Biden still leads US Democratic primaries, Trump’s ratings fall slightly after gun massacres, plus Australian preference flows



Joe Biden remains the favourite to win the Democratic nomination.
AAP/EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

After the first Democratic presidential debate on June 25-26, Joe Biden fell in Democratic national presidential polls, and Kamala Harris surged. In the lead-up to the July 30-31 debate, Biden recovered lost support while Harris lost some of her gains.




Read more:
US Democratic presidential primaries: Biden leading, followed by Sanders, Warren, Harris; and will Trump be beaten?


Since the debate, the biggest movement is clear gains for Elizabeth Warren, while Harris has continued to fall. In the RealClearPolitics national Democratic poll average, Biden currently leads with 30.8%, followed by Warren at 18.0%, Bernie Sanders at 16.8%, Harris at 8.3% and Pete Buttigieg at 6.3%. All other candidates are at 2% or less.

As I wrote previously, four states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina – hold their primaries or caucuses in February 2020, while all other states need to wait until at least March 2020. So early state polls are important.

In the only poll conducted since the second Democratic debate in Iowa, Biden led with 28%, followed by Warren at 19%, Harris at 11%, Sanders at 9% and Buttigieg at 8%. In New Hampshire, there have been two polls since the debate. One has Biden at 21%, Sanders 17%, Warren 14%, Harris 8% and Buttigieg 6%. The other gives Sanders a lead with 21%, followed by Biden at 15%, Warren 12%, Buttigieg 8% and Harris 7%.

In general election polling, Biden has a high single-digit lead over Donald Trump, Sanders a mid single-digit lead, and both Warren and Harris have low single-digit leads. Biden’s perceived electability is crucial in explaining his continued strong polling, as this tweet from analyst Nate Silver says.

For the next Democratic presidential debate, on September 12, the threshold for participation has been increased. As a result there are likely to be far fewer candidates than the 20 in each of the first two debates.

Trump’s ratings slightly down after gun massacres

On August 3-4, 31 people were murdered in two separate gun massacres in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Trump’s ratings are slightly down since these massacres. With all polls, Trump’s ratings are 41.9% approve, 53.6% disapprove, for a net approval of -11.7%. With polls of registered or likely voters, his ratings are 42.6% approve, 53.3% disapprove, for a net approval of -10.7%.

Perhaps due to his anti-immigrant rhetoric, Trump’s net ratings have fallen about 1.5 points since my previous article a month ago, and this trend has continued after the massacres.

In the latest US jobs report, the unemployment rate remained at just 3.7% as 164,000 jobs were added in July. These jobs reports have been good news for Trump. I wrote an old but still relevant article on my personal website last year about how the low US participation rate holds down the unemployment rate compared to Australia.

The question that should be asked about Trump is why, given the strong US economic performance, his net approval is well below zero. FiveThirtyEight has historical data from 12 presidents going back to Harry Truman, and Trump’s net approval is only ahead of Jimmy Carter at this point in their presidencies. If there is an economic downturn before the November 2020 general election, Trump is likely to be far more vulnerable.

An economic downturn could occur due to Trump’s trade war with China, or due to a “no-deal” Brexit in the UK. I wrote for The Poll Bludger on August 2 that the UK parliament is running out of options to prevent no-deal, which PM Boris Johnson’s hard “Leave” cabinet suggests he will pursue. In my previous Poll Bludger article on July 23, I talked about Johnson’s crushing victory (66.4-33.6) in a Conservative members’ ballot.

Trump can still win the 2020 election, despite his low approval ratings, if he is able to either demonise his eventual Democratic opponent, or win the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote, as occurred in 2016. However, recent state by state polling has Trump’s net approval below zero in ten states he carried in 2016, and in some of those states his ratings are well below zero.




Read more:
US 2016 election final results: how Trump won


If all the states where Trump’s net approval is currently negative were to go to the Democrat, the Democrat would win the presidency by an emphatic 419-119 votes in the Electoral College.

Australian election preference flows and the first Newspoll

On August 2, the Electoral Commission released data on how every minor party’s preferences flowed between the major parties at the May federal election. The Greens, who won 10.4% of the primary vote, flowed heavily to Labor (82.2%), but Clive Palmer’s UAP (3.4% of the vote) flowed at 65.1% to Coalition, and One Nation (3.1% of the vote) was almost identical in its flow (65.2%). Excluding the Greens, UAP and One Nation, Others preferences were 50.7% to Labor.

Analyst Kevin Bonham says there was barely any increase in the Greens preference flow to Labor since 2016. The Greens flow increased in four states, fell slightly in Queensland, and was weaker in SA as more moderate voters returned to the Greens after the collapse of Centre Alliance.

In 2016, One Nation preferences were just 50.4% to the Coalition, so the Coalition’s flow from One Nation increased almost 15%. In 2013, Palmer’s party preferences were 53.7% to the Coalition, so the UAP’s flow to the Coalition improved 11.4%.

Preference shifts advantaged the Coalition by 0.8% on the national two party vote compared to if no preference shifts had occurred. The Coalition’s overall share of minor party preferences (40.4%) was its best since 2001, when the Greens only had 5%.




Read more:
Difficult for Labor to win in 2022 using new pendulum, plus Senate and House preference flows


In the first Newspoll since the election, the Coalition led by 53-47, from primary votes of 44% Coalition, 33% Labor, 11% Greens and 3% One Nation. Scott Morrison’s ratings were 51% satisfied, 36% dissatisfied, for a net approval of +15, a big improvement from +1 in the final pre-election Newspoll that was biased against the Coalition. Anthony Albanese’s initial ratings were 39% satisfied, 36% dissatisfied. Morrison led by 48-31 as better PM.

This poll was conducted July 25-28 from a sample of 1,600. Bonham says there is no indication in The Australian’s report that anything has changed at Newspoll since the election’s poll failure. As I wrote after the election, there was, and still is, a lack of adequate documentation of Newspoll’s methods.




