Governments are making fake news a crime – but it could stifle free speech


Alana Schetzer, University of Melbourne

The rapid spread of fake news can influence millions of people, impacting elections and financial markets. A study on the impact of fake news on the 2016 US presidential election, for instance, has found that fake news stories about Hillary Clinton was “very strongly linked” to the defection of voters who supported Barack Obama in the previous election.

To stem the rising influence of fake news, some countries have made the creation and distribution of deliberately false information a crime.

Singapore is the latest country to have passed a law against fake news, joining others like Germany, Malaysia, France and Russia.




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But using the law to fight the wave of fake news may not be the best approach. Human rights activists, legal experts and others fear these laws have the potential to be misused to stifle free speech, or unintentionally block legitimate online posts and websites.

Legislating free speech

Singapore’s new law gives government ministers significant powers to determine what is fake news, and the authority to order online platforms to remove content if it’s deemed to be against the public interest.

What is considered to be of public interest is quite broad, but includes threats to security, the integrity of elections, and the public perception of the government. This could be open to abuse. It means any content that could be interpreted as embarrassing or damaging to the government is now open to being labelled fake news.

And free speech and human rights groups are concerned that legally banning fake news could be used as a way to restrict free speech and target whistleblowers.




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Similar problems have arisen in Malaysia and Russia. Both nations have been accused of using their respective laws against fake news to further censor free speech, especially criticism of the government.

Malaysia’s previous government outlawed fake news last year, making it a crime punishable by a fine up to 500,000 Malaysian (A$171,000) ringgit or six years’ imprisonment, or both. The new government has vowed to repeal the law, but so far has yet to do so.

Russia banned fake news – which it labels as any information that shows “blatant disrespect” for the state – in April. Noncompliance can carry a jail sentence of 15 days.

Discriminating between legitimate and illegitimate content

But the problems that come with legislating against fake news is not restricted to countries with questionable track records of electoral integrity and free speech.

Even countries like Germany are facing difficulties enforcing their laws in a way that doesn’t unintentionally also target legitimate content.

Germany’s law came into effect on January 1, 2018. It targets social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and requires them to remove posts featuring hate speech or fake information within 24 hours. A platform that fails to adhere to this law may face fines up to 50 million euros.

But the government is now reviewing the law because too much information is being blocked that shouldn’t be.

The Association of German Journalists has complained that social media companies are being too cautious and refusing to publish anything that could be wrongly interpreted under the law. This could lead to increasing self-censorship, possibly of information in the public interest.

In Australia, fake news is also a significant problem, with more and more people unable to distinguish fake news from legitimate reports.

During Australia’s federal election in May, fake news claiming the Labor Party planned on introducing a death tax spread across Facebook and was adopted by the Liberal Party in attack ads.




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But there has been no serious talk of passing a law banning fake news here. Instead, Australian politicians from all sides have been pressuring the biggest social media platforms to be more vigilant and remove fake news before it becomes a problem.

Are there any alternatives to government regulation?

Unlike attempts to limit or ban content in pre-internet days, simply passing a law against fake news may not be the best way to deal with the problem.

The European Union, which is experiencing a rise in support for extreme right-wing political parties, introduced a voluntary code of practice against online disinformation in 2018. Facebook and other social media giants have since signed up.

But there are already concerns the code was “softened” to minimise the amount of content that would need to be removed or edited.

Whenever governments get involved in policing the media – even for the best-intended reasons – there is always the possibility of corruption and a reduction in genuine free speech.

Industry self-regulation is also problematic, as social media companies often struggle to objectively police themselves. Compelling these companies to take responsibility for the content on their sites through fines and other punitive measures, however, could be effective.




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Another alternative is for media industry groups to get involved.

Media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders, for instance, has launched the Journalism Trust Initiative, which could lead to a future certification system that would act as a “guarantee” of quality and accuracy for readers. The agreed standards are still being discussed, but will include issues such as company ownership, sources of revenue, independence and ethical compliance.The Conversation

Alana Schetzer, Sessional Tutor and Journalist, University of Melbourne

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

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Government senator urges sale of ABC city properties



Senator James McGrath in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra.
Mick Tsikas

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Queensland Liberal senator James McGrath had said the ABC’s headquarters in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane should be sold, and the funds used to retire government debt.

In the latest Coalition attack on the national broadcaster, McGrath declared: “The ABC currently operates like a closed-shop, left-wing vortex with an appointments process more secretive than the selection of the Pope”.

The ABC has faced repeated criticism and claims of bias since the Coalition was elected in 2013. A year ago the Liberal Party’s federal council urged it should be privatised – a call immediately rejected by the government.

McGrath said it “needs to shift its headquarters away from the inner-city latte lines to where the ‘quiet Australians’ live, work and play”. It was long past time that it moved to the suburbs or regions, he said.




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Questions on notice submitted under Senate estimates showed the ABC’s property portfolio was worth $522 million, he said. “Of the 37 properties in the ABC’s portfolio, Ultimo, Brisbane South Bank and Melbourne Southbank account for 81% of the portfolio’s value. That’s $426 million. What is this achieving for the taxpayer?”

McGrath said given modern technology, there was no reason why the ABC couldn’t operate out of places such as Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, Caboolture or Beenleigh.

