Policy Forum https://www.policyforum.net The APPS Policy Forum a public policy website devoted to Asia and the Pacific. Fri, 19 Jul 2019 01:54:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 https://www.policyforum.net/wp-content/uploads/cache/2017/01/favicon/2924535576.png Policy Forum https://www.policyforum.net 32 32 Podcast: Business and the Sustainable Development Goals https://www.policyforum.net/podcast-business-and-the-sustainable-development-goals/ https://www.policyforum.net/podcast-business-and-the-sustainable-development-goals/#respond Fri, 19 Jul 2019 01:54:27 +0000 https://www.policyforum.net/?p=34650 This week on Policy Forum Pod we chat to the Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce John Denton AO, to find out how the business world is implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. We also hear from Quentin Grafton about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the recent Four Corners show. How are the world’s business […]

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This week on Policy Forum Pod we chat to the Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce John Denton AO, to find out how the business world is implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. We also hear from Quentin Grafton about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the recent Four Corners show.

How are the world’s business leaders adapting to the Sustainable Development Goals? That’s the topic for this week’s Policy Forum Pod, where we hear from John Denton, the Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce. Pod hosts Julia Ahrens and Quentin Grafton also discuss the challenges facing the Murray-Darling Basin and tackle some of your questions and comments. Listen here: https://bit.ly/2GhQGnj

John Denton AO is Chairman of Corrs’ International Advisory Council and was formerly Partner and Chief Executive Officer of Corrs. John is the Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce.

Lydia Kim is an Associate Editor at Policy Forum. She is currently completing a Bachelor of Politics, Philosophy and Economics alongside a Bachelor of Finance at the Australian National University.

Quentin Grafton is Professor of Economics at Crawford School, an ANU Public Policy Fellow, and Director of the Centre for Water Economics, Environment and Policy.

Julia Ahrens is a presenter on Policy Forum Pod.

Policy Forum Pod is available on Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcherSubscribe on Android or wherever you get your podcasts. We’d love to hear your feedback for this podcast series! Send in your questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes to podcast@policyforum.net. You can also Tweet us @APPSPolicyForum or join us on the Facebook group.

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Aboriginal credit policy: High Court ruling sets new tone https://www.policyforum.net/aboriginal-credit-policy-high-court-ruling-sets-new-tone/ https://www.policyforum.net/aboriginal-credit-policy-high-court-ruling-sets-new-tone/#respond Thu, 18 Jul 2019 06:14:32 +0000 https://www.policyforum.net/?p=34543 A recent High Court case has ruled that a ‘book up’ credit scheme run from a general store in remote Australia was lawful, revealing the importance of considering communities’ needs individually rather than by generalisation, Maree Sainsbury writes. Undoubtedly, Aboriginal Australians face considerable disadvantage when entering financial contracts, and naturally, the law strives to protect […]

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A recent High Court case has ruled that a book up credit scheme run from a general store in remote Australia was lawful, revealing the importance of considering communities’ needs individually rather than by generalisation, Maree Sainsbury writes.

Undoubtedly, Aboriginal Australians face considerable disadvantage when entering financial contracts, and naturally, the law strives to protect individuals that are at a higher risk of being exploited.

One way in which this occurs is through the various laws prohibiting unconscionable dealings. However, a recent High Court decision, in a case between ASIC and a Mr Kobelt of South Australia, highlights the difficult legal and policy considerations involved in determining when the law should intervene in a contract for financial services.

More on this: A road to reconciliation

While the decision does not establish a clear legal principle, it does illustrate that cultural practices must play a part in assessing Aboriginal people’s financial behaviour.

It also shows the difficulty in ensuring that there is adequate protection against exploitation, while still ensuring the individual’s right to freely enter into transactions. While it is easy to generalise, every case needs to be considered individually and carefully.

The case involved the practice of ‘book up’ credit arrangements. Book up credit practices for Indigenous communities developed after the extension of social security entitlements to Aboriginal Australians in the late 1950s. Initially, customers’ social security cheques would be delivered to a store, and then be cashed at the store, with the proceeds added to customers’ accounts.

Now, customers hand over a key card and PIN, as well as giving stores the authority to withdraw funds from their accounts once social security payments have been received. The funds are then applied to a store credit account.

More on this: NAIDOC Week 2019: Indigenous Australians are not the issue

Book up credit has previously been evaluated by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. In doing so, the Commission highlighted the problems and advantages of the system, but no regulatory action was taken.

The specifics of the case are crucial. Mr Kobelt operated a general store and a used car yard in the town of Mintabie in South Australia – an opal mining community 1100 kilometres north of Adelaide in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands. There are no banks, credit unions, or similar services in the vicinity.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission brought action against Mr Kobelt concerning his supply of book up credit to Aboriginal customers on the basis that it was unconscionable and in breach of section 12CA of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001.

There was much evidence that the use of this credit arrangement worked in the customers’ favour. It was a convenient way to manage their money over a fortnightly cycle, and they would have been unlikely to be eligible to receive credit under other arrangements. Interestingly, the court also considered the impact of cultural practices.

