Why good leaders need to hold the hose: how history might read Morrison’s coronavirus leadership



Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Frank Bongiorno, Australian National University

What does political leadership look like in a pandemic?

Many of us probably carry images in our heads of what good leadership might be in a depression or a war. But before 2020 few of us would have had any conception of what political leadership might look like during a life-threatening public health crisis.

We took from last summer some fairly firm ideas of what leadership in a bushfire crisis should not look like. Political leaders should not leave for luxurious overseas holidays. They should not expect those who fear for their lives and property to find inspiration in the exploits of the Australian cricket team. They should not force themselves onto traumatised people when offering nothing except the chance to participate in a photo opportunity. They should not run party-political advertisements that seek to obscure their own monumental failures.




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Charles II: good in a crisis.
Royal Museums Greenwich

Above all, they should not announce that it’s not their job to hold the hose. As it happens, we already had a famous model of what a national leader might do in a fire.

In 1666, King Charles II of England was widely regarded as a worthless playboy with nothing much to his credit. In 1665, London lost tens of thousands of people in the Great Plague and there was little that he, or anyone else, had been able to do about it. When a fire broke out in Pudding Lane in the following year, few had any reason to expect Charles would distinguish himself. But his leadership in that fire is famous. It was brave, inspiring and, yes, although he did not hold the hose, he did pass the buckets.

Crises can make leaders but they can also break them – or, as happened over the summer with Morrison, nearly break them. In a recent book, labour historian Liam Byrne explores the early lives and careers of two Labor prime ministers, James Scullin and John Curtin. Each was a product of the Victorian labour movement. Each had regarded himself as a socialist. Each would face a massive national crisis on becoming prime minister that required them to put aside the beliefs of a lifetime.

Scullin faced the Great Depression of the 1930s. He emerged from a brief time in government at the beginning of 1932 damaged and bewildered. The crisis was the breaking and not the making of him. To be fair, it’s hard to imagine how, given the state of the Australian economy and the scale of the problem he faced, anyone could have done much better.

When Australian prime ministers are ranked, Scullin usually occupies a lowly place while Curtin often comes out on top. The success of Curtin’s wartime leadership wasn’t predictable. He was a anti-conscriptionist during the first world war who saw that war as a scheme devised by capitalists to divide and conquer the working class. He was moody, aloof and a worrier. But the crisis of the Pacific War was the making of Curtin as a leader, even if he would not live to see the peace.

We should not exaggerate the extent to which Australians fell in behind Curtin’s urgings. In the present crisis, I’ve occasionally been reminded, during some of Morrison’s occasionally hectoring and patronising performances, of the difficulties Curtin faced.

Morrison called panic-buying “un-Australian”, but it must be sufficiently Australian also to have occurred during the war, when people got wind of the approach of clothing rationing. Morrison’s infantilising “early mark” made some bristle in the same way, inevitably, as grown-ups came to resent petty government restrictions during the second world war. The minister in charge of rationing, John Dedman, was famously lampooned for having banned pink icing on wedding cakes and for killing Santa Claus with his restrictions on Christmas advertising. Even in war, adults expect to be treated as adults.

A poster from 1942.
Queensland Museum

Morrison could not afford another leadership failure when coronavirus hit. My own view of his leadership by the end of the last summer is that it was badly damaged but unlikely to be terminal. He had already shown himself as an adaptable politician and I expected he would also enjoy the help of a friendly right-wing media in repairing it.

Malcolm Turnbull’s memoir presents a hostile but mainly persuasive account of Morrison as a politician. Turnbull presents him as sneaky and duplicitous. But more importantly, in making sense of his recent leadership, Morrison is painted as a pragmatic political professional unattached to ideology and quite prepared to pick up and drop policies according to his perception of the needs – including his own – in any context.




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For Morrison, the science on climate change is negotiable, but the science on coronavirus is the last word. He is the kind of leader who is off to the footy one moment and everyone else should also get out and about, then that he’s not and everyone must stay home. He can dismiss the need for a wage subsidy one week and then announce a A$130 billion package the next. He can double the JobSeeker allowance after having for years staunchly opposed even a minor increase as an affront to self-reliance and an intolerable incentive to the unemployed to stay that way.

Morrison can do all of this with very few backward glances and then – if it suits his purposes and he can get away with it – reverse the lot when that suits him as well.

So there is Morrison’s adaptability. But there is also a helpful conservative media. Here, Morrison is not just a nimble leader with a well-developed survival instinct. He is positively Churchillian.

Greg Sheridan of The Australian was early out of the blocks near the end of March. “Scott Morrison could become Australia’s most important war-time leader,” he declared. “If he succeeds, he will join a pantheon which at the moment consists only of John Curtin, a leader who got us through, who worried us through, our last existential challenge.”

More recently, Sheridan’s colleague, Paul Kelly, has extended this to an attack on state premiers as “laggards”. He asked rhetorically whether they were “free riders on the Morrison government and the banks, who keep the economy alive at such dire cost”.

A prime minister who can rely on such free promotion has good reason to expect a bright political future. And Labor Party figures are entitled to ask if they could have expected such generosity in the context of draconian restrictions on personal freedom and massive spending aimed at propping up the economy and saving lives.

As we return to something like political business as usual, Morrison is likely to be subjected to efforts to make him and his government accountable that he has long shown he regards as onerous. How he deals with those, and with the immense challenges of rebuilding the economy in the context of debt, deficit, global depression and the danger of new outbreaks of disease, may well be a more testing challenge to his leadership than anything so far.The Conversation

Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

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

National and state leaders may not always agree, but this hasn’t hindered our coronavirus response



ALEX ELLINGHAUSEN/AAP

Narelle Miragliotta, Monash University

It is understandable why the different measures introduced across Australia to contain COVID-19 have caused confusion. It does seem inexplicable that the rules – and penalties for breaching them – are different depending on where one lives.

It is also understandable that the finger-pointing between the Australian Border Force and the NSW government over the Ruby Princess debacle is regarded as a sign of weak governance arrangements caused by overlapping state and federal responsibilities for the nation’s borders.

But as understandable as these reactions might be, Australia’s response to COVID-19 is a testament to the benefits of federation, with its multiple tiers of government.

A useful division of governmental labour

The two levels of government have responded to this crisis in slightly different ways, especially initially.

It was the premiers and chief ministers who acted decisively to manage the spread of the pandemic when it first emerged. Their primary concern was to minimise further transmission of the virus, and to prevent the health system from becoming overwhelmed by the influx of infected patients.

