Listening with ‘our ears and our eyes’: Ken Wyatt’s big promises on Indigenous affairs



In his first major policy address, Ken Wyatt noted how previous governments have failed Indigenous Australians with a ‘top-down, command and control approach.’
Rohan Thomson/AAP

Eddie Synot, Griffith University

Recently, I wrote that Ken Wyatt’s appointment as the minister for Indigenous Australians was a momentous occasion in Australian history. The appointment showed the government is committed to doing things differently when it comes to its responsibilities and obligations to Indigenous Australians.

It is still incredibly early days, but Wyatt has delivered his first major speech at a significant time – in the middle of National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) week.

For Indigenous communities, the speech held much promise and provided key details on what the Morrison government’s approach to Indigenous affairs will look like over the next three years. This is major turning point that could result in real change after years of little progress.

New language on Indigenous affairs

Perhaps most significant was the rhetoric Wyatt used – it mirrored the language long used by many Indigenous Australians, but notably lacking in previous government addresses on these issues. Wyatt noted how previous governments have failed Indigenous Australians, acknowledging how even the

most well-intentioned modern policies and programs have still tended to take a top-down, command and control approach.

Wyatt echoed legitimate concerns with the way the government approached its Indigenous policies in the past, noting that it had been as

if Aboriginal people didn’t know what they needed or wanted.

He further noted that dominant attitudes toward Indigenous affairs had ignored “proud members of one of the world’s longest-lived civilisations,” pretending as if they

had nothing to say, no wisdom to offer, about what would help their families thrive and their communities flourish.

The significance of a cabinet minister, especially one responsible for Indigenous affairs, highlighting these aspects of Australian history and society is massive. The change in comparison to earlier ministers who ignored or dismissed these truths is remarkable.

The Constitution remains key

Another major shift for the Coalition government: there is no longer a disregard for the Uluru Statement from the Heart and a First Nations voice being entrenched in the Constitution.

While Wyatt demurred on specific details, emphasising a “consensus option,” he did otherwise commit to a referendum within three years. This is another significant step toward implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

It is important to note that the final report of the Referendum Council, as well as the bi-partisan, parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition, both affirmed that a First Nations voice as called for by the Uluru Statement was the most sensible and widely supported option for reform.

Also supporting the conclusions of the Referendum Council and the Joint Select Committee, Wyatt emphasised that “the constitution remains key.” Both found that current representative mechanisms for Indigenous peoples were not working. And both agreed that only a First Nations voice would provide the type of representation required to empower Indigenous peoples and communities.

The Referendum Council advised Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to hold a referendum on establishing a voice to parliament in 2017, but Turnbull rejected the recommendation.
Paul Miller/AAP

A move away from top-down policy

Wyatt touched on many other issues that are important to Indigenous communities and are aimed at bringing more local input to policy-making.

On the issue of truth telling, he poignantly recognised that without truth

there can be no agreement on where and who we are in the present, how we arrived here and where we want to go in the future.

More details were also provided on the role of the new coordinating agency called the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA). The NIAA aims to coordinate efforts across all levels of government and Indigenous communities to allow Indigenous peoples to empower themselves.

Wyatt specifically indicated that he doesn’t intend policy to come from the NIAA or his office. Rather, policy actions are to be supported by all levels of community and the state and territory governments to enable communities to own their own policy actions.

This is continued movement away from what Wyatt described as the history of
“a top-down, command and control approach” that has failed Indigenous Australians.

Wyatt emphasised this by saying that his intention is “to have genuine conversations, not only with Indigenous leaders and peak bodies, but with families, individuals and community organisations so that I can hear their voices.”

This addresses the long history of Indigenous peoples not being listened to and rather being told what will happen. Wyatt noted again that

the most important thing that I and the agency will do is to listen – with our ears and with our eyes.

One area of concern

The speech also raised the priority issues of youth suicide, the revival and maintenance of Indigenous languages (with a pledged A$10 million), and the expansion of programs aimed at supporting Indigenous businesses, such as the Indigenous Procurement Policy, which provides incentives for Indigenous businesses to grow.

Wyatt also reemphasised the creation of the new position of a national suicide prevention adviser to coordinate and advise on already announced funding and increased support service delivery.

It is still early and only time will tell whether these actions will help, but at least one area of the speech raises concern: Wyatt’s commitment to revamp the the Community Development Program aimed at employment, training and development for Indigenous communities. By creating community advisory boards, Wyatt claimed that the

CDP has been reformed to ensure communities have a say in the way the programme is run.

The problem, however, hasn’t just been how the program is run. Many have been advocating for the abolishment of the CDP, rather than its reform.

Too many Indigenous people in the program work significant hours for less than minimum wage and face punitive punishments for non-compliance with regulatory requirements. This includes being fined for failing to show for work, which impacts the participants’ ability to purchase life necessities.

In attempting to force participants into work, the CDP fails to understand the challenges of remote communities and, as such, unfairly discriminates against Indigenous people. The CDP is effectively a “work-for-the-dole” program that punishes poverty rather than empowering communities.

