Politics with Michelle Grattan
How far will China go? La Trobe’s Nick Bisley says China’s ’risk appetite’ has gone up

How far will China go? La Trobe’s Nick Bisley says China’s ’risk appetite’ has gone up

August 11, 2022

The Chinese reaction to United States Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Taiwan visit further  escalated tensions in our region, as China becomes more bellicose in language and action. 

On Wednesday, China's Ambassador Xiao Qian spoke at the National Press Club. He talked about wanting a positive relationship between Australia and China, while reiterating China's uncompromising line towards Taiwan, and giving a chilling prediction of what the Taiwanese would be in for post reunification.   

"The least thing we are ready to do is use force. That is one of the reasons why China has been so patient for several decades. [...] We're waiting for a peaceful unification. But [...] we can never rule out the option to use other means [...] when compelled, we are ready to use all necessary means."

“My personal understanding is that once Taiwan is united, come back to the motherland, there might be process for the people in Taiwan to have a correct understanding of China.”

In this podcast, Michelle Grattan speaks with Nick Bisley, Professor of International Relations at La Trobe University, an expert in Asian foreign relations and Australia's foreign and defence policy. 

Bisley says "what we are probably entering into, at least for the next few months, is a period of much sharply-heightened instability and military kind of friction in and around Taiwan".

"China has made very clear for decades now that under certain circumstances it would use military force to deal with what it sees as a rogue province. And those circumstances are largely around a unilateral declaration of independence by Taiwan or some other really significant move away from the old status quo."

"I think what what we see out of this crisis is that China's risk appetite has gone up and its willingness to put up with what it sees as kind of provocations has gone down.

"So the likelihood of them using military force to coerce Taiwan – it's not going to happen this year or next year, but its likelihood of occurring in the next four to five years has distinctly increased."

On whether there is the likelihood of a conflict between China and the US as tensions between the two nations continue to rise, "the constraints that domestic politics puts on each side means that we could end up in a situation where they are backed into a corner and find that there's few ways out other than some kind of military action, which then escalates."

But "if there is a proper conflict between the US and China, everyone loses pretty significantly."

"When we look back in February 2022, thinking about what Putin would do in relation to Ukraine, we all thought he's not going to do a full-blown invasion. It doesn't make any sense. It's not in his interest to do so. I think we've always thought that about Taiwan. It's just not in the US's interest to do the full-blown military operation. And the lesson has got to be from Ukraine, is that sometimes rationality doesn't always win."

On whether the Albanese government is handling the rising tensions with China well, Bisley says: "They're playing a reasonable hand in what is a pretty difficult set of circumstances."

Tom Calma on the Indigenous Voice to parliament

Tom Calma on the Indigenous Voice to parliament

August 4, 2022

The Albanese government has released the draft wording for enshrining an Indigenous Voice to parliament in the constitution. Anthony Albanese is making a referendum a priority but history tells us how hard these are to pass.

Tom Calma, Chancellor of the University of Canberra, has been a leading participant in Indigenous affairs for many years. He and professor Marcia Langton prepared a report for the Morrison government on the Voice. They recommended a Voice structure involving local and regional levels as well as the national level.

The Albanese government has not spelled out a detailed model for the Voice it proposes, but the extensive consultations Calma and Langton undertook produced insights that will help shape the conversations ahead.

“We’ve got to understand that when we talk about the Voice through referendum changes to the Australian constitution, [it] is only about Commonwealth legislation and not about state and territory legislation,” Calma tells the podcast.


He says during the consultation process, people said “we support a national voice, but don’t forget us at the local and regional level, because that’s where all the action takes place”.

“When we look at education, employment, health service delivery, all of that takes place under a state or territory jurisdictional level, supplemented by funding from the Commonwealth. It’s administered through the states and territories by and large.”

Calma says regional groups could “do the canvassing of the membership and push that up to the national-level voice”.

“There needs to be these other regional level arrangements and all the [federal] government needs to do is to agree to that – and then the dialogue can start with the states and territory governments to build up what form it might take.