First of these was a preference for face-to-face transactions. While the Anangu people have adapted their values and practices to accommodate the market economy, there remains a desire for the personalisation of financial transactions. Maintaining a personal relationship with Mr Kobelt was an important advantage of the book up credit system.

More on this: A class of their own: the Myschool website and Indigenous students

Secondly, there was anthropological evidence that book up credit was used by some customers as a way of avoiding the cultural obligation of demand sharing – the requirement that the Anangu people share their resources with specific categories of kin.

The court heard that this practice had led to bullying and exploitation, often by younger members of a family group placing pressure on older members. When resources were effectively controlled by Mr Kobelt through the book up credit scheme, this became impossible.

The scheme, however, was not without its difficulties. Customers were impoverished and often illiterate, and ASIC argued this made them particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Further, his record-keeping practices were poor, and it was found that customers who used credit to buy a second-hand car were paying considerably more than those paying cash.

Despite these difficulties, the High Court found the arrangements to be lawful. There was no evidence that the customers were unhappy with the arrangements, nor that Mr Kobelt had acted in bad faith.

The case highlights some key issues that need to be addressed outside of the legal system. Literacy and numeracy levels of Aboriginal people in remote Australia and the lack of access to financial services were central to these circumstances. Improvement in these areas would mean that Aboriginal people in remote communities can make autonomous and informed decisions about their transactions.

Most importantly, it shows that these arrangements should be taken case-by-case, rather than being based on generalisations. That way, due consideration can be given to the specifics of a community and its needs, including understanding relevant cultural practices.

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Indigenous policy must be in Indigenous hands https://www.policyforum.net/indigenous-policy-must-be-in-indigenous-hands/ https://www.policyforum.net/indigenous-policy-must-be-in-indigenous-hands/#respond Tue, 16 Jul 2019 23:17:37 +0000 https://www.policyforum.net/?p=34476 Only learning from past mistakes will improve policies for Indigenous people, Justin McCaul writes. Improving the effectiveness of Indigenous policy has no easy, single solution. The question is complex and multifaceted, and results will require time and resources. These are just a few factors critical to more effective Indigenous policy. In his 2018 speech to […]

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Only learning from past mistakes will improve policies for Indigenous people, Justin McCaul writes.

Improving the effectiveness of Indigenous policy has no easy, single solution. The question is complex and multifaceted, and results will require time and resources. These are just a few factors critical to more effective Indigenous policy.

In his 2018 speech to the Australian Parliament on the release of the 10th Closing the Gap report, then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he intended to take a new approach to address the socioeconomic challenges facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

He said it was time for his government to start doing things ‘with’ and not ‘to’ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Expressing such a sentiment just months after rejecting the Uluru Statement and its call for exactly that meant his words could only be taken with a large grain of salt.

The idea that we want a more significant role in determining the policies that impact our lives is neither new nor novel. We are determined to be the agents of our own change.

In 2017, Oxfam Australia produced a report on the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia. It was a report card on how Australia was faring in respecting the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (spoiler alert: not so good).

Not simply judging the efforts of successive Australian governments, we also wanted to highlight through case studies the largely unnoticed efforts of many of the Indigenous organisations working in policy and service delivery.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations have over many decades built an impressive network of community-based organisations at national and state levels with a body of knowledge about what works and what doesn’t across a range of social policy areas.

More on this: NAIDOC WEEK Policy File: Towards a shared future

There is a wealth of policy knowledge amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations that will make policy much more effective. Our frustration is not that we don’t know what to do, but how governments can translate this experience and advice into policy.

In addition to utilising Indigenous policy expertise, other critical factors are the departments and public servants that administer Indigenous policy. Before joining ANU I did some research on the challenges Indigenous organisations face in working with governments.

It was an insight into how Indigenous organisations work daily with a range of public servants at various levels of authority. Almost all Indigenous respondents I spoke with understand public servants are under considerable pressure and working within the policies set by their minister.

The organisations I spoke with were still dealing with the decisions to centralise Indigenous programs within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in 2013 which had caused confusion and fatigue, and the cut of more than $500 million from Indigenous programs.

Predictably, these decisions had a direct impact on Indigenous organisations, but what emerged in my discussions was Indigenous respondents seeing a noticeable loss of institutional knowledge amongst government staff who were working with their organisations.

More on this: The Uluru Statement from the Heart: A road to reconciliation

Many public servants had established relationships and a body of knowledge about the unique factors that impact on Indigenous organisations. Without this expertise, there were delays in decision making and a lack of clarity on reporting requirements.

Indigenous land management organisations felt most affected and even called for the Indigenous ranger and protected areas programs to be moved back to the Department of Environment, where staff had the technical skills and knowledge required to work with them.

Effective Indigenous policy needs public servants with not only the technical skills and knowledge but also a high degree of cultural competence for working effectively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations.

While there have been setbacks, there are some promising changes underway. Back in 2012, the then chairman of the Productivity Commission observed:

“It is said that ‘the greatest tragedy of failure is failing to learn from it’. But that seems to be the predominant history of Indigenous policies and programs.”

It’s taken six years, but in December 2018 the first Indigenous Policy Evaluation Commissioner of the Productivity Commission was appointed to deal with a major gap in effective Indigenous policy – the lack of a whole-of-government Indigenous Evaluation Strategy to measure the effectiveness of Indigenous policies and programs.

