New data tool scores Australia and other countries on their human rights performance



File 20180329 189827 17jfcp2.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Despite the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it remains difficult to monitor governments’ performance because there are no comprehensive human rights measures.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

K. Chad Clay, University of Georgia

This year, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will mark its 70th anniversary, but despite progress in some areas, it remains difficult to measure or compare governments’ performance. We have yet to develop comprehensive human rights measures that are accepted by researchers, policymakers and advocates alike.

With this in mind, my colleagues and I have started the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI), the first global project to develop a comprehensive suite of metrics covering international human rights.

We have now released our beta dataset and data visualisation tools, publishing 12 metrics that cover five economic and social rights and seven civil and political rights.

Lack of human rights data

People often assume the UN already produces comprehensive data on nations’ human rights performance, but it does not, and likely never will. The members of the UN are governments, and governments are the very actors that are obligated by international human rights law. It would be naïve to hope for governments to effectively monitor and measure their own performance without political bias. There has to be a role for non-state measurement.




Read more:
Australia’s Human Rights Council election comes with a challenge to improve its domestic record


We hope that the data and visualisations provided by HRMI will empower practitioners, advocates, researchers, journalists and others to speak clearly about human rights outcomes worldwide and hold governments accountable when they fail to meet their obligations under international law.

These are the 12 human rights measured by the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI) project during its pilot stage. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines 30 human rights.
Human Rights Measurement Initiative, CC BY

The HRMI pilot

At HRMI, alongside our existing methodology for economic and social rights, we are developing a new way of measuring civil and political human rights. In our pilot, we sent an expert survey directly to human rights practitioners who are actively monitoring each country’s human rights situation.

That survey asked respondents about their country’s performance on the rights to assembly and association, opinion and expression, political participation, freedom from torture, freedom from disappearance, freedom from execution, and freedom from arbitrary or political arrest and imprisonment.

Based on those survey responses, we develop data on the overall level of respect for each of the rights. These data are calculated using a statistical method that ensures responses are comparable across experts and countries, and with an uncertainty band to provide transparency about how confident we are in each country’s placement. We also provide information on who our respondents believed were especially at risk for each type of human rights violation.

Human rights in Australia

One way to visualise data on our website is to look at a country’s performance across all 12 human rights for which we have released data at this time. For example, the graph below shows Australia’s performance across all HRMI metrics.

Human rights performance in Australia. Data necessary to calculate a metric for the right to housing at a high-income OECD assessment standard is currently unavailable for Australia.
CC BY

As shown here, Australia performs quite well on some indicators, but quite poorly on others. Looking at civil and political rights (in blue), Australia demonstrates high respect for the right to be free from execution, but does much worse on the rights to be free from torture and arbitrary arrest.

Our respondents often attributed this poor performance on torture and imprisonment to the treatment of refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers, as well as Indigenous peoples, by the Australian government.

Looking across the economic and social rights (in green), Australia shows a range of performance, doing quite well on the right to food, but performing far worse on the right to work.




Read more:
Ten things Australia can do to be a human rights hero


Freedom from torture across countries

Another way to visualise our data is to look at respect for a single right across several countries. The graph below shows, for example, overall government respect for the right to be free from torture and ill treatment in all 13 of HRMI’s pilot countries.

Government respect for the right to be free from torture, January to June 2017.
Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI)

Here, the middle of each blue bar (marked by the small white lines) represents the average estimated level of respect for freedom from torture, while the length of the blue bars demonstrate our certainty in our estimates. For instance, we are much more certain regarding Mexico’s (MEX) low score than Brazil’s (BRA) higher score. Due to this uncertainty and the resulting overlap between the bars, there is only about a 92% chance that Brazil’s score is better than Mexico’s.

In addition to being able to say that torture is probably more prevalent in Mexico than in Brazil, and how certain we are in that comparison, we can also compare the groups of people that our respondents said were at greatest risk of torture. This information is summarised in the two word clouds below; larger words indicate that that group was selected by more survey respondents as being at risk.

These word clouds show, on the left, the attributes that place a person at risk of torture in Brazil, and on the right, attributes that place one at risk for torture in Mexico, January to June 2017, respectively.
Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI), CC BY

There are both similarities and differences between the groups that were at highest risk in Brazil and Mexico. Based on the survey responses our human rights experts in Brazil gave us, we know that black people, those who live in favelas or quilombolas, those who live in rural or remote areas, landless rural workers, and prison inmates are largely the groups referred to by the terms “race,” “low social or economic status,” or “detainees or suspected criminals”.

On the other hand, in Mexico, imprisoned women and those suspected of involvement with organised crime are the detainees or suspected criminals that our respondents stated were at high risk of torture. Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers travelling through Mexico on the way to the United States are also at risk.

The ConversationThere is much more to be learned from the visualisations and data on our website. After you have had the opportunity to explore, we would love to hear your feedback here about any aspect of our work so far. We are just getting started, and we thrive on collaboration with the wider human rights community.

