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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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.

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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.




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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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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.

Yes, Peter Dutton has a lot of power, but a strong Home Affairs is actually a good thing for Australia



The creation of the Home Affairs department means that complex and sometimes competing security and law enforcement priorities now have a strategic policy home.
Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Jacinta Carroll, Australian National University

It’s been two years since the government announced it would establish a Home Affairs portfolio, and just over 18 months since it came into being. Since then, the department, and its high-profile minister and secretary, have attracted much controversy, discussion and criticism.

The latest debate centres on concerns that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is further consolidating power with legislation that would prevent foreign fighters from returning home for up to two years and the recent decision to move refugee services into his department.

There’s also been criticism that the portfolio is cloaked in secrecy, with some questioning why an internal strategic review of the ministry has not been made public.

Are we seeing an unprecedented consolidation of unregulated power? Or is there a reasonable story of good public policy behind the headlines?

Creating a single defence portfolio

These questions need to be placed in the context of both history and broader developments in home affairs policy.

We’re used to having a single Department of Defence in Australia. But it was only 40 years ago that the momentous decision was made to consolidate five departments — including one for each of the armed services — into a single agency.

There was push-back at the time from some agencies, and also a focus on the high-profile personalities involved in the process, including Defence Secretary Sir Arthur Tange, and his relationship with ministers and service chiefs.




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Decades later, the Department of Defence remains a large but effective organisation with a joint strategic and operational command, supported by a capable department. But its strategically important role and the significant resources needed to do its job mean it continues to require close management, attention and review.

Last year’s decision to take the Australian Signals Directorate out of the department shows it remains a work in progress, but one that continues to head in the right direction.

The lesson is that significant change in important areas of government policy, operations and services takes time, accompanied by ongoing review and revision.

Competing agencies and priorities

Before the Home Affairs portfolio was created, there were numerous security issues that cut across government agencies and demonstrated the need for a more strategic approach and greater collaboration among agencies.

The crisis around the unauthorised boat arrivals in the late-2000s, for example, created significant tension between the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

The high number of arrivals saw demands to speed up immigration visa processing. But ASIO was seen as delaying the process as it had to ensure the largely undocumented arrivals presented no security threat.

Divisions emerged among various government agencies during the boat arrivals crisis.
Josh Jerga/AAP

It was challenging for the two agencies, with such different responsibilities, to work through these issues. There was also pressure on the Australian Defence Force to provide the operational response at sea, and on law enforcement and customs officials investigating people-smuggling operations and other related crimes.

The agencies worked reasonably well together, but were often constrained due to their separate roles and protocols that did not support collaboration. They got through the crisis, with a lot of effort.




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Counter-terrorism has been another major cross-agency issue. ASIO handled terror threat advisories and terror investigations (along with the police), while the attorney-general’s department oversaw countering violent extremism (CVE) policy.

The prime minister’s department was home to senior counter-terrorism and cyber-security coordinators, and the departments of defence and foreign affairs and trade ran their own counter-terrorism initiatives.

There was no single agency responsible for providing strategic policy direction on the issue until the establishment of Home Affairs.

One strategic policy home

The advent of Home Affairs means that complex and sometimes competing priorities have a strategic policy home and can be worked through at a portfolio level.

Immigration and ASIO are now in the same portfolio. Other agencies have also been added to the mix, including the Australian Border Force (ABF), the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC).

Even in the short period since its creation, Home Affairs has made progress in providing more effective operations and services, supported by enhanced information sharing and technical capabilities.

For example, the department now has dedicated leads overseeing cross-agency efforts on counter-terrorism, cyber-security, organised crime and foreign interference.




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Yet, the breadth of issues handled by the portfolio has also raised concerns about consolidation of power.

But most of the Home Affairs agencies are separate statutory authorities, retaining the independence and power established in their roles. The heads of ASIO and AFP, for instance, provide advice directly to the prime minister and cabinet when required and carry out their own operations.

In the aftermath of the AFP raids on media organisations, both Dutton and AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin confirmed the minister had no involvement in the operations.

Ongoing communication and appropriate oversight

The most important issue facing Home Affairs is the need for clear communication to the public on what the department does, why it’s important, and how its work is carried out. That must also include assurances the department has appropriate oversight and accountability systems in place.

This is easier said than done in the highly charged political atmosphere that’s surrounded Home Affairs since its inception.