Read more:
Newspoll probably wrong since Morrison became PM; polling has been less accurate at recent elections


Spain’s Socialists fail to form government

The Spanish Socialists won the April 28 election, but as I wrote on my personal website on August 1, a lack of cooperation between the Socialists and far-left Podemos could mean another election. Also covered: a landslide for former comedian Zelensky’s party in the Ukraine, and the conservatives easily retain their hold over Japan’s upper house.The Conversation

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

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

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Beijing is moving to stamp out the Hong Kong protests – but it may have already lost the city for good



Beijing has a long-term Hong Kong challenge on its hands, one that in many ways is of its own making.
Miguel Candela/EPA

Adam Ni, Macquarie University

Since the start of mass demonstrations in Hong Kong in early June, there has been a significant escalation of Beijing’s rhetoric and tactics. Instead of addressing the root causes of the public anger, Beijing has demonised the protesters and threatened to suppress them with its military.

Beijing’s shrill rhetoric, misinformation campaigns, and blatant threats have galvanised resistance in what has fast become a volatile situation. The crisis doesn’t appear to be dissipating. And things are going to come to a head very soon.

The mass protests started in response to a controversial extradition bill that was widely seen as another step in the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy. The demonstrations quickly escalated due to public anger over police violence and an unresponsive Hong Kong government.

But deeper down at the heart of this crisis is a conflict over the longer-term vision for the city – over its soul.




Read more:
The Hong Kong protesters have turned militant and more strategic – and this unnerves Beijing


Beijing’s goal is to gradually tighten its grip on Hong Kong. It aims to assimilate the city into China’s authoritarian political system, and rule over its people in the same way it does in rest of the country. Many Hong Kongers, meanwhile, are desperate to resist any further encroachment by Beijing on their freedoms and way of life. These goals are fundamentally incompatible.

In many ways, this is a problem of Beijing’s own making. It created the conditions for the current crisis by systematically undermining the “one country, two systems” framework.

A show of force: military trucks parked near the Hong Kong border.
Alex Plavevski/EPA

Beijing has effectively torn up its promises, made before the British handover, to keep Hong Kong’s political system intact until 2047. In recent years, it has undermined the “one country, two systems” framework through political interference, the changing of electoral and other laws, and the penetration of Hong Kong’s social institutions.

In doing so, it has provoked local resentment, a stronger Hong Kong identity, and a culture of resistance. According to a recent poll, the percentage of Hong Kongers identifying as Chinese is now at its lowest point since the handover in 1997.

For the ruling Chinese Communist Party, this is worrisome. And the longer the protests continue, the more it sees its authority challenged. Such resistance, in Beijing’s view, cannot be tolerated.

Beijing’s multi-pronged strategy

In the early days of the protests, Beijing adopted a low-profile approach that focused on censoring news of the demonstrations from filtering into mainland China. This approach, however, changed quickly when the Chinese government realised the protests would likely continue and it needed to mobilise public opinion.

What is Beijing’s aim now? In the short-term, it wants to end the unrest by shutting down the protests completely. It has repeatedly signalled its willingness to use force if necessary.




Read more:
Hong Kong fears losing its rule of law; the rest of the world should worry too


Beyond that, given what has transpired over the last ten weeks of demonstrations, Beijing will seek to tighten its political control over Hong Kong even further to check continued resistance.

In order to achieve its immediate and long-term goals in Hong Kong, Beijing has put in place a multi-pronged strategy. A full picture of this strategy has emerged in recent weeks:

1) First, Beijing is firmly backing the embattled Hong Kong authorities. Chinese officials have repeatedly urged the Hong Kong police to adopt tougher tactics against protesters who they see as criminals.

And in the last week, we have seen an alarming escalation in police violence, with tear gas and rubber bullets being used with increasing frequency.

2) Beijing is also ramping up its influence operations in Hong Kong to solidify support among pro-establishment elites, businesses, and other “patriotic forces”.

Last week, the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong held a consultation forum with about 500 pro-establishment figures in Shenzhen, just across the border.

The key message was that the Chinese government was fully behind them and that their fate was tied to Beijing. This has had an immediate impact on the ground in Hong Kong, with the city’s billionaires “breaking their silence” this week and calling for the protesters to stand down.

Not with a small degree of irony, Beijing and its proxies in Hong Kong have a close relationship with the city’s organised crime groups. On several occasions in the last two months, these groups have assaulted protesters on Beijing’s behalf in an attempt to instill fear in the local population.

3) Beijing has stepped up its propaganda and misinformation efforts against the protesters in an attempt to cast them as villains in the unfolding drama. Criminal elements are also working with nefarious foreign agents to foment turmoil and undermine China, the official line goes.

Within mainland China, such blatant twists of truth are widely believed. And because Beijing has successfully mobilised public opinion there, that makes it harder for the government to back down and make compromises (not that we are seeing signs of that).

In any case, Beijing’s relentless war for hearts and minds continues.

4) Beijing is using punitive measures to cut off support for the protesters. For instance, the Chinese government ordered the Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific to block staffers who took part in the protests from working on flights to the mainland.

It did this to deliver an unequivocal message: support the protesters and we will hit your bottom line. Beijing will likely continue to target Hong Kong and international companies that it sees as being on the wrong side of the political crisis.

5) Beijing is trying to deter escalating protests by signalling its strong determination to intervene with force if necessary.

The Chinese government has repeatedly threatened the use of armed forces as a backstop measure if the unrest spins out of control. Indeed, it may at some point make the judgement the situation warrants military intervention, regardless of the high cost involved.

Beijing’s posturing is intended to send a deterrent message and is part of a wider psychological campaign against the protesters. But we are not at the point of imminent military intervention yet.

6) Despite the unrest, Beijing will likely accelerate its efforts to integrate Hong Kong into the mainland economically and through infrastructure projects. High-speed trains, new bridges, and economic cooperation are all part of this long-term effort. We are also likely to see a further tightening of control over the city’s political institutions, judicial system, and media.

A festering long-term problem

For Chinese leaders, the protest movement has reinforced an important lesson: insufficient government power, civil liberties, and perceived weakness leads to the loss of control, resistance, and social instability.

This will only serve to strengthen Beijing’s resolve to assert its control over Hong Kong more forcefully, which will, in turn, provoke further resentment and resistance from locals.




