Morrison’s health handout is bad policy (but might be good politics)

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Stephen Duckett, Director, Health Program, Grattan Institute

The A$1.25 billion Community Health and Hospitals Program Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced this week should be awarded a big policy fail.

The move sets back Commonwealth-state relations by decades – and it’s unclear exactly how much money will actually be provided.

Rather than being based on any coherent policy direction, it appears designed to shore up support in marginal electorates.

Bad for Commonwealth-state relations

One of the complicating factors in providing health care to Australians is the fact that the Commonwealth and states each have leadership roles in different parts of the system: the Commonwealth for primary care; and the states for public hospitals.

Health professionals yearn for the Holy Grail of a single level of government being responsible for all aspects of a patient’s care. That quest has proved illusory. But recent policy direction has at least sought to clarify the roles of the two levels of government.


Read more: Public hospital blame game – here’s how we got into this funding mess

For the past five years, the states have been acknowledged as the “system managers” of the public hospital system. A rational, formula-driven funding framework has been created.

Under this framework, the Commonwealth shares the cost of growth in public hospital activity with the states. This exposes the Commonwealth directly to growing costs of technology-driven needs and giving it an incentive to work with the states to meet needs in the most efficient way.

This framework means there is one level of government to whom all public hospitals are accountable: the state. And it means voters can hold their state government accountable for hospital planning and management.

The proposal would allow the Commonwealth to override state priorities. AAP/Kelly Barnes

The new Morrison proposal tramples all over this policy rationality in the interests of electoral expediency. It replaces state-based planning with submission-based funding, which will enable a politician with a whiteboard in Canberra to override state priorities in favour of projects which have the greatest electoral appeal in targeted marginal seats.

It makes accountability for the overall system more confusing, and it assumes Canberra knows best.

It is a federalism fail.

An opaque policy

Labor ran a devastating campaign in the July federal by-elections, especially in the Queensland seat of Longman, which involved calculating and publicising precisely how much worse off the local hospital was under the Liberal health policy – where the Commonwealth funds 45% of hospital growth – compared with Labor’s 50% sharing policy.

In the Longman case, Labor asserted there was a A$2.9 million cut to Caboolture Hospital based on the decisions taken in the 2014 Abbott/Hockey “slash and burn” budget.

Scott Morrison’s new cash splash is no doubt designed to overcome this political weakness for the Coalition.


Read more: Why scare campaigns like ‘Mediscare’ work – even if voters hate them


However, unlike Labor’s funding, which is ongoing, it’s unclear whether the extra largess the Coalition is offering will continue beyond the budget “forward estimates” (that is, the next four years). It’s unclear how much will be devoured from existing Commonwealth funding agreements, such as the dental agreement, which are coming to an end.

The Commonwealth has responsibility for most aspects of policy to address social determinants of health, particularly employment and income policies. Rational health policy would recognise the importance of considering these issues and balancing the health benefits of, for example, lifting the Newstart allowance, against funding for specific health initiatives. There is no hint this has happened with this announcement.

The announcements sound good but it’s unclear where the funding will end up. AAP/Stefan Postles

New handouts under the Morrison package will be portrayed as being for specific areas of “high political need”. But the reality is funding will eventually be swept into the Grants Commission allocation process and redirected according to the Grants Commission formula.

This may restore some rationality into the health handout, albeit with a lag of a few years. But the actual level of funding to be allocated to specific areas will be shrouded in Grants Commission opacity. Insiders will be able to follow the money, but voters will be kept in dismal ignorance about how much they will benefit in the long-term – after the gloss of a local funding handout has worn off.

This policy is a transparency fail.

Politics versus policy

The Community Health and Hospitals Program lists four feel-good, worthy funding targets:

  • specialist hospital services such as cancer treatment, rural health and hospital infrastructure
  • drug and alcohol treatment
  • preventive health, primary care and chronic disease management, and
  • mental health.

Read more: Morrison government promises $1.25 billion for health care


Everyone has a potential place in this funding Nirvana. Lobby your local MP, and your local hospital or community health program might be the lucky health policy lottery winner!

Provided voters don’t see this as a cynical political exercise – and that is a big risk in an electorate which already ranks politicians low on the trustworthiness scale – then the new policy could be smart politics. We won’t know until the votes in next year’s federal election are counted.

In the meantime, given the drubbing the Liberals received in last month’s Victorian state election, the biggest challenge for the Morrison Government might be deciding which electorates are now marginal and worth shoring up.

ref. Morrison’s health handout is bad policy (but might be good politics) – http://theconversation.com/morrisons-health-handout-is-bad-policy-but-might-be-good-politics-108747

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Our cities fall short on sustainability, but planning innovations offer local solutions

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Sebastien Darchen, Senior Lecturer in Planning, The University of Queensland

Thirty years after the landmark Brundtland report, the debate on urban sustainability continues. Urban planners are still grappling with the challenges of making our cities sustainable.

Urban sustainability is an evolving concept. Our edited volume provides planning solutions for eight of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. Has the concept of urban sustainability made a difference in planning practice? Our answer is yes.


Read more: Business as usual? The Sustainable Development Goals apply to Australian cities too


Based on Campbell’s planner’s triangle, urban sustainability encompasses three dimensions:

  1. social sustainability
  2. environmental sustainability
  3. economic sustainability.

Sustainability solutions involve trade-offs between these three dimensions. A planning innovation might solve a challenge in terms of social sustainability but be less efficient in regard to the two other dimensions.

