Prime Minister Scott Morrison has foreshadowed his government will have Australia play a more active role in seeking to set global standards.
Delivering the Lowy Lecture on Thursday night, Morrison said Australia “cannot afford to leave it to others to set the standards that will shape our global economy”.
He has asked the foreign affairs department for an audit of global institutions and rule-making processes where Australia had the greatest stake, and he plans to tap Australian expertise in expanding its role.
Morrison’s initiative, which follows his recent United States trip and his criticisms during it of China’s behaviour on trade, has particularly in mind the World Trade Organisation which is seen to need reform.
In comments that seemed to have an eye to Brexit and Donald Trump’s recent lauding of patriotism over globalism, Morrison made a sharp distinction between positive and negative globalism.
He said that “Australia does and must always seek to have a responsible and participative international agency in addressing global issues.” This he dubbed this “practical globalism”.
Australia was not served by isolationism and protectionism, he said. “But it also does not serve our national interests when international institutions demand conformity rather than independent cooperation on global issues.
“The world works best when the character and distinctiveness of independent nations is preserved within a framework of mutual respect. This includes respecting electoral mandates of their constituencies.
“We should avoid any reflex towards a negative globalism that coercively seeks to impose a mandate from an often ill defined borderless global community. And worse still, an unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy. Globalism must facilitate, align and engage, rather than direct and centralise. As such an approach can corrode support for joint international action.
“Only a national government, especially one accountable through the ballot box and the rule of law, can define its national interests,” he said. “And under my leadership Australia’s international engagement will be squarely driven by Australia’s national interests.
“To paraphrase former prime minister John Howard, as Australians, ‘we will decide our interests and the circumstances in which we seek to pursue them.’
“This will not only include our international efforts to support global peace and stability and to promote open markets based on fair and transparent rules, but also other global standards that underpin commerce, investment and exchange.”
The Prime Minister sought to put a positive spin on his labelling of China as a “newly developed” economy during his foreign policy speech in the US last week – a description which the Chinese contest.
“China has in many ways changed the world, so we would expect the terms of its engagement to change too. That’s why when we look at negotiating rules of the future of the global economy, for example, we would expect China’s obligations to reflect its greater power status.
“This is a compliment, not a criticism.
“And that is what I mean when describing China as a newly developed economy.
“The rules and institutions that support global cooperation must reflect the modern world. It can’t be set and forget,” he said.
Morrison told his audience that his passions had always been for domestic politics – he did not naturally seek out international platforms. But as prime minister he had to be directed by Australia’s national interest.
He said he would be visiting India in January and also Japan early next year. This follows a busy international schedule in 2019.
Several key issues are emerging in this election that will prove decisive in voter decision-making behaviour. Unsurprisingly, economic development is front and centre. Despite having one of the world’s highest economic growth rates, growth slowed to 6.4% in the final quarter of 2018, down from a peak of 8.2% in mid-2018.
Unemployment rates are at their highest since the 1970s, as the economy struggles to create jobs for rural migrants moving to cities and a large youth cohort now entering the labour market. Unemployment and inflation, which directly affect household incomes, are widely seen as the biggest concerns for Indians in the lead up to the election.
The spread of “fake news” and misinformation is also an important electoral complication. WhatsApp in India is tackling the spread of misinformation through a verification centre called Checkpoint. Indian users of the Facebook owned social networking service, of which there is 200 million, can send pictures, messages, and videos to be fact-checked.
This comes as Facebook removed hundreds of pages that shared misleading content about India and Pakistan following a suicide bombing in Kashmir. How to deal with these increasing tensions between India and Pakistan are a key feature of the political campaign.
How India’s electoral system works
India has a Westminster system of government, a legacy of the British Raj. In the Lok Sabha (lower house) there are 543 seats up for grabs. An additional two seats for the Anglo-Indian community are nominated by the president. These 545 seats will form the 17th Lok Sabha. The Prime Minister is selected from the members of the largest party or coalition.
There is no direct election for the Rajya Sabha (upper house). Rather, the current 233 Rajya Sabha members are elected by the Legislative Assembly in each of the states and the two union territories, with an additional 12 members nominated by the president. The Rajya Sabha may have up to 250 members, but it doesn’t reach this quota at present.
