Turnbull wants to take middle-income earners’ income tax both up and down


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

If you were running a well-honed political strategy you’d surely have your prime minister announce his plan to give middle-income earners income tax relief in a major speech around Australia Day, forming a launchpad for 2018. You wouldn’t be tossing it out there at the fag end of a disastrous year, amid the general chaos.

But Malcolm Turnbull is operating on tactics rather than strategy.

Regardless of how long the tax aspiration had been in the pipeline, his Monday night speech to the Business Council of Australia did its job of securing a “look-over-here” effect, when Turnbull was under fire for cancelling next week’s House of Representatives sitting.

It achieved the front–page headlines despite being totally without detail.

Apart from general sentiments about the desirability of lower personal income tax, all Turnbull said in the way of specifics was: “In the personal income tax space, I am actively working with the treasurer and all my cabinet colleagues to ease the burden on middle-income Australians, while also meeting our commitment to return the budget to surplus”.

How much this will amount to in the end and when taxpayers would get something tangible remain to be seen. Asked on Tuesday when he thought he would deliver the tax cuts, Turnbull said: “Well, this is going to be our focus next year. Obviously we’ve got the budget coming up, as always, in May. But we are determined to make sure that there is more money in the pockets of hardworking Australians.”

If in the event the tax relief became an election promise, rather than pre-election money in the pocket, would voters be sceptical?

In the meantime, Labor – which proposes a higher tax regime – had plenty of ammunition, not only to assert that Turnbull was looking for a distraction but to remind people that this year’s budget actually flagged an increase in personal tax. This is in the form of a higher Medicare levy to help fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

From July 2019 the Medicare levy will rise from 2% to 2.5%. This will be a nice little revenue-earner, raising A$8.2 billion over the forward estimates.

As Deloitte’s Chris Richardson points out, after finding deep spending cuts too hard a road in trying to repair the budget, the government in May opted for higher taxes (although it had just passed some of its business tax cuts from the 2016 budget and was still pressing the rest).

Richardson dubs the May strategy Plan B, after Plan A, based on spending cuts and epitomised by the 2014 budget, had been abandoned.

“Surely they can give Plan B longer than six months,” Richardson says. It seems not.

Richardson says tax cuts are not needed to stimulate the economy, and are counter-productive for fiscal repair – which is dependent on projected revenue growth.

“The figures show that what gets us to [the projected] surplus in 2020-21 is higher taxes. The move from deficit to surplus between 2016-17 and 2020-21 is a swing of 3% of national income. Of that, 2.5% is from revenue and 0.5% from spending cuts,” Richardson says.

Personal income tax cuts would be costly. On Tuesday former minister Eric Abetz, speaking on Sky, suggested the priority should be on income tax cuts over the company tax cut for big business that’s stymied in parliament. Any retreat on the business tax cut would be a major backflip from the government.

A Parliamentary Budget Office paper released a few weeks ago notes that the average tax rate for individuals is estimated to increase by 2.3 percentage points from 2017-18 to 2021-22.

There are increases in every income quintile although they vary. The largest increase is expected in the middle quintile (taxable incomes from $37,000 to $56,000) where taxable income is expected to be an average $46,000 this financial year. These taxpayers are projected to see their average tax rate increase by 3.2 percentage points by 2021-22, the paper says.

As for the Medicare levy increase, it “has the greatest impact on individuals in the third, fourth [$56,000 to $85,000], and fifth [$85,000 and over] income quintiles. Medicare levy concessional arrangements eliminate this impact for the first income quintile and limit the impact for the second,” the paper says.

So we have the government simultaneously planning a tax rise while now talking about tax relief for middle-income earners.

The ConversationAnd that takes us to the question of whether Turnbull can manage this new tax debate he has opened. This includes making sure he and his treasurer are on the same page, and the backbench doesn’t run off prematurely and in multiple directions. At an earlier stage of his prime ministership, a debate about tax directions didn’t go well. He can’t afford that sort of mess now that he has so little political capital.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/nqtdd-7bf599?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Income tax relief on Turnbull’s agenda


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has raised the prospect of personal income tax relief to help middle-income earners, saying he is “actively working” on it.

As the government is still trying without success to get the remaining part of its company tax plan through parliament, which would deliver lower tax to big companies, Turnbull has moved to hold out the prospect of relief for individuals.

Speaking to the Business Council of Australia on Monday night, he noted the government had already lifted the second-highest income tax bracket threshold from A$80,000 to A$87,000, keeping some half-a-million people from moving into a higher bracket. It had also spared people facing a permanent top marginal rate of 49.5% by not making the temporary deficit levy permanent.