It’s good news, then, that Labor chose to establish a shadow home affairs minister after the federal election, thereby working with the new Home Affairs arrangements and letting the portfolio as a whole settle down.

The oversight and accountability mechanisms are also doing what they’re supposed to do. The proposed security laws, for example, were scrutinised by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS), which recommended changes to reduce the minister’s power.

Most suggestions were incorporated in the revised legislation, though Labor still has concerns about the minister’s power to grant a temporary exclusion order (TEO) for returning foreign fighters. The PJCIS will continue to examine the use of TEOs, as will the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor and other oversight organisations.

The PJCIS is also due to report to parliament in October on its inquiry into press freedom, which will shed light on issues related to the AFP raids. And we’ll likely see the key findings of Home Affairs’ internal review as its annual report and regular Senate Estimates appearances approach.

Anti-Dutton signs after a rally to protest the AFP raids on journalists in June.
Joel Carrett/AAP

Why it should work

The creation of Home Affairs enables a more strategic and integrated approach to security, law enforcement, migration and border issues. It also means more efficient delivery of services.

But there are significant challenges to doing this and getting it right, particularly while managing such a vast portfolio of operations and responsibilities. Maintaining a balanced approach, and ensuring considered and appropriate oversight and review will be critical to its success.

More than 40 years after its creation, the Department of Defence is held up now for its strategic vision and stewardship of the country’s armed forces. The divisive politics surrounding its creation have long been forgotten.

And so it should be with Home Affairs. The creation of the portfolio is ultimately a good thing for Australia and for good public policy and services. But this is a long-term endeavour and the project is still in its early days.The Conversation

Jacinta Carroll, Senior Research Fellow, Counter Terrorism and Social Cohesion, National Security College, Australian National University

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

Pauline Hanson stymies inquiry into Angus Taylor’s intervention on endangered grasslands


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Pauline Hanson has saved Energy Minister Angus Taylor from an inquiry into his intervention over endangered grasslands, with a Labor motion defeated 33-32 in the Senate.

Earlier Taylor defended his intervention in a statement to the House of Representatives, insisting he had obtained a meeting with officials on the grasslands in response to representations from local farmers, and there was no canvassing of the compliance issues that were on foot relating to land in which he had an interest.

The opposition continued to pursue Taylor in question time, but it was already clear it would not have the numbers in the Senate for the inquiry. Hanson said One Nation, which has two votes, would not back a “witch hunt”. Labor’s motion had the support of the Greens, Centre Alliance and Jacqui Lambie. The other crossbencher, Cory Bernardi, voted with the government.

In 2017 Taylor sought a briefing on the classification as endangered of the natural temperate grassland. The environment minister at the time was Josh Frydenberg who was not, however, at the meeting that occurred in response to Taylor’s representation.

At the time there was an investigation into the clearing of a section of the grassland on the property of the company Jam Land Pty Ltd, of which Taylor’s brother Richard is a director. Angus Taylor has an interest in Jam Land through his family company.

Taylor told parliament that when he took up the matter there “had been strong antagonism expressed by the farming community about federal and state native vegetation regulation.”




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In late 2016 and early 2017 he had spoken with farmers in his Hume electorate and nearby about their worries with the listing of the grassland.

“On 21 February 2017, I spoke with a farmer near Yass who expressed strong and detailed concerns about the revised listing, pointing out that it had occurred despite the concerns of the National Farmers’ Federation and NSW Farmers, and with little consultation with farmers themselves,” he said.

“All of these farmers were completely disconnected from our family farming operations.”

Taylor said the revised listing of the grassland – which is in both the Hume and Eden-Monaro electorates – “would ultimately halt pasture improvement and efficient weed control across the Southern Tablelands and Monaro” and “has the potential to do untold damage to agricultural productivity throughout the region”.

“I sought a briefing on the revised listing from the then minister’s office, which I made clear was not to include any discussion of compliance matters.”

Taylor said FOI documents already released showed that an official had written that the meeting was “to answer questions on the technical aspects of the listing outcome”, and would “stay out of completely” any compliance action underway.

This was how the meeting had gone, Taylor said. “At no time during this meeting, was any compliance matter, or any personal interest of mine, discussed. At that meeting we discussed precisely what the department had said we would discuss.”

