A new single legislative framework governing electronic surveillance activities in Australia has been recommended by a sweeping review of the nation’s intelligence laws.
The review found the existing laws governing this area are complex and outdated by changing technology.
The new act – not designed to alter powers – would cover telecommunication interception, covert access to stored communications, computers and telecommunications data, and the use of optical, listening and tracking devices.
The comprehensive review, led by Dennis Richardson, who previously headed the departments of defence and foreign affairs, as well as ASIO, and served as ambassador to the United States.
The Richardson report runs to 1600 pages and 203 recommendations, 13 of them classified. A declassified version was released by Attorney-General Christian Porter on Friday.
In general, the review – the most extensive since the inquiries of the 1970s and 1980s – gave a tick to the principles underpinning current security and intelligence legislation. But it found it in need of rationalisation and modernisation. Porter characterised the reforms as evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
The review did have sharp observations about some agencies, including noting “an immature understanding of the foundational principles governing the intelligence agencies”.
“This lack of understanding led some agencies to suggest that legitimate safeguards should be removed to, for example, facilitate better information sharing or relieve administrative burdens,” the report said.
“The term ‘administrative burden’ tends to be thrown around too loosely by the [national intelligence community] agencies. Government should be wary of, and properly test, such claims.”
The government has accepted almost all the recommendations, including for the new surveillance legislation. Some are accepted in principle or in part. Only four recommendations – none of them classified – have been rejected.
Richardson’s report warns that reforming the surveillance legislation will take years. “This is due to the issues at play, the multitude of interested stakeholders at the Commonwealth, state and territory level and the controversy which attaches to what are, arguably, the most intrusive powers of the state”.
Porter said other changes the government would pursue included
strengthening ministerial control over ASIO’s offshore activities
streamlining the provisions for issuing emergency warrants
ensuring oversight was better embedded when intelligence legislation is created
establishing an independent panel to provide technical expertise and assistance to the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS).
One of the rejected recommendations would have enabled the parliamentary committee on security and intelligence to be able to request the IGIS to inquire into “the legality and propriety of particular operational activities”.
In its rejection, the government said: “It remains appropriate for ministers to primarily oversee operations and be accountable to parliament”.
The review recommends widening ASIO’s power to collect foreign intelligence. Foreign intelligence means intelligence about the capabilities, intentions or activities of people or organisations outside Australia.
An example would be a dual citizen working in Australia on behalf of a foreign government. The amendment would allow the attorney-general to issue a warrant in relation to the person for the purpose of obtaining foreign intelligence, while the person is in Australia.
At present “ASIO may obtain warrants authorising it to collect foreign intelligence inside Australia. However a warrant cannot be issued for the purpose of collecting information concerning an Australian citizen or permanent resident. This applies while they are in Australia.
“This prohibition should not apply where an Australian citizen or permanent resident is acting for, or on behalf of, a foreign power.”
The review recommended changes to prevent the delegation of the attorney-general’s powers in relation to ASIO warrants and authorisations.
It also found “room to improve” how agencies manage risks to foreign relations.
“There is a simple need for agencies to consult and inform [the foreign affairs department] more readily than what they are doing at present when they are engaging in risky offshore activity.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has come in for its share of criticism for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. While some faults are the responsibility of the WHO, others were caused by member states, which did not always act as quickly as they should have.
In our opinion, the fundamental problem was that the WHO’s current information sharing, response and organisational structure to deal with infectious diseases that may spread across borders quickly and dangerously is out of date.
We argue the global population deserves a better model — one that delivers information about the risk of emergent infectious diseases faster and in a way that is transparent, verifiable and non-politicised.
Preparing for the next pandemic
More than one million people have died of COVID-19, and that number could double before the pandemic is brought under control.
COVID-19 is not the first pandemic, nor will it be the last. The WHO was also criticised after the 2014 Ebola epidemic.
Global responses to such threats have precedents dating back to 1851 and the development of stardardised quarantine regulations. The international initiatives that have since followed, punctuated by the formation of leading international bodies such as the WHO in 1946, represent incremental progress. The most recent iteration of work in this area is the International Health Regulations of 2005.
We suggest a new protocol should be added to the WHO. We have drafted a tentative discussion document, which is available upon request, based on the following six broad ideas.
1. The WHO remains the central decision-making body
We want to strengthen the collection and sharing of information related to infectious diseases, but we believe the WHO must remain the international entity that interprets the material, raises alerts for the global community and organises responses.
Despite retaining the centrality of the WHO, we suggest a new protocol to provide the basis for the independent collection, sharing and transfer of information between countries and with the WHO. Fundamentally, we want the early-warning science to be divorced from the policy responses.
2. Obligation to issue risk warning
A clear and binding legal principle needs to be explicitly written into international law: namely, that there is an obligation to pass on, as quickly as possible, information about a hazardous risk discovered in one country that could be dangerous to others.
The international community first saw this thinking in the 1986 Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident, developed after the Chernobyl incident. We believe the same thinking should be carried over to the early notification of infectious disease threats, as they are just as great.
3. Independence in science
We need legally binding rules for the collection and sharing of information related to infectious diseases. These rules must be detailed, but have the capacity to evolve. This principle is already developing, beginning with innovative solutions to problems like regional air pollution, which separates scientists from decision-makers and removes any potential for partisan advice.
The core of this idea needs to be adapted for infectious diseases and placed within its own self-contained protocol. Signatories can then continually refine the scientific needs, whereby scientists can update what information should be collected and shared, so decision-makers can react in good time, with the best and most independent information at their fingertips.