Overall, Wyatt’s speech continued to build on the early optimism surrounding his appointment. His notable change in rhetoric from previous governments and his commitment for early action to build on reforms, such as the Council of Australian Governments’ partnership agreement with peak Indigenous organisations to close the gap in health, education and employment opportunities and the Indigenous Advancement Strategy Evaluation Framework, are welcome.

Most importantly, Wyatt’s recommitment to constitutional reform moves the nation one step closer to achieving those important reforms of voice, treaty and truth from the Uluru Statement from the Heart. As Wyatt noted, this is

too important to get wrong, and too important to rush.

But the crucial thing to remember is how far we have come since the Turnbull government’s response to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, just two short years ago.The Conversation

Eddie Synot, Senior Research Assistant, Griffith University

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

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And now for a newsflash: politicians actually do keep their promises



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The Gillard government kept 87% of its promises, though some had to be compromised to navigate a hung parliament.
AAP/Alan Porritt

Andrea Carson, La Trobe University; Aaron Martin, University of Melbourne, and Andrew Gibbons, University of Texas at Austin

A quick scan of political headlines over recent election campaigns will tell you that there is a trust deficit in Australian politics. Alarmingly, surveys uniformly find that public trust is falling in Australia.

The Murdoch tabloids (Daily Telegraph and Courier Mail) posed this question on their front pages with the headline “ScoMo vs Shorten: Who do you trust?” on March 28, perhaps implying trust was a one-sided political proposition.

But by the following week, the headline read: “Aussie voters short on choice” after their commissioned YouGov Galaxy poll revealed low public regard for both political leaders.

The poll showed 30% of respondents believed Scott Morrison to be “untrustworthy”, compared to Shorten on 34%. And when asked if they believed the leaders to be “well-intentioned”, the results were grim: just 34% believed Morrison to be well-intentioned, and 30% for Shorten.




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


Why is this? One oft-cited reason is that politicians from all sides of politics don’t keep their promises. Veteran columnist with the Sydney Morning Herald, Ross Gittins, summed it up after the defeat of the Liberal National party in the Queensland state election in 2015. Then-Premier Campbell Newman was unceremoniously ousted from office after record wins in the previous election. Gittins wrote:

The biggest problem, of course, is decades of broken promises by both sides.
Gillard broke her promises to balance the budget and not to introduce a carbon tax. Campbell Newman promised not to sack public servants. Abbott campaigned on the restoration of trust and high standards, but also made promises he can’t have intended to keep – and didn’t need to make to win.

But are broken promises really to blame for falling levels of public trust in politicians?

We know from extensive research about other western democracies, that political parties make serious efforts to keep their political promises and, despite popular rhetoric, the majority of promises made are kept. Our latest research tested whether this was also true of the Australian experience.

Using the same methods of the Comparative Party Pledges Project (CPPP), which has examined over 20,000 election promises made in 57 election campaigns in 12 countries, we analyse the fulfilment of election promises in six policy areas by the Australian Labor Party (ALP) under the leadership of Prime Minister Julia Gillard during the 43rd Parliament.

Among the reasons why we chose to analyse the Gillard government’s performance was the common criticism that it had broken its much-publicised pledge not to introduce a carbon tax, creating a perception that the government could not be trusted.




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


Sections of the media and political rivals openly called Julia Gillard a liar following the policy backflip. Also, the Gillard government was the first minority federal government since 1941. When the 2010 election produced a hung parliament, many commentators predicted chaos, as Brenton Prosser and Richard Denniss have reminded us. Some argued the government would be unable to fulfil its mandate or that the government would be forced into an early election.

We collected 232 promises (from party documents and the media) at the official start of the election campaign in 2010 until polling day. To measure if a promise was kept, we used sources like Hansard, official political communications, budget papers and, as a last resort, media reports.

We found most promises made were specific rather than general, and most – 87% – were kept (see table below). But, some of those needed to be altered in some way and were only partially kept. This reflected the compromise required to get bills through the two houses, neither controlled by the Labor party.

Table 1.
Authors. Notes: N=232 promises. Note: the outcome of three promises could not be determined. Hence, the percentages in the table do not add to 100 per cent.

That the Gillard government was able to keep the majority of its pledges but be tarred with perceptions of deception is what some academics label the “pledge puzzle”.

So why is there a disconnect between perceptions and reality? One reason is that not all promises are equal. Implementing a carbon tax was seen as a big promise to break. Other famous examples include Bob Hawke promising at his 1987 election launch that no Australian child would live in poverty by 1990, and John Howard promising in 1996 to “never ever” introduce a goods and services tax. Measuring the importance of a promise to voters (salience) is an important aspect that may help us better understand the “pledge puzzle” and mistrust of politicians.

The pledge puzzle also suggests that broken promises are only one aspect of how voters regard their politicians. it also tells us that there are other factors to consider – such as media coverage, negative campaigning and political infighting and rorting – to better explain why public trust in Australian politicians is falling. We also know that citizens who are more trusting of politicians are more trusting individuals generally and vice versa.

