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Provocation Law Change in NSW could be lethal

This article was first published on The Sydney Morning Herald website on 22 October 2013. 

The O'Farrell government must reconsider their recommendation to retain a restricted version of the controversial partial defence of provocation.

The government has released a draft exposure bill recommending reform of a partial defence that has long attracted criticism and community concern. Under the proposed reform, the defence will be significantly restricted and will be renamed the "partial defence of extreme provocation".

Why England must abolish the mandatory life sentence for murder

An article published this week in the latest issue of Criminology and Criminal Justice reveals judicial and legal practitioner support for the abolition of the mandatory life sentence in the English criminal justice system. This blog post provides an overview of the research findings, access the full article here

Sugar-sweetened drinks: public enemy number one for weight gain

The evidence linking sugar-sweetened drinks and weight gain has been growing for many years. Now the most comprehensive review to date has firmly laid the blame for these drinks as being a major culprit for weight gain.

Drinking too many drinks high in sugar is clearly not a good thing to do if someone was concerned about their weight. Both the kilojoule content and also the fact that it comes in liquid form which gives less of a feeling of fullness compared to solid food are likely reasons why drinking too much of them can cause weight gain.

After many years of accumulating solid observational evidence linking sugar-sweetened drinks to weight gain, supported by randomised controlled trials, there is now a clear case for cutting back on the consumption of these drinks.

Australia as a 'pivotal power', or just a middle one?

From his output, ASPI’s Anthony Bergin likes nothing if not to test ideas in relation to Australia’s strategic positioning. His recent proposition that Australia is not so much a ‘middle power’ but a ‘pivotal power’ is a case in point . http://www.aspistrategist.org.au/is-australia-a-pivotal-power/

Bergin’s argument is that the common strategic descriptor for Australia as a ‘middle power’ does not accurately reflect its military size or capability, the size of its economy or its strategic reach. In each of these he is correct.
However, the term ‘pivotal power’ is complex. One understanding has it meaning more than just being relatively strategically strong. Indeed, Oxford Analytica defines it not as a quantitative assessment of strategic power but as being a geographic arbiter.http://www.oxan.com/analysis/dailybrief/pivotalpowers/default.aspx

Australia relative to Turkey, as Bergin notes, classifies them both as middle powers. But Turkey’s role with its neighbours, particularly Syria, Iraq and Israel, also mark it as a key regional actor and it is, thus, also considered to be a pivotal power. Closer to home, Indonesia occupies an arbitrating role in the ASEAN regions as well as in relations with Timor-Leste and Australia.
By comparison, Australia is a regional strategic power in the Southwest Pacific, but perhaps less so than it has been. In part this is due to the increasing sense of independence of some of the Pacific island states. In part it is also due to the more active soft power role being played by China in the region, which in turn buttresses this sense of independence – at least from Australia.
Timor-Leste, though geographically close to Australia and a major recipient of Australian aid and, at times, military assistance, has carved an increasingly independent path. If one can define Timor-Leste’s foreign policy, it is one of having a number of strong friends, so that it remains cosseted by some should relations with one turn sour.
Australia’s status in Timor-Leste has diminished, while that of Indonesia has increased. Timor-Leste’s police now train with Indonesian police, and there is an agreement that their armed forces also train together. Australia provides training to, but it does not train with, Timor-Leste’s defence force.
Australia’s strategic status is, on balance, perhaps slightly stronger, or perceived as such, than it has been, given its active participation in recent multilateral conflicts and as a preferred site for training by regional military officers. In another sense, in a strategic environment always in a state of flux, the precise status of any state will remain variable and, more to the point, interpretable.
But if Australia was to suddenly disappear from the strategic stage, the question is the extent to which it might matter. Bergin may be correct and Australia is indeed a pivotal state, if in its own peculiar way.

Why disaster insurance should be on the G20 agenda

Australia has an unprecedented opportunity to resolve issues of escalating insurance prices caused by an uncertain climate. The time has come to curb the trend towards increased economic exposure to natural catastrophes.

The recent change of government, the upcoming Australian G20 in Brisbane in 2014, the establishment of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Research Centre and international support from APEC finance ministers all point towards support for research and action for disaster risk financing.

