Frydenberg is wrong to support Ivanka and Donald Trump on the World Bank. It’d be better to let it die


Mark Crosby, Monash University

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has offered support to Donald Trump’s pick for the World Bank Presidency.

David Malpass is currently Under Secretary of the United States Treasury with responsibility for International Affairs, and his previous experience includes being chief economist at Bear Stearns prior to their collapse.

Our Treasurers support is wrong headed.

No matter what the strengths of David Malpass, the next World Bank President should not be American.

After World War Two the victors designed many of our global institutions, including the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Major global institutions were headquartered in Europe or the United States, and there was an agreement that the World Bank President would be a US citizen, while the IMF would be headed by a European.

This cosy arrangement was fine for most of the 20th century, but is at odds with our 21st century world.

Trump’s unspoken ultimatum

It has been suggested that Trump would follow his usual negotiating tactics and withdraw support from the World Bank if the next chief is not American, which is presumably why some countries including Australia are likely to support Malpass.

The search for the US nomination was headed by Steven Mnuchin and Ivanka Trump, with Invanka Trump herself mentioned as a possible nomination.

Malpass may be a better candidate than the President’s daughter, but I doubt it.

Malpass has been a critic of World Bank lending to China and at Bear Stearns he ignored warning signs of crisis in 2007.

But it’s not so much Malpass’ dubious credibility that is the problem, but the idea that the President should always be American.

The American might not be the best candidate

Important global institutions should be led by the best candidate. The views and expertise of emerging market candidates, particularly from larger economies such as China, India, Brazil, Nigeria and Indonesia should be taken more seriously.

In recent years the IMF would have been much better led by a non-European. The decision to bail out French and German banks at the expense of the Greek economy in 2012 was a poor decision made by the French head of the IMF.

The IMF rightly supported restructuring of banks and financial markets after the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, but did not push for the same for European or US banks after 2008.

So what if Australia and other middle powers did not support Malpass’ nomination?

Better off withoug the World Bank?

A US withdrawal from the World Bank would probably see its demise. But so what?

The World Bank has become relatively toothless.

Last year China lent more money to emerging market economies than the World Bank.

And this is the point. China needs to be brought into the World Bank and other institutions more fully, not sidelined.




Read more:
A Trump-aligned World Bank may be bad for climate action and trade, but good for Chinese ambitions


Problems with governance and other issues with China’s Belt and Road initiative would be much better handled by a multilateral agency, whether that is a properly renewed World Bank or a new institution.The Conversation

Mark Crosby, Professor, Monash University

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

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Tim Wilson’s ‘retirement tax’ website doesn’t have a privacy policy. So how is he using the data?


Andre Oboler, La Trobe University

A growing debate over Labor’s policy to end cash rebates for excess franking credits has led to calls for the chair of parliament’s economics committee, Liberal MP Tim Wilson, to resign.

Labor has accused Wilson of using a parliamentary inquiry into the policy to spearhead a partisan campaign against it.

Part of the controversy revolves around a website Wilson is promoting – stoptheretirementtax.com – that initially required people who wanted to register to attend public hearings for the inquiry to agree to put their name to a petition against the policy. Wilson described this as a “mistake” that has since been fixed.

But there’s another issue with the website that’s worth taking a look at: if it complies with privacy law.

Political parties are exempt from the usual privacy rules, so we need to know if stoptheretirementtax.com is a Liberal party website or government website. The answer has implications for whether privacy law may have been breached, and if the data collected can be used for political campaigning in the upcoming federal election.




Read more:
Australia should strengthen its privacy laws and remove exemptions for politicians


A party or parliamentary website?

Stoptheretirementtax.com was registered anonymously on October 31. While it’s a requirement of website registration for owners to be publicly listed, in this case a domain privacy service was used to hide those details.

By mid-November the site was being shared by a financial services company with their clients, who said that Wilson had sent the website details to them. In several tweets promoting the inquiry in November, Wilson didn’t mention the site.

The site was promoted publicly in January, when Wilson tweeted six times that people should use it to register for hearings in Queensland and New South Wales.

In these tweets, Wilson identified himself as both the Liberal MP for Goldstein and the Chair of the Economics Committee.

By contrast, stoptheretirementtax.com doesn’t mention Wilson’s electorate or political party. The bottom of the site has the Australian coat of arms with the words “Chair of the House Economics Committee”. Wilson’s parliamentary contact details appear alongside a statement that reads:

Authorised by Tim Wilson MP, Chair of the Standing Committee on Economics.

The confusion around whether stoptheretirementtax.com is an official government website begins with the website’s domain name. It’s based on a slogan coined by Wilson Asset Management, a financial services company that is actively campaigning against Labor’s policy on franking credits. The site also uses a photograph the company has used in their campaign, and Wilson has said Wilson Asset Management were consulted in the site’s development.

Then there is the text, which reads:

At the next election your financial security will be on the ballot … Labor are attacking your full tax refund. After the election they want to scrap refundable franking credits. That will hit your security in retirement and risk pushing many vulnerable retirees below the poverty line.




Read more:
The Australian public cares about privacy: do politicians?


What data is being collected?

Stoptheretirementtax.com is collecting personal information. Visitors who wish to send a submission to the inquiry or register to attend public hearings are required to provide their name, email address, mailing address and phone number.

Visitors who want to send a submission to the standing committee on economics are offered a box with pre-filled text. A small note reads: “feel free to edit, or write your own”. A second box invites visitors to share their story.

Design features such as the colouring of the text could be seen to discourage editing of the first box while directing people to the second, meaning many people who submit a response will likely end up including the pre-filled text in their submission.

When registering for the public hearings, users are offered two check boxes (pre-checked), which state:

I want to be registered for the petition against the retirement tax

I want to be contacted on future activities to stop the retirement tax.

