The 5-prong plan for a budget that will set us up for the future


Steven Hamilton, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University; Daniel D’Hotman, University of Oxford, and Josh Steinert, UCL

For three decades, Australia’s economic story has been marked by abundance and wealth. Much of it has flowed from minerals, and a good deal more from earlier economic reforms.

COVID-19 has exposed how unprepared we are for a new uncertain reality.

Next week’s budget most certainly does have to address the recession we are in. But it also has to get us in shape for what’s ahead.

Property and resources booms have masked structural weaknesses.

Even before this crisis, our productivity growth had begun to lag other nations – and this was in the midst of a widespread productivity slowdown among advanced nations, dubbed “secular stagnation” by former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.

Australia is ranked 22nd by Cornell University’s Global Innovation Index, 16th in competitiveness by the World Economic Forum, and outside the top 20 on multiple indicators of industry and business collaboration.

Performing better won’t happen by itself.

The Budget Blueprint we released this week suggests a five-prong plan.

1. Continued financial support

We need to set aside any usual concerns about public debt for the good of the nation. Providing too little support or withdrawing it too quickly would threaten our fledgling recovery. But we should prioritise support that has the best bang for buck, avoids perverse incentives, and adapts to changing circumstances.

We are suggesting

  • Bringing forward planned personal tax cuts

  • Revenue-contingent loans for small and medium businesses.

  • Immediate capital expensing and hiring incentives for small and medium businesses

  • Investment in projects high on Infrastructure Australia’s priority list

  • Household cash stimulus payments of A$1,000 per adult earning less than $100,000 plus $500 for each dependent, and a further $750 for government payment recipients

(The stimulus payments would hardly be a first. The Rudd government handed out two cash payments during the global financial crisis. The Morrison government handed $750 to pensioners, Newstart recipients, family tax beneficiaries, and other social security recipients early in the coronavirus crisis.)

2. Medium-term fiscal discipline

A ratcheting up of government debt over time poses big risks. Our existing fiscal and tax settings are ill-equipped to repay a net debt approaching A$1 trillion.

We suggest

  • Accounting separately in the budget papers for the cyclical and structural deficits

  • Credibly committing to drawing down net debt faster than through bracket creep alone

  • Increasing the cap on tax receipts from its current level of 23.9% of GDP

  • Committing to overhauling our tax and transfer system

3. Compassionate social initiatives

During the crisis we have taken welcome steps to protect vulnerable Australians, but we need to do more. Societies are judged by how they treat their most vulnerable.

We suggest

  • Targeted interventions and retraining to address the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women and young people in the workforce

  • Additional funding for support services and strengthen legal protections to combat domestic violence

  • Permanent Medicare funding for bulk-billed telehealth services (psychologists, psychiatrists, and GPs) for those at risk of mental illness and suicide

  • Boosting funding for social housing to reduce the impact of homelessness and housing insecurity while supporting economic activity

4. Clean, cheap and reliable energy

Many governments have leveraged COVID-19 stimulus to invest in clean energy. With excellent renewable resources and a strong clean-technology sector, Australia can play a key role in accelerating the transition to a low-carbon world.

We suggest

  • Increasing funding to the Clean Energy Financing Corporation’s Innovation Fund and decrease its required rate of return

  • Creating a “Grid Expansion Fund” to publicly finance critical electricity transmission projects

  • Recasting the regulatory investment test for transmission infrastructure to include carbon emissions

  • Conducting rigorous cost-benefit analyses of investment options in the technologies other nations are investing in during the crisis such as green hydrogen and steel

5. Setting things up for the next boom

The record-high debt incurred in World War II was followed by rapid growth that helped us pay it down. Getting us on a similar path today will require an industry policy that supports dynamism.

We suggest

  • Redesigning JobSeeker, offering more generous support in a smarter way to encourage better matches of workers to firms discourage over-reliance on welfare

  • Reforming and better funding the higher-education sector to promote competition and better prepare workers for the jobs of the future

  • Committing to supporting research, development, and deployment in science, technology, engineering, and related fields to drive innovation and productivity

  • Improving access to capital for young and fast-growing firms, learning from successful international efforts such as the Israel Innovation Fund

Nothing focuses the mind like a crisis.

We think that with the right policy settings it is possible to get out of the slump we are in while creating the conditions that will ignite the next boom.




Read more:
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Even better, we think it can be done while assisting the vulnerable and refashioning our energy system.

It’s a tall but important order. We are hoping for some first steps in the first pandemic budget on Tuesday night.The Conversation

Steven Hamilton, Visiting Fellow, Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University; Daniel D’Hotman, DPhil Candidate, University of Oxford, and Josh Steinert, , UCL

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

The Thousand Talents Plan is part of China’s long quest to become the global scientific leader


James Jin Kang, Edith Cowan University

The Thousand Talents Plan is a Chinese government program to attract scientists and engineers from overseas. Since the plan began in 2008, it has recruited thousands of researchers from countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Singapore, Canada, Japan, France and Australia.

While many countries try to lure top international research talent, the US, Canada and others have raised concerns that the Thousand Talents Plan may facilitate espionage and theft of intellectual property.

Why are we hearing about it now?

China has long been suspected of engaging in hacking and intellectual property theft. In the early 2000s, Chinese hackers were involved in the downfall of the Canadian telecommunications corporation Nortel, which some have linked to the rise of Huawei.