"But none of this is coming out cold because in every state and territory, they’ve already got some form of arrangement. And this is really about saying, how do we maximise the impact of the current arrangements, give them a secretariat, give them some guidance and support and make it an inclusive body?”.

The proposed Voice, Calma stresses, “is about giving an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person’s perspective on that new legislation. But it has no other authority to veto or to direct politicians on how to think. This is only an advisory body and to make comment, so we have formal input by Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people into legislation that most affects us.”

Calma says Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people “don’t always speak with the same voice and we all have different experiences, we represent different demographics and so forth.”

He rejects the argument that a Voice isn’t needed because there are 11 Indigenous members of the federal parliament. “We can’t expect that the elected politicians […] are going to be able to give a view for all Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people.”

“What we envisage is that the Voice […] will be able to work with the bureaucrats in providing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspective to bills, so that by the time [legislation] reaches parliament a lot of the issues might already be sorted out […] Once that relationship with Commonwealth agencies and departments starts to mature, hopefully those departments and agencies will work with the Voice group to look at their existing policies and programmes.”

“The Voice would not be usurping the role of any existing organisation. It would be about partnership, it’s about capacity development, it’s about inclusion.”

“I’m very confident that we could work cooperatively with the parliaments of the day - and that’s both the federal and the state and territory parliaments - for the betterment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people”.

Peter Dutton puts nuclear power on opposition’s agenda

Peter Dutton puts nuclear power on opposition’s agenda

August 2, 2022

As well as her interviews with politicians and experts, Politics with Michelle Grattan includes “Word from The Hill”, where she discusses the news with members of The Conversation politics team.

In this podcast, politics editor Amanda Dunn and Michelle canvass Tuesday's decision by the Reserve Bank to raise the cash rate again, by 50 basis points to 1.85%. 

They also talk about Peter Dutton's announcement that the opposition will inquire into nuclear power, in a contentious decision as it looks to crafting an energy policy for the next election. Most immediately, the Coalition will vote against the government's legislation for its 43% 2030 emissions reduction target. The vote in the House of Representatives will be this week. 

Meanwhile, after Anthony Albanese's weekend Garma speech, attention this week also turned to the proposed referendum to put into the constitution an Indigenous "Voice" to parliament. 

Is Morrison’s absence from parliament disrespectful to his voters?

Is Morrison’s absence from parliament disrespectful to his voters?

July 26, 2022

As well as her interviews with politicians and experts, Politics with Michelle Grattan includes “Word from The Hill”, where she discusses the news with members of The Conversation politics team.

Politics editor Amanda Dunn and Michelle talk about the opening of the 47th Parliament, the prospects for the climate legislation that seeks to enshrine the 43% emissions reduction target, and Treasurer Jim Chalmers’ economic statement, which will come hard on the heels of another bad inflation number. They also ask: should Scott Morrison be in the House this week?

Health Minister Mark Butler warns COVID wave will worsen

Health Minister Mark Butler warns COVID wave will worsen

July 13, 2022

With COVID cases surging in a new wave and half the winter still ahead, the news from Health Minister Mark Butler isn’t good.

“We haven’t reached the peak of the wave yet,” he tells the podcast. “Case numbers are going to continue to climb over the coming weeks […] and as a result, hospitalisations are going to continue to climb as well.”

The response, he says, is “a question of balance”.

People accept “that wearing a mask does reduce transmission”, but “we’re not going to move into lockdowns. We’re not going to see very broad-based mandates or government orders.”


Health authorities, as much as political leaders, recognise that “to get a balanced community response, you need to have a mix of targeted mandates”.

“We’ve had them all through the course of this year. So, for example, visitors to aged care facilities, to health facilities, public transport, aeroplanes – either where there is very high risk of transmission or where there is a population at high risk of severe illness.”

“You will continue to see those targeted mandates, I think, for some time. But beyond that, there is really strong advice, clear advice given to people about about using the common sense lessons that we’ve learnt over the last couple of years.”

“What we don’t want to end up with is a position where the community thinks government is being heavy handed or just continuing a situation which the community tolerated very well over [..] the first two years of the pandemic, but I think is starting to reach the end of their tether about.”