Until Sunday, it was impossible to register for a hearing without also signing the petition. Tim Wilson has said this was an “error”. The required check box for hearings and the design of the submission boxes may in fact be a dark pattern – a use of design feature to manipulate users into making the decision the site owner wants.

The site contains no privacy policy or indication of who the data is shared with or how it will be used.

On Monday, a page for the inquiry was added to the Australian Parliament’s website describing itself as the “the official page of the committee”. It states that submissions to the inquiry can be made via the Parliament’s submission system or by email. It also explains that “pre-registration is not required to participate” in the hearings.

A matter of privacy

Australian privacy is largely regulated by the Privacy Act and the Australian Privacy Principles it contains. Registered political parties are exempt, but stoptheretirementtax.com does not appear to come from a registered political party.

To assert it is campaign material from a registered political party at this stage would raise electoral law issues. The Commonwealth Electoral Act requires that registered political parties identify themselves in the authorisation statement on their political materials. Stoptheretirementtax.com has no such authorisation.

The Privacy Act does apply to government agencies, including ministers, departments and people:

holding or performing the duties of an appointment… made… by a Minister.

The Chair of a Standing Committee is “appointed by the prime minister”, making them an agency subject to the Australian Privacy Principles.

The Australian Privacy Principles requirements for government agencies include:

  • being open and transparent about how personal information is managed, including having a privacy policy
  • explaining why they are collecting, holding, using or disclosing personal information
  • only collecting personal information if it is reasonably necessary or directly related to one of their function or activities
  • only collect personal information by lawful and fair means
  • disclosing who else the personal information would usually be shared with

A failure to comply with the Australian Privacy Principles may put personal information at risk and can attract the attention of the Information Commissioner, who regulates privacy.

What about parliamentary privilege?

The Australian Law Reform Commission noted in 2008 that:

Ministers engaging in their official capacity are bound by the Privacy Act, while MPs engaging in political acts and practices are not.

A Committee Chair would likely be similarly bound only while acting in that capacity.

Some of the time, while acting in their capacity, they may be effectively exempt from the Privacy Act due to parliamentary privilege.

Section 16(2) of the Parliamentary Privileges Act reasserts a right of immunity going back to the Bill of Rights of 1688. It covers:

all words spoken and acts done in the course of, or for purposes of or incidental to, the transacting of the business of a House or of a committee.

That doesn’t mean the principles don’t apply, just that enforcing corrective action may be beyond the reach of the courts. Parliament has its own processes that could still be used to address concerns.

The usual rules, enforceable by the courts, may still apply in circumstances where a committee chair is acting in that capacity, but outside the business of the committee.

Advocacy activities, like running a petition or soliciting contact details for political action may not be something “for the purpose” or “incidental” to the business of a committee. In fact, publishing an overtly political website may itself step outside the protection – as it is the committee and its parliamentary work, not the activities of the chair per se, that attract the privilege.




Read more:
Australians’ trust in politicians and democracy hits an all-time low: new research


Reaching a resolution

The best resolution would be for Tim Wilson to take down the site (particularly in light of the new official site), pass to the Committee Secretariat any information they require (such as submissions), then delete all personal information he has collected through the stoptheretirementtax.com website.

A full disclosure of who data may have been shared with, where it was held and how it was secured would also help. If data has been disclosed to anyone other than the Parliamentary Committee, those who have been impacted should be informed. The Information Commissioner should be consulted for guidance and assistance.

The broader lesson is that privacy must be taken seriously. The Australian Privacy Principles are designed to ensure transparency and accountability. The lack of a privacy policy on the website should have served as a warning.The Conversation

Andre Oboler, Senior Lecturer, Master of Cyber-Security Program (Law), La Trobe University

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

Shorten pledges $500 million for UNHCR in border protection policy


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Bill Shorten has promised Labor will commit $500 million over five years to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in a policy designed simultaneously to reassure voters and satisfy the party on the politically sensitive issue of border protection.

This was among proposed new measures on asylum seeker policy the opposition leader announced to the ALP national conference on Monday morning, preempting a debate later in the day, to ensure internal party differences were minimised.

He said the $500 million would directly improve orderly regional processing and resettlement in the region and countries closer to where refugees originally came from. The funding would “speed up legitimate settlement pathways – it will deny people smugglers a product to sell”.

Portraying Labor as tough on borders, but humanitarian on refugees, Shorten said that if he became prime minister, he would take immediate advice from the chief of the Australian Defence Force, the Home Affairs Department, ASIO and other agencies about Australia’s state of preparedness to disrupt people smuggling operations before people departed.

Labor would triple the number of Australian Federal Police working overseas to stop people smugglers and prevent people even contemplating getting on boats.

An ALP government would expand the existing community sponsored refugee program from the current number of 1,000 to 5,000.

“This means state and local governments, community organisations, businesses and unions and faith-based institutions will be able to sponsor humanitarian entrants into Australia and support the economic and social integration of refugees into communities,” Shorten said.

He said the expansion would be in addition to Australia’s existing humanitarian intake, so a Labor government would take more refugees overall as part of its migration mix.

Shorten reaffirmed Labor’s commitment to turnbacks and offshore processing, saying “it is not a crime to want to come to this country. But it is a crime to exploit vulnerable people to put them in dangerous and unsafe vessels and have them drown at sea”.

“We cannot, we must not, and we will not permit the reopening of their
trade in human desperation and the drownings and the irreplaceable loss of life that it brings.”

This required pursuing regional resettlement, turning back boats when it was safe to do so and maintaining offshore processing.

“But also … we understand that keeping our borders secure, and keeping people smugglers out of business should and never has meant leaving women and children to languish for years and years in indefinite detention in sub-standard facilities and unacceptable conditions”

“It has never meant allowing peoples’ mental and physical health to deteriorate whilst under direct or indirect Australian care. It has never meant fighting every step of the way against medical advice which says that more needs to be done to treat people”

“I believe that Australia can meet our international humanitarian and legal responsibilities without compromising our national security for a commitment to strong border protection,” Shorten said.

