The UK Labour Party wants to abolish private schools – could we do that in Australia?



Britain’s Eton College charges charges annual fees of more than £40,000.
from shutterstock.com

Paul Kidson, University of Wollongong

The UK’s Labour Party recently voted in a policy to effectively abolish private schools and integrate them into the state system.

This is a courageous move designed to redress social inequity – many of those working in the top levels of the UK government were educated in private schools. Two of Britain’s three most recent prime ministers went to the prestigious Eton College, which charges annual fees of more than £40,000.

The UK opposition party’s plan will likely warm the hearts of similarly minded Australians. Many of the same arguments about educational inequality have been floated in Australia. Many individuals and organisations have also, for years, been calling for the government to stop funding non-government schools.




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But implementing a policy in Australia like that proposed in the UK would prove very difficult. For one thing, it’s a matter of numbers. Only 5% of the United Kingdom’s students go to a private school. The challenges are magnified in Australia where nearly 15% of students are enrolled in independent schools and nearly 20% in Catholic parish schools.

But beyond that, Australia’s complex set of school governance structures would make such a move very unlikely to succeed.

Eight education systems

Under UK Labour’s proposal, if it took office, private schools would lose their charitable status and any other public subsidies or tax breaks. Their endowments, investments and properties would be “redistributed democratically and fairly across the country’s educational institutions”.

For Australia to do the same, at the outset, it would be a constitutional issue. The Australian Constitution empowers states and territories to provide school education, thus creating eight different education systems. For Australia to abolish private schools like that proposed in the UK, a choice from three possible processes would need to occur to get around this issue.

First, Australia could change the Constitution. Second, all states and territories could voluntarily cede their powers for schooling back to the Commonwealth. Or third, each state and territory government could agree to enact the policy in its own jurisdiction.

Only eight of the proposed 44 changes to the Australian Constitution have been agreed to since Federation. And given the political territorialism that exists between states and territories, it is hard to imagine any of these solutions being implemented.

Assuming one of the above could be enacted, taking over existing non-government schools would be further complicated by the diverse nature of school governance structures.

Australia’s different school governance structures would make it almost impossible to cede all private education to the Commonwealth.
from shutterstock.com

In addition to being registered with their relevant state or territory government authority, more than 1,000 non-government primary and secondary schools are registered with the Australian Not-for-profit Charities Commission.

This means there are no “owners” who financially gain from operating the school. Financial surpluses are not distributed to shareholders but must be reinvested in the school.

For a government to take over a not-for-profit charity in such a way would cause extreme anxiety to the thousands of community organisations which also exist under this legal structure.




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Another group of non-government schools are governed by church authorities. A school such as William Clarke College in Sydney’s north-west, for instance, is governed by an ordinance of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney whose own authority is derived from state legislation. A smaller number of schools, such as Newington College in NSW or the eight Queensland Grammar Schools, are governed directly through acts of parliament.

To absorb these schools into one government system would require a change to a range of legislation covering charitable and religious organisations. Given various state and territory governments can’t even agree on the age students should start school, achieving consistency in the legislative realm seems remote.

We should keep working to reduce inequality

Advocates of private schooling in the UK have hit back at Labour’s proposal, indicating lengthy, and costly, legal challenges. These could range from parents’ rights to make choices for their childrens’ development (enshrined in Article 18 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) through to property and charitable trust laws.

Resistance to the proposed policy change from the UK Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (that describes itself as an association of heads of “some of the world’s leading independent schools”) is already fierce and suggests the same would likely be the case in Australia.

One consequence of inaction is growing inequity. Successful education systems prioritise equity and quality. Analysis of social disadvantage by the OECD found more than 52% of Australian disadvantaged students are enrolled in disadvantaged schools. This is compared to the OECD average of 48% and 45% in the UK (world leaders are Nordic countries at an average of 43%).

Australian analysis also highlights a growing concentration of advantaged students are already in educationally advantaged schools.

Creating a socially and politically just education system is a worthy objective. But it’s not just a public-private issue.

Segmented schooling also exists in some Australian government schooling jurisdictions. For example, NSW has a highly stratified government education system which includes single-sex schools and various selective schools (academic, performing arts, sports and technology schools).

This creates enrolment interest from families living outside local communities, exacerbating infrastructure pressures in government schools. And some of NSW’s selective schools have concentrations of students who are far wealthier than in some private schools.




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The debate over what our society wants from schooling is about equitable opportunities for everyone. The policy outlined by the UK’s Labour Party raises fundamental questions about the role and process of education in society. There seems value to ask the same for Australia.The Conversation

Paul Kidson, Lecturer in Educational Leadership, University of Wollongong

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

Hand sanitisers in public won’t wipe out the flu but they might help reduce its spread



It’s quicker to use hand sanitiser than soap and water, which means people might be more likely to use it.
Shutterstock

Trent Yarwood, The University of Queensland

This year’s flu season is off to an early start, with 144,000 confirmed cases so far in 2019. That’s more than twice as many confirmed cases of the flu than for all of 2018 (58,000), and almost as many as the 2017 horror flu season (251,000).

The number of cases so far this year, including more than 231 deaths nationwide, led the NSW opposition health spokesperson to call for hand sanitisers in public spaces to help slow the spread.




