Scott Morrison has announced that New South Wales Governor David Hurley will become Australia’s next Governor-General, succeeding Sir Peter Cosgrove.
The Prime Minister timed his news conference in Canberra with the governor-general designate to coincide with Bill Shorten’s opening address at the ALP national conference in Adelaide.
Like Cosgrove, Hurley is a former military man. He has been NSW Governor since 2014 and served as chief of the Australian Defence Force from 2011-2014.
He will be regarded as a safe and uncontroversial choice, although some critics will say the government should have looked beyond former military ranks.
Labor frontbencher Jim Chalmers said the opposition welcomed Hurley’s appointment but was disappointed that Shorten had not been consulted. The opposition leader was only informed on Sunday morning, ahead of the 10am announcement.
“Ideally, so close to an election the opposition would have been properly consulted on an appointment which is so important to Australia and goes for such a long time” Chalmers said.
Morrison said Hurley would be sworn in on June 28, to allow him to fulfil his present duties. Cosgrove’s term, which ends in March, will be briefly extended.
Morrison in a statement said Hurley had been “a very popular governor of NSW. From his weekly boxing workouts with Indigenous children as part of the Tribal Warriors Program, to his frequent regional trips, Governor Hurley is known as being generous and approachable to young and old alike.”
Appearing at their joint news conference in the prime ministerial courtyard, Morrison said of General Hurley “I had only one choice, my first choice, and he is standing next to me,”
Asked why the announcement was made on Sunday, Morrison said “it needed to be done to provide certainty about the role going into next year”
“Next year is an election year and it is very important that … this appointment is seen well outside the context of any electoral issues.”
The start of Shorten’s national conference speech was disrupted when demonstrators, protesting about the Adani mine and refugee policy, mounted the stage. An anti-Adani protestor stood beside Shorten with a flag that said “Stop Adani”, and other protestors unfurled a banner “ALP – Stop playing politics with peoples lives. #ClosetheCamps”.
An obviously frustrated Shorten said people had the right to protest but “you have got to ask yourself when you see these protests, who is the winner? It is the Coalition”.
Security guards escorted and dragged the protesters off the stage.
In his speech, Shorten said a Labor government would be the first government in Australian history with 50% of women in its parliamentary ranks. Standing in front of the conference’s theme of “A Fair Go for Australia” Shorten said “inequality is eating away at our prosperity”.
He announced that an ALP government would make superannuation part of the national employment standards, saying it was a workplace right and that bosses who stole superannuation from their employees should suffer the same penalties as others who violated workplace rights.
He stressed that Labor’s plans were fully costed and a Labor government could “guarantee stronger budget surpluses”.
Last month, the federal government introduced a bill into parliament that, if passed, will make it easier to strip an Australian of citizenship by:
making lesser offences a trigger for deprivation
dropping the requirement that, to trigger deprivation, a conviction or convictions result in a term of imprisonment of at least six years
weakening and complicating protections against the creation of statelessness.
These amendments are directly contrary to bipartisan recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, contained in its report of September 2015. Those recommendations were followed when parliament inserted the current citizenship stripping provisions into the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 in December 2015.
Expanding the scope, and lowering the threshold, for deprivation
The proposed amendments address what an earlier Conversation piece referred to as “conviction-based citizenship deprivation”, one of three mechanisms for deprivation introduced into the Act in 2015.
Of the offences currently listed as potential triggers for deprivation, some are directed at terrorism and some are without that connection (for example sabotage and espionage). All carry a maximum sentence of ten years or more: for example treason (life); espionage (life); directing the activities of a terrorist organisation (ten years) or; membership of a terrorist organisation (ten years).
This enacts the view of the parliamentary committee that ten years served to mark out the offences sufficiently serious to warrant deprivation. Further, the parliamentary committee determined that even when convicted of such an offence:
there will still be degrees of seriousness of conduct and degrees to which conduct demonstrates a repudiation of allegiance to Australia.
The committee also insisted on an additional requirement that the relevant convictions result in a sentence of at least six years imprisonment in total.
These two important existing limitations on the deprivation power are breached by the government’s proposed amendments:
the offence of “associating with terrorist organisations” has been added to the terrorism offences that trigger deprivation. This is an offence with a maximum sentence of only three years, radically under the ten years previously required
the requirement that conviction carry a sentence of at least six years has been dropped in relation to all the nominated offences designated “terrorism offences”. However, it remains in place for “other offences” such as espionage, sabotage and foreign incursions
the new lower standards apply retrospectively to convictions from 12 December 2005 in relation to the relevant terrorism offences.
Weakening, and complicating, protections against statelessness
The proposed amendments also weaken the safeguards on the creation of statelessness. Currently, a person can only be deprived of citizenship under the provision if he or she “is a national or citizen of a country other than Australia” at the time when the minister strips him or her of citizenship. This is to ensure that the minister does not render the person stateless.
The proposed amendments replace that test, instead providing that the minister can deprive a person of Australian citizenship if:
the Minister is satisfied that the person would not […] become a person who is not a national or citizen of any country.