“You know our plans on corporate tax,” he said. “In the personal income tax space, I am actively working with the treasurer and all my cabinet colleagues to ease the burden on middle-income Australians, while also meeting our commitment to return the budget to surplus.”

He said his commitment to all Australians was: “Whether you are starting out in your first job, a worker providing for their family, or a business hiring staff, our goal is always to leave more money in your pocket, not in ours.

“Higher taxes penalise people who are trying to get ahead. But when you reward hard work and enterprise, you encourage hard work and enterprise.

“It’s pretty simple – more investment, more jobs. That’s the key.”

He recalled that his earliest foray into the personal income tax debate in 2005 as a fairly new MP was not uniformly welcomed. He did not spell out that then-treasurer Peter Costello was furious.

But the concerns that underpinned a report he released then still existed: “The tax system remains complex and compliance is a burden, our marginal tax rates are high, bracket creep is a constant challenge that needs to be addressed”.

Turnbull said that “just because we’re in challenging fiscal times doesn’t mean we should raise the white flag on making the tax system work better”.

A Treasury analysis showed Australia risked being left behind by the rest of the world in the competitiveness of its business tax, he said, citing in particular the US and the UK.

The Conversation“If we don’t reduce our corporate rate to 25% as planned – in our Enterprise Tax Plan – over the coming decade, the only advanced nations that will exceed Australia’s tax rate are Japan and Malta.”

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/nqtdd-7bf599?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

When you’re on the defensive, stepping backwards can send a bad signal


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull’s tactic of cancelling the House of Representatives’ sitting next week – because his numbers are depleted and the government is nervous – is a short-sighted decision that smacks of lack of nerve.

Undoubtedly it would have been a rough week in the lower house. But refusing to face it looks panicky, just when Turnbull is trying to convince people that he and the government are in control.

The government is desperate to keep the lower house agenda narrow and as tightly managed as its unfortunate circumstances permit. It declares the rest of the parliamentary year will be confined to legislating for same-sex marriage and considering which citizenship cases should be referred to the High Court.

Monday’s cancellation wasn’t Turnbull’s only ploy to avoid being embarrassed in the lower house’s final sitting days of 2017. When he recently met Bill Shorten to discuss citizenship disclosure, he tried to win agreement to confine the coming period to non-controversial legislation. Labor naturally wouldn’t play ball.

The cancellation has nothing logically to do with the timetable for the same-sex marriage bill. Consideration of that legislation was always to continue in the Senate next week, moving to the House of Representatives for debate the week after. Meanwhile, the lower house next week would have dealt with other legislation.

Nor is Leader of the House Christopher Pyne convincing when he claims this is just a routine change, and that there was no need for the lower house to meet next week because there was nothing urgent for it to do.

In truth, the government fears what trouble Labor games and rebels in its own ranks might cause, and is desperate to limit the time available to them. The latter, spearheaded by Nationals Barry O’Sullivan in the Senate and George Christensen in the lower house, are planning to try to force the issue of a commission of inquiry into the banks and other financial institutions.

O’Sullivan is preparing a bill for the banking commission and claims up to four lower house members could cross the floor. The O’Sullivan commission would report to the parliament; it would be distinct from a royal commission, which only the government can set up.

This bill was never going to get to the lower house next week; it’s not even clear whether it will be debated there when the lower house does sit the week starting December 4. But Christensen says he will vote for a commission or the like “in whatever guise it comes up and I definitely expect it’s going to come up”. Something will certainly “come up” if Labor can make it do so.

One big question is why the government has let this bank issue fester. It has been very critical of the banks, slapped a hefty tax on them, and moved to impose a tough regimen on their executives. But it has fought trenchantly against the royal commission that Labor advocates.

Given the strength of anti-bank feeling in the community, and within some of its own ranks – based on the banks’ bad behaviour – the government should have long ago cut its losses and set up a broad-ranging inquiry.

An important aspect of the rebel Nationals’ push is that they are referencing the precedent of the Liberals rebels’ success on same-sex marriage.

O’Sullivan told the ABC the government’s facilitating Liberal backbencher Dean Smith’s private member’s bill (now a crossbench bill) provided “a new pathway for backbenchers to be able to pursue matters of importance to them, and I’m just simply following along in his footsteps”.

The Nationals remain deeply out of sorts about the marriage debate sucking oxygen, as they see it, from other issues for months.

Beyond that, the rebels have taken from the marriage story the lesson that what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander. If a group of Liberal rebels – the “famous five” who put same sex-marriage back on the government agenda – can break ranks and end up getting what they want, why not a group of Nationals, with their issues?

And the win – and praise – scored by the Liberal rebels has meant the Nationals leadership and whips have reduced authority to keep their own rebels in line.

