Why the Kurdish conflict in Turkey is so intractable


Recep Onursal, University of Kent

The ramifications of Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from the Turkish-Syrian border continues to have a seismic effect on the situation in northern Syria.

Faced with the Turkish invasion of northern Syria, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who controlled the area were forced to make compromises. On October 13, they announced a deal with the Syrian army, which began moving troops towards the Turkish border. A five-day ceasefire was brokered by the US on October 18, during which Turkey agreed to pause its offensive to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw.

For many, the SDF proved itself to be the most effective force in the fight against Islamic State (IS). Turkey, however, considers the SDF as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it, the US and EU label as a terrorist organisation.

But behind this lies a long history of Turkey denying the very existence of the Kurdish conflict, and the political and cultural rights of its Kurdish population. Understanding this history helps explain why the conflict is so intractable, and the impact it continues to have on Turkey’s foreign policy choices.

No room in the nation state

The Kurdish conflict cannot be understood without considering the question of power and exclusion. Its origins go back to the mid-19th century when the Ottomans attempted to end the 300-year-old autonomy of the Kurdish principalities in Kurdistan. This struggle for autonomy wasn’t resolved during the rule of the Ottoman era, and when it collapsed, all of the new nation states that eventually emerged – Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran – inherited their own Kurdish conflict.

The Turks and the Kurds fought a successful war of independence together in 1919 against the Allied forces. Nevertheless, when the new Republic of Turkey was established in 1923, Turkish identity was presented as its unifying force, at the expense of the society’s political, social and cultural differences.

Not only was political power further centralised in Ankara, but the domination of the ethnic, Turkish and Sunni majority became the norm. The decision to create a centralised and homogeneous nation state was implemented in a top-down and violent fashion. The seeds of the long-term problems that Turkish and Kurdish communities confront today were created by this decision.

Various Kurdish groups challenged this new social and political order with different revolts, uprisings, and resistance, but these were violently suppressed. Repressive policies of assimilation were later implemented to transform the Kurds into civilised and secular Turks.

A conflict buried

The Kurdish conflict laid buried for many years. Then, the most serious challenge to Turkey’s nation state project was initiated by the PKK in 1984, which embraced a political agenda called democratic autonomy. The violent struggle between Ankara and the PKK has resulted in a huge economic and human cost.

Peace talks which began in 2013 with the PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Öcalan were widely considered to be the best chance for ending the conflict, but these collapsed in 2015. This led to increasing violence in the form of a destructive armed conflict in southeastern Turkey and a wave of bombings, including in Ankara and Istanbul.

The resolution of intractable conflicts is only possible when conflicted parties can confront their past and learn from it. In 2015, amid attempts by Turkish opposition parties to reopen peace negotiations with the Kurds, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan insisted: “There is no Kurdish conflict”. Such positioning, which continues today, keeps the political dimension of the conflict in the background.

The state carefully controls what can and cannot be said about the conflict. Typically, words such as “terror” and “traitor” are used to criminalise those who criticise government policy towards the Kurds. A group of academics who signed a petition in 2016 calling for the resumption of peace talks were charged with making “terrorism propaganda”. The non-violent wing of the Kurdish movement – activists, politicians, political parties – has also been criminalised.

Blame game

Instead of confronting their failure to bring about peace, Turkish political elites have tried to apportion blame elsewhere. Erdoğan, for example, repeatedly refers to an invisible “mastermind” who orchestrates the PKK. Such rhetoric is deployed to play on the collective fear and anxiety about national security felt by parts of Turkish society.

Some have called this the “Sèvres syndrome” – referring to the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres that marked the end of the Ottoman empire and proposed to divide it into small states and occupation zones. The treaty was never implemented, and superseded by the 1923 Lausanne Treaty which recognised the Republic of Turkey.

This syndrome – also referred to as “Sèvres Paranoia” – in essence reflects the collective fear that the Treaty of Sèvres will be revived and that the Turkish state is encircled by enemies who want to divide and weaken the country.

Today, this line of thinking is an integral part of Turkish political life and continues to influence public perception towards the external world. In a 2006 public opinion survey, for example, 78% of participants agreed that “the West wants to divide and break up Turkey like they broke up the Ottoman Empire”.

Driving Turkey’s choices.
By kmlmtz66/Shutterstock

In this way, the Kurdish conflict has been used to mobilise Turkish society to act against its own collective interest: a peaceful and just society. Policies aimed at managing the conflict have been implemented mostly within a state of emergency, in ways that continue to undermine Turkish democracy. Not only has the tremendous economic and human cost of the conflict become a “normal” part of Turkish life, but the state has also been successful in actively keeping the political dimension of the conflict at bay.

For a long time, Turkey refrained from talking about the Kurdish issue by assuming that it would eventually fade away. But it didn’t and instead, the conflict has become more deeply entrenched. Time will tell whether the Turkish state will ultimately gain or lose by its latest military intervention in Syria. However, what’s clear is that the Kurdish conflict will get more complicated with this latest move, and both the Turkish state and Turkish society will no longer be able to ignore it.The Conversation

Recep Onursal, Assistant Lecturer and PhD candidate in International Conflict Analysis, University of Kent

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

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Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal: what’s in it and how is it different to Theresa May’s version?


Simon Usherwood, University of Surrey

Against seemingly all the odds, we have a new Brexit deal. As an apparent vindication of UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s strategy to ramp up the threat of a no-deal departure from the EU and to force concessions from Brussels, one would imagine that Number 10 is rather happy right now. But that happiness will be tempered with caution, because some major issues lie ahead.

Negotiations in Brussels have produced legal texts on arrangements for Northern Ireland and on the political declaration, which outlines the broad outline of what the two sides want from their future relationship. These are the product of months of planning by the British government, so it’s reasonable to ask what has actually changed since former prime minister Theresa May struck her original deal.

Reading the text, the first impression is that there’s much more that hasn’t changed than has.