The Productivity Commission has just released an Issues Paper seeking public submissions to assist in developing its evaluation framework and strategy. Knowing what works and what doesn’t will help shape more effective Indigenous policy.

More on this: Indigenous suicide epidemic must end

Significant also is the appointment of Ken Wyatt as Minister for Indigenous Australians and the creation of a new agency to administer Indigenous policy.

Mr Wyatt is the first Indigenous person to hold the reins of the Indigenous affairs portfolio and the response from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to his appointment has been largely positive.

However, he has a huge challenge to reverse the belief amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that Indigenous policy – as developed by governments in isolation – is bereft of ideas and is at a dead end.

Time will tell if Minister Wyatt can meet the expectations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and create the space for us to start shaping Indigenous policy, but so long as Indigenous policy is focused on Indigenous voices, the future holds promise.

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A chance for lift off: Indonesia’s solar sector https://www.policyforum.net/a-chance-for-lift-off-indonesias-solar-sector/ https://www.policyforum.net/a-chance-for-lift-off-indonesias-solar-sector/#respond Tue, 16 Jul 2019 04:34:57 +0000 https://www.policyforum.net/?p=34560 Indonesia has set ambitious targets for adopting renewable energy technologies, including solar power. India serves as a useful model for what is possible, Paul Burke writes. Indonesia is behind the pack in terms of the adoption of solar power. The world’s fourth most populous country was outside the top 70 countries in terms of total […]

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Indonesia has set ambitious targets for adopting renewable energy technologies, including solar power. India serves as a useful model for what is possible, Paul Burke writes.

Indonesia is behind the pack in terms of the adoption of solar power. The world’s fourth most populous country was outside the top 70 countries in terms of total generation of electricity from solar photovoltaics in 2016.

With substantial solar resources, Indonesia has the potential to benefit much more than it does now from the sizeable reductions in solar costs experienced globally over recent years. Solar could play a major role in achieving Indonesia’s energy mix and emissions reduction targets.

One way forward is to look to India, which has had much greater success. India generated more than 700 times more solar power than Indonesia in 2017, thanks, in part, to a more investment-friendly and goals-oriented policy approach.

More on this: India's new legislation offers hope

A team of colleagues and me from the Australian National University’s Grand Challenge project Zero-Carbon Energy for the Asia-Pacific have recently published a paper in Energy Policy on insights for Indonesia from India’s relative success. We conclude that there are a number of ways for Indonesia to break the cycle of low investment in renewables.

The most important driver is having the political will. India’s solar generation industry has benefitted from clear policy direction under schemes like the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission. Indonesia, on the other hand, has seen underwhelming interest from political leaders and key players such as the state electricity utility, Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN).

The use of market mechanisms is also central. India has put reverse auctions to good use, unleashing competitive forces that help drive prices down. A key requirement for reducing solar prices is a low-risk investment environment. India has sought to foster this via approaches such as the establishment of solar parks for investors to locate their projects and a plug and play model for these projects.

India has also used Renewable portfolio obligations. A green certificate scheme in Indonesia – whereby PLN could be required to purchase certificates representing domestic renewable electricity generation – would have the potential to create a much closer link between renewables adoption targets and actual adoption levels than has existed to date.

More on this: Wind and solar could make light work of climate change

Moreover, factors affecting the price of coal are relevant as well. India has a coal levy, aimed in part at promoting the use of clean energy. In contrast, a domestic market obligation has served to suppress coal prices in Indonesia, making it difficult for renewables to compete.

The removal of these obligations and the introduction of a levy that reflects the costs of using coal for the environment and the economy would have the potential to create a much more even playing field.

A key priority is maximising access to high-quality, low-cost solar panels. Currently, Indonesia’s local content requirements and solar panel import tariff serve to inflate project costs. Reforms in this area could help lower energy prices for households and commercial consumers alike.

Under current arrangements in Indonesia, any large new solar projects feeding into the grid must be handed over to state control at the end of their contract period. This acts as a disincentive to invest, particularly for projects that are closely embedded with other assets such as malls, plantations, or industrial estates. Investor interest could spike if these types of requirements were relaxed.

More on this: Modi powers forward on renewables

Managing intermittent solar flows on the grid is a major challenge in both Indonesia and India. Substantial investment in the grid and in its management capacities will be needed over the coming years. This will be expensive, but a coal-dominated expansion path would also involve substantial outlays.

Our paper outlines other potential reforms for Indonesia, such as strengthening the institutional framework for renewables and continued progress in phasing out fuel and electricity subsidies.

The future for solar power is bright, but not all countries will participate equally. Governments can do a lot to help by removing regulatory and other impediments, as well as creating a more investor-friendly environment. India serves as a useful example of how to jump into the fast lane.

An open-access version of the research paper is available here. Information about the Zero-Carbon Energy for the Asia-Pacific ANU Grand Challenge is available here. A presentation of the research is available here.

