Legal highs: arguments for and against legalising cannabis in Australia

 Many of the harms associated with cannabis use 
are to do with its illegality. From

Greens leader Richard Di Natale wants Australia to legalise cannabis for personal use, regulated by a federal agency. This proposal is for legalisation of recreational use for relaxation and pleasure, not to treat a medical condition (which is already legal in Australia for some conditions).

According to the proposal, the government agency would licence, monitor and regulate production and sale, and regularly review the regulations. The agency would be the sole wholesaler, buying from producers and selling to retailers it licences.

The proposed policy includes some safeguards that reflect lessons we’ve learned from alcohol and tobacco. These include a ban on advertising, age restrictions, requiring plain packaging, and strict licensing controls. Under the proposal, tax revenues would be used to improve funding to the prevention and treatment sector, which is underfunded compared to law enforcement.

Cannabis legislation around the world

In Australia, cannabis possession and use is currently illegal. But in several states and territories (South Australia, ACT and Northern Territory) a small amount for personal use is decriminalised. That means it’s illegal, but not a criminal offence. In all others it’s subject to discretionary or mandatory diversion usually by police (referred to as “depenalisation”).

Several jurisdictions around the world have now legalised cannabis, including Uruguay, Catalonia and nine states in the United States. Canada is well underway to legalising cannabis, with legislation expected some time this year, and the New Zealand prime minister has flagged a referendum on the issue.

In a recent opinion poll, around 30% of Australians thought cannabis should be legal. Teenagers 14-17 years old were least likely to support legalistaion (21% of that age group) and 18-24 year olds were most likely to support it (36% of that age group).

In the latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey, around a quarter of respondents supported cannabis legalisation and around 15% approved of regular use by adults for non-medical purposes.

What are the concerns about legalisation?

Opponents of legalisation are concerned it will increase use, increase crime, increase risk of car accidents, and reduce public health – including mental health. Many are concerned cannabis is a “gateway” drug.

The “gateway drug” hypothesis was discounted decades ago. Although cannabis usually comes before other illegal drug use, the majority of people who use cannabis do not go on to use other drugs. In addition, alcohol and tobacco usually precede cannabis use, which if the theory were correct would make those drugs the “gateway”.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale wants Australia to legalise cannabis. AAP/Lukas Coch

There is also no evidence legalisation increases use. But, studies have shown a number of health risks, including:

  • around 10% of adults and one in six teens who use regularly will become dependent
  • regular cannabis use doubles the risk of psychotic symptoms and schizophrenia
  • teen cannabis use is associated with poorer school outcomes but causation has not been established
  • driving under the influence of cannabis doubles the risk of a car crash
  • smoking while pregnant affects a baby’s birth weight.

What are the arguments for legalisation?

Reducing harms

Australia’s official drug strategy is based on a platform of harm minimisation, including supply reduction, demand reduction (prevention and treatment) and harm reduction. Arguably, policies should therefore have a net reduction in harm.

But some of the major harms from using illicit drugs are precisely because they are illegal. A significant harm is having a criminal record for possessing drugs that are for personal use. This can negatively impact a person’s future, including careers and travel. Decriminalisation of cannabis would also reduce these harms without requiring full legalisation.

Reducing crime and social costs

A large proportion of the work of the justice system (police, courts and prisons) is spent on drug-related offences. Yet, as Mick Palmer, former AFP Commissioner, notes “drug law enforcement has had little impact on the Australian drug market”.

Decriminalisation may reduce the burden on the justice system, but probably not as much as full legalisation because police and court resources would still be used for cautioning, issuing fines, or diversion to education or treatment. Decriminalisation and legalistaion both potentially reduce the involvement of the justice system and also of the black market growing and selling of cannabis.

Raising tax revenue

Economic analysis of the impact of cannabis legalisation calculate the net social benefit of legalisation at A$727.5 million per year. This is significantly higher than the status quo at around A$295 million (for example from fines generating revenue, as well as perceived benefits of criminalisation deterring use). The Parliamentary Budget Office estimates tax revenue from cannabis legalisation at around A$259 million.

Civil liberties

Many see cannabis prohibition as an infringement on civil rights, citing the limited harms associated with cannabis use. This includes the relatively low rate of dependence and very low likelihood of overdosing on cannabis, as well as the low risk of harms to people using or others.

Many activities that are legal are potentially harmful: driving a car, drinking alcohol, bungee jumping. Rather than making them illegal, there are guidelines, laws and education to make them safer that creates a balance between civil liberties and safety.

What has happened in places where cannabis is legal?

Legalisation of cannabis is relatively recent in most jurisdictions so the long-term benefits or problems of legalisation are not yet known.

But one study found little effect of legalisation on drug use or other outcomes, providing support for neither opponents nor advocates of legalisation. Other studies have shown no increase in use, even among teens.

The research to date suggests there is no significant increase (or decrease) in use or other outcomes where cannabis legalisation has occurred. It’s possible the harm may shift, for example from legal harms to other types of harms. We don’t have data to support or dispel that possibility.

This article was co-authored by:

Image of Nicole LeeNicole Lee – [Professor at the National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University]


Image of Jarryd Bartle Jarryd Bartle – [Sessional Lecturer in Criminal Law, RMIT University]




This article is part of a syndicated news program via

Other readings on this matter:
Why is it still so hard for patients in need to get medicinal cannabis? 
Hemp can now be sold as a food in Australia (and it’s super good for you) 


How misogyny, narcissism and a desperate need for power make men abuse women online

 While the occurrence of sexist harassment online is 
well documented, we less often consider what might be driving this 
behaviour. Wes Mountain/The Conversation

Another morning, another bit of casual misogyny & abuse”, ABC journalist Leigh Sales lamented last week after receiving a tweet accusing her of “virtually” performing sexual acts on her 7.30 guests. Sales’s comments draw our attention back to the abuse routinely encountered by women, people of colour and LGBTQ people on social media. Indeed, such online encounters appear to be so routine for journalists such as Sales that they are a mundane occurrence.

Leigh Sales
Another morning, another bit of casual misogyny & abuse – basically a daily occurrence for high-profile women on social media.

Of course, the abuse of women and minority groups in high-profile positions is, sadly, not new.

In 2016, The Guardian analysed abusive comments posted on its articles. Of the “top ten” most abused journalists, eight were women. The other two were black men. Of the top ten least abused, all were men.