There are two distinct personalities leading the major parties in this election. Both have taken advantage of the Representation of the People Act 1951 during their career, which allows candidates to contest an election from two seats – what the Wall Street Journal calls the “political equivalent of spread betting”.
Current Prime Minister Narendra Modi leads the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – a Hindu nationalist party. Modi won both of the seats he nominated for in the 2014 elections, Vadodara in his home state of Gujarat, and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. He chose the seat of Varanasi and will recontest this seat in 2019. It is unknown whether he will contest a second seat, but there is speculation he might in the south of the country.
It’s no coincidence that both Modi and Gandhi will contest seats in Uttar Pradesh. Commentators often describe Uttar Pradesh as “the battleground state” of Indian elections. With a population size of roughly 230 million people, Uttar Pradesh sends more members to the Lok Sabha than any other state; it holds 80 seats, followed by Maharashtra (48), West Bengal (42) and Bihar (40).
The BJP won the 2014 election with an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. The only time a party won by a larger majority was in 1984 following Indira Gandhi’s assassination, when Rajiv Gandhi led the Congress to win 78% of seats. But an absolute majority is more of an anomaly than the norm in recent Indian electoral history.
It’s hard to predict whether Modi or Gandhi will emerge victorious in the election. Opinion polls are presently split. Modi and the BJP benefit from the advantages of incumbency, but recent deterioration in economic performance poses an opportunity for opposition parties.
Although it’s shaping up more like elections of the past, where the result will depend on negotiating party alliances, the 2019 Lok Sabha elections will still go down in history as the world’s biggest election.
Living in a networked world has many advantages. We get our news online almost as soon as it happens, we stay in touch with friends via social media, and we advance our careers through online professional networks.
But there is a darker side to the internet that sees far-right groups exploit these unique features to spread divisive ideas, racial hate and mistrust. Scholars of racism refer to this type of racist communication online as “cyber-racism”.
Even the creators of the internet are aware they may have unleashed a technology that is causing a lot of harm. Since 2017, the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, has focused many of his comments about the dangers of manipulation of the internet around the spread of hate speech, saying that:
Humanity connected by technology on the web is functioning in a dystopian way. We have online abuse, prejudice, bias, polarisation, fake news, there are lots of ways in which it is broken.
Our team conducted a systematic review of ten years of cyber-racism research to learn how different types of communicators use the internet to spread their views.
We found that the internet is indeed a powerful tool used to influence and reinforce divisive ideas. And it’s not only organised racist groups that take advantage of online communication; unaffiliated individuals do it too.
But the way groups and individuals use the internet differs in several important ways. Racist groups are active on different communication channels to individuals, and they have different goals and strategies they use to achieve them. The effects of their communication are also distinctive.
Individuals mostly engage in cyber-racism to hurt others, and to confirm their racist views by connecting with like-minded people (seeking “confirmation bias”). Their preferred communication channels tend to be blogs, forums, news commentary websites, gaming environments and chat rooms.
Strategies they use include denying or minimising the issue of racism, denigrating “non-whites”, and reframing the meaning of current news stories to support their views.
Groups, on the other hand, prefer to communicate via their own websites. They are also more strategic in what they seek to achieve through online communication. They use websites to gather support for their group and their views through racist propaganda.
Racist groups manipulate information and use clever rhetoric to help build a sense of a broader “white” identity, which often goes beyond national borders. They argue that conflict between different ethnicities is unavoidable, and that what most would view as racism is in fact a natural response to the “oppression of white people”.
Meanwhile, individual cyber-racism seems to have a more direct effect by negatively affecting the well being of targets. It also contributes to maintaining a hostile racial climate, which may further (indirectly) affect the well being of targets.
What they have in common
Despite their differences, groups and individuals both share a high level of sophistication in how they communicate racism online. Our review uncovered the disturbingly creative ways in that new technologies are exploited.
For example, racist groups make themselves attractive to young people by providing interactive games and links to music videos on their websites. And both groups and individuals are highly skilled at manipulating their public image via various narrative strategies, such as humour and the interpretation of current news to fit with their arguments.