4. Objectivity and openness
We must articulate the principle that shared scientific information should be as comprehensive, objective, open and transparent as possible. We have borrowed this idea from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) but it needs to be supplemented by the particular requirement to tackle emergent infectious disease risks.
This may include clinical and genetic information and the sharing of biological samples to allow rapid laboratory, medical and public health developments. Incomplete information should not be a reason to delay and all information should be open source. It will also be important to add a principle from international environmental law of acting in a precautionary manner.
In the case of early notification about infectious diseases, we contend that even if there is a lack of scientific certainty over an issue, it is not a reason to hold back from sharing the information.
5. Deployment to other countries
We realise information sometimes needs to be verified independently and quickly. Our thinking here has been guided by the Chemical Weapons Convention and the use of challenge inspections. This mechanism, in times of urgency, allows inspectors to go anywhere at any time, without the right of refusal, to provide independent third-party verification.
In the case of infectious diseases, a solution might be that in times of urgency, if 75% of the members of the new protocol agree, specialist teams are deployed quickly to any country to examine all areas (except military spaces) from where further information is required. This information would then be quickly fed back into the mechanisms of the protocol.
6. Autonomy and independent funding
We suggest such a protocol must be self-governing and largely separate from the WHO, and it is essential it has its own budget and office.
This will increase the autonomy of the early-warning system and reduce the risks of being reliant on the WHO for funding (with all the vagaries that entails). If well designed, the protocol should provide a better way for state and non-state actors to contribute.
The goodwill and financial capacity of international philanthropy, transnational corporations and civil society will need to be mobilised to a much greater degree to fund the new protocol.
The authors worked with Sir Jim McLay, whose leadership contribution and input on the proposed protocol has been integral to the project.
When Russians voted in early July on 200 constitutional amendments, officials rigged the election to create the illusion that President Vladimir Putin remains a popular and powerful leader after 20 years in office.
In reality, he increasingly relies on manipulation and state repression to maintain his presidency. Most Russians know that, and the world is catching up.
At the center of the changes were new rules to allow Putin to evade term limits and serve two additional terms, extending his tenure until 2036. According to official results, Putin’s regime secured an astounding victory, winning 78% support for the constitutional reform, with 64% turnout. The Kremlin hailed the national vote as confirmation of popular trust in Putin.
The vote was purely symbolic. The law governing constitutional change does not require a popular vote. By March 2020, the national legislature, Constitutional Court and Russia’s 85 regional legislatures had voted to enact the proposed amendments.
Yet, the president insisted on a show of popular support and national unity to endorse the legal process.
The Kremlin’s goal was to make Putin’s 2024 reelection appear inevitable. Given the stakes, the outcome was never in doubt – but it did little to resolve uncertainty over Russia’s future.
Declining social support
Why hold a vote if a vote isn’t needed?
As a scholar of Russian electoral competition, I see the constitutional vote as a first step in an effort to prolong Putin’s 20-year tenure as the national leader. The Kremlin’s success defined the legal path to reelection and the strategy for securing an electoral majority in the face of popular opposition.
Its effect on societal attitudes is less clear. A recent poll by the independent polling organization the Levada Center showed that while 52% of respondents supported Putin’s reelection, 44% opposed. At the same time, 59% want to introduce a 70-year-old age cap for presidential candidates. This change would bar the 68-year-old president from running again.
Growing signs of popular discontent in Russia suggest this polling data underestimates demand for change. Local protest against pollution, trash incineration and state reforms continue to grow across the Federation. Focus group data reveals that ordinary Russians are concerned about state repression and civil rights violations.
In the leadup to the constitutional vote, internet influencers read the public mood and refused payments for their endorsement, fearing a backlash from followers and advertisers.
A new Putin majority
Declining popular support highlights the difficulty of building a new voting coalition. Manufacturing a demonstration of national unity was the first step in reinventing Putin’s links to core supporters in the runup to the next national election cycle.
In the mid-2010s, Putin’s new majority was based on aggressive foreign policy actions. That coalition declined, as conflicts in Ukraine and Syria dragged on, and public support for expensive foreign policy adventures decreased.
The constitutional vote marks Putin’s third attempt to reconstruct electoral support rooted in patriotism, conservative values and state paternalism that echoes the Soviet era.
Fixing the vote
The constitutional reform campaign focused on state benefits rather than the Putin presidency.
Putin offered something for everyone in the 200 amendments.
As an antidote to unpopular pension reforms, a new provision guarantees pensioners annual adjustments linked to inflation. Other amendments codified existing policies guaranteeing housing and a minimum wage. New clauses codify Putin’s version of conservative values, with measures that add a reference to God, a prohibition against same-sex marriage and support for patriotic education. Other provisions take aim at corruption, by prohibiting state officials from holding offshore accounts.
A massive PR campaign framed starkly different appeals to different voter groups. For those concerned with international security, ads depicted apocalyptic visions of Russia’s future after a NATO invasion. For younger voters, appeals depicted happy families voting to support a bright future.
State television featured supportive cultural icons and artists, including Patriarch Kirill, who is the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Putin himself argued that participation was a patriotic duty. No one mentioned the controversial loophole that would allow Putin to run again.
The campaign foretold the outcome: The regime would stop at nothing to secure success. Officials coerced employees of government agencies and large businesses to turn out. Voters were offered prizes, food and chances to win new housing and cash for participating.
Most Russians understand that the manufactured outcome does not accurately reflect attitudes about Putin’s reelection.
Limits of disinformation
There is growing evidence that the public is no longer persuaded by disinformation and political theater such as the rigged constitutional vote. Trust in state media, the president and the government are declining precipitously.