The opposition pressed Taylor to produce any correspondence from complaining farmers. Nothing was forthcoming.




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Labor’s Senate leader Penny Wong accused Taylor of using his ministerial position to “shore his investments up”.

She told the Senate: “Mr Morrison says Mr Taylor has one KPI, to be the minister for lower prices. But he is the minister to increase the value of his own investments.

“Angus Taylor failed to declare a direct financial interest in a company [in the declaration of interests register]. But worse, he then used his position, as a minister, to defend that company’s interests after it was accused of breaking the law.”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.

Government pulls out all stops to prevent inquiry into Angus Taylor



Energy Minister Angus Taylor is under pressure over a potential Senate enquiry.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has lobbied crossbenchers with fresh material in a last minute effort to head off a Senate inquiry into Angus Taylor’s intervention on endangered grassland.

It is expected to produce the material publicly on Monday before the Senate is due to decide whether to establish the inquiry.

Earlier story

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation has become the decisive player in whether Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s actions over NSW endangered grassland are probed by a Senate inquiry.

Taylor, seen by the opposition as a weak parliamentary performer, came under sustained attack in question time last week and faces continued heat.

Labor is putting him under pressure on two fronts – his interest through a family company in a farm that is under investigation for land clearing, and his portfolio issues of high energy prices and rising emissions.

In 2017 – when Josh Frydenberg was environment minister – Taylor sought a government briefing on the classification as endangered of the natural temperate grassland. He says he was acting on representations from constituents in his NSW seat of Hume.

There was an investigation at the time into the poisoning of a section of the grassland on the property of the company Jam Land Pty Ltd, of which Taylor’s brother Richard is a director. Angus Taylor has an interest in Jam Land through his family company. Although Taylor’s declaration of interests lists his family company, it does not include that company’s interest in Jam Land. Taylor says this omission is within the rules.

A compliance officer was at the briefing.

Under the Labor motion to be moved on Monday a Senate inquiry would examine

  • whether a compliance investigation by the environment department in relation to the natural temperate grassland of the south eastern highlands ecological community had been adversely affected by the actions of Taylor, Frydenberg, or anyone else.

  • whether the conduct of Taylor and Frydenberg, in relation to the compliance investigation, represented “a proper and disinterested exercise of their responsibilities”.

The opposition last week failed in its move for an inquiry. But since then, Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick has signalled a change of mind.

Patrick had been dissuaded from backing an inquiry by material the government showed him. He has subsequently decided the material is irrelevant, saying that after studying the reporting on the issue and federal and NSW FOIs “I am now prepared to support an inquiry”.

This change leaves One Nation as crucial – the motion won’t pass if it opposes. Pauline Hanson did not support Labor’s push last week, but on Sunday was being coy.

One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts said on Sunday night the party was still weighing its position and would decide on Monday morning.

“We’re not going to allow ministers to get away with an abuse of power. But we’re not going to allow witch hunts,” he said.

He said the issue had been hurting farmers since the Howard government caused the problem by driving, through the states, native vegetation legislation “that stole farmers’ property rights”.

“Angus has been caught up in this – now that he’s involved, the government is interested, ” Roberts said.

Taylor accused Labor of a “grubby smear campaign”

“My indirect interest in Jam Land Pty Ltd has been widely reported in the media, and was declared in accordance with the rules,” he said. “I have had no association with the compliance action, and I have never made representation in relation to it.” He said he had been “sticking up for the farmers in my electorate”.

Labor’s climate spokesman Mark Butler said Taylor was “embroiled in a growing scandal over whether or not he sought to interfere in a compliance action, by his own department, over illegal land clearing on a property in which he had a financial interest which he had not disclosed.

“He had not disclosed that financial interest to the parliament, to the Australian people and it would appear not even to the Prime Minister.”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 brings his own man in to head the Prime Minister’s department


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has appointed his one-time chief of staff Phil Gaetjens to head the prime minister’s department. He replaces Martin Parkinson, who finds himself out of a top public service job for the second time under the Coalition government.

Gaetjens has most recently been secretary of the Treasury, a position to which he was appointed when Morrison was treasurer.

Morrison told a news conference: “Following the election, the secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet and I have agreed that it is an opportune time for new leadership of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet”.

Parkinson, a highly respected career public servant, was sacked as Treasury secretary by the Abbott government, and brought back to the public service as head of the prime minister’s department by Malcolm Turnbull. His current contract ran until early 2021.

