We live in a world of upheaval. So why aren’t today’s protests leading to revolutions?



Today’s protests are driven more by anger over social and economic inequity than deep-seated grievances against a regime.
Orlando Barria/EPA

Peter McPhee, University of Melbourne

We live in a world of violent challenges to the status quo, from Chile and Iraq to Hong Kong, Catalonia and the Extinction Rebellion. These protests are usually presented in the media simply as expressions of rage at “the system” and are eminently suitable for TV news coverage, where they flash across our screens in 15-second splashes of colour, smoke and sometimes blood.

These are huge rebellions. In Chile, for example, an estimated one million people demonstrated last month. By the next day, 19 people had died, nearly 2,500 had been injured and more than 2,800 arrested.

How might we make sense of these upheavals? Are they revolutionary or just a series of spectacular eruptions of anger? And are they doomed to fail?

Iraq’s protests have been the bloodiest of anywhere in the world in recent months, with more than 300 confirmed dead.
Ahmed Jalil/EPA

Key characteristics of a revolution

As an historian of the French Revolution of 1789-99, I often ponder the similarities between the five great revolutions of the modern world – the English Revolution (1649), American Revolution (1776), French Revolution (1789), Russian Revolution (1917) and Chinese Revolution (1949).

A key question today is whether the rebellions we are currently witnessing are also revolutionary.

A model of revolution drawn from the five great revolutions can tell us much about why they occur and take particular trajectories. The key characteristics are:

  • long-term causes and the popularity of a socio-political ideology at odds with the regime in power

  • short-term triggers of widespread protest

  • moments of violent confrontation the power-holders are unable to contain as sections of the armed forces defect to rebels

  • the consolidation of a broad and victorious alliance against the existing regime

  • a subsequent fracturing of the revolutionary alliance as competing factions vie for power

  • the re-establishment of a new order when a revolutionary leader succeeds in consolidating power.

Hong Kongers have been protesting for six months, seeking universal suffrage and an inquiry into alleged police brutality, among other demands.
Fazry Ismail/EPA

Why today’s protests are not revolutionary

This model indicates the upheavals in our contemporary world are not revolutionary – or not yet.

The most likely to become revolutionary is in Iraq, where the regime has shown a willingness to kill its own citizens (more than 300 in October alone). This indicates that any concessions to demonstrators will inevitably be regarded as inadequate.

We do not know how the extraordinary rebellion in Hong Kong will end, but it may be very telling there does not seem to have been significant defection from the police or army to the protest movement.




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People grow angry far more often than they rebel. And rebellions rarely become revolutions.

So, we need to distinguish between major revolutions that transform social and political structures, coups by armed elites and common forms of protest over particular issues. An example of this is the massive, violent and ultimately successful protests in Ecuador last month that forced the government to cancel an austerity package.

Ecuadoreans began protesting in October when an executive decree came into effect that eliminated the subsidy on the price of gasoline.
Paolo Aguilar/EPA

The protests in Hong Kong and Catalonia fall into yet another category: they have limited aims for political sovereignty rather than more general objectives.

All successful revolutions are characterised by broad alliances at the outset as the deep-seated grievances of a range of social groups coalesce around opposition to the existing regime.

They begin with mass support. For that reason, the Extinction Rebellion will likely only succeed with modest goals of pushing reluctant governments to do more about climate change, rather than its far more ambitious aspirations of

a national Citizen Assembly, populated by ordinary people chosen at random, to come up with a programme for change.

Mass protests also fail when they are unable to create unity around core objectives. The Arab Spring, for instance, held so much promise after blossoming in 2010, but with the possible exception of Tunisia, failed to lead to meaningful change.

Revolutionary alliances collapsed rapidly into civil war (as in Libya) or failed to neutralise the armed forces (as in Egypt and Syria).

Why is there so much anger?

Fundamental to an understanding of the rage so evident today is the “democratic deficit”. This refers to public anger at the way the high-water mark of democratic reform around the globe in the 1990s – accompanied by the siren song of economic globalisation – has had such uneven social outcomes.

One expression of this anger has been the rise of fearful xenophobia expertly captured by populist politicians, most famously in the case of Donald Trump, but including many others from Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil to Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and Victor Orbán in Hungary.




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Indeed, there are some who claim that western liberalism has now failed).

Elsewhere, the anger is popular rather than populist. In upheavals from Lebanon and Iraq to Zimbabwe and Chile, resentment is particularly focused on the evidence of widespread corruption as elites flout the basic norms of transparency and equity in siphoning government money into their pockets and those of their cronies.

