, the proportion of the population experiencing high to very high levels of psychological distress has not fallen. Between 15% and 20% of young and middle-aged women now report having high to very high levels of distress.

And we do leave people behind. Indigenous people have much poorer health and lower life expectancy than the general population – a stain on our society.

Early childhood education is lagging behind, too

Australia is performing well in some areas of education: we have high rates of post-secondary school education, our students consistently perform well in collaborative problem solving, and Australian adults rate well above the OECD average in technological problem solving.

But, again, we’re performing poorly on sustainability. Student performance in literacy, maths and science on the international PISA tests has fallen and the percentage of children aged five who are developing normally in overall learning, health and psycho-social well-being has remained stagnant.

Australia is also a laggard among OECD countries in its public support of early childhood learning and development. The only improvement has been in language skills for children aged five.




Read more:
Australia falls further in rankings on progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goals


In other societal issues, the Monash report showed that Australians are increasingly fearful of violent crime, despite low crime rates. Tougher laws have been introduced in response to this fear of crime, and imprisonment rates have risen significantly in recent years. This fear undermines social trust, which is very hard to recover and is a threat to the sustainability of our social cohesion.

Australia is also lagging on gender equality. Women continue to face far greater economic insecurity than men. This is particularly evident at retirement, when women’s superannuation balances are 42% below that of men’s, reflecting their substantially lower lifetime earnings.

Most disturbingly, the proportion of women and girls subjected to physical, sexual and psychological violence remains unacceptably high. Domestic and family violence remains the leading preventable contributor to death and illness for women aged 18–44.

Australia has done remarkably well on some of its UN Sustainability Development Goals. But there is definitely room for improvement, particularly in the way we are degrading our natural world and key areas of health, education and social inequality. We need to address these threats to sustainability if we’re going to ensure our people enjoy good lives now – and in the future.


This article is part of a series looking at Australia’s progress toward meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, based on a report published by the Monash University Sustainable Development Institute.The Conversation

Sue Richardson, Adjunct professor, University of Adelaide

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

Coal does not have an economic future in Australia


Frank Jotzo, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and Salim Mazouz, Australian National University

Renewables are stealing the march over coal in Australia, and the international outlook is for lower coal demand. Today the international Coal Transitions project released its findings, based on global coal scenarios and detailed case studies by teams in China, India, South Africa, Australia, Poland and Germany.

Our research on Australian coal transition – based on contributions by researchers at the Australian National University and the University of Melbourne – looks into the prospects for coal use in Australia and for exports, and the experiences with local transition in the case of the Hazelwood power station closure.




Read more:
Hazelwood closure: what it means for electricity prices and blackouts


Coal exports

Coal production in Australia is likely to be on a long term declining trajectory. Almost all coking coal (coal used for making steel) mined in Australia is exported, as is around 70% of steam coal (for electricity generation). Australia supplies about a fifth of the global steam coal trade.

A question mark hangs over the future of steam coal exports. Economic, technological and policy developments in other countries all point to likely falling coal use over time. The international coal transitions synthesis report expects that global coal consumption will go into reverse by the early 2020s.

In most industrialising countries, there are big concerns about local air pollution, and renewable power alternatives are becoming cost-competitive with coal. Add to that the pressure to meet Paris emissions targets.

China and India, on which much of the hopes of Australia’s coal export industry are pinned, mine coal themselves. When overall coal use in these countries falls, imports may be curbed, if only because of pressures to prop up domestic coal mining.

Coal in Australia’s power sector

Most coal used in Australia is for power generation. We are at the start of a fundamental change in the system, where coal power will be replaced by renewables, with energy storage and flexible demand-side response to firm up the system.




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This change now reflects market economics. New wind farms and solar parks can now provide energy at much lower cost than any new fossil fuel powered generators. A new coal fired power plant would need subsidies, take a long time to build, and suffer exposure to future carbon policy.

The competition is now between renewables and existing coal fired power stations. Wind and solar power cost next to nothing to run once built, so they are dispatched first on the grid and tend to bring wholesale market prices down. In turn, the economics of coal power plants deteriorates. They will not be able to sell as much power, and get lower prices on average for every megawatt-hour of electricity produced. New wind and solar is now contracted at prices close to the operating cost of some existing coal plants, and renewables costs are falling further.

Coal plants will be less and less profitable. They will tend to be shut down earlier, typically when major repairs or overhauls are due. Major refurbishments will tend to become unattractive. And the system does not need coal plants to run reliably. A combination of regionally dispersed renewables, pumped hydro and battery storage, gas plants and demand response will do the job.