On Monday night Labor was seeking crossbench support for a proposed joint letter to put pressure on Turnbull to reverse his decision to cancel next week’s lower house sittings, but there’s no chance of his doing that.

Turnbull had raised the possibility of deferring the start of the House sitting at his meeting with Shorten. Shorten gave it short shrift at the time, and said so publicly, but Turnbull has rashly chosen to have the last word.

The ConversationTurnbull told a business audience on Monday night: “In times of uncertainty, the nation needs calm and measured leadership, a steady hand at the helm”. His earlier action suggested a touch of the tremble.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/nqtdd-7bf599?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Bennelong polls: Galaxy 50-50, ReachTEL 53-47 to Liberal



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Liberal candidate John Alexander has a fight on his hands to win the Sydney seat of Bennelong.
AAP/Gemma Najem

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The Bennelong byelection will be held in four weeks, on December 16. With Barnaby Joyce almost certain to retain New England, Bennelong will decide whether the Coalition regains its parliamentary majority. Labor’s candidate is former NSW premier Kristina Keneally, while John Alexander will recontest for the Liberals after the possibility that he held British citizenship was renounced yesterday.

A Galaxy poll, conducted on November 15 from a sample of 579, had a 50-50 tie, a ten-point swing to Labor from the 2016 result. The only primary votes released so far are 42% for Alexander and 39% for Keneally. 42% thought Keneally had done a bad job as premier, while 37% thought she had done a good job. As Keneally led a government that was smashed in 2011, this negative assessment is to be expected.

A ReachTEL poll, conducted 16 November from a sample of 864, gave Alexander a 53-47 lead, a seven-point swing to Labor since 2016. Primary votes were 41.6% Alexander, 34.5% Keneally, 5.9% Greens, 5.4% One Nation and 8.3% undecided. Undecided voters in ReachTEL polls can be pushed into saying which way they lean, but this information is usually omitted by media sources.

Alexander had a 51% favourable, 15% unfavourable rating, and Keneally a 42% favourable, 28% unfavourable rating. In the last ReachTEL national poll, in late October, Malcolm Turnbull had a 51-49 better prime minister lead over Bill Shorten. In Bennelong, Turnbull had a much larger 60-40 lead.

These polls vindicate Labor’s selection of Keneally. Although Keneally has a somewhat controversial past, she has a high profile. A lower-profile candidate would have had difficulty overcoming Alexander’s advantage as the sitting member. With Turnbull’s big lead over Shorten, Keneally is performing well to be six points behind in ReachTEL.

In past elections, individual seat polls have performed much worse in predicting results than using statewide or national polls. The ReachTEL One Nation vote of 5.4% in Bennelong appears too high, as One Nation won just 1.4% for Bennelong in the NSW Senate in 2016, compared with 4.1% for the whole state.

The national swing to Labor is currently about 4.5 percentage points since the last election. An average of ReachTEL and Galaxy would have Alexander ahead by 51.5-48.5, an eight-point swing to Labor, so the swing is larger in Bennelong than nationally. Swings against governments are usually larger at by-elections than general elections.

Given the inaccuracy of single seat polls, Labor could be ahead, or Alexander could have a larger lead than in ReachTEL.

Liberal senator-designate Hollie Hughes disqualified by High Court

Nationals Senator Fiona Nash was disqualified on October 27, as she was a British citizen. Liberal Hollie Hughes, next on the joint Coalition ticket in NSW, took up public service work following her failure at the 2016 election, and was disqualified on 15 November under Section 44(iv) of the Constitution. With Hughes disqualified, Liberal Jim Molan is next on the Coalition ticket. The High Court could also declare this seat a casual vacancy, to be filled by the party that previously held the seat.

The ConversationHughes had missed out in 2016, and the High Court could have shown leniency as she did not knowingly hold a public service job while contesting an election. This decision is a clear warning that the High Court will not tolerate any breach of Section 44.

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

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why big projects like the Adani coal mine won’t transform regional Queensland


John Cole, University of Southern Queensland

Queensland election campaigns often focus on big projects for the regions, such as for roads, power plants and mines. But research suggests that mega projects, such as in gas and coal, have not transformed skills or improved employment prospects in regional Queensland.

Take away the temporary booms from construction and other short-term jobs, and employment growth overall is no better than before the global financial crisis. Certainly Queensland’s regions are no more resilient. Instead of these mega projects, what’s needed are new sources of economic value in knowledge, services, and technology.


Read more: Here’s 49 small communities innovating as well as the big cities


Between 2010 and 2013 investment in coal mining surged 400% in the Bowen Basin. Further south, in the Surat Basin and at Gladstone, four international consortia spent more than A$70 billion fast-tracking a coal seam and liquid natural gas industry.

