Post-budget poll wrap: Labor has equal best Newspoll budget result, gains in Ipsos, but trails in Longman



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While this is Malcolm Turnbull’s 32nd consecutive Newspoll loss as PM, the past two have been narrow losses.
AAP/Ellen Smith

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted May 10-13 from a sample of 1,730, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, unchanged from three weeks ago. Primary votes were 39% Coalition (up one), 38% Labor (up one), 9% Greens (steady) and 6% One Nation (down one).

This Newspoll is Malcolm Turnbull’s 32nd successive loss as PM, two more than Tony Abbott. However, the past two have been narrow losses.

The total vote for Labor and the Greens was up one point to 47%, while the total for the Coalition and One Nation was steady at 45%. The gain for the left would normally result in a gain after preferences, but rounding probably helped the Coalition again.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Labor’s Newspoll lead narrows federally and in Victoria


39% (up three) were satisfied with Turnbull, and 50% (down three) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of -11, Turnbull’s highest net approval since the final pre-election Newspoll in July 2016. Bill Shorten’s net approval was down two points to -22. Turnbull led Shorten as better PM by 46-32; this is Turnbull’s clearest better PM lead since February.

Newspoll asks three questions after every budget: whether the budget was good or bad for the economy, good or bad for you personally, and whether the opposition would have delivered a better budget.

The best news for Labor was on the third question, where it only trailed by seven points, equal to their deficit after the badly perceived 2014 budget. According to The Poll Bludger, Labor trailed by more during all of the Howard government’s budgets.

This budget was seen as good for the economy by 41-26, and good for you personally by 29-27. The Poll Bludger says it is fifth out of 31 budgets covered by Newspoll on personal impact, but only slightly above average on the economy.

Turnbull led Shorten by 48-31 on best to handle the economy (51-31 in December 2017). Treasurer Scott Morrison led his shadow Chris Bowen 38-31 on best economic manager. By 51-28, voters thought Labor should support the government’s seven-year tax cut package.

Turnbull has delivered a well-received budget, while Shorten’s credibility took a hit after four Labor MPs were kicked out over the citizenship fiasco.

Voters were not sympathetic to politicians who held dual citizenships. By 51-38, they thought such politicians should be disqualified from federal parliament (44-43 in August). By 46-44, voters would oppose a referendum to change the Constitution to allow dual citizens to become MPs.

A key question is whether Turnbull’s ratings bounce will be sustained. The PM’s net approval and the government’s two party vote are strongly correlated, so the Coalition should do better if Turnbull’s ratings are good. Past ratings spikes for Turnbull have not been sustained.

While people on low incomes receive a tax cut, it will not be implemented by withholding less tax from pay packets. Instead, people will need to wait until they file their tax returns after July 2019 to receive their lump sum tax offsets. As the next federal election is very likely to be held by May 2019, this appears to be a political mistake.

In last week’s Essential, 39% thought the Australian economy good and 24% poor. While Australia ran large trade surpluses in the first three months of this year, the domestic economy is not looking as good as it did in 2017 – see my personal website for more.

Ipsos: 54-46 to Labor (53-47 respondent allocated)

An Ipsos poll for the Fairfax papers, conducted May 9-12 from a sample of 1,200, gave Labor a 54-46 lead by 2016 election preferences, a two-point gain for Labor since early April. Primary votes were 37% Labor (up three), 36% Coalition (steady), 11% Greens (down one) and 5% One Nation (down three).

Newspoll is no longer using last-election preferences, so it seems better to compare Ipsos’ respondent allocated preferences with Newspoll, not the last election preferences. By respondent allocated preferences, Ipsos was 53-47 to Labor, a three-point gain for Labor.

Ipsos is bouncier than Newspoll, and the Greens’ support is higher. If you compare Ipsos’ respondent allocated two party vote with Newspoll, the difference is diminished.

Turnbull had a 51-39 approval rating (47-43 in April). This is Turnbull’s best rating in Ipsos since April 2016; Ipsos gives Turnbull his strongest ratings of any pollster. Shorten’s net approval was up three points to -12. Turnbull led Shorten by 52-32 (52-31 in April).

By 39-33, voters thought the budget was fair (42-39 after the 2017 budget). By 38-25, voters thought they would be better off, the highest “better off” figure in Nielsen/Ipsos history since 2006. However by 57-37, voters thought the government should have used its extra revenue to pay off debt, rather than cutting taxes.

Queensland Galaxy: 52-48 to federal Coalition, 53-47 to state Labor

A Queensland Galaxy poll, conducted May 9-10 from a sample of 900 for The Courier Mail, gave the federal Coalition a 52-48 lead, unchanged since February, but a 2% swing to Labor since the 2016 election. Primary votes were 40% Coalition (down one), 33% Labor (up one), 10% Greens (steady) and 10% One Nation (up one). Primary vote changes would normally imply a gain for Labor, but this was lost in the rounding.

By 39-33, Queenslanders thought the budget was good for them personally, rather than bad. By 39-28, they thought the budget would be good for Queensland.

The state politics questions gave Queensland Labor a 53-47 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since February. Primary votes were 38% Labor (up one), 35% LNP (down one), 12% One Nation (up two) and 10% Greens (steady).

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk had a 46-38 approval rating (44-38 previously). Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington had a 31-28 approval rating (29-25). Palaszczuk led Frecklington as better Premier 47-27 (42-31).

Longman ReachTEL: 53-47 to LNP

The Longman byelection is one of five that will be held soon. A ReachTEL poll, conducted May 10 from a sample of 1,280 for the left-wing Australia Institute, gave the LNP a 53-47 lead, about a 4% swing to the LNP since the 2016 election. Primary votes were 36.7% LNP, 32.5% Labor, 15.1% One Nation and 4.9% Greens.

ReachTEL is using respondent allocated preferences. The two party vote in this poll looks reasonable assuming One Nation preferences flow to the LNP.

National polls and the Queensland Galaxy poll show swings to Labor compared with the 2016 election. It would be highly unusual for a seat to swing so strongly to the Coalition when other polling shows a swing to Labor. In the past, seat polls have been far less reliable than national and state-wide polls.

In better byelection news for Labor, the Western Australian Liberals will not contest either Perth or Fremantle. Fremantle has a 7.5% margin with an incumbent recontesting, but Labor only holds Perth by a 3.3% margin with no incumbent.




Read more:
Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie most vulnerable at byelections forced by dual citizenship saga


Essential: 52-48 to Labor

This week’s Essential, conducted May 10-13 from a sample of 1,033, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since last week. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (steady), 36% Labor (down one), 10% Greens (steady) and 7% One Nation (up one).

