Snowy 2.0 will not produce nearly as much electricity as claimed. We must hit the pause button



Prime Minister Scott Morrison in front of the Tumut 3 power station at the Snowy Hydro Scheme. New analysis suggests the benefits of Snowy 2.0 have been overstated.
AAP

Bruce Mountain, Victoria University

The federal government’s much-vaunted Snowy Hydro expansion is supposed to smooth out the bumps in electricity supply as Australia transitions to renewables. But not only is the project a bad deal for taxpayers, our analysis suggests it will deliver a fraction of the energy benefits promised.

Fossil-fuel power generators store coal or gas at the point of production. This means electricity can mostly be created on demand when homes and businesses need it. Renewable energy cannot do this. If wind or sun is not abundant, solar panels and wind turbines may not produce enough electricity to meet demand. At other times they might produce more than required.

The Snowy 2.0 project is supposed to provide a solution to this problem – storing renewable energy for when it is needed.

The project’s cost and time estimates have blown out massively. It would now be surprising if Snowy 2.0, including the transmission upgrades it relies on, comes in at less than A$10 billion or is finished before 2027.

But there is another serious problem. Our analysis has revealed that of the extra pumped hydro capacity promised by the project, less than half can be delivered. There is now overwhelming evidence the project should be put on hold.

The Tumut 3 scheme, with which Snowy 2.0 will share a dam.
Snowy Hydro Ltd

The problems we know about: cost and time blowouts

The list of possible alternatives to Snowy 2.0 is long. Aside from other pumped hydro projects, it includes chemical batteries, encouraging demand to follow supply, gas or diesel generators, and re-orienting renewable generators to capture the wind or sun when it is less plentiful.

But despite this plethora of options, the federal government announced the Snowy 2.0 project without a market assessment, cost-benefit analysis or indeed even a feasibility study.




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When former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the expansion project in March 2017 he said it would cost A$2 billion and be commissioned by 2021. This was revised upwards several times and in April this year, a A$5.1 billion contract for partial construction was awarded. This excludes the costs of transmission and other considerable expenses.

The main contractor says the project will take eight years to build – bringing us to 2027 before the full scheme is completed. We will happily wager that more delays and cost increases will be announced.

Then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull during a tour of Tumut 3 power station when announcing the expansion in 2017.
Lucas Cochairs/AAP

Snowy Hydro has not costed the transmission upgrades upon which the project depends. TransGrid, owner of the grid in New South Wales, has identified options including extensions to Sydney with indicative costs up to A$1.9 billion. Massive extensions south to Melbourne will also be required.

Snowy Hydro contends it should not pay for the new transmission lines because the benefits would flow to the entire grid, not just its venture. In other words Snowy Hydro argues, conveniently, that we should count the benefits but ignore the costs when thinking about their project.

The numbers simply do not add up

The Snowy 2.0 project grandly claims it could generate at its full 2,000 megawatt capacity for 175 hours – or about a week. This capacity can also be expressed as 350 gigawatt hours (GWh).

Energy Minister Angus Taylor has talked up the project’s superiority to smaller-capacity alternatives such as batteries.

But the maximum additional pumped hydro capacity Snowy 2.0 can create, in theory, is less than half this. The reasons are technical, but worth taking the time to understand.

The figure below outlines the main physical features that define Snowy 2.0. It includes four dams: Tantangara, Talbingo, Jounama and Blowering. For simplicity, we have numbered these from 1-4 in the following explanation.



The Conversation, CC BY-ND

When Snowy 2.0 generates electricity, water will be released from Dam 1 at the top of the system. It will flow through a long tunnel to the smaller Dam 2. The flow of water drives turbines which generate energy. When the turbines are reversed, the water is pumped back to the top to continue the cycle.

For Snowy 2.0 to produce the 350 GWh of electricity claimed, the top dam must be full and all that water released through the system. But replenishing the top dam after this event would take many months of pumping water from elsewhere in the system, and use up 40% more electricity than was originally generated. So the 350 GWh would never be achieved because it is extremely inefficient and inflexible.

In reality, the pumped hydro capacity of Snowy 2.0 is defined by the amount of water that the smaller Dam 2 can hold. If the scheme was a closed system, with no other water flowing in or out, it could produce around 230 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity.

But the system does not exist in isolation. Part of the existing Snowy Hydro scheme, known as Tumut 3, also uses Dam 2. It creates pumped hydro electricity by cycling water between that dam and the even smaller Dam 3 below it.

For Snowy 2.0 to operate at full cyclical capacity, Dam 2 must be empty to receive the water. That would entail emptying Dam 2 into the smaller Dam 3 and from there to Dam 4 at the bottom of the system. This water could not be used again to generate electricity. This “lost” water would have generated 60 GWh worth of electricity in the Tumut 3 scheme.

Khancoban Dam, part of the soon-to-be expanded Snowy Hydro scheme.
Snowy Hydro Ltd

This means that as a cyclical pumped hydro system, Snowy 2.0 does not add 230 GWh of capacity. When you subtract the 60 GWh from the 230 GWh, Snowy 2.0 adds just 170 GWh of recyclable pumped hydro. This is less than half the claimed storage capacity.

And this is the maximum cyclical capacity in theory only. Snowy 2.0 would never produce continuously for the time needed to generate and then pump 230 GWh because it would never be economically viable to run it this way.

In practice if Snowy 2.0’s lower dam is operated in future as it is now – almost always close to full – the cycling capacity of Snowy 2.0 may be as low as 40 GWh – around one tenth of the promised number.

What does all this mean?

These facts put Snowy 2.0 in a completely different light. There are many competing alternatives that can provide storage far more flexibly for a fraction of Snowy 2.0’s price tag. These alternatives would also have far fewer environmental impacts or development risks, in most cases none of the transmission costs and could be built much more quickly.

It is always difficult to press the pause button on a major project once it has begun. But the evidence for doing this is overwhelming. In pursuit of the public interest, the federal government should put the project on hold and ask a reputable investment bank to publicly advise, perhaps through the Productivity Commission, what Snowy 2.0 would be worth if built.

