Nuance and nostalgia: Labor’s election review provides useful insights and inevitable harking back to Hawke


Frank Bongiorno, Australian National University

The media have been itching for a report that blamed Labor’s defeat on a dud leader. But the Review of Labor’s 2019 Federal Election Campaign, chaired by former Rudd and Gillard government minister Craig Emerson and former South Australian premier Jay Weatherill, is proportionate in the blame it sends Bill Shorten’s way. Shorten’s unpopularity contributed to Labor’s defeat, but there were wider problems that cannot be put down to leadership alone.

The review is a nuanced account of why Labor lost. Its brief explanation for that loss – a combination “of a weak strategy that could not adapt to the change in Liberal leadership, a cluttered policy agenda that looked risky and an unpopular leader” – belies the sophistication of the report as whole.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Labor’s post-mortem leaves the hard work still to be done


The document does better than most post-election analysis that has so far come from within the party. Some of this has been so tendentious and self-serving that its value in either explaining what went wrong or in pointing a way forward has been close to nil.

The review suggests that central to the party’s failure was that it did not reassess its approach adequately when Scott Morrison replaced Malcolm Turnbull. Rhetoric that might have made sense when the Liberal Party was being led by “Mr Harbourside Mansion”, as well as proposing business tax cuts, made rather less sense once the “daggy suburban dad” in the baseball cap was in charge.

Labor made too little of the chaos in the Coalition. Instead, the ALP made itself the issue at the election, a kind of government-in-waiting with a target on its back.

University-educated voters in the southern states, when they tuned in to Morrison, might have heard a sound something like the air escaping from a whoopee cushion. And such voters swung to the Labor Party in the election.

But voters in the suburbs and the regions, especially in Queensland, liked what they saw. So did professing Christians, who liked it even more when they saw photos of the devout believer at prayer, right arm pointing to heaven.

Christian voters swung behind the devout Scott Morrison in the 2019 election.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

On the other hand, many voters saw a danger to their already insecure lives in Labor’s multitude of expensive promises – and the taxation changes proposed to pay for them. They believed Morrison when he warned them of the risks of voting Labor.

Then there was coal. The authors of the report do seem to struggle with Adani. Like just about everyone else, they know it’s a financial and environmental mess. But in terms of electoral politics, Adani is radioactive.

Labor suffered in Queensland and the Hunter Valley as a result of its ambiguity, but the authors are silent on what the party could have done differently. If it had been less ambiguous about Adani, it would have needed to take a stand. But what should that stand have been?

The report is insistent that Labor should not alienate progressive and well-educated voters for whom climate change matters a lot and Adani is toxic. But how can it avoid their alienation while also pleasing economically insecure voters in Queensland? Is this simply a matter of finessing one’s language, or do the problems run deeper?

This is perhaps the report’s weakness. It is good at setting out the kinds of dilemmas Labor faces, which the party failed to grapple with at the 2019 election. It bemoans the party’s tendency to become the vehicle for various interests with diverse grievances, at the expense of serving the needs of economically insecure working-class voters. The habit of trying to serve too many masters multiplies policies and increases the complexity of campaign messaging, while undermining the party’s ability to craft a coherent story based on the party’s “core values”.

Yet the report has little to say on what such a narrative would look like or what those core values actually are. We are told the latter include:

improving the job opportunities, security and conditions of working Australians, fairness, non-discrimination on the basis of race, religion and gender, and care for the environment.

But there is nothing much here that would prompt an undecided voter to look to Labor rather than the Coalition, especially if they like the look of the Coalition’s leader better than Labor’s – as most did in 2019.

And then, when the review tries to set out what a “persuasive growth story” might look like, we are treated to the usual history lesson on the Hawke and Keating governments, whose “whole economic strategy” was about promoting “growth, and through it, jobs” (otherwise known as “jobs and growth”). For the Labor Party, it seems, it’s always 1983. We just need to find the winged keel to get us home.

Rather as the Hawke and Keating governments did, the review pushes any idea of redistribution, or of reducing inequality, to the very margins of Labor philosophy and policy. Indeed, the hosing down of such aspirations – modest as they were at the 2019 election – may well help to explain one of the strangest silences in the report: its failure to deal with the role of the Murdoch press.

The Murdoch media didn’t merely favour the government over the opposition. It campaigned vigorously for the return of the Coalition. And it is a vast empire, with a monopoly through much of regional Queensland, for instance. It is hard not to see in the review’s silence on this matter a clearing of the way for a future kissing of the ring of the familiar kind.

Still, there is much that is valuable in the review. There is its frank criticism of the deficiencies in the Labor Party’s strategising and the incoherence of its campaign organisation. There is the news that the party’s own internal data pointed to the possibility of the catastrophe that ultimately occurred – polling outside the party prompted a misreading of the readily available evidence.




Read more:
Why the 2019 election was more like 2004 than 1993 – and Labor has some reason to hope


The review is also particularly good on the damaging effects of Clive Palmer’s massive advertising splurge. And it makes a fair attempt to relate the Labor Party’s problems to wider international trends, such as the decline of trust, the insecurity of working life for many, the crisis of social democracy, and the search for convenient scapegoats – all of which have undermined the position of parties of reform.

Best of all, the review spares us a lot of rubbish about moving the party to the centre, or the right. It does make much of the need for Labor to reinvigorate its appeal to those groups who seem to have been most alienated at the 2019 election.

It recognises – correctly in my view – that Labor’s position on Adani performed unfortunate symbolic work, suggesting to people especially in parts of Queensland “that Labor did not value them or the work they do”.

