Tech companies fight Trump’s travel ban and may take their business elsewhere


David Glance, University of Western Australia

127, mostly tech, companies have signed a brief of support opposing US President Trump’s “Muslim travel ban”. The companies, that include Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Tesla have filed an “amicus brief” with the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in support of US District Judge James L. Robart who ordered a stay on Trump’s executive order to ban anyone from 7 countries from entering the US for between 90 and 120 days.

The tech companies have argued that immigration is a central factor in the history and makeup of the US and has helped fuel American innovation and economic growth. Immigrants, or their children, founded more than 200 companies that are amongst the top 500 companies in the US. Between 2006 and 2010, immigrants were responsible for opening 28% of call new businesses in the US. Thirty percent of US Nobel laureates in Chemistry, Medicine and Physics have been immigrants.

Mostly however, the brief focuses on the harm that its chaotic implementation will have on US companies. They allege:

“The Order makes it more difficult and expensive for U.S. companies to recruit, hire, and retain some of the world’s best employees. It disrupts ongoing business operations. And it threatens companies’ ability to attract talent, business, and investment to the United States.

The consequences of this action will be that US companies will lose business and ultimately

“Multinational companies will have strong incentives, including from their own employees, to base operations outside the United States or to move or hire employees and make investments abroad.”

This last is no idle threat. In 2015, it was estimated that US companies have US $2.1 trillion overseas that haven’t been repatriated because of the tax implications. Apple alone has over US $230 billion held outside the US.

The idea of using this money to set up development and further manufacturing capabilities outside the US makes a great deal of sense, even without the imperative of Trump’s actions. However, there is another move that Trump is threatening that may make the decision to move operations outside the US more attractive still.

Trump’s administration is planning to target the high-skilled worker’s H-1B visa. This offers mostly tech companies the ability to recruit up to 85,000 skill developers and other staff from around the world. According to the Republicans and Trump however, tech companies should be recruiting locally.

Companies like Microsoft, where I have first hand experience of recruitment experience, did actively try and recruit within the US. Recruiting from outside is generally more expensive and time consuming and so there is no real reason why tech companies would actively ignore domestic applicants or favour foreign ones. Tech companies seek to employ the best people for the job and if the pool is global, that is how they achieve that goal.

Having offices remotely distributed can be made to work although it makes communications across teams and different product areas more challenging than if they are all in a single location. However, it already happens in most tech companies with Google and Microsoft already having research and product development occurring out of countries like Australia, India and China.

As outlined in the amicus brief, Trump is sowing uncertainty and chaos with his desire to treat policy like tweets on Twitter. That is going to provide enough incentive for companies to brave the potential disapproval from Trump and use the significant investments held outside the US to expand their capabilities.

Trump may succeed, contrary to his intentions, in catalysing a new phase in globalisation in which companies shift their centres from the US to a more distributed model. Of course, companies may still run into problems if Trump’s brand of nationalism succeeds in taking hold in other countries like Australia or Europe.

The other side-effect of the US uncertainty is the fact that increasingly businesses based outside the US will have a competitive advantage and customers may decide that it is easier to avoid doing business with the US for at least the next four years. China is rapidly becoming the technological equal of the US in many ways and so its ascendancy may also benefit.

The amicus curiae brief is the start of a long legal campaign which will aim to keep the worst of Trump’s plans in check. Depending on the outcomes, the world outside the US may actually benefit from Trump if companies are forced to look outside the walls, real and virtual, he is seeking to create.

The Conversation

David Glance, Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice, University of Western Australia

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

Coalition slump in Newspoll gives Labor 54-46 lead


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The first Newspoll of 2017 has Labor leading by 54-46, a 2 point gain for Labor since the final 2016 Newspoll, conducted in early December. Primary votes are 36% for Labor (steady), 35% for the Coalition (down 4), 10% for the Greens (steady) and a high 19% for all Others (up 4). It is Labor’s first primary vote Newspoll lead since Abbott was PM. This poll was conducted Thursday to Sunday from a sample of 1730.

We are told that One Nation had 8%, but this is not reported in the tables. Newspoll is still asking for voter choice between Coalition, Labor, Greens and Others, and then questioning Other voters further. In the past, this method has underestimated the support of significant minor parties, and One Nation is probably in at least the double digits.

Last Friday’s WA Newspoll, on the other hand, asked about One Nation support in the initial readout, finding 13% support for One Nation.

Turnbull’s satisfied rating was up one point to 33%, and his dissatisfied rating down one point to 54%, for a net approval of -21. Shorten’s net approval was -22, down 5 points.

An additional Newspoll question asked whether Australia should adopt a similar policy to the US in “making it harder” for those in 7 Muslim countries to immigrate, finding 44% in favour and 45% opposed. This question wording is somewhat deceptive, as Trump is not “making it harder”, he is outright banning.

In the months after Turnbull deposed Abbott, the Coalition had a large lead over Labor. As Turnbull’s policies became more right wing, the Coalition’s lead diminished, and they only barely won last year’s election. Since the election, Turnbull, at the urging of the hard right of his party, has abandoned positions that once made him appealing to mainstream voters. There is no evidence from the polling under either Turnbull or Abbott that Australians want a hard right government.

Essential at 53-47 to Labor

In this week’s Essential, primary votes were 37% Labor, 36% Coalition, 10% One Nation, 8% Greens and 3% Nick Xenophon Team. Voting intentions used a two-week sample of 1785, with other questions using one week’s sample.

49% disapproved of Trump’s immigrant ban, with 36% approving; the strongest support came from Other voters (mainly One Nation), who approved 66-25. When asked whether Australia should institute a similar ban to the US, 46% were opposed, and 41% in favour. 53% agreed with Turnbull’s response to the US ban, while 36% disagreed.

