Russian government resignation: what’s just happened and what’s in store for Putin beyond 2024?


Graeme Gill, University of Sydney

News came from Moscow overnight that the Russian government had resigned, followed by the announcement that Putin would be recommending the current prime minister Dmitry Medvedev be replaced by the head of the tax office, Mikhail Mishustin.

Why has the government resigned, and what does it mean for the future?

Prior to the government’s resignation, President Vladimir Putin announced a series of proposed changes to the constitution to be placed before the people in a future referendum. In announcing the government’s resignation, Medvedev hinted that their resignation was to facilitate the progression of the proposed constitutional reforms.




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What changes did Putin propose?

Among others, Putin proposed that in the constitution:

  • international law should apply in Russia only if it does not contradict the constitution or restrict peoples’ rights and freedoms. This, he said, was a question of sovereignty

  • leading political figures should not have foreign citizenship or the right to live permanently in another state. As well as these qualifications, the president must have lived in Russia for the last 25 years

  • the president should not be able to hold the presidency for two consecutive terms (although Putin said he doesn’t think this is a matter of principle)

  • the prime minister and all ministers should be appointed by the State Duma (parliament) instead of the president, who would have no right to reject those appointments

  • the role of the State Council (an advisory body) should be expanded and strengthened

  • the independence of judges should be enshrined and protected.

The most important of these proposed changes (along with that of judicial independence) is that of moving the power to form the government from the president into the legislature.

If this was done and a truly accountable form of government was established, it would be a major advance on how the system has worked up until now.

But in the same speech, Putin argued that Russia needed to remain a presidential, not a parliamentary, republic. These two positions seem at odds with one another and a potential recipe for constitutional confusion.

Why has Putin suggested this change?

One reason may be dissatisfaction with the government’s performance. The implication from Putin’s speech, and from many other comments, is that both the governance of Russia and the current government have been deficient.

Governance is seen by Putin to be hampered by the lack of a direct constitutional line between president and ministers, and this would be resolved by making the prime minister the key person in the policy sphere rather than the president.

This would be facilitated by removing the president’s power to choose the identity of the prime minister and some ministers. The government’s resignation could be seen as a response to the dissatisfaction with its performance.

But also relevant is power politics. Putin is due to step down as president in 2024. Thoughts are already turning to the question of the succession, in particular, will Putin go, and if so, who will replace him?




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The current Constitution forbids Putin from standing for another presidential term in 2024. The last time he faced this question in 2008, Putin stepped down as president and became prime minister. The potential beefing up of the prime ministership under these proposals might make this strategy again attractive.

But in 2024 Putin will be 73, and it is not clear that he would really want to be involved in the sort of day-to-day policy discussions a prime minister must involve himself in. He has already been showing some irritation with the policy process.

However beefing up and reshaping the State Council could provide a slot into which a post-presidential Putin could move, giving him some continuing oversight powers while not making him drown in policy details and paper.

This is surmise. But what is undoubtedly true is that this is only the first public move in what is likely to be a prolonged process of succession and power transfer in Russia.The Conversation

Graeme Gill, Professor, Department of Government and Public Administration, University of Sydney

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

Morrison cuts a swathe through the public service, with five departmental heads gone


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has announced a dramatic overhaul of the federal public service, cutting the number of departments and creating several new mega ones, while removing five secretaries.

The departments will be reduced from 18 to 14.

But Morrison said there were no changes to his ministry or to portfolio arrangements.

“I’m very pleased, very pleased, with the performance of all of my ministers and the work they’ve been doing,” he told a news conference.

He also said the public service shake up was not a savings measure.

This has been done as a structural issue to better align and bring together functions within the public service so they can all do their jobs more effectively and help more Australians

The new departments are

  • Education, skills and employment, created from the present department of education and department of employment, skills, small and family business

  • Agriculture, water and the environment, which consolidates the department of agriculture, and the environment functions from the current department of the environment and energy

  • Industry, science, energy and resources, which will bring together the present department of industry, innovation and science, the energy functions of the current department of the environment and energy, and the small business functions from the current department of employment, skills, small and family Business.

  • The department of infrastructure, transport, regional development and communications, consolidating the current department of infrastructure, transport, cities and regional development, and the department of communications and the arts.