Read more:
Hong Kong: how a more assertive British government can uphold the ‘one country, two systems’ formula


To be sure, Beijing has a long-term Hong Kong challenge on its hands. If it wants to resolve the current impasse, hardline tactics are not sufficient. As unpalatable as it is to both sides, Beijing and the protesters must compromise. But there is little prospect of that in the current environment of escalating violence, inflamed passions, frayed nerves, and hardening attitudes on both sides.

But Beijing must recognise that its actions are sowing the seeds of future conflict, just as its past broken promises led directly to what we are witnessing today. As Hong Kong gallops towards tragedy, it is both mesmerising and heartbreaking to watch.The Conversation

Adam Ni, China researcher, Department of Security Studies and Criminology, Macquarie University

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

Morrison needs to take control of China policy – but leave room for dissent



The Morrison government is at risk of losing control of China policy at the most critical time in Australian history.
AAP/EPA/Thomas Peter/pool

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

The Morrison government is at risk of losing control of China policy. Push-back from within its own ranks is complicating its ability to manage relations with Beijing. China policy is being subjected to a buffeting from hawkish backbenchers who would like to see Canberra adopt a harder line.

Let’s dispose first of straw man arguments about whether Liberal backbencher Andrew Hastie was within his rights to warn of threats to national sovereignty by a rising China that is ruthlessly advancing its own interests.

Hastie has every right to raise alarms about China’s behaviour in his capacity as a member of parliament and chair of the joint parliamentary committee on intelligence and security. He was given opinion space in Nine newspapers to do so.




Read more:
View from The Hill: It’s not in the ‘national interest’ for the backbench to shut up about China


However, he was ill-advised to use a reference to Nazi Germany to advance his argument about a China threat. Hastie may not have likened China to the Third Reich explicitly, but by referencing France’s inability to withstand German aggression he was implicitly making the link.

This is what he said:

The West once believed that economic liberalisation would naturally lead to democratisation in China. This was our Maginot Line. It would keep us safe, just as the French believed their series of steel and concrete forts would guard them against the German advance in 1940. But their thinking failed catastrophically. The French failed to appreciate the evolution of mobile warfare. Like the French, Australia has failed to see how mobile our authoritarian neighbour has become.

Invoking Nazi Germany or the Holocaust to advance an argument is treacherous terrain at the best of times, unless the author is clamouring for attention.

One wonders how much notice Hastie’s commentary would have attracted if there had been no reference to the inadequacies of France’s Maginot Line.

It’s reasonable to speculate that his contribution would have gone the way of those written by other China hawks in the so-called national security establishment, many of whom have converted their hawkishness on China into a cottage industry.

One other point might be made about Hastie’s contribution. It is simply not correct to say, as he did, there was a general expectation China would continue to democratise and in time become more like us.

This is a flawed and naive point of view.

China’s ruthless suppression of the Tiananmen Square democracy protests in 1989 was not an aberration. It was consistent with its behaviour since it began opening to the outside world in the late 1970s.




Read more:
Thirty years on, China is still trying to whitewash the Tiananmen crackdown from its history


Its 1979 suppression of a Democracy Wall movement, and the arrest of prominent dissidents including human rights activist Wei Jingsheng, now in exile, attest to a regime’s ruthlessness in stifling dissent.

Beijing’s tolerance of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests will be viewed through a prism of what these might portend for the mainland. If there is any indication of contagion across borders, China will react forcefully, and may do so anyway if disturbances continue.

Before addressing what might be an appropriate response from the Australian government to an eruption of anti-China sentiment on its own backbench, perhaps it would be useful to define the challenges at play.

In its latest manifestation, China is no longer a status quo power. It is one that is seeking expand its power and influence in what it regards as its own sphere of influence in the Asia-Pacific, broadly defined to include the southwest Pacific.

These attempts to assert itself are not simply restricted to the militarisation of geographical features in the South China Sea. They also involve pursuit of an economic, diplomatic and propaganda offensive that is designed to advance Chinese interests at home and abroad.

In seeking to promote these interests, Beijing is an indefatigable exploiter of opportunities and weaknesses. If there is a rule of thumb in dealing with China in this latest phase, it is that it will seek to get away with what it can on many different fronts.

In that sense, Hastie has a point: Australia cannot simply adopt a passive response to Chinese single-mindedness in pursuit of what it perceives to be its own interests.

The question, then, becomes what to do?

This is where it becomes crucial that the Morrison government settles on a clearly defined strategy to deal with a disruptive China. What this should involve is a combination of a hedging strategy in partnership with Australia’s allies to balance Beijing’s militarised ambitions, and a separate one in which Australia’s own economic and diplomatic interests are asserted.

The government’s task will be to tread a fine line between security arrangements with its allies, principally the United States, and a relationship with China that is defined by Australia’s own interests and not those of anyone else.

In a thoughtful speech to Asialink before the G20 Summit in Osaka in June, Morrison outlined what appeared to have the makings of a “Morrison doctrine” on how to steer a course in treacherous waters between Australia’s security and economic lifelines.

The prime minister argued for a more activist diplomatic role in the region, aimed at securing Australian national interests in what are choppy waters. He said:

We should not just sit back and await our fate in the wake of a major power contest.

Australia could do worse than pursue an Asian equivalent of the Helsinki Accords that helped keep the peace in Europe during the Cold War.

This is a time for creative Australian diplomacy, not running off to Washington to hide behind America’s petticoat.

This returns us to the Hastie intervention and the national interest question.

Just as Hastie is entitled to express a personal point of view, so does the government of the day have a responsibility to assert what is in the national interest.

Clearly it is not in the national interest for political leaders to disregard comments that might have a negative impact on relations with Australia’s pre-eminent trading partner. China absorbs one-third of Australia’s merchandise exports.

This is what the prime minister had to say:

… the government is fully aware of the complexity that is involved in our region and the challenges that we face in the future… And we are careful as a government to ensure that we don’t seek to make them any more complex than they need to be. And that is what Australians can count on. We will be measured. We will be careful and we will put Australia’s national interest first.

Morrison needs to assert this point of view more forcefully if he is to avoid losing control of China policy. These is nothing inherently inconsistent between a national interest argument and one that enables dissident voices to have their say.