While some of the premiers were warning that extreme measures would have to be instituted, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was still suggesting it was acceptable for people to attend sporting events ahead of a ban on mass gatherings.

For Morrison, the (very) reasonable concern has been on reducing the human costs of the virus for the economy. This has rendered the prime minister slightly less disposed to push for stringent measures that might cause further economic ruin.




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The different focuses of the two levels of government is in constant tension, but this provides a check on each other in managing their particular core (constitutional) responsibilities during the pandemic.

Moreover, it has permitted a useful division of governmental labour during this crisis. The federal government is able to concentrate on managing the economy, while the states and territories are able to prioritise managing the health of their populations and hospital systems.

And through the National Cabinet, the consultative body consisting of the prime minister, premiers and chief ministers, the country’s leaders have been able to coordinate their activities and share vital information.




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States and territories need to adapt policies for their residents

Although the social distancing measures imposed by the states and territories are different, they stem from guidelines agreed to by the National Cabinet.

Differences in their application by the state and territories can be partly explained by differences in size and demographics.

Some states are more densely populated than others, which places their residents at greater risk of community transmission. Some also have a higher proportion of older Australians and remote Indigenous populations – two communities that are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

These differences are on top of the fact some states and territories have natural geographical features that enable them to more easily control who enters the state, for example, Tasmania and Western Australia. This enables these leaders to consider less stringent social distancing and other measures than their counterparts.

It makes good sense, therefore, that national guidelines should be adapted to meet the unique challenges of each state or territory.

Why the Ruby Princess is not a failure of federalism

It is undeniable the decision to allow the Ruby Princess passengers to disembark was disastrous, since it has been linked to hundreds of infections and upwards of 15 deaths at last count.

However, it is far from clear the incident could have been avoided if Australia had only one level of government.

The fiasco resulted from a series of poor decisions involving multiple state agencies and one federal agency. It was likely aggravated by the possibly misleading or inaccurate information provided by the cruise ship operator about the health of those on board.




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But the decision-making failure(s) that occurred here are not unique to federations. The challenge of adequately vetting information under pressure, and coordinating the overlapping responsibilities of different administrative agencies, occurs within all governments.

If anything, federations have greater capacity to reduce the intensity, frequency and scale of policy failures.

As a model of government, federations do not prevent bad policies from being implemented. Rather, they can minimise the harm caused by bad policies. A policy failure in one state, for instance, will generally only affect that particular state – not the entire country.

Importantly, leaders can learn from the policy errors made by their counterparts.

Federalism as a salve to poor leadership

Those who need further convincing about the benefits of federalism need look to the United States.

The devastation that is unfolding in the US has been amplified by the absence of competent national leadership. The Trump administration vacillates between dismissing the pandemic and arguing the economic costs of shutting down the country are graver than the loss of lives.

But amid the national decision-making vacuum, many state governors have risen to the challenge. Some have even sought alliances with other governors to coordinate regional responses to the crisis.

That federations give rise to multiple governmental leaders might seem inefficient. But this pandemic has revealed that not all leaders rise to the challenge during crises. When this occurs, having other leaders who can step into the breach can prove critical.The Conversation

Narelle Miragliotta, Senior Lecturer in Australian Politics, Monash University

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

Grattan on Friday: Which leaders and health experts will be on the right side of history on COVID-19 policy?


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

After the coronavirus nightmare has passed, harsh judgments will be made about which political leaders and health experts were on the right or wrong side in handling this crisis.

Politicians like to cast back to the global financial crisis and play the blame game. The stakes were very high then – this time they are multiplied.

And there are many with futures or reputations (or both) on the line.

This week we’ve seen a high-profile clash of opinions and expertise on display. Given the exponential rise in cases, the calls for everyone to be on the same page must be secondary to the imperative of getting the right strategy.

One school of thought says, put health first and go nuclear now, with a full lockdown. The other school favours a stepped approach, tightening the screws but trying to keep as much economic activity alive for as long as possible.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (Labor) and New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian (Liberal) are hardliners. Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton spoke out forcefully this week. The two premiers have given notice their states are set to move to lockdown (where people would be confined to their homes). Jacinda Ardern has already taken New Zealand there.

With the divide crossing partisan lines, Andrews and Berejiklian are working closely together.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is the prime advocate of the gradual approach. Resisting a full lockdown, he argued strongly this week he didn’t want to throw people out of jobs where it was possible to avoid doing so, and he feared the consequences of the stresses the economic crisis would put on families.

For Morrison, it’s a balancing act, in the face of “a twin crisis, a crisis on a health front, which is also causing a crisis in the economy as well. And both of them can be equally as deadly, both in terms of the lives of Australians and their livelihood.”




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Labor has aligned with the position taken by Andrews and Berejiklian. From the start, the opposition has been urging faster action; this week Anthony Albanese sharpened his criticism.

He disputed “there is a tension between dealing with the health issues and dealing with the economic issues. That is a false distinction.

“The government has a responsibility to deal with this health emergency. That is the first priority. Then, it needs to deal with the economic consequences of the health emergency and the appropriate response. It needs to be done in that order.”

Those who argue Labor is just playing politics and should be sticking to the government line are off beam. This is a policy crisis too and policy arguments are legitimate and indeed necessary.

Among federal officials, the secretary of Home Affairs, Mike Pezzullo, is reportedly a hardliner.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy (who has been appointed secretary of the Health Department) and his deputy, Paul Kelly, have been strong public defenders of the gradualist path.

Yet in the health world many in academia are advocates of an immediate lockdown.

The prime minister has found his hand being forced by the states (as in Sunday’s argy bargy on shutdowns) or bypassed (on schools).

Morrison has been a firm advocate of keeping the schools open, arguing it’s vital so health workers can continue in their jobs, and also because children shouldn’t lose a year of education.

This week Berejiklian advised parents to keep children home, while Andrews brought forward the school holidays. Western Australia is now encouraging remaining at home as new arrangements are prepared. Next week Queensland schools will be “student free” (apart from children of “frontline workers”). South Australia is likewise planning for the future.




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Academic experts are at the centre of the policy battle, and this carries its own politics.

Take a paper, commissioned by the federal government, reporting the advice of 22 experts from Group Of Eight universities. Dated Sunday, it put forward two views.