It is difficult to predict just when coal plants will shut down. The following graphic illustrates the difference between a flat 50-year retirement pattern (as used for example by the Australian Energy Market Operator), with plants retiring at 40 years of age, in line with the average retirement age of plants over the past decade, and two illustrative scenarios that capture the fact that coal plants will come under increasing economic pressure.

In our “moderate” scenario, remaining coal plants retire at 55 years in 2017 and progressively retire younger until they exit at age 30 by 2050. In our “faster” scenario, plants exit at 50 years now, then progressively younger until they exit at age 30 by 2030.

Coal closure scenarios from Coal Transitions Australia report.

Even more rapid closure scenarios are plausible if the cost of renewables and storage continue on their recent trends. We do not present them here, instead opting for relatively conservative assumptions.

The pace of closure makes a big difference to emissions. In the “moderate” scenario, cumulative emissions from coal use are around 2.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO₂) during 2020-50, and in the “faster” scenario around 1.8 GtCO₂.

As a reference point, a “2 degree compatible” emissions budget for Australia proposed by Australia’s Climate Change Authority has a total national emissions budget of around 5.8 GtCO₂ from 2020-50. Our “moderate” scenario has coal emissions take up around 44% of that cumulative emissions budget, while the “faster” scenario takes up around 32%. By comparison, coal currently makes up around 30% of Australia’s annual net emissions.

It is no longer true that reducing emissions in the electricity sector necessarily means higher prices. These days, and in the future, having policy to guide the replacement of ageing coal capacity with cheap renewables is a win-win for consumers and the environment.

We had better get ready

We better put our efforts in preparing for the transition, rather than trying to stem the tide. That includes a meaningful policy treatment of carbon emissions, and mechanisms to allow more predictable exit pathways. The relatively sudden closures of the Hazelwood power station is an example of how not to manage the transition.

Wholesale prices jumped up because the replacement investment takes time, and governments scrambled to provide support to the local community after the fact.

We can do much better. Australia is well placed for a future built on renewable energy. The change can be painful if it’s not well managed, but the future looks bright.




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The Conversation


Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate Economics and Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and Salim Mazouz, Research Manager, Crawford School of Public Policy; and Principal at NCEconomics, Australian National University

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

How the aid community responds in Syria will dictate its role in future crises



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The conflict in Syria has left more than 6 million people internally displaced.
EPA/Mohammed Badra

Denis Dragovic, University of Melbourne

The latest military strikes by the US, France and Britain in Syria highlight the Trump administration’s uncertainty on its role in the conflict. With a near triumphant Syrian President Bashar al-Assad firmly under the control of Moscow and Tehran, the strikes against military bases suspected of facilitating the chemical weapons attacks will be nothing more than a footnote in the wider battle for influence in the region.

Trump must look towards the future and focus on influencing the reconstruction of Syria.

Without an active United States, Turkey, Iran and Russia will push international aid agencies and influential Western donor governments onto the sidelines. Instead, they will take the lead in rebuilding Syria in their images, an outcome that will hurt the Syrian people and further destabilise the region.




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The size of the challenge

It is hard to find parallels in history with the extent of destruction in Syria.

Not since Dresden has devastation been so extensive. The four-year siege of Sarajevo, where regular bombardment from the surrounding mountains ravaged the city and reduced many areas to rubble, is a comparable yardstick repeated across Syria in Damascus, Aleppo, Idlib, Homs and Hama.

And then there is the human cost. More than 6 million people are internally displaced. Another 5 million are living as refugees.

Each person fled a home, a job and a community that will have to be re-established. This won’t be easy, given those who have migrated to Europe are estimated to represent between one-third and one-half of all Syrians with university-level education.

Even if it is theoretically possible to overcome these challenges, the most basic level of reconstruction has been estimated at US$100 billion, and possibly as high as US$350 billion. This far exceeds the estimated US$60 billion reconstruction cost of rebuilding Iraq after the 2003 invasion.

What to expect

Some reconstruction experts have advocated sidelining Assad’s Syria, and only providing support to rump areas under the control of US allies. NGOs are advocating conditioning international support on a political solution being agreed, respect for human rights, and protection of an independent civil society.

The Western-led international aid community faces a conundrum as it sits on the sidelines watching others prepare for the post-conflict reconstruction. Should the international aid community adapt and compromise or stand firm with their demands and principles?

Without the West driving the development agenda, Syrian authorities will eschew aid focused on human rights, gender equality, market liberalisation, and democracy. They will have little patience for the Western allegory of aid as salvation, in which the original sin of colonialism drives an effort to save people from poverty by recreating their societies in our image.