He said in a statement to departmental staff on Thursday: “This timing works for me personally and allows the PM to make a transition to a secretary who will be able to support him through the full parliamentary term”.

He was quoted in Thursday’s The Australian as saying, “Absolutely I would not want anyone to think there was anything about my relationship with the Prime Minister that was leading me to leave”.

Although prime ministerial sources dispute that Parkinson was pushed, it had been rumoured since the election that Morrison wanted a change at the top of his department.

Gaetjens’ public service career appeared doomed only months ago when a Labor government seemed likely. Then-shadow treasurer Chris Bowen had criticised his appointment as political and made it clear he would be removed under a Shorten government.

The new head of Treasury will be Steven Kennedy, who is now secretary of the infrastructure department.

Earlier Kennedy was a deputy secretary in the prime minister’s department. In that position, he was in charge of innovation and transformation, as well as leading work on cities, regulatory reform, public data and digital innovation. He also served in the office of Julia Gillard when she was prime minister, seconded as the director of cabinet and government business and senior economic adviser.

Morrison pointed out both Gaetjens – who was also Peter Costello’s chief of staff – and Kennedy had had experience in the political realm, noting that while Gaetjens had worked on the Coalition side Kennedy had worked on the Labor side.

The PM was ready for a question suggesting the choice of Gaetjens would be seen as politicisation of the public service, reeling off appointments Labor had made of people who had worked in the political arena.

Morrison left the way open for further shake ups at the top of the service. “I will always reserve that right to make further changes where I believe they are necessary. I think these are the ones that are necessary right now”. There will be an acting secretary in the Infrastructure department for the time being.

Morrison is Minister for the Public Service and has strong ideas on how it should operate. At his news conference he once again stressed the emphasis he is placing on its responsibility for efficient implementation.

He summed up his attitude: “When it comes to the public service, my view is to respect and expect”.

Asked about the service’s role in giving advice, he said, “It is the job of the public service to advise you of the challenges that may present to a government in implementing its agenda. That is the advisory role of the public service. […] But the government sets policy. The government is the one that goes to the people and sets out an agenda, as we have”.

Parkinson in his statement to his departmental staff told them: “I want to continue to encourage you to have a view, be curious, understand what is happening at the forefront of policy and policy-related research, engage widely with stakeholders from all parts of the community, and be resolutely committed to advocating for truly evidence-based policy”.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.

View from The Hill: Senate decides Pyne and Bishop have a few more parliamentary questions to answer


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Martin Parkinson, secretary of the Prime Minister’s department, has cleared Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop of breaching the government’s code of ministerial standards with their post-politics jobs. But it’s doubtful the average voter would take such a literal or generous view of their conduct.

Scott Morrison had flicked to Parkinson the row over the part-time positions the two high flyers have taken that clearly overlap their previous portfolios, when the rules provide for a longer separation period.

Pyne, former defence minister, is advising EY, which operates in the defence area. Bishop, former foreign minister, is joining the board of Palladium, a global group working in aid and development.

The code says:

Ministers are required to undertake that, for an eighteen month period after ceasing to be a Minister, they will not lobby, advocate or have business meetings with members of the government, parliament, public service or defence force on any matters on which they have had official dealings as Minister in their last eighteen months in office.

Ministers are also required to undertake that, on leaving office, they will not take personal advantage of information to which they have had access as a Minister, where that information is not generally available to the public.

The government on Monday was quick to gag an embarrassing opposition move in the lower House calling for Parkinson to probe further into the circumstances of Bishop, who told him she didn’t have any contact with Palladium while foreign minister. A video had been posted by the company, labelled “Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, commends Shared Value and Palladium’s Business Partnership Platform”. (Government sources said later that the video – in which Bishop did not use Palladium’s name – was a congratulatory one about a Foreign Affairs initiative.)

In the Senate, the government lacked the numbers to prevent the conduct of Pyne and Bishop being referred to a committee. The motion from Centre Alliance’s Rex Patrick won support from Labor, Greens and non-Greens crossbenchers, passing 35 to 29. The committee has three opposition members, two government senators and a One Nation representative. Pyne and Bishop will be invited to appear and could be required to do so.

The greyest area of the post-ministerial employment provision is the stipulation not to take advantage of private information acquired as a minister.