The realities of sustained economic stagnation and the Kremlin’s anemic response to COVID-19 stand in sharp contrast to its all-out approach to the symbolic national vote. It can rig a vote, but it can’t control a virus.
The Kremlin’s pandemic response raises doubts about its ability to fulfill new constitutional mandates. Widely publicized efforts to reform the Soviet-era health care system still left hospitals unprepared to manage the pandemic. The state proved incapable of delivering bonuses to first responders and medical workers. The Kremlin refused to use its substantial emergency fund to support entrepreneurs, families with children and the unemployed.
Given these realities, upcoming elections will test the illusion of a new pro-Putin majority defined by this rigged vote. And if the voters abandon Putin, the new Constitution provides a final path to remain in office: the unelected chairmanship of the powerful new State Council.
Hawke had the advantage of high levels of trust from both unions and employers, based on his years as a successful negotiator as ACTU president and industrial officer.
While Morrison talked positively about to the “constructive approach” between unions and employers during the coronavirus pandemic, he does not have any such record of trust to build on.
Another difference with the Accord is that in the 1980s, the industrial relations system was more centralised. So, employer organisations and the ACTU enjoyed greater coverage and authority among their own constituents to bring them to an agreement.
One indication of that difference now is the recent Jobs Protection Framework negotiated between the National Tertiary Education Union and the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association.
It has fallen over as a sectoral agreement because many universities have refused to participate and it has attracted criticism among some union members.
What needs to be fixed in 2020
Unions, business and government all agree that reform of the current system is needed. Finding common ground on what those changes are will be more difficult.
Morrison has announced five working groups, to be chaired by Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter. The groups will look at award simplification, casual and fixed-term employment, greenfield projects, and compliance and enforcement for wages and conditions.
Most of the working group topics relate to employer groups’ reform agenda.
The Business Council of Australia has advocated for greater flexibility and simplification of the award system for the economy to successfully rebuild.
Employment relations professor David Peetz warns that this is code for shrinking the award safety net. Unions are likely to interpret this similarly.
Unions may be more interested in simplification of the enterprise bargaining system to benefit workers. They are concerned with the ease with which employers have increasingly terminated agreements and moved employees onto lower paid awards.
The casual workforce is likely to be a contentious area for discussion.
The Australian Industry Group has called for tighter legislative definition of casual worker status, after recent court decisions granted leave for long-term casuals.
Meanwhile, the ACTU has long sought a general right of conversion to permanent employment for long-term casuals of six to 12 months standing, whom they consider to be exploited.
Notwithstanding the casual loading for casual workers, they earn less on average than permanent employees.
There may be grounds for agreement on this issue. Employers would need to concede a formula for long term casuals’ easy conversion, if they choose, to permanent employment. Unions would need to concede no leave entitlements for employees who choose to remain casuals.
Greenfields sites – which involve a genuine new business, activity or project – have been a battleground in the Fair Work Commission for years.
Greenfields agreements on large construction sites have enabled employers to reach enterprise bargaining agreements with a small number of employees before most workers are hired. Workers who are hired when the project gets fully underway are then bound by the agreement.
Compliance and enforcement
There may be more common ground over improved compliance and enforcement for wages and conditions. Employers and unions have condemned major cases of underpayment recently uncovered by the Fair Work Ombudsman.
However, better compliance may be difficult to reconcile with the government and employers’ desire for less regulation.
Where to now?
Unions and employers have indicated willingness to participate in good faith, despite the huge challenges they face. But the omens are poor.
There is already disagreement over the Fair Work Commission’s annual minimum wage decision, due in July.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has argued the minimum wage should remain frozen until at least mid-2021. It has even cited a precedent of the 10% reduction awarded on the basis of capacity to pay during the Great Depression.
There is also a serious question as to whether industrial relations reform is the right place to be looking to reboot the economy.
Former top public servant Michael Keating was head of the Employment, Finance and Prime Minister’s departments during the Accords era.
Writing last month, he said Australia’s industrial relations regulation was more flexible than that in the United States, and the reforms of the past 25 years have had little substantial impact on productivity, labour market adjustment, wages growth or industrial disputation.
Keating also warned that industrial relations reform is mainly “camouflage for lower wages, which is the last thing this economy needs right now”.
Scott Morrison has indeed taken to heart that adage about not wasting a crisis. He insists he is going to put to advantage the opportunity brought by these most unfortunate circumstances.
His plan for a government-employer-union-community effort to reform this country’s industrial relations will, if it comes off, be a substantial achievement (although the actual magnitude would depend on just how much was done).
Politically, success would give Morrison something positive for the next election, which will be fought in the testing circumstances of likely high unemployment and sectors of the economy still struggling.
Labor would be outflanked.
If Morrison’s effort ends as a busted flush, he’ll say he tried and move on to something else.
Despite his pragmatism, Morrison aspires to be remembered as a leader who delivered reform. Remember when as treasurer under Malcolm Turnbull, he pushed strongly to change the GST and talked up his mission?
In Tuesday’s address to the National Press Club, he was the ambitious consensus prime minister, declaring “we’ve booked the room, we’ve hired the hall”, to get everybody to the table in pursuit of better industrial relations arrangements.
The present system had “retreated to tribalism, conflict and ideological posturing,” he said. It had “settled into a complacency of unions seeking marginal benefits and employers closing down risks, often by simply not employing anyone”.
As a “good faith” gesture, the government won’t pursue another Senate vote on its controversial Ensuring Integrity bill which would give the Federal Court the power to cancel the registration of a union or an employer organisation and introduce a public interest test for the amalgamation of such organisations. The Senate rejected the legislation last year.