A credible independent valuation would establish with some confidence how deeply Snowy Hydro will have its hands in the public’s pockets. A panel of independent experts should then be asked to publicly advise whether taxpayer money is needed to meet the demands of a renewables-dominated power system, and if so, the best way it should be spent.The Conversation

Bruce Mountain, Director, Victoria Energy Policy Centre, Victoria University

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

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View from The Hill: Malcolm Turnbull delivers the unpalatable truth to Scott Morrison on climate and energy


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Sometimes birthdays are best let pass quietly. The Liberals are finding the 75th anniversary of their founding another occasion for the blood sport they thought they’d put behind them.

Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull are out of parliament – for which Scott Morrison is much thankful – but their passions are unabated. Each has let fly in interviews with The Australian’s Troy Bramston to mark the anniversary.

Abbott repeated that it was Turnbull’s undermining which did him in (only the partial truth) and indicated he wouldn’t mind returning to parliament but didn’t think the Liberal party would ask him (absolutely true).

Turnbull’s was the more pertinent and, from where the government stands, pointed interview because it fed very directly into central issues of the moment, climate change and energy policy.

“The Liberal Party has just proved itself incapable of dealing with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in any sort of systematic way,” Turnbull said.

“The consequence … is without question that we are paying higher prices for electricity and having higher emissions.”




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He knows what he’s talking about. These issues were critical (though not the only factor) in Turnbull losing the leadership twice – first in opposition and then in government. And that was despite doing deals and trade offs to try to satisfy the right in his party.

He still frets about the battles which cost him so much for so little gain. He told the Australian, amid boasts about what his government had done, that his biggest regret as PM was not settling a new energy policy.

What Scott Morrison really thinks on the climate challenge, or what he would do if he were just driven by policy concerns without regard to party considerations or electoral judgements are in that category of known unknowns.

In few areas can Morrison’s beliefs be divined free of political context.

But we do know two things.

Firstly, we don’t have a satisfactory energy policy: emissions are rising; power prices are too high; investment is being discouraged. An analysis released by the Grattan Institute this week was damning about how federal government policies were discouraging investment including by “bashing big companies” (the so-called “big stick” legislation, allowing for divestment when an energy company is recalcitrant, is still before parliament).

Secondly, climate change is again resonating strongly in the community.




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Critics dismiss the attention young activist Greta Thunberg has received internationally, and this week’s “Extinction Rebellion” demonstrations, and many in the government would point to the election result to note that climate change did not carry the day with the “quiet Australians”.

The Morrison win, however, doesn’t mean the issue lacks cut through, or won’t have potency in the future. And although the Liberals like to talk about the miracle victory, it should be remembered the win was by a sliver, not by 30 seats. What made it so notable was that it defied expectations.

Turnbull said in his interview the Liberal party had been influenced by a group that was denialist and reactionary on climate change.

It still is, but this group is not giving trouble at the moment because Morrison, unlike his predecessor, is not provoking them.

The problem for Morrison is that keeping his party calm doesn’t solve the policy problem. Unless that is more effectively tackled, it could come back to bite him, regardless of the positive tale he tries to spin, such as in his United Nations speech.

Turnbull also said in his interview that, among much else, in government he had been “very focused on innovation” which, as we remember, was his catch cry in his early days as PM.

And, if we take information from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for International Development, reported in Tuesday’s Australian Financial Review, Australia needs innovation to be a much higher priority.

Australia fell from 57th to 93rd between 1995 and 2017 on the index of economic complexity, which measures the diversity and sophistication of countries’ exports. Our wealth comes from the minerals and energy that form the bulk of our exports but “Australia⁩ is ⁨less complex than expected⁩ for its income level. As a result, its economy is projected to grow ⁨slowly.⁩ The Growth Lab’s ⁨2027⁩ Growth Projections foresee growth in ⁨Australia⁩ of ⁨2.2%⁩ annually over the coming decade, ranking in the ⁨bottom half⁩ of countries globally,” the data says.

“Economic growth is driven by diversification into new products that are incrementally more complex. … ⁨⁨Australia⁩ has diversified into too few products to contribute to substantial income growth.⁩”




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Turnbull’s talk of innovation, agility, and the like was seen by many in his ranks, particularly in hindsight, as too high falutin’. It certainly went down badly in regional areas, which is why in 2016 the Nationals sharply differentiated themselves in the election campaign.

The Harvard work suggests Turnbull’s innovation ambition was on the right track. But the political evidence showed he was a bad salesman for this (and a lot else).

Morrison is a good marketing man. But the test of his prime ministership will be whether he can use his marketing skills to sell policies that the country needs, rather just what he thinks will go over easily with his constituency.

The most effective leaders (and that excludes both Abbott and Turnbull) can both identify what the nation requires and persuade enough of the voters to embrace it, even when it’s difficult. They operate not on the principle of the lowest common electoral denominator, or simplistic descriptions of their supporters – rather they pursue the highest achievable goals.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.

‘Developing’ rift points to growing divisions between Coalition and Labor on China


Tony Walker, La Trobe University

At last, a healthy divergence of views between the Coalition and Labor about how Australia might manage its relations with its cornerstone trading partner and rising power in its own region.

It is a debate that is long overdue.

We now have contrasting narratives between the Coalition government and the Labor opposition.

That contrast was given sharp expression at the weekend by deputy Labor leader Richard Marles in an interview on the ABC’s Insiders program.

Marles accused the government of mismanaging a “complex” relationship. After visiting Beijing last week for conversations with a range of Chinese opinion-leaders, he described relations as “terrible”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, he said, had engaged in megaphone diplomacy on his visit to the United States, insisting China be regarded as a “developed” country for trade and other purposes. This includes its climate change obligations.

What we saw was the prime minister in the United States in the context of there being trade tensions between the US and China, and from there, taking pot shots against largest trading partner. The context in which he has engaged in this megaphone diplomacy is absolutely the issue, and it’s not the way in which this issue should be dealt with in a respectful way.