Protesters in Lebanon were initially angry over the crumbling economy and corruption, but have since called for an entirely new political system.
Wael Hamzeh/EPA

The broader context of today’s upheavals also includes the uneven withdrawal of the US from international engagement, providing new opportunities for two authoritarian superpowers (Russia and China) driven by dreams of new empires.

The United Nations, meanwhile, is floundering in its attempt to provide alternative leadership through a rules-based international system.

The state of the world economy also plays a role. In places where economic growth is stagnant, minor price increases are more than just irritants. They explode into rebellions, such as the recent tax on WhatsApp in Lebanon and the metro fare rise in Chile.

There was already deep-seated anger in both places. Chile, for example, is one of Latin America’s wealthiest countries, but has one of the worst levels of income equality among the 36 nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Rebellions with new characteristics

Of course, we do not know how these protest movements will end. While it is unlikely any of the rebellions will result in revolutionary change, we are witnessing distinctly 21st century upheavals with new characteristics.

One of the most influential approaches to understanding the long-term history and nature of protest and insurrection has come from the American sociologist Charles Tilly.




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Tilly’s studies of European history have identified two key characteristics.

First, forms of protest change across time as a function of wider changes in economic and political structures. The food riots of pre-industrial society, for instance, gave way to the strikes and political demonstrations of the modern world.

And today, the transnational reach of Extinction Rebellion is symptomatic of a new global age. There are also new protest tactics emerging, such as the flashmobs and Lennon walls in Hong Kong.

The Extinction Rebellion movement has organised climate change protests in scores of cities, including across Australia.
Bianca de Marchi/AAP

Tilly’s second theory was that collective protest, both peaceful and violent, is endemic rather than confined to years of spectacular revolutionary upheaval, such as 1789 or 1917. It is a continuing expression of conflict between “contenders” for power, including the state. It is part of the historical fabric of all societies.

Even in a stable and prosperous country like Australia in 2019, there is a deep cynicism around a commitment to the common good. This has been created by a lack of clear leadership on climate change and energy policy, self-serving corporate governance and fortress politics.

All this suggests that Prime Minister Scott Morrison is not only whistling in the wind if he thinks that he can dictate the nature of and even reduce protest in contemporary Australia – he is also ignorant of its history.The Conversation

Peter McPhee, Emeritus professor, University of Melbourne

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

Government to inject economic stimulus by accelerating infrastructure spend


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government is responding to increasing concern about the faltering economy by accelerating A$3.8 billion of infrastructure investment into the next four years, including $1.8 billion for the current and next financial years.

Scott Morrison will outline the infrastructure move in a speech to the Business Council of Australia on Wednesday night, while insisting the government is not panicking about Australia’s economic conditions.

The government’s action follows increasing calls for some stimulus, with concern the tax cuts have not flowed through strongly enough to spending.

The just-released minutes of the last Reserve Bank meeting show the bank seriously considered another rate cut at its November meeting but held off, partly because it thought that might not have the desired effect. Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe has previously urged more spending on infrastructure.

Morrison is making appearances in various states to publicise the government’s infrastructure plans.

The infrastructure bring-forward over the coming 18 months is $1.27 billion plus $510 million in extra funding. Over the forward estimates, the bring-forward is $2.72 billion plus $1.06 billion in additional funding.

The government’s latest action means since the election it will have injected an extra $9.5 billion into the economy for 2019-20 and 2020-21. This comprises $7.2 billion in tax relief, $1.8 billion in infrastructure bring-forwards and additional projects, and $550 million in drought assistance to communities.

In his BCA speech, draft extracts of which have been released, Morrison is expected to say that “a panicked reaction to contemporary challenges would amount to a serious misdiagnosis of our economic situation”.

“A responsible and sensible government does not run the country as if it is constantly at DEFCON1 the whole time, whether on the economy or any other issue. It deals with issues practically and soberly.”




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He will say that notwithstanding the headwinds, including the drought which has cut farm production, the economy has continued to grow, and is forecast to “gradually pick up from here” with jobs growth remaining solid.

“Against this backdrop, it would be reckless to discard the disciplined policy framework that has steered us through many difficult periods, most recently and most significantly the end of the mining investment boom, which posed an even greater threat to our economy than the GFC.”

The projected return to surplus this financial year would be a “significant achievement”.

Lauding the government’s legislated tax relief, Morrison will say. “Our response to the economic challenges our nation faces has been a structural investment in Australian aspiration, backed by responsible economic management.”




