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Tobacco, gambling, now alcohol: why Australia needs mandated alcohol warnings

The harms and costs of alcohol to Australia are clear. Government needs to mandate effective messaging around alcohol consumption.

For many Australians, the festive weeks between Christmas and Australia Day are boozy ones. When cracking open a beer or bottle of wine this holiday season, many drinkers will find a friendly little directive printed on the packaging reminding them to “drink responsibly”.

But what does that actually mean? “Drink responsibly” messages—included solely at the discretion of manufacturers—are ambiguous, and ignore the complexities associated with what should be considered healthy drinking.

With new regulations doing away with the old “gamble responsibly” tagline in favour of a more evidence-based approach, now is the time to follow suit for alcohol products and advertising. For warnings on alcohol products and advertising to be effective in changing drinking behaviours, we must move away from the self-regulation model. Warnings must be made mandatory by law, and their content must be determined by public health authorities to ensure they are both evidence-based and effective.

A deadly national habit

Alcohol use is pervasive in Australia: in 2019, 82 per cent of males and 77 per cent of females aged over 18 were current drinkers. More than 1 in 5 Australian adults binge drink, and it is estimated that roughly 6 per cent of males and 3 per cent of females aged over 15 have an alcohol use disorder. The harms to our society associated with drinking—physical, mental, social and economic—are substantial. In 2017-18, for example, alcohol caused over 5,000 deaths, 100,000 hospital episodes, and $60 billion in losses to our economy. Alcohol alone is estimated to be responsible for roughly 8 to 9 per cent of the total health burden in Australia. In 2022, the alcohol-induced death rate was at its highest in ten years.

It goes without saying that reducing these harms should be a public health priority. This requires a multi-pronged approach: governments in Australia define standard drinks and provides low-risk drinking guidelines, ban the sale of alcohol to minors, run public health campaigns, tax alcohol, put limits on alcohol availability and minimum unit pricing, and support school-based prevention programs (which can be particularly effective).

For maximising reach, warnings accompanying alcohol products and advertising should be a crucial piece of the puzzle. Unfortunately, apart from new mandates for pregnancy-specific messages on beverage labels, the inclusion of these warnings in Australia is voluntary. When companies do choose to include a warning, they tend to use some version of “drink responsibly”—a platitude now commonplace globally—or refer consumers to the DrinkWise website, an organisation established by the alcohol industry that promotes similar responsible drinking messages. Even then, these warnings get little coverage, both in size (labels) and airtime (advertising).

What’s wrong with the “drink responsibly” line?

Campaigns centred around the idea of responsible drinking are best viewed as an effort by industry “social aspects/public relations organisations” (SAPROs) to pre-empt harsher regulation and reframe alcohol as a matter of individual responsibility rather than a public health issue. At first glance, “drink responsibly” may sound reasonable. But for the public, this is an ambiguous message. For example, researchers found that the message “Drink Properly” was frequently interpreted to encourage “looking cool” when drinking, or drinking the right kind of alcohol.

Much of this ambiguity comes from the lack of detail on how much alcohol, consumed over what time frame, constitutes “drinking responsibly”. At a minimum, reference should be made to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) low-risk drinking guidelines, which recommend a maximum of ten drinks per week, and no more than four in one sitting. This can be an effective way of increasing awareness of safe drinking limits.

Even then, the NHMRC guidelines reflect risk for the average person, and are not applicable when individual-specific vulnerabilities are at play. “Drink responsibly” messaging focuses on those who are able to drink responsibly to establish that drinking can be safe. In fact, by exploiting uncertainty in research regarding potential protective effects of low-level consumption, it is often implied that drinking can be positively healthy. But for many conditions and many people, the reality is quite different.

For example, it is well-established that for several types of cancer, any amount of alcohol increases a person’s risk. The same goes for liver disease and accidents or injury. Put another way, when it comes to avoiding these conditions, the most responsible kind of drinking is to not drink at all.