Our findings suggest that if these online strategies are effective, we could see even sharper divisions in society as the mobilisation of support for racism and far-right movements spreads online.
There is also evidence that currently unaffiliated supporters of racism could derive strength through online communication. These individuals might use online channels to validate their beliefs and achieve a sense of belonging in virtual spaces where racist hosts provide an uncontested and hate-supporting community.
This is a worrying trend. We have now seen several examples of violent action perpetrated offline by isolated individuals who radicalise into white supremacist movements – for example, in the case of Anders Breivik in Norway, and more recently of Robert Gregory Bowers, who was the perpetrator of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.
In Australia, unlike most other liberal democracies, there are effectively no government strategies that seek to reduce this avenue for the spread of racism, despite many Australians expressing a desire that this be done.
In recent days, Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne announced efforts to strengthen Australia’s involvement in the Indian Ocean region, and the importance of working with India in defence and other activities. Speaking at the Raisina Dialogue in Delhi – a geopolitical conference co-hosted by the Indian government – Payne said:
Our respective futures are intertwined and heavily dependent on how well we cooperate on the challenges and opportunities in the Indian Ocean in the decades ahead.
Among Payne’s announcements was A$25 million for a four-year infrastructure program in South Asia (The South Asia Regional Infrastructure Connectivity initiative, or SARIC), which will primarily focus on the transport and energy sectors.
She also pointed to increasing defence activities in the Indian Ocean, noting that in 2014, Australia and India had conducted 11 defence activities together, with the figure reaching 38 in 2018.
Payne’s speech highlights the emergent power of the Indian Ocean region in world affairs. The region comprises the ocean itself and the countries that border it. These include Australia, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Madagascar, Somalia, Tanzania, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
In terms of global political significance, the Atlantic Ocean can be viewed as the ocean of our grandparents and parents; the Pacific Ocean as the ocean of us and our children; and the Indian Ocean as the ocean of our children and grandchildren.
There is an obvious sense in which the region is the future. The average age of people in the region’s countries is under 30, compared to 38 in the US and 46 in Japan. The countries bordering the Indian Ocean are home to 2.5 billion people, which is one-third of the world’s population.
But there is also a strong economic and political logic to spotlighting the Indian Ocean as a key emerging region in world affairs and strategic priority for Australia.
Some 80% of the world’s maritime oil trade flows through three narrow passages of water, known as choke points, in the Indian Ocean. This includes the Strait of Hormuz – located between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman – which provides the only sea passage from the Persian Gulf to the open ocean.
The economies of many Indian Ocean countries are expanding rapidly as investors seek new opportunities. Bangladesh, India, Malaysia and Tanzania witnessed economic growth in excess of 5% in 2017 – well above the global average of 3.2%.
India is the fastest growing major economy in the world. With a population expected to become the world’s largest in the coming decades, it is also the one with the most potential.
Politically, the Indian Ocean is becoming a pivotal zone of strategic competition. China is investing hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure projects across the region as part of its One Belt One Road initiative.
For instance, China gave Kenya a US$3.2 billion loan to construct a 470 kilometre railway (Kenya’s biggest infrastructure project in over 50 years) linking the capital Nairobi to the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa.
Chinese state-backed firms are also investing in infrastructure and ports in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Bangladesh. Western powers, including Australia and the United States, have sought to counter-balance China’s growing influence across the region by launching their own infrastructure funds – such as the US$113 million US fund announced last August for digital economy, energy, and infrastructure projects.
In security terms, piracy, unregulated migration, and the continued presence of extremist groups in Somalia, Bangladesh and parts of Indonesia pose significant threats to Indian ocean countries.
Countries in the region need to collaborate to build economic strength and address geopolitical risks, and there is a logical leadership role for India, being the largest player in the region.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the Shangri La Dialogue in June, 2008:
The Indo-Pacific is a natural region. It is also home to a vast array of global opportunities and challenges. I am increasingly convinced with each passing day that the destinies of those of us who live in the region are linked.
More than previous Indian Prime Ministers, Modi has travelled up and down the east coast of Africa to promote cooperation and strengthen trade and investment ties, and he has articulated strong visions of India-Africa cooperative interest.
