July 19, 2017
The new home affairs super ministry announced by Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday is considered by some experts to be unnecessary and potentially dangerous.
Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) Peter Jennings, says that while the department would present an array of bureaucratic challenges it is largely a “sensible step”.
Likely benefits include the potential for a much needed improvement to Australia’s ability to address cybersecurity issues and foreign interference. But he says success will depend on how effectively the ministers can work together.
Jennings notes that the “absence of obvious process” behind the announcement of the home affairs department - unlike the “carefully worded, well-researched” Intelligence review - means that the details of the roll-out are unclear.
July 13, 2017
Many Australians are worried about the proliferation of data businesses and the government knowing too much about them.
Data Governance Australia chairman Graeme Samuel hopes that a self-regulatory code of conduct will raise the standards among data-driven organisations. Despite the pervasiveness of data in our daily lives, he argues most people don’t understand the extent to which organisations use it.
As a former regulator, Samuel regards government regulation of data as “second-best” and is “there to step in when there is market failure”. In drafting the code, he has consulted closely with businesses and the public to try to “anticipate community concerns into the foreseeable future”.
On the government’s My Health Record – which has been rolled out very slowly – he argues the benefits of a centralised system outweigh privacy concerns, although every effort needs to be made to protect the privacy of health records.
While data offers an opportunity for improved safety, trust in processes is paramount. “We need to be careful, of course, that the issue of security in terms of international terrorism and the like is not used as a superficial excuse for the collection of data to be used for other purposes.”
July 3, 2017
Melbourne-born author Anna Krien’s latest Quarterly Essay explores the debates on climate change policy in Australia and the ecological effects of not acting.
She interviewed farmers, scientists, Indigenous groups, and activists from Bowen to Port Augusta. She says climate change denialism has transformed into “climate change nihilism”.
Krien says the Finkel review provides another opportunity in a long line of proposals to take up the challenge of legislating clean energy. “We just need to get that foot in the door. The door has been flapping in the wind for the past decade.”
On a current frontline battle – the planned Adani Carmichael coalmine – she found the people who would be affected were being ignored and blindsided.
Meanwhile, the potential for exploitation of local Indigenous peoples through “opaque” native title legislation was high. “Outsiders are not meant to understand it and to tell you the truth you get the sense that insiders aren’t meant to understand it either.”
June 23, 2017
Despite the government still considering his proposal for a clean energy target (CET) – after endorsing his other 49 recommendations – Chief Scientist Alan Finkel is optimistic the CET remains firmly on the agenda.
Finkel’s challenging task has been to put forward a scheme to bring Australia’s energy market into the future, providing certainty for investment and supply. His plan has required a balance between appeasing consumers on prices and meeting Australia’s commitments on climate change.
This is made harder by the desire of many in the government to push on with developing new “clean-coal-fired” power stations, a term Finkel describes as “a murky concept”. “There is no prohibitions in any of our recommendations. The government has to decide whether to license new technologies,” he says.
Asked about the concept of “reverse auctions” – better called competitive tenders – he says this is “widely recognised to be the most cost-effective means of bringing the lowest cost solution into the market”. But that’s dependent on the wisdom of the entity running the auction rather than the wisdom of investors.
Overall, Finkel acknowledges there’s a hard road ahead for policymaking on energy. “Transitions are always painful,” he says.
June 23, 2017
NSW Premier Gladys Berejikilian is alert to the challenge of operating in today’s difficult electorate. “The digital age has brought a sense of empowerment. It’s brought a sense of greater appreciation of democracy and the political process and we need to not only respond to it but adapt to that and make sure that we are listening during our term in office, not just at election time.”
With her government having just handed down a budget with an enviable surplus, she says the federal government’s Gonski legislation will leave NSW better off “in terms of dollars”.
But she is very concerned about what she sees as an urgent need to review the numerous and “clumsy” federal-state partnerships. She’d prefer a more fundamental overhaul but that’s not on the horizon. “I don’t want piecemeal reform - I would prefer to have wholesale reform but I can’t see that happening in the near future and for that reason I think as a state leader I have to deliver as much as I can under the existing circumstances”.
June 14, 2017
Malcolm Turnbull declared on Wednesday he'd "provided decisive leadership on energy". It is a claim perhaps better cast in the future tense.
The debate over the Finkel panel's recommendation for a clean energy target (CET) is just beginning, and already it is clear that reaching an outcome that brings the certainty the business community needs to invest will be a hard slog for Turnbull, who will be undermined by critics on his own side.
In this podcast we talk Finkel with Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, Nationals backbencher George Christensen, and opposition climate spokesman Mark Butler.
