Can prison rehabilitation programs work, and is it sensible to try and rehabilitate seriously radicalised individuals convicted on terrorism charges?
These are questions not just for the UK, in the wake of the second London Bridge attack over the weekend, but for the entire world.
There are no easy answers and no simple options. As the numbers of people detained and eventually released on terrorism charges mount up around the world, so too does the question of what to do with them. Politicians find it easy to speak in terms of “lock them up and throw away the key”. But our legal systems don’t allow this and the results, even if allowed, would almost certainly be worse.
Some answers, and some difficult questions, can be found in the lives of four participants in the events in London: Jack Merritt, Saskia Jones, Marc Conway and James Ford.
All four were participating in an event organised to reflect on the first five years of the University of Cambridge’s Learning Together program. Merritt was a young graduate who was helping coordinate the program. Jones was a volunteer in the program. Tragically, their idealism and desire to give back to society saw them lose their lives to a man whom they thought they had been able to help.
Merritt’s father told the media:
Jack lived his principles; he believed in redemption and rehabilitation, not revenge, and he always took the side of the underdog.
In her tribute to her murdered daughter, Jones’s mother said:
Saskia had a great passion for providing invaluable support to victims of criminal injustice, which led her to the point of recently applying for the police graduate recruitment programme, wishing to specialise in victim support.
Jones, 23, and Merritt, 25, were both University of Cambridge graduates working at the Learning Together program. They lost their lives to a knife-wielding murderer who does not deserve to have his name remembered. Their 28-year-old assailant had been released from prison 12 months earlier, having served but eight years of a 16 year sentence.
In a catastrophic system-failure, his automatic release was processed without his case ever being reviewed by a parole board, despite the sentencing judge identifying him as a serious risk who should only ever be released after careful review. He had gamed the system, presenting himself as repentant and reformed.
In fact, he had never undergone a rehabilitation program in prison and only had cursory processing on his release. Systemic mistakes and the lack of resources to fund sufficient and appropriate rehabilitation programs meant he was one of many whose risk was never adequately assessed.
Conway had formerly served time at a London prison and is now working as a policy officer at the Prison Reform Trust. He witnessed the fatal attack and rushed directly towards the attacker, joining others who sought to pin him down.
Another man participating in the offender rehabilitation event was James Ford. He too saw the attack unfolding and immediately confronted the assailant.
In a deeply tragic irony, the two victims who lost their lives to a man who made a mockery of their idealism were assisted by two others who appear to have genuinely benefited from prison rehabilitation programs. But even here, the complexities and ambiguities of this sort of difficult endeavour were played out as clearly as any playwright could ever conceive of scripting.
Ford was a convicted murderer attending the Learning Together conference on day-release. He had brutally killed 21-year-old Amanda Campion, a young women who was particularly vulnerable because of her intellectual disability. In the eyes of Campion’s family, Ford is no hero.
However, Professor of Criminology at Birmingham City University David Wilson, who chairs the Friends of Grendon Prison program, says that Ford underwent extensive rehabilitation initiatives, including an intensive period of psychotherapy.
On this occasion, the convicted murderer did the right thing. Even though this doesn’t make him a hero, it does give some reason for hope. For Wilson, the murderous terrorist and the convicted murderer who rushed to contain him represent a tale of two prisoners:
I know through my work that people do change and they change as a consequence of innovative but challenging regimes such as the one at HMP Grendon.
In the wake of the attack, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the cases of 74 people released early after being jailed for terror offences will be reviewed. This is certainly sensible and necessary, but much more is required. Indefinite detention is not an option in the majority of cases, and the UK is dealing with hundreds of people convicted of terrorism offences either currently in prison or recently released.
The numbers in Australia are only a fraction of this but still run into the high dozens and are growing every year. For Australia’s near neighbours, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, the numbers, including projected returnees from the Middle East, run into the thousands.
Professor Ian Acheson, who has advised the government on how to handle extremist prisoners, told the BBC it was not “a question of an arms race on sentencing toughness”, but about what is done when offenders are in custody.
Acheson said his panel’s recommendations had been agreed to but not implemented due to “the merry-go-round of political replacements of secretaries of state”, and the “fairly recalcitrant and unwilling bureaucracy”. He also cited “crazy failed and ideological austerity cuts” to the police, prison and probation services.
Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones were not naïve idealists. They had studied the problem closely and believed rehabilitation programs could make a difference. Their tragic deaths speak to the challenges involved. To give up and do nothing is not merely cynical, but self-defeating. Without adequate resourcing and reforms the problem everywhere will only become much worse.
The high tide of analysis concerning the Australian Labor Party’s shock 2019 federal election loss has been reached. It looks like so much flotsam and jetsam with the odd big log – leadership popularity, Queensland – prominent among the debris. Sorting through it, making sense of it, and weighting the factors driving the result really matters. It matters because decisions influencing the outcome of the next federal election will flow from it.
The learner’s error is to grasp onto a couple of factors without considering the full suite, weighting them and seeing the connections between them. What does the full suite look like?
1. Leadership popularity
Labor’s Bill Shorten was an unpopular leader, neither liked nor trusted by voters. The shift from Shorten in private to Shorten in leadership mode in the media was comparable to the shift in Julia Gillard when she moved from the deputy prime ministership to prime minister: the charm and wit went missing, replaced by woodenness and lack of relatability.