Northern Ireland

The protocol on Northern Ireland and Ireland has long been in the firing line. It proposes a backstop arrangement that would keep Northern Ireland in close alignment with the EU unless and until both UK and EU agreed to change that.

On that front, the introduction of a section on “democratic consent” is an important shift on the EU side. This provides a mechanism for the Northern Ireland Assembly to vote on whether to maintain the provisions of the protocol, with a requirement to have cross-community support. That means the UK is now no longer subject to the EU’s approval if it wants to end the backstop arrangement.

That said, a voting requirement to have majorities from both unionist and nationalist groupings makes it very hard to achieve – especially since the Northern Ireland Executive broke down several years ago and is still not in operation. While the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) might control unionist voting, it can only do the same with nationalists if it creates a much more benign and cooperative environment. And even if that does happen and arrangements are voted down by Stormont, there is still a long phasing-out period, so things cannot move too quickly.

From the EU’s perspective, this arrangement provides a degree of security, mainly because any decision to overturn the system is not solely in the hands of the UK – which has not been the most reliable partner of late.

Customs arrangements

The other big change is on customs arrangements. Instead of creating a temporary customs area for the whole of the UK, the revised Protocol makes Northern Ireland a part of the UK’s customs territory. Because that would imply border controls, a rather convoluted system of custom duty collection is set out.

In essence, the system collects duties from businesses, dependent upon where goods are coming from and going to, with the possibility of various exemptions that will be agreed down the line.

It’s a much more complex system than before, but it does allow Johnson to argue that the entire UK is leaving the EU’s customs union, allowing it to benefit from any new trade deals that might be concluded.

Meanwhile, the political declaration, the main change is that the UK now suggests it is looking for a much looser future relationship, based on a free trade agreement, rather than anything that might include participation in the EU’s single market or customs union.

Less is more?

While these are all noteworthy, they do represent only a very small part of the totality of the withdrawal agreement, as agreed by May last November. The Protocol still kicks into effect at the end of a transition period and the effect is still that Northern Ireland is kept very close to EU’s regulatory standards for many years. The future relationship remains as aspirational as May’s plans – until such a document is negotiated and ratified, by some future British government, no one can be sure what it will look like.

Nor did this negotiation touch on citizens’ rights, financial liabilities, the power of the EU’s courts to issue definitive rulings on matters of dispute (an important matter for hard Brexit supporters in the Conservative Party) or the institutional arrangements for managing all of this. Even as Number 10 goes into its selling mode, those continuities from last year’s text will be present in many people’s minds.

The plan still seems to be for the government to present this deal to the UK parliament in a special Saturday sitting on October 19. We already know that the DUP has issues with the revised text because it places Northern Ireland in a different legal position to the rest of the UK, so winning that vote looks even harder than it already did. The government will hope that it can present the deal to MPs as the last, best hope for a Brexit settlement – but, with wobbles from the DUP, Johnson will struggle to get close to a majority.

Even if he does, the potential to keep that majority together for the subsequent passage of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill looks even less likely. And remember that, as things stand today, this text isn’t even signed off by the 27 EU member states – there’s now not really enough time for them to digest and approve something that moves them off their previous position.

In short, this might still fall apart for Johnson, just as it did for May.The Conversation

Simon Usherwood, Professor in Politics, University of Surrey

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

Revealed: how Australian politicians would bridge the trust divide



Unsurprisingly, Australian politicians are happier than their constituents with the way our democracy works.
Shutterstock

Mark Evans, University of Canberra; Gerry Stoker, University of Canberra, and Max Halupka, University of Canberra

We hear a lot from citizens about the failings of Australian democracy and the need for reform. But how do politicians view the growing trust divide?

We set out to answer this question in an attitudinal survey of federal politicians, which we co-designed with the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. It was conducted in January and February 2019 and completed by 98 out of a possible 226 respondents (43.36%). Our sample (see Figure 1) is skewed towards women and Labor and crossbench respondents.



Given the higher proportion of opposition members, our respondents may be more critical of the status quo compared to those in government. Yet all respondents were free from party loyalties in submitting their replies, could select their preferences from a list of established reform options and also specify their own priorities.




Read more:
Trust in politicians and government is at an all-time low. The next government must work to fix that


We have a strong, if not perfect, expression of voice from elite-level politicians. And because of earlier research we can compare the responses of politicians to those of citizens.

Judging Australia’s democratic arrangements

Let’s start with a finding you might have guessed. Australia’s federal politicians are more satisfied (61%) with the way democracy works than their fellow citizens (41%).

Yet here is a perhaps more surprising finding: they are sufficiently concerned about evidence of a trust divide between citizens and politicians to favour a substantial program of reform.

As Figure 2 shows, parliamentarians share a sense of what they “like” about the nature of Australia’s democratic arrangements with the general public. In particular, both groups like “fair voting”, “stable government” and “freedom of speech”.

Citizens are more appreciative of Australia’s “good economy and lifestyle” and the quality of “public services”. Parliamentarians extol the virtue of the political system in providing access for citizens to exercise their right to political participation.



When asked to explain the loss of trust in politics (see Figure 3), parliamentarians focus on the lack of public understanding of how government works. They also point to the disproportionate power of minority representatives in decision-making.

Citizens focus on “not being able to hold politicians to account for broken promises”, politicians “not dealing with the issues that really matter”, and the disproportionate power of big business or trade unions in decision-making.

However, they have a shared concern with what they perceive as the conflict-driven nature of party politics and the media focusing too much on “personalities and not enough on policy”. Parliamentarians consider concerns related to media misrepresentation and the pressure of the media cycle to be the major weakness in Australian democratic practice.



Reforms politicians would like to see (and those they reject)

Unlike Australian citizens, the majority of parliamentarians are against:

  • the right to recall an MP for a new election if they fail to provide effective representation during the parliamentary term (72%)

  • performance reviews for politicians (72%)

  • greater use of citizen juries based on the criminal jury system (64%).

