Moments after President Donald Trump shook North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s hand for the first time, Trump pronounced: “We will have a terrific relationship.”
Trump’s snap judgment fulfilled his prediction before the June 12 summit that he would be able to evaluate Kim’s intentions “within the first minute” of meeting him.
High-level politicians often think that they are experts at reading and influencing other leaders. They quickly come to believe that they are the world’s leading authority on any counterpart they meet in person. For example, President George W. Bush was so enamored with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that senior advisers launched a concerted campaign to curb his enthusiasm.
“You’re my man,” Bush would say to Maliki. When advisers told the president he was undercutting U.S. efforts to pressure Maliki, Bush responded with incredulity: “Are you saying I’m the problem?”
If Trump follows this pattern I’ve found when studying the personal side of foreign policy, he may believe that he now has special insight into Kim. And that means the dynamics of U.S. policymaking toward North Korea have changed. Having met Kim, the president will be even less likely to listen to experts in the intelligence and diplomatic communities.
From first impressions to agreement
Hours after Trump and Kim first met, the two leaders emerged from their talks to sign a joint document. The U.S. is prepared to guarantee the regime’s security, and North Korea is willing to “work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” according to the statement. Trump called it a “very comprehensive agreement.”
Critics are charging that the letter was closer to North Korea’s preferences than the “comprehensive, verifiable, irreversible de-nuclearization” sought by the United States.
Perhaps the document is underwhelming, repeating North Korean promises of the past without any clear road map to making them reality. But something significant changed in Singapore: President Trump has met Kim face to face.
On the eve of the summit, details emerged of a profile of Kim’s personality, provided to the president by allied intelligence agencies.
This is standard practice prior to meetings with foreign leaders. But once the leaders have met in person, intelligence analysis takes second place to first-hand impressions.
In the future, expert counsel on Kim’s intentions may clash with Trump’s positive perception of the North Korean leader. In the post-summit press conference Trump called Kim “very talented.” He told journalist Greta van Susteren that Kim has “a great personality, he’s a funny guy, he’s very smart. He loves his people.”
From now on, analyses from the diplomatic and intelligence communities that fit Trump’s view of Kim will be favored, those at odds with his view may be dismissed.
This dynamic is common in policymaking, and there are reasons to think it could be extremely consequential in this case.
Relying on ‘touch, feel’
First, Trump’s tendency to trust his instincts is already pronounced. Asked by a reporter before the summit how he would know if Kim was serious about de-nuclearization, Trump said he would rely upon “my touch, my feel. It’s what I do.”
Second, the intricate series of steps toward disarmament of a nuclear arsenal require expert verification. Ostensibly cooperative actions – like destroying nuclear test tunnels – might turn out to be empty gestures once analysts have pored over the surveillance footage. The North Korean regime has a history of making public agreements, then advancing their nuclear arsenal in secret.
This summit process began with a snap decision by Trump to accept an offer to meet with Kim. The most significant result may be Trump’s new confidence that he uniquely understands the North Korean leader. This will further reinforce the defining dynamic of Trump’s presidency so far: Ignore the experts, trust your gut.
Bill Shorten has moved to make the ABC an election issue, promising to reverse the Turnbull government’s $83.7 million budget cut and to guarantee funding certainty over the broadcaster’s next budget cycle.
Ahead of appearing on the ABC’s Q&A program, Shorten and frontbench colleagues declared the Coalition had “launched the biggest attack on the ABC in a generation”.
In recent months Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has sent a stream of complaints to the ABC about stories, both online and on air, contesting facts and interpretations. The Prime Minister’s Office has also complained. Government frontbenchers and backbenchers frequently make cracks at or about the ABC, echoing a theme of many conservative commentators.
The ABC is also under constant attack from News Corp, driven by both ideology and commercial interests. The government has an inquiry underway into the ABC’s competitive neutrality, which was part of a deal with Pauline Hanson but also important in the context of News Corp’s argument about the government-funded ABC encroaching on financially strapped commercial media.
When the government made the $84 million budget cut – which took the form of a freeze to indexation – Treasurer Scott Morrison said “everyone has to live within their means”. Managing director Michelle Guthrie said that “the decision will make it very difficult for the ABC to meet its charter requirements and audience expectations.”