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Morrison’s infrastructure bring-forwards follow his post election approach to the states asking for projects that could be accelerated.

As a result of this process we have been able to bring forward $3.8 billion of investment into the next four years, including $1.8 billion to be spent this year and next year alone.

This will support the economy in two ways – by accelerating construction activity and supporting jobs in the near term and by reaping longer run productivity gains sooner.

Every state and territory will benefit, with significant transport projects to be accelerated in all jurisdictions – all within the context of our $100 billion ten-year infrastructure investment plan.

This bring forward of investment is in addition to the new infrastructure commitments we have made in drought-affected rural communities since the election.

In his address Morrison is also expected to announce the first stages of the government’s latest deregulation agenda, aimed at enabling business investment projects to begin faster.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.

Chinese embassy says Liberal critics Hastie and Paterson should “repent”


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Chinese embassy has lashed out at two Liberal members of parliament, Andrew Hastie and James Paterson, saying they would need to “repent and redress their mistakes” before they would be welcome in China.

The attack came after the pair, strong critics of the Beijing regime, were refused visas to take part in a trip sponsored by the think tank China Matters.

In a statement late Friday regretting they had been refused entry, Hastie and Paterson said they were “particularly disappointed that the apparent reason why we are not welcome in China at this time is our frankness about the Chinese Communist Party”.

They added they would “always speak out in defence of Australia’s values, sovereignty and national interest.”

The embassy hit back, saying:

The Chinese people do not welcome those who make unwarranted attacks, wantonly exert pressure on China, challenge China’s sovereignty, disrespect China’s dignity and undermine mutual trust between China and Australia.

As long as the people concerned genuinely repent and redress their mistakes, view China with objectivity and reason, respect China’s system and mode of development chosen by the Chinese people, the door of dialogue and exchanges will always remain open.

Both Hastie and Peterson said on Sunday they would not be repenting.

China Matters has postponed the study tour, which was due to take place next month.

It said the goal of the tours it sponsored was “to facilitate free-flowing, off-the-record and informal discussions” with citizens in China.

In previous tours “no issues have been left unaddressed, including our concerns about the plight of Uighurs in Xinjiang and the ongoing protest movement in Hong Kong”. It was “unfortunate” the politicians’ names had become public before the visit, China Matters said in its statement.

‘Private trip’

China Matters describes itself as “an independent Australian policy institute established to advance sound policy and to stimulate a realistic and nuanced discussion of the PRC among Australian business, government and the security establishment.”

The government is trying to keep out of the controversy, saying it was a privately sponsored trip.

Labor frontbencher Stephen Jones told Sky:“I think because of the mismanagement of this government, we’ve got relations with China probably an all-time low”.

Concerns reinforced

Meanwhile Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the leak of top secret documents published by the New York Times showing the treatment of Uighurs and other minorities reinforced concerns previously expressed by Australia.

Some of the 400 pages of documents detailing the treatment of China’s Uighur minority leaked to the New York Times.
NYT

The New York Times reported that the more than 400 pages, leaked from within the Communist Party, “provide an unprecedented inside view of the continuing clampdown in Xinjiang, in which the authorities have corralled as many as a million ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and others into internment camps and prisons over the past three years”.

Payne said: “I have previously raised Australia’s strong concerns about reports of mass detentions of Uighurs in Xinjiang.

“We have consistently called for China to cease the arbitrary detention of Uighurs and other groups. We have raised these concerns – and we will continue to raise them both bilaterally and in relevant international meetings.”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.

Sri Lanka election: will the country see a return to strongman politics?



Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the frontrunner in Sri Lanka’s presidential election, faces a lawsuit in the US for alleged extrajudicial killing and torture.
M.A. Pushpa Kumara/EPA

Niro Kandasamy, University of Melbourne

Sri Lanka’s presidential election on Saturday comes at a critical time for the country. The government has been in turmoil since President Maithripala Sirisena sacked the prime minister last year and replaced him with former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, a move that sparked a three-month constitutional crisis.
Then came the Easter bombings this year that killed over 250 people, including two Australians. Sirisena was accused in a parliamentary report of “actively undermining” national security and failing to prevent the attacks.

A harsh crackdown on the country’s Muslim minority followed, including arbitrary arrests and detention, according to human rights groups, often with state complicity. Sinhalese nationalist politicians have also been blamed for injecting

new energy into long-standing efforts to undermine the status and prosperity of the Muslim community.