Similarly, there are periods across the lifespan when people are particularly susceptible to alcohol and its effect on brain health, including gestation, adolescence, and older adulthood. Additionally, some individuals may find themselves unable to maintain “responsible drinking”. Despite a focus on individual responsibility, addiction is not a simple matter of willpower. So again, for pregnant people, minors, or those with alcohol use disorder who are unable to maintain controlled drinking, the most responsible kind of drinking is to not drink at all.

It’s time for government regulation

It’s clear that self-regulation doesn’t work—studies have found that messages and advertisements produced by the alcohol industry are less persuasive than those made by public health authorities. Unsurprisingly, there is no clear evidence that “drink responsibly” slogans are effective in reducing risky drinking. While the new requirements for pregnancy warnings on beverage labels are a step in the right direction, a more thorough overhaul is required.

Online gambling companies are now required to replace the “gamble responsibly” slogan on all advertising with one of seven evidence-based taglines. Alcohol warnings should follow suit. They should be mandated by law and their content should be clear, evidence-based, and externally determined. Reference should be made to the NHMRC’s low-risk drinking guidelines. Gambling companies must also rotate those seven messages to counter desensitisation. For alcohol, this is also advisable.

Lessons could also be learned from tobacco product packaging, with evidence that warnings highlighting causal links between alcohol and specific health outcomes (e.g., cancer) can be particularly persuasive. In fact, Ireland and South Korea already mandate that cancer warnings be displayed on alcoholic beverages.

Finally, warnings on products and advertising should be prominent and visible, and should not presume drinking.

“Responsible drinking” messages and alcohol industry self-regulation have never served the public health interest. Public health policies, including warnings on products and advertising, should be designed with the most vulnerable in mind. It’s time for government-mandated, evidence-based warnings for alcohol products and advertising. With alcohol one of the leading causes of disease burden among Australians, responsible messaging around alcohol needs to be taken seriously.

Rachel Visontay is an NHMRC-funded PhD candidate at the Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use at the University of Sydney. Her research explores relationships between alcohol and long-term health outcomes, with a focus on identifying causal effects.

Professor Maree Teesson AC FAHMS, FASSA is an NHMRC Leadership Fellow, Director of the Matilda Centre & Director of the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Prevention and Early Intervention in Mental Illness and Substance Use (PREMISE) at the University of Sydney. Prof Teesson is a former National Mental Health Commissioner (2018-2021), former member of NHMRC Council (2018-2021), an Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences Fellow and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Social Sciences.

Associate Professor Louise Mewton is a University of New South Wales Scientia Fellow and public health researcher with a focus on the epidemiology, assessment, prevention, and treatment of alcohol use and related disorders across the lifespan. She currently leads the Dementia Risk Factors Group at the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing, University of New South Wales.

Image credit: Gilaxia / Getty images

2023-01-16T09:28:30+11:0012 January 2023|

The Policymaker in 2022: our most-read articles

It’s been a big first year for The Policymaker — here are our top five most-read articles for 2022.

We launched The Policymaker in 2022 on a hunch: that there was an unmet demand in the Australian public policy landscape for a publication focused on solutions while being accessible to both experts and a general audience. As the year draws to a close, our hunch has transformed into a confirmed hypothesis.

Since May, we’ve published scientists, economists, community leaders and activists, political scientists and theorists, anthropologists, students, lawyers, policy practitioners, and leaders in business and industry. We’ve been delighted to give a platform to both established and emerging voices in key policy debates, each drawing on their expertise and experience to set out an agenda for positive change. We’ve made constructive contributions to the discourse on some of the biggest public policy challenges facing Australia, including through our Jobs and Skills and Anti-slavery hubs. And all the while, we’ve seen our audience and reach grow.

To celebrate a successful first year, we’ve compiled our top five most-read articles in 2022:

Thank you to all our authors in 2022.

The Policymaker in 2023

Our editorial team will be taking a well-deserved break over the Christmas-New Year holiday period, but we will be back early next year. We’ve got exciting plans for The Policymaker in 2023—we can’t wait to share them with you.

As ever, we want to hear your article pitches. Read our submission guidelines and drop us a note at

See you in 2023.