K. Chad Clay, Assistant Professor of International Affairs, University of Georgia

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

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New online tool can predict your melanoma risk



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People who are unable to tan and who have moles on their skin are among those at heightened risk of developing melanoma.
from shutterstock.com

Phoebe Roth, The Conversation

Australians over the age of 40 can now calculate their risk of developing melanoma with a new online test. The risk predictor tool estimates a person’s melanoma risk over the next 3.5 years based on seven risk factors.

Melanoma is the third most common cancer in Australia and the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

The seven risk factors the tool uses are age, sex, ability to tan, number of moles at age 21, number of skin lesions treated, hair colour and sunscreen use.

The tool was developed by researchers at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute. Lead researcher Professor David Whiteman explained he and his team determined the seven risk factors by following more than 40,000 Queenslanders since 2010, and analysing their data.




Read more:
Interactive body map: what really gives you cancer?


The seven risk factors are each weighted differently. The tool’s algorithm uses these to assign a person into one of five risk categories: very much below average, below average, average, above average, and very much above average.

“This online risk predictor will help identify those with the highest likelihood of developing melanoma so that they and their doctors can decide on how to best manage their risk,” Professor Whiteman said.

After completing the short test, users will be offered advice, such as whether they should see their doctor. A reading of “above average” or “very much above average” will recommend a visit to the doctor to explore possible options for managing their melanoma risk.

But Professor Whiteman cautions that people with a below average risk shouldn’t become complacent.

“Even if you are at below average risk, it doesn’t mean you are at low risk – just lower than the average Australian,” he said.




Read more:
Explainer: how does sunscreen work, what is SPF and can I still tan with it on?


An estimated one in 17 Australians will be diagnosed with melanoma by their 85th birthday.

The test is targeted for people aged 40 and above as this was the age range of the cohort studied.

However, melanoma remains the most common cancer in Australians under 40.

Professor Whiteman said that the test may be useful for those under 40, but it may not be as accurate, as that wasn’t the demographic it was based on.

But he added complete accuracy couldn’t be guaranteed even for the target demographic.

“I don’t think it’s possible that we’ll ever get to 100%. I think that’s a holy grail that we aspire to, but in reality, cancers are very complex diseases and their causality includes many, many, factors, including unfortunately some random factors.”

The prognosis for melanoma patients is significantly better when it is detected earlier. The University of Queensland’s Professor of Dermatology H. Peter Soyer explained that the five-year survival rate for melanoma is 90%. But this figure jumps to 98% for patients diagnosed at the very early stages.

“At the end of the day, everything that raises awareness for melanomas and for skin cancer is beneficial,” Professor Soyer said.

Dr Hassan Vally, a senior lecturer in epidemiology at La Trobe University, said the way risk is often communicated is hard for people to grasp. But he said this model would provide people with a tangible measure of their risk of disease, and point them towards what they may be able to do to reduce it.

“Everything comes back to how people perceive their risk, and how can they make sense of it.

The Conversation“If it makes people more aware of their risks of disease that’s a good thing, and if that awareness leads to people taking action and improving their health then that’s great.”

Phoebe Roth, Editorial Intern, The Conversation

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

The New Payments Platform may mean faster transactions, but it won’t be safer


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The New Payments Platform could lead to more fraud and abuse.
Shutterstock

Steve Worthington, Swinburne University of Technology

Australians will finally enjoy the ability to send each other money in “real time”, with the launch of the New Payments Platform (NPP) today. The platform is a mixture of new processes for settling transactions between banks, guided by the Reserve Bank of Australia.

But while this may make payments faster, it could also make them less safe.

And data from the United Kingdom’s real-time payments platform, Faster Payments, show the take-up of Australia’s system may not be that strong. Although it was launched 10 years ago, Faster Payments has not yet become the most popular payment method in the UK. The most popular is still the traditional system, which takes three days to clear.

Research into the Faster Payments platform shows it is rife with fraud and scams. Part of the problem in the UK is that banks have trouble identifying potentially fraudulent transactions.




Read more:
Australians are now using cards more often than cash to pay for things


The New Payments Platform will also change how you transfer money. BSB and account numbers will still exist, but individuals and businesses can create other identifiers, called “PayID”. This means mobile numbers or email addresses can also be used as a way to identify yourself, both to pay and be paid by others.

The platform will also remove the delays caused by weekends and public holidays and mean you can make transfers after business hours.

The impetus for a real-time payment platform came from a 2012 review by the Reserve Bank of Australia. It found that Australia’s payment system lagged behind even less developed nations, such as Mexico.

But not all banks have signed on to the new payments platform. Those taking a wait-and-see approach include Bank of Queensland, Suncorp and Rabobank. Even some of the subsidiaries of one of the big four banks, Westpac (such as Bank of Melbourne and St George), will not be involved in the launch of the New Payments Platform.

Fraud and abuse in real time

Before the New Payments Platform, numerous safeguards were built into Australia’s payment system that limited fraud and abuse. For instance, if you were planning to buy a car, you would likely go into your bank and ask for a bank cheque. This cheque would be made out to the name of the dealership or person selling the car.