He defends not extending payments to workers forced to stay at home with COVID. “They are hard decisions for government not to continue those emergency payments. But as a number of us, from the Prime Minister to the Treasurer and myself, have made clear over the last few days, we’ve taken the hard view that we simply can’t continue emergency payments, very expensive emergency payments, forever with the budget that’s one trillion dollars in debt.”

“We’ve all hoped and maybe concluded that maybe this thing’s over. And every time that’s been the case, this virus has mutated again. It’s become more infectious. It keeps coming back. And so we are moving into a different phase of the pandemic where we recognise that the virus is endemic in Australia. It’s deeply established. We’ve got millions of people [who] have had it, hundreds of thousands of people have it today. And we need to find a response to the pandemic that reflects that, that we have moved out of an emergency phase.”

The pandemic has put huge pressure on already faltering hospital systems.

“We are going to have to have a good, long, hard talk to states about the position of the hospital system. The head of Prime Minister and Cabinet and his colleagues that head the premiers’ departments, are working on that right now.”

“But we also need to recognise that a lot of the pressure on our hospitals reflects the running down of general practice, the running down of aged care staffing arrangements, and as the Commonwealth has responsibility directly for those areas the best thing we can do in the immediate term to relieve pressure on our hospitals is to rebuild general practice, to strengthen Medicare and to put nurses back into nursing homes.”

Health ministers have agreed to meet on a monthly basis, and “to have a very early meeting dedicated just to these [health] workforce challenges”.

The problems facing the caring economy will be discussed at the September 1-2 jobs summit. “We know that the engine room of jobs growth really over coming years and decades will come from the health sector, the aged care, disability and early childhood sectors. So there will be a strong discussion, strong representation at the jobs summit around the care economy.”

‘Pandemic fatigue’ takes its toll of mandates and even the expert health advice

‘Pandemic fatigue’ takes its toll of mandates and even the expert health advice

July 12, 2022

As well as her interviews with politicians and experts, Politics with Michelle Grattan includes “Word from The Hill”, where she discusses the news with members of The Conversation politics team.

Politics editor Amanda Dunn and Michelle discuss the rising number of COVID cases, and state governments’ reluctance to bring back mandates such as for mask-wearing. These governments know many of the public have COVID fatigue, when it comes to restrictions. And even the “health advice” doesn’t count for quite what it used to.

Amanda and Michelle also canvass the challenges of the Albanese government’s September 1-2 jobs summit. More immediately, there is the Prime Minister’s latest foreign summitry, in Fiji, where he will be attending the Pacific Islands Forum.

Politics with Michelle Grattan: Jason Clare on Australia’s education challenges

Politics with Michelle Grattan: Jason Clare on Australia’s education challenges

July 6, 2022

New Education Minister Jason Clare is travelling the country taking soundings in the education sector.

This, he says, is “the best way to get across this big, vast portfolio that stretches from the education of our youngest children right through to the incredible work our brilliant postgraduate people are doing in our universities.

"What am I hearing? What am I learning? I get the impression that a lot of people are desperate for re-engagement with the government.”

Outlining his plans for an Australian Universities Accord, Clare says there’s a desire for the government “to work with our universities, not just our vice-chancellors, but everybody who works in our universities and harness all of the skills and expertise that sit within our universities. I don’t think we do enough of that.”

One of Clare’s main imperatives is to address equity issues. “It’s in our collective interest as a country to make sure that more people – wherever they live, whether their skin is black or white, whether their parents are rich or poor – get access to university, and when they get there that they stay there and get a qualification.”

He strongly argues that “there’s more work we need to do in helping young people get access to university.

"I’m conscious […] that all the answers don’t lie at the front door of the university. The work that we do long before someone is old enough to go to university – that’s critical here. But universities can help answer this question too. What are the things we do from the age a child is born and until they’re five, that set them up for success? Because if we narrow the gap in opportunity there, the impact will be enormous come university.”

The COVID pandemic has had a major impact on Australia’s international education program. “International education was crushed by the pandemic - when the borders shut, that shut out students.”

Australia’s international education program is “an incredible national asset, extraordinarily important for the Australian economy. Before the pandemic [it was] something like $40 billion. [It’s] now about half that. We’ve got to rebuild it. It’s important not just because of the money it makes us, but because of the goodwill that it provides for us.”

