Hodgman rides Tasmanians’ disdain for minority government to a second term in office

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The Tasmanian election result was an emphatic win for Will Hodgman, but he lost a fair bit of skin along the way.
AAP/Julian Smith

Richard Eccleston, University of Tasmania

In an era of single-term governments and growing electoral volatility in Australia, the return of Will Hodgman’s Liberal government at Saturday’s Tasmanian election with more than 50% of the primary vote is significant – and will have national implications.

The Turnbull government will take comfort from a result that demonstrates voters – even in left-leaning Tasmania – are prepared to re-elect a competent Liberal government that has delivered strong economic and employment growth.

It was a strong result for the Liberals. However, the outcome was shaped as much by Tasmania’s distinctive political practices and local issues as it was by national trends.

Pokies, housing, hospitals, and – at the 11th hour – watering down gun laws might have been the specific issues that dominated the campaign, but the decisive factor was Tasmanians’ enduring apprehension about minority government.

The legacies of Labor-Green minority government of the early 1990s and between 2010 and 2014 cast a long shadow during the 2018 campaign. Both periods are associated with economic decline, rising unemployment, and budget cuts.

While there is little evidence to suggest minority government has been a cause of poor economic outcomes in Tasmania – it is more that these governments were unlucky and found themselves in charge after national downturns – the fact remains that Tasmanians have a strong preference for majority government.

Given this history, undecided Tasmanian voters tend to back the major party that’s most likely to form majority government. This was evident in both 2006 and 2014, and was always going to be a feature of the 2018 campaign given memories of the 2012-13 recession in Tasmania are still fresh in voters’ minds. And the Liberal government, which was elected in 2014, has delivered strong economic growth.

It is this bandwagon effect that helps explain why support for the government increased by ten points over the course of the campaign, rather than going to minor parties – as has been the case elsewhere.

Read more:
Liberals romp to emphatic victory in Tasmanian election

What now for the Liberals?

The final result was an emphatic win for Hodgman. But it is also fair to say he lost a bit of skin along the way, due to the Liberals’ big-budget, brutally effective advertising campaign seeming to have been funded by gaming interests.

The reality is that Tasmania remains deeply divided on pokies and the means the gaming industry uses to protect its interests.

Tasmanians voted for political and economic stability on Saturday, but an overwhelming majority support Labor’s policy of phasing pokies out of pubs and clubs over a five-year period.

Read more:
Removing pokies from Tasmania’s clubs and pubs would help gamblers without hurting the economy

The pokies debate is far from over. Hodgman must commit to open and transparent government, and subject his gaming policies to full parliamentary scrutiny in an attempt to regain the electorate’s trust. Opposition parties also have a role to play, and must be willing to compromise to find some middle ground.

The election’s losers

The result wasn’t a disaster for Labor.

Rebecca White, after securing the Labor leadership only a year ago, performed strongly during the campaign and has consolidated her credentials as a future premier. That she will be leading a stronger opposition bolstered by handful of up-and-coming new MPs also bodes well for Labor’s future.

The real losers in the election were the Greens and Jacqui Lambie.

In contrast to their success in inner-Melbourne and Sydney, the Greens have been struggling in Tasmania in recent years. The explanation for their decline in their former heartland can be attributed to the legacies of the last government, the absence of a high-profile local environmental issue, and that Labor, under White, has championed many of their core progressive causes.

Lambie and her party could have been the wildcard of this election, but she has had a tough summer and will have to fight hard to salvage her political career. Had Lambie herself run as a candidate on Saturday, it’s likely she would have been elected – and could have held the balance of power in the lower house.

Strangely, given that personalities and name recognition are so important in Tasmanian elections, she ran a ticket of grassroots candidates under her Jacqui Lambie Network banner that, as expected, failed to secure any serious support.

Lessons for the future

As the dust settles, we can draw a few conclusions from the Tasmanian election result.

Above all else, Tasmanians are a pragmatic bunch and are prepared to reward a government that delivers political stability and good economic outcomes.

The campaign also highlighted the power of sectional interests – be they mining, gaming or other actors – in Australian politics. The collective health of our democracy depends on curbing the influence of these groups at both the state and federal level.

The ConversationGiven the distinctive dynamics of Tasmanian politics, not too much can be read into the swing away from minor and protest parties and back to the majors. Perhaps the real test of the national political mood will come in South Australia on Saturday week.

Richard Eccleston, Professor of Political Science; Director, Institute for the Study of Social Change, University of Tasmania

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


Liberals romp to emphatic victory in Tasmanian election

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The Hodgman government has been returned for a second term.
AAP/Julian Smith

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

With 84% of votes counted at Saturday’s Tasmanian election, the ABC is calling 13 of the 25 seats (a majority) for the Liberals, eight for Labor, and one Green, with three in doubt.

Labor is very likely to win the final seat in Braddon, while the final seat in Bass is a Labor/Greens contest, and the final seat in Franklin is a Liberal/Greens contest.

Vote shares were 50.5% Liberals (down just 0.8% since the 2014 landslide), 32.8% Labor (up 5.4%), 10.0% Greens (down 3.8%), and 3.2% Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN) – which only contested three of the five electorates.