But when your primary vote in Queensland is tracking at about 25% and you hold fewer than a quarter of the lower-house seats in that state and Western Australia combined, you probably don’t need a review to tell you something has to change.The Conversation

Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

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

Grattan on Friday: Labor’s post-mortem leaves the hard work still to be done



Bill Shorten may or may not have been able to beat Malcolm Turnbull, but the review makes it clear the ALP failed to adapt to a new, tactically-astute prime minister.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The messages for next time from Labor’s 2019 election post-mortem are clear. Have a better strategy. Have a stronger narrative, fewer policies, greater emphasis on economic growth. Have a better leader.

Obvious. Incontestable. Just, as a package, devilishly hard to achieve.

The review by Labor elders Jay Weatherill and Craig Emerson identifies the plethora of reasons for Labor’s unanticipated failure. It doesn’t pull punches and contains sensible recommendations.

But no prescribed remedies can guarantee success, in a game where how the other side operates is as important – and can be more so – than what your side does. And that’s apart from the general climate of the times, these days characterised by uncertainty and distrust.

Political success comes from judgement and planning, but there’s also the lottery element. We’ll never know whether Bill Shorten could have beaten Malcolm Turnbull if he’d still been the prime minister in May. Turnbull would say no. Many of the Liberals who ditched Turnbull would say yes. Everyone would agree with the review’s conclusion that Labor failed to adapt when it suddenly faced a new, tactically-astute Liberal PM.

The review’s release was much anticipated, as though it marks a watershed. It doesn’t. It’s sound, well and thoroughly prepared. But it was never going to say how policies should be recast. It leaves the hard work still to be done, and that will be painful and prolonged.

While there’s been much emphasis on Labor’s big taxing policies, the review stresses they were driven by the ALP opting for big spending.

It says “the size and complexity” of the ALP’s spending promises – more than $100 billion – “drove its tax policies and exposed Labor to a Coalition attack that fuelled anxieties among insecure, low-income couples in outer-urban and regional Australia that Labor would crash the economy and risk their jobs”.

Labor has long believed in both the policy desirability and the political attractiveness of large dollops of money for education and health in particular.

Beyond a certain point, however, the value of ever more dollars becomes questionable, on both policy and political grounds. Is the community, for example, getting the return it should for the funds put into schools over the past decade?

One can assume – and Anthony Albanese is signalling – Labor will throw around fewer dollars next time.

The review doesn’t target the controversial policies on negative gearing and franking credits. But they’ll be watered down or dumped.

Albanese, speaking to the National Press Club on Friday, said of the franking credits policy: “When you’ve got to explain dividend imputation and franking credits from opposition – tough ask”. He recounted talking to a pensioner worried about the policy – although pensioners would have been exempted and she’d never owned a share in her life.

The franking policy should have had a protection built in to avoid hitting genuinely low-income retirees while still catching wealthy people who’d rearranged their affairs to have little or no income. Shorten was advised to change it, but refused. On Thursday he said “were the universe to grant reruns” he would “take a different position on franking credits”.

It will be a lot easier for Labor to deal with these tax measures than with climate policy.

The review says: “A modern Labor Party cannot neglect human-induced climate change. To do so would be environmentally irresponsible and a clear electoral liability. Labor needs to increase public awareness of the costs of inaction on climate change, respect the role of workers in fossil-fuel industries and support job opportunities in emissions-reducing industries while taking the pressure off electricity prices.”

Indeed. The summary just highlights the complexities for Labor in working out its revised climate policy.

Anthony Albanese has already put the policy, whatever its detail, into a framework of its potential for job creation as the energy mix moves to renewables.

It’s part of his broader emphasis on jobs and growth (accompanied by his pursuit of improved relations with business, never again to be labelled “the big end of town”).

It’s possible increasing public worry about climate change could help Labor at the next election, if the government’s response is seen as inadequate. That won’t, however, make it any less imperative for the ALP to have a better pitched policy than its 2019 election one, which was too ambitious, lacked costings, and was conflicted on coal.

This segues into Labor’s problem juggling its “progressive” supporters with its working class suburban base, to say nothing of those in coal areas. Taking one line in the south and another in the north didn’t work. The unpalatable truth may be these constituencies are actually not reconcilable, but Labor has to find more effective ways to deal with the clash.

Notably, the review points to the risk of Labor “becoming a grievance-based organisation”. “Working people experiencing economic dislocation caused by technological change will lose faith in Labor if they do not believe the party is responding to their needs, instead being preoccupied with issues not concerning them or that are actively against their interests,” it says.

This is an important warning in an era of identity politics. But again, Labor is in a difficult position, because its commitment to rights, non-discrimination and similar values will mean it attracts certain groups and has to be concerned with their problems. It’s a matter of balance, and not letting itself become hostage.

Grievance politics, looked at through a positive lens, is a way of identifying wrongs and injustices and seeking to rectify them. But it is also in part a reflection of the wider negativity infecting contemporary politics, amplified by today’s media.

That culture can add to the problems of a centre left party trying to sell an alternative.

Labor frontbencher Mark Butler recently noted that on the three post-war occasions when Labor won from opposition, it had immensely popular leaders (Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd), visions for the nation and superior campaigns.

Whitlam sold a sweeping new program in tune with the changing times. Hawke promoted “reconciliation, recovery and reconstruction”. Rudd was welcomed as a fresh face embracing concern about climate change. Albanese has boldly dubbed a series of his speeches (the first already delivered) “vision statements”. But “vision” is an elusive elixir, apparently harder than ever to come by.

Winning from opposition is a struggle for Labor. This makes it crucial to have a leader who can both reassure and inspire swinging voters. Unfortunately out-of-the box leaders don’t come often; in reality, a party has to work with what it has got.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Labor’s election post-mortem warns against ‘becoming a grievance-based organisation’



Former minister Craig Emerson and former South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill have pinpointed key weaknesses in Labor’s 2019 election strategy.
AAP/Julian Smith

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The long-awaited ALP campaign review says Labor lost “because of a weak strategy that could not adapt to the change in Liberal leadership, a cluttered policy agenda that looked risky and an unpopular leader”.