Parkinson says in his report to Morrison: “a distinction should be drawn between experience gained through being a minister and specific knowledge they acquire through performing the role. It is the latter which is pertinent to the Standards”.




Read more:
Why Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop fail the ‘pub test’ with their new jobs


In practice, however, this can fade into a distinction without a difference. As Parkinson also says: “It is not reasonable to think that former Ministers can or will ‘forget’ all information or knowledge gained by them in the course of their ministerial roles”.

Pyne initially said he would be “providing strategic advice to EY, as the firm looks to expand its footprint in the Defence Industry”. EY initially talked up his role but then quickly qualified it in the face of the controversy.

Parkinson spoke to both Pyne (who had already issued a long public written explanation) and Bishop.

In Parkinson’s account, Pyne seems to have done a lot of talking with EY about what he can’t do. EY is paying, of course, for what he can do.

Parkinson says he considers Pyne “has put in place mechanisms to ensure that, whilst his engagement with EY will appropriately draw on his 26 year experience as a parliamentarian, he will not impart direct or specific knowledge known to him only by virtue of his ministerial position”.

Bishop, who will have been out of the ministry for a year next month, has said little publicly about her non-executive directorship. She told Parkinson she had yet to attend a board meeting and that “Palladium does not expect her to engage on any Australian based projects”.

Patrick suggested the terms of reference given to Parkinson were limited – designed to fix a “political problem”.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: A kinder, gentler Senate – at least for now


This is not new ground. Former trade minister Andrew Robb took up employment (annual remuneration of $880,000) with the Chinese Landbridge Group soon after he was trade minister. He has strongly rejected criticism of his action (and since left the group).

Two former ministers with responsibility for resources, the Liberals’ Ian Macfarlane and Labor’s Martin Ferguson quickly accepted positions with the sector. Stephen Conroy, a former communications minister overseeing online gambling laws, came under fire on becoming a lobbyist for the gambling industry – he points out this was three years after he was a minister.

Going back further (when the ministerial code of conduct did not include a post-separation provision) Peter Reith segued from the defence portfolio into advising defence contractor Tenix.

The Senate inquiry, reporting by September 10, will look at “action taken by the Prime Minister and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to ensure full compliance by former Ministers” with the relevant section of the ministerial standards.

At the end of his letter to Morrison, Parkinson highlights the impotence of a PM once members of his team are out in the wide world.

“While there are certain actions available to you when considering the conduct of a current serving Minister, and a possible breach of the Standards, there are no specific actions that can be taken by you in relation to former Ministers once they have left the Parliament”.

Either some way should be found to make the code enforceable or, if that is too hard, let’s skip the hypocrisy and admit it is no more than an exhortation to departees to act properly – complying with not just its letter but its spirit.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.

Vital signs: we need those tax cuts now, all of them. The surplus can wait



If you’re going to stimulate the economy, it’s wise not to wait.
Shutterstock

Richard Holden, UNSW

In an enormous week for economic news at the start of the month, parliament passed the government’s three-stage personal income tax plan, and the Reserve Bank cut official interest rates to an unprecedented low of 1%.

It happened against the backdrop of a flagging economy in dire need of stimulus.

As the bank cut rates to a record low, its governor Philip Lowe again warned about the waning power of rates (monetary policy) to lift the economy.

At the Darwin community dinner after the board meeting he said:

Monetary policy does have a significant role to play and our decisions are helping support the Australian economy. But, we should not rely on monetary policy alone. We will achieve better outcomes for society as a whole if the various arms of public policy are all pointing in the same direction.

Lowe and many others – including yours truly – have repeatedly pointed out that spending on physical and social infrastructure can do what lower rates can’t do well – boost the economy while lifting its productivity. So, too would other productivity-enhancing reforms, particularly in the labour market.

And, of course, the government’s tax cuts will also stimulate the economy when they come into effect.

With tax cuts, timing’s the thing…

The obvious problem is that much of stimulus from those tax cuts will happen years from now, rather than today.

What the government should have done was insist on enacting all three stages of their tax plan immediately. Not staggered over several years, not in 2024-25. Now.

That would have, of course, pushed the budget into deficit in the short run, and that would would have run counter to the government’s narrative about being responsible economic managers.

But how responsible is it to prioritise one’s own political brand over the economic health of the nation?