A number of protections are built in to this system. The money is guaranteed by your bank and will clear within three days once deposited. If someone with a different name tries to deposit the cheque, then the cheque will not be accepted and hence the payment will be revoked.

Under the terms and conditions issued by one of the participating banks, banks are not liable for losses that are a result of you giving the wrong account information. Furthermore, a transfer instruction given by you, once accepted by your bank, is irrevocable.

This also applies if you were fraudulently induced to make a transfer via the New Payments Platform. In this case your bank might be able to help you recover the funds, but the recipient of the funds (potentially a fraudster) will have to consent to repay your funds. So if you have a dispute with a recipient of your funds transfer, you will need to resolve the dispute directly with that person or organisation under the new scheme.

It is likely that similar terms and conditions will apply to all the institutions that are members of the New Payments Platform.

The problem will only get worse as the “cap” on transactions is lifted. This happened in the United Kingdom once the Faster Payments cap was raised to £250,000 in 2015.

According to the managing director of the UK Payment Systems Regulator, Hannah Nixon: “There is no silver bullet for [authorised push payment] scams and some people will still, unfortunately, lose out.” Nixon added that account holders also need to take “an appropriate level of care” in protecting themselves.




Read more:
Australia may be closer to being a cashless society but it won’t happen by 2020


The UK experience shows that the New Payment Platform is likely to speed up transactions. It took two years for Faster Payments to pass 500 million transactions, but it sped up and passed 5 billion transactions in just over seven years.

In June 2017, Faster Payments processed 135.7 million payments, which was a 15% increase on the previous June. These payments amounted to a total of £115 billion for that month.

But Faster Payments is still not the biggest payment platform in the United Kingdom. Although we don’t know exactly why, there are many possible reasons – including customers not wanting to switch from something they are used to and a fear of fraud.

It could also be that British financial institutions are not promoting Faster Payments to their customers as they can charge higher fees on the traditional payment platform.

The ConversationAbove all, the big concern is detecting fraudulent activity in real time – something that will concern banks’ risk management and which may have led to some choosing to hang back. Payments on the New Payments Platform may be faster and easier to make, but will they be safer? It could just make fraud faster and easier for fraudsters, and harder to undo for victims.

Steve Worthington, Adjunct Professor, Swinburne University of Technology

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

Welcome to the new (old) moralism: how the media’s coverage of the Joyce affair harks back to the 1950s



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The Barnaby Joyce saga has been an example of ‘shake-the-tree’ journalism at its worst.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

The Barnaby Joyce saga has given a great boost to what might be called “shake-the-tree” journalism: you shake the tree by running a sensational story and see what falls out.

The Daily Telegraph’s original public-interest case for publishing the first story of Joyce’s relationship with ex-staffer Vikki Campion was weak when weighed against the privacy intrusions on Joyce, his estranged wife, his daughters, and Campion.

However, that story has resulted in the emergence of three genuine public-interest justifications.

The first is whether Joyce breached the ministerial code of conduct by employing his partner in his office. On this he has prevaricated, saying that his partner was not so employed. Here he was clearly referring to his wife, not Campion. In the circumstances, this was a distinction without a difference.

The second matter of public interest concerns the expenditure of public money on jobs said to have been found for Campion when her presence in Joyce’s office became untenable. Her salary is reported to be about A$190,000.




Read more:
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The third is whether the Prime Minister’s Office was informed of this or whether Joyce misled them by omission.

Once the story came out in The Daily Telegraph, the media as a whole piled into a story they had all known about for months. And they have done so with a kind of shamefaced gusto, making up for lost time.

How much better it would have been if someone – anyone – in the Canberra gallery had succeeded in establishing at least one of those substantial public-interest justifications and broken the story framed around that.

Instead, the story that broke was coloured by the salacious moralism beloved of tabloid newspapers since time began.

It featured a large picture of Campion, heavily pregnant, a gross violation of privacy if ever there was one.

The Telegraph breaks the story in a gross violation of privacy.
http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au

Here it was: the fruit of sin. The impregnated mistress, to borrow some of the vulgar moralising language that has disfigured the coverage.

The photo has been defended by The Daily Telegraph’s editor as proving the truth of the story that Barnaby Joyce had got his staffer pregnant. It proves nothing of the sort. It shows a woman pregnant. It says nothing about paternity.

Then on Valentine’s Day, The Daily Telegraph was at it again, this time with a page-one picture taken in 2016 in which Joyce and Campion are sitting next to each other at an official function.

Campion is in the foreground and Joyce, according to the caption, “eyes off” his media adviser. The headline says: “Bad look”.

There are many ways of interpreting this picture and headline. One of them is that Joyce had sexual designs on Campion back then, which from the caption is clearly the main message The Daily Telegraph wished to convey, regardless of truth or context.

The Daily Telegraph’s February 14 splash.
http://www.womensagenda.com.au

But the picture is also about Campion. Although she is oblivious of the glance from Joyce, the reader is given the opportunity to inspect her as the “other woman”: we get a good look at her face, her figure and her legs.

