A national drought policy should be an easy, bipartisan fix. So why has it taken so long to enact a new one?



The Coalition has been promoting its $7 billion drought relief package, but critics say what’s needed is a more effective national drought policy.
Dan Peled/AAP

Linda Botterill, University of Canberra

In a country as dry as Australia, surely it is a no-brainer that we have in place a coordinated, national drought response that can be rolled out the same way that the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements are triggered when the country experiences cyclones, floods or bushfires.

Drought used to be part of these arrangements but, for good policy reasons, was removed in 1989.

Our last attempt at national drought policy

Once upon a time, Australia had a national drought policy. It was enacted in 1992 following a comprehensive review and report by an independent panel, the National Drought Policy Review Task Force, and detailed negotiations between Commonwealth and state ministers and their officials.

The policy included commitments by both state and Commonwealth governments to implement a coordinated and comprehensive package of programs covering drought preparation and response.

At the Commonwealth level, these measures were centred around:

  • the controversial “exceptional circumstances” provisions of its revised Rural Adjustment Scheme, which were aimed at supporting farm businesses by subsidising up to 100% of the interest paid on commercial loans.

  • a farm household support scheme that provided short-term income support to farmers and also offered grants for those who decided to leave the land.

  • farm management bonds, later known as farm management deposits, that allowed farmers to set aside pre-tax income they could later draw on in times of need.

  • a drought relief payment (added to the policy in 1994) that provided income support for farmers in areas declared to be experiencing “exceptional circumstances” drought. By May 1995, over 10,000 families were accessing this payment every month.

Grain feed left for sheep grazing on a failed crop in NSW.
NSW drought stock/AAP

Flaws in the policy

As anyone familiar with these programs will know, the exceptional circumstances program was plagued by problems.

The first was the lack of clarity around defining when a drought moved from a “normal” situation that was expected to be managed by farmers, to an “exceptional” situation with which even the best manager could not be expected to cope.

The definition of an “exceptional circumstances” drought became the subject of ongoing debate, along with concerns that drought assistance was based on administrative boundaries, leading to inequities that became known as the “lines on maps” problem.




Read more:
Just because both sides support drought relief, doesn’t mean it’s right


The second issue was the amount of information farmers were required to provide in order to demonstrate eligibility for “exceptional circumstances” assistance. The process was considered onerous and time-consuming.

Amid these concerns, a comprehensive review of drought policy was conducted in 2008 by the Productivity Commission. This was accompanied by a report by the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO on the likely impact of climate change on the frequency and severity of droughts in Australia, and an independent report on the social impact of drought.

Following the review, the government decided to end the “exceptional circumstances” program in 2009. This effectively gutted the national drought policy.

Since then, there has been no further attempt at developing a comprehensive, predictable drought policy response from the federal or state governments. There have been intergovernmental National Drought Agreements, but these have done little more than restate the principles underpinning the country’s drought policy since 1992.

In recent years, the Coalition government has appointed a drought envoy, Barnaby Joyce, and drought coordinator-general, Stephen Day, to study the impact of drought on farmers and recommend possible solutions, but we have yet to see what either has come up with.

Drought envoy Barnaby Joyce says he has sent drought reports directly to Scott Morrison, but these have not yet been made public.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Providing meaningful, timely and predictable support

Much of the criticism levelled at the government’s response to the current drought relates to its ad hoc and knee-jerk nature. This reactive way of dealing with drought highlights the need to return to a more predictable approach. This would avoid perceptions of pork barrelling and provide certainty to farmers about what support is available and under what circumstances.

A new national drought policy needs to take several forms. First, it needs to support farmers to prepare for drought before it happens. This is one area where the current policy has been moderately successful.

As of August 2019, Australian farmers had set aside a total of $5.809 billion in farm management deposits. These deposits have encouraged farmers to manage financial risk by building up cash reserves in high-income years, which they could then use during times of drought.

Individual farmers can currently hold a total of $800,000 in deposits. One possible improvement is to raise the ceiling on annual deposits in the years following drought recovery to allow a rapid rebuilding of cash reserves.

Second, a strong drought policy needs to provide support to all farmers during drought, not just those who have accumulated sufficient deposits to help them ride out the lean years.

In recent years, many farmers have taken advantage of long-term, low-interest loans to help during drought, and some have called for zero-interest loans to be made available, as well. But loans are not an ideal solution, as repayments are generally required even when farm incomes remain low.

An alternative to low- or no-interest loans are income contingent loans. Similar to the HECS-HELP scheme in higher education, these types of loans only require repayment when the borrower can afford to do so.

This would not only give farmers greater flexibility when it comes to repayment, it would also greatly reduce the extensive red tape that strangled the old “exceptional circumstances” scheme.




Read more:
Farm poverty: an area of policy aid built on sands of ignorance


Third, we need a serious rethink of the way we provide income assistance to farmers in a broader sense. Providing income support to farmers who are asset-rich, for instance, raises questions about fairness when compared with poor people in cities who are struggling to get by on Newstart payments.

This imbalance has come into stark focus in recent weeks, particularly on social media, as government ministers have discussed the introduction of drug testing for Newstart recipients, and in the debate around the Indue card.

There has been no serious attempt in the past 45 years to measure the extent of poverty among farmers. We can develop more appropriate and equitable income-support policies if we can better understand the genuine nature of their need.

The elephant in the room

While the government has assiduously avoided making the link, an effective national drought policy also cannot be divorced from discussions about climate change.

The 2008 Productivity Commission report was pretty clear in its conclusions about the impact of climate change on drought in Australia. A growing number of farmers are now acknowledging this reality. Denying the need for serious consideration of climate change is not doing our agricultural producers any favours.