Tasmania uses the Hare Clark system for its lower house elections, with five five-member electorates. A quota is one-sixth of the vote, or 16.7%. For a vote to be formal, at least five candidates must be numbered. Unlike the federal Senate, there is no above-the-line party ticket box.

I will run through each electorate’s results from easiest to most complicated.

In Denison, Labor won 2.55 quotas, the Liberals 2.26, and the Greens 1.03. This is a clear two Labor, two Liberals, one Green result, unchanged from 2014.

In Lyons, the Liberals won 3.05 quotas, Labor 1.99, the Greens 0.38, and the JLN 0.32. This is a clear three Liberals, two Labor result, unchanged from 2014.

In Braddon, the Liberals won 3.38 quotas, Labor 1.64, the JLN 0.36, ungrouped candidates 0.26, and the Greens 0.20. Labor is well ahead of everyone else in the race for the last seat, and will benefit from Greens preferences. This will be a Labor gain from the Liberals.

In Bass, the Liberals won 3.53 quotas, Labor 1.59, the Greens 0.54, and the JLN 0.28. Labor is more exposed to within-ticket leakage than the Greens, but is likely to be helped by JLN preferences that do not exhaust.

There will be a crunch point where one candidate from the Liberals, Greens and Labor is left. If the Liberals are third at that point, their preferences probably exhaust. If either Labor or the Greens are third, their preferences should benefit the other left-wing candidate.

In Franklin, the Liberals won 2.91 quotas, Labor 2.07, the Greens 0.86, and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers 0.16. Premier Will Hodgman won 2.30 quotas, and some of his surplus will leak out of the Liberal ticket. However, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers ran just one candidate, so four further preferences were required for formal votes. These preferences are likely to assist the Liberals against the Greens.

Labor has gained a seat in Franklin at the expense of the loser of the Liberals/Greens contest.

I believe preferences will start to be distributed following the last day for receipt of postal votes, on March 13.

Why this result occurred

In December, an EMRS poll had the Liberals and Labor tied at 34%, the Greens on 17%, and the JLN on 8%. In the three months since that poll was taken, the Liberals went from a losing position to an emphatic victory – a bitterly disappointing outcome for Labor and the Greens.

EMRS does not usually provide favourable ratings for the leaders, but it did in its December poll. It found Labor leader Rebecca White at a net +40, and Hodgman at a net +13 rating.

There have been two recent state elections with first-term Coalition governments that won landslides at the preceding election, ending at least 14 years of continuous Labor government.

  • At the Queensland 2015 election, the Liberal National Party under Campbell Newman was defeated; Newman was very unpopular.

  • At the New South Wales 2015 election, the Coalition was comfortably re-elected; Premier Mike Baird was popular at the time.

Tasmania has now followed the NSW example. Labor was crushed in 2014 after 16 consecutive years in power, and the Liberals easily won Saturday’s election.

In Tasmania, White’s initial popularity may have inflated Labor’s position in the polls. However, people generally do not vote a certain way because they like the opposition leader; the premier’s performance is far more important. But popular opposition leaders can inflate their party’s vote until close to an election.

At the 2017 Western Australian election, which Labor won in a landslide, Opposition Leader Mark McGowan was popular, but Premier Colin Barnett was very unpopular. The perception of Barnett was probably far more important than that of McGowan.

The Tasmanian Liberals also benefited from anti-Greens sentiment. In the final week, ReachTEL gave the Liberals a 46-31 lead over Labor, and EMRS gave them a 46-34 lead. These polls may have pushed undecided voters into voting Liberal to ensure a majority government, and so they understated the Liberal vote.

It appears that, four years after one term of Labor/Greens minority government, Tasmanians do not want to return to the Greens holding the balance of power. In 2006, Labor easily won an election that was expected to be close because of the Greens factor.

Read more:
Liberals likely to win Tasmanian election, while federal Labor’s poll lead widens

Tasmanian analyst Kevin Bonham has written about why Labor’s anti-pokies policy was not a major vote winner.

On Friday, the last day of campaigning, the Liberals were embarrassed when it was revealed they had a policy to relax gun laws that had been hidden from the public. There have been other recent cases where issues that would be expected to have a last-minute impact on an election have fizzled. If the Liberals defeat the Greens on Shooters, Fishers and Farmers preferences in Franklin, the net impact will be positive for the Liberals.

The ConversationAt the 2016 federal election, Tasmania was easily Labor’s best state. On Saturday, Labor had its worst result in a state election since the 2014 Tasmanian election – federal and state results do not necessarily agree. A Liberal state government will probably help federal Labor retain its four Tasmanian federal seats.

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

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

Australia and Timor Leste settle maritime boundary after 45 years of bickering

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After nearly two years of a facilitated conciliation process, Australia and Timor Leste have finally reached agreement on a maritime boundary in the Timor Sea.

Donald R. Rothwell, Australian National University

After nearly two years of a facilitated conciliation process initiated under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Australia and Timor Leste have finally reached agreement on a maritime boundary in the Timor Sea.

