Chinese propaganda goes tech-savvy to reach a new generation



As younger Chinese become increasingly addicted to their mobile devices, the government’s propaganda offices have had to rethink their strategies.
Roman Pilipey/EPA

Wanning Sun, University of Technology Sydney

Earlier this year, a new app was launched in China to put the patriotism of Chinese citizens to the test.

Named “Study Xi to Strengthen the Nation”, the app quizzes users on all things related to President Xi Jinping – his policies, activities, achievements, theories and thoughts. Users can earn points and win prizes for correct answers and compete with colleagues and friends to see who knows the most about China’s leader.

The app is the latest example of a rethink by the Communist Party when it comes to its propaganda efforts and how best to justify the legitimacy of its one-party rule, extol the virtues of the party, and promote patriotism to an audience of young, tech-savvy Chinese.

For those institutions responsible for the production of effective propaganda, this is a real challenge. After all, propaganda in the 21st century has to go beyond forcing people to sit in study sessions on Friday afternoons, read the People’s Daily newspaper, or watch China Central Television (CCTV) in group meetings.




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From sermons to ‘indoctritainment’

Thanks to a number of developments, the old propaganda messages of previous generations can easily be repackaged for millennials. Like the rest of the world, Chinese millennials are keen adopters of the latest mobile technologies and suffer from short attention spans. They are also just as enthusiastic as their Western counterparts about posting jokes, music videos and short, sharp, attention-grabbing memes on social media.

The Chinese government, meanwhile, is putting more of an emphasis on humanising its approach to leadership. Politicians are keen to be seen as relatable rather than authoritative figures.

So, to get its messaging across in a new way, party propaganda has morphed from dry sermons to what I like to call indoctritainment. And these campaigns are often high-end productions.

Increasingly, ideological messages are more effective if they are delivered using a platform that’s already been trialled and proven in marketing. In 2016, for instance, CCTV launched a promotion of the Communist Party in the form of a public awareness advertisement to mark the 95th anniversary of the founding of the party.

The one-minute video, titled “I am a Chinese Communist Party member,” features heartwarming vignettes of individuals from different walks of life – teacher, cleaner, surgeon, policeman, local public servant, fisherman – who are all good Samaritans doing their bit to help others.

The message is clear: the party is being re-branded as an organisation made up of unsung heroes. As the voice-over explains:

I am the first one to arrive, I am the last one to leave, I’m the one who thinks of myself the least, and cares about others the most … I am the Chinese Communist Party, and I am always there with you.

Another video promoting the Chinese military, “I am a Chinese soldier”, demonstrates the point. Even without the English subtitles, it’s not hard to see what the producers were going for: a patriotic Hollywood movie or romantic tear-jerker.

The pop culture treatment, with American accents

Another tactic is the use of popular culture as a way of conveying sometimes dense or dull Chinese government policies, especially if the intended audience is global.

In 2015, a video called “The 13 what” used catchy pop music, colourful animation, and American-accented English to explain China’s 13th five-year national plan.

Channelling David Bowie, Monty Python and the psychedelia of the 1960s, the three-minute video was produced by a digital media production team operating under the auspices of the government’s main propaganda offices in Beijing.

Two years earlier, the same studio also produced the widely circulated five-minute video clip, “How leaders are made”. Xi Jinping appears in the clip as a cartoon character, as do US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Light-hearted, zany, and (again) featuring American English, the video informs viewers that Xi has worked long and hard to move up China’s political ladder. The implication is that Xi’s power is just as legitimate as that of his Western counterparts.

Within a short period after its release, the video had been viewed more than a million times on Youku, China’s version of YouTube.

Propaganda by way of screen bullets

Increasingly, the Communist Party’s propaganda material goes viral only after it appears on popular video-sharing websites with “bullet screens”. This is an interactive feature that enables viewers to “shoot” text comments across the screen as the video is being streamed. It’s very popular with younger audiences.

One of China’s biggest bullet screen platforms is Bilibili, often referred to as “the B site”.

The site used to be occasionally shut down for streaming what the government considers “morally unsound” material.

To stay on the party’s good side, Bilibili now plays host to a wide suite of propaganda produced by CCTV or the Chinese Department of Propaganda. In 2015, the Communist Youth League of China also began to hold regular courses on the site aimed at promoting patriotism among young people.

But how effective is it?

Just how successful these strategies have been is still not entirely clear. While the “Xi Jinping thought” app has captured the imagination of many outside China, party members who have been encouraged – in some cases requested – to download the app seem less than enthusiastic.

And some of these new propaganda efforts have backfired and attracted cynical responses online, even ridicule.




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Xi Jinping’s grip on power is absolute, but there are new threats to his ‘Chinese dream’


But judging by the many comments viewers have left on the B site, it seems fair to conclude that some of the tactics have had the intended effect of endearing the party and its leaders to the young and impressionable.

This is a reminder of how naïve it is to assume that technologies are inherently democratising, and that digital disruption is likely to spell the end of communism in China. Such assumptions still permeate most Western media stories about the Communist Party’s new propaganda strategies, but this is clearly not the case.