Sirisena, who is not seeking re-election, has not fulfilled many of the election promises he made four years ago. He ran on issues of economic reform and achieving lasting peace on the island following its long-running civil war. But today, Sri Lanka is still very much a divided nation.




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Another Rajapaksa back in office

A record 35 candidates are running for president in the upcoming election. Gotabaya Rajapaksa of the opposition party SLPP is favoured to win.

Gotabaya is Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brother and served in his decade-long administration as defence secretary. Under their watch, the government became increasingly authoritarian and was blamed by the minority Tamils and Muslims for political violence and repression.

Mahinda Rajapaksa has been tipped as a possible prime minister in his brother’s government.
M.A. Pushpa Kumara/EPA

However, among the Sinhalese majority, Gotabaya is a national hero for orchestrating the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers rebel group in 2009 and bringing an end to the 26-year-long armed conflict.

Gotabaya’s popularity increased significantly following the Easter Sunday terror attacks, thanks to his aggressive stance on terrorism and national security. He is viewed by many Sinhalese as a strongman similar to his brother, who can guarantee their safety and produce economic growth.

However, Gotabaya remains deeply unpopular among the Tamil and Muslim communities, as well as some Sinhalese critics.




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The United Nations has accused Gotabaya’s military of committing numerous abuses in the final stages of the civil war, including torture, extrajudicial killings and repeated shelling in the no-fire zone.

Earlier this year, Gotabaya was sued in the US for authorising the extrajudicial killing of a prominent journalist and the torture of an ethnic Tamil. The lawsuit also includes allegations of rape, torture and brutal interrogations in army camps and police stations between 2008 and 2013.

Gotabaya has dismissed all the allegations against him as “baseless” and “politically motivated”.

Mahinda Rajapaksa has also repeatedly denied that his government was responsible for civilian deaths during the end of the war. If elected, Gotabaya said he would not honour an agreement the government made with the UN to investigate alleged war crimes.

According to some UN estimates, around 100,000 people were killed in the civil war, though a later UN report said 40,000 civilians may have been killed in the final months alone.

The UN has noted that only a proper investigation can lead to an accurate figure for the total number of deaths.

Supporters of Gotabaya Rajapaksa gather at an election rally in Jaffna.
M.A. Pushpa Kumara/EPA

For nearly 1,000 days now, the Tamil families of those who disappeared at the end of the civil war have staged a protest to demand the government provide information about the whereabouts of their loved ones.

If Gotabaya wins the election, it will do little to ease the longstanding grievances of the island’s Tamil people, let alone the escalating tensions between the Sinhalese and Muslim community.




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His main contender, Sajith Premadasa, is the son of another former president, Ranasinghe Premadasa (1989-93). He has been promising a social revolution that includes everything from eliminating poverty to universal health care to tax concessions for small- and medium-sized businesses.

Premadasa has also promised to ramp up national security, including through the appointment of Sarath Fonseka as the head of national security.

Fonseka was the army chief during the end of the civil war. In 2011, Mahinda Rajapaksa jailed Fonseka for suggesting that Gotabaya had ordered all Tamil Tiger leaders to be killed and not allowed to surrender. Sirisena ordered him to be released when he took power.

What does the election mean for Australia relations?

A Gotabaya presidency is unlikely to change the deepening relationship between Australia and Sri Lanka. Labor and Coalition governments have pursued better relations with both the Rajapaksa and Sirisena governments following the end of the war.

However, the cooperation between the two countries will become harder to justify if Gotabaya wins the election, given the allegations he faces of war crimes.

Recent years have seen a closer strategic alignment between the countries, given Sri Lanka’s pivotal position in the Indian Ocean and China’s increasing presence in the region.

Australia gave two offshore patrol vessels to Sri Lanka in 2014, and this year, sent 1,200 ADF personnel to take part in a joint taskforce in Sri Lanka – the largest-ever defence engagement between the countries.

If Australia wants to continue to position itself as a leader of democratic values, it needs to play a greater role in facilitating lasting peace in Sri Lanka.

There is an opportunity for Australia to challenge the next president of Sri Lanka to address the real concerns facing minority groups on the island, not least because they continue to seek safety and protection in Australia.The Conversation

Niro Kandasamy, Tutor, University of Melbourne

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

Nuance and nostalgia: Labor’s election review provides useful insights and inevitable harking back to Hawke


Frank Bongiorno, Australian National University

The media have been itching for a report that blamed Labor’s defeat on a dud leader. But the Review of Labor’s 2019 Federal Election Campaign, chaired by former Rudd and Gillard government minister Craig Emerson and former South Australian premier Jay Weatherill, is proportionate in the blame it sends Bill Shorten’s way. Shorten’s unpopularity contributed to Labor’s defeat, but there were wider problems that cannot be put down to leadership alone.