These projects fell far short of generating new skills and enduring businesses in the regions. Continuing dependence on resources and agriculture also creates its own vulnerabilities, as both are challenged by market and investment volatility, and increased climate risk.

Overall the focus on mega projects has weakened social and economic resilience in communities across Queensland. Resilience refers to the capacity of regional communities to handle risks and manage change. Resilient regions deepen and diversify their economies.

Megaproject sugar highs

Annual construction spending in the resources sector peaked at A$36.6 billion in Queensland in 2013-14, and has dropped by 70% since. Unemployment has doubled in Queensland’s northern, central and outback regions.

The impact is seen in Townsville, Rockhampton, and Gladstone, who are now pitching to become bases for “Fly In Fly Out” workers. Rather than drive their own local economic development, these cities are punting on the next big mining project.

Gladstone is already the pin-up of the construction boom-bust development model. The port city boasts a highly trained workforce in alumina and aluminium processing, cement, liquid natural gas and chemical manufacturing. Still, it waits on the next big mining construction boom.


Read more: If Queenslanders vote on economic issues the Labor government is looking good


What regional Queensland really needs is politicians to abandon short-term economic fixes, in favour of a sustainable long term vision. Policies would have greater impact if they focused on skills and enterprise training. Stronger regional collaboration to broker opportunities for smart businesses is essential.

Just north of Brisbane, Moreton Regional Council is showing the way by transforming a former industrial site into a university campus. Tertiary education will come to the fast growing region along with a research and technology park, creating the jobs of the future.

Regional Queensland can also learn from the European Commission’s “smart specialisation” structural assistance programs that help regions build knowledge-based competitive industries through strategic public funding and support for research and development etc.

By 2020, smart specialisation in Europe is expected to deliver 15,000 new products to market, 140,000 new startups and 350,000 new jobs.

Integral to the European strategy is strong collaboration between the research and university sectors, and regional industries. Strong cooperation between levels of government is key to the success. The industries are as varied as cheese manufacturing in Spain, new transport systems in Finland, and materials manufacturing in France.

The Europeans have found that changing business culture and boosting entrepreneurship are just as important to creating opportunity as large infrastructure projects.

What Queensland should do

Queensland should rethink its big projects for a big country approach. Regional jobs that depend on project investment without generating local income are not sustainable. Small business and community must be restored to centre stage in development strategy.

Small and medium businesses collectively account for more than 99% of all business in Queensland, and three times as many people work in the state’s A$20 billion manufacturing sector (169,000) as work directly in the resources sector (48,000).

But small and medium businesses lack the profile of the “big end of town”, and the large resources companies have been effective at selling the narrative that they are central to the A$300 billion Queensland economy.


Read more: Bust the regional city myths and look beyond the ‘big 5’ for a $378b return


The priority for developing Queensland’s regions should be investment that generates small business growth, local income, new skills and communities. Particular emphasis has to be given to attracting and retaining talented people.

The state government can best help regional Queensland by heeding the Productivity Commission’s call to help regional Australia adapt and exploit the opportunities of ever present change. This requires greater local initiative, making the most of competitive strengths, and training people to better engage with the world.

The global services sector is a $US47 trillion industry. For regional Queensland to tap into this sector will require skills in fields as diverse as big data, biotechnology, genetics, robotics, communications, and digital manufacturing.

A good start has been made in the Advance Queensland Regional Innovation Programs which have challenged regions to think outside the box, collaborate, and come up with their own strategies. It complements the federal government’s Building Better Regions Fund.

The ConversationThis approach challenges the current politically dominated top down model of regional development. It’s a vision for regional Queensland that extends beyond resources, agriculture, tourism and construction to the people themselves.

John Cole, Executive Director, Institute for Resilient Regions, University of Southern Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why a Mnangagwa presidency would not be a new beginning for Zimbabwe


Hazel Cameron, University of St Andrews

Despite claims to the contrary by the Zimbabwean military spokesperson Major General Sibusiso Moyo, Zimbabwe is in the throes of its first coup d’état since independence in 1980. Robert Mugabe, the only head of state the country has known in its 37-year existence, is today under house arrest, and the former vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has long aspired to succeed Mugabe, has returned to Zimbabwe from South Africa, after having fled on November 6.

It appears that Mugabe’s decision to sack Mnangagwa – possibly at the behest of his wife, Grace Mugabe – may turn out to have been his last major decision as president.

These events have provoked much interest and anticipation around the world, and not least from Zimbabwe’s former colonial master, the UK. The British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, stated in the House of Commons on November 15 that:

this House will remember the brutal litany of [Mugabe’s] 37 years in office; the elections he rigged and stole; the murder and torture of his opponents … Authoritarian rule, whether in Zimbabwe or anywhere else, should have no place in Africa.