The Sustainable City paradigm has been a dominant school of thought since the 1990s. Yet it is still unclear how cities incorporate this paradigm in urban policies.

Influential works on urban policies have emphasised the transfer of urban policies from one context to another – known as mobile urbanism. Our book highlights evidence to the contrary. Planning innovations are generally shaped by local contextual factors and are not imported.

Of the planning innovations presented in 12 case study chapters in our book, we present those most relevant to Australia later in this article.

Key issues facing Australian cities

Australian cities have urgent sustainability issues that require fresh policy initiatives.

Transport use is too reliant on cars. As a result, fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions remain far too high. Large areas of land are given over to road space and parking.


Read more: Driverless vehicles could bring out the best – or worst – in our cities by transforming land use

Read more: Freeing up the huge areas set aside for parking can transform our cities


High car use goes hand in hand with low-density urban sprawl. This requires longer trips to everything, extra resources for longer pipes, wires and roads, more losses of agricultural land and natural vegetation, and more hard surfaces that increase water pollution run-off as well as heat in summer.

And the design of low-density development produces even more unsustainability. Planning controls have forced developers to reduce the size of new housing lots, but house sizes have barely reduced in size. As a result, backyards are disappearing. Lost along with them are trees to cool the air and sequester carbon, and physical activity opportunities for children.


Read more: Size does matter: Australia’s addiction to big houses is blowing the energy budget


Australia’s cities also have major social sustainability issues. Increasing numbers of professional and managerial households have priced poorer residents out of the best areas of the cities.

The result has been heightened spatial polarisation. Lower-income households have been forced to live further out in suburbs with inadequate public transport and jobs. Solutions for creating places in the suburbs were presented in a recent summit organised by UQ Planning.

What’s happening in cities overseas?

The innovative ways that overseas cities have responded to similar sustainability challenges can provide pathways for Australian cities to follow.

Helsinki’s experience suggests one means of overcoming a sticking point in achieving higher-density development: getting around NIMBY opposition and achieving community agreement on where denser development could go. In Helsinki, the public participated in a public participation geographic information system exercise. This mapped their preferences for areas that should not be developed for apartments.


Read more: Becoming more urban: attitudes to medium-density living are changing in Sydney and Melbourne


Well-intended planning controls can hinder higher-density development, even in desirable locations. In Los Angeles’ historic core, old office buildings lay vacant after a new CBD office precinct outside the old core was developed. Residential use requirements for on-site parking and open space and for a building setback from the front property boundary hindered the conversion of the old buildings to residential use. By relaxing these requirements, the city’s 1999 adaptive reuse ordinance was a key to regenerating the old core as a residential area.

The adaptive reuse of historical buildings has helped regenerate downtown Los Angeles. This particular planning innovation involved a regulatory rethink. Sébastien Darchen, Author provided

The challenge of reducing car use without large public outlays remains daunting, but Seville shows one way this can be achieved. There, a complete bicycle network of 180km – 12% of the total road length in the city – has been built since 2007. Separation from car traffic has been achieved through bollards and the like, or by parked cars where the bikeway is built on a footpath.

Cycle trips now make up about 10% of total vehicle trips in Seville, six times the previous share. The driving forces for the network were the formation of a cyclists’ association, public demonstrations and the election of a left-of–centre city government that gave political support.

The demolition of motorways sounds like an extreme way of reducing car use, but the experience of Seoul shows it can have big economic and environmental benefits. The motorway built over a former stream in the central city was demolished in the early 2000s. The stream was restored to a natural state.

This has reduced air pollution and the heat island impact of the former motorway, and created an ecological passage to the main river in Seoul. Recreational and cultural amenities along the restored stream have made it a desirable area and generated new economic activities. New bus services close to the stream have replaced car access.

The strong powers and finances of the city government and a supportive mayor made the Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project possible.

Cheonggyecheon after restoration. Sun Young Rieh/Global Planning Innovations for Urban Sustainability, Author provided

Spatial polarisation in cities results from market forces dominating urban redevelopment.


Read more: Market-driven compaction is no way to build an ecocity


The experience of Vancouver illustrates how inclusionary planning can ameliorate these forces. City-sponsored local resident groups have been at the centre of making strategies to renew the city’s low-income Downtown Eastside area.

Instead of the high-tech-based development originally proposed, priority has been given to developing employment more suited to the low-income residents’ needs, including opportunities in the informal sector. City council-owned sites have been used for social innovation hubs, services to help residents find jobs, and a street market for a street vendors’ collective.

As explained in our book, these planning innovations are mostly the product of local contextual factors. Therefore, planning innovations for Australian cities will require local involvement in shaping sustainability solutions. Incentives such as changes in regulatory frameworks and tax subsidies might also be needed to develop planning innovations.

ref. Our cities fall short on sustainability, but planning innovations offer local solutions – http://theconversation.com/our-cities-fall-short-on-sustainability-but-planning-innovations-offer-local-solutions-107091

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Monday’s MYEFO will look good, but it will set the budget up for awful trouble down the track

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Warren Hogan, Industry Professor, University of Technology Sydney

An appallingly perfect storm is brewing for the federal budget:

  • a government with much more income than expected

  • a federal election due within months

  • a government well behind in the polls

With the election all but announced for May, next Monday’s Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) will be the effective start of the campaign.

The latest figures put the government’s budget position about A$10 billion better than was expected when it was delivered last May.