Overall, our findings give cause for optimism about the role of election promises in representative democracy. We found that politicians do take promises seriously, and that they do try to keep them. Yet, this finding by itself is unlikely to bolster Australians’ trust in their elected representatives at this election until politicians’ report cards improve on other measures.


Dr Andrea Carson will be available for a Q+A from 1pm – 2pm, AEST on Tuesday, April 16 to take questions on this topic. Please post your questions in the comments below.The Conversation

Andrea Carson, Associate Professor at La Trobe University. Department of Politics, Media and Philosophy, La Trobe University; Aaron Martin, Senior lecturer, University of Melbourne, and Andrew Gibbons, Postdoctoral Fellow, Edward A. Clark Center for Australian and New Zealand Studies, University of Texas at Austin

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

The Coalition’s record on social policy: big on promises, short on follow-through


Anja Hilkemeijer, University of Tasmania; Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle; Katharine Gelber, The University of Queensland, and Peter Whiteford, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is part of a series examining the Coalition government’s record on key issues while in power and what Labor is promising if it wins the 2019 federal election.


Religious freedom

Anja Hilkemeijer, Law Lecturer, University of Tasmania; and Amy Maguire, Associate Professor, University of Newcastle Law School

In December 2017, joyous scenes accompanied the long-awaited enactment of marriage equality in Australia. This joy was soon replaced by outrage, however, when the community learned of the extent to which religious schools may legally discriminate against students and staff on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

In response, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last October that parliament would swiftly act to disallow religious schools to expel students on the basis of their sexuality.




Read more:
Talk of same-sex marriage impinging on religious freedom is misconceived: here’s why


However, action on removing the special exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (SDA) for religious schools quickly stalled. Following a number of private members’ bills, a range of amendments and two Senate inquiries, it became clear the Coalition government wanted religious schools to retain some special exemptions.

In a Senate committee report in February, Coalition senators insisted the matter of religious school exemptions from the SDA be referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission.

To date, no referral has been made. And given the few parliament sitting days scheduled before the federal election, it appears this issue will fall to the next parliament to resolve.

The Coalition has also announced a number of initiatives to boost protections of religious freedom following the release of the long-awaited Ruddock Religious Freedom Review in December.




Read more:
Why Australia needs a Religious Discrimination Act


Contrary to the panel’s recommendation, Morrison said the government would appoint a religious freedom commissioner to the Australian Human Rights Commission. He also said he wanted to pass a Religious Discrimination Act before the next federal election, but the government has not provided any details on what form such a statute might take.

While the Liberal Party’s election policies have yet to be released, it is safe to assume the Coalition would seek to implement all the proposals announced in response to the Ruddock report if re-elected.

What about Labor?

If Labor wins the May election, it will feel pressure to follow through on removing exemptions for religious schools in the SDA, as it has committed to doing.

Labor has also indicated it supports enacting a federal law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs, but it needs to see the details of such a proposal before committing to it.


Freedom of speech

Katharine Gelber, Professor of Politics and Public Policy, The University of Queensland

Freedom of speech has become a prominent topic in public debate in recent years. One trigger was the 2017 marriage equality survey. During the campaign, the Australian Christian Lobby argued that marriage equality would “take away” people’s right to free speech and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott insisted that a “no” vote was essential, “if you’re worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech”.

A second trigger was the 2017 parliamentary inquiry into freedom of speech, which raised the question of whether the wording of the racial vilification provision in federal law (Section 18C) should be changed, and whether the procedures under which complaints are dealt with by the Australian Human Rights Commission should be altered. Subsequent attempts to change the text of Section 18C were unsuccessful.




Read more:
Free speech: would removing Section 18C really give us the right to be bigots?


What has received far less media attention, though, are the multiple ways in which the Coalition has undermined free speech while in government. The Coalition appears to be a friend of free speech only when it suits them.

The list includes extensive laws that restrict free speech far more than is necessary for legitimate national security purposes.

These include counter-terrorism laws prohibiting the unauthorised disclosure of information that does not have a public interest exemption. Another new law ostensibly designed to prevent foreign interference in Australian affairs exposes journalists and charities to risk of prosecution.

In addition, the Coalition included secrecy provisions in the 2015 Border Force Act intended to prevent people who work in offshore detention centres from disclosing information. The legislation was so draconian, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants cancelled a planned visit to Australia in September 2015 on the grounds it would prevent him from doing his work. Eventually, in the face of a High Court challenge in 2017, the government removed the provisions.

What about Labor?

Labor’s position on free speech is less clearly stated. On the one hand, it has a record of support for national security laws that restrict free speech. However, Labor takes a different stance from the Coalition on anti-vilification laws, which it defends as narrow, valid restrictions that prevent racism, bigotry and discrimination.

Perhaps the biggest shift in public discourse around free speech has been the degree to which politicians from One Nation, Katter’s Australian Party and the United Australia Party, as well as some from the Coalition, have been emboldened to promote harmful stereotypes of migrants, asylum seekers, LBGTQI and other marginalised groups.