“No one of these shortcomings was decisive but in combination they explain the result,” says the report from former South Australian premier Jay Weatherill and former federal minister Craig Emerson.

While it says Labor’s big tax policies didn’t cause the defeat, the size and complexity of its spending plans “drove its tax policies” exposing it “to a Coalition attack that fuelled anxieties among insecure, low-income couples in outer-urban and regional Australia that Labor would crash the economy and risk their jobs”.

Labor failed to “craft a simple narrative” bringing together its policies, the reviews says.

Its analysis is damning while seeking to be positive for the future, at a time when the ALP remains in shock at its unexpected loss and divided and uncertain about the way forward.

Looking ahead, the report says “policies can be bold but should form part of a coherent Labor story, be limited in number and be easily explainable, making them less capable of misrepresentation”.

“Labor should position itself as a party of economic growth and job creation. Labor should adopt the language of inclusion, recognising the contribution of small and large businesses to economic prosperity, and abandon derogatory references to ‘the big end of town’.”

The report’s emphasis on the importance of Labor tapping into economic growth and being attuned to business reflects the direction in which Anthony Albanese has been seeking to take the party since becoming leader.

The criticism of the “top end of town” language is a direct slap at the rhetoric of Bill Shorten.



The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Just ahead of the report’s release, Shorten said in a Thursday statement that “were the universe to grant reruns” he would have fewer campaign messages, put more emphasis on the opportunities provided by renewable energies, and take a different position on franking credits.

He also said he should have promised bigger immediate tax cuts for working people.

Shorten reiterated his intention to remain in politics for the next 20 years.

The report warns that “care needs to be taken to avoid Labor becoming a grievance-based organisation,” saying it “has been increasingly mobilised to address the political grievances of a vast and disparate constituency”.

“Working people experiencing economic dislocation caused by technological change will lose faith in Labor if they do not believe the party is responding to their needs, instead being preoccupied with issues not concerning them or that are actively against their interests.

“A grievance-based approach can create a culture of moving from one issue to the next, formulating myriad policies in response to a broad range of concerns.”

Addressing the swing against the ALP by low-income workers, the report says the party’s “ambiguous language on Adani, combined with some anti-coal rhetoric, devastated its support in the coal mining communities of regional Queensland and the Hunter Valley.”

In contrast, higher-income urban voters worried about climate change moved to Labor, despite the potential impact on them of the opposition’s tax policies.

Labor lost some Christian voters, “particularly devout, first-generation migrant Christians”, but the review does not find that people of faith in general deserted Labor.

The review does not believe Labor’s values – “improving the job opportunities, security and conditions of working Australians, fairness, non-discrimination on the basis of race, religion and gender, and care for the environment – were the problem at the election, and says Labor should retain its commitment to these values.

“Labor’s policy formulation should be guided by the national interest, avoiding any perception of capture by special interest groups.”

As a debate has raged within the ALP on how Labor should reshape its climate change policy, and notably its targets, the report says: “A modern Labor Party cannot neglect human-induced climate change. To do so would be environmentally irresponsible and a clear electoral liability.

“Labor needs to increase public awareness of the costs of inaction on climate change, respect the role of workers in fossil fuel industries and support job opportunities in emissions-reducing industries while taking the pressure off electricity prices.”

The report says that high expectations of victory caused Labor incorrectly to assume it had a stronger campaign machine and better digital capacity than the Coalition. It also led to “little consideration being given to querying Labor’s strategy and policy agenda”.

Following Clive Palmer’s huge advertising blitz, the review urges caps on spending by high wealth individuals. Also, influenced by the scare campaign that wrongly asserted Labor had in mind a death tax, the review said the issue of truth in advertising should be looked at.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Labor sets up review into election loss as top official falls on his sword



Labor National Secretary Noah Carroll is stepping down following the party’s surprise election loss in May.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Labor National Secretary Noah Carroll has resigned and the party’s national executive has set up a review to examine its election campaign performance and the reasons for the unexpected loss.

The post mortem will be jointly headed by former South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill and former federal minister Craig Emerson.

Other members of the committee are Linda White, an official of the Australian Services Union; Queensland Senator Anthony Chisholm, a former state secretary; John Graham, a member of the NSW upper house and a former state assistant general secretary, and Lenda Oshalem, formerly an official in the Western Australian branch of the party.

The review will be wide-ranging but done quickly, reporting in October.

It will look at Labor’s campaign strategy and organisation, including digital campaigning, engagement with unions and third-party campaigns, fund-raising, policy, preference negotiations and strategy, polling, candidate selection, target seat campaigning, media strategy, gender diversity in the campaign, and the methods used by opponents that were particularly effective against the party.




Read more:
Labor’s election loss was not a surprise if you take historical trends into account


After the party’s shock loss in May, stories emerged of tensions in the campaign, with a good deal of blame shifting over the result. Carroll, who is from the right and as Victorian secretary had run the successful 2014 state campaign, had both detractors and supporters.

One issue of controversy revolved around party research. John Utting, who had a long record running polling for the party, was replaced by YouGov Galaxy for quantitative polling. Utting did just the qualitative (focus group) research.

Assistant secretary Paul Erickson will become acting national secretary until a replacement for Carroll is decided.

The Friday executive meeting had been due to consider the expulsion of construction union official John Setka, but he has been given until July 15 to prepare his defence. Meanwhile, he has launched legal action to try to stymie his expulsion.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said Setka would not succeed in heading off his ousting.

Albanese began his move against Setka on the ground he had denigrated anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty at a private union meeting – a claim that is contested. But Albanese has also said Setka should be thrown out of the party because of his general behaviour. He recently pleaded guilty to harassing his wife with a plethora of offensive text messages.




Read more:
Setka furore opens division within the labour movement – and there is no easy solution


Albanese said on Friday he was not surprised Setka had started legal proceedings.