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A Voice to Parliament – the change we need https://www.policyforum.net/a-voice-to-parliament-the-change-we-need/ https://www.policyforum.net/a-voice-to-parliament-the-change-we-need/#respond Tue, 16 Jul 2019 00:47:09 +0000 https://www.policyforum.net/?p=34424 An ongoing inability to consult has caused failure after failure in Indigenous policy, but a Voice to Parliament represents an opportunity for better governance and most importantly, self-determination, Melissa Castan and Kate Galloway write. Over two years since the launch of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, the policy direction of the Morrison government has […]

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An ongoing inability to consult has caused failure after failure in Indigenous policy, but a Voice to Parliament represents an opportunity for better governance and most importantly, self-determination, Melissa Castan and Kate Galloway write.

Over two years since the launch of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, the policy direction of the Morrison government has emerged. The Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Ken Wyatt, has said a proposal for constitutional recognition of Indigenous people will be put to the people for approval within three years. The Liberal party had promised $7.3 million to develop a proposal to take to a referendum during the 2019 election campaign, and a budget allocation of $160 million has been set aside to bring that referendum to the voters.

Soon after the election, an executive order established the National Indigenous Australians Agency, an executive agency attached to the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

It will be charged with coordinating policy and advancing programs like Closing the Gap. Important as it is to have identified oversight of programs for Indigenous Australians, the Agency is a far cry from the Uluru Statement’s vision: A Voice to Parliament.

More on this: Policy File: Towards a shared future

There have been other proposals aimed at ‘conservative’ institutional change, including in the submissions to the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition. However, there are sound policy reasons why the Voice to Parliament is the uniquely appropriate response to the question of how Australia embraces First Nations people within its legal and political institutions.

Firstly, as former High Court Justice Michael Kirby has pointed out, there is a precedent for multiple and diverse voices to Parliament.

The Australia Securities and Investment Commission, the Business Council of Australia, and the Productivity Commission all provide advice to guide decision-making within the remit of their operation. It is no radical step to envisage a Voice charged with providing the views of Indigenous Australians.

Further, constitutional entrenchment is both desirable and necessary. The constituency of the Voice is not an abstract notion such as economic efficiency or corporate interests.

Rather, the rationale of the Voice is to extend the right to self-determination to peoples who are underrepresented. It is well understood in international law that Indigenous self-determination must be constitutive and continuing.

More on this: Pod: Honesty is the best policy

This requires an institutional commitment to an international standard described as ‘Free, Prior and Informed Consent’. That is where the Voice to Parliament represents a distinct shift. Meeting the threshold for conservative institutional progress, it preserves parliamentary sovereignty whilst establishing participation through constitutional mandate.

Its constitutional status meets the requirement for continuing self-determination. It protects the institutional response from defeat simply through an ordinary Act of Parliament. In contrast, the new National Agency is vulnerable to repeal through executive order, an even lesser administrative process that threatens its continuity.

More fundamentally, the Voice is constitutive of self-determination. The Regional Dialogues that led to the Uluru Statement comprised a process that has engaged Indigenous communities around Australia in prioritising their own futures.

It is these Regional Dialogues that concluded in an invitation to all Australians to walk with Indigenous peoples ‘in a movement of the Australian people for a better future’.

More on this: Is Australia big enough for reconciliation?

Australia’s greatest policy mistake in Indigenous affairs has been one that has never been addressed. And so, we are condemned to repeat it. This mistake is the development of policy and legislation concerning Indigenous Australians without involving the communities affected. We have failed to establish proper legal relations with Indigenous Australians.

We did this in 1788, and continue to do so now. Failure to establish a proper basis for our relationships precludes genuine consultation and this has generated mistake after mistake. This is a manifestation of the unwillingness of the government to fulfill the right to self-determination.

The Voice provides the opportunity to engage in an effective governance process through finally upholding Indigenous Australians’ right to self-determination. It may not be perfect—when has any process garnered unanimous support? But the Regional Dialogues do represent a consensus approach, through their exhaustive attention to the process.

On the basis of the process for conceiving of the Voice, it is clear that this is the best manifestation of Indigenous peoples’ international, and Australian, right to self-determination.

For Indigenous and non-Indigenous policymakers alike, it is time for us to heed this invitation extended to us and listen to its message. To fail to do so is to perpetuate our own repeated failures of policy-making regarding Indigenous Australians.

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Democracy Sausage Podcast: rights and responsibilities https://www.policyforum.net/democracy-sausage-podcast-rights-and-responsibilities/ https://www.policyforum.net/democracy-sausage-podcast-rights-and-responsibilities/#respond Mon, 15 Jul 2019 07:06:46 +0000 https://www.policyforum.net/?p=34572 This week on the Democracy Sausage podcast, we break the most basic of dinner party rules as we serve up a hearty conversation on religion and politics. Do Australians need to know which church a politician belongs to? And are religious values reflected in policy choices? This week on Democracy Sausage Mark Kenny leads a […]

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This week on the Democracy Sausage podcast, we break the most basic of dinner party rules as we serve up a hearty conversation on religion and politics.