Parliamentarians appear to have limited desire to open up the system to direct influence from the public. Instead, their preference is to make the representative system more outward-looking. This is reflected in strong support for:

  • ordinary party members and voters having more say in choosing party leaders and election candidates (49%)
  • provision for e-petitions to parliament (54%)
  • dual citizens being able to stand for election without renouncing their overseas citizenship (47%)
  • less voting on party lines based on manifesto promises and more free votes (46%).

When we asked parliamentarians what other reforms they would like to see, the responses highlighted a strong desire for improved publicly funded civics education and formal electorate forums for all parliamentarians.

The former idea is a reflection of the existence of different approaches to civics education across states and territories, and different patterns of funding. The general perception is that a national framework and funding commitment are needed to help foster the political literacy of the Australian electorate.

The latter idea is about improving public accountability through the establishment of public forums. These would have standing minutes and reporting requirements to ensure parliamentarians remain responsive to the interests of their constituents.

Linking to community is the key to saving representative democracy

Central to the thinking of politicians is their community linkage role. This involves expressing broad values and ideological positions to capture the wider concerns of citizens, and educating citizens about political issues. It also requires meeting and engaging with citizens.

The message from politicians is that reform is as much about improving existing democratic practices as designing new ways of doing democracy.

Our evidence suggests elected politicians are aware of concerns of citizens and interested in improving democratic processes. They are more satisfied than citizens about how democracy works and not inclined to jump to reforms that give more direct control or say to citizens.




Read more:
If politicians want more trust from voters, they need to start behaving with civility and respect


But the politicians do accept the need to reform their community linkage role so they are better connected to citizens. They also think the political process and their role in it needs to be better understood, so strongly support better political education.

The reform agendas of citizens and politicians do not entirely match up, but there is a degree of alignment. If feasible and doable reforms are going to emerge, we might first look to common ground, starting with cementing the community linkage role.

Changes backed both by many citizens and politicians could lead the way to a wider and more radical reform process.

More detail on this research can be found in Mark Evans, Michelle Grattan and Brendan McCaffrie (eds), From Turnbull to Morrison: the Trust Divide published by Melbourne University Press and launched today at Parliament House.
The Conversation

Mark Evans, Professor of Governance and Director of Democracy 2025 – bridging the trust divide at Old Parliament House, University of Canberra; Gerry Stoker, Fellow and Centenary Professor, Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra, and Max Halupka, Research Fellow at the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra, University of Canberra

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

Gareth Evans: how to be a successful political leader



What are the attributes, self-belief apart, we should reasonably look for in choosing political leaders?
AAP/Dean Lewins

Gareth Evans, Australian National University

This is an edited extract from a presentation to Leon Mann Leadership Forum, co-sponsored by Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, ANU and University of Melbourne.


Not only in Australia but right around the world’s democracies, the quality of political leadership is as low as I can ever remember it – ranging, with only a handful of exceptions, from the underwhelming to the desolate to the appalling.

Just about everywhere one looks, at least one – and often many more than one – of what I would regard as the essential attributes of responsive and effective political leadership have gone missing.

In many ways, this is not surprising. Politics has always been a bloody and dangerous trade, and it has become significantly more so in an age of instant communication, relentless 24/7 news cycles, social media and dramatically reduced personal privacy. And more exposed than anyone else in politics are those who aspire to leadership positions – as Francis Bacon put it four centuries ago,

He doth like the ape, that the higher he clymbes the more he shows his ars.

To both aspire to and acquire political leadership has always required a degree of self-belief that defies normal human inhibition. But what seems to be required nowadays is an almost pathological ability to stay unmoved by what people think and say about you.

Despite the personal risks involved, there never seems to be a shortage of candidates for these positions. So what are the attributes, self-belief apart, we should reasonably look for in choosing between them? Based on my own direct observations of both Australian and foreign leaders over several decades, I would identify the following ten as mattering most.

  • Serious intellectual ability should go without saying, even if there are an army of electors in the US and elsewhere currently in denial. But while intellectual firepower may be a necessary condition (Ronald Reagan being the only exception I can readily think of), this is by no means a sufficient condition. History has repeatedly demonstrated the truth of the observation attributed to Walter Lippman nearly a century ago that the supreme qualification for high office is not so much intellect as temperament.

  • Empathy: the ability to connect, to understand where others are coming from (though not necessarily to sympathise with their positions) and to see how they are seeing you, is probably the important temperamental attribute a leader could have. Not least, this is because a lack of empathy is often (going to the next three attributes on my list) what lies behind poor judgment about people and situations, administrative dysfunctionality and poor communication skills.

  • Sound judgment is obviously indispensable, although making the right call is often much easier with hindsight than in the heat of the moment. It’s a matter of acting, and being seen to act, in a way which weighs the available evidence, listens to competing arguments, knows who is most worth listening to, is measured rather than impulsive, and learns from experience and the mistakes that inevitably will be made. None of this means avoiding all risks – that way lies total inertia – but it does mean calculating those that are taken.

  • Basic organisational and time management skills are much more important than is usually recognised, given the number of the balls that every leader has to keep in the air simultaneously, the number of advisers and supplicants pressing for access, and the necessity to constantly prioritise and re-prioritise activity.

Leaders who lack those skills, and don’t compensate by accepting the discipline of those around them who do have them, are ones who (as Kevin Rudd found despite his stellar intellect and other attributes) quickly wear out their welcome with colleagues and other stakeholders.

  • Communication skills, the ability to connect and persuade – in the parliament, in the media, on the election hustings, in internal party forums, with potential financial supporters – are self-evidently critical. Paul Keating has been the supreme Australian exemplar of those skills in recent times, across multiple forums. Others have been stronger in some forums than others – Bob Hawke was surprisingly unpersuasive in Parliament – but no successful leader I can think of anywhere has lacked them entirely.

  • A clear sense of strategic direction, combined with the ability to craft and communicate a clear narrative of what the government is trying to achieve overall, has not been a universally evident characteristic of successful leaders. Some have got by just bobbing along with the waves, with their grandest aspiration being to make the country feel “relaxed and comfortable”.