Shorten accepted advice to appear “leader-like”, creating a barrier Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who sought to directly connect with voters, was not hampered by. “It is often said of democratic politics,” historian David Runciman has said, “that the question voters ask of any leader is: ‘Do I like this person?’ But it seems more likely that the question at the back of their minds is: ‘Would this person like me?’” Morrison passed and Shorten flunked that test.
Shorten generally failed the “theatre of politics”. His suits often looked too big, making him look small. Television footage of him jogging in oversized athletic clothes during the campaign made him look small. Poor production of Shorten in these ways diminished perceptions of him as an alternative prime minister – a professionalism fail that could have easily been fixed but was not.
Lesson: Leadership unpopularity costs votes. Successful “theatre of politics” matters.
2. Supporting players’ unpopularity
Shorten was weighed down by frontbenchers in the key economic and environment portfolios who fell well short in the performativity stakes too. The camera is not kind to shadow treasurer Chris Bowen. While he developed serious policy chops, partly through sustained study of Paul Keating’s history as a reforming treasurer of historic stature, he also picked up Keating’s hauteur, but without actually being Keating and able to pull it off.
The arrogance of Bowen’s franking credits policy comment that “if people very strongly feel that they don’t want this to happen they are perfectly entitled to vote against us” was a defining misstep of the Shorten opposition. It made the leader’s job that much harder.
Shadow environment minister Mark Butler is another to whom the camera is unkind. He embodied the soft, urban environmentalist persona that is poison in those parts of Australia where Labor needed to pick up seats. An equally knowledgeable but more knockabout environment spokesperson – Tony Burke, for example – would have been the cannier choice in a “climate election” where regional voters had to be persuaded to Labor’s greener policy agenda.
Lesson: Appoint frontbenchers capable of winning public support in their portfolios.
3. Misleading polls
The maths wasn’t wrong but the models on which the two-party-preferred vote is calculated have been blown up by this election, an event foreshadowed by recent polling miscalls in Britain.
Long-time conservative political consultant Lynton Crosby’s presence in the Coalition campaign has been invisible except for the tiny but crucial, and completely overlooked, detail that the Liberals’ polling “was conducted by Michael Brooks, a London-based pollster with Crosby Textor who was brought out from the United Kingdom for the campaign”.
The Coalition had better polling. Labor and everyone else were relying on faulty polling that misallocated preferences and uniformly predicted a Labor win – false comfort to Labor, which stayed a flawed course instead of making necessary changes to avoid defeat.
Lesson: Focus on the primary vote, the polling figure least vulnerable to modelling assumptions.
4. Media hostile to Labor
The Murdoch media have created an atmospheric so pervasively hostile to Labor that it has become normalised. It contributed significantly to Shorten’s unpopularity and Labor’s loss. Its impact is only going to get worse with Australia’s nakedly partisan Fox News-equivalent, “Sky After Dark”, extending from pay-TV to free-to-air channels in regional areas.
Lesson: Labor has to be so much better than the Coalition to win in this dire and deteriorating media environment. It needs a concrete plan to match and/or neutralise the Murdoch media’s influence.
5. Regional variations
Labor failed to win support in resource-rich states where it needed to pick up seats to win, and suffered a big fall in its primary vote in Queensland.
There is a danger of this being overplayed as a factor since, in fact, not much really changed at this election: the Coalition has two more seats and Labor two less seats than in the last parliament. Further, there are nuances to be engaged with even in hard-core resource areas. More Queenslanders, for example, are employed in the services sector in industries like tourism than are employed in the coal sector; and Labor has a strong tradition in Queensland and is capable of renewal.
The concerns of both sides need to be woven into a plausible policy path forward, with opportunities for different, deeply-held views to be heard and acknowledged as part of the process.
Lesson: Develop “ground up” rather than “top down” policies that integrate diverse concerns without overreacting to what was actually a modest change in electoral fortunes.
6. Weak advertising strategy
Labor’s advertising campaign was complacent, unfocused and completely failed to exploit the leadership chaos and chronic division in the Coalition parties for the previous six years. Why? Labor’s decision not to run potent negative ads on coalition chaos in parallel with its positive advertising campaign is the biggest mystery of the 2019 election – naive in the extreme. It left Labor defenceless in the face of a relentlessly negative, untruthful campaign from the other side.
Lesson: Have brilliant ads in a sharply focused campaign that doesn’t fail to hit your opponents’ weaknesses.
7. Massive advertising spending gap
Along with the hostile media environment created by the Murdoch press, the unprecedented spending gap between the Labor and anti-Labor sides of politics and its role in the Coalition win has passed largely unremarked.
The previous election was bought by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with a $1.7 million personal donation that boosted Coalition election advertising in the campaign’s crucial last fortnight. That now looks like small beer next to the 2019 election’s anti-Labor advertising spending (approximately $80 million when one adds the Coalition’s $20 million spend to the Clive Palmer-United Australia Party spend of $60 million-plus). This is four times the size of Labor’s $20 million ad budget – a huge disparity.
Palmer’s gambit, which creates a friendly environment for him to gain regulatory approval for a Queensland coal mine vastly bigger than Adani’s during this term of parliament, takes Australia into banana republic territory in terms of money politics.
Lesson: Australia already needed campaign finance laws to stop the purchasing of elections. It needs them even more urgently now.
8. Large policy target
Misleading polling showing it was persistently ahead gave Labor false comfort pursuing a “big” policy agenda – that is, making policy offerings normally done from government rather than opposition. If everything else goes right in an election, and with a popular leader and effective key supporting frontbenchers, this may be possible. That was not the case in the 2019 election.
