Government behind 45-55% in Ipsos poll


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Turnbull government trails Labor 45-55% on the two-party vote in the Fairfax Ipsos poll, as the Senate prepares to drastically restrict the proposed company tax cuts and reject changes to Section 18C in parliament’s last week before the pre-budget break. The Conversation

The Ipsos poll has found 44% support the government’s ten-year plan to reduce the company tax rate to 25%, while 39% oppose.

But the Senate is set to back the cuts only for smaller businesses. Malcolm Turnbull on Friday flagged the government would continue to push the full plan, even after a Senate defeat.

The Nick Xenophon Team has indicated it will shoot down the government’s proposed changes to the wording of 18C, which is being rushed to a vote.

Meanwhile, the government is stepping up its moves on energy policy by directing the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to review retail energy prices.

Announcing the review, Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison said it would examine electricity retailer behaviour, as well as contracts offered to residential and business customers, to ensure consumers benefit from competition in the National Electricity Market.

The government is behind in the polls generally, with some differences in the degree. In Newspoll last week, the Coalition trailed Labor 48-52%, while Essential had the two-party vote at 45-55%.

Taken between Wednesday and Saturday, the Ipsos poll found Labor’s primary vote on 34% and the Coalition’s at 33%. The Greens were on 16%, and the “other” vote was 17%. The two-party vote is on the basis of preferences at the 2016 election.

Turnbull’s approval is 40%; his disapproval is 48%. Bill Shorten’s approval is 35%, while 53% disapprove of his performance. Turnbull leads 45-33% as preferred prime minister. Fairfax has not polled since November, when Labor had a 51-49% two-party lead.

The latest move on energy policy follows Turnbull recently seeking guarantees of domestic supply from the gas producers and announcing the government will expand the Snowy Hydro. There is an inquiry into the future security of the national energy market underway chaired by the chief scientist, Alan Finkel.

In their statement Turnbull and Morrison said that competition in retail energy markets should mean lower prices for householders and businesses. But “retail electricity markets don’t appear to be operating as effectively as they could”. The government was “determined to ensure Australians get a better deal for their energy”.

They said that recent work, including by the Australian Energy Market Commission, Energy Consumers Australia and the Grattan Institute, had highlighted significant concern about the causes of recent electricity price increases on the east coast. Submissions to the Finkel review had also raised concerns.

The ACCC inquiry would identify cost components of electricity retail pricing and how they affect the retail offers made to customers. It would look at whether electricity retailers’ margins and profitability are in line with their costs and risks, as well as considering impediments to consumer choice, such as the clarity of contracts.

It would also examine the competitiveness of offers available to larger business customers, taking into account the conduct of the wholesale electricity market.

The inquiry will have until June 30 next year to report, with the ACCC producing a paper on its “preliminary insights” within six months.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/egvg5-68f11e?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Drawings reveal the struggles and triumphs of child refugees in their first six months of high school



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Starting a new school can often feel overwhelming.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Amanda Hiorth, University of Melbourne

Transitioning into high school can be overwhelming for any student, but for those coming from a refugee background, there are even more challenges. The Conversation

While we know a fair bit about the academic experience of child refugees starting school in a new country, we know little about how students feel in their new school environment – how they are coping, and if they are making friends.

Numbers of child refugees across Australia are rising. There are around 9,000 students enrolled in Victorian government schools, and around 8,000 in New South Wales – with 1,500 refugee students enrolling each year.

These young people have often faced many interruptions in their school lives – this might mean having to regularly change schools, or drop out for a period of time due to the uncertainty and turmoil that comes with being a refugee.

They also often have gaps in their knowledge within areas such as literacy and subject content. This can make learning about subjects such as science much more difficult, as they are doing so in a second language.

We know little about child refugee’s school experiences

The research I conducted gives some insight into this little-discussed area of how students are coping in their new school environment.

For one year, I analysed students’ experiences – through interviews, observations, work samples and reports – of the move from Victorian English language school (for which students receive six to 12 months of funding) into high school through the medium of pictures.