A Labor government would take up New Zealand’s offer to resettle refugees from Manus and Nauru by immediately negotiating an agreement on similar terms to the current deal with the United States.

In a counter attack against the Coalition, which is running hard on the ALP being soft on borders, Shorten accused the government of “telling lies about Labor” and thereby “doing the dirty work of the people smugglers.

“The Liberals are acting as spruikers for the criminal syndicates. Every time they get up and say that there will be a change in terms of border security, they are signalling criminal syndicates to try their hand again.

“They should be ashamed, they know what they do and they still do it.”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.

Morrison’s health handout is bad policy (but might be good politics)



File 20181213 110249 1y7kc3t.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The funding proposal is no fix for Australia’s health system but it could take some political pressure off the Coalition in the lead up to the 2019 federal election.
OnE studio/Shutterstock

Stephen Duckett, Grattan Institute

The A$1.25 billion Community Health and Hospitals Program Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced this week should be awarded a big policy fail.

The move sets back Commonwealth-state relations by decades – and it’s unclear exactly how much money will actually be provided.

Rather than being based on any coherent policy direction, it appears designed to shore up support in marginal electorates.

Bad for Commonwealth-state relations

One of the complicating factors in providing health care to Australians is the fact that the Commonwealth and states each have leadership roles in different parts of the system: the Commonwealth for primary care; and the states for public hospitals.

Health professionals yearn for the Holy Grail of a single level of government being responsible for all aspects of a patient’s care. That quest has proved illusory. But recent policy direction has at least sought to clarify the roles of the two levels of government.




Read more:
Public hospital blame game – here’s how we got into this funding mess


For the past five years, the states have been acknowledged as the “system managers” of the public hospital system. A rational, formula-driven funding framework has been created.

Under this framework, the Commonwealth shares the cost of growth in public hospital activity with the states. This exposes the Commonwealth directly to growing costs of technology-driven needs and giving it an incentive to work with the states to meet needs in the most efficient way.

This framework means there is one level of government to whom all public hospitals are accountable: the state. And it means voters can hold their state government accountable for hospital planning and management.

The new Morrison proposal tramples all over this policy rationality in the interests of electoral expediency. It replaces state-based planning with submission-based funding, which will enable a politician with a whiteboard in Canberra to override state priorities in favour of projects which have the greatest electoral appeal in targeted marginal seats.

It makes accountability for the overall system more confusing, and it assumes Canberra knows best.

It is a federalism fail.

An opaque policy

Labor ran a devastating campaign in the July federal by-elections, especially in the Queensland seat of Longman, which involved calculating and publicising precisely how much worse off the local hospital was under the Liberal health policy – where the Commonwealth funds 45% of hospital growth – compared with Labor’s 50% sharing policy.

In the Longman case, Labor asserted there was a A$2.9 million cut to Caboolture Hospital based on the decisions taken in the 2014 Abbott/Hockey “slash and burn” budget.

Scott Morrison’s new cash splash is no doubt designed to overcome this political weakness for the Coalition.




Read more:
Why scare campaigns like ‘Mediscare’ work – even if voters hate them


However, unlike Labor’s funding, which is ongoing, it’s unclear whether the extra largess the Coalition is offering will continue beyond the budget “forward estimates” (that is, the next four years). It’s unclear how much will be devoured from existing Commonwealth funding agreements, such as the dental agreement, which are coming to an end.

The Commonwealth has responsibility for most aspects of policy to address social determinants of health, particularly employment and income policies. Rational health policy would recognise the importance of considering these issues and balancing the health benefits of, for example, lifting the Newstart allowance, against funding for specific health initiatives. There is no hint this has happened with this announcement.

New handouts under the Morrison package will be portrayed as being for specific areas of “high political need”. But the reality is funding will eventually be swept into the Grants Commission allocation process and redirected according to the Grants Commission formula.

This may restore some rationality into the health handout, albeit with a lag of a few years. But the actual level of funding to be allocated to specific areas will be shrouded in Grants Commission opacity. Insiders will be able to follow the money, but voters will be kept in dismal ignorance about how much they will benefit in the long-term – after the gloss of a local funding handout has worn off.

This policy is a transparency fail.

Politics versus policy

The Community Health and Hospitals Program lists four feel-good, worthy funding targets:

  • specialist hospital services such as cancer treatment, rural health and hospital infrastructure
  • drug and alcohol treatment
  • preventive health, primary care and chronic disease management, and
  • mental health.



Read more:
Morrison government promises $1.25 billion for health care


Everyone has a potential place in this funding Nirvana. Lobby your local MP, and your local hospital or community health program might be the lucky health policy lottery winner!

Provided voters don’t see this as a cynical political exercise – and that is a big risk in an electorate which already ranks politicians low on the trustworthiness scale – then the new policy could be smart politics. We won’t know until the votes in next year’s federal election are counted.

In the meantime, given the drubbing the Liberals received in last month’s Victorian state election, the biggest challenge for the Morrison Government might be deciding which electorates are now marginal and worth shoring up.The Conversation

Stephen Duckett, Director, Health Program, Grattan Institute

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

Australia should brace for a volatile year in foreign policy in 2019


Susan Harris Rimmer, Griffith University

By the end of 2019 we should be able to assess how Australia is travelling with the grand plan laid out in the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper. In this, an election year, I examine the status of our most important international relationships.

My verdict: decidedly shaky.

A difficult 2018

Even before the August leadership spill, 2018 was a difficult year for Australia’s foreign policy.

New prime minister Scott Morrison visited Jakarta within days of his appointment, but did not attend the Pacific Island Forum on Nauru. He also cancelled long-planned visits to Malaysia and Vietnam. He then jeopardised the Indonesian relationship with a rushed announcement about moving Australia’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Australia was increasingly criticised in various multilateral fora for its detention practices on Nauru and Manus Island, as well as its climate policies and defence of the coal industry. Morrison then had a shaky summit season.