By 44-28, voters approved of the budget overall. 22% thought the tax cuts would make a difference to their household. 39% supported the tax cuts, with 30% wanting more spending on schools and hospitals and 18% preferring a reduction in government debt.

The ConversationBy 44-40, voters disagreed with giving higher income people larger tax cuts. By 79-14, voters agreed that those earning $200,000 should pay a higher tax rate than those earning $41,000.

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

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

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The ethics of ‘securitising’ Australian cyberspace


Dr Shannon Brandt Ford, Curtin University

This article is the fifth in a five-part series exploring Australian national security in the digital age. Read parts one, two, three and four here.


As technology evolves and Australia becomes ever-more reliant on cyber systems throughout government and society, the threats that cyber attacks pose to the country’s national security are real – and significant.

Cyber weapons now exist that can be used to attack and exploit vulnerabilities in Australia’s national infrastructure. Many of the cyber threats that exist now, such as defacing a website, are not that serious.

But more nefarious attacks on software systems have the potential to damage critical infrastructure and threaten people’s lives.




Read more:
Since Boston bombing, terrorists are using new social media to inspire potential attackers


The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) Threat Report addresses these concerns every year, highlighting the ubiquitous nature of cyber-crime in Australia, the potential for cyber-terrorism, and the vulnerability of data stored on government and commercial networks.

Governments now take these types of threats so seriously, they speak of the potential for military responses to cyber-attacks in the future. As one US military official told The Wall Street Journal:

If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks.

A securitised internet

Such concerns have been a key part of Australia’s ambitions to revamp its national security to respond to future cyber-threats. Australia’s Cyber Security Strategy, for instance, states that:

all of us – governments, businesses and individuals – need to work together to build resilience to cybersecurity threats and to make the most of opportunities online.

An important ethical concern with such a focus, however, is the risk that Australia’s cyberspace becomes “securitised”.

When we securitise an issue, we frame the activity as being conducted in a state of emergency. A state of emergency is when a government temporarily changes the conditions of its political and social institutions in response to a particularly serious emergency. This might be a natural disaster, war or rioting, for example. Importantly, due process constraints on government officials, such as habeas corpus, are suspended.

An ethical problem with a securitised or militarised cyberspace, especially if it becomes a permanent measure, is that it can quickly erode fundamental human rights such as privacy and freedom of speech.

Ethical problems in a brave new world

For instance, what are the ethical implications of conducting military activities against terrorist propaganda online, by conducting psychological operations on social media platforms, say, or simply shutting them down?

Using social media in this way would be counter to the social and civil function of these channels of communication. Trying to deny audiences the ability to speak freely on social media could also undermine the internet’s effectiveness as a tool for social and economic good. This is especially problematic in Australia, where fundamental human rights such as privacy and freedom of speech are taken for granted as fundamental civic values.

There is also potential for a militarised cyberspace to increase the likelihood of conflict between states. As cyber-attacks are a relatively new threat, it’s unclear what actions might lead to escalation and constitute an act of war.

The perception that cyber-attacks are not as harmful as, say, a missile attack could lead to their increased use. This opens the door to potentially more serious forms of conflict.




Read more:
The Cyber Security Strategy is only a small step in the right direction


Another important ethical consideration is the enhanced government surveillance of a securitised internet. The fall-out from the Edward Snowden disclosures, for instance, revealed the intrusiveness of US security agencies’ activities online. This in turn had the effect of undermining the public’s trust in the government.

Such a loss of trust in one segment of the government can have potentially dire impacts on other areas. For example, in response to public suspicions of the actions of security agencies, governments might overreact and cut worthwhile surveillance programmes. Or disgruntled government employees (like Snowden) might leak other types of confidential or sensitive information to the detriment of the public good.

A recent example of this occurred when highly sensitive correspondences between Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo and Defence Secretary Greg Moriarty were leaked to the media. The communications detailed plans to give the Australian Signals Directorate new domestic surveillance powers. Mark Dreyfus, the national security shadow minister, labelled the leak, “a deeply worrying signal of internal struggles.”

So it is important that Australian government agencies tasked with managing national security in cyberspace consistently act in a trustworthy manner. As such, there should be guarantees that decisions related to cyber-security oversight and governance are not driven by short-term political gains.

In particular, government decision-makers should seek to promote an informed and public debate about the standards required for “minimum transparency, accountability and oversight of government surveillance practices.”

The ConversationAnything short of that could make the country’s cyber-infrastructure less secure – a frightening prospect in an increasingly hostile and volatile digital world.

Dr Shannon Brandt Ford, Lecturer, Curtin University

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

Small sats are vital to Australia’s space industry – and they won’t be space junk



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Small satellites are launched to Low Earth Orbit – and then eventually burn up.
from www.shutterstock.com

Michael Smart, The University of Queensland

Today the federal government released its response to the review of Australia’s Space Capability.

Among the details regarding the establishment of Australia’s first space agency, and a national space industry strategy, it is clear that small satellites will have a place in our space future.

The following recommendations were marked as “supported” or “supported in principle”:

  • Australia should […] take advantage of the global space technology paradigm
    shift towards constellations of miniaturised spacecraft for communications and Earth observations

  • […] the Agency [should facilitate] regulatory approval processes for small satellite launch facilities in Australia and the launch of Australian satellites overseas.

But won’t all these new satellites just make the current space junk problem even worse?

Luckily, the answer is no. And it’s due to the satellite “self-cleaning zone” that surrounds Earth.




Read more:
Trash or treasure? A lot of space debris is junk, but some is precious heritage


How satellites stay in orbit

For a satellite to remain in orbit around Earth, it must have a velocity of at least 7.9km per second, and must not drop below approximately 200km altitude in any part of its orbit.

If its velocity or its orbit is too low, it will be drawn back to Earth by a combination of gravity and atmospheric drag.

Another key aspect of a satellite’s orbit is its inclination relative to the Equator. Equatorial orbits – when the orbit is around the Equator – have zero inclination. Polar orbits, on the other hand, pass over both the north and south poles, and have an inclination of 90 degrees.

Other orbits sit at inclinations between 0° and 90°. The orbit of the international space station, for example, has an inclination of 51.6°. So it passes over the parts of Earth that are within 51.6° of latitude north and south of the Equator. Its orbit has an average altitude of 400km. (For comparison, the radius of the Earth is 6,378 km.)

The orbit of the International Space Station.