The proposed formulation substitutes the minister’s satisfaction for the facts of the matter. But under Australia’s international law commitments on statelessness, the minister’s opinion is irrelevant. What matters is whether the person is a citizen under the domestic law of the foreign country concerned.
If the minister’s view that a person is a citizen of country X diverges from the view held by the authorities in country X, there is a practical impasse. If country X determines the person is not one of its citizens and accordingly refuses to admit them, and Australia denies the newly minted non-citizen a visa, deprivation may result in the former Australian citizen being held in indefinite immigration detention.
And the nature of the inquiry has changed. In context, the word “become” muddies the time at which the person must have another nationality. It invites the possibility that deprivation will render a person stateless, but that, over some unspecified period, they will become the national of another country.
These comments on statelessness should be understood in the context of Australia’s opaque process for determining a person’s foreign nationality or nationalities. In the United Kingdom, for example, a person has a statutory right to appeal a ministerial decision to strip them of citizenship.
In the exercise of these appeal rights, the most frequently litigated issue is whether a person has another nationality (the Pham case is a prominent example). Expert witnesses are called and cross-examined on difficult questions of foreign nationality law.
None of this institutional infrastructure is provided for under the Australian legislation. How these issues are resolved needs attention. If parliament has learned anything in the past few years, it should be that determining whether a person has a foreign citizenship is no simple matter.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has announced an inquiry into the Bill. Submissions close on January 11, 2019.
Over the past four years, we have conducted a range of attitudinal surveys with the Social Research Institute at Ipsos on the relationship between trust in the political system and attitudes towards democracy in Australia.
Our latest research, conducted in July 2018 (prior to the Liberal Party’s leadership spill), includes a quantitative survey of a representative sample of 20 focus groups and 1,021 Australians from a wide range of demographic backgrounds. We understood political trust in this survey as “keeping promises and agreements”.
Our findings should give all democrats pause for thought. We continue to find compelling evidence of an increasing trust divide between government and citizens. This is reflected in the decline of democratic satisfaction and receding trust in politicians, political parties and other key institutions (especially media). We also found a lack of public confidence in the capacity of government to address public policy concerns.
Democratic decline and renewal
Australians should rightly be proud of their hard-won democratic traditions and freedoms and the achievement of stable government, which has delivered social and economic well-being for its citizens.
The majority of Australians dislike the conflict-driven politics of the federal parliament, but don’t dislike democratic values or democracy as a system of government.
When asked to select three aspects of Australian democracy that they liked the most, the top three in 2018 were (in order):
“Australia has been able to provide good education, health, welfare and other public services to its citizens”
“Australia has experienced a good economy and lifestyle”
“Australian elections are free and fair”.
Respondents were least likely to choose features that praised (or showed engagement) with current democratic politics. The findings suggest that Australians are happy with the underlying democratic infrastructure of Australian society that allows them to achieve a high standard of living, but are less positive or engaged about day-to-day political operations.
Australians are deeply unhappy with democratic politics
Fewer than 41% of Australian citizens are satisfied with the way democracy works in Australia, down from 86% in 2007. Public satisfaction has fallen particularly sharply since 2013, when 72% of Australian citizens were satisfied. Generation X is least satisfied (31%) and the Baby Boomers most satisfied (50%).
Just 31% of the population trust federal government. State and local governments perform little better, with just over a third of people trusting them. Ministers and MPs (whether federal or state) rate at just 21%, while more than 60% of Australians believe the honesty and integrity of politicians is very low.
The three biggest grievances people have with politicians are:
they are not accountable for broken promises
they don’t deal with the issues that really matter
big business has too much power (Liberal and National Party voters identify trade unions instead of big business).
The continued decline of political trust has also contaminated public confidence in other key political institutions. Only five rate above 50% – police, military, civic well-being organisations (such as Headspace or community services), universities and healthcare institutions.
Trust was lowest in political parties (16%) and web-based media (20%). Trust in banks and web-based media has significantly decreased since the last survey. This reflects the impact of the banking royal commission and the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal.
People who are more likely to feel satisfied with the status quo include those aged over 55 (Baby Boomers), those earning more than $200,000 a year and those who vote for the National or Liberal parties. They are more likely to be male and an immigrant, because those born overseas tend to be more satisfied with Australian politics than native-born.
Those who are most likely to be unhappy are Australian-born, female, aged in their 40s (Generation X) and struggling on less than $50,000 a year. They are more likely to identify with minor political parties like One Nation, Centre Alliance or independents.
The perfect storm for independents
Levels of social trust are also in decline. Social trust between people has fallen below 50% for the first time to 47%. A majority, though, still believe that people in their neighbourhood would help others out – except for the very rich (47%).
Four attitudinal shifts are on display here.
First, many voters care more about effective and competent government than promises of more dollars in their pockets.
Second, there is a group of voters who are completely disconnected from traditional politics. They are deeply distrustful not just of politicians but almost every major institution and authority figure listed in the survey, except for their local GP.
Third, we can identify an increasingly large group of Australians who are deeply critical of the main political parties and are looking for an alternative across the ideological spectrum.
And fourth, there is a group of Australians who vote independent for tactical reasons, either to secure greater resources for their communities or to register a protest vote against the two-party system.