Indeed, in some quarters, political rhetoric has become so caustic that it has separated informed public debate from evidence and reasoning, and undermined core democratic institutions.

If Labor wins the election, its biggest challenge will be to provide the leadership to shift public discourse away from this and facilitate a political culture that embraces diversity and provides free speech to as many people as possible.


Social security and welfare

Peter Whiteford, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Social security and welfare remains the largest component of government spending. In the latest budget released by the Coalition government, spending is projected to increase from A$180 billion in 2019-20 to just over A$200 billion in 2022-23. This represents a slight fall, however, from 36.0% of total spending to 35.8%.

Compared to previous budgets, there are no major proposed cutbacks in assistance. The Coalition government has attempted to slash funding for social security and welfare in its past six budgets, with little success.

There are some welcome initiatives set out in the budget, including a commitment of A$328 million over four years to the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children, and a commitment of A$527.9 million over five years to establish the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.




Read more:
Future budgets are going to have to spend more on welfare, which is fine. It’s spending on us


But the budget also extended the government’s Cashless Debit Card trials, which have courted controversy. The Australian Council of Social Service has argued the card curtails people’s freedoms and hasn’t resulted in any positive effects. This followed an Australian National Audit Office report, which concluded that the card had major flaws and it was difficult to see where social harm had been reduced due to a “lack of robustness in data collection.”

The Coalition government has attempted to play up its social security and welfare successes in recent years, pointing to the fact that the proportion of the working-age population receiving income support is at its lowest level since the early 1980s.

But this appears to be the result of fewer people applying for benefits rather than people moving off benefits more rapidly, as has been claimed. It also reflects a somewhat stronger labour market in recent years and changes introduced to the Parenting Payment Single and Disability Support Pension programs under the Rudd/Gillard governments.

What about Labor?

Whoever wins the next election will face pressure to further increase welfare and social security spending as the National Disability Insurance Scheme ramps up and the Aged Care Royal Commission releases its findings. The recent report by the Parliamentary Budget Office projects that real spending on aged care will increase by around A$16 billion over the next decade as a result of Australia’s rapidly ageing population.

Newstart, the main payment for unemployed Australians, is also increasingly being seen as inadequate. It has slipped relative to pensions and wages each year because it is indexed to the slower-growing consumer price index.

Labor has promised that, if elected, it will use a “root and branch review” to look at lifting the rate of the Newstart unemployment benefit. However, it is not just Newstart that is inadequate, but support for single parents and families with children, which has been cut by both major parties over the last 15 years.The Conversation

Anja Hilkemeijer, Lecturer in Law, University of Tasmania; Amy Maguire, Associate professor, University of Newcastle; Katharine Gelber, Professor of Politics and Public Policy, The University of Queensland, and Peter Whiteford, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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

Two ways to fund NSW election promises as property prices crash



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Previous NSW election promises were easily funded. Not so this time.
Shutterstock

Gareth Bryant, University of Sydney and Frank Stilwell, University of Sydney

State elections are always about spending promises, but this time not much is being said about how they will be funded.

Last minute costings on individual announcements tend to rely on the general presumption that the state economy will keep growing and somehow produce the needed revenue.

This is evident in the costings released by the NSW Parliamentary Budget Office, which show that new spending promises from both major parties exceed new revenue promises.

The Labor Party has managed to find some new revenue through increased taxes on luxury cars, boats and vacant properties, while the Coalition has unveiled no new revenue initiatives at all.

While the property market has been climbing this needn’t have mattered that much. But for the past 20 months Sydney prices have been falling. Projected stamp duty revenues are being repeatedly revised downwards. The latest wipes A$9.5 billion off what was expected at the time of the 2017 budget.


NSW state revenue by type, A$ billion


University of Sydney Policy Lab

Austerity, or an alternative?

It’s looking as if the incoming NSW government will need to moderate spending including spending on essential services and infrastructure, but there might be a way out.

Today, we published a new report for the Sydney Policy Lab outlining two ways in which the NSW government can ready its budget for a post-housing boom economy.

Politicians of all parties tell us that fiscal rules create binding constraints for state governments and they are right.

But there are imaginative ways to strengthen state finances and to interpret those constraints.

Alternative 1: taxing residential land

Although land used for holiday homes and rental properties faces land tax, land used for owner-occupied housing is exempt in NSW, meaning as much as A$1 trillion of land is exempt.

It is a source of wealth – one of the few covered by state tax powers – that the budget can no longer afford to ignore.

Extending NSW land tax to owner-occupied residences with safeguards could fund much of the state’s needed service and infrastructure spending and wind back the outsized reliance on stamp duty.

With so many people locked out of home ownership altogether, it would make the tax system fairer.

Alternative 2: redefining ‘investment’

Under NSW budget rules spending on services is defined as cost that needs to be matched by immediate revenue. Spending on infrastructure, often on infrastructure which will later be privatised, is defined as an investment, meaning it doens’t have to be matched by immediate revenue.