In his speech Morrison announced a structure for talking, and broad topics to talk about. Industrial relations minister Christian Porter will chair five groups – they will consider award simplification; enterprise agreements; casuals and fixed term employment; compliance and enforcement, and greenfield agreements for new enterprises.
“Membership of each group will include employer and union representatives, as well as individuals chosen based on their demonstrated experience and expertise and that will include especially small businesses, rural and regional backgrounds, multicultural communities, women and families,” Morrison said.
The process will run until September. “It will become apparent very quickly if progress is to be made,” he said.
Indeed, it is not as if Porter is starting from scratch. After being appointed industrial relations minister following the 2019 election, Porter set up a process of IR reform which has produced several discussion papers and consultations on a range of issues.
A frustrating feature of the Coalition government, if you take it as a whole from its election in 2013, is its failure to finish what it starts.
Key reform processes have previously begun but run up dry gullies or been overtaken.
For instance Tony Abbott commissioned white papers on taxation and federalism. After overthrowing Abbott, Turnbull aborted the white papers. Turnbull in turn flirted with tax change, not just possible GST reform but even the states raising their own income tax. Tax reform as well as federalism are among the issues Morrison has in his sights.
As for Morrison’s declared determination to get a better system for training and skilling workers for the jobs of the present and the future – we have heard this from governments of both stripes for a very long time.
Of course, the past isn’t necessarily a guide to the future, and Morrison’s handling of the pandemic points to his adaptability as a leader.
His agenda appears broad and ambitious (although we can’t be definitive ahead of the detail). He has talked skills and industrial relations this week, but there’s also deregulation (another recurring Coalition theme) and energy as well as tax and the federation.
Admittedly it is not a matter of all-or-nothing. Worthwhile but limited changes would be better than not making the effort.
The extent to which Morrison succeeds will depend on a number of factors.
On industrial relations, it is whether employers and unions put the interests they share above those that divide them – whether each side will be willing to give ground for a larger common cause. The chance of agreement will differ according to the issue.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus responded on Tuesday: “The ACTU will measure any changes to industrial relations law on the benchmarks of: will it give working people better job security, and will it lead to working people receiving their fair share of the country’s wealth?”
They could be challenging benchmarks.
A co-operative discussion will go against the instincts of some of the Coalition’s anti-union hardliners, and be resisted by some in McManus’s constituency.
Asked his message to people in his own party who might see this as an opportunity to finally neuter the union movement, Morrison said: “I think everybody’s got to put their weapons down on this”.
On making progress with reforms involving federal-state relations, including the training system, the attitude of the states will be crucial.
Morrison lauds the national cabinet, and the government contrasts it with the more bureaucratic Council of Australian Governments processes.
But national cabinet and COAG are the same people. The difference is national cabinet is operating in a crisis and totally focussed on that, and on the moment.
COAG deals with everything, and is mostly putting in place measures for the longer term. Inevitably, interests will diverge and corners are harder to cut (which doesn’t mean COAG’s working can’t be usefully shaken up).
Even if national cabinet continued, on some of these reform measures the states would probably behave more like they were in COAG – that is, there’d be more “process”.
Finally, there’s whether a crisis really does produce a climate conducive to reform.
It certainly concentrates attention, turns the page, sweeps away most else. (Asked on Tuesday about the timetable for the religious freedom legislation and the proposed anti-corruption body, Morrison had no answers. It was almost as though they were from another era.)
The road out of this crisis will be very tough for many people. Extensive reform is often painful. Whether the Australian public will be in the mood for it as they cope with the aftermath of such a trauma is an open question.
The ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu once said,
Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.
Looking at the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) today, it’s hard to say which of these tactics is most germane.
Getting the answer right will have enormous consequences for the United States and the future of the Indo-Pacific region. Underestimating the PLA breeds complacency and risks costly overreach. Overestimating the Chinese military grants it unwarranted advantage.
Similarly, for the Chinese leadership, miscalculating its military capability could lead to disaster.
As such, any serious appraisal of Chinese military power has to take the PLA’s progress – as well as its problems – into account. This was the focus of a recent study we undertook, along with retired US Army lieutenant colonel Dennis Blasko, for the Australian Department of Defence.
The PLA’s new-found might
By all appearances, the PLA has become a more formidable force over the past decade. The massive military parade in Beijing last October to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China showed off more than 700 pieces of modern military hardware.
One of these weapons, displayed publicly for the first time, was the DF-41, China’s most powerful nuclear-armed ballistic missile. It is capable of hitting targets anywhere in the US.
Under President Xi Jinping, China has also expanded its military footprint in the South China Sea. Military experts say China has used the global distraction of the coronavirus pandemic to shore up its position even further, drawing rebukes from neighbours. Tensions have heightened in recent days as the US and Australia have sent warships into the sea for drills.
In the past few years, China has also stepped up its military exercises around Taiwan and disputed waters near Japan, and last December, commissioned its second aircraft carrier, the Shandong, into service with the PLA Navy.
The most recent annual assessment of the PLA by the Pentagon acknowledges China’s armed forces are developing the capability to dissuade, deter or, if ordered, defeat third-party armed forces (such as the US) seeking to intervene in “a large-scale, theatre campaign” in the region.
The report also expects the PLA to steadily improve its ability to project power into the Pacific and beyond.
A recent study commissioned by the US Congress goes further, saying China’s strategy aims to
disrupt, disable or destroy the critical systems that enable US military advantage.
The report called for a “new American way of war”.
All of these highlight the increasing capabilities of the PLA and underscore the challenges China’s rising hard power pose to the United States and its regional allies. But what of the challenges the PLA itself faces?