Lesson: When in opposition, don’t go to an election promising tax changes that make some people worse off. Save it for government.
9. Green cannibalisation of the Labor vote
The primary vote of the Labor Party (33.5%) and the Greens (9.9%) adds up to 43.4% – a long way off the 50%-plus required to beat the conservatives. For a climate-action-oriented government to be elected in Australia, Labor and the Greens are going to have to find a better modus vivendi.
They don’t have to like each other; after all, the mutual hatred of the Liberals and Nationals within the Coalition is long-standing and well-known. But like the Liberals and Nationals, though without a formal agreement, Labor and the Greens are going to have to craft a way forward that forestalls indulgent bus tours by Green icons through Queensland coal seats and stops prioritising cannibalisation of the Labor vote over beating conservatives.
Lesson: For climate policy to change in Australia, Labor and the Greens need to strategise constructively, if informally, to get Labor elected to office.
10. Every election is winnable
Paul Keating won an “unwinnable” election in 1993 and pundits spoke of the Keating decade ahead. John Howard beat Keating in a landslide three years later, despite being the third Coalition leader in a single tumultuous parliamentary term.
Morrison won the 2019 election despite internal Coalition leadership turmoil, political scandals and a revolt of the party’s women MPs against the Liberals’ bullying internal culture.
Lesson: Every election is there to be won or lost. Take note of Lessons 1 to 9 to do so.
In the aftermath of the tragic loss of life in Christchurch on Friday, the focus needs to be on supporting those who have lost their loved ones and on fostering a sense of national unity in the face of an heinous act of terrorism.
At this early stage we know the perpetrator of the most devastating terrorist attack in New Zealand’s history was a white supremacist. We know he accessed and stockpiled firearms over a long period of time, and that his racist beliefs motivated his actions.
But there are other lessons and important points to make about the attack. These should shape the longer-term response by the New Zealand government.
1. Muslims the biggest victims of terror across the globe
The first is a more sustained governmental and societal focus on right-wing extremism. It may turn out that the extremist who committed this attack acted alone, but the ideology that motivated him has spread around the globe and is infecting our politics and discourse.
We know right-wing radicals have committed atrocities before. The most notable perhaps was an extremist who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011. But this is part of a long history of extremist violence on the right.
According to research by the Anti-Defamation League, over the last decade, 73.3% of all extremist-related fatalities in the US could be linked to domestic right-wing extremists, while 23.4% were attributable to Islamist extremists. We should pay attention to these statistics in New Zealand. The fear that jihadist terrorism will occur sometime in New Zealand is real, but we haven’t adequately recognised the threat from neofascist ideology.
It is a tragic footnote to this story that globally Muslims have been by far the most victimised group by terrorism in the post-9/11 era. In a 2011 report, the US government’s National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC), said:
In cases where the religious affiliation of terrorism casualties could be determined, Muslims suffered between 82% and 97% of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years.
Clearly, we need to do more to protect Muslim communities from acts of violence and to focus more tightly on the ideology of fascism, which underpins both right-wing groups and those who commit violence in the name of Islam.
2. Extremists share a lot in common
A second lesson relates to the process of radicalisation. We need to better understand why people who commit mass murder fall into a set of hateful beliefs. This is clearly a serious social problem caused by many variables, including demographic change, inequality, poverty and lack of education.
The latest research on radicalisation suggests many of those responsible for “lone wolf” acts are socially illiterate and have fallen out of the mainstream of society. They often indicate these beliefs via social media, suggesting we could do more to report these viewpoints to authorities.
Radicals also tend to share a set of psychological or cognitive traits that underpin their actions. According to recent reports by the European Institute for Peace these include grievances that are galvanised by a unifying ideology, a process of cognitive “de-pluralisation”, in which they tend to focus on a very limited set of ideas to interpret the world, and confirmation bias, where events are re-packaged into existing beliefs and assumptions.
Other research shows radicals climb a “staircase” to violent acts involving a series of incremental steps over a period of years. This suggests earlier intervention will be the key to having people back away from violence.
Violent extremism represents not the resurgence of traditional cultures, but their collapse, as young people unmoored from millennial traditions flail about in search of a social identity that gives personal significance and glory. This is the dark side of globalisation.
3. The dark web is a breeding ground for hatred
A third lesson is that global communications technology is providing a breeding ground for extremism and hatred. In this sense “lone wolves” aren’t acting alone. They are connected to a structured and well-financed global neo-Nazi ideology that uses the internet to propagate its beliefs.
According to a recent report by the Data & Society Research Institute, far-right actors are regularly spreading white supremacist thought, Islamophobia and misogyny on the internet through sites such as 4chan and 8chan.
Right-wing groups have regularly circulated propaganda within social media channels and have sown racial and ethnically charged divisions within society through memes and disinformation. This was a tactic of the far right in the US elections in 2016, and has been used regularly since, including in the Brexit debates.
These websites aren’t easy to take down. As recent efforts by Google show, neo-Nazi sites that are blocked or banned “go dark” behind encrypted platforms that are out of reach of tech companies and security services.
Timothy Snyder, a renowned holocaust historian, notes this form of “mass manipulation” is based on appealing to emotions rather than reason. The spread of fake news and propaganda on the internet creates a perfect platform to increase fear, anger and anxiety. These are the psychological conditions from which acts of violence are committed.