It always going to be the case given Mr Setka’s background in litigation. But the fact is that the Australian Labor Party has the right to determine who we want to be members, just like any organisation.

If a footy player, rugby league or AFL, had pleaded guilty essentially to two issues relating to harassment of a woman they’d be sacked by their club. We’ll sack John Setka and we’ll do it on July 15.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Why NZ needs to follow weapons ban with broad review of security laws


File 20190321 93032 1eqsodf.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Within a week of the Christchurch terror attacks, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a ban on semi-automatic weapons.
AAP/David Alexander, CC BY-SA

John Battersby, Massey University

Up until Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s announcement of a ban on military-style weapons yesterday, New Zealand had a system of licensing firearms holders and used a process of application, vetting, reference checks and attendance at firearms safety lectures.

Knowledge of the Firearms Code was required and tested. A firearms license holder was able to then legally acquire any number of firearms. New Zealand has not set up an arms register since the Arms Act was enacted in 1983.

There is no tally of how many firearms are in New Zealand, and no log of how many firearms any individual may have. There is an estimated 1.3 million firearms legally owned in New Zealand, and nothing beyond speculation about how many illegal weapons have found their way in.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces a ban on military style semi-automatic weapons and assault firearms.



Read more:
Will the New Zealand gun law changes prevent future mass shootings?


Loop holes in gun laws

With a certain class of license, military style semi-automatic weapons (in unlimited numbers) could be acquired legally. Some 14,000 of these weapons are thought to be legally owned in New Zealand.

Loop holes in current legislation abound. These make it possible to modify weapons and obtain large magazines, and even to buy armour-piercing bullets. Why, in a peaceful, democratic and open society, does anyone need a military-style automatic weapon and armour piercing ammunition?

Prime Minister Ardern has shown the decisive leadership we should see from a leader who genuinely cares about the people she leads. She has finally grasped the nettle, exploiting the current situation to drive through the changes New Zealand should have made 23 years ago following the Port Arthur massacre. She has outwitted those who might oppose her move, because there is no argument that anybody could muster now that would in any way resonate with the vast majority of New Zealanders.

Ardern has announced the ban on a number of weapons, signalled changes to the firearms licensing regime and the need to keep tabs on the national recreational arsenal. But there is a tough road ahead.




Read more:
When gun control makes a difference: 4 essential reads


Rural, recreational use of firearms

Politicians have an unquestioning faith that legislation is sufficient, but it is largely impotent without adequate resourcing for the enforcement of new rules. With only an estimate to work on, New Zealand Police (the administrators of firearms regulations) will have to identify and locate the owners of these weapons and implement the buy-back and amnesty that will be required.

Many owners will give them up. Their humanity will outdo their desire to have them, but the shocking reality of panic buying of semi-automatics since the Christchurch tragedy signals that clearly there are those who will seek to subvert the government’s intent. Police will have to investigate those who fail to cooperate, safely seize the weapons and prosecute the offenders.

Most firearms license holders in New Zealand do not own military style semi-automatic weapons. Many are rural, recreational hunters or use their weapons on ranges. They look after their weapons responsibly, secure them safely, own them legally and use them at no risk to the general public.

Most who own semi-automatic weapons are no different. We should not demonise a section of society simply because of the horrific, obscene and brutally inhuman actions of one lonely individual who no more represents gun owners than he does any other group of New Zealanders.

Illegal weapon imports

But this is not the issue. The issue is that the privilege of owning a certain class of weapons is not worth the terrible cost of 50 people being gunned down in prayer. New Zealand is already seeing the steady illegal importation of firearms, often tied to the increasing movement of illicit narcotics. Banning semi-automatics will increase the demand for the importation of these weapons illegally, adding extra pressure on law enforcement agencies.




Read more:
Why overhauling NZ’s gun and terrorism laws alone can’t stop terrorist attacks


For a ban on military style semi-automatics to have meaning, New Zealand’s long coast line, its airports and sea ports, through which illegal commodities are moving, will need resources that allow fit-for-purpose enforcement powers, people and tactics.

The changes New Zealand will now make will not guarantee it will be free of terrorism in the future. Other countries have much stricter firearms regulations, having taken far stronger measures years ago, but they have still suffered terrorist attacks. Firearms reform is one small step for a country that will need to address a plethora of gaps in its security approach.

New Zealand’s terrorism legislation is inadequate. It was found wanting when police attempted to apply it in 2007 during the “Urewera raids”, but charges could not be laid then. New Zealand’s then Solicitor General David Collins described the Terrorism Suppression Act then as incoherent and unworkable. How New Zealand manages social media needs review, and the traditional minimalist approach to national security will no longer suffice.

New Zealand has faced security crises before during the Russian scare in the 1880s and the second world war in the 1940s. It has often been caught out doing “too little, too late” to be saved only by its distance from any potential threat. The internet has extinguished that distance. It has brought the ills of the rest of the world to us. It is already too late. We must ensure that what we do now, is not too little.The Conversation

John Battersby, Police Teaching Fellow, Massey University

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

It’s the right time to review the world’s chemical weapons convention


File 20181115 194506 1nyxjmx.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Chemical weapons in civilian attacks;: Novichok decontamination work in the area where Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found poisoned and unconscious in Salisbury, UK.
Shutterstock/Amani A

Martin Boland, Charles Darwin University

The chemical weapons convention (CWC) is one of the most successful arms control treaties in existence. It outlaws the production, stockpiling or research on offensive lethal chemical weapons.

Yet chemical weapons have recently featured in the news – such as the recent Novichok poisonings in the UK – and the convention is facing questions.

The 193 signatory nations to the convention will assemble from November 19 this year at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague for the latest periodic review of the chemical weapons convention.

As reported today in Science, this is an important opportunity to get some key things back on track.