Read more:
Is Australia’s current drought caused by climate change? It’s complicated


Developing an effective national drought policy is hard work. But in another sense, it should also be easy. This is because, unlike many other areas of government policy, it can be bipartisan.

Although the National Party has historically been aligned with rural voters, all parties are broadly sympathetic to farmers and value their contributions to the economy and, importantly, our national identity. The public also generally regards farmers positively and is responsive to their plight when they are faced with hardship.

As such, this should be one area where our politicians can come together to develop a coherent national response — one that is known in advance, forward-looking, equitable with other income-assistance programs in the community, and provides meaningful support before, during and after drought.The Conversation

Linda Botterill, Professor in Australian Politics, University of Canberra

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

Australia’s quest for national security is undermining the courts and could lead to secretive trials



Bernard Collaery’s whistleblower trial will be a key test of the National Security Information Act and the restrictions it places on defendants and the courts.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Keiran Hardy, Griffith University

This is part of a new series looking at the national security challenges facing Australia, how our leaders are responding to them through legislation and how these measures are impacting society. Read other stories in the series here.


In August, the intelligence officer known as Witness K indicated he would plead guilty to a conspiracy charge under section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act. That section prohibits the disclosure of information acquired or prepared by the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS).

His lawyer, Bernard Collaery, will contest the same charge in the ACT Supreme Court.

Concerns have been raised about the use of the National Security Information Act (NSIA) in the Collaery trial. Anthony Whealy, a former judge who presided over several of Australia’s recent terrorism trials, said

This could be one of the most secretive trials in Australian history.

Both cases will be back in court this month. A hearing is also scheduled to consider how national security information will be dealt with in the Collaery trial.

There has been significant media discussion around the ASIS bugging that Witness K and Bernard Collaery exposed, but less about the NSIA.

So what is the National Security Information Act? Why was it introduced and how could it lead to secretive trials?

Having its cake and eating it, too

The purpose of the NSIA is to protect national security information while allowing it to be used in Australian courtrooms. It applies in federal court proceedings, both civil and criminal.

Before the NSIA, prosecutors faced a difficult choice. They could prosecute someone for terrorism, national security or secrecy offences and risk having sensitive information disclosed publicly, or they could keep the information secret and possibly have the prosecution fail.

The act was introduced in 2004 as part of Australia’s vast suite of counter-terrorism laws, designed specifically to help prosecutors convict people for terrorism offences.

Now, the government can have its cake and eat it too: it no longer needs to choose between protecting sensitive information and prosecuting someone for disclosing it.




Read more:
Australia has enacted 82 anti-terror laws since 2001. But tough laws alone can’t eliminate terrorism


What does the NSIA do?

The NSIA creates special procedures by which national security information can be protected while still being used as evidence.

National security information is defined broadly under the act as any information relating to

Australia’s defence, security, international relations or law enforcement interests.

There are two circumstances in which the NSIA procedures can be triggered. The first is when the parties know in advance they are likely to reveal national security information during the trial. The parties must notify the attorney-general of this, or face two years in prison.

The second set of circumstances relates to when a witness is being questioned on the stand and an answer has the potential to reveal national security information. If a lawyer or the defendant knows this could happen, he or she must stop the witness from answering and notify the court, or the same penalty applies.




Read more:
Why an Australian charter of rights is a matter of national urgency


In either of these circumstances, the attorney-general can issue a non-disclosure certificate that prohibits the information from being revealed or allows it to be revealed in summary or redacted form. The court then holds a closed hearing in which the judge will determine whether and how the information may be used.

In a closed hearing, not only are journalists and members of the public barred from attending, but also the jury. The judge may even exclude the defendant, the defendant’s lawyer or a court official if revealing the information to them would be likely to compromise national security.

Supporters of Bernard Collaery and Witness K protesting outside Supreme Court in Canberra in August.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Withholding information from defendants

That the legislation permits closed hearings is not necessarily the main issue, though this certainly undermines the principles of open justice. However, closed hearings are an option in other sensitive cases, such as those involving child victims of sexual assault.

The main problem with the NSIA is that it creates a situation in which national security information can be used in a courtroom without the defendant, jury, media or general public knowing the details of that information.

Producing evidence in summary or redacted form means that the gist of the information is provided, but key details are kept secret. In fact, it is not even clear under Australian law that something approximating a gist needs to be given.




Read more:
From Richard Boyle and Witness K to media raids: it’s time whistleblowers had better protection


This undermines the defendant’s ability to argue their innocence. A core aspect of procedural fairness and the right to a fair trial is that defendants must know the case against them. This allows their lawyers to contest the veracity of the evidence through cross-examination.

Without knowing when or how the prosecution’s evidence was collected, or even the precise claims the evidence is making, lawyers cannot adequately defend their clients. They are fighting with one hand tied behind their backs.

Weighing national security vs a fair trial

Moreover, in deciding how potentially sensitive information can be used in court, judges must give greater weight to national security than the defendant’s right to receive a fair hearing.

In other words, the NSIA does not require a judge to balance national security and a fair trial equally. More weight must be given to the former under the law.

It may be that judges can still strike an appropriate balance so defendants receive a fair hearing in cases like these. But if a contest between national security and a fair trial needs to be decided, it is clear which one wins.

Using the NSIA in the Collaery trial is also significant because the accused is a whistleblowing lawyer and not someone accused of terrorism.

After the recent police raids on the ABC headquarters, the home of a News Corp journalist and the home of an Australian Signals Directorate officer, the Australian media will be watching this trial closely.