Women in the public sphere have also drawn on the hashtag #mencallmethings to highlight the abuse they receive from men for daring to contribute to public discourse or to occupy positions of power. This type of misogynist abuse is so tediously predictable that one researcher has even developed a “rapeglish” tool that automatically generates strings of abuse.

Experiencing sexual harassment and abuse online is hardly limited to journalists and public figures. Australian research has demonstrated that such experiences are routine for women and LGBTQ people. It also shows that cisgender, heterosexual men do experience abuse online. However, women and LGBTQ groups experience more sexualised abuse, with men much more likely to be the perpetrators of this abuse (but, of course, #notallmen).

In contrast, men experience online abuse from both men and women, the abuse is less likely to be sexual in content and has a less severe impact upon them.

While the occurrence of sexist harassment online is well documented, we less often consider what might be driving this behaviour.

Is the answer online?

The nature of online spaces is often held up as a causal factor in online sexism and misogyny. We see this through the claim that the anonymity online spaces afford allows this behaviour to occur. These men wouldn’t say these things to women in real life without the protection of anonymity.

Kate McClymont
This is NOT okay. If you would not say something to someone’s face, don’t think the anonymity of social media makes it any any way acceptable to put such vile things in writing. Think before you tweet. 

While the internet certainly facilitates aspects of this behaviour, it doesn’t directly cause it. Anonymity might make it easier to engage in and get away with these actions.

Online cultures can work to support and reinforce sexist abuse – with perpetrators seeking out online communities that normalise and condone this behaviour. It’s often further reinforced by the lack of consequences from online platforms.

However, this doesn’t tell us why these perpetrators are targeting women and other marginalised groups. Likewise, these cultures of support also exist offline. While peer support is certainly important in explaining why sexual violence occurs, it is not unique to online spaces.

The claim that these men wouldn’t make such comments to women’s faces is also problematic. As my own research on street harassment shows, some men do make these types of abusive comments to women in person.

Gender, power and violence

There is little research that has asked perpetrators to account for why they engage in this behaviour. Journalist Ginger Gorman came to the conclusion in her investigatory work that trolls (those who perpetrate abuse online) are “narcissists”.

For some, trolling acts as an apparent source of “fun” or entertainment, though it is also much more than this. A recent study on the related practice of “revenge porn” or image-based sexual abuse found that perpetrators engaged in this behaviour to express power and control over an ex-partner. They used the non-consensual posting of images to reaffirm their sense of masculinity.

We can look to the research on violence against women and other forms of abuse more broadly to point to some likely causal explanations. Researchers have comprehensively demonstrated the ways in which sexist online abuse forms part of the continuum of sexual violence. As with all forms of sexual violence, we can understand the actions of perpetrators as situated within a mix of individual, social, cultural and structural causes.

Adherence to strict or rigid gender norms – that is, our ideas about what it means to be a “man” or a “woman” – is one such factor associated with perpetration of various forms of gender-based violence. Certainly, it is plausible that these norms underpin online abuse. Women in high-profile positions, such as Sales, could be seen as “stepping out of line” by challenging traditional gender norms.

This suggests that men’s online abuse of women is fundamentally about power and reasserting the dominance of a particular type of masculinity. As cyberhate researcher Dr Emma Jane explains, online abuse occurs:

Because men continue to hold a disproportionate share of the political, economic, and social power, some using various forms of violence to keep women in their place.

Online abuse occurs because of, as well as actively reinforcing and perpetuating, disparate gender (and other) power relations. It can be used in an attempt to silence and exclude women from public (online) discussion, and in an attempt to “reclaim” online spaces from women who have the temerity to engage in these spaces.

Online abuse may appear to be ostensibly different from rape or sexual assault. However, the same norms and power structures underpin these acts. It is to these we need to look in understanding and, ultimately, challenging and changing the actions of these men.

This article was written by:
Image of Bianca FilebornBianca Fileborn – [Lecturer in Criminology, UNSW]




This article is part of a syndicated news program via


Alexis Wright wins 2018 Stella Prize for Tracker, an epic feat of Aboriginal storytelling

 Alexis Wright, author of Tracker: a book written in 
the mode and genre of Aboriginal storytelling. Stella Prize

Alexis Wright’s book Tracker: Stories of Tracker Tilmouth has won the 2018 Stella Prize. Tracker is, in Wright’s words, an attempt to tell an “impossible story”, using the voices of many people to reflect on the life of Tilmouth, a central and visionary figure in Aboriginal politics.

At one telling point in the book, Gulf of Carpentaria activist and political leader Murandoo Yanner relates an encounter between Tracker and Jenny Macklin, then Minister for Indigenous Affairs in the Rudd government. Tracker was helping Yanner to lobby Macklin over the Wild Rivers legislation in Queensland.

Notoriously, Macklin had persisted with the Howard government’s “Northern Territory Intervention”, and was regarded with suspicion by most Aboriginal leaders. Nevertheless, she was the federal minister and had to be dealt with.

Tracker by Alexis Wright, from Giramondo.

As they approached, Tracker called out, “How ya going, Genocide Jenny?”

Yanner recalls the atmosphere that followed: “You could have heard a pin drop and pistols drawn at twenty paces, and the whole thing went sour pretty quickly”.

It tells you a lot about the man. He had regular access to the corridors of power yet still called a spade a spade. He was capable of dealing with politicians of any background and station yet did not forfeit his never-back-down attitude.

He was able to gain the upper hand from the first with an irreverent comment. And, above all, he was a funny bugger. (Another memorable thumbnail character sketch, this one related by Tracker himself, is of current senator Pat Dodson as a “mobile wailing wall”: a place where white people go to confess and forgo their sins.)

It also tells you a lot about Wright’s epic tribute to Tracker. We do not read Wright quoting Yanner, but hear the whole yarn directly from the source. Born in 1954, Tracker was one of the stolen generation. His life spanned the latter years of the White Australia policy, when Aboriginal people were still legally part of the nation’s fauna, to the tumultuous period in Aboriginal politics following the Intervention, until his death in 2015.

This is not a book about Tracker’s life authored by Wright, but consists of stories and recollections told to Wright by the man himself as well as 50 others, from family and school mates, to Aboriginal and non-Indigenous leaders in our time. Wright brilliantly intersperses and weaves these together into an epic of stories and storytelling.

As the tributes to Tracker have flowed in the months since its publication, and many will surely follow as it garners further prizes and draws in ever more readers, so have proliferated the attempts to describe both the work’s genre and the mode of authorship it enacts.