Australia’s 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper seeks to support IORA in areas such as maritime security and international law. Private organisations, such as the Minderoo Foundation, are doing impressive research – as part of the Flourishing Oceans intiative – on the migration of sea life in an effort to advance environmental sustainability and conservation.
But Australia could focus more on how to promote the Indian Ocean. In Australia’s foreign affairs circles, there used to be a sense Asia stopped at Malta. But it seems the current general understanding of the “Indo-Pacific” extends west only as far as India.
What this misses – apart from the historical relevance and contemporary economic and political significance of the Indian Ocean region generously defined – is the importance of the ocean itself.
Not just important for trade and ties
If the Ocean was a rainforest, and widely acknowledged as a repository of enormous biodiversity, imagine the uproar at its current contamination and the clamour around collaborating across all countries bordering the ocean to protect it.
The reefs, mangroves, and marine species that live in the Ocean are under imminent threat. According to some estimates, the Indian Ocean is warming three times faster than the Pacific Ocean .
Overfishing, coastal degradation, and pollution are also harming the ocean. This could have catastrophic implications for the tens of millions of fishermen dependent on the region’s marine resources and the enormous population who rely on the Indian Ocean for their protein.
Australia must continue to strengthen its ties in the region – such as with India and Indonesia – and also build new connections, particularly in Africa.
Compared to other international organisations, the G20 would seem to be one of the weakest.
It has no formal mandate like the United Nations. It has no permanent staff or buildings like the World Bank. It certainly has no funds like the International Monetary Fund. It has no power to make formal rules that members must follow, nor to take action against states that fail to comply, like the World Trade Organisation.
So how does the G20 get anything done?
What has made it influential in tackling problems like the global financial crisis? Why is it tasked with addressing some of the most pressing global problems, such as climate change?
A big part of the answer is the sheer power of its members. But also vital is the G20’s informal structure, which provides members with significant flexibility, and its close working relationship with other international organisations that also have a seat at the G20 table.
The members of G20 pack enormous punch.
The group comprises 18 of the 21 nations with the biggest economies by gross domestic product, plus South Africa and the European Union.
This means there are effectively 43 countries with a stake in the G20. Together they account for about 85% of global gross domestic product, and about 65% of the world’s people.
So when they agree to coordinate their national policies in a particular policy domain they can transform the global landscape.
In the wake of the global financial crisis in 2008, for example, G20 leaders agreed to coordinate their economic policies to ameliorate the worst impacts of the crash. Compared to previous crises of similar magnitude, the global economy recovered much more quickly than many anticipated. This is credited in large part to the G20’s role in expediting a coordinated response.
Seats at the table
Although the G20 does not have its own permanent staff and resources, it is adept at enlisting the commitment and resources of other international organisations when it needs to.
Bodies such the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development are well-integrated into the G20’s negotiation processes.
The board works to promote the stability of the global financial markets by coordinating the work of national and international financial authorities. The G20 has relied on the board to take the lead on making large financial institutions less vulnerable to collapse, such as by forcing them to hold more capital, implementing tougher transparency standards, and monitoring their progress.
To find out, I interviewed dozens of politicians and officials from every G20 country about the influence and importance of the annual gathering since its first meeting in 2008.
My analysis shows most G20 promises are kept, and the forum really does exert a positive influence on its member nations.
Cooperation or coincidence?
Before I started my research I had reasons to be sceptical.
For example, at the G20’s second meeting, in London in 2009, the assembled leaders committed to fiscal stimulus packages worth a combined US$5 trillion in response to the 2008 global financial crisis. Central banks, like the Reserve Bank of Australia, also committed to aggressively cut interest rates.
The data shows they did what they promised. But didn’t countries have an incentive to do what they did anyway? What role did the G20 play?
Similarly in 2010, at the G20 meeting in Toronto, spooked by the European debt crisis, leaders promised to halve deficits by 2013 and stabilise debt-to-GDP ratios by 2016.
Many countries achieved this. But weren’t many countries, such as Australia, already on the “back to surplus” bandwagon? Did the G20 have any influence?
More than just a talkfest
Was the G20 a real influence, or were countries just promising to do what they would have done anyway?
To find out, I interviewed a total of 63 senior politicians and officials from every G20 country.