In a statement Shorten, communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland and regional communications spokesman Stephen Jones said Labor’s commitment would ensure the ABC could meet its charter requirements, safeguard jobs, adapt to the digital environment “and maintain content and services that Australians trust and rely on”.
They said the Coalition since 2014 had “overseen $282 million in cuts to the ABC that has seen 800 jobs lost and a drop in Australian content and services”.
“Labor will stand up for the ABC and fight against the conservatives’ ideological war against our public broadcaster,” the statement said.
The promised investment “demonstrates Labor’s commitment to the ABC’s independence and to maintain the ABC as our comprehensive national broadcaster.
“Now, more than ever, Australians need the ABC – our strong, trusted and independent public broadcaster.
“At a time when too many Australians feel disengaged from their democracy and distrustful of their representatives, Labor wants to restore trust and faith in our institutions. Part of restoring trust is is supporting a healthy public interest media sector, and protecting that trusted institution – the ABC”.
Malcolm Turnbull will give a formal national apology on October 22 to victims of child sexual abuse, as part of the federal response to the royal commission.
Outlining the government’s detailed response on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said that Western Australia had now agreed to sign on to the redress scheme so there will be a fully national scheme from July 1.
Victims will be entitled to up to A$150,000, with average payments of $76,000. The maximum is lower than the $200,000 recommended by the commission, but the average will be higher. There will be a low evidentiary standard.
The government will set up a new National Office for Child Safety within the Social Services department, which it says will “work across government and sectors to develop and implement policies and strategies to enhance children’s safety and prevent future harm”.
But Turnbull was unspecific when questioned at a news conference about how to deal with one current big issue of child safety – protecting at risk children in some Indigenous communities. There has been recent controversy about whether too many or too few children are being removed from families. The issue has been highlighted by some high profile alleged rapes.
Turnbull said he had discussed the problem with the Northern Territory chief minister.
Asked about the level of removal of children he said: “the safety of children has to be paramount. It’s difficult to generalise about this because every case is different.” He pointed to the duty of parents and neighbours to ensure children’s safety. “If you … believe a child is being abused, don’t turn a blind eye.”
The government has opened consultations on the content of the national apology and the form of the ceremony.
The commission made 409 recommendations. Of these 84 relate to redress matters. Of the remaining 325, 122 are directed wholly or partly to the federal government, which has accepted 104 of them. It has noted the other 18, which mostly overlap other jurisdictions and will need more consideration. It has not rejected any recommendation.
The government said in a statement it expected non-government institutions would indicate what action they would take on recommendations of the commission and report annually in December, along with all governments. The government will report its progress annually for five years with a comprehensive review after a decade.
“Where institutions decide not to accept the royal commission’s recommendations they should state so and why”.
Speaking at his news conference Turnbull said: “The survivors that I’ve met and the personal stories that have been told to me have given me but a small insight into the betrayal you experienced at the hands of the people and institutions who were supposed to protect and care for you.”
“Now that we’ve uncovered the shocking truth, we must do everything in our power to honour the bravery of the thousands of people who came forward.”
“The royal commission has made very clear that we all have a role to play to keep our children safe – governments, schools, sporting clubs, churches, charitable institutions and, of course, all of us.”
At first glance, it is easy to call the meeting between US president, Donald Trump, and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong-un, “historic” and “unprecedented”. It was the first meeting between sitting leaders of the two countries, which are still technically in a state of war.
You could also call it a success – preparations and schedules were respected, the media had ample opportunity to take shots of the two men shaking hands in front of the colourful display of 12 intermingled American and North Korean flags – and they were also privy to comments by the two leaders, including Kim in one of his very rare appearances in front of the foreign press.
The meeting was also a success from a security and optics points of view: smiles were exchanged, in-depth discussions took place between cabinet members, nobody went off script and there were no security breaches, thanks to ironclad preparations by their Singaporean hosts.
Now that both leaders are on their way back to their own countries, we are left with many photos of the bromance du jour, as well as a signed statement – and a plethora of questions. What should we take away from this historic moment? Here are three key points:
1. Ultimately it was North Korea’s day
Kim has managed to build upon the work of his father and grandfather and secured the highest form of recognition that there is – a bilateral meeting with the president of the most powerful country on the planet.