Do Australians need to know which church a politician belongs to? And are religious values reflected in policy choices? This week on Democracy Sausage Mark Kenny leads a discussion on the boundaries between church and state. We also discuss a landmark speech on Indigenous affairs and take a look at what Donald Trump may expect in return for that state visit. Our panellists – David Gazard, Jade Gailberger, and Katrine Beauregard – also tackle some of your questions and comments. Listen here: https://bit.ly/30tJBaA

David Gazard began his career as a journalist, working in the federal press gallery with News Ltd before becoming a political adviser and press secretary for former Prime Minister John Howard and former Treasurer Peter Costello. He is now Director of ECG Advisory Solutions and ECG Financial.

Jade Gailberger is NewsCorp’s federal political reporter for The Advertiser in South Australia.

Katrine Beauregard is a lecturer in the ANU School of Politics and International Relations. Her work focuses on political behaviour and why people vote the way they do. She is also researching public opinion towards women in politics and the consequences of gender quotas on political institutions.

Mark Kenny is a Senior Fellow in the ANU Australian Studies Institute. He came to the university after a high-profile journalistic career including six years as chief political correspondent and national affairs editor for The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, and The Canberra Times. He is the host of the Democracy Sausage podcast.

Democracy Sausage with Mark Kenny is available on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. We’d love to hear your feedback for this podcast series! Send in your questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes to podcast@policyforum.net. You can also Tweet us @APPSPolicyForum or join us on the Facebook group.

This podcast is produced in partnership with The Australian National University.

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Freedom of the press and public servants’ obligations https://www.policyforum.net/freedom-of-the-press-and-public-servants-obligations/ https://www.policyforum.net/freedom-of-the-press-and-public-servants-obligations/#respond Fri, 12 Jul 2019 02:40:04 +0000 https://www.policyforum.net/?p=34495 The press must be able to protect its sources when it does draw on leaks and whistleblowers. We should be cautious about exempting national security leaks from those protections, Andrew Podger writes. Jacinta Carroll’s recent article provides some useful balance to the current debate about freedom of the press and national security, and the public […]

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The press must be able to protect its sources when it does draw on leaks and whistleblowers. We should be cautious about exempting national security leaks from those protections, Andrew Podger writes.

Jacinta Carroll’s recent article provides some useful balance to the current debate about freedom of the press and national security, and the public interest in both. Let me add my own comments drawing both from my experience in the Australian Public Service (APS) (including as Public Service Commissioner 2002-2004) and from being a public member of the Australian Press Council since 2012. My comments are strictly my own and do not purport to reflect those of the APS or the APC.

While Jacinta focuses on national security considerations, let me canvass some other issues that need to be carefully weighed. I do not pretend to have any detailed knowledge of the cases that have sparked the current debate, nor of all the laws now involved; my comments are more general, linking together the rights and responsibilities of the various players and institutions involved.

First, nothing undermines ministerial trust in the public service as certainly as leaks. The APS code of conduct specifically requires ‘appropriate confidentiality’ about dealings with any minister or minister’s staff, whether they involve national security or not.

Particularly after a change of government when trust has to be earned, leaks can be very destructive. Agency heads must be firm in ensuring staff loyalty to the elected government, whatever its policies, including those that affect the public service.

That said, calling in the police whenever there is a leak is not in my view the way to handle such matters. It is important to foster a culture that is both open and trustworthy, firmly opposed to leaking. Scaring the staff and making them all feel mistrusted is no way to achieve that culture.

More on this: A balancing act between public interest and national security

I never called in the police (noting I never had a national security leak to investigate), but I did have my audit staff, on occasion, conduct investigations, encouraging staff to appreciate that it was not in their interest or the interest of the organisation and its clients to protect wrong-doers.

Of course, another way of undermining such a culture is for ministers or their staff to leak. Sadly, that has been in my experience more common than public servants leaking. I have been asked to conduct leak investigations by ministers that pointed firmly to the leak being by an adviser, and perhaps authorised by the minister concerned.

Departmental staff must have faith that such investigations will be undertaken carefully and fairly even if they rarely identify the non-APS culprit or totally absolve the public servants investigated.

There is a distinction to be made between ‘leaking’ and ‘whistleblowing’. As a rule, there are procedures for handling public interest disclosures, both within each agency and via the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) and the Ombudsman. There are also protections for whistleblowers against discrimination.

It is understandable, however, that internal processes may appear insufficiently independent in some cases; indeed, they may on occasion be too protective of the agency’s reputation and that of its longstanding senior staff.

More on this: Freedom of the press

Even the APSC may appear too ‘inside the tent’ in some instances (something I wrote about in my 2009 book, The Role of Departmental Secretaries), but I think the Ombudsman is sufficiently independent to handle the most sensitive of (non-national security) disclosures. This is not to suggest that disclosures by public servants should always be sent to the Ombudsman, but that having that avenue available is important.

I should also mention that, in my experience, some ‘whistleblowers’ do not act in the public interest but push their own personal interests, claiming as evidence of mismanagement or misuse of taxpayers’ resources actions that merely adversely impacted themselves (such as performance management decisions).

How should genuine whistleblowers be treated if they do not follow all the due internal processes? In principle, there is no excuse, and they should expect disciplinary action, whether for breaching the Code of Conduct or for breaking some other law.