As the party’s propaganda strategies become more nuanced and sophisticated, so should our frameworks for understanding them.The Conversation

Wanning Sun, Professor of Media and Cultural Studies, University of Technology Sydney

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

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Consumer watchdog calls for new measures to combat Facebook and Google’s digital dominance



Facebook and Google potentially face fresh curbs on their market power.
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Rob Nicholls, UNSW and Katharine Kemp, UNSW

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has called for “holistic, dynamic reforms” to address the online dominance of digital behemoths such as Google and Facebook.

A 600-page report, released today, makes 23 recommendations for regulating digital platforms – covering competition law, consumer protection, media regulation, and privacy.

Most of the suggested reforms are aimed squarely at countering the dominance of Facebook and Google, which the ACCC says has distorted a range of markets including advertising and media.




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ACCC wants to curb digital platform power – but enforcement is tricky


The ACCC recommends forming a new branch to deal specifically with Google and Facebook. But it doesn’t propose itself as the sole watchdog: the report also recommends a regulatory role for the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

Meanwhile, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) is called upon to develop an enforceable code to regulate platforms’ use of data. And even the Australian Tax Office will potentially be involved, as part of a proposal to introduce measures to encourage philanthropic funding of public-interest journalism.

Digital platforms with more than a million active users in Australia will be required to provide ACMA with codes to address the imbalance in the bargaining relationship between these platforms and news media businesses. These codes are expected to recognise the need for value-sharing and monetisation of news content.

Under the recommendations, ACMA would also be expected to monitor digital platforms’ efforts to identify reliable and trustworthy news, and to manage a mandatory take-down code for content that breaches copyright.

Market muscle

The ACCC report highlights the “substantial market power” enjoyed by Google and Facebook in their respective domains of web searching and social media. While it is not unlawful for firms to have this degree of power, it does mean they are likely to be subject to the (as yet untested) misuse of market power law introduced in 2017.

The ACCC is concerned that current merger laws do not go far enough, given large platforms’ ability to remove future competitive threats by simply buying start-ups outright. Such acquisitions may also increase the platforms’ access to data. The ACCC considers that either or both of these could entrench a platform’s market power.

As a result, the report recommends changes to Australia’s merger laws to expressly require consideration of the effect of potential competition, and to recognise the importance of data. It also recommends that platforms should be obliged to notify the ACCC in advance of any proposed acquisition.

This is not a substantial change to the existing law, which already allows consideration of anti-competitiveness. But it is a signal that the ACCC will be focusing on this issue.

The ACCC also wants Google to allow Australian users of Android devices to choose their search engine and internet browser – a right already enjoyed by Android users in the European Union.

Empowering consumers

The ACCC recommends substantial changes to Australian Consumer Law, to address the huge inequalities in bargaining power between digital platforms and consumers when it comes to terms of use, and particularly privacy.

The report’s most significant proposal in this area is to outlaw “unfair practices”, in line with similar bans in the US, UK, Europe, Canada, and elsewhere. This would cover conduct that is not covered by existing laws governing the misuse of market power, misleading or deceptive conduct, or unconscionable conduct.

This could be relevant, for example, where a digital platform imposes particularly invasive privacy terms on its users, which far outweigh the benefits of the service provided. The ACCC also called for digital platforms to face significant fines for imposing unfair contract terms on users.

The report recommends a new mandatory standard to bolster digital platforms’ internal dispute resolution processes. This would be reinforced by the creation of a new ombudsman to assist with resolving disputes and complaints between consumers and digital platforms.

Protecting privacy

The ACCC found that digital platforms’ privacy policies are long, complex, vague, and hard to navigate, and that many platforms do not provide consumers with meaningful control over how their data is handled.

The report therefore calls for stronger legal privacy protections, as part of a broader reform of Australian privacy law. This includes agreeing with the Australian Law Reform Commission on the need for a statutory tort for serious invasions of privacy.

Legal action ahead?

The ACCC also highlighted several matters on which it is considering future actions. These include the question of whether Facebook breached consumer law by allowing users’ data to be shared with third parties (potentially raising similar issues to the investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission, which this week resulted in a US$5 billion fine against Facebook), and whether Google has collated users’ location data in an unlawful way.




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In a statement, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and federal communications minister Paul Fletcher accepted the ACCC’s overriding conclusion that there is a need for reform.

The federal government will now begin a 12-week public consultation process, and said it expects to release its formal response to the report by the end of the year.The Conversation

Rob Nicholls, Senior lecturer in Business Law, UNSW and Katharine Kemp, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, UNSW, and Co-Leader, ‘Data as a Source of Market Power’ Research Stream of The Allens Hub for Technology, Law and Innovation, UNSW

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

New demand-response energy rules sound good, but the devil is in the (hugely complicated) details



Demand response sounds good, but is punishingly difficult to execute.
Matthew Henry/Unsplash, CC BY-SA

Bruce Mountain, Victoria University

Last week the body that governs Australia’s energy market released a draft proposal to introduce a demand response mechanism to the wholesale electricity market.

It argues the proposal will unearth some electricity users’ “latent flexibility” to prices in the extremely volatile wholesale market, and that this will potentially promote more efficient use of electricity, more secure power systems, and lower prices.

The move comes after nearly two decades of sustained campaigning, which prompts the question: why doesn’t such a useful-sounding mechanism already exist?




Read more:
Managing demand can save two power stations’ worth of energy at peak times


It’s a good question. If this demand-response mechanism does what it is claimed to do, it could be a significant development for the electricity markets in southern and eastern Australia. But the actual proposal is eye-wateringly complex and there is reason to be circumspect.