These efforts have attracted greater scrutiny as Western powers grow concerned about China’s increasing global influence and foreign policy projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative.

Last year, a US Senate committee declared the plan a threat to American interests. Earlier this year, Harvard nanotechnology expert Charles Lieber was arrested for lying about his links to the program.

In Australia, foreign policy think tank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute recently published a detailed report on Australian involvement in the plan. After media coverage of the plan, the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security is set to launch an inquiry into foreign interference in universities.




Read more:
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What is the Thousand Talents Plan?

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) developed the Thousand Talents Plan to lure top scientific talent, with the goal of making China the world’s leader in science and technology by 2050. The CCP uses the plan to obtain technologies and expertise, and arguably, Intellectual Properties from overseas by illegal or non-transparent means to build their power by leveraging those technologies with minimal costs.

According to a US Senate committee report, the Thousand Talents Plan is one of more than 200 CCP talent recruitment programs. These programs drew in almost 60,000 professionals between 2008 and 2016.

China’s technology development and intellectual property portfolio has skyrocketed since the launch of the plan in 2008. Last year China overtook the US for the first time in filing the most international patents.

What are the issues?

The plan offers scientists funding and support to commercialise their research, and in return the Chinese government gains access to their technologies.

In 2019, a US Senate committee declared the plan a threat to American interests. It claimed one participating researcher stole information about US military jet engines, and more broadly that China uses American research and expertise for its own economic and military gain.




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Dozens of Australian and US employees of universities and government are believed to have participated in the plan without having declared their involvement. In May, ASIO issued all Australian universities a warning about Chinese government recruitment activities.

On top of intellectual property issues, there are serious human rights concerns. Technologies transferred to China under the program have been used in the oppression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and in society-wide facial recognition and other forms of surveillance.

A global network

The Chinese government has established more than 600 recruitment stations globally. This includes 146 in the US, 57 each in Germany and Australia, and more than 40 each in the UK, Canada, Japan and France.

Recruitment agencies contracted by the CCP are paid A$30,000 annually plus incentives for each successful recruitment.

They deal with individual researchers rather than institutions as it is easier to monitor them. Participants do not have to leave their current jobs to be involved in the plan.




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This can raise conflicts of interest. In the US alone, 54 scientists have lost their jobs for failing to disclose this external funding, and more than 20 have been charged on espionage and fraud allegations.

In Australia, our education sector relies significantly on the export of education to Chinese students. Chinese nationals may be employed in various sectors including research institutions.

These nationals are targets for Thousand Talents Plan recruitment agents. Our government may not know what’s going on unless participants disclose information about their external employment or grants funded by the plan.

The case of Koala AI

Heng Tao Shen was recruited by the Thousand Talents Plan in 2014 while a professor at the University of Queensland. He became head of the School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China and founded a company called Koala AI.

Members of Koala AI’s research team reportedly now include Thousand Talents Plan scholars at the University of NSW, University of Melbourne and the National University of Singapore. The plan allows participants to stay at their overseas base as long as they work in China for a few months of the year.

The company’s surveillance technology was used by authorities in Xinjiang, raising human rights issues. Shen, who relocated to China in 2017 but was as an honorary professor at the University of Queensland until September 2019, reportedly failed to disclose this information to his Australian university, going against university policy.

What should be done?

Most participants in the plan are not illegally engaged and have not breached the rules of their governments or institutions. With greater transparency and stricter adherence to the rules of foreign states and institutions, the plan could benefit both China and other nations.

Governments, universities and research institutions, and security agencies all have a role to play here.

The government can build partnership with other parties to monitor the CCP’s talent recruitment activities and increase transparency on funding in universities. Investigations of illegal behaviour related to the talent recruitment activity can be conducted by security agencies. Research institutes can tighten the integrity of grant recipients by disclosing any participation in the talent recruitment plans.




Read more:
China and AI: what the world can learn and what it should be wary of


More resources should be invested towards compliance and enforcement in foreign funding processes, so that researchers understand involvement in the Thousand Talents Plan may carry national security risks.

Following US government scrutiny in 2018, Chinese government websites deleted online references to the plan and some Chinese universities stopped promoting it. The plan’s website also removed the names of participating scientists.

This shows a joint effort can influence the CCP and their recruitment stations to be more cautious in approaching candidates, and reduce the impact of this plan on local and domestic affairs.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Heng Tao Shen ceased to be an honorary professor at University of Queensland in September 2019.The Conversation

James Jin Kang, Lecturer, Computing and Security, Edith Cowan University

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

Government triggers emergency plan for COVID-19 pandemic, and considers economic assistance


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The federal government has activated its emergency response plan to deal with a spread of the coronavirus locally, in anticipation of it becoming a “pandemic”.

It is also considering limited assistance for those hardest hit by the economic fallout.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a news conference late Thursday Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Treasury was working on possible measures to give some relief.

Morrison stressed any measures would be “targeted, modest and scalable” – that is, able to be built on if necessary.

“This is a health crisis, not a financial crisis, but it is a health crisis with very significant economic implications,” he said.

“We’re aware, particularly in the export industry, in the marine sector, there are particular issues there especially in North Queensland, but these problems are presenting in many other places,” he said.

The tourism and education sectors are being heavily affected as the crisis worsens. But the government has stressed universities have good liquidity to deal with the situation.

The travel ban on arrivals from China has been extended for at least another week. There will be no carve out for the tens of thousands of university students unable to reach Australia.