They included former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, former Australian treasurers Wayne Swan and Joe Hockey, US Federal Reserve chairperson Janet Yellen and her predecessor Ben Bernanke, former US Treasury secretary Jack Lew, Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda, and Bank of England governer Mark Carney.
I asked them whether they believed the G20 had influenced their and other countries’ policies.
The answer was yes – sometimes.
It depended on the country, the policy area and other things, like whether there was an international economic crisis. But the influence was definitely there.
According to Kevin Rudd, who oversaw the Australian government’s successful response to the global financial crisis:
The G20 played a positive role in the quantum of Australia’s fiscal stimulus.
Politicians from ten other countries said the same thing – verified with data, where possible.
These banks have domestic mandates. The Reserve Bank of Australia can’t refuse to change interest rates because it annoys New Zealand, for example. It must do what is best for the nation. What room is therefore left for G20 co-operation?
My research suggests the G20 does influence the thinking of central bankers and, through them, central bank policies.
“There is a lot of exchange of views in the G20 which I think is influential,” Ben Bernanke, who chaired the US Federal Reserve from 2006 to 2014, told me.
Mark Carney, who was governor of the Bank of Canada before heading the Bank of England, said the G20 was “a useful forum in which central banks can explain the reasons for their policy decisions”.
What about those 1,000 structural reforms?
According to Joe Hockey, Australia’s treasurer from 2013 to 2015:
The G20 growth strategy process absolutely resulted in countries doing things differently, particularly by learning from one another.
US officials agreed, confirming they got the idea of an asset-recycling initiative – where governments lease existing infrastructure assets to private companies and invest the proceeds in new infrastructure projects – from Australia through the G20.
A place to learn
German officials said because of G20 commitments their government developed a financial literacy and education program to better equip Germany’s citizens, particularly young people, in their engagement with the financial system.
Russian officials said Vladimir Putin embraced their 2017-2020 reform agenda on female economic participation after learning about the benefits through the G20.
The G20 has also prevented nations embracing “beggar-thy-neighbour” policies that improve the country’s relative economic position by harming others. It has pressured members not to devalue their currencies in pursuit of competitive trade advantage. It has helped countries resist resorting to trade protectionism. It has defused tensions around controversial policies such as quantitative easing, and improved the communication of central banks on future policy changes.
Janet Yellen, former chair of the US Federal Reserve, said she “genuinely took to heart” concerns expressed at the G20 about aspects of US policy.
There are exceptions
The G20’s influence is not universal. Large countries are less influenced than smaller ones. Said a former senior US official:
Most Americans, and many in Congress, are proudly indifferent to what the rest of the world thinks.
Jacob Lew, US Treasury Secretary from 2013 to 2017, agreed:
There can be a backlash in the United States if you make the argument that you are doing something to comply with international rules.
The full results have been published by the Brookings Institution (available here).
So if commentators complain about the G20 being a pointless talkfest, just remember there is evidence to the contrary. It might not grab the headlines but the G20 plays an important role behind the scenes. We will be relying on it now, more than ever, to calm global tensions.
The digital transformation of society has brought many immediate benefits: it’s created new jobs and services, boosted efficiency and promoted innovation. But when it comes to improving the way we govern, the story is not that simple.
It seems reasonable to imagine introducing digital information and communication technologies into public sector organisations – known as “digital government” or “e-government” – would have a beneficial impact on the way public services are delivered. For instance, by enabling people to claim rebates for medical bills via a government website.
When implemented well, e-government can reduce the cost of delivering government and public services, and ensure better contact with citizens – especially in remote or less densely populated areas. It can also contribute to greater transparency and accountability in public decisions, stimulate the emergence of local e-cultures, and strengthen democracy.
I argue the implementation of digital government is a intractable problem for developing countries. But there are small steps we can take right now to make the issues more manageable.
Few digital government projects succeed
The nature of government is complex and deeply rooted in the interactions among social, political, economic, organisational and global systems. At the same time, technology is itself a source of complexity – its impacts, benefits and limitations are not yet widely understood by stakeholders.
Given this complexity, it’s not uncommon for many digital government projects to fail, and not just in the developing world. In fact, 30% of projects are total failures. Another 50-60% are partial failures, due to budget overruns and missed timing targets. Fewer than 20% are considered a success.