Appetite for democratic reform is extremely strong
Our survey revealed a significant appetite for reform. Nine out of 15 proposed reforms received net agreement rates above 50%. The top five reforms favoured in the survey were:
limiting money donated to parties and spent in elections
the right for voters to recall ineffective local MPs
giving all MPs a free vote in parliament
co-designing policies with ordinary Australians
citizen juries to solve complex problems that parliament can’t fix.
Reforms aimed at improving the practice of representative politics were the most popular, followed by reforms aimed at giving citizens a greater say. There was also strong support for reforms aimed at creating a stronger community or local focus to decision-making. Only reforms aimed at guaranteeing the representation of certain groups failed to attract majority support.
Remarkably, accessing more detailed information about innovative reforms led to greater support for those reforms. This is an important finding, revealing the importance of strategic communication in winning the war of ideas.
We are at the tipping point
Liberal democracies are founded on a delicate balance between trust and distrust. Our survey findings suggest we may have reached a tipping point due to a deepening trust divide in Australia, which has increased in scope and intensity since 2007.
Yet citizens still appear to value the overall stability of their political system, even if the lack of political trust means they doubt its ability to deliver, especially on more challenging policy issues.
Australians imagine their democracy in a way that demonstrates support for a new participatory politics but with the aim of shoring up representative democracy and developing a more integrated, inclusive and responsive democratic system. In the light of this discovery, we believe an effective path to reform is not about choosing between representative and participatory democratic models, but finding linking arrangements between them.
Scott Morrison has announced a major change in Liberal party rules to
ensure a prime minister who wins an election serves the full term,
unless two thirds of the party decides otherwise.
Morrison said the Liberal party had heard the public and was responding.
The entire party understood “the frustration and the disappointment
that Australians have felt when governments and prime ministers that
they have elected, under their authority, under their power, have been
taken from them through the actions of politicians here in Canberra,”
he said at a joint news conference with Liberal deputy Josh Frydenberg
on Monday night.
This had happened with the Liberal party as well as Labor, Morrison
said. “We acknowledge it and we take responsibility for it.”
The Australian people were “sick of it and we’re sick of it and it has to stop,” he said.
The Liberal party was “willingly and enthusiastically putting this
constraint to return the power of these decisions about who is prime
minister in this country to the Australian people.”
Morrison described the rule change as historic and the biggest in the
74 years of the party’s history.
Frydenberg said: “The changes in Australian prime ministers over the
last decade has diminished the parliament and its representatives in
the eyes of the public. The Liberal party has listened to the
Australian people and the Liberal parliamentary party has responded
Earlier, Liberal members of the ministry approved the new rule, before
it went to an evening special meeting of the Liberal parliamentarians.
Morrison discussed the proposed change with former prime minister John
Howard, but not with Malcolm Turnbull.
He briefed Tony Abbott who was the first speaker from the floor.
Strongly supporting the proposal, Abbott – who lost the prime
ministership before he had served a full term – thanked Morrison for
bringing him into his confidence.
Morrison said the change was carried by consensus. He declined to be
drawn on differences expressed within the meeting.
He said he had asked the party whips, Nola Marino and David Bushby, to
work up a proposal. He’d had a view for some time that something
needed to be done.
The party meeting discussed whether the threshold should be two thirds
or three quarters. There was some questioning about the position of a PM who had the weight of the party against them but was just under the threshold for change.
But speakers who had differences on the detail made it clear they would swing in behind what was finally decided.
The Labor party already has rules that restrain leadership changes
including of an opposition leader, although they could be altered by a
simple majority of caucus.
In August after the ousting of Turnbull, Kevin Rudd urged the Liberals to
follow Labor’s example “to prevent rolling political chaos.”
Howard said then “I don’t think changing the rules is a good idea”, adding “What’s the point of bringing in rules if, in any event, they can be set aside?”
Morrison said the Liberal rule on prime ministers was tougher because
it would take a two thirds majority to alter it. But it does not cover
There is no evidence that China has ever contemplated using its nuclear weapons to coerce another state. Instead, China has maintained a “no first use policy” on nuclear weapons. Surprising as it may sound to many, China wants to build an image of itself as a responsible power.
This is the reality that Australian defence planners have lived with for some 50 years. Australian defence force planning has long accepted the premise that our self-reliance needs to be viewed within an alliance context. As recently as 2009, the government plainly conceded that the Australian Defence Force was not expected to deal with a situation:
…where we were under threat from a major power whose military capabilities were simply beyond our capacity to resist.
In such a situation, we don’t expect to be alone.
This point is important to bear in mind when we consider recent discussions of a “Plan B” to strengthen Australia’s defence posture.
Commentators have suggested recently that Australia’s strategic risk is increasing and the A$195 billion defence spending plan announced in the 2016 Defence White Paper is now insufficient.
Australian taxpayers would certainly be interested to know why a plan that doubles our submarine fleet, significantly expands our navy and adds 100 of the most advanced and expensive combat aircraft ever invented would now be seen as insufficient.
The answer lies in the shifting strategic landscape in the Asia-Pacific region, which has led to greater concerns about China’s long-term intentions and rising tensions between China and the US. So what exactly has changed?