The treaty, signed at the UN in New York by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Agio Pereira for Timor, will enter into force once all relevant domestic processes have been completed in Canberra and Dili.

This is the latest development in the saga of the Timor Sea, which has been contested for more than 45 years by Australia, Portugal, Indonesia and Timor Leste.

Ownership and control of significant oil and gas reserves, some of which remain undeveloped, are at the centre of the dispute. This partly explains why, despite previous treaties, there has never been a conclusive settlement of the maritime boundary.

Read more:
Australia and Timor Leste reach a deal on the Timor Sea – but much remains unknown

The 2018 treaty seeks to permanently settle the Australia/Timor Leste maritime boundary, albeit with the potential for future adjustments subject to negotiations between Timor and Indonesia.

A long time coming

Since the 1970s, Australia has been engaged in negotiations first with Portugal, then Indonesia, and finally Timor Leste over the maritime boundary. Portugal rebuffed Australian approaches in the early 1970s, mindful of developments in maritime law that promised them a better deal.

Indonesia, which occupied Timor from 1975, was more willing to negotiate. A joint development zone was agreed on that broadly shared oil and gas revenue on a 50/50 basis, but set aside a permanent maritime boundary for future settlement.

That arrangement collapsed following Indonesia’s 1999 withdrawal from Timor, and was replaced in 2002 by the Timor Sea Treaty between Australia and the newly independent Timor Leste.

However, the Timor Sea Treaty was again based on a joint development regime –though with a 90/10 revenue split in favour of Timor – and negotiations on a permanent maritime boundary were set aside for up to 40 years.

The treaty also did not satisfactorily deal with the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field in the north east quadrant. While a subsequent 2003 unitisation agreement sought to provide some commercial certainty for the multinationals wanting to develop the field, Dili remained firmly of the view that it was getting a bad deal.

In particular, the generation of Timor’s leaders who led its independence movement placed great importance on the new country having settled land and maritime borders. That the Timor Sea boundary with Australia was not settled remained contentious in Dili. The situation was exacerbated by allegations of Australian spying during treaty negotiations and a Greater Sunrise revenue split that favoured Australia.

Key features

The 2018 treaty contains six prominent features. First, it provides for a southern boundary between Timor Leste and Australia that approximates a mid-way between relevant coastal features. This is consistent with the modern law of the sea.

Second, there is a straight line western lateral boundary that runs from the western terminus of the 1972 Australian Indonesian Seabed Boundary south to the median line.

The new maritime boundary between Australia and Timor Leste.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Third, the eastern lateral boundary comprises a number of segments that extend much further to the east and north east than the 2002 treaty, ultimately giving Timor Leste much greater entitlements over the Greater Sunrise field.

Fourth, a Greater Sunrise Special Regime is created in which the two countries agree to share the upstream revenue either on a 80/20 basis in favour of Timor, if processing occurs by way of a pipeline to an Australian LNG processing plant, or 70/30 in favour of Timor if a pipeline runs to Timor.

Fifth, Timor gains 100% access to the future upstream revenue of the existing oil and gas fields that were previously part of the 2002 Joint Petroleum Development Area.

Read more:
What’s behind Timor-Leste terminating its maritime treaty with Australia

Finally, taking into account these new arrangements will ultimately need to accommodate any maritime boundaries that Timor may negotiate with Indonesia, there is some capacity for adjustment of the eastern and western lateral boundary lines, though only after the commercial depletion of seabed resources in the area.

Unique, but still unresolved

The conciliation process has yielded a unique treaty. It is the first of its type that not only involved the two states, but also the Greater Sunrise Joint Venture partners, including Woodside, Conoco Phillips, Shell, and Osaka Gas.

Timor initiated the conciliation, engaging an independent third party in an effort to break the maritime boundary impasse. It succeeded in getting Australia to abandon its long held opposition to a permanent Timor Sea maritime boundary, and has been able to substantially modify the development regime for Greater Sunrise.

The ConversationNotwithstanding these achievements, some matters remain unresolved, including the location of the LNG processing plant. Whether the plant is located in Australia or Timor is ultimately a commercial decision, but could become the source of ongoing bickering given the significant downstream benefits at stake and implications for Timor’s economic future.

Donald R. Rothwell, Professor, ANU College of Law, Australian National University

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

McCormack puts Chester back on frontbench in cautious changes

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Victorian Nationals MP Darren Chester, controversially dropped from cabinet by Barnaby Joyce, has been restored to the ministry in a minimalist reshuffle by new party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.

Chester takes McCormack’s old posts of veterans’ affairs and defence personnel. He also replaces McCormack as deputy leader of the house. He will be in the outer ministry rather than in cabinet, as he was previously, but is believed to be happy with the outcome.

The dropping of Chester in the December reshuffle – on the stated grounds that the election of Bridget McKenzie as deputy meant Victoria would be over-represented in the Nationals’ cabinet line-up – sparked much criticism. It added to the pressure on Joyce when the news of his affair with a former staffer broke.

In other changes, Queenslander Keith Pitt, also dropped by Joyce, becomes assistant minister to the deputy prime minister.