But it has certainly characterised the very best of them, perhaps nowhere more obviously than Hawke and Keating, with their very sophisticated narrative – crafted early in the life of their Labor Governments and sustained over 13 years – built around the themes of very dry, productivity and competitiveness-focused economic policy; very warm, moist and highly compensatory social policy; and strongly liberal internationalist (both globalist and patriotic!) foreign policy.

  • Unimpeachable personal integrity is hard to argue against. It is not necessary for a good political leader to be a paragon of every domestic virtue, as Bob Hawke amply demonstrated, though the times are clearly becoming more demanding in that respect. But being, and being seen to be, personally honest and incorruptible is a universally accepted baseline.

  • A work ethic, and associated physical stamina, well above the prevailing norm also matters. Some highly effective leaders have spent less time visibly grinding away at their desks than others – with Paul Keating famously a much later starter and often earlier finisher than Bob Hawke, who maintained almost monastic discipline during his years in office. (And Ronald Reagan, again, not being known to trouble his desk much at all.) But it’s hard to identify a successful leader whose capacity or willingness to be fully briefed and informed across the whole range of their responsibilities has been of Trumpian or Johnsonian proportions.

  • Resilience is an often under-recognised component of political effectiveness at all levels – the ability to recover ground after the defeats, set-backs and outright humiliations which are, except in fairy-tales, part of every politician’s and political leader’s experience. Those who survive for the long haul are those who bounce back.

The final item on my top-ten list is what I would describe simply as “spark” – the capacity, through sheer force of personality, to ignite enthusiasm, and on occasion real excitement, in one’s colleagues and the wider community. Dunstan, Whitlam, Keating, Hawke, Thatcher, Blair, Clinton, Obama all had – at least at their peak – that infectious quality.

It’s not a sufficient requirement for successful leadership overall – that requires ticking a lot of my other boxes as well – but it’s certainly a mark of distinction, separating run of the mill leaders from those whose reputations grow and last.

There are other candidates for this checklist, one of them arguably – particularly after the last Australian federal election – being “likeability”. But while this does obviously matter for electability, I am not sure that it is crucial when it comes to the long-term assessment of leadership success. While I wouldn’t go all the way with Machiavelli – that it is better for a leader to be feared than loved – there is a lot to be said for respect ultimately mattering more than affection.

Of the ten boxes I have described, not many political leaders would tick every one of them all of the time. And I fear that most of are essentially innate – you either have them or you don’t – rather than capable of being readily learned, in preparation for or on the job.

But if many more of our leaders, both at home and abroad, came closer to consistently displaying all those attributes than is the case at the moment, the world would be a lot safer, saner and happier than it presently is.The Conversation

Gareth Evans, Chancellor, Australian National University

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

Snowy 2.0 will not produce nearly as much electricity as claimed. We must hit the pause button



Prime Minister Scott Morrison in front of the Tumut 3 power station at the Snowy Hydro Scheme. New analysis suggests the benefits of Snowy 2.0 have been overstated.
AAP

Bruce Mountain, Victoria University

The federal government’s much-vaunted Snowy Hydro expansion is supposed to smooth out the bumps in electricity supply as Australia transitions to renewables. But not only is the project a bad deal for taxpayers, our analysis suggests it will deliver a fraction of the energy benefits promised.

Fossil-fuel power generators store coal or gas at the point of production. This means electricity can mostly be created on demand when homes and businesses need it. Renewable energy cannot do this. If wind or sun is not abundant, solar panels and wind turbines may not produce enough electricity to meet demand. At other times they might produce more than required.

The Snowy 2.0 project is supposed to provide a solution to this problem – storing renewable energy for when it is needed.

The project’s cost and time estimates have blown out massively. It would now be surprising if Snowy 2.0, including the transmission upgrades it relies on, comes in at less than A$10 billion or is finished before 2027.

But there is another serious problem. Our analysis has revealed that of the extra pumped hydro capacity promised by the project, less than half can be delivered. There is now overwhelming evidence the project should be put on hold.

The Tumut 3 scheme, with which Snowy 2.0 will share a dam.
Snowy Hydro Ltd

The problems we know about: cost and time blowouts

The list of possible alternatives to Snowy 2.0 is long. Aside from other pumped hydro projects, it includes chemical batteries, encouraging demand to follow supply, gas or diesel generators, and re-orienting renewable generators to capture the wind or sun when it is less plentiful.

But despite this plethora of options, the federal government announced the Snowy 2.0 project without a market assessment, cost-benefit analysis or indeed even a feasibility study.




Read more:
The government’s electricity shortlist rightly features pumped hydro (and wrongly includes coal)


When former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the expansion project in March 2017 he said it would cost A$2 billion and be commissioned by 2021. This was revised upwards several times and in April this year, a A$5.1 billion contract for partial construction was awarded. This excludes the costs of transmission and other considerable expenses.

The main contractor says the project will take eight years to build – bringing us to 2027 before the full scheme is completed. We will happily wager that more delays and cost increases will be announced.

Then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull during a tour of Tumut 3 power station when announcing the expansion in 2017.
Lucas Cochairs/AAP

Snowy Hydro has not costed the transmission upgrades upon which the project depends. TransGrid, owner of the grid in New South Wales, has identified options including extensions to Sydney with indicative costs up to A$1.9 billion. Massive extensions south to Melbourne will also be required.

Snowy Hydro contends it should not pay for the new transmission lines because the benefits would flow to the entire grid, not just its venture. In other words Snowy Hydro argues, conveniently, that we should count the benefits but ignore the costs when thinking about their project.

The numbers simply do not add up

The Snowy 2.0 project grandly claims it could generate at its full 2,000 megawatt capacity for 175 hours – or about a week. This capacity can also be expressed as 350 gigawatt hours (GWh).