It is likely, given the sensitive nature of the ASIS bugging scandal, that information will be withheld from Collaery’s defence team for national security reasons. This is a significant test case for whether whistleblowers can receive a fair trial in the current climate of government secrecy.The Conversation

Keiran Hardy, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University

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

The proposed National Integrity Commission is a watered-down version of a federal ICAC


Yee-Fui Ng, Monash University

The federal government has announced it will establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission. This new commission will be the peak body to detect and investigate corrupt and criminal behaviour by Commonwealth employees.

This announcement followed mounting pressure from Labor, the Greens and independent MPs, who argued that a national integrity commission was vital to rebuild trust in Australian democracy.




Read more:
Government agrees to national anti-corruption body – with strict limits


On November 26, independent MP Cathy McGowan introduced a private member’s bill for the introduction of a national integrity commission, further increasing the pressure on the government.

All Australian states have anti-corruption commissions, and the federal government is lagging behind in this area.

Why do we need this commission?

The case for a national integrity commission is strong.

Australia has fallen steadily in Transparency International’s global corruption index, from eighth place in 2012 to 13th this year.

More alarming is the fact that one in 20 Australian public servants said in a survey last year that they had seen a colleague acting in a corrupt manner. This figure has doubled in the past three years.

Moreover, a Griffith University survey has found strong public support for a national integrity commission, with two-thirds (67%) of Australians in favour of one.

What will the commission look like?

The commission will be an independent statutory agency led by a commissioner and two deputy commissioners. It will have two divisions: a public sector division and a law enforcement integrity division.

The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity will be reconstituted as the law enforcement integrity division with an expanded jurisdiction. But its jurisdiction will be limited to certain departments and agencies dealing with law enforcement and those that have coercive powers, such as the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

The public sector integrity division has a broader coverage. It includes public service departments and agencies, parliamentary departments, statutory agencies, Commonwealth companies and corporations, Commonwealth service providers and any subcontractors they engage, as well as parliamentarians and their staff.

Is the proposed model adequate?

The proposed model is a watered-down version of an anti-corruption commission, with limited powers.

The Commonwealth Integrity Commission will have the power to conduct public hearings only through its law enforcement division.

Conversely, the public sector integrity division with the broader remit will not have the power to make public findings of corruption. Instead, it will be tasked with investigating and referring potential criminal conduct to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

This is a far more limited jurisdiction compared to its equivalent state counterparts, such as the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), which has the ability to conduct public hearings and make findings of corruption in the public sector.

Although it is envisaged that the Commonwealth Integrity Commission will play a role in preventing corruption, this model lacks a dedicated corruption prevention division. This is a pro-integrity function that monitors major corruption risks across all sectors.




Read more:
Australians think our politicians are corrupt, but where is the evidence?


There are also other activities that do not amount to corruption, but nevertheless show an undue influence on government. Ideally, a federal anti-corruption commission should sit alongside a broader package of reforms that impose stronger rules on lobbying and political donations, as well as a code of conduct for MPs, policed by an independent commissioner.

This would form an interlocking political integrity system that would keep politicians honest.

The government is taking submissions on the proposed model for the Commonwealth Integrity Commission.

It is commendable that the government is finally taking action on anti-corruption measures. However, it is important to get the model right. The proposed model is an improvement on the status quo of patchwork regulation, but does not go far enough to properly investigate corruption in federal government.The Conversation

Yee-Fui Ng, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Monash University

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

Government agrees to national anti-corruption body – with strict limits


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has given in to pressure to set up a new Commonwealth
Integrity Commission
but its operation would be strictly
circumscribed, without the ability to hold public hearings into
allegations of corruption against politicians.

While the new organisation would be the lead body in Australia’s
multi-agency anti-corruption framework, Scott Morrison stressed the
government had learned the lessons of “failed experiments” at state
level.

“I have no interest in establishing kangaroo courts that, frankly,
have been used, sadly, too often for the pursuit of political,
commercial or bureaucratic agendas in the public space”, he told a
joint news conference with Attorney-General Christian Porter.

The announcement comes after crossbench pressure in the final sitting
of parliament for a new federal anti-corruption body, which had
earlier been promised by the opposition. Morrison said the government
had been working on the issue since January.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Day One of minority government sees battle over national integrity commission


Opposition leader Bill Shorten slammed the proposed body as “not a
fair dinkum anti-corruption commission”. It would be limited in scope
and power and have no transparency.

Also – given it would not be able to investigate matters
retrospectively – “Mr Morrison should explain to the Australian people
why he wants to set up a national anti-corruption commission which
curiously exempts himself and the current government from any
scrutiny”.

Morrison and Porter said in a statement that the CIC, an independent
statutory agency, would be headed by a commissioner and two deputy
commissioners, and have public sector and law enforcement integrity
divisions.

“The public sector integrity division will cover departments, agencies
and their staff, parliamentarians, and their staff, staff of federal
judicial officers, and subject to consultation judicial officers
themselves, as well as contractors.”

The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity would be
reconstituted as the law enforcement integrity division. It would have
an expanded jurisdiction to also include the Australian Competition
and Consumer Commission, the Australian Prudential Regulation
Authority, the Australian Securities and Investment, the Australian
Taxation Office, and the whole of the Agriculture Department.

Both divisions would investigate allegations of criminal corruption.
The criminal law would be amended to add new corruption offences.

The CIC would have the power to conduct public hearings only through
its law enforcement division.

The public sector integrity division would not be able to make public
findings but would investigate potential criminal conduct and refer
matters to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

The government outline of its proposed operation says “it will only
investigate criminal offences, and will not make findings of
corruption at large.