Hugh Piper is Deputy Editor of The Policymaker.

Image credit: Hugh Piper

2022-12-22T09:55:31+11:0022 December 2022|

A different story: anti-slavery as smart public policy

The NSW Anti-slavery Commissioner explains why it’s in everyone’s interests to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking as a system-level challenge.

Google “modern slavery” or “human trafficking” and click on the images tab—you will be confronted by a sea of black and white and red. You will see hands bound, pictures of unidentifiable women and children, often with their heads bowed in shame, perhaps even branded with a barcode—images designed to shock and outrage.

In this narrative, survivors are not treated as people with voices of their own, but instead as tropes, resources exploited in service of a good story. Beyond clickbait, these stories reflect a growing numbness to these kind of hyperbolic messages and images, and speak to a broader risk that we come to tolerate and resign ourselves to modern slavery and human trafficking.

As Professor Jennifer Burn sets out in her recent piece for this series in The Policymaker, an estimated 50 million people globally are victims of modern slavery, with somewhere between 1,500 and 15,000 of them in Australia.

Why does slavery endure? Why do we tolerate it?

Because it enriches some and makes goods cheap for others. Because it’s hard to find and harder to prosecute. Because it’s hidden from the view and consciousness of the public and policymakers.

Modern slavery is a system failure.

Yet a system that tolerates modern slavery not only harms victims—it actually leaves us all worse off.

Using research from the UK Home Office, we can estimate the resulting cost: here in Australia, it is likely to be at least $875 million. International Monetary Fund researchers found that ending child marriage would add on average 1.05 per cent to a country’s GDP. And another analysis by Project Paradigm in the National Project to Address Child Sexual Exploitation suggests that for every dollar spent on preventing child sexual exploitation there is a $16.75 return.

But modern slavery is also a system failure in another sense: a failure to spot vulnerability and prevent it becoming victimisation.

We know people interact with our systems of care and justice during the process of victimisation—the immigration system, the family and social services system, the financial system, the legal system and even the public procurement system.

Yet these systems largely fail to identify the hallmarks of vulnerability and fail to intervene to prevent vulnerability becoming victimisation.

This failure of prevention ultimately leaves us all worse off. We know from deep research overseas that human trafficking and slavery create ten measurable drags on economic and social development:

  • reducing productivity across the economy;
  • breeding poverty;
  • entrenching inequality;
  • weakening economic multipliers;
  • discouraging innovation and competition;
  • distorting capital markets (leading to mispricing of assets);
  • weakening both the fiscal position and governance;
  • encouraging corruption; and
  • increasing environmental harm.

Yet this also means that progress on anti-slavery can generate welfare gains. It can increase productivity, reduce inequality, reduce poverty, improve governance, improve the fiscal position, protect capital markets, reduce corruption and even help the environment.

So, what does this welfare-maximising approach look like in practice?

It requires embedding anti-slavery across our public policy initiatives and programming. It means addressing system failure by adjusting the whole system to embed and promote anti-slavery outcomes that will leave us all better off.

We are fortunate in NSW to have our own state-based legislation in the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (NSW). It gives us the tools to create a framework for collective action—by government, business, unions, civil society, the academy and survivors—to tackle modern slavery. At its heart, this legislation—which established my role—is about improving the system. It is about making sure the system is built to deliver positive outcomes for people.

The Act tasks me to work with the NSW public procurement system to remove products of modern slavery from government and local council procurement. It creates a new public register for entities not meeting their obligations, a framework for issuing codes of practice to address modern slavery risks in private sector supply-chains, and calls for cooperation to strengthen identification and support of victims of modern slavery.

I am working with the NSW Procurement Board to establish a shared implementation framework aligned with the Commonwealth National Action Plan and Australia’s international commitments under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. This framework will include materials, guidance and training. And I have begun signalling to NSW Government entities where products are at high risk of being made with modern slavery, such as Xinjiang cotton and solar products, or certain healthcare products.