Low orbits for small satellites

Until about the year 2000 almost all useful satellites (ones that performed functions such as communications or weather observation) were big – weighing as much as 10,000kg. They also tended to be in orbits with altitudes greater than 2,000km.

This has changed due to the rapid development of micro-scale, low-power electronics that we all use every day in our mobile phones. Satellites can now weigh just hundreds of kilograms and perform the same function in terms of communications and earth observation.

There is also a movement (including in Australia) towards even smaller satellites called “cubesats”, weighing less than 20kg, which have limited capability and life. One implication of this smaller size is the need to be close to Earth.

Modern small satellites are all in Low Earth Orbit, with altitudes less than 1,000km. For example, a company called Planet has a constellation of about 200 satellites which supply images of almost anywhere on the planet on a daily basis.

Polar (blue) and inclined (red) orbits around Earth.

The self-cleaning zone

Despite the fact that the edge of Earth’s atmosphere is generally considered to be at 100km altitude, in reality it reaches much higher. In practice, any satellite in Low Earth Orbit will eventually be slowed down by impacts with air molecules and will return to Earth in a fiery re-entry. This may seem like a significant limitation for small satellites. But actually it is extremely helpful.

Due in part to their size limitation, most small satellite have a useful life of between one and five years. After this time a replacement satellite with the latest technology must be launched. If it wasn’t for the fact that Low Earth Orbit is a self-cleaning zone, the small satellite revolution would clog up the space around us with junk.

So when you hear about another planned constellation of hundreds of satellites, don’t worry too much. So long as they are in Low Earth Orbit, and most likely they will be, the Earth’s “vacuum cleaner” will clean up after us.

But what about the International Space Station? It is also in the Low Earth Orbit zone – so its orbit needs to be continuously maintained, which requires significant reserves of fuel. At some point, however, it will suffer the same fate as the much smaller Chinese space station Tiangong-1 and make a fiery re-entry.


The Conversation


Read more:
China’s falling space station highlights the problem of space junk crashing to Earth


Michael Smart, Professor of Hypersonic Aerodynamics, The University of Queensland

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

How information warfare in cyberspace threatens our freedom



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Information warfare in cyberspace could replace reason and reality with rage and fantasy.
Shutterstock

Roger Bradbury, Australian National University; Anne-Marie Grisogono, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University; Dmitry Brizhinev, Australian National University; John Finnigan, CSIRO, and Nicholas Lyall, Australian National University

This article is the fourth in a five-part series exploring Australian national security in the digital age. Read parts one, two and three here.


Just as we’ve become used to the idea of cyber warfare, along come the attacks, via social media, on our polity.

We’ve watched in growing amazement at the brazen efforts by the Russian state to influence the US elections, the UK’s Brexit referendum and other democratic targets. And we’ve tended to conflate them with the seemingly-endless cyber hacks and attacks on our businesses, governments, infrastructure, and a long-suffering citizenry.

But these social media attacks are a different beast altogether – more sinister, more consequential and far more difficult to counter. They are the modern realisation of the Marxist-Leninist idea that information is a weapon in the struggle against Western democracies, and that the war is ongoing. There is no peacetime or wartime, there are no non-combatants. Indeed, the citizenry are the main targets.

A new battlespace for an old war

These subversive attacks on us are not a prelude to war, they are the war itself; what Cold War strategist George Kennan called “political warfare”.

Perversely, as US cyber experts Herb Lin and Jaclyn Kerr note, modern communication attacks exploit the technical virtues of the internet such as “high connectivity” and “democratised access to publishing capabilities”. What the attackers do is, broadly speaking, not illegal.

The battlespace for this warfare is not the physical, but the cognitive environment – within our brains. It seeks to sow confusion and discord, to reduce our abilities to think and reason rationally.

Social media platforms are the perfect theatres in which to wage political warfare. Their vast reach, high tempo, anonymity, directness and cheap production costs mean that political messages can be distributed quickly, cheaply and anonymously. They can also be tailored to target audiences and amplified quickly to drown out adversary messages.

Simulating dissimulation

We built simulation models (for a forthcoming publication) to test these ideas. We were astonished at how effectively this new cyber warfare can wreak havoc in the models, co-opting filter bubbles and preventing the emergence of democratic discourse.

We used agent-based models to examine how opinions shift in response to the insertion of strong opinions (fake news or propaganda) into the discourse.

Our agents in these simple models were individuals who each had a set of opinions. We represented different opinions as axes in an opinion space. Individuals are located in the space by the values of their opinions. Individuals close to each other in the opinion space are close to each other in their opinions. Their differences in opinion are simply the distance between them.

When an individual links to a neighbour, they experience a degree of convergence – their opinions are drawn towards each other. An individual’s position is not fixed, but may shift under the influence of the opinions of others.

The dynamics in these models were driven by two conflicting processes:

  • Individuals are social – they have a need to communicate – and they will seek to communicate with others with whom they agree. That is, other individuals nearby in their opinion space.

  • Individuals have a limited number of communication links they can manage at any time (also known as their Dunbar number, and they continue to find links until they satisfy this number. Individuals, therefore, are sometimes forced to communicate with individuals with whom they disagree in order to satisfy their Dunbar number. But if they wish to create a new link and have already reached their Dunbar number, they will prune another link.

Figure 1: The emergence of filter bubbles

Figure 1: Filter bubbles emerging with two dimensions, opinions of issue X and opinions of issue Y.
roger.bradbury@anu.edu.au

To begin, 100 individuals, represented as dots, were randomly distributed across the space with no links. At each step, every individual attempts to link with a near neighbour up to its Dunbar number, perhaps breaking earlier links to do so. In doing so, it may change its position in opinion space.

Over time, individuals draw together into like-minded groups (filter bubbles). But the bubbles are dynamic. They form and dissolve as individuals continue to prune old links and seek newer, closer ones as a result of their shifting positions in the opinion space. Figure 1, above, shows the state of the bubbles in one experiment after 25 steps.

Figure 2: Capturing filter bubbles with fake news

Conversation lobbies figure 2.
roger.bradbury@anu.edu.au

At time step 26, we introduced two pieces of fake news into the model. These were represented as special sorts of individuals that had an opinion in only one dimension of the opinion space and no opinion at all in the other. Further, these “individuals” didn’t seek to connect to other individuals and they never shifted their opinion as a result of ordinary individuals linking to them. They are represented by the two green lines in Figure 2.

Over time (the figure shows time step 100), each piece of fake news breaks down the old filter bubbles and reels individuals towards their green line. They create new tighter filter bubbles that are very stable over time.

