Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Weekend catch-up: A hung parliament, the Manus settlement, Chinese altruism and more

Corbyn shocks, proposed changes to the citizenship test, what's so risky about Chinese altruism, and more.

Photo: Flickr/Duncan C
Photo: Flickr/Duncan C
Published 17 Jun 2017 

By John Gooding, Digital Editor at the Lowy Institute and Associate Editor at The Interpreter.

'Assuming opinion polls in Britain are more accurate than they were during the Brexit referendum campaign, British Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election is hardly a political gamble against an opposition led by the hapless Jeremy Corbyn.' So read an editorial in The Australian in April. While not all polls predicted a Conservative majority (and British polls have a higher rate of discrepency than other countries), the result was certainly a shockingly abrupt shift of fates for May, whose problem, wrote Richard Alston, was one of persuasion:

The real problem here is one of hubris. May and co assumed Corbyn was unelectable and therefore they did not attempt to contradict, let alone demolish, him. May thought she would be able to claim an historic personal victory by running a presidential campaign, essentially above the fray. But ultimately 'big beasts' like Boris Johnson, Michael Fallon and David Davis were left manning the lifeboats while their leader slipped silently below the waves.

Simon Heffer on why the election points to a nation turning further inward:

For the next few months, with the necessary exception of the Brexit negotiations, Britain will be engaging in an act of introspection unprecedented in most of our lifetimes. The world will have to wait.

This week the Australian government settled a class action brought by 1900 asylum seekers currently or formerly on Manus Island for $70 million plus costs. While unquestionably a practical win for the plaintiffs, the settlement represents a lost opportunity to test the legal boundaries of Australia's detention laws, argued Sangeetha Pillai:

The Australian people, lawyers, and other plaintiffs will now remain in the dark about the nature and extent of Australia’s involvement in offshore detention, and about the limits to what the Australian government is legally allowed to do. In preserving the shroud over Australia’s offshore detention regimes, this settlement and those before it shed light only on the lengths the government will go to maintain secrecy in this area. That, in itself, is a matter of public interest.

Khanh Hoang on the proposed parliamentary bill that would see a suite of new discretionary powers over citizenship be afforded to the Immigration Minister:

These new powers would give the Minister for Immigration unchecked and almost unrestrained powers to act as a gatekeeper to formal membership of the Australian community. One can already foresee problems that may arise if the bill is passed into legislation.

The Interpreter continued hosting posts from attendees at a recent workshop on digitisation, skills and migration, hosted by the Lowy Institute's Migration and Border Policy Project. First, Fiona McKenzie on how the online gig economy is changed the needs and priorities of international workers: 

While migration has long been thought of as the physical movement of humans from one place to another, we are now witnessing a form of virtual labour migration. Work is crossing national boundaries through online capital, labour, and information flows.

Unfortunately, the significance of this online labour is poorly understood, not least because conventional labour market statistics are ill-suited to measuring work that is transacted via online platforms

Second, Peter Mares on how the abolition and replacement of the 457 visa program may affect the future process by which temporary migrants become permanent residents and/or citizens:

Over the past two decades, the 457 visa has become a significant pathway to permanent residence in what eminent Australian economist Professor Bob Gregory has described as two-step migration. The ideal two-step scenario looks like this. After failing to find an Australian qualified to fill a specific vacancy in their enterprise, an employer recruits a temporary foreign worker with the relevant skills and experience. The worker performs well in the position, enjoys working for the business and likes living in Australia. After two years, the employer sponsors the migrant’s shift from a temporary visa to permanent residency.

And finally, Gary Rynhart on Southeast Asia's vulnerability to job displacement:

The ILO research found 56% of all employment in five ASEAN countries - Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam – are at a ‘high risk of displacement due to technology in the next decade or two’. In national terms that is 70% of all current jobs in Vietnam. In some occupations and in some countries, the study identified ‘extreme risks’ of automation. One example is Cambodia, where 54% of the country’s wage employees are concentrated in just three sectors: garment production, agriculture and construction. All three are highly susceptible to technological substitution.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis' comments at the Shangri-la Dialogue on the future of the UN Command in Korea are of direct interest to Australian policy-makers, wrote Euan Graham:

The US Commander in South Korea, General Brooks, wants to 'revitalise' it. What this means in practice is still under discussion, but there is a desire to more clearly delineate the UNC among its co-located commands, including a dedicated staff instead of double-hatting officers, along with greater efforts to engage the sending states. The thinking appears to embrace the UNC as a template for coalition building at a time of renewed tensions on the Peninsula over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Mattis recently labelled North Korea as the 'most urgent threat' facing the US.

Domestically, can Moon Jae-in curb corruption in South Korea? Robert Kelly:

The Korean government realises that gift-giving is culturally deeply rooted. And it senses the communitarian benefit. But it is now also clear that this can be used to informally extort. The response has been to increasingly read gifting as the latter rather than the former. 

Don't believe the hype on Syria's east, writes Rodger Shanahan:

The manoeuvring between pro-Assad forces and US-backed groups in the east is interesting to watch, but observers should be wary of drawing too many conclusions about the ability and willingness of the US to influence long-term events there. The US presence is tactical and temporary, a fact fully appreciated by those who are there for the long term.

Merriden Varrall illustrates why acting altruistically in China can be so risky:

The lack of trust has a very real basis. Faking injury for compensation is rare but the existence of even a few cases has had considerable negative impacts on trust, compassion, and moral obligation, as Yan Yunxiang elaborates in his book.

 Why Asia's current infrastructure boom isn't without risk, according to Robert Wihtol:

Financing Asia’s infrastructure gap is essential for the continued prosperity of the region. But the current politically-driven race to provide funding entails major risks. The spectre of bad debt has reared its head. Borrowers and lenders should heed recent lessons and beware of the looming debt trap.

And finally, Stephen Grenville on how too-big-to-fail is making a comeback:

The Dodd-Frank Act is being dismantled, on the grounds that it is too complex, making it a suitable case for Donald Trump’s deregulation agenda. The House of Representatives has passed the Financial Choice Act. In its present form, this bill is unlikely to pass the Senate. But the broad direction is clear. Wall Street is back in the driving seat in Washington, and the various measures taken in 2010 to restrain its actions are headed for the bin.

You may also be interested in