And North Korea did not have to pay a cent for it: China furnished a plane, Singapore footed the US$15m-plus bill for the summit, and the media distributed images of the North Korean leader parlaying on equal terms with the US president to the entire world. It’s a resounding success for Kim – and one that is likely to be exploited back home for political purpose.
2. What is written in the agreement
The joint document signed by both parties shows the craftiness and hardline approach the DPRK has taken to the summit. Though the agreement commits both parties to the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula – removing all nuclear weapons from the region, including potential American weapons – the DPRK has only reiterated, in writing, its commitment to “work towards” this aim.
This is certainly not the pledge for the unilateral dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear programme that the US has always pushed for.
3. What is not written in the agreement
The agreement shows a clear miss from the United States, as there are no mentions of CVID (“complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement”) of North Korean nuclear capabilities – something that was talked about a great deal in the run up to the meeting.
Given that Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and national security adviser, John Bolton, have signalled that they would accept nothing short of CVID, this is a giant omission. Essentially, this should be read as a refusal from the DPRK to state that they would denuclearise unilaterally.
4. Putting words into action
The agreement provides very vague concepts for a new US-DPRK relationship – one that will without a doubt also change the nature of balance and geopolitics in East Asia and relationships with other regional actors such as South Korea, Russia, China and Japan.
The first concrete action was for the American president to announce he intends to call a halt to the annual war game exercises organised between the US and South Korea (the most recent exercises nearly derailed the inter-Korea summit a few weeks ago). This is an important step toward confidence building for both sides of the summit and one that should be praised.
But it is important to note that Trump’s rationale was to scrap the war games, not because they offend and worry the DPRK – but, as he himself stated to the media, because they cost a lot of money. And money – especially the way Trump thinks the rest of the world takes advantage of the US – was a theme the US president returned to repeatedly in the post-summit press conference.
Trump also talked about real estate development opportunities in the DPRK. In essence, Trump’s money-focused transactional nature took only a few hours to surface after his handshake with Kim. But peace has a cost and, given the current US narrative that seeks to avoid foreign entanglement and is fed up with spending money on international commitments, it will require the United States to manage its shaky alliances if this is to be a realistic prospect.
And as reactions are starting to pour in from world leaders, it is important to remember that the summit has given the DPRK legitimacy on the world stage, while there was little talk of how this legitimacy was acquired: essentially by developing nuclear weapons.
Kim is a dictator who has purged a number of rivals while starving and oppressing his own population. Ultimately, Trump has just willingly sat down with a villain and not gained much in the way of concessions in return.
In my preview of the historic US-DPRK summit in Singapore, I asked where Trump and Kim might find lowest common denominator points of agreement to potentially unlock a confidence-building pathway.
That this summit has even taken place at all could be seen as an achievement, given where US-DPRK relations were in 2017. We should therefore be unsurprised that despite Trump’s hype in the lead-up to the event, the common denominators of agreement amounted to promises of a new relationship and little else of substance.
However, it is not so much what is in the joint statement as much as what has been left out that is the big story.
To tease this out, let’s consider the four specific points of agreement articulated in the joint statement released by US President Donald Trump and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un at the conclusion of today’s summit.
In the first article of the agreement, the two parties committed to establishing a “new US-DPRK relations.” What might a new relationship between the two countries look like?
The leader-to-leader summit between the two countries was unprecedented and potentially could represent a tentative first step on the road to rapprochement. Symbolism is the obvious place to begin, given the low base the relationship between these two countries is starting from.
If we jump to article four, both parties have committed to the process of recovering the remains of UN forces prisoners of war and soldiers missing-in-action from the Korean War, along with the immediate repatriation of the remains of those already identified.
In a similar way to the family reunion program articulated in the inter-Korean Panmunjom Agreement, the repatriation of POW/MIA remains is a relatively easy confidence-building measure on which to base a longer-term pathway of more substantive measures. It is also of great importance as a mark of respect to the families of those military personnel who can find closure with the return of their deceased loved ones.