Information warfare is a threat to our Enlightenment foundations

These are the conventional tools of demagogues throughout history, but this agitprop is now packaged in ways perfectly suited to the new environment. Projected against the West, this material seeks to increase political polarisation in our public sphere.

Rather than actually change an election outcome, it seeks to prevent the creation of any coherent worldview. It encourages the creation of filter bubbles in society where emotion is privileged over reason and targets are immunised against real information and rational consideration.

These models confirm Lin and Kerr’s hypothesis. “Traditional” cyber warfare is not an existential threat to Western civilisation. We can and have rebuilt our societies after kinetic attacks. But information warfare in cyberspace is such a threat.

The ConversationThe Enlightenment gave us reason and reality as the foundations of political discourse, but information warfare in cyberspace could replace reason and reality with rage and fantasy. We don’t know how to deal with this yet.

Roger Bradbury, Professor, National Security College, Australian National University; Anne-Marie Grisogono, Visiting fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University; Dmitry Brizhinev, Research Assistant, National Security College, Australian National University; John Finnigan, Leader, Complex Systems Science, CSIRO, and Nicholas Lyall, Research Assistant (National Security College), Australian National University

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

Competing foreign interests trump Syrian aspirations for political change


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International powers with conflicting interests have helped the Bashar al-Asad government to consolidate its power.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-SA

Hanlie Booysen, Victoria University of Wellington

The United States’ withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal exacerbated the violence in Syria. But to understand how Syria became the theatre for proxy wars, we have to return to the Arab uprisings.

Syria is the outlier in the Arab uprisings, as again demonstrated by last month’s air strikes.




Read more:
US airstrikes in Syria nothing more than theater


In 2011, public protests forced long-standing dictators Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak from power in Tunisia and Egypt, respectively. Scholars questioned the notion that authoritarianism is a permanent feature of Arab politics. Not anymore. At least in Syria there is no doubt that the Bashar al-Asad government is consolidating its power.

I explore what makes Syria different from Tunisia and Egypt and why Syrian aspirations for political change have not eventuated.

People want political reforms

It is worth going back to March 2011. School boys, influenced by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, wrote “al-sha‘b yurid isqat al-nidham” or “the people want the fall of the regime” on a wall in the southern Syrian city of Dar‘a. The authorities responded by detaining and torturing the boys, which sparked public protests, first in Dar‘a and then in neighbouring towns and villages.

Initially, Syrians were not calling for the fall of the regime. At a conference in April 2011, even the banned Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (SMB) preferred political reforms to outright revolution. A member of the executive recalled in an interview in 2015:

We as Syrians were calling for reform and calling for Bashar [al-Asad] to lead that reform.

This was not a new position for the SMB. From its formation in 1946, it participated in Syria’s early parliamentary democracy. The Brotherhood secured three seats in parliament in 1947, three in 1949 and ten in 1961. But the SMB’s parliamentary experience came to an abrupt end with the Ba‘th party’s military coup on March 8, 1963.

Excluded from parliamentary politics, and in the context of an Islamic insurgency turned uprising, the SMB adopted armed jihad in 1979. Membership of the Brotherhood was made a capital offence in 1980, and after the violent standoff between the Syrian government and Islamists in the city of Hama in 1982, the SMB was all but eradicated from Syria.

In exile, the SMB maintained its commitment to parliamentary democracy, and renewed its early commitment to non-violent political change. Its 2004 political platform emphasises democratic principles. It paved the way for the 2005 Damascus Declaration, a joined project between the SMB and the secularist opposition, to unseat the Bashar al-Asad government.

Bashar al-Asad survived both his international isolation in 2005, and the Damascus Declaration, only to face the Syrian uprising six years later. From exile, the SMB again confirmed its commitment to parliamentary politics in 2012, with an added emphasis on “equal citizenship”.

From uprising to civil war

By 2012 violence had become the new normal in Syria. The al-Asad government’s use of force and its pardon of radical Islamists caused the metamorphosis of the Syrian uprising, first into an insurgency, and then a civil war. Opposition groups across the political spectrum, with few exceptions, were supporting an armed struggle in 2012. In March, the SMB’s shura (consultative council) also endorsed armed jihad and pledged moral and material support to the secularist Free Syrian Army. Later, the SMB also provided financial support to armed groups that shared its moderate or “centrist” stance.

The militarisation of the Syrian uprising served the al-Asad regime’s survival. However, scholars argue that it takes “extensive resources” to create and maintain armed groups, which is where Russia, the United States and its Western allies, as well as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey entered the picture, and in turn serve to maintain the multiple wars in Syria.

The United States and its allies initially provided some support to certain rebel groups, but Washington’s priority since September 2014 has been to defeat the Islamic State group.

Russia’s primary interest in Syria is to prevent regime change, as it occurred in Libya in 2011. Apart from using its veto in the UN Security Council, in September 2015 Russia started using its military air power, which enabled the Bashar al-Asad government to reclaim territory that it lost to the rebels earlier in 2015.

Regional interests and the Syrian conflict

Iran’s focus is on countering United States and Israeli hegemony in the region, while the interests of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar initially coincided with those of the political opposition in exile, including the SMB. However, national objectives, primarily Ankara’s campaign against the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, currently drive the Turkish military campaign in the north of Syria.

Saudi Arabia’s primary interest is to contain Iran’s influence in the region, including in Syria, as well as to prevent an “uprising” at home. Qatar’s ability to influence developments in the region, and in Syria in particular, has been curtailed by the military coup against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the Saudi-led isolation of Qatar.




Read more:
Qatar and the art of ‘brotherly’ diplomacy


The numerous and competing foreign interests in Syria have shown the UN Security Council to be an utter failure. In an unusual show of unity, the UNSC accepted the Russian plan in 2013 to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. It inadvertently strengthened Bashar al-Asad’s legitimacy.

The ConversationThe United States-led airstrikes this April against chemical weapons storage and production facilities attest to the UNSC’s inability to safeguard a rules-based international order. They also, again, served Bashar al-Asad’s political survival. As long as regime survival serves the interests of the main foreign actors involved in the Syrian conflict, authoritarianism will trump the Syrian opposition’s aspirations for political change.

Hanlie Booysen, PhD Candidate and Tutor in Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

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

Let’s get moving with the affordable medium-speed alternatives to the old dream of high-speed rail


Philip Laird, University of Wollongong

More than half a century has passed since high-speed rail (HSR) effectively began operating, in Japan in 1964, and it has been mooted for Australia since 1984. I estimate that the cost of all HSR studies by the private and public sectors in Australia exceeds $125 million, in today’s dollars. But the federal government is now less interested in high-speed rail (now defined as electric trains operating on steel rails at maximum speeds of above 250km per hour), and instead favours “faster rail” or medium-speed rail.