Johnson also warned against any transition “from one unelected tyrant to the next”.

For the past three years, the British government has displayed an interest in reengaging with Zimbabwe. It is an open secret that Britain’s re-engagement identified Mnangagwa as the candidate they could best work with. When the current British ambassador in Harare, Catriona Laing, took up her post in September 2014, her mission was to “rebuild bridges and ensure that re-engagement succeeds to facilitate Mnangagwa’s rise to power”. In September 2017, it was reported that British diplomats were working to secure a Mnangagwa succession “with a US$2 billion economic bail-out underwriting the project”.

According to diplomats with direct knowledge of succession discussions surrounding the rebuilding of post-Mugabe Zimbabwe, Laing has not wavered in her support for Mnangagwa to succeed Mugabe and, since Mnangagwa’s hasty retreat to Pretoria on November 6, it seems the British have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to facilitate Mnangagwa’s unhindered return to Zimbabwe and installation as president of the ZanuPF government. It has been reported that plans to take over the country by force have been in place for some time – and that Mnangagwa was instrumental in those plans

There are unconfirmed reports that a new post-Mugabe deal is under discussion. Under its terms, Mnangagwa would lead a transitional government in Zimbabwe with the support of other political parties leading to full elections in five years’ time. There are suggestions that Mnangagwa has the backing of the Chinese – who recently met with the commander of the coup, General Constantino Chiwenga – while the South African government allowed him to return to Zimbabwe unimpeded on November 15.

So it seems the end of the Mugabe era has come. But one has to ask whether a Mnangagwa presidency would really be a new beginning.

The Crocodile’s credentials

Mnangagwa, known as The Crocodile, has throughout the history of Zimbabwe been complicit in the manipulation of the ZANU-PF election process by promoting violence, intimidation and repression as well as illegal administrative strategies to ensure ZANU-PF election success. He has also long faced allegations of corruption and diamond looting in both Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In 2012, the NGO Global Witness released an investigative report that revealed how ZANU-PF and the military elite used the proceeds from looted diamonds to fund human rights abuses. The report specifically points to the complicit conduct of Mnangagwa and his ally Chiwenga.

Mnangagwa has also been accused of playing a pivotal role in the Matabeleland Massacres of 1982-1987. In January 1983, Mugabe launched a massive security clampdown on the unarmed citizens of the Matabeleland region, violence that was both politically and ethnically motivated. This episode of relentless and persistent state-orchestrated violence, known as Gukurahundi, was perpetrated by an elite army unit known as the Fifth Brigade. It is estimated that 20,000 people were massacred and many hundreds of thousands of others tortured, beaten or raped. Mnangagwa has denied involvement and has blamed the army.

On March 4, 1983, at a rally held not far from Lupane in Matabeleland, Mnangagwa publicly conflated being a citizen of Matabeleland with being a political dissident. According to news reports at the time, he told his audience the government had “an option” of “burning down … all the villages infected with dissidents”, saying “the campaign against dissidents can only succeed if the infrastructure which nurtures them is destroyed”.

He described dissidents as “cockroaches” and the Fifth Brigade as “DDT” brought in to “eradicate” them. In short, he made it clear that the destruction of the civilian population of Matabeleland was part of a deliberate state policy – and the very next day came the country’s worst massacre yet, on the banks of the Ciwale river, when 62 people were killed.

The crimes against humanity perpetrated in Matabeleland left hundreds of thousands traumatised – many still don’t know where their loved ones are buried. The victims of Gukurahundi are deeply divided, stigmatised and discriminated against. Their plight will go unaddressed if the person who succeeds Mugabe is himself responsible for appalling political crimes and harms to which millions of Zimbabweans have been subjected.

If Zimbabwe is to step back from the brink of state failure, it must find a way to address the Mugabe regime’s crimes, including Mnangagwa’s role in Gukurahundi. At the very least, Zimbabwe’s neighbours and the international community alike must stand in the way of those responsible for state-sponsored atrocities and corruption that have been the hallmark of Mugabe’s government for 37 years obtaining or maintaining positions in the post-Mugabe government of Zimbabwe.

The ConversationIn order to promote a stable, secure and reconciled Zimbabwe, the crimes of the regime of Mugabe must be addressed, and this includes Mnangagwa’s crimes and his role in Gukurahundi. The British government seems to have other plans.