Overcoming the ‘peace disease’
Interestingly, many of these problems are openly discussed in official Chinese publications aimed at a Chinese audience, but are curiously absent when speaking to a foreign audience.
Often, pithy formulaic sayings of a few characters summarise PLA shortcomings. For example, the “two inabilities” (两个能力不够), a term that has appeared hundreds of times in official Chinese media, makes reference to two shortcomings:
the PLA’s current ability to fight a modern war is insufficient, and
the current military commanders are also not up to the task.
Another frequent self-criticism highlights the “peace disease” (和平病), “peacetime habits” (和平积习) and “long-standing peace problems” (和平积弊).
The PLA was last at war in the mid-1980s, some 35 years years ago. Today’s Chinese military has very little combat experience.
Put more pointedly, far more soldiers serving in the PLA today have paraded down Chang’an Avenue in Beijing than have actually operated in combat.
Owing to these and many other acknowledged deficiencies, Xi launched the most ambitious and potentially far-reaching reforms in the PLA’s history in late 2015.
This massive structural overhaul aims to transform the PLA from a bloated, corrupt and degraded military to one increasingly capable of fighting and winning relatively short, but intensive, conflicts against technologically sophisticated adversaries, such as the United States.
But, recognising how difficult this transformation will be, the Chinese political and military leadership has set out a decades-long timeline to achieve it.
In Xi’s estimations, by 2020, the PLA’s mechanisation will be “basically achieved” and strategic capabilities will have seen major improvements; by 2035, national defence modernisation will be “basically completed”; and by mid-century, the PLA will be a “world-class military.”
In other words, this transformation – if successful – will take time.
At this relatively early point in the process, authoritative writings by PLA leaders and strategic analysts make clear that much more work is needed, especially more realistic training in joint operations, as well as improved leadership and greater communications integration across the services.
PLA modernisation depends more on “software” — human talent development, new war-fighting concepts and organisational transformation — than on the “hardware” of new weapons systems. This underscores the lengthy and difficult nature of reform.
‘Know the enemy and know yourself’
The many challenges facing the PLA’s reform effort suggest the Chinese leadership may lack confidence in its current ability to achieve victory against a strong adversary on the battlefield.
However, none of this means we should dismiss the PLA as a paper tiger. The recent indictment of PLA personnel for the 2017 hack of Equifax is a cautionary reminder of the Chinese military’s expansive capabilities.
Rather, it means a prudent assessment of the PLA must take its strengths and weaknesses into account, neither overestimating nor underestimating either one. Should strategic competition between the US and China continue to escalate, getting this right will be more important than ever.
So, is China appearing weak when it is strong, or appearing strong when it is weak? Much current evidence points to the latter.
But this situation will change and demands constant reassessment. Another quotation from Sun Tzu is instructive:
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
Scott Morrison has a sharp lecture for bureaucrats about their KPIs, in a comprehensive speech laying down how he expects the Australian Public Service to operate under his government.
Morrison stresses the service must be responsive to both its ministers and the “quiet Australians”, look beyond the noisy “bubble”, and be more open to outsiders, in a Monday address to the Institute of Public Administration, issued beforehand.
He calls for a “step-change” in improving delivery, greater diversity of views within the service, and the “busting” of regulatory congestion.
The Prime Minister is producing his blueprint ahead of formally receiving the report from the comprehensive review led by businessman David Thodey, which is coming within weeks – although Morrison has had discussions on its content and reportedly told the panel to take a tougher line on performance standards.
His speech themes build on views he has previously articulated, directly to departmental secretaries and in media comments. His focus is heavily on better service delivery, and his message to the bureaucrats is to remember they are on tap not on top. His concept is narrower than the ideas in a report, commissioned by the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) and released last week, which highlighted the need for more creative thinking and a greater scope for public servants to speak truth to power in their advisory role.
In his speech Morrison also has very direct words for his ministers, about running their departments. Responsibility for setting policy lies with those elected, he says – ministers must be clear about what they are asking of their public servants.
They must not allow a policy leadership vacuum to be created, expecting the public service to fill it and do their job. One of the worst criticisms politicians can make of each other is that a minister is a captive of their department.
He says he has “selected and tasked my ministers to set and drive the agenda of our government”.
Morrison points out that accountability to parliament and the public for the government’s policies rests with those who are elected.
“Only those who have put their name on a ballot can truly understand the significance of that accountability. I know you [public servants] might feel sometimes that you are absolutely right in what you are suggesting, but I can tell you when it is you that is facing the public and must look your constituents in the eye, it gives you a unique perspective.”
He says his rugby coach used to describe this as “the bacon and eggs principle – the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed.
“That is why under our system of government it must be ministers who set the policy direction.”
Morrison sets out six “guideposts” for the evolution of the public service and his priorities:
the “respect and expect” principle, defining the relationship between government and the bureaucracy
the centrality of implementation
“look at the scoreboard” – a strong emphasis on “priorities, targets and metrics across all portfolios”. (He says he has established a Priorities and Delivery Unit in the Prime Minister’s Department, and cabinet ministers are developing objectives and targets.)
having eyes on “middle Australia” – looking “beyond the bubble” of the “many highly organised and well resourced interests” that go often to Canberra and are in the media
following the “Ray Price principle”, a reference to a former leading Rugby League player dubbed “Mr Perpetual Motion” – adapting amid constant change
honouring the public service code of governance and integrity across the bureaucracy.
On implementation, Morrison says: “Ensuring services are delivered seamlessly and efficiently, when and where they are needed, is a key priority of my government.