In their award statement, the Stella judges call it a “biography”, but also “new way of writing memoir”. These descriptors capture aspects of the book – a birth to death tale does emerge from Wright’s layering of stories, and these are, of course, conjured from memory – but they also obscure.

Wright didn’t “write” the work but elicited the stories that comprise it through conversation. Towards the end of the book there is an unbroken sequence of nearly 100 pages of Tracker and Wright conversing, the contents of which are largely a mixture of philosophy and political economy. In these pages, Tracker’s voice is mostly serious, even earnest, as he expounds on the need to create a sustainable economic basis on which Aboriginal people can palpably enjoy their hard-won land rights and native title.

While it is no doubt true that readers accustomed to biographies in the European tradition will be struck by the novelty of reading a tribute to a storyman made up of many stories, Tracker’s strengths as a work are are not dependent on this putative departure from the biographical genre. It is simply remarkable to hear Tracker’s genuinely funny jokes and stories told repeatedly, often word for word and channelling Tracker’s unmistakable style, by such a range of different speakers. Over the course of the book, the repetition of these stories consolidates them and imprints them on the memory.

It is fitting that a book written in the mode and genre of Aboriginal storytelling should win a prize that encompasses both non-fiction and fiction. It is a work, epic in scope and size, that will ensure that a legend of Central Australian politics is preserved in myth.

This article was written by:

Image of Ben EtheringtonBen Etherington – [Senior Research Lectureship-literature, Western Sydney University]




This article is part of a syndicated news program via


Why the Australian Christian right has weak political appeal

 Cory Bernardi announces the recruitment of the 
Australian Christian Lobby’s Lyle Shelton to his Australian Conservatives
political party. Regi Varghese/AAP

The Christian right has been a forceful presence in American political life since the 1970s. Conservative Christians in Australia have attempted to mobilise religion in similar ways, but have not been able to gain a permanent foothold in our mainstream political culture.

Religion is never just religion; it can mean at least three different things. First, propositions about the world: Does God exist? Is Jesus his son? Second, an expression of shared identity: “we are Christians/Muslims/Jews”. A third approach understands religion as a “technology of self-governance”. That is, we reflect on our conduct and thoughts and try to live according to a moral code.

In the lives of the politically religious, these concepts are entangled. Australian political religion began as an expression of identity, but today draws much of its appeal on notions of self-governance. Yet this appeal has limited political potential.

Catholics and Protestants

For the first half of the 20th century, religious identity was a major faultline in Australian politics: Protestants tended to support conservative parties; Catholics generally favoured Labor.

Popular Protestantism emerged as a technology of self-governance associated with crusades for moral reform. Among Catholics, disproportionately less educated, religion was still understood as a form of group identity rather than a way of living. Australia, like other countries of European settlement, saw an alliance between Catholics and the left, despite the illiberalism of the Catholic hierarchy.

It was only in the 1930s that a new generation of Catholics (exemplified by B.A. Santamaria) adopted the style and rhetoric of Protestant politics. Santamaria called on Catholics to live their faith and let it specifically shape public policy.

A new generation of educated Catholics was enthralled. They defied the Labor and Catholic establishment to form the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) after the 1955 Labor Party split.

This period represents the high point of Australian political religion. The DLP was a distinctively religious party, overwhelmingly supported by Catholics, while the suburban Protestantism of Sunday schools and Freemasonry shaped Liberal politics.

Traditional divisions dissolve

Yet, the edifice of old Australian political religion began to dissolve in the 1960s. Social upheavals undercut the power of religion as a set of unchallenged norms. For some, modern liberalism provided an effective substitute. For others, it offered only social disintegration and meaninglessness.

Established churches acquiesced in the rebellion against the old morality. Catholic certainties were shattered by the liberal reforms of Vatican II. Protestant certainties of sin and damnation seemed absurd in the age of post-ideological prosperity, and Protestant church attendance fell rapidly.

For a time, the DLP defied the trend, but it’s very cohesion as an anti-Labor force undercut its own rationale. After the DLP’s electoral collapse in the mid-1970s, it was logical for sympathisers (such as Tony Abbott and Kevin Andrews) to transition to the Liberal Party. For these Liberals, Catholicism was a faith of group identity, persecution fears and clerical heroes (such as, in more recent times, George Pell).

Rise of the evangelical Christian right

But at the very time that political religion seemed doomed, it began to revive. Religious conservatives fought back and activated previously passive church membership in defence of traditional morality. In the United States, the 1970s was the decade of faith. Australia provided only a faint echo, but for ambitious evangelicals, the American Christian right was a model.

Fred Nile’s Call to Australia (later renamed the Christian Democratic Party) polled 9% at the 1981 New South Wales state election. Political religion offered a new way for its voters to have lives of self-fulfilment and purpose, lifting them from the suburban routines of empty churches to participation in a wider world.

Two years later, the Hills Christian Life Centre (later Hillsong) was established in explicit emulation of the American mega-church model.

Evangelical Christians pushed into politics even more explicitly in the 2000s. In 2001, the obscure Australian Christian Coalition rebadged itself as the Australian Christian Lobby and rapidly developed a high profile, as it sought to bring a Christian influence to politics. In 2002, former Assemblies of God pastor Andrew Evans established the political party Family First, and was elected to the South Australian upper house.

At the 2004 federal election, this kind of politics burst onto the national stage with the election of a Family First senator from Victoria and the Hillsong-affiliated Liberal Louise Markus in the western Sydney seat of Greenway. Markus’s Muslim opponent, Labor’s Ed Husic, believed religion was used against him during the campaign.

Dwindling appeal

In May 2004, the Howard government legislated to prevent same-sex couples from marrying, and by the end of the year, the devout Christian George W. Bush had been re-elected to the US presidency. Secular liberals feared the worst about the increasing political influence of the Christian right.

But this moral panic misjudged the appeal of religion. Political entrepreneurs like Evans successfully corralled religious voters, but for many of them the appeal of religion was as a technology of self-governance.

This fact underlay the failure of the religious right in the 2017 same-sex marriage debate. The driving force of opposition was a belief that religion made truth claims: a moral law that homosexuality was wrong. Yet even in the United States, younger evangelicals have become more sympathetic to same-sex marriage. The project of marriage equality with its emphasis on authenticity within limits is compatible with evangelical religion.

Yet the response to this failure on the religious right has been to pursue new “truths”, such as the natural rights economic liberalism of Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives, which absorbed Family First last year.

