Monday, July 27, 2020

It’s time to lift the ban on outbound travel

You know that old saying about Australia being the best place on earth, and why would anyone want to go anywhere else?

Well, you can’t currently go anywhere else. The international border is closed, and when might it open? I’m going to make the case for right now.

Not for tourists. That’s still too risky. But if you’re an Australian citizen, or indeed a permanent resident, and you want to go to Greece to visit your long-lost second cousins for, let’s say three months, why shouldn’t you be allowed?

If your family is from Lebanon and you’ve always wanted to see the village for yourself, why should you be prevented?

The Australian ban on all travel is one of the toughest anti-infection measures in the world. Nobody is telling citizens of Britain that they can’t leave. You can leave the EU, you can leave the US, you can leave Canada. Even New Zealanders are free to come and go.

Of course, you have to quarantine on your return, and get a COVID-19 test, but provided you agree to do that, and to pay, why shouldn’t Australians be allowed to leave Australia?

As it stands, Australians must submit a written application to the Department of Home Affairs to travel aboard. Exceptions are being made only in certain circumstances, like a personal emergency.

So, maybe your restaurant in Melbourne is closed, and you’ve accessed your super, and you want to spend six months finally getting to know your extended family in some other part of the world. You can’t go and not because they won’t take you. The European border has been open to Australians since the beginning of July. Maybe you’re a university student, and your course has gone online, and so you’ve decided to put the polish on your dissertation from a bar in Croatia?

You’re banned from doing that. Maybe you’re one of those people who can do all their work digitally. The Bahamas is developing a new “Welcome Stamp” for creative types who have found that they don’t really need to be in the office. It’s as safe as travel can be. Between June 17 and July 7, Barbados has reported just one active case of COVID-19.

Australians can’t take up the offer, either. These are opportunities lost, never likely to be regained, when life goes back to normal. But the ban has important implications for Australia’s status as a good global citizen, too.

Our travellers have long played a crucial role in ensuring poorer countries, and precious wildlife, are able to thrive.

Sujata Raman, who is regional managing director, Australia Asia Pacific, for the global luxury travel company, Abercrombie & Kent, has thought carefully about this issue, since it impacts her whole world.

“It is such a complex question: when can we go?” she tells Inquirer. “The health of the population must come first. But when this all started, we put aside, in a fund, $1m to pay the salaries of rangers in certain parts of Africa. Because without tourism, how do they live?

“Tourism has protected wildlife from poachers. Certainly, in the case of gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda, they have been protected by tourism. There is no question about that. It’s been incredibly important, in terms of awareness, too. Open borders allow people to consider the question of saving these species.”

Cameron Neill, general manager of travel company, Bench Africa, agrees, saying the risk of poaching of rare species increases without tourism, which helps “ensure the wildlife remain for generations, long after this current crisis is over.”

There seem to be two arguments for the Australian travel ban: first, it’s too risky to let Australians go overseas, because they might get sick. But it’s always risky to travel overseas. You can get malaria, or typhoid. The bungee cord might snap, or you might drown in a river while white-water rafting in Canada.

The government traditionally offers advice to Australian travellers, through the Smart Traveller program, which encourages them to avoid unnecessarily risky countries, but you’re an adult, so you’re still allowed to go.

The second part of the argument is: well, you can’t have outbound without inbound travel meaning those Australians who go must then come back, and they might be infected, and that’s a risk to everyone, not only you.

But returning travellers are already being asked to stay in quarantine, and to pay for it (quarantine costs around $3000 per person, and you don’t get a choice of hotel. The rules around that should also be relaxed. If you want to pay to stay somewhere fancy, why shouldn’t you be allowed?) The government claims it’s right to take such measures to protect public health.

Constitutional expert, George Williams, tells Inquirer: “In the absence of a Bill of Rights or other national rights protection, there is very little in the space that can assist Australians. I can think of nothing that would confer a right to leave the country … When it comes down to it, there are a few things a determined government cannot control given the lack of legal protection for even the most basic liberties.”

Travel has of course long felt less like a liberty and more like a fundamental human right to most Australians, who after all invented “the gap year” and probably also backpacking (our youngsters have always had to go away for a reasonably long time, because it’s always been so expensive, and everywhere is so far away.)

Going abroad is what we do: Australians made 11.3 million trips overseas in 2019. More than 8400 passports are issued every day.

Domestic tourism looks, in the end, like it will be fine during the pandemic, but the ban on outbound travel cripples those boutique agencies. It’s a frustrating situation, with the CEO of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents, Darren Rudd, telling Inquirer: “The time is rapidly approaching where we need to accept that Australians should be able to once again leave our shores.

“It may well be that the first phase of this involves Aussies who are heading off for indefinite stays overseas,” he says. “But we can re-open our domestic and national borders in a controlled and responsible manner while protecting lives.

“Travel bubbles can start right now between those states and countries that are already low risk. There were a range of security protocols put in place post-911 and we are going to need the health equivalent so let’s start doing the work now.”

There is currently no date for the opening of the borders, but for how long will Australians tolerate being held in an island version of the Hotel California? It’s time to let us leave.


Australian Government sued by 23-year-old Melbourne student over financial risks of climate change

Governments have often been sued over global warming in the USA without success.  This is probably just a publicity grab

A 23-year-old Melbourne law student is suing the Australian Government for failing to disclose the risk climate change poses to Australians' super and other safe investments.

The world-first case filed today in the Federal Court alleges the Government, as well as two government officials, failed in a duty to disclose how climate change would impact the value of government bonds.

Katta O'Donnell, the head litigant for the class action suit, said she hoped the case would change the way Australia handled climate change.