The budget has been gifted much higher revenues from corporate income taxes, almost entirely driven by mining companies selling more than they expected (at higher prices than they expected) to China.


Read more: Morrison’s return to surplus built on the back of higher tax – Parliamentary Budget Office


A stronger than expected domestic economy has also helped, producing small upside surprises in various other taxes and cutting the need for government spending.

In the past six months the stars have aligned to hand the government a virtual war chest with which to fight the election.

A full MYEFO, then an election budget

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has laid out the timetable.

MYEFO is due on Monday December 17 and an early Budget will be handed down on Tuesday April 2, days before the government is expected to call the May election.

In announcing it, he promised to deliver a budget surplus in 2019/20.

This tells us two things, firstly, that he has zero interest in bringing that surplus forecast forward to the current financial year, 2018-19; and second, that that surplus is unlikely to be materially different from what Morrison previously forecast (as treasurer) in May.

That will give him room to make some very expensive announcements.

With as much as (or more than) an extra A$10 billion per year to play with, Morrison’s ministers will be rubbing their hands together working out how to get the most electoral bang for the bucks.

Endangering the budget long term

This does not bode well for government finances beyond the next few years.

Highly targeted spending measures aimed at improving election prospects are rarely the best use of public funds.

New spending commitments in the just past few months are set to cost the budget just under A$500 million this year, rising to almost A$1.5 billion next year.

Spending all or most of the extra money that’s pouring into the Treasury coffers risks creating a budget black hole if the sources of that revenue prove to be temporary.

A slowdown in Australia or a drop in China’s demand for raw materials could take a big chunk out of the budget.

The damage to the government’s finances after the global financial crisis was only partly the result of spending aimed at averting a recession.

We now know a big part of the surge in revenues in the years before the crisis were temporary.


Read more: Budget policy check: does Australia need personal income tax cuts?


The increased spending and repeated lower taxes they funded were permanent, creating a structural budget deficit that has taken a decade to repair.

As mentioned, the latest upside surprises on revenue are largely due to strong commodity prices and a rising tax take from mining companies.

They might vanish as quickly as they appeared.

Commodity prices are notoriously volatile and almost entirely dependent on what is happening in China.

Problem: China

Perversely, China is buying more of our commodities because it has upped spending on infrastructure to boost a slowing economy under threat of trade war.

The boost in infrastructure spending won’t last.

Eventually we will see a shift in the drivers of Chinese growth towards domestic consumption and business investment and away from metal-intensive infrastructure spending.

It will curtail the growth of our exports and weaken our corporate income tax take.

Dark clouds are forming at home as well.

Problem: Australia

Bank profitability has stopped growing, and the indications from the Hayne Royal Commission are that bank profits will be challenged over the next few years as remediation costs rise and lending slows.

And then there is housing.

While not a direct source of revenue for the federal government, the fall in house prices could start to bite into economic activity as early as next year.


Read more: Vital Signs: we are witnessing a slowly deflating property bubble, for now


While consumers have so far looked past the lower house values, that is likely to change in 2019 if prices continue to fall.

It’d be wise to hang on to the extra billions

The best economic approach would be for this government to save money and leave it for the next government to use them prudently as needed.

It’s certainly not going to happen.

Centre right governments tend to characterise unexpected bumps in revenue as belonging to the citizenry and to be given back.


Read more: Howard’s end: how the Coalition’s last budget created the ground for the current deficits


They usually do it in the form of income tax cuts. We should prepare for substantial fresh income tax cuts, from as soon as July 1, 2019.

Control of the Treasury is one of the most important weapons available to a political party contesting an election.

Having a prime minister who spent several years as treasurer only enhances the weapon.

The government’s timeline for MYEFO and the April budget suggests they fully intend to use it.

ref. Monday’s MYEFO will look good, but it will set the budget up for awful trouble down the track – http://theconversation.com/mondays-myefo-will-look-good-but-it-will-set-the-budget-up-for-awful-trouble-down-the-track-107567

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Vital Signs: No, Joe, America should not be copying Australia’s ‘asset recycling’ misdirection

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Richard Holden, Professor of Economics and PLuS Alliance Fellow, UNSW

Anyone who has been to La Guardia airport in New York can attest the dire need in the United States for infrastructure spending.

It’s not just crumbling bridges, pot-holed roads and lousy airports that provide the impetus for infrastructure spending. In recent times Harvard economist Larry Summers has popularised the threat of “secular stagnation” – that near zero real interest rates are becoming the normal condition of the global economy due to lack of demand and profitable investment opportunities. Governments increasing infrastructure spending is a way to combat this.


Read more: This is what policymakers can and can’t do about low wage growth


It is against that backdrop that Australia’s ambassador to the US, Joe Hockey, has been pushing the so-called “Australian model” of “asset recycling”.

As Australian treasurer from 2013 to 2015, Hockey championed the idea of the federal government providing incentives to the state government to sell public assets and use the proceeds to build more infrastructure.

The only problem with the idea is that it’s silly.

Its primary purpose is to circumvent arbitrary government accounting rules and pull the wool over the eyes of unsuspecting voters.

A nice idea, in theory

Here’s a hypothetical example of how asset recycling is supposed to work.

Suppose the government owns an airport that generates $300 million a year in profits from fees paid by airlines, car-parking revenue and rent from retailers selling $7 lattes and bad $18 sandwiches.