What is proposed and how does it work?

The Australian Energy Market Commission’s determination is that new market participants, to be known as “Demand Response Service Providers” (DRSPs), will be allowed to offer hypothetical demand reductions into the wholesale market at prices they determine. If the price they offer for such reductions is less than the price at which the market clears, the DRSPs will be paid the market price, as if they were a generator, for these hypothetical reductions.

One obvious difficulty here is the fact that the reductions are hypothetical. They are the difference between the customers’ demand if they did not respond to an enticement to reduce demand – the “baseline” – and their actual demand. Customers (and DRSPs) have an incentive to overstate the baseline, as this increases the volume of the reductions they offer and, if accepted, get paid for.

DRSPs profit from the demand reductions they sell, and so they have an incentive to seek out customers who are willing to reduce demand relative to the baseline.

Retailers that sell electricity to DRSPs’ customers will buy (from the wholesale market) the actual volume of electricity consumed and also the hypothetical demand reduction, and pay the wholesale price for both. The retailer charges the customer for the actual demand and charges the DRSP for the demand reduction at a regulated price equal to the 12-month load-weighted average wholesale price.




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Here’s a glossary of the energy debate



This will typically leave the retailer out of pocket by an amount equal to the difference between the actual wholesale price at which they have “bought” the demand reductions, and the 12 monthly weighted average wholesale price (which will almost certainly be lower, because demand reductions will occur when wholesale prices are higher than average)

Retailers will seek to recover the shortfall from the DRSPs’ customers or, more likely, from all their customers. To the extent that they are unable to recover the shortfall, retailers are likely to try to offload those of their customers that are paid to reduce demand.

This is a simplified description of the arrangement. The complexity of the actual data and money flows between customers, DRSPs, retailers, the energy market operator, network service providers and regulators is enough to provoke a nose-bleed from the most seasoned corporate lawyers.

By now, I am sure you are wondering why all the bother with baselines and hypothetical reductions. Why not simply pay customers for actual load reductions? The answer, in short, is that the pool of possible directly contracted customers is small.

If demand response is to be extended to thousands of customers – as this proposal seeks to do – setting baselines and hence hypothetical demand reductions, with all their unwelcome consequences, is unavoidable.

Will it work?

I am not sure. It is certainly punishingly complex. The energy market operator and regulator will have their hands full ensuring that baselines are not set at a level that prints money for DRSPs and their customers, at the expense of retailers and other electricity users. If the market operator and regulator achieve this without imposing undue cost and administrative burden, this demand-response proposal has promise.




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It will be fascinating to see whether DRSPs can indeed flush out the “latent flexibility” in a manner that is advantageous to themselves, the latently flexible, and the rest of us. Like many others, I will be watching with interest.

Update: Following publication, the AEMC clarified they intended to refer to the 12 month load-weighted average wholesale price of energy, rather than the simple average price. The article has been updated to reflect this.The Conversation

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

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

The new banking code looks impressive, but what will it achieve?



The Banking Association says “in and of itself” the code it won’t restore trust.
Shutterstock

Gerhard Hambusch, University of Technology Sydney and Warren Hogan, University of Technology Sydney

On July 1, the banking industry got yet another code of conduct – its fifth since 1993 – and although it is voluntary, all of the retail banks have signed up.

In the promotional video, Australian Banking Association chairman Shayne Elliott describes it as “a step”, acknowledging that there is a lot of work to do.

In and of itself it won’t restore trust, but it will absolutely help. It’s about the industry saying: hey this is what we stand for, this is how we are going to live our lives, this is how we are going to interact with you, but it’s importantly about holding us to account.

It’s an admission that the previous codes haven’t been worth that much.

Australian Banking Association, Raising Standards – New Banking Code.

The 1993 edition promised customers a quick and fair dispute-resolution mechanism, outside the drawn-out and often costly court system.

However a subsequent revision in 2003 allowed banks to opt out, and steered some disputes back into the courts.

It also created a Code Compliance Monitoring Committee, appointed and funded by subscribing banks and the Australian Banking Association, which over time investigated fewer and fewer breaches of the code.




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Bank codes of conduct: add bars to the window dressing and make them legally binding


It got to the point where in 2017-18 the committee said that five banks reported zero breaches of the code’s credit and dispute resolution obligations, and six banks reported zero breaches of their debt collection obligations.

This was despite a growing body of evidence of breaches assembled for the banking royal commission.

Everything old…

The Code Compliance Monitoring Committee has been rebadged as the Banking Code Compliance Committee. It will have the power to publicly name banks that breach the code, report serious and systemic ongoing issues to Australian Securities and Investments Commission, and
require banks to rectify or take corrective action for serious breaches of the code.

Separately, in November 2018 a new body known as the Australian Financial Complaints Authority replaced the opaque and bank-funded private company known as the Financial Ombudsman Service Limited, which had been limited to providing compensation of A$309,000.

In some cases the new body can offer unlimited compensation.

It has its hands full. In its first six months it has received 35,000 complaints, some dating back up to ten years. About 12,000 of them relate to banks. In May it received more than 600 enquiries per day.

…is new again

For banking customers the new code offers:

  • lists of direct debits and recurring payments, making it easier to switch banks

  • notice of transaction fees before they occur

  • extra care when providing banking services to the vulnerable

  • better protections including a cooling-off period for guarantors, and

  • notice to guarantors of changes to the borrower’s circumstances.