After all, this is not China.The Conversation

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

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

Hong Kong fears losing its rule of law; the rest of the world should worry too



A Hong Kong pro-democracy protester on 11 August 2019.
Miguel Candela/EPA

John Garrick, Charles Darwin University

What’s happening in Hong Kong right now has direct bearings on Australia. It goes to an issue crucial to our position in a world economic order that is likely to be shaped less by the United States, still our most important ally, and more by China, our ever more valuable trading partner.

At the heart of the Hong Kong protests is the same issue that causes concern about China’s ambitions from the South China Sea to the South Pacific. It’s about the Chinese government’s commitment to an idiosyncratic idea of the rule of law.

Hong Kong has something like a constitution or bill of rights, called the Hong Kong Basic Law. It’s a legacy of British colonial rule, which the Chinese government agreed to preserve because there was value in keeping Hong Kong the prosperous city it had become.

China has a very different approach to law. Its constitution can and has been changed at the whim of the ruling party. There is no separation of powers, and no such thing as an independent judiciary.

Removing the judicial firewall

The trigger for the Hong Kong protests was a proposed law enabling China to extradite Hong Kong residents and visitors. Protesters foresaw democrats and dissidents disappearing into China’s prison system. The judicial “firewall” giving meaning to the notion of “one country, two systems” would be fatally undermined. Hong Kong’s distinctive culture and economy would be destroyed with it.




Read more:
The Hong Kong protesters have turned militant and more strategic – and this unnerves Beijing


The idea of law as an instrument of the Chinese Communist Party shapes the Chinese government’s domestic policies, and also its approach to international law. It respects international conventions when it has to, and when it is in the national interest. But there’s a point where it is quite willing to thumb its nose at the whole idea.

This willingness has stiffened under the leadership of Xi Jinping, who has reaffirmed in word and deed that the Chinese Communist Party “is the highest force for political leadership”.

Law of the sea

An example is China’s view of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in its dispute with the Philippines over island territory in the South China Sea.

In 2016 a UN tribunal unanimously found in favour of the Philippines. China refused to accept the verdict. It declared it “would continue to abide by international law and basic norms governing international relations”, but also added:

The Chinese government reiterates that, regarding territorial issues and maritime delimitation disputes, China does not accept any means of third party dispute settlement or any solution imposed on China.

It therefore continues to claim the South China Sea as an “inalienable” part of its territory. In direct defiance of the ruling, it has also built artificial islands within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, and built military bases on those islands.

Wider implications

China’s official narrative is that it doesn’t reject international law per se, but simply wants law that accommodates “Chinese characteristics”, including China’s preference for resolving disputes one on one.




Read more:
Australians’ feelings sour towards China: Lowy poll


Given that the point of establishing the United Nations and other multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organisation was to replace “might makes right” with something like an international rule of law, this is likely to prove cold comfort for smaller nations.

As Xi told the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 2017:

  • the overall goal of “comprehensively advancing law-based governance” is to “establish a system of socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics and build a country of socialist rule of law”

  • “major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics aims to foster a new type of international relations and build a community with a shared future for mankind”

  • the defining feature of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” is “the leadership of the Communist Party of China”.




Read more:
Australia has too few home-grown experts on the Chinese Communist Party. That’s a problem


Beijing’s view of the rule of law is thus very different to what most of the rest of the world understands. The potential consequences are not lost on the citizens of Hong Kong, and they should not be lost on China’s neighbours and trading partners.The Conversation

John Garrick, University Fellow in Law, Charles Darwin University

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

Dutton directive gives journalists more breathing space, but not whistleblowers



Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton appears to have backed down from his previous hardline position on AFP raids and press freedom.
AAP/Sam Mooy

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

In light of the ministerial direction issued to the Australian Federal Police by the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton on August 9, it would be a spectacular contradiction in policy if the Australian Federal Police’s current pursuit of journalists were to end in prosecutions.




Read more:
Explainer: what are the media companies’ challenges to the AFP raids about?


The direction stated in part:

I expect the AFP to take into account the importance of a free and open press in Australia’s democratic society and to consider broader public interest implications before undertaking investigative action involving a professional journalist or news media organisation in relation to unauthorised disclosure of material made or obtained by a current or former Commonwealth officer.

So much for the uncompromising stance of Dutton and the then acting commissioner of the AFP, Neil Gaughan, that the law was the law, and if journalists broke it they could expect to be prosecuted like anyone else.

The political sensitivity of this climb-down may be gauged from the fact the direction was issued at 4pm on a Friday.

A combination of early deadlines for the Saturday papers, the incapacity of television to pull together a comprehensive story in time for the evening bulletins, and the dead air of the weekend make late Friday the preferred time of the week to drop bad or embarrassing news.

Dutton’s announcement was bereft of explanation. However, events since the AFP raids on the home of a News Corp journalist, Annika Smethurst, and on the ABC headquarters on June 5 and 6 respectively give a hint of the likely reason.

First, there was the international condemnation across the Western world of the repressive nature of the police raids, expressed in a tone of disbelief that this could be happening in a mature democracy.

Then there was the unified response from the heads of Australia’s three main news organisations, the ABC, News Corporation and Nine. Their message, delivered in a nationally televised broadcast from the National Press Club on June 26, was that a government obsessed with secrecy had now gone so far as to criminalise journalism.

There was also the statement by the Federal Attorney-General, Christian Porter, that he was “seriously disinclined” to prosecute journalists for doing journalism. His consent is needed for any such prosecution.

Faced with international condemnation, pressure from the media and the potential for a major row in Cabinet between Dutton and Porter, the government then tried to take the sting out of the situation by setting up an inquiry into press freedom.

Bizarrely, this is being conducted by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS), the very body that has waved through most of these repressive laws in the first place.

The inquiry has generated a body of strongly worded submissions arguing for the balance between press freedom and government secrecy to be struck in a way that is more consistent with democratic principles.

It begins its public hearings this week.

So Dutton’s ministerial direction may be seen as having two objectives: heading off a potentially damaging split in cabinet, and accomplishing a preemptive buckle before the parliamentary inquiry calls him and outgoing AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin, to give an account of themselves.