Read more:
What we know about Novichok, the ‘newby’ nerve agents linked to Russia


The chemical weapons convention is a legacy of the end of the cold war. The collapse of the Soviet Union reinvigorated the long-dormant chemical weapons control process. This culminated with most nations signing and ratifying the chemical weapons convention, which came into force in 1997.

Each nation is responsible for the destruction of its own stockpile of weapons (either alone, or with the help of others), with compliance monitored by OPCW. So far about 96% of declared stocks of chemical weapon agents have been eliminated, including all of Russia’s declared stockpile.

Fit for the mid-21st century?

Most nations accept that chemical weapons are an anachronism, with only limited military value against an enemy of similar technological sophistication.

But there has been a rise in recent years in the use of chemical weapon agents against civilian populations, as in the Syrian civil war, and as tools of assassination, such as in the murder of Kim Jong-nam and the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in the UK.

So are chemical weapons climbing out of the grave we thought we had consigned them to?

What is a chemical weapon?

It’s important to clear up a common misconception about the chemical weapons convention and how it handles lethal chemical agents.

Under the convention, the use of the pharmacological effects (what the chemical does to the body) of any chemical to achieve a military outcome (death or permanent disability) makes that a chemical weapon.

This means that novel agents, such as the Novichok (or A-series) chemicals alleged to have been used against the Skripals, are illegal, not because of their structure but due to the attempt to use them to kill.

This definition can create some complexities. If we take as a given that many chemicals are potentially lethal – it’s the dose that makes the poison – how do you regulate compounds that are likely to be used as weapons?

How should these be distinguished from those that could be fatal, but aren’t typically applied for ill-purpose? For example, the anticancer drug mustine – also known as nitrogen mustard – is a schedule 1 weapon under the chemical weapons convention (under the codename HN2).

Police action or short cut to new weapons?

Riot control agents are those such as pepper spray, 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile (better known, slightly erroneously, as CS-gas). These compounds are designed to cause the victim discomfort. But the effects dissipate soon after the victim is removed from exposure – similar to if you get capsaicin in your eyes while cutting chillies, you can wash the compound away with lots of water or milk.

These agents are only lightly regulated under the chemical weapons convention. Their use is allowed as part of normal law enforcement, but prohibited in war.

Different to these, incapacitating agents are defined as those that cause the victim to lose consciousness, or otherwise become systemically incapacitated – but the effects of these are not reversible by removing exposure.

Examples include chemicals that cause massive sensory hallucinations and prevent the victim from recognising reality.

There is much debate about the ultimate safety of riot control agents, but in general they are seen as safe unless incorrectly used. On the other hand, a Russian incapacitating agent is believed to have caused many of the fatalities during the 2002 Moscow theatre siege.

So how can these agents be legal, while the agent used in Salisbury is immediately considered illegal? What is an appropriate level of chemical force that should be acceptable when applied to a person as part of civilian policing?

What level of research into, or stockpiling of, such compounds would suggest the goal is no longer to develop countermeasures, but is part of an offensive chemical weapons program?

The CWC was written to outlaw these things, but has its success only moved the goalposts? These are open questions that the review should address.

Responsibility of scientists

Questions about how responsible a scientist is for the use of their work probably go to Fitz Haber and beyond. The 1918 Nobel Prize winner is generally considered the father of modern chemical warfare for his suggestion that the Imperial German Army use chlorine, the first lethal chemical weapon of World War I.

Today there are several questions about how scientists should interact with the world, using their knowledge to educate the public through the media, while avoiding drawing attention to possible misuses of that knowledge (or allowing their messages to be manipulated to cause panic).

Is it a greater good for society for me to explain that nitrogen mustard (from the example above) treats cancer, than the risk that someone will now try to steal some mustine from the oncology clinic to misuse it?

There is also the problem of dual use technologies. These are techniques that can equally be used develop a new pharmaceutical, or could be applied to develop a new nerve agent.

How much regulation of day-to-day research and commerce is acceptable to prevent those who would do us harm having access to materials and knowledge?

In the 20 years since the ratification of the CWC, we have made discoveries and improved access to technologies that may make it easier to create a truly effective improvised chemical weapon.

The chemical weapons convention has almost reached the initial goal of the signatories, the elimination of chemical weapons. Now the convention needs to move with the times, to prevent backsliding from the prevailing culture that considers chemical weapons to be unspeakably barbaric.The Conversation

Martin Boland, Senior Lecturer of Medicinal and Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Charles Darwin University

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

Six things Labor’s review of tertiary education should consider


Geoff Sharrock, University of Melbourne

In March, Shadow Minister for Education and Training Tanya Plibersek outlined Labor’s plan to review the architecture of the post-school education sector if elected next year. She said they would look at whether current qualification structures, the mix of institutions, and financing models are still fit for purpose.

The Mitchell Institute has highlighted incoherent policy across the higher education and VET sectors – a legacy of short-term fixes and poor state/federal co-ordination. The latest fix is last year’s freeze on teaching grants in the higher education sector. Meanwhile, the VET sector has seen falling TAFE enrolments and VET FEE-HELP loan rorts.




Read more:
Vocational education and training sector is still missing out on government funding: report


A Labor review would seek to “put TAFE and unis on an equal footing” while restoring demand-driven funding. What should it consider?

1. Look beyond a 2020 vision

Any “2020” vision shaped by near-term budget or electoral considerations risks (at best) partial policy fixes. Earlier reform attempts have mixed subsidy cuts, fee hikes and Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) changes, many of them rejected as unfair.

A 2030+ vision is needed to reset post-secondary education as a platform for knowledge-era nation-building. In this future, most Australians will need to up-skill and re-skill across their working lives. And as now, the sector will serve many related aims: as a booster of innovation, an export industry and a channel for global engagement.

2. Work back from the future of work

Recent reports conclude that Australians aren’t facing an “end of work” future where robots take our jobs. Instead, we are seeing old job destruction, new job creation and (mostly) the transformation of existing jobs to focus more on non-routine tasks, both manual and cognitive.