Read more:
With Bishop gone, Morrison and Payne face significant challenges on foreign policy


Relationship with China, Middle East

China put us in the “deep freeze” for most of the year, putting off visits between ministers, deferring a trip by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary, and delaying a range of educational exchanges.

The Chinese embassy issued a safety warning to international students, a large market for international education. This was in response to then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s vow to crack down on foreign interference in Australian affairs, as well as our position on the South China Sea.

In August, the federal government banned Chinese-owned tech giant Huawei from taking part in the roll-out of 5G mobile infrastructure over national security concerns.

This was the one relationship that may have benefited in the short term from the change in prime minister.

Despite these set-backs, the need to be principled and steady, and to build a long-term relationship with China, remains a challenge.

The year ended badly. With the West Jerusalem embassy announcement in December, Morrison proved a new diplomatic adage: that you can, in fact, please no one, all of the time.




Read more:
Morrison’s decision to recognise West Jerusalem the latest bad move in a mess of his own making


In the Pacific

Some issues are slow-burn. Most Australians still do not realise the deep implications for domestic policy raised by the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal that came into effect on December 30, 2018. These implications range from changes to labour market testing, intellectual property issues and the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions that allow private corporations to bypass national courts and seek compensation from extraterritorial tribunals if they believe a change in the law or policy has harmed their investments.

But one bright spot was the so-called Pacific pivot, which Morrison announced in November, and now has to be realised.

While the white paper laid out a stepping up in engagement, long overdue, with the Pacific, it was China’s increasing influence in the region that led to a sense of urgency and scale to the Pacific pivot announcement.

The announcement includes A$2 billion of new funding for infrastructure, a billion dollars to entice Australian businesses back into the region, adding five new diplomatic missions, enhancing labour mobility opportunities and creating an “office of the Pacific” with whole-of-government oversight. Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the US promised to connect electricity to 70% of PNG’s population by 2030.

These goals must be realised in a spirit of true partnership. Australian researcher Tess Newton Cain points out that Australia often misses the right tone of respect and partnership in its announcements to the region. And without climate leadership, will the Pacific trust us?

Leadership churn

No white paper can protect Australia from the damage to our international reputation over our constant turn-over of prime ministers. Based on current polls, another one is likely in May after a federal election.

The Lowy Institute’s Michael Fullilove says that worse than being a laughing stock, now Australia can be ignored while the region moves on.

The image of German Chancellor Angela Merkel barely concealing her boredom at meeting her fifth Australian leader in five years at the G20 Summit spoke volumes.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten is not known for his foreign policy vision, but Penny Wong is a respected foreign policy thinker, and an interesting symbol for the region on diversity, multiculturalism and the rule of law.

Will she take the foreign minister role in cabinet if the ALP is elected, assuming she may have some choice? For Australia’s sake, she should; we desperate need steady interlocutors. Richard Marles is also a respected figure in the Pacific.

A Shorten government should also display bipartisanship and give Marise Payne and Julie Bishop roles as special envoys or ambassadors to shore up some degree of continuity. Former PMs Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Malcolm Turnbull could all be given roles to play.

Big meetings ahead

Thailand will host ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and the East Asia Summit (EAS) in 2019. The 10-member association has been criticised for allowing Thailand’s military government to become chair.

APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) will be hosted by Chile in 2019, showing the reach of APEC across the Pacific. APEC was not able to produce a leaders’ declaration at the PNG summit and it was the scene of extraordinary tension this year. Chile will be hoping for a return to business as usual.

Japan will also host an early G20 Summit in Osaka in June, part of an enormous diplomatic year for them. In 2019, Japan is hosting the Rugby World Cup and preparing for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Then in April, Emperor Akihito, will abdicate, making way for his successor Crown Prince Naruhito.

Threats on horizon

The Council for Foreign Relations, an independent US think-tank, nominated its highest risks for 2019, which I have modified for Australia:

  • A highly disruptive cyber-attack on critical infrastructure and networks

  • Renewed tensions on the Korean peninsula following a collapse of denuclearisation negotiations

  • Armed conflict between Iran and the US or one of its allies

  • Armed conflict over disputed maritime areas in the South China Sea between China and one or more Southeast Asian countries (Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam)

  • A mass casualty terrorist attack by either foreign or home-grown terrorist(s)

  • Continued violent re-imposition of government control in Syria

  • Deepening economic crisis and political instability in Venezuela leading to violent civil unrest and more refugees leaving

  • Worsening of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, exacerbated by ongoing foreign intervention in the civil war

  • Increased violence and instability in Afghanistan resulting from the Taliban insurgency and potential government collapse.

International elections

The Indian general election is expected in April or May 2019, a test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Other major elections in 2019 are due in Afghanistan, Canada, South Africa, Indonesia, Thailand and The Philippines.

Key partnerships

Alas, the UK remains focused on Brexit.

And all international diplomats are bracing themselves for the next phase of Trump’s foreign policy.

The US foreign policy think-tanks argue that with the Democrats in control of the House of Representatives, the Trump White House will be more active in foreign policy as it struggles to pursue a productive domestic agenda. This could lead Australia into some kind of rollercoaster if we are not willing to disengage from some US requests for our assistance.

In 2019, the US Ambassador to Australia will finally arrive after more than two years’ delay. Republican Washington lawyer Arthur Culvahouse might well spice things up during his posting.

He told the US senate that while China is Australia’s largest trading partner, Australia has also given China “a nation that’s already … aggressive” an “outsized” influence and opportunity to press its agenda.

Depending on the election outcomes, India is looking more like a natural ally for Australia, at least in the shared interest in strengthening ASEAN and the EAS process, and the early conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in which both countries are partners.