“For the purposes of conducting interviews, the ABC could easily copy the Sky News model of a small booth close to capital city CBDs.”

He said this was part of a three point plan he proposed for the ABC “to return to its core duties of delivering accurate, factual and unbiased news services and content”.

“The other parts of the plan include calling for all ABC roles to be advertised externally to broaden the diversity of views within the organisation, and for the government to commit to a full review of the ABC’s Charter, taking into account the changing media environment.”




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McGrath issued his statement off the back of comments by Nationals leader Michael McCormack who, when asked on Thursday whether the ABC, if it had more funding, could fill gaps left by WIN closures, suggested it could save money by relocating from Ultimo.

“I’m sure that there are plenty of empty shop fronts in Sale or Traralgon or elsewhere where the ABC could quite easily relocate to a regional centre and save themselves a lot of money and then invest that money that they’ve saved by not being in the middle of Sydney, where they don’t need to be, out at a regional centre.”

McCormack’s office later described his comment as tongue-in-cheek. McGrath’s office said his statement was not tongue-in-cheek.

WIN TV is shutting down newsrooms in Orange, Dubbo, Albury, Wagga Wagga in NSW, and Wide Bay in Queensland. McCormack, who formerly edited The Daily Advertiser in Wagga, said he was saddened by the decision.

“I appreciate that the market is tight and the margins are very slim. But I’m really disappointed that WIN has taken this decision. I’m really disappointed that those news bureaus are closing because they’ve done such a sterling job, in some cases, for up to 30 years.”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.

Lambie’s vote key if government wants to have medevac repealed


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government almost certainly would have to obtain the support of Tasmanian crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie to amend or repeal the medevac legislation.

Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton on Sunday claimed Labor was reconsidering its position on the legislation, but that was quickly dismissed by his opposite number Kristina Keneally.

The Coalition would need four of the six non-Green crossbench Senate votes, assuming the ALP and Greens opposed.

The government could rely on One Nation, which will have two senators, and Cory Bernardi from the Australian Conservatives.

But that would leave it one vote short. Stirling Griff, one of the two Centre Alliance senators, said Centre Alliance was “100% opposed” to repeal or amendment of the legislation. That position was “non-negotiable”, Griff said.

This would put Lambie, who is returning to the Senate after having to quit in the citizenship crisis, as the swing vote. Her spokeswoman said she was not giving answers on anything yet.




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The government said in the election campaign that it would repeal the legislation.

It claimed when the medevac bill was passed – against Coalition opposition during the period of minority government – that it would lead to a flood of transfers from Manus and Nauru, including of people accused of serious crimes. It reopened Christmas Island and said any transferees under the medevac legislation would be sent there.

Dutton said on Sunday just over 30 people had come under the new law, none of whom had been sent to Christmas Island. Asked on the ABC whether they included any criminals or people charged with offences Dutton said he didn’t know. When pressed he said, “we don’t bring anyone to our country where we can’t mitigate the risk”.

Dutton continued to insist the government could be compelled under the legislation to transfer criminals, although the medevac legislation gives the minister power to veto people on security grounds.

The minister claimed Labor was reconsidering its position “and that they would be open to suggestions about how that bill could be repealed or at the very least wound back”.

But Keneally said he had misrepresented Labor’s position; she stressed it supported the legislation.

It was “up to the government to explain if changes are necessary. I have no information that would suggest changes are necessary,” she said.

“If the government believes that the medevac legislation is no longer necessary to ensure that sick people can get the health care they need then the government needs to explain why to the parliament.

“And if the government wants to improve the medevac legislation to ensure that people can more readily get the health care that they need then the government needs to explain that to the parliament.

“The government has said nothing about either of those two aspects of the legislation”.




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Dutton said there were now just over 800 people remaining across Nauru and Manus.

He did not think the United States would take the maximum 1,250 people under the deal between Malcolm Turnbull and Barack Obama.

So far 531 had gone to the US and there were about 295 in the pipeline who had approvals but hadn’t gone yet. More than 300 had been rejected by the US.

He hoped all offered a place would take it up. About 95 had either withdrawn from consideration or rejected an offer. “If we can get those 95 across the line, we get closer to zero”.

In a controversial decision, Australia accepted under the US deal two Rwandan men accused of involvement in the murder of tourists on a gorilla-watching expedition in Uganda in 1999. The government says the men have been found by Australian security agencies not to pose a threat.

Pressed on whether these two were the only ones coming here to fulfil Australia’s side of the deal, Dutton said: “We don’t have plans to bring any others from America at this stage.”

Dutton, while saying it was a matter for the department, also indicated the security company Paladin was likely to have its contract for services on Manus rolled over, despite an ongoing investigation by the Australian National Audit Office into the Home Affairs department’s management of the procurement process for the earlier A$423 million contracts.

Keneally said the A$423 million contract had been “given out by the government in a closed process – a closed rushed process […] to an organisation that was registered in a beach shack on Kangaroo Island, that had one member barred from entering PNG, had another accused of fraud”.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.

Infographic: who’s who in the new Morrison ministry


Emil Jeyaratnam, The Conversation; Justin Bergman, The Conversation, and Shelley Hepworth, The Conversation

As Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s ministry is sworn in today, we’re taking a closer look at the members of the newly revamped cabinet.