But I would also expect the relevant authority to exercise some sensible discretion, taking into account any public interest in the disclosure and in subsequently fixing the identified inappropriate behaviour, and assessing the reasonableness of the whistleblower’s perception that the due processes were insufficiently independent.

I do not know how much discretion the courts have in applying penalties in criminal cases (I am thinking of the South Australian ATO case), but I would hope some sense of proportionality would also apply there having regard to the public interest in the disclosure, as well as the illegality involved in not using the processes available.

Freedom of the press is critical to the functioning of a sound democracy, and its capacity to hold governments to account relies heavily on access to information.

More important than information from leaks and whistleblowers (where political and personal interests may well be disguised as public interest), are provisions such as the Freedom of Information Act and a culture in the bureaucracy of open accountability (as required by the APS Values) and regular public reporting including of program performance and policy research etc.

Governments may abide by the FOI Act, but rarely embrace its spirit, and the APS leadership too often looks to please ministers by minimising the information released consistent with the letter, not the spirit, of the law.

More on this: National security and the media in Southeast Asia

I firmly believe, nonetheless, that the press must be able to protect its sources when it does draw on leaks and whistleblowers. But protection must be subject to the journalist working for a publisher who accepts full responsibility for appropriate standards of reporting, such as via membership of the Australian Press Council or an equivalent independent and public standards organisation (the ABC itself has such a process, and the Australian Communications and Media Authority plays such a role for broadcasters).

These standards include accuracy, fairness and balance, and the ethics involved in how information is obtained. These standards imply that the publisher and the journalist concerned do not simply accept the material provided by the source.

There may just be a case for exempting national security leaks from such protections, but I would be very careful about this. In my experience, security classifications are often set higher than really required, and there is little effort to review classification later.

Nonetheless, unauthorised disclosure of highly classified material is a serious matter with implications well beyond just the loss of trust by ministers, implications the individual concerned may not fully appreciate. Perhaps any such exemption should only be made after endorsement by the Inspector-General of Security.

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Podcast: Fixing the National Disability Insurance Scheme https://www.policyforum.net/podcast-fixing-the-ndis/ https://www.policyforum.net/podcast-fixing-the-ndis/#respond Fri, 12 Jul 2019 02:32:07 +0000 https://www.policyforum.net/?p=34460 This week on Policy Forum Pod we take a look at the future of the National Disability Insurance Scheme with former government Minister Jenny Macklin, Gemma Carey and Clare Moore. And we hear about a new project that could transform unloved and unused spaces in our cities and bring communities together in the process. The […]

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This week on Policy Forum Pod we take a look at the future of the National Disability Insurance Scheme with former government Minister Jenny Macklin, Gemma Carey and Clare Moore. And we hear about a new project that could transform unloved and unused spaces in our cities and bring communities together in the process.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme is a significant policy. Launched in 2016, the NDIS provides support to Australians with a disability, their families, and their carers. But while it has been broadly welcomed, its implementation has not been without significant challenges. This week on Policy Forum Pod we hear from former Labor government Minister Jenny Macklin, Dr Gemma Carey, and Clare Moore about what it will take to fix the NDIS. Pod hosts Sara Bice and Martyn Pearce also chat to Carolyn Hendriks about the ‘Stomping Grounds’ project and how it could change the way our cities and towns are used, and discuss some of your questions and suggestions for future pods. Listen here: https://bit.ly/2LP1Ymf

Gemma Carey is the Research Director of the Centre for Social Impact UNSW and an NHMRC Fellow. She holds a PhD in social policy and population health from the University of Melbourne and a Masters in Anthropology from the University of Adelaide. She undertakes primary research in governance and policy implementation. Drawing on this work, she also contributes to emerging debates in public health regarding the social determinants of health. Much of her research investigates the processes of ‘joining up’ within government and between government and non-government organisations. Her current research is concerned with the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Clare Moore is the Chief Executive Officer of WWDACT, Women with Disabilities ACT, an advocacy organisation that promotes the human rights of women and girls with a disability in the Canberra region. WWDACT are passionate about intersectionality, health care, housing and education. Clare was the winner of the 2018 Chief Minister’s Inclusion Award for Emerging Young Leaders. She is also a member of the Disability Leadership Institute’s Future Shaper Program.

Jenny Macklin was the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs from 2007-2013, and from 2011-2013 was Minister for Disability reform under the Gillard and Rudd Labor governments. Jenny was instrumental in the national roll-out for the NDIS, overseeing the design and implementation of the Scheme. Macklin was also a member of the Government’s Expenditure Review Committee and Chair of the Government’s Social Policy Committee.

Carolyn Hendriks is Associate Professor of Public Policy and Governance, at Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University. Carolyn’s work examines the democratic aspects of contemporary governance, particularly with respect to participation, deliberation, inclusion and representation. She has taught and published widely on the application and politics of inclusive and deliberative forms of citizen engagement.

Tess McGirr is a Sir Roland Wilson PhD scholar at Crawford School researching how social services can complement welfare reform to improve employment outcomes. Tess has a long-held passion for social policy.

Sara Bice is a Senior Research Fellow at the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy, and leads the Next Generation Engagement Program based at the school.

Martyn Pearce is a presenter for Policy Forum Pod and the Editor of Policy Forum.