The way forward for Australia is clearer too, if the government adopts the approach laid out in Peter Varghese’s report An India Economic Strategy to 2035. The former diplomat and public servant envisages the goal by 2035 to be to:

… lift India into its top three export markets, to make it the third largest destination in Asia for Australian outward investment, and to bring it into the inner circle of Australia’s strategic partnerships and with people to people ties as close as any in Asia.

Strategy requires skill and leadership. We will need all three in 2019. We have a volatile year ahead.The Conversation

Susan Harris Rimmer, Australian Research Council Future Fellow, Griffith Law School, Griffith University

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

Why Tony Abbott’s appointment as Indigenous envoy was a diplomatic blunder and policy failure



File 20181119 44280 1l39pmj.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Abbott’s previous policies on Indigenous issues were characterised by funding cuts, exclusions and silencing – all of which makes his role as envoy highly questionable to Indigenous communities.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Alison Holland, Macquarie University

This piece is part of a series on race and racism in Australia. The series examines this complex and incendiary topic, and the role it plays in contemporary Australia. You can read the rest of the series here


When Indigenous Referendum Council member Megan Davis stood on the red sands close to Uluru and read the Uluru Statement from the Heart in May 2017, she was enacting a tradition steeped in Indigenous cultural and political significance.

It was not just a response to politicians’ requests to consult the Indigenous community on constitutional recognition, it was a powerful political act, enshrined in a message carried by elders and subsequently inscribed in art.

Following substantial months-long consultations, Davis, as envoy of the people, delivered a message to the nation concerning the resetting of “inter-tribal” relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Australia. The Uluru Statement from the Heart was an act of Indigenous diplomacy solemnised in song, dance and ceremony.

Megan Davis has called the government’s rejection of constitutional recognition ‘gutting’.
Peter Eve/Yothu Yindi Foundation handout

The history of Indigenous envoys

Historically, such ambassadorial moments were the glue of politics and negotiations between Indigenous peoples. They built cohesion and peace, facilitated inter-community exchanges and allowed for the settling of disputes.

As messengers, envoys were critical to this diplomatic mesh. Carefully selected, they were highly respected members of their tribes. They often possessed the ability to speak different dialects and were skilled negotiators. They were the bearers of important information, such as the deaths of leaders, appointments of successors and important gatherings and ceremonies like marriages, burials, corroborrees and initiations.




Read more:
Indigenous recognition in our Constitution matters – and will need greater political will to achieve


Given their significance, it is little wonder that many Indigenous peoples described former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s recent appointment as special envoy in Indigenous affairs as deeply disrespectful.

On every level this was an act of egregious political misjudgement, as many Indigenous people have been quick to note.

Why Abbott’s appointment was controversial

Not only was Abbott’s appointment hasty, ill-planned and unsolicited, it lacked a key requirement for the role – the wider support of his own community.

Beyond lacking all merit, Abbott’s previous policies on Indigenous issues had been characterised by funding cuts, exclusions and silencing. His Indigenous Advancement Strategy was criticised for its destructive consequences to governance within Indigenous communities. Someone who had caused such injury and grief in the past, stripped communities of their capacity for self-determination and seemed so lacking of respect in their own community was largely unwelcome.

There were some, however, who were willing to give Abbott the benefit of the doubt and saw an opportunity in his role.

For them, his task was clear. In accordance with tradition, he needed to come with models and messages of agreement-making and considered responses to the Indigenous peoples’ own message, as conveyed by the Uluru Statement. He needed to bring news of progress on constitutional recognition and the Makaratta Commission – the Indigenous-inspired body to facilitate agreement-making and help reset relations.




Read more:
A new way to recognise an Indigenous nation in Australia


He needed to engage in dialogue, be open to consultations, and most importantly, listen.

As Dennis Walker, the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority chair, believed, Abbott would come to listen to Ngarrindjeri about their concerns: economic development, stable governance and developing better relationships with non-Indigenous political leaders. For Jeffrey Newchurch, the Kaurna Nation Cultural Heritage chair, Abbott’s visit presented an opportunity to discuss important issues affecting them, like burials, social cohesion and how to build good intergovernmental relationships.

Yet, this is not how Abbott saw his job. Disregarding cultural protocols, he arrived with dictates and outsider rules, and a specific agenda aimed at improving school attendance and performance in remote communities.

Even in this, his apparent lack of knowledge, a critical trait of the position, was apparent.

Over a decade’s worth of reports into remote schooling have overwhelmingly stressed the connection between education, language and culture, and the importance of family and community involvement for children. Education programs succeed when Aboriginal people are the architects of their own policies and services. Partnerships between the people and governments must be based on local priorities, and these must be mutually understood.

The proposals Abbott arrived with – more police in the communities and learning in English – only demonstrated his ignorance.

Abbott’s ignorance was compounded by the impropriety of another white elder of his tribe. Earlier this month, news broke of Indigenous Affairs minister Nigel Scullion’s approval of grants to a fishing industry lobby group from a fund intended to address disadvantage in Indigenous communities.

Scullion transferred significant sums to the Northern Territory Amateur Fisherman’s Association to pay their legal fees in disputes over Aboriginal land claims.

As the former Indigenous affairs minister, Dr Jak Ah Kit, said, this was totally against the rules. Aboriginal elders are skilled negotiators of their resources, particularly their fisheries. There had been no consultations or efforts to negotiate with them.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has defended his dispersal of grant money to a fishing lobbying group.
Chloe Erlich/AAP

Diplomatic blunder and policy failure

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s appointment of Abbott as special envoy was more than a diplomatic faux pas. It was a diplomatic blunder and a policy failure.

In foreign policy parlance, a diplomatic blunder results from a judgement blinded by bias and ignorance, while a policy failure is caused by behaviour that is both costly and has undesirable and unanticipated consequences.