Services Australia announced by Morrison after the election, will be established as a new executive agency within the social services department.




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Ten departments are unchanged, Morrison said.

The secretaries who have been dispensed with are: Kerri Hartland (employment); Renée Leon (human services); Mike Mrdak (communications); Daryl Quinlivan (agriculture) and Heather Smith (industry).

It is not known which, if any, were voluntary departures.

Morrison immediately after the election installed his own man, Phil Gaetjens as head of the prime minister’s department, and flagged more changes later.

Morrison is bringing back to the public service Andrew Metcalfe who will head the new agriculture department. Metcalfe was sacked by prime minister Tony Abbott from agriculture.

Morrison said Metcalfe would “bring considerable public policy leadership experience” to the job.

David Fredericks, presently secretary of the environment and energy department becomes secretary of the new industry department.

Morrison said the shrinking of the number of departments was “to ensure the services that Australians rely on are delivered more efficiently and effectively”.

“Australians should be able to access simple and reliable services, designed around their needs. Having fewer departments will allow us to bust bureaucratic congestion, improve decision-making and ultimately deliver better services for the Australian people,” Morrison said.

“The new structure will drive greater collaboration on important policy challenges. For example, better integrating the government’s education and skills agenda and ensuring Australians living in regional areas can access the infrastructure and services they need.”

Andrew Podger, a former public service commissioner who headed several departments, said he was “particularly pleased” to see the department of human services disappear as a department and become an executive agency (Services Australia) in the social services portfolio, although it would have been better if Morrison had gone further and made it a statutory authority.

“But at least we will no longer have the administration of social security payments in a separate portfolio from social security policy,” he said.

“The other mergers make some sense, recreating the ‘mega-dapartment’ structures from the 1987 Hawke years, particularly the combination of education, employment and training, ” Podger said.

“But the main potential benefit of fewer and larger departments is to make cabinet work better, with a smaller cabinet, and with portfolio ministers given more latitude to make decisions (and allocate resources) drawing on their junior ministers.

“If this does not happen, and more departments have two cabinet ministers, that will cause more problems, not fewer ones, particularly for the secretaries giving advice.”




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Morrison, asked who would be the senior minister in the new environment and agriculture department, defended having multiple ministers.

“The portfolio minister for the environment Sussan Ley is responsible for the environment and Bridget McKenzie, who is the minister for agriculture, will be responsible for agriculture policy, and David Littleproud is responsible for water policy, Morrison said.

It is not uncommon for departments to have multiple ministers. They have multiple ministers now. And so the officials that work in these departments respond to the minister that is responsible for those portfolio issues. So who’s the senior minister on environment? Well, it’s the minister for the environment. Who’s the senior minister on agriculture? It’s the minister for agriculture. It should be very plain.

Morrison flagged he would next week provide the government’s response to the still-unreleased Thodey review of the public service.

Mrdak said in a frank memo to staff: “I was told of the government’s decision to abolish the department late yesterday afternoon. We were not permitted any opportunity to provide advice on the machinery of government changes, nor were our views ever sought on any proposal to abolish the department or to changes to our structure and operations.”

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said the changes were about “centralising power”.


Departments and secretaries from February 1, 2020

  • Department of agriculture, water and the environment – Andrew Metcalfe

  • Attorney-general’s department – Chris Moraitis

  • Department of defence – Greg Moriarty

  • Department of education, skills and employment – Michelle Bruniges

  • Department of finance – Rosemary Huxtable

  • Department of foreign affairs and trade – Frances Adamson

  • Department of health – Glenys Beauchamp

  • Department of home affairs – Michael Pezzullo

  • Department of industry, science, energy and resources – David Fredericks

  • Department of infrastructure, transport, regional development and communications – Simon Atkinson

  • Department of the prime minister and cabinet – Philip Gaetjens

  • Department of social services – Kathryn Campbell

  • Department of the treasury – Steven Kennedy

  • Department of veterans’ affairs – Liz CossonThe Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Government to inject economic stimulus by accelerating infrastructure spend


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government is responding to increasing concern about the faltering economy by accelerating A$3.8 billion of infrastructure investment into the next four years, including $1.8 billion for the current and next financial years.

Scott Morrison will outline the infrastructure move in a speech to the Business Council of Australia on Wednesday night, while insisting the government is not panicking about Australia’s economic conditions.