The second article refers to joint efforts “to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.” As I’ve argued previously, a settlement to formally conclude the Korean War could be potential common interest around which to develop an engagement pathway.
Prior to the summit, Trump hinted that the “signing of a document” to close hostilities was a possibility. The closest the joint statement comes to this is a passage in the second paragraph, which reads:
President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK.
It is not immediately clear from the text what these security guarantees might be, but it certainly falls short of any kind of non-aggression pact or peace treaty. Such an outcome was always unlikely at this summit and would be the product of a longer negotiating process should it come to pass.
The end of ‘complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation’?
The joint statement gets interesting in article three, in which “the DPRK commits to work toward the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.”
The wording around “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula” reflects the North Korean interpretation of the concept, which has been well-documented in the lead-up to the summit.
Tellingly, there is no mention of “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation” (CVID) in the statement text, which is a clear departure from long-standing US policy.
There are a couple of ways this could be interpreted. On the one hand, it is possible that Trump lived up to the pre-summit fears of some domestic critics and gave away too much for too little in the negotiation. From this perspective, the master negotiator Trump was played by Kim into signing off on the North Korean position, through which Kim gets international legitimacy and domestic prestige from attending the summit without having to make any concessions.
On the other hand, Trump’s omission of CVID could be a calibrated strategy accompanied by a clearly articulated and wide-ranging engagement strategy, scaffolded around a formal peace treaty. If so, it could prove to be the circuit-breaker that opens the pathway toward the aforementioned “new US-DPRK relations” and the collective management of North Korea as a nuclear power.
Either way, this will become clearer if and when follow-up negotiations take place. Either way, there are factions of the international political spectrum who will be unhappy with the outcome.
It is significant that article three pays homage to the Panmunjom Agreement, which may be the key to understanding how the US-South Korea-DPRK engagement triangle may unfold.
The Panmunjom Agreement, for all its ambiguity, does have an articulation of economic and security confidence-building measures, based on a shared vision for a permanent Korean Peninsula peace regime.
If we assume a calibrated strategy in deferring to the Panmunjom Agreement, the US-DPRK joint statement may indicate the bulk of the heavy lifting with regard to confidence-building measures will be handled as an inter-Korean affair, with Trump’s apparent non-aggression promise providing space for engagement initiatives to evolve.
Where to now?
My take-home message from the omission of CVID from the joint statement is confirmation that North Korea under Kim Jong-un is never going to willingly denuclearise.
In “working toward complete denuclearisation,” North Korea may agree to a nuclear weapons and ballistic missile testing moratorium, decommission obsolete nuclear facilities, or even promise to freeze production of new nuclear weapons, without ever having to compromise its nuclear weapons capability.
We should not be surprised if one or both parties back-pedals from the joint statement at some stage. Seasoned North Korea watchers will be expecting North Korea to backtrack from the joint statement to extract concessions, or add new conditions to their continued commitment to the “new US-DPRK relations,” as we have seen several times previously.
We are also likely to see Trump sustain considerable political heat domestically for his perceived capitulation on CVID and for omitting human rights from the discussion, as well as from the Japanese government for selling out their security interests.
This pressure may be sufficient to prompt a recalibration of the US interpretation of the joint statement. Backpedalling from either side will change the position of the other and blow the whole engagement process out of the water.
The final paragraph of the joint statement commits US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet with an as yet unidentified high level North Korean official. It will be at these meetings and beyond where the “new US-DPRK relations” will start to take shape.
US President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un will meet on Tuesday for their highly anticipated summit in Singapore. For the summit to be productive, the negotiations need to converge on a lowest-common-denominator shared interest that both parties can agree on.
We saw this in the inter-Korean summit, where South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un settled on easy-win confidence-building measures as the starting point for more substantive negotiations.
Given the extreme and long-standing trust deficit between the US and DPRK, it is not clear where Trump and Kim might find this lowest common denominator to unlock a confidence-building pathway. Because of that, this summit is shaping as compelling viewing as a spectacle, and perplexing in its ambiguous purpose.
What do they have to offer each other?