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Influenza spreads via droplets from coughing and sneezing, which is why it’s a good idea to catch your cough. But coughing into your hand can leave flu virus on your hands, which is why we recommend coughing into your elbow or sleeve and washing your hands afterwards.

Along with getting vaccinated and staying home if you’re sick, washing your hands is the best defence against getting the flu.

If the government can make this easier by providing hand sanitisers in public places, it may be worth the investment. It won’t solve our flu problem but it might be an important tool in the toolbox of measures to reduce its spread.

What does the research say?

The scientific literature on hand sanitisers isn’t so clear-cut.

A 2019 study in university colleges showed the use of hand hygiene and face masks didn’t protect against flu any better than mask use alone. But unlike some other countries, Australia doesn’t have a strong habit of mask use when people are unwell, so this may not be very helpful to us.

A 2014 study in New Zealand schools showed that providing sanitiser didn’t reduce the rate of absenteeism from school either.

While these studies make it sound like hand sanitiser is not very effective, that’s not the end of the story.

Other studies show a positive effect – a 16% reduction in respiratory illness in one and a 21% reduction in another. For some infections, the evidence is even stronger – for example, gastroenteritis, most of which is also viral.

However, few of these studies showing the benefits of hand sanitisers were done during a large disease outbreak, which means the potential benefit may be even greater.

Not all influenza-like illness is caused by the flu – it can be other viruses as well, so the estimates are a bit rubbery at best. Hand sanitiser trials which look at influenza-like illness or respiratory infections generally are more likely to show benefits than those that just look for influenza – meaning good hand hygiene prevents other infections as well.

If you have the flu, the best place to be is at home.
Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock

Lessons from hospitals

Although preventing infection in hospitals is not the same as doing it in the community, there are two important lessons from hospital infection control.

First, in hospital hand-hygiene programs, hand sanitiser is more effective than soap-and-water hand-washing, provided your hands aren’t visibly dirty.

This is partly because of the rapid effect of the alcohol, but mostly because it’s much quicker and therefore more likely that staff will use it.




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The second important point from hand hygiene and other areas of hospital infection control is that introducing a “bundle” of strategies usually reduces healthcare-associated infection rates – even when the individual parts of these bundles don’t show benefits alone.

This could be because the individual effect sizes are too small, or that change in practice highlights a “safety culture”.

Sanitisers can be one of many strategies

Installing hand rub in public areas won’t solve this year’s flu outbreak by itself. But it can be part of a bundle of strategies – as long as the dispensers are kept topped up.

And it’s certainly a safe intervention – despite some desperate hysteria about the safety of hand gels, or the risk of people drinking them, there is little evidence this actually occurs in reality.

Hand sanitiser is also likely to be easier to implement than fixing the much larger social problem of Australians going to work when they’re sick. This may be because of inadequate sick leave, concerns about “letting the team down”, or other logistical problems such as child-care.

Get your flu vaccine – even now it’s still not too late – and get it for your kids as well, for their sake as well as your own.

Remember to stay home if you’re unwell, and always to cough into your sleeve. And don’t forget to clean your hands – even if the government doesn’t end up making it easier for you.




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The Conversation


Trent Yarwood, Infectious Diseases Physician, Senior Lecturer, James Cook University and, The University of Queensland

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

To protect press freedom, we need more public outrage – and an overhaul of our laws



This week’s police raids have forced us to think again about the role of the media in a democracy.
David Gray/AAP

Peter Greste, The University of Queensland

A few days ago, Waleed Aly asked a not-so-rhetorical question in The Sydney Morning Herald. He wondered how many Australians were worried about the fact that the Australian Federal Police had spent a good portion of this week raiding the offices and homes of journalists who’ve published stories clearly in the public interest.

His conclusion? Not many. He went on to argue that it is because we have developed a culture of accepting excessive state power, with no real thought about the consequences for civil liberties or the functioning of our democracy.

Sadly, I would have to agree with Aly, but as with so many surveys, the answer you get depends on the question you ask.

What if we asked, “Hands up who feels comfortable with relying on the Facebook posts and Twitter feeds of our politicians and departmental spokespeople for information about what our government is up to? Who thinks that is a good way to run a democracy?” Then, I bet you’d get a very different answer.




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I agree that Australian media are hardly trusted by the public, but I am also convinced that most Australians recognise the need for some kind of independent watchdog keeping track of politicians and the government on our behalf. It might be imperfect and messy, but a free press has performed that role well enough to keep us broadly on track for much of our history.

Earlier this week, my colleague and fellow University of Queensland researcher Rebecca Ananian-Welsh laid out the intricate web of national security laws passed in recent years that collectively serve to straight-jacket journalists and threaten legitimate whistle-blowing.

In a number of research projects, we have been looking at both these laws and their impact on reporting, and while we still have a long way to go, the early results suggest something deeply troubling.

While they may have helped shore up national security, the laws have also led to a net loss of transparency and accountability. It has become harder for journalists to reach and protect sources and keep track of wrong-doing by government officials. It has also become harder for them to safely publish in the public interest without risking long years in prison or cripplingly expensive and traumatic court cases.