Policy Forum Pod is available on Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcherSubscribe on Android or wherever you get your podcasts. We’d love to hear your feedback for this podcast series! Send in your questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes to podcast@policyforum.net. You can also Tweet us @APPSPolicyForum or join us on the Facebook group.

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Moscow is making friends in the Middle East https://www.policyforum.net/moscow-is-making-friends-in-the-middle-east/ https://www.policyforum.net/moscow-is-making-friends-in-the-middle-east/#respond Fri, 12 Jul 2019 00:00:27 +0000 https://www.policyforum.net/?p=34339 In efforts to challenge sanction regimes, Russia has been enthusiastically advancing its relations in the Middle East, actively engaging with Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq across various sectors, Isaac Kfir writes. In the post-Cold War era, there was a convergence between peace, security, and economics. However, it’s become increasingly clear that a new geoeconomic reality is […]

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In efforts to challenge sanction regimes, Russia has been enthusiastically advancing its relations in the Middle East, actively engaging with Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq across various sectors, Isaac Kfir writes.

In the post-Cold War era, there was a convergence between peace, security, and economics. However, it’s become increasingly clear that a new geoeconomic reality is emerging – one that poses a major challenge to the maintenance of international peace and security. Whereas previously the goal was peace and security, the current regime seeks conflict and chaos.

The new reality is most visible in the Middle East, especially in the Syrian conflict. Moscow regards Syria’s post-conflict reconstruction as a means to encourage and promote its own manufacturing base and to challenge the sanction regime it has faced, which has impacted access to hard foreign currencies.

More on this: Podcast: Putin's Russia

President Putin wants others to support reconstruction efforts. In Syria, for example, it has argued that the US and Europe should provide loans to the Assad regime, which needs between US $250 to $400 billion to rebuild the country. Russia expects that, due to their close relations with the regime, their companies would benefit from this infusion of money. Specifically, in the financial, energy, mining, infrastructure, technology, cybersecurity, healthcare, and education sectors.

It wants others to support reconstruction efforts. In Syria, it has argued that the US and Europe should provide loans to the Assad regime, which needs between US $250 to $400 billion to rebuild the country. It expects that, due to their close relations with the regime, Russian companies would benefit from this infusion of money.

Moscow is aggressively looking for better relations in the region. This is why Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian prime minister, attended the Afreximbank Annual Meetings. Trade between Russia and African states stands at around US $20 billion, but the former is clearly keen to increase the volume of transactions, which is partly why senior Russian officials are traversing the Middle East.

The information technology sector is likely to see a lot of Russian investment, as the Russians recognise that Syria will need a massive IT boost. They can also rely on their ally, Bashar al-Assad, who has shown a keen interest.

The President established the Syrian Electronic Army during the conflict – an elite cyber unit responsible for carrying out operations against opposing powers. In 2013, it was allegedly responsible for hacking the Associated Press Twitter account and claiming that President Barack Obama had been injured in an attack on the White House. The hack allegedly caused the S&P 500 to drop by US $136.5 billion.

Increasingly, the group’s focus is on promoting the Assad regime.

As part of their geoeconomic strategy, the Russians are also looking to play a role in resolving Lebanon and Syria’s maritime border dispute. In 2013, Russia and Syria signed an agreement to explore gas and oil reserves in the territorial waters off Syria.

More on this: Russia and the Middle East

Developing these fields would give the Russians enormous presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and accord well with their leasing of the port city Tartus, which was finalised in June 2019. Stroytransgaz, which is owned by Gennady Tymchenko – a close confidant of President Putin – intends to invest around $500 million in the port.

The Lebanese clearly recognise Russia’s importance in ensuring their security. Lebanon hosts around 1.5 million Syrian refugees creating enormous instability in Lebanon, with evidence of growing anti-refugee sentiments. Led by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the country is veering towards economic slowdown.

Similarly, Russia values Lebanon. Historically an American ally, having Lebanon on ‘Russia’s side’ will dent American presence in the region. This may also explain why in February 2018 there were preliminary discussions between the Russians and the Lebanese about a military agreement that included opening Lebanese airspace, airports, and naval bases for the Russian military.

In return, Putin offered 15 years of interest-free deliveries of Russian arms to Lebanon – valued at around US $1.5 billion – as well as intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism training for their troops.

The agreement was scuttled by the pro-US Lebanese politicians, though not before Hezbollah MP Nawaf al-Mousawi rhetorically asked in parliament why Lebanon was hesitant to nurture its relationship with Russia, pointing out that there was no good reason for this to be the case.

More on this: Russia in Syria: a win-win situation?

The Russians are pursuing a similar policy in Iraq. They recognise that the country is also in dire need of reconstruction efforts – and there is evidence that many Iraqis want to uncouple from the US.

This is why it was unsurprising to hear, in May, Hakim al-Zamili, a member of the Iraqi Parliament’s Security and Defense Committee, announce that Iraq had opened negotiations to buy the S400 system from Russia.

This means that Iraq will follow Turkey and Saudi Arabia in purchasing the system. Approximately two weeks prior to al-Zamili’s announcement, Russia opened an economic office in its embassy in Baghdad. The two countries have signed 16 bilateral agreements.