“It will not make findings of corruption (or other criminal
offending). Findings of corruption will be a matter for the courts to
determine, according to the relevant criminal offence. This addresses
one of the key flaws in various state anti-corruption bodies, being
that findings of corruption can be made at large without having to
follow fundamental justice processes.”

The CIC’s investigatory role is to “complement” the work of the
Australian federal Police. “The AFP will retain its role in
investigating criminal corruption outside of the public sector, and
could cooperate with or take over investigations on referral by the
CIC where appropriate”.

The public sector division “will focus on the investigation of serious
or systemic corrupt conduct, rather than looking into issues of
misconduct or non-compliance under various codes of conduct”.

Independent Andrew Wilkie said the proposal was “fundamentally flawed
and entirely unacceptable.”

“For example the public sector integrity division, which will
investigate parliamentarians and their staff, can only investigate a
specific set of criminal offences and can’t make findings of
corruption, which is just bizarre.

“Moreover an MP can only be referred by a particular agency and
there’s no way for the public to refer someone – and there’ll be no
public hearings at all meaning the Commission will operate behind
closed doors”.

Crossbencher Kerryn Phelps tweeted “I can’t speak for the entire
crossbench but I certainly won’t be supporting any proposal that fails
to result in adequate transparency and proper investigative powers”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

How ABC chairman Justin Milne compromised the independence of the national broadcaster



File 20180926 48634 1rc7hxx.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Reports this week revealed that ABC Chairman Justin Milne called for a journalist to be fired after receiving complaints from the government.
Joel Carrett/AAP

Peter Fray, University of Technology Sydney and Derek Wilding, University of Technology Sydney

Update: Justin Milne has now resigned as chair of the ABC board.


Behind the extraordinary events engulfing the national broadcaster lies a rather ordinary and clear statement of principle enshrined in the ABC Act. It clearly stipulates that one of the functions of the board is to maintain the corporation’s independence and integrity.

Has Justin Milne, as chairman of the board, done that?

Reports from Fairfax Media this week revealed email correspondence between Milne and the then managing director, Michelle Guthrie. In the emails, Milne called for chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici to be sacked over a report on government funding for research and innovation.

Then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had complained about the article; this followed complaints in February about two other pieces by Alberici on corporate tax, also critical of government policy. The ABC amended and reposted one of these pieces and eight days later republished the other, an analysis.

An internal ABC review found fault with both earlier articles, which had attracted considerable attention.

Another report this week in The Daily Telegraph makes further claims that Milne later demanded the resignation of ABC political editor Andrew Probyn, following anger from Turnbull. “You have to shoot him”, Milne is claimed to have said to Guthrie.




Read more:
ABC Board Chair over-reaches in a bid to appease hostile government


On one view, the performance of a journalist is an operational matter for the MD or other executives, not a strategic matter, and there was no cause for intervention by Milne.

But others might ask, isn’t it the role of the board to intervene if there’s possibly severe reputational damage to the organisation and executives are not acting?

Both points seem reasonable, but this is the ABC, not a commercial operation.

It’s hardly contentious to say that its journalistic role distinguishes a news organisations from other businesses. Watchdog, fourth estate – however we describe it – news media are different. Editorial independence, along with editorial standards, is important.

But this is even more pronounced for public broadcasters. While government funds the ABC and SBS using public money, these are not state broadcasters. Being free from state control is a part of the legislation under which the ABC operates. It’s when we look at the ABC Act that we see the problem for Milne.

Although we often speak of the ABC “charter”, this is really just section 6 of the ABC Act. It sets out the functions of the ABC and it’s where we find reference to the ABC providing “innovative and comprehensive broadcasting services of a high standard”.

But important obligations are found elsewhere. The requirement to provide a news service, for example, is in a later, operational section.

And it’s section 8 where we find the twin requirements of independence and editorial standards. These are worth setting out in full:

  • 8(1)(b) to maintain the independence and integrity of the Corporation

  • 8(1)(c) to ensure that the gathering and presentation by the Corporation of news and information is accurate and impartial according to the recognised standards of objective journalism

The problem for Milne is that these obligations are not imposed on the ABC as an organisation. They are imposed on the board. The lead-in to section 8 is: “It is the duty of the Board…”




Read more:
Media Files: ABC boss Michelle Guthrie sacked, but the board won’t say why


Returning then to the emails, at issue was a report by Alberici on the main 7pm television news bulletin on May 6. According to the Fairfax report, Turnbull sent an email to news director Gaven Morris the next day complaining about the report.

Morris sent it to Guthrie, who contacted Milne. Milne responded, saying “they [the government] hate her” and “get rid of her”.

This apparently is before Communications Minister Mitch Fifield complained about the same report on May 9 and before the ABC’s complaints review unit had a chance to assess the complaint. When it did, it found no problem with the article except for one inaccuracy – certainly nothing that would justify the dismissal of the journalist.

It appears Milne acted to protect the reputation of the ABC. He and the board are required to do that – protecting its “integrity” is a part of their statutory duties. And the board also has a role in upholding standards.

Had the ABC’s complaints unit found there was a serious problem for a second time and executives had failed to act, maybe the board would have been right to intervene. But that step – assessing the validity of the complaint – was skipped, and it seems the main reason for proposing Alberici’s dismissal was to appease the government.

In this case, “independence” should have trumped the reputational aspect of “integrity”, especially when the risk was political. Instead, the chairman of the ABC may have compromised both values.The Conversation

Peter Fray, Professor of Journalism Practice, University of Technology Sydney and Derek Wilding, Co-Director, Centre for Media Transition, University of Technology Sydney

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

Government senator Dean Smith urges national debate about population


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Liberal senator Dean Smith has called for a national debate about Australia’s population, as it hits the 25 million mark.