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An overhaul of Australia’s legal landscape

My organisation, the Alliance for Journalists Freedom, has published a white paper that offers a better way of balancing those two crucial elements of our democracy – national security and press freedom.

The most important of its seven recommendations is a Media Freedom Act. Australia has no legal or constitutional protection for press freedom. It isn’t even formally recognised in law; the High Court has merely inferred that we have a right to “political communication.”

That needs to change. The AJF is proposing a law that would write press freedom into the DNA of our legal system. It would both prevent our legislators from unnecessarily restricting journalists from doing their jobs and give judges a benchmark they can use whenever they are adjudicating cases that deal with media freedom issues.

That alone isn’t enough though. The second recommendation in the white paper calls for changes to the national security laws themselves.

Currently, many of the current laws that Ananian-Welsh laid out in her article include a “public interest” defence for journalists. But as we have seen in this week’s raids, that does nothing to stop the AFP from trawling through journalists’ documents for sources and forcing everyone into court.




Read more:
Media raids raise questions about AFP’s power and weak protection for journalists and whistleblowers


Instead, there should be an exemption for journalists and their sources when reporting on matters of public interest.

That isn’t to suggest that journalists should be immune, though. Rather, the onus should be shifted to the authorities to show why the public interest defence should not apply. It is also important that the exemption include whistleblowers.

Beyond national security, there are a host of other laws that have contributed to a wide culture of secrecy at odds with the principles of open government.

Payouts under defamation laws now routinely run to millions, potentially destroying news organisations and chilling further investigative work. Shield laws that allow journalists to protect their sources in court are also inconsistent across states and need to be strengthened.

Suppression orders that judges use to smother reporting of certain court cases are being applied with alarming frequency and urgently need review. And whistleblower legislation needs to be strengthened to encourage and protect anybody speaking out about wrongdoing in government or elsewhere.

While the raids of the past week have been shocking, they have forced us all to think again about the role of the media in a democracy. If it leads to better legislation that both protects national security and media freedom, then some good might have come out of it after all.The Conversation

Peter Greste, Professor of Journalism and Communications, The University of Queensland

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

One-third of Australians think banks do nothing for the greater public good



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In a survey of 1,000 Australians, 35.4% agreed banking and financial institutions show ‘no leadership for the greater good’.
Shutterstock

Samuel Wilson, Swinburne University of Technology; Jason Pallant, Swinburne University of Technology, and Timothy Colin Bednall, Swinburne University of Technology

The leaders of our banks and financial institutions are seen as the most self-serving in the nation, according to a national survey undertaken by researchers at Swinburne University of Technology.

More than a third (35.4%) of respondents believe banking and financial institutions show “no leadership for the greater good”. This score is slightly worse than public perceptions of the Federal Government, substantially worse than religious institutions and significantly worse than trade unions.

The results, from a nationally representative sample of 1,000 Australians, also repudiate the Australian Banking Association’s claim a year ago that “Australians believe banks are heading in the right direction”.

And given this survey was done in December 2018, before the Banking Royal Commission had completed its work exposing misconduct in the financial services sector, it’s likely a future poll will show even greater community distrust of bankers.




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Transparency and accountability are crucial

Our findings come from the initial results of the Australian Leadership Index, a new quarterly survey from the Swinburne Business School that measures and tracks community perceptions and expectations of leadership for the greater good across 13 societal institutions.

The index won’t be officially published until later in the year. But given the important public discussion about corporate leadership in the wake of the final report of the banking royal commission, we think it’s useful to share a snapshot of our findings.


https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/fXFqO/1/


Consistent with other studies that highlight the importance of transparency and accountability to perceptions of trust, our research confirms the importance of these attributes to perceptions of leadership for the public good.

From a community perspective, leadership for the greater good occurs when leaders demonstrate high ethical standards, when they demonstrate transparency and accountability for their positive and negative impacts, and when they seek to balance the interests of multiple stakeholders, including the wider community in which their institutions are nested.

So, leadership for the greater good is reflected in what value leaders create, how they create value, and for whom they create value.

Unhappily, banking leaders are found wanting on all counts.

The importance of how value is created

But other institutions are also found wanting, with our results revealing a generalised pessimism about Australian leadership.

Our survey results shed light on where the public think leaders are failing and what the community expects of leaders and their institutions to serve the greater good.


https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/6MnTr/2/


Notably, creating economic value is not a highly regarded aspect of leadership for the greater good. This is not to say it is unimportant. But on its own it is insufficient.

What looms largest in the public mind when thinking about the greater good is the social value that institutions create, how ethically they create this value, and their transparency and accountability for positive and negative impacts.

Our research demonstrates that leadership for the greater good is as much about how leaders create value for their stakeholders — from their employees to their customers to society-at-large — as it is about what value they create and for whom they create value.

It’s not hugely complicated.

And yet, as revealed by the endless, unedifying parade of misconduct in government, business, religious, sporting and other civil society institutions, community standards and expectations are too often observed in the breach.




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In the wake of the banking royal commission, the Australian community has a golden opportunity for a thoroughgoing discussion about the leadership we need to protect and enhance the public interest.

We hope the Australian Leadership Index will contribute to that discussion, by making all our data freely accessible through a new data visualisation platform. This will enable easy tracking of how institutions are performing according to public perceptions of their impact on the public good.