4. New Zealand does have a right-wing problem
The final lesson is a wider, political one for New Zealand. There has undoubtedly been a tendency in some quarters of New Zealand politics to assume we are living in a largely benign international environment. This is part of a troubling isolationist tendency in New Zealand politics that contributes to us not taking security seriously and investing in it accordingly. The Christchurch attacks have shattered these illusions.
The right-wing problem in New Zealand has historical roots. White pride marches have taken place in Christchurch on numerous occasions. A far-right candidate who was convicted of firebombing a marae (Māori meeting place) stood for mayor three times in recent years, most recently in 2013 when he received a small but significant number of votes.
On the international stage we need to stand up against the beliefs that underpin right-wing extremism. Jacinda Ardern’s call to Donald Trump to be compassionate to Muslims was a good start and reminds us racism at the top of society can create a permissive environment for extremism.
We also need to reorient our foreign and security policy towards de-radicalisation processes both domestically and internationally. The UK’s Prevent programme, which has seen a big increase in efforts to prevent right-wing extremism, may be a good model to follow.
New Zealanders now know the fear and chaos that follows terrorism. But the goal of terrorism is to use that fear to undermine our democracy and way of life. So we need to channel our response in a way that protects our values.
We must be aware of the perils of over-reacting, but nevertheless need to redouble our efforts to create multi-level, evidence-led strategies to target radicalism, recognising global and local drivers of extremism.
California is burning, again. Dozens of peoples have been killed and thousands of buildings destroyed in several fires, the most destructive in the state’s history.
Why do wildfires seem to be escalating? Despite president Donald Trump’s tweet that the California fires were caused by “gross mismanagement” of forests, the answer is more complex, nuanced, and alarming.
What caused the California fires?
The current California fires reflect a complex mix of climate, social, and ecological factors. Fuels across California are currently highly combustible due to a prolonged drought and associated low humidity and high air temperatures. Indeed, it is so dry fires burn freely through the night. Such extreme weather conditions have the fingerprints of climate change.
Compounding the desiccated fuels are the seasonally predictable strong desert winds (the Diablo and Santa Ana) that help fires spread rapidly towards the coast.
Low density housing embedded in flammable vegetation has created an ideal fuel mix for these destructive fires. Having people scattered across the landscape ensures a steady source of ignitions, ranging from powerline faults to carelessness and arson, making fires a near certainty when dangerous weather conditions arise.
Decades of wildfire suppression have created fuel loads that sustain intense fires. That these fuels are burning in late autumn is even more alarming. Under severe fire weather forest fires can engulf entire communities, with fires spreading from house to house, and human communities turning into a unique wildfire “fuel”. Suburbs can burn at the rate of one house per minute .
The standard response to wildfires is to fight them aggressively, using a military-style approach involving small armies of fire fighters combined with aircraft that spread fire retardant and saturate fire-fronts with water. Such approaches are extraordinarily costly. Annual spending on fire fighting has been steadily rising. In the US, annual fire-fighting costs now exceed several billion dollars, with individual fire campaigns costing ten to over a hundred million dollars.
Although industrial fire-fighting approaches currently enjoy political and social support, the strategy is economically unsustainable. And they are impotent in the face of climate change driven fire disasters such as those currently occurring in California.
A human disaster
Across the fire science community there is growing recognition this “total war” on fire approach has failed. The key to sustainable co-existence with flammable landscapes is instead managing fuels around settlements, and stopping wildfires from starting in the first place.
Spain and Portugal are good examples of why this is so important. In these Mediterranean lands, humans have sustainably co-existed with flammable landscapes for thousands of year. However, the near ubiquitous depopulation of rural lands following the second world war has led to the proliferation of flammable vegetation that had previously been held in check by intensive small-scale subsistence agriculture.
With the loss of this traditional agriculture Mediterranean countries are now experiencing regular fire disasters (such as the 2018 Greek fires and the 2017 Portuguese and Spanish fires). These are equivalent to fires in more recently settled flammable landscapes in the Americas and Australia.
This seems to be the story in most flammable landscapes on earth: the removal of traditional landscape management by colonisation and globalisation has combined with climate change to turn these landscapes into tinderboxes.
But just as it is unrealistic for Australia to faithfully restore Indigenous fire management practices, expecting a return to historical practices in the Mediterranean is not realistic. There is little economic or social reason for people to return to traditional rural lifestyles, and the gravitational pull of the social and economic advantages in urban areas is too great to stem rural depopulation.
Living with fire
But we can adapt traditional practices to help us live with fire. In the Mediterranean, people are already experimenting with different ways to manage landscapes, such as managing forests for cork and bioenergy, combined with prescribed burning and grazing.
This can create picturesque landscapes that are fire-resistant and easy to defend. Similarly, in Australia, the Victorian government has created parkland-like green fire breaks that were used for back burning operations to protect communities during 2009 Black Saturday wildfires.
The Hobart City Council is planning to use similar fire breaks to protect its outer suburbs with dense bushland. Such management could be used on a larger scale to substantially reduce fire risk. The challenge for landscape fuel management is providing financial and regulatory incentives for citizens and local communities to reduce fuel.
Currently, no society is sustainably co-existing with wildfire. Globally, the situation will worsen under a rapidly-warming climate with ballooning firefighting costs, and huge loss of life and destruction of property. This is the bitter lesson of the Californian fires.
A little more than a decade on from the the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the largest bankruptcy in history, many of the world’s advanced economies are only now beginning to recover fully.