Treasury has not yet finalised an estimate of the economic impact of COVID-19.

Cabinet’s national security committee met for three hours on Thursday to discuss the latest information on the virus and what should be done now.

“What has occurred, in particular, in the last 24 hours or so as the data has come in is that the rate of transmission of the virus outside of China is fundamentally changing the way we need to now look at how this issue is being managed here in Australia,” Morrison said.

Stressing Australia had been ahead of the World Health Organisation in its previous response, he said “based on the expert medical advice we’ve received, there is every indication that the world will soon enter a pandemic phase of the coronavirus”.

“So while the WHO is yet to declare … it’s moved towards a pandemic phase, we believe that the risk of a global pandemic is very much upon us and as a result, as a government, we need to take the steps necessary to prepare for such a pandemic.”

The actions were “being taken in an abundance of caution,” Morrison said.

Health ministers will meet on Friday to discuss the emergency planning, to respond to a future situation where there is sustained transmission in Australia – in contrast to the present containment to a handful of cases. As the virus spreads internationally, the chances increase of a major spread in Australia.

The emergency plan covers special wards in hospitals, and ensuring key health workers have access to adequate protective equipment from the medical stockpile.

It includes provision for aged care facilities to be put into lock down if necessary.

There would also be contingency alternative staffing for key facilities if staff got the disease.

On another front, Border Force would if necessary extend screening to passengers arriving from multiple countries.

Morrison said consideration was being given to how school children would be protected.

The Prime Minister emphasised there was no cause to consider cancelling events or for people not to be out and about.

“You can still go to the football, you can still go to the cricket, you can still go and play with your friends down the street, you can go off to the concert, and you can go out for a Chinese meal.

“But to stay ahead of it, we need to now elevate our response to this next phase,” he said.

“There are some challenging months ahead and the government will continue to work closely based on the best possible medical advice to keep Australians safe.”

So far, Australia had had 15 cases who had come from Wuhan and all 15 had now been cleared, he said. Eight other cases had come from the Diamond Princess. There had been no community transmission in Australia.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Scott Morrison’s gas transition plan is a dangerous road to nowhere



Flickr

Tim Baxter, University of Melbourne

As Australia continues to battle horrific bushfires, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a renewed focus on gas-fired electricity to reduce emissions and lower energy prices. This is a dangerous and completely unnecessary route.

In a speech to the National Press Club last week, Morrison claimed:

There is no credible energy transition plan, for an economy like Australia in particular, that does not involve the greater use of gas as an important transition fuel.

This statement is completely untrue, even among the “official” transition plans.

The Australian Energy Market Operator’s draft Integrated System Plan, used to plan future infrastructure needs in Australia’s largest grid, contains multiple scenarios for the coming decades. Several of these, including the “central” scenario – representing entirely neutral assumptions about the future – see no substantial increase in gas consumption over the coming decades.

But with Morrison now pursuing bilateral agreements with the states to open up more gas reserves, it is vitally important to interrogate the logic of gas as a transition fuel.

The strong case against gas

Gas is, of course, a fossil fuel and a source of greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions occur during extraction and transport as well as when it is burned to produce energy.

Nonetheless, since the 1990s it has been touted as a “transition fuel” – that is as a resource that might be drawn upon temporarily while the world switches from coal-fired power to renewables.

Proponents say gas is less emissions-intensive than coal and as such, offers a better fossil fuel alternative as renewables are constructed and energy-efficiency improvements are implemented. (This benefit is overstated: more on this later.)




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But in the 30-odd years since gas was first talked up as a transition fuel, humans have added more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than they did in all of human history before that point. We are twice as far from stable global temperatures now as we were when the the concept of a transition fuel was born, and emissions are accelerating in the wrong direction.

Last year a consortium of major international organisations including the United Nations Environment Programme released a landmark report which showed planned global production of coal, oil and gas would see the world far exceed the Paris Agreement targets. There is no room for further expansion.

Australia: a vulnerable nation

2019 was the hottest and driest year ever recorded. We reeled from crippling drought and fires worse than our most terrifying nightmares. Then came the suffocating air pollution.

The Bureau of Meteorology explicitly linked this fire season to climate change.

The world has warmed by 1.1℃ since the industrial revolution due to the burning of coal, oil and gas. Current fossil fuel developments are enough to double that temperature increase.

Australia has among the world’s highest greenhouse gas emissions per person, despite also being among the most vulnerable to climate change.

Alongside this, Australia has long been the world’s largest coal exporter and last year took the crown as the largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.

Scott Morrison’s plan for a gas transition is a dangerous route.
AAP

Overstated benefits

It is true that gas, if produced and consumed in Australia without being liquefied, is 30-50% more carbon-efficient than coal at the point it is burned to produce electricity. But this benefit is substantially eroded by the emissions created when gas is vented or flared during the exploration, extraction, transport and distribution processes.




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Gas is mostly composed of methane, the most significant climate-warming agent after carbon dioxide. Methane survives for a shorter period in the atmosphere, but over 20 years has 86 times the planet-warming potential of carbon dioxide.

In 2019, the venting and flaring of methane accounted for 6% of Australia’s emissions – and this is likely a significant underestimate. These so-called “fugitive emissions” massively detract from the purported climate benefits of a gas transition.