“One view, influenced by our position on the epidemic curve, the limitations of wide community testing and surveillance and the experience of other countries, argues for a comprehensive, simultaneous ban across Australia.

“The other, influenced by the fact that a large number of our cases are a direct/contacts of importation (which have now been stopped), influenced by the large variation in case density across Australia and the adverse consequences of closure and the sustainability and compliance to an early closure, argued for a more proportionate response”.

The first view was “a dominant position in this group”, the paper said. What it didn’t add was that this was the overwhelming view.

When asked about the paper at a Tuesday news conference, both Morrison and Murphy were noticeably uneasy. Morrison flicked the question to Murphy who said: “Any measures we place, we believe need to be for the long haul. The idea that you can put measures in place for four weeks and suddenly stop them and the virus will be gone is not credible. So we are very keen to put as restrictive measures in place without completely destroying life as we know it.”

Another paper circulating, including to senior business figures, argues “the case for a short, sharp lockdown in Australia”. It has been contributed to by Raina MacIntyre, who heads UNSW’s Biosecurity Program; Louisa Jorm, director of the Centre for Big Data Research in Health, UNSW; Tim Churches, health data scientist at UNSW; and Richard Nunes-Vaz, from Torrens Resilience Institute at Flinders University.

“We are deeply concerned about the prospect of Australia losing control of the epidemic to a degree which would exceed health system capacity and result in far greater numbers of cases, more health and economic losses, and a longer time to societal recovery,” the paper says.

“A short, sharp lockdown of 4-8 weeks will improve control of the epidemic in Australia, reduce case numbers and bring us to a more manageable baseline from which phased lifting of restrictions and economic recovery can occur.

“If we fail to do this, we face continued epidemic growth, potential failure of the health system, and a far longer road to recovery.”

The lockdown would be used to ramp up a massive testing operation to identify and isolate cases, enabling the subsequent ease-off to be done more safely.

On Thursday the federal government’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly suggested challenges to official advice made for public confusion and should be kept behind closed doors.

Not if the challengers turn out to be right.

Morrison received praise in the early days for his handling of the crisis. Now he and his closest health advisers are increasingly finding themselves the odd men out.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.

How Australia’s political ageism may be robbing us of our best leaders



File 20190130 108355 19oqcyh.png?ixlib=rb 1.1
Australia’s unspoken antipathy to experience is not new, but contrasts sharply with the attitude found in other countries such as the US.
Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Mark Kenny, Australian National University

Nancy Pelosi is back. Back throwing her weight around. Back in charge.

As the newly-elected Speaker of the US House of Representatives – arguably the most powerful position after the president – the top-ranking Democrat is suddenly the closest thing America has to an incumbent “opposition leader”.

Not before time. Last week, after Pelosi forced President Donald Trump into a humiliating retreat from his partial government shutdown, a former administration official texted Axios reporter Jonathan Swan with the words: “Trump looks pathetic… he just ceded his presidency to Nancy Pelosi”.

For astonished Australians, the mercurial Trump’s adolescent theatrics merely underscore the value of our Westminster parliamentary tradition.

This is the “oppositional” system in which an alternative prime minister, with a fully-formed shadow ministry, is not only appointed in plain view, but also goes about releasing detailed alternative policy. All while holding the government to account.

However, comparisons to the US are not always so kind. Pelosi’s late-career revival at the age of 78 highlights a cultural point of difference somewhat less flattering to Australia.

It’s a difference that hints at a corrosive ageism in Australian public life that is so normal it goes unremarked — a tendency to over-value the new and reward hyper-ambitious individuals while squandering the wisdom amassed through years in service.

It is a mentality that:

  • short-changes the electorate by failing to extract full value from its investment in seasoned representatives

  • elevates MPs before they are ready and discards them when they are

  • works disproportionately against women, by making the early to mid-career years — during which women typically require time away for childbirth — the crucial ones.

Is it merely coincidence that the two most successful women in recent Australian leadership on each side, Julia Gillard and Julie Bishop, did not weather such career absences? Or that some of the bigger names on the rung immediately below them did not either — think Penny Wong, Michaelia Cash, and going back further, Amanda Vanstone?


https://public.flourish.studio/visualisation/209531/embed


Remember the Howard and Costello years?

This unspoken antipathy to experience is not new. Nearly 20 years ago, John Howard purchased an internal truce by flagging his voluntary retirement as early as 63. Sure, it was designed to hold off the rising Peter Costello, but the deal flew because it rang true. Of course the PM would hand over in his mid-60s. Who would credibly seek high office beyond that?

Howard told the ABC in July 2000:

I have said before that if the party wants me to lead it to another election, which will be at the end of next year, I am happy to do so. After that obviously one has to recognise, I’ll then be in my 63rd or 64th year, and you start to ask yourself and that’s fair enough. And nothing is forever.

How odd this seems in light of Pelosi’s game-changing return. Still active in the Liberal Party, Howard is only fractionally older than the American.

How about Paul Keating?

Labor’s Paul Keating, the man Howard succeeded in 1996, is younger than both of them. At 75, this former PM is still a force in business and public policy discussions, despite being officially retired from politics for nearly 23 years.

Yet when Trump lines up for his second term late next year, he’ll be just a year shy of what Keating is now.

His Democratic opponent could conceivably be older.

Among the bigger names frequently mentioned are Hillary Rodham Clinton, who would be 73 at election time – an entry age all but unimaginable in Australian politics.




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Another is the former vice president, Joe Biden, who will be 78 in November 2020.

Or the Democrats could turn to the man Clinton bested in the last primaries, Bernie Sanders, knocking on the door of 80 come his inauguration.

Even the new kid on the Democratic left, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, will be 71 by polling day.

Then there’s the UK’s Jeremy Corbyn

It’s not just in the US that age presents no automatic barrier to high office.

British Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn is mysteriously popular with the party’s younger membership despite his flaccid opposition to Brexit. Odds on to be the next British PM, Corbyn is already 69 and will be seeking to commence his prime ministership (if the beleaguered May government runs to full term), the same month he turns 73.

Again, these numbers simply don’t scan in the Australian context – a country where premiers, prime ministers, and their mandarins are routinely hurried into a post-public twilight between 50 and 60. And where High Court Justices have to retire at 70, regardless of their legal mastery.

Of course, the causes and circumstances of individual retirements are unique. But taken together, we see the outlines of a particularly Australian perspective on age and authority.

How about pollies who ‘retire’ early?