The review is a nuanced account of why Labor lost. Its brief explanation for that loss – a combination “of a weak strategy that could not adapt to the change in Liberal leadership, a cluttered policy agenda that looked risky and an unpopular leader” – belies the sophistication of the report as whole.




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The document does better than most post-election analysis that has so far come from within the party. Some of this has been so tendentious and self-serving that its value in either explaining what went wrong or in pointing a way forward has been close to nil.

The review suggests that central to the party’s failure was that it did not reassess its approach adequately when Scott Morrison replaced Malcolm Turnbull. Rhetoric that might have made sense when the Liberal Party was being led by “Mr Harbourside Mansion”, as well as proposing business tax cuts, made rather less sense once the “daggy suburban dad” in the baseball cap was in charge.

Labor made too little of the chaos in the Coalition. Instead, the ALP made itself the issue at the election, a kind of government-in-waiting with a target on its back.

University-educated voters in the southern states, when they tuned in to Morrison, might have heard a sound something like the air escaping from a whoopee cushion. And such voters swung to the Labor Party in the election.

But voters in the suburbs and the regions, especially in Queensland, liked what they saw. So did professing Christians, who liked it even more when they saw photos of the devout believer at prayer, right arm pointing to heaven.

Christian voters swung behind the devout Scott Morrison in the 2019 election.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

On the other hand, many voters saw a danger to their already insecure lives in Labor’s multitude of expensive promises – and the taxation changes proposed to pay for them. They believed Morrison when he warned them of the risks of voting Labor.

Then there was coal. The authors of the report do seem to struggle with Adani. Like just about everyone else, they know it’s a financial and environmental mess. But in terms of electoral politics, Adani is radioactive.

Labor suffered in Queensland and the Hunter Valley as a result of its ambiguity, but the authors are silent on what the party could have done differently. If it had been less ambiguous about Adani, it would have needed to take a stand. But what should that stand have been?

The report is insistent that Labor should not alienate progressive and well-educated voters for whom climate change matters a lot and Adani is toxic. But how can it avoid their alienation while also pleasing economically insecure voters in Queensland? Is this simply a matter of finessing one’s language, or do the problems run deeper?

This is perhaps the report’s weakness. It is good at setting out the kinds of dilemmas Labor faces, which the party failed to grapple with at the 2019 election. It bemoans the party’s tendency to become the vehicle for various interests with diverse grievances, at the expense of serving the needs of economically insecure working-class voters. The habit of trying to serve too many masters multiplies policies and increases the complexity of campaign messaging, while undermining the party’s ability to craft a coherent story based on the party’s “core values”.

Yet the report has little to say on what such a narrative would look like or what those core values actually are. We are told the latter include:

improving the job opportunities, security and conditions of working Australians, fairness, non-discrimination on the basis of race, religion and gender, and care for the environment.

But there is nothing much here that would prompt an undecided voter to look to Labor rather than the Coalition, especially if they like the look of the Coalition’s leader better than Labor’s – as most did in 2019.

And then, when the review tries to set out what a “persuasive growth story” might look like, we are treated to the usual history lesson on the Hawke and Keating governments, whose “whole economic strategy” was about promoting “growth, and through it, jobs” (otherwise known as “jobs and growth”). For the Labor Party, it seems, it’s always 1983. We just need to find the winged keel to get us home.

Rather as the Hawke and Keating governments did, the review pushes any idea of redistribution, or of reducing inequality, to the very margins of Labor philosophy and policy. Indeed, the hosing down of such aspirations – modest as they were at the 2019 election – may well help to explain one of the strangest silences in the report: its failure to deal with the role of the Murdoch press.

The Murdoch media didn’t merely favour the government over the opposition. It campaigned vigorously for the return of the Coalition. And it is a vast empire, with a monopoly through much of regional Queensland, for instance. It is hard not to see in the review’s silence on this matter a clearing of the way for a future kissing of the ring of the familiar kind.

Still, there is much that is valuable in the review. There is its frank criticism of the deficiencies in the Labor Party’s strategising and the incoherence of its campaign organisation. There is the news that the party’s own internal data pointed to the possibility of the catastrophe that ultimately occurred – polling outside the party prompted a misreading of the readily available evidence.