In 2016, government spending on technology worldwide was around US$430 billion, with a forecast of US$476 billion by 2020. Failure rates for these kinds of projects are therefore a major concern.
What’s gone wrong in developing countries?
A major factor contributing to the failure of most digital government efforts in developing countries has been the “project management” approach. For too long, government and donors saw the introduction of digital services as a stand-alone “technical engineering” problem, separate from government policy and internal government processes.
But while digital government has important technical aspects, it’s primarily a social and political phenomenon driven by human behaviour – and it’s specific to the local political and the country context.
Change therefore depends mainly upon “culture change” – a long and difficult process that requires public servants to engage with new technologies. They must also change the way they regard their jobs, their mission, their activities and their interaction with citizens.
In developing countries, demand for e-services is lacking, both inside and outside the government. External demand from citizens is often silenced by popular cynicism about the public sector, and by inadequate channels for communicating demand. As a result, public sector leaders feel too little pressure from citizens for change.
Designing and managing a digital government program also requires a high level of administrative capacity. But developing countries most in need of digital government are also the ones with the least capacity to manage the process thus creating a risk of “administrative overload”.
How can we start to solve this problem?
Approaches to digital government in developing countries should emphasise the following elements.
Local leadership and ownership
In developing countries, most donor driven e-government projects attempt to transplant what was successful elsewhere, without adapting to the local culture, and without adequate support from those who might benefit from the service.
Of the roughly 530 information technology projects funded by the World Bank from 1995 to 2015, 27% were evaluated as moderately unsatisfactory or worse.
The swiftest solution for change is to ensure projects have buy-in from locals – both governments and citizens alike.
Public sector reform
Government policy, reflected in legislation, regulations and social programs, must be reformulated to adapt to new digital tools.
The success of digital government in Nordic countries results from extensive public sector reforms. In the United States, investments in information technology by police departments, which lowered crime rates, were powered by significant organisational changes.
In developing countries, little progress has been made in the last two decades in reforming the public sector.
Accept that change will be slow
Perhaps the most easily overlooked lesson about digital government is that it takes a long time to achieve the fundamental digitisation of a public sector. Many developing countries are attempting to achieve in the space of a few decades what took centuries in what is now the developed world. The Canadian International Development Agency found:
In Great Britain, for example, it was only in 1854 that a series of reforms
was launched aimed at constructing a merit-based public service shaped by rule of law. It took a further 30 years to eliminate patronage as the modus operandi of public sector staffing.
Effective strategies for addressing the problem of e-government in developing countries should combine technical infrastructure with social, organisational and policy change.
The best way forward is to acknowledge the complexities inherent in digital government and to break them into more manageable components. At the same time, we must engage citizens and leaders alike to define social and economic values.
Local leaders in developing countries, and their donor partners, require a long-term perspective. Fundamental digital government reform demands sustained effort, commitment and leadership over many generations. Taking the long view is therefore an essential part of a global socio-economic plan.
Back in 2016, The Financial Times’ Gideon Rachman advanced the view in a commentary for The Economist that the “strongman” style of leadership was gravitating from east to west, and growing stronger. “Across the world – from Russia to China and from India to Egypt – macho leadership is back in fashion,” Rachman wrote.
In light of subsequent developments around the world, he understated the “macho” phenomenon, driven by rising populism and growing mistrust of democratic systems.
That commentary was published before Donald Trump prevailed in the US presidential election and turned upside-down assumptions about how an American president might behave.
Whether we like it or not, the most powerful country in the world – until now, an exemplar of Western liberal democracies and global stabiliser in times of stress – is ruled by an autocrat who pays little attention to democratic norms.
Spread of authoritarianism
In his lecture delivered just a day after Trump appeared to take Russian President Vladimir Putin’s side over America’s intelligence agencies on the issue of Russian meddling in the 2016 US elections, Barack Obama drew attention to the new authoritarianism.
Without referring directly to Trump, Obama issued his most pointed criticism yet of the nativist and populist policies adopted by his successor on issues like immigration, protectionism and climate change.