The 2017 federal budget provided $20 billion over the next 10 years for rail, with more allocated in the 2018 budget. It is now time for Australia to commit to medium-speed rail (trains operating on new or existing tracks at speeds of between 160km and 250km/h).

Indeed, three states have made progress in developing trains at 160km/h, with Victoria leading the way. New South Wales has failed to keep up with these states.

What happened to high-speed rail in Australia?

The first high-speed rail system dates back to 1964 when the Tokaido Shinkansen started operating between Tokyo and Osaka. At first, it took four hours to travel 515 kilometres; now some trains take two-and-a-half hours. Japan’s system has an impeccable safety record and the network extends for over 3,000km.

An image prepared in 1984 by the late Phil Belbin of what the Very Fast Train south of Canberra could look like.
Courtesy of Railway Digest (ARHS/NSW) June 2004, Author provided

France was next in 1981 with its TGV trains. In 1984, high-speed rail was first proposed for Australia. This was the CSIRO’s Very Fast Train proposal to link Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne using TGV trains.

At all levels, government was not supportive. The private sector, after a series of studies, found it was viable and could work with different taxation arrangements. This was not forthcoming and work stopped in 1991.

An image from the 1990s of a SpeedRail train at Central Station.
Courtesy of Railway Digest (ARHS/NSW), Author provided

A more modest proposal, called Speedrail, to connect Sydney and Canberra was proposed in the mid-1990s. With some federal government encouragement, it was studied, with detailed design. It was costed at about $4.5 billion, with finance arranged for some $3.5 billion. The Howard government would not fund the balance and commissioned yet another HSR study.




Read more:
Can Australian high speed rail overcome its bumpy history?


More studies have followed. One study in 2013 put a price tag of $23 billion on a Sydney-Canberra line involving much tunnelling in Sydney. This was part of a 1,750km high-speed rail corridor linking Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. The total estimated cost was A$114 billion.

Despite many studies recommending the need to identify and protect a corridor for a future high-speed rail network, government has failed to reserve any land corridors (with the exception of part of a future Melbourne outer metropolitan ring road).

What about the alternatives?

Many countries do not have high-speed rail, but have medium-speed rail (MSR) instead. These countries include Sweden, Switzerland, the United States and Canada.

Queensland’s Tilt Train intercity service has been running for nearly 20 years.
QRtrains/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Three Australian states have trains operating at 160km/h. These are Queensland, starting in 1998 with its Electric Tilt Train service between Brisbane and Rockhampton, Victoria, with its Regional Fast Rail project using V/Locity diesel multiple units, and Western Australia, with the Prospector train.

Victoria’s service originated in 1999 when the then Labor opposition promised a new deal for regional Victoria, which included new trains and upgraded tracks on four lines to Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong and Gippsland. The ALP won government that year. By 2006 the track upgrades were delivered along with new trains made in Victoria.

People liked the faster trains. Patronage went up by more than 15% in each of the first three years of operation. More trains were ordered and further major track upgrades followed.

Victoria was assisted by $3 billion in federal funding for a Regional Rail Link program. This was to provide new intercity tracks in Melbourne so suburban trains did not slow down regional trains.

Due to good ongoing planning attracting more federal funding,
further track upgrades are under way. The 2017 Victorian Infrastructure Plan outlines priorities and funding for projects over the next five years, with longer-term policy directions.

So what’s going on in NSW?

Questions are now being asked as to why Victoria and WA are doing do well with federal funding for passenger rail at the expense of NSW.

The rail situation in Australia’s most populated state is not good for its regions. By far the most NSW government attention and funding has gone into the Greater Sydney region.

Between the 2011 and the 2016 Censuses, Greater Sydney’s population (including Gosford) grew some 10% from 4.39 to 4.82 million. Rail patronage on the Sydney and intercity network had even stronger growth of some 15% from 2011 to 2016.

To try to cope with this increasing demand for rail a new Metro section is due to be completed in 2019. Light rail is also being introduced in Sydney, Newcastle and Parramatta.

Sydney continues to have serious road traffic problems, which are unlikely to be solved by WestConnex Stages 1 and 2 that are now under construction. The proposed Stage 3 received over 7,000 objections, including a sensible alternative proposal by the City of Sydney, but the NSW government has approved Stage 3 and even more motorways. This is despite overseas experience for cities the size of Sydney pointing to the best solution being a much-improved rail system with road congestion pricing.




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Road user charging belongs on the political agenda as the best answer for congestion management


Regional NSW is also growing in population, albeit not as quickly as Sydney. In spring 2017, Transport for NSW released a draft regional servicea and infrastructure plan not for the next five years, but out to 2056. However, these plans were very vague as to what may be delivered in the next five or even ten years.

The plans also omitted earlier Infrastructure NSW goals for Sydney-Gosford and Sydney-Wollongong trains to take one hours (instead of one-and-a-half) and Sydney-Newcastle trains to take two hours. In addition, there are calls for more and faster trains linking to each of Goulburn/Canberra and the Central West of NSW.

Clearly, NSW is facing major transport challenges to overcome rail infrastructure backlogs and meet the needs of a growing population.

The state government is getting new intercity electric trains and has committed to buying new regional trains. But it’s yet to commit to track upgrades to help the new trains go faster than the present slow ones.

The NSW ALP opposition is also yet to present detailed policies of how it would meet the transport challenges in Sydney and in regional NSW.

The ConversationThe people of NSW must hope the state budget due June 19 and the opposition leader’s reply will address these issues.

Philip Laird, Honorary Principal Fellow, University of Wollongong

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

Here’s why flu vaccinations should be mandatory for Aussie health workers in high-risk areas



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Despite the numerous campaigns promoting the flu vaccine to Australian health workers, uptake has been documented to range from only 16-60%.
Tatiana Chekryzhova/Shutterstock

C Raina MacIntyre, UNSW and Holly Seale, UNSW

On June 1, health workers in New South Wales will be required to have a flu vaccination if they work in high-risk clinical areas, such as wards for neonatal care, transplants and cancer. Otherwise staff are required to wear surgical masks during the flu season or risk being redeployed.

NSW is the only state to make flu vaccination mandatory for some health workers. It aims to protect vulnerable patients and the health system from another disastrous flu season like in 2017. While the federal government has told aged care providers they must offer the flu vaccine to their staff this winter, there is no requirement for staff to accept the vaccine.