This position contradicted the economic centrism of many Family First voters and probably contributed to the Conservatives’ electoral failure at the recent SA state election.

The Australian Christian right never managed to scale the heights of its American counterpart, but it has still fallen a long way. Its rare and fleeting political successes are but fond memories for its adherents, even as evangelical faith continues to shape the lives of many outside politics.

This article was written by:
Image of Geoffrey Robinson
Geoffrey Robinson – [Senior Lecturer, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Deakin University]




This article is part of a syndicated news program via

Grattan on Friday: Live sheep exports tarnish Australia’s reputation and should be stopped

 Australia’s sheep trade is worth $250 million annually 
and involves about two million sheep. Steven Walling/Wikipedia

If a farmer were caught subjecting animals on his or her property to the suffering endured by the sheep on the Emanuel Exports ship last August, they’d find themselves in court, perhaps in jail, and almost certainly banned from possessing animals in future.

When it’s an export company, it gets a permit for another shipment.

The public, and new Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, have been predictably angered by the recent footage brought to light by Animals Australia, shot by a whistleblower on the ship.

In the August voyage about 2400 animals died horribly, some apparently literally melting, with another couple of hundred unaccounted for. A year before, more than 3000 sheep died on a ship from the same exporter, plying the same route.

For Australia, this is a national disgrace. Sara Netanyahu, wife of the Israeli prime minister, posted a video this week condemning the “tremendous cruelty”, and saying she would approach Lucy Turnbull (the August sheep weren’t bound for Israel, but it does import Australian sheep).

The live cattle trade, mainly centred on south east Asia, is bad enough. The sheep trade (worth A$250 million annually and involving about two million sheep) is worse. Most of the sheep are sent much further – to the Middle East, often into the sweltering northern summer heat. Anyone who has dealt with yarded sheep in hot weather knows how easily they become stressed, let alone in these cramped, frequently filthy conditions for weeks.

We should remember that the current scandal is just a new iteration of a very familiar story. Over the years, the plight of sheep bound for the Middle East has burst into the headlines. Then, after promises by the government of the day that things will change, attention has faded, while the pain and deaths have continued. The total mortality has run into millions.

In February, Western Australian Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan asked her department to investigate the high death rate in the August 2017 consignment, which had sailed from Fremantle. She said the WA government’s legal advice was that the state’s animal welfare law applied to live export ships. She also wrote to Littleproud.

But it took the footage shot by a Pakistani crew member, Fazal Ullah, to force the issue into the public’s consciousness and galvanise Littleproud into several announcements.

Among his responses, Littleproud has set in train a “short, sharp review of the standards for the sheep trade during the Middle Eastern summer”, which is being done by a veterinarian who has worked in the trade. Littleproud told the ABC, however, that he opposed a ban on the summer trade.

It doesn’t need a review to tell you that for the sheep these voyages – even when they go better than this one did – are hell, whatever “standards” are imposed.

The “regulator” overseeing the trade is the federal Agriculture Department. Littleproud said on Monday that ten days previously (before seeing the footage) he had received a report from the department about the August shipment. “I became concerned by that report not finding any breaches of standards by the exporter in question.”

The report says the cause of the high mortality was heat stress but that the Australian Maritime Safety Authority had concluded “all livestock services on the ship were operating satisfactorily during the voyage”. The department had a few words to say to Emanuel about heat management and risk, but a subsequent consignment was approved (its death toll in cooler conditions was lower).

Littleproud said the report didn’t match up with the vision that has subsequently been seen, and he had “some real difficulty” with that. He brought in the attorney-general’s office to advise on who would be best to undertake a review “of the skills and capabilities and culture” of the regulator to provide better investigative powers.

“I am somewhat concerned that we have had to do this”, Littleproud said. Given the known and controversial history of the trade, this is a massive understatement. The handling of the affair is an indictment of the negligence of the department.

Littleproud has sought to get on the front foot in the wake of the footage. He’s set up a whistleblowers hotline. A shipment from the same exporter that was due to sail on Monday this week has been delayed while adjustments are made. Littleproud said he was keeping the opposition informed, and working with animal welfare representatives.

He has thanked “the whistleblower for coming forward” and declared “I’d like to see company directors be held more personally accountable if they do the wrong thing, facing big fines and possibly jail time”.

The government knows the strength of public feeling on this issue. While Labor ended up getting blowback when the Gillard government suspended the live cattle trade after an ABC expose of how the cattle were treated in Indonesia, that government was acting in response to a massive public reaction. Animal cruelty, rightly, hits a very sensitive nerve with people.

Surely Australians can’t tolerate the continuation of shipments in the northern summer – at a minimum, Littleproud should stop those ASAP.

It’s worth noting the United Kingdom is presently considering a possible ban on live exports, post Brexit.

Despite the latest revelations, early Thursday morning the Livestock Shipping Services’ “Maysora”, left for the three-week journey to Turkey, with 77,000 sheep and 9,500 cattle. It has an Agriculture department inspector aboard, but there have not been changes to the regulations.

Even if it were much better regulated, live sheep exporting is inevitably a cruel trade. It should be scrapped entirely. Victorian crossbench senator Derryn Hinch, who has campaigned on the issue for decades, is arguing for a three-year phase-out. The number of sheep exported has been in long-term decline, as more boxed sheep-meat is being sold abroad. Farmers have a direct alternative domestic market to sell into.

The Coalition government will not end the trade. It’s unlikely to ban the summer trade; the issue may come to whether it is willing to put conditions on the exporters that are onerous enough to limit its commercial viability. The WA ALP government appears ready to keep some pressure on the Turnbull government.

Federal Labor wants bipartisanship, but perhaps might advocate a ban on summer trade if the government will not – depending on what the review says.

If the Shorten opposition had the courage – which it lacks – to promise a phase-out of the live sheep trade, with some adjustment assistance, it would not only be doing the right thing morally but, in political terms, it would probably gain more support than it lost.

This article was written by:
Michelle Grattan – Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra




This article is part of a syndicated news program via

Indigenous voices are speaking loudly on social media but racism endures

 Drawing by Wes Mountain/The ConversationCC BY-ND

Social media are a vital resource for Indigenous Australians, connecting them to community and culture, helping identify those at risk of suicide or self-harm, and offering a powerful outlet for political activism. But racism is a major problem for Indigenous people online.

A new report, Social Media Mob: Being Indigenous Online, unpacks the complex role social media play in the lives of Indigenous Australians. The research, conducted via qualitative interviews and an online survey, found the most popular social media platforms for participants were Facebook (for family and community posts) and Twitter (for more political activities). Younger people also used Snapchat and Instagram.