50% thought technological change was making people’s lives better, and 25% thought it was making people’s lives worse; in November 2015, it was 56-22 in favour of better.

Bernardi resigns from Liberals

Cory Bernardi has left the Liberals, and will form an Australian Conservative party. Bernardi was No. 2 on the Liberals’ SA Senate ticket, and thus received a six year term. His term will not expire until June 2022, barring a double dissolution.

Bernardi’s exit will not change the Senate situation much, as he will seldom vote with Labor against the Coalition. I do not expect Bernardi to perform well, as he does not have a high profile with the general public, and will be competing in much the same ideological space as One Nation.

Trump’s US ratings, and why impeachment is very unlikely

According to the Gallup daily tracking poll, 42% of Americans approve of Donald Trump’s performance as President, and 52% disapprove. Trump has made no effect to be bipartisan, and so those who voted against him disapprove, while the 46% who voted for him are satisfied with his performance.

Those who voted for Trump mostly did so because they approved of his efforts to shake up the system, including his 90-day ban on immigrants from seven Middle Eastern countries. Unless Trump does something that angers his support base, his ratings are likely to remain roughly where they are. Much will depend on whether Trump’s economic policies displease the white working class voters.

Impeachment of a President requires a majority of the House and a 2/3 majority of the Senate. The Republicans hold a 241-194 majority in the House, and a 52-48 Senate majority. Assuming all Democrats voted for impeachment, 24 House Republicans and 19 Republican Senators would need to vote for impeachment.

Most of Trump’s policies, such as anti-abortion measures and removing regulations on big business, are strongly supported by establishment Republicans. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, satisfies the conservative base of his party. The Senate confirmed Trump’s controversial Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, by a 56-43 margin, indicating that Republicans are in no mood to impeach Trump.

Impeachment is a drawn-out process where the Senate effectively tries the President with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding. Trump would rally his fervent supporters against any serious move to impeach him, putting pressure on Republicans that supported impeachment.

Midterm elections will be held in November 2018, and these give the Democrats a chance to take control of the House and Senate. However, the Democrats are defending 25 Senate seats in 2018, while Republicans defend just 8, so the Democrats appear likely to go backwards.

Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution allows a majority of the Cabinet and the Vice President to remove the President. If the President protests, a 2/3 majority in both the House and Senate is required to remove him. This runs into the same problem as impeachment: Republicans generally will not remove Trump, and his hand-picked Cabinet is even less likely to remove him.

If Trump does something so dreadful that even Republicans rush to impeach him, it may already be too late.

The Conversation

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

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

Bernardi says his new party will offer a ‘principled’ alternative for disillusioned conservative voters


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Cory Bernardi, who formally defected from the Liberal Party on Tuesday, says he aims to provide the many disillusioned conservative voters with “a principled, credible and stable alternative in which they can vest their vote”.

As some ministers lashed out bitterly at him, accusing him of betraying those who had voted for him, Bernardi said the July election had seen one million votes leave the Liberal Party for alternatives.

“My ambition was always to bring those people back into the tent. I regret over the last seven months or so we see more of them leaving the tent. That says to me there is a serious problem,” he told a news conference.

Earlier, in a speech lasting less than five minutes, he told the Senate: “The body politic is failing the people of Australia”.

“When as a younger man I joined the ship of state, I was in awe of its traditions and the great captains that it guided us on our way. But now, as the seas through which we sail become ever more challenging, the respect for the values and principles that have served us well seem to have been set aside for expedient, self-serving, short-term ends. That approach has not served our nation well.

“The level of public disenchantment with the major parties, the lack of confidence in our political process and the concern about the direction of our nation is very, very strong. This is a direct product of us, the political class, being out of touch with the hopes and aspirations of the Australian people.”

Before his announcement, Bernardi rang Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, but he did not attend the Coalition parties meeting to inform it of his decision. He justified this later by saying he had already resigned from the party and so was not eligible to attend.

Turnbull told Coalition MPs the honourable course would be for Bernardi, having been elected as a Liberal, to resign from the Senate – a line reflected in sometimes bitter comments from other Liberals, including South Australian Liberal cabinet minister Christopher Pyne, who tweeted that Bernardi should quit and recontest as an independent.

Tony Abbott, in a post on Facebook which appeared to indirectly criticise Turnbull, said he was “disappointed that more effort has not been made to keep our party united”.

“No government entirely satisfies all of its supporters. This is not an argument to leave; it’s a reason to stay in and fight more effectively for the things we believe in,” Abbott said.

Although critics such as Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the defection “dilutes our efforts to defeat the Labor Party”, Bernardi claimed it could “strengthen the ideological grounding of a centre-right government and that is my wish”.

His Australian Conservatives party will run Senate candidates, he said.

Asked whether as a crossbencher he would still vote for Coalition policies, Bernardi said: “My heart, my ethos is steeped in the Liberal Party. … If they put forward good policy, I will support them. If they err, I will tell them and try to amend it.”

On whether billionaire Gina Rinehart, an admirer and friend of Bernardi, would be a big funder of the Australian Conservatives, he said: “I have no idea. That conversation has not taken place.”

Bernardi rejected allegations that he had betrayed the South Australians who had supported him as a Liberal at the election.

“Every single Liberal Party voter and those party members knew exactly what they were supporting. My principles have not changed. My advocacy has not changed. I am seeking to do it in the most effective way.”

He said that going into the last election he had not intended to break away. He had said the election result was not good but “none of the people who said the base doesn’t matter, the conservatives have got nowhere to go, have been held to account for that result”.

He couldn’t say there was one straw that broke the camel’s back for him but “an amalgam of circumstances”.