It is why there is talk about a squeeze on services in the midst of record spending on infrastructure.

There’s room to change those definitions.

While there are good macroeconomic and budgetary reasons to differentiate day to day spending from investments, much of what is defined as day to day spending is in fact an investment.

There’s no reason why the state’s power to borrow to invest in infrastructure couldn’t also be used to invest in public services like health and education. With a change of rules, governments could borrow to invest in nurses and teachers at interest rates currently reserved for toll roads.

First steps

A practical starting point would be to connect spending on public services to the savings they create in other parts of the state budget, and account for this as the return on the investment.

As an example, “justice reinvestment” could fund programs aimed at reducing Indigenous incarceration out of the savings those programs would eventually deliver in other areas.

The redefinition would remove the present bias towards programs that build only physical infrastructure that has to be paid for later with tolls or privatisations.

Both ideas could help whichever party or parties form government after Saturday’s election, and help NSW. Without them, budgeting will become more difficult.




Read more:
NSW election likely to be close, and Mark Latham will win an upper house seat


The Conversation


Gareth Bryant, Lecturer in Political Economy, University of Sydney and Frank Stilwell, Emeritus Professor, Department of Political Economy, University of Sydney

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

Morrison promises $78 million for combatting domestic violence


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is committing A$78 million to protect women and children against domestic violence, in a Monday speech with the theme of “Keeping Australians safe and secure”.

The money includes $60 million – over the next three years – in grants for organisations to provide emergency accommodation for those escaping family violence.

The government says the program will build up to 450 places and help up to 6,500 people annually. It will be structured to get contributions from other levels of government and from private sources.

The other $18 million will go to the Keeping Women Safe in their Homes program, which provides security upgrades and safety planning for women and children who need protection.

“We can’t ask women and children to leave dangerous homes if they have no place to go. And where it is safe, women and children survivors should be helped to remain in their homes and communities,” Morrison says in his speech, a text of which was released ahead of delivery.

He foreshadows more initiatives to deal with what has come to be a central issue for the Australian community. “We have also listened to the front-line workers and survivors throughout the consultations this past year.

“That is why one focus of our measures to be announced soon will be on prevention – on changing attitudes to violence, and on helping those who think violence is an option to stop,” he says.

In his wide-ranging speech covering foreign, local and personal security issues and risks, Morrison says the government has shown “the mettle to make the right calls on our nation’s security”, including by

  • repairing Australia’s borders
  • investing in the defence forces
  • deporting violent criminals
  • taking on domestic violence
  • disrupting terrorist attacks, and
  • restoring powers and resources to police, security and intelligence agencies.

Morrison says the government’s plan to keep people safe and secure “builds on our achievements and addresses the new and emerging threats we face as a country, as communities, families and individuals.

“These threats are both external and domestic.”

He presents a long list: “Regional tensions between the world’s great powers; heightened global instability; stiff headwinds facing the global economy; foreign interference; radical Islamist terrorism; people smuggling; natural disasters; organised crime; money laundering; biosecurity hazards; cybersecurity; the evil ice trade; violence against women on our streets; online predators and scammers; cyber-bullying of our children and elder abuse”.

Our plans and actions are designed to degrade, disrupt and destroy the impact of these threats to our nation’s security.

The government sees the issue of security, in various forms, as a political strength for it. The security plan follows Morrison’s recent speech outlining an economic plan including a commitment to the creation of 1.25 million jobs over five years.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Victoria votes: your guide to the 2018 election health promises



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There are major differences – plus a few similarities – between the health promises from Labor, the Coalition and the Greens.
rawpixel/unsplash

Vijaya Sundararajan, La Trobe University; Alan Shiell, La Trobe University; Hassan Vally, La Trobe University, and Steven Lewis, University of Saskatchewan

With health care spending accounting for 30% of the Victorian budget, or A$20 billion, health is a major policy area for the Victorian election on Saturday.

While the Commonwealth pays for general practice, private specialists, pharmaceutical benefits and aged care, the states are responsible for running hospitals, community health services and ambulance services. They also want to keep Victorians healthy and out of hospital.

This election campaign, Labor has committed $4.3 billion to health; the Coalition has promised $1.3 billion, and the Greens have pledged $1.35 billion. Much of the difference comes down to infrastructure spending.




Read more:
Waiting for better care: why Australia’s hospitals and health care is failing


Labor

Labor’s health policy emphasises its commitment to a public health system. A re-elected Labor government would build a new hospital in the western Melbourne suburb of Footscray ($1.5 billion) and spend $1.2 billion on capital improvements to other hospitals in outer suburban Melbourne and regional areas.

Labor’s hospital package also includes $675 million for ten new or upgraded community hospitals. These health services would provide day surgeries, diagnostic imaging and specialist outpatients, in addition to admitted and urgent care.

The remainder of nearly A$1 billion goes to a range of other promises, including:

The boost in hospital funding is likely to enhance care in the hospital catchment areas and ease the pressure on surrounding hospitals. Improved nurse-to-patient ratios will likely improve the safety and quality of care in the state’s emergency departments and hospital wards.