Good government is about receiving excellent policy advice. But that advice is only as good as the consideration in detail that it gives to implementation and execution.
And this is not an exercise in providing a detached and dispassionate summary of risks that are logged in the ‘told you so’ file for reference in future memoirs.
It’s about telling governments how things can be done, not just the risks of doing them, or saying why they shouldn’t. The public service is meant to be an enabler of government policy not an obstacle.
Morrison says the thinking behind his establishment of Services Australia – in the post-election reshuffle – “isn’t some fancy re-branding exercise.
It’s a message to the whole of the APS – top-to-bottom – about what matters to people.
It’s about ‘doing the little things well’ – everything from reducing call waiting times and turnaround on correspondence right through to improving the experience people have walking into a Centrelink office.
Highlighting the “quiet Australians”, Morrison says “the vast majority” of people “will never come to Canberra to lobby government. They won’t stay at the Hyatt. Or lunch at the Ottoman. Or kick back in the Chairman’s Lounge at Canberra airport after a day of meetings.”
But these members of the public are the public service’s stakeholders – not the “vested and organised interests that pretend to this status,” he says.
I want the APS to have a laser-like focus on serving these quiet Australians. Those you don’t meet with and never hear from. Australians who just get on with it, but who often feel their voice gets drowned out by shoutier ones in our public square.
There is strong evidence that the ‘trust deficit’ that has afflicted many Western democracies over recent years stems in part from a perception that politics is very responsive to those at the top and those at the bottom, but not so much to those in the middle.
This will not be the case under my government.
Middle Australia needs to know that the government (including the public service) is on their side.
Declaring the public service should value diversity, Morrison says “a commitment to diversity should encompass diversity of viewpoints within the APS. There is compelling evidence that this helps teams find answers to complex problems by bringing together people who approach questions from different points of view.
It’s vital that the APS avoid the sort of stale conventional wisdoms and orthodoxies that can infuse all large organisations.
Urging more two-way flow between the public service and outside employment, Morrison says: “We need to find new ways for smart, dedicated Australians to make a contribution to public service, to see a stint in the public service as part of their career journey. And likewise for career public servants to see time outside of the APS in the non-government sector and in business as an important part of their career journey.”
The New South Wales government has introduced a bill to reform the Residential Tenancies Act. This act sets out the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants in private rental accommodation in NSW.
The bill’s proposed limit on rent increases to one in every 12 months is essential, as are the proposed minimum standards for rental accommodation. However, my ongoing research with single older women renting in Sydney points to an urgent need for a cap on the value of rent increases and for an end to “no grounds” eviction. Victoria adopted these measures earlier this month.
Reform is essential. Growing numbers of Australians rent their housing and increasing proportions are expected to rent long-term. This makes it essential that private rental housing meets the need that every person has for a secure and affordable home.
It is getting harder for older renters to find adequate, appropriate and secure housing. Older women – the focus of my work – are at particular risk. This is due to longer life expectancy, lower incomes across the life course, and less access to benefits like superannuation. Women also experience a greater loss of income and housing standard than men do after relationship breakdown, and are at greater risk of domestic violence.
Their stories point to the role of flaws in the Residential Tenancies Act in compounding housing insecurity.
Rising rents add to hardship
Rising rents were a problem for nearly all women I spoke with. They depleted women’s budgets, leaving little money to buy food or pay for utilities. Many relied on local charities for food and help to pay energy bills.
One woman described how she would add protein to her meal by buying a single chicken breast, slicing it thinly and freezing each piece separately to be defrosted over the next week or so. Another relied on vegetables the local greengrocer bundled and discounted before throwing out.
In winter, when heating bills mounted, she relied on a local church with a weekly food pantry. This food, donated by local supermarkets and community members, was frequently past its “best before” date. As a low-paid community worker living in an area with a significant number of disadvantaged families, she collected food alongside her clients.
Two women coped by moving into their cars. They subsisted on tins of food that they could hide in the car. At night they kept themselves safe by parking in familiar locations.
Rent rises also made it difficult to find appropriate housing. Affordable housing was often substandard. Many had difficulties getting landlords to agree to repairs.
One woman described how her rented unit began leaking. The leak was severe and lasted for nearly two years. In this time she lived with increasing mould and lost access to nearly 40% of her home. She sought repairs from the landlord, but only cautiously, because she was afraid of eviction.
When the leak was eventually fixed her rent went up 20%. That left her with only A$30 a week after rent, essential bills and transport. She couldn’t afford food and relied on local charities until she found cheaper housing in a distant, transport-poor suburb.
Another described a similar leak:
When it rained the water would come straight down into the doorway. And that was the only way you could get into the house […] it was in the house and even in the bedroom.
Despite this the owner increased the rent. The real estate agent notified her of the increase by letter, but distanced herself from repair requests when confronted in person stating: “Well, we can’t do anything [to fix the property] until the owner says we can.”
The agent helped the landlord to make more money from their investment, while illegally blocking this woman’s entitlements to secure and usable property. The impact on her capacity to take care of herself was significant. Living with the leak risked her health. However, challenging the landlord – pushing them to repair the leak – risked eviction.
These stories show the need to rethink how we value and regulate private rental housing. It is time that we recognise the fundamental role that housing plays in our ability to meet basic needs – for shelter, warmth, food and above all a sense of security and home.
When housing is too expensive, unsafe or inadequate, our capacity to meet our care needs deteriorates and our health suffers. For women in my research their capacity to age in place – and even to remain housed – was challenged.
This is not good for tenants or landlords. Although popular wisdom suggests tenants and landlords have different interests, they in fact have very similar concerns: both benefit from secure tenancies and rental properties that are well maintained and cared for.