Of course, as far as anyone knows, the AFP investigations are still on foot. Already officers have removed thousands of records from the ABC, accumulated travel data concerning two ABC journalists and requested their fingerprints, as well as turning Annika Smethurst’s home upside-down.

So the government’s intimidatory tactics have had a good run already, even if prosecutions do not follow.

There is nothing to stop the police from completing these investigations and providing a brief of evidence for Porter. However, given his stated position, allied with the new political dynamics created by the reaction to the raids and Dutton’s directive, it seems unlikely prosecutions will follow.

While the ministerial direction represents a genuflection in the direction of press freedom, it provides nothing by way of protection for whistleblowers.

The direction says it

does not constrain investigation by the AFP of unauthorised disclosure of material made or obtained by a current or former Commonwealth officer.

So it seems the pursuit of whistleblowers – the people who provide journalists with leaked information – can continue unabated. They still have only a demonstrably useless law – the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 – offering a fig leaf of protection.

The present prosecutions of Richard Boyle (Tax Office) and David McBride (Defence) attest to this.

The last paragraph of Dutton’s directive deals with the process by which government departments or agencies refer leaks to the AFP, and the AFP then assesses for investigative possibilities.




Read more:
Media raids raise questions about AFP’s power and weak protection for journalists and whistleblowers


This entire reference and assessment process has been shot through with politics, either at the departmental end or the police end, or both.

That is why the ABC and Smethurst leaks – neither of which had much to do with national security but were acutely embarrassing to the government – were subject to police action.

By contrast, a leak to The Australian about the alleged security effects of the medevac legislation, which the head of ASIO Duncan Lewis publicly complained was a real threat to national security, was not subject to police action because it played into the hands of the government’s scare campaign about people-smuggling.

Dutton’s direction says:

I expect the AFP to strengthen its guidance and processes about the types and level of information required from a Government department or agency when they are referring to an unauthorised disclosure. Referring departments or agencies will need to provide a harm statement indicating the extent to which the disclosure is expected to significantly compromise Australia’s national security.

If the direction is to be taken as meaning only leaks significantly compromising national security are to be referred to the police, then there may be a larger safe space within which journalists can operate.

But the hunt for whistleblowers will go on.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

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

Chinese propaganda goes tech-savvy to reach a new generation



As younger Chinese become increasingly addicted to their mobile devices, the government’s propaganda offices have had to rethink their strategies.
Roman Pilipey/EPA

Wanning Sun, University of Technology Sydney

Earlier this year, a new app was launched in China to put the patriotism of Chinese citizens to the test.

Named “Study Xi to Strengthen the Nation”, the app quizzes users on all things related to President Xi Jinping – his policies, activities, achievements, theories and thoughts. Users can earn points and win prizes for correct answers and compete with colleagues and friends to see who knows the most about China’s leader.

The app is the latest example of a rethink by the Communist Party when it comes to its propaganda efforts and how best to justify the legitimacy of its one-party rule, extol the virtues of the party, and promote patriotism to an audience of young, tech-savvy Chinese.

For those institutions responsible for the production of effective propaganda, this is a real challenge. After all, propaganda in the 21st century has to go beyond forcing people to sit in study sessions on Friday afternoons, read the People’s Daily newspaper, or watch China Central Television (CCTV) in group meetings.




Read more:
Extremist mobs? How China’s propaganda machine tried to control the message in the Hong Kong protests


From sermons to ‘indoctritainment’

Thanks to a number of developments, the old propaganda messages of previous generations can easily be repackaged for millennials. Like the rest of the world, Chinese millennials are keen adopters of the latest mobile technologies and suffer from short attention spans. They are also just as enthusiastic as their Western counterparts about posting jokes, music videos and short, sharp, attention-grabbing memes on social media.

The Chinese government, meanwhile, is putting more of an emphasis on humanising its approach to leadership. Politicians are keen to be seen as relatable rather than authoritative figures.

So, to get its messaging across in a new way, party propaganda has morphed from dry sermons to what I like to call indoctritainment. And these campaigns are often high-end productions.

Increasingly, ideological messages are more effective if they are delivered using a platform that’s already been trialled and proven in marketing. In 2016, for instance, CCTV launched a promotion of the Communist Party in the form of a public awareness advertisement to mark the 95th anniversary of the founding of the party.

The one-minute video, titled “I am a Chinese Communist Party member,” features heartwarming vignettes of individuals from different walks of life – teacher, cleaner, surgeon, policeman, local public servant, fisherman – who are all good Samaritans doing their bit to help others.

The message is clear: the party is being re-branded as an organisation made up of unsung heroes. As the voice-over explains:

I am the first one to arrive, I am the last one to leave, I’m the one who thinks of myself the least, and cares about others the most … I am the Chinese Communist Party, and I am always there with you.

Another video promoting the Chinese military, “I am a Chinese soldier”, demonstrates the point. Even without the English subtitles, it’s not hard to see what the producers were going for: a patriotic Hollywood movie or romantic tear-jerker.

The pop culture treatment, with American accents

Another tactic is the use of popular culture as a way of conveying sometimes dense or dull Chinese government policies, especially if the intended audience is global.

In 2015, a video called “The 13 what” used catchy pop music, colourful animation, and American-accented English to explain China’s 13th five-year national plan.

Channelling David Bowie, Monty Python and the psychedelia of the 1960s, the three-minute video was produced by a digital media production team operating under the auspices of the government’s main propaganda offices in Beijing.

Two years earlier, the same studio also produced the widely circulated five-minute video clip, “How leaders are made”. Xi Jinping appears in the clip as a cartoon character, as do US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Light-hearted, zany, and (again) featuring American English, the video informs viewers that Xi has worked long and hard to move up China’s political ladder. The implication is that Xi’s power is just as legitimate as that of his Western counterparts.

Within a short period after its release, the video had been viewed more than a million times on Youku, China’s version of YouTube.

Propaganda by way of screen bullets

Increasingly, the Communist Party’s propaganda material goes viral only after it appears on popular video-sharing websites with “bullet screens”. This is an interactive feature that enables viewers to “shoot” text comments across the screen as the video is being streamed. It’s very popular with younger audiences.