Read more:
Why do we wait so long in hospital emergency departments and for elective surgery?


Is it necessary to commit $3.3 billion to hospitals, presumably on top of current levels of funding?

Much of this goes to capital improvements. Without such investments now, the existing hospital capacity in and around Melbourne will not be able to keep up. But it’s unclear where the money will come from to run these extra hospitals and hospital expansions. It’s hoped that operating costs will not then be taken from existing hospitals.

Coalition

The Coalition’s funding commitments are spread across the key sectors of health including:

There is evidence for much of the Coalition’s commitments. In particular, palliative care has been shown in trials to not only improve quality of life, but also, in some cancers, survival.




Read more:
Assisted dying is one thing, but governments must ensure palliative care is available to all who need it


Improving access to community care for disadvantaged groups and in rural and regional areas has the potential to improve the management of chronic disease, such as asthma and diabetes, leading to better health in the long term.

Greens

The Greens’ platform is anchored in a social determinants of health and a population health approach that conceives of health more explicitly as an outcome of broader social and economic conditions.




Read more:
Want to improve the nation’s health? Start by reducing inequalities and improving living conditions


The Victorian Greens party’s main priorities are:

The Greens’ funding for free ambulance services would ensure nobody misses out on timely care for traumatic injuries and heart attacks because they don’t have ambulance cover. A similar program operates in Queensland.

The Greens have a well-developed policy, conceiving of health and well-being broadly. The package includes substantial commitments to mental health, community health care and dental health.

But there is no extra funding for hospitals beyond the current budget.

Comparing the three parties

The biggest difference in the health funding commitments between the three parties is Labor’s focus on hospital infrastructure funding (which accounts for 78% of its health promises). It’s not clear whether the Coalition and the Greens oppose the bulk of Labor’s hospital commitments or are simply silent.

Although this level of funding to hospitals may seem like an inordinate amount, it’s important to consider the role of modern hospitals. They have become the providers of not only admitted care, but emergency care (including GP-type visits), specialist care in outpatient clinics, chronic disease management and palliative care.

When this hospital infrastructure funding is taken out of consideration, the three parties are hard to distinguish. Labor is promising $960 million, Coalition is pledging $816 million and the Greens have committed $1.3 billion to a range of community, mental health, ambulance, chronic disease and prevention services.




Read more:
If we’re to have another inquiry into mental health, it should look at why the others have been ignored


The most evident gaps are Labor’s lack of funding for prevention and innovation, and the Greens’ lack of extra hospital capital funding.

A change to the Coalition would likely mean less hospital funding, particularly for a new Footscray hospital, but significant funding for community palliative care services and hospital in the home.

A more comprehensive list of the three parties’ election health promises is available on the Victorian Healthcare Association’s Election Alert.The Conversation

Vijaya Sundararajan, Professor and Head of Department, Public Health, La Trobe University; Alan Shiell, Professor of Health Economics, La Trobe University; Hassan Vally, Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology, La Trobe University, and Steven Lewis, Adjunct Professor at Simon Fraser University and Clinical Professor, University of Saskatchewan

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

Labor is making big promises for a Pacific development bank, but questions remain



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Locals in Kiribati building a sea wall to protect the low-lying Pacific island from rising sea waters.
Elise Scott/AAP

Matthew Dornan, Australian National University

This week, Opposition leader Bill Shorten used a major foreign policy speech at the Lowy Institute to announce that, if elected, a future Labor government would establish an infrastructure investment bank for the Pacific islands.

The announcement comes at a time of increased public scrutiny of Australian aid to the Pacific, driven by concerns over China’s heightened presence in the region. Many have argued that Australia’s “benign neglect” of the region has led Pacific governments to seek more assistance from China.




Read more:
Soft power goes hard: China’s economic interest in the Pacific comes with strings attached


Nowhere is this more evident than in infrastructure. China is believed to have a comparative advantage over Australia in infrastructure lending in the region, given its own rapid development in recent years. Infrastructure lending is also at the heart of the new China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, or AIIB.

Australian aid, by comparison, has been criticised for focusing too heavily on governance projects instead of infrastructure investments. The Vanuatu government, for instance, has justified the construction of a China-funded wharf and roads by saying:

No donor was willing [to] help provide assistance on these projects although the economic benefits [are] huge.

A shift in Labor policy

Though not entirely a surprise, Shorten’s announcement does represent a change in Labor’s approach to aid. In February, Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong gave a speech outlining Labor’s future aid policy that focused on health, education, gender and climate change, but made no mention of infrastructure. Then, in July, she shifted tone, calling for greater emphasis on infrastructure in the Pacific.

The Coalition has also responded to rising Chinese influence in the region, committing to the construction of underseas internet cables to the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea to head off earlier bids by Chinese companies.