Pictures have been found to be a powerful data source for vulnerable young people, providing them with an alternative to express their voice and conceptualise their thoughts without the need for language.

Feeling alone

Moo Dar Eh feeling isolated at her new high school.
Student drawn picture

Moo Dar Eh was 12 years old, born and raised in a Karenni refugee camp in Thailand. Six months after transitioning into Year 8 at high school, she drew a picture reflecting on her experience.

She features herself alone in the foreground, with the new school in the background. Her face is glum and drawn with a frown. Her hands are splayed wide, her feet shoeless. Without any books or bags, she seems unprepared for what lies ahead.

She also features herself alone and without any clear pathway to the school. The building captures the essence of “school as institution” with the detail and intricacy used to outline the school. It seems large and looming above her, without a soul to welcome her.

Research has shown that initially, mainstream school can be an overwhelming, isolating and lonely experience for refugee students. Eager to belong, make friends and build warm connections with teachers, students struggle to find their place.

Although schools organise orientation days and other supports, such initiatives often only last the first few days. But transition, in reality, is a long-term process.

Daunting environment

Gay Paw smiling and crying at the prospect of high school.
Student drawn picture

Gay Paw, born and raised in a Thai refugee camp, was 15 years old when she started Year 9 at the beginning of term three in an Australian school.

Unlike Australian-born students who have continuous schooling and begin Year 7 in January, refugee students might start at any year level or term, depending on when they arrive in Australia. This is just one extra challenge these students must face.

Before her first day, Gay Paw admitted feeling a wide range of conflicting emotions: happiness, fear and excitement. In her picture, which she drew prior to starting high school, she notes how leaving the familiar English language school she had spent 12 months in provoked deep sadness. Confronting a new and daunting environment compelled her to draw tears on her face.

Her new school is drawn in the back corner of the page, devoid of details and lacking a pathway. She drew herself alone, marking her isolation and limited knowledge about how school works.

Feeling overwhelmed in transition is not an uncommon emotion for refugee-background students, who require explicit support to access education and advocate for their needs.

In spite of her anxiety, she still drew a smile on her face. In our interview six months after her transition, she explained that along with her fear, she also held hope and excitement for the new opportunities to come. She understood how valuable school could be in helping her make something of her future.

Determined to learn

Yo Shu’s strong resolve to the new school challenges.
Student drawn picture

For students who are on the cusp of being “too old” for high school, the most common options available are specialised work centres or adult English as a second language (ESL) courses at Technical and Further Education (TAFE) colleges.

Yo Shu, a 17-year-old boy born and raised in a Thai refugee camp, had little prior schooling and first language literacy due to a lifetime of hard labour.

Entering year 12 and successfully completing VCE would have been impossible, so he instead chose TAFE. Unlike the other students in this study who felt anxious and overwhelmed, Yo Shu felt only excitement.

In his picture drawn six months after his transition, he drew himself as larger than life. His body bulges with muscles, and his face wears a look of determination. He holds an enormous pencil and behind him is a full page of his notebook.

All around Yo Shu float the many ways in which he tries to better himself: writing, speaking, listening and reading English. The entire focus is a single-minded dedication to his studies, and the will to improve academically was a matter of complete and utter embodiment.

Yo Shu was something of an anomaly, as his experience in transition was filled only with optimism and success. This is likely due to a combination of his upbeat personality, his excitement as his first real opportunity to obtain an education, and that placement in TAFE catered perfectly to his level of English and learning skills.

For the other students in this study, and for many refugee-background learners entering high school mid-stream as is often the case, the challenges which include keeping up with subjects, passing assessments and making friends can sometimes be almost too difficult to overcome.

Students are at risk of disengaging and dropping out from school – consequences of which can lead to social isolation, welfare dependence, uptake of drug and alcohol use and greater levels of depression.

What more can schools do to support students?

Transition is a key period for all students – and continues far beyond the first day of school.

Supports offered to refugee students need to consider the long-term aspects of transition, and that students with complex needs also require complex support.