Some of the faces are new – Stuart Robert, for example, takes over the new portfolio overseeing the National Disability Insurance Scheme. And some of the portfolios have shifted, notably Sussan Ley replacing Melissa Price as environment minister.

We’ve asked our experts to appraise the performances of the ministers and highlight what could be the key challenges in their new roles.

In some cases, ministers hold more than one portfolio. To simplify the policy analysis, we’ve chosen a key policy area for which they’re responsible and asked our experts to analyse those.

The Conversation

Emil Jeyaratnam, Data + Interactives Editor, The Conversation; Justin Bergman, Deputy Editor: Politics + Society, The Conversation, and Shelley Hepworth, Section Editor: Technology, The Conversation

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

Government advertising may be legal, but it’s corrupting our electoral process


Joo-Cheong Tham, University of Melbourne

The Coalition government’s use of taxpayer money for political advertising – as much as A$136 million since January, according to Labor figures – is far from an aberration in Australia. It is part of a sordid history in which public resources have routinely been abused for electoral advantage.

For example, the Coalition governments of Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull spent at least A$84.5 million on four major advertising campaigns to promote their policies and initiatives with voters. The ALP governments of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard spent A$20 million on advertising to promote the Gonski school funding changes and another A$70 million on a carbon tax campaign. Going further back, the Coalition government under John Howard spent A$100 million on its WorkChoices and GST campaigns.




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This is also a history in which hypocrisy is not hard to find.

When in opposition, Rudd condemned partisan government advertising as “a cancer on our democracy”. His government, however, exempted its A$38 million ad campaign on the mining super profits tax from the government guidelines put in place two years earlier.

In 2010, while an opposition MP, Scott Morrison decried such spending as “outrageous”. In 2019, his government may be presiding over the most expensive pre-election government advertising blitz in recent history.

Few restrictions on government advertising

All of this is perfectly legal.

The High Court in Combet v Commonwealth made clear that legislation authorising government spending (appropriation statutes) imposes virtually no legal control over spending for government advertising, because of its broad wording.

In the absence of effective statutory regulations, there are government guidelines that prohibit overtly partisan advertising with government funds, such as “negative” ads and advertising that mentions party slogans and names of political parties, candidates, ministers and parliamentarians.

These guidelines nevertheless provide ample room for promotion of government policies under the guise of information campaigns – what Justice Michael McHugh in Combet described as “feelgood” advertisements. They permit advertising campaigns such as the Coalition government’s “Building a better tax system for hardworking Australians” (which essentially promotes the government’s tax cuts) and “Small business, big future” (which burnishes its “small business” credentials).

The government advertising campaign spruiking its tax reform measures.

Crucially, the guidelines fail to address the proximity of such taxpayer-funded advertising campaigns to federal elections. They fail to recognise what is obvious – the closer we get to the elections, the stronger the governing party’s impulse to seek re-election, the greater the likelihood that “information” campaigns become the vehicle for reinforcing positive images of the incumbent party.

This risk is clearly recognised by the caretaker conventions, which mandate that once the “caretaker” period begins with the dissolution of the House of Representatives:

…campaigns that highlight the role of particular Ministers or address issues that are a matter of contention between the parties are normally discontinued, to avoid the use of Commonwealth resources in a manner to advantage a particular party

The conventions further state:

Agencies should avoid active distribution of material during the caretaker period if it promotes Government policies or emphasises the achievements of the Government or a Minister

The problem with these conventions, however, is that they kick in too late. By the time the House of Representatives is dissolved prior to an election, the major parties’ campaigns have usually been in high gear for months.




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A form of institutional corruption

A pseudo-notion of fairness tends to operate in the minds of incumbent political parties when it comes to taxpayer-funded advertising.

When she was prime minister, Gillard defended her use of government advertising by pointing that the Howard government had spent more. And now, the Morrison government has sought to deflect criticisms of its current campaign by drawing attention to ALP’s use of government advertising when it was last in power.

Our children are taught to be better than this – two wrongs do not make a right.

Indeed, government advertising for electioneering is a form of corruption. Corruption can be understood as the use of power for improper gain. It includes individual corruption where the improper gain is personal (for instance, bribery) but also what philosopher, Dennis Thompson, has described as institutional corruption, where the use of power results in a political gain.

Government advertising to reinforce positive impressions of the incumbent party is a form of institutional corruption – it is the use of public funds for the illegitimate purpose of electioneering. Its illegitimacy stems from the fact that it undermines the democratic ideal of fair elections by providing the incumbent party with an undue advantage.




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It is an instance of what the High Court in McCloy v NSW considered “war-chest” corruption – a form of corruption that arises when “the power of money … pose(s) a threat to the electoral process itself”.

A longer government advertising ban?

I propose a ban on federal government advertising in the period leading up to federal elections.

Such bans are already in place in NSW, which prohibits government advertising during roughly two months before state elections, and the ACT, which bans government advertising 37 days before territory elections. To take into account the longer campaign period at the federal level, a federal ban should operate for at least three months before each federal election.

The absence of fixed terms in the federal parliament is not a barrier to adopting such a ban. With an average of two and a half years between federal elections, a three-month ban of sorts could take effect from two years and three months after the previous election until polling day of the next election.