These outlines get even sharper if we consider the early departure of some of the leading lights in Australia in recent times – names that had been pencilled in as future leaders.

It is a long list, but among them is the former attorney-general Nicola Roxon, who upped stumps on a stellar career at just 46.

Craig Emerson is another leading Labor light who still looks young having pulled the pin on a senior ministerial career at 59.

Former Labor minister Kate Ellis (41) will depart at the election, and just days ago it was the turn of Human Services Minister, Michael Keenan (46) to announce the same intention.

And of course, there’s Gillard who rose to the very top but was gone at 52.




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Only last week there were calls for the return of Peter Costello with some dubbing the country’s longest serving treasurer, “the best prime minister we never had”.

Costello left Canberra shortly after the 2007 loss to Kevin Rudd’s Labor, and is still just 61.

Yet in Australia at least, that’s old. Indeed, the Liberal former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett used the recent resignation of Kelly O’Dwyer (at just 41) to call on MPs of Costello’s vintage to make way for new talent.

Among those he identified were Kevin Andrews and Julie Bishop. The two Liberals have little in common besides being fitter than most younger MPs due to daily cycling and running.

But at 63 and 62 respectively, they would be young leaders in some countries.




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Pelosi is not infallible but she is vastly experienced, and it has already paid big dividends. As a counterpoint to a vainglorious and dangerously naive president, her election serves an obvious national interest.

At 78, she is just getting started (again). Make that 79 in March.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.

Does the G20 summit really make a difference? World leaders reckon it does



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Leaders pose for the official G20 family photo at their 2014 summit in Brisbane.
Andrew Taylor/AAP

Adam Triggs, Australian National University

“The secret to success is sincerity. Learn to fake that, and you’ve got it made.”

So goes an old gag. Many might be wondering something similar about this weekend’s G20 summit in Buenos Aires.

Each year the leaders of 20 of the world’s largest economies get together and make a lot of promises about working together to make the world a better place.

Are those promises kept? Are they just committing to do things they would have done anyway?

In short, does the G20 summit really make any difference?




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To find out, I interviewed dozens of politicians and officials from every G20 country about the influence and importance of the annual gathering since its first meeting in 2008.

My analysis shows most G20 promises are kept, and the forum really does exert a positive influence on its member nations.

Cooperation or coincidence?

Before I started my research I had reasons to be sceptical.

For example, at the G20’s second meeting, in London in 2009, the assembled leaders committed to fiscal stimulus packages worth a combined US$5 trillion in response to the 2008 global financial crisis. Central banks, like the Reserve Bank of Australia, also committed to aggressively cut interest rates.

The data shows they did what they promised. But didn’t countries have an incentive to do what they did anyway? What role did the G20 play?

Similarly in 2010, at the G20 meeting in Toronto, spooked by the European debt crisis, leaders promised to halve deficits by 2013 and stabilise debt-to-GDP ratios by 2016.

Many countries achieved this. But weren’t many countries, such as Australia, already on the “back to surplus” bandwagon? Did the G20 have any influence?

More than just a talkfest

Was the G20 a real influence, or were countries just promising to do what they would have done anyway?

To find out, I interviewed a total of 63 senior politicians and officials from every G20 country.

They included former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, former Australian treasurers Wayne Swan and Joe Hockey, US Federal Reserve chairperson Janet Yellen and her predecessor Ben Bernanke, former US Treasury secretary Jack Lew, Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda, and Bank of England governer Mark Carney.

I asked them whether they believed the G20 had influenced their and other countries’ policies.

The answer was yes – sometimes.

It depended on the country, the policy area and other things, like whether there was an international economic crisis. But the influence was definitely there.

According to Kevin Rudd, who oversaw the Australian government’s successful response to the global financial crisis:

The G20 played a positive role in the quantum of Australia’s fiscal stimulus.

Politicians from ten other countries said the same thing – verified with data, where possible.




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Sharing experiences, shaping thinking

What about the G20’s influence on central banks?

These banks have domestic mandates. The Reserve Bank of Australia can’t refuse to change interest rates because it annoys New Zealand, for example. It must do what is best for the nation. What room is therefore left for G20 co-operation?

My research suggests the G20 does influence the thinking of central bankers and, through them, central bank policies.

“There is a lot of exchange of views in the G20 which I think is influential,” Ben Bernanke, who chaired the US Federal Reserve from 2006 to 2014, told me.

Mark Carney, who was governor of the Bank of Canada before heading the Bank of England, said the G20 was “a useful forum in which central banks can explain the reasons for their policy decisions”.

What about those 1,000 structural reforms?

According to Joe Hockey, Australia’s treasurer from 2013 to 2015:

The G20 growth strategy process absolutely resulted in countries doing things differently, particularly by learning from one another.

US officials agreed, confirming they got the idea of an asset-recycling initiative – where governments lease existing infrastructure assets to private companies and invest the proceeds in new infrastructure projects – from Australia through the G20.

A place to learn

German officials said because of G20 commitments their government developed a financial literacy and education program to better equip Germany’s citizens, particularly young people, in their engagement with the financial system.

Russian officials said Vladimir Putin embraced their 2017-2020 reform agenda on female economic participation after learning about the benefits through the G20.

The G20 has also prevented nations embracing “beggar-thy-neighbour” policies that improve the country’s relative economic position by harming others. It has pressured members not to devalue their currencies in pursuit of competitive trade advantage. It has helped countries resist resorting to trade protectionism. It has defused tensions around controversial policies such as quantitative easing, and improved the communication of central banks on future policy changes.




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Janet Yellen, former chair of the US Federal Reserve, said she “genuinely took to heart” concerns expressed at the G20 about aspects of US policy.

There are exceptions

The G20’s influence is not universal. Large countries are less influenced than smaller ones. Said a former senior US official:

Most Americans, and many in Congress, are proudly indifferent to what the rest of the world thinks.

Jacob Lew, US Treasury Secretary from 2013 to 2017, agreed:

There can be a backlash in the United States if you make the argument that you are doing something to comply with international rules.

The full results have been published by the Brookings Institution (available here).

So if commentators complain about the G20 being a pointless talkfest, just remember there is evidence to the contrary. It might not grab the headlines but the G20 plays an important role behind the scenes. We will be relying on it now, more than ever, to calm global tensions.The Conversation

Adam Triggs, Research fellow, Australian National University

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

Two past coup leaders face off in Fiji election as Australia sharpens its focus on Pacific



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Fiji’s Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe “Frank” Bainimarama speaking at a trade forum in Brisbane in July last year.