Put the “bad look” headline with that, and the reader is invited to draw negative conclusions about her appearance and her character.

This judgemental tone, redolent with sexual possibilities and consequences, is a throwback to the busybody moralising of the 1950s and 1960s.

Then – before the sexual revolution and the rise of second-wave feminism – it was a staple of middle-class morality to take a gossipy and often hurtful interest in marital breakdowns and pregnancies out of wedlock.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Is Barnaby’s baby a matter of ‘public interest’ or just of interest to the public?


So why is this throwback happening?

Professor Alison Dagnes, a political scientist at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania and editor of a textbook on sex scandals in American politics, proposes a theory that goes like this: there is a well-documented loss of trust in institutions, one consequence of which is that the public is inclined to regard all politicians as scumbags.

Digital technology has equipped everyone with a camera and social media has provided everyone with the means of publishing. This has created a competitiveness of unprecedented intensity among media.

Scandals pique everyone’s interest, even among those who are not usually interested in politics. So any scandal that shows politicians to be the scumbags we suspect, guarantees lots of “likes” and “shares” on social media, generating a frenzy in traditional media and opening up the scandal to instant and reiterative public judgements.

This, in turn, adds to public distrust in institutions.

To this theory might be added two more possible factors.

The first is the shift in norms of privacy induced by social media and the ubiquity of mobile phones with cameras. Old understandings of the boundaries between private and public have been obliterated and new ones have not yet taken their place.

The second is people’s sense of entitlement to pass judgement on matters of which they have personal experience: intimate relationships, the primary school curriculum, the quality of driving on the roads. This is not new, but it is a powerful driver of attitudes.

The ConversationDoubtless there are other factors, but whatever they are, Western society does appear to be in the grip of a new moralism, and the tabloid media are adept at making the most of it.

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

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

New foreign interference laws will compound risks to whistleblowers and journalists


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Increasingly, the language of ‘national security’ is invoked to protect a government’s broader interests.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Keiran Hardy, Griffith University

The Turnbull government has announced a crackdown on foreign interference in Australian politics and national security. Proposed laws include a ban on foreign political donations, new criminal offences, and a transparency register for those acting on behalf of foreign governments or organisations.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull carefully emphasised that the proposals are not focused on China’s influence in Australia. But, as the Lowy Institute’s Euan Graham put it, there’s an “800-pound panda” in the room.

The proposed criminal offences will significantly expand the scope of existing laws against espionage and treason. This will make it easier to prosecute spies and other foreign nationals who seek undue influence over Australian business or politics.

However, the new laws pose risks to whistleblowers and journalists. They suggest the concept of “national security” is continually expanding.


Further reading: Ban on foreign political donations is both too broad and too narrow, and won’t fix our system


Espionage

The Criminal Code currently sets out an offence of espionage that is punishable by 25 years’ imprisonment.

The main offence applies where someone communicates or makes available information that concerns Australia’s security or defence. The person must intend to prejudice Australia’s security or defence, or advantage another country’s security or defence. Under the proposed changes, this offence will attract a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Where a person recklessly endangers Australia’s security or defence, this will be punishable by the current penalty.

The new espionage offences will apply to possessing or receiving information, in addition to communicating it. They will protect a broader range of information, including unclassified material.

Other new offences, punishable by 15 years’ imprisonment, will target preparation for espionage and the theft of trade secrets.

Foreign interference

Proposed offences for foreign interference will target conduct not ordinarily considered to be espionage or treason.

Currently, the federal offence of treason describes very rare and serious conduct, such as assassinating or capturing the Queen or prime minister.

These new offences will target covert, deceptive or undisclosed conduct that is directed, funded, supervised or undertaken on behalf of a foreign interest. The penalties will range between ten and 20 years’ imprisonment.

To constitute foreign interference, the conduct must be intended to:

  • serve the intelligence purposes of a foreign actor

  • harm Australia’s national security

  • influence the exercise or performance of a democratic or political right, or

  • influence a government or political process.

Other new offences will target the support or funding of foreign intelligence agencies. These will be similar to existing crimes for supporting or funding terrorist organisations.

Are the new offences needed?

The changes will make it easier to prosecute foreign nationals who intentionally interfere with Australia’s business, political or foreign policy interests.

Where such influence cannot strictly be described as impacting on security or defence, successful prosecution under the existing espionage or treason offences is very difficult.

The government’s other justifications are much weaker. The current espionage offences already extend beyond the communication of information to making, obtaining or copying sensitive records. The Crimes Act includes offences that are triggered when an Australian public official discloses official secrets or other information obtained in the course of their employment.

What are the risks?

The proposed offences will target some conduct that should clearly be a serious criminal offence, such as intentionally supporting a foreign intelligence agency.

However, the proposed laws go well beyond such clear cases to target a broad and vague range of conduct affecting Australian interests. This includes possessing unclassified information and any deceptive or undisclosed conduct that influences government processes.

Most importantly, the proposed changes pose risks to whistleblowers and Australian media organisations. These risks were compounded in 2014 by changes to national security legislation in response to the threat of foreign fighters.