Given that NSW is the seventh largest economy in Asia, and the NSW Government is the second largest procurer in the Australian economy, this is a big opportunity to promote anti-slavery along a range of value-chains. The changes we make in this part of our system—public procurement, industry practice and capital market arrangements—could have a significant impact on market behaviour across the region.

The Act, and all of these changes, position NSW at the leading edge of incorporating modern slavery risk into responsible investing and sustainable finance, both through public and private sector action. And it gives us the opportunity to figure out and scale up what is working, so that we have a clearer picture of who is at risk, how we can identify, reach and assist them, and how we can make all these systems work for people. It has put us on a path to becoming a global centre of excellence in the fight against modern slavery.

I have also opened a dialogue with NSW Health about how to ensure their clinical, diagnostic, treatment and public health systems identify signs of modern slavery and provide people the trauma-informed care they need. My office is working with public and private investors and a major global tech company to figure out if we can give capital markets reliable, cheap access to firm-level modern slavery risk estimates, so that investors have no excuse for not pricing modern slavery risks into their decision-making. And I have commenced discussion with industry about the power I am afforded by the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (NSW) to issue “codes of practice”.

Under the Act I am also obliged to develop a strategic plan. As part of the consultation process to feed into that plan, since August I’ve met face to face with over 2,000 people around NSW, including whistleblowers, experts, and survivors hailing from Sydney to Xinjiang. With the support of the James Martin Institute, we have convened four expert workshops, considering the role of service providers, the criminal justice system, supply-chain and investment actors, and partnerships with civil society, business, communications and research organisations. And we have run a public consultation through the NSW government portal, Have Your Say.

In thinking about how we can foster excellence, we also need to be aware of the challenges. Three such challenges have stood out to me in my short time in the role: ambition, resourcing and survivor leadership.

First, the question of ambition. Do we have a clear strategy for creating the buy-in needed for truly systemic change? We are not talking here about changing a niche “anti-slavery” system. The goal is much more ambitious than that. It’s much more like the goal of decarbonising the economy. Both anti-slavery and climate action require changing the whole system to stop it producing unintended negative externalities. It has taken time to move climate action from the margin to the mainstream. How are we going to do that for anti-slavery? Are we serious about that ambition?

Second, we need to be honest that we face a challenging fiscal environment. That means we need to be creative in resourcing this work. Yes, that means that the anti-slavery sector needs clear, longer-term funding support from government. But we also need to think about how we can unlock other resources, for example through partnerships with corporate Australia, philanthropy and more innovative mechanisms such as sustainable finance. Necessity is the parent of invention.

Third, and finally, because we are all so used to the status quo, we also face a challenge in imagining what a different system might look like, once we change the system.

For me, survivor agency would be at the heart of that differentiation. Instead of survivors being storytelling resources exploited in an attempt to unlock public sympathy—or even funding—survivors would have agency within and over the system. Survivor leadership does not mean survivors always have to be the voice, or the face, of the system—though this can be incredibly powerful. It means they shape and influence the system, sometimes “leading from behind”.

The system-level shift being contemplated here is not just an institutional one, but in a sense also a cultural one. It means moving away from media narratives that treat modern slavery and human trafficking as rare, morally outrageous practices whose costs fall on victim groups that are subtly “‘othered’. It means making clear that modern slavery actually imposes real economic and social costs on us all—and involves us all, through our consumption, investment and other behaviours. It means committing to anti-slavery as an investment in a future that leaves us all better off.

This is a different anti-slavery story, but one that urgently needs telling.

Dr James Cockayne is the inaugural NSW Anti-slavery Commissioner. He previously founded Finance Against Slavery and Trafficking, chaired the US Council on Foreign Relations study group on trafficking in persons, and set up the UN’s anti-slavery knowledge platform, Delta 8.7.

The James Martin Institute for Public Policy, in partnership with the Office of the NSW Anti-slavery Commissioner, is convening a series of expert workshops bringing together policymakers, academics and practitioners to discuss challenges and identify opportunities for an effective approach to combat modern slavery, to support the development of the NSW Anti-slavery Commissioner’s first Strategic Plan. This article is one in a series from workshop participants.