He did highlight one policy matter for particular criticism. Late last year cabinet had authorised the investigation of what was in effect an emissions trading scheme, he said. “We fought that battle in 2009. It came at a huge personal cost. … I thought, why do I need to continually fight within my own party? I can’t struggle within the tent all by myself.”

The government’s leader in the Senate, George Brandis, said Bernardi had done the “wrong thing”.

“Seven months ago senator Bernardi was happy to stand before the people of South Australia to say he sought their endorsement to serve for a six-year term as a Liberal senator.

“In the seven months since the federal election, nothing has changed. There is no policy for which the Liberal Party and the government stands today, which is not the same as the platform on which senator Bernardi sought election.”

Brandis said the government would deal with Bernardi “as we deal with all members of the crossbench, in a professionally courteous and respectful way”.

“But we do not condone what he has done. Might I say, that if one seeks to restore confidence in the political class, it is a poor way to begin by breaking the promise one makes to one’s electors to serve for the political party on whose platform and whose ticket one stood.

“What senator Bernardi has done today is not a conservative thing to do, because breaking faith with the electorate, breaking faith with the people who voted for you, breaking faith with the people who have supported you through thick and thin for years and, indeed, decades is not a conservative thing to do.”

Former minister and a strong conservative Eric Abetz took a softer line than many of his colleagues: “There is no doubt that he is sincerely motivated. For the Senate, one it assumes it won’t make much difference in relation to the votes.”

Labor’s Senate leader Penny Wong said: “We know senator Bernardi’s view is far from an isolated one in this government. Because we know that amongst those opposite he is one of many, one of many, who believe that this government stands for nothing.”

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Bernardi exits stage right: mayhem now, obscurity later


Nick Economou, Monash University

Whether it be due to hubris, courage or vanity, South Australian senator Cory Bernardi has decided to forsake the Liberal Party under whose auspices his political career had been nourished.

He will instead seek to create his own political party, Australian Conservatives. According to the conventions of Australian political science, Bernardi’s new party will be categorised as a “minor” party. This means it will be expected to win a minute share of the vote at the next election, that its only prospect for representational success will be in the Senate, and that it will be expected to last no longer than one turn of the Senate electoral cycle.

The current excitement surrounding Bernardi’s defection from the Liberal Party arises because of the deleterious impact it has on Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership. It also adds to the complex situation in the Senate that is already under the influence of a diverse and often erratic crossbench.

This is a situation that could last for some time. Bernardi, who was the second-placed candidate on the South Australian Liberal ticket in the 2016 double-dissolution election, is what the Constitution defines as a “first-class” senator, and thus entitled to a six-year term.

Even though he was elected as a Liberal candidate, Bernardi is under no constitutional obligation to relinquish his seat, so he will now doubtlessly start work on forming his new party. Somewhat ironically, he will be doing that under elections laws recently changed by the Turnbull government designed to make it harder for new parties to be formed, and restricting their ability to trade preferences with each other in future Senate contests.

If Bernardi does succeed in finding the requisite number of at least 500 bona-fide financial members in each state, and is able to put a national party organisation together, he will find himself in a crowded field.

Much has been made of the extent to which voters have been aligning their support away from the major political parties as a sign of drift to the right in Australian politics. This is true. But right-of-centre politics in Australia is a lot more complicated than the opinion polls indicate.

Most significantly, the rise in the total vote for right-of-centre candidates in the 2013 and 2016 Senate contests occurred alongside an exponential increase in the number of political parties being created.

In 2010, there were 13 parties advocating socially conservative and/or economic nationalist and/or anti-climate change sentiments, and who cross-preferenced each other in the half-Senate election held that year. This collection of parties won a national Senate vote of 3.8%.

In 2013, the number of right-of-centre minor parties had grown to 34, and the vote had increased to 15.7%. In 2016 the number of parties fell to 33, but the total national Senate vote rose to 16.9%.

This national figure includes some major state variations. It does not, though, include the impact of Nick Xenophon in South Australia which, by the 2016 election, had become very significant. In both the 2013 and 2016 elections, only a handful of the many right-of-centre parties won a primary vote above 4% – at which a political party becomes entitled to receive public election funding.

These parties included the Palmer United Party in 2013 (which imploded soon after the election), the Liberal Democratic Party in New South Wales again in 2013 but not 2016. In the 2016 election, there was Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, the Jacqui Lambie Network, and the Derryn Hinch Justice Party. Everyone else polled 3.9% or less.

In other words, the right-of-centre minor party vote is very thinly spread across a large number of competitors. Bernardi’s party would just be another one of these minor players.

Presumably, South Australia would be the organisational focal point for any party Bernardi would seek to create. The problem with that, however, is that Bernardi’s fellow South Australian, Nick Xenophon, has something of a monopoly over voters disillusioned with the major parties in that state.

South Australia is also the home base for the Family First Party. Its vote might not be great, but it seems to do well out of preference flows and usually manages to secure a Senate position. It might be six years before it happens, but Bernardi himself will struggle to hold on to his Senate seat.

The 2013 and 2016 election data do sustain the claim that there has been a swing to the right in the Australian electorate. But they also show that this has caused by a proliferation of right-wing parties, the vast bulk of whom secure a very small share of the primary vote (somewhere around 1%, on average).

The dominant players in the phalanx of right-wing minor parties have been those with high profile leaders or candidates (such as Clive Palmer, Jacquie Lambie, Derryn Hinch and Pauline Hanson). Bernardi may hope that his infamy could match the profile of these leading lights of populist anti-establishment politics.

But the reality is that a new conservative minor party headed by Bernardi would simply be adding to a political arena already saturated with conservative, populist, nationalist, anti-immigration and anti-environmental parties.