The government decides to “recycle” that asset by selling it off. How much does it get? Well, it is going to be some multiple of the cash flow and profit that the airport generates.

Perhaps the government gets enough bidders together to get a 14-times multiple, and so receives $4.2 billion. With that money it builds a toll road, then sells that off to another private-sector bidder, and off we go again.

One objection to this racket is the exorbitant parking fees and $7 lattes. That is, airports, toll roads and the like are natural monopolies and their owners have tremendous market power.

The government could, perhaps, try to impose price controls when it sells the asset. But that would depress the sale price meaning less money for other infrastructure. And price controls never work; there will always be a gap in the contract (e.g. it says one can’t charge more than $6 for lattes so the operator only makes flat whites and charges $7).

Reasons to be sceptical

But there is an even more fundamental objection. When the government sells the hypothetical airport it gives up $300 million in revenue every year to get $4.2 billion immediately. Unless the private operator values the cash flow stream more than the government does, or can generate more cash flow, there has been no value created. All that has happened is that the government gets money sooner rather than later, over time.

Since the government ought to be at least as patient as the private sector, and can borrow long term at 3%, it is unlikely the government values future cash flows less than some infrastructure fund.

So the only value that might be created is from a private operator running the airport more efficiently. It’s probably true it will – but by how much? Even if it does, will the government cut a good enough deal to capture a good chunk of that value for the public?

There are reasons to be sceptical of the government’s negotiating prowess in such matters.

An accounting trick

This is not, by the way, a general argument against privatisation. Qantas is a vastly better run and more profitable airline providing better service to its customers than when it was government-owned. There are plenty of other examples.

But the benefits of privatisation flow from factors such as improved access to capital markets, removal of government interference from management decisions, and the motivating power of market-based competition.

Asset recycling involves few if any of these factors.

What’s really going on is that asset recycling enables politicians to circumvent government accounting rules.

Governments don’t do accounting like private companies.

When a private company make a big investment, it does’t offset the full amount against its profits for that year. Instead it “capitalises” it and depreciates the investment over its useful life (“accrual accounting”). So a $1 billion capital expenditure that’s good for 10 years is charged against profits at $100 million a year.


Read more: Highlighting ‘good and bad’ debt will make it harder to fund social programs


Governments tend to take the full $1 billion hit in year one (“cash accounting”). This makes any budget surplus smaller, or deficit larger.

Since voters tend to focus on headline numbers, politicians are more reticent to make big capital expenditures.

Asset recycling is the perfect fix to this accounting problem. The big capital inflow offsets large expenditures on new infrastructure, at the cost of giving up regular annual income.

It’s an accounting trick. A shell game.

So let’s see asset recycling for what it really is – and take it out with the other rubbish.

ref. Vital Signs: No, Joe, America should not be copying Australia’s ‘asset recycling’ misdirection – http://theconversation.com/vital-signs-no-joe-america-should-not-be-copying-australias-asset-recycling-misdirection-108663

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Grattan on Friday: Unions likely to be more challenging for a Shorten government than boats

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

In this week’s Newspoll 55% believed Labor would win next year’s election, compared with just 24% who thought the Coalition would. These are figures to frighten Scott Morrison, and make Bill Shorten just a touch nervous.

If most people think the government is finished, it is hard for Morrison to get their attention – though he is certainly trying hard enough, with his frenetic activity.

On Thursday he had a double-header news conference, with two major, unrelated, announcements – a proposed new federal integrity body, and a plan for a Religious Discrimination Act. In normal times, each would have had its own day in the spotlight.

Shorten might be privately very confident, while doing his best to avoid giving the government evidence to back its accusation he’s measuring those Lodge curtains. But an overwhelming expectation of an ALP victory must also produce niggling fears in Labor ranks: could something derail what appears a relatively straightforward ride ahead?

The strong belief Labor will triumph could have contrary effects on voters. It might encourage some to get behind the likely victors. But the Liberals could also use it to frighten wavering supporters back into the fold.

In the lead up to next week’s ALP national conference, which Shorten needs to run smoothly, the government has been trying to exploit what it sees as a Labor weak point – border protection.

It homed in on the opposition’s support last week for the proposed amendment to facilitate medical transfers from Nauru and Manus. (This was the legislation the government prevented reaching the lower house, because it would have lost the vote.)

Around the edges of asylum seeker-refugee policy there are distinctions between the two sides. But on the central element of border protection – turnbacks – they are at one.

Key Labor left figures including Anthony Albanese and Tanya Plibersek have put aside doubts to ensure the government can’t drive in a wedge.

Another factor is helping Labor against the Coalition’s scare campaign – without boats arriving, the issue has slipped lower with voters. There has been a softening in community views – the public are more open to appeals for compassion towards those on Nauru and Manus.

Whatever vulnerability the ALP has in this area comes from previously allowing the boats to restart. Probably the people smugglers would test a Shorten government early on. But knowing the stakes, and remembering what happened before, it’s a sure bet that government would respond robustly.

The area of greater uncertainty under Labor is a very different one – that is, how much of the unions’ agenda a Shorten government would be willing to embrace.

Notably, the opposition still has to fill in key gaps in its industrial relations policies. Some commitments are clear, including the promise to restore penalty rates. On other matters the detail isn’t there yet – such as how broadly an ALP government would permit the reintroduction of industry-wide bargaining. We only know its priority would be low paid industries.

Workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor addressed the National Press Club this week, but didn’t make announcements. He promised Labor would have “more to say” on multi-employer bargaining, the right to strike, the minimum wage, and addressing the gender pay gap.

Just as the ALP conference will be kept in line by the approaching election, so (at least to a degree) so will the ACTU over coming months. It desperately needs a Labor government.

The trade unions’ resources – money and manpower – will be of huge benefit to Shorten in the election campaign. Harder to predict is how they would operate under and with a Shorten government.

In this context, a useful reference point is the “accord” the Hawke government had with the union movement. That was a highly productive, co-operative association, which enabled the government to make reforms vital to opening the Australian economy.

Shorten said this week he wanted to bring employers, unions and the government together in his first week in office, although there’s no suggestion of any “accord” framework with the unions.

It is hard to imagine ACTU secretary Sally McManus, an industrial radical, having the sort of symbiotic relationship with a Shorten government that then secretary Bill Kelty had with Bob Hawke and Paul Keating.

Morrison tries to demonise Shorten’s union background and links, labelling him “union bred, union fed and union led”.

Common sense and history indicate a union background can be a positive for public policy, as Hawke demonstrated. On the other hand, there are legitimate questions about what influence can be wielded on a prime minister whose power base is in sections of the union movement, including the CFMMEU. Until Labor releases its full industrial relations policy we can’t start to get a grip on how this would likely play out.

Labor has been working for months to manage next week’s conference, to avoid it detracting from the impression of an alternative government fit for office. In contrast the government struggles with its image in a more ad hoc manner.

Monday will be a good day for the government – the budget update will see impressive numbers. But on particular issues, it is another story.

Take Thursday’s announcements. The Commonwealth Integrity Commission isn’t something the government actually thinks is needed or even a good idea. Rather, it is a counter to Labor’s policy and aimed at mollifying the public and the crossbench. But it immediately came under attack as inadequate, and the conditions put on it will be seen as letting politicians off the hook.

The religious freedom measures had their genesis in the unhappiness on the right over same-sex marriage. But many voters will regard them as a side issue or worse; meanwhile the right wing Institute of Public Affairs condemned them as an attempt to “regulate religion” and “a significant threat to the freedom of conscience of all Australians.”

Neutralising negatives is critical for both sides in the run up to an election. At this point, Labor is making a much better fist of it than the government.

ref. Grattan on Friday: Unions likely to be more challenging for a Shorten government than boats – http://theconversation.com/grattan-on-friday-unions-likely-to-be-more-challenging-for-a-shorten-government-than-boats-108771

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Fiji warns ‘selfish’ countries amid Paris Agreement climate rulebook deadlock

Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama … urging world leaders to summon the courage and political will to make the switch from dirty to clean energy. Image: Fiji Times

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Talks to draft the Paris Agreement rulebook remained deadlocked today on traditionally tough issues.

Emerging economies – China, India, Brazil and South Africa – stood their ground on financial aid and the division of rich and poor countries.

Others vented their frustration. The UN chief flew back to Poland with a message that failure would be “immoral” and “suicidal”, Fiji’s prime minister said it would be “craven, irresponsible and selfish”, and a coalition of countries born in the Paris talks in 2015 was resurrected, with a call to arms.

READ MORE: Make the ‘clean energy’ switch, urges Fiji’s Bainimarama

Businesses are outpacing national governments in rolling out zero emission vehicles across Europe, North America and New Zealand, says The Climate Group as another five leading companies have joined its corporate leadership initiative EV100 and pledged to electrify their fleets by 2030.

A push has emerged in Poland for countries to step up their climate pledges and Megan Darby of Climate Home News interviews one of the scientists whose work made the world realise it is on the brink.

-Partners-

With new draft rules written by the Polish Cop24 presidency in hand by yesterday afternoon, and many issues still to be resolved, countries and groups came out swinging for their demands.

For the four Basic emerging economies – Brazil, South Africa, India and China – it’s all about differentiating their responsibilities from those of rich countries, and firming up the latter’s commitments to provide financial aid.

Commitments not fully met
“There’s a bit of concern that financial commitments, as agreed to in Paris, have not yet fully been met,” said South African tourism minister Tokozile Xasa.

“It’s quite clear, the evidence shows, that not only do we need reliability in the available finance to support of the initiatives, but that the amount allocated is hopelessly inadequate.”

On the question of how the rulebook applies to countries, the group stressed that the Paris Agreement gives developing countries more leniency as they build up abilities to, for instance, track and report emissions.

“There has to be some degree of flexible reassertion of the differentiated approach … and the allowance made for developing countries,” Xasa said.

Is also another man’s Paris Agreement. The Basic group argued that inserting “equal treatment” of developed and developing countries into the rulebook would amount to a “backslide” on the accord.

EU Climate Action Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete countered that the Paris Agreement called for a more flexible differentiation than the developed/developing line of the 1990s.

“We fully respect what we agreed in Paris, but Paris also points out … that we have to have an enhanced transparency system with built-in flexibilities,” he said.

Countries that need flexibility should get it, while their capabilities are built up, he added.

The Green Climate Fund has extended its search for a new executive director to 3 January. Climate Home News understands big hitters like Nigerian former finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and UN desertification chief Monique Barbut have been encouraged to apply, but many potential candidates are deterred by the Songdo location.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

A tale of two media reports: one poses challenges for digital media; the other gives ABC and SBS a clean bill of health

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

Two reports out this week – one into the operations of Facebook and Google, the other into the competitive neutrality of the ABC and SBS – present the federal government with significant policy and political challenges.