Smith, from Western Australia, said on Sunday that population issues were broader than just immigration, and included such questions as a lack of population growth in regional communities as well as congestion and infrastructure gaps in the biggest cities.

His comments are a wider take on what has become a highly charged political row, with former prime minister Tony Abbott pressing for a big cut to immigration and Pauline Hanson making advocacy of a lower migrant intake one of her signature pitches.

Smith, speaking to the ABC, pointed to the need to forecast population growth much better – previous predictions have substantially underestimated the actual speed of growth – so “we can prepare and plan better, and importantly maintain that very strong sense of public endorsement that is necessary for all of our population matters.”

He said as a senator from Perth, which had a much smaller population, “I’m interested that we get the benefits of population growth without having to pay the high price [that] perhaps Melbourne or Sydney commuters are having to pay”.

He wanted “to make sure that other cities are immune from some of the negative consequences of unbridled population growth – population growth that has been poorly predicted … poorly planned for”.

The call comes as latest figures show the annual permanent migrant intake fell to 162,400 last financial year – compared with a 190,000 planning level.

Speaking on Sky, Home Affairs Minister Petter Dutton sought to set up immigration as an election issue, and contrast the government’s approach and that of Labor.

“At the next election Bill Shorten will be promising to migrate more people to Australia than what this government is prepared to do,” he said.

“Labor got themselves into a position where at the end of the financial year they were ticking and flicking applications to get to the 190,000 target. We’ve treated the 190,000 not as a target, but as a ceiling and that’s why it has come in at 162,000 this last financial year”.

Dutton said the government was putting integrity into the program by making sure those applying through the skilled stream had the qualifications they claimed, and were not travelling on fraudulent documents. “We’ve applied a greater level of scrutiny than Labor ever did”.

“We’re not talking about the refugee and humanitarian program here.

“We’re talking about people who are coming here under the skilled program and under the family settlement, predominantly the partner visa stream. These are people that are claiming that they’re in a relationship. We’re finding cases where they’re not legitimate relationships.

“We’re finding cases where people don’t have the qualifications that they claimed that they had or the work experience that they claimed they had. If you’re bringing those people in, well clearly that is not a productive outcome for our economy.”

Smith said “moderation” of the intake was important. “We need to perhaps give ourselves some time to breathe, some time to pause and reflect, to make sure the predictions are the best they can be and if they’re not – let’s correct that. Importantly, to make sure the infrastructure spending and public confidence is maintained”.

He said there were several ways of leading the debate he advocated – such as by an “audit commission approach” or by a parliamentary inquiry.

The “tone” of such a discussion was very important. “We’ve seen in previous debates that you can have a civilised national discussion around difficult or sensitive issues if parliamentarians, if commentators get the tone right”.

Smith was one of the Liberals MPs at the forefront of the push for same- sex marriage, and he is making it clear he would like to play a prominent role on the population issue.

Citing the 2018 Lowy Institute poll, he said community sentiment was changing around population debates in a negative direction.

The poll found that for the first time, a majority of Australians (54%) oppose the current rate of immigration. This is up 14 points on last year.

“Australians also appear to be questioning the impact of immigration on the national identity,” Lowy said. It found while 54% said “Australia’s openness to people from all over the world is essential to who we are as a nation”, a substantial 41% said “if Australia is too open to people from all over the world, we risk losing our identity as a nation.”

POSTSCRIPT

The Coalition continues to trail Labor 49-51% in two-party terms but Malcolm Turnbull has increased his Newspoll lead over Bill Shorten as better prime minister to his widest margin since before the 2016 election.

The poll, in Monday’s Australian, is the 36th consecutive Newspoll the government has lost. It comes a fortnight ahead of the July 28 Super Saturday of five byelections, with two of them – Longman and Braddon – tough contests for Labor and considered important for Shorten’s leadership.

Turnbull has a 19 point lead over Shorten as better PM – 48%-29%. Turnbull’s rating rose by 2 points; Shorten’s fell 2 points,

But on satisfaction, Turnbull lost a point, to 41%, while his dissatisfaction rating rose a point to 49%. Satisfaction with Shorten was steady on 32%, while his dissatisfaction fell a point to 56%.

The ConversationBoth Coalition and Labor lost a point in their primary votes. The Coalition is on 38% to Labor’s 36%. The Greens (10%) were up a point, as was One Nation (7%).

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Turnbull government to give national apology to victims of child sexual abuse


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull will give a formal national apology on October 22 to victims of child sexual abuse, as part of the federal response to the royal commission.

Outlining the government’s detailed response on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said that Western Australia had now agreed to sign on to the redress scheme so there will be a fully national scheme from July 1.

Victims will be entitled to up to A$150,000, with average payments of $76,000. The maximum is lower than the $200,000 recommended by the commission, but the average will be higher. There will be a low evidentiary standard.

The government will set up a new National Office for Child Safety within the Social Services department, which it says will “work across government and sectors to develop and implement policies and strategies to enhance children’s safety and prevent future harm”.

But Turnbull was unspecific when questioned at a news conference about how to deal with one current big issue of child safety – protecting at risk children in some Indigenous communities. There has been recent controversy about whether too many or too few children are being removed from families. The issue has been highlighted by some high profile alleged rapes.

Turnbull said he had discussed the problem with the Northern Territory chief minister.

Asked about the level of removal of children he said: “the safety of children has to be paramount. It’s difficult to generalise about this because every case is different.” He pointed to the duty of parents and neighbours to ensure children’s safety. “If you … believe a child is being abused, don’t turn a blind eye.”