Renewable energy is waiting to provide the decarbonisation Australia needs.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Running out of time

It is worth remembering that to make the gas projects viable, developers expect their projects to last for several decades at least. Gas can only be a “transition fuel” if there is a clear path out the other side to net-zero emissions. Locking in gas projects for decades makes that path impossible.

Where gas does provide a small benefit, this lock-in means it cannot be enough to secure globally-agreed temperature goals.




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A separate United Nations Environment Programme report last year considered how the world might limit global warming to globally agreed temperature goals – 1.5℃ or 2℃ above pre-industrial temperatures. Both of these targets will result in a climate notably less secure than that which drove Australia’s past year of extreme weather.

To meet the 1.5℃ target, emissions from all sources must fall by 7.6% per year between now and 2030, and keep decreasing after that.

Even 2℃ of global warming – a catastrophic temperature increase by any measure – would require annual emissions reduction of 2.7% per year. This is well beyond what can be accomplished with a long, slow detour through gas.

Over and above all this, is the simple point that increasing gas supply will not reduce prices anyway. Since 2016, the spike in energy prices in Australia has occurred because of the increase in gas supply. Nothing Morrison has proposed so far is capable of counteracting the perverse dynamic which brought that about.

It is entirely unnecessary for the federal government to continue down the gas route. The renewable energy sector is waiting in the wings to deliver massive emissions reduction and lower prices.

But in the sunniest and windiest inhabited continent on the planet, investment confidence in the renewables sector is collapsing on Morrison’s watch.The Conversation

Tim Baxter, Fellow – Melbourne Law School; Senior Researcher – Climate Council; Associate – Australian-German Climate and Energy College, University of Melbourne

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

Australia needs a national crisis plan, and not just for bushfires



Bushfires aren’t the only catastrophic emergency Australia is likely to see.
AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

Andrew Gissing, Macquarie University and Michael Eburn, Australian National University

Calls are growing for a national bushfire plan, including from former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who says they are an issue of national security and the federal government must provide hands-on leadership.

It’s true that more people are living in high-risk bushfire areas, emergency services are stretched and the climate is rapidly changing. Future crises are inevitable. We must consider the prospect of a monstrous bushfire season, the likes of which we’ve never seen.

But bushfires aren’t the only catastrophe Australia must prepare for. If we are to create a national crisis plan, we must go much further than bushfire planning.




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Not just bushfires

In the decade since Victoria’s Black Saturday fires, we have improved fire predictions, night-time aerial firefighting, construction codes and emergency warnings. All of these have no doubt saved many lives.




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There are calls for more resources to fight fires, as part of a coordinated national plan. But few people have proposed an all-encompassing vision of such a plan.

For a start, it should not be confined solely to bushfires. Far more people die during heatwaves and residential housefires. Tropical cyclones, floods and hail each cost our economy more.

Any plan must provide a strategic vision across these various facets for at least the next ten to 20 years.

A national firefighting force?

Calls for a national firefighting force to supplement existing state resources are fundamentally short-sighted. A national force – quite apart from the level of duplication it would create – would spend much of its time idle.

Even during severe fires, such as those now raging, there would be limits to its usefulness. At a certain point, the size and energy of the fires means no amount of firefighting technology will extinguish them all.

Research conducted by Risk Frontiers, the Australian National University and Macquarie University through the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre, has focused on better planning and preparedness for catastrophic events.

This research concludes it is unrealistic to resource the emergency management sector for rare but truly catastrophic events. It is wildly expensive to remain 100% prepared for the worst-case scenario.

Instead of simply scaling up existing arrangements, we need to think differently.

Bush firefighting could be improved by innovation and research. Future investments must focus on rapidly detecting and extinguishing ignitions before they spread out of control.

Everyone is responsible

States and territories are traditionally responsible for emergency management in Australia. But almost by definition, a catastrophic disaster exceeds one’s capacity to cope – inevitably drawing on nationwide resources.

This means preparing for catastrophic disasters is everyone’s responsibility.

Existing plans allow for assistance across state borders, and between state and federal governments. But there is no national emergency legislation defining the Commonwealth’s role, or assigning responsibility for responding to a truly national disaster.

The Australian Defence Force has a well-defined support role in natural disasters, but should not be relied on due to its global commitments.

However, resource-sharing between states could benefit from more investment in programs that enable emergency services to work better together.

International help in massive emergencies also needs better planning, particularly around timing and integration with local agencies.

Non-government organisations, businesses and communities already make valuable contributions, but could play a more central role. We could look to the US, which successfully uses a whole-of-community approach.

This might mean emergency services help community organisation provide aid or carry out rescues, rather than do it themselves. These organisations are also best placed to make sure vulnerable members of the community are cared for.




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The most important task is to reduce the risk in the first place. The vast majority of disaster-related spending goes on recovery rather than risk reduction. Calls from the Productivity Commission and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) for more disaster mitigation funding have been largely ignored.

The federal government’s recent National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework highlights the need to identify highest-priority disaster risks and mitigation opportunities.

This would see priority investments in flood mitigation and strengthening of buildings against cyclones in northern Australia. (This will also help address insurance affordability.)

Land-use planning needs to be improved to reduce the chance that future developments are exposed to unreasonable risks.

Infrastructure must be constructed to the highest standards and, following a disaster, destroyed buildings should be rebuilt away from dangerous areas.

Finally, communities have the most critical role. We must understand our local risk and be ready to look after ourselves and each other. Governments at all levels must facilitate this spirit of self-reliance. Local leadership is crucial to any crisis plan and communities need to be involved in its construction.