China’s recent activities in the region
Since the last Defence White Paper in 2016, Australian defence observers have been alarmed by four things:
the election of Donald Trump as US president and the uncertainty this has brought to the region due to his disparaging of traditional alliances and disdain for multilateral institutions
These events have occurred against a backdrop of China’s rapidly expanding global footprint. This includes the establishment of its first overseas military base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, and its growing access to regional ports such as the controversial Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, which the Sri Lankan government ceded to Beijing on a 99-year lease.
These regional shifts have also come amid growing illiberalism in China, evidence of increasing Chinese intelligence and influence operations in Australia (especially the Dastyari affair) and bullying behaviour from Chinese officials in their meetings with Australian politicians.
In addition, Trump appears to mark a significant break with the strategic priorities of previous US administrations. He’s threatened to walk away from America’s support for the traditional allies and global trade institutions that have characterised US foreign policy since the Second World War. This has put unprecedented distance between the United States and Australia, which as a middle power needs healthy global institutions.
But on China, it’s different. The Trump administration and importantly, the US security apparatus, share Australia’s darkening view of China to the point we may now be seeing a new Cold War developing in the region.
Case in point: the recent announcement of US participation in the development of a joint naval base with Australia on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. This is clear evidence of the US’s new willingness to compete with China and a signal the US wants to dispel the uncertainty left in the region in the wake of Obama’s problematic “pivot” to Asia.
Assessing the risks for Australia
In assessing whether Australia needs a steep increase in its defence spending, there are two questions we must ask: Firstly, what regional developments could the 2016 Defence White Paper not have anticipated? And of these, which equate to risks that increased defence spending can obviate?
Our defence planners have been well aware since at least 2009 of China’s gradually modernising defence forces and steadily growing navy. China’s moves toward a blue-water fleet, including new carriers and cruisers, were also well understood in 2016.
While the artificial islands in the South China Sea were still being built, their eventual militarisation was also anticipated by Australian defence leaders, despite China’s protestations to the contrary.
But even knowing all of this, Australia’s defence planners essentially decided in the 2016 White Paper to continue with the “Force 2030” force structure they envisaged in 2009. There have been some additions like shore-based anti-ship missiles, but our plan has largely been focused on enablers – that is, the capability to make the force operate with greater certainty, precision and coordination. Importantly, this White Paper did not envisage Australia fighting China on its own.
Of the strategic developments involving China since 2016 – from the revelations of its influence operations to its new-found interest in the Pacific – the question defence planners should now be asking is whether any undermine the fundamental judgements of the 2016 White Paper. Do they point to a need to radically change Australia’s defence posture?
Combating China’s illicit influence in Australia is being dealt with through our stronger foreign influence laws. Offsetting China’s influence in the Pacific will be best undertaken through Australia’s aid and diplomatic programs.
This leaves the big question of the role of the US in the Asia-Pacific region – the most critical of defence planning factors. Will Australia be left on its own in the foreseeable future?
And here we must observe that despite Trump’s anti-alliance rhetoric, the American force posture in the Western Pacific actually remains unchanged. There have been no base closures and no force draw-downs as of yet from the bases encircling China in Guam, Japan and South Korea, though Trump has threatened this.
Moreover, the hardening US view against China means a likely strengthening of its Asia-Pacific posture under the new National Security Statement, the cardinal US security policy document.
In fact, the US is now expanding its presence in the region with the announcement of the new joint naval base on Manus Island. The US also recently put its nuclear deterrence guarantee to Australia in writing for the first time in history. And the American Marine build-up in Darwin continues.
Although China’s military advances are making the task of possibly defeating its navy more challenging, the fact remains that it will be a long time before it’s able to start a war with the US confident of victory. The US also seems unwilling to leave China to dominate Asia.
In these circumstances, would China use its forces against other countries in the region, like Australia, without the US getting involved? In my view it could not.
Therefore, while every responsible government should continue to assess defence planning and ensure appropriate levels of readiness, the case for a sharply increased defence spending plan is not at this point compelling.
Julie Bishop has chosen to go to the backbench, to be succeeded by Marise Payne as foreign minister, and the energy and environment portfolio has been split, in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s ministry announced Sunday.
Dan Tehan replaces Simon Birmingham in education, in a gesture to the Catholic education sector ahead of a special deal to meet its trenchant criticisms of the government’s schools policy.
Bishop, 62, who won only a handful of votes in the leadership ballot after the “stop Dutton” forces rallied behind Morrison, said in a statement she had told Morrison “I will be resigning from my cabinet position as Minister for Foreign Affairs.” She said she had made no decision about whether she would contest the election.
Unveiling an extensive reshuffle, Morrison described his ministry as a “next generation team”. He has rewarded his supporters but also accommodated some Peter Dutton loyalists.
Energy goes to former businessman the conservative Angus Taylor, previously minister for law enforcement and cyber security, who moves into cabinet. Morrison dubbed Taylor as minister for “getting electricity prices down”.
Environment is taken by Melissa Price, previously assistant minister for the environment. The portfolio remains in cabinet.