Hazel Cameron, Lecturer of International Relations, University of St Andrews

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The dual citizenship saga shows our Constitution must be changed, and now



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Jacqui Lambie bids a tearful farewell in the Senate this week, after becoming the latest politician caught up in the dual citizenship saga.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Joe McIntyre, University of South Australia

It is time to accept that Section 44 of the Australian Constitution is irretrievably broken. In its current form, it is creating chaos that is consuming our politicians. This presents a rare opportunity for constitutional change. A referendum could address not only the citizenship issue but the entirety of Section 44, which no longer looks fit for purpose.

The “brutal literalism” adopted by the High Court means that there can be no quick or stable resolution to the citizenship saga consuming the national political class.

Even a thorough “audit” of current politicians, such as the deal announced this week by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, will offer only a temporary respite. Not only can it be extremely difficult to determine if someone has foreign citizenship, the agreed disclosures will not capture all potential issues (for example, it only extends back to grandparents).

Moreover, as foreign citizenship is dependent on foreign law, a foreign court decision or legislation may subsequently render a person ineligible.

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This issue will continue to dog all future parliaments.

The idea that the Constitution provided a “flashing red light” on this issue is mistaken. The dual citizenship problem has long been an open secret. It has been the subject of numerous parliamentary reports over the last 40 years, the most recent in 1997.

A royal commission was once suggested to audit all politicians. This has been a time bomb waiting to go off, but one that stayed strangely inert for more than 100 years.

Current version of Section 44.

Moreover, no-one really knew how the High Court would resolve the “citizenship seven” case. Turnbull was widely mocked for his initial certainty about Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s eligibility.

Following the High Court’s unexpected same-sex marriage decision, few commentators felt any confidence in predicting how it would decide the “citizenship seven” case. The result could easily have gone the other way.

More significantly, the court has imposed a far harsher test than expected. Not only is knowledge of potential ineligibility irrelevant, it is not sufficient that a person takes “reasonable steps” to divest foreign citizenship. Unless a foreign law would “irredeemably” prevent a person from participating in representative government, the fact of dual citizenship will be sufficient to disqualify a person.

It is this strict new interpretation that has cast doubt over the eligibility of politicians such as Labor MP Justine Keay. Keay had renounced her British citizenship prior to nomination, but did not receive final notification until after the election.

Arguably, she is ineligible. This was not a failure to undertake “serious reflection”, but a consequence of it.

Prospective politicians would be required to irrevocably rid themselves of dual citizenship early enough to ensure this is confirmed prior to nomination. The Bennelong byelection provides a graphic illustration of the issue – the ten days between the issuing of the writs and the close of nominations would be far too short for any effective renunciation.

Serious unresolved issues remain, even before we get into the difficulty posed by the “entitled to” restriction in Section 44. This provision could, for example, render Jewish politicians ineligible under Israel’s “right of return” laws.

Section 44 is not only unworkable, it is undesirable. The spectre of Indigenous leader Patrick Dodson being potentially ineligible, or Josh Frydenberg facing questions after his mother fled the Holocaust, reveal the moral absurdity of this provision. In a modern multicultural society, where citizenship rights are collected to ease travel and work rights, a blanket prohibition is archaic and inappropriate.

Perhaps by giving us an (unnecessarily) unworkable interpretation, the High Court has unwittingly provided the impetus to reform the entirety of Section 44.

That section is concerned with more than just citizenship. Disqualifying attributes including jobs in the public service, government business ties, bankruptcy and criminality.

In disqualifying Senators Bob Day and Rod Culleton earlier this year, the High Court again interpreted the provisions unexpectedly strictly. Again, this strict interpretation has invited challenges to other politicians.

Under the current law, it seems a potential candidate must irrevocably rid themselves of all (potentially valuable) disqualifying attributes prior to nominating, on the chance they may be elected.

Jeremy Gans, one of the most vocal critics of the High Court’s decision, has described this as “one of the Constitution’s cruellest details”. Moreover, as Hollie Hughes’s case illustrates, a defeated candidate may need to avoid these activities even after the election on the off chance of a recount.

Proposed version of Section 44.

Constitutional change offers a chance to break this deadlock. The process does not need to be long and convoluted. We already have a draft text. The proposal suggested by the 1988 Constitution Commission scrapped all disqualifications except the prohibition on treason, and offered a reworked restriction on employment. Other matters would be left to parliament

This well-considered proposal is compelling. We could have an act passed by Christmas, and a referendum early in the new year. The same-sex marriage survey, a matter that will affect many more people far more substantially, has been organised and executed in a far shorter time.

This is a technical issue, but it is consuming vital public resources and distracting our politicians from the role of governing Australia. Changing the Constitution is the only way to draw a line under this chaos.

Our Constitution was never meant to be a static document. It is now more than 40 years since we successfully amended the Constitution, and nearly 20 years since a referendum was even held. Both of these are record periods of time for our Federation.