Mark Coulton, from New South Wales, is elevated to assistant minister for trade, tourism and investment.

Two assistant minister have been relegated to the backbench – Damian Drum from Victoria and Luke Hartsuyker from NSW.

McCormack has rewarded supporters but has been cautious in making changes. Rumours were flying among some in the jittery Nationals of much wider changes though these never seemed likely, given the new leader needs to settle the party down. McCormack said in a statement that “ultimately my focus was on maintaining stability so the government can get on with the job of delivering for the nation”.

The ConversationOn Monday, McCormack was sworn into the infrastructure and transport portfolio that Joyce took from Chester in December.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Federal government’s foreign donations bill is flawed and needs to be redrafted

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The only effective way of destroying the undue influence of large foreign donations is by placing a cap on all donations.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Anne Twomey, University of Sydney

Preventing foreign influence over Australian elections is important. It is also important that legislation designed to achieve this is effective and does not impose collateral damage or leave itself open to constitutional challenge.

How well does the Turnbull government’s foreign donations bill stack up? Does it achieve its aim of preventing foreign donations from affecting Australian elections?

Not at all. It permits foreign citizens to make as many political donations in as large amounts as they wish, if it is done by a permanent resident or a foreign-owned company that is incorporated in Australia.

To be fair, there are constitutional reasons for this. It is unlikely that a ban on donations from permanent residents or companies incorporated in Australia would survive a constitutional challenge. But it also means any foreign government seeking to influence Australian elections can still easily do so.

The only effective way of destroying the undue influence of large foreign donations is by placing a cap on all donations, as occurs in New South Wales. But the federal government has chosen not to go down this path.

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

It is ironic, then, that Special Minister of State Mathias Cormann says exempting charities from the bill would render the ban on foreign donations “entirely ineffective”. It is ineffective at preventing foreign influence anyway, so excluding charities could hardly make any difference to achieving that aim.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull argues that only seven out of 55,500 registered charities reported political expenditure last financial year, and that the bill “has no effect on foreign funding for charities’ non-political activity or charities’ political campaigning where it is funded by Australians”.

This is misleading for two reasons.

First, the bill relies on a greatly broadened definition of political expenditure. It now includes any expenditure on the expression of public views on an issue that is “likely to be before electors in an election”, regardless of when the election is held. This could include anything from expenditure on ads supporting same-sex marriage to books on climate change and websites supporting Indigenous constitutional recognition. Given the wide range of issues that may be before electors in an election, the bill is likely to catch a large number of charities, along with universities, corporations and others.

Second, it does not matter whether a charity actually receives any foreign donations or not. It may only receive donations from Australian sources and still be seriously affected by the bill. This is because onerous reporting obligations attach to bodies deemed to be either a “political campaigner” or “third party campaigner”.

For example, spending as little as A$14,000 on the public expression of views on an issue that is likely to be before electors is sufficient to be categorised as a third party campaigner, regardless of whether or not the person or body receives any foreign donations.

A third party campaigner must lodge annual reports detailing:

  • its political expenditure
  • its senior staff and any membership by them of political parties
  • any grants, contracts or payments from Commonwealth, State or Territory governments
  • a signed statement by its financial controller that it has complied with the rules about receiving gifts, such as charitable donations.

If a third party campaigner has received gifts that allowed it to engage in political expenditure, and the amount of at least one such gift (or cumulative gifts from the same donor) was above A$13,500, then it also has to provide an annual return that sets out the amounts of such donations, the date they were made and the name and address of each donor.

Most burdensome of all is the requirement to identify the source of every gift it receives. This includes very small donations, as it has to be able to identify whether the gifts from any single donor cumulatively exceed A$250. It then has to obtain a statutory declaration from each donor of more than A$250 that they are an “allowable donor”, such as a citizen, a permanent resident or a body incorporated in Australia. The penalty for breaching these requirements is up to 10 years imprisonment for the financial controller of the third party campaigner.

If you were a charity, which only collected donations from within Australia, and you wished to spend money on advocacy about government policies on homelessness, what would you do? Would you send lawyers out to accompany every door-knocker when you collect donations? Would you risk insulting your donors by requiring them to sign a legal document declaring that they are citizens or permanent residents?

Would you spend a considerable portion of the donations you receive on administering a complex reporting system, with the risk of imprisonment if you breach the rules? Or would you decide that the only rational solution is not to spend any money on advocacy about homelessness?

Read more:
Green groups and charities could be collateral damage in government’s foreign donation ban

If the purpose of this bill is to prevent foreign donations from influencing elections, it manifestly does not achieve that outcome. Foreign citizens can still donate as much as they like to Australian political parties by donating through a company they have incorporated in Australia.

But if the purpose of the bill is to deter charities and other third parties (regardless of whether they have received a single cent of foreign money) from spending money on the public expression of views that might entail criticism of government policies, then it would very effectively achieve that outcome.

This disconnect between the bill’s claimed purpose and likely effect may cause problems for the government if the legislation is passed and then challenged before the High Court. The Court has already held that limiting the sources of political donations imposes a burden on the constitutionally implied freedom of political communication.