Asked where the carve up left emissions, Morrison made clear where his priorities lay, saying the challenge in energy was reliability and dispatchable power.
Peter Dutton, the man who launched the leadership coup though failed to win the prime ministership, returns to his portfolio of home affairs. But immigration has been sliced off, going to David Coleman, previously assistant minister for finance, who becomes minister for immigration, citizenship and multicultural affairs.
This flags Morrison’s interest in the economic side of immigration. “Immigration forms part of national security policy but it also has always played an important role in economic and social policy,” he said.
Christopher Pyne becomes defence minister, achieving his long-time wish to be the senior minister in the area; his old job of defence industry goes to Steve Ciobo, who was previously in trade. Birmingham takes his place in trade.
The Morrison cabinet has six women, one extra compared with the Turnbull cabinet. They are Bridget McKenzie (Nat), Payne, Kelly O’Dwyer, Michaelia Cash, Karen Andrews, and Melissa Price.
O’Dwyer moves from revenue to jobs and industrial relations; she keeps responsibility for women. Industrial relations is back in cabinet. Michaelia Cash has gone into small and family business, skills and vocations.
Alan Tudge becomes minister for cities, urban infrastructure and population. Morrison said Tudge would be “the minister for congestion-busting”. Population has become an increasing pressure point.
Mathias Cormann remains in finance and as Senate leader, but his special minister of state job goes to Alex Hawke.
Paul Fletcher will be social services minister and moves into cabinet.
Sussan Ley and Stuart Robert, who both had to leave the ministry over controversies, are back on the frontbench. Robert is assistant treasurer; Ley is assistant minister for regional development and territories.
Michael Sukkar, previously assistant minister to the treasurer and outspoken conservative, has been dumped to the backbench.
Barnaby Joyce, still on the backbench, has been made “special envoy for drought assistance and recovery”.
Tony Abbott has not been given a job, although Morrison signalled he was open to giving him some Joyce-type role if he wanted.
Two Liberals apart from Julie Bishop, and a National, indicated they did not want to be considered for frontbench roles. The Liberals were Craig Laundy and John McVeigh, while the National was Keith Pitt, who had been assistant to Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack. Pitt said in a statement: “I will always put the national interest and the interests of my constituents above my own. I will always put reducing power prices, before Paris.”
Morrison acknowledged at the weekend that ordinary people had been “absolutely disgusted” by the events of last week.
The exit of Bishop, who had developed a high and well-respected international profile, will send a further confusing message to other countries, which have witnessed Australia’s revolving door of the prime ministership.
Bishop, who entered parliament in 1998, has been foreign minister since 2013 and deputy to every Liberal leader since 2007.
In the aftermath of the coup, the bitterness continued to flow as the machinations were revealed.
Fletcher, close to Turnbull, said in the chain: “Cormann rumoured to be putting some WA votes behind Julie Bishop in round 1. Be aware that this is a ruse trying to get her ahead of Morrison so he drops out & his votes go to Dutton. Despite our hearts tugging us to Julie we need to vote with our heads for Scott in round one.”
Cormann describes the Fletcher claim as “100% incorrect”.
Birmingham, a strong Turnbull supporter, told the ABC that a “handful of individuals” had wreaked havoc.
“We had Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership confirmed and re-endorsed just last Tuesday with a clear majority, and yet those who wanted to wreak havoc continued to do so during the week. Now, that was terribly destructive and every single man and woman in the Liberal Party room needs to put that type of behaviour behind us and make sure that we do unify for the future.”
On Monday, Morrison, who has put the drought at the top of his priority list, will make a quick trip to a drought-afflicted part of Queensland. At the weekend he met Major General Stephen Day, who is coordinating drought relief and support
Drought was “the thing that I think Australians very much want the attention of their prime minister on and right now”, Morrison told the popular regional program Australia All Over. Morrison reeled off some “encouraging” weekend rainfall numbers while noting this was “nowhere near what’s obviously needed.”
Over the weekend, the new prime minister spoke with US President Donald Trump (inviting him to visit Australia), Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
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Later this week Morrison will visit Indonesia, but he will not undertake the visits to multiple regional countries that Turnbull had slotted in. Australia and Indonesia have been negotiating a free trade deal, which could be signed during the visit.
So, Scott Morrison, MP for The Shire, has won the leadership of the Liberal Party. One must wonder what role external factors played in his victory, including the vague threat by some National Party members that they would sit on the crossbenches had Dutton been victorious.
With all the focus on the various ructions in the Liberal Party, it is too often forgotten that the current government is a coalition of the Liberal Party and the National Party. The Liberals cannot govern without the support of the Nationals. This has been the case for almost 100 years, with the first coalition government being that of the Nationalists led by Stanley Bruce and the Country Party led by Earle Page.
The Liberals have rarely had enough seats in the House of Representatives to rule in their own right when in government and so have always governed together with their Country/National Party colleagues. This has always given the National Party considerable leverage with regard to the Coalition. This has included the capacity to veto possible Liberal Prime Ministers, as happened in 1968, when then leader John McEwen said he would not countenance Bill McMahon as Prime Minister.