It is also notable that the Russian delegation to Iraq was led by Yury Borisov, the former deputy minister for defence, who was in Syria finalising Russia’s 49-year lease of Tartus prior to arriving in Baghdad.

Clearly, the Russians’ determination to have a place in the Eastern Mediterranean is gathering momentum. They have achieved their military, strategic goal of saving Assad and keeping Syria firmly within the Russian orbit. Now, they are turning their attention to Lebanon and Iraq, hoping to lure them from America’s circle through economic engagement.

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Indigenous Australians aren’t the issue https://www.policyforum.net/indigenous-australians-arent-the-issue/ https://www.policyforum.net/indigenous-australians-arent-the-issue/#respond Thu, 11 Jul 2019 23:49:22 +0000 https://www.policyforum.net/?p=34294 Australia’s policymakers must address the cultural and institutional barriers that exist for Indigenous Australians instead of framing them as a problem for society, Simon Jovanovic and George Denny-Smith write. It’s NAIDOC week and we’re supposed to be celebrating the history, culture, and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Instead, we frame Indigenous Australians […]

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Australia’s policymakers must address the cultural and institutional barriers that exist for Indigenous Australians instead of framing them as a problem for society, Simon Jovanovic and George Denny-Smith write.

It’s NAIDOC week and we’re supposed to be celebrating the history, culture, and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Instead, we frame Indigenous Australians as being deficient, while emphasising the need for new policy partnerships between Indigenous peoples and governments.

Let’s examine recent Indigenous policy in Australia to illustrate this.

In March, the Australian federal government announced the new Closing the Gap Partnership Agreement with states, territories, and the National Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations.

The announcement commits to working collaboratively – in genuine, formal partnership – with Indigenous people as ‘essential agents of change’ to deliver real outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

During the recent election campaign, the Liberal Party also introduced their plan to support Indigenous Australians with the announcement of a refresh of the Closing the Gap (CTG) targets ‘in partnership with Indigenous Australians for the first time’.

More on this: Podcast: Reconciliation Week 2019 - Honesty is the best policy

But why is this the first partnership and why are we always seeking to reinvent the wheel when it comes to Indigenous affairs? This is just the most recent example of a new initiative in the relationship between the government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The current Indigenous Advancement Strategy targets improved results for Indigenous Australians by fostering business opportunities and providing the right conditions and incentives for people to participate in the economy and broader society.

Previously, the Indigenous Economic Development Strategy aimed to encourage personal responsibility to increase employment in communities, as well as building new understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

These examples were driven by the CTG framework – a scheme that highlights the statistical differences in health and wellbeing between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. It has had the greatest influence on Indigenous policy since being introduced in 2008.

Other policies such as the Commonwealth Indigenous Procurement Policy (CIPP) and the Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy seek to close economic and employment gaps.

More on this: Indigenous suicide epidemic must end

These policies target the deficits of employment outcomes amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Known as a ‘deficit discourse’, this policy language can be significantly disempowering. It’s influenced by negative race-based stereotypes that portray Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities as being dysfunctional.

The deficit discourse reflects the different philosophies and values between Indigenous peoples and policymakers in Australia.

The result is neoliberal Indigenous policy that seeks to integrate people into the mainstream economy through notions of individual responsibility and capacity.

These notions blame Indigenous peoples for the lack of progress, without acknowledging the cultural and institutional barriers that could prevent real change being realised. This interpretation, in turn, can be misused to restrict the rights of Indigenous peoples through interventions and stricter controls over their lives.

Such framing of Indigenous peoples – as a problem – is also evident in numerous policies currently in operation.

The CIPP guidelines are one such example. They are meant to support the Commonwealth Government’s commitment to creating opportunities for Indigenous businesses to grow and employ more Indigenous people.

More on this: Is Australia big enough for reconciliation?

The policy, however, is based on several assumptions. It implies that Indigenous adults are not able to be employed and that they do not have financial independence.

It also infers that they do not have control over their lives, and that they are unable to provide for their families’ future. It generalises and places all Indigenous Australians under a deficit category of people in Australia.

Would we make these assumptions about other groups of people in Australia and place them into the same kind of category? Such examples reinforce and strengthen the role of Australian governments in intervening and controlling the Indigenous business sector.

The CTG priority area of economic development also commits the Australian government to eliminating the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Much like the others, however, it highlights and categorises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth as not being engaged or involved in employment and education. It assumes that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce is a weak and disengaged group of people in the labour market.

This kind of framing also means Indigenous Australians are portrayed through a homogenous, stereotyped representation.

The above examples paint a picture of Indigenous Australians who lack capacity, which legitimises further intervention in their lives. A new approach is required where policy builds on the strengths of Indigenous Australians and changes prevalent policy attitudes.

If Australia is to promote and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture this NAIDOC week, it must encourage policy that acknowledges the historical, political, cultural, and social factors that influence the engagement of Indigenous peoples.

But most importantly, the country must stop labelling Indigenous Australians as the problem in policy discussions.

This piece is published in partnership with The Monsoon Project, a student-run academic blog based at the Crawford School of Public Policy.

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