One key finding from this research was how overwhelmed and isolated students felt during the initial period of transition. Feeling part of the school was central to their feelings about school as a whole. When connections were made with teachers and peers, they felt part of the community, their confidence was enhanced and students felt they had a safe space to ask for much-needed help. Research shows that this then enables students to engage and succeed in their education.

Schools can support the development of connections and sense of belonging for students in a number of ways, by:

  • creating formal and consistent bridging programmes that span the gap between English language school and high school

  • welcoming families and students with a celebratory lunch

  • holding information sessions for parents and guardians about the school

  • establishing peer-support programmes such as transition buddies to help guide the student around the school in their first few weeks and meet new friends

  • starting homework clubs

  • working together with language schools

  • sharing information about new students to school staff.

And how can teachers help?

Teachers can also support their students, by:

  • organising class activities to welcome new students, such as fun self introduction games and encouraging peers to include new students at recess and lunch

  • implementing sensitive seating plans to encourage friendships

  • taking the time inside and outside of class to get to know students and build rapport

  • making space for students to share their stories about their life before Australia, their family, what they love to do and what they’re good at

  • integrating lessons which incorporate and build on their strengths and skills.

Pseudonyms have been used for all the students mentioned in this piece.

Amanda Hiorth, PhD Candidate and Sessional Lecturer in Language and Literacies Education, University of Melbourne

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

Terror in London: Western cities will always be vulnerable to these attacks



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Five people are dead – including the perpetrator – following a terror attack in London.
EPA/Andy Rain

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Just when the Western world had absorbed the shock of a truck attack in Berlin in December that claimed 12 lives, it is reminded again of the dangers of “lone-wolf” attacks inspired by Islamic State (IS) that are almost impossible to guard against. The Conversation

When a sole attacker drove randomly across London’s Westminster Bridge towards the Houses of Parliament – one of the most trafficked thoroughfares in the Western world – killing and maiming innocent bystanders, it served as a reminder, if that were required, that open, global cities are vulnerable to such attacks.

These are moments that serve as a reality check for those in authority who are striving to maintain a balance between oppressive policing and surveillance and a free society. This is enormously challenging in an environment in which strains of fanaticism have been let loose.

Regrettably, the London terrorist attack leading to five deaths, including the perpetrator and a policeman, will find its way into a racially tinged political discourse – and not in a way that will be particularly edifying.

But there is also no point in pretending that mayhem in the Middle East can be separated from what takes place on the streets of London or Brussels or Berlin or Nice, or in other places that become victims of continuing upheaval in a crescent that stretches from the Mediterranean to South Asia.

Now that the weapon of choice for lone-wolf terrorists seems to have become a vehicle to mow down people innocently going about their business, a policing task becomes even more difficult.

Peter Bergen, a terrorism expert, noted in a post for CNN that as long ago as 2010, al Qaeda’s Yemen branch had encouraged its recruits in the West to use vehicles as weapons.

A headline on its webzine, Inspire, had described vehicles as “the ultimate mowing nachine” – not to “mow grass, but mow down the enemies of Allah”. He wrote:

These attacks are hard to defend against in free societies where crowds will gather, as was the case for Bastille Day in Nice, or the Christmas market in Berlin … and now throngs of tourists and visitors that typically crowd the sidewalks around the Houses of Parliament.

The utter cynicism and brutality of these random low-tech attacks pose enormous challenges for security.

This latest episode will not be the last such vehicle attack with the possibility that something much worse might eventuate, including the detonation of a truck packed with explosives and shards of shrapnel. Open Western cities will always be vulnerable to these sorts of attacks.

The threat of IS-inspired terrorism is now embedded in Western societies. It is no good pretending it is not.

Since 2014, when IS proclaimed its caliphate, there have been more than 70 terrorist attacks “conducted or inspired” by its followers in 20 countries (not including Syria and Iraq), according to a running total kept by CNN.

If Syria and Iraq were added, such terrorist attacks would number in the hundreds.

In 2014, CNN lists seven terrorist incidents, including the stabbing of two Australian police officers in New South Wales. Six died and 12 were injured in 2014, in Belgium, Australia, Canada, the US and France.

That was the beginning.