Wise leaders focus on the greater good. It behoves all leaders to create this new culture of public leadership.The Conversation

Samuel Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Management, Swinburne University of Technology; Jason Pallant, Lecturer of Marketing, Swinburne University of Technology, and Timothy Colin Bednall, Senior Lecturer in Management, Fellow of the APS College of Organisational Psychologists, Swinburne University of Technology

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

Privatising WestConnex is the biggest waste of public funds for corporate gain in Australian history



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Gladys Berejiklian’s government will pay for much of WestConnex construction, give away other toll roads, guarantee annual toll increases and force motorists to use the toll road.
AAP Image/Joel Carrett

Christopher Standen, University of Sydney

The NSW government has confirmed it will sell 51% of WestConnex — the nation’s biggest road infrastructure project — to a consortium led by Transurban, the nation’s biggest toll road corporation.

NSW treasurer Dominic Perrottet described the A$9.3 billion sale to one of his party’s more generous donors as a “very strong result”.

I would describe it differently: the biggest misuse of public funds for corporate gain in Australia’s history.

Let’s examine how much public funding has been or will be sunk into WestConnex, a 33km toll road linking western Sydney with southwestern Sydney via the inner west.

Privatising Westconnex will return the NSW government 30 cents for every dollar of public money spent.
WestConnex Business Case Executive Summary

To date, the NSW and federal governments have provided grants of about $6 billion. Much of this was raised through selling revenue-generating public assets, including NSW’s electricity network.

Hiding privatisation by stealth

As well, the NSW government is bundling three publicly owned motorways into the sale: the M4 (between Parramatta and Homebush), the M5 East and the M5 Southwest (from 2026). Together, Credit Suisse values these public assets at A$9.2 billion. The government is privatising them by stealth. Leaked NSW cabinet documents suggest the Sydney Harbour Bridge will be next.

Then there is the A$1.5 billion bill for property acquisitions and the millions spent on planning, advertising, consultants, lawyers and bankers.

The government is funding extra road works to help prop up WestConnex toll revenue. It will increase the capacity of road corridors feeding into the interchanges. But it will reduce the number of traffic lanes on roads competing with WestConnex, such as Parramatta Road.




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It will also pick up the bill for building a A$2.6 billion airport connection and the complex underground interchange at Rozelle. It will even pay compensation if the latter is not completed on schedule.

To further bolster toll revenue, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian introduced a vehicle registration cashback scheme for toll-road users.

Her government has also committed to continuing the M5 Southwest toll cashback scheme. The cost of these incentives to the public purse is likely to exceed A$2 billion every ten years.

In total, I estimate the NSW government is pumping more than A$23 billion worth of cash, public assets, enabling works and incentives into WestConnex — though efforts to shield the scheme from public scrutiny mean the figure could be much higher.

Finally, as part of the deal with Transurban, the government has agreed to plough A$5.3 billion of the sale proceeds back into WestConnex. It’s recouping just A$4 billion by selling majority ownership.

This translates to a financial return of 34 cents for every dollar spent.

Government expenses and receipts.

Of course, governments don’t always spend our money with the intention of making a profit. Usually there are broader social benefits that justify the expenditure. However, past experience shows inner-city motorways do more harm than good — which is why many cities around the world are demolishing them.

Given its proximity to residential areas, WestConnex will have serious impacts on Sydney’s population. Construction is already destroying communities, harming people’s health and disrupting sleep and travel — with years more to come.

Motorists who cannot afford the new tolls on the M4 ($2,300 a year) and M5 East ($3,100 a year) will have to switch to congested suburban roads. This will mean longer journey times — especially with the removal of traffic lanes on Parramatta Road.

New tolls on existing motorways.

Those who do opt to pay the new tolls may enjoy faster journeys for a few years — until the motorways fill up again.

Costs outweigh the benefits

But this benefit will be largely cancelled out by the tolls they have to pay — with low-income households in western Sydney bearing much of the pain. As such, the ultimate beneficiary will be a corporation that pays no company tax and employs very few people.

Traffic and congestion on roads around the interchanges will increase significantly. Moreover, with tolls for trucks three times those for cars, we can expect to see them switching to suburban and residential streets — especially between peak hours and at night.

The extra traffic created by WestConnex will lead to more road trauma, traffic noise and air pollution across the Sydney metropolitan area. With unfiltered smokestacks being built next to homes and schools, more people may be at risk of heart disease, lung disease and cancer in years to come.




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Big road projects don’t really save time or boost productivity


On any measure, the WestConnex sale is not in the public interest. The billions of dollars ploughed into the scheme would have been better spent on worthwhile infrastructure or services that improve people’s lives.

Is the WestConnex acquisition a good deal for Transurban? A$9.3 billion may sound like a high price, given the past financial collapses of other Australian toll roads.