These observations might be taken with a pinch of salt from an opposition spokesman. But it is true that relations are now at a low ebb for a variety of reasons, some of the government’s making, some not.

Australia did not initiate a trade war, but fractious relations with China are collateral damage.

Significantly, what is emerging in Australian domestic politics is an erosion of what has been a bipartisan consensus on how to relate to China in what are very challenging circumstances.




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This is, potentially, a watershed moment in the evolution of the Australian policy towards China. This policy has, more or less, been settled business since Gough Whitlam normalised relations in 1972 as one of his first acts as prime minister.

Morrison’s embrace of American calls for China to be declared a developed country under World Trade Organisation rules means there is now a sharp point of difference between the government and opposition.

This is the nub of what the prime minister had to say on the issue to The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

China’s economic growth is welcomed by Australia and we recognise the economic maturity that it has now realised as a newly developed economy… The world’s global institutions must adjust their settings for China in recognition of this new status. That means more will be expected, of course, as has always been the case for nations like the United States who’ve always had this standing.

Labor does not regard China as a “developed” country under World Trade Organisation auspices, nor, for that matter, does most of the rest of the world. This is an American preoccupation, now signed onto by Canberra.

Why it should have been necessary for Morrison to take sides in this debate is not clear. On the face of it, his interventions have been unwise.

What should be understood about emerging differences over China’s “developed” country status, is that it represents, in an Australian context, a wider divergence of views between the government and opposition on how to manage China’s rise.

The government believes China should be pulled into line. Labor is more circumspect while acknowledging that Beijing’s behaviour is exerting considerable – and unwelcome – stress on an international rules-based order.

Whether he pretends otherwise or not, Morrison has aligned Australia with the Donald Trump White House view of China as a mercantilist power seeking ruthlessly to extend its power and influence in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

In its mirroring of the US position, the government is indicating it believes China needs to have its wings clipped.

Morrison’s visit to the United States may come to be regarded, therefore, as a watershed moment in Australian foreign policy in which a choice was made.

Whether the government pretends otherwise or not, Morrison’s interventions on his US visit have been interpreted in Beijing as hostile.

Enter the Labor Party into this debate in a way that represents its boldest intervention in a foreign policy question since then Labor leader Simon Crean detached his party in 2003 from supporting the ill-fated rush to war in Iraq.

The difference between then and now is that getting policy settings right in the great US versus China debate is far more important to Australia’s well-being than an ill-conceived decision two decades ago that turned the Middle East upside down and empowered Iran.




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The view promulgated by former Prime Minister John Howard that Australia did not need to choose between its historical alignment with America and its geographical proximity to China is no longer sustainable.

The question now is how Australia positions itself between the elephants in the jungle to avoid getting crushed. Conspicuously siding with one of the elephants, unless necessary, would not seem to be the wisest course.

In all of this, one might spare a thought for Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, whose role has been to try to ensure Australia’s trade in merchandise and services is not harmed by a trade war between China and the United States.

Birmingham has been doing his best. He has not been helped by his leader’s injudicious remarks to The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

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

Australia to send naval and air assistance to protect Middle East sea lanes: Morrison


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Australia will commit a frigate, an aircraft and some headquarters staff to an American-led freedom of navigation operation in the Middle East.

Scott Morrison, announcing the long-expected commitment at a Canberra news conference on Wednesday, stressed this was an international mission, but so far the United Kingdom is the only other country to have signed up.

Under questioning, the Chief of the Australian Defence Force, General Angus Campbell, said the operation would be United States-led. But Campbell avoided spelling out in detail the rules of engagement in the event of being involved in an incident, other than referring to legal obligations.

Iran has seized ships in recent months, amid escalating tensions.

This week, an Iranian oil tanker was released after being detained by the British overseas territory of Gibraltar on suspicion of taking oil to Syria. The US tried unsuccessfully to have Gibraltar extend the vessel’s detention.

Morrison said Australia had made very clear both to the US and the UK “that we are here as part of a multinational effort”.

“This is a modest, meaningful and time-limited contribution …to this international effort to ensure we maintain free-flow of commerce and of navigation,” he said.

“Australia will defend our interests, wherever they may be under threat, we will always work closely with our international allies and partners.”




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Morrison emphasised that the safety of shipping lanes was vital to Australia’s economic interests.

The government had been concerned over incidents in the Strait of Hormuz, he said. “30% of refined oil destined for Australia travels through the Strait. It is a threat to our economy.”

The Australian contribution will be

  • a P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft for one month before the end of 2019;

  • an Australian frigate in January 2020 for six months; and

  • ADF personnel to the International Maritime Security Construct headquarters in Bahrain.

One complication for Australia in finalising the commitment was the fact there was no Australian frigate in the area, with the next deployment not due until January.

Australian ships participate in counter-piracy and counter-terrorism operations in the Middle East.

The Americans were very pressing in their request to Australia to join the force, including in public statements during the recent AUSMIN talks.

Morrison has emphasised Australia wants to see the de-escalation of tensions in the area and separates its commitment to the freedom of navigation operation from America’s other activities in relation to Iran.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.

Frydenberg outlines financial sector reform timetable


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has issued a timetable for the government’s dealing with the recommendations from the royal commission into banking, superannuation and financial services, which aims to have all measures needing legislation introduced by the end of next year.

The opposition has accused the government of dragging its feet on putting into effect the results of the inquiry, which delivered its final report early this year.

“The need for change is undeniable, and the community expects that the government response to the royal commission will be implemented swiftly,” Frydenberg said in a statement on the timetable.

Fydenberg said that in his final report Commissioner Kenneth Hayne made 76 recommendations – 54 directed to the federal government (more than 40 of them needing legislation), 12 to the regulators, and 10 to the industry. Beyond the 76 recommendations, the government had announced another 18 commitments to address issues in the report.