"I'm suing the Government because I'm 23 [and] I think I need to be aware of the risks to my money and to the whole of society and the Australian economy," Ms O'Donnell said.

"I think the Government needs to stop keeping us in the dark so we can be aware of the risks that we're all faced with."

Experts say it is the first where a national government has been sued for its lack of transparency on climate risks.

Government bonds are considered the safest form of investment, with most Australians invested in them through compulsory superannuation.

Bonds are similar to shares, but instead of investing in companies, the investor lends a government money to build infrastructure and fund critical services such as health, welfare and national security.

Ms O'Donnell, who has invested in bonds independently from her super, said she did it to "protect her future".

However bonds, like shares, can lose value if they become less attractive to the market. This can occur if investors question a government's ability to repay them due to rising government debt, ethical or reputational reasons.

Ms O'Donnell said watching the impact of bushfires in Australia made her worry about the value of her bonds.

Despite the Government not disclosing climate-related risks to its investment products, government regulators are increasingly forcing companies to disclose how climate change will impact their shareholders.

This landmark trial has the potential to change the way superannuation funds invest retirement savings and pave the way for more climate-change-related litigation.

No damages, just recognition

Ms O'Donnell's case names the Commonwealth, as well as the secretary to the Department of Treasury and the chief executive of the Australian Office of Financial Management — both of whom are alleged to be responsible for promoting government bonds.

The case is a class action, with Ms O'Donnell representing all investors and potential investors in government bonds tradeable on the Australian Securities Exchange.

It does not seek damages, but instead a declaration that the Government and those two officials breached their duty.

It also seeks an injunction, forcing the Government to stop promoting bonds until it updates its disclosure information to include information about Australia's climate change risks.

The case is backed by heavy-hitting silk and former Federal Court judge Ron Merkel and barrister Thomas Wood, who was previously the counsel assisting the solicitor-general of the Commonwealth.


Moral terror: Australia is not immune

You know we live in a strange world when classical liberal think tanks, such as the Centre for Independent Studies, are forced to draw comfort from the statements of Noam Chomsky. The left-wing radical was among 150 esteemed artists, authors and public intellectuals who this month signed a letter that condemns ‘cancel culture’ for stifling freedom of expression in journalism, higher education, philanthropy and the arts.

Writing in Harper’s magazine, the ideologically diverse group says: “The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted.” They go on to bemoan “an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.”

As the prominent British historian and columnist Simon Heffer argues in the new CIS Occasional Paper, Moral Terrorism,  it is abominable that, effectively, a bunch of blinkered, self-righteous activists are dictating to the rest of us how we should feel about certain issues. Blacklisting people because of what they sincerely feel and believe, and terrifying people into confessing their unorthodox thoughts in the hope they might achieve some sort of redemption, is not how liberal democracies are supposed to work.

This is a matter of grave concern that goes to the heart of liberal society. As Professor Heffer argues, by eroding free speech, the activists seek “not simply to create a certain orthodoxy of view, but to punish those who do not subscribe to that orthodoxy, even to the point of seeking to deny them a livelihood.” What the activists who run the  ‘cancel culture’ don’t understand is that you can disagree with them without wishing to obliterate them; though they seem to wish to obliterate their opponents.

To be sure, the trends of illiberal tolerance are more evident in the US (as a recent Wall Street Journal editorial)  and Britain (as Prof Heffer makes clear) than here. However, as Peter Kurti explains in a forthcoming CIS research paper, we are kidding ourselves if we think Australia is immune to these disturbing developments. Indeed, there is enough evidence to show that a small but highly vocal and zealous minority here are already using social media and parts of the mainstream media to seek to force their opinions and attitudes on everyone else.

All this is why genuine liberals — from whatever political leaning or creed — have to expose not just the activists’ ignorance and their unreasonableness, but their immense dangerousness. It is not just they invite an extremist response from their opponents. It is that if too many people roll over in front of them, we shall damage liberal democracy irreparably.


US backs Australian rare earths production

The US is looking to work with Australia to boost production of rare earths and other critical minerals, according to the US Ambassador to Australia, Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr.

Speaking at the launch of a new report on US economic ties with Australia, Mr Culvahouse said the potential for improved co-operation between Australia and the US on critical minerals would be discussed next week at ministerial talks in Washington.

"There is an added impetus for us to work together in the area of critical minerals," he said. "Australia has most of the 14 critical minerals. "Australia has people with processing expertise and we have capital markets. "There is a real opportunity for us to work together.

Mr Culvahouse was speaking before leaving for Washington on Wednesday ahead of the annual AUSMIN talks next week between  Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper.

"Critical minerals are only becoming more critical," he said. "Both our countries will benefit from more robust, transparent and standards-based supply chains."

Mr Culvahouse was speaking at the launch of the report "Building Prosperity: The importance of the United States to the Australian economy", which argues that the US is Australia's most important "economic partner", a relationship contributing as much as 7 per cent to Australia's economic growth. He said US economic ties with Australia would continue to increase, with almost half of US companies in Australia expecting to increase their investments over the coming year.

In his speech he made a veiled reference to recent comments by the Chinese Ambassador to Australia warning that Australia's ex-ports to China could suffer as a result of Australia's push for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.

Seeking to contrast Australia's ties with China with those of the US, he said: "Australia will never see the day when a US ambassador threatens to withdraw from trading with and investing in Australia. "Recent events have shown starkly that economic security is national security. "It's not just about the money, it's who you trust, it's about shared values."

The report, by Deloitte Access Economics, argues that Australian exports to the US and the income generated from US investments in Australia collectively contribute $131bn a year to Australia's economy. It says US is now the largest single foreign investor in Australia with a total of $984bn as of 2019.

From "The Australian" of 22.7.20

Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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