Further reading: National security bills compound existing threats to media freedom


A journalist could face serious penalties under the proposed espionage offences for receiving information leaked by a government official or intelligence whistleblower, before they even decide to publish that information.

It seems the information need not even be classified for the penalties to apply, provided making the information available would benefit a foreign country or organisation.

The government needs to ensure that journalists publishing sensitive information in the public interest will not face criminal prosecution for espionage or other federal criminal offences. This should be done by drafting legal protections for journalists who act in a professional capacity in the public interest.

Assurances from Attorney-General George Brandis that journalists will not be prosecuted for doing their job are not enough.

The proposed laws should be viewed not only as a response to increasing Chinese influence in Australia, but also as symptomatic of a post-Snowden crackdown, in which all potentially embarrassing information about government is closely protected.

Similar debates about expanded espionage offences and press freedom have already taken place in the UK. These debates confirm that “national security” is no longer simply about physical threats like terrorism or traditional forms of spying.

The ConversationIncreasingly, the language of national security is invoked to protect a government’s broader interests – political, business and economic.

Keiran Hardy, Lecturer, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and Member, Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University

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

Nationals elect Bridget McKenzie as new deputy



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Bridget McKenzie beat several other candidates in the race for the Nationals’ deputy leadership.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Nationals have elected Victorian senator Bridget McKenzie as deputy leader to replace Fiona Nash, who was disqualified from parliament by the High Court.

The win will propel McKenzie, 47, from the backbench into the cabinet when Malcolm Turnbull announces a ministerial reshuffle after the December 16 Bennelong byelection.

Promoted by cabinet minister Darren Chester, also from Victoria, McKenzie beat several other candidates, including Resources Minister Matt Canavan, a cabinet member.

This is the second consecutive time the party has chosen a female senator as deputy leader.

The Nationals have had five spots in cabinet and there has been some talk about whether the loss of Nash from the party’s parliamentary numbers will affect their entitlement, which is based on an arithmetic formula.

But Nationals sources say the arithmetic can be cut more than one way, depending on what date is used for comparison, and also that Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce will not want to disturb the Coalition relationship.

Joyce’s strong win in the New England byelection on Saturday provided Turnbull with a fillip going into the final week of parliament. Joyce was sworn back into parliament on Wednesday and his vote ensured Labor failed to be able to refer a “job lot” of MPs, including four Liberals, to the High Court.

The euphoria surrounding the byelection win has soothed some Coalition tensions, including over the rebel Nationals forcing the government’s hand last week to set up a royal commission into the banks.

Much interest in the coming reshuffle will centre on George Brandis. After months of speculation that Brandis would leave parliament, the attorney-general, who has recently performed well after earlier political missteps, said this week he intended to stay.

It earlier had been an open secret that Turnbull saw the likely departure of Brandis as an opportunity to elevate Mathias Cormann, now deputy Senate leader and a conservative ally of Turnbull, to Brandis’ position of Senate leader.

The ConversationBrandis has recently been active in asserting the positions of the Liberal moderates; he has been a vocal backer of the same-sex marriage legislation, which is set to pass on Thursday.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/xac9s-7e77c6?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Will Mnangagwa usher in a new democracy? The view from Zimbabwe



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Emmerson Mnangagwa, President-elect of Zimbabwe.
Filckr/UN

Nic Cheeseman, University of Birmingham

Zimbabwe has a new leader. Robert Mugabe is out. His former ally turned rival, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is in. What now?

After ecstatic celebrations to mark Mugabe’s resignation thoughts have began to turn to what comes next. Mugabe may have exited the political scene, but it remains dominated by the same political party – Zanu-PF – that sustained his rule.

Moreover, the country’s president-elect, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is hardly a breath of fresh air. Having held a series of cabinet positions under Mugabe, and served as first vice president between December 2014 and his sacking in November 2017, he looks more like a force for continuity than change.

As a result, talk in Harare quickly turned to what kind of leader Mnangagwa will be, and the system of government that would best serve ordinary Zimbabweans.

The fork in the road

My conversations with people on the streets of the capital, Harare, about the political system the country needs suggests that two distinct camps are emerging: those who want elections to be held as soon as possible, and those who say the polls should be postponed and a transitional government established.

Both of these options have genuine “pros” but also strong “cons”. As is so often the case, there is no perfect answer that solves all problems.

It is understandable that many Zimbabweans want a period of calm and orderly government after the twists and turns of recent weeks, and believe that it would be better to form an inclusive government that would feature representatives of all of the main political parties – a kind of power sharing in all but name.

Even though I have consistently argued in favour of the value of democracy and elections in Africa, I have to admit that the “transitioners” have some viable arguments.

The most obvious is that a period of stability and more consensual government might facilitate much needed reform of the economy and also the wider political and legal system. After all, rival parties are unlikely to come to agreement on these issues if they are immediately thrust into an election campaign.