Eastern Australia’s bushfire crisis has triggered emotional arguments for throwing resources at the problem. But planning must be careful and evidenced-based, taking into account the changing face of natural disasters.




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The Conversation


Andrew Gissing, General Manager, Risk Frontiers, Adjunct Fellow, Macquarie University and Michael Eburn, Associate Professor in Law, Australian National University

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

You can’t boost Australia’s north to 5 million people without a proper plan



Could Darwin one day be home to more than a million people?
Geoff Whalan/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Julian Bolleter, University of Western Australia

Any moves to greatly increase the population of northern Australian by 2060 could have a devastating impact on the local environment without long-term careful planning by all tiers of government.

That’s the finding of research that looked at several scenarios to increase the population of the north to 5 million people.

That’s an extra 3.7 million people, or an almost four-fold increase in the current population of northern Australia.




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But, given the potential impact of climate change on northern Australia, we could see population movement the other way as people in the north head south.

Northern exposure

The region of Australia above the Tropic of Capricorn covers an area of 3,500,000km² – about 45% of Australia’s landmass – yet it houses only 5% of its population.

Proponents of development envisage extreme population growth because of the region’s growing geopolitical importance.

Northern Australia has already been identified as a “gateway to Asia”.

It’s also described as the largest intact “savanna remaining on Earth […] with a rich biodiversity of international significance”.

Current federal government planning for northern Australia is in the Our North, Our Future white paper, released in 2015.

The report adopts a pro-development stance, seeing the north as a place of economic bounty and opportunity.

While it is mute on issues of settlement patterns, there are statements that allude to the government’s support for significant urbanisation:

We need to lay the foundations for rapid population growth and put the north on a trajectory to reach a population of four to five million by 2060.

The white paper also refers to “the development of major population centres of more than a million people”. Such cities would be around six times the size of the current largest northern city of Townsville, population about 180,000.

Three plans for growth

Given the existing city planning documents do not countenance the scale of population growth projected in the white paper, we developed three scenarios for how the federal government could distribute this northern Australian population of 5 million by 2060.

Scenario 1: Growth

Scenario 1: Growth.
Julian Bolleter, Author provided

Economic and lifestyle factors concentrate the increased population in the four dominant northern cities of Darwin, Cairns, Townsville and Mackay. Each would have populations of more than a million by 2060.

Scenario 2: Decentralised Growth

Scenario 2: Decentralised Growth.
Julian Bolleter, Author provided

The populations of Port Hedland, Broome, Kununurra, Darwin, Cairns, Bowen, Townsville and McKay will each increase by 462,000 people.

Scenario 3: Concentrated Growth

Scenario 3: Concentrated Growth.
Julian Bolleter, Author provided

Economic opportunities see northern Australia’s growing population concentrated in Darwin, which would grow by 1.5 million people by 2060.




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This figure is in line with the Australian government’s vision of northern cities with “more than a million people”.

The fate of the north

Irrespective of the scenario, our findings show population growth will not be good for the local environment without any overarching long-term planning frameworks to steer urbanisation.

This is particularly the case for scenarios 1 and 3 where the required increase in urban area either outstrips, or is only just commensurate with, the availability of cleared land adjacent to Darwin, Cairns and Townsville.

As such, population growth at the scale proposed by the white paper could result in substantial destruction, degradation and fragmentation of peri-urban ecosystems – where urban meets rural – by urban development and expanding road networks.

Scenario 1: Growth for Darwin.
Julian Bolleter, Author provided

In Darwin’s case, in Scenario 1 the additional 925km² of urbanisation required would sprawl south of the city in a corridor to as far as Humpty Doo (1) and down to Acacia Hills (2).

Scenario 1: Growth for Townsville.
Julian Bolleter, Author provided

In Townsville, in Scenario 1 for growth, the additional 925km² of urbanisation would result in sprawling along the coast and around the existing centres of Giru (1) and Woodstock (2), and around Mount Surround (3).

While Townsville has 957km² of cleared land and theoretically could just accommodate this growth, it is likely to cause extensive damage to the local environment through land degradation and fragmentation by urban development.

Scenario 3: Concentrated Growth for Darwin.
Julian Bolleter, Author provided

In Darwin, with Scenario 3 and concentrated growth, the urban expansion required for the city is 1,500km². This would dwarf the city’s 296km² of developable land and result in substantial clearing of remnant vegetation.

Proper planning required

Clearly then, if the scale of population growth envisaged in the white paper occurs without any comprehensive planning, the result will be harmful for the north.

To avoid this fate we need a bipartisan settlement strategy (most closely resembling Scenario 2) to steer the urbanisation of northern Australia.




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Policymakers and planners should develop this strategy based on a comprehensive landscape analysis of northern Australia. If the scale of population growth envisaged in the white paper occurs without such planning, the result will be ruinous for one of the world’s last great wildernesses.

But the federal government should also decide whether a population of 5 million in the north is something we should aspire to at all.

If the worst climate change projections are borne out, we could end up with migration from cities such as Darwin to cities further south, even into the southern states.The Conversation

Julian Bolleter, Deputy Director, Australian Urban Design Research Centre, University of Western Australia

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

Morrison’s $158 billion tax plan set to sail through Senate after deals with crossbenchers


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Morrison government will finish the first week of the new parliament with its election centrepiece – the $158 billion, three-stage tax package – passed into law.