I was on the faculty at the University of Chicago at the time and, like many, followed the events of the 2008 US summer with a combination of interest and outright fear.
It is hard to describe how scary the two months around the Lehman bankruptcy were. Two anecdotes convey some of that fear, however.
The first was when I spoke to an economics official in the Obama administration who said: “Go get cash and bottled water. Automatic teller machines might not be working two days from now.”
The second reflects just how severely money markets froze up. Goldman Sachs – Wall Street’s most venerable firm – was largely on the good side of trades on credit default swaps, the instruments behind much of the crisis. Yet its stock price was utterly hammered. It wasn’t until legendary investor Warren Buffett sank US$5 billion into Goldman that confidence was restored.
On one day Goldman stock was down by a staggering nearly 50% in intra-day trading. It very nearly went the way of Lehman – all because of what amounted to a modern-day bank run.
The Obama administration responded with spending (including on tax rebates for households and firms), big interest rate cuts and measures to ensure banks had access to funds. Combined, these helped avoid a repeat of the Great Depression.
When Australia splashed cash
Australia, too, spent big: A$10 billion in October 2008 and a further A$42 billion in February 2009. More than half of the second sum, $A26 billion, went on infrastructure. Another $12.7 billion was spent on cash bonuses, including $900 for every Australian on less than $80,000.
And we cut interest rates, massively, and guaranteed bank deposits.
The International Monetary Fund, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and most good economists think what we did was essential to ensure Australia avoided a severe downturn.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his treasurer, Wayne Swan, deserve a lot of credit.
Yet there are those on the conservative side of politics who claim the stimulus spending was wasteful, not that helpful, and locked in an era of higher government spending.
Wasteful? Not really
As prime minister in 2016, Malcolm Turnbull encapsulated the view that the spending was a waste when he told the ABC’s Leigh Sales: “I think what shepherded Australia through the GFC successfully was the Chinese stimulus and the large amount of cash that John Howard left in the bank.”
Here’s what I think.
The Chinese stimulus helped, but China didn’t do it to help Australia. It did it to help itself, with a happy byproduct being continued demand for Australian resources.
Does Mr Turnbull really think the Chinese government was either mistaken (because stimulus spending doesn’t help) or benevolent (because it wanted to help Australia)? These are not terms normally associated with Beijing.
The “large amount of cash” left by the Howard government was indeed very important. It allowed the Rudd government to spend big without running up huge government debt. As the noted UC Berkeley economists Christina and David Romer have pointed out, using evidence from 24 advanced economies, fiscal and monetary policy “space” is important in ensuring the stimulus programs work.
So, yes, Howard’s debt-free budget was important, but only because it gave the government room to spend.
There is an important point here. Namely, that prudent fiscal management through ordinary times is essential in order to build up the firepower to respond in extraordinary times.
Australia still enjoys government debt to GDP that is low by OECD standards, but its growth has been very rapid even in post-crisis years because of the structural gap between government revenues and expenditures. Both sides of politics say they are committed to narrowing it. We shall see.
“Space” to act with monetary policy (official interest rates) is also important.
It’s the basis for much of the talk about a “new monetary policy framework” that would lift interest rates from their present lows in Australia and overseas to around 5%. It’s a goal articulately and forcefully argued for by former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. Getting there would give central banks the firepower they might need.
These lessons have been learned to varying degrees, but are now thankfully at least part of the mainstream debate.
One thing that everyone should have learned from the financial crisis in general, and Lehman in particular, is the need for effective regulation of financial institutions.
The combination of massive leverage, opaque financial instruments and radical interconnectedness of financial firms in the US was a disaster waiting to happen.
In many ways it still could be.
Republicans in the US want to dramatically roll back the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act introduced by President Obama in response to the financial crisis.
Although far from perfect, it helped de-risk the US financial system.
In Australia the failings of financial regulators play out every day at the Hayne Royal Commission, in excruciating detail.
It entitles us to ask if Australian regulators can’t prevent outright theft by financial institutions, how equipped are they to prevent more complicated transactions that might put the financial system at risk?
The answer is: not very.
We’ve learned some things
A decade after Lehman it’s fair to say we have learned lessons.
We know how to use big and bold fiscal (spending) policy and monetary (interest rate) policy to create a virtuous circle of beliefs that can pull us out of a downturn.
And we know that we need to reload both fiscal and monetary policy in the good times so we are ready for the bad times.
But on financial regulation the US might be about to go backwards, and we never really went forwards.
After the hatred, theatre and gore of a party insurgency, the third act in the Coalition’s mind-numbing term in government is about to begin. The self-nominated defenders of the Liberal faith have destroyed their target — the infidel Malcolm Turnbull — but at ruinous cost to themselves. Can the Liberal Party recover?
Malcolm Turnbull’s fate was always predictable. The party’s fatal flaw was manifest in his ascension. Tony Abbott equated the narrow preoccupations of some in the party’s thinning ranks with broader opinion. Following their preferences, he lost the public.
Turnbull, speaking for a more open constituency, garnered popularity and electoral credibility: this was the capital he used to bring down Abbott. But he had made a pact with party conservatives to win their grudging support. Whenever he attempted to do what he had promised the people, they closed down his options. He appeared incrementally to sacrifice all he had promised. Inevitably, adverse polls reflected the government’s failure to do what Turnbull had offered. Coalition support stayed stubbornly low (though with recent signs of improvement); still, Turnbull remained preferred prime minister.