Read more:
Abbott is quietly failing on his ‘PM for Aboriginal affairs’ promise


Abbott’s bias and ignorance are palpable and demonstrable. And the policies he pushed — more police in the communities and learning in English — would be costly in the human and economic sense. Investing in policies that aren’t wanted and don’t work will do nothing to reset intergovernmental relations.

Abbott and the federal government would do well to learn from the examples of deliberative and democratic governance demonstrated by the Indigenous political negotiations leading up to the Uluru Statement.

These negotiations demonstrated how politically astute Indigenous elders are. The network of regional dialogues were not about political platitudes of the sort Abbott said to the Anangu – “thanks for putting up with the invasion” — but a recipe for action.

Abbott could also learn from the likes of Megan Davis, whose diplomatic credentials, by contrast, are impeccable.The Conversation

Alison Holland, Senior Lecturer in Australian History, Macquarie University

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

Labor’s battery plan – good policy, or just good politics?



File 20181122 182059 wylcnu.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
With the right settings, Labor’s new scheme could benefit householders as well as the grid itself.
Shutterstock.com

Guy Dundas, Grattan Institute

Federal Labor obviously likes the politics of giving rebates of up to A$2,000 each to 100,000 households of prospective voters so they can install domestic batteries. But is this good policy that will support Australia’s transition to a reliable, affordable, low-emissions energy system, or is it just middle-class welfare?

The Grattan Institute has previously been critical of solar subsidies similar to this program. In 2015 we found that household solar photovoltaic (PV) installations driven by state and federal government subsidies cost Australia around A$9 billion. Many solar incentive programs were uncapped, and their costs blew out as the price of PV systems dropped rapidly.

The parallels with battery technology are clear: batteries may be expensive and uncommon today, but many commentators expect them to drop rapidly in price.




Read more:
Households to get $2000 subsidy for batteries under Shorten energy policy


More recently, my colleagues and I have lamented the Victorian government’s return to the bad old days of solar subsidies. Its Solar Homes program promises A$1.24 billion in subsidies over 10 years and would roughly triple the level of household solar in Victoria. Yet most households will be financially better off installing solar even without this subsidy. If fully implemented, it will be a great waste of taxpayers’ money.

The case for public subsidies for household batteries is stronger than for household solar panels. Batteries are better able to help cut the cost of the entire energy system and so don’t just benefit the people who install them – they also benefit electricity consumers more generally. By releasing stored power when most needed, batteries can reduce reliance on expensive “peaking” power plants that operate only at times of high demand. And they can reduce the cost of expanding network capacity to supply all customers at peak times.

By contrast, solar primarily eats into midday demand, which is already low due to the output of the large existing fleet of solar panels. While solar has historically reduced peak demand to some degree, the Australian Energy Market Operator considers that this effect is reducing as solar has pushed peak demand later in the day.




Read more:
Slash Australians’ power bills by beheading a duck at night


Impact of rooftop solar PV on peak demand.
AEMO 2018, The NEM Reliability Framework

In a perfect world, households would have enough private incentive to install batteries when they benefit the entire system. If households faced higher electricity prices at times of peak demand, they would be rewarded for reducing system-wide costs by installing batteries.

But we do not live in this perfect world. Governments are reluctant to mandate that households pay higher prices during peak periods, and retailers find it hard to convince households to accept these more complex tariffs. Cost-reflective pricing is unlikely to become widespread any time soon, meaning there is a case for public subsidy to household batteries – provided the subsidies are capped, and end when battery prices inevitably fall.

Using smart controls to coordinate multiple batteries can maximise their benefits. These so-called “virtual power plants” allow the controller to reduce a household’s draw on the grid at peak times, thus reducing costs for both the household and the system. Federal Labor should increase the benefits of its policy by mandating that people who receive a subsidy participate in such a scheme, and by targeting installations to areas where the network most needs support.




Read more:
Virtual power plants are in vogue, but they can be like taking a sledgehammer to a nut


On balance, federal Labor’s policy appears to be a sensible step towards a smarter, lower-emissions electricity grid. It can be tweaked to maximise benefits to the whole system, not just to the lucky households that get government assistance. And its cost is capped, which reduces the risk of the sort of cost blowouts that have plagued solar subsidy schemes.

Unlike some of the Coalition’s policies, such as its plan to underwrite new generation, Labor’s battery policy is likely to help rather than hinder Australia’s energy transition.The Conversation

Guy Dundas, Energy Fellow, Grattan Institute

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

Grattan on Friday: Labor’s energy policy is savvy – now is it scare-proof?


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Hours before Bill Shorten delivered his energy policy on Thursday,
Scott Morrison’s office had circulated an attack.

Labor’s plan was for a “carbon tax”; the proposed subsidy for “pink
batteries” would leave households “$8000 out of pocket”.

It was a wild broadside that said much about how the government hopes
a massive scare campaign can be an effective front line weapon in next year’s election.

In 2016 Malcolm Turnbull declined to run a heavily negative campaign,
especially against Shorten personally. When things went pear-shaped he
was strongly criticised for his approach.

Tony Nutt, Liberal federal director at the time, speaking soon after
the election, defended the approach by saying research had confirmed
voters were sick of political aggression and wanted to see a positive
vision and plan. But others in the party were not convinced.

Labor, for its part, did very well with its “Mediscare”.

In more desperate circumstances and with a new leader, the Liberals at
the next election will go all out stoking fears. Morrison is a much
better negative campaigner than Turnbull ever could be: he delivers
lines sharply and is not troubled by inconvenient nuance.

The government, assisted by the cooling of the housing market, has
been stepping up its warnings about the effects on house prices of
ALP’s negative gearing plan. Labor’s proposed crackdown on cash
refunds from dividend imputation is also a ripe target, especially for
agitating retirees (although pensioners are exempt).




Read more:
Pensioners would retain cash refunds on franked dividends under Labor backdown


And now that Shorten has released the energy policy this week, the
Coalition is reaching back into the past for lines and spectres.

