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.




Read more:
Health Check: how to start exercising if you’re out of shape


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.




Read more:
Genes, joules or gut bugs: which one is most to blame when it comes to weight gain?


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.




Read more:
Weighty matters: why GPs shouldn’t be afraid of the scales


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.

Advertisements

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.




Read more:
Will Habitat III defend the human right to the city?


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.




Read more:
The sea isn’t actually ‘level’: why rising oceans will hit some cities more than others


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.



Read more:
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.




Read more:
Zuckerberg’s ‘new rules’ for the internet must move from words to actions


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.




Read more:
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.




Read more:
Why we need to fix encryption laws the tech sector says threaten Australian jobs


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.




Read more:
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.




Read more:
Surprise! Digital space isn’t replacing public space, and might even help make it better


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.




Read more:
Making developments green doesn’t help with inequality


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.




Read more:
Private events help fund public parks, but there’s a cost too


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.




Read more:
Eight simple changes to our neighbourhoods can help us age well


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.




Read more:
Caught short: we need to talk about public toilets


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.




Read more:
Is there any way to stop ad creep?


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.




Read more:
To create safer cities for everyone, we need to avoid security that threatens


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.




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


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.




Read more:
Parties, money and their masters: who do office holders serve?


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.




Read more:
Influence in Australian politics needs an urgent overhaul – here’s how to do it


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.




Read more:
Time for the federal government to catch up on political donations reform


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.

How a proposed new bill would make it easier to strip Australian citizenship



File 20181211 76971 mna8uq.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The proposed amendments also remove protections against rendering a person stateless.
Shutterstock

Rayner Thwaites, University of Sydney

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.




Read more:
The latest citizenship-stripping plan risks statelessness, indefinite detention and constitutional challenge


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.




Read more:
New laws make loss of citizenship a counter-terrorism tool


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.The Conversation

Rayner Thwaites, Senior Lecturer, Sydney Law School, University of Sydney

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

Australians’ trust in politicians and democracy hits an all-time low: new research


Mark Evans, University of Canberra; Gerry Stoker, University of Canberra, and Max Halupka, University of Canberra

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):

  1. “Australia has been able to provide good education, health, welfare and other public services to its citizens”
  2. “Australia has experienced a good economy and lifestyle”
  3. “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%).

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/DlIru/1/

At a time of the “#Metoo” movement, women are generally less satisfied with democracy and more distrusting of politicians and political institutions.

In general, levels of trust in government and politicians in Australia are at their lowest levels since time-series data have been available.




Read more:
Why do Australians hate politics?


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:

  1. they are not accountable for broken promises
  2. they don’t deal with the issues that really matter
  3. 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:

  1. limiting money donated to parties and spent in elections
  2. the right for voters to recall ineffective local MPs
  3. giving all MPs a free vote in parliament
  4. co-designing policies with ordinary Australians
  5. 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.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: The high costs of our destructive coup culture


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.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/n2xEb/1/

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.The Conversation

Mark Evans, Professor of Governance and Director of Democracy 2025 – bridging the trust divide at Old Parliament House, University of Canberra; Gerry Stoker, Fellow and Centenary Professor, Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra, and Max Halupka, Research Fellow at the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra, University of Canberra

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

Liberals adopt new rule to stop the revolving prime ministership


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

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
tonight.”

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
opposition leaders.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.

With China-US tensions on the rise, does Australia need a new defence strategy?



File 20181120 161621 1g1rmsp.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
China’s rising influence in the region has alarmed many defence experts. But the question remains: would Australia ever need to fight China on its own?
Joel Carrett/AAP

Greg Raymond, Australian National University

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.

But the fact remains that China could threaten to use those weapons to force the Australian government into, say, ceasing its patrols of the South China Sea, regardless of the much-debated US “nuclear umbrella” in East Asia.

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.




Read more:
Australia and China push the ‘reset’ button on an important relationship


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:

  • China’s rejection of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling that deemed its nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea illegal

  • China’s conversion of its South China Sea artificial islands into military bases, which was largely complete by the end of 2016, despite a pledge President Xi Jinping gave then-President Barack Obama that China had “no intention to militarise” the islands

  • reports in April of this year that China was establishing partnerships with Pacific nations like Vanuatu for potential future military bases and other arrangements

  • 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.

President Xi Jinping has rapidly expanded China’s presence in the Pacific region in recent years.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

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.




Read more:
Australia’s naval upgrade may not be enough to keep pace in a fast-changing region


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.




Read more:
The risks of a new Cold War between the US and China are real: here’s why


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.

Mike Pence signaled a harder US stance towards China in a speech last month, saying: ‘We will not stand down.’
Fazry Ismail/EPA

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.The Conversation

Greg Raymond, Research fellow, Australian National University

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