Read more:
Ultra-low unemployment is in our grasp. How Philip Lowe became the governor who lifted our ambition


Let’s not forget where the timing of the government’s tax plan came from. 2024-25 is outside the budget’s so-called “forward estimate” period and thus the impact on the deficit or surplus projections is not apparent.

It was the same rationale that underpinned the glacial, decade-long pace at which the government’s “enterprise tax plan” was to move to a 25% company tax rate. And it is the same set of dodgy accounting tricks that Wayne Swan was a master of for everything from health to education spending commitments.

…and the timing could be immediate

Productive infrastructure spending is hard to enact quickly. Spending on social infrastructure like education and training has a long lead time.

And structural reform of the industrial relations system might is probably the hardest and longest of all to put in place.

They are real constraints.

The Reserve Bank faces another, the so-called “zero lower bound” of conventional monetary policy and the complexities and uncertainties of unconventional policies such as quantitative easing.




Read more:
Below zero is ‘reverse’. How the Reserve Bank would make quantitative easing work


But a government which won a mandate for its tax policies, and who frankly has the Labor opposition in a tailspin, could have insisted on all three stages of the tax cuts immediately.

The only thing standing between the economy and the aggressive fiscal stimulus it needs is the government’s obsession with balancing the budget regardless of the circumstances.

We’re not in the best of times

Don’t get me wrong, I think debt and deficits most certainly do matter. The government deserves credit for chipping away at the structural budget deficit, and we shouldn’t be running deficits in good economic times.

But we’re not in good economic times. We’re standing on the precipice of the first recession in nearly three decades. We’re looking at highly uncertain global conditions, domestic economic growth that has slowed to a trickle, sluggish wages growth, persistently high underemployment, and even the possibility of Japanese-style deflation.

The irony is that if, with the failure to enact sufficiently bold stimulus, we do tip into a recession, the red ink will flow all through the budget. Unemployment benefits and welfare payments will rise, personal and corporate income receipts will fall, GST revenue will drop. And young people who enter the labour market during a recession will suffer for years to come.

The downsides of not enacting sufficient fiscal stimulus far outweigh whatever benefits there are of a glide to path to budget balance while avoiding a recession.

It’s certainly not the time for hand-wringing

Coming back to Lowe’s admonition that we need the “various arms of public policy…pointing in the same direction”, here’s where we currently stand: The bank has acted, but far too late. For years it told us that 5% unemployment was as good as it could get long-term, to be patient and to wait for higher wage growth and inflation.

It’s been a mere five weeks since Lowe stopped impersonating Charles Dickens’ character Wilkins Micawber, who was fond of saying “something will turn up”.




Read more:
Buckle up. 2019-20 survey finds the economy weak and heading down, and that’s ahead of surprises


Now the treasurer Josh Frydenberg is giving us his version of the same routine. On one hand he says personal income tax cuts are crucial to boosting employment and spending. On the other hand, he says we’d better wait.

The Australian economy can’t afford to wait for aggressive stimulus. The government has shown more concern for its political brand than for our economic health.

It isn’t what a responsible steward would do.The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

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

Grattan on Friday: When it comes to Indigenous recognition, Ken Wyatt will have to close multiple gaps


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

If the Morrison government manages to get a referendum passed to give Australia’s Indigenous people constitutional recognition, it will be truly remarkable.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously taken little interest in this area, at least publicly. And he would have done something that proved beyond Tony Abbott, for whom it was a cause.

Morrison and his minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, would have stared down conservative colleagues, cut a deal with Labor, and persuaded enough Indigenous leaders to get on board.

Finally, the government would have overcome the public’s inherent negativity towards referendums.

It would, one might say, be another miracle.

But miracles are rare and on present indications this one will be extraordinarily hard to land.

We are yet to see how seriously committed Morrison will be to the recognition push. For a chance of success, he’ll need to put his back into it.




Read more:
The Morrison government proposes an Indigenous recognition referendum this term


His appointment of Wyatt, a man of Noongar, Wongi, and Yamatji heritage, was a statement in itself. The nomination of recognition for early attention was a surprise – and another indication that we have yet to get a grasp on Morrison as prime minister (as distinct from campaigner).

There has been much talk about his lack of an agenda, but the unveiling of a couple of significant priorities – industrial relations and now Indigenous recognition – suggests there might be more there than we suspected.