The ConversationThis has perpetuated the myth that constitutional change is effectively implausible. A referendum on Section 44 would re-engage the Australian people in this vital process. This will, in turn, make it easier for other causes, including Indigenous rights and the republic, to be taken to referendum.

Joe McIntyre, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of South Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Don Dale royal commission demands sweeping change – is there political will to make it happen?


Sophie Russell, UNSW and Chris Cunneen, UNSW

The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory’s final report, which was handed down on Friday, revealed “systemic and shocking failures” in the territory’s youth justice and child protection systems.

The commission was triggered following ABC Four Corners’ broadcasting of images of detainee Dylan Voller hooded and strapped to a restraint chair, as well as footage of children being stripped, punched and tear-gassed by guards at the Don Dale and Alice Springs youth detention centres.

The commission’s findings demonstrate the need for systemic change. However, the commission will not, in itself, bring about that change. Its capacity to make lasting change lies with the government implementing its recommendations.

What did the commission find?

The commission found that the NT youth detention centres were not fit for accommodating – let alone rehabilitating – children and young people.

It also found that detainees were subjected to regular, repeated and distressing mistreatment. This included verbal abuse, racist remarks, physical abuse, and humiliation.

There was a further failure to follow procedures and requirements under youth justice legislation. Children were denied basic human needs, and the system failed to comply with basic human rights standards and safeguards, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The commission also found that the NT child protection system has failed to provide appropriate and adequate support to some young people to assist them to avoid prison.

Importantly, the commission found that isolation “continues to be used inappropriately, punitively and inconsistently”. Children in the high security unit:

… continue to be confined in a wholly inappropriate, oppressive, prison-like environment … in confined spaces with minimal out of cell time and little to do for long periods of time.

What did the commission recommend?

Based on these findings, the commission recommended wide-ranging reforms to the youth justice and child protection systems.

Not surprisingly, a central focus of the recommendations relate to detention. They ranged from closing the Don Dale centre to significant restrictions on the use of force, strip-searching and isolation, and banning the use of tear gas, spit hoods, and restraint chairs.

There is a focus on greater accountability for the use of detention through extending the Commissioner for Children and Young People’s monitoring role. Recommendations also cover health care (including mental health and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder screening), education, training, and throughcare services for children exiting detention.

Among its suite of proposed reforms, the commission recommended developing a ten-year strategy to tackle child protection and prevention of harm to children, and establishing an NT-wide network of centres to provide community services to families.

Youth justice reforms include improving the operation of bail to reduce the unnecessary use of custodial remand; expanding diversionary programs in rural and remote locations; and operating new models of secure detention, based on principles of trauma-informed practice.

Adequate and ongoing training and education for police, lawyers, youth justice officers, out-of-home-care staff and judicial officers in child and adolescent development is also recommended.

The commission also emphasised the importance of developing partnerships with Indigenous organisations and communities in the child protection and youth justice systems. Several organisations in written submissions to the commission identified the importance of appropriately resourcing community-controlled, and locally developed and led, programs for Indigenous young people.

Increasing the age of criminal responsibility a good place to start

One of the commission’s most significant recommendations is to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 years, and only allowing children under 14 to be sentenced to detention for serious offences.

If this recommendation were to be implemented it is likely to have far-reaching implications across Australia. Currently, the minimum age is ten years in all states and territories.

Of particular relevance to the commission is the adverse affect of a low minimum age of criminal responsibility on Indigenous children.

The majority of children under the age of 14 who come before Australian youth courts are Indigenous. In 2015-16, 67% of children placed in detention under the age of 14 were Indigenous. This concentration is even higher among those aged 12 or younger.

Nationally, 73% of children placed in detention and 74% of children placed on community-based supervision in 2015-16 were Indigenous.

Raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility opens the door to responding to children’s needs without relying on criminalisation, given its short- and long-term negative impacts.

It enables a conversation about the best responses to children who often – as the commission’s findings acknowledged – have a range of issues. These can include trauma, mental health disorders and disability, coming from highly disadvantaged backgrounds, having spent time in out-of-home care, and – particularly among Indigenous children – being removed from their families and communities.

The ConversationA positive outcome from the commission will require political will and leadership to respond effectively to broader systemic issues. Raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility is a good place to start.

Sophie Russell, Research Associate, UNSW and Chris Cunneen, Professor of Criminology, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Mnangagwa and the military may mean more bad news for Zimbabwe


File 20171116 15428 u8p65.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

James Hamill, University of Leicester

The military has taken control of the national broadcaster, troops are in the streets and the president is being held in a secure environment. All military leave is cancelled and a senior general has addressed the nation. Yet the Zimbabwean military continues with the pretence that this is not a coup d’etat.