Energy Minister Angus Taylor has talked up the project’s superiority to smaller-capacity alternatives such as batteries.

But the maximum additional pumped hydro capacity Snowy 2.0 can create, in theory, is less than half this. The reasons are technical, but worth taking the time to understand.

The figure below outlines the main physical features that define Snowy 2.0. It includes four dams: Tantangara, Talbingo, Jounama and Blowering. For simplicity, we have numbered these from 1-4 in the following explanation.



The Conversation, CC BY-ND

When Snowy 2.0 generates electricity, water will be released from Dam 1 at the top of the system. It will flow through a long tunnel to the smaller Dam 2. The flow of water drives turbines which generate energy. When the turbines are reversed, the water is pumped back to the top to continue the cycle.

For Snowy 2.0 to produce the 350 GWh of electricity claimed, the top dam must be full and all that water released through the system. But replenishing the top dam after this event would take many months of pumping water from elsewhere in the system, and use up 40% more electricity than was originally generated. So the 350 GWh would never be achieved because it is extremely inefficient and inflexible.

In reality, the pumped hydro capacity of Snowy 2.0 is defined by the amount of water that the smaller Dam 2 can hold. If the scheme was a closed system, with no other water flowing in or out, it could produce around 230 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity.

But the system does not exist in isolation. Part of the existing Snowy Hydro scheme, known as Tumut 3, also uses Dam 2. It creates pumped hydro electricity by cycling water between that dam and the even smaller Dam 3 below it.

For Snowy 2.0 to operate at full cyclical capacity, Dam 2 must be empty to receive the water. That would entail emptying Dam 2 into the smaller Dam 3 and from there to Dam 4 at the bottom of the system. This water could not be used again to generate electricity. This “lost” water would have generated 60 GWh worth of electricity in the Tumut 3 scheme.

Khancoban Dam, part of the soon-to-be expanded Snowy Hydro scheme.
Snowy Hydro Ltd

This means that as a cyclical pumped hydro system, Snowy 2.0 does not add 230 GWh of capacity. When you subtract the 60 GWh from the 230 GWh, Snowy 2.0 adds just 170 GWh of recyclable pumped hydro. This is less than half the claimed storage capacity.

And this is the maximum cyclical capacity in theory only. Snowy 2.0 would never produce continuously for the time needed to generate and then pump 230 GWh because it would never be economically viable to run it this way.

In practice if Snowy 2.0’s lower dam is operated in future as it is now – almost always close to full – the cycling capacity of Snowy 2.0 may be as low as 40 GWh – around one tenth of the promised number.

What does all this mean?

These facts put Snowy 2.0 in a completely different light. There are many competing alternatives that can provide storage far more flexibly for a fraction of Snowy 2.0’s price tag. These alternatives would also have far fewer environmental impacts or development risks, in most cases none of the transmission costs and could be built much more quickly.

It is always difficult to press the pause button on a major project once it has begun. But the evidence for doing this is overwhelming. In pursuit of the public interest, the federal government should put the project on hold and ask a reputable investment bank to publicly advise, perhaps through the Productivity Commission, what Snowy 2.0 would be worth if built.

A credible independent valuation would establish with some confidence how deeply Snowy Hydro will have its hands in the public’s pockets. A panel of independent experts should then be asked to publicly advise whether taxpayer money is needed to meet the demands of a renewables-dominated power system, and if so, the best way it should be spent.The Conversation

Bruce Mountain, Director, Victoria Energy Policy Centre, Victoria University

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

There’s no airport border ‘crisis’, only management failure of the Home Affairs department


Regina Jefferies, UNSW and Daniel Ghezelbash, Macquarie University

In the past five years, more than 95,000 people who arrived by plane have lodged a claim for asylum in Australia, new statistics show.

Labor’s Immigration Spokesperson, Senator Kristina Keneally, has labelled this a “crisis”, stating:

Peter Dutton’s incompetence and recklessness has allowed people smugglers to run riot and traffic record-breaking numbers of people by aeroplane to Australia.

But the “crisis” is not that visa-holding travellers are flying to Australia, then later lodging a claim for asylum. It’s not unprecedented for tourists or students to later lodge a claim for asylum due to circumstances beyond their control.




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In 1989, for example, after events in Tiananmen Square, Australia provided refuge to thousands of Chinese students who had entered Australia with visas.

Instead, the “crisis” is the Australian government’s failure to properly manage the refugee-processing system. It gutted the ranks of experienced decision-makers and made organisational changes that undermine the quality of decisions, contributing to long processing delays and backlogs.

These organisational failures may have contributed to the increase in asylum applications over the last five years.

High staff turn-over

Protection visa decisions are highly complex. They must examine a variety of factors, including country-specific conditions and individual circumstances.

Yet, as the Australian National Audit Office noted in 2018, the Home Affairs department experienced a significant loss of “corporate memory” due to staff turn-over, “with almost half of SES officers present in July 2015 no longer in the department at July 2017”.

In a Senate Estimates hearing last year, Home Affairs officials said the average processing time for permanent protection visas, from lodgement to primary decision (not including appeals), was 257 days, or 8.5 months.

And the department’s training deficiencies are well-documented. The most recent Australian Public Service Employee Census put the department’s organisational management problems into stark relief: only 35% of employees said the department inspired them to do their best work, while two-thirds of respondents said they did not consider department senior executives to be of “high quality”.

These publicised problems raise important questions about the quality of decision-making at the primary level.

Stacking the AAT with political allies

Poor decision-making at the primary level can lead to higher numbers of appeals. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) from people who arrived by plane are also experiencing significant blowouts.

The number of active refugee cases to the AAT has ballooned from 8,370 two years ago, to 23,063 in 2019.




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Cruel, and no deterrent: why Australia’s policy on asylum seekers must change


This results in a backlog. In 2017, the tribunal made 5,153 decisions on refugee claims, and so far this financial year, only 815 claims have been concluded.

In part, these worrying figures are due to the federal government appointing people with Liberal Party ties to the AAT over the last couple of years.