Many said social media allowed them to feel more connected to their Indigenous identity — particularly those affected by historical disconnections from community and culture. More than 80% of participants said they openly identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander on social media. As one said:

My Aboriginality is the focal point of my identity both in society and online. Specifically, on Facebook, my photos and page, groups and friends all highlight my Aboriginality.

However, more than half of respondents said they were “selective” about what they had posted online, for fear of attracting racist or violent responses. Over 50% said that sometimes they chose not to identify as Indigenous online. As one participant explained: “It’s sometimes safer to not identify as Aboriginal due to discrimination and prejudice.”

In the survey, 88% of respondents said they had seen examples of racism towards Indigenous people on social media. Most common was the doubting of identity and the use of memes depicting Indigenous people in a derogatory manner, often in the guise of a joke.

More than a third of respondents had personally been subjected to racism, 21% had received threats by other users on social media and 17% indicated these had impacted their “offline” lives.

Some respondents reported being questioned over whether they were “really Indigenous”, with critics drawing on stereotypical ideas — particularly about skin colour. As one put it:

I am not too open about my Indigenous background on social media sites because I am light skinned and have found that people pass judgment and make assumptions.

Many positives

Despite this, Indigenous people highlighted many positives to social media. These have become a significant avenue for both seeking and providing help, in areas such as employment, legal services, education, wellbeing and, perhaps most urgently, for those at risk of self-harm and suicide.

Indigenous suicide rates consistently rank among the highest in the world. In our research, 48% of respondents said social media made them feel more likely to be able to identify someone at risk of self-harm or suicide. Indeed several had followed up on social media posts by asking friends, family or police to check in physically on someone.

I remember one young man was writing some, well, it seemed quite suicidal thoughts on that [Facebook]. So, it ended up a bunch of us actually rallying together to make sure that police were sent around and went to that person’s place and it was all OK.

Social media also enabled some participants to reach out for help on issues relating to mental health. These kinds of online practices suggest social media offer a potentially effective platform for developing culturally appropriate suicide interventions and prevention programs.

While Indigenous Australians remain under-represented politically, 79% of our respondents indicated they were politically active online. Social media have profoundly redistributed power of communication, with mainstream media no longer having such a strong hold on the public narrative.

Recent Indigenous-led and social-media-driven campaigns like #SoSBlakAustralia, which sought to stop the forced closure of Aboriginal communities in Western Australia, and #IndigenousDads demonstrate how Indigenous people use social media to make their voices heard. Both trended on social media and were creative strategies for resisting, subverting and challenging the political status quo.

Karen Wyld@1KarenWyld
That year has gone by so quickly! But Australian media is still racist. And are still awesome 😊 
Embedded image permalink
 amber cunningham @CunningAmster
One year on this is the only thing worth remembering #IndigenousDads @malerajustice @Milbindi @drcbond @adieboy @ryangriffen

Our research shows social media are “different” for Indigenous people. For instance, whereas young people often dismiss Facebook as a place where their parents gather, we found that younger Indigenous Australians are using it to connect to older relatives.

Facebook has also provided an avenue to reconnect for people displaced from their families by past government policies and practices. This may be an important process in the future also, given the numbers of Indigenous children in out-of-home care.

Indigenous people are also bound by cultural protocols and norms and are not necessarily free to post without consideration for the collective. This is particularly the case for issues related to death.

Despite legitimate concerns about the impact of social media in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it’s important to acknowledge that these play a crucial role in the lives of many Indigenous Australians.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations, who globally tend to fare worse on many social metrics — income, education, life expectancy, political representation, cultural safety — social media can help facilitate vital networks of support, care and knowledge.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of Bronwyn Carlson
Bronwyn Carlson – [Professor, Indigenous Studies, Macquarie University]
Image of Ryan FrazerRyan Frazer – [Associate Research Fellow, Macquarie University]




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Government loses 30th consecutive Newspoll, despite slight improvement

 Abbott is “pollie pedalling” in the Latrobe Valley, 
making sure he is best placed to exploit Turnbull’s pain over the 
Newspoll and his difficulty with the energy issue. Luke Ascui

As widely anticipated, the government has lost its 30th Newspoll in a row, although it slightly reduced Labor’s two-party lead.

The Coalition trails 48-52%, compared with 47-53% a fortnight ago. The Australian reports it is only the second time since April last year that the government has come within this striking distance.

Given a universal expectation of a bad poll, the Coalition will breathe a sigh of relief at the numbers overall, especially after last week’s controversial push by dissident Coalition backbenchers on energy policy which created bad media.

Despite its continued lead, the poll contains some disappointments for Labor. The ALP’s primary vote fell 2 points to 37%, while the Coalition vote rose a point to 38%. The Greens are on 10%, and One Nation stayed at 7% in the poll, taken Thursday to Sunday.

Bill Shorten is only 2 points behind Malcolm Turnbull as better prime minister, an improvement of a point. But Shorten’s satisfaction rating fell 2 points to 32% and his dissatisfaction rose 3 points to 57%, to equal Turnbull on both measures. Turnbull’s ratings were largely unchanged.

Turnbull can also be grateful for the competitive instinct of newspapers. Before the Newspoll, Fairfax Media – which polls only intermittently – had a “spoiler” out in its Saturday papers that suggested the government’s position mightn’t be as dire as it had been painted.

The Fairfax-Ipsos poll had the Coalition trailing 48-52% on the two-party vote, when preferences were distributed, as is usual, on the basis of the last election. But distributing preferences according to how people said they would allocate them brought the result to 50-50%.

Even more encouraging for Turnbull, 62% said the Liberal party should stay with him as leader, rising to 74% among Coalition supporters.

The Fairfax poll formed a useful bit of inoculation for Turnbull, who was also out in the media ahead of Newspoll with a round of interviews.

When he was informed of the Newspoll, he told The Australian the “electoral contest is very close and the election is there to be won”.

Turnbull had ensured that if his government had a 30th consecutive Newspoll defeat it would turn into a faux crisis because he used the Abbott government’s 30 lost Newspolls as one of his grounds for challenging the former prime minister.

Since then he has to contend with a disruptive Abbott who on Monday is “pollie pedalling” in the Latrobe Valley, making sure he is best placed to exploit simultaneously Turnbull’s pain over the Newspoll and his difficulty with the energy issue.