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The review is also particularly good on the damaging effects of Clive Palmer’s massive advertising splurge. And it makes a fair attempt to relate the Labor Party’s problems to wider international trends, such as the decline of trust, the insecurity of working life for many, the crisis of social democracy, and the search for convenient scapegoats – all of which have undermined the position of parties of reform.

Best of all, the review spares us a lot of rubbish about moving the party to the centre, or the right. It does make much of the need for Labor to reinvigorate its appeal to those groups who seem to have been most alienated at the 2019 election.

It recognises – correctly in my view – that Labor’s position on Adani performed unfortunate symbolic work, suggesting to people especially in parts of Queensland “that Labor did not value them or the work they do”.

But when your primary vote in Queensland is tracking at about 25% and you hold fewer than a quarter of the lower-house seats in that state and Western Australia combined, you probably don’t need a review to tell you something has to change.The Conversation

Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

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

Grattan on Friday: Labor’s post-mortem leaves the hard work still to be done



Bill Shorten may or may not have been able to beat Malcolm Turnbull, but the review makes it clear the ALP failed to adapt to a new, tactically-astute prime minister.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The messages for next time from Labor’s 2019 election post-mortem are clear. Have a better strategy. Have a stronger narrative, fewer policies, greater emphasis on economic growth. Have a better leader.

Obvious. Incontestable. Just, as a package, devilishly hard to achieve.

The review by Labor elders Jay Weatherill and Craig Emerson identifies the plethora of reasons for Labor’s unanticipated failure. It doesn’t pull punches and contains sensible recommendations.

But no prescribed remedies can guarantee success, in a game where how the other side operates is as important – and can be more so – than what your side does. And that’s apart from the general climate of the times, these days characterised by uncertainty and distrust.

Political success comes from judgement and planning, but there’s also the lottery element. We’ll never know whether Bill Shorten could have beaten Malcolm Turnbull if he’d still been the prime minister in May. Turnbull would say no. Many of the Liberals who ditched Turnbull would say yes. Everyone would agree with the review’s conclusion that Labor failed to adapt when it suddenly faced a new, tactically-astute Liberal PM.

The review’s release was much anticipated, as though it marks a watershed. It doesn’t. It’s sound, well and thoroughly prepared. But it was never going to say how policies should be recast. It leaves the hard work still to be done, and that will be painful and prolonged.

While there’s been much emphasis on Labor’s big taxing policies, the review stresses they were driven by the ALP opting for big spending.

It says “the size and complexity” of the ALP’s spending promises – more than $100 billion – “drove its tax policies and exposed Labor to a Coalition attack that fuelled anxieties among insecure, low-income couples in outer-urban and regional Australia that Labor would crash the economy and risk their jobs”.

Labor has long believed in both the policy desirability and the political attractiveness of large dollops of money for education and health in particular.

Beyond a certain point, however, the value of ever more dollars becomes questionable, on both policy and political grounds. Is the community, for example, getting the return it should for the funds put into schools over the past decade?

One can assume – and Anthony Albanese is signalling – Labor will throw around fewer dollars next time.

The review doesn’t target the controversial policies on negative gearing and franking credits. But they’ll be watered down or dumped.

Albanese, speaking to the National Press Club on Friday, said of the franking credits policy: “When you’ve got to explain dividend imputation and franking credits from opposition – tough ask”. He recounted talking to a pensioner worried about the policy – although pensioners would have been exempted and she’d never owned a share in her life.

The franking policy should have had a protection built in to avoid hitting genuinely low-income retirees while still catching wealthy people who’d rearranged their affairs to have little or no income. Shorten was advised to change it, but refused. On Thursday he said “were the universe to grant reruns” he would “take a different position on franking credits”.

It will be a lot easier for Labor to deal with these tax measures than with climate policy.

The review says: “A modern Labor Party cannot neglect human-induced climate change. To do so would be environmentally irresponsible and a clear electoral liability. Labor needs to increase public awareness of the costs of inaction on climate change, respect the role of workers in fossil-fuel industries and support job opportunities in emissions-reducing industries while taking the pressure off electricity prices.”

Indeed. The summary just highlights the complexities for Labor in working out its revised climate policy.

Anthony Albanese has already put the policy, whatever its detail, into a framework of its potential for job creation as the energy mix moves to renewables.

It’s part of his broader emphasis on jobs and growth (accompanied by his pursuit of improved relations with business, never again to be labelled “the big end of town”).