Bernardi’s actions do have some short- to medium-term implications, especially for the operation of the parliament, and the standing of the Liberal Party and its current leader. But the prospect of him being an influence beyond his current Senate term is very remote indeed.

The Conversation

Nick Economou, Senior Lecturer, School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University

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

Trump, the wannabe king ruling by ‘twiat’


Nick Couldry, London School of Economics and Political Science

This article is part of the Democracy Futures series, a joint global initiative with the Sydney Democracy Network. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.


Just weeks after his inauguration as US president, it is clear that Donald Trump is making a further bold claim on power, one that goes beyond the executive orders that are rightly drawing so much attention. He is reinventing the royal fiat by novel means: the rule-by-tweet, or “twiat”. This move is not an extension of popular democracy, but its enemy, and it needs to be resisted.

We are becoming used to Trump’s new way not just of sustaining a political campaign, but of making policy. We wake up to news of another state, corporation, institution or individual caught in the crossfire of his tweets. Corporations and investors are setting up “Twitter Response Units” and “Trump Triggers” in case the next tweet is aimed at them.

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The process is so alien to the ways of making policy that have evolved over decades in complex democracies that it is tempting to dismiss it as just funny or naive. But that would be a huge mistake.

A tweet of Trump’s opinion at any moment on a particular issue is just that: an expression of the temporary opinion of one person, albeit one with his hands on more power-levers than almost any other person in the world.

Trump’s opinions at any moment are subject to change.
Sasha Kimel/flickr

Such expressions matter, for sure, to Trump’s Twitter followers. But, although one might be forgiven for thinking otherwise, they do not (at 23 million) constitute a significant proportion of the world’s population, or even a large proportion of the US population.

The king holds court

A Trump tweet only becomes news if it is reported as news. And it only starts to become policy if those who interpret policy, including the media, start to treat this news as policy. Until then, the Trump tweet remains at most a claim on power.

But once key institutions treat it as if were already an enactment of power, it quickly becomes one. Worse, it inaugurates a whole new way of doing power whose compatibility with democracy and global peace is questionable.

Imagine you are a diplomat, trying to schedule a meeting for yourself, or your political master, with Trump in a few weeks’ time. Is it sensible for you to rely on the confidentiality of the meeting? Could a poorly chosen phrase or look – or indeed your most carefully argued reasoning – provoke a tweet that publicly mocks your whole strategy?

How do you deal with a figure who claims the power to broadcast on his own terms his gut reactions to whatever you say or propose? Yes, you can tweet back, but that is already to give up on the quiet space of discussion that was once diplomacy’s refuge.

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The impact of rule-by-tweet is potentially profound: above all, on policy, whether global or domestic, legal or commercial. A new type of power is being claimed and, it seems, recognised: the power, by an individual’s say-so, to make things happen, the twiat. Just the sort of power that revolutions were fought to abolish.

If Trump is the putative Tweet King, who are his courtiers? Surely they’re the mainstream media institutions that regularly report Trump’s tweets as if they were policy.

If a medieval king’s courtiers refused to pass on his word to the wider world, its impact changed. While courtiers could be replaced overnight, contemporary media corporations cannot (for now at least). So why should the media act as if they were Trump’s courtiers?

We must not underestimate the short-term pressure on media corporations to conform to Trump’s claim on power. For sure, there will be an audience if they report Trump’s tweets, and their financial need to grab audiences wherever they can has never been greater.

But, if news values still mean something, they refer not only to financial imperatives, but to what should count as news. And norms about news must have some relation to what passes for acceptable in a democracy rather than an autocracy.

Why is the ‘twiat’ anti-democratic?

Some might say: Trump’s tweets are just the new way of doing democracy, “get with the program” (in the words of Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer). But, as the grim history of mid-20th-century Europe shows, authoritarian grabs on power only ever worked because their anti-democratic means were accepted by those around them as a novel way of “doing democracy”.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer says officials must ‘get with the program’ or go.

The “twiat” is anti-democratic for two reasons. First, it claims a power (to name individuals, pronounce policy, and condemn actions) against which there is no redress. Its work is done once uttered from the mouth of the “king”.

Second, and more subtly, allowing such power back into political decision-making undermines the slower, more inclusive forms of discussion and reflection that gives modern political democratic institutions their purpose and purchase in the first place.

Trump’s claim to a new form of charismatic power through Twitter is, in part, the flip-side of the damaged legitimacy of today’s democratic process. But, instead of curing that problem, it closes the door on it. The presidential tweeting ushers us into a new space that is no longer recognisable as democratic: a space where complex policy becomes not just too difficult but unnecessary, although its substitutes can still be tweeted.

Is Trump’s Twitter feed bypassing dishonest media or bypassing the democratic process?

Can anything be done to stop this? A good start would be to stop reporting the tweets of our would-be Twitter king as if they were news, let alone policy.

Let Trump’s tweets have no more claim on democracy’s attention than the changing opinions of any other powerful figure. Refuse the additional claim to power that Trump’s Twitter stream represents.

Fail to refuse that claim, and all of us risk accepting by default a new form of rule that undermines the restraints on power on which both democracy and media freedoms, in the long term, depend.

The Conversation

Nick Couldry, Professor of Media, Communications and Social Theory, London School of Economics and Political Science

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

The tag is cut: how will the Trump-Turnbull spat damage the alliance?


Alan Tidwell, Georgetown University

When former prime minister Paul Keating said last year it was time to “cut the tag” and loosen the bonds of the Australia’s alliance with the US, who would have thought the man wielding the knife would be Donald Trump?

The public disagreement between the Trump White House and the Turnbull government over the deal to send asylum seekers languishing on Manus Island and Nauru to the US is unprecedented. At no previous time in the history of the Australia-US alliance have things seemed so dire – and got there so quickly.