Abbott, who has been stirring since he was ousted, declared on Sunday: “the last thing I want to see is instability in government”.

Interestingly, “Newspoll” has been rather different in Turnbull’s time than it was in Abbott’s, as former Nielsen pollster John Stirton wrote at the weekend.

In mid 2015 the Newspoll organisation closed and Galaxy was commissioned to do the poll, which retained its name but has undergone some changes in methodology. “When Tony Abbott lost his 30 Newspolls they were almost entirely the old Newspoll which tended to bounce around a bit, as polls do,” wrote Stirton on Sunday. “The new Newspoll is a very different poll. Turnbull’s 29 losses have all been the new Newspoll, which doesn’t move around much at all”.

“Everything else being equal, Turnbull was always more likely to lose (or for that matter win) 30 polls in a row than previous prime ministers because the new Newspoll simply doesn’t move around as much as the old one.”

Stirton stressed he was not suggesting there is anything wrong with the poll results. “Newspoll is a very good poll and there is no suggestion that the individual poll numbers are in some way wrong. It’s just that the poll is much less variable than it used to be and short-term changes in sentiment are less likely to show up”.

The climactic hype around this poll reflects the degree to which polling has been driving political judgements and media analysis, often to the detriment of both.

The plethora of polls, which now never let up between elections, has made “leading” harder. When things are going poorly for a government, the followers are endlessly and quantitatively reminded of looming disaster, increasing their agitation. And polls are easy stories for the media, falling on especially fertile ground in the 24-hour news cycle.

This Newspoll confirms what seems to be a constant message – that it is more likely than not Turnbull will lose next year’s election. So inevitably, the previews have been accompanied by leadership speculation.

But there is no sign of any move against Turnbull, and the Fairfax poll shows why any such a move would be ill-judged.

Even if Liberal MPs believe they are heading into opposition – and the Coalition received another blow last week when the proposed redistributions in Victoria and the ACT helped Labor – they would need to face the question: who would be best to save the furniture?

Labor’s changing back to Kevin Rudd before the 2013 election was about furniture-saving – and he did indeed do that. The switch was rational and benefitted Bill Shorten in the 2016 election.

But how many Liberals would think Peter Dutton or Julie Bishop would attract more voters than Turnbull? There is nothing to suggest that Dutton could improve the Coalition vote, and Bishop would be an almighty gamble in a role that would throw her into the rigours of a tough economic debate.

Turnbull remains the Coalition’s best bet, whether to give it a chance of pulling off a victory or limiting its loss.

This article was written by:
Image of Michelle Grattan
Michelle Grattan – [Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra]




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Poll wrap: Labor maintains its lead as voters reject company tax cuts; wins on redrawn boundaries

 The results of this week’s Newspoll will
be eagerly awaited on both sides of the House. AAP/Mick Tsikas

ReachTEL poll for Sky News, conducted March 28 from a sample of over 2,000, gave Labor a 54-46 lead, unchanged since late February. Primary votes were 36% Labor (down one), 34% Coalition (up one), 10% Greens (down one) and 7% One Nation (steady).

ReachTEL uses respondent allocated preferences. The primary votes imply a swing to the Coalition, though that swing is from the ReachTEL taken the day before Barnaby Joyce resigned as Nationals leader. Analyst Kevin Bonham estimated the February ReachTEL as 55.5% two party to Labor by last election preferences, and this ReachTEL at 54.2%.

Malcolm Turnbull led Bill Shorten by 52-48 as better PM in ReachTEL’s forced choice question (53-47 in February).

By 56-29, voters opposed tax cuts for big companies. 68% thought it unlikely that tax cuts would be passed on to workers, with just 26% thinking it likely. The government was unable to pass its company tax cuts through the Senate before parliament adjourned until the May budget.

By 64-25, voters did not want Tony Abbott to return as Liberal leader after the next election. 37% opposed Labor’s plan to alter the tax treatment of franking credits, 27% were in favour and the rest were undecided.

Newspoll: 53-47 to Labor

In last week’s Newspoll, conducted March 22-25 from a sample of 1,600, Labor led by 53-47, unchanged since early March. Primary votes were 39% Labor (up one), 37% Coalition (steady), 9% Greens (steady) and 7% One Nation (steady).

As has been much discussed, this Newspoll was Turnbull’s 29th successive loss as PM, just one behind Abbott’s 30 losses. Labor’s primary vote was its highest since Abbott was still PM, and the total vote for Labor and the Greens was 48%, up one point – the first change in the total left vote since August.

Turnbull’s net approval was up one point to -24, while Shorten’s improved three points to -20. Turnbull led Shorten by 39-36 as better PM (37-35 previously).

By 50-33, voters were opposed to Labor’s franking credits policy. I believe Labor has gained despite this opposition as those strongly opposed are likely to be Coalition voters anyway. In addition, Labor’s policy may give it more economic credibility as they may be seen as more likely to balance the books.

On Monday, The Australian released Newspoll’s February to March analysis. In Queensland, the Coalition improved from a 55-45 deficit in October to December to a 51-49 deficit. It appears Newspoll is now assuming One Nation preferences flow to the Coalition at about a 65% rate, consistent with the Queensland state election; previously they assumed the Coalition would receive just half of One Nation preferences.

With One Nation’s Queensland vote at 13%, the four-point gain for the Coalition is partly due to the changed preference assumptions. Under the previous method, Labor would lead in Queensland by 52-48 or 53-47.

Turnbull’s net approval with those aged 18-34 was just -3, compared with -20 overall, yet the left-wing parties dominated this age group with a combined 57%, to just 30% for the Coalition and 4% One Nation. Turnbull has been seen as a social progressive, restrained by the conservative Coalition base. Young people are far more likely to like Turnbull than they do the Coalition generally.

Turnbull’s persistent lead over Shorten as better PM can be explained by a lead with young people, among whom the Coalition would be crushed at an election.

Essential: 52-48 to Labor

Unlike ReachTEL and Newspoll, last week’s Essential moved two points to the Coalition, though Labor retained a 52-48 lead. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (up two), 36% Labor (down two), 9% Greens (steady) and 8% One Nation (steady). This poll was conducted March 22-25 from a sample of 1,027.

Only 21% understood a lot or a fair amount about franking credits. 10% said they received a cash payment from franking credits and 16% a tax deduction. By 32-30, voters supported Labor’s plan on franking credits.