The proposed amendments to the act are a good starting point.
Restrictions on the number of rent increases in a year are essential. However, the women in my research struggle not just because of the number of rent increases they face. They find themselves in precarious situations because of the size of the increases, which in some cases left them unable to afford necessities like food.
Minimum housing standards are also essential. The women in my research cannot begin to maintain their health or age well at home if their home leaks or does not meet other basic standards.
But perhaps more pressing is the need to end no grounds evictions. For women in my research, repair requests carried the risk of eviction. This left many afraid to ask for repairs. They lived in unhealthy and unsafe housing rather than risk eviction in a market with few affordable options.
Landlords in many areas can readily replace tenants. And an evicted older woman can easily end up living in her car.
Ending no grounds evictions will have no impact on landlords who do the right thing. They will still be able to terminate a lease on reasonable grounds such as renovating or moving into the property. It would, however, help put an end to retaliatory evictions, which in turn would support efforts to maintain minimum housing standards.
This article is based on research findings presented in a talk by the author at an event, Fair for Everybody: Reforming Renting in NSW, hosted at Parliament House on Wednesday.
Following a review of the New South Wales Residential Tenancies Act 2010 in 2016 and extended consultations, the NSW government has introduced a number of reforms to parliament. Debate is expected to occur this week. However, without reform to current eviction proceedings, many housing advocates have expressed concern that these generally good proposals will have little effect. Today, 45 housing researchers from a range of disciplines have signed the following open letter.
We are academics who research and teach about housing. We come from a range of disciplines – for example law, economics, social sciences, planning – and many of us have worked variously with housing providers, tenants’ groups and government agencies on housing issues. We have in common commitment to the principle that everyone should have a secure, affordable home of decent standard, whether they own or rent.
Too often, however, our rental housing sector fails to deliver on this principle. There are numerous reasons for this; one of them is the legal insecurity of tenants under current New South Wales residential tenancy laws. In particular, the provision for landlords to give termination notices, with no grounds, at the end of a fixed-term tenancy or during a continuing tenancy is contrary to genuine security.
“No grounds” termination notices give cover for bad reasons for seeking termination, such as retaliation and discrimination. The prospect that a “no grounds” termination notice may be given hangs over all tenancies, discouraging tenants from raising concerns with agents and landlords and undermining the legal rights otherwise provided for by their leases and the legislation.
The deficiencies of our current laws are becoming worse, as more households rent, and rent for longer into their lives. About 32% of NSW households rent and this proportion is growing. Over the five years to 2016, 63% of the net growth in the number of NSW households was households in rental housing. And 42% of NSW renter households include children.
Our deficient current laws are also increasingly out of step with tenancy laws in comparable jurisdictions. Many European countries, as well as most of the Canadian provinces and the largest US cities, do not provide for “no grounds” terminations by landlords.
Last year, Scotland reformed its tenancy laws to remove provisions for “no grounds” terminations and replace them with prescribed reasonable grounds for termination. In Australia, Tasmania has for some years not allowed “no grounds” terminations of continuing tenancies. This month, the Victorian Parliament amended its residential tenancies legislation to remove provision for “no grounds” termination notices for continuing tenancies and for fixed-term tenancies, except at the end of the first fixed term.
We call on the NSW state government to improve security for renters, by legislating to end no-grounds termination by landlords and providing instead for a prescribed set of reasonable grounds for terminations.
These reasonable grounds would include grounds already in the legislation, such as rent arrears and other breaches by the tenant, and sale of the premises, as well as new grounds, such as where the landlord needs the premises for their own housing, and where the premises are to be renovated, demolished or changed to a non-residential use.
The prescribed reasonable grounds should have different notice periods, reflecting their different degrees of urgency and priority. Proceedings on notices should go, as they currently do, to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal, and the tribunal should determine whether the ground exists and whether termination is justified in all the circumstances.
This reform would make all tenants feel more secure, without unduly restricting landlords in reasonable uses of their properties. The only inconvenience would be to the retaliators, the discriminators and those who cannot cope with even a modest level of accountability. If the reform prompted these landlords to leave the sector, they would sell to a new home owner or to a more professionally minded landlord – either of which is to the good.
There is more to be done across a range of policy areas to improve the functioning of all aspects of our housing system. We need more accessible home ownership, a differently structured and more professional market rental sector and a revitalised social housing sector. These changes require a comprehensive housing policy, coordinated across areas and levels of government and carried out over a long term.
But, in tenancy law, the single most important reform is ending “no grounds” termination by landlords. And the parliament could do it now.