The government has opened consultations on the content of the national apology and the form of the ceremony.

The commission made 409 recommendations. Of these 84 relate to redress matters. Of the remaining 325, 122 are directed wholly or partly to the federal government, which has accepted 104 of them. It has noted the other 18, which mostly overlap other jurisdictions and will need more consideration. It has not rejected any recommendation.

The government said in a statement it expected non-government institutions would indicate what action they would take on recommendations of the commission and report annually in December, along with all governments. The government will report its progress annually for five years with a comprehensive review after a decade.

“Where institutions decide not to accept the royal commission’s recommendations they should state so and why”.

Speaking at his news conference Turnbull said: “The survivors that I’ve met and the personal stories that have been told to me have given me but a small insight into the betrayal you experienced at the hands of the people and institutions who were supposed to protect and care for you.”

“Now that we’ve uncovered the shocking truth, we must do everything in our power to honour the bravery of the thousands of people who came forward.”

The Conversation“The royal commission has made very clear that we all have a role to play to keep our children safe – governments, schools, sporting clubs, churches, charitable institutions and, of course, all of us.”

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

A closer look at business cases raises questions about ‘priority’ national infrastructure projects


Glen Searle, University of Sydney and Crystal Legacy, University of Melbourne

Infrastructure Australia’s latest infrastructure priority list has been criticised for being “too Sydney-centric” and for giving Melbourne’s East West Link, cancelled in 2014, “high priority” status. The cancelled Roe 8 project in Perth was removed from the list.

So how does a project get onto Infrastructure Australia’s list? This requires submission of a full business case, which then needs to be “positively assessed” to be given priority status.

But our research, yet to be published, has found these business cases leave out highly significant costs. This article looks at three prominent projects – the WestConnex and East West Link motorways in Sydney and Melbourne respectively, and Cross River Rail in Brisbane – to illustrate how business cases submitted to Infrastructure Australia do not follow its requirements in key respects. This casts serious doubt on the business cases used to justify major motorway projects, as well as on how priority projects are selected.


Read more: FOI reform needed in Victoria amid East West Link fallout

Read more: Roe 8 fails the tests of responsible 21st-century infrastructure planning


What do business cases assess?

Ensuring business cases are completed before investment decisions are finalised is critical to “good planning”. Part of Infrastructure Australia’s remit is to head off concerns that projects are committed to before business cases are fully evaluated. This can help minimise “optimism bias” and ensure investments deliver community benefit.




Read more:
WestConnex audit offers another $17b lesson in how not to fund infrastructure


But we must also examine what the business case is actually showing us. The main part of each business case is the cost-benefit analysis. This compares the money value of project benefits and project costs. Economically viable projects should have a benefit-to-cost ratio above 1:1.

Infrastructure Australia requires project business cases to consider non-monetised benefits and costs, including community impacts. These benefits and costs are required to be quantified in some other way, or at least described. The basis used to estimate “external costs” must also be provided.

The cost-benefit methodology requires any significant positive or negative impacts on third parties – externalities – to be included. Examples include air quality, carbon emissions, noise, biodiversity and climate adaptation.

Social impacts to be covered include equity or the distribution of benefits (which Infrastructure Australia says need to be identified since cost-benefit analysis does not explicitly take these into account), and affected local communities and other individuals/groups. The non-monetised benefit and cost categories listed as relevant are: social impacts, cultural impacts, visual amenity/landscape, biodiversity and heritage impacts.

In support of monetary estimates, proponents must “describe and provide supporting material that demonstrates how land use, population and employment projections are modelled”.

The guidelines stress that the supporting conditions for expected land use impacts will be in place – for instance, necessary infrastructure investment where densification is assumed. Factors that can hinder the realisation of such benefits (such as local opposition to increasing density) must also be included.

This process would seem to produce a rational prioritisation of national infrastructure projects. The problem is that the business cases submitted to Infrastructure Australia do not follow its requirements.

High-priority projects with problematic business cases

To illustrate this, we analysed the business cases of three projects designated as “high priority” for Commonwealth funding:

  • East West Link, to which the Commonwealth allocated A$1.5 billion before the new Victorian government cancelled the project

  • WestConnex, which has been allocated A$3.5 billion

  • Cross River Rail, which is yet to receive funding.

A key problem in these business cases is that significant project cost items have not been monetised. These include costs relating to environmental effects such as noise and visual amenity and to other impacts on businesses, households and property values.

For example, none of the three cases includes a valuation of the costs of lost business and disruption to household travel and amenity during construction. (This is a big issue with Sydney’s southeast light rail project.)

There is also no costing of the loss of property values along motorways, especially around exhaust emission vents. The East West Link and Cross River Rail business cases make some allowance for this by including the value of general changes in amenity from noise, urban landscape and visual amenity. None of these are costed in the WestConnex case.

Another significant omission relates to the costing of land use impacts. The WestConnex and East West Link business cases both forecast more, and longer, road trips across the network as a result of the projects.

The WestConnex scheme will increase vehicle kilometres by 600,000 per day and make outer suburbs more accessible relative to the inner city. The potential extra costs from greater sprawl are high, estimated at A$4.99 billion for Sydney over 25 years from 2011 if greenfield housing was 50% of new dwellings rather than 30%.

The opposite is the case for Cross River Rail. Increased higher-density development around rail stations would produce infrastructure savings, but the business case does not give these a value.

Furthermore, the valuation of changes in transport mode resulting from each project is inconsistent.

The Cross River Rail business case includes savings resulting from motorists switching from road to rail after the line is built.