Image credit: Pixabay

2023-01-12T14:19:49+11:0019 December 2022|

Thinking beyond self-regulation for tech companies for children’s online safety

New draft codes from tech companies could pose risks to Australian children. A better approach—led by government—is needed instead.

New research released this week, to coincide with Human Rights Day, shows that the best way to advance children’s rights online is to ensure strong regulation when it comes to safety and privacy. For too long, Australia has allowed the tech industry to write their own rules when it comes to online safety and privacy.

Even our world-leading Online Safety Act ultimately allows industry to draft the codes that outline exactly how the Act will realise basic safety expectations for Australian children. It’s time for the Australian Government to ditch this approach—called co-regulation, where industry drafts a code and then a regulator oversees it—and allow regulators to draft robust codes themselves like they do in most other countries.

Recently, we witnessed just how badly this co-regulatory approach could fail children and young people. In October, we saw the draft Online Safety Codes written by industry representative groups, which are currently with the eSafety Commissioner for consideration for registration in accordance with the Online Safety Act. Comparing these drafts to similar codes that have been written directly by regulators or legislators highlights the failings.

Codes drafted by regulators drive up safety and privacy standards for children

Codes written by regulators and legislators in the United Kingdom, Ireland and California have served to drive up safety and privacy standards for children. For example, these regulator-written codes all insist that where a digital platform allows children under the age of 18 to open an account, these accounts must have the privacy settings “turned up to the max”. And this has translated to action. Every time a 17-year-old opens an Instagram account in the UK, it defaults to a private account. When they open a new account on TikTok in Ireland, the app sends them a nudge and a simple “one click” pop up notification to go private. This does not happen in Australia.

Alarmingly, we see industry-drafted codes driving down these reduced standards, meaning that the lesser protections afforded to Australian teens could be turned into regulation. The draft codes released in October propose only having privacy settings “turned up to the max” for those aged 15 and under. The Australian code is deliberately proposing no privacy protections for 16- and 17-year-olds, in contrast to regulator drafted codes (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Age under which young people’s accounts must ‘default to private’

Who wrote the code? On social media On online games
UK Regulator drafted, pass by legislators for extra teeth 18 18
Ireland Regulators 18 18
California Legislators 18 18
Australia Industry No minimum stipulated (but we assume 16) 16

Privacy settings are important for children and young people. Meta, the parent company of Facebook, have outlined the critical value of private accounts, stating:

“Wherever we can, we want to stop young people from hearing from adults they don’t know or don’t want to hear from. We believe private accounts are the best way to prevent this from happening. So starting this week, everyone who is under 16 years old (or under 18 in certain countries) will be defaulted into a private account when they join Instagram.”

It is extremely disheartening to see that only 16- and 17-year-olds in “certain countries” will be protected from unwanted contact with adult strangers. Protection for children in “certain countries” appears to be reserved for where strong regulation, written by regulators and legislators, demands it.

The impact of this on young people’s lives cannot be overstated. Where a young person’s account is private, they are not recommended as “friends” or accounts to “follow” to strangers. An employee at Meta noted, in files leaked by Frances Haugen and used in court cases, that 75 per cent of all “inappropriate adult-minor contact” (i.e., grooming) on Facebook was, at one point, a result of their “People You May Know” friends recommendation system.

Likewise, requirements around children’s precise geographic location appear much weaker in the industry-drafted Australian codes than requirements laid out by regulators when they wrote their codes. Where regulators have written codes in the UK, Ireland and California, they stipulated that companies must not collect children’s precise geolocation data (GPS data) by default. In Australia, again, industry has driven this down and is proposing only not to broadcast location data by default (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Protections for children’s precise location (GPS Location)

Who wrote the code? On social media On online games
UK Regulators/ Legislators Must not collect by default Must not collect by default
Ireland Regulators Must not collect by default Must not collect by default
California Legislators Must not collect by default Must not collect by default
Australia Industry Must not broadcast by default Must not broadcast by default

While the difference between “collection” and “broadcasting” may seem pedantic, it is not. Stopping a social media company from broadcasting a child’s location is a significantly weaker step than preventing a company from harvesting kids location data in the first instance. It overlooks the risks that emerge from digital services storing troves of young people’s GPS data, including security breaches. Following the Optus data breach, it is unrealistic to suggest there are no risks associated with digital service providers holding detailed personal information like children’s GPS data ad infinitum. It also ignores the commercial harms arising from allowing online services to harvest this data, including geo-locating targeted advertising to children. Again, targeted advertising to kids is poised to be banned in the EU as regulators and legislators drive up protections for children, but again, appears to be a precaution driven down by Australia’s draft codes.