The government had implemented 15 of the commitments it outlined in responding to the report, Frydenberg said. This included eight out of the 54 recommendations, and seven of the 18 additional commitments the government made. “Significant progress” had been made on another five recommendations, with draft legislation in parliament or out for comment or consultation papers produced.




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Frydenberg said that, excluding the reviews to be conducted in 2022, his timetable was:

  • by the end of 2019, more than 20 commitments (about a third of the government’s commitments) would have been implemented or have legislation in parliament

  • by mid 2020, more than 50 commitments would have been implemented or be before parliament

  • by the end of 2020, the rest of the commission’s recommendations needing legislation would have been introduced.

When the Hayne report was released early this year, the government agreed to act on all the recommendations.

But one recommendation it has notably not signed up to was on mortgage brokers.

Hayne found that mortgage brokers should be paid by borrowers, not lenders, and recommended commissions paid by lenders be phased out over two to three years.




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The government at first accepted most of this recommendation, announcing the payment of ongoing so-called “trailing commissions” would be banned on new loans from July 2020. Upfront commissions would be the subject to a separate review. Four weeks later in March Frydenberg announced the government wouldn’t be banning trailing commissions after all. Instead, it would review their operation in three years.

Releasing the timetable, Frydenberg said the reform program was the “biggest shake up of the financial sector in three decades” and the speed of implementation “is unprecedented”.

“It will be done in a way that enhances consumer outcomes with more accountability, transparency and protections without compromising the flow of credit and competition,” he said.

He undertook to ensure the opposition was briefed on each piece of legislation before it came into parliament.

“This will begin with the offer of a briefing by Treasury on the implementation plan. Given both the government and opposition agreed to act on the commission’s recommendations, we expect to achieve passage of relevant legislation without undue delays,” he said.

He said the industry was “on notice. The public’s tolerance has been exhausted. They expect and we will ensure that the reforms are delivered and the behaviour of those in the sector reflects community expectations.”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.

Scott Morrison tells public servants: keep in mind the ‘bacon and eggs’ principle



Morrison describes the “the bacon and eggs principle” where “the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed”.
AAP/Shutterstock/The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has a sharp lecture for bureaucrats about their KPIs, in a comprehensive speech laying down how he expects the Australian Public Service to operate under his government.

Morrison stresses the service must be responsive to both its ministers and the “quiet Australians”, look beyond the noisy “bubble”, and be more open to outsiders, in a Monday address to the Institute of Public Administration, issued beforehand.

He calls for a “step-change” in improving delivery, greater diversity of views within the service, and the “busting” of regulatory congestion.

The Prime Minister is producing his blueprint ahead of formally receiving the report from the comprehensive review led by businessman David Thodey, which is coming within weeks – although Morrison has had discussions on its content and reportedly told the panel to take a tougher line on performance standards.

His speech themes build on views he has previously articulated, directly to departmental secretaries and in media comments. His focus is heavily on better service delivery, and his message to the bureaucrats is to remember they are on tap not on top. His concept is narrower than the ideas in a report, commissioned by the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) and released last week, which highlighted the need for more creative thinking and a greater scope for public servants to speak truth to power in their advisory role.




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In his speech Morrison also has very direct words for his ministers, about running their departments. Responsibility for setting policy lies with those elected, he says – ministers must be clear about what they are asking of their public servants.

They must not allow a policy leadership vacuum to be created, expecting the public service to fill it and do their job. One of the worst criticisms politicians can make of each other is that a minister is a captive of their department.

He says he has “selected and tasked my ministers to set and drive the agenda of our government”.

Morrison points out that accountability to parliament and the public for the government’s policies rests with those who are elected.

“Only those who have put their name on a ballot can truly understand the significance of that accountability. I know you [public servants] might feel sometimes that you are absolutely right in what you are suggesting, but I can tell you when it is you that is facing the public and must look your constituents in the eye, it gives you a unique perspective.”

He says his rugby coach used to describe this as “the bacon and eggs principle – the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed.

“That is why under our system of government it must be ministers who set the policy direction.”




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Morrison sets out six “guideposts” for the evolution of the public service and his priorities:

  • the “respect and expect” principle, defining the relationship between government and the bureaucracy

  • the centrality of implementation

  • “look at the scoreboard” – a strong emphasis on “priorities, targets and metrics across all portfolios”. (He says he has established a Priorities and Delivery Unit in the Prime Minister’s Department, and cabinet ministers are developing objectives and targets.)

  • having eyes on “middle Australia” – looking “beyond the bubble” of the “many highly organised and well resourced interests” that go often to Canberra and are in the media

  • following the “Ray Price principle”, a reference to a former leading Rugby League player dubbed “Mr Perpetual Motion” – adapting amid constant change

  • honouring the public service code of governance and integrity across the bureaucracy.

On implementation, Morrison says: “Ensuring services are delivered seamlessly and efficiently, when and where they are needed, is a key priority of my government.

Good government is about receiving excellent policy advice. But that advice is only as good as the consideration in detail that it gives to implementation and execution.

And this is not an exercise in providing a detached and dispassionate summary of risks that are logged in the ‘told you so’ file for reference in future memoirs.

It’s about telling governments how things can be done, not just the risks of doing them, or saying why they shouldn’t. The public service is meant to be an enabler of government policy not an obstacle.




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Morrison says the thinking behind his establishment of Services Australia – in the post-election reshuffle – “isn’t some fancy re-branding exercise.

It’s a message to the whole of the APS – top-to-bottom – about what matters to people.

It’s about ‘doing the little things well’ – everything from reducing call waiting times and turnaround on correspondence right through to improving the experience people have walking into a Centrelink office.

Highlighting the “quiet Australians”, Morrison says “the vast majority” of people “will never come to Canberra to lobby government. They won’t stay at the Hyatt. Or lunch at the Ottoman. Or kick back in the Chairman’s Lounge at Canberra airport after a day of meetings.”

But these members of the public are the public service’s stakeholders – not the “vested and organised interests that pretend to this status,” he says.