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Meanwhile, post-school credentials, especially bachelor degrees, are becoming mainstream pathways into the Australian workforce. The authors of this recent future of work report conclude that:

Education and skills remain essential, as partial insurance against technological unemployment, as a basis for innovation and competition, as a contributor to individual resilience and adaptability to change, and as a bulwark against further deepening of inequalities in opportunity.

3. Learn from other systems

But what kind of education and skills is less clear. In international comparisons, Australia looks strong in bachelor degrees. But some systems, such as Canada with its large community college sector, are stronger at the sub-bachelor level. A review should test whether we have the right mix for our future labour market, which types of qualifications should be demand-led and how these are to be financed.


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Some systems focus more on upper secondary vocational credentials. Offering these on a demand-led basis implies a different profile of post-compulsory provision, perhaps with a more diverse mix of institutions.


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Some systems have strong industry and government support for a broader vocational sector with clearer pathways into work. In Australia, post-school pathways should be clearer into initial credentials and jobs, and into flexible “lifelong” learning for mid-career up-skilling.


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4. Consider new types of credentials

Since 2012, Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platforms have promised mass scale yet personalised degree level learning, at very low cost. At the same time we’ve seen wide experimentation with new types of micro-credentials. These represent the accomplishment of short study, training or project assignments, often focused on enterprise skills. Small and stackable units of learning may count for credit towards a degree. Or supplement one by certifying wider sets of capabilities valued by employers.

As portfolio careers become mainstream, a subset of the emerging streams of micro-credentials that specify what learners know and can do in more detail will gain wider acceptance.



The Conversation, based on The Future of University Credentials by Sean Gallagher, 2016, CC BY-ND

A formalised system could offer more portable credit across education sectors and providers, and wider recognition across employers and industries. This may be a better fit for the idea proposed by the Mitchell Institute in 2015 for the government to provide younger cohorts of students a standard entitlement for upper vocational as well as degree level programs.

Or the idea proposed by the Business Council of Australia last year to provide every Australian a capped Lifelong Skills Account that could be used to pay for courses at approved providers across the tertiary spectrum over the person’s lifetime.

In each case a key aim is to ensure that young people in particular choose post-secondary courses and skillsets with clear aims in mind, without being diverted or disadvantaged by funding anomalies.

5. Learn from mistakes

Along with lessons from VET FEE-HELP, Australia may learn from the UK experience with big funding cuts combined with big fee hikes in 2012. This lifted university revenue per student but also landed many graduates in major debt for decades. This has raised serious questions about value for money at English universities.

In 2014, plans to deregulate uni fees in Australia assumed competition would limit price hikes while HELP loans kept study costs fair. This “market” solution failed to see how open-ended loan entitlements in Australia can lead to major debts where much of the cost is eventually met by taxpayers.

6. Settle structure, then governance and who funds what

RMIT’s Gavin Moodie has argued a joint review by state and national governments is needed to integrate VET and higher education policy. Industry engagement is needed also, to help define future needs and support more work-integrated learning.

A Labor review should rethink the future structure of post-secondary education then reconsider who finances what level of qualification.

The ConversationFinally, we’ll need an independent body to oversee tertiary education, and plan for the long term.

Geoff Sharrock, Honorary Senior Fellow, Centre for Vocational and Educational Policy, University of Melbourne

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

Gonski review reveals another grand plan to overhaul education: but do we really need it?


Glenn C. Savage, University of Western Australia

Today’s release of the report from the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools (also known as Gonski 2.0) proves sceptics both right and wrong. In many ways, the report reflects a smorgasbord of popular ideas that have been doing the rounds for some time.

These include Professor John Hattie’s mantra that young people should gain “a year of learning growth from a year of schooling”, along with other claims about the importance of quality teachers, early years learning and school leadership.




Read more:
Gonski review attacks Australian schooling quality and urges individualised teaching approach


One could be forgiven for seeing these arguments as yawn-worthy: not because they’re wrong, but because they have been repeated ad nauseum.

Despite this, the report is also deeply radical in scope and vision, especially in its focus on overhauling core aspects of curriculum, assessment and reporting.

In doing so, it places significant faith in the power of data, evidence, technology and personalisation of learning to drive improvement, and help the nation cast off the shackles of its “industrial model” of schooling.



The Conversation/Federal government, CC BY-ND

A radical rethink of curriculum, assessment and reporting

While the report makes recommendations across a variety of areas, its most radical lie in the areas of curriculum, assessment and reporting. Central to these is an argument that the current national curriculum, which is organised into year levels rather than levels of progress, leaves some students behind, fails to extend others, and limits opportunities to maximise student learning growth.

This strongly echoes recent work by Professor Geoff Masters. He has argued for a re-visioning of the way we assess students to better focus on student growth.

The report portrays the traditional year level curriculum as a relic of the 20th century industrial model of schooling, ill-suited to producing adaptive and personalised learning experiences. Instead, it argues for a shift away from the year level curriculum. It recommends that over the next five years, the national curriculum be reformed to present both learning areas and general capabilities as “learning progressions”.

This will ensure, the report argues, individual student achievement can be better understood and catered for, rendering schools more agile and adaptive to personal needs.

Accompanying this major change is a recommendation to introduce new reporting arrangements that not only focus on attainment, but also highlight “learning gain”. This is designed to ensure young people and parents don’t just have information on where young people sit relative to so-called “lockstep” level years. They would get more tailored information about individual progress.

What else does it recommend?

The report makes a number of other recommendations to supplement these major changes, including but not limited to:

  • Establish a national research and evidence institute to coordinate and disseminate best practices. This is essentially identical to Labor’s promise to create an Evidence Institute for Schools if elected.

  • Develop an online and on-demand formative assessment tool, to be based on revised national curriculum learning progressions. This would help teachers monitor student progress in real time and better tailor teaching.