Dominic O’Sullivan, Charles Sturt University

Fiji faces a general election on Wednesday, just as Australia’s main political parties devote more attention to the western Pacific, driven by worries about China’s growing influence in the region.

For most Australians, the nation is a handy holiday destination – closer than Bali or Thailand. Last month, its palm-fringed beaches were in the global spotlight when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex took a trip to the former British colony.

Anyone with a longer memory will perhaps associate Fiji with coups – two in 1987 and one in 2006. There was also a putsch – a civilian overthrow of the government – in 2000.

This week’s general election is only the second since Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, who often goes by the name Frank, appointed himself prime minister after the 2006 coup. He was eventually elected in 2014 and is expected to be re-elected this week.




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For Australia, the strategic importance of the western Pacific is coming into sharp focus.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced $3 billion in infrastructural spending in the region. He has committed the Australian Defence Force to military training in Pacific nations.

Australia has an abiding interest in a south-west Pacific that is secure strategically, stable economically and sovereign politically.

In a speech to the Lowy Institute last month, Bill Shorten committed a future Labor government to an independent foreign policy with a strong Pacific focus. It would support Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Tonga to develop their military capabilities.




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On Fiji, he said:

We want to mend the relationship with the RFMF [Republic of Fiji Military Forces], to ensure that the ADF [Australian Defence Force] is best-placed to develop the Fiji military’s professional capabilities and to ensure Fiji’s security needs.

For Fijian voters, the military is never far from politics.

Bainimarama insists the election will be free and fair . However, the electoral system is unnecessarily complicated. Critics argue this is a deliberate strategy to disenfranchise voters.

However, as he disliked the Constitution put to him by an independent review in 2009, Bainimarama decreed his own in 2013. Section 131 (2) of that Constitution gives ultimate political authority to the military:

It shall be the overall responsibility of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces to ensure at all times the security, defence and well-being of Fiji and all Fijians.




Read more:
Fiji’s media still struggling to regain ‘free and fair’ space


The military has tended to be the arbiter in national affairs since the first coup in 1987.

As Bainimarama put it before the 2006 coup:

[Prime Minister Laisenia] Qarase is trying to weaken the army by trying to remove me … if he succeeds there will be no one to monitor them, and imagine how corrupt it is going to be.

The coups and the putsch were ostensibly statements of indigenous nationalism – indigenous Fijians asserting their rights over the generally wealthier and better educated descendants of Indian indentured labourers brought to Fiji by British colonial authorities between 1879 and 1916.

However, Fijian politics is vastly more complicated than an indigenous non-indigenous binary. The contentious point, according to Professor Brij V. Lal of the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific, “is not really about having a Fijian head of government,” but rather which Fijian leader would be acceptable to a particular group of Fijians at any given time”.

The prime minister’s main rival clears legal hurdle

Bainimarama’s main opponent is an indigenous former prime minister and coup leader, Sitiveni Rabuka. Bainimarama is also an indigenous Fijian.

Rabuka faced electoral fraud charges that could have seen him declared him ineligible to stand at the election. Rabuka’s acquittal in the Magistrate’s Court was appealed by the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption, and dismissed by the High Court only on Monday afternoon. At his campaign launch in 2018, Rabuka ominously remarked:

I am here to do what I can for as long as I ever can for the good of the country.

However, indigenous nationalism and how the right to self-determination might be played out is important. It is interwoven with class, religion and an urban/rural divide to add to the fragility and complexity of Fiji’s conditional democracy.

Just as it did in 2014, Bainimarama’s Fiji First is campaigning on a range of issues including the building of a multiracial society. Practical measures to improve access to education and healthcare are also important to Fiji First.

Land ownership and rental returns are key political issues

Rabuka’s Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) argues for the restoration of distinctive indigenous voice in public life. It seeks the restoration of the Great Council of Chiefs and of chiefly influence over the distribution of rental incomes.

SODELPA will also begin extensive public consultation on the drafting of a new Constitution.

Ultimately, indigenous prosperity depends on the strength of the national economy. This, in turn, depends on political stability. Contemporary Fiji enjoys neither. While there are signs of improving economic growth, the Fijian people face two obstacles in ensuring that the outcome of Wednesday’s election reflects their collective will.

Firstly, registering to vote then casting a valid and informed vote is difficult. Secondly, as Fiji’s history since 1987 shows, and as the 2013 Constitution confirms, the election’s outcome is ultimately subject to military approval. It may not, then, be in Australia’s best interests to support a stronger Fijian military.

Democratic stability serves Australia’s interests. In Fiji, democracy can be strong only when the military is weak.The Conversation

Dominic O’Sullivan, Associate Professor of Political Science, Charles Sturt University

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

Just a regular Joe (or Bill or ScoMo): how our leaders work hard at being ‘ordinary’



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Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Frank Bongiorno, Australian National University

Is it sufficiently dignified to call a prime minister, as distinct from an immigration minister or treasurer, ScoMo? Is this part of Scott Morrison’s “ordinary bloke” persona? It does sound a bit like Joe Shmoe, which Wikipedia tells me means “no one in particular” and “is one of the most commonly used fictional names in American English”. But it also sounds a bit Hollywood, evoking JLo.

So it may well be the kind of game that virtually every politician with serious leadership aspirations has to play. They need to convince us that they are not so far above us that they are out of touch. (“How much is a litre of milk, Prime Minister?”) Yet when they do present themselves as just like us, we can’t really take them seriously. We do, in the end, expect our leaders to be different.

Each leader plays the game differently. William Shorten is, of course, Bill – who tweeted about doing the shopping with his young daughter on Father’s Day.

Minus the shopping trolley, Robert Menzies and Robert Hawke were both Bob, and William Hughes and William McMahon were Billy. Curtin was Jack to his mates but John to the public. Chifley was Ben to all, and the unassuming Lyons was happy enough with Joe. It was hard to do much with Gough or Paul, and Malcolm Fraser only became Mal when he was being ridiculed. Everyone knew he was no Mal, and nor was Turnbull. “Johnny Howard” was almost never complimentary, especially when preceded by “Little”, and Kevin might have been from Queensland and here to help, but he never became Kev – not even when worrying over the shaking of sauce bottles – any more than Julia became Jules.

Politicians have long fretted over these matters. When Stanley Melbourne Bruce became prime minister in 1923, he issued a note to the press:

Mr Bruce would be very glad if the newspapers would not refer to him by his Christian name, as Mr Stanley Bruce, but always as Mr S.M. Bruce.