However, with the Berejiklian government agreeing to fund most of the remaining construction, giving away the M4 and M5, guaranteeing annual toll increases of at least 4%, and bending over backwards to force motorists under the toll gantries, it can only be described as a “very strong result” for the consortium, though not for taxpayers.The Conversation

Christopher Standen, Transport Analyst, University of Sydney

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

Why the ABC, and the public that trusts it, must stand firm against threats to its editorial independence



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Author Tom Keneally, actress Magda Szubanski and journalist Kerry O’Brien are among the ABC’s high-profile supporters.
AAP/Jeremy Ng

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

The people who are turning up at Save the ABC rallies around the country are defending a cultural institution they value because they trust it.

In particular, they trust its news service. Public opinion polls going back to the 1950s consistently show it is by far the most trusted in the country.

So at this time it is pertinent to look at what creates a trustworthy news service. The cornerstone is editorial independence. As opinion polls have shown time and again, where people suspect a newspaper, radio, TV or online news service of pushing some commercial or political interest, their level of trust falls.

Editorial independence does not mean giving journalists licence to broadcast or publish whatever they want or to avoid accountability for their mistakes.

It means encouraging journalists to tackle important stories regardless of what people in power might think, then backing them to make judgments based on news values and the public interest, not on irrelevant considerations such as commercial, financial or political pressure.




Read more:
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Editorial independence is hard won and under constant pressure from outside the newsroom.

In commercial media, this pressure comes from big advertisers or company bosses with financial or political interests to push.

In public-sector broadcasting, the pressure comes from the federal government, which provides the funding and has powerful means of subjecting the broadcaster to intense political pressure.

A robust editorial leadership is essential to resisting this heat. It’s a daily battle. If the senior editorial management wilts, the weakness is swiftly transmitted down the hierarchy.

Middle-level editors and the staff journalists who work to them start looking over their shoulders, tempted to take easy options and avoid possible heat. The easiest option is self-censorship, dodging sensitive stories, leaving out material or watering it down.

This is where the ABC is at a crossroads. It has as its managing director and editor-in-chief Michelle Guthrie, a person with no journalistic background and who until recently showed scant signs of understanding the impact on the ABC’s editorial independence of the Turnbull government’s relentless bullying.

Then last month she gave a speech at the Melbourne Press Club in which she said Australians regard the ABC as a great national institution and deeply resent it being used as “a punching bag by narrow political, commercial or ideological interests”.

It was a start, and now the cause has been taken up by ABC staff themselves and by the wider public in the Save the ABC movement led by ABC Friends.

It is strongly reminiscent of events at The Age nearly 30 years ago, when I was an associate editor there. Then, a Save The Age campaign showed how effective a public outpouring of support for a news outlet can be when they set out to defend one they trust.

The campaign’s origins lay in concerns among senior journalists at the paper over what might happen to its editorial independence when receivers were appointed in 1990. This followed a disastrous attempt by “young” Warwick Fairfax to privatise the Fairfax company, which was the paper’s owner.

A group of senior journalists, including the late David Wilson and the distinguished business writer Stephen Bartholomeusz, formed The Age Independence Committee. It drew up a charter of editorial independence.

The key passages stated that:

  • the proprietors acknowledge that journalists, artists and photographers must record the affairs of the city, state, nation and the world fairly, fully and regardless of any commercial, political or personal interests, including those of any proprietors, shareholders or board members

  • full editorial control of the newspaper, within a negotiated, fixed budget, is vested in the editor

  • the editor alone decides the editorial content, and controls the hiring, firing and deployment of editorial staff.

The Save The Age campaign generated tremendous public support. Former prime ministers Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam, who had barely been on speaking terms since the Dismissal 15 years earlier, joined together at the head of a public demonstration in Melbourne’s Treasury Gardens. One of the campaign slogans was “Maintain Your Age”, a pun on Whitlam’s post-Dismissal election slogan, “Maintain Your Rage”.




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The politics behind the competitive neutrality inquiry into ABC and SBS


Eventually, the receivers signed the charter and so, after some wrangling, did the new owners led by the Canadian-born newspaper baron, Conrad Black. Black is gone but the charter remains.

Like The Age in 1990, the ABC today has strong public support.

Like The Age in 1990, senior journalistic staff, most notably the Melbourne “Mornings” radio presenter Jon Faine, and former presenter of 7.30 on ABC TV, Kerry O’Brien, have shown leadership, lending their profile and authority to the cause.

But unlike The Age, the ABC does not have publicly acknowledged bipartisan political support.

Whatever Malcolm Turnbull’s private views of the ABC, and whatever the stated policy of his government, the facts are that since 2014 the Abbott and Turnbull governments have cut $338 million from the ABC’s funding, and the federal council of the Liberal Party voted last month to sell it off.

It is quite possible that when it reports in September, the present inquiry into the ABC’s competitive neutrality will provide some impetus to this proposition or propose some other ways to clip the ABC’s wings.

It is significant in the context of editorial independence that the inquiry is taking a particular interest in the ABC news service. That is the part of the ABC most detested by politicians, and on which the present government has focused its most intense pressure.

The ConversationIf editorial independence weakens, public trust will weaken too. That would make the ABC an even more attractive political target for a hostile government.

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

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

The public has a vital role to play in preventing future cyber attacks



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Numerous cyber attacks in recent years have targeted common household devices, such as routers.
Shutterstock

Sandeep Gopalan, Deakin University

Up to 400 Australian organisations may have been snared in a massive hacking incident detailed today. The attack, allegedly engineered by the Russian government, targeted millions of government and private sector machines globally via devices such as routers, switches, and firewalls.