It has also enabled the National Party to influence which ministerial portfolios will be allocated to them. In earlier times, the National Party leader was Treasurer in a Coalition government. McEwen changed this when he held the important portfolio of Trade and Industry from 1956 to 1971.
The National Party has declined in importance over the past 50 years, as the proportion of the population living in rural areas has declined, not least because of the mechanisation of Australian agriculture. Over the past 20 years, their representation in the House of Representatives has been in the range of ten to 16 seats. Over that same period, the Liberal Party has had a minimum of 50 seats and a maximum of 74.
Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that after the 2016 election, the National Party has been in its strongest position in terms of the Liberals for some time. Whereas after the 2013 election, it held 15 seats to the Liberals’ 74, after 2016 it held 16 seats to the Liberals’ 60.
As the government holds office by the barest of majorities, this places the Nationals in a position of strength regarding the formation of a new Coalition government. While there has been no indication the leadership of the Nationals wishes to act as a King (or Queen) maker, there have been rumblings from other members of the party.
Prior to the leadership vote, it was reported that National MPs Darren Chester, Kevin Hogan and Damian Drum could go to the crossbench if Peter Dutton were elected leader. Both Drum and Chester are from Victoria, while Hogan holds the marginal seat of Page in northern New South Wales, which includes the hippy capital of Australia, Nimbin.
We will never know know how serious these reports were. They may have been no more than an updated attempt by the Nationals, unofficially, to get the Liberal leader of their choice. It may also reflect the fact rural Victoria is more “liberal” than outback New South Wales and Queensland.
Certainly, their defection would have created a minority government, but one wonders how it would affect their preselection. Maybe they think they could win their seats as independents.
The key point is the current situation places the National Party in a position of strength with regard to their Liberal colleagues. Having undergone “trial by Barnaby” they can now move on and make the most of the situation.
Assuming the government runs for another eight months, they have an opportunity to pursue policies that will benefit their rural constituencies, thereby aiding their chances of re-election in 2019. With the progressive Turnbull, whose interests more or less aligned with those of urban Australia, out of the way, they could well have a window of opportunity to place more focus on rural Australia.
One thing which will be of particular interest will be the portfolios which the Nationals will seek. Could they possibly want energy, given the importance of the cost of power?
It’s certainly the case that the events of the past few days have weakened the authority of the Liberal Party in terms of its capacity to provide good government for the country. They’re now seen as behaving like a group of fractious and difficult school children.
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Under these circumstances, it seems to me, the National Party is presented with an opportunity to use its role within the Coalition to exercise its influence on behalf of rural Australia. It remains to be seen the extent to which it will make the most of this opportunity.
Scott Morrison is Australia’s new prime minister, beating Peter Dutton by 45-40 votes after a week in which the government imploded and the Liberal party tore itself apart.
The third contender, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, was eliminated in the first round, reportedly receiving only a handful of votes.
The new deputy is the Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, 47, from Victoria, who won overwhelmingly, from fellow Victorian Greg Hunt and Queenslander Steve Ciobo.
At a news conference after the ballot Turnbull lashed out at the “determined insurgency from a number of people both in the party room and backed by voices, powerful voices, in the media” that brought him down.
“Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott and others, who chose to deliberately attack the government from within – they did so because they wanted to bring the government down, they wanted to bring my prime ministership down.”
Turnbull confirmed he will leave parliament “before too long”, which would prompt a byelection.
The motion for a spill of the leadership was carried 45-40, an unexpectedly close margin and an indication that Malcolm Turnbull retained substantial support even amid the chaos. Turnbull, prime minister since he deposed Tony Abbott in 2015, had promised not to contest the subsequent ballot if the spill was carried.
This was the second vote on the leadership this week – Turnbull beat Dutton 38-45 on Tuesday.
The meeting was delayed by some 20 minutes after Turnbull insisted on seeing the petition for the special meeting, and then having the government whip verify the signatures. Turnbull’s delaying tactics helped Morrison gather the numbers.
The result is a massive rebuff for Peter Dutton and his conservative backers who have consistently undermined Turnbull’s leadership.
As he left the meeting, Dutton pledged his “absolute loyalty” to Morrison.
Abbott, who backed Dutton and believes Morrison betrayed him in the 2015 leadership coup, declared: “We have lost the Prime Minister, there is a government to save.”
Morrison, 50, from NSW, has been Treasurer since 2015, and in parliament since 2007. He is a former state director of the Liberal party in NSW. He is socially conservative but is regarded as pragmatic in ideological terms. As immigration minister in the Abbott government he oversaw stopping the boats.
The vote is seen as meaning the government can be expected to continue current economic policies. Business will be relieved; Morrison is a familiar figure in business circles and would have been regarded by far the most preferred of the three candidates.
Dutton’s floating of ideas like taking the GST off electricity bills may have counted against him, on the grounds of economic irresponsibility.
Also a somewhat equivocal opinion from the Solicitor-General about Dutton’s eligibility to sit in parliament may have been unhelpful. This was released shortly before the vote.
Morrison has ahead of him the immense challenge of uniting a fractured party. A lot will depend on whether the conservatives undermine him or accept their rout quietly.