A dilapidated road in Vanua Levu, Fiji.
Matthew Dornan, Author provided

Australia has for many years effectively delegated infrastructure lending to multinational development banks: the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB). Shorten is now flagging that under a Labor government, Australia will itself provide concessional loans for projects like this on a bilateral basis.




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None of this is to suggest that Australia has been completely absent from the infrastructure sector in the past, though its focus has traditionally been stronger in other areas, such as education and disability projects.

Australia has also invested heavily in “soft” infrastructure in the Pacific, or the technical and managerial expertise and institutions needed to manage new infrastructure projects, such as bridges, roads and ports.

Such support is important, even if outcomes are difficult to measure. Without managerial or technical expertise, as well as appropriate institutions, infrastructure projects often fall into disrepair. A stark example is the tragic account of the decline of a village in Papua New Guinea following the deterioration of its airstrip.

A new reliance on concessional loans

Australian aid has been used on occasion for infrastructure projects in the Pacific, mainly through grants to complement World Bank and ADB loans. But Australia has not been in the business of providing its own loans for infrastructure development. That much is clear. And in this respect, Shorten’s announcement is significant.

If Australia is determined to move more firmly into the infrastructure game to counter Chinese lending in the region, it makes sense to fund such projects with loans.

Grants are ill-suited for infrastructure projects for which there is a strong commercial case (such as the Solomon Islands internet cable). They distort market incentives and divert scarce aid resources away from other priorities.




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There are clearly potential benefits for the region from a new infrastructure bank. The Pacific suffers from an enormous infrastructure deficit, particularly in remote rural areas. There is also considerable evidence that points to the importance of infrastructure for economic development and poverty alleviation.

China Exim Bank loans, though concessional, are generally not great value for money, with higher interest rates and shorter repayment periods than those offered by other lenders, including presumably any new Australian infrastructure bank.

A large number of unanswered questions

Having said that, we should put the hubris in Shorten’s speech to one side. It makes no sense to aspire, as he said, for Australia to become the Pacific’s “partner of choice” for infrastructure projects. We can only finance a small fraction of the region’s needs, and Pacific nations will have good reason to look to other infrastructure providers, such as China. We’re not that special.

Turning from rhetoric to policy, more detail is needed before we can determine conclusively whether such a bank would be positive for the region. Shorten’s speech only indicated that Labor would:

…actively facilitate concessional loans and financing for investment in these vital, nation-building projects through a government-backed infrastructure investment bank.

That leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

Should the new bank lend to governments or the private sector, or both? To what extent will projects be selected on the basis of rigorous benefit cost analysis? How will “bankable” projects be identified? Will loans be available to all Pacific island countries, including those currently in debt distress? Will concessional loans come at the expense of existing aid priorities, including Australian funding for “soft” infrastructure?

The answers to such questions are important. After all, it is Australia’s overall approach towards infrastructure that will ultimately drive long-term impacts.The Conversation

Matthew Dornan, Research Fellow, Australian National University

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

As Pakistan’s PM, Imran Khan must embrace compromise. Can he deliver on his promises?


Samina Yasmeen, University of Western Australia

Once a global cricket star, Imran Khan is now poised to become Pakistan’s new prime minister. But he’s likely to find that running a country is much more difficult than winning the vote; the July election that brought him to power has also left his party short of a clear parliamentary majority.

Forced to form a coalition in parliament, Khan will have to compromise if he’s to have any hope of tackling key issues in Pakistan – myriad economic, environmental, foreign policy and social welfare challenges – while trying to deliver on his vision for “naya Pakistan” (new Pakistan).




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Rise to power

Khan formed his political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), in 1996 and persevered for years to muster support for his vision for “naya Pakistan”. His electoral success is also partly explained by his popularity as the cricket captain who won the World Cup for Pakistan in 1992.

In a country that feverishly loves cricket, Khan creatively used “cricket-speak” in his campaigning and employed a cricket bat as his electoral symbol. But his success has predominantly resulted from pre-polling orchestration and support from the military, which provided him space for electioneering while denying similar opportunities for other contestants. In other words, he has learnt the art of politics.

Khan’s chief rival was the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose administration was toppled over corruption allegations. When the nation’s top court declared him ineligible to hold public office – a move Sharif decried as “judicial martial law” – his party was left weakened. Khan’s party, the PTI, reaped the benefits.

Khan used the cricket bat symbol in his election material.
Aine Moorad / Shutterstock.com

Following the July vote, the PTI secured 116 of the 270 seats contested in the National Assembly, with rival parties PML-N and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) securing only 64 and 43 seats, respectively.

Falling short of a clear majority, Khan’s PTI party has opted for coalition politics. It has joined forces with independently elected representatives and a wide variety of political parties, including the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) and the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP).

The coalition is also poised to form three of the four provincial governments: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), Balochistan and Punjab. Of these, Punjab is the jewel in the crown, with half of the country’s 208 million people, and where the PML-N has lost its traditional power base to the PTI. But ensuring the sustainability of coalition government at provincial level remains a challenge, especially as local tensions intersect with the eternal strain between central and regional governments.