This follows a cyber attack orchestrated by Iranian hackers revealed last month, which targeted Australian universities.




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A joint warning by the US and UK governments stated that the purpose of the most recent attack was to:

… support espionage, extract intellectual property, maintain persistent access to victim networks, and potentially lay a foundation for future offensive operations.

The Russians’ modus operandi was to target end-of-life devices and those without encryption or authentication, thereby compromising routers and network infrastructure. In doing so, they secured legitimate credentials from individuals and organisations with weak password protections in order to take control of the infrastructure.

Cyber attacks are key to modern conflict

This is not the first instance of Russian aggression.

The US city of Atlanta last month was crippled by a cyber attack and many of its systems are yet to recover – including the court system. In that case, attackers used the SamSam ransomware, which also uses network infrastructure to infiltrate IT systems, and demanded a ransom payment in Bitcoin.

Baltimore was hit by a cyber attack on March 28 that disrupted its emergency 911 calling system. Russian hackers are suspected to have taken down the French TV station TV5Monde in 2015. The US Department of State was hacked in 2015 – and Ukraine’s power grid and military infrastructure were also compromised in separate attacks in 2015 and 2017.

But Russia is not alone in committing these attacks.

In December 2017, North Korean hackers were blamed for the WannaCry attack that infected over 300,000 computers in 150 countries, affecting hospitals and banks. The UK’s National Health Service was particularly bruised and patients had to be turned away from surgical procedures and appointments.

Iran has conducted cyber attacks against numerous targets in the US, Israel, UAE, and other countries. In turn, Iran was subjected to a cyber attack on April 7 that saw computer screens display the US flag with the warning “don’t mess with our elections”.

Prosecuting hackers is ineffective

The US government has launched prosecutions against hackers – most recently against nine Iranians for the cyber attacks on universities. However, prosecutions are of limited efficacy when hackers are beyond the reach of US law enforcement and unlikely to be surrendered by their home countries.

As I have written previously, countries such as Australia and the US cannot watch passively as rogue states conduct cyber attacks against targets within our jurisdiction.




Read more:
Is counter-attack justified against a state-sponsored cyber attack? It’s a legal grey area


Strong countermeasures must be taken in self defence against the perpetrators wherever they are located. If necessary, self defence must be preemptive – any potential perpetrators must be crippled before they are able to launch strikes on organisations here.

Reactive measures are a weak deterrent, and our response should include a first strike cyber attack option where there is credible intelligence about imminent attacks. Notably, the UK has threatened to use conventional military strikes against cyber attacks. This may be an overreaction at this time.

Educating the public is essential

Numerous cyber attacks in recent years – including the current attack – have targeted common household devices, such as routers. As a result, the security of public infrastructure relies to some extent on the security practices of everyday Australians.

So, what role should the government play in ensuring Australians are securing their devices?

Unfortunately, cybersecurity isn’t as simple as administering an annual flu shot. It’s not feasible for the government to issue cybersecurity software to residents since security patches are likely to be out-of-date before the next attack.

But the government should play a role in educating the public about cyber attacks and securing public internet services.

The city of New York has provided a free app to all residents called NYC Secure that is aimed at educating people. It is also adding another layer of security to its free wifi services to protect users from downloading malicious software or accessing phishing websites. And the city of Jonesboro, Georgia is putting up a firewall to secure its services.




Read more:
Artificial intelligence cyber attacks are coming – but what does that mean?


Australian city administrations must adopt similar strategies alongside a sustained public education effort. A vigilant public is a necessary component in our collective security strategy against cyber attacks.

This cannot be achieved without significant investment. In addition to education campaigns, private organisations – banks, universities, online sellers, large employers – must be leveraged into ensuring their constituents do not enable attacks through end-of-life devices, unsupported software, poor password protection policies and lack of encryption.

Governments must also prioritise investment in their own IT and human resources infrastructure. Public sector IT talent has always lagged the private sector due to pay imbalances, and other structural reasons.

It is difficult for governments to attain parity of technical capabilities with Russian or North Korean hackers in the short term. The only solution is a strong partnership – in research, detection tools, and counter-response strategies – with the private sector.

The ConversationThe Atlanta attack illustrates the perils of inaction – an audit report shows the city was warned months in advance but did nothing. Australian cities must not make the same mistake.

Sandeep Gopalan, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic Innovation) & Professor of Law, Deakin University

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

A public broadcaster that bows to political pressure isn’t doing its job



File 20180219 116330 15nphvn.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The ABC’s independence is a global concern.
AAP/Joel Carrett

Johan Lidberg, Monash University

The ABC’s chief economics correspondent, Emma Alberici, did her job the other day. She wrote a well-researched analysis piece investigating whether the Turnbull government’s proposed company tax cuts would grow the economy and break Australia’s wages deadlock.

Alberici’s article came in for a lot of criticism from the Turnbull government for its one-sidedness and lack of balance. Later, the ABC took down the article from its website.

If you read her piece, you’ll see that, yes, she could have included more voices, and yes, the case for company tax cuts was forcefully argued against. But the argument and analysis was built on sound research, as Saul Eslake (one of Australia’s most senior and respected independent economists, who was quoted in Alberici’s story) has pointed out.