By 2016, the numbers of casualties from IS-inspired terrorism had risen sharply across the Middle East and in Europe. This included the Brussels bombings at a metro station and an airport, in which 32 people died and 340 were injured.

It is not least of macabre coincidences that the London terrorist attack occurred on the first anniversary to the day of the Brussels bombings.

So far this year, there have been five major incidents. Most, if not all, are linked to IS.

London was the first such episode in continental Europe. The others occurred in Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Out of all this, it is a depressing conclusion, but as IS in its strongholds in Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria is further degraded, chances are it will step up its terrorist activities elsewhere.

In other words, risks to countries involved in the war against IS will rise as its fortunes in its so-called caliphate slide. IS is on the ropes in its Middle Eastern strongholds. This makes it more dangerous to Western interests.

In London, and among Britain’s allies, political leaders have hastened to express solidarity, but all would be aware that such ritualistic professions of support and concern will not provide a foolproof shield against the next Islamist-inspired terrorist attack.

The question is not if, but when and where.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

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

Proposed changes may confuse rather than clarify the meaning of Section 18C



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The Turnbull government’s objectives in seeking to change Section 18C are unclear.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Murray Wesson, University of Western Australia

The Turnbull government has announced proposed changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act: the law that makes it unlawful to engage in acts that are reasonably likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone because of their race or ethnicity. The Conversation

Under the proposals, the word “harass” will replace the words “offend, insult, humiliate”. A provision will also be included saying the test to be applied in deciding whether 18C has been breached is the objective standard of “the reasonable member of the Australian community”.

There are also proposed changes to the processes the Australian Human Rights Commission follows when someone lodges a complaint under 18C. For example, the commission will have to contact the people a complaint affects.

The changes to the commission’s processes are relatively uncontroversial; the commission supports many of them. They should also avoid a repeat of cases such as that involving three Queensland University of Technology students, who were not contacted until 14 months after the complaint was made.

However, the government’s objectives in seeking to change 18C are unclear. This may have the effect of confusing rather than clarifying what the law means.

Why does the government want to change the wording?

Much of the controversy surrounding 18C has focused on the words “offend” and “insult”. This is unsurprising: many people recognise these words are capable of applying to slights that should not be the concern of hate-speech laws.

Many also think that, in a democracy, there shouldn’t be a right not to be offended or insulted. The hate-speech laws of most other democracies don’t cover offensive and insulting acts.

The Federal Court has recognised the difficulties with 18C by interpreting it that so it applies only to:

… profound and serious effects, not to be likened to mere slights.

18C’s legal meaning is therefore different from its ordinary meaning.

However, this is not always well understood, either by critics of 18C and possibly by some people who have brought complaints under the provision. Many have argued there is a case for amending 18C to bring the law’s ordinary meaning into line with the Federal Court’s interpretation.

Against this, there have been concerns that any changes to 18C could send a problematic message to minority groups and give a green light to people who want to engage in racist behaviour. There have also been concerns about unintended effects upon a settled body of Federal Court decisions.

Clearly, any change to 18C would have to be carefully managed to clarify its meaning while avoiding these negative outcomes.

In this light, the government has not adequately explained what it is hoping to achieve by changing the wording of 18C. For example, why remove the word “humiliate” when controversy has focused on the words “offend” and “insult”? Why has the word “harass” been chosen instead of other options, like “vilify” or “degrade”?

It is also unclear if the government is seeking to bring 18C in line with the Federal Court’s interpretation, or if the government’s view is that the Federal Court’s current approach makes it too easy for race-hate complaints to succeed under 18C.

Unless the government adequately explains what it is seeking to achieve by changing 18C’s wording, it is unlikely to win broad support for its proposals, which look likely to be blocked by the Senate. It is also unlikely to achieve its stated aims of making the law clearer and more effective.

Who is the reasonable person?

Under the Federal Court’s interpretation of 18C, an “objective”, rather than “subjective” test is applied in deciding whether it has been breached.

The question is not whether the person making the complaint was subjectively “insulted, offended, humiliated or intimidated”, but whether the act was reasonably likely to have “profound and serious effects”.