For credit card customers, banks will:

  • remind customers when a credit card introductory offer is about to end

  • cease unsolicited offers to increase credit limits, and

  • let customers reduce their credit limits or close their card accounts online.

Small businesses are covered for the first time. The code offers:

  • simplified loan contracts with fewer conditions for total loans under A$3 million (the Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman wanted a threshold of A$5 million)

  • longer notice periods for when loan conditions change, and

  • greater transparency when using valuers and insolvency practitioners.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission will monitor what happens with small business and publish its findings every six months. It has no broader role in administering the code. Only complaints that are deemed severe will be be referred to it for investigation and prosecution.

More than window dressing?

Small business will have to stay on their toes. Only some of the more than 100 institutions that provide services to them have signed up to the code. None of the online-only lenders has signed up.

Will this, the fifth iteration of the code, move beyond what at times has seemed cynical window-dressing?

Trust is built on demonstrated behaviours. Not only will the banks need to stick to their new code, but any breaches will need to be addressed in a timely and substantive manner.The Conversation

Gerhard Hambusch, Senior Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney and Warren Hogan, Industry Professor, University of Technology Sydney

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

Obesity has become the new normal but it’s still a health risk



Exercise is good for you, no matter what your weight.
Pressmaster/Shutterstock

Tim Olds, University of South Australia

Nike’s London store recently introduced a plus-sized mannequin to display its active clothing range which goes up to a size 32.

The mannequin triggered a cascade of responses ranging from outrage to celebration. One side argues that the mannequin normalises obesity and leads obese people to feel that they are healthy when in fact they are not.

The other side argues the representations are inclusive, combat fat stigma and encourage fat women to exercise.

Both arguments have some merit.

The representations of bodies we see around us — including shop mannequins – affect the way we calibrate our sense of what is normal and acceptable. And obesity is indeed associated with a greater risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and early death.

It is possible to be metabolically healthy and fat. But even metabolically healthy obese people may still have a shorter life expectancy than their lean peers.

On the other hand, exercise is almost universally beneficial, and people of all shapes and sizes should be encouraged to participate.




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Overweight and obesity have become the new normal

Based on body mass index (BMI), about two-thirds of Australian adults and one-quarter of kids are overweight or obese. While this proportion has flattened out for children in the last 20 years, it continues to rise for adults.

There is strong evidence parents consistently misjudge the weight status of their children because they see more and more fat kids.

The same is true for adults: a recent study from the United Kingdom found 55% of overweight men and 31% of overweight women considered their weight to be in the healthy range.




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I would guess the Nike mannequin is close to 100 kg, with a BMI maybe in the low 30s, well into the obese category.

But given the average female shop mannequin has a BMI of about 17, there are probably at least ten times as many Australian women like the plus-size mannequins than like the usual minus-size variety.

Obesity is not a lifestyle choice like smoking

Obesity is necessarily the result of behaviours — eating too much, exercising too little — albeit heavily constrained by genetic predispositions, and social and economic pressures.

But unlike, say, smoking, being fat is also part of what a person is: most people who are fat have usually been fat for a long time. It’s not something a person has complete control over.

Divergent paths into fat and lean start very young, and once you’re on the obesity train it’s hard to get off.

While it is possible to “give up obesity”, for many it can be a very hard road, involving a lifelong struggle with hunger and recidivism.




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Empowering vs shaming

Anti-obesity campaigns that are built on disgust, fear or shame – such as Measure Up – have been criticised as being stigmatising, ethically problematic and ineffective.

Australia’s 2009 Measure Up campaign is built on fear and shame.

There has, to my knowledge, been no high-quality research comparing the actual effectiveness of shaming versus empowering anti-obesity, or pro-physical activity, campaigns.

However a number of studies show, unsurprisingly, that obese and inactive people prefer empowering campaigns, find them more motivating and less stigmatising.

Health risks of obesity

It has been argued one can be “fit and healthy at any size”: that an obese person can be as fit and healthy as a lean person.

Depending on definitions, about 25-50% of obese people have “metabolically healthy obesity” – normal levels of inflammation, blood sugar, insulin, blood fats, and blood pressure. Other than being obese, these people appear healthy.

But obese people — fit or unfit, active or not — remain on average at greater risk of heart disease, diabetes and early death than lean people with similar behaviours.

Similarly, the claim that people can be both fit and fat, and that fit, fat people are at less risk than unfit, lean people depends on how we define fitness and fatness.

One study, for example, might compare overweight people in the top 20% of fitness with lean people in the bottom 20%. Because there are modest differences in fatness and big differences in fitness, fat people are much more likely to have a similar risk to lean people.

But if another study compares obese people in the top 50% of fitness to lean people in the bottom 50%, the fatter people will be much less healthy.

What is certain is that whoever you are, exercise will almost certainly improve your health.




Read more:
Fat and fit? There’s no such thing for most people


The Nike mannequin controversy is a morality tale of how we navigate between the devil of normalising obesity and the deep blue sea of excluding obese people from the world of exercise.

Obesity has been called both a disability and a disease, and just another way of being in the world. The reality is that for most people, it’s something in between.The Conversation

Tim Olds, Professor of Health Sciences, University of South Australia

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

Indonesia isn’t the only country planning new cities. Why not Australia?