The first stage of the tax relief – in the form of an offset for low- and middle-income earners when people submit their returns – will be available as soon as the Tax Office makes the necessary arrangements over the next few days. Getting the legislation through this week means there is only minimal slippage from the July 1 start date that was promised in the budget.

The numbers fell into place with Tasmanian crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie declaring she would vote for the package. She had negotiated with the government on her demand that it forgive the $157 million social housing debt her state owes the Commonwealth. This would save Tasmania $15 million a year, which Lambie wants used to deal with issues of homelessness and social housing.

Lambie said: “The good will is there and they know that we’ve got housing problems down there.”




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While Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who had said there would be no horse-trading over the package, was publicly coy about the deal, Lambie is confident it will be delivered.

She said some details still had to be sorted out.

What I don’t want to be doing is rushing out saying here’s the money and that’s it. We want to make sure that that money is targeted […] we’re still dealing on good faith. And I look very forward to that over the next four to six weeks.

Cormann told Sky News: “Senator Lambie has been a very forceful advocate.

She has raised issues with us. We are very happy to work through these issues with her. When we are in a position to make further announcements down the track we will.




Read more:
Stages 1 and 2 of the tax cuts should pass. But Stage 3 would return us to the 1950s


The other crossbench votes needed for the package come from independent Cory Bernardi and the two Centre Alliance senators.

Centre Alliance extracted a deal over action on gas prices.

It said in a Thursday statement that it had “worked with the government on both short- and long-term reforms to deal with gas market concerns.”

The government would announce the full package in coming weeks, it said.

It would include

changes to the Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism (ADGSM) to deal with current pricing, market transparency measures, measures to deal with the monopoly nature of East Coast gas pipelines and longer term measures to ensure future gas projects deliver surplus supply to the Australian market.

The gas agreement, canvassed publicly in recent days, has caused some blow-back from the industry.

Faced with the inevitability of the tax package passing, Labor said it would continue to pursue its attempt to split the package and then consider its options.

It is likely not to oppose in the final vote.




Read more:
Lambie’s vote key if government wants to have medevac repealed


Eyes are now on Lambie’s position on the government’s bid to repeal the medevac act. Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton on Thursday introduced legislation for the repeal. Lambie said she was still making up her mind on how she will vote when the legislation arrives in the Senate. She is set to be the crucial vote.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Labor’s childcare plan: parents, children, and educators stand to benefit, but questions remain


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Hundreds of thousands of Australians parents would be in work if childcare was more affordable.
from shutterstock.com

Jen Jackson, Victoria University

Labor’s proposed A$4 billion reform to the childcare subsidy on Sunday confirms that early childhood is a key policy issue this election. This is on top of Labor’s previous announcement of 15 hours of funded preschool for every Australian three-year-old.

The latest announcement will no doubt be welcomed by families balancing the costs of childcare against the benefits of participation in paid work. In 2015, the Productivity Commission estimated around 165,000 Australian parents would like to work more, but were prevented due to poor accessibility or affordability of suitable childcare.




Read more:
Shorten promises $4 billion for child care, benefitting 887,000 families


Under Labor’s proposal, families on incomes up to A$174,000 with children under five would be better off on average by A$26 a week, or A$1,200 a year per child. Most families earning up to A$69,000 would get their childcare free. Currently, they receive a subsidy of 85%. Labor’s proposal would save them up to A$2,100 annually per child.

The current subsidy gradually tapers down as earnings increase. The lowest subsidy available is 20% for the highest-earning families, before it cuts out at A$351,258.
Families on incomes above A$174,000, under Labor’s plan, would continue to receive the same level of support as under current arrangements.

The current subsidy was introduced as part of the Coalition’s major childcare reforms (worth A$3.5 billion) in 2018, which included a means-tested subsidy and removal of annual caps. The reforms benefitted an estimated one million lower-income families – but also left around 280,000 families worse off, including families with neither parent in work.

ANU modelling had predicted that while the reforms would benefit low-income families, the activity test would mean families not working or studying would be at risk of missing out.




Read more:
Childcare funding changes leave disadvantaged children with fewer hours of early education


This is where early childhood policy gets complicated. Policies can be motivated by different goals. The Coalition reforms were aimed at encouraging parental workforce participation. Labor’s proposal for the childcare subsidy seem similarly motivated.

But parents are not the only beneficiaries of childcare subsidies. Quality childcare also benefits children’s learning. Many childcare programs for four-year- olds (and increasingly, three-year-olds), incorporate preschool. For children of all ages, Australian childcare providers must provide a play-based learning program, guided by the national framework.

That’s why childcare and preschool services are all known as early childhood education and care: whenever children are being cared for, they are also learning. Even a nappy change offers opportunities to support children’s learning, as skilled educators use playful, caring interactions to help young children develop skills like communication, trust and well-being.

Educators can also help families recognise these opportunities, so learning continues at home. Children in low-income households often have fewer opportunities to learn, due to factors such as stress and limited resources for investment.

By supporting access to quality early childhood services, governments can help families learn everyday ways to enhance their children’s learning.




Read more:
Both major parties are finally talking about the importance of preschool – here’s why it matters


To maximise benefits for children, all early childhood services need skilled, professional staff. Labor’s promised wage increase of 20% over eight years for early childhood educators addresses an issue that has been in the too-hard basket for too long.