Disaster risk financing is defined as strategies and instruments used to manage the financial impact of disasters. Disaster risk financing can use mechanisms like budgetary reallocation, debt financing, increased taxation or international aid. Or there are ex ante mechanisms, such as government reserves, insurance, contingent credit or catastrophe-linked securities.

The impetus to develop this kind of financing in Australia has its basis in a number of reports outlining existing inadequacies, including the Victorian Royal Commission final report into the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires and the Natural Disaster Insurance Review in the wake of Queensland’s floods and and Cyclone Yasi. Subsequent reports have affirmed the need for insurance in Australia to be the “key instrument that supports any efforts to maximise national resilience”.

Research abounds concerning the need to implement preferable solutions to the increasing number of catastrophic events, particularly in relation to improving access and affordability of insurance products. Insurance can play a pivotal role in the financial component of disaster risk management, reducing the financial, fiscal and economic impact of disasters as well as promoting faster disaster recovery."...

https://theconversation.com/why-disaster-insurance-should-be-on-the-g20-...

The ties that bind are also the ties that blind

The two trips by Prime Minister Tony Abbott to Indonesia have started to give a distinctive shape to a shift in Australian foreign policy. In keeping with Abbott's assertive political style, Australia is on the diplomatic front foot, promoting his pro-Asia policy agenda.

But the forcefulness of the way in which this agenda is being pushed may leave Australia exposed to uncomfortable outcomes. We generally have good regional relationships, but the interests of our neighbours are not necessarily the same as our own interests.

Abbott's overture to China to reach a free trade agreement within 12 months is ambitious and intended to secure a long-term economic relationship with our largest trading partner. Similarly, Abbott's unambiguous message to Indonesia is that Australia will be an even more loyal friend, with less tolerance for dissent around human rights issues.

Both cases are intended to secure different aspects of Australia's national interest and being the diplomatic initiator signals Australia's positive intentions. But initiating the further development of relationships then requires that gesture be taken up by the counterpart country.

In both cases, Abbott's eagerness gives China and Indonesia greater scope for setting the terms of the relationship. Australia thus becomes the supplicant, with China and Indonesia bestowing the favours.

By placing a 12-month timeline on a free trade agreement with China, Abbott has signalled a willingness to accept previously problematic Chinese conditions. These include investments in Australia by Chinese state-owned enterprises, a lower threshold for scrutiny by the Foreign Investment Review Board, and allowing more Chinese workers into Australia.

China's plan is to secure for itself continuing access to resources over the longer term, and to do so at a good price. Its foreign direct investments, including in Australia, achieve both those goals. Similarly, the greater its direct control over resources, the stronger its bargaining position over those resources that it does not directly control.

Abbott's recent visit to Jakarta reaffirmed Australia's commitment to Indonesia's territorial integrity. In this he was, perhaps, even more insistent than his predecessors.

In significant part this reflects the deep concern that Indonesia had with the Coalition's policy of returning asylum seeker boats to Indonesia and attendant plans to pay locals for intelligence on boat departures. That signature policy in opposition now looks to be in the process of being quietly abandoned in government, replaced by a slightly stronger version of the existing policy of bilateral co-operation.

But part of Abbott's ''total respect'' for Indonesia's territorial sovereignty and integrity was code for endorsing the status quo in the territory of West Papua. This has played out recently with the return of seven West Papuan asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea and the ''voluntary'' departure of three West Papuan protesters from the Australian Consulate-General in Bali.

The seven returned to PNG would likely have qualified for refugee status had they been processed in the usual manner. Despite what could be fairly understood as a plea for asylum, the three are now in hiding from the Indonesian police.

The drivers for Abbott's foreign policy push are not explicit. But they can be divined from his political history. Abbott is a classical free trader, pursuing a policy in which markets are self-regulating and find their own equilibrium. An open door policy towards trade with and investment from China fits perfectly into this framework.

On Indonesia, one can detect a sensibility that reflects the strong pro-Indonesia (and anti-communist) position of his political training ground in the National Civic Council. At the time, this included opposition to East Timor's independence, and West Papua's continued incorporation.

Three decades on, Australia's interests in Indonesia are more complex. Indonesia's economy is growing, soon to overtake Australia's in total size, and it is in both countries' interests to seek and develop economic complementarities.

But Indonesia is potentially also a major strategic and diplomatic partner for Australia. It provides Australia with entree into ASEAN and can help facilitate some of its wider regional interests. How Indonesia views Australia has major implications for Australia's strategic positioning.