Then, with his electoral appeal diminished again after the adverse results of the Longman byelection, they turned on him. Now, all bets were off. He determined the circumstances and timing of the final meeting that would determine his end, exposing the right’s machinations. His run was over, but his tactics demolished the insurgents’ plans, and Turnbull’s choice – Morrison – took the prize.
Despite having seen off Peter Dutton with his urgers and acolytes, ameliorating the wounds inflicted on the reasonable centre, the Liberal Party remains hopelessly divided. The right, with its obsessions at odds with majority party and public opinion, has been punished, but not enough. It will not go away. The bloody implosion of last week is as catastrophic for the Liberals as was the collapse of its conservative predecessor, the United Australia Party, in 1941.
Consider what it took to recuperate after that. Robert Menzies rightly concluded that the party had to be rebuilt from the ground up. Conflicted groups had to be unified. That involved not only organisational transformation, but the wholesale “revival of liberalism”, as he termed it. Then, the new message had to be painstakingly disseminated, through press, radio and public performance. He had to create a new constituency, and one responsive to the progressive tenor of the time. The result was the born-again Liberal Party. It took him eight years, and defeat in two elections.
Consider then what has changed in near 70 years since Menzies’ 1949 victory. The age of the mass party is over. The mass media, too, has been revolutionised. Menzies instilled the idea of a leader and a message; there was a clear purpose, but the leader-centric pragmatism he pioneered, and the means of speaking to the people and the broad church this could mobilise, saw its last invocation in John Howard. Mass support has evaporated. The possibility of tightly controlling the message through consolidated media and predictable cycles that even Howard could utilise has gone.
Liberal momentum cannot be sustained by a tiny branch membership. Howard never forgot the base — he travelled and talked to it constantly, not only listening, but persuading. But that was never enough: he had also to persuade the “mainstream”, identifying all those whose votes he might win who would never join the party. And Howard, like Menzies, was a master of mass communication. Yet, he was at sea when it came to the challenges of technological diversity, social media and the perversity of aggregating opinion not through party channels, or shock-jock mates on radio, but via internet-mediated algorithms.
Healing divisions within a tottering edifice won’t be enough. The party is not fit for purpose. There is no agenda for the country. It is unable to manage internal opinion, mobilise the public and maintain discipline, let alone sustain government.
But if there is to be any hope, it now needs a leader with four capacities:
First, Menzies’ willingness to rebuild from the ground up: will the tribal factions tolerate that?
Second, the wit to revive a form of liberalism for these times, attuned not to “the base” alone, but to a public with wider interests, which must now be reached through multiple, web-mediated channels.
Third, recognition of the complexities of providing what the public has clearly shown it wants. An energy policy, for instance, that acknowledges the imperatives of price reduction and climate change, and can harmonise both.
And fourth, an acknowledgement that such policies demand the orchestration of many hands, much advice and diverse talents: they will founder if Morrison defaults to “strong leadership”, or the inner circles of true believers.
Finally, resolving the big issues – economic reform, immigration, social cohesion – has always entailed a degree of bipartisanship, of consensus across the aisle. The partisan intensification of recent years we now see is intra-party, not just inter-party.
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If allowed to fester, it will confound all attempts to address the challenges we face.
The latest report into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 says that investigations have failed to find any explanation as to why the aircraft went missing with 239 passengers and crew on board.
The 449-page main report (with additional appendices) from the Malaysian government builds on previous reports on the investigation into the missing aircraft but admits it is “limited by a significant lack of evidence”.
It’s been four years since the Boeing 777-200ER went missing from its routine flight between Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur and China’s capital Beijing.
The aircraft was later found to have deviated from that flight path, with calculations showing that it probably disappeared somewhere in the Indian Ocean, off the Western Australian coast.
Some parts identified as confirmed or almost certain to have been from the missing aircraft have been recovered, washed up around the Indian Ocean.
The aircraft itself has not been located, and neither the aircraft’s Flight Data Recorder (FDR) nor the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) has been recovered. The only information available to the investigators was from other sources, making triangulation and validation of evidence difficult, if not impossible.
Who’s to blame?
The report notes that MH370 went missing on March 8, 2014, soon after a routine handover from the Malaysian to Vietnamese air traffic control. Communications with the aircraft were lost less than 40 minutes after takeoff.
Both Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic controllers delayed initiation of emergency procedures once communication could not be established with the aircraft following the crossover from one air space to another. This, the report says, delayed any search-and-rescue response.
Given that the initial search area was north of the Malaysian Peninsula on the aircraft’s intended track, and any information suggesting the aircraft might have flown back over the peninsula didn’t emerge for some time, the initial delays in initiating the search-and-rescue phase may be moot.
The report covers several other issues related to the flight, aircraft maintenance, the crew, the cargo etc, but its conclusion ends with the line:
…the (Investigation) Team is unable to determine the real cause for the disappearance of MH370.
Still a mystery
Clearly, someone or something was responsible for the loss of the aircraft, passengers and crew. But without evidence from the flight recorders it’s unlikely that any of the many theories as to the cause will be proven.
The report suggests that from the available information and simulations, the aircraft was manually turned off the planned track, suggesting an intent on behalf of whoever was flying the aircraft. The turning off of the transponders that allow the aircraft to be tracked by civilian radars also suggests intent.
Hence the report goes to some lengths to suggest that unlawful interference with flight MH370 cannot be ruled out.