By dealing with government advertising for electioneering, this ban will improve the integrity of federal elections.The Conversation

Joo-Cheong Tham, Professor, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne

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

What will the Turnbull-Morrison government be remembered for?


Rob Manwaring, Flinders University

This article is part of a series examining the Coalition government’s record on key issues while in power and what Labor is promising if it wins the 2019 federal election.


When the “mighty Roman” Gough Whitlam died, Indigenous leader Noel Pearson delivered a memorable eulogy. Channelling Monty Python, Pearson asked what had Whitlam ever done for Australia? Pearson then reeled off a long list of achievements, including Medibank, no-fault divorce, needs-based schools funding, the Racial Discrimination Act and many more. This was a blistering set of reforms by a truly radical and activist government.

After close to four years of the Turnbull and Morrison Coalition government, we might well ask: “What has the Coalition done for us?”

It is hard to think of a single notable achievement for which the government will be credited or remembered. If we take another government as ideologically driven as Whitlam’s – albeit from a different vantage point – in this case John Howard’s, we can still recall a significant range of policies and changes. Chief among these was gun control.

In contrast, we are hardly likely to remember the Turnbull-Morrison governments.




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In 2016, if we vaguely recall, there was a double-dissolution election – but could many voters even remember why? Ah, the trigger was the ill-fated Australian Building and Construction Commission, which did not even feature during the election campaign.

Since then, what have been the major policy achievements?

The National Energy Guarantee? If the government is likely to be remembered at all, it will be for the deep-seated divisions that meant Malcolm Turnbull was entirely unable to deliver a clear and coherent energy and climate policy. This was, after all, a government that chose to ignore Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s call for a Clean Energy Target.

Tony Abbott’s reversal on withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement (under Turnbull), but then arguing Australia should stay in (especially with Angus Taylor’s masterful handling of the data on emissions) reflected a policy agenda dogged by internal divisions and incoherence.

Scott Morrison’s major contribution to the debate was to bring a piece of coal into the parliament.




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Perhaps immigration? Turnbull was forced to rescue a deal initially brokered with the Obama administration, after new President Donald Trump mocked the deal as “stupid”. With the government wedded to a “tough” border policy, including re-opening the detention facility on Christmas Island, it even lost the vote on “medevac” legislation to ensure medical treatment for suffering refugees.

Any lasting achievements that seem to have happened were only because the government was either forced to, or reluctantly accepted it needed to, make changes. On the banking royal commission, Morrison – a political leader resolutely wedded to remain on the wrong side of history – had initially described it as a “populist whinge”. Any systemic changes to the banking sector will emerge, in spite of, rather than because of the government’s actions.

Turnbull will point to legislating for same-sex marriage as one of his government’s signature policy achievements, following the plebiscite. Yet Morrison will hardly be trumpeting this achievement, given that he voted against it.

Yes, same-sex marriage should be a lasting and welcome change, but again, the Coalition did much to resist it.

In stark contrast, German Chancellor Angela Merkel enabled a parliamentary vote but then voted against it – a more principled position than the unnecessary plebiscite. This was a government that consistently showed it was behind public opinion on a range of issues.

There is a case that underneath the general political and policy mess of the Turnbull-Morrison era, the government notched up some quiet achievements. These include a free-trade deal with Indonesia, entering the fourth phase of the bipartisan national plan to reduce family violence, and trying to embed the Gonski 2.0 schools funding.

Many public servants across a range of portfolios were busily, professionally carrying out a range of important policies and programs out of the media glare. This reflects a long-standing view of government as policy incrementalism – carrying out the everyday, important, but unglamorous work of running the country.

Perhaps the greatest missed opportunity of the Turnbull-Morrison era has been a consistent failure to adequately represent the concerns and issues of the centre-right of Australian politics. Neither Turnbull or Morrison understood the promise of Burkean conservatism or even John Stuart Mill’s liberalism.

Worse still, in the case of the Nationals, there was an almost wilful inability to offer a coherent and reasoned case on behalf of regional Australia. As Coalition MPs scratch their heads and wonder where it all went so horribly wrong, they might well look at South Australia and now New South Wales to remind themselves what a “liberal” government looks like.

Indeed, if we needed a lasting image of the Nationals’ mishandling of the water portfolio, then the dead fish of the Menindee will suffice.

As Scott Morrison most likely exits the prime ministership, a different kind of Roman to Whitlam, his only comfort might be that he is not Theresa May.The Conversation

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.

How has education policy changed under the Coalition government?



File 20190408 2912 10gjzew.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The Coalition made some major promises in the 2016 election. Has it delivered?
from shutterstock.com

Glenn C. Savage, University of Western Australia; Susan Irvine, Queensland University of Technology, and Tim Pitman, Curtin University

This article is part of a series examining the Coalition government’s record on key issues while in power and what Labor is promising if it wins the 2019 federal election.


School’s policy and funding

Glenn C. Savage, Senior Lecturer in Education Policy and Sociology of Education, University of Western Australia

The Coalition’s approach to schooling policy since the 2016 election has primarily focused on its Quality Schools agenda. This centres on increased funding (A$307.7 billion in total school recurrent funding from 2018 to 2029). It also attempts to steer national reform in areas such as teaching, curriculum, assessment and the use of evidence.