Research has shown many Australian early childhood educators are paid so little they are financially dependent on others in their households — ironically while enabling financial independence for other working women.

Low wages place downward pressure on the quality of early childhood programs. Educators’ qualifications are lowest in low-income communities, where families cannot afford to meet the costs of higher wages. Government subsidies can help to break the link between educators’ wages and families’ ability to pay fees, so the best educators can reach the children who most need them.

Of course, the devil is in the detail when it comes to policy implementation. Labor has not specified how the wage increases will be delivered, instead committing to further consultation with the sector. Big questions remain about how government subsidies – to parents or educators – will be absorbed into a sector with for-profit and not-for-profit providers.

Close monitoring of the impact on childcare costs will be essential. Labor’s plan includes asking the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to investigate “excessive” childcare fees. But can support for families be increased without stimulating an increase in fees? Can educators be supported to earn a fair wage, while keeping prices fair for families?

There is much to be gained by engaging with these questions. When parents are working, the economy benefits. When children are learning, everyone benefits, as the impact of early learning lasts throughout school and beyond. Countries like Sweden and Finland show what may be possible when parents’ and children’s needs are prioritised equally.

We owe it to Australia’s children to keep these issues on the election agenda.The Conversation

Jen Jackson, Education Policy Lead, Mitchell Institute, Victoria University

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

Shorten’s subsidy plan to boost affordable housing



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Labor would work with community housing providers, the residential construction sector and institutional investors.
Flickr, CC BY

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Institutional investors would receive long-term subsidies to build new dwellings – on condition they rented them out below market rates – under an affordable housing program Bill Shorten is announcing on the first day of Labor’s national conference in Adelaide.

A Labor government would offer 15-year subsidies – $8,500 a year – for investors building new homes provided they charged rent at 20% under the market rate.

The program would cost A$102 million over the forward estimates to 2021-22 and A$6.6 billion over the decade to 2028-29. The costing was done by the Parliamentary Budget Office.

In his Sunday announcement, Shorten says that the ALP’s ten-year plan to build 250,000 houses and units would be Australia’s “biggest ever investment in affordable housing”. The plan includes 20,000 dwellings in the first term of a Labor government.

“This is a cost-of-living plan, a jobs plan and a housing plan. It will give working families a fair go to put a roof over their head now – and save for their own home in the future.”

He says these dwellings would be available to renters on “low and moderate incomes”. A family paying the average national rent of $462 a week could save $92 a week.

Labor would work with community housing providers, the residential construction sector and institutional investors.

“Labor’s plan will provide investors with certainty to build – knowing that they will have long-term government support and guarantees beyond the decade.”

Shorten says access to housing is one of the biggest challenges to dealing with intergenerational inequality, as an increasing “wealth gap” locks people out of the housing market.

“Increasing the supply of affordable housing is critical to addressing pressures on disposable income and, in turn, addressing inequality.

“Labor’s plan will deliver affordable, environmentally sustainable housing that helps to reduce energy consumption and cost-of-living pressures on Australian families.”

Shorten says the existing rental scheme – the National Rental Affordability Scheme – has attracted private investment of about A$12.9 billion, delivering 37,000 dwellings in a decade.

“Despite this success, the Liberals have abandoned affordable housing and axed the subsidies that encourage affordable housing. There is a severe shortage of affordable rental housing in Australia and many families are struggling to find and keep a roof over their heads. The number of Australians experiencing rental and mortgage stress is at record levels.”

The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute estimates a shortfall of more than 525,000 affordable rental properties, Shorten says.

Overseas students, temporary foreign workers and other non-residents would not be eligible to rent under the Labor scheme.

Shorten says the plan would support the ALP’s reforms to negative gearing, “which direct concessions to newly built premises and encourage housing construction”.

Labor hopes that the three-day conference will end the year on a high note for the opposition, after its strong two-party performance in polling during 2018. Maximum effort has been made to ensure that internal policy differences are managed to avoid damaging public divisions.

Shorten told a press conference on Saturday that he hoped to see “energetic, enthusiastic debate” at the conference.

He said “perhaps the most valuable proposition that Labor presents the Australian people at the federal election within the next five months – it’s a united team, it’s energetic and it’s a team with vision”.

Shorten defended his undertaking that Newstart would be reviewed ahead of an ALP government considering an increase.

“I think Newstart is too low. I don’t think anyone who says that it needs to increase is wrong.

“But what we’ll need to do from government is review the level and understand the implications of increasing Newstart, along with the impact on all of our other taxes and payment systems.

“We have to look at what we can afford as a nation. But we’re not reviewing Newstart to decrease it.”

On the sensitive issue of asylum-seeker policy, Shorten told his press conference a Labor government would put whatever resources were needed into stopping boats.

It would also support regional and offshore processing. It would take refugees into Australia – “properly, not via people smugglers”.

“We want to be a good international citizen – we also recognise, however, that we’ve got to make sure that whatever policy we adopt we can afford, and that it meets our combined goals of not keeping people in indefinite detention on Manus and Nauru but also keeping our borders strong, so we never again see the people-smuggling trade start up.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

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


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Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiling tough new proposals to strip extremists of their Australian citizenship.
Joel Carrett/AAP

Sangeetha Pillai, UNSW

This week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton announced the federal government’s intention to introduce changes to Australia’s citizenship-stripping laws. The proposed changes would likely make Australia’s regime for citizenship-stripping the most expansive in the world. I’ll outline how the proposal would change the current law, and analyse its key elements.