North Korea is not committed to denuclearisation as the concept has been understood by the Trump administration. The North Korean interpretation of a nuclear-free Korea implies the full simultaneous nuclear weapons relinquishment by all nuclear powers, including the United States.
The problem with Trump’s insistence on CVID is that there is no mutually agreeable starting point for a discussion with North Korea on those terms. There is no outcome in which the regime willingly relinquishes its nuclear weapons program, because the Kim regime is so heavily invested in nuclear weapons as the foundation of its security strategy, economic development pathway, and domestic political legitimacy.
The only real concession of value that Washington has to offer Kim is a formal treaty to conclude the Korean War. Indeed, Trump has hinted that the “signing of a document” to close hostilities is a possibility (though he stopped short of offering a formal peace treaty).
What does North Korea have to offer the United States, short of denuclearisation? We have seen gestures of goodwill in the lead-up to the summit. North Korea’s recently demolished tunnels at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site are a gesture of goodwill to Washington, offering up a now-obsolete facility.
This echoes a similar concession by Pyongyang in 2008, when it demolished the cooling tower of the obsolete reactor at Yongbyon. Negotiations may settle on a nuclear freeze and/or missile testing moratorium, in addition to other smaller security-related confidence-building measures.
The North released three American citizens to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on a recent visit to Pyongyang. The Americans had been detained in the DPRK on accusations of espionage.
Both parties have strengths and weaknesses in their bargaining positions. North Korea has (or is close enough to) a deployable nuclear weapons capability. Kim appears enthusiastic to talk now with the Americans, because in nuclear weapons his government has the strategic leverage it needs. North Korea wants to negotiate a peace agreement with the United States, but on Pyongyang’s terms.
The explicit inclusion of references to transportation infrastructure linkages with South Korea in the Panmunjom Declaration from April’s inter-Korean summit illustrates this point.
Similarly, there are limitations on American action that constrain its negotiating options – most notably, the strategic vulnerability of Seoul to North Korean bombardment.
The absence of a substantive relationship between the US and North Korea also limits Washington’s economic and diplomatic leverage. Rightly or wrongly, the US has dealt itself out of direct influence over North Korea through its various policies of strategic isolation and maximum pressure. It is ironic that US officials have consistently urged China to do more to pressure North Korea and uphold the integrity of the sanctions regime, when it has been economic interactions between the DPRK and China that have had the most demonstrable impact on politics in Pyongyang.
However, the clear power disparity between the US and DPRK is often overlooked. As the more powerful party with overwhelming nuclear superiority and clear capacity to deter any North Korean nuclear threat, the US does have capacity to reset the terms of the relationship by reducing the heat in negotiations.
Trump can do this by changing the focus of the negotiations. If it insists on CVID to the bitter end, the Trump administration will blow an opportunity to meaningfully change the strategic goalposts on the Korean Peninsula by focusing on the wrong prize.
Who else is playing a role?
With such ambiguity over potential outcomes from the summit, other regional players are lobbying hard around the edges to represent their interests.
South Korea’s diplomatic efforts in 2018 have been geared to guiding the US into a more conciliatory position with North Korea. This would make it politically safer for Trump to negotiate for an agreement with Pyongyang, knowing there are influential American officials in Trump’s ear counselling for war.
Moon Jae-in has been busy maintaining the diplomatic momentum generated by the inter-Korean summit, from his tactical ego-stroking comments about Trump deserving the Nobel Peace Prize to visiting Washington to lobby the president directly.
Moon has even flagged that he may travel to Singapore for the summit, knowing South Korea is best positioned to facilitate confidence-building with the DPRK.
Conversely, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also been engaging in shuttle diplomacy, urging Trump to follow a tougher line. North Korea’s WMD and missile threat to Japan, and resolution of the abductee issue, are core interests of the Abe administration.
Indeed, an adversarial North Korea better suits Abe’s domestic agenda for Japanese strategic “normalisation”, which would be undercut by rapprochement between Washington and Pyongyang.
It is also interesting to see that former NBA star Dennis Rodman may be an attendee at the summit. While Rodman has been lampooned in some quarters for his sports diplomacy and relationship with Kim Jong-un, he nonetheless has a level of access to and a unique rapport with the North Korean leader that is largely unmatched by anyone else within the American foreign policy establishment.