The politics of fear and resentment … is now on the move. It’s on the move at a pace that would have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago. I am not being alarmist, I’m simply stating the facts. Look around – strongman politics are on the ascendant.
Trump, therefore, is not an aberration. He is part of a strengthening authoritarian trend more or less across the globe.
In Thailand, the army shows little inclination to yield power it seized in a military coup in 2014, even if there was public clamour for a return to civilian rule (which there is not).
In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is continuing to strengthen his hold on the country, expanding the powers of the presidency and locking up political rivals and journalistic critics. As a result, Turkey’s secular and political foundations are being undermined.
In Brazil, 40% of those polled by Vanderbilt University a few years back said they would support a military coup to bring order to their country, riven by crime and corruption.
And in Saudi Arabia, a young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has detained the country’s leading businessmen and extorted billions from them in return for their freedom. This took place without censure from the West.
The death of truth
Meanwhile, genuine liberal democrats are in retreat as a populist tide laps at their doors.
In Germany, Angela Merkel, the most admirable of Western liberal democratic leaders, is just holding on against anti-immigration forces on the right.
In Australia, Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten, the leaders of the established centre-right and centre-left parties, are similarly under pressure from nativist forces on the far right.
What Australia and these other countries lack is a Trump, but anything is possible in an emerging strongman era, including the improbable – such as the emergence of a reality TV star as leader of the free world.
In a recent Lowy Institute opinion survey only 52% of younger Australians aged 18-29 years believed that democracy was preferable to other alternative forms of government.
In all of this, among the casualties is the truth, and particularly the truth. All politicians bend the truth to a certain extent, but there is no recent example in a Western democracy of a political leader who lies as persistently as Trump.
Like the character Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Trump lives in his own make-believe reality TV world where facts, it seems, are immaterial.
In his lecture in South Africa, Obama dwelled at length on the corruption of political discourse in the modern era, including a basic disrespect for the facts.
People just make stuff up. They just make stuff up. We see it in the growth of state-sponsored propaganda. We see it in internet fabrications. We see it in the blurring of lines between news and entertainment. We see the utter loss of shame among political leaders where they’re caught in a lie and they just double down and they lie some more. It used to be that if you caught them lying they’d be like, ‘Oh man.’ Now they just keep on lying.
A decade ago, it appeared that a revolution in information and communications technologies would empower the individual at the expense of the state. Western leaders believed social networks would create ‘people power,’ enabling political upheavals like the Arab Spring. But the world’s autocrats drew a different lesson. They saw an opportunity for government to try to become the dominant player in how information is shared and how the state can use data to tighten political control.
In his conclusion, Bremmer has this sobering observation:
Perhaps the most worrying element of the strongman’s rise is the message it sends. The systems that powered the Cold War’s winners now look much less appealing than they did a generation ago. Why emulate the US or European political systems, with all the checks and balances that prevent even the most determined leaders from taking on chronic problems, when one determined leader can offer a credible shortcut to greater security and national pride? As long as that rings true, the greatest threat may be the strongmen yet to come.
On Sky News, Hanson said Australia is “the highest growing country in the world”.
The senator added that at 1.6%, Australia’s population growth was “double [that of] a lot of other countries”.
Are those statements correct?
Checking the source
In response to The Conversation’s request for sources and comment, a spokesperson for Pauline Hanson said the senator “talks about population growth in the context of our high level of immigration because in recent years, immigration has accounted for around 60% of Australia’s population growth”.
World Bank data for 2017 show that Australia’s population growth was 1.6%, much higher than comparable countries with immigration programs like Canada (1.2%), the UK (0.6%) and the US (0.7%).
One Nation leader Pauline Hanson was correct to say Australia’s population grew by 1.6% in the year to June 2017. But she was incorrect to say Australia is “the highest growing country in the world”.
According to the most accurate international data, the country with the fastest growing population is Oman, on the Arabian Peninsula.
Senator Hanson said Australia’s 1.6% population growth was “double than a lot of other countries”. It is fair to say that Australia’s population growth rate is double that of many other countries, including the United States (0.7%) and United Kingdom (0.7%), for example.
Since Hanson’s statement, Australia’s population growth rate for the period ending June 2017 has been revised upwards to 1.7%. But Hanson’s number was correct at the time of her statement, and the revision doesn’t change the outcome of this FactCheck.