What are Australia’s current citizenship-stripping laws?

In 2015, Australia introduced one of the most expansive regimes anywhere for citizenship deprivation on national security grounds. Under the current law, people can lose Australian citizenship against their will in two key ways:

  • Conduct-based citizenship deprivation: In certain circumstances, a citizen outside Australia can lose citizenship where the person has engaged in activities defined by reference to national security offences. A person does not need to be convicted of an offence to lose citizenship in this manner.

  • Conviction-based citizenship deprivation: The Minister for Home Affairs also has the power to revoke a person’s Australian citizenship where the person has been convicted of particular national security offences, and sentenced to at least six years’
    imprisonment. This is generally the only way in which people within Australia can be stripped of Australian citizenship against their will.




Read more:
Proposals to strip citizenship take Australia a step further than most


Currently, it is possible for the government to strip a person of Australian citizenship only if the person is a dual citizen. This means that, at present, Australian law does not allow a person to be deprived of Australian citizenship if this would render them stateless.

Dutton has said that the existing citizenship-stripping laws have been used to deprive nine people of their Australian citizenship. Very little information on the circumstances of these deprivations is available. However, it is clear that at least six of these instances involved citizens outside Australia who lost their citizenship on the basis of conduct committed overseas. There has been no reported instance of a person within Australia being deprived of Australian citizenship, or of the conviction-based ground for citizenship deprivation having been used.

What changes would the proposed laws introduce?

The government’s new proposal would make it easier for people to be stripped of their Australian citizenship in two ways.

Changes to the dual citizenship requirement

If the proposed changes become law, it will no longer be necessary for a person to definitively hold dual citizenship before losing Australian citizenship. A joint media release from the offices of Morrison and Dutton states:

The Government will…change the threshold for determining dual citizenship. This change aims to improve the minister’s scope to determine a person’s foreign citizenship status.

A bill has yet to go before parliament, and it is not clear from this statement exactly what the government envisages. One possibility is the legislation will give the minister the power to decide whether or not a person is a foreign citizen. This is likely to raise constitutional difficulties. As the High Court has made clear on many occasions, whether a person is a foreign citizen is a question determined by the law of the foreign country concerned.

Another possibility is that the legislation will allow a person to be stripped of Australian citizenship where the minister thinks it is reasonably likely, but not certain, the person has dual citizenship. As the recent referrals of multiple federal parliamentarians to the High Court over potential foreign citizenship illustrate, it can often be difficult to conclusively determine when a person has foreign citizenship. However, many people – including those born in Australia to Australian parents – hold dual citizenship as a result of a familial connection to a foreign country.

A change of this nature could also raise constitutional problems. The High Court has not yet determined the extent of the Commonwealth’s power to deprive a person of Australian citizenship. There is a plausible argument that certain citizens, especially those who hold only Australian citizenship or who have no substantive connection to a foreign country, are part of the Australian constitutional community, and are protected against citizenship deprivation.




Read more:
Government’s own ‘freedom commissioner’ Tim Wilson questions citizenship plan


On a practical level, enabling the minister to revoke a person’s Australian citizenship without it being clear the person has citizenship in a foreign country creates a very real risk of rendering the person stateless. This would place Australia in violation of its obligations under Article 8 of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which prevents signatory countries from depriving people of their nationality if it would render them stateless.

Australia has signed up to an international agreement not to render people stateless.
Shutterstock

Where a person inside Australia is deprived of Australian citizenship they become vulnerable to removal from Australia, and immigration detention until removal is possible. Where it is not clear that the person has citizenship in a foreign country, there is a likelihood of such detention being lengthy, or even indefinite.

Changes to the minimum sentence for conviction-based deprivation

The government’s media release also says:

The proposed changes would enable the minister to cease the citizenship of anyone who is convicted of a terrorism offence in Australia, irrespective of the sentence they receive. This removes the current requirement that a terrorist offender must be sentenced to at least six years’ imprisonment.

Currently, the minister has power to revoke a person’s citizenship only on conviction-based grounds where a person is convicted of a select list of national security offences. It is not clear whether the government intends to retain or expand this select list of offences.

An anti-terrorism exercise at Cologne Bonn airport in Germany on November 20.
Marius Becker/dpa

Either way, the proposal is concerning. In 2015, before the current citizenship revocation laws were introduced, the Abbott government attempted to attach citizenship revocation to a much wider range of national security offences, with no requirement for a minimum sentence. A number of experts advised that this ran a risk of falling foul of the Constitution.

The more limited current legislation was ultimately arrived at following an inquiry by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. It found that restricting the list of offences and requiring a minimum six year sentence was necessary to “appropriately target the most serious conduct that is closely linked to a terrorist threat”. Since 2015, the national threat level has not changed.

In this context, the government should clearly explain why removing the six year sentence threshold for conviction-based citizenship deprivation is necessary and proportionate. Given that the conviction-based citizenship-deprivation powers have not been used since their introduction, the need for a clear justification is particularly strong. The government’s media release states:

We now need to focus attention on strengthening the citizenship loss provisions which commenced in 2015 as they relate to terrorists within Australia, in order to protect our community.

As the Law Council has stated, this justification is not nearly strong enough.The Conversation

Sangeetha Pillai, Senior Research Associate, Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW Law School, UNSW

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