Also significant is the non-invitation of US National Security Advisor John Bolton. His recent comments comparing North Korea to Libya appear to be a deliberate attempt to undercut the State Department’s groundwork with Pyongyang over the past few months.
American hawks such as Bolton view any kind of engagement with North Korea as a “loss” or “appeasement” — one of the most juvenile and misapplied terms in the international relations lexicon.
They are well aware of the difficulty of getting any negotiated deal ratified in a Republican-majority Congress (recalling the fate of the Agreed Framework). The irony is a deal is more likely to stick in the US if it is owned by a Republican president.
What could this summit achieve?
My view is that North Korea can be deterred as a nuclear power, and a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War represents the best pathway to managing regional security and ensuring the safety of the people who live in the region.
It is under the umbrella of a formalised peace regime that human rights concerns within North Korea are more likely to be addressed, coupled with continued pressure from international human rights advocates.
Summits are symbols that act as markers in a much broader process of relationship-building. They are based on confidence-building measures and clear, achievable implementation steps. Through such a process, the parties could gradually evolve the level of trust necessary to progress to subsequent steps on the negotiation pathway.
It is unclear in the build-up to this unprecedented summit if the participants will be able to hack away the thicket of decades of mistrust and hostility to identify common interests.
We will find out on Tuesday if Trump and Kim can find that lowest common denominator on which to build a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
The Minister for Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity, Angus Taylor, foreshadowed this week that the Turnbull government will continue to pursue new law-enforcement powers that would allow authorities access to encrypted digital data in the fight against terrorism, organised crime and online crime, such as cyber fraud and child exploitation.
To assess the worthiness of this pursuit, it is useful to review the developments in the past six years regarding the government-mandated collection and storage of mass electronic data, referred to as “metadata”.
Metadata does not contain content. It is simply information about the digital links involved in communications, the location of the caller and receiver, the date and time of the calls, and the length of the conversation. It includes data pertaining to short messaging service (SMS) text messages, and the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of users’ devices.
Twenty-one law enforcement agencies have been granted access to track and retain metadata. Given the ubiquity of smartphones and other portable devices, these agencies can find an enormously rich trail of information regarding users’ locations, calls and networks.
Metadata retention emerged as a potential strategy with the release in 2013 of the report of the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. The Committee noted that such a scheme would be of “significant utility” to national security agencies.
The government responded in due course. In October 2015 new laws came into force requiring telecommunications service providers to retain and store their metadata for two years so that it remained available for analysis.
The prime minister at the time, Tony Abbott, explained the decision thus:
To help combat terrorism at home and deter Australians from committing terrorist acts abroad, we need to ensure our security agencies are resourced properly and have the powers to respond to evolving threats and technological change.
The government sought to allay any concerns about executive “overreach” by giving a role to the Commonwealth Ombudsman to assess an agency’s compliance with its legislative mandate.
Concerns at the time
There were several other concerns raised at the time of the passage of the legislation. The key one was that it had the potential to erode the very democratic freedoms that governments are duty bound to protect, such as freedom of political association. It was pointed out that democracies such as France, Germany and Israel had not legislated for mass metadata collection.
Moreover, in addition to general privacy unease, there was a concern that there was no guarantee that our allies – when analysing Australian metadata – would preserve the privacy safeguards set out under Australian law.
The AFP Commissioner, Andrew Colvin, quickly acted to alert the media and to offer the opinion that there was no ill will or bad intent. While this assurance was comforting, the ease with which the access was obtained was, for observers, a problem.
It wasn’t future-proof
But the key fear was that the strategy, for its enormous cost — A$740 million over ten years — was not future-proof. Technologies that can hide from metadata collection are readily available and widely used.
Any encrypted messaging app — such as Wickr, Phantom Secure, Blackberry, WhatsApp, Tango, Threema and Viber — can circumvent data retention. Moreover, any secure drop system based on Tor is capable of evading metadata scrutiny too.
So that’s where Angus Taylor’s concerns are coming from.
He wants to find a way of compelling the telecommunications companies (telcos) to hand over encrypted data when his agencies suspect that communications are occurring in the pursuit of nefarious purposes.