Despite the numerous campaigns promoting the flu vaccine to Australian health workers, uptake has been documented to range from only 16-60%, with an even lower rate reported among aged-care workers.




Read more:
Protecting our elderly: beating flu outbreaks in nursing homes


The most effective way to improve vaccination rates among health workers is to make it mandatory. State, territory and Commonwealth governments should consider making the flu shot mandatory for all health workers in high-risk clinical areas and aged care facilities.

Why health workers need to be vaccinated

For most of us, vaccination is for individual protection. In the case of those caring for sick and vulnerable people such as children and the elderly, vaccination protects others from devastating illness, complications and even death.

Hospitals and aged care facilities can experience explosive outbreaks of influenza.
Aged care facilities may have to close their doors to new admissions, which can also have a significant economic impact. It’s also important that staff absenteeism in hospitals is kept low, especially in areas with limited specialist expertise.

Some argue vaccination of health workers is a moral duty, while others state individual freedom of choice is more important than protection of patients.

Mandating vaccination

The use of immunisation mandates for health-care workers is not new in Australia. In most states and territories, staff are required to have vaccines for (or show evidence of protection against) measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, and varicella (chicken pox).

NSW, for example, introduced mandatory vaccination of health care workers for several vaccines (but not the flu) in 2007. NSW health workers generally accepted this change in policy, with only 4% objecting.

Making the flu shot mandatory, as NSW has done this year, would simply add the the list of vaccinations health workers are required to have.

NSW is the only state to make flu vaccination mandatory for some health workers.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

The evidence suggests it’s worth it; a five-year study in one hospital in the United States showed mandatory hospital policies can raise coverage rates to close to 100%.

Institutions that have implemented a mandatory policy have dramatically reduced employee sick days as well as flu in hospitals, thereby improving patient safety and reducing health care costs.

Staff vaccination programs

Most workplaces run intensive vaccination programs, which may include mass immunisation clinics, mobile carts, posters and email reminders. But in most cases, these programs aren’t successful at boosting vaccination levels above 60%.

Some hospitals have been able to achieve higher vaccination rates in the short term through easy access to vaccines, education, reminders and multiple opportunities for vaccination. But these initiatives require ongoing resources and continual efforts – a one-off vaccination day is not enough.




Read more:
Flu vaccine won’t definitely stop you from getting the flu, but it’s more important than you think


The Victorian health system used a slightly different approach in 2014 when it made high rates of flu vaccination a hospital performance target. The government also provided the vaccine free to all Victorian hospitals.

This raised vaccination rates among Victorian hospital staff from 60% to 75% overall (higher in some hospitals). But higher rates may be achieved through mandatory flu vaccination.

But it’s not always the best policy

For each situation, we need to consider the overall risks and benefits of mandatory vaccination, as well as the gains in protection and vaccination coverage.

For infant vaccination, for example, vaccination rates are already at a high baseline of more than 93%. So, the risk of coercive policies may be greater than the relatively small gains achieved by coercive methods. Similar results may be achieved through other methods.

There’d be little point mandating vaccines for infants since they already have high rates of vaccination.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

In the case of health and aged-care workers, however, we start with a lower base of vaccine coverage, of 16-60%. Adding financial incentives or disincentives, or making it mandatory, would result in much larger gains in vaccination rates.

Vaccinating health-care workers also has benefits beyond their individual protection: it reduces the risk of their patients contracting influenza and maintains the health workforce capacity. This shifts the balance in favour of mandatory vaccination.

The ConversationGiven large potential gains and low resource requirements, mandatory flu vaccination for all health workers in high-risk areas is a good idea. Governments should consider this and other strategies to improve flu vaccination rates health and aged care workers.

C Raina MacIntyre, Professor of Global Biosecurity, NHMRC Principal Research Fellow, Head, Biosecurity Program, UNSW and Holly Seale, Senior Lecturer, UNSW

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

Explainer: how the Australian intelligence community works



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Malcolm Turnbull has put Peter Dutton at the head of the Home Affairs super portfolio.
AAP/Glenn Hunt

John Blaxland, Australian National University

This article is the first in a five-part series exploring Australian national security in the digital age.


National security, intelligence and espionage have been in the headlines due to events abroad and significant developments at home. News of diplomatic expulsions, cyber-attacks, leaked documents about sweeping new surveillance powers and the creation of a new Home Affairs Department make it hard to follow.

What’s more, everyone has heard of the CIA, for instance, but Australia’s own national security organisations are comparatively unknown. So how is intelligence gathered? What are Australia’s peak national security bodies and how do they interact?

Australia’s national security architecture consists of a number of federal government departments and agencies, with links to state government counterparts. These include the state police forces and counter-terrorism authorities. Those arrangements are in transition, the full details of which are still to unfold.

The major players

The peak national security body in the Commonwealth is the National Security Committee of Cabinet (NSC). It includes the ministers of the principal departments concerned with national security, including the Departments of Defence, Home Affairs, Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Attorney-General, Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Treasury.

Several of the ministers on the NSC oversee a range of national security bodies. These have emerged as a result of trial and error, royal commissions and various reforms over several decades.

For starters, the defence portfolio includes a range of military intelligence units. There are hundreds of uniformed intelligence practitioners across the nation in the navy, air force and army, as well as in the Headquarters Joint Operations Command in Canberra. It also includes three of the nation’s principal intelligence agencies (with a mix of civilian and military intelligence practitioners):

• the Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO), defence’s principal intelligence assessment agency

• the Australian Geospatial Intelligence Organisation (AGO), responsible for satellite and aerial imagery intelligence, maps, nautical charts and related geo-spatial products

• the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), responsible for the collection and processing of signals intelligence (essentially, eavesdropping on radio and electronic transmissions).

ASD’s motto, “to reveal their secrets and protect our own”, captures the essence of its functions, which have been the subject of recent controversy after leaked documents proposed giving the ASD domestic surveillance powers.

The antecedents of these defence agencies date back to the intelligence organisations established, alongside their American and British counterparts, during the second world war. The ties to that era have endured in the so-called “Five Eyes” intelligence arrangement.

Initially focused on signals intelligence (the principal remit of ASD), Five Eyes is a trusted network between the US, Britain, Australia and the two other predominantly English-speaking allies from that era, Canada and New Zealand.

The title was a derivative of the stamp used to restrict the dissemination of sensitive intelligence to a particular classification: “SECRET – AUS/CAN/NZ/UK/US EYES ONLY” – hence Five Eyes.