  • Introduce a national Unique Student Identifier for all students to be used throughout schooling. This would enable the consistent tracking of students if they move between schools or systems.

  • Prioritise literacy and numeracy, particularly in the early years, to ensure young people have the necessary foundations.

  • Conduct a comprehensive national review into years 11 and 12, with a focus on objectives, curriculum, assessment provisions and delivery structures.




Read more:
An education research institute won’t take politics out of the classroom


These proposed changes, particularly those resting on technological advancements, will powerfully open the door to edu-businesses. They will also create new opportunities for edu-preneurs whose work seeks to profit from translating “what works” into action in the classroom.

We need to be careful not to stray too far from addressing inequalities in Australian schooling through re-distributive funding.
Shutterstock

Do we need another grand plan?

The idea that a radical national overhaul of curriculum, assessment and reporting is the primary way to stop Australia’s declining student achievement feels a bit Groundhog Day.

This was exactly the logic that drove the creation of the national curriculum in the late 2000s, and led to other unprecedented national reforms. These include NAPLAN, the My School website, and national teaching standards.

The problem is, despite time, resources and investments committed to revolutionising Australian schooling, these grand designs have done nothing to stop declining student achievement.

So, before we charge forth into the reform wilderness, serious debate should be had about whether these radical plans pass muster, and whether it’s worth the investment to put Australian schooling under another round of major surgery when the last round had minimal impact.

As part of this, we need to (once again) question whether the contemporary reform fever does any more than treat symptoms while deeper structural conditions continue to ensure, as the original Gonski report put it, unacceptable links between a young people’s socioeconomic backgrounds and levels of achievement.

We need to be careful not to stray too far from where the first Gonski report started out. That is: addressing inequalities in Australian schooling through re-distributive funding.

This is not to suggest pursuing personalised or adaptive learning is a fruitless endeavour. But all the personalisation in the world means nothing without a commitment to equality of opportunity for all young people.

Oh… and will it ever actually happen?

There are significant political hurdles to be overcome before the report’s recommendations can be translated into action.

This endeavour will begin on Friday, when federal education minister Simon Birmingham will meet state and territory education ministers to discuss the report. Nearly all the recommendations relate to state responsibilities. The federal government needs to secure their support to translate the recommendations into a national response.

Birmingham faces state ministers, not to mention senior bureaucrats, who are already suffering reform fatigue from the last decade of national reform – many who have limited appetite for further major changes. It’s also very likely for resistance to come from within schools, where long-standing habits and cultures are difficult to break.

Ultimately, the whole Gonski debate started with money, and that may very well be where it ends. The federal funding of schools will be a crucial tool in Birmingham’s bargaining kit and will largely determine whether the report’s recommendations come to fruition.




Read more:
The passage of Gonski 2.0 is a victory for children over politics


The ConversationThat said, even money might not be enough this time around. What is now at stake is not just some tinkering at the edges, but a monumental rethink of the teaching and learning process.

Glenn C. Savage, Senior Lecturer in Education Policy and Sociology of Education, and ARC DECRA Fellow (2016-19), University of Western Australia

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

Gonski review attacks Australian schooling quality and urges individualised teaching approach


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Gonski review into the quality of Australian schooling has highlighted declining academic performance and recommended school education be radically reformed to tailor teaching and assessment to individual students.

The damning report, released on Monday, says the decline is widespread and “equivalent to a generation of Australian school children falling short of their full learning potential”. In a blunt criticism, it finds “many Australian schools are cruising, not improving”.

Among the constraints in the schooling system are “inflexibility in curriculum delivery, reporting and assessment regimes, and tools focussed on periodic judgements of performance, rather than continuous diagnosis of a student’s learning needs and progress”.

The review proposes the development of “a new online and on demand student learning assessment tool”.

This would enable teachers to assess, regularly and consistently, the progress of the individual student, and give them suggestions about strategies to assist that student.

“There is compelling evidence, in Australian schools and internationally, that tailored teaching based on ongoing formative assessment and feedback are the key to enabling students to progress to higher levels of achievement”.

The review into achieving educational excellence, chaired by businessman David Gonski, who headed the landmark inquiry under Labor into school funding, was ordered by the Turnbull government after it embraced the Gonski needs-based model. The government legislated last year for $25.3 billion extra funding over a decade.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a statement that his government had accepted in principle the latest Gonski report. Many of its 23 recommendations fall within the states’ jurisdictions and state ministers will be briefed on Friday.

The recommendations in “Through Growth to Achievement” include that all students have a number (Unique Student Identifier) throughout their schooling to track their progress better; the Australian Curriculum be updated based on individual student growth rather than fixed-year levels; greater priority be given to literacy and numeracy in early schooling years; and principals have the autonomy to lead learning in their school communities.

The review also urges strengthening the attractiveness of the teaching and school leadership professions, with clearer career pathways and better recognition of expertise.

The report says that since the start of the new century “Australian student outcomes have declined in key subjects such as reading, science and mathematics. This has occurred in every socio-economic quartile and in all school sectors (government, Catholic and independent).”

“There is also a wide range of educational outcomes in the same classroom or school, with the most advanced students in a year typically five to six years ahead of the least advanced students. Such disparity in learning outcomes is at odds with the goal of equity in education for all students,” the report says.

“Australian education has failed a generation of Australian school children by not enabling them to reach their full learning potential. Dealing with this situation requires a significant shift in aspirations, approach, and practice, to focus on and accelerate individual learning growth for all students, whether they are lower performers, middle ranking or academically advanced”.

The review says “Australia still has an industrial model of school education that reflects a 20th century aspiration to deliver mass education to all children”.

This focusses on trying to have students attain specified outcomes for their grade and age, then moving them in lock-step to the next year. It is not designed to stretch all students to achieve maximum learning growth every year, and it doesn’t encourage schools to continuously improve, the review says.