The public does not support co-regulation

Recent polling suggests that the Australian public does not find co-regulation an acceptable approach. A poll of 1,508 adults found that 71 percent did not trust the social media industry to draft codes in general, and specifically 73 percent thought regulators should draft codes around children’s online safety. 76 percent said regulators should draft any codes around online privacy for young people.

Likewise, only 14 per cent of teenagers polled earlier in April this year said they trusted social media companies to write the rules about online privacy.

Civil society seems equally unimpressed. “The reliance on self- and co-regulation in the past has demonstrably failed many of us, including children and young people, and new approaches are required”, said the Australian Children’s Rights Task Force in a statement released on Human Rights Day.

Where regulators draft codes, children are better protected

Allowing industry to draft their own codes must be understood as part of a broader systemic failure to effectively regulate the digital world. Where Australia, and other countries, have relied on self- and co-regulation, we have allowed tech to dictate their own terms and practices. The multiple failings—from those highlighted by Frances Haugen to those uncovered by the ABC—have demonstrated that the tech industry does not consistently prioritise the interests of children.

The tech industry is not prevented from improving online safety at all, but they choose not to. They choose not to roll out out safety precautions they are required to turn on in countries where regulations demand it (like defaulting to private accounts for under 18-year-olds, or not collecting geolocation data), to all children.

Co-regulation appears to be a loophole that could see weaker protections for Australian kids enshrined into our regulatory framework, hamstringing our regulators and harming kids in the process. Alternatively, countries where regulators have written their own codes have seen safety and privacy standards for children comprehensively driven up.

There are few other countries where co-regulation is allowed that we know of, largely in Africa. Here too, regulators are rapidly moving away from this faulty approach. At a meeting of African data regulators in November, one of South Africa’s four information regulator members noted their broad resistance to industry-drafted codes, outlining that the last time the South African information regulator registered one, it took the threat of a court case to encourage the industry to finally register it. Likewise, regulators present from Uganda to Mauritius said they wouldn’t even consider it. It is past time for Canberra to move on too.

The draft Online Safety Codes, written by industry, should not be registered by the eSafety Commissioner. Instead, the eSafety Commissioner herself should be empowered to draft a robust code that adequately protects Australian children and drives up safety standards. Likewise, proposals for improving children’s privacy online should be written by the Information and Privacy Commissioner herself.

If we want to see real improvements, it’s time we stopped letting social media companies write their own regulations, and let our regulators get on with it.

Dr Rys Farthing is Director at Reset Australia and Associate Investigator at the Center for the Digital Child. Reset Australia is an independent think tank, and the Australian affiliate of the global Reset initiative. We accept no funding from tech, and are funded by trusts and foundations, including Reset Global, Luminate and the Internet Society Foundation.

Judith Bessant AM is a professor at RMIT University. She researches and writes in the fields of politics, youth studies, policy, sociology, media-technology studies and history.

Image credit: Getty Images

2022-12-10T08:09:22+11:0010 December 2022|

We need to engage with men and boys to end violence

What is required to translate recent policy progress into practice when it comes to engaging men and boys to prevent violence in our society? Changing the way men relate to themselves, to people in their lives and to deeply embedded norms that put pressure on men to be a certain way are key parts of the solution.

Content warning: This article contains references to violence and mental illness.

Tomorrow marks the end of the annual 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. Since 1991, this campaign has called for the elimination of violence against women. The associated events, marches and advocacy have been and continue to be crucial work.