File 20190501 136784 1vrb4zb.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Indonesia plans to relocate its capital from the sprawling city of Jakarta – and it isn’t the only country with plans to build whole new cities.
AsiaTravel/Shutterstock

Wendy Steele, RMIT University

The announcement that President Joko Widodo’s government will move Indonesia’s capital to another location, due to the severity of human-induced degradation in Jakarta, highlights a key tension for cities today. In the face of increasingly unsustainable urban environments, do we retrofit existing cities, or relocate and build new cities to achieve greater sustainability?

The answer is both. But each has its challenges.




Read more:
New cities? It’s an idea worth thinking about for Australia


Creating new cities

The goal of turning cities from sustainability problems to solutions is driving a suite of “future city” innovations. These include the planning and development of whole new cities.

An increasing number of countries are planning to build cities from scratch using technological innovation to achieve more sustainable urban development. Forest City in Malaysia, Belmont smart city in the United States and the Sino-Oman Industrial City are just some of the examples.

Forest City is Malaysia’s biggest development project.

The urban ambition includes creating carless and walkable cities, green cities able to produce oxygen through eco-skyscrapers, high-speed internet embedded in the urban fabric, the capacity to convert waste into energy, and reclaiming land to create new strategic trade opportunities.

However, striking the right balance between innovative ideas and democratic expectations, including the public right to the city, remains a challenge.




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The Minnesota Experimental City offers a cautionary tale. The aim was to solve urban problems by creating a new city. It would use the latest technology including nuclear energy, automated cars and a domed roof enclosure.

Despite significant government and financial backing, including its own state agency, the Minnesota project failed due to a lack of public understanding and local support for a top-down futuristic project.

Who gets left behind?

In 1960, Brazil moved its capital from Rio de Janeiro to the futuristic city of Brasilia. While the city was designed to accommodate both rich and poor, it quickly became unaffordable for the average family. Half a century on, it was reported:

The poor have been shunted out to satellite cities, which range from proper well-built cities to something more like a shanty town.

The Indonesian capital Jakarta is part of a larger mega-city.
Rainer Lesniewski/Shutterstock

In Indonesia, more than 30 million people – a fifth of the nation’s urban residents and more than a tenth of the 269 million population – live in Greater Jakarta. The capital city Jakarta is just one part of a larger mega-city agglomeration, the world’s second-largest after Greater Tokyo. This vast connected urban meta-region is known as Jabodetabek, from the initials of the cities within it: Jakarta (with a population of 10 million), Bogor (1 million), Depok (2.1 million), Tangerang (2 million), South Tangerang (1.5 million) and Bekasi (2.7 million).

A key reason for moving the capital is that Jakarta is prone to serious flooding and is rapidly sinking. Jakarta also suffers overpopulation, severe traffic gridlock, slums and a lack of critical urban infrastructure such as drainage and sanitation.




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Relocating the capital away from the crowded main island of Java offers the opportunity to better plan the political and administrative centre using the latest urban design features and technology.

Two key questions arise. If environmental degradation and overpopulation are the key issues, what will become of the largely remaining population of Greater Jakarta? At a national scale, how will this relocation help overcome the socio-economic and spatial disparities that exist in Indonesia?

Egypt, for example, is building a new capital city to overcome severe urban congestion and overcrowding in Greater Cairo. But there is no guarantee the new capital will resolve these issues if the emphasis is solely on technological innovation, without adequate attention to urban equity and fairness.

More of the same in Australia

The Australian population is projected to grow to 36 million in the next 30 years. This is focusing political, policy and public attention on what this means for the future of the nation’s cities.

Despite all the advances that have occurred in technology, the arts, architecture, design and the sciences, there is surprisingly little innovation or public discussion about what might be possible for 21st-century Australian settlements beyond the capital cities.

Future Australian city planning and development focuses largely on enlarging and intensifying the footprints of existing major cities. The current urban policy trajectory is in-fill development and expansion of the existing state capital mega-city regions, where two-thirds of the population live. But what is lost through this approach?

In Australia only two ambitious “new city” plans have been put forward in the last 50 years: the Multifunction Polis (MFP) and the CLARA Plan.

In the late 1980s the MFP was envisaged as a high-tech city of the future with nuclear power, modern communication and Asian investment. It failed to gain the necessary political, investment and public support and was never built.

The current CLARA Plan proposes building up to eight new regional smart cities connected by a high-speed rail system linking Sydney and Melbourne via Canberra. Each of these cities is designed to be compact, environmentally sustainable and just a quick train trip away from the capital cities.

CLARA has outlined a “value capture” business model based on private city land development, not “government coffer” funding. How these new cities propose to function within the constitutional framework of Australia is as yet unclear and untested.

The privately funded CLARA plan is to build up to eight compact, sustainable, smart cities connected via high-speed rail.



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High speed rail plan still needs to prove economic benefits will outweigh costs


A bipartisan challenge

Are we thinking too narrowly when we talk about future Australian cities?

The “future city” prompts us to rethink and re-imagine the complex nature and make-up of our urban settlements, and the role of critical infrastructure and planning within them.




Read more:
What’s critical about critical infrastructure?


The future of Australian cities will require creativity, vision (even courage) to respond effectively to the challenges and opportunities of sustainable development.