In this regard, the Federal Court will often apply a “reasonable person” test. This involves considering the conduct’s likely effect on a reasonable member of the racial or ethnic group that is the target of the alleged conduct.

The government’s proposal that the standard should be “the reasonable member of the Australian community” therefore clarifies that the test under 18C is objective as opposed to subjective. However, a crucial difference is that the reasonable person is no longer a member of the racial or ethnic group that has been targeted, but is instead a member of the broader Australian community.

The government has not adequately explained what it is seeking to achieve through this change. One possible concern is that “reasonable” Australians who are ignorant of what is likely to harass or intimidate minority groups should not inadvertently breach 18C. However, a clear danger of the new test is that a law meant to protect minorities will not adequately reflect their perspectives.

One way this problem could be avoided would be for the Human Rights Commission and the Federal Court to regard the “reasonable member of the Australian community” as sensitive to minority concerns. However, in the short term, the change is more likely to confuse rather than clarify 18C’s meaning.

Murray Wesson, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Western Australia

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

Coalition rebounds in Newspoll following Snowy announcement, but Essential moves to Labor


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted 16-19 March from a sample of 1820, has Labor leading 52-48, but this is a 3 point gain for the Coalition since the previous Newspoll, three weeks ago. Primary votes are 37% for the Coalition (up 3), 35% for Labor (down 2), 10% for One Nation (steady) and 9% for the Greens (down 1). The Conversation

Despite the relatively strong result for the Coalition, Turnbull’s ratings only improved slightly: 30% (up 1) were satisfied, and 57% (down 2) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of -27. Shorten’s net approval was -28, down two points.

On Thursday, the first day of Newspoll’s fieldwork, Turnbull announced an extension of the Snowy River hydro-electric plan, and it appears that this announcement has given the Coalition at least a temporary boost. The public likes infrastructure policies that appear to offer solutions to Australia’s energy crisis.

Labor may also have been damaged by the furore over new ACTU secretary Sally McManus’ comments that workers could break “unjust” laws.

An additional Newspoll question found 47% in favour of a proposed change to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, while 39% were opposed. Kevin Bonham thinks the long preamble to this question is skewed towards supporting the proposed change.

Essential at 55-45 to Labor

This week’s Essential, conducted over the last two weeks from a sample of 1800, had Labor gaining two points to lead 55-45. Primary votes were Labor 37%, Coalition 34%, One Nation 10%, Greens 9% and Nick Xenophon Team 3%.

Newspoll and Essential disagree markedly this week, but Newspoll has performed well when measured against election results, so I trust it more than Essential.

Additional Essential questions are based on one week’s sample. On attributes of the political parties, Labor was up since June 2016 on positive attributes and down on negative ones, with the exception of being too close to the big corporate and financial interests (up 5). For the Liberals, the perception that they are divided was up 16 points, and “has a good team of leaders” down 9 points. Labor led on all positive attributes and trailed on all negative ones, with some differences of well over 10 points.

77% thought their gas and electricity costs had increased over the last few years, with only 2% thinking prices had decreased. 75% would approve of a reservation policy where a percentage of gas is reserved for domestic use, and only 6% would disapprove. 68% approved of the SA government’s energy plan, and only 11% disapproved. 31% thought coal seam gas mining on farming land should be restricted, 25% thought it should be banned altogether, and only 14% thought there was already sufficient regulation of coal seam gas mining.

In last week’s Essential, Turnbull’s net approval was -17, down two points since February. Shorten’s net approval was -19, also down two points.

Proposed tax increases that were aimed at the wealthy and multinational corporations polled strongly, but removing GST exemptions or increasing the GST rate did not have much support. 46% disapproved of the $50 billion in tax cuts for medium and large businesses, while 24% approved. 43% thought the company tax cuts would deliver business bigger profits, and that this money should be used for schools, hospitals, etc. 25% thought the company tax cuts would bring our tax into line with other countries, and deliver more jobs through greater business investment.

Trust in various media has taken an across the board hit since February 2016, but the ABC and SBS are the most trusted media.