One of China’s biggest bullet screen platforms is Bilibili, often referred to as “the B site”.

The site used to be occasionally shut down for streaming what the government considers “morally unsound” material.

To stay on the party’s good side, Bilibili now plays host to a wide suite of propaganda produced by CCTV or the Chinese Department of Propaganda. In 2015, the Communist Youth League of China also began to hold regular courses on the site aimed at promoting patriotism among young people.

But how effective is it?

Just how successful these strategies have been is still not entirely clear. While the “Xi Jinping thought” app has captured the imagination of many outside China, party members who have been encouraged – in some cases requested – to download the app seem less than enthusiastic.

And some of these new propaganda efforts have backfired and attracted cynical responses online, even ridicule.




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But judging by the many comments viewers have left on the B site, it seems fair to conclude that some of the tactics have had the intended effect of endearing the party and its leaders to the young and impressionable.

This is a reminder of how naïve it is to assume that technologies are inherently democratising, and that digital disruption is likely to spell the end of communism in China. Such assumptions still permeate most Western media stories about the Communist Party’s new propaganda strategies, but this is clearly not the case.

As the party’s propaganda strategies become more nuanced and sophisticated, so should our frameworks for understanding them.The Conversation

Wanning Sun, Professor of Media and Cultural Studies, University of Technology Sydney

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

View from The Hill: It’s not in the ‘national interest’ for the backbench to shut up about China


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Trade minister Simon Birmingham on Sunday weighed into the debate over Andrew Hastie’s warning about China rise. Birmingham said colleagues in future should ask themselves two questions before speaking out on “sensitive foreign policy matters”.

These were: “Is the making of those comments in a public way necessary? And is it helpful to Australia’s national interest?”

On a narrow view, the warning by Hastie – the chairman of the powerful parliamentary committee on intelligence and security – about Australia not being alive enough to the dangers of an ever more powerful China was not “necessary”; nor was it particularly helpful to a government trying to manage a relationship that gets more complicated all the time.

But the idea that backbenchers should not voice considered views on such a major long term issue for this country shows a certain contempt for parliamentary democracy.

Birmingham, speaking on the ABC, said: “There are a range of ways in which any of us can contribute and we can do that with direct discussion with ministers and with leadership in backbench committees and other ways”.

Decoded, the message to the backbench was: boys and girls, when in public just follow the talking points we give you.

Amid the noisy chatter and clatter of our current politics, serious foreign policy discussions among politicians are relatively rare. But the broad community debate grows ever stronger about China and its implications for Australia – including the now-great power’s trajectory, our dependence on it economically, its reach into this country (including through investment and our educational institutions), and how we juggle our respective relationships with it and the United States.

New Liberal backbencher Dave Sharma entered the China debate at the weekend, with a robust thread of nearly a dozen tweets, in support of Hastie.

A former senior diplomat, Sharma is more steeped in foreign policy than most on the frontbench.

“Hastie is right to ring the bell on this issue, and to warn that our greatest vulnerability lies in our thinking, which is Panglossian at times,” he wrote.

Significantly, Sharma also supported Hastie’s comparison with France’s failure to comprehend properly the rise of Germany before World War 2.

“In WW2, we failed to realise early enough that German ambitions could not be accommodated. National Socialist Germany was not a status quo power, but we mistook it as such, or deceived ourselves that it was,” Sharma wrote.

Hastie’s reference to Germany had been sharply condemned on Friday by Senate leader Mathias Cormann, who said it was a “a clumsy and inappropriate analogy.”

But Hastie was verballed over his invoking of Germany. He wasn’t saying the Chinese and Nazi regimes were the same – he was talking about the underestimation of the threats they posed to other countries.

Hastie could have drawn another parallel – with the failure of countries in the 1930s to fully appreciate the looming threat from Japan.

Sharma noted that rising powers inevitably cause convulsions – “the challenge is to accommodate a rising power IF it is sufficiently status quo in nature that it can be accommodated. This was the thesis with China for much of the early 2000s,” Sharma wrote.

“But if the rising power is revisionist in nature, and cannot be accommodated within the existing order – because it fundamentally does not accept the legitimacy of that order – then the future becomes much tougher”.

Given it was clear China’s ideological direction and ambition had become “far more pronounced” under its current leadership, “our strategy and thinking needs to reflect this shift, which is basically Hastie’s point – that we need to remove the blinkers from our eyes, recognise reality for what it is, and act accordingly,” Sharma said.

“This does not mean we should not be pursuing a constructive and positive relationship with China – we should be. Nor does it compel us to make a ‘choice’. But we need to be honest with ourselves about the challenges of managing this relationship and what might lie ahead.”

Of course Australian government policy in the last few years has been reacting to what has been seen as a heightening Chinese threat – even while the government has often been unwilling to admit as much.

The Pacific “step up” is all about China. So was the legislation, enacted by the Turnbull government, against foreign interference. The exclusion of Huawei from the 5G network was an unequivocal message. Australia’s intensified efforts to counter the cyber security threat have China front of mind.

The Chinese predictably reacted with annoyance to Hastie’s comments. But they are much more attuned to the actions Australia has taken and continues to take – measures which have been and are in the national interest. That’s the basic reason why Australia-China relations are strained.

The government’s trying to shut down backbench contributions to this debate is less a matter of the “national interest” than an exercise of attempted control of its MPs in its own interest. In fact it might be counter-productive for the national interest, which may require the Australian public to acquire a much better understanding than they have now of what could be increasingly difficult times and decisions in the years to come.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.

Government tells police to lay off journalists in investigating leaks


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has given a new direction to the Australian Federal Police to prevent repeats of the recent raids on the media when leaks are being investigated.

The number of investigations will also be cut back, because departments referring leaks of official material to the police will have to outline the harm the disclosure poses to national security.

The changes, announced by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton late on Friday, follow a backlash against the government after the Australian Federal Police raided News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst and the ABC over separate leaks.

The direction applies to both current and prospective investigations, so would likely mean the police will drop off their pursuit of the media in these instances, although the ultimate decision rests with the AFP.

Smethurst’s story revealed confidential correspondence about a proposed change in the remit of the Australian Signals Directorate. The ABC reported confidential documents relating to the behaviour of Australian special forces in Afghanistan.