The government’s action follows increasing calls for some stimulus, with concern the tax cuts have not flowed through strongly enough to spending.

The just-released minutes of the last Reserve Bank meeting show the bank seriously considered another rate cut at its November meeting but held off, partly because it thought that might not have the desired effect. Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe has previously urged more spending on infrastructure.

Morrison is making appearances in various states to publicise the government’s infrastructure plans.

The infrastructure bring-forward over the coming 18 months is $1.27 billion plus $510 million in extra funding. Over the forward estimates, the bring-forward is $2.72 billion plus $1.06 billion in additional funding.

The government’s latest action means since the election it will have injected an extra $9.5 billion into the economy for 2019-20 and 2020-21. This comprises $7.2 billion in tax relief, $1.8 billion in infrastructure bring-forwards and additional projects, and $550 million in drought assistance to communities.

In his BCA speech, draft extracts of which have been released, Morrison is expected to say that “a panicked reaction to contemporary challenges would amount to a serious misdiagnosis of our economic situation”.

“A responsible and sensible government does not run the country as if it is constantly at DEFCON1 the whole time, whether on the economy or any other issue. It deals with issues practically and soberly.”




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He will say that notwithstanding the headwinds, including the drought which has cut farm production, the economy has continued to grow, and is forecast to “gradually pick up from here” with jobs growth remaining solid.

“Against this backdrop, it would be reckless to discard the disciplined policy framework that has steered us through many difficult periods, most recently and most significantly the end of the mining investment boom, which posed an even greater threat to our economy than the GFC.”

The projected return to surplus this financial year would be a “significant achievement”.

Lauding the government’s legislated tax relief, Morrison will say. “Our response to the economic challenges our nation faces has been a structural investment in Australian aspiration, backed by responsible economic management.”




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Morrison’s infrastructure bring-forwards follow his post election approach to the states asking for projects that could be accelerated.

As a result of this process we have been able to bring forward $3.8 billion of investment into the next four years, including $1.8 billion to be spent this year and next year alone.

This will support the economy in two ways – by accelerating construction activity and supporting jobs in the near term and by reaping longer run productivity gains sooner.

Every state and territory will benefit, with significant transport projects to be accelerated in all jurisdictions – all within the context of our $100 billion ten-year infrastructure investment plan.

This bring forward of investment is in addition to the new infrastructure commitments we have made in drought-affected rural communities since the election.

In his address Morrison is also expected to announce the first stages of the government’s latest deregulation agenda, aimed at enabling business investment projects to begin faster.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.

Governments took the hard road on clean energy – and consumers are feeling the bumps



Prime Minister Scott Morrison (right) and Energy Minister Angus Taylor at Snowy Hydro Scheme. The Grattan Institute says the government should better encourage investment rather than build electricity infrastructure.
LUKAS COCH/AAP

Guy Dundas, Grattan Institute

More than two years on from the sudden closure of Victoria’s Hazelwood coal power station, quite a mess remains. It is clear the federal government’s market interventions have not worked. Electricity prices are higher and supply is tight. Consumers are not happy.

In the face of this, federal and state governments have felt pressured to act – especially after several severe blackouts attracted fever-pitch media coverage and prompted a national debate about electricity reliability. But their approach has been ad hoc and has made things worse in the long run.

Australia is in the midst of a great energy transition. The nation’s entire coal fleet will close over the next few decades, and the government must urgently improve its policy response or electricity consumers will continue to suffer. We propose a solution that ensures coal plants close in an orderly way.

A high-voltage electricity transmission tower in Brisbane. A new report says governments are hindering the clean energy transition.
AAP/Darren England

We can’t afford a repeat of the Hazelwood mess

The aftermath of the sudden Hazelwood closure is a good case study in failed government intervention.

Hazelwood closed in March 2017 after supplying Victoria with cheap brown coal-fired electricity for more than half a century. The plant’s owner, French energy company Engie, gave only five months’ notice of the shutdown. This left no time to build replacement electricity generation, so prices rose and supplies became less reliable.

In the years since Hazelwood’s closure, the federal government failed to clear up more than a decade of uncertainty around national climate and energy policy – including last year when it dumped the National Energy Guarantee. This has left investors wondering when a framework to cut emissions in the electricity sector will be imposed.