Essential’s polling on penalty rates from two weeks ago found 56% disapproving of the Fair Work Commission’s decision to reduce Sunday penalty rates, with 32% approving. 34% strongly disapproved with just 9% strongly approving. 57% thought the penalty rate reduction would result in business making bigger profits, while 24% thought business would employ more workers. 51% thought the government should legislate to protect penalty rates, while 31% thought the government should accept the decision.

WA election late counting: Labor wins 41 of 59 lower house seats

At the WA election held 11 March, Labor won a massive landslide in the lower house, winning 41 of the 59 seats (up 20 since the 2013 election), to 13 for the Liberals (down 18) and 5 for the Nationals (down 2). According to Antony Green, Labor’s percentage of lower house seats (69.5%) is the highest it has ever won at WA lower house elections.

In the upper house, Labor and the Greens are likely to win a combined 18 of the 36 seats. Below the line votes have not yet been added to the count. The Greens and micro parties tend to perform well on below the line votes at the expense of the major parties. The Greens will be hoping that a below the line surge allows them to defeat the Liberals for the final seat in South Metro region. Below the line votes in that region may also give the Daylight Saving party a seat at the expense of the Liberal Democrats.

If Labor and the Greens combined win 18 of the 36 upper house seats, Labor could attempt to persuade a non-Labor/Greens member to be the upper house President. The President of the WA upper house can only vote when the votes are tied, so such a manoeuvre would give Labor and the Greens 18 of the 35 floor votes.

Dutch election: far right flops again

The Dutch election was held last Wednesday. The 150 members of the Dutch Parliament are elected by proportional representation. Geert Wilders’ far right Party of Freedom had a large lead in the polls in December, but that lead fell as the election approached, and they ended the campaign predicted to win a few seats less than the conservative/liberal VVD.

In the event, the VVD won 33 seats, to 20 for the Party of Freedom. It is likely that the VVD will head the new Dutch government, after negotiations with other parties are completed.

The WA and Dutch elections have both featured far right parties slumping as election day approached. Many supporters of such parties are against established parties, but not in favour of the far right’s policies. As these policies receive more exposure closer to the election, these supporters can desert.

The main reason Donald Trump won the US Presidency is that he won the Republican party’s nomination. Had Trump run a third party campaign, he would not have come close to winning. The US Republican party is already very right wing, and most Republicans utterly detest the Democrats and Hillary Clinton. Many Republicans probably had reservations about voting for Trump, but hated the alternative more.

French Presidential election: 23 April and 7 May

The French Presidential election will be held in two rounds, with the top two vote winners from the first round on 23 April proceeding to a runoff on 7 May, barring a very unlikely majority vote victory for one candidate in the first round.

Current polls have the far right Marine Le Pen leading the first round with 26%, followed by centrist Emmanuel Macron on 25%, conservative Francois Fillon on 18%, Socialist Benoit Hamon on 13% and the hard left Jean-Luc Melenchon on 12%. Other candidates have negligible vote shares.

While Le Pen is narrowly ahead in the first round, second round polling has Macron trouncing her by over 60-40, while Fillon defeats Le Pen by about 56-44.

With the Socialists discredited by Francois Hollande’s ineffectual Presidency (he did not run for re-election), a conservative was the clear favourite to win this election. However, Fillon has been dogged by allegations that he paid his wife and children government money for fake jobs, causing his poll ratings to slide. Last Tuesday, Fillon was placed under formal investigation over these allegations, the closest French equivalent to being charged.

Despite the allegations, Fillon has refused to quit. He won his party’s US style primary in November 2016, and his party has had no legal means to replace him. Nominations closed on Friday, so it is now too late to replace a candidate.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

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

Section 18C change appears doomed in Senate


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has announced a watering down of the controversial Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, in a major victory for the conservatives in the Liberal Party. The Conversation

Under the proposal the words “offend, insult, humiliate” will be replaced by “harass”. The word “intimidate” will remain.

Turnbull argued the government was “strengthening” the act, not weakening it.

In a series of changes to the act and the Human Rights Commission legislation, the government will introduce a “reasonable member of the Australian community” standard by which contraventions of 18C should be judged (rather than the present “reasonable member of the relevant community”), and toughen the commission’s processes to stop spurious claims and give greater fairness to those subject to complaints.