After the raids the AFP refused to rule out prosecuting the journalists. The media organisations launched court action challenging the validity and use of the search warrants.

Dutton said he had issued a “ministerial direction” to the AFP Commissioner.

This set out the government’s “expectations” for the police when a journalist or media organisation had a leak from a serving or former Commonwealth official.

Dutton said the directive did not constrain investigation by the AFP of an unauthorised disclosure. “A key function of the AFP is the enforcement of the criminal law, without exception,” he said.

But he said he expected the AFP “to take into account the importance of a free and open press in Australia’s democratic society and to consider broader public interest implications before undertaking investigative action involving a professional journalist or news media organisation” in relation to a leak.

“Where consistent with operational imperatives, I expect the AFP to exhaust alternative investigative actions prior to considering whether involving a professional journalist or news media organisation is necessary.”

Dutton said he expected the police to continue to seek voluntary assistance from the media.

He has also told the AFP “to strengthen its guidance and processes about the types and level of information required” from departments and agencies when referring leaks.

Departments “will need to provide a harm statement indicating the extent to which the disclosure is expected to significantly compromise Australia’s national security”.

The upshot is that rather than departments routinely referring leaks to the police, disclosures that do not carry national security implications will not be sent.

Sources pointed out this would not stop a department using its own internal processes to find out who had leaked and taking disciplinary action against them.

The opposition declared the changes just “window dressing”.

Shadow minister for Home Affairs Kristina Keneally said Dutton had announced what he “expects” of the police when the media and the public had demanded guarantees from the government.

She pointed out the announcement had come just days before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security held public hearings into press freedoms.

“This is a cowardly act,” Keneally said. “It’s taken Mr Dutton too long to speak out and there are still many unanswered questions”, she said.

“Can the Morrison government confirm they will not charge or prosecute any Australian journalist – such as those at the ABC – for doing their job and reporting in the public interest?”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.

As Australia looks to join a coalition in Iran, the risks are many



The Morrison government must have a plan for Australia’s involvement if the “peacekeeping” descends into hostility.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has indicated Australia will join a multinational peacekeeping force to protect freedom of navigation in the Gulf, but at this stage he has not indicated what form Australian participation might take.

Speaking to reporters after a conversation overnight with newly-installed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Morrison said Australia was “looking very carefully at an international, multinational initiative” to provide a peacekeeping role.

But given recent experience of Australia too hastily joining an American-led Iraq invasion of 2003, with disastrous consequences, Morrison and his advisers need to ask some hard questions – and set clear limits on any Australian involvement.

It is not clear the extent to which the prime minister and his team have interrogated the risks involved before acceding to an American request for some form of military contribution to policing one of the world’s most strategically important waterways.




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Nor is it clear what form Australian engagement might take to deter Iran’s threats to tanker traffic. This includes its seizing of a British-flagged vessel.

Options include sending a warship or warships to join peacekeeping patrols under American command, or stationing surveillance aircraft in the region to monitor ship movements through the Strait of Hormuz.

The operative words in the above paragraph are “American command”.

Any peacekeeping mission might be presented as a multinational exercise, but in effect the preponderance of American power, including an aircraft carrier battle group, means Americans would be in command.

In the Iraq invasion of 2003, Australians operated under broad American oversight, as did the British at considerable cost to Prime Minister Tony Blair’s reputation.

This is not an argument against Australian involvement in protecting a vital sea lane through which passes one-third of the world’s seaborne tradeable oil every day. Rather, it is to make the case for extreme caution.

Morrison and his team need to ask themselves whether there is a risk of being drawn into an American exercise in regime change in Iran. What might be the limits on Australia’s involvement should hostilities broke out in the Gulf?

What would be the rules of engagement? What might be an exit strategy?

What, for example, would be Australia’s response if a warship involved in a peacekeeping exercise was damaged – or sunk – in a hostile act? This includes hitting a mine bobbing in the Gulf waterway, or a limpet mine stuck on the side of a vessel.

We have seen this before in 1984, when traffic in the Gulf was brought to a standstill by Iran floating mines into busy sea lanes.

What would Australia’s response be in the case of a surveillance aircraft or drone being shot down if it strayed into Iranian airspace?

In other words, there are multiple possibilities of conflict escalating given the concentration of firepower that is planned for the Gulf.

The aim of any international mission to which Australia attaches itself should be to de-escalate tensions in the world’s most volatile region. A military presence cannot – and should not – be detached from a political imperative.

That imperative is to draw Iran back into discussions on a revitalised Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Under this 2015 plan, the Iranians agreed to freeze their nuclear program under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) supervision.

Iran was complying with that agreement before US President Donald Trump recklessly abrogated it in 2018 and re-applied sanctions. These have brought Iran’s economy to its knees.




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Trump’s abandonment of the JCPOA against the wishes of the other signatories, including the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, was as inexplicable as it was damaging.

Now, the world is facing a crisis in the Gulf of American making, and one that Washington is asking its allies to police.

Morrison has been equivocal about the JCPOA. He would be well advised to reiterate Australia’s backing for the agreement as a signal to the Americans that Australia stands with its allies in its support of international obligations.

These cannot – and should not – be ripped up at the whim of a president who seems to have been motivated largely by a desire to undo the useful work of his predecessor.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this has been an act of self-harm to American interests and those of its allies. It is a crisis that need not have occurred.

Viewed from the distance of Canberra, Morrison and his advisers might have difficulty fully comprehending the risks involved in a potential escalation of tensions in the Gulf.

In a useful paper, the International Crisis Group warns of the dangers of an escalation of hostilities due to a mistake or accident in a highly charged environment.

As Iran Project Director Ali Vaez puts it:

Just as in Europe in 1914 a single incident has the potential of sparking a military confrontation that could, in turn, engulf the entire region.

What should be kept in mind in all of this is that it is not simply stresses in the Gulf itself that are threatening stability, but a host of other Middle East flashpoints. These include ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen, and heightened tensions between Iran and a Sunni majority led by Saudi Arabia.

Then there is the drumbeat on Capitol Hill. Hawkish Republican lawmakers agitate for pre-emptive strikes against Iran in the mistaken belief such an exercise would be clinical and short-lived.