This will not be the remit of any one political party, but a bipartisan national urban settlement agenda that affects and involves all Australians.The Conversation

Wendy Steele, Associate Professor, Centre of Urban Research and Urban Futures Enabling Capability Platform, RMIT University

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

New livestreaming legislation fails to take into account how the internet actually works


File 20190404 131404 ctpebk.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The new laws could mean internet service providers could end up being forced to surveil the activities of users.
from www.shutterstock.com

Andre Oboler, La Trobe University

In response to the live streamed terror attack in New Zealand last month, new laws have just been passed by the Australian Parliament.

These laws amend the Commonwealth Criminal Code, adding two substantive new criminal offences.

Both are aimed not at terrorists but at technology companies. And how that’s done is where some of the new measures fall down.




Read more:
Livestreaming terror is abhorrent – but is more rushed legislation the answer?


The legislation was rushed through with neither consultation nor sufficient discussion.

The laws focus on abhorrent violent material, capturing the terrorist incident in New Zealand, but also online content created by a person carrying out a murder, attempted murder, torture, rape or violent kidnapping.

The laws do not cover material captured by third parties who witness a crime, only content from an attacker, their accomplice, or someone who attempts to join the violence.

The aim is to prevent perpetrators of extreme violence from using the internet to glorify or publicise what they have done. This will reduce terrorists’ ability to spread panic and fear. It will reduce criminals’ ability to intimidate. This is about taking away the tools harmful actors use to damage society.

What the legislation aims to do

Section 474.33 of the Criminal Code makes it a criminal offence for any internet service provider, content service or hosting service to fail to notify the Australian Federal Police, within a reasonable time, once they become aware their service is being used to access abhorrent violent material that occurred or is occurring in Australia. Failing to comply can result in a fine of 800 penalty units (currently $128,952).

Section 474.34 makes it a criminal offence for a content service or hosting service, whether inside or outside Australia, to fail to expeditiously take down material made available through their service and accessible in Australia.

The criminal element of fault is not that the service provider deliberately makes the material available, but rather that they are reckless with regards to identifying such content or providing access to it. Reckless, however, has been given a rather special meaning.

What we’ve got right

There is a clear need for new laws.

Focusing on regulating technology services is the right approach. Back in 2010 when I first raised this idea it was considered radical; today even Mark Zuckerberg supports government regulation.




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We’ve moved away from the idea of technology companies of all types being part of a safe harbour that keeps the internet unregulated. That’s to be welcomed.

Penalties for companies that behave recklessly – failing to build suitable mechanisms to find and remove abhorrent violent material – are also to be welcomed. Such systems should indeed be expanded to cover credible threats of violence and major interference in a country’s sovereignty, such as efforts to manipulate elections or cause mass panics through fake news.

Recklessness as it is ordinarily understood – that is, failing to take the steps a reasonable person in the same position would take – allows the standard to slowly rise as technology and systems for responding to such incidents improve.

Also to be welcomed is the new ability for the eSafety Commissioner to issue a notice to a company identifying an item of abhorrent violent material and to demand its removal. When the government is aware of such content, there must be a way to require rapid action. The law does this.

Where we’ve fallen down

One potential problem with the legislation is the requirement for internet service providers (ISPs) to notify the Australian Federal Police if they are aware their service can be used to access any particular abhorrent violent material.

As ISPs provide access for consumers to everything on the internet, this seeks to turn ISPs into a national surveillance network. It has the potential to move us from an already problematic meta-data retention scheme into an expectation for ISPs to apply deep packet inspection monitoring of everything that is said.




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Australians accept government surveillance, for now


Content services (including social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, and regular websites) and hosting services (provided by companies such as Telsta, Microsoft and Amazon through to companies like Servers Australia and Synergy Wholesale) have a more serious problem.

Under the new laws, if content is online at the time a notice is issued by the eSafety Commissioner, the legal presumption will be that the company was behaving recklessly at that time. The notice is not a demand to respond, but rather a finding that the response is already too slow. The relevant section (s 474.35(5)) states (emphasis added) that if a notice has been correctly issued:

…then, in that prosecution, it must be presumed that the person was reckless as to whether the content service could be used to access the specified material at the time the notice was issued

While the presumption can be rebutted, this is still quite different from what the Attorney General’s press release (dated 4 April 2019) claimed:

… the e-Safety Commissioner will have the power to issue notices that bring this type of material to the attention of social media companies. As soon as they receive a notice, they will be deemed to be aware of the material, meaning the clock starts ticking for the platform to remove the material or face extremely serious criminal penalties.

As the law is written, the notice is more of a notification that the clock has already run out of time. It’s like arguing that the occurrence of a terrorist act means “it must be presumed” the government was reckless with regards to prevention. That’s not a fair standard. The idea of the notice starting the clock would in fact be much fairer.

Under this law, a content service provider can be found to have been reckless and to have failed to expeditiously remove content even if no notice was ever issued. In some cases that may be a good thing, but what was passed as law, and what they say they intended, don’t appear to match.




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Hosting services have the worse of it. They provide the space on servers that allows content to appear on the internet. It’s a little like the arrangement between a landlord and a tenant. With hosting plans starting from around $50 a year, there’s no margin to cover monitoring and complaints management.

The new laws suggest hosting services will be acting recklessly if they don’t monitor their clients so they can take action before the eSafety Commissioner issues a notice. They just aren’t in a position to do that.