The relatively benign relationship that Australia has enjoyed with Indonesia over much of the past decade can be attributed to the reformist, pro-Western preferences of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. However, within a year, Yudhoyono will leave office. Abbott's commitment to Indonesia is unlikely to change, but the successor may be more assertively nationalistic. This could include requiring Australia to even more strongly oppose West Papuan activism, despite the conflict this will engender with more pro-human rights sections of Australian society.

China, too, will ultimately be concerned over its own interests and much less those of Australia. Local discomfort, if of a different type, may have to be accepted in the push and shove of competing understandings over what a more open economic relationship might entail.

The conventional approach to diplomatic relations is to take them slowly, consider their implications deeply and to proceed cautiously. This does not, however, accord with Abbott's political style.

Abbott's international agenda is appearing to be about achieving much quickly. In his rush, however, such enthusiasm for making agreements and pushing policy on the run may miss some of the implications, much less the nuances, embedded in the detail.

Australia needs stronger international linkages, not least with major trading and strategic partners. But it does not need such arrangements at any price. No agreement is better than a bad agreement.

A more cautious and considered approach to international relations will produce results less quickly. But they may be results that Australia is more easily able to live with, with fewer negative consequences, over the longer term.

West Papuan activists test waters around Australian asylum rules

West Papuan activists are testing Prime Minister Tony Abbott's statements in relation to his asylum-seeker boat turnback policy, that he has "total respect for Indonesia's sovereignty, total respect for Indonesia's territorial integrity". So far, they are having little luck.

As Abbott was preparing to leave for Bali, three West Papuan activists scaled the wall of the Australian consulate-general in Bali. The activists delivered a letter seeking the release of political prisoners jailed in Indonesia and free access to the long restricted region by the international media.

The letter also said: "We seek refuge and plead for our safety." Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb told the ABC that the men did not seek asylum for themselves, and left voluntarily within hours, and had gone into hiding.

Last week, seven West Papuans travelling by boat from Papua New Guinea to Australia seeking asylum and were returned to PNG. The legality of sending the asylum-seekers back remains in question.

Last month, the pro-West Papuan independence "Freedom Flotilla" met with West Papuan activists off-shore of the island split between the Indonesian republic and PNG. It had been told it would meet force if it tried to land at Indonesia’s most south-easterly port of Merauke.

The upsurge in West Papuan activism follows attempts by the Indonesian government to find a solution to the West Papua problem while at the same time conducting a crackdown in the territory.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s proposal is to create what is referred to as "Special Autonomy Plus", a new take on the "Special Autonomy" status granted to the province of Papua in 2001. Not only has there been little about the "autonomy" that is "special", within two years the province had been divided in two, contravening its new status.

The recent "Plus" proposal is intended to allow the more-or-less democratically elected Papua provincial government to engage more closely with the separatist Free Papua Organisation (OPM). Pro-human rights activists say the provincial government does not have power to conduct negotiations. Further, any benign intentions the provincial government might have are undermined by the Indonesian police and military’s continuing "security" approach to West Papuan activism.

As activists further note, any negotiations need to be with the national, not provincial, government. They also say that such negotiations must be conducted outside Indonesia to ensure the safety of participants, and be internationally mediated to guarantee their outcome.

With less than one year left in Yudhoyono's term as president, his two-term limit ends in September 2014, both sides have now run out of time to have such negotiations ratified by Indonesia’s legislature. But, as Yudhoyono knows, the parliament would in any case be very unlikely to accept such a negotiated settlement.

West Papuan activists therefore believe their only option now is to try to raise the issue internationally. In doing so, however, they have run up against Australia’s well established policy of supporting West Papua’s continued incorporation within Indonesia.

The West Papuan activists have also run up against Australia’s tougher position of supporting Indonesia’s "territorial integrity", hence, their "voluntary" agreement to leave Australia’s consulate-general in Bali, just ahead of the arrival of Indonesian police.

Abolishing defensive homicide will benefit female victims and offenders

This article was first published at The Conversation on 4th October 2013

The Victorian Department of Justice has released its long-awaited review into the operation of the controversial offence of defensive homicide. The Consultation Paper proposes the offence's abolition on the basis that it is "inherently complex", "has no clear benefit" for women who kill in the context of family violence and has been "inappropriately" used by men who kill. 

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