It’s important to be clear about what Wyatt – who outlined his proposals in a speech on Wednesday – is saying.

The government’s ambit hope is to put a referendum for recognition during this parliamentary term. But this will only happen if two conditions are met: it can get consensus on the content of what would go into the constitution, and there’s a high probability of a favourable outcome. The latter means winning not just the overall vote but the vote in four of the six states. Both content and potential support will present major problems.

What of the timetable? If the government really wants to give constitutional change a red hot go, there is a case for pushing it hard and quickly. Support doesn’t necessary build as time passes; beyond a certain point, it can erode.

But judging whether and when there would be sufficient likely public backing for a Yes vote would be tricky. Post May 18, everyone has become rather chary of polls. And things could quickly change in the final countdown.

History shows the voters’ penchant to say No. Despite the triumph of the 1967 referendum to give the federal government power to make laws for Aboriginal people and count them in the census (carried overwhelmingly in every state), referendums generally fail. Only eight have been passed – the last in 1977.




Read more:
Listening with ‘our ears and our eyes’: Ken Wyatt’s big promises on Indigenous affairs


Formulating the question will be an extremely challenging hurdle to climb over.

A constitutional change that acknowledged Australia’s First Peoples but didn’t go much beyond that would be easiest to get through government ranks and the popular vote.

It is hard to see either Indigenous leaders or Labor accepting just that.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders in their 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart called for “the establishment of a First Nations voice enshrined in the constitution”.

But the indications are a voice would not be part of the government’s constitutional model. Wyatt does want a voice at the national level, but he is vague about its form, and the official line is that Morrison has “no plans” for the voice.

Labor was committed at the election to putting into the constitution a voice – which would be an input to the political process, not any sort of third chamber of Parliament – and the ALP would come under attack from Indigenous leaders if it walked away from this.

Writing for the Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday, Labor’s Pat Dodson, shadow assistant minister for reconciliation and constitutional recognition (and an Indigenous man dubbed “the father of reconciliation”) declared:

We either deliver the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full or continue down the failed path of soft reconciliation measures.

The shadow minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney (also Indigenous), who is working closely with Wyatt and will do some travelling with him, may be more flexible than Dodson. Nevertheless she said after Wyatt’s speech:

We are at a point in our development, in our history where a voice to the parliament absolutely has to be entrenched in the Australian Constitution.

Morrison has had talks with Anthony Albanese to pursue bipartisanship on Indigenous issues and the Labor leader was optimistic on Thursday that a successful recognition referendum in the next three years was “absolutely realistic and doable”.




Read more:
Constitutional reform made easy: how to achieve the Uluru statement and a First Nations voice


But former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, a member of the review panel Abbott set up to examine possible pathways to constitutional recognition, says that while he’s sympathetic to what Wyatt is undertaking,

finding the necessary national unity to avoid hurt and disappointment will be far from easy.

One huge problem, Anderson believes, will be getting Aboriginal people to come together on an agreed model.

Those in the Coalition party room and in the right wing commentariat who are critical of the move for recognition will use the spectre of the voice as a scare tactic.

The recognition issue will be one test of whether the right, though tamed since Malcolm Turnbull’s overthrow, will seriously arc up within the Liberal party in this term.

But Wyatt has attracted enthusiasm from some colleagues. NSW Liberal John Alexander was quick to declare

I’m with Ken on this, he has my full support for the process he has initiated and I hope it can conclude with a successful referendum vote and form of voice we can all be proud of.

Of particular importance, many big corporations, including mining companies, now have progressive positions on Indigenous affairs and will swing in behind the move. Wyatt has indicated he would be looking to them to help carry the debate, particularly in his home state of Western Australia, where a referendum would potentially be a hard sell.

He’d be encouraged by sentiments such as from Woodside, which said the company was

proud to give our support to this process as we continue to walk together with courage towards a reconciled Australia.




Read more:
Politics with Michelle Grattan: Ken Wyatt on constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians


As with same-sex marriage, indeed probably more so, the corporate world is talking up an important social issue and prodding the politicians to act.

If Morrison has to retreat on Indigenous recognition, it is unlikely to make a great amount of difference to him. It won’t affect the outcome of the next election.

For Wyatt the issue has quite another dimension. This is a fight for his people. The stakes are personal, and must feel frightening high.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.