Such a law will only be valid if it passes a proportionality test. That is, the law must be reasonably appropriate and adapted to achieve its claimed legitimate purpose. If its effects go far beyond that purpose, are unnecessary to achieve that purpose and disproportionately damage political communication, then the law will be held invalid.

The ConversationOn that basis, this bill is highly vulnerable to a constitutional challenge and needs to be redrafted so that it achieves its aim but does not impose unnecessary collateral damage on charities and other bodies.

Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney

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

Here’s what happens to aid projects when the money dries up and the spotlight fades

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Aid projects in Iraq had more money than ideas.
Denis Dragovic, Author provided

Denis Dragovic, University of Melbourne

As a former aid worker, I often wondered about what happened to the projects I worked on years later. Did the anti-corruption commission we founded itself become corrupt? Having given grants to women to start businesses, did the men allow them to work? And what about the community trained in maintaining the water pumps – did they see through their part of the bargain?

Evaluations, lauded by donors, report on a moment of time when the gloss is still shining. We don’t care, or possibly dare, to look back five or ten years later to see what happened.

I did. I wanted to know what happened to the projects and the people from a decade of aid work spanning East Timor, Iraq and South Sudan. I bought airline tickets, wrangled visas, and set off on a journey that changed my view of the aid industry.

Government problems hobble South Sudan

These trips weren’t about measuring the impact of certain projects, as too much time had passed. They were more about understanding. My colleagues and I had started along a journey without knowing how the story would end.

Read more:
Development aid works over time, but must adapt to 21st-century needs

My first return visit was to South Sudan. It came nearly a decade after I had worked supporting a refugee camp in Wau, which was established in the late 1990s following a civil war and famine.

The camp had established itself organically, so there was a spaghetti logic to its layout. By the time I had arrived in the early 2000s, international attention had moved on, so there were limited resources available. My job was to wind down and close out activities.

A decade later, the camp had become a small town struggling to survive. Water pumps and wash points were mostly broken. We’d trained people on how to maintain them, but the government that had agreed to provide the spare parts appeared to have had a change of heart.

It took some time before I learned that the state officials refused to give the former refugees property rights. As a result, families didn’t invest in their homes for fear of making them even more attractive for appropriation.

State officials in South Sudan refused to give former refugees property rights.
Denis Dragovic, Author provided

Did aid make a difference in Iraq?

After South Sudan I returned to Iraq, travelling first to the north and then to Najaf, the centre of religious learning and home to Iraq’s powerful Shi’a Ayatollahs.

Iraq didn’t face the same shortage of resources as South Sudan: quite the opposite. There was more money than ideas.

I first arrived in Iraq a few months after the invasion in 2003; I moved straight to my posting in the conservative cities of Najaf and Karbala. We rehabilitated water treatment plants and parts of the regional hospital, provided psychosocial support to children, helped the disabled, and distributed humanitarian aid.

We were a one-stop shop for assistance, competing with the government and local religious charities.

Returning several years later and speaking with the governor, an ayatollah, and former staff who had become politicians and community leaders, the consensus was that had we not arrived, it would have only been a matter of months – or at most a year – before the same work would have been done by the authorities or the local community.

The same aid work in northern Iraq could have been undertaken by local authorities.
Denis Dragovic, Author provided

East Timor didn’t lack money – just sense

From the deserts of Iraq, my final stop was the lush tropics of East Timor. This was where I started my aid career in 2000 as a shelter engineer.

A decade separated the shelter distribution and my return visit. My memories had faded, but luckily I had stayed in touch with a former colleague who undertook the journey with me.

We were on the trail of houses built from a shelter distribution program. Surprisingly, many were still standing, with extensions and improvements tacked on. The pressing issue then – and what was evident during my return visit – wasn’t a lack of money, but how it was spent.

The then sovereign authority, the United Nations, had treated its responsibility as a factory production line churning out widgets, rather than as community development. It implemented off-the-shelf projects in an accelerated timeframe.

Plans called for consultation and engagement, but the reality became a race toward inputs and outputs. The culture of the international bureaucracy had won over the culture of the people.

The culture of the international bureaucracy won out over the culture of the East Timorese people.
Denis Dragovic, Author provided

The lessons learned

Through a mix of hitching rides on military convoys, slipping into Iraq on a pilgrim’s visa, or relying upon the goodwill of former colleagues, I managed to achieve what I had set out to – meet with beneficiaries, former staff and local leaders to hear what they thought about our work.

Each person had a story to tell; each place had a different lesson. But what was true in every location was the importance of the people.

The “stuff” we gave, the “things” we built: they became worn and broken. But the people we worked with, invested in and empowered continued to develop and grow. They took the skills and experience with them to new lives as business, community and political leaders who continued to transform their countries long after we had departed.

It’s a salient lesson to remember: the one and only truly sustainable activity we do is help people help themselves.

The ConversationDenis Dragovic’s new book No Dancing, No Dancing: Inside the Global Humanitarian Crisis is published by Odyssey Books.