A lot still needs to be done

As it stands, only the expeditious removal of content or suspension of a client’s account can avoid the new offence. The legislation does not define what expeditious removal means. There is nothing to suggest the clock would start only after the service provider becomes aware of the content, and the notice from the eSafety Commissioner doesn’t start a clock but says a response is already over due.

This law is designed to apply pressure on companies so they improve their response times and take preemptive action.

What’s missing too is a target with safe harbour protections, that is, a clear standard and a rule that says if companies can meet that standard they can enjoy an immunity from prosecution under this law. That would give companies both a goal and an incentive to reach it.




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Technology and regulation must work in concert to combat hate speech online


Also missing is a way to measure response times. If we can’t measure it, we can’t push for it to be continually improved.

Rapid removal should be required after a notice from the eSafety Commissioner, perhaps removal within an hour. Fast removal, for example within 24 hours, should be required when reports come from the public.

The exact time lines that are possible should be the subject of consultation with both industry and civil society. They need to be achievable, not merely aspirational.

Working together, government, industry and civil society can create systems to monitor and continually improve efforts to tackle online hate and extremism.

That includes the most serious content such as abhorrent violence and incitement to violent extremism.

Trust, consultation and goodwill are needed to keep people safe.The Conversation

Andre Oboler, Senior Lecturer, Master of Cyber-Security Program (Law), La Trobe University

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

New minister for public spaces is welcome – now here are ten priorities for action


Kurt Iveson, University of Sydney

With the re-election of the Berejiklian government, New South Wales now has a minister for public spaces, Rob Stokes. This portfolio was first mooted in February, when the premier announced one of the new minister’s tasks would be to identify and protect publicly owned land for use as parks or public spaces.

As important as this task is, we need even more ambition in this portfolio. Public space is crucial to the social, economic, political and environmental life of our towns and cities. As well as increasing the quantity of public spaces, we need to improve their quality.




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Here are ten priorities for government action to make our public spaces more plentiful and more accessible to all.

1. Rein in privately owned public spaces

From Barangaroo to Bonnyrigg, public spaces in new urban developments are often owned and controlled by private developers. The public has little say over the rules that govern these spaces and how those rules are enforced. Restrictions are often excessive, and private security guards are known to overstep their powers.

The minister for public space should map the extent of privately owned public spaces and ensure these are governed by the same, democratically determined laws that cover publicly owned public spaces.




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2. Strategic purchases of private land

As well as identifying publicly owned land that could be used for parks or public spaces, the minister should identify privately owned land that could be acquired for the same purpose. The gradual purchase of harbour foreshore property in Glebe has resulted in a wonderful and well-used foreshore walk. Similar opportunities to create public space networks should be identified and planned.

3. Unlock the gates

Too much publicly owned public space is under-utilised because it is locked up. Across the city, ovals and public school playgrounds are fenced off from the public for much of the year when they are not in use. We own these spaces – when they’re not in use for sport or school, we should have access to them.

As minister for education, Stokes recently trialled a program of opening some school playgrounds during school holidays. This should be done across the city. And councils should be required to show cause if they want to restrict access to any public spaces they own.

4. Stop the temporary enclosures

A growing number of park authorities and local governments are doing deals with private companies to temporarily fence off public spaces for commercial activities. Sometimes they do this for days, sometimes for weeks and even months. They do it because they’re short of funds and need the revenue.




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While programming events in public spaces can help attract crowds, we must halt the creeping logic of commercialisation, which results in us being charged money for access to our own spaces. The minister for public space should ensure park authorities do not need to depend on commercial funding for survival.

5. Maintain footpaths

The quality of footpaths makes a world of difference for many people. Think of parents with prams, little kids, people with mobility issues, and older people for whom falls are a big health risk. Our footpaths need to be wide and their surfaces even. They also need to incorporate places to rest.




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The capacity of local governments to maintain footpaths is highly uneven. Public spaces in wealthy areas are gold-plated, while in other parts of the city footpaths are too often in poor condition or non-existent. The minister must think about the role that state government can play in evening things out, assisting local governments where required.

6. Provide public toilets

As with footpaths, the provision of public toilets can make the difference between going out or staying at home for many people. The minister should use existing data to audit the provision and accessibility of public toilets in public spaces across the city, identify gaps and fund improvements where required.




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7. Less private advertising, more public expression

While advertising on the Opera House generated controversy, the creeping spread of commercial advertising in public space is also of concern. All this advertising is commercialising our public spaces and crowding out other forms of public expression – from neighbourhood notices about community events and lost cats to murals and street art.

The minister should work with local governments to limit the amount of advertising in public space, and extract more public good from any advertising revenues raised in public space.




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8. No more sniffer dogs and strip searches

The policing of public spaces makes a huge difference to its accessibility. Exclusionary policing strategies – especially the use of drug sniffer dogs and rising use of strip searches – should be stopped.

These tactics are not only put to work at festivals, but also around train stations and entertainment precincts. They are ineffective in leading to prosecutions and are too often used to shame, intimidate and harass people without basis.

The minister for public space needs to challenge the minister for police about this form of policing.

9. Care not control

This is not say that safety is unimportant. We know that fear of harassment and assault stops some people using public space, not least women who often experience this.