The first is by far the more important of the two.

It is the interim report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission of its Digital Platforms Inquiry, and in a set of 11 preliminary recommendations it proposes far-reaching changes to media regulation.

Of particular interest are its preliminary recommendations for sustaining journalism and news content.

These are based on the premise that there is a symbiotic relationship between news organisations and the big digital platforms. Put simply, the news organisations depend heavily on these platforms to get their news out to their audiences.

The problem, the ACCC says, is that the way news stories are ranked and displayed on the platforms is opaque. All we know – or think we know – is that these decisions are made by algorithms.


Read more: Constant attacks on the ABC will come back to haunt the Coalition government


The ACCC says this lack of transparency causes concerns that the algorithms and other policies of the platform giants may be operating in a way that affects the production of news and journalistic content.

To respond to this concern, the preliminary recommendation is for a new regulatory authority to be established. It would have the power to peer into these algorithms and monitor, investigate and report on how content – including news content – is ranked and displayed.

The purpose would be to identify the effects of the algorithms and other policies on the production of news and journalistic content.

It would also allow the authority to assess the impact on the incentives for news and journalistic content creation, particularly where news organisations have invested a lot of time and money in producing original content.

In this way, the ACCC is clearly trying to protect and promote the production of public-interest journalism, which is expensive but vital to democratic life. It is how the powerful are held to account, how wrongdoing is uncovered, and how the public finds out what is going on inside forums such as the courts and local councils.

So far, the big news media organisations have concentrated on these aspects of the ACCC interim report and have expressed support for them.

However, there are two other aspects of the report on which their response has been muted.

The first of these is the preliminary recommendation that proposes a media regulatory framework that would cover all media content, including news content, on all systems of distribution – print, broadcast and online.

The ACCC recommends that the government commission a separate independent review to design such a framework. The framework would establish underlying principles of accountability, set boundaries around what should be regulated and how, set rules for classifying different types of content, and devise appropriate enforcement mechanisms.

Much of this work has already been attempted by earlier federal government inquiries – the Finkelstein inquiry and the Convergence Review – both of which produced reports for the Gillard Labor government in 2012.

Their proposals for an overarching regulatory regime for all types of media generated a hysterical backlash from the commercial media companies, who accused the authors of acting like Stalin, Mao, or the Kim clan in North Korea.

So if the government adopts this recommendation from the ACCC, the people doing the design work can expect some heavy flak from big commercial media.

The other aspect of the ACCC report that is likely to provoke a backlash from the media is a preliminary recommendation concerning personal privacy.

Here the ACCC proposes that the government adopt a 2014 recommendation of the Australian Law Reform Commission that people be given the right to sue for serious invasions of privacy.

The media have been on notice over privacy invasion for many years. As far back as 2001, the High Court developed a test of privacy in a case involving the ABC and an abattoir company called Lenah Game Meats.

Now, given the impact on privacy of Facebook and Google, the ACCC has come to the view that the time has arrived to revisit this issue.

The ACCC’s interim report is one of the most consequential documents affecting media policy in Australia for many decades.

The same cannot be said of the other media-related report published this week: that of the inquiry into the competitive neutrality of the public-sector broadcasters, the ABC and SBS.

This inquiry was established in May this year to make good on a promise made by Malcolm Turnbull to Pauline Hanson in 2017.


Read more: The politics behind the competitive neutrality inquiry into ABC and SBS


He needed One Nation’s support for the government’s changes to media ownership laws, without which they would not have passed the Senate.

Hanson was not promised any particular focus for the inquiry, so the government dressed it up in the dull raiment of competitive neutrality.

While it had the potential to do real mischief – in particular to the ABC – the report actually gives both public broadcasters a clean bill of health.

There are a couple of minor caveats concerning transparency about how they approach the issue of fair competition, but overall the inquiry finds that the ABC and SBS are operating properly within their charters. Therefore, by definition, they are acting in the public interest.

This has caused pursed lips at News Corp which, along with the rest of the commercial media, took this opportunity to have a free kick at the national broadcasters. But in the present political climate, the issue is likely to vanish without trace.

While the government still has an efficiency review of the ABC to release, it also confronts a political timetable and a set of the opinion polls calculated to discourage it from opening up another row over the ABC.

ref. A tale of two media reports: one poses challenges for digital media; the other gives ABC and SBS a clean bill of health – http://theconversation.com/a-tale-of-two-media-reports-one-poses-challenges-for-digital-media-the-other-gives-abc-and-sbs-a-clean-bill-of-health-108743

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

The proposed National Integrity Commission is a watered-down version of a federal ICAC

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Yee-Fui Ng, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Monash University

The federal government has announced it will establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission. This new commission will be the peak body to detect and investigate corrupt and criminal behaviour by Commonwealth employees.

This announcement followed mounting pressure from Labor, the Greens and independent MPs, who argued that a national integrity commission was vital to rebuild trust in Australian democracy.


Read more: Government agrees to national anti-corruption body – with strict limits


On November 26, independent MP Cathy McGowan introduced a private member’s bill for the introduction of a national integrity commission, further increasing the pressure on the government.

All Australian states have anti-corruption commissions, and the federal government is lagging behind in this area.

Why do we need this commission?

The case for a national integrity commission is strong.

Australia has fallen steadily in Transparency International’s global corruption index, from eighth place in 2012 to 13th this year.