Instead, akin to Chinese aid to African countries, major infrastructure projects that serve government interests will top the agenda at the expense of assistance to the other pillars of successful modern countries.

These projects will be funded, managed and implemented on a quid-pro-quo basis. Syrian elites and foreign governments will secure most of the benefits.




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For an aid industry weaned on Western donors and their gender mainstreaming, community consultation, and pro-poor development, adjusting to taking direction from a Syrian government dismissive of the Western conscience and liberal democratic values will pose a substantial challenge. It will lead to serious ethical questions being asked.

Such questions will revolve around whether:

  • aid agencies participate in donor co-ordination led by an illiberal Russia, an ostracised Iran, or an Islamist Turkey;

  • collaboration with the Assad government irrevocably compromises NGOs’ work; and

  • aid agencies can contribute to sustainable development if they are prevented from strengthening civil society.

There is no right answer to these questions. Some will take the pragmatic path; others, the high road.

For many aid workers – particularly those associated with advocacy NGOs – staying true to their worldview will mean being sidelined. They will be forced to operate in neighbouring countries, as Syrian authorities refuse to tolerate what they will perceive as social engineering disguised as humanitarian assistance.

This will leave UN agencies flying the flag of the development consensus in word only; they will be bereft of many of their implementing partners. Without these partners, they too will have to reconsider their modus operandi: partner with local sectarian NGOs with questionable affiliations, or undertake more direct implementation.

The benefits of a new approach

Under these circumstances, new approaches to implementing humanitarian and development programs will be need to be sought.

One opportunity is to harness Syria’s rich tradition of religious institutions playing a leading role in society. But even such a pivot will pose a conundrum: engaging with these groups will require the international aid community to reconsider its secular agenda.

How the international aid community responds to these challenges will shape outcomes not only in Syria but for future humanitarian crises.

Trying to force the Western development agenda onto Syrians will be counterproductive, leading to the strengthening of non-Western aid organisations that operate outside the decades-old development consensus.

With new-found experience and cashed-up from the largest reconstruction effort since the second world war, these agencies will begin to set the agenda not only for Syria, but in other countries whose leadership will prefer respectful collaboration over what’s seen as Western condescension.

Alternatively, Western aid organisations can acknowledge this emerging dynamic and find ways to work with the regime, its sponsors in Russia and Turkey, and the young, emerging aid organisations.

The ConversationThis will require compromising some of the ideals that have been at the heart of the sector and adopting new ways of working. But doing so will lead in the long run to a wider buy-in to the development consensus by the next generation of global aid actors.

Denis Dragovic, Honorary Senior Fellow, University of Melbourne

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

Stakes are high as Turkey, Russia and the US tussle over the future of Syria


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Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighters in east Afrin, Syria.
Reuters/Khalil Ashawi

Mehmet Ozalp, Charles Sturt University

As the Syrian conflict enters its seventh year, the main players are fighting to carve the country into regions of control and influence.

A pivotal turn came in January, when Turkish forces launched the “Olive Branch” military operation targeting Afrin, a 300,000-strong Kurdish city in northeast Syria.

Three key developments in 2017 led to the Turkish operation in Syria.

The first was Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gaining the upper hand in the conflict. In a major victory over the resistance, Assad forces backed by Russia and Iran captured the Syrian economic powerhouse of Aleppo – with the tacit agreement of Turkey.

Subsequently, Assad forces, and Russia, continued to expand their control over western Syria. In December 2017, they launched an intense attack on Idlib – a city neighbouring Afrin and the last stronghold of Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an alliance led by the Nusra Front and supported by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkish government. Even though HTS launched a counteroffensive, the Assad forces continued to make advances in Idlib.

Second was the bold move for Kurdish independence in northern Iraq, which accelerated after the Kurdish and central Iraqi forces recaptured the largest northern Iraqi city of Mosul from Islamic State. In September 2017, northern Iraq’s Kurdish government staged a referendum for independence, with a whopping 93% of Iraqi Kurds voting “yes”. Although the referendum backfired spectacularly, it sent a clear signal to Turkey and others on Kurdish ambitions for independence.




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Third was the rise in the prominence of Syrian Kurds. In October 2017, the US launched a successful military effort to depose IS from its stronghold, the capital Raqqa, ending IS as a political force. The main proxy army on the ground was the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Despite Turkey’s protests, the US supplied SDF with heavy arms, justifying the move as a necessity in deposing the common enemy, IS. Even after the fall of IS, the return of heavy weapons became the focus of a diplomatic crisis between the US and Turkey.