The Attorney-General recognised these problems in the 2019 Report on the Statutory Review of the Tribunal, which pointed to “competencies of members” as a key contributor to complications in the operation of the tribunal.

Stacking the AAT with political allies, many of whom are not lawyers and who are not appointed on merit, has removed independent expertise from the tribunal, risking errors and further delays.




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How the Biloela Tamil family deportation case highlights the failures of our refugee system


And with more errors come further appeals in the courts. This not only places a heavy burden on the resources of the Federal Circuit Court and Federal Court, but also leads to more delays and backlogs in the AAT, where the court sends matters which were unlawfully decided for re-determination.

Address organisational failures

The solution is in proper organisational management. Instead of blaming refugees for fleeing persecution by safe means, the government must address the failures of its refugee processing system.

To this end, an urgent review of the Department of Home Affairs policies and organisational failures is needed. A review could find out whether there’s a management culture stopping Home Affairs from attracting and retaining staff who can make reasoned and well-supported decisions in an environment they can be proud of.




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Similarly, there must be a transparent and independent system for appointing AAT members that prioritises skills and experience over politics – exactly what was recommended by the Attorney-General’s recent review.

If people seeking asylum can have their claims assessed quickly and fairly, then those who are not refugees can be sent home, while those needing safety could receive it.

Without the chance to remain in Australia for years while their claims are assessed, there would be no loophole for traffickers and others to exploit.

In turn, the number of non-genuine claims will go down, allowing decision-makers to focus on those who are actually fearing persecution.




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Yes, Peter Dutton has a lot of power, but a strong Home Affairs is actually a good thing for Australia


We should be supporting refugees to access safety by air. If people fleeing persecution can access a flight to Australia, they won’t risk a dangerous journey by boat to find safety.

This is not an airport border “crisis”, it’s a management failure that can be fixed with more staffing, better resourcing, and transparent and meritorious appointments of decision makers.


Correction: A previous version of the article stated 815 refugee claims were concluded this year. This has been updated to clarify that 815 of claims were concluded during this financial year.The Conversation

Regina Jefferies, Affiliate, Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW and Daniel Ghezelbash, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie Law School, Macquarie University

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

Define the boundaries in new phase of Australia-China relationship: Wong


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Shadow foreign minister Penny Wong says Australia needs to “define the boundaries” of its engagement with China now the relationship between the two countries is in a new phase.

Focusing on China policy in a Monday address – released ahead of delivery – Wong acknowledges the “substantial and growing differences” in the bilateral relationship.

“It is inevitable that Australia will make more decisions that China doesn’t like. This means that the way the relationship is handled will become even more important,” she says in the speech, to the Australian Institute of International Affairs.

“Although there continues to be convergence of interests, the divergences have become more apparent and acute – due to both Beijing’s increasing assertiveness and greater awareness in Australia as to the implications of the [Chinese Communist Party’s] behaviour and ambitions. We must look at how best to engage effectively with China while always standing up for our values, our sovereignty and our democratic system.”

Wong says where limitations around engagement are needed, the “boundaries should be as restricted as possible and as robust as necessary,” with opportunities and risks identified.

Boundaries and terms of engagement would differ between issues and between sectors.

Thus on research collaboration, engagement shouldn’t be ruled out across entire fields, but export controls and visa checks could be used for “a narrow set of the most sensitive defence oriented technology”.




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‘Developing’ rift points to growing divisions between Coalition and Labor on China


Wong says while the government has to provide the leadership all stakeholders, including the opposition, foreign policy community and business, “need to work together to identify those opportunities for deeper engagement where our interests coincide and to manage differences constructively”.

She puts the onus on the media “not only to hold the government of the day to account but to ensure they themselves don’t unthinkingly or inadvertently reinforce China’s tactics or narrative”, including by amplifying CCP claims.

Wong says Labor wants to engage in a bipartisan way on China policy, but the government isn’t willing to do so and Scott Morrison “has no plan for dealing with this new phase in Australia’s relations with China”.

“There’s no doubt Scott Morrison is the best political tactician in Australia right now… Is it enough to be a clever political tactician, when key relationships with our nearest neighbours are at stake? Is it enough to play short term political tactics on something so profoundly important as the integrity of our political system or the assertion of our national interests?

“Australia’s Prime Minister needs to look beyond the next manoeuvre, stop undermining his foreign minister and trade minister, and develop a serious long-term plan for Australia’s engagement in the region and the world.

“A serious and long-term plan that can proactively navigate us through the strategic competition between the US and China, and manage this new phase in our relationship with a more assertive China.”




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View from The Hill: To go to China you have to be invited: Morrison


In a series of sharp criticisms of Morrison’s handling of the government’s policy towards China and foreign policy more generally, Wong includes as examples the PM’s claim Labor was using racism in its attack on Liberal MP Gladys Liu, his labelling of China a developed economy, and his attack on globalism.

Wong’s speech follows the blunt words on China on Friday from Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton, who said the government had a very important relationship with China, but it was going to “call out” instances where the wrong thing was done.

“We have a very important trading relationship with China, incredibly important, but we’re not going to allow university students to be unduly influenced. We’re not going to allow theft of intellectual property and we’re not going to allow our government bodies or non-government bodies to be hacked into,”he said.

Dutton stressed the issue was not with the Chinese people or the local Chinese community in Australia, but with the Chinese Communist Party.

The Chinese embassy reacted with an angry statement, saying that Dutton’s “irrational accusations” were “shocking and baseless”, and a “malicious slur on the Communist Party of China” and “outright provocation to the Chinese people”.

“Such ridiculous rhetoric severely harms the mutual trust between China and Australia and betrays the common interests of the two peoples,” the statement said.

Morrison at the weekend sought to play down the Dutton comments. “What Peter was talking about was the fact that there are differences between Australia and the People’s Republic of China. Of course there are,” he said. Australia was a liberal western democracy; China was a Communist Party state. “I would warn against any sort of over-analysis or over-reaction to those comments. Because I think they just simply reflect the fact that we’re two different countries”.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.