It’s possible increasing public worry about climate change could help Labor at the next election, if the government’s response is seen as inadequate. That won’t, however, make it any less imperative for the ALP to have a better pitched policy than its 2019 election one, which was too ambitious, lacked costings, and was conflicted on coal.

This segues into Labor’s problem juggling its “progressive” supporters with its working class suburban base, to say nothing of those in coal areas. Taking one line in the south and another in the north didn’t work. The unpalatable truth may be these constituencies are actually not reconcilable, but Labor has to find more effective ways to deal with the clash.

Notably, the review points to the risk of Labor “becoming a grievance-based organisation”. “Working people experiencing economic dislocation caused by technological change will lose faith in Labor if they do not believe the party is responding to their needs, instead being preoccupied with issues not concerning them or that are actively against their interests,” it says.

This is an important warning in an era of identity politics. But again, Labor is in a difficult position, because its commitment to rights, non-discrimination and similar values will mean it attracts certain groups and has to be concerned with their problems. It’s a matter of balance, and not letting itself become hostage.

Grievance politics, looked at through a positive lens, is a way of identifying wrongs and injustices and seeking to rectify them. But it is also in part a reflection of the wider negativity infecting contemporary politics, amplified by today’s media.

That culture can add to the problems of a centre left party trying to sell an alternative.

Labor frontbencher Mark Butler recently noted that on the three post-war occasions when Labor won from opposition, it had immensely popular leaders (Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd), visions for the nation and superior campaigns.

Whitlam sold a sweeping new program in tune with the changing times. Hawke promoted “reconciliation, recovery and reconstruction”. Rudd was welcomed as a fresh face embracing concern about climate change. Albanese has boldly dubbed a series of his speeches (the first already delivered) “vision statements”. But “vision” is an elusive elixir, apparently harder than ever to come by.

Winning from opposition is a struggle for Labor. This makes it crucial to have a leader who can both reassure and inspire swinging voters. Unfortunately out-of-the box leaders don’t come often; in reality, a party has to work with what it has got.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.

Australia’s drought relief package hits the political spot but misses the bigger point


Lin Crase, University of South Australia

There are two basic components to the Morrison government’s latest A$1 billion package response to the drought affecting large parts eastern Australia. One part involves extra subsidies to farmers and farm-related business. The other involves measures to create or upgrade infrastructure in rural areas.

Unfortunately, most funds will be misdirected and the response is unlikely to secure the long-term prosperity of regional and rural communities. This is a quick fix to a political problem, appealing to an important constituency. But it misses the point, again, about the emerging economics of drought.

Hitting the political target

The bulk of the A$1 billion package is allocated to a loan fund. The terms of the ten-year loans are more generous than what has been offered in the past. They are now interest-free for two years, with no requirement to start paying back the principal till the sixth year.

Farmers will be able to borrow up to A$2 million. In addition, loans of up to A$500,000 will also be available to small businesses in drought-affected towns.




Read more:
Government sets up concessional loan scheme for drought-hit small businesses


Because recipients are not having to pay the full cost, these loans are in practice a form of subsidy.

Subsidies are used by government to make more people undertake an activity than would otherwise be the case. In this case the government is offering a subsidy to keep farmers and small businesses owners doing what they’ve been doing, even though from an economic point of view this might not be very wise at all.

The question that should be asked is: “do we want more or fewer people to be involved in a farming activity that is vulnerable to drought?”

Most farming in Australia is completely reliant on rainfed crops and pastures. Rainfall is already highly variable. All the indicators from climate science is that rain will be even more unreliable in the future.




Read more:
The science of drought is complex but the message on climate change is clear


In addition, the agricultural industries currently drought affected are not just at the whims of rainfall. These industries are constantly changing and being affected by new technologies and market forces.

For most agricultural produce the key market force is price. Sure, some farms and farmers can carve out niche markets, but most farm businesses depend on producing at lowest cost. Increasingly, the farms that survive in a highly competitive global environment do this by exploiting economies of scale. Big farms are thus more profitable than small ones in the good times (such as when it rains); and during the tough times (such as during drought) they have more resources and deeper reserves to ride it out.

Ultimately, this means successful farms are continually getting bigger and small farmers are getting squeezed out.




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


The data also support the view that the farmers who survive and are simultaneously exposed to drought ultimately become even more profitable, because of what they learnt about managing in a difficult environment.

This is not to argue drought is a good thing for any farm, but it does raise a serious question about any government policy that effectively encourages more people to keep doing something when global and technological forces would point to it being unsustainable.