The legislation will raise the threshold for the commission to accept a complaint, provide additional powers for it terminate unmeritorious complaints, and limit access to the courts for unsuccessful complaints.

The change was unveiled on Harmony Day.

The Coalition partyroom overwhelmingly backed the measures, but five MPs – Julian Leeser, David Coleman, Julia Banks, Russell Broadbent and Craig Laundy, who is an assistant minister – opposed the change in wording. There is concern among some Liberals that the issue will lose them votes in seats with large ethnic communities.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told the partyroom if MPs kept talking about 18C, votes would be lost because it would distract from the government’s agenda.

Turnbull said the new 18C would “strengthen the protections of Australians from racial vilification and strengthen the protection of free speech – one of the fundamental freedoms upon which our democracy depends”.

The wording of the present law had “lost the credibility that a good law needs”. “If you have language that is too wide, too general, it has a chilling effect on free speech,” he said.

He admitted there would be many critics and opponents of the change – “but this is an issue of values … free speech is a value at the very core of our party”.

In parliament Labor MP Anne Aly, who said she had been subject to racism time and again, pressed Turnbull on what he wanted people to be able to say that they could not now. He replied: “The suggestion that those people who support a change to the wording of Section 18C are somehow or other racist is a deeply offensive one”, listing a number of critics of 18C.

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In the Senate, Indigenous senator Malarndirri McCarthy said Turnbull had “on at least 16 occasions ruled out his government amending Section 18C”.

Before the election Turnbull indicated he did not plan to revisit 18C. His predecessor, Tony Abbott, had moved to reform it but then retreated. Abbott at the party meeting congratulated Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis, saying the situation had altered since his experience.

Asked at his news conference what had changed since his earlier stand, Turnbull cited the experience of the QUT university students who endured a long court case, which finally failed, and the late Bill Leak being taken to the commission over a cartoon in The Australian, a complaint which was dropped.

The changes will be introduced in the Senate and their fate will depend on what the Nick Xenophon Team does. Xenophon told the ABC that he supported comprehensive reform of the commission’s processes but did not support overhauling the wording.

“Let’s get rid of those frivolous and, some would say, vexatious claims by improving the process and then we can then look down the track, if there are still problems in respect to the wording,” he said.

He said there was strong feedback from a whole range of ethnic communities, including the Jewish community and Islamic communities, saying the wording should be kept as it was.

Xenophon later in a statement confirmed his Team’s opposition to changing 18C’s wording.

Conservative Liberal senator Eric Abetz, who has campaigned for change to 18C, said that: “Today’s announcement will be welcomed by Australians who prioritise freedom of speech above politically correct left-wing groupthink”.

“I am also pleased that the government will rein in the Australian Human Rights Commission which has morphed into self-appointed thought police,” Abetz said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the 18C change “isn’t about free speech, it’s about the prime minister appeasing his party”.

“The only two cases the prime minister held up today as his rationale could both have been addressed by improving the process – not by changing the law,” Shorten told parliament. He said the change to the Racial Discrimination Act would “make it easier for people to be insulted or humiliated on the basis of race”.

Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane tweeted:

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The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils expressed dismay at the proposal to change 18C. Chairman Joe Caputo said it sent “a strong signal that racism is acceptable”.

“Australia’s international reputation as a strong, successful multicultural and multi-faith community is threatened by this proposal,” he said.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/kwxda-68af74?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

The government’s multicultural statement is bereft of new ideas or policies – why?



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Malcolm Turnbull often claims Australia is the world’s most successful multicultural nation.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Andrew Jakubowicz, University of Technology Sydney

The slogan for the federal government’s newly released multicultural statement – United, Strong, Successful – sounds somewhat like a soundbite from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The Conversation

It starts with an untruth – that Australia is the world’s most successful multicultural nation. Canada would win that race on any rational criteria. But the new policy stays fairly much in the place where government rhetoric has been located for the past generation – social control and integration.