A national drought policy should be an easy, bipartisan fix. So why has it taken so long to enact a new one?



The Coalition has been promoting its $7 billion drought relief package, but critics say what’s needed is a more effective national drought policy.
Dan Peled/AAP

Linda Botterill, University of Canberra

In a country as dry as Australia, surely it is a no-brainer that we have in place a coordinated, national drought response that can be rolled out the same way that the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements are triggered when the country experiences cyclones, floods or bushfires.

Drought used to be part of these arrangements but, for good policy reasons, was removed in 1989.

Our last attempt at national drought policy

Once upon a time, Australia had a national drought policy. It was enacted in 1992 following a comprehensive review and report by an independent panel, the National Drought Policy Review Task Force, and detailed negotiations between Commonwealth and state ministers and their officials.

The policy included commitments by both state and Commonwealth governments to implement a coordinated and comprehensive package of programs covering drought preparation and response.

At the Commonwealth level, these measures were centred around:

  • the controversial “exceptional circumstances” provisions of its revised Rural Adjustment Scheme, which were aimed at supporting farm businesses by subsidising up to 100% of the interest paid on commercial loans.

  • a farm household support scheme that provided short-term income support to farmers and also offered grants for those who decided to leave the land.

  • farm management bonds, later known as farm management deposits, that allowed farmers to set aside pre-tax income they could later draw on in times of need.

  • a drought relief payment (added to the policy in 1994) that provided income support for farmers in areas declared to be experiencing “exceptional circumstances” drought. By May 1995, over 10,000 families were accessing this payment every month.

Grain feed left for sheep grazing on a failed crop in NSW.
NSW drought stock/AAP

Flaws in the policy

As anyone familiar with these programs will know, the exceptional circumstances program was plagued by problems.

The first was the lack of clarity around defining when a drought moved from a “normal” situation that was expected to be managed by farmers, to an “exceptional” situation with which even the best manager could not be expected to cope.

The definition of an “exceptional circumstances” drought became the subject of ongoing debate, along with concerns that drought assistance was based on administrative boundaries, leading to inequities that became known as the “lines on maps” problem.




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Just because both sides support drought relief, doesn’t mean it’s right


The second issue was the amount of information farmers were required to provide in order to demonstrate eligibility for “exceptional circumstances” assistance. The process was considered onerous and time-consuming.

Amid these concerns, a comprehensive review of drought policy was conducted in 2008 by the Productivity Commission. This was accompanied by a report by the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO on the likely impact of climate change on the frequency and severity of droughts in Australia, and an independent report on the social impact of drought.

Following the review, the government decided to end the “exceptional circumstances” program in 2009. This effectively gutted the national drought policy.

Since then, there has been no further attempt at developing a comprehensive, predictable drought policy response from the federal or state governments. There have been intergovernmental National Drought Agreements, but these have done little more than restate the principles underpinning the country’s drought policy since 1992.

In recent years, the Coalition government has appointed a drought envoy, Barnaby Joyce, and drought coordinator-general, Stephen Day, to study the impact of drought on farmers and recommend possible solutions, but we have yet to see what either has come up with.

Drought envoy Barnaby Joyce says he has sent drought reports directly to Scott Morrison, but these have not yet been made public.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Providing meaningful, timely and predictable support

Much of the criticism levelled at the government’s response to the current drought relates to its ad hoc and knee-jerk nature. This reactive way of dealing with drought highlights the need to return to a more predictable approach. This would avoid perceptions of pork barrelling and provide certainty to farmers about what support is available and under what circumstances.

A new national drought policy needs to take several forms. First, it needs to support farmers to prepare for drought before it happens. This is one area where the current policy has been moderately successful.

As of August 2019, Australian farmers had set aside a total of $5.809 billion in farm management deposits. These deposits have encouraged farmers to manage financial risk by building up cash reserves in high-income years, which they could then use during times of drought.

Individual farmers can currently hold a total of $800,000 in deposits. One possible improvement is to raise the ceiling on annual deposits in the years following drought recovery to allow a rapid rebuilding of cash reserves.

Second, a strong drought policy needs to provide support to all farmers during drought, not just those who have accumulated sufficient deposits to help them ride out the lean years.

In recent years, many farmers have taken advantage of long-term, low-interest loans to help during drought, and some have called for zero-interest loans to be made available, as well. But loans are not an ideal solution, as repayments are generally required even when farm incomes remain low.

An alternative to low- or no-interest loans are income contingent loans. Similar to the HECS-HELP scheme in higher education, these types of loans only require repayment when the borrower can afford to do so.

This would not only give farmers greater flexibility when it comes to repayment, it would also greatly reduce the extensive red tape that strangled the old “exceptional circumstances” scheme.




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Farm poverty: an area of policy aid built on sands of ignorance


Third, we need a serious rethink of the way we provide income assistance to farmers in a broader sense. Providing income support to farmers who are asset-rich, for instance, raises questions about fairness when compared with poor people in cities who are struggling to get by on Newstart payments.

This imbalance has come into stark focus in recent weeks, particularly on social media, as government ministers have discussed the introduction of drug testing for Newstart recipients, and in the debate around the Indue card.

There has been no serious attempt in the past 45 years to measure the extent of poverty among farmers. We can develop more appropriate and equitable income-support policies if we can better understand the genuine nature of their need.

The elephant in the room

While the government has assiduously avoided making the link, an effective national drought policy also cannot be divorced from discussions about climate change.

The 2008 Productivity Commission report was pretty clear in its conclusions about the impact of climate change on drought in Australia. A growing number of farmers are now acknowledging this reality. Denying the need for serious consideration of climate change is not doing our agricultural producers any favours.




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Is Australia’s current drought caused by climate change? It’s complicated


Developing an effective national drought policy is hard work. But in another sense, it should also be easy. This is because, unlike many other areas of government policy, it can be bipartisan.