Nowadays, the network extends beyond signals intelligence and defence circles to include a broader range of departments, including the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

DFAT is Australia’s principal agency tasked with “promoting and protecting our interests internationally and contributing to global stability and economic growth”. As part of that role, it is responsible for diplomatic reporting. Much of the information Australia gathers from counterpart governments abroad is collected openly, but discreetly, by Australia’s diplomats.

In addition, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) is in the foreign minister’s portfolio. Established in 1952 and tasked with the collection overseas of secret intelligence, the ASIS mission is listed as being “to protect and promote Australia’s vital interests through the provision of unique foreign intelligence services as directed by the Australian Government”. This is otherwise known as human intelligence collection or, in traditional terms, foreign espionage.

Countering foreign espionage (particularly from Soviet, later Russian and other countries operating in Australia) is the remit of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). Established in 1949, ASIO has been part of the attorney-general’s portfolio until now.

Today, ASIO’s purpose is described as being to “counter terrorism and the promotion of communal violence”, “counter serious threats to Australia’s border integrity”, “provide protective security advice to government and business” and “counter espionage, foreign interference and malicious insiders”.

The Office of National Assessments (ONA) is Australia’s peak intelligence assessment agency. It was established in 1977, after the Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security commissioned by then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and chaired by Justice Robert Marsden Hope.

ONA was established to help coordinate priorities across related intelligence agencies. Today, it is charged with assessing and analysing international political, strategic and economic developments for the prime minister and senior ministers. ONA draws on the intelligence collected by the other intelligence agencies, as well as unclassified, or “open source”, intelligence and material provided by international partners.

The agencies mentioned so far – ONA, ASIO, ASIS, AGO, ASD and DIO – form what has come to be known as the Australian Intelligence Community (AIC). The AIC emerged from the reforms initiated by Justice Hope in the 1970s and 1980s, notably following the 1977 commission and the 1985 Royal Commission on Australia’s Security and Intelligence Agencies. The combined effect of these commissions was that ONA was tasked with coordinating intelligence priorities along with the other agencies.

The tangled web of the Australian Intelligence Community.
Office of National Assessments

A greater level of scrutiny

Another mechanism that emerged during this period was the office of the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS), currently held by former Federal Court judge Margaret Stone. Established in 1987 with the enduring power of a royal commissioner, the IGIS has extraordinary powers to inspect and review the operations of AIC agencies.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) exists to provide a level of parliamentary oversight, complementing the work of the IGIS. It conducts inquiries into matters referred by the Senate, the House of Representatives or a minister of the Commonwealth government.

The Intelligence Services Act 2001 saw legislation more closely account for the functions that AIC members were expected to perform and the Inspector General monitors. In addition, an Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM) was established.

The 2017 Independent Intelligence Review was the third such review since 2001. As part of the review, ONA is to become the Office of National Intelligence (ONI), exercising oversight of the expanded National Intelligence Community (NIC). This covers the initial six AIC members and four additional ones described below.

In addition, ASD is being established as a statutory body (still under the defence minister, but administered separately from the rest of the Defence Department) alongside other principal agencies ASIO and ASIS.

An expanded community with ambiguous oversight

The ONI is now tasked with overseeing implementation of recommendations arising from the 2017 review. This includes managing the four-body expansion to the ten-agency NIC.

These four bodies have played an increasingly prominent national security role since 2001. They are:

• the Australian Federal Police (AFP), with a remit for criminal intelligence and counter-terrorism

• the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), Australia’s specialist financial intelligence unit

• the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), responsible for “investigative, research and information delivery services work with law enforcement partners”.

• the Australian Border Force (ABF), described as Australia’s customs service and an “operationally independent” agency in the Home Affairs portfolio.

These agencies work in conjunction with other AIC agencies as well as state police and security counterparts.

The 2017 independent review was announced at the same time the new Home Affairs Department was made public. These four bodies are among the agencies transitioning to the Home Affairs portfolio. This has complicated arrangements for implementing the review recommendations and left considerable ambiguity concerning overlap of changed arrangements.

The INSLM certainly has a significant task as well and the PJCIS will be growing in staff to meet the expanded set of responsibilities outlined by the 2017 review as our intelligence community grows from six to ten agencies.

The ConversationImplementing the 2017 review recommendations alone presents a significant challenge. The creation of Home Affairs on top of this adds to the complexity at a time of growing security challenges.

John Blaxland, Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

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

Trust is the second casualty in the war on terror



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The challenge for legislators, courts and the wider community is to ensure any interference with privacy is minimal, rather than merely lawful.
Shutterstock

Bruce Baer Arnold, University of Canberra

This article is the second in a five-part series exploring Australian national security in the digital age. Read part one here.


Contrary to doomsaying by pundits or empire-building by politicians and the surveillance-industrial complex, the so-called War on Terror doesn’t mean we should – or must – kiss goodbye to our privacy.

It also doesn’t mean we can forget the accountability of governments, officials and service providers. Nor does it mean we should abdicate responsibility for our own actions.

In thinking about terror and other aspects of national security, we need to consider how increased citizen surveillance affects our trust in government institutions and their private sector proxies.

Respect for privacy – essentially freedom from inappropriate interference – is what differentiates liberal democratic states from totalitarian states and terrorist groups. That respect is a fundamental value. It requires trust by ordinary people and officials alike that government and their proxies will abide by the law, remain accountable and not mistake what is expedient for what is necessary.

That trust has been eroded in recent years by the national security philosophy endorsed by both Labor and the Coalition.

The view from the bunker

National security policymakers and operatives, along with many privacy analysts, have a bleak view of the world. We recognise that Australia spies on friendly and unfriendly countries alike. They spy on us. That’s a function of being a state. Non-state groups also seek to harm or gain advantages – that’s not new.

The challenge for legislators, courts and the wider community is to look outside that bunker and ensure any interference with privacy is minimal, rather than merely lawful. At the moment, we are not doing well. It is unsurprising that law-abiding people are emulating Malcolm Turnbull by embracing privacy tools such as Wickr and Snapchat.

Lawmaking in Australia over the past two decades has involved a step by step erosion of privacy. The scale of that erosion has not been acknowledged by bodies such as the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), which consistently fails to rebuke bureaucratic opportunism.




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The former Victorian Privacy Commissioner notably stood up to the premier and officials in his state, which is what we would expect from a privacy watchdog. Sadly, his willingness to speak truth to power was exceptional.