I want the APS to have a laser-like focus on serving these quiet Australians. Those you don’t meet with and never hear from. Australians who just get on with it, but who often feel their voice gets drowned out by shoutier ones in our public square.

There is strong evidence that the ‘trust deficit’ that has afflicted many Western democracies over recent years stems in part from a perception that politics is very responsive to those at the top and those at the bottom, but not so much to those in the middle.

This will not be the case under my government.

Middle Australia needs to know that the government (including the public service) is on their side.

Declaring the public service should value diversity, Morrison says “a commitment to diversity should encompass diversity of viewpoints within the APS. There is compelling evidence that this helps teams find answers to complex problems by bringing together people who approach questions from different points of view.

It’s vital that the APS avoid the sort of stale conventional wisdoms and orthodoxies that can infuse all large organisations.

Urging more two-way flow between the public service and outside employment, Morrison says: “We need to find new ways for smart, dedicated Australians to make a contribution to public service, to see a stint in the public service as part of their career journey. And likewise for career public servants to see time outside of the APS in the non-government sector and in business as an important part of their career journey.”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.

Morrison needs to take control of China policy – but leave room for dissent



The Morrison government is at risk of losing control of China policy at the most critical time in Australian history.
AAP/EPA/Thomas Peter/pool

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

The Morrison government is at risk of losing control of China policy. Push-back from within its own ranks is complicating its ability to manage relations with Beijing. China policy is being subjected to a buffeting from hawkish backbenchers who would like to see Canberra adopt a harder line.

Let’s dispose first of straw man arguments about whether Liberal backbencher Andrew Hastie was within his rights to warn of threats to national sovereignty by a rising China that is ruthlessly advancing its own interests.

Hastie has every right to raise alarms about China’s behaviour in his capacity as a member of parliament and chair of the joint parliamentary committee on intelligence and security. He was given opinion space in Nine newspapers to do so.




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However, he was ill-advised to use a reference to Nazi Germany to advance his argument about a China threat. Hastie may not have likened China to the Third Reich explicitly, but by referencing France’s inability to withstand German aggression he was implicitly making the link.

This is what he said:

The West once believed that economic liberalisation would naturally lead to democratisation in China. This was our Maginot Line. It would keep us safe, just as the French believed their series of steel and concrete forts would guard them against the German advance in 1940. But their thinking failed catastrophically. The French failed to appreciate the evolution of mobile warfare. Like the French, Australia has failed to see how mobile our authoritarian neighbour has become.

Invoking Nazi Germany or the Holocaust to advance an argument is treacherous terrain at the best of times, unless the author is clamouring for attention.

One wonders how much notice Hastie’s commentary would have attracted if there had been no reference to the inadequacies of France’s Maginot Line.

It’s reasonable to speculate that his contribution would have gone the way of those written by other China hawks in the so-called national security establishment, many of whom have converted their hawkishness on China into a cottage industry.

One other point might be made about Hastie’s contribution. It is simply not correct to say, as he did, there was a general expectation China would continue to democratise and in time become more like us.

This is a flawed and naive point of view.

China’s ruthless suppression of the Tiananmen Square democracy protests in 1989 was not an aberration. It was consistent with its behaviour since it began opening to the outside world in the late 1970s.




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Thirty years on, China is still trying to whitewash the Tiananmen crackdown from its history


Its 1979 suppression of a Democracy Wall movement, and the arrest of prominent dissidents including human rights activist Wei Jingsheng, now in exile, attest to a regime’s ruthlessness in stifling dissent.

Beijing’s tolerance of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests will be viewed through a prism of what these might portend for the mainland. If there is any indication of contagion across borders, China will react forcefully, and may do so anyway if disturbances continue.

Before addressing what might be an appropriate response from the Australian government to an eruption of anti-China sentiment on its own backbench, perhaps it would be useful to define the challenges at play.

In its latest manifestation, China is no longer a status quo power. It is one that is seeking expand its power and influence in what it regards as its own sphere of influence in the Asia-Pacific, broadly defined to include the southwest Pacific.

These attempts to assert itself are not simply restricted to the militarisation of geographical features in the South China Sea. They also involve pursuit of an economic, diplomatic and propaganda offensive that is designed to advance Chinese interests at home and abroad.

In seeking to promote these interests, Beijing is an indefatigable exploiter of opportunities and weaknesses. If there is a rule of thumb in dealing with China in this latest phase, it is that it will seek to get away with what it can on many different fronts.

In that sense, Hastie has a point: Australia cannot simply adopt a passive response to Chinese single-mindedness in pursuit of what it perceives to be its own interests.

The question, then, becomes what to do?

This is where it becomes crucial that the Morrison government settles on a clearly defined strategy to deal with a disruptive China. What this should involve is a combination of a hedging strategy in partnership with Australia’s allies to balance Beijing’s militarised ambitions, and a separate one in which Australia’s own economic and diplomatic interests are asserted.

The government’s task will be to tread a fine line between security arrangements with its allies, principally the United States, and a relationship with China that is defined by Australia’s own interests and not those of anyone else.

In a thoughtful speech to Asialink before the G20 Summit in Osaka in June, Morrison outlined what appeared to have the makings of a “Morrison doctrine” on how to steer a course in treacherous waters between Australia’s security and economic lifelines.

The prime minister argued for a more activist diplomatic role in the region, aimed at securing Australian national interests in what are choppy waters. He said:

We should not just sit back and await our fate in the wake of a major power contest.

Australia could do worse than pursue an Asian equivalent of the Helsinki Accords that helped keep the peace in Europe during the Cold War.

This is a time for creative Australian diplomacy, not running off to Washington to hide behind America’s petticoat.

This returns us to the Hastie intervention and the national interest question.

Just as Hastie is entitled to express a personal point of view, so does the government of the day have a responsibility to assert what is in the national interest.

Clearly it is not in the national interest for political leaders to disregard comments that might have a negative impact on relations with Australia’s pre-eminent trading partner. China absorbs one-third of Australia’s merchandise exports.