The Coalition wants to steer reform in teaching, curriculum, assessment and the use of evidence.
from shutterstock.com

The government’s policies are strongly informed by the 2018 Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools (aka Gonski 2.0) which examined how record levels of federal funding could be better tied to evidence-based practices.

The review’s recommendations are central to the National School Reform Agreement. This ties federal funding from 2019-2023 to a number of new national reform initiatives, which include:

  • changes to the Australian Curriculum through the development of “learning progressions”. These describe the common development pathway along which students typically progress in their learning, regardless of age or year level
  • developing an online assessment tool to help teachers monitor student progress
  • reforms to improve the consistency and sharing of data
  • a review of senior secondary pathways to work, further education and training
  • establishing a national evidence institute to undertake research on “what works” to improve schooling outcomes
  • developing a national strategy to support teacher workforce planning.

While the Coalition sees the agreement as heralding a positive new reform era, deals done with states to get it over the line are far from ideal, especially in the fraught area of school funding.

The agreement ensures that by 2023, private schools will receive 100% of the recommended amount under the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) funding model, whereas most government schools will be stuck at 95%.

The states share a great deal of the blame. But it’s not a good look for a federal government promoting a commitment to needs-based funding.

What about Labor?

A Labor government would change some elements of the national reform conversation. But the extent to which it would radically shift the current trajectory is debatable.

Labor has promised further school funding increases and flagged other reforms such as universal access to early childhood education for three and four year olds, tougher requirements for entry into teaching degrees, and the creation of a National Principals’ Academy to provide leadership training.

But Labor also shares a great deal in common with the Coalition.

Both preference a strong federal role in schooling. Both support (at least in theory) the principles of the SRS, and there is significant alignment between parties when it comes to reforms in the National School Reform Agreement.

Labor has also been promoting the idea of a national evidence institute for some time and many reforms in the school reform agreement build directly on those established by Labor as part of its “education revolution” agenda from 2007-2013.

While the parties will draw dividing lines to make a choice between them look stark, they have more in common than they would like to admit.




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Higher education

Tim Pitman, Senior Research Fellow, Curtin University

Since the last federal election, the Coalition has been mostly dealing with the fallout from their ambitious policy agenda conceived under Tony Abbott, as laid out in the 2014 Higher Education Reform Bill. The chief aims of this policy were to:

  • cut higher education funding by 20%
  • increase subsidies to private providers
  • deregulate tuition fees.
The Coalition started their new government with no clear pathway to enact their vision for higher education.
from shutterstock.com

The reforms were voted down by the Senate in late 2014 and again in early 2015.
This meant the government had no clear pathway to enact their vision for higher education and fewer options for reducing higher education expenditure. One way to do the latter would be to increase the maximum student fee payable.

Another option would be to freeze increases to the amount the Commonwealth subsidised the universities to teach students, so in future years it would spend less, in real terms, on higher education. The government took this option in 2017, saving an estimated A$2.2 billion. Research funding also took a hit.

The government further announced it would introduce performance-based higher education funding, though it is still not clear how, exactly, performance will be defined.

Labor says if it is elected, it will end the freeze on increases to the Commonwealth student subsidies. Labor will also conduct an inquiry into post-secondary education, with one aim being to repriotise the importance of vocational education, so it sits alongside, not beneath, higher education.

Labor heads are also promising a A$300 million University Future Fund to fast-track funding for high priority research and teaching projects.

For both the Coalition and Labor, regional Australia is shaping up as a key battleground and this is already being reflected in higher education policy. In February 2018, the Coalition announced it was funding 22 regional study hubs across regional Australia to provide

study spaces, video conferencing, computing facilities and internet access, as well as academic support for students studying via distance at partner universities.

In November 2018, it followed with a further A$135 million in additional support for regional universities affected by their freeze on funding.

In response, Labor has upped the ante on the regional hubs, saying it will not only maintain support for the study hubs but will fund mentoring and pathways programs in the communities that have the hubs. It will also commit an additional A$174 million for equity and pathways funding to support students from areas with low graduation rates, many of which are in regional Australia.




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Early childhood

Susan Irvine, Associate Professor, School of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education, Queensland University of Technology

There are some recurring and predictable storylines in early childhood education election policies in Australia. At the last election, the Coalition’s main storyline was affordability.

Its central platform was the Jobs for Families Package – a controversial bill that promised a simplified and more generous fee subsidy to help parents cover the rising cost of education and care.

The Coalition introduced a subsidy for early childhood education, but the means test has some vulnerable children missing out.
from shutterstock.com

It was controversial because it tied children’s access to early education with their parents’ participation in the paid workforce. To get the subsidy, families had to meet a new work activity test. Children whose families did not meet this test had their hours of early education cut in half.

A drawn-out battle in the Senate saw the bill eventually pass with some hard-fought amendments to support more equitable access for children and families experiencing disadvantage.

On the whole, the childcare subsidy has been a positive change for most Australian families. However, there is evidence that the continuing focus on parent work participation means some of our children in low-income families – who research shows will benefit the most from access to high quality early education – are missing out.

The Coalition’s other 2016 election commitment was funding for universal preschool education, focusing on four year olds in the year prior to school. However, this has been doled out on an annual basis. The result being no security for children, families and service providers.

In the 2019 budget, the government committed funding for universal preschool for all Australian children only until the end of 2020.