Voters generally supported left-wing tax ideas, though they supported “cutting the company tax rate to 25%” by 40-30, in contrast to ReachTEL. Voters trusted the Coalition over Labor 28-26 to manage a fair tax system, with 31% opting for no difference.

By 79-12, voters thought there should be more regulation of Facebook, and by 68-22, they were concerned about how Facebook uses their personal information. Nevertheless, voters thought Facebook is generally a force for good by 45-37.

In the early March Essential, concerning the Adani coal mine, 30% supported the Greens’ anti-Adani position, 26% the Liberals’ pro-Adani position, and just 19% Labor’s murky position. 38% of Labor voters supported their party, 31% the Greens and 15% the Liberals. Other voters supported the Greens by 40-26 over the Liberals with 11% for Labor.

Voters supported regulating energy prices 83-7, creating a new Accord between business, unions and government 66-11, increasing the Newstart allowance 52-32 and company tax cuts 42-39. These proposed measures were all asked with a question phrased to skew to support.

By 65-26, voters supported same sex marriage (61-32 in October, before the result of the plebiscite was known).

Victorian and ACT federal draft redistribution

Last year, it was determined that Victoria and the ACT would each gain a House seat, giving Victoria 38 House seats, up from 37, and the ACT three seats, up from two. On Friday, draft boundaries were released.

The Victorian redistribution creates the new seat of Fraser in Melbourne’s north-western growth suburbs, which will be a safe Labor seat. According to the Poll Bludger, Labor also notionally gains Dunkley from the Liberals, and the renamed Liberal-held seat of Cox (formerly Corangamite) is very close.

Labor won the ACT-wide vote by 61-39 against the Liberals at the 2016 election, so the new ACT seat had to be a Labor seat.

In other changes to state representation, South Australia will lose a seat, falling from 11 seats to ten. The total number of House seats will increase by one, from 150 to 151. The new draft South Australian boundaries will be released on April 13.

At the 2016 election, the Coalition won 76 of the 150 seats, and Labor 69. The draft boundaries released Friday give Labor three extra notional seats, while the Coalition loses two. With the South Australian redistribution still to come, the Coalition has notionally lost its majority, and will require a swing in its favour at the next election to retain a majority.

The draft boundaries will go through a further consultation process before they are finalised. If an election is called before all boundaries are finalised, emergency redistributions are used. These emergency redistributions have never been used.

Batman byelection final results

At the March 17 Batman byelection, Labor’s Ged Kearney defeated the Greens’ Alex Bhathal by a 54.4-45.6 margin, a 3.4% swing to Labor since the 2016 election. Primary votes were 43.1% Labor (up 7.9%), 39.5% Greens (up 3.3%) and 6.4% for the Conservatives. The Liberals, who won 19.9% in 2016, did not contest.

This article was written by:
Adrian Beaumont – [Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne]




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New data tool scores Australia and other countries on their human rights performance

 Despite the UN’s Universal Declaration of  
Human Rights,it remains difficult to monitor governments’ performance 
because there are no comprehensive human rights

This year, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will mark its 70th anniversary, but despite progress in some areas, it remains difficult to measure or compare governments’ performance. We have yet to develop comprehensive human rights measures that are accepted by researchers, policymakers and advocates alike.

With this in mind, my colleagues and I have started the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI), the first global project to develop a comprehensive suite of metrics covering international human rights.

We have now released our beta dataset and data visualisation tools, publishing 12 metrics that cover five economic and social rights and seven civil and political rights.

Lack of human rights data

People often assume the UN already produces comprehensive data on nations’ human rights performance, but it does not, and likely never will. The members of the UN are governments, and governments are the very actors that are obligated by international human rights law. It would be naïve to hope for governments to effectively monitor and measure their own performance without political bias. There has to be a role for non-state measurement.

We hope that the data and visualisations provided by HRMI will empower practitioners, advocates, researchers, journalists and others to speak clearly about human rights outcomes worldwide and hold governments accountable when they fail to meet their obligations under international law.

These are the 12 human rights measured by the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI) project during its pilot stage. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines 30 human rights. Human Rights Measurement Initiative, CC BY
Human Rights Measurement Initiative  

The HRMI pilot

At HRMI, alongside our existing methodology for economic and social rights, we are developing a new way of measuring civil and political human rights. In our pilot, we sent an expert survey directly to human rights practitioners who are actively monitoring each country’s human rights situation.

That survey asked respondents about their country’s performance on the rights to assembly and association, opinion and expression, political participation, freedom from torture, freedom from disappearance, freedom from execution, and freedom from arbitrary or political arrest and imprisonment.

Based on those survey responses, we develop data on the overall level of respect for each of the rights. These data are calculated using a statistical method that ensures responses are comparable across experts and countries, and with an uncertainty band to provide transparency about how confident we are in each country’s placement. We also provide information on who our respondents believed were especially at risk for each type of human rights violation.

Human rights in Australia

One way to visualise data on our website is to look at a country’s performance across all 12 human rights for which we have released data at this time. For example, the graph below shows Australia’s performance across all HRMI metrics.

Human rights performance in Australia. Data necessary to calculate a metric for the right to housing at a high-income OECD assessment standard is currently unavailable for Australia. CC BY

As shown here, Australia performs quite well on some indicators, but quite poorly on others. Looking at civil and political rights (in blue), Australia demonstrates high respect for the right to be free from execution, but does much worse on the rights to be free from torture and arbitrary arrest.

Our respondents often attributed this poor performance on torture and imprisonment to the treatment of refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers, as well as Indigenous peoples, by the Australian government.

Looking across the economic and social rights (in green), Australia shows a range of performance, doing quite well on the right to food, but performing far worse on the right to work.

Freedom from torture across countries

Another way to visualise our data is to look at respect for a single right across several countries. The graph below shows, for example, overall government respect for the right to be free from torture and ill treatment in all 13 of HRMI’s pilot countries.


Government respect for the right to be free from torture, January to June 2017. Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI)

Here, the middle of each blue bar (marked by the small white lines) represents the average estimated level of respect for freedom from torture, while the length of the blue bars demonstrate our certainty in our estimates. For instance, we are much more certain regarding Mexico’s (MEX) low score than Brazil’s (BRA) higher score. Due to this uncertainty and the resulting overlap between the bars, there is only about a 92% chance that Brazil’s score is better than Mexico’s.

In addition to being able to say that torture is probably more prevalent in Mexico than in Brazil, and how certain we are in that comparison, we can also compare the groups of people that our respondents said were at greatest risk of torture. This information is summarised in the two word clouds below; larger words indicate that that group was selected by more survey respondents as being at risk.