But what would change if these past 16 days focused on activism against men’s violence? The reality is that 95 per cent of people who experience violence report a male perpetrator. Victims of violence include people of all genders.

To end violence, we have to change the behaviour of men. This article shares lessons from our violence prevention work engaging men and boys at The Men’s Project—an initiative of Jesuit Social Services.

First, our context

Established in December 2017, The Men’s Project builds on Jesuit Social Services’ 45-year history working with men and boys, many facing crises: experience of violence themselves, time in child protection and out of home care, time in prison, expulsions, suicidality and addiction to substances. Our focus is on prevention and early intervention before these crises occur. We seek to address the root causes of harmful behaviours, including the impact of outdated attitudes about masculinity.

There has been welcome recent policy progress. The statement from victim-survivors in the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022–2032 puts it plainly: “Abuse and violence is a problem for victims, but it is not the victims’ problem.” The National Plan is part of a suite of recent policies that highlight the importance of engaging men and boys including the Respect@Work report, recent changes to parental leave, Respectful Relationships curricula, and the Victorian Government’s efforts through the Second Free From Violence Action Plan and the Building Equality Policy.

These policies build on hard won change. Women and feminist organisations have brought issues of family violence, sexual harassment and assault into mainstream discourse, calling out the reality that too often women have been disbelieved and had their voices silenced.

Yet, there’s still much to do. We live in a society that continues to value the masculine over the feminine whether it relates to the ongoing prevalence of violence, the burden of unpaid household labour, undervaluing caring professions or the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles. Patriarchy is ever-present, and bestows unfair benefits on men while subjugating women. In some spheres, male dominance is the norm—consider any recent analysis of pornography, or the seemingly never-ending stories of off-field misbehaviour by our male sporting “heroes”. This patriarchal reality, and challenging it, must sit at the core of violence prevention efforts.

Patriarchy also has negative impacts on men. In 2004, bell hooks wrote: “The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands… all males… kill off the emotional parts of themselves.” Indeed, emotions outside a small range—anger, happiness, pride—are too often relegated to being seen as feminine so must be denied to prove one’s manhood. This can result in an inability to process complex feelings and tragically underpins the use of violence against women as well as some men’s desire for dominance over other men.

We face a conundrum

Men receive unfair privileges from patriarchy. Men also perpetrate and passively condone violence. And yet, engagement with men and boys needs to be mindful of their subjective realities and intersectional disadvantage. As writer Jess Hill highlights, while “men are powerful as a group (and are often told they are entitled to power), they do not necessarily feel powerful as individuals.”

A central question in violence prevention work is why some men don’t feel empowered and secure? Why is their sense of self so tied to dominance over others, especially women? What impact do patriarchy and masculine norms have on their sense of identity?

One of our first and foundational pieces of work was our “Man Box” research. The Man Box is a set of norms that place pressure on men to be a certain way—to be tough, not to show emotion, to be the breadwinner, be in control, and use violence to get respect; and to have many sexual partners. These social constructions of stereotypical masculinities vary across cultures and over time. What’s consistent is the value placed on stereotypically male characteristics over stereotypically feminine characteristics.

In partnership with Equimundo, based in Washington DC, we brought the Man Box idea to Australia. We surveyed 1,000 randomly selected 18 to 30-year-old Australian men finding that the majority of men surveyed felt social pressure to live up to stereotypical ideals of what it means to be a man. We also found that fewer men—still too many—personally endorsed these Man Box norms. For instance, 43 per cent of respondents agreed that society told them “a man should always have the final say about decisions in his relationship or marriage”. This dropped to 27 per cent when respondents were asked if “in their opinion” this should be so.

We found strong associations between Man Box attitudes and a range of harmful behaviours. Compared to men who subscribed least to Man Box norms, those who subscribed most were 20 times more likely to self-report sexually harassing a woman, 14 times more likely to report using physical violence and over twice as likely to have experienced suicidal thoughts. While the reasons for these harmful life outcomes are multi-faceted, the impact of the Man Box dwarfed demographic factors which we controlled for