Conservative multicultural policies in Australia tend to stress social integration into the pre-existing social order, aspirational core values, and signing on to “Team Australia”. More progressive policies tend to stress social, economic and political participation, social justice, and access to education.

What’s in it and where did it come from?

Labor’s last multicultural policy in government in 2011 began with similar statements about multiculturalism meaning a fair go. It noted the importance of reciprocity and recognition. It also emphasised the rule of law and the importance of English as the national language.

The policy created an anti-racism partnership. Its key message was social inclusion.

Since then, a parliamentary committee on migration unanimously supported key innovations in its 2013 report. These included a strong national research program, the promotion of multiculturalism as a policy of rights, responsibilities and obligations in community languages, the promotion of inter-faith and intercultural dialogue, and a focus on employment-related issues.

The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia, a peak body of many multicultural groups, has criticised the Coalition government’s new statement for not tackling the need for either a national Multicultural Australia Act – which was first foreshadowed in 1989 – or a national language policy. This would mirror some of the benefits created for Canada by its own legislation from the early 1980s, and in the Australian states since 1978.

The statement accepts many of the traditional rhetorical elements of the multicultural narrative. “Fair go” reappears, for one. Three groups of values are presented – respect, equality and freedom. These grow from the seven values espoused by the Howard-era Citizenship Council report and the four principles in Labor’s policy.

However, the statement has no interest in social justice. Multiculturalism seems to depend on maintaining the Nauru and Manus Island offshore detention options in order to have strong borders.

In the examples given of how multiculturalism is being implemented, the anti-racism strategy created by the previous government and continued until now is no longer mentioned. The statement offers no new policy initiatives – only a beefing up of the surveillance and integration priorities.

The idea that cultural difference creates productivity which ensures greater wealth and prosperity perhaps reflects Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s input.

“Multiculturalism” as a philosophy is never mentioned. “Multicultural” is defined through its application to a lot of people of different cultural backgrounds living in the same society.

What now?

The statement claims the government will “condemn people who incite racial hatred”. But the ongoing attempts by many government MPs to reduce the protections Section 18C provides against this suggest the level of racial hatred that will be condemned will need to meet a much higher test than now exists.

There is something for nearly everyone in the rhetoric. Even One Nation likes it. But there’s nothing for anyone in terms of new ideas or actions.

The statement’s main effect will be inaction. The critical need for an Australian Multicultural Act to ensure a strong espousal of values and strong and funded delivery to implement them has once more been rejected.

The sector is left without any program bite, just more rhetoric. Its limited and highly vulnerable projects can be abandoned at the government’s whim.

Multicultural Australia remains on the very edge of government, the most junior of the junior assistant ministries. It’s dependent for any movement on weak product champions for its cause scattered through other parts of government.

There’s much ado about not very much at all in this announcement. And key areas like anti-racism are always at risk of disappearing in the next round of budget savings.


Further reading: Interculturalism: how diverse societies can do better than passive tolerance

Andrew Jakubowicz, Professor of Sociology, University of Technology Sydney

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

With battery storage to the rescue, the Kodak moment for renewables has finally arrived


Kevin's Walk on the Wild Side

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AAP/Lukas Coch

David Holmes, Monash University

Who would have thought that, scarcely five weeks after Treasurer Scott Morrison, paraded a chunk of coal in parliament, planning for Australia’s energy needs would be dominated by renewables, batteries and hydro? The Conversation

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The genius of the stunt was not to win an instant contract to…

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Gas crisis? Energy crisis? The real problem is lack of long-term planning


Kevin's Walk on the Wild Side

Image 20170317 6113 1aln8fl
The long view: energy policy needs to stay firmly focused on the horizon.
Mattinbgn/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Alan Pears, RMIT University

If you’ve been watching the news in recent days, you’ll know we have an energy crisis, partly due to a gas crisis, which in turn has triggered a political crisis. The Conversation

That’s a lot of crises to handle at once, so lots of solutions are being put forward. But what do people and businesses actually need? Do they need more gas, or cheaper prices, or more investment certainty, or all or none of the above? How do we cut through to what is really important, rather than side details?

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