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This is one of two key differences between the Coalition and Labor’s early childhood policies. Labor has committed to secure and sustainable funding for universal preschool. It has also committed to expanding access to three year olds, providing two years of early education prior to school entry.

The other key difference relates to broader investment in the early years workforce. The single most important factor influencing quality and children’s outcomes are the teachers and educators working with children. Australia urgently needs a new Early Years Workforce Strategy. The Coalition allowed the previous strategy to lapse and has remained silent on matters relating to pay and conditions.

Labor has announced a commitment to investment in the workforce, including funding to train more educators and teachers, and, has previously pledged support for professional wages for professional work.The Conversation

Glenn C. Savage, Senior Lecturer in Education Policy and Sociology of Education, University of Western Australia; Susan Irvine, Associate Professor, School of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education, Queensland University of Technology, and Tim Pitman, Senior Research Fellow, Curtin University

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

Australians want to support government use and sharing of data, but don’t trust their data will be safe



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A new survey reveals community attitudes towards the use of personal data by government and researchers.
Shutterstock

Nicholas Biddle, Australian National University and Matthew Gray, Australian National University

Never has more data been held about us by government or companies that we interact with. Never has this data been so useful for analytical purposes.

But with such opportunities come risks and challenges. If personal data is going to be used for research and policy purposes, we need effective data governance arrangements in place, and community support (social licence) for this data to be used.

The ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods has recently undertaken a survey of a representative sample of Australians to learn their views about about how personal data is used, stored and shared.

While Australians report a high level of support for the government to use and share data, there is less confidence that the government has the right safeguards in place or can be trusted with people’s data.




Read more:
Soft terms like ‘open’ and ‘sharing’ don’t tell the true story of your data


What government should do with data

In the ANUPoll survey of more than 2,000 Australian adults (available for download at the Australian Data Archive) we asked:

On the whole, do you think the Commonwealth Government should or should not be able to do the following?

Six potential data uses were given.

Do you think the Commonwealth Government should or should not be able to … ?
ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods Working Paper

Overall, Australians are supportive of the Australian government using data for purposes such as allocating resources to those who need it the most, and ensuring people are not claiming benefits to which they are not entitled.

They were slightly less supportive about providing data to researchers, though most still agreed or strongly agreed that it was worthwhile.

Perceptions of government data use

Community attitudes to the use of data by government are tied to perceptions about whether the government can keep personal data secure, and whether it’s behaving in a transparent and trustworthy manner.

To measure views of the Australian population on these issues, respondents were told:

Following are a number of statements about the Australian government and the data it holds about Australian residents.

They were then asked to what extent they agreed or disagreed that the Australian government:

  • could respond quickly and effectively to a data breach
  • has the ability to prevent data being hacked or leaked
  • can be trusted to use data responsibly
  • is open and honest about how data are collected, used and shared.

Respondents did not express strong support for the view that the Australian government is able to protect people’s data, or is using data in an appropriate way.

To what extent do you agree or disagree that the Australian Government … ?
ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods Working Paper



Read more:
What are tech companies doing about ethical use of data? Not much


We also asked respondents to:

[think] about the data about you that the Australian Government might currently hold, such as your income tax data, social security records, or use of health services.

We then asked for their level of concern about five specific forms of data breaches or misuse of their own personal data.

We found that there are considerable concerns about different forms of data breaches or misuse.

More than 70% of respondents were concerned or very concerned about the accidental release of personal information, deliberate hacking of government systems, and data being provided to consultants or private sector organisations who may misuse the data.

Level of concern about specific forms of data breaches or misuse of a person’s own data …
ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods Working Paper

More than 60% were concerned or very concerned about their data being used by the Australian government to make unfair decisions. And more than half were concerned or very concerned about their data being provided to academic researchers who may misuse their information.




Read more:
Facebook’s data lockdown is a disaster for academic researchers


Trust in government to manage data

The data environment in Australia is changing rapidly. More digital information about us is being created, captured, stored and shared than ever before, and there is a greater capacity to link information across multiple sources of data, and across multiple time periods.

While this creates opportunities, it also creates the risk that the data will be used in a way that is not in our best interests.

There is policy debate at the moment about how data should be used and shared. If we don’t make use of the data available, that has costs in terms of worse service delivery and less effective government. So, locking data up is not a cost-free option.

But sharing data or making data available in a way that breaches people’s privacy can be harmful to individuals, and may generate a significant (and legitimate) public backlash. This would reduce the chance of data being made available in any form, and mean that the potential benefits of improving the wellbeing of Australians are lost.

If government, researchers and private companies want to be able to make use of the richness of the new data age, there is an urgent and continuing need to build up trust across the population, and to put policies in place that reassure consumers and users of government services.The Conversation

Nicholas Biddle, Associate Professor, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University and Matthew Gray, Director, ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, Australian National University

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

Seven ways the government can make Australians safer – without compromising online privacy



File 20190211 174894 12g4z9d.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
We need a cyber safety equivalent to the Slip! Slop! Slap! campaign to nudge behavioural change in the community.
Shutterstock

Damien Manuel, Deakin 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.

When it comes to data security, there is an inherent tension between safety and privacy. The government’s job is to balance these priorities with laws that will keep Australians safe, improve the economy and protect personal data from unwarranted surveillance.