The obvious response to this is: if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then the chances are it’s a duck. And the sole reason the Zimbabwean military is not acknowledging this as a coup d’etat is to avoid triggering the country’s automatic suspension from the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Both bodies frown on coups.

A perfect storm formed ahead of these events and made military action predictable. The country had once again entered a steep economic decline (not that its “recovery” had been anything of note). A clear and reckless bid for power was being made by the so-called Generation 40 (G40) faction around Grace Mugabe in direct opposition to the Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the standard bearer for the so-called Lacoste faction.

This culminated in Mnangagwa’s dismissal by President Mugabe: a clear indication that Grace Mugabe was now calling the shots. It also served as a follow up to the 2015 Grace-engineered dismissal of another Vice President and rival, Joice Mujuru.

The coup means that Mugabe’s long and disastrous presidency is finally over. The only questions that remain are the precise details and mechanics of the deal which secures his departure.

Why the coup

Mnangagwa is a long time Zanu-PF stalwart and is clearly closely integrated with the military high command and the intelligence services. Both institutions are concerned that the succession is being arranged for a faction led by people with no liberation credentials but who have been skilled in manipulating Mugabe himself and in making him do their bidding. The G40 now appear to have overreached, perhaps believing that their proximity to the “old man” made them invincible.

This coup’s explicit purpose is twofold. First, it’s trying to definitively kill off Grace Mugabe’s ambitions to become president and to set in place a ruling dynasty akin to the Kims in North Korea. Second, it’s a bid to clear Mnangagwa’s path to power, first in Zanu-PF and then within the state itself (over the last three decades these have been virtually one and the same thing).

What we do not yet know is what counter force, if any, the G40 can bring to bear against the military. The calculation of the military hierarchy appears to be that Grace and company are paper tigers who will have few cards to play against such force majeure and who lack the popular appeal to bring angry and disillusioned masses out onto the streets.

Could this be the end of President Robert Mugabe’s 37 year reign?
Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

The coup has formally stripped away the façade that Zimbabwe is a constitutional state. This is clearly a militarised party-state where the military is a pivotal actor in the ruling party’s internal politics. It is not simply a neutral state agency subordinate to the civilian leadership. And the idea that this military intervention is an aberration – a departure from the constitutional norm – is misplaced.

Zimbabwe is a de facto military dictatorship. It serves as a guarantor of ZANU-PF rule rather than as a custodian of the constitution. It has helped Zanu-PF rig elections. And it was central to the state terror which was unleashed against the population to reverse Mugabe and Zanu-PF’s electoral defeat in 2008. The military has always been a key political actor. The only difference this time is that its intervention is designed to control events within Zanu-PF rather than to crush opposition to it.

But, a highly politicised military is a major impediment to the re-establishment of a democratic order in Zimbabwe. It has nothing to gain, politically or financially, from democratic rule given the lucrative networks of embezzlement and plunder it’s put in place over decades. Most recently it seized and siphoned off of the country’s diamond wealth for military officers and the party hierarchy.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

This intervention is designed to secure the presidency for Mnangagwa. So it is hard to avert our eyes from the elephant –- or in this case the Crocodile –- in the room. Mnangagwa is the Mugabe henchman who helped enable the misrule and tyranny of the last 37 years. He was one of the principal architects of the Gukurahundi -– the genocidal attack on the Ndebele – in the early to mid-1980s which left at least 20 000 people dead.

He has also been instrumental in rigging elections and crushing all opposition to Zanu-PF rule, including the atrocities of 2008.

Expecting such a person to now make a deathbed conversion to the democracy, constitutional government and good governance he has spent an entire career liquidating is dangerous nonsense.

Dilemmas to come

Mnangagwa will soon have to confront a series of dilemmas. How can he put in place an administration which has the appearance of a national unity government, can secure international approval and the financial assistance required to help rebuild a shattered economy – but avoid ceding any meaningful power or control? Can this circle be squared?

The best hope for Zimbabweans is that the international community uses its leverage wisely and sets stringent conditions for such assistance: free elections closely monitored by an array of international organisations, the establishment of a new electoral commission, free access to the state media and the right of parties to campaign freely.

There should also be a role here for South Africa to restore its badly tarnished image as a champion of democracy in Africa. It has followed a malign path over the last two decades, facilitating Zanu-PF authoritarianism in the name of a threadbare and increasingly degenerate “liberation solidarity”.

The ConversationSuch a combination of pressures will severely restrict Mnangagwa’s room for manoeuvre. Anything short of that will deliver an outcome which is essentially Mugabeism without Mugabe.

James Hamill, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, University of Leicester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.