Past tensions kept quiet

Australian and American leaders over the years have, from time to time, disagreed or said things to cause embarrassment. But for the most part, such disagreements have been kept out of the limelight.

John Howard and Bill Clinton did not like one another. Their discomfort did not, however, seriously affect the alliance. But sometimes discomfort breaks into something stronger.

Blanche D’Alpuget, Bob Hawke’s then-biographer (and later his wife), recounts that Australia’s former foreign minister, Bill Hayden, and US Secretary of State George Shultz loathed one another. Hayden referred to Shultz as “the German pork butcher”, while Shultz called Hayden “stupid” to his face.

But, unlike the current saga, the Hayden-Shultz spat did not become public until after D’Alpuget published her Hawke biography.

In 2008, the content of another phone conversation between Australian and US leaders became pubic. A brief row broke out when reports emerged of a leaked conversation between Kevin Rudd and George Bush.

As the 2008 financial crisis erupted, Rudd had suggested using the G20 as a way of handling things to Bush in a phone conversation. Bush allegedly replied:

What’s the G20?

The White House angrily rejected the public version of events.

Time to think differently

Members of the US Congress have made a rare intervention in the latest spat in an attempt to counter Trump’s amateurish handling of the issue. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said:

Australia is a very important and central ally and it’s going to continue to be.

Republican senator Lindsey Graham admonished Trump, suggesting the president “sleep more and tweet less”. Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said:

Before the president shows such disrespect again, he should consider this: there is only one nation that has stood with us in every war of the last century, from the fields of France and Belgium to the mountains of Afghanistan – Australia.

Trump has handled this situation very badly. In a very short space of time he has undone decades of work in building trans-Pacific security ties between Australia and the US. Other American allies – Japan and South Korea in particular – must look on, aghast at what has transpired.

But the Australia-US alliance was already under pressure before the phone call between Trump and Malcolm Turnbull went awry. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a vital element in the Obama pivot to Asia, was headed for the dustbin even before the US election. Within hours of being sworn in, Trump cancelled US involvement in the trade deal.

More ominously, other US security partnerships in the region exhibit severe strain. In an eerie and intemperate foreshadowing of Trump’s outburst, Philippine President Duterte in 2016 called Barack Obama a “son of a whore” and then denounced his country’s security alliance with the US and embraced the Chinese.

While many aspects of the US-Philippine relationship are still in place, it is nonetheless showing signs of strain.

The Australia-US relationship has suffered numerous knocks over the past year. The greatest threat to it has not come from China, the Philippines or Australia, but from the US. Trump’s misguided handling of the refugee issue and his withdrawal from the TPP has combined with external events to place real pressure on the alliance.

Trump has cut the tag. Now Australia must think differently about its relationship with the US.

The Conversation

Alan Tidwell, Director, Center for Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Studies, Georgetown University

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

Newspoll shows Coalition trailing 46-54% at start of new parliamentary session


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

With parliament resuming this week, the first Newspoll of 2017 has the government trailing Labor 46-54% on the two-party vote and the Coalition’s primary vote falling four points to 35%.

This is the seventh consecutive Newspoll with the ALP ahead and the worst for the Coalition under Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership.

In results that will send fresh tremors through Coalition members who had hoped to start the new year on a better footing, the government’s primary vote is seven points lower than at the election, which the government only just won. It last was this low when the first move was made against Tony Abbott’s leadership, two years ago.

The poll, published in Monday’s Australian, reflects the general trend of disillusioned voters looking for avenues to reflect their protests. It shows a surge in support for independents and minor parties, which have gone from 15% to 19%.

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, soon to be tested at the Western Australian election, is polling 8% nationally.

Labor remains on 36% primary vote, unchanged since early December; the Greens remain on 10%.

Turnbull’s net satisfaction has marginally improved from minus 23 to minus 21, while Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s has worsened, from minus 17 to minus 22. Turnbull leads Shorten as better prime minister – 42% (up one) to 30% (down two points).

The government, beset with an expense scandal and the loss of a minister, anger over pension changes and other problems, got no clear air over the summer break. Now parliament resumes amid the fallout from the Trump-Turnbull contretemps over the refugee deal, a push from some Liberal MPs to have same-sex marriage determined by a free vote in parliament, and the prospect of South Australian Liberal senator Cory Bernardi defecting to lead his own conservative party.

Even Turnbull’s own issue of choice for the start of the year – energy policy – is not going as well as he hoped because of a lack of enthusiasm from energy companies and the financial sector for his advocacy of new “clean coal” power stations to be constructed.

In an interview with Network Nine on Sunday, Turnbull repeated he had “stood up for Australia” in dealing with Donald Trump, and said Trump had “absolutely not” asked for anything in return for saying he would honour the Obama administration’s deal to take refugees from Nauru and Manus Island.

Asked about any future military request that might be made, Turnbull said: “We assess all requests for military assistance on their merits, and there is no linkage, no linkage at all, between an arrangement relating to refugee settlement and any other matters.”

Turnbull was again cautious about the telephone call in which Trump was very aggressive.

“I’ve only said three things about the phone call with the president: firstly that it was frank and forthright; secondly that he gave a commitment that he would honour the refugee resettlement deal entered into by President Obama and thirdly that he did not hang up. The call ended courteously.

“Now I’ve got nothing more to say about the content of the phone call than that. It’s very important for me to be disciplined, to be calm and to pursue – in a very focused way – Australia’s national interests, and that’s what I do as Australia’s prime minister.”