So, why on earth did ABC take the article down?

Part of the answer to this lies in the very editorial policies that are supposed to safeguard the ABC’s independence. The current wording of these polices function as a straitjacket on ABC journalists and make it hard for them to toe the line between analysis and opinion.

And that in turn makes the ABC look less independent.

High level of trust

One of the ABC’s greatest assets is the high public trust it enjoys compared to many of its commercial media competitors.

That trust is to a large extent built on the broadcaster maintaining and defending its independence from commercial, political and any other societal interests.

There are a lot of misconceptions regarding what a public broadcaster is. But one thing it is not is a government or state broadcaster.

There are certainly examples of some public broadcasters that are. One prominent recent case was when the Polish government in practice took control of the country’s public broadcaster and turned it into a government mouthpiece.

A serious case of self-doubt

The ABC Act and the ABC Charter are the safeguards of ABC’s independence from the government of the day. This independence was challenged to unprecedented levels by the Abbott government a few years ago.




Read more:
Crude tone of attacks is new, but softening up the ABC for cuts isn’t


A new major challenge to the ABC’s independence is the current change, driven by One Nation, to the ABC Charter requiring it to be “fair” and “balanced” in its reporting. If you recognise these terms, that’s because it used to be Fox News’ catchphrase.




Read more:
How the government and One Nation may use media reforms to clip the ABC’s wings


The ABC is not turning into the Polish Broadcasting Corporation, but it has clearly lost a lot of confidence lately. In Alberici’s case, it appears it bowed to government pressure when it should have stood its ground.

But getting heat from the government of the day (regardless of the particular side of politics) is an indication that a public broadcaster is doing its most important job (provided you get your facts right): holding power to account. If you bow to political pressure, you’re not doing your job.

A public broadcaster with a confidence problem is a serious issue for political and democratic wellbeing.

Globally, there are between ten and 15 properly funded public broadcasters (depending on what level of funding you define as proper) with enough funding and safeguards to be able to call themselves editorially independent. This means there are only ten to 15 large repositories of in-depth public interest journalism – globally.

The ConversationSo, the case is strong for the Australian public to get behind the ABC and ask it to snap out of its crisis of confidence. Then it can get on with the job of keeping power to account – just like Alberici tried to do.

Johan Lidberg, Associate Professor, School of Media, Film and Journalism, Monash University

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

In whose best interests? Sam Dastyari and the politics of public intelligence


Melanie Brand, Monash University

The revelations that Senator Sam Dastyari warned a Chinese Communist Party-linked Labor donor that his phone was likely tapped by intelligence agencies are certainly newsworthy and in the public interest.

The Turnbull government has since flagged a raft of new intelligence laws. The legislation, to be introduced into parliament this week, will reportedly include:

  • banning Australian political parties from receiving foreign donations

  • strengthening laws on the disclosure of classified information

  • making it a crime to support foreign intelligence agencies

  • restrictions targeting foreign spies.

The public release of intelligence can no doubt have a powerful impact on the political environment, as last week’s reports about Dastyari demonstrate. The claims are certainly troubling, but when secret intelligence becomes front-page news, it is always worth looking beyond the headline.

Public intelligence is political intelligence

Classified and sensitive information is designed to be secret. When it is made public it is always for a political purpose. That purpose may be to promote a particular political agenda or to build public support for a certain policy position.

It may even be for partisan political gain, but it will always affect the political narrative. Because intelligence disclosures are so sensational, they are a very effective method of drawing attention to certain issues while distracting from others.


Read more: Government questions whether Dastyari fit to be a senator, in new row over Chinese donor


Intelligence that is deliberately released to the media for political purposes is known as “public intelligence”. When secret intelligence becomes public intelligence, it becomes a powerful tool of political influence.

Intelligence has an authority and influence that may not reflect its content. This is because of the psychological impact of intelligence.

Intelligence is usually classified, which makes it appear valuable. It is often collected covertly, so the public expects it to reveal hidden secrets. The result is that information from intelligence sources is treated with an unusually high degree of reverence and respect.

Intelligence also has a voyeuristic, illicit appeal. When intelligence stories feature in the news, readers are given a glimpse of a world that is normally off-limits. This is especially true for a generation raised on Bond movies, whose primary understanding of intelligence activities stems from popular culture.

Stories that feature intelligence exposes can therefore expect to have a broad audience, reaching beyond the typical consumer of political news.

Public intelligence has limitations

Despite its appeal, public intelligence has several significant limitations.

First, it is important to remember that public intelligence is incomplete. It is only a small section of a greater picture, and usually offered without context or nuance.

Intelligence reports are uncertain; the judgments they contain are always qualified. But in the process of selecting the information for publication, any cautionary judgments or concerns about sources are removed. As a result, when select pieces of intelligence are publicly released, intelligence loses its uncertainty and gains an authority and aura of truth that may not be deserved.


Read more: Chilcot’s lessons for Australia


The now-discredited intelligence dossier on weapons of mass destruction released prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq is a case in point. In the aftermath of the invasion, when the weapons could not be found, it was revealed that the intelligence released publicly had been cherry-picked, that ambiguous evidence was presented as certified proof, and that the intelligence judgments had been massaged to more firmly fit the political line.