The conservatives were furious at Turnbull’s hardball delaying tactics and his emphasis on getting the opinion about Dutton’s constitutional eligibility.
Given the closeness of the numbers, scrutiny came on Mathias Cormann, Mitch Fifield and Michaelia Cash whose dramatic resignations from the ministry, declaring Turnbull had lost party support, were the killer blow for him.
Arthur Sinodinos, close to Turnbull, who is on long term sick leave, came to Canberra for the vote.
While the Longman byelection was one of the spurs for the challenge, Queensland remains unrepresented in the leadership team.
In his farewell news conference Turnbull went through the achievements of his “progressive government”.
“I have been a reforming Liberal Prime Minister,” he said, citing the delivery of marriage equality.
Asked about his concessions to the conservatives, he said: “What I have done always is to try to keep the party together. And that has meant that from time to time I have had to compromise and make concessions.
“It’s something I learnt from my first time as leader that you have to work so hard to keep the show together. There are – and that’s the bottom line.”
He said “the truth is that the coalition finds it very hard to get agreement on anything to do with emissions”, he said. He said the National Energy Guarantee “was or is a vital piece of economic reform. It remains the government’s policy, of course”.
Senator Eric Abetz, from the Dutton camp, said: “Today must mark a clean start for the parliamentary Liberal party and having worked with Mr Morrison well over a number of years, I am certain that he will lead a more consultative parliamentary party, be more responsive to issues raised with him and actively seek to bring back together our broad church”.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten tweeted: “Liberals: more division, more chaos, more cuts. Labor: stable, united, 100% focused on delivering for you and your family.”
In his news conference, Morrison declared himself and Frydenberg as “the new generation of Liberal leadership”.
Frydenberg will become Treasurer in the Morrison government.
Morrison flagged that Dutton would be in his cabinet, and that he was not looking to have an early election.
His first priority was to review drought policy, he said.
On energy policy Morrison reaffirmed the government’s announced plans to crack down on power companies’ behaviour, but left vague how the rest of the policy might be changed, saying he would consult with his cabinet.
In terms of other priorities, he said that in healthcare “I am distressed by the challenge of chronic illness in this country”.
In comments on values, Morrison said: “If you have a go in this country, you will get a go. There is a fair go for those who have a go. That is what fairness in Australia means.”
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“We believe that the best form of welfare is a job. That is what releases people out of poverty. That is what releases people out of hardship. The dignity of work, the ability to go and have choices as a result of the efforts you make regardless of your level of ability.”
It is naive not to expect new schemes will pop up to replace the now (or soon to be) banned practices. There is a clear pattern of repeating unconscionable behaviour in the financial services industry.
Consumers need to be trained to ask the right questions. “How much do I have to pay each week over the life of the loan including (hidden) fees?”, “How much do I have to pay in fees each year?”, and “Why is this right for me rather than right for the bank?”
Being able to answer such questions can help reduce the invariably expensive and imperfect regulation that generally follows inquiries such as the royal commission.
A 20-year-old, let’s call him Mark, just started his first job paying A$45,000 a year. Confidently, he walks into a bank branch, applies and is approved for a A$30,000 car loan within 20 minutes. He wants a new car and isn’t too concerned about the 12.5% annual interest.
Mark states afterwards he didn’t know he could hardly afford the loan. It cost more than A$40,000 over five years. And with other commitments he was in over his head, leaving no room for changes in work, illness, etc.
Should Mark be expected to know? Was he taught any of this? Could he know if he had made some effort, or should the bank have informed him better and been more explicit?
And where does the responsibility sit?
We assumed in the story (loosely related to one heard by the royal commission) that the bank had informed Mark about rates and fees, but had not effectively communicated what this meant in terms of weekly payments or total cost.
For the moment, let’s put aside the primary role of the banks and their representatives – it is their practices on the line and we are not blaming or judging the victims. Neither do we know the client’s individual circumstances.
But, caveats established, how much information must be presented and what can be reasonably expected in terms of the financial literacy level of customers? If the response from the royal commission is increased disclosure, these are the relevant questions.
But this still leaves whether we can be confident that education is being provided so customers can make informed decisions.
Financial literacy is in the National Curriculum and being taught to primary and secondary students. But, given Mark’s age, there is no guarantee he would have received financial literacy education at school.
For the future Marks, financial literacy is now embedded, but coverage remains uneven as what is taught varies by state and school level.
Elsewhere policy is continuing the trend of transferring financial responsibilities from government to individuals, which requires greater financial literacy. For example, the NDIS aims to build a new disability marketplace, requiring important financial decisions from individuals or their representatives.
But the royal commission has clearly shown people suffered by following bad advice or by not questioning numbers sufficiently.
How were 24% p.a. car loans supported by banks and accepted by customers? Were the numbers too abstract and customers didn’t know what 24% a year meant in dollar terms?
Not just new regulation but new education
Better-educated people are better equipped to ask the right questions and make more informed decisions.
We can’t just rely on regulated disclosure – we need to continue to ensure the “simple” questions about the total costs over the life of the loan and whether it’s right for the customer, rather than just the bank, are taught. Teaching consumers to ask these questions, to question the information provided, is important and can enhance the regulation.