On same-sex marriage Turnbull slapped down the new push for a free vote. “I’ve got no doubt that all of these matters will be discussed in the party room but I’m the prime minister, the government’s position is that which we took to the election, which is that this issue should be determined by a vote of every Australian in a plebiscite.”

A serious renewal of the same-sex marriage debate within the Liberal Party would be dangerous for Turnbull because it is a signature battle for the conservatives.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott at the weekend cast it in terms of Turnbull keeping his word. He told Fairfax Media: “Malcolm Turnbull made a clear election commitment that the marriage law would only change by way of people’s plebiscite, not free vote of the parliament. I’m sure he’ll honour that commitment. This isn’t about same-sex marriage, it’s about keeping faith with the people.”

Cabinet minister Christopher Pyne said on Sunday that there was no bill before the parliament to address marriage equality at this stage. “What happens down the track is a matter for the prime minister, for the cabinet, for the party room.”

In the Nine interview Turnbull, who gave the Liberals A$1.75 million for the campaign, made the startling revelation that when Tony Nutt became Liberal federal director at the end of 2015, “the party had so little money he had to work for several months without pay”.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Grattan on Friday: Malcolm Turnbull should walk away from the refugee deal


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

It’s the last thing Malcolm Turnbull would want to do, or will do. But what he should do is walk away from the deal he struck with the Obama administration for the US to take refugees from Nauru and Manus Island.

He should then persuade his cabinet to grant a one-off amnesty, and let these people settle in Australia.

It would be a drastic and, for many in the government, a deeply unpalatable course. But the road Turnbull now has Australia travelling – that of the supplicant – is against our national interest. It’s one that sees the unpredictable Donald Trump treating the US’s close ally with near contempt, one that makes the Australian prime minister hostage to the US president’s capricious behaviour.

At the weekend, in their now much-canvassed telephone conversation, Trump told Turnbull it was his “intention” to honour the refugee agreement while, as revealed by the Washington Post’s detailed report, describing it to Turnbull as the “worst deal ever”.

According to the Post, Trump said Australia was seeking to export the “next Boston bombers”; he also told Turnbull “this was the worst call by far” in his round of five phone calls to world leaders that day, which included one with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Trump terminated the conversation after 25 minutes – it was expected to run for longer – although Turnbull insists Trump did not hang up on him, but rather “the call ended courteously”.

By Thursday (Australian time), after days of mixed messages from the US administration, Trump was publicly dissing the deal in the strongest terms, tweeting:

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No-one can predict where this imbroglio will now go. As one senior Australian source put it: “We are like a cork bobbing on the sea”.

Logic would suggest that Trump would want to ditch “this dumb deal”, which sits at odds with his suspension of the US refugee intake and must look inconsistent to his rusted-on supporters. But equally, he could go the other way and decide there were pluses – in terms of sway over Australia – in keeping it.

If he does proceed with it, the deal could be scuttled in practice by the US “extreme vetting” process excluding most of the refugees. That would leave Australia, after having endured the diplomatic agony, still with responsibility for the people.

What is clear is that the deal has become a big and damaging issue in the Australian-American partnership.

Turnbull has already come under attack for refusing to criticise Trump’s provocative temporary bans on refugees (indefinite for those from Syria) and entrants from seven majority-Muslim countries, which have been widely condemned internationally. Even if he had other motives, his desire to preserve the refugee agreement was obviously one in Turnbull’s approach.

There could be serious longer-term implications if Trump did go ahead with the deal.

Trump is the ultimate transactional politician. If he does something for Australia, reciprocity will likely be demanded at a later stage – with Trump, whose approach is to bully, having no compunction in putting his foot on Australia’s neck. It could be over anything – such as a further commitment to the Middle East or an involvement if the US escalates pressure on China in the South China Sea.

If Turnbull had received a favour, it would be harder for Australia to resist US pressure to do what it might not want to do. Even if the government were comfortable on policy grounds to go along with some US request there would be the suspicion in the public’s mind that this was a quid pro quo.

Apart from those concerns, it is extremely unfortunate to have this issue, with the fractiousness surrounding it, dominate the start of the Turnbull government’s relationship with the new administration. Trump is known for his vindictiveness. If he keeps the deal but angrily and resentfully, that won’t stand Australia in good stead.

Early sourness could limit the extent to which Australia will be in a position to exert any influence on other matters that are of importance to it, such as trade policy – where there are substantial differences between the two countries – and, in particular, America’s future role in the Asia-Pacific region.

Regional countries will be watching closely how the Australian-US relationship unfolds; much of our clout with them derives from the perceived closeness we have with the Americans.

Critics will claim that if Australia cut its losses, dumped the deal and took in the refugees, all manner of disaster would follow.

In particular, they would say, the people-smugglers would start their trade again.

Turnbull on Thursday reiterated that “the only option that isn’t available” to the refugees “is bringing them to Australia for the obvious reasons that that would provide a signal to the people-smugglers to get back into business”.

Yet they didn’t restart their business when the US agreement was first announced, despite suggestions that this could send them an encouraging message.

The government fortified the border further, and the so-called ring of steel around our north would surely be enough to keep boats at bay if it had to take another step. If not, there is something very wrong with our military and coastguard forces.

Politically, there is no question the amnesty course would be extremely difficult for Turnbull, after all the government has said and done.

How difficult? Well, Labor could hardly score real hits against it.

Turnbull would have much more to fear from the conservative ranks in his own party and the right-wing commentariat – and he doesn’t have a lot of gumption when it comes to standing up to these people.

But it would be better to do so, even with the undoubted political risks that it would involve for him, than allow himself and Australia to be subject to the current and future whims of a US president who is raising a great deal of alarm in many places.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

To resist Trump’s tyranny, just don’t comply


Shannon Brincat, Griffith University

This article is part of the Democracy Futures series, a joint global initiative with the Sydney Democracy Network. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.