The WestConnex project will have the reverse effect, with 45,000 public transport trips per day being switched to the motorway. But the business case does not put a value on the costs of this. These include bus and train revenue losses, or reduced service frequency and increased waiting time to reduce losses.

Debatable ‘wider economic benefits’

The most contentious business case component is wider economic benefits. These are productivity improvements arising from increased central city job density as a result of the projects improving access.

These benefits needed to be included to lift the East West Link benefit-cost ratio above one. But this is only achieved through sleight of hand – public transport improvements into central Melbourne are included as part of the full project cost. As the public transport component of the business case had low costs compared to its benefits, including these wider economic benefits was enough to push the overall ratio above 1.

Similar benefits are part of the WestConnex cost-benefit analysis. However, these benefits are to be achieved from extra car trips to the centre. This takes no account of the disincentives of road congestion and lack of parking.

Current central Sydney planning controls allow a maximum of one new parking space per 75 square metres of floor area for not-so-tall offices – or one space for about five new workers – and even fewer spaces relative to floor area for higher buildings. This means most increased job density will not come from people driving to work.

By contrast, the wider economic benefits of the Cross River Rail resulting from increased job density in central Brisbane are not valued for inclusion in the cost-benefit analysis.




Read more:
Brisbane’s Cross River Rail will feed the centre at the expense of people in the suburbs


Rethinking the business case

Our work points to several real concerns:

  • a lack of consistency in what is included in business cases
  • questions about how cases can be reasonably compared across projects
  • discretionary inclusion or exclusion of critical items that bias results in favour of projects.

The ConversationWe need more holistic and integrated analysis of projects. This will take into account not only the “nation-building” aspects – the jobs and growth projects might inspire – but also the disrupting and displacing effects they produce across transport modes, land uses and people’s experiences of the city.

Glen Searle, Honorary Associate Professor in Planning, University of Queensland and, University of Sydney and Crystal Legacy, Senior Lecturer in Urban Planning, University of Melbourne

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

No clear target in Australia’s 2030 national innovation report



File 20180131 38223 npe3qq.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The new report started as a central plank of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s 2015 National Innovation and Science Agenda.
from www.shutterstock.com

Leigh Dayton, Macquarie University and Roy Green, University of Technology Sydney

The long wait is over. As of this week, Australia has a strategic plan that promises to rejuvenate the nation’s lagging innovation performance – Australia 2030: Prosperity Through Innovation. But instead of a roadmap for action, it’s more of a sketch with detours, dead ends, and red lights which should be green.

This plan started as a commitment in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s 2015 National Innovation and Science Agenda. And it has now been prepared and released by an independent public agency, Innovation and Science Australia (ISA), after a Senate inquiry into the Australia’s research and innovation system and broad consultation across the community.

The report offers a range of 30 recommendations categorised into five “imperatives for action”: Education, Industry, Government, Research and Development, and Culture and Ambition. As part of this last imperative, ISA also proposes an ambitious National Missions initiative, comparable with moon shots.

We have a problem

Not only has Australia 2030 been widely anticipated in industry and in the research and education sector, it is much needed. The nation has a problem. On most international measures, such as the widely recognised Global Innovation Index, Australia consistently lags behind international competitors.

In 2017, the index ranked Australia 23rd of 127 countries in terms of its research performance. But on innovation efficiency, which is a measure of how well we translate research into commercial outcomes, we rank a lowly 76th. Even New Zealand beat Australia on both measures. And it gets worse. Australia was last on the 2017 OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard when it comes to high growth enterprises.

Before he was appointed Chair of the ISA Board, Bill Ferris bluntly declared of the nation’s research and development (R and D) performance,

Australia has internationally competitive R and bugger-all D.




Read more:
National Science Statement a positive gesture but lacks policy solutions: experts


A curate’s egg

So it comes as a disappointment that the new strategic plan is something of a “curate’s egg” – good in some parts, but with missed opportunities in others. It is perfectly right, for example, in:

  • restating the need for urgent action if Australia is to maintain its social, economic and environmental well-being

  • recognising that the nation’s science and innovation system is a fragmented collection of institutions, programs and enterprises – public and private – cobbled together in a complex array of federal and state jurisdictions

  • identifying a leading role for government in the establishment of the policy and regulation settings within which participants in the innovation system operate, and

  • urging government to take an active role itself in the innovation process by, for instance, encouraging pre-commercial procurement of products from industry and “role modelling” 21st century service delivery.

Implementation not clear

However, the plan’s weaknesses become apparent when considering the policies and mechanisms needed to achieve the goals it outlines. How often is it in these discussions that laudable aspirations struggle to be matched by a coherent and adequately funded implementation strategy?

Consequently, the plan reads like a shopping list of disconnected ideas and initiatives, many of which are jarringly specific – “grow government procurement from Small to Medium Enterprises to 33% by 2022” – while others are sweeping: “increase commercialisation capability in research organisations”.

The problem is that details about how to turn such ideas into reality are less easy to find. This is surprising as there are many programs and approaches, both in Australia and internationally, which offer models and solutions.

An example: many Australian universities are taking steps to ramp up their “commercialisation capability” by hiring people with industry experience, encouraging scientists to collaborate with the end-users of their research, and simplifying the management of their intellectual property.

Similarly, little is said about the broader research and innovation system, and its deficiencies, in which the policy proposals are supposed to achieve results? These deficiencies are noted, not tackled. In contrast, global players like the UK, Germany, Finland, Sweden, South Korea and Singapore are busy reshaping their innovation systems with targeted industry policies to identify areas of current and future competitive advantage.

What are we good at?