Instead of creating investor certainty, the federal government has adopted a “picking winners” approach. It plans to build new generation assets such as the Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro project, and subsidise others through a program of underwriting investments. Alongside this, the government’s proposed “big stick” laws would give it vast powers including those to break up big energy companies. Our research has confirmed this has a chilling effect on investment.

The sudden closure of large coal power stations is challenging enough without being made worse by ill-conceived policy responses. Hazelwood will be the first of many closures. Australia’s entire coal fleet is expected to retire over coming decades as it ages and gets displaced by low-cost solar and wind energy.



The Grattan Institute, CC BY-ND

Flogging the life out of coal plants is not the answer

The crucial lesson from Hazelwood is that Australia needs adequate notice of impending coal plant closures. This allows timely replacement investment to occur, minimising the price and reliability impacts on consumers.

New South Wales’ Liddell power station is due to close next and its owner AGL has given plenty of notice. In 2015 it announced a 2022 closure, and this year firmed up its plans for full closure by 2023. One unit of four will close in 2022.




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Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor is so concerned at Liddell’s closure he set up a taskforce to examine how to manage it, including extending its life or replacing the lost generation like-for-like.

But his concerns are misplaced. The Australian Energy Market Operator’s 2019 reliability projection for New South Wales is that the outlook is improving more rapidly than it was in 2018. About 2.3 gigawatts of solar and wind energy has been committed in NSW since the start of 2017 – and more is planned.

The best way to maintain reliability is through investment – not by trying to keep an ageing power station running on hot summer days.

The now-closed Hazelwood coal-fired power station in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria.
Global Warming Images/Cover Images

Laws on coal plant closures must grow teeth

Liddell’s closure is very likely to prove manageable. But this cannot be taken for granted in all future cases.

A new rule introduced late last year requires generators to give at least three years’ notice of closure. It’s a step in the right direction, but the rule lacks teeth. The penalties for non-compliance are small, and the mechanism could be gamed by generators nominating a closure date and then continuously delaying closure. We need better insurance to avoid future disruptive closures.

Past Australian experience gives some lessons on what not to do. In 2011 the Gillard Labor government proposed paying coal generators to close, on the grounds that otherwise they might continue operating indefinitely. Four of the five short-listed generators have since closed – without being paid a cent of government money. We are now dealing with the opposite problem, but the lesson holds – taxpayers will be taken for a ride if government money is used to delay or otherwise “manage” coal closures.

International experience is not likely to translate well to Australia. Germany’s coal closure commission built on deep cooperation between business, unions and governments that is not present here. The UK and Canada legislated coal phase-outs, but they did so at a time when coal provided only 10% of their power, compared to more than 60% in Australia today.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard during a visit to the Acciona windfarm near Gunning, NSW, in 2011. Labor’s incentives for coal stations to close were also misguided.
AAP/Alan Porritt

Make coal plants guarantee orderly closure

The Grattan Institute’s latest report, Power play: how governments can better direct Australia’s electricity market, proposes a new approach. Coal generators should be required to put money – indicatively several hundreds of millions of dollars each – into a fund, managed by an independent third party, to be held as security. Generators would be allowed to nominate their own closure window, but would get these funds back only if they closed within this window – providing a strong financial incentive for predictable and orderly closure.

Circumstances change and generators cannot reasonably fix closure decades in advance. To balance flexibility and certainty, younger generators would be allowed to nominate relatively long windows, but they would need to tighten these windows as they age.




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Limited exemptions would be available if early closure did not harm the reliability of the market, or conversely if continued operation of the coal plant in question was absolutely necessary to maintain reliability.

This policy would come with costs. Collectively generators would need to place several billions of dollars into the fund. As generators have a higher cost of capital than would be earned on the held funds, this would cost them, collectively, several hundreds of millions of dollars a year. But the measure would provide low-cost insurance against the destabilising effect of poorly managed coal closures on the A$18 billion National Electricity Market.

The policy would give a clear signal for investment in new, clean power supply before – not after – coal closures, and better manage Australia’s energy transition.The Conversation

Guy Dundas, Energy Fellow, Grattan Institute

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

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.

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.




Read more:
The difference between government advertising and political advertising


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.




Read more:
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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.




Read more:
Election explainer: what are the rules governing political advertising?


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.