Frydenberg, charged with the detailed heavy-lifting, tells Michelle Grattan: "We have to work together as a team to land this difficult policy area."
Christensen proudly wears the agrarian socialist title as he advocates for radical changes to the regulation of Australian energy prices. "Being bold is the answer and market intervention has to happen." He's sceptical of a CET without seeing the modelling and data.
Butler believes a CET is workable but it has to be consistent with principles, which means such a scheme shouldn't incorporate so-called "clean" coal. "The discussion of the Finkel report shouldn't include concessions for the hard-right-wing," he says.
June 6, 2017
Events in Britain, the New South Wales coroner’s report on the Lindt Cafe siege, and a new attack in Australia have given a much sharper edge to the debate about how to handle Islamist terrorism.
Amid the hype, ANU security expert John Blaxland provides a reality check. He says while there’s an escalation of and change in the nature of terrorist attacks, collaboration between Australian police and intelligence services is world class.
On the Lindt Cafe siege, Blaxland says that although in hindsight the police could have done things differently, it’s “preposterous” to insist the special forces were required to resolve it. “We actually need to be very circumspect about over-committing our military.”
He’s sceptical of the push for a homeland security department, saying a “refined set of arrangements” is in place for interdepartmental co-operation.
On the question of the local Muslim population, he says most don’t subscribe to a fundamentalist, expansionist Islam – violent jihadists are outliers. “They’re people that have been on the edge, if not mentally then certainly socially.”
Speaking about this week’s revelations of Chinese influence in Australia, Blaxland says the scale is enormous and unprecedented. “We have had an ongoing growing tension emerge between our security and strategic consciousnesses and our economic consciousness.”
June 1, 2017
The Coalition has backed the Adani Carmichael coal mine but there’s debate about assistance for the project, and argument about the jobs it would create in the region.
Matt Canavan argues there’s a role for the government to invest in large scale infrastructure. He tells The Conversation this mine is only one part of a plan for “opening up the Galilee Basin” to provide investment opportunities, exports, and employment. “This coal is not for Australia, it’s for our region.”
On last week’s Uluru statement calling for an Indigenous body to be enshrined in the constitution Canavan says he’s concerned about creating another organisation, especially if it were to be based on different racial definitions. He says options should be explored for greater recognition of Indigenous people in the political process without “necessarily making changes to the constitution”.
On the coming Queensland election - with polling close - he says either side’s for the taking. “The Queensland Labor government has had a pretty rough time in the last week but I pick up a lot of frustration in North Quensland and I think they’ve got a lot of work to pick up trust.”
May 25, 2017
Dennis Richardson, one of Australia’s most respected federal public servants, has just retired after an illustrious career. He served as head of the foreign affairs department, the defence department, and ASIO, and was Australian ambassador in Washington. He was also once chief-of-staff to then-prime minister Bob Hawke.
Richardson was never afraid to tell ministers what he believed they should hear, and any grudges they had as a result they apparently got over very quickly.
He urges bureaucrats to be forthright with their political bosses, but also to be strategic in how they go about trying to persuade. “Providing frank and fearless advice is not about getting something off your chest, it’s about seeking to influence for an outcome that you think is the right one.”
In this interview with The Conversation he reflects on trends in the public service, and discusses the implications of the Trump presidency and the future of China. He also recalls as a very young public servant being sent to play squash with Billy McMahon – and beating him. Not long after, he handed out how-to-vote cards for Labor in the “It’s Time” election.
May 24, 2017
Labor has come under fire for some of its budget responses, including its opposition to the schools package, and only partial support for the Medicare levy increase.
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen rejects the government’s argument about the schools plan being more “needs based” than present arrangements, telling The Conversation its “one-size fits all” approach will put pressure on families and the public system. “Being needs-based is a bit like being pregnant, isn’t it? You either are or you aren’t.”
Bowen defends targeting the Medicare levy rise only at higher income earners by saying Australia’s low wage growth and other factors mean the circumstances are different from when Julia Gillard raised the levy across the board.
Small and medium-sized businesses – with a turnover up to $50 million - are waiting to find out whether a Labor government would cancel their legislated tax cut. Labor is “taking a bit of time” before announcing its position, Bowen says, to look at “all the implications.” He’s commissioned work from the Parliamentary Budget Office. “There’s all sorts of stuff on the public record that I carefully sift through so that when I make a recommendation to shadow cabinet it’ll be a good one and a firm one and enable a good discussion.”
On the controversial Adani Carmichael coal mine, which is dividing Queensland Labor and is publicly opposed by several federal ALP MPs, Bowen stresses the project’s future must rest squarely on its own merits, without government subsidy. “If it stacks up, it stacks up.”