This is what the prime minister had to say:

… the government is fully aware of the complexity that is involved in our region and the challenges that we face in the future… And we are careful as a government to ensure that we don’t seek to make them any more complex than they need to be. And that is what Australians can count on. We will be measured. We will be careful and we will put Australia’s national interest first.

Morrison needs to assert this point of view more forcefully if he is to avoid losing control of China policy. These is nothing inherently inconsistent between a national interest argument and one that enables dissident voices to have their say.

After all, this is not China.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

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

Dutton directive gives journalists more breathing space, but not whistleblowers



Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton appears to have backed down from his previous hardline position on AFP raids and press freedom.
AAP/Sam Mooy

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

In light of the ministerial direction issued to the Australian Federal Police by the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton on August 9, it would be a spectacular contradiction in policy if the Australian Federal Police’s current pursuit of journalists were to end in prosecutions.




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The direction stated in part:

I expect the AFP to take into account the importance of a free and open press in Australia’s democratic society and to consider broader public interest implications before undertaking investigative action involving a professional journalist or news media organisation in relation to unauthorised disclosure of material made or obtained by a current or former Commonwealth officer.

So much for the uncompromising stance of Dutton and the then acting commissioner of the AFP, Neil Gaughan, that the law was the law, and if journalists broke it they could expect to be prosecuted like anyone else.

The political sensitivity of this climb-down may be gauged from the fact the direction was issued at 4pm on a Friday.

A combination of early deadlines for the Saturday papers, the incapacity of television to pull together a comprehensive story in time for the evening bulletins, and the dead air of the weekend make late Friday the preferred time of the week to drop bad or embarrassing news.

Dutton’s announcement was bereft of explanation. However, events since the AFP raids on the home of a News Corp journalist, Annika Smethurst, and on the ABC headquarters on June 5 and 6 respectively give a hint of the likely reason.

First, there was the international condemnation across the Western world of the repressive nature of the police raids, expressed in a tone of disbelief that this could be happening in a mature democracy.

Then there was the unified response from the heads of Australia’s three main news organisations, the ABC, News Corporation and Nine. Their message, delivered in a nationally televised broadcast from the National Press Club on June 26, was that a government obsessed with secrecy had now gone so far as to criminalise journalism.

There was also the statement by the Federal Attorney-General, Christian Porter, that he was “seriously disinclined” to prosecute journalists for doing journalism. His consent is needed for any such prosecution.

Faced with international condemnation, pressure from the media and the potential for a major row in Cabinet between Dutton and Porter, the government then tried to take the sting out of the situation by setting up an inquiry into press freedom.

Bizarrely, this is being conducted by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS), the very body that has waved through most of these repressive laws in the first place.

The inquiry has generated a body of strongly worded submissions arguing for the balance between press freedom and government secrecy to be struck in a way that is more consistent with democratic principles.

It begins its public hearings this week.

So Dutton’s ministerial direction may be seen as having two objectives: heading off a potentially damaging split in cabinet, and accomplishing a preemptive buckle before the parliamentary inquiry calls him and outgoing AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin, to give an account of themselves.

Of course, as far as anyone knows, the AFP investigations are still on foot. Already officers have removed thousands of records from the ABC, accumulated travel data concerning two ABC journalists and requested their fingerprints, as well as turning Annika Smethurst’s home upside-down.

So the government’s intimidatory tactics have had a good run already, even if prosecutions do not follow.

There is nothing to stop the police from completing these investigations and providing a brief of evidence for Porter. However, given his stated position, allied with the new political dynamics created by the reaction to the raids and Dutton’s directive, it seems unlikely prosecutions will follow.

While the ministerial direction represents a genuflection in the direction of press freedom, it provides nothing by way of protection for whistleblowers.

The direction says it

does not constrain investigation by the AFP of unauthorised disclosure of material made or obtained by a current or former Commonwealth officer.

So it seems the pursuit of whistleblowers – the people who provide journalists with leaked information – can continue unabated. They still have only a demonstrably useless law – the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 – offering a fig leaf of protection.

The present prosecutions of Richard Boyle (Tax Office) and David McBride (Defence) attest to this.

The last paragraph of Dutton’s directive deals with the process by which government departments or agencies refer leaks to the AFP, and the AFP then assesses for investigative possibilities.




Read more:
Media raids raise questions about AFP’s power and weak protection for journalists and whistleblowers


This entire reference and assessment process has been shot through with politics, either at the departmental end or the police end, or both.

That is why the ABC and Smethurst leaks – neither of which had much to do with national security but were acutely embarrassing to the government – were subject to police action.

By contrast, a leak to The Australian about the alleged security effects of the medevac legislation, which the head of ASIO Duncan Lewis publicly complained was a real threat to national security, was not subject to police action because it played into the hands of the government’s scare campaign about people-smuggling.

Dutton’s direction says:

I expect the AFP to strengthen its guidance and processes about the types and level of information required from a Government department or agency when they are referring to an unauthorised disclosure. Referring departments or agencies will need to provide a harm statement indicating the extent to which the disclosure is expected to significantly compromise Australia’s national security.

If the direction is to be taken as meaning only leaks significantly compromising national security are to be referred to the police, then there may be a larger safe space within which journalists can operate.

But the hunt for whistleblowers will go on.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

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

Grattan on Friday: Morrison can learn a lot from the public servants, but will he listen?


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The public service is a soft target, especially for Coalition governments, and Scott Morrison has already had it in his sights.

His early messaging has been that the bureaucracy needs to improve delivery and implementation. He’s also telling it, with a degree of bluntness, to remember the old adage – that it is on tap and the government is on top, and not to go getting too many ideas of its own.

And there will be more to come. On Monday week, Morrison will set out in detail his thoughts on the service in an address to the Institute of Public Administration. Meanwhile a review of the bureaucracy, set up by Malcolm Turnbull and chaired by business figure David Thodey, is about to land. This inquiry was charged with producing “an ambitious transformation program” to ensure the service is “fit-for-purpose for the coming decades”.