In terms of the 35 countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Luxemberg was the fastest growing country in 2016, with Australia coming in fifth.
Caution must be used when making international population comparisons. It’s important to put the growth rates in the context of the total size, density and demographic makeup of the population, and the economic stage of the country.
How do we calculate population growth?
A country’s population growth, or decline, is determined by the change in the estimated number of residents. Those changes include the number of births and deaths (known as natural increase), and net overseas migration.
In Australia, both temporary and permanent overseas migrants are included in the calculation of population size.
According to Australian Bureau of Statistics data, Australia’s population grew by 1.6% in the year to June 2017 – as Senator Hanson said.
Since Hanson’s statement, Australia’s population growth rate for the period ending June 2017 has been revised upwards to 1.7%. But as said in the verdict, Hanson’s number was correct at the time of her statement, and the revision doesn’t change any of the other outcomes of this FactCheck.
That’s an increase of 407,000 people in a population of 24.6 million.
All states and territories saw positive population growth in the year to June 2017, with Victoria recording the fastest growth rate (2.4%), and South Australia recording the slowest growth rate (0.6%).
How does Australia’s growth compare to other OECD countries?
Comparison of Australia’s average annual population growth with other OECD countries shows Australia’s rate of population growth is among the highest in the OECD, but not the highest.
This is true whether we look at annual averages for five year bands between 1990 and 2015, or single year data.
Looking again at the World Bank data, Australia’s rate of population growth for 2016, at 1.5%, was double that of many other OECD countries, including the United Kingdom (0.7%) and United States (0.7%).
The greatest contribution to the growth of the Australian population (63%) currently comes from overseas migration, as Hanson’s office noted in their response to The Conversation.
The origin countries of migrants are becoming more diverse, posing socioeconomic benefits and infrastructure challenges for Australia.
Sometimes people confuse net overseas migration (the total of all people moving in and out of Australia in a certain time frame), with permanent migration (the number of people who come to Australia to live). They are not the same thing.
Net overseas migration includes temporary migration. And net overseas migration is included in population data. This means our population growth reflects our permanent population, plus more.
Population changes track the history of the nation. This includes events like post-war rebuilding – including the baby boom and resettlement of displaced European nationals – to subsequent fluctuations in birth rates, and net overseas migration.
We can see these events reflected in the rates of growth from 1945 to the present.
The rate of population growth in Australia increased markedly in 2007, before peaking at 2.1% in 2009 (after the height of the global financial crisis, in which the Australian economy fared better than many others).
Since 2009, annual population growth has bounced around between a low of 1.4% and a high of 1.8%.
The longer term average for population growth rates since 1947 is 1.6% (the same as it is currently).
It’s worth remembering that a higher growth rate per annum coming from a lower population base is usually still lower growth in terms of actual numbers of people, when compared to a lower growth rate on a higher population base.
There can also be significant fluctuations in population growth rates from year to year – so we need to use caution when making assessments based on changes in annual rates.
Economic factors, government policies, and special events are just some of the things that can influence year-on-year population movements.
Other factors we should consider when making international comparisons include the:
total size of the population
demographic composition, or age distribution, of the population, and
the economic stage of the country (for example, post industrialisation or otherwise).
Any changes to the migration program should be considered alongside the best available research. – Liz Allen
The FactCheck is fair and correct.
The statement about Australia’s population growth rate over the year to June 30, 2017, is correct. The preliminary growth rate published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics at the time of Senator Hanson’s statement was 1.60%; the rate was subsequently revised to 1.68%.
It is also true that many developed countries have lower population growth rates than Australia, but some have higher rates. According to United Nations Population Division population estimates, Oman had the fastest growing population between 2014 and 2015 (the latest data available).
With regards to misinterpretations of net overseas migration, it should also be stated that some people think this refers to the number of people migrating to Australia. It is actually immigration minus emigration – the difference between the number arriving and the number leaving. – Tom Wilson
The Conversation’s FactCheck unit was the first fact-checking team in Australia and one of the first worldwide to be accredited by the International Fact-Checking Network, an alliance of fact-checkers hosted at the Poynter Institute in the US. Read more here.
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