The “transitioners” also have a point when it comes to democracy. Few people in Zimbabwe believe that it’s possible for elections to be free and fair if they are held between July and August next year, as currently scheduled. Given this, and the current divisions within the opposition, a rush to elections is likely to result in a convincing victory for Zanu-PF under problematic circumstances.

A transitional arrangement would allow for much needed electoral reforms to be put in place, creating the potential for a better quality process and a more consensual outcome later on.

Testing the Crocodile

But there is also another camp that wants to see Mnangagwa, popularly known as The Crocodile, to face an election as soon as possible.

Just like their counterparts in the “transitioner” camp, “electioneers”, have some strong arguments. Whatever one wants to call Mnangagwa’s rise to power – from a coup to an internal party squabble – it is clear that it has not been a high quality democratic transition. And while it is clear that the overthrow of Mugabe was hugely popular, we don’t know if the same applies to a Mnangagwa presidency. An election would settle that question.

It would also give the new government a popular mandate to undertake economic reforms, whoever wins power. This could be important to the success of the reform project, because things are likely to get worse before they get better, and the country’s economic medicine may prove to be a bitter pill to swallow.

Holding elections would also do one thing that postponing them will not; it will test the commitment of the new government to democratic norms and values from the get-go. One of the main reasons that Zimbabwean elections have been poor quality is that Zanu-PF and the military have intervened to make sure this was the case. As another friend put it, “If they are really committed to doing the right thing, they can do it right away and the elections will not be too bad”.

Learning from the past

“Electioneers” are also motivated by scepticism that an inclusive transitional government would get much done. Both Zimbabwe and Kenya have had power-sharing governments in the recent past, and while they both introduced new constitutions they also saw high levels of corruption and limited security sector reform. They also both led to elections that were denounced by opposition parties as being unfree and unfair.

It’s fair to ask: why would it be different this time?

The question is particularly pertinent given the current composition of parliament. Because Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change boycotted a series of by-elections on the basis that they would not be free and fair, it has lost many of the seats it won in 2013. As a result, any transitional arrangement that deferred elections and “froze” the current parliament for the next three years would have a big legislative advantage to Zanu-PF.

It is also important to keep in mind that economics cannot be divorced from politics: Zimbabwe’s current economic difficulties stem precisely from an unaccountable political framework that ignored the interests of the people. Given that recent events have emboldened the military and given them an even stronger voice within government, this is a pressing concern.

Deferring electoral reforms in order to focus on economic recovery may therefore prove to be a self defeating strategy.

Next steps

Ultimately, the form of government that evolves in Zimbabwe will not be a product of popular dialogue. One of the distinctive features of this process is that for the most part it has been conducted behind closed doors by a small elite.

Don’t be fooled by the pictures of tens of thousands of people marching on Saturday – all sides have invoked popular support, but none have actually encouraged ordinary people to say what they want, or given them a seat at the table. This is a worrying sign if strengthening democracy is the long-term goal.

Recent public statements by the main parties at the time of going to press suggests that they are not converging on an interim administration, and so the “electioneers” may get their wish. That could still change because talks are ongoing and both sides would gain something from a delay. But if it doesn’t the people will be able to have their say on how they want their country to be run.

The ConversationOf course, voting will not actually equate to “having a say” unless the country’s new leader follows through on his promise to build a “new democracy”, and the ruling party can kick the habit of a lifetime. Watch this space.

Nic Cheeseman, Professor of Democracy, University of Birmingham

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

‘Finkel’s new energy report’ isn’t new and it isn’t by Finkel


David Blowers, Grattan Institute

The headline almost writes itself: “Finkel backs Labor’s renewables policy”. A report released yesterday, The role of energy storage in Australia’s future energy supply mix, has found that Australia can reach 50% renewables by 2030 with limited impact on reliability.

It has, inevitably, lead to claims that Labor’s target of 50% renewables by 2030 is both achievable and correct. But focusing on the politics would be missing the point.


Read more: Shorten goes on front foot over 50% renewables ‘target’


It should first be noted that, despite the many headlines citing his involvement, Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel did not actually write the report. The report is by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA), an independent, not-for-profit organisation that brings together Australian academics to provide evidence-based solutions to national and global policy problems. Yes, funding was provided by the Office of the Chief Scientist, and yes, Finkel himself has been supportive of the report, but describing it as a “new Finkel report” is stretching things a little.

The report explores how much energy storage – whether in batteries, pumped hydro or solar thermal – we will need as we increasingly rely on renewable, and therefore intermittent, electricity generation. As more renewable generation enters the system, there needs to be alternative sources of generation, such as storage, that can meet demand when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.


Read more: Want energy storage? Here are 22,000 sites for pumped hydro across Australia


The ACOLA report finds that only a small amount of storage would be required to balance a system with 50% renewables. Cue the political debate about the quality of the electricity market modelling that ACOLA relied on to make this finding.

There is far too much focus on electricity market modelling in Australia these days – particularly regarding renewable energy. Finkel’s policies are distrusted and dismissed by people on one side of the debate because they believe his modelling shows too high a level of renewables. And the Coalition’s National Energy Guarantee (NEG) is distrusted and dismissed by people on the other side of the debate because they say it shows too low a level of renewables.