The Australian Financial Review reported this week Morrison had told the Thodey review “to take a tougher line on the performance standards demanded from the nation’s 150,000 bureaucrats”. (Whether achieving better “performance standards” in Morrison’s mind includes fixing up the present arbitrary system for chasing welfare recipients over income reporting is another matter.)

Morrison is moving his one-time chief of staff Phil Gaetjens from Treasury head to become secretary of the Prime Minister’s department; Gaetjens is replaced in Treasury by Steven Kennedy, the widely respected secretary of the Infrastructure department. Apart from a new Infrastructure secretary, other changes are expected at the top.




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Morrison’s attitudes towards the public service derive from his keen eye on voters’ needs and opinions, and the sort of leader he is.

Given his constant deriding of the “Canberra bubble”, it follows he would perceive mileage in some muscling up to what can be portrayed as a “bubble” cohort (though many of them are actually located elsewhere). Morrison understands the public want efficient delivery – and also knows putting bureaucrats in their place plays well with the shock jocks and their constituency.

As one bureaucrat puts it, Morrison is “an outcomes-oriented person. He likes doing stuff – and he likes people to work out how to do stuff in a timely way”. So, for example, he is suspicious of long processes of consultations by the public service.

Morrison’s belief that the public service shouldn’t get above itself – by having its own policy views, rather than just views on how to implement the government’s policy – hasn’t just been articulated since becoming PM.

He put the same line to Paul Tilley, former senior Treasury officer whose book Changing Fortunes: a History of the Australian Treasury, was published this week.

Tilley quotes Morrison, treasurer at the time, saying:

Treasury shouldn’t tell the Treasurer what to do. They should tell the Treasurer what they think of what the Treasurer plans to do, of alternative ways in which he can do what he wants to do … Treasury needs to remember its job is to advise the government on the government’s agenda – not to decide the agenda.




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Grattan on Friday: Morrison finds some cats defy herding


Of course at one level Morrison is correct – it is not the bureaucracy’s job to “decide” a government’s agenda. But his argument lacks subtlety, and plays down important aspects of the advisory role that a top grade public service should have.

Tilley charts the waxing and waning of Treasury’s influence over the decades. “Through the golden years of macroeconomic and budget management of the 1950s and first half of the 1960s, then again through the nation-changing economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s, Treasury was influential. …

“From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, Treasury still had a strong economic framework but was seen as dogmatic and was pushed out into the cold. Then, in this last decade, the balance of policy influence has again shifted away from the department”.

While timeframes and individual departmental stories will vary, it is clear that in recent years the public service generally has lost policy clout.

Reasons are multiple. Some are long standing but have increased over the years; others are more recent.

They include the ever-expanding role of ministers’ own staffs; the move (under the Keating government) to have secretaries on time-limited contracts; “reform fatigue” within government, bureaucracy and the community; the proliferation of outside sources of advice; the 24-hour news cycle; hyper-partisanship; increased outsourcing of work formerly done by bureaucrats; and the elevation of the doctrine of public service “responsiveness” to ministers.

The preliminary Thodey report in March was disappointingly bland, affected by the proximity of the election.

It is not particularly deep on this issue of advice. It does observe:

There are strong concerns that the APS’s underlying capacity has been weakened over time. … The risk is that Australia will find itself with an APS that, in coming years, struggles to provide successive governments with integrated advice and support – informed by a deep understanding of the needs of the Australian people – to best tackle complex problems.




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Does Morrison’s downplaying the advisory role of the public service matter? On several fronts it does.

In so many areas, the policy world is highly dynamic and rapidly changing. Unless the public servants are encouraged to explore the outer reaches of this world, a government will not have all the information and options that it should. It will lack the best policy telescope.

Morrison makes the government’s “agenda” sound like a once-and-for-all tablet. But a government in office for any length of time needs a constantly evolving and innovative agenda, to which bureaucratic thought and expertise can contribute.

Only an arrogant government – or one living on a temporary high after an unexpected election win – thinks it knows everything. It might come as a shock to some politicians, but departments on occasion educate their masters. Treasury, for instance, shaped John Howard’s thinking, which affected the way in which he sought to change the Fraser government’s policy thinking (albeit with limited success).

Morrison might reply that things have changed, because there are now many more fonts of ideas, in the private sector and think tanks. This is true and they should be tapped. But they won’t necessarily be superior to good public service thinking, and often they are harnessed to vested interests.

Relegating the advisory side of the public service’s role also diminishes the status of the service, making it harder to attract and keep the brightest talent.

Morrison would like a more porous bureaucracy – where people move in and out from the private sector. Again, there is value in encouraging such movement, but experience suggests it doesn’t work as well in practice as in theory.

Gaetjens’ new job as secretary of the Prime Minister’s department involves not just servicing Morrison and his government but also being the bureaucracy’s custodian and voice.

Part of his task should be to convince Morrison he needs strong and broad public service advice more than he currently thinks he does. Even if it’s sometimes unpalatable or outside the square.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.

Why a code of conduct may not be enough to change the boys’ club culture in the Liberal Party



There has been sustained criticism of the Liberal Party for its under-representation of women in parliament.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Marija Taflaga, Australian National University and Katrine Beauregard, Australian National University

Last week, two former Liberal Party staffers, Dhanya Mani and Chelsea Potter, made claims of sexual harassment and sexual assault against two Liberal party staff members.

It highlighted again how hostile political life can be for women and the fact the Liberals lack any mechanism to manage sexual harassment and assault claims. In response, the party’s federal council has decided to introduce a new code of conduct, likely by the end of the year.

But the Liberals’ “woman” problems go deeper than this. There has been sustained criticism of the party for its under-representation of women in parliament and claims of a bullying culture dominated by a “boys’ club.”

Will a code of conduct help to change this culture? And how well do these kinds of codes actually work?