Will this be through some form of commercial arrangement? Will it be via a threat to block services of non-compliant telcos? Will it involve embedding surveillance codes in devices? Will warrants be required in all cases? How much will it cost?
We won’t know until the legislation comes before the parliament. What we do know is that the process will not be easy.
It is worth remembering that governments must ensure that no policy sacrifices our hard-fought liberties in the pursuit of an expensive goal that is not readily attainable.
Indeed, we don’t even know whether the current metadata laws are having the desired effect. Anecdotal evidence emerges from time to time from law enforcement agencies that they have disrupted serious threats, but there has been no actual evidence that the disruption was caused or aided by access to metadata because of the secrecy that shrouds issues of national security. It boils down to a case of “trust us”.
So it is virtually impossible for the public to assess whether the digital data collection by security agencies has been effective or necessary, or even what that collection actually involves. We can only hope that the debate over accessing and analysing encrypted services is a little more enlightening.
The Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie, who quit parliament in the citizenship crisis, has an early lead in her fight to win back her South Australian seat of Mayo, according to a ReachTEL poll.
Sharkie is ahead of her opponent, the high-profile Liberal Georgina Downer, 58% to 42% on a two-party basis.
The poll was commissioned by the Australia Institute, a progressive think tank.
The Liberals have been hopeful of capturing Mayo, thus increasing their parliamentary majority. They held the seat until Sharkie, as part of the Nick Xenophon Team (since renamed the Centre Alliance) won it in 2016 from Jamie Briggs, who earlier had to resign from the ministry over a personal indiscretion.
Georgina Downer is the daughter of Alexander Downer, a former occupant of the seat who was foreign minister in the Howard government.
The vote is on July 28, when five byelections will be held in a Super Saturday across the country. The Liberals believe the long campaign will favour them in Mayo because Sharkie has much less in terms of resources. She is, however, well known in the electorate.
The poll has her on a 40.1% primary vote, with Downer on 34.4%. Labor is polling 7.7%; the Greens 10.7%. The vote for “other/independent” is 3.5%, with 3.6% undecided. The sample was 1031 with polling on the night of June 5.
The poll also asked whether company tax for large companies like banks, mining companies and supermarkets should be increased, kept the same or decreased. The results were: increased, 25.4%; kept the same, 44.9%; decreased, 24.8%.
People were overwhelmingly opposed to the banks receiving a company tax cut (69.1% against).
Asked how they would prefer to spend the $80 billion proposed to be spent on company tax cuts, 51.4% chose “infrastructure and government services like health and education”, 6.5% said personal income tax cuts, 29.1% said decreasing the deficit and repaying debt, and 8.7% said proceeding with the company tax cuts.
Asked how the Senate should vote on the third stage of the budget’s income tax policy, which “removes the 37-cent income tax bracket altogether, meaning someone earning $41.000 would pay the same marginal tax rate as someone earning $200,000”, about two thirds (65.3%) said the Senate should oppose it, while 25.2% said it should vote in support.
What’s the rush? If you believe Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter, unless two pieces of security legislation are in place in the remaining two weeks of parliament before the winter recess, the country will be in peril.
His argument is nonsense. Labor should also be taken to task for being party to a hasty process that appears on the face of it to be expedient. Labor’s persistent concern is to avoid being wedged on security issues.
Under the proposed legislation, bodies such as Amnesty International that have been critical of Australian government policies may be vulnerable.
Porter’s argument appears to be that unless the legislation passes in the concluding two weeks of the midyear session of parliament, those byelections will be conducted in a perilous atmosphere. He said:
There’s an unprecedented level of foreign intelligence activity in Australia and that means more foreign agents and more foreign power using more tradecraft and more technologies to engage in espionage and foreign interference and the attempted foreign influence of our democratic processes.
And that increase in volume is detectable even in the period of time that this piece of legislation has been under consideration by the committee.
No reasonable person would argue against the need for beefed-up legislation to deal with challenges to democratic processes such as those witnessed during the recent US election.
Fairfax Media’s publication overnight of leaked documents dealing with alleged war crimes by members of the Special Air Service might have fallen foul of such provisions, and may still do so.