While the ISA’s strategic plan paints a broad picture of where Australia needs to be in 2030, it does not provide any guide, let alone analysis, of these areas of potential competitive advantage. What is this country good at doing? What does it need to learn to do to compete in the global markets and value chains, and in which sectors of the economy?

Answering such questions is the job of technology foresight exercises where future scenarios are mapped out and planned for – something ISA seems not to have tried. It certainly had plenty of time to do so. Instead, the plan offers a set of national missions and strategic opportunities, with only isolated illustrations of how they can be achieved.

For example, the plan proposes a national mission to make Australia “one of the healthiest nations on Earth”. Who could argue? But in targeting “genomics and precision medicine”, where Australia does indeed excel, it avoids more controversial issues like controlling the population’s sugar intake.




Read more:
It’s 2030, and precision medicine has changed health care – this is what it looks like


Moreover, some of the other major issues facing Australia were seemingly not up for discussion, such as the challenges of renewable energy and super-fast broadband. Though these are mentioned as “beyond the scope of this plan”, can we realistically sell new national missions while current ones are unresolved?

For a plan that is supposed to embody longer term thinking, it is disappointing to see such capitulation to short-term political pressures. Why not try to deal head-on with the reality that the current government – every government – is ruled by politics and the three year political cycle. It’s frustrating for everyone that policies, funding and programs are chopped and changed, according to the government of the day.

Right now, the Turnbull government is moving in the opposite direction to the policies and priorities needed to underpin the ambitions of Australia 2030. It is cutting research and education, ignoring climate change, and clinging to a commodity economy.

Need for clear direction

Of course these are difficult challenges for a body like ISA. However, it is the function of a national science, research and innovation strategy to identify challenges and address them. It must offer not only a clear direction for the future but also coherent and effective pathways that enable those operating in the innovation system to deliver tangible outcomes.

No doubt the ISA strategy contains elements that will hit these targets, which is why we must wish it well. But equally it needs an organisational rethink: what are the national goals? What are the problems, and how do we go about fixing them, step-by-step, in a systematic way? Maybe this can be the next item on its agenda.

The ConversationGlossy plans and lofty ambitions are good, and their educational value for both the political classes and the wider community should not be underestimated. But a blueprint for a constantly evolving, properly funded and joined-up research and innovation system would be better.

Leigh Dayton, PhD candidate, Macquarie University and Roy Green, Dean of UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney

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

Shorten puts pressure on Turnbull over anti-corruption body


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has pledged a Labor government would set up a National Integrity Commission in its first year – not because of any known corrupt conduct, but to restore people’s trust in the political system.

Shorten said the body – which has been canvassed for years without being adopted by either major party – would operate “as a standing royal commission into serious and systematic corruption”.

The remit of the commission, with extensive powers and costing an estimated A$58.7 million over the forward estimates, would cover MPs and their staffs, the Commonwealth judiciary, the governor-general, Commonwealth public servants and statutory office holders, and businesses and people who transact with the Commonwealth.

Its commissioner and two deputies would each have fixed five-year non-renewable terms, and be appointed by parliament on a bipartisan basis, with the body overseen by a parliamentary committee.

Shorten said: “I’m not putting this policy forward because I’m aware of any corrupt conduct – if I was, I would report it. I’m doing this because I want to restore people’s faith in their representatives and the system.”

“I want the National Integrity Commission to be a clear, concrete and impartial mechanism to restore trust, accountability and transparency in the public sector.”

The commission was announced in Shorten’s Tuesday National Press Club address, in which he also put private health funds and employers on notice and made cost of living a central theme.

He said Labor was looking at “options” to contain health premiums, including better monitoring of the increasing range of exclusions from coverage that was “turning health insurance into a con”. “Business as usual is not cutting it,” he told the funds, especially the big ones.

In Tuesday’s Essential poll, more than eight in ten people agreed with the proposition that “the government should do more to keep private health insurance affordable”.

He said the minimum wage was “no longer a living wage”, and enterprise bargaining was “on life support”. “It’s never been easier for business to take the drastic option, nuclear option, detonate negotiations, terminate agreements and threaten to send workers back to award minimums unless they accept a cut to their wages and conditions,” he said.

“We need to revisit the living wage”, and Labor would “put the bargaining back into enterprise bargaining”. For example, companies should not be allowed to unilaterally terminate agreements.

Shorten declined to state what Labor would do about the tax cuts legislated for companies with turnovers up to $50 million, beyond reiterating that it would not disturb those for firms with up to $2 million turnover.

Shorten’s embrace of an integrity commission puts pressure on Malcolm Turnbull over the issue. Speaking in anticipation of Shorten’s formal announcement, the prime minister said the government was reviewing the recent report from a Senate committee on such a body. “We haven’t ruled it out” but “it isn’t something to embark on in a rushed or ill-considered way”, he said.

The Senate committee, chaired by Labor and reporting in September, said the national integrity framework should be strengthened “to make it more coherent, comprehensive and accessible”. It suggested the government consider establishing an agency “with broad scope and jurisdiction to address integrity and corruption matters”.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who was dismissive of the need for a new body on Sunday, remained critical on Tuesday. “Why it concerns me is this: when you make a decision that your department doesn’t agree with, such as maybe investing in a country road, you end up before ICAC and if that’s the case you just take away the capacity for a government to govern.

“You’ll be terrified to make a decision that’s different to your department,” he said.

“If you’re corrupt you’re going to get busted, you’re going to get caught and you’re going to go to jail. We found out Sam Dastyari without ICAC.”

The ConversationThe Greens welcomed the integrity commission promise but stressed the need to also reform the political donations regime – a point Shorten also made.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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