Denis Dragovic, Honorary Senior Fellow, University of Melbourne

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

McCormack has tough task to match Barnaby Joyce’s 2016 electoral gold standard

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

One man’s disaster is another man’s serendipity. If Barnaby Joyce hadn’t fallen spectacularly, Michael McCormack, 53, the new deputy prime minister, would likely never have become the Nationals’ leader.

In the normal course of events, by the time Joyce had moved on the party probably would have been ready for generational change – for example, to Queenslander David Littleproud, 41, who counted the numbers at the weekend but found he did not have enough for a tilt at the leadership on Monday.

Littleproud, a former agri-banker who was elevated by Joyce in December from the backbench to cabinet, potentially had as many as eight or nine out of the 21 Nationals, according to his supporters.

McCormack, the one-time editor of a regional newspaper who holds the New South Wales seat of Riverina and was a junior minister, comes to the top job with no blood on his hands, and with the Nationals knowing it is in their interests to get solidly behind him ahead of a difficult election next year. Those are significant advantages.

On the other hand, McCormack faces an uphill and possibly hazardous path, as he tries to establish himself within the government – where he’s unlikely to be a Joyce-type squeaky wheel and so could lose battles – and in regional Australia.

Joyce set the electoral gold standard for the Nationals at the 2016 election. When Turnbull was losing multiple seats the Nationals kept all theirs (and took one from the Liberals).

To replicate this or come close, McCormack must project the Nationals as having a distinct identity and relevance, and to cut through with their messages.

As one Nationals source puts it, when the Liberals are in the ascendant, as in 2013, the Nationals can ride on their coat-tails. But when the major partner is struggling, as in 2016 (and likely in 2019), it’s vital for the Nationals to distance themselves and establish their own pitch for support.

For all that Joyce’s position was untenable and his resignation a relief for the government, most of the Nationals – apart from Joyce’s known enemies – lament what they’ve lost. They recognise that even if McCormack proves a good leader he will never resonate in the bush the way Joyce has in the past (how he will in the future, after everything that’s happened, remains to be seen).

McCormack will need to work especially hard in Queensland, a state vital to the Nationals at the election (and where the Liberals and Nationals are formally joined in the Liberal National Party). Joyce was uniquely placed – a sort of dual citizen, the cheeky might say, who holds a NSW seat but previously was a Queensland senator.

Even after he moved to NSW, the Nationals from Queensland still saw Joyce as one of them. They had him there in the Queensland election, which was on when he was fighting his New England byelection. McCormack doesn’t enjoy such a convenient dual identity.

It will be important for McCormack to establish a good relationship with Littleproud, who’s well placed to help with the formidable task of Queensland campaigning. Those who know Littleproud say he is by nature loyal and would not seek to undermine McCormack.

Another Queensland challenge is maverick Queensland backbencher George Christensen – who made a token run in Monday’s leadership vote. He was difficult enough for Joyce to handle, though the two were personally quite close. Christensen won’t be any easier for McCormack, and could be harder.

How Joyce plays things in the next few months will be relevant to McCormack’s ability to run a united team.

As well as always being a centre of interest because he’s such a colourful character, in the minds of some in the party and the media Joyce is not dead forever. Immediately after he was elected as leader, McCormack was asked whether he was “keeping the seat warm for Barnaby until he can mount a comeback”.

Such questions (though I think far-fetched) must be annoying for the new leader. But whether Joyce’s presence becomes a serious irritant depends as much on McCormack’s performance as on Joyce’s behaviour.

Most immediately, Joyce’s travails aren’t over. It was revealed in Senate estimates on Monday that last week Malcolm Turnbull asked the head of his department, Martin Parkinson, to look into whether Joyce had broken the ministerial code of conduct. This investigation has now been abandoned with Joyce’s resignation.

But the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority is still probing whether there was any misuse of entitlements by Joyce and his former staffer – now partner – Vikki Campion.

More seriously, the Nationals’ organisation has on its plate the complaint from former Western Australian Rural Woman of the Year Catherine Marriott, accusing Joyce of sexual harassment.

Leaving aside the row over who leaked the woman’s name (the Nationals deny it was them), this matter is surely a nightmare for the party. How is it going to inquire into it? Is the matter going to be tied up in a protracted legal argument? Will Joyce and his accuser be summoned for questioning?

The ConversationTo state the obvious, the outcome of this inquiry is critical to Joyce’s personal reputation. He’s called for the allegation to be referred to the police. He has also claimed in private conversations that his rejection of the allegation would be backed by text messages.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

As Tasmania looks likely to have minority government, the Greens must decide how to play their hand

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Tasmanians Greens leader Cassy O’Connor (centre) on the hustings.
AAP/Rob Blakers

Narelle Miragliotta, Monash University

According to Tasmanian Greens leader Cassy O’Connor, “minority government is government for grown-ups”, whereas “majority government is government for vested interests, corruption and corporate deals”.

The Greens’ pitch to voters at Saturday’s Tasmanian state election is not being couched in policy terms alone. It is also based on a vision of a more desirable governing context for Tasmania. But is minority government good for the Greens?

The likelihood of minority government

There is a high probability that the Greens will get their wish and a minority government will be returned at this election.