Labor’s promise to subsidise home batteries ($2000 for
households with incomes under $180,000) is dubbed “pink batts to pink batteries” to trigger memories of Kevin Rudd’s ill-prepared policy that cost several lives.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor went for the ultimate try-on, when he
posed outside the Tomago Aluminium Smelter in Newcastle and claimed
that “if all of Bill’s batteries were installed, it would keep this
smelter, this business, going for less than 15 minutes”. “Bill’s
batteries” are not, of course, aimed at powering Tomago.

The old line about the ALP putting a “wrecking ball” through the
economy with its policy is getting a fresh workout.




Read more:
Households to get $2000 subsidy for batteries under Shorten energy policy


In crafting its energy policy, Labor is drawing on different, more
recent history – the widespread support from the business community
and other stakeholders for the National Energy Guarantee that the
Coalition abandoned amid its leadership meltdown.

Shorten says a Labor government would try to get bipartisan agreement for a NEG, but not rely on doing so.

In an interventionist approach, Labor proposes an additional $10
billion for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation; its investments
would support large scale generation and storage projects.

Labor’s investment would be in renewables, pushing towards its target
of 50% of Australia’s energy coming from renewables by 2050. In
contrast, the government is planning early next year to have a “short
list” of dispatchable power projects, focusing on coal, gas and hydro,
that it will look at underwriting.

An ALP government would also provide $5 billion for “future-proofing”
the energy network – the transmission and distribution systems.

Labor’s energy policy is in the context of its commitment to a much
more ambitious emissions reduction target than the government has – a
45% economy-wide reduction by 2030 on 2005 levels, compared with the
Coalition’s 26%-28%.

This week’s announcement is about the energy
sector only – the opposition will release soon its climate change
policies to lower emissions in other sectors including
transport. The government, homing in on the 45% target, is conjuring up scares about the nation’s cattle herd and the like.

Labor claims its energy policy would drive power prices down; the
government says it would drive them up. In fact no one can be sure
what will happen in the next few years in a situation where we are
undergoing a major transition to a different energy mix.

Nor is it clear which side will win the coming debilitating round of the
energy-climate wars.

The ALP would be unwise to underestimate the power of the scare. On
the other hand, the government’s own policy looks like a
shredded garment now it has torn up the NEG. Its “big stick’,
including the threat of divestitures, and its promised “short list” of new
dispatchable power projects don’t really cut it.

Labor would be heartened by the early responses its policy is
receiving from business groups, despite their reservations.

In a crack at the government’s threat, the Business Council of
Australia welcomed “Labor’s commitment not to support heavy-handed,
intrusive changes into the energy sector such as forced divestiture”.

Most notable in the reaction of these groups, however, was their
hankering for the NEG.

The Ai Group said a revised NEG was “still achievable” and “would be
greatly preferable” to a government directly underwriting new
generation, versions of which were being proposed by both major
parties. The BCA was pleased Labor was taking the NEG to the election,
reiterating that it was “a credible, workable, market-based solution
to the trilemma of affordability, reliability and reducing our
emissions”. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry was
likewise encouraged by the reference to the NEG.

This indicates that Labor’s decision to include the NEG in its plan is
not just sound on policy grounds but is politically savvy. By keeping
alive the NEG option, Labor has reached out to business.

Surely many Liberals are now starting to think that far from giving
themselves a break against Labor by rejecting the NEG, they may have
put themselves at a serious disadvantage which could be hard to
overcome even with a fierce scare campaign.

This also raises an interesting question for after the election, if
Labor wins. Given the widespread support for a NEG, would a Coalition
opposition persist in rejecting it? Much would depend on the factional
make up of the Liberal party of the day.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.

Households to get $2000 subsidy for batteries under Shorten energy policy


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

A Labor government would subsidise households to install batteries as part of the ALP’s energy policy to be unveiled by Bill Shorten on Thursday.

If Labor wins next year’s election, it would provide from 2020 a A$2000 rebate for 100,000 households, with annual incomes of less than $180,000, to buy and install battery systems. It would also provide low cost loans.

The ALP puts its emphasis on boosting the use of renewables, in a policy that keeps the National Energy Guarantee – abandoned by the government in the leadership meltdown – as an option on the table. The opposition indicates it is prepared to implement the NEG but its policy is providing for the future if agreement on it cannot be reached.

The ALP estimates the battery subsidy would triple the number of battery systems in Australian households. The policy sets a national target of one million household battery installations by 2025.

“The massive boost will also help manufacturers scale up production and reduce their costs”, Shorten and energy spokesman Mark Butler said in a statement.

They said the ALP policy would “help Australians slash their power bills.”

“The Smart Energy Council estimates that new household solar and batteries would allow most homes to save more than 60 per cent off their power bills”, Shorten and Butler said.

“Australians love renewable energy because they know it saves them money and it’s good for the environment”, they said, pointing out that household solar installation had rising from 7000 homes in 2007 to 1.8 million today.

“Supporting the installation of more household battery systems is the next big step in helping families keep their energy bills lower. When the sun goes down, or when electricity usage is at its peak, consumers can draw on their own stored energy”, Shorten and Butler said.

They said this was good for both consumers and the environment. People gained more control over their power bills, and cheaper and cleaner energy would help Australia achieve 50% of power from renewables by 2030.

A Labor government would also invest $100 million in a Neighbourhood Renewables Program, so renters and people in social housing could benefit from cheaper and cleaner energy.

The cost of the battery subsidy and the neighbourhood scheme is estimated at $215.9 million over the current forward estimates. The costing has been done by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office.

Shorten and Butler said Labor would “establish community power hubs to support the development of renewables projects in local communities – such as solar gardens on apartment rooftops, community wind farms, energy efficiency upgrades for social housing and grants for community groups to pilot new projects.”