So what’s the point?

The second component of the Morrison government’s relief response involves directing about A$500 million from existing regional infrastructure funds into building roads and other things into affected communities.

While many will welcome this on top of the the extension of loans to small business in country towns, the policy detracts from the serious questions that confront rural and regional communities.

The economics of agriculture has flow-on effects to towns, but it would be wrong to think all are impacted in the same way.




Read more:
Helping farmers in distress doesn’t help them be the best: the drought relief dilemma


As a general rule, when farmers sell up, they tend to leave from the small communities first. The upshot is that small communities get smaller, older and poorer as those least mobile are left behind. These people also generally require more, not less, public support. Mid-size communities tend to level out, while continuing to age. Large regional centres tend to grow and prosper.

The point is that each community requires different things from government. Genuine public goods like roads, health services and education are desperately needed and undersupplied in many cases. Providing cash to a few select businesses and grading a gravel road in this situation belies the complexity of the long-term challenges and fails to address serious issues.

An elderly retiree in a rural town might well ask why their local road or bridge is only upgraded during a drought. Surely, government should focus on providing legitimate public goods for the long term, regardless of the weather.The Conversation

Lin Crase, Professor of Economics and Head of School, University of South Australia

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

Government sets up concessional loan scheme for drought-hit small businesses



The business drought loans will be up to $500,000, and include a two-year interest free period.
AAP/Dan Peled

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government will provide concessional “drought loans” for small businesses dependent on agriculture, as well as improving the terms of loans under the existing scheme for farmers, in a package approved by cabinet on Wednesday.

Measures to be unveiled on Thursday also include hundred of millions of dollars of direct investment into communities.

The initiatives come after intense pressure on the Coalition to do more for those hit by one of the country’s worst-ever droughts, with Scott Morrison very sensitive to how the issue is playing not just in the regions but among metropolitan voters.

Costings were still being finalised late Wednesday but sources said the package was worth more than $500 million.

The business drought loans will be up to $500,000. They will include a two year interest free period and interest only payments for years three to five, with interest and principal repayments in years six to ten.

Those set to benefit would include harvesting and shearing contractors, carriers, stock and station agents, and businesses dealing in agricultural equipment and repairs.

Businesses not directly linked to the farming sector – such as the local hairdresser or newsagent – would not be eligible.

The loans will be made through the Regional Investment Corporation – a Commonwealth body – with a small business defined as one with 19 or fewer employees.

The loans will be available immediately and no legislation is needed.

The improved terms for farmers loans will be see up to two years interest free, interest only payments for years three to five, and interest and principal payments for years six to ten. The current arrangements are interest only for the first five years and principal and interest for the rest of the 10 year loan.

The former co-ordinator-general for drought, Stephen Day, told the government that concerns had been constantly raised with him about the survival of small businesses in areas in drought.

Morrison said these businesses had been forced to seek overdrafts or other finance.

“Rural communities can’t function without these small businesses – that’s why we’re stepping in to provide this extra support,” he said.

The government says its planned extra direct investment will flow into projects that boost local businesses and jobs.

Six more local government areas will be added to the Drought Communities Program, at a cost of $6 million, and another $122 million will be available for the 122 local councils which have already received support of $1 million each.

The program funds infrastructure and local activities. An extra $50 million discretionary fund will support additional councils when needed. But this will be after a review of the program early in the new year.

Some $200 million will be redirected from the Building Better Regions Fund to set up a Special Drought Round, providing up to $10 million per project in local government areas.

Supplementary payments will be made under the Roads to Recovery program for 128 local government areas in drought for upgrades and maintenance. This is a re-purposing of $138.9 million.

Drought minister David Littleproud said the federal package was not linked to any requirement for state funding, which would have carried the risk of the states not matching the money. But he called on state governments to provide some relief on rates and payroll tax.

“We’re going to cut the cheque and we’re going to get the money out, because that’s what these local economies need now. They need stimulation …. We’re not going to play politics, we’re going to get on with the job and deliver, and hopefully the states will complement us with things like rate relief and also payroll tax”.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said: “This suite of measures go to the heart of what matters to these communities. From small businesses to primary producers, we are working with communities to take the pressure off one of the worst droughts in history.

“Not only is the government continuing to respond as the drought progresses, but we are working on measures to assist in the recovery when the rains come, which includes the government’s billion dollar investment in water infrastructure.”

Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie said: “I know our farmers and our communities are doing it really tough right now but despite the current drought Australian agriculture has a bright future”.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.