Protection against invasions of privacy has been progressively weakened in the name of “national security”. This can be seen in the removal of restrictions on the sharing of information by agencies, pervasive biometrics such as the government’s new facial recognition system and mandatory retention of telecommunications metadata. We see the militarised Home Affairs Department seeking to co-opt ASD – our most important spy agency – for warrantless access to the electronic communications of every Australian, rather than just ‘hostiles’ overseas.

Ongoing erosion cannot be justified. It has been persistently criticised by conservative bodies such as the Law Council of Australia and civil advocates such as the Australian Privacy Foundation.

Balances, not bullets

Privacy is not contrary to national security. It is a matter of balance, rather than an absolute.

Australian law (like that in the UK) has always allowed data collection, potentially on a mandatory basis – such as the Census. The law has always allowed overt or covert surveillance by officials, such as the undisclosed opening of mail or recording of conversations.

But such invasions must not be arbitrary. They must be restricted to those rare circumstances where disregard of privacy is imperative, rather than merely convenient. They must take place within a framework where there is some independent oversight to prevent abuse. Oversight fosters trust.

Such oversight might, in the first instance, consist of the requirement for a warrant, given our trust that courts will not rubber-stamp official abuses. It might involve systemic oversight by specialist bodies such as the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM).

Asking the right questions

Australia does not have a discrete Bill of Rights under the national Constitution, although there have been cogent proposals from experts such as Bede Harris.

Privacy law is incoherent, with significant variation across states, territories and Commonwealth, and major holes in data privacy. Some states do not have a discrete Privacy Act, an absence that would be understandable in 1850, but is disquieting in 2018.

As a society, we expect officials will always do the right thing. Trust is fostered by laws that are necessary, transparent and properly implemented (for example, through the independent oversight noted above).

In thinking about these social objectives – more than just “winning” a conflict that may last across generations – we need to ask some hard questions about public and private responsibility.




Read more:
How the law allows governments to publish your private information


The first question we must ask, as citizens, is whether privacy – and law – is something that should always be sacrificed when there is a perceived threat to national security. We should acknowledge that not all threats are equally serious. We need informed public discussion about the need for and appropriateness of governments restricting use of private encryption tools and requiring that service providers offer law enforcement officials secret back doors into private communications.

Another question is whether officials should access private communications simply by asking service providers, without the discipline provided by a warrant. Can we tell if there have been abuses of our privacy? Watchdogs such as the OAIC and the INSLM need stronger protection from political pressure) and more resources, on the basis that an underfed and frightened watchdog is ineffective.

What’s more, we need to question to what extent we should trust governments and officials that are hostile to public disclosure. This hostility is exemplified by the Commonwealth Public Service Commissioner’s characterisation of FOI as “very pernicious” and the two years the OAIC spent in budgetary limbo, following efforts by the Abbott government to shut it down.

The ConversationThere are times when it is in everyone’s interests not to share secrets. That isn’t always the case, and we must ensure our governments, which exist to serve us, are accountable.

Bruce Baer Arnold, Assistant Professor, School of Law, University of Canberra

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

Malaysians celebrate the return of Mahathir and hope for a brighter future



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Mahathir Mohamad has said many times that he will hand over power to former enemy Anwar Ibrahim, if the latter can secure a royal pardon.
AAP/CrowdSpark/Aizat Ady Ikram Abdull Ropha

James Chin, University of Tasmania

When Malaysians woke up on May 10, the world looked and felt different. For the first time in years, many Malaysians feel a sense of optimism that was missing in their lives. For the past six decades, Malaysians have been living under the rule of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

UMNO had won every election since 1955. In the May 9 general elections, Najib Razak, UMNO’s leader and prime minister, was not only confident, he was telling close aides that he was aiming for two-thirds of the seats in the 222-seat parliament. By the time the final vote was counted, UMNO had only 79 seats and lost power.




Read more:
Mahathir Mohamad crops up again in bid to lead Malaysia – with Anwar on the same side


What happened? This will be the question preoccupying political scientists for years to come.

Suffice to say, Najib lost due to three main reasons.

First, his personal brand had become synonymous with kleptocracy. He was alleged to have received close to US$1 billion from a Malaysian sovereign fund via complex international transactions. It did not help that Najib’s wife, Rosman Mansor, was widely regarded as a spendthrift with a passion for diamonds and designer bags.

Second, Dr Mahathir Mohamad was no ordinary opponent. Mahathir was Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister, from 1981 to 2003, and had come out of retirement to fight Najib.

Third, and perhaps most important, UMNO was simply seen as an organisation for political patronage, and a purveyor of racism and crony capitalism. It was no longer seen as a Malay nationalist party. In the past few decades, UMNO has been regarded as vehicle for making big money, government corruption and spreading hate towards the Chinese community in Malaysia.

The rural Malays, the mainstay of UMNO political power, could not stomach Najib’s toxic reputation as “Mr Kleptocrat”. They could see that under continued UMNO rule, their lives would be economically ruined. The GST brought in by the Najib administration was the last straw. Prices of basic necessities went up across the board despite Najib’s insistence that the GST would bring down prices.

There is tremendous goodwill towards Mahathir. Yes, he was dictatorial when he was prime minister the first time around. But most Malaysians I spoke to say this time it will be different. Mahathir is 92, and it is obvious he is a transitional leader.

He has said many times that once his jailed former deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, can get a royal pardon and a seat in parliament, he will hand over power to Anwar. Many Malaysians believe he will keep his word: after all, he cannot be going for re-election when he is 98.

Mahathir will also be constrained by the opposition’s organisational structure. His party, Pribumi Bersatu, has the third-smallest number of MPs of the four parties in Pakatan Harapan (PH) (Alliance of Hope). He is not in a position to bully.

Finally, what will happen to Najib Razak? Will he go to jail for 1MDB and the missing billions? In the short term, the answer is “no”. The new government will not immediately arrest Najib, or his wife. It will instead likely establish a committee to look into the 1MDB affair and get a definitive answer as to where the US$5billion disappeared to.




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If the investigation panel shows Najib is behind the scam, then, yes, Najib will probably end up in jail. But this is a long process. It is more likely that any prosecution against Najib will start outside Malaysia.

Several governments, notably the US, are interested in sorting out the 1MBD issue. Thus far they could not complete their investigations because Najib used his position to stop Malaysian institutions from cooperating with the US Department of Justice probe into 1MDB.

The ConversationThere is a potential new angle to 1MDB, which is related to Australia. The bank account Najib used to launder 1MDB’s money is actually part-owned by ANZ Australia. Many believe some of the money from 1MDB passed through the Australian financial system.

James Chin, Director, Asia Institute Tasmania, University of Tasmania

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