The second point to consider is that publicly released intelligence usually cannot be corroborated or contested. Even though certain pieces of intelligence may be released, the source and methods used to obtain that information are not.

This means that even if they wished to, neither the press nor the public have the means to assess the accuracy of intelligence information. We simply do not know if the information comes from a trustworthy source, or was obtained by reliable methods. However, we are not able to refute it.

Public intelligence should be viewed critically

Because of the political nature of public intelligence, combined with its limitations as a reliable source, both media producers and consumers should consider public intelligence with greater scepticism than other news items, not less.

The ConversationDastyari’s conduct should not be excused or minimised. However, when secret intelligence becomes public intelligence, it may pay for us to ask where our attention is being drawn, why that might be the case, and what we might be missing while we are looking the other way.

Melanie Brand, PhD Candidate in Intelligence History, Monash University

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

Public investment in electricity generation – a hot-button issue in Queensland?


John Quiggin, The University of Queensland

One of the most striking features of the Queensland election campaign is that all major parties are advocating public investment in electricity generation.

The real choice to be made is whether this investment will promote the goal of a decarbonised energy system, or whether it will seek to delay this transition and prolong Australia’s reliance on coal-fired electricity.

Labor and the Greens are advocating public investment in renewables, while the LNP and One Nation want a new coal-fired power station.


Read more: Twitter analysis shows Queensland Labor has put Adani behind them


This choice, in turn, depends on attitudes to mainstream climate science. If the findings of mainstream science are accepted, a complete phase-out of coal-fired power, and its replacement by renewables, must take place over the next couple of decades. This implies a target of 50% renewables by around 2030.

The Queensland Renewable Energy Expert Panel modelled the achievement of a 50% renewables share for Queensland. The Expert Panel identified economic benefits of a renewable investment program including an average gain of 6,400 jobs.

Queensland has retained publicly owned electricity generators, primarily focused on coal-fired power. It would make sense for the public to diversify more into renewables.

Where the parties stand

At its recent conference, Labor committed to continued public ownership in the electricity sector and a 50% renewables target by 2030. The conference motion proposed a publicly owned energy corporation committed to protecting customers’ interests and building at least 1000 MW of clean energy.

The Greens propose more comprehensive public ownership with investment of $15 billion over the next 5 years to build publicly-owned clean energy and storage, estimated to create 5,500 jobs every year. The Labor-Green emphasis on renewables is consistent with the movement of the global mainstream.

Last week, at the UN Climate Conference in Bonn, 19 nations including the UK, New Zealand and Canada joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance, pledged to phase out coal-fired power altogether.


Read more: Bonn voyage: climate diplomats head into another round of talks


In sharp contrast, One Nation’s policy is based on the claim that climate change is a hoax, promoted by the United Nations as part of its sinister Agenda 21 policy, which, according to the One Nation platform, seeks to control you and your life .

This position is, at least, internally consistent. The willingness of conservative, liberal and labour governments around the world to sign up to a common climate change policy is seen by One Nation as evidence that the UN is making progress towards its goal of world domination.

The LNP takes a more ambivalent position. While backing coal and opposing renewables, its Queensland state conference narrowly rejected a motion calling on Australia to withdraw from its Paris commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

‘HELE’ of a big gamble

The key idea used to reconcile these contradiction is the idea that we can meet our commitments using “high efficiency, low emissions” (HELE) coal-fired power stations.

HELE power stations rely on the process of ultra-supercritical generation. That sounds impressive, but the reality is more prosaic. The term supercritical refers to the fact that at high temperatures and pressures, fluids are neither liquids (in this case, water) nor gases (steam) but display characteristics of both. Supercritical boilers are 10-20% more efficient than subcritical boilers.


Read more: Ultra, super, clean coal power? We’ve heard it before


The first supercritical boiler was invented in the 1920s. The technology was fully commercialised by the 1990s. Coal-fired power stations built in Queensland since 2000 operate on supercritical technology.

‘Ultra-supercritical’ plants, first installed around 2000, operate at even higher temperatures and pressures, but the additional increase in efficiency is limited, by the physics of the Carnot cycle, to between 10 and 15 per cent. The HELE acronym is misleading: emissions are lower than those of 20th century plants, but higher than any other generation technology.

So, the moment any substantial carbon price is imposed the proposed power plant will cease to be financially viable and will become a stranded asset. Investment in such a project is a bet that all the world’s scientists and every other government in the developed world have got things wrong or, alternatively, that Australia can go it alone on this issue.

It’s hard to see any financial institution taking a risk like this. Given the warnings already issued by regulators about the dangers of investing in stranded assets, a loan that goes bad will leave the lender open to litigation and regulatory sanctions. Will banks be willing to lend the necessary billion dollars or so on such collateral.

The ConversationShould the LNP gain office, then, their policy will face a critical test. Even with a substantial public investment, will any private firm be willing to take an equity stake in what looks certain to become a stranded asset? If not, will the Queensland public be forced to bear the entire risk?

John Quiggin, Professor, School of Economics, The University of Queensland

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