There is currently a “backlog of visa applications. International students [are] hungry to get back to study here in Australia, particularly ahead of semester two. And there’s work that we need to do there to assist in that processing task.”

One of the most pressing issues in education is the teacher shortage, which includes the challenge of retention,

“It’s about what we do to encourage people to stay being teachers. In all of the conversations I’ve had with educators, they’ve made this point to me time and time again - that people are feeling burnt out mid-career and that they’re hanging up the boots and leaving teaching. We’re expecting the shortage of teachers to get worse and worse in the years ahead. Something like 4,000 teachers short of what we need by 2025.”

People’s pockets hit again, with rate rise and floods set to boost veggie prices

People’s pockets hit again, with rate rise and floods set to boost veggie prices

July 5, 2022

As well as her interviews with politicians and experts, Politics with Michelle Grattan includes “Word from The Hill”, where she discusses the news with members of The Conversation politics team.

Michelle and Peter Browne from the Politics + Society team discuss Anthony Albanese's visit to Ukraine, and the desirability of Australia reopening its embassy there as soon as it can. More generally, Australia's diplomatic presence has slipped and needs to be beefed up. 

With the PM now home, he's off to the flood affected areas of NSW. Labor has learned from the former government's experience, and has acted quickly to get in resources, seeking to avoid the criticism Scott Morrison faced in the earlier floods.  

Meanwhile the Reserve Bank has again increased interest rates, with the cash rate rising by half a percentage point. Also hitting people's pockets – the latest floods will have some impact on fresh food prices. 



Parliamentary ‘newbies’ inspect their workplace, with some complaints

Parliamentary ‘newbies’ inspect their workplace, with some complaints

June 29, 2022

As well as her interviews with politicians and experts, Politics with Michelle Grattan includes “Word from The Hill”, where she discusses the news with members of The Conversation politics team.

Michelle and Peter Browne from the Politics + Society team discuss Anthony Albanese’s weighing a Ukraine visit and whether Australia will announce more support for that country and reopen its embassy there.

They also canvass the just-released Lowy Institute’s poll, which found a narrow majority of Australians support increased defence spending, and Defence Minister Richard Marles’ announcement extending the terms of the military’s top brass.

Meanwhile Parliament House has been like the first week of school, with new MPs being briefed on how the place works. Crossbenchers are in a row with the government over Albanese’s plan to cut back the additional staff they will get, above the entitlement of government and opposition backbenchers, from four in the last parliament to just one.

Greg Barns on the battle to free Julian Assange

Greg Barns on the battle to free Julian Assange

June 23, 2022

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, is facing extradition to the United States after this was given the green light by the British Government. Assange faces charges of espionage over the publication of classified information about US actions in the Iraq War.

Barrister Greg Barns has worked pro bono on Assagne’s case for the last nine years as part of the Australian Assange campaign.

Barns argues the Assange issue “goes to fundamental questions like freedom of the press and freedom of speech.”

The election of the Albanese government has reignited calls for Australia to do more to try to bring Assange home.

“We’ve certainly been heartened by the approach taken by the new government,” Barns says.

“I think Anthony Albanese himself has been committed for some time now in his public statements and certainly been supportive privately of Assange’s position. He’s made that clear in a number of statements with a theme really that this has gone long enough.”

“There has been a marked change in rhetoric on the part of Mr Albanese, but also I think in his very telling statement that he did not want to pursue this matter through megaphone diplomacy, which we respect, because of course you’re dealing with Australia’s closest ally.”

“He wants to do something, but he wants to do it in a way that respects the friendship between Australia and the United States.”

On what US President Joe Biden should consider when it comes to the relationship with Australia and the issue of Assange, Barns notes Biden has “given a number of speeches now talking about democracy and the importance of democratic values”.

“This is an opportunity to assert those values by saying that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are fundamentally important in a democracy and in the democratic world. And so there are certainly plenty of avenues and plenty of reasons why President Biden might deal with this matter.”

“This case has gone on too long. There are fundamental principles at stake and it’s time to end it.”

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