Tasmania elects its lower house using a form of proportional representation known as the Hare-Clark system, where parties are awarded seats roughly in accordance with their levels of support within the electorate. Unless a party can win an overall majority of votes, it will not attain the necessary majority of seats to form a government in its own right.

In recent decades, the two major parties have struggled to secure governing majorities. In the eight Tasmanian elections since 1989, majority governments have been elected on only five occasions.

Read more:
Tasmanian election likely to be close, while Labor continues to lead federally

There is general agreement among commentators that a majority government at this election is far from certain. The Liberal Party attained 51.22% of the vote in 2014, and lead Labor in most polls. However, according to analysis by Ben Raue, the Liberals polled above 40% in just one of five polls held in the last year. If these figures are translated into actual votes, minority government is inevitable.

One might think that the possibility of minority government would render the major parties open to working with the Greens to form government. Yet the incumbent premier, Will Hodgman, has already declared that the Liberals “will govern alone or not at all”.

Likewise, Labor leader Rebecca White has also confirmed that her party “will not govern in minority”.

Much of this talk should be taken seriously but not literally. The major parties will be under pressure to negotiate an agreement of some description in the likely event of a hung parliament.

Any party that seeks to govern without the support of opposition forces will be perpetually at risk of defeat on the floor of the lower house. This reality is likely to weaken the resolve of even the most stubborn party leader – even more so once Governor Kate Warner makes the necessary entreaties.

However, it is not certain that the Greens will be the only parliamentary grouping in the mix to form a minority government. The most recent polling data (based on a MediaReach internal poll commissioned by the Liberal Party) has the Greens’ statewide primary vote at under 13%, which may not prove sufficient to secure the all-important “hinge seat” in each of the five multi-member electorates.

One of the particular challenges the Greens are confronting in 2018 is Labor’s capacity to outmanoeuvre them. As psephologist Kevin Bonham has observed, the Greens are being squeezed by the appeal of Labor’s “left-wing leader”.

Labor has also stolen the Greens’ thunder on the pokies issue, and its energy policy – complete with 120% renewable energy target – is likely to find favour with environmentally concerned voters.

Adding to the uncertainty is the prospect – albeit faint given recent polling – of the Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN) electing one, possibly two candidates. The JLN might make more attractive legislative partners for the major parties than the Greens.

Is minority government good for the Greens?

There is a deeper question that the Greens must ask: whether it is prudent for them to enter into any kind of formal arrangement with either major party.

There are advantages in the short term, such as policy concessions and even the possibility of executive office. But the longer-term consequences are far less clear.

Read more:
Tasmania the first test in an election-laden year

The Tasmanian Greens suffered swings against them following the three previous occasions that they entered into some form of agreement to support a minority government: -3.9% in 1992, -2.1% in 1996, and -7.8% in 2014.

Though there were unique circumstances surrounding each of these agreements, it is unclear if the benefits outweigh the costs for the Greens. One international study concluded that participation in government “is not necessarily bad for Green parties”, which falls well short of a ringing endorsement.

If, following this election, the Greens are needed to form a stable government, then the party will have to think strategically about the terms on which it does so. Is participation in executive office a higher prize than consistency of electoral performance?

The ConversationIf the Greens value the former, then securing a formal agreement is the best way forward. But if they value the latter, then a “confidence-and-supply agreement” is their best option. This would allow the Greens to demand additional parliamentary resources and to shape the fate of legislation, without having to shoulder responsibility for government failures at a critical time in the party’s development.

Narelle Miragliotta, Senior Lecturer in Australian Politics, Monash University

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

Liberals likely to win Tasmanian election, while federal Labor’s poll lead widens

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On the stated figures, the Will Hodgman-led Tasmanian Liberals are most likely to win 13 or 14 seats out of 25.
AAP/Rob Blakers

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The Tasmanian election will be held on Saturday. A ReachTEL poll, conducted for The Mercury on February 22 from a large sample of more than 3,100, gave the Liberals 46.4% of the vote, Labor 31.1%, the Greens 12.1%, the Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN) 5.2%, others 2.0%, and 3.3% were undecided.

When undecideds are excluded, the Liberals have 48.0%, Labor 32.2%, the Greens 12.5%, and JLN 5.4%.

Tasmania uses the Hare-Clark system, with five five-member electorates. A quota is one-sixth of the vote, or 16.7%. Sample sizes for each electorate in ReachTEL were 620-650. The Liberals had well over 50% in Bass and Braddon, and 49.6% in Lyons, implying they would win three of the five seats in each.

Read more:
Tasmanian election likely to be close, while Labor continues to lead federally

In Franklin, the Liberals had 42.6%, easily enough for two seats. In Denison, the Liberals had 33.8%, just enough for two seats.

On the stated figures, the most likely overall seat outcome is 13 or 14 Liberals out of 25, eight-to-ten Labor, and two or three Greens. So, the Liberals should win a majority.

Like other Tasmanian polls, ReachTEL has in the past skewed to the Greens and against Labor. At the last two federal elections, ReachTEL skewed to the Liberals in Tasmania, though it skewed against the Liberals at the 2014 state election.