“Australia needs to start by setting higher expectations for students, educators and schools, and rejecting the idea that there are natural performance plateaus.‘”

The review urges a national research and evidence institute be set up to share best practice.

Targeting the problem of “cruising schools”, it says this is one of the causes of stagnating student results.

Cruising schools are those that “maintain average achievement from year to year, but do not improve”.

“This is a significant issue”, the report says. About 30% of primary schools cruise from year to year rather than improve their results at the same rate as similar schools. “Cruising schools achieve outcomes above minimum standards, but deliver lower rates of learning growth than comparable schools where students have similar backgrounds in terms of parental occupation and education.”

The review says that among the priorities of the schooling system should be to “deliver at least one year’s growth in learning for every student every year”. It stresses the importance of early learning, and engaging parents as “partners” in their children’s education.

It says that without a national Unique Service Identifier “the educational history of the student does not transfer automatically from one school to another, meaning that the new school is starting from scratch in attending to that individual’s learning needs”.

Students should be encouraged to give more feedback about their education, the report says, and schools should partner with local industry and community organisations.

An inquiry should be held into years 11 and 12 schooling “to make sure it is contemporary, and adequately prepares students for post-school employment, training, higher education and to live and proper in a rapidly changing world”.

The ConversationThe Gonski panel acknowledges the difficulties of achieving reform in a federation. “However, we cannot let the challenge of delivery daunt our ambition”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Australia’s record on racial equality under the microscope



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The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has begun its two-day review of Australia’s record on racial equality.
Shutterstock

Fiona McGaughey, University of Western Australia

Overnight in Geneva, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) began its two-day review of Australia, asking government representatives to explain their progress in promoting racial equality and tackling racism.

The CERD notified the government in advance of the key focus areas of the review. Not surprisingly, these include the situation of Indigenous people, and of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees; racist hate speech and hate crimes; and human rights and anti-racism protections in Australia’s laws and policies.

What is the CERD?

Australia has ratified seven of the nine core human rights treaties. Each treaty has its own treaty monitoring body, like the CERD, comprised of independent experts who are nominated by governments but do not represent them.

These bodies monitor states’ compliance with their international law obligations as set out in the treaty, primarily through periodic reporting.

Most recently, Australia received criticism from another one of these bodies, the Human Rights Committee, which highlighted shortcomings in relation to Indigenous rights, treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, and the lack of a national bill of rights.


Read more: UN slams Australia’s human rights record


It is often overlooked that of these nine core treaties, the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), was actually adopted before any of the others. The CERD became operational in 1970, and ICERD is now the third most commonly ratified UN human rights treaty, with 177 states signed up.

Australia and CERD – the background

The CERD last reviewed Australia’s record in 2010.

The recommendations made in 2010 contained 21 specific actions for the government. These included the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as First Nations Peoples, supporting the proper performance of the Australian Human Rights Commission, appointing a Race Discrimination Commissioner, and addressing Indigenous contact with the criminal justice system.

Like many other UN human rights bodies, in 2010 the CERD also recommended that Australia review its mandatory detention regime of asylum seekers, with a view to finding an alternative to detention and ensuring that the detention of asylum seekers is always a measure of last resort.

Another recommendation in 2010 was that Australia criminalise the dissemination of racist ideas and incitement to racial hatred or discrimination.

In this regard, Australia has formally limited its obligations by having a reservation to the relevant article of the treaty. Reservations allow states to commit to treaty obligations, but with caveats.

Despite criticisms of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and suggestions that the federal parliament may even have exceeded its external affairs power by going further than was required by the ICERD treaty, the reality is that Australia lacks comprehensive criminal sanctions against incitement to racial hatred. Many other countries have such criminal laws in place.

On Tuesday in Geneva, the government will continue to seek to convince the CERD that it has made progress on these recommendations. It could refer to the appointment of a Race Discrimination Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission, for example Where it has not made good progress, it will be expected to provide explanations.

The last two reviews of Australia by the CERD in 2010 and 2005 were carried out in typical diplomatic mode – the review is called a “constructive dialogue”.

However, Australia’s review by the CERD in 2000 is famous in human rights circles, as there were unusually heated exchanges between Philip Ruddock and one of the committee members.


Read more: With a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, Australia must fix its record on Indigenous rights


The events were captured by Spencer Zifcak in his book, Mr Ruddock goes to Geneva. Subsequently, the then foreign minister, Alexander Downer, said:

… if a United Nations committee wants to play domestic politics here in Australia, then it will end up with a bloody nose.

Australia has more recently also rejected the authority of UN human rights bodies, but conversely has just been appointed to the UN Human Rights Council and will take up its seat in 2018.

The Human Rights Committee, one of the aforementioned seven treaty bodies, is sometimes confused with the Human Rights Council – a completely separate UN human rights body. The Human Rights Council is the key UN human rights body, a more politicised entity.

Who actually holds Australia to account?

Being subject to reviews by international human rights bodies is important for the upholding of human rights in Australia – we are currently the only sestern democracy lacking a statutory or constitutional bill of rights.

Also, unlike many other states, we are not part of a regional human rights framework.

Several interested parties made submissions to the CERD and delegates are in Geneva for informal briefings with the committee members. They will inform the committee of the key concerns they have about the government’s progress. NGOs have already made the committee aware of the situation on Manus Island.

My research has found that such submissions can be quite influential and help shape the recommendations eventually delivered by the committee. However, mechanisms to ensure the government implements the recommendations are lacking.

Therefore, those in civil society with an interest in racial equality, NGOs, academics, trade unions and others should be aware of the recommendations and encourage the government to progress their implementation.

What happens next?

The CERD will finish its review of Australia today, which should be available to view via webcast.

The ConversationIn a few weeks, the committee will hand down its concluding observations, containing recommendations for the Australian government.

Fiona McGaughey, Lecturer, Law School, University of Western Australia

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