This debate rages on even though no modelling has been revealed; the federal government has promised to unveil the modelling behind the NEG at a meeting of the COAG Energy Council this Friday.

The truth is, modelling is an inexact science. The outcomes depend on the assumptions you use and the data you shove in. This is why the results for Finkel and the NEG will differ so much, despite them using the same emissions reduction targets and using emissions reduction mechanisms that impact the market in very similar ways.


Read more: Politics podcast: Energy Security Board chair Kerry Schott on a national energy plan


As it happens, I have limited confidence that you need only a little storage with 50% renewables but a lot of storage at 75% renewables, as ACOLA’s report claims. But the specifics are not important. What is important is that Australia will need something to balance intermittent renewables – and at some point, we will need quite a lot of balancing.

The most important aspect of the ACOLA report is that it brings into focus an unavoidable fact: Australia has serious problems with its electricity system. System security – making sure that the system doesn’t break – is an immediate concern. Reliability – ensuring the system has enough power to meet demand – is a growing problem. And energy storage is a potential solution to both.

ACOLA is not the first to point this out. Finkel’s blueprint for the National Electricity Market, released in June, identified these concerns. The Australian Energy Market Operator in September identified the need for a new mechanism to address medium-term reliability issues in the market.

Without the right policy settings to address reliability and security concerns, storage will have no chance of helping to fix our energy mess, regardless of the quality of ALOCA’s modelling.

The ConversationOur politicians need to focus on the substance of this debate, rather than the headlines. Hitting each other over the head because there are too many – or too few – renewables in the policy basket is pointless and will ultimately prove self-defeating. Instead, how about finding an actual policy solution? Starting at this Friday’s COAG Energy Council meeting. Please?

David Blowers, Energy Fellow, Grattan Institute

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

Australia’s tenuous place in the new global economy


Richard Holden, UNSW

The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) has released a report titled Australia’s Place in the World, which considered how Australia should respond to changing attitudes to globalisation.

At home and around the world, there is a backlash against free trade and globalisation. The report asks what course Australia should navigate through these choppy economic and political waters.

The backdrop, of course, is the UK Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as US President.

If that’s not motivation enough, one could easily add to CEDA’s list: the performance of Marine Le Pen in France’s recent presidential election, the election of the far-right AfD to the German parliament, and the looming role of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation in the Queensland election.

Tariffs and trade

The report is broken into three sections: Global Economy, Global Security, and Global Governance, but it is the first and third that speak directly to Australia’s economic fortunes in the age of Trump.

One obvious, but correct and important observation the report makes is that Australia has been a huge beneficiary of free trade over the past 30 years. Not only have our exporters gained access to major overseas markets, but consumers in Australia have also benefited from reduced tariffs.


Read more: With a free trade deal Australia can win China’s dairy market


For example, the price of a typical sedan has basically halved in real terms due to the removal of a 100% car tariff. But while trade and globalisation have made the economic pie bigger, the sharing of those benefits has been much more uneven. Just ask manufacturing workers.

What is missing from the report’s recommendations is how to deal with and compensate the losers from globalisation in Australia. That is important, both economically and politically.

Global rise of populism

The rise of populist parties around the world has been associated with this failure to compensate globalisation’s losers.

Part of what it takes to address this issue is so-called “place-based policies” which Rosalind Dixon and I have previously discussed. Broadly, this refers to the people who are affected when industries move away from particular areas and employment opportunities dry up.

The CEDA report argues, however, that:

Policies such as moving from transaction taxes on property to broad-based land tax to address housing affordability and labour mobility need to be designed along with transition pathways. GST reform with a broader base to remove the need for stamp duty could be another option.

The report also points out that Australia’s company tax rate is uncompetitive, and that the proposed shift to a 25% rate under the Coalitition’s “Enterprise Tax Plan” would only happen by 2026-27, if it happens at all. These are all good points, and would make for good policy. Yet the only one that looks vaguely likely to happen is replacing stamp duty with land tax – and that would be done at a state government level.


Read more: Lessons from Brexit: the fruits of globalisation must be shared with low- and middle-income groups


The federal government floated the idea of GST reform and retreated almost immediately after the opposition predictably attacked it viciously and effectively as being “regressive”. The Enterprise Tax plan also looks to be in danger, as several crossbench MPs seem likely to side with Labor and want tax cuts only for small businesses. That’s utterly stupid economics, but apparently good politics.

Middle power leadership?

As the report notes: “Global cooperation is growing increasingly important in a world that faces a number of crises that require cross-border solutions.”

This is surely true, although the report paints a rosy picture of Australia’s potential role as a “middle power”, claiming that we were important in the establishment of the United Nations.

True, Australia played a relatively important role in establishing APEC and the G20. But that involved leadership from figures like Hawke, Keating and Rudd. I, for one, don’t see anyone on the present political landscape with those leadership and persuasion skills.

Perhaps the bigger challenge is that President Trump seems determined to radically undermine international institutions. Even Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was unhelpful in the Trans Pacific Partnership rebound effort that Malcolm Turnbull and others were trying to arrange.