However, we must not equate “feeling safe” with “more police” and “more surveillance cameras”. Indeed, sometimes these can have the perverse effect of making people feel less safe, by producing atmospheres of threat.

We feel safer when there are others around caring for the space. So, the minister should investigate ways to encourage these forms of care. Simple measures like later opening hours for neighbourhood shops, or staff on railway platforms and train carriages, can make a big difference.




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10. Plant more trees

We need more trees in our public spaces – not just in parks, but on residential and commercial streets too. This is especially important in parts of the city where summer temperatures are already extreme for weeks at a time. Not only do trees help to cool these spaces, they also encourage more biodiversity and combat carbon emissions.

The minister should establish, and fund, a meaningful target for tree planting in public spaces.

This list of suggestions is far from exhaustive. But these reforms and others ought to be on the drawing board as the minister for public space sets about his new work.

It must be hoped this new portfolio is more than a tokenistic attempt to create the appearance of action on public space, in the face of criticism of this government’s record on privatisation of public assets.The Conversation

Kurt Iveson, Associate Professor of Urban Geography, University of Sydney

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

Why the federal government’s new integrity commission isn’t up to the job



File 20190130 108370 jnix3a.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Restricted powers and a small budget are major concerns with the proposed federal integrity commission.
from www.shutterstock.com

Kate Griffiths, Grattan Institute and Danielle Wood, Grattan Institute

A federal integrity commission is an idea whose time has finally come. The Coalition announced its proposal for a Commonwealth Integrity Commission in mid-December, joining the Greens, Labor and independents led by Cathy McGowan in recognising the need for a body to investigate corruption by politicians and public servants.

But not all integrity commissions are equal. Unfortunately, the government’s initial proposal is light on both powers and resources and is unlikely to weed out corruption and serious misconduct.




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There are big gaps in its proposed powers

At a minimum, the new commission should be able to investigate and resolve claims of corruption in the public sector. Yet the government’s proposal limits its scope and powers in three critical ways.

1. It limits who can report corruption

The government proposes the commission only investigate corruption in the public sector if the federal police or agency heads refer it. The proposal explicitly excludes investigation of public complaints. It also appears to exclude investigation of tips and information from lower-level public officials, journalists and whistleblowers.

Closing off the best source of information about corruption — those that have witnessed it directly or heard about it — would severely limit the commission’s effectiveness. Indeed, instead of ignoring public tips, the commission should be a gateway for them.

2. It limits investigations to criminal offences

The proposed commission will only investigate conduct likely to be a criminal offence. While criminal conduct should be the priority, the commission should also be able to investigate other forms of serious misconduct. For example, links between financial contributions and political favours should be explored even if an improper motive – required to meet the criminal threshold – isn’t likely to be established.

3. Findings may remain secret

The proposed commission “will not be able to make findings of corruption, criminal conduct or misconduct at large”. Only the courts can make findings of criminal conduct. But the commission needs to be able to report to the public on the outcomes of its investigations. The government’s proposal makes no mention of the commission having any public presence.

The commission won’t allay public concern if it operates purely behind closed doors. It should be empowered to publish findings of fact in relation to its investigations and refer suspected criminal conduct to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, or serious misconduct to the relevant agency.

Public findings from the commission are important to reassure the public that corruption and serious misconduct are being investigated. It also creates accountability for the agencies ultimately tasked with pursuing the conduct. It is equally important the commission makes public statements when it does not find facts to support an allegation, so that public officials don’t live under a cloud of suspicion.

Funding too tight

The government proposes a commission operating budget of about A$30 million a year. This is supposed to fund the new public sector integrity division as well as a division to investigate corruption in law enforcement agencies – a task currently undertaken by the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI), with a budget of about $12 million a year.

Assuming the law enforcement division requires only the existing ACLEI budget – optimistic given the raft of new agencies the government is asking it to cover – this would leave the public sector division with a budget of $18 million.




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That’s far smaller than the annual budgets of the larger states’ integrity agencies: NSW $24 million, Western Australia $30 million, Victoria $40 million and Queensland $57 million.

A recent review estimated the cost of a well-functioning commonwealth integrity agency at $47 million a year (including a law enforcement division).

Broader integrity reforms are also needed

An integrity commission, even a powerful and properly resourced one, is not enough on its own to ensure well-resourced and well-connected groups don’t have too much sway over public policy.

Grattan Institute’s 2018 report Who’s in the room? Access and influence in Australian politics covered the vulnerabilities of Australian governments to this type of undue influence.




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A number of simple changes could reduce these risks, including capping political advertising expenditure during election campaigns, strengthening the disclosure regime for political donations and making lobbying more transparent by publishing ministerial diaries.




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Setting much clearer standards for politicians on potential conflicts of interest – particularly relating to corporate hospitality, gifts and secondary employment – would also be a useful complement to the integrity commission’s activities.

Back to the drawing board

The government should go back to the drawing board. A weak and poorly resourced integrity commission is only marginally better than no integrity commission. Fortunately, there is time for the government to fix the model before the proposal is put to parliament. And if the government is serious about lifting the standards in public office, it should reform political donations and lobbying rules at the same time.The Conversation

Kate Griffiths, Senior Associate, Grattan Institute and Danielle Wood, Program Director, Budget Policy and Institutional Reform, Grattan Institute

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

NSW Governor David Hurley will be Australia’s new Governor-General


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

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”.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.