Dhanya Mani’s request for the Liberal Party to investigate an alleged sexual assault by a fellow staffer never went anywhere. ‘No one seemed to care about my life, or my career,’ she says.
Supplied by Women’s Agenda

A problem across the political spectrum

Decades of research have shown how legislatures continue to be hostile work environments for women. In Australia, research by Marian Sawer and Marian Simms, for instance, has catalogued multiple instances of sexism and sexual harassment in the Australian federal parliament.

The Liberal Party is hardly the only political organisation to be confronted with this issue. Virtually all major Australian political parties have faced scandals relating to sexual harassment in recent years.

The Nationals were criticised last year for their handling of a complaint against Barnaby Joyce. In the Labor party, former NSW leader Luke Foley resigned after allegations that he inappropriately touched an ABC journalist.




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The Greens have been wracked by internal infighting over allegations of sexual harassment, resulting in the development of both formal and informal complaints processes.

The varied nature of these cases alone shows just how complex – and all too common – the problem remains.

Sexual harassment of women in politics is not limited to Australia, either, as the
sex-pest” scandal in the UK and recent sexual misconduct allegations against two MPs in Canada have demonstrated.

Given the prevalence of sexual harassment scandals, what is the most effective way for legislatures and political parties to respond?

Luke Foley denied the allegations against him, but quit as Labor leader nonetheless.
Dan Himbrechts/AAP

The role of the parties

Organisationally, political parties straddle ambiguous ground. Parties are professional organisations that employ small numbers of staff and are subject to regulations and rules. Yet, they are also civic institutions that rely on volunteer labour. Their budgets fluctuate wildly from feast to famine. Further, political staff are paid for by the taxpayer, but they are not considered public servants.

As such, it is not always clear what recourse is available to party members who want to file a complaint for sexual harassment. For the most part, they are entirely reliant on whatever processes have been put in place by the parties.




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Perhaps it’s this complexity, as well as the fact that countless organisations seek to cover up bad behaviour, that has led so many in the Liberal Party to argue these matters should be referred to police.

It raises the issue of what responsibilities and obligations the parties have when it comes to managing sexual harassment complaints.

This is not an abstract question. There are implications for how safe people feel in their workplaces and within their civic institutions. It also has implications for which MPs are selected and elected to represent us.

How Canada’s code of conduct works

Canada has been a pioneer in this regard. In 2015, the country was the first with a Westminster-style government to adopt a legislative-wide code of conduct to govern all non-criminal sexual harassment between MPs, regardless of party.

Following the claims of sexual harassment against the Liberal MPs Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews, the Canadian House of Commons adopted the code in June 2015. It includes a series of measures aimed at preventing sexual harassment, as well as a specific rule that prohibits one MP from sexually harassing another. When a claim is made, the code spells out a seven-step resolution process.

Research by Canadian political scientists Cheryl N. Collier and Tracy Raney identifies some issues with the code of conduct that could be useful to consider for those seeking to implement a similar code in Australia.

One is the distinction between criminal and non-criminal sexual harassment. The Canadian code specifically addresses non-criminal actions. If a criminal offence has occurred, the matter will only be referred to the “appropriate law enforcement agency” if the complainant agrees.

But this distinction between non-criminal and criminal is blurry. Confusion over where criminal behaviour begins may prevent victims from using the code if they are unsure how to categorise their specific experience.

This is especially relevant given the recent cases of Mani and Potter in Australia. They were advised to go to the police when they made an internal party complaint. They have strongly argued, as has Liberal party veteran Kathryn Greiner, that such advice allows the party to sidestep responsibility for its culture.

Problems with the Canadian model

The Canadian code of conduct also delegates responsibility to party whips to facilitate conversation, mediation, investigation and resolution of complaints. Whips are elected offices, held by politicians. Their main job is to ensure party discipline, which might conflict with addressing claims of sexual harassment.

This may result in quick and quiet resolutions to ensure that minimal damage is done to the party. If the code is simply used to keep people quiet, this would do little to bring about a meaningful resolution process.

Further, the adoption of a code of conduct that emphasises confidentiality raises issues about what is in the public interest. This could mean the public will never know if an MP has been found to have sexually harassed someone. And this information, many would argue, is intrinsically in the public interest.




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A final important lesson from the Canadian code of conduct relates to parliamentary privileges. Importantly, it does not cover speeches inside the House of Commons, meaning that MPs can use any language they want without fear of reprisal.

As David Leyonhjelm’s use of a sexist slur against Sarah Hanson-Young in the Australian Senate last year shows, this freedom of speech can create a sexist and toxic working environment for women.

This incident, as well as previous scandals, has shone a light on the fact that political parties, just like other civic institutions, need to think about how they will respond to abuse perpetrated within their organisations.

However, as the Canadian example demonstrates, adopting a set of rules is not enough if there aren’t transparent pathways toward a resolution.

Strong leadership is also critical

This lies at the heart of Mani and Potter’s advocacy for rules that extend beyond the individual parties and would cover the behaviour of all MPs. To that end, they are trying to create a forum for women to share their stories and organise.

It also helps explain why these cases have so quickly been linked to the ongoing debate about gender quotas within the Liberal Party. The aim is to change the norms of acceptable behaviour within the party, not just deal with individual complaints of harassment when they happen.

Just 23% of the Coalition’s MPs are women, compared to 47% for Labor.
Lukas Coch/AAP

We already know it’s hard for women in political life. While a code of conduct is a step in the right direction, it is unlikely to change the internal culture of the Liberal Party, or any other party.

What’s needed is strong leadership and sustained public pressure that makes it is harder for political parties to turn a blind eye to sexual harassment and assault.

After all, it’s difficult to know how many budding careers have come to an end because of this kind of behaviour across the political spectrum. As Mani herself put it, when describing the party response to her allegations:

I was told ‘You do realise you could ruin his life and he could lose his job, don’t you?’ No one seemed to care about my life, or my career.The Conversation

Marija Taflaga, Lecturer, School of Political Science and International Relations, Australian National University and Katrine Beauregard, Lecturer, Australian National University

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