What can Australia do in the face of orchestrated attacks on global institutions by the biggest and most important nations? Very little, I fear. The age of Trump is a difficult time for Australia and its leaders. Many things are out of our control.

What we can do, however, is resist the tide of populism at home, and provide stable and functional government. Both major parties have a patchy recent record in that regard, and the federal opposition has made some populist-type moves on trade and protectionism.

The ConversationLet’s hope they don’t really believe it.

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics and PLuS Alliance Fellow, UNSW

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

Xi Jinping unveils China’s new leadership team


Hans Hendrischke, University of Sydney

China’s 19th Party Congress has elected a new leadership team that promises to bring continuity in the country’s gradual domestic reform and stronger focus on internationalism.

Proving many political observers wrong, the new leadership line-up is an A-team in terms of economic and international credentials.

New leadership team

President Xi’s “new era” of Chinese development and economic growth is defined by the reform agenda he laid out when he came to power in 2012. This vision was most clearly articulated in his personal comments on the 60-point policy document that laid out the President’s vision for the governance reform of China.


Read More: China’s ambition burns bright – with Xi Jinping firmly in charge


The newly elected leadership team comprises five new members, all of whom bring economic and international experience to the table that will shape the direction of Chinese policies over the next five years.

Wang Yang and Han Zheng have led China’s most successful and most internationalised province-level economies, Guangdong and Shanghai. Li Zhanshu and Zhao Leji have overseen growth and reform in China’s inland provinces before assuming central party posts. Wang Huning, the chief theoretician, speaks fluent French and has a PhD in philosophy from Johns Hopkins University.

All five newly elected members (they join the existing Premier Li Keqiang) have been groomed for the top positions by serving at least one term on the politburo. The composition of the seven-member standing committee of the politburo is evenly balanced between economic reformers and the political power base.

Premier Li Keqiang’s focus is on economic policy-making, while Wang Yang and Han Zheng have steered China’s most open economies. Together, they represent economic stability and continued globalisation. The other three new members will oversee continuity in domestic policies and the continued role of the party.

Li Zhanshu was in charge of party administration over the past five years and is seen in the role of the party “whip”. Zhao Leji, as a power broker, was running the party’s Organisation Department and served as the second in command for the Party’s discipline inspection system in charge of anti-corruption policies. Wang Huning, who formulates Xi Jinping’s political agenda, has served the previous two leadership groups in exactly the same role.

Together, these six closest associates of Xi Jinping demonstrate the continuity of policies from the first half of Xi Jinping’s five-year term into this second five-year term to a domestic as well as an international audience.

Renewed focus on internationalism

One of the key advantages of the new leadership team will be their solid international credentials.

Wang Yang, former Party secretary of Guangdong Province, has been closely involved in China’s strategic economic dialogue with the United States. At the same time, he was in charge of the internal steering committee for the Belt and Road Initiative. His appointment means that China will continue the balancing act between its own regionally focused strategy and the (western) rules-driven form of globalisation.

Han Zheng, the former Party Secretary and mayor of Shanghai, served during the 2010 Shanghai World Expo and oversaw the globalisation of Shanghai with its co-existence between commercially viable state-owned enterprise sector and a growing private sector.

Moving these internationally connected decision-makers to the front line signals pragmatism in China’s economic policies and globalisation. Their experience in dealing with foreign governments and businesses, and their awareness of the interdependence of global markets, suggests that current reforms in financial industries, advanced manufacturing and overseas investment will continue.

A new leadership direction

President Xi’s governance reform is a driver behind his anti-corruption campaign that has been in place for five years. In western terminology, Xi’s contribution to socialist theory is his attempt to institute a “separation of powers” by strengthening the role of the legislative in supervising the executive.

Currently, the party has direct control over the executive through appointments of all relevant government officials and direct interference in detailed government processes. Xi Jinping’s governance reform envisages a rules-based supervision of government through the system of people’s congresses and less direct interference by the party.


Read More: Video explainer: at China’s 19th National Party Congress, Xi’s vision and legacy are at stake


The governance reform includes practical aspects, such as reform of public finance as a precondition for banking reform; further tax reform, social security and medicare reform. These reforms will open new markets and are relevant for foreign economic cooperation.

Xi’s speech to the Party Congress cited unresolved issues, including social inequality, poverty, environmental pollution, health care and food safety. These are urgent matters than affect general public support for his policies and the government.

In view of the urgent need for progress in these areas, he foreshadowed a stronger role of the market and international cooperation in areas such as health care and social services.

Implications for Australia

For Australia, continuity in China’s leadership transition means stability in long-term economic relations, from forthcoming revisions to ChAFTA to Australian involvement in China’s “One Belt, One Road” Initiative.

The ConversationThe new leadership will continue to promote regional economic integration. Australia, with its location between Southeast Asia and the Pacific, is recognised by China as an important economic hub with mature institutions that will underpin regional economic cooperation.

Hans Hendrischke, Professor of Chinese Business and Management, University of Sydney

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