They said the new initiatives built on Labor’s commitments to crack down on price gouging by power companies.

Labor’s policy on energy would create thousands of jobs in the renewable industry, they said.

In a speech to be delivered on Thursday, Shorten stresses a Labor government would seek bipartisanship on the NEG.

“We want a meaningful NEG that actually lowers prices, reduces pollution, and boosts renewables” he says in an extract released ahead of delivery.

“If I am elected as prime minister, I will sit down with the new opposition leader and the crossbench to talk about a way we can move forward with this framework,”

“But let’s be clear: we will work with the Coalition – but we will not wait for them. Our willingness to cooperate on a market mechanism doesn’t mean everything else gets put on hold,” Shorten says.

He says a Labor government would be prepared to directly underwrite and invest in cleaner cheaper power.

“We will prioritise renewables and support firming technology power like storage and gas. Labor will invest in new generation, in better transmission and distribution – because we realize this vital nation-building work cannot be left up to the big power companies.” Labor’s plan would deliver affordability, reliability and sustainability, Shorten says.

Labor’s battery subsidy program would be reviewed after two years, in light of projected falls in battery costs and to assess progress towards the one million new battery installations by 2025 target.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.

State governments can transform Australia’s energy policy from major fail to reliable success


Tony Wood, Grattan Institute and Guy Dundas, Grattan Institute

This week we’re exploring the state of nine different policy areas across Australia’s states, as detailed in Grattan Institute’s State Orange Book 2018. Read the other articles in the series here.


Energy policy in Australia is a major failure. The federal government has been unable to forge an effective policy to ensure affordable, reliable and low-emissions electricity. It’s time for the states to step up.

Internationally, responsibility for climate change policies rests with national governments. The federal government says it remains committed to Australia’s target under the Paris Agreement, but it has abandoned the emissions-reduction obligation of the National Energy Guarantee (NEG). This leaves Australia’s electricity sector, which is responsible for 34% of our overall emissions, with no credible policy to reduce those emissions.

The states should fill this policy vacuum if it persists. They should work together on a nationwide emissions reduction scheme through state-based legislation, independent of the federal government. A Commonwealth-led national policy would be best, but a state-based policy is far better than none.




Read more:
The too hard basket: a short history of Australia’s aborted climate policies


In October 2018 the COAG Energy Council agreed to continue work on the reliability element of the NEG. The states and territories should maintain this support and implement this policy with the Commonwealth government, and so support the reliability of the National Electricity Market during a challenging transition.

The Grattan Institute’s State Orange Book 2018 shows that there is also much the states can do to reduce energy prices. Consumers are understandably upset – household retail prices have increased by more than half in the past decade, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (see page 7 here).

How your state measures up on energy.
Grattan Institute State Orange Book 2018

The federal government is certainly focused on price – Prime Minister Scott Morrison has referred to Energy Minister Angus Taylor as the “minister for getting electricity prices down” – but many important pricing policies depend on state action.

Retail pricing is the obvious example. Poorly regulated retail electricity markets have not delivered for consumers. Retail margins are higher than would be expected in a truly competitive market. Many consumers find the market so complicated they give up trying to understand it.




Read more:
A high price for policy failure: the ten-year story of spiralling electricity bills


State governments should work alongside the federal government to help consumers navigate the retail “confusopoly”. Governments should require retailers to help consumers compare offers and get the best deal. They should also stop retailers using excessive pay-on-time discounts (which tend to confuse rather than help consumers and can trap lower-income households), and ensure vulnerable customers do not pay high prices.

However, governments should resist the temptation to use price caps as a quick fix. If set too low, price caps could reduce competition and drive longer-term price increases.




Read more:
Capping electricity prices: a quick fix with hidden risks


Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory, which have not yet adopted retail competition, should move in that direction – while learning from the mistakes of others.

Network costs make up the biggest share of the electricity bill for most households (see page 8 here) and some small businesses. This is particularly an issue in New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania, where network values increased substantially under public ownership and those costs were passed on to consumers.

These states should write down the value of their overvalued networks or provide rebates to consumers, so the price of the networks is more closely aligned to the value they provide to consumers. Given the poor performance of publicly owned networks, any network businesses still in government hands should be privatised.

Responsibility for setting network reliability requirements should be transferred to the Australian Energy Regulator to prevent risk-averse state governments from imposing excessive reliability standards, which would drive up network costs again.




Read more:
Amid blackout scare stories, remember that a grid without power cuts is impossible… and expensive


Until recently, it seemed state governments had learned the lessons from the bad old days of excessively generous subsidies for rooftop solar. That was until August 2018, when the Victorian government committed more than A$1 billion to pay half the cost of solar panels for eligible households and provide an interest-free loan for the remainder. Most of these systems would pay for themselves without subsidy. The Victorian government should abandon this waste of taxpayers’ money.




Read more:
Policy overload: why the ACCC says household solar subsidies should be abolished


Finally, Australia’s gas market is adding to the price pain of homes and businesses. As international prices rise, there is no easy way to avoid some painful decisions. But some state policies are making matters worse.

The Victorian and Tasmanian governments’ moratoria on gas exploration and development constrain supply and drive up prices. The moratoria should be lifted. Instead, these states should give case-by-case approval to gas development projects, with safeguards against specific risks.

Australia needs reliable, affordable electricity to underpin our 21st-century economic prosperity. That must be protected while we also decarbonise the energy sector.

Energy market reform was at the forefront of national competition policy in the mid to late 1990s. But reform has since slowed, and the states are partly responsible. The states can rekindle the fire by pursuing a clear, nationally consistent action plan for affordable, reliable and low-emissions electricity.

Australia’s households and businesses – and the environment – are relying on the states to step up.The Conversation

Tony Wood, Program Director, Energy, Grattan Institute and Guy Dundas, Energy Fellow, Grattan Institute

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