These word clouds show, on the left, the attributes that place a person at risk of torture in Brazil, and on the right, attributes that place one at risk for torture in Mexico, January to June 2017, respectively. Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI), CC BY
These word clouds show, on the left, the attributes that place a person at risk of torture in Brazil, and on the right, attributes that place one at risk for torture in Mexico, January to June 2017, respectively. Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI)CC BY

There are both similarities and differences between the groups that were at highest risk in Brazil and Mexico. Based on the survey responses our human rights experts in Brazil gave us, we know that black people, those who live in favelas or quilombolas, those who live in rural or remote areas, landless rural workers, and prison inmates are largely the groups referred to by the terms “race,” “low social or economic status,” or “detainees or suspected criminals”.

On the other hand, in Mexico, imprisoned women and those suspected of involvement with organised crime are the detainees or suspected criminals that our respondents stated were at high risk of torture. Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers travelling through Mexico on the way to the United States are also at risk.

There is much more to be learned from the visualisations and data on our website. After you have had the opportunity to explore, we would love to hear your feedback here about any aspect of our work so far. We are just getting started, and we thrive on collaboration with the wider human rights community.

This article was written by:
K. Chad Clay – [Assistant Professor of International Affairs, University of Georgia]




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Grattan on Friday: Coal fires Tony Abbott’s pre-Newspoll play

 Tony Abbott will be cycling through the Latrobe valley 
when the 30th Newspoll is released on Monday. Lukas Coch/AAP

One Liberal moderate bluntly characterises the “Monash Forum”, which burst into the energy debate this week, as “the deplorables trying to give themselves a credible front”.

Whatever else it might be, the so-called forum is Tony Abbott’s latest weapon in baiting the Turnbull bear.

Coalition backbenchers who signed the forum’s letter, which calls for the government to construct a new coal-fired power station in the Latrobe Valley on the site of the now-closed Hazelwood, are driven by various motives – revenge against Malcolm Turnbull, an ideological commitment to coal, the desire to sharpen the differences with Labor, a passion for publicity.

For Abbott and his allies Kevin Andrews and Eric Abetz this is a guerilla operation, in part building on an earlier loose conservative grouping. There is also a strong “coal constituency” within Coalition ranks.

It looks like the gathering of signatories involved a whip-around of the usual suspects and a few innocents. It’s unclear how many signed. Invoking John Monash, famed World War 1 general who spearheaded the development of Victoria’s coal power supply, turned out to be too clever by half – descendants of Monash issued an angry statement.

Regardless of numbers, a strongly-motivated few can do a lot of harm, when today’s breathless 24-hour news cycle amplifies everything. The forum’s voice easily reached high volume.

We always knew there’d be a performance from Abbott to mark next week’s expected 30th consecutive negative Newspoll. A radio and TV blitz seemed inevitable.

But we underestimated the planning. Not only has the coal group created bad vibes in the run-up to the poll, but Abbott will be in the Latrobe Valley on Monday with his annual pollie pedal, cycling through the coal and power seat of Gippsland, held by Nationals minister Darren Chester.

The lycra-clad former prime minister will be camera-bait on the current prime minister’s anticipated black day.

As well as being a distraction politically, the coal push is flawed as a policy.

The unwillingness of private enterprise to invest in new coal-fired power stations emphasises how ill-judged it would be for government to do so. It would be flying in the face of the energy transformation, and squandering taxpayers’ dollars.

It would go against the grain of traditional Liberal philosophy, articulated by John Howard, who has declared he isn’t keen on the idea: “I don’t think governments should do things private enterprise do better.”

Treasurer Scott Morrison countered the cheapness argument, distinguishing between “old coal” and “new coal,” with the price of electricity from new coal-fired plants being much higher than from existing ones.

Abbott (who harbours bitterness about Morrison from the coup) lost no time in delivering a backhander to the Treasurer. Recalling Morrison not so long ago flourishing a lump of coal in Question Time, he said, “I thought he was making a lot more sense that day than he was today.”

The forum letter has publicly divided the Nationals, still reeling from the trauma created by the Barnaby Joyce crisis. Joyce is a signatory, but Resources Minister Matt Canavan, Joyce’s one-time chief-of-staff and personally strongly pro-coal, said he didn’t think coal needed subsidies.

The coal insurgency won’t prevail – in that the government won’t be building a Hazelwood 2.0, or any other coal-fired power station. But what will be the political fallout of the push?

Many among the public will discount Abbott’s activities as just his usual trouble-making. The noise, however, reinforces the general impression of a fractured government.

It complicates Energy Minister’s Josh Frydenberg’s pursuit of the National Energy Guarantee (NEG). Assuming a deal is struck with the states and territories on the NEG, it could make it more challenging for the government to then laud that achievement, if the internal dissenters continue to say it is not enough.

Frydenberg meets energy ministers on April 20 on the NEG, with the negotiations much helped by the change of government in South Australia.

The April meeting will look at a design proposal for the NEG; a final design needs to be approved by the governments in August. Legislation for the separate parts of the plan then has to be passed by the South Australian parliament (as a model for other states and the ACT, but not Western Australia or the Northern Territory which are not in the National Electricity Market) and by the federal parliament.

The government’s timetable is to have this done and dusted by year’s end, so the energy plan can come into operation over 2019-20. The timetable is extremely tight, especially given the politics of the Senate, the opposition’s incentive to make trouble, and the discontent among some on the backbench.

The timing fits with the election, due in the first half of next year. It is imperative for the government to be able to say in the campaign that it has a viable energy policy, even if prices are still high.

Where to now for the Monash Forum remains to be seen.

On Thursday Howard delivered a very deliberate, stern message to Liberal MPs, saying they had “a collective responsibility to get the act together.”

Supporters around the country “want you to work together. They want you to bury differences,” he said in an ABC interview. “They want you to make certain that we speak as much as possible with one voice and, sure, Malcolm Turnbull has got to give the lead – that can’t be disputed – but he is not the only person who has got a responsibility. Every man and woman in the parliamentary party has one as well.”

It seems very unlikely Abbott will heed his old boss.

As for Monday, Western Australian Liberal backbencher Andrew Hastie had some advice for the man who invoked 30 lost Newspolls when making his 2015 leadership challenge: “Just acknowledging the irony is probably a good way forward.”

This article was written by:
Image of Michelle Grattan
Michelle Grattan – [Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra]




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