Dr Chris Martin, Research Fellow, Faculty of Built Environment, University of New South Wales
Professor Brendan Edgeworth, Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales
Professor Chris Gibson, Human Geography, University of Wollongong
Professor Keith Jacobs, Director, Housing Community Research Unit, University of Tasmania
Professor Alan Morris, Institute for Public Policy and Governance, University of Technology, Sydney
Professor Kath Hulse, Director Centre for Urban Transitions, Swinburne University of Technology
Professor Hal Pawson, Housing Research and Policy, University of New South Wales
Professor Pauline McGuirk, Director Australian Centre for Culture, Environment, Society and Space, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Wollongong
Professor Peter Phibbs, Urban Planning, The University of Sydney
Professor Bill Randolph, Faculty of Built Environment, University of New South Wales
Professor Eileen Webb, Faculty of Business and Law, Curtin University
Adjunct Professor Michael Darcy, School of Social Sciences and Psychology, Western Sydney University
Associate Professor Hazel Easthope, Faculty of Built Environment, University of New South Wales
Associate Professor Daphne Habibis, School of Social Sciences, University of Tasmania
Associate Professor Kurt Iveson, Urban Geography, The University of Sydney
Associate Professor Kristian Ruming, Department of Geography and Planning, Macquarie University
Associate Professor Judith Yates, School of Economics, The University of Sydney
Dr Gareth Bryant, Political Economy, The University of Sydney
Dr Nicole Cook, Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Wollongong
Dr Louise Crabtree, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University
Dr Laura Crommelin, Research Lecturer, Faculty of Built Environment, University of New South Wales
Dr Tanja Dreher, Associate Professor, School of Arts and Media, University of New South Wales
Dr Christina Ho, Senior Lecturer, Social & Political Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney
Dr Justine Humphry, Lecturer in Digital Cultures, Department of Media and Communications, The University of Sydney
Dr Edgar Liu, Senior Research Fellow, Faculty of Built Environment, University of New South Wales
Dr Sophia Maalsen, IB Fell Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning, The University of Sydney
Dr Daniel Ooi, Research Fellow, Victoria University
Dr Justine Lloyd, Senior Lecturer, Department of Sociology, Macquarie University
Dr Jean Parker, Research Associate, Department of Gender and Culture Studies, The University of Sydney
Dr Madeleine Pill, Researcher, Department of Government and International Relations, The University of Sydney
Dr Emma Power, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University
Dr Dallas Rogers, Program Director, Master of Urbanism, The University of Sydney
Dr Ben Spies-Butcher, Senior Lecturer, Economy and Society, Macquarie University
Dr Adam Stebbing, Director of Bachelor of Social Science, Department of Sociology, Macquarie University
Dr Amanda Tattersall, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Henry Halloran Trust, The University of Sydney
Dr Lawrence Troy, Research Fellow, Faculty of Built Environment, University of New South Wales
Dr Robert Mowbray, Older Persons Project Officer, Tenants’ Union NSW
Deb Batterham, Researcher, Launch Housing
Zahra Nasreen, Researcher, Department of Geography and Planning, Macquarie University
Pratichi Chatterjee, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Science, The University of Sydney
Sophie-May Kerr, PhD Candidate, University of Wollongong
Craig Lyons, PhD Candidate, School of Geography and Sustainable Communities, University of Wollongong
Gemma McKinnon, Researcher, University of New South Wales
Bill Swannie, Academic, College of Law and Justice, Victoria University
Alistair Sisson, PhD Candidate & Research Assistant, School of Geosciences, The University of Sydney
With public trust in government already in serious decline over the last ten years, the downfall of yet another prime minister between elections underlines both the importance and urgency of making serious changes to our political system.
The key to renewing Australia’s democratic system is to view it as our next major reform challenge, just as economic renewal was prioritised in the 1980s and ’90s.
So far, however, the changes proposed by political commentators, academics and think tanks are largely single reforms, such as citizens’ juries to seek more public input into policy, or fixed four-year terms for federal parliament to allow more time to tackle big problems and implement complex policy.
These fall short of matching the scope of the challenge: democratic renewal requires multi-level and multi-step change addressing interconnected issues. In short, we need a comprehensive roadmap for political reform.
The dual nature of these problems underlines a critical issue. The roadmap not only needs to link up separate reforms, it also needs to be rolled out in stages to persuade a highly distrustful public that democratic renewal is in the interests of everyone – not just those in power.
The first stage is what I would call “creative governance”. The aim here is to start restoring public trust in government by making immediate and tangible improvements to the political system.
These reforms would have clear precedents or strong levels of public support. For example, national uniform caps on campaign spending, like those recently introduced in New Zealand, would reduce money in politics. This in turn would put the onus on politicians to explain their policies with more fact-based detail instead of expensive, slogan-based advertising campaigns.
Recent surveysshow that a majority of Australians support both moves and believe these would improve transparency in the political system.
Setting the scene for deeper reform
The more difficult second stage of political reform is what I call “systemic renewal”. The goal here is to realign our democracy with the fundamentally changed dynamics and expectations of how it should work in the 21st century.
For instance, a major overhaul of our federal-state constitution is needed to update a framework originally written in the 1890s. It’s replete with outdated rules, processes and responsibilities.
However, this has largely failed to capture the public’s imagination because of the arcane way experts talk about the problem and potential solutions. Reframing it as part of a broader democratic renewal to usher in a more nimble and representative political system is much more likely to gain public traction.
Major reforms are also needed to make federal parliament more effective and less dysfunctional. These might include eliminating Question Time and mandating a strict code of ethics for MPs aimed at addressing toxic behaviours like the bullying crisis rocking the Coalition government.
Reforms like these would raise the level of decorum in parliament and set a new standard for parliamentary behaviour. This would increase public confidence that politicians both reflect and are accountable to modern values.
Lastly, a “Citizens’ Assembly” could be formed of randomly selected citizens to act as a non-partisan check and balance on parliament. Such an assembly could be modelled after the citizens’ juries that have been trialled successfully around the world, including Ireland, Canada and South Australia. The assembly would be given the responsibility to chart out long-term, national policy blueprints in areas like health, tax and education.
With this kind of direct voice on a national level, the public would be much more involved in policymaking and thus more vested in the success of their government.
Thinking like reformers
What’s clear is we must do the hard strategic thinking of reformers if we are serious about fixing our political system.
Like every credible plan to reform a major institution showing multiple dysfunctions, we need more than one reform idea. We also need to test these ideas against the root causes of the institution’s malaise. And we need to organise them into a strategic and practical sequence.
The alternative is to believe Australian democracy will magically right itself. Which is no alternative at all.