After his unexpected election win, the immediate question was what would US President Donald Trump actually do? Would his administration be as confused as his speeches or as cunningly effective as his campaign?

In the interim, far from “draining the swamp”, he has assembled a team of billionaires, family and members of the far-right.

On his inauguration – just as they were lying about the size of the audience – LGBT rights, health care, civil liberties and climate change disappeared from the White House homepage. The latter was scrubbed from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website too.

Rounding out his first week in office, Trump signed a litany of executive orders: scaling back parts of his predecessor’s Affordable Care Act, freezing federal hiring, greenlighting two oil pipelines, halting payments to the EPA and imposing a media blackout on it; and denying entry to refugees and immigrants from certain Muslim-majority countries.

He called for a shutdown of parts of the internet in the name of fighting terror.

Donald Trump argues for ‘closing the internet up’ to counter terrorism.

A 20% tariff on imports from Mexico would pay to “build that wall”. Trump also claimed that torture “works”.

In short, Trump seems ruthlessly efficient, wiping out America’s progressive legacy with deft pen-strokes of his grasping, little hand.

The Project’s Waleed Aly lists everything President Trump has done in his first week of office.

Servitude under Trump

For many who oppose this suite of unnerving policies, the question is how can Trump be legitimately resisted?

Étienne de La Boétie – the 16th-century French judge and writer – offered a simple, yet elegant answer: withdraw support so that “like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away”, the all-powerful ruler is forced to “fall of his own weight and break in pieces”.

Étienne de La Boétie (1530–1563) was a founder of modern political philosophy in France.
Wikipedia Commons

La Boétie reasoned that the rule of any government acting tyrannically would abruptly end as soon as its subjects withdrew their active support, for such power only comes from the “voluntary servitude” of its subjects. The tyrant has “nothing more than the power that you confer upon him to destroy you”.

Given that governments rule by a very few – the ruling class and its functionaries – they are highly susceptible to non-co-operation of the people.

La Boétie’s essay, Discours de la servitude volontaire (Discourse on Voluntary Servitude), is his greatest contribution to political thought. It remains relevant, 440 years after it was published, in an age when the public’s understanding of political resistance to institutionalised authority is largely quarantined by anti-protest and anti-assembly powers.

La Boétie’s Discourse on Voluntary Servitude.
Étienne de La Boétie/Wikipedia Commons

The essay concerns tyranny – the rule of one. America is still a democracy, of course, though it is now openlyflawed”, with some pointing to its emergent oligarchy. At the same time, attacks on the media, lying to the public, denigrating facts/science, scapegoating minorities and nepotism are all hallmarks of tyranny.

The notable feature of La Boétie’s political theory is that the origin of tyrannical power is irrelevant: whether by election, inheritance or force, if rulership is oppressive, it is tyrannical.

La Boétie interrogates the mind of the ruler and the subservient, and the strategies to overcome this relation of servitude. His second key insight flows from his counter-intuitive analysis of this dynamic. He does not place political agency or power in the hands of the tyrant, but in the people themselves. He rails:

Poor, wretched, and stupid peoples, you let yourselves be deprived before your own eyes.

All your “misfortune” descends “not from alien foes, but from the one enemy whom you yourselves render as powerful as he is”.

Responsibility for freedom is our own

La Boétie is unremitting in his criticism of servitude – the servile are “traitors” to themselves. They give tyranny its “eyes” to surveil, its arms to beat and its feet to trample freedom.

Nevertheless, La Boétie intends his work not to cajole but to awaken these voluntary servants to the understanding that their own liberation is in their power. As he writes:

You can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free.

This principle of non-co-operation forms the root of civil disobedience movements today. If tyrannical commands cannot be enforced without subjects to do the enforcing, then withdrawal of both consent and action is a pragmatic, peaceful and legitimate means for conventional politics to resist even the most narcissistic of wig-wearers today.

And we can point to real-life heroes acting out this defiance today: Badlands National Park breaking its gag order to tweet facts of science, or NASA with its Rogue 1 doing the same.

At the same time, reliance on individual action can be confused and contradictory. For example, the battle at the airports over the Muslim immigration ban now seems to be between federal customs and Department of Homeland Security agents enforcing the executive order, and those following the Federal Court order barring deportations. The separation of powers is reliant on people serving this separation.

People gathered at airports around the US to protest Trump’s ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Jeff Livingston/flickr

La Boétie was quick to realise that the key question is not how tyrannies remain in power, but why subjects do not withdraw their support. Fear and ideology, self-interest and habit all conspire so that the many acquiesce in their own subjection. In Trump’s oft-tweeted word: Sad!

So, while acts of peaceful withdrawal should be enough to cripple any oppressive regime, La Boétie’s thesis holds only on the condition that the many oppose the one.

Clinging to the tyrant

Here we run into two major problems. Some people lack the critical distance from their social order to question it. More problematic are those who benefit from Trump’s rule.

For La Boétie, this class is the most dangerous. Those who “cling to the tyrant”, who take “the bait toward slavery”, offer him their loyalty in return for institutionalised bribery (including, in today’s idiom, state contracts, tax breaks, administrative assistance and positions of influence). This 1% become the willing hands of tyranny, reaching throughout society.

Gustav Landauer calls this the “internal flaw”, that the people who “feed” tyranny “must stop doing so”. At this point, however, La Boétie leaves us with pure voluntarism as some rational hope against tyranny.

But even this idea can be educative. Much has been made of the punch on Richard Spencer, the neo-Nazi who advocates “ethnic cleansing”. Some say that, rather than street violence, resistance must instead go “high”. Having a grandfather who was tortured by the SS, I am less sanguine. Spencer and his ilk promise horrific violence on a mass scale. Believe them.