This is a delicate line to walk. Recent debate has revolved around whether technology companies should be required to help law enforcement agencies gain access to the encrypted messages of suspected criminals.

While this is undoubtedly an important issue, the enacted legislation – the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act – fails on both fronts. Not only is it unlikely to stop criminals, it could make personal communications between everyday people less secure.

Rather than focus on the passage of high-profile legislation that clearly portrays a misunderstanding of the technology in question, the government would do better to invest in a comprehensive cyber security strategy that will actually have an impact.

Achieving the goals set out in the strategy we already have would be a good place to start.




Read more:
The difference between cybersecurity and cybercrime, and why it matters


Poor progress on cyber security

The Turnbull government launched Australia’s first Cyber Security Strategy in April 2016. It promised to dramatically improve the online safety of all Australian families and businesses.

In 2017, the government released the first annual update to report on how well it was doing. On the surface some progress had been made, but a lot of items were incomplete – and the promised linkages to businesses and the community were not working well.

Unfortunately, there was never a second update. Prime ministers were toppled, cabinets were reshuffled and it appears the Morrison government lost interest in truly protecting Australians.

So, where did it all go wrong?

A steady erosion of privacy

Few Australians paid much notice when vested interests hijacked technology law reforms. The amendment of the Copyright Act in 2015 forced internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to sites containing pirated content. Movie studios now had their own version of China’s “Great Firewall” to block and control internet content in Australia.

In 2017, the government implemented its data retention laws, which effectively enabled specific government agencies to spy on law-abiding citizens. The digital trail (metadata) people left through phone calls, SMS messages, emails and internet activity was retained by telecommunications carriers and made accessible to law enforcement.

The public was assured only limited agencies would have access to the data to hunt for terrorists. In 2018, we learned that many more agencies were accessing the data than originally promised.

Enter the Assistance and Access legislation. Australia’s technology sector strongly objected to the bill, but the Morrison government’s consultation process was a whitewash. The government ignored advice on the damage the legislation would do to the developing cyber sector outlined in the Cyber Security Strategy – the very sector the Turnbull government had been counting on to help rebuild the economy in this hyper-connected digital world.




Read more:
What skills does a cybersecurity professional need?


While the government focuses on the hunt for terrorists, it neglects the thousands of Australians who fall victim each year to international cybercrime syndicates and foreign governments.

Australians lose money to cybercrime via scam emails and phone calls designed to harvest passwords, banking credentials and other personal information. Losses from some categories of cybercrime have increased by more than 70% in the last 12 months. The impact of cybercrime on Australian business and individuals is estimated at $7 billion a year.

So, where should government focus its attention?

Seven actions that would make Australia safer

If the next government is serious about protecting Australian businesses and families, here are seven concrete actions it should take immediately upon taking office.

1. Review the Cyber Security Strategy

Work with industry associations, the business and financial sectors, telecommunication providers, cyber startups, state government agencies and all levels of the education sector to develop a plan to protect Australians and businesses. The plan must be comprehensive, collaborative and, most importantly, inclusive. It should be adopted at the federal level and by states and territories.

2. Make Australians a harder target for cybercriminals

The United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre is implementing technical and process controls that help people in the UK fight cybercrime in smart, innovative ways. The UK’s Active Cyber Defence program uses top-secret intelligence to prevent cyber attacks and to detect and block malicious email campaigns used by scammers. It also investigates how people actually use technology, with the aim of implementing behavioural change programs to improve public safety.

3. Create a community education campaign

A comprehensive community education program would improve online behaviours and make businesses and families safer. We had the iconic Slip! Slop! Slap! campaign from 1981 to help reduce skin cancer through community education. Where is the equivalent campaign for cyber safety to nudge behavioural change in the community at all levels from kids through to adults?

4. Improve cyber safety education in schools

Build digital literacy into education from primary through to tertiary level so that young Australians understand the consequences of their online behaviours. For example, they should know the risks of sharing personal details and nude selfies online.




Read more:
Cybersecurity of the power grid: A growing challenge


5. Streamline industry certifications

Encourage the adoption of existing industry certifications, and stop special interest groups from introducing more. There are already more than 100 industry certifications. Minimum standards for government staff should be defined, including for managers, technologists and software developers.

The United States Defence Department introduced minimum industry certification for people in government who handle data. The Australian government should do the same by picking a number of vendor-agnostic certifications as mandatory in each job category.

6. Work with small and medium businesses

The existing cyber strategy doesn’t do enough to engage with the business sector. Small and medium businesses form a critical part of the larger business supply-chain ecosystem, so the ramifications of a breach could be far-reaching.

The Australian Signals Directorate recommends businesses follow “The Essential Eight” – a list of strategies businesses can adopt to reduce their risk of cyber attack. This is good advice, but it doesn’t address the human side of exploitation, called social engineering, which tricks people into disclosing passwords that protect sensitive or confidential information.

7. Focus on health, legal and tertiary education sectors

The health, legal and tertiary education sectors have a low level of cyber maturity. These are among the top four sectors reporting breaches, according to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

While health sector breaches could lead to personal harm and blackmail, breaches in the legal sector could result in the disclosure of time-sensitive business transactions and personal details. And the tertiary education sector – a powerhouse of intellectual research – is ripe for foreign governments to steal the knowledge underpinning Australia’s future technologies.