The coalition is also poised to form three of the four provincial governments: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), Balochistan and Punjab.
Shutterstock

Foriegn policy woes and domestic tensions

In the foreign policy arena, Pakistan faces mounting US pressure and has been placed on the “grey list” of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body aimed at combating money laundering and terrorist financing.

The military has increasingly sought to control Pakistan’s foreign policy, especially its relationships with India, Afghanistan, the US, Iran and the Gulf States. We shouldn’t expect huge change on that front. Judging by the PTI manifesto and Khan’s first post-election address, the new government will continue to operate within the parameters established by the military.

Khan’s PTI party faces domestic economic woes, too. Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves have dwindled from US$17.5 billion in April to US$9.66 billion in June. Economic growth has slowed, the rupee has been devalued and Pakistan is seeking a US$12 billion bailout package from the International Monetary Fund.

https://d3fy651gv2fhd3.cloudfront.net/embed/?s=pakistanforexcres&v=201806291527v&d1=20170101&d2=20181231&h=300&w=600

Can Khan deliver?

Khan acknowledges these challenges, and has proffered solutions. He’s talked about learning from China the art of rapidly lifting people out of poverty and promised to cut government spending.

But the capacity of the government to deliver on these promises cannot be guaranteed. Traditionally, Pakistan’s regional and national leaders have used their local influence to sustain their respective power bases at the cost of ordinary citizens. Khan’s PTI party has engaged a number of these “electables” for its electoral success, but such people are unlikely to embrace change beyond a certain level.

The biggest challenge remains the tide of rising expectations in Pakistan. Khan says his vision of “naya Pakistan” means combating corruption and nepotism, promoting merit-based decisions at all levels, increasing accountability and boosting access to education and health services.

Such aspirations are noble, but he will need more than five years to achieve all this in a country in which the powerful are privileged and the powerless usually ignored.

This is not to suggest that nothing can or will change in Pakistan.

But change may be so slow that young people (who make up 64% of the population) could grow increasingly disillusioned.

Pakistan’s political history may repeat itself. Former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (who was also the father of another Pakistani leader, Benazir Bhutto) similarly heightened expectations among the poor in the 1960s with a suite of promises. His inability to deliver on them pushed the country towards 11 years of military rule.




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The growing power of Pakistan’s religious groups is an even bigger challenge. Traditional Islamist parties have not fared well in the elections. But one such party, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), secured 2.2 million votes, in contrast to the 6.8 million votes for the left-leaning Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), led by Benazir Bhutto’s son Bilawal.

If PTI fails to deliver on Khan’s promise of a “new Pakistan”, the TLP or other militant outfits could entice more young people to join their cause.

The ConversationAfter the celebrations for Khan’s victory are over, we must be realistic about the likelihood for rapid change in Pakistan.

Samina Yasmeen, Director of Centre for Muslim States and Societies, University of Western Australia

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

Shorten promises to reverse budget cut to the ABC


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Bill Shorten has moved to make the ABC an election issue, promising to reverse the Turnbull government’s $83.7 million budget cut and to guarantee funding certainty over the broadcaster’s next budget cycle.

Ahead of appearing on the ABC’s Q&A program, Shorten and frontbench colleagues declared the Coalition had “launched the biggest attack on the ABC in a generation”.

In recent months Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has sent a stream of complaints to the ABC about stories, both online and on air, contesting facts and interpretations. The Prime Minister’s Office has also complained. Government frontbenchers and backbenchers frequently make cracks at or about the ABC, echoing a theme of many conservative commentators.

The ABC is also under constant attack from News Corp, driven by both ideology and commercial interests. The government has an inquiry underway into the ABC’s competitive neutrality, which was part of a deal with Pauline Hanson but also important in the context of News Corp’s argument about the government-funded ABC encroaching on financially strapped commercial media.

When the government made the $84 million budget cut – which took the form of a freeze to indexation – Treasurer Scott Morrison said “everyone has to live within their means”. Managing director Michelle Guthrie said that “the decision will make it very difficult for the ABC to meet its charter requirements and audience expectations.”

In a statement Shorten, communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland and regional communications spokesman Stephen Jones said Labor’s commitment would ensure the ABC could meet its charter requirements, safeguard jobs, adapt to the digital environment “and maintain content and services that Australians trust and rely on”.

They said the Coalition since 2014 had “overseen $282 million in cuts to the ABC that has seen 800 jobs lost and a drop in Australian content and services”.

“Labor will stand up for the ABC and fight against the conservatives’ ideological war against our public broadcaster,” the statement said.

The promised investment “demonstrates Labor’s commitment to the ABC’s independence and to maintain the ABC as our comprehensive national broadcaster.

“Now, more than ever, Australians need the ABC – our strong, trusted and independent public broadcaster.

The Conversation“At a time when too many Australians feel disengaged from their democracy and distrustful of their representatives, Labor wants to restore trust and faith in our institutions. Part of restoring trust is is supporting a healthy public interest media sector, and protecting that trusted institution – the ABC”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Australian Politics: 1 December 2014 – Broken Promises