More alarming is the fact that one in 20 Australian public servants said in a survey last year that they had seen a colleague acting in a corrupt manner. This figure has doubled in the past three years.

Moreover, a Griffith University survey has found strong public support for a national integrity commission, with two-thirds (67%) of Australians in favour of one.

What will the commission look like?

The commission will be an independent statutory agency led by a commissioner and two deputy commissioners. It will have two divisions: a public sector division and a law enforcement integrity division.

The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity will be reconstituted as the law enforcement integrity division with an expanded jurisdiction. But its jurisdiction will be limited to certain departments and agencies dealing with law enforcement and those that have coercive powers, such as the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

The public sector integrity division has a broader coverage. It includes public service departments and agencies, parliamentary departments, statutory agencies, Commonwealth companies and corporations, Commonwealth service providers and any subcontractors they engage, as well as parliamentarians and their staff.

Is the proposed model adequate?

The proposed model is a watered-down version of an anti-corruption commission, with limited powers.

The Commonwealth Integrity Commission will have the power to conduct public hearings only through its law enforcement division.

Conversely, the public sector integrity division with the broader remit will not have the power to make public findings of corruption. Instead, it will be tasked with investigating and referring potential criminal conduct to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

This is a far more limited jurisdiction compared to its equivalent state counterparts, such as the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), which has the ability to conduct public hearings and make findings of corruption in the public sector.

Although it is envisaged that the Commonwealth Integrity Commission will play a role in preventing corruption, this model lacks a dedicated corruption prevention division. This is a pro-integrity function that monitors major corruption risks across all sectors.


Read more: Australians think our politicians are corrupt, but where is the evidence?


There are also other activities that do not amount to corruption, but nevertheless show an undue influence on government. Ideally, a federal anti-corruption commission should sit alongside a broader package of reforms that impose stronger rules on lobbying and political donations, as well as a code of conduct for MPs, policed by an independent commissioner.

This would form an interlocking political integrity system that would keep politicians honest.

The government is taking submissions on the proposed model for the Commonwealth Integrity Commission.

It is commendable that the government is finally taking action on anti-corruption measures. However, it is important to get the model right. The proposed model is an improvement on the status quo of patchwork regulation, but does not go far enough to properly investigate corruption in federal government.

ref. The proposed National Integrity Commission is a watered-down version of a federal ICAC – http://theconversation.com/the-proposed-national-integrity-commission-is-a-watered-down-version-of-a-federal-icac-108753

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Many people have a hard time swallowing. Help them to ‘eat, drink and be merry’ this Christmas

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Bronwyn Hemsley, Professor of Speech Pathology, University of Technology Sydney

Swallowing food, drink, and saliva is a central part of our lives. It’s something we do about 900 times a day, yet we barely give it a second thought. We’re mostly unaware of the many food decisions we make every day.

But if you have a swallowing disability, the traditional roasted nuts and dried fruits of Christmas fare are a choking risk, and enjoying a festive bite at the markets could mean an emergency trip to the hospital.

Swallowing and eating: how does it work?

Swallowing is a complex, precisely co-ordinated act involving 32 paired muscles and sensory and motor nerves, carried out in a beautifully timed sequence. So it makes perfect sense many different health conditions affecting the brain or the body impact on a person’s ability to swallow.

Swallowing disabilities affect an estimated 8% of the world’s population. Affecting the majority of residents in aged care, swallowing disability also impacts around 80% of children and adults with developmental disability, most people with motor neurone disease or Parkinson’s, and many people with traumatic brain injury, head and neck cancer, and those who have had a stroke.

In the general population, both alcohol and certain medications can impact on a person’s ability to swallow food safely.

It’s hard to fathom the extent of the disability experienced by people who have difficulty swallowing. The meanings we attach to food, and the ways we engage in eating and drinking, are deeply connected to our identity and our most valued activities and experiences. Decisions about food and meals are a key way we organise our day.


Read more: The shocking state of oral health in our nursing homes, and how family members can help


As a result, swallowing disability has many health and social impacts. Fear of embarrassment or of revealing they can’t manage certain foods can prevent people from telling others about their symptoms. They may take longer to eat, avoid foods that are more difficult, eat less, or say they no longer like the foods they previously enjoyed.

Being excluded or unable to participate fully in a meal or a social event can leave people with swallowing disability feeling isolated, depressed, and frustrated.

Swallowing disability can result in unplanned hospital admissions that come with substantial costs. Coughing and choking on food can lead to reduced enjoyment in meals, aspiration pneumonia when food or fluid is inhaled, and choking death.

Managing swallowing disability also impact on family members and home routines. Many family members change the types of foods they eat to ensure the person with swallowing disability is included. But foods on offer in restaurants, at weddings, parties, religious rituals and sporting events might not be safe to eat, and it can be awkward to take your own carefully modified foods.

The stigma of swallowing disability can lead the person and their partner, spouse, or family member to avoid embarrassment and stop going out.

“… when you can’t swallow, all that you get to think about is that you can’t swallow.”

Vital interventions for people with swallowing disability

Speech pathologists often take a lead role in teams of health professionals who provide services to people with swallowing disability. They assess the person’s swallow, make recommendations about modifying food textures, and identify ways to increase the person’s participation, inclusion, and independence at mealtimes. At the same time, they determine ways for the person with disability to communicate with family members and direct support workers about food preferences and mealtime assistance needs.