A single person doing the wrong thing and making a mistake can cause a major security breach. More than 900,000 people are employed in the Australian health and welfare sector, and the chance of one of these people making a mistake is unfortunately very high.The Conversation

Damien Manuel, Director, Centre for Cyber Security Research & Innovation (CSRI), Deakin University

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

If Labor wins government, will an Australian republic finally take the crown?



File 20190214 1745 3djk55.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
As prime minister, republican Malcolm Turnbull said there would be no more moves towards an Australian head of state while Queen Elizabeth remained on the throne.
AAP/Ward/WENN.com

Mark Kenny, 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.


Long before the Turnbull government failed to land its climate-energy policy, the new Liberal prime minister had signalled his reluctance to pursue progressive causes, voluntarily garaging the republican campaign bus he had so famously driven.

Reasonably or not, the hopes of millions of Australian republicans had spiked when Malcolm Turnbull replaced the conservative monarchist Tony Abbott in September 2015.

Yet those hopes would quickly be dashed, as the erstwhile face of the Australian Republican Movement turned Liberal prime minister would relegate constitutional self-determination to third-order status. In the process, he depicted himself – only half tongue-in-cheek – as a modern “Elizabethan”.




Read more:
A model for an Australian republic that can unite republicans and win a referendum


In the blink of an eye (or was it a royal wave?), republican ambitions returned to Labor’s Bill Shorten. They were no doubt sobered by the thought of further delays and the grim reality that the fleeting alignment of a republican prime minister and a republican opposition leader had still produced nothing.

But if Shorten becomes prime minister in 2019, will he drive the case for an Australian head of state forward? More fundamentally, can the feted republic even come to pass in the absence of muscular support from both hemispheres of politics?

A history of disappointments

Self-evidently, it is a difficult project burdened with overblown hopes, largely intangible benefits and commensurate disappointments. Reversals have been costly.

Well might Turnbull have described John Howard as the “prime minister who broke this nation’s heart” after the 1999 referendum defeat, because it would be a hardness in his own heart that would lead him to dismiss a republic while Queen Elizabeth II remained on the throne.

And Turnbull would go further, essentially telling voters it no longer mattered anyway. In January 2016, just months into his prime ministership, he said:

There are many more urgent issues confronting Australia, and indeed confronting the government, than the momentum or the desire for Australia to become a republic.

No politician, no prime minister or opposition leader or premier, can make Australia a republic – only the Australian people can do that through a referendum.

Presumably, this statement of the obvious served to remind proponents that, in matters of constitutional change, even starting with majority public support is merely that – a start.

It’s no revelation that constitutional reform is supremely difficult in Australia, given the need to secure a so-called “double majority”. This means a majority of votes nationwide plus a majority in at least four of the six states.

But withdraw the crucial ingredient of governmental leadership and that degree of difficulty switches to impossible.

Shorten’s two-step strategy

This is why Shorten wants to build support in stages. He has pledged to put the case to Australians “in principle” first via an indicative first-term plebiscite. The would be followed by a formal referendum, probably held over to a second term.

Typically reserved, Abbott branded this “completely toxic”. He argued it would “delegitimise the constitution we have without putting anything in its place”.

Some republicans had favoured this in 1999, but Howard saw the danger to the Crown’s authority arising from any popular republican mandate and the reform momentum it might generate.

So he determined to make an ally of the higher bar for success required by referendum, along with the divisions emerging in the republican camp between minimalists and direct electionists.

Perversely, Shorten’s two-stage approach has a more contemporaneous justification in the form of the calamitous 2016 Brexit referendum in Britain.

For all that country’s post-ballot dysfunction, Brexit graphically demonstrates the power of an initial yes or no choice when clearly expressed as an abstract principle. That is, when it is separated from the thornier and potentially deal-breaking details to be faced subsequently.

Few doubt that had Britons been fully apprised of the extraordinary extent of the changes and the enormous economic costs of withdrawing from the European Union, many more would have voted to remain.

However, a simple yes or no question is not the position of the Australian Republican Movement. Its national director, Michael Cooney, told a Museum of Australian Democracy forum in February 2019 that it favours a double-barrelled approach first up.

This would ask voters if they want an Australian head of state, and then how they would like that person to be chosen.

This is based on the group’s social research, which shows support for a directly elected president is as high as 75% among republicans. But that support trails away quickly if the head of state is to be chosen by the parliament – a model pilloried by many as a so-called “politician’s republic”.

That division, with its echoes of the unsuccessful push in 1999, underlines just how fragile the support for a republic is, and just how easily it can crumble when the details are considered.

A question of constitutional priorities

In any event, there are concerns that even a Labor government could delay the plebiscite, for fear of compromising a separate push for constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians.




Read more:
First reconciliation, then a republic – starting with changing the date of Australia Day


Few republicans would begrudge First Australians that priority, notwithstanding that agreement is yet to be reached on the precise form so-called “Con-Rec” would take.

Labor insiders say Shorten remains committed to the republic plebiscite in his first term, if elected, but will ensure that Con-Rec is prioritised. As one put it:

The republic’s an open question because we don’t even know who would be leading the opposition and whether they’d be a supporter or not at this stage.The Conversation

Mark Kenny, Senior Fellow, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University

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