Who should provide this education? Not those with a conflict of interest such as financial institutions. If the royal commission tells us one thing it is that incentives matter.
If you are incentivised, or part of an incentivised brand, it may be better you don’t have a role in education. The Dollarmites scandal may not be the biggest scandal this year but it’s emblematic and part of a problem.
Schools, VET and universities can do better and more.
A new round of regulation will create new incentives to avoid it. Regulation tries to catch up and focuses on institutions – here the banks. But new financial technologies mean financial providers don’t look like they used to – for example, new app-based peer-to-peer lenders at your favourite store.
We can’t rely on education alone but we also can’t rely on regulation alone.
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Let’s recognise the limitations of regulation as we try to improve outcomes and consider whether some of the money spent on designing and enforcing new regulations may be better spent further educating our future customers.
The Australian government has released a draft of its long awaited bill to provide law enforcement and security agencies with new powers to respond to the challenges posed by encryption.
According to the Department of Home Affairs, encryption already impacts 90% of Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s (ASIO) priority cases, and 90% of data intercepted by the Australian Federal Police. The measures aim to counteract estimates that communications among terrorists and organised crime groups are expected to be entirely encrypted by 2020.
The Department of Home Affairs and ASIO can already access encrypted data with specialist decryption techniques – or at points where data are not encrypted. But this takes time. The new bill aims to speed up this process, but these broad and ill-defined new powers have significant scope for abuse.
The Department of Home Affairs argues this new framework will not compel communications providers to build systemic weaknesses or vulnerabilities into their systems. In other words, it is not a backdoor.
But it will require providers to offer up details about technical characteristics of their systems that could help agencies exploit weaknesses that have not been patched. It also includes installing software, and designing and building new systems.
First, it increases the obligations of both domestic and offshore organisations to assist law enforcement and security agencies to access information. Second, it introduces new computer access warrants that enable law enforcement to covertly obtain evidence directly from a device (this occurs at the endpoints when information is not encrypted). Finally, it increases existing powers that law enforcement have to access data through search and seizure warrants.
The bill is modelled on the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act, which introduced mandatory decryption obligations. Under the UK Act, the UK government can order telecommunication providers to remove any form of electronic protection that is applied by, or on behalf of, an operator. Whether or not this is technically possible is another question.
Similar to the UK laws, the Australian bill puts the onus on telecommunication providers to give security agencies access to communications. That might mean providing access to information at points where it is not encrypted, but it’s not immediately clear what other requirements can or will be imposed.
For example, the bill allows the Director-General of Security or the chief officer of an interception agency to compel a provider to do an unlimited range of acts or things. That could mean anything from removing security measures to deleting messages or collecting extra data. Providers will also be required to conceal any action taken covertly by law enforcement.
Further, the Attorney-General may issue a “technical capability notice” directed towards ensuring that the provider is capable of giving certain types of help to ASIO or an interception agency.
This means providers will be required to develop new ways for law enforcement to collect information. As in the UK, it’s not clear whether a provider will be able to offer true end-to-end encryption and still be able to comply with the notices. Providers that breach the law risk facing $10 million fines.
Cause for concern
The bill puts few limits or constraints on the assistance that telecommunication providers may be ordered to offer. There are also concerns about transparency. The bill would make it an offence to disclose information about government agency activities without authorisation. Anyone leaking information about data collection by the government – as Edward Snowden did in the US – could go to jail for five years.
There are limited oversight and accountability structures and processes in place. The Director-General of Security, the chief officer of an interception agency and the Attorney-General can issue notices without judicial oversight. This differs from how it works in the UK, where a specific judicial oversight regime was established, in addition to the introduction of an Investigatory Powers Commissioner.
Notices can be issued to enforce domestic laws and assist the enforcement of the criminal laws of foreign countries. They can also be issued in the broader interests of national security, or to protect the public revenue. These are vague and unclear limits on these exceptional powers.
The range of services providers is also extremely broad. It might include telecommunication companies, internet service providers, email providers, social media platforms and a range of other “over-the-top” services. It also covers those who develop, supply or update software, and manufacture, supply, install or maintain data processing devices.
The enforcement of criminal laws in other countries may mean international requests for data will be funnelled through Australia as the “weakest-link” of our Five Eyes allies. This is because Australia has no enforceable human rights protections at the federal level.
It’s not clear how the government would enforce these laws on transnational technology companies. For example, if Facebook was issued a fine under the laws, it could simply withdraw operations or refuse to pay. Also, $10 million is a drop in the ocean for companies such as Facebook whose total revenue last year exceeded US$40 billion.
Australia is a surveillance state
As I have argued elsewhere, the broad powers outlined in the bill are neither necessary nor proportionate. Police already have existing broad powers, which are further strengthened by this bill, such as their ability to covertly hack devices at the endpoints when information is not encrypted.
Australia has limited human rights and privacy protections. This has enabled a constant and steady expansion of the powers and capabilities of the surveillance state. If we want to protect the privacy of our communications we must demand it.
The Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 (Cth) is still in a draft stage and the Department of Home Affairs invites public comment up until 10th of September 2018. Submit any comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.