The treatment for swallowing difficulties depends on the cause. Speech pathologists can teach the person techniques to improve their oral skills, from taking the first bite to moving the food back and chewing it to swallow. They can provide advice on head and neck postures and mealtime behaviours to help prevent choking.

Recently, the National Disability Insurance Agency refused funding of speech pathology services to people with swallowing disability. Not considering the person’s lifelong difficulty in eating and drinking to be a social issue affecting participation and inclusion leaves people and their families at risk of further isolation and exclusion.

People with swallowing disability need more support and want better access to services to adjust to emotional, psychological and social changes as a result of their swallowing difficulties.

The NDIS has withdrawn funding for speech pathologists for people with swallowing disabilities.

Making mealtimes more inclusive

There’s a lot you can do to make your celebrations more welcoming and inclusive of people with swallowing disability and their families. Set your own table with attractive soft food options and puree foods and check if people need assistance or a quiet space to concentrate on eating.


Read more: How 3D food printers could improve mealtimes for people with swallowing disorders


Making these small adjustments to the foods we provide and the mealtime environment might just mean more people with swallowing disability feel welcome and included in the celebrations this year.

Learn the symptoms of choking and how to respond, and in an emergency in Australia dial triple zero 000 for further assistance.

ref. Many people have a hard time swallowing. Help them to ‘eat, drink and be merry’ this Christmas – http://theconversation.com/many-people-have-a-hard-time-swallowing-help-them-to-eat-drink-and-be-merry-this-christmas-108426

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

In long-awaited response to Ruddock review, the government pushes hard on religious freedom

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Anja Hilkemeijer, Lecturer in Law, University of Tasmania

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Attorney-General Christian Porter have released both the Ruddock Panel Report on Religious Freedom and the government’s response. Given the panel’s recommendations were leaked to the media some time ago, the full report contains few surprises. But today’s announcement ends months of speculation on how the government intends to move on this issue.

According to the prime minister, most of what the government proposes is mere administrative “tidy up”. However, closer inspection shows that a number of the proposals are of real substance.


Read more: Morrison wants Religious Discrimination Act passed before election


Taking kids out of school

The Ruddock Panel recommended that state and territory education departments develop a policy to allow parents to take children out of classes that address religious or moral subject matter inconsistent with their beliefs. Porter announced that this recommendation will be implemented by the development of Commonwealth model guidelines.

The Ruddock recommendation and the government’s proposal on this issue are controversial and beset with practical difficulties. What constitutes a “religious or moral matter” may not always be clear: for example, discussions on the environment, the treatment of animals or poverty may be considered by many to be of a fundamentally moral nature.

Moreover, allowing parents the right to take their child out of class could be seen as undermining the message of diversity – as recently decided by a Canadian court.

Another government response concerns a proposal to change the Marriage Act to allow religious schools to refuse to make available premises in relation to same-sex weddings. Given strong public support for marriage equality and last year’s parliamentary debates, adding further exemptions to the Marriage Act could be seen as winding back marriage equality.

Religious schools discriminating against LGBTI teachers and students

There has been fierce and ongoing debate in parliament on removing the right of religious schools to discriminate against teachers and students on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

On this issue, the government’s response to the Ruddock review is to consult with states and territories regarding the terms of reference for the Australian Law Reform Commission to consider a possible amendment.

This will set alarms bells off in jurisdictions such as Tasmania that currently have no special exemptions for religious bodies, including schools. The response appears to be a push by the government to abolish the stronger protections that currently exist in some states.

Push for a Religious Discrimination Act

A further key response to the Ruddock review is the proposal to enact a Religious Discrimination Act. But any religious freedom bill will necessarily be difficult to draft without an overall framework of a comprehensive Charter of Rights.

The Labor party has already indicated it cannot support this proposal without seeing the details.

Stand-alone religious discrimination laws are rare. Some examples exist in the United States, where they act as vehicles for individuals to exempt themselves from the general law and to justify discrimination against the LGBTI community in the delivery of goods and services.

The only precedent in Australia is Fred Nile’s private member’s bill currently before the New South Wales parliament, which would allow broad ranging discrimination on the basis of religious belief.


Read more: Ruddock report constrains, not expands, federal religious exemptions


A new religious freedom commissioner

The Ruddock panel concluded that Australia does not need to appoint a religious freedom commissioner. The government disagrees, and has announced announced its intention to establish such a position in the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Interestingly, the Christian legal think tank, Freedom for Faith, strongly advocated for the appointment of a religious freedom commissioner, and estimated that its annual cost would be between A$1.25-1.5 million.

What now?

At a press conference announcing the government’s response, the prime minister said he wanted to introduce legislation to implement these proposals before the next election.

This looks like mission impossible, given the time necessary for a consultation process with the states and territories, and the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry.

The announcement also does nothing to progress the conflict between those who want a clean removal of the right of religious schools to discriminate and those that want religious schools to retain a special rights to discriminate.

Morrison emphasised that the proposals reflect the importance of people living their lives and raising and educating their children in accordance with their beliefs. But the unanswered question is whether freedom of belief extends to allowing people to discriminate against LGBTI people.

Any changes in the law need to be carefully considered to ensure they are consistent with Australia’s human rights obligations and protect the equal dignity of all.

ref. In long-awaited response to Ruddock review, the government pushes hard on religious freedom – http://theconversation.com/in-long-awaited-response-to-ruddock-review-the-government-pushes-hard-on-religious-freedom-108750

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media