Today’s journalists, cartoonists and comedians – to say nothing of one’s political opponents – would be in raptures if a newly minted prime minister issued such a notice. And it was clearly unthinkable that the golf-playing, spats-wearing Bruce would be just plain Stan.

Here is a reminder that there is more than one way of performing the role of Australian prime minister. The late political psychologist Graham Little used to give a set-piece lecture on political leadership at Melbourne University, whose major details I can still recall 30 years later – so it must have been good.

Little thought there were broadly three types. Margaret Thatcher was a “strong leader” – the children’s TV program that demonstrated the style was Romper Room. Boys wore boys’ clothes and looked like boys. Girls wore girls’ clothes and looked like girls. Miss Helena dressed conservatively and had a mirror through which she could keep an eye on us at home. Moral codes were strictly defined, with the help of Mr Do Bee (“Do be an asker. Don’t be a help yourself”). Good conduct included being able to walk around with a basket balanced on your head.

“Inspiring leadership” was exemplified by Gough Whitlam – and Play School. Each, in turn, went out of their way to demonstrate good, inclusive citizenship, and creative, inclusive play, yet without pretending to become an ordinary citizen, or an ordinary child.

Like Miss Helena, Play School leaders were grownups. But unlike her – and like Whitlam – they spoke to their audience of children as intelligent equals, dressed a bit like kids (possibly in overalls, not skirts, for women) and played along with them rather than laying down the law. Big Ted was a more gentle soul than Mr Do Bee – who presumably had a sting. Gender differences are more frankly acknowledged, but explored rather than taken for granted.




Read more:
What kind of prime minister will Scott Morrison be?


And then there were “group leaders”, like Bob Hawke – and Humphrey B. Bear. Humphrey, seemingly male yet somewhat ambiguously defined, runs around without trousers (any resemblance here to an Australian prime minister, living or dead, being purely coincidental). He is also a child, not an adult, and to this extent he shares a common identity with his audience. But they are not entirely deceived: Humphrey’s not really the same as the kids watching at home. In short, he’s rather like Hawke, who at his best convinced us that he was one of us even while being unmistakably “special”.

Not all have even attempted this balancing act. Neither Bruce nor Menzies ever pretended to be everyman, although Menzies occasionally pointed to his humble origins as the son of a country storekeeper. Keating barely made the effort; his adoption of Collingwood Football Club when he became prime minister was widely ridiculed for its cynicism, coming as it did from a man whose interests ran more to classical music and French clocks.

Malcolm Turnbull’s leather jacket, never entirely convincing, did not survive his elevation to prime minister. His persona in the job more resembled a Renaissance Florentine merchant-statesman – albeit without the art or culture, which may well have been Turnbull’s major concession to the common folk.

Like Keating, the very Sydney-ish Morrison is looking south for an AFL club, and he has cultivated what journalist Phillip Coorey calls a “daggy ordinariness”. But his everyman act is already running up against his evangelical Christianity. The classic Australian plain man is not an evangelical.

Russel Ward sketched the “the typical Australian” most influentially in The Australian Legend 60 years ago. He is, Ward writes, “sceptical about the value of religion and of intellectual and cultural pursuits generally”. The latter certainly fits Morrison, but not the former.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Worst reaction to midterm PM change in Newspoll history; contrary polls in Dutton’s Dickson


That said, he leads Shorten as preferred prime minister in Newspoll. It is worth pausing to ask why Shorten, former Australian Workers’ Union leader, has never been able to break through as a personally popular figure. He has clearly modelled aspects of his career on Hawke, but no one would ever accuse him of possessing Hawke’s charisma. He will never approach his stratospheric approval ratings. Perhaps there are too many stories around of his cosy relations with filthy rich businessmen.

He became a national figure on the back of his media profile during the Beaconsfield mine disaster and rescue in Tasmania in 2006, and he campaigned most effectively in the 2016 election. Yet he often seems wooden in front of a camera, as distinct from when talking with ordinary voters. On the couple of occasions I’ve witnessed him deliver prepared speeches, he was engaging if not magnetic, and improved as he warmed to the message he was delivering.

Hawke moved in similar business circles to Shorten, and had his deficiencies as both a public speaker and parliamentary performer. But he was brilliant if unpredictable in a TV interview, before he cut the drinking and learned better to control his temper. His media image in the 1970s, while ACTU president, overwhelmed any popular suspicion that he was in the pockets of the top end of town, although there was a growing chorus of complaints about rich mates during his prime ministership.

Shorten, much more than Hawke, has been damaged by the perception of backroom dealing; with bosses, while a union leader, and over the internecine warfare within the Labor Party. Voters might have a sneaking respect for his doggedness – think John Howard – but they don’t love him and probably never will. Nonetheless, they may well elect him.The Conversation

Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

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

Party leaders need to address federal parliament’s intolerable workplace culture: Phelps


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

High-profile activist Kerryn Phelps, who is considering whether to join the battle in the Wentworth byelection, has condemned federal parliament’s toxic political culture and called on all major party leaders to address it.

As the fallout from Liberal MP Julia Banks’ condemnation of bullying continues, Phelps told The Conversation: “Some of the behaviour in the Australian parliament of late would not be tolerated in any other workplace”, saying it seemed to have gotten worse. This made for an unhealthy workplace which was ill-suited to getting the best performances from MPs.

Phelps, a City of Sydney councillor who was very active in the same-sex marriage debate, practices as a GP in the Wentworth electorate, and could be expected to attract a substantial vote if she ran as an independent.

The seat, formerly held by Malcolm Turnbull, who had a strong personal vote, is on a 17.7% margin but the Liberals are worried about a big protest vote.

The fallout from the leadership coup is already being felt there with Turnbull’s son Alex encouraging people to donate to the campaign of Labor candidate Tim Murray.

The younger Turnbull tweeted: “Best bang for the buck you’ll get in political donations in your life. Tight race, tight margin for government, big incremental effect whatever happens. If you want a federal election now this is the means by which to achieve it.”

While the focus in the bullying debate last week was on women, Phelps said some men suffered equally and “don’t perhaps get recognised in terms of the emotional cost [to them].”

She said the “toxic nature of parliament as a workplace” needed to be addressed, and she rejected the message sent by some Liberal players that people should toughen up or, in the words of backbencher Craig Kelly, “roll with the punches”.