Richard Spencer, the man credited with coining the term “alt-right”, is punched in the head while talking with a reporter.

Nevertheless, such punches seem very ineffective in making allies of centrists against Trump. For those who find such acts of resistance unsavoury La Boétie presents an effective middle ground. You don’t have to do anything: just don’t comply, ever. This principle could even appeal to libertarians.

So while La Boétie offers us no panacea for freedom, especially in overcoming political structures of tyranny, he helps jar our thought into recognising that it is we who can act for our freedom. To this end, he offers a legitimate means for even the most apolitical subject to resist:

Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed.

The problem today is that many are willing to serve in their own oppression and even more willing to serve in the oppression of others. So the real question he leaves us with is: what are we to do against the willing servants of tyranny?

Has the strategy that Michelle Obama advocated at last year’s Democratic National Convention worked?

The Conversation

Shannon Brincat, Research Fellow in International Relations, Griffith University

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

Will the diplomatic aggravation and reputational damage to Turnbull and Australia have been worth it?


Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Let us turn to Shakespeare for guidance to describe the predicament in which Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, finds himself in his interactions with a bullying American president, damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be,

For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

– Hamlet Act 1, Scene 3.

In one of Shakespeare’s most oft-quoted passages Polonius is providing his son, Laertes, with some advice before he embarks for the bright lights of Paris.

It might be a stretch to compare Turnbull and the hot-headed Laertes; he is more like Hamlet in his indecision, it might be said. But in a transactional space he has placed his government in an invidious position by outsourcing a domestic political conundrum.

Neither a borrower nor lender be …

The Trump administration may well honour an agreement struck with the previous Obama administration in its lame-duck phase to take up to 1,250 refugees from Nauru and Manus Island. But the question will remain: will the diplomatic aggravation and reputational damage to leader and country have been worth it?

Turnbull’s spokespeople have been assiduous in their efforts to persuade us that an Australian prime minister stood up to the bully in the White House, and that rather than suffering a humiliating rebuff he gave a good account of himself.

That may be true, as far as it goes. But the point is, we should never have been in a position in the first place where we were relying on America’s good graces to salve an Australian domestic political problem at a moment when an American election was being fought on the refugee issue.

Let’s repeat: a deal of questionable probity was struck with an outgoing American administration in contradiction with the policy impulses of an incoming replacement.

No purpose is served now by arguing that few expected Donald Trump to prevail. That is one argument you cannot take to the bank.

If there is a reasonable explanation for Trump’s behaviour towards a friend and ally it is that he is being asked to sanction an arrangement that is antagonistic towards policies on which he was elected.

Whoever dreamed up this slithery refugees-for-politics arrangement in the prime minister’s office, or that of the immigration minister or the foreign minister, should be held to account for placing Australia’s reputation in hoc to an administration untethered form normal diplomatic niceities.

This proposed refugees-for-politics transaction might be characterised as an attempted end run around various United Nations refugee conventions.

My colleague at The Conversation, Michelle Grattan, has suggested that Turnbull cut his losses, tell Trump the deal is off, and offer those incarcerated on Nauru and Manus a “one-off” amnesty to come to Australia.

If Labor had the guts it would support such a course. But its position is even less principled than that of the government, if that is possible.

Labor both criticises its implementation and runs dead on such a transaction at the same time. This puts it in the position, discreditably, of both borrower and lender in this argument.

None of this is to suggest border controls be loosened, or that measures in place to counter unauthorised arrivals be relaxed. It is simply an argument to deal with an existing problem that has caused enormous rancour in Australia, and one that could be resolved if separated from politics.

Unfortunately, and in the case of a government bereft of an appealing political narrative, the “stop the boats” refugee mantra provides a port in a storm, it might be observed.

This brings us to the broader question of how countries like Australia might deal with a White House like no other in living memory.

If it is any comfort to Turnbull in his mendicant state as far as the refugee deal is concerned, leaders of comparable countries like Canada are faced with the same dilemma, and it is this. To what extent does Turnbull, or Justin Trudeau of Canada, or Angela Merkel of Germany, or Theresa May of Britain, assert their country’s values and at the same time criticise Trump at a moment when America’s own values are being trashed?

Trudeau perhaps provides the better model for an Australian prime minister seeking guidance about how to deal with the Trump phenomenon. Inside and outside the Canadian parliament, Trudeau has avoided direct criticism of the Trump administration, but he has made his views known via social media.

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No such public sentiments have emanated from an Australian prime minister hostage to his party’s unsentimental refugee policy, and a supplicant on the issue to a new American administration.

For her part, Merkel did not dissemble, as might be expected, and in contrast to others, including Turnbull. Her spokesman said:

The chancellor regrets the US government’s entry ban against refugees and citizens of certain countries. She is convinced that the necessary decisive battle against terrorism does not justify a general suspicion against people of a certain origin and a certain religion.

Finally, a word about the Battle of Hamel, of July 4, 1918. In the welter of words written about the Trump-Turnbull contretemps, in which an American president allegedly hung up on an Australian prime minister, much has been made of Australia having been America’s most steadfast ally from the first world war on.

It is true that American troops served alongside Australians under the command of then Lieutenant General John Monash. But it is also the case America’s commander, General John J. Pershing, whittled back American involvement on the ground for operational reasons.

In the end, a relatively small number of American soldiers were involved in what proved to be a successful operation in efforts to defeat the German army on the River Somme.

Like the reduced American commitment at Hamel, a Trump administration may seek to minimise its intake of refugees in what has proved to be an exercise in Australian diplomacy that has brought little credit to those involved.

The Conversation

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

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