But extensive background checks of the captain and other crew found absolutely no evidence of anything other than a dedicated, professional team who set off to do their job as they had done many many times before.
So the causes of the tragedy are likely to remain conjecture for some considerable time, unless new evidence comes to light.
No closure for the families
Clearly the families of those who perished onboard MH370 will not gain much closure from this report. It contains very few answers for them.
But it needs to be said that the air safety investigators need data from multiple sources to try to establish with a reasonable degree of certainty the causes of crashes.
Aviation is a very complex socio-technical system that requires reliable analytics to fully understand the system interactions and deviations. Yet without the recorded flight data and no access to the wreckage, the ability to find cause is critically hampered.
Lessons learned (and to learn)
Since the loss of MH370 there has been a global push to improve tracking of airline aircraft. Clearly the travelling public want air traffic control authorities to know where all the aircraft are all of the time, without fail and without the capacity for anyone to turn the tracking system off.
Many in aviation would like that ideal world too. But the current tracking systems don’t have that capacity. The amount of data that would entail is well beyond the capacity of the present systems, and the cost of upgrading the systems to cope with that would be exorbitant.
For example, the current satellite constellation would need to be expanded or significantly enhanced. So, there has to be a compromise.
As the report suggests, it’s likely that improvements to the system will result in airborne aircraft “handshaking” with the tracking system every 15 minutes with GPS position, altitude, heading and speed data.
This should significantly improve the probability of finding an aircraft lost, but it will not guarantee a lost aircraft’s location will be known.
For example, if the aircraft is cruising at 350 knots (about 650kph) when it makes its last handshake with the tracking system, in 15 minutes it could be anywhere in a search area with around a 300km diameter, still representing a significant search conundrum.
Changes in emergency locator beacon capability are also arising from the MH370 experience. The problems with underwater signal acoustics will remain problematic. So design changes in future will likely see beacons that have the capability to detach and float to the surface if an aircraft crashes into water.
From the perspective of the families and from the basis of needing to understand the real lessons from MH370, ideally the search for the aircraft should continue.
But the real challenge is where to look. Without new data to inform a new search effort, the only thing really known is the aircraft is most likely in the Indian Ocean somewhere. That’s the message from the wreckage that has washed ashore.
The way cities are designed and managed has big impacts on our health. While Australia is considered a world leader in research on health and cities, nationally our planning policies remain underdeveloped relative to our knowledge base. To remedy this, healthy planning advocates need to better understand how urban planning systems can be influenced.
Several recent, mostly positive, experiences in the New South Wales (NSW) planning system provide insights into this process. Each represents a milestone for land-use planning in this state given extensive reforms have been on and off the table for the past decade.
The connections between city planning and health are many and varied. Key aspects include environmental sustainability, pollution risks and liveable places. Being liveable means having access to healthy food, nearby employment and services, and opportunities for active lifestyles.
These issues are increasingly important given projected population growth pressures on urban infrastructure. Other areas facing similar pressures, in Australia and overseas, might wish to take note of what has happened in NSW.
Since 2014 we have used political science to investigate attempts in NSW to include health in legislative reform, strategic city planning and major urban infrastructure assessments. As well as scrutinising relevant policies and associated documentation, we have interviewed more than 50 stakeholders. This has provided insights into how and why recent developments came about.
How has NSW brought health into planning?
Healthy planning has always had champions in NSW, but really hit its stride during a major legislative reform exercise that began in 2011. This came to a head in November 2017, when the state parliament passed amendments to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.
This legislation now lists two objects of direct importance for health:
- protection of the health and safety of occupants of buildings
- promotion of good design and amenity of the built environment.
Also in 2017, the NSW Office of the Government Architect produced a policy of “design-led planning”. Known as “Better Placed”, this policy positions health as a top priority. It embeds health within design processes, methods and outcomes for different levels of planning from cities and towns to places and buildings.
In our view, Better Placed is an exemplary policy in demonstrating the importance of urban planning for health.
In another positive development, the Greater Sydney Commission recently released Metropolitan and District Plans that position health as a core objective (number 7). The plans consistently refer to health across the central themes of liveability, productivity and sustainability.
To their credit, the NSW government and the commission have developed plans concurrently with transport and infrastructure and released them together. The evidence suggests this integration should have public health benefits. The emphasis across the commission, transport and infrastructure plans on creating a liveable and accessible city increases our confidence in this outcome.
Three key factors in making health a priority
Our research suggests three crucial factors in elevating the status of health in planning.
1. A core group of non-government, government and academic representatives has led health advocacy for over a decade. The group’s messages and activities intentionally focused on collaboration across agencies in the public interest.
This advocacy has grown in sophistication since the early days of making submissions about “health” issues that risked being treated as peripheral to the main game of planning (infrastructure, for instance).
Within government, NSW Health (both state and local departments) has developed an increasingly effective response to urban planning opportunities for promoting and protecting health.
2. The previous minister for planning (Rob Stokes), the Office of the Government Architect and the Greater Sydney Commission have each provided vital policy mechanisms for including health. This illustrates the importance of particular agents in the right place at the right time.
The minister was essential in establishing the commission. This effectively created a respectful distance between strategic planning and the “economics trumps all” planning agenda seen in some policy environments.
The “design-led planning” emphasis came about when Stokes was planning minister. The starring role given to health in Better Placed gives healthy planning advocates, for the time being, unprecedented opportunity to influence strategies and plans.