Adjusting for ReachTEL’s skew, Tasmanian analyst Kevin Bonham thinks the most likely outcome is 13 Liberals, ten Labor, and two Greens. The next two most likely outcomes are 13 Liberals, 11 Labor, one Green; and 12 Liberals, 11 Labor, two Greens.

I do not think opposition to Labor’s anti-pokies policy caused the swing to the Liberals during the campaign. The most important factor was probably that many Tasmanians detest the Greens, and will vote for the major party most likely to win a majority. In 2006, Labor easily won an election that had appeared likely to result in a hung parliament.

The Greens’ vote of 12.5% in this poll is below the 13.7% they won at the 2014 election, and it could be lower given ReachTEL’s pro-Greens skew. It is likely the Greens are doing badly because Labor, under Rebecca White’s leadership, has become more left-wing, so the Greens are having trouble differentiating themselves from Labor.

Incumbent Will Hodgman led White by 51.8-48.2 on ReachTEL’s forced choice better premier question. Labor’s pokies policy was supported against the Liberals’ policy by a 57-43 margin.

ReachTEL 54-46 to federal Labor

A Sky News ReachTEL, conducted February 22 – the day before Barnaby Joyce resigned – had federal Labor leading by 54-46, a two-point gain for Labor since late January. Primary votes were 37% Labor (up one), 33% Coalition (down one), 11% Greens (up one), and 7% One Nation (down one). The remaining 12% probably included some undecided voters.

ReachTEL is using respondent-allocated preferences, which have been better for the Coalition than previous election preferences, as One Nation preferences are flowing to the Coalition at a greater rate than the 50-50 flow at the 2016 election. By last election preferences, Bonham calculates this poll was about 55.5-44.5 to Labor. This makes it one of the worst polls for the Coalition this term.

Despite the blowout in the Labor margin, Malcolm Turnbull continued to lead Bill Shorten by 53-47 in ReachTEL’s forced choice better prime minister question (54-46 in January). Although the Joyce affair appears to have damaged the Coalition, Turnbull is not being blamed.

Last week’s Newspoll, conducted February 15-18 from a sample of 1,630, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a one-point gain for Labor. Primary votes were 37% Labor (steady), 36% Coalition (down two), 10% Greens (steady), and 8% One Nation (up three). This was Turnbull’s 27th successive Newspoll loss, three short of Tony Abbott.

The overall Labor/Green vote in this Newspoll was 47%; the left vote has been stuck at 47% in Newspoll since August. Despite the Joyce affair, the overall Coalition/One Nation vote was up one point to 44%.

Turnbull’s ratings were 34% satisfied, 54% dissatisfied (37-50 previously). Shorten’s ratings were the same as Turnbull’s, and Turnbull led Shorten 40-33 as better prime minister (45-31 previously).

A total of 65% thought Joyce should resign as deputy prime minister, while only 23% thought he should stay. By 64-25, voters supported a ban on politicians having sexual relations with their staff. By 57-32, voters supported Shorten’s policy to give Indigenous people a voice to federal parliament.

As long as Republicans hold Congress, no chance of real US gun control

After the recent Florida high school gun massacre, there has been a renewed push for US gun control. However, as I wrote following the Las Vegas massacre in October, meaningful gun control will not happen under Donald Trump and the current Republican-controlled Congress.

Read more:
No chance of US gun control despite Las Vegas massacre; NZ left gains two seats after special votes

The Florida state legislature, which Republicans control 76-40, defeated a motion to debate a ban on assault weapons by 71-36, even as students from the affected school looked on. Instead, it passed a motion declaring pornography a public health risk.

Trump’s ratings are currently 39.1% approve, 55.6% disapprove, in the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate. Before the gun massacre, Trump’s approval had risen to 41.5% owing to perceptions of an improving US economy; for several weeks, Trump’s approval was at least 40%.

Democrats lead by 47.0-38.8 in the race for Congress. Before the massacre, the Democrats’ lead had fallen to 6.4 points. All 435 US House of Representatives seats will be up for election in November, and also one-third of the 100 senators. Democrats probably need a mid-to-high single-digit popular vote margin to win control of the House of Representatives.

Read more:
Strong US economy boosts Trump’s ratings, as Democrats shut down government for three days

Italian election: March 4

The Italian election will be held on March 4. 37% of both chambers of the Italian parliament will be elected by first past the post, and the remainder by proportional representation.

Italy imposes a blackout on polling during the final two weeks of election campaigns. The last polls were published on or before February 16.

In the final pre-blackout polls, the centre-right coalition was in the high 30s, with the centre-left coalition and the populist left Five Star Movement trailing with about 27% each. A left-wing breakaway from the centre-left had about 6%.

Even though the overall left vote is about 60%, the right could win a majority owing to the first-past-the-post seats.

The centre-right coalition includes former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s old party (Forza Italia). Although Berlusconi is banned from contesting elections, he could be the power behind the throne if his coalition wins a majority in both chambers.

The Conversation

Read more:
Will elections in 2018 see 2017’s left-wing revival continue?

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

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