Further destabilisation of the entire region would result, and possibly all-out war.

The ICG is urging America to redouble its efforts to establish a dialogue with Iran to bring about a resumption of negotiations on a revised JCPOA. This would require Washington making a down payment in good faith by easing sanctions on Iran’s oil exports.

It is not clear the Trump administration would be willing or able to make these concessions.

Morrison could do worse than argue the case for “redo” of the JCPOA when he is in Washington next month on a state visit.The Conversation

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

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

Grattan on Friday: Morrison can learn a lot from the public servants, but will he listen?


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The public service is a soft target, especially for Coalition governments, and Scott Morrison has already had it in his sights.

His early messaging has been that the bureaucracy needs to improve delivery and implementation. He’s also telling it, with a degree of bluntness, to remember the old adage – that it is on tap and the government is on top, and not to go getting too many ideas of its own.

And there will be more to come. On Monday week, Morrison will set out in detail his thoughts on the service in an address to the Institute of Public Administration. Meanwhile a review of the bureaucracy, set up by Malcolm Turnbull and chaired by business figure David Thodey, is about to land. This inquiry was charged with producing “an ambitious transformation program” to ensure the service is “fit-for-purpose for the coming decades”.

The Australian Financial Review reported this week Morrison had told the Thodey review “to take a tougher line on the performance standards demanded from the nation’s 150,000 bureaucrats”. (Whether achieving better “performance standards” in Morrison’s mind includes fixing up the present arbitrary system for chasing welfare recipients over income reporting is another matter.)

Morrison is moving his one-time chief of staff Phil Gaetjens from Treasury head to become secretary of the Prime Minister’s department; Gaetjens is replaced in Treasury by Steven Kennedy, the widely respected secretary of the Infrastructure department. Apart from a new Infrastructure secretary, other changes are expected at the top.




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Morrison’s attitudes towards the public service derive from his keen eye on voters’ needs and opinions, and the sort of leader he is.

Given his constant deriding of the “Canberra bubble”, it follows he would perceive mileage in some muscling up to what can be portrayed as a “bubble” cohort (though many of them are actually located elsewhere). Morrison understands the public want efficient delivery – and also knows putting bureaucrats in their place plays well with the shock jocks and their constituency.

As one bureaucrat puts it, Morrison is “an outcomes-oriented person. He likes doing stuff – and he likes people to work out how to do stuff in a timely way”. So, for example, he is suspicious of long processes of consultations by the public service.

Morrison’s belief that the public service shouldn’t get above itself – by having its own policy views, rather than just views on how to implement the government’s policy – hasn’t just been articulated since becoming PM.

He put the same line to Paul Tilley, former senior Treasury officer whose book Changing Fortunes: a History of the Australian Treasury, was published this week.

Tilley quotes Morrison, treasurer at the time, saying:

Treasury shouldn’t tell the Treasurer what to do. They should tell the Treasurer what they think of what the Treasurer plans to do, of alternative ways in which he can do what he wants to do … Treasury needs to remember its job is to advise the government on the government’s agenda – not to decide the agenda.




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Of course at one level Morrison is correct – it is not the bureaucracy’s job to “decide” a government’s agenda. But his argument lacks subtlety, and plays down important aspects of the advisory role that a top grade public service should have.

Tilley charts the waxing and waning of Treasury’s influence over the decades. “Through the golden years of macroeconomic and budget management of the 1950s and first half of the 1960s, then again through the nation-changing economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s, Treasury was influential. …

“From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, Treasury still had a strong economic framework but was seen as dogmatic and was pushed out into the cold. Then, in this last decade, the balance of policy influence has again shifted away from the department”.

While timeframes and individual departmental stories will vary, it is clear that in recent years the public service generally has lost policy clout.

Reasons are multiple. Some are long standing but have increased over the years; others are more recent.

They include the ever-expanding role of ministers’ own staffs; the move (under the Keating government) to have secretaries on time-limited contracts; “reform fatigue” within government, bureaucracy and the community; the proliferation of outside sources of advice; the 24-hour news cycle; hyper-partisanship; increased outsourcing of work formerly done by bureaucrats; and the elevation of the doctrine of public service “responsiveness” to ministers.

The preliminary Thodey report in March was disappointingly bland, affected by the proximity of the election.

It is not particularly deep on this issue of advice. It does observe:

There are strong concerns that the APS’s underlying capacity has been weakened over time. … The risk is that Australia will find itself with an APS that, in coming years, struggles to provide successive governments with integrated advice and support – informed by a deep understanding of the needs of the Australian people – to best tackle complex problems.




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Does Morrison’s downplaying the advisory role of the public service matter? On several fronts it does.

In so many areas, the policy world is highly dynamic and rapidly changing. Unless the public servants are encouraged to explore the outer reaches of this world, a government will not have all the information and options that it should. It will lack the best policy telescope.

Morrison makes the government’s “agenda” sound like a once-and-for-all tablet. But a government in office for any length of time needs a constantly evolving and innovative agenda, to which bureaucratic thought and expertise can contribute.

Only an arrogant government – or one living on a temporary high after an unexpected election win – thinks it knows everything. It might come as a shock to some politicians, but departments on occasion educate their masters. Treasury, for instance, shaped John Howard’s thinking, which affected the way in which he sought to change the Fraser government’s policy thinking (albeit with limited success).

Morrison might reply that things have changed, because there are now many more fonts of ideas, in the private sector and think tanks. This is true and they should be tapped. But they won’t necessarily be superior to good public service thinking, and often they are harnessed to vested interests.

Relegating the advisory side of the public service’s role also diminishes the status of the service, making it harder to attract and keep the brightest talent.

Morrison would like a more porous bureaucracy – where people move in and out from the private sector. Again, there is value in encouraging such movement, but experience suggests it doesn’t work as well in practice as in theory.

Gaetjens’ new job as secretary of the Prime Minister’s department involves not just servicing Morrison and his government but also being the bureaucracy’s custodian and voice.

Part of his task should be to convince Morrison he needs strong and broad public service advice more than he currently thinks he does. Even if it’s sometimes unpalatable or outside the square.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.