If any business leader said “just toughen up”, they wouldn’t be there for long, Phelps said.

She said that a quantitative improvement in the political culture had to be generated by the leaders of the large parties. “You have to have the leaders of the major parties draw a line in the sand,” and say that bad behaviour would not advance people’s careers. At present, the opposite seemed to be the case, she said.

Earlier on Sunday, Labor frontbencher Clare O’Neil said “there’s a level of aggression, of conflict, of egocentrism that dominate parliament house and I think that that is quite hard to handle”, in particular for women.

O’Neil, spokeswoman on financial services, told the ABC her experience as an MP was “that there’s increasingly a culture in Canberra and in parliament house that feels really toxic”.

Attention is coming on the Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer, who issued a general statement last week condemning bullying, to take a stronger stand. O’Dwyer is expected to say more this week.

Some current and even former Liberal MPs women are reluctant to speak out for fear of blowback.

Labor has had its own controversy centred on one of its female MPs: Emma Husar has said she will not run again, after allegations of her bullying staff and other misbehaviour. A Labor inquiry upheld some allegations but not others.

Labor’s spokesperson on women, Tanya Plibersek, said that while the way parliament worked was adversarial, debates should be conducted with decency and respect.

“A positive culture is critical, and each one of us has the duty to help foster that both within parties and across the parliament.

“I believe the closer the parliament reflects our community – a more equal representation of women and men, and a greater diversity of backgrounds – the better that culture will be.

“I actually think something that really helps is more people working on issues in a bipartisan way, for example on committees,” Plibersek said.

Meanwhile, Christine Forster, Tony Abbott’s sister, has dropped out of the race for Liberal pre-selection for the Wentworth byelection.

She said in a statement the commentary about her candidacy “has focused on the suggestion that it was a proxy for division within the Liberal party. That is not the case, but to avoid any such perception, I will be standing aside and giving my full support to the successful candidate.”

Forster had not been regarded a frontrunner in the contest, which is considered to be between a former ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, and Andrew Bragg, who was briefly acting Liberal federal director.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.

As an historic nuclear weapons treaty is reached, G20 leaders miss the mark on North Korea



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In North Korea’s eyes, its nuclear program is the only guarantee of regime survival.
Reuters/KCNA

Joseph Camilleri, La Trobe University

Over the weekend, more than 120 countries adopted a treaty at a UN conference that prohibits the production, stockpiling, use or threatened use of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. Australia was a notable absentee. So were the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons.

While the UN conference was taking a major step toward the elimination of nuclear weapons, the US and its allies – notably Japan, South Korea and Australia – were hoping to use the G20 summit in Hamburg to focus attention on the danger North Korea’s nuclear ambitions pose.

However, the declaration issued at the end of the G20 does not even mention the issue. We can now expect a UN Security Council resolution that condemns North Korea’s latest missile test and applies slightly tougher sanctions.

The glaring contradiction between the boycott of the nuclear ban negotiations and the preoccupation with the North Korean nuclear threat does not seem to have dawned on the US and its allies.

Kim’s misguided provocation and Trump’s futile bluster

In North Korea’s eyes, its nuclear program is the only guarantee of regime survival.

North Korea’s apparently successful intercontinental ballistic missile test last week is widely seen, and portrayed by the regime itself, as part of a relentless drive to develop a reliable long-range nuclear weapon capable of striking the US.

The US responded to the latest test by declaring the policy of “strategic patience” is now over. In a speech delivered in Poland prior to the G20, US President Donald Trump warned he is considering “some pretty severe things” in response to North Korea’s “very, very bad behaviour”.

Donald Trump’s pre-G20 speech in Warsaw.

Yet America’s options are limited. In the first five months of his presidency, Trump’s strategy was to cajole China into taking a more confrontational stance with North Korea. But there are limits to what China is able or prepared to do.

Trump then intimated the use of tougher sanctions against North Korea, possible financial or trade sanctions against China for failing to do more, and even the direct use of military force.

However, resorting to these coercive tools is unlikely to have the desired result. History tells us harsh economic sanctions are often counter-productive. They impoverish economies, strengthen dictatorships, and drive dissent underground.

As for a military strike on North Korea, it could well lead the regime’s leader, Kim Jong-un, to launch a devastating strike against America’s allies, – notably Japan and South Korea. This might include the use of chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons. Such a turn of events may even drag China into the conflict.

More promising is the policy of strategic caution advocated by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, which they reiterated in their separate meetings with Trump on the sidelines of the G20 summit.

Both Russia and China argue North Korea can be persuaded to halt nuclear and missile tests if, in return, the US and South Korea suspend their joint military exercises. This would be a prelude to the resumption of talks involving the US and North Korea that could lead to undertakings for all sides to refrain from the use of force or other aggressive measures.

This more pragmatic stance is close to the position of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who argued in Hamburg that the focus should be kept on further sanctions and dialogue.

Why the treaty?

Nothing said at the G20 summit will resolve the North Korean crisis, for it is but a symptom of a deeper ailment.

The US and Russia, which between them account for 92% of the world’s nuclear weapons, are clearly intent on preserving and modernising their nuclear arsenals. They and other nuclear-armed countries have steadfastly resisted repeated calls for nuclear disarmament – even though Article 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty requires them to do just that.

The nuclear weapons treaty that has just emerged is a direct response to the morally and legally culpable inaction of the nuclear-armed countries – something the G20 summit did not and could not do.

Put simply, the treaty is a comprehensive effort to bring the rule of law to bear on all aspects of the nuclear assault on the planet. It designates a nuclear-weapon-free world as “a global public good of the highest order”, on which depend:

… human survival, the environment, socioeconomic development, the global economy, food security and the health of current and future generations.

The treaty’s provisions are robust and thorough. In addition to prohibiting production, possession and deployment, each party to it undertakes never to test, transfer or receive from any recipient any nuclear weapons or explosive devices, and never to assist anyone or receive assistance from anyone to engage in any such activity.

Countries are further prohibited from ever allowing nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices to be stationed, installed, deployed or tested in their territory, or anywhere under their jurisdiction or control.

But there’s more to the treaty than this. It specifically acknowledges the unacceptable suffering and harm caused to the victims by nuclear weapons, as well as of those affected by the testing of nuclear weapons, in particular indigenous peoples.

The treaty also reinforces the legal obligation of relevant countries to provide appropriate remedies to the victims of nuclear testing, and effective repair of environmental damage.