Although the National Party has historically been aligned with rural voters, all parties are broadly sympathetic to farmers and value their contributions to the economy and, importantly, our national identity. The public also generally regards farmers positively and is responsive to their plight when they are faced with hardship.

As such, this should be one area where our politicians can come together to develop a coherent national response — one that is known in advance, forward-looking, equitable with other income-assistance programs in the community, and provides meaningful support before, during and after drought.The Conversation

Linda Botterill, Professor in Australian Politics, University of Canberra

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

Trump’s ratings slightly down after Ukraine scandal as Warren surges to tie Biden in Democratic polls



While there has only been a modest drop in Trump’s ratings, support for impeachment has risen sharply.
AAP/EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

About two weeks since a transcript of Donald Trump’s phone conversation with the Ukrainian president was revealed, his approval with all polls in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate is 41.6% and his disapproval is 54.0%. Trump’s net approval is -12.4%, down 2.5% since last fortnight’s article.




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Warren placed second after Biden, as Trump’s ratings rise. But could the impeachment scandal make a difference?


With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s approval is 42.2% and his disapproval is 53.9%, for a net approval of -11.7%, down 3.4% since last fortnight. The Ukraine scandal has had a small but discernible impact on Trump’s ratings.

As I wrote previously, I did not expect this scandal to have a serious or lasting impact, as better-educated voters already detest Trump, while lower-educated voters are far more focused on the economy. Indeed, after an initial drop, Trump’s ratings have stabilised recently.

While there has only been a modest drop in Trump’s ratings, support for impeachment has risen sharply. Before the Ukraine scandal, 51.0% opposed impeachment and 40.1% supported it, according to the FiveThirtyEight tracker. Currently, 49.2% support impeachment while 43.3% are opposed. Support has risen strongly among Democrats and non-aligned voters, but only modestly with Republicans.

The vast majority of Trump disapprovers now support impeachment, but the Ukraine scandal has not converted many Trump approvers into disapprovers.

Despite the increased public support for impeachment, there is very little chance that the Senate, which Republicans control 53-47, will reach the two-thirds majority required to remove Trump from office before the November 2020 election. In the RealClearPolitics average, Trump has well over 80% support for the Republican presidential nomination, with the other three candidates at about 2% each. Republican senators are very unlikely to go against their party’s base.

In head-to-head polling against the three leading Democrats in RealClearPolitics averages, Trump trails Joe Biden by 7.4 points (7.7 points last fortnight). He trails Elizabeth Warren by 4.5 points (4.0) and Bernie Sanders by 5.2 (4.8).

US jobs situation still good

Last week, there were worse than expected September industry surveys for the services sector in both the US and Europe. However, the US added 136,000 jobs in September and the unemployment rate dropped to 3.5% – the lowest since 1969. The one negative aspect of this jobs report was that hourly pay dropped 1c after increasing 11c in August.

The low US unemployment rate is not just because of low participation. The employment population ratio – the percentage of eligible Americans who are employed – increased 0.1% to 61.0% in September, its highest since December 2008, near the beginning of the global financial crisis.

My view is that, bad as Trump’s ratings are, they would be worse without the strong US economy; this explains why Trump’s ratings improved during September as the recession talk from August faded. If the US jobs reports continue to have good news until November 2020, Trump will have a reasonable chance of re-election.

There are two economic policies being pursued by the right that could undermine the global economy. One is the US/China trade war, where talks this week are unlikely to make progress. The other is Brexit, particularly a no-deal Brexit. A no-deal Brexit may occur on October 31, but is more likely after an election that current polling indicates the UK Conservatives would win.

Warren surges to tie with Biden in Democratic polls

In the RealClearPolitics average of Democratic national polls, Warren and Biden are virtually tied, with Warren at 26.6% and Biden 26.4%. It is the first lead for anyone other than Biden. Sanders is at 14.6%, Pete Buttigieg at 5.6%, Kamala Harris at 4.4% and nobody else has more than 3%.

Since the September 12 Democratic debate, Warren’s support has increased at the expense of Biden, Harris and Sanders. Some of Sanders’ recent drop is probably due to his October 1 heart attack.

In early state polls, there have been no new polls since last fortnight in Iowa, with Warren leading Biden by 23.0% to 20.3%. In New Hampshire, the two polls taken since the September 12 debate have Warren leading Biden by one to two points.




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The big exception to Warren’s rise is South Carolina, which is the last of the four early states to vote on February 29. Owing to strong black support for Biden, he has a lead over Warren exceeding 20 points in three post-debate polls in that state.

The next Democratic debate will be held on October 15. Contrary to my previous expectations, the 12 qualifying candidates will not be split over two nights, but instead appear all on one night. The threshold has been increased for November and future debates, and so far eight candidates have qualified for the November 20 debate.

Brexit, Austrian, Portuguese and Canadian elections

I wrote for The Poll Bludger about Brexit and the September 29 Austrian election results, in which the conservatives won, but need an ally to reach a majority. My latest Poll Bludger article is about Brexit and the October 6 Portuguese election, a rare triumph for the left in a democratic world that is trending to the right.

The Canadian election will be held on October 21. The CBC Poll Tracker has the Conservatives and Liberals virtually tied in voting intentions, with the Liberals ahead on seats, but short of a majority.

Australian Newspoll: 51-49 to Coalition

The latest Australian Newspoll, conducted September 26-29 from a sample of 1,660, gave the Coalition a 51-49 lead, unchanged since early September. Primary votes were 42% Coalition (down one), 33% Labor (down two), 13% Greens (up one, and their best Newspoll since 2015) and 6% One Nation (up one).

Scott Morrison’s net approval was +4, down six points. Anthony Albanese’s net approval was -1, up four points. Morrison led Albanese as better PM by 50-31 (48-28 previously).

Voters favoured prioritising the US relationship over China by 56% to 25%. All figures from The Poll Bludger.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.