3. Delivery now requires close attention, as these positive shifts alone have limited power. For instance, the commission’s plans emphasise collaborative infrastructure delivery to create an equitable city. Infrastructure has profound health impacts, costs and benefits.
Shifting infrastructure funding to benefit the city’s West will be the core fault line for delivering on promises of equitable infrastructure provision. However, infrastructure project funding and appraisal are crying out for reform. Better indicators, transparent analyses to inform options, improved governance arrangements and greater accountability have all been identified as required reforms.
The NSW planning system has begun to recognise the importance of urban planning for health. These developments present a tremendous opportunity to influence how healthy public policy can be delivered for the benefit of the whole city.
Patrick Harris, Senior Research Fellow, Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney; Elizabeth Harris, Senior Research Fellow, UNSW; Emily Riley, Research Assistant, University of Sydney; Jennifer Kent, Research Fellow, University of Sydney, and Peter Sainsbury, Adjunct Associate Professor, South Western Sydney Local Health District
Cyber security played a prominent role in international affairs in 2017, with impacts on peace and security.
Increased international collaboration and new laws that capture the complexity of communications technology could be among solutions to cyber security issues in 2018.
The US election hack and the end of cyber scepticism
The big story of the past year has been the subversion of the US election process and the ongoing controversies surrounding the Trump administration. The investigations into the scandal are unresolved, but it is important to recognise that the US election hack has dispelled any lingering scepticism about the impact of cyber attacks on national and international security.
From the self-confessed “mistake” Secretary Clinton made in setting up a private email server, to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s servers and the leaking of Democratic campaign chair John Podesta’s emails to WikiLeaks, the 2016 presidential election was in many ways defined by cyber security issues.
Many analysts had been debating the likelihood of a “digital Pearl Harbour”, an attack producing devastating economic disruption or physical effects. But they missed the more subtle and covert political scope of cyber attacks to coerce changes in political behaviour and subvert systems of governance. Enhancing the security and integrity of democratic systems and electoral processes will surely be on the agenda in 2018 in the Asia Pacific and elsewhere.
The growing impact of social media and the connection with cyber security has been another big story in 2017. Social media was meant to be a great liberator, to democratise, and to bring new transparency to politics and societies. In 2017, it has become a platform for fake news, misinformation and propaganda.
Social media sites clearly played a role in displacing authoritarian governments during the Arab Spring uprisings. Few expected they would be used by authoritarian governments in an incredibly effective way to sow and exploit divisions in democratic countries. The debate we need to have in 2018 is how we can deter the manipulation of social media, prevent the spread of fake news and encourage the likes of Facebook and Twitter to monitor and police their own networks.
If we don’t trust what we see on these sites, they won’t be commercially successful, and they won’t serve as platforms to enhance international peace and security. Social media sites must not become co-opted or corrupted. Facebook should not be allowed to become Fakebook.
Holding data to ransom
The spread of the Wannacry virus was the third big cyber security story of 2017. Wannacry locked down computers and demanded a ransom (in bitcoin) for the electronic key that would release the data. The virus spread in a truly global attack to an estimated 300,000 computers in 150 countries. It led to losses in the region of four billion dollars – a small fraction of the global cyber crime market, which is projected to grow to $6 trillion by 2021. In the Asia Pacific region, cyber crime is growing by 45% each year.
Wannacry was an important event because it pointed not only to the growth in cyber crime but also the dangers inherent in the development and proliferation of offensive cyber security capabilities. The exploit to windows XP systems that was used to spread the virus had been stockpiled by the US National Security Agency (NSA). It ended up being released on the internet and then used to generate revenue.
A fundamental challenge in 2018 is to constrain the use of offensive cyber capabilities and to reign in the growth of the cyber-crime market through enhanced cooperation. This will be no small task, but there have been some positive developments.
According to US network security firm FireEye, the recent US-China agreement on commercial cyber espionage has led to an estimated 90% reduction in data breaches in the US emanating from China. Cyber cooperation is possible and can lead to bilateral and global goods.
Death of cyber norms?
The final big development, or rather lack of development, has been at the UN. The Government Group of Experts (GGE) process, established in 2004 to strengthen the security of global information and telecommunications systems, failed to reach a consensus on its latest report on the status of international laws and norms in cyberspace. The main problem has been that there is no definite agreement on the applicability of existing international law to cyber security. This includes issues such as when states might be held responsible for cyber attacks emanating from their territory, or their right to the use of countermeasures in cyber self-defence.
Some analysts have proclaimed this to be “the end of cyber norms”. This betrays a pessimism about UN level governance of the internet that is deeply steeped in overly state-centric views of security and a reluctance to cede any sovereignty to international organisations.
It is true that norms won’t be built from the top down. But the UN does and should have an important role to play in cyber security as we move into 2018, not least because of its universality and global reach.
The NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE) in Tallinn, Estonia recently launched the Tallinn Manual 2.0, which examines the applicability of international law to cyber attacks that fall below the use of force and occur outside of armed conflict.
These commendable efforts could move forward hand in hand with efforts to build consensus on new laws that more accurately capture the complexity of new information and communications technology. In February 2017, Brad Smith, the head of Microsoft, proposed a digital Geneva Convention that would outlaw cyber attacks on civilian infrastructure.
In all this we must recognise that cyber security is not a binary process. It is not about “ones and zeros”, but rather about a complex spectrum of activity that needs multi-level, multi-stakeholder responses that include international organisations. This is a cyber reality that we should all bear in mind when we try to find solutions to cyber security issues in 2018.