Those who have been busy drafting and redrafting the treaty have taken great care to make room at a future date for those countries that have not participated in the negotiations – in particular nuclear-armed countries and their allies. A well-crafted set of procedures allows for the progressive, transparent and carefully verified dismantling of their nuclear activities.

Nothing said at the G20 summit will resolve the North Korean crisis.
Reuters/Kay Nietfield

Australia’s negative role

The dramatic events of the last week raise troubling questions for the future direction of Australian foreign policy. Why is it that Australia has been absent from the negotiations leading up to the adoption of this treaty?

More than that, why has it done all in its power to thwart the initiative?

The reasons are not hard to find. There is within Australia a firmly entrenched but dangerous mindset that America’s military might, including its nuclear arsenal, underwrites Australia’s national security.

The Australian government’s opposition to the nuclear ban treaty is the logical consequence of its subservience to US strategic objectives and priorities. It is the extension of longstanding policies that have led Australia to entanglement in protracted, costly and unwinnable wars – in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria.

It is the result of Australia’s psychological insecurity, and the tendency of governments to try to demonstrate at every opportunity that we remain America’s most faithful ally.

Yet there are other options. Australia has much to gain from actively supporting efforts to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons, and from collaborating with like-minded countries and international organisations to develop an effective long-term nuclear disarmament agenda.

Such a process would create immense possibilities for easing tensions in the Asia-Pacific region – not just in the Korean peninsula, but in China-US and China-Japan relations, and in the South China Sea.

The ConversationPublic support for such a transition is greater than many would think. The nuclear ban treaty is the beginning, not the end.

Joseph Camilleri, Emeritus Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University

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

As Britain reels from another terror attack, political leaders wobble towards an election


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Floral tributes near an an anti-Islamic State poster near Borough market, London.
AAP/Andy Rain

Jim Middleton, University of Melbourne

Legitimate questions certainly arise from the weekend outrage in London, but they are not those immediately provoked by Pauline Hanson or Donald Trump.

The US president’s impetuous reaction was to tweet that the attack on London Bridge and the Borough Market proved that American courts should “give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!” Note the exemplary use of the exclamation mark. However, Trump did have the grace eight minutes later to offer a form of condolence to the British people – “WE ARE WITH YOU. GOD BLESS!”

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The capitals presumably mean either that he was shouting or that he really means it. Not so the One Nation leader, who chose to use Twitter to desecrate the warning from the British authorities for people to “run, hide and tell” by declaring that it was time to “stop Islamic immigration before it is too late”.

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Labor’s Penny Wong rightly declared Hanson’s eructation “irresponsible and crass”. One of Australia’s foremost counter-terrorism experts, Greg Barton of Deakin University, went further, telling me that what the One Nation leader was saying was “downright dangerous” on at least two counts.

One, in this age of postmodern terrorism, Islamic State operates as the first metaphysical nation with no dependence on physical territory or traditional communication to wield its power. In that environment, the security authorities rely on tips from the communities from which impressionable operatives emerge.

Maligning those very communities, Barton says, tends to make its members turn inward, reducing their trust in the authorities and diminishing the likelihood that they will report the wayward behaviour of people they know. Witness the bizarre spectacle of the Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi, praying loudly in the street.

Second, it encourages the very sense of alienation, the feeling that they are stigmatised outsiders, that leads people to lose their sense of belonging. That makes them more vulnerable to the brutal siren call of murderous extremists.

Hanson either does not know this or does not care, because it is likely that her anti-Muslim message, basically a reworking of her initial hostility to Aborigines and then to Asians, appeals to much of One Nation’s base. What more would you expect from a person who over two decades has used the public purse to turn politics into a highly successful small business?

There are legitimate questions, though, about this latest attack in the UK, the third in as many months. One is whether Britain has a peculiar problem when it comes to these apparently autonomous acts of ghastly violence. The other is whether the London Bridge/Borough Market attack had anything to do with the UK election, now only days away.

The answer to the latter is probably not. As Barton points out, if the perpetrators had wanted to influence voters, they or their sponsors would have made a statement to that effect in some form, either direct or allusive.

That is not to say that the violence of Saturday night won’t affect the result of Thursday’s poll. Conventional analysis has it that assaults on security tend to favour the incumbent, especially if they are from the centre right.

Theresa May’s Tories consistently poll as “better for” national security than Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. But this has not been a conventional UK election campaign and there are also questions about whether a sense may take root within the electorate that the government is failing to protect the community, following two fatal acts of terrorism in just a fortnight – Manchester and now London. May was, after all, home secretary, responsible for domestic security, for six years before she became prime minister.

She has not had a good election. Gone are the days, less than two months ago, when it looked as if she could gain a majority of 100 in the House of Commons, knocking Corbyn for six. Her refusal to engage with Corbyn was seen as arrogant, and UK voters are sick of going to the polls (three times in less than two years). There was also her blunder on a “dementia” tax, essentially a proposal to make the elderly contribute to their health care if they have combined assets of more than £100,000.

Immediate public outcry forced a U-turn, but the damage had been done. As campaign managers would say, May had gone “off-message”. The election was no longer a plebiscite on her managing of Brexit, but an argument about health and welfare, traditional Labour turf.

It was a surprising mistake, especially given that as a political up-and-comer May warned the Conservatives back in 2002 that it had become the “nasty party”. Its base was “too narrow” and on occasion so were its sympathies, a sermon this child of the manse had clearly forgotten delivering.

On the question of security, the message from the voters is decidedly mixed. In the wake of the Manchester attack Corbyn boldly, but deliberately, stated:

Many … professionals in our intelligence and security services have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported … and terrorism here at home.

From the G7 summit, May went thermonuclear:

I have been here with the G7, working with other international leaders to fight terrorism. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn has said that terror attacks in Britain are our own fault.

Corbyn was “not up to the job”, she said. He also faced criticism from within his own ranks, but it seems May’s decision to play the security card was not as effective as she might have hoped, because the opinion polls continued to tighten in Labour’s favour.

None of this means May will lose when the votes come in on Thursday. Rather, it shows that national security is a more complex issue in the UK these days, after a decade and a half of unpopular wars and years punctuated by regular, fatal terrorist attacks.

The ConversationIt is not clear whether the story is the same in either the United States or Australia. It is possible this is one way the UK is grimly unique.

Jim Middleton, Vice Chancellor’s Fellow, University of Melbourne

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