Displaced Syrian children look out from their tents at a refugee camp in Idlib province, Syria.
Reuters/Osman Orsal

The last straw for Turkey was the announcement of a 30,000-strong border security force to protect the Syrian Kurdish enclave. Even though the US soon backtracked, it caused outrage in Turkey. This is because the border in question was the Turkey-Syria border, and implied the security force was aimed at Turkey.

Erdogan called the proposed force a “terror army” and wowed to “nip this terror army in the bud”. Within days, the Turkish military operation had begun.

This move came at the same time as a break-up of the uneasy alliance between Turkey, Russia and the Assad regime, as well as the US, over the future of Syria. Erdogan signalled this in late December, when he accused Assad of “state terrorism”.

What America wants

For the US, Turkey’s presence in Syria complicates things, and harms its plans resting on the territory controlled by Kurdish forces. Just as there was no need for Turkey during the offensive against IS, there is no need for Turkey in the future of Syria.

The US sees the UN-led Geneva talks as the solution to the Syrian crisis and insists that Assad is not part of the solution. This goal is becoming increasingly unlikely. Realising this after Assad’s Aleppo victory, the US has shifted its objectives to eliminating IS and supporting an increased Kurdish prominence in Syria.




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According to Defence Secretary James Mattis, the US will continue its presence in Syria, but as a “stabilising force”. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed this, adding that the continued US presence aimed to prevent Iran and Assad forces regaining territory “liberated with help from the United States”.

This is a major policy shift by the US administration and has infuriated Erdogan. It means US protection for the Kurdish enclave is permanent, and the US will try to neutralise Russian influence by controlling regions lying east of the Euphrates River. It will also use Kurdish forces and populations as a bargaining chip in any discussion of Syria’s future.

What Russia wants

Turkey’s Afrin operation would not have been possible without Russian approval, as Russia controls the air space in northwestern Syria.

Russia has allowed the operation to go ahead so that it can maintain the fragile alliance that President Vladimir Putin formed with Iran and Turkey, and continue the recent talks Russia led with Syrian factions in Sochi. Russia wants to preserve the hard-won influence it garnered over the past two years and avoid tarnishing its world power status. More importantly, Putin does not want anything to overshadow his bid to win the looming presidential elections on March 18.

Putin has seen Erdogan as an important ally in his strategy to divide the NATO alliance from within, and so would prefer he stayed in power. This is why Putin gave Erdogan a political hand in allowing the Turkish operation to go ahead. In a sense, Putin can tolerate the Afrin operation for as long as it is contained to a small region.

What Turkey wants

Erdogan’s main aim with the operation is to thwart any US and Russian plans to carve up Syria after the IS defeat.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erogan’s main aim is to thwart any US or Russian plans to carve up Syria post-IS.
Reuters/Umit Bektas

Turkey insists on being involved in every key negotiation on the future of Syria, to prevent the establishment of a semi-autonomous Kurdish region, which it sees as an existential threat. Having its own 8-10 million Kurdish population in the southeast of the country, Turkey feels it is next on the list of destabilised countries and fears it is only a matter of time before its Kurdish region is excised for a greater Kurdish state.

Turkey wants to establish itself as the third major player after Russia and the US by supporting the Free Syrian Army, the least-powerful Syrian faction composed of Sunni Arab forces. In doing so, it wants to establish a Turkish-controlled corridor north of the Euphrates so that it can move 2.8 million increasingly unpopular Syrian refugees out of Turkey. The speed of the military operation suggests pre-planning rather than a reaction.

Ultimately, Erdogan is playing for internal politics. He needs the support of the nationalist elements in Turkey to win the critical 2019 presidential election, which will give him new powers passed in the 2016 referendum.

Losing the election would mean his political opponent has those powers, and would likely resurrect serious corruption charges against him. While those charges may be forgotten in Turkey for now, they are kept alive in US courts.

This explains Erdogan’s increasing anti-US rhetoric. He is counting on the Syrian operation to increase his bargaining chips in a potential showdown with the US administration.

The ConversationTurkey has made an extremely risky move, which could escalate the conflict in Syria. Over the past three decades, it has launched countless operations across the Iraqi and Syrian borders. Not only has Turkey failed to prevent developments favouring a pathway towards Kurdish independence, it has made matters worse for itself. This time may be no different.

Mehmet Ozalp, Associate Professor in Islamic Studies, Director of The Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation and Executive Member of Public and Contextual Theology, Charles Sturt University

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