Media coverage of the draft amendments to the Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill has been relatively favourable. However, this might have less to do with the merits of the legislation than with relief the bill is less threatening to legitimate inquiry than an earlier draft.
Most of these recommendations are cosmetic, except those relating to journalistic inquiry. They include the need for security certifications to be validated before proceedings could be initiated for an espionage or secrecy offence, and a review of the legislation by the National Security Legislation Monitor after three years.
This refers to legislation that sought to proscribe involvement in Australian political processes not just by foreign governments and their agents, but by entities like GetUp, which has drawn part of its funding from foreign sources.
The scope of this proposed legislation – which is yet to be agreed by the JCOIS – has now been limited to foreign governments, foreign-related entities, foreign political organisation and foreign government-directed individuals.
Foreign companies would be excluded from this provision unless it could be demonstrated they were closely connected to a foreign government or political organisation.
In such cases, government-dominated companies, even those associated with friendly nations, would be required to register under the proposed law.
In efforts to guard against interference by individuals or companies who might be connected with a foreign government, the Attorney-General’s Department would be empowered to issue “transparency notices” to identify such individuals or companies.
An appeals process against these findings would be available through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Porter said:
It’s vital that our national security legislation and framework reflects the modern challenges that we face … that framework remains dangerously incomplete while these two remaining and critical bills remain unlegislated.
As interested parties digest the provisions of the proposed amendments, it’s likely more objections will be raised, such as those by Claire O’Rourke, one of Amnesty’s Australian representatives.
O’Rourke told The Guardian that under the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill charities like Amnesty that hold the Australian government to account on its human rights record could face criminal charges. She said:
This is clear government overreach and a cynical exercise by both sides of politics to shield themselves from the scrutiny of Australian society, including charities.
The upshot of all this? Quite simply, more time is needed to review proposed amendments.
Attorney-General Christian Porter has put forward compromise amendments to the government’s proposed register of foreign agents that will limit its reach.
The changes are designed to meet criticisms from charities, universities and others, and to get a quick agreement with Labor on the legislation.
The bill for the register is still being considered by the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, which on Thursday released a bipartisan report agreeing on 60 amendments to the legislation to counter the threat of foreign interference.
Porter wants to get both bills passed by the end of this month. “Most critically this would allow for Australia’s new legal framework designed to address espionage, interference and foreign influence in Australia’s democratic processes to be passed before the conduct of five key Australian byelections and be fully operational before the next scheduled general election,” he said.
There have been widespread concerns that the scope of the transparency scheme is too wide, and notably the breadth of the definitions in it, including that of “foreign principal”.
Arguments have been put by lawyers, the media, the arts, charities, not-for-profit organisations and the academic sector that these definitions will adversely affect them.
Porter said that the government had now given the committee a range of amendments “that address the most substantive stakeholder issues”.
The bill currently provides that people be required to register if undertaking certain activities on behalf of a foreign government, public enterprise, political organisation, business or individual.
The change would limit the “foreign principals” to foreign governments, foreign government-related entities, foreign political organisations and foreign government-related individuals.
“This ensures that only organisations or individuals ultimately working at the direction of a foreign government or political party are required to register,” Porter said.
The amendment would thus exclude “the vast majority of private international companies”, except where “they are closely related to a foreign government or political organisation”.
To stop some companies or individuals with opaque links to a foreign government falling through the cracks, the secretary of the Attorney-General’s department would have a power to issue notices stating a person or organisation was considered a foreign government-related entity or individual.
“This would allow the government to investigate and declare where it considers companies or individuals are hiding their connections to foreign governments,” Porter said.
Another change would mean broadcasters, carriage service providers and publishers would not have to register “where they are undertaking their ordinary business”.
The definition of “activity for the purpose of political or government influence” would also be changed “so that a substantial purpose of the activity has to be political influence, rather than just ‘a’ purpose of it”.
Porter said that responding to the university sector and charities, the definition of “undertaking activity on behalf of a foreign principal” would be amended “so a person isn’t deemed to be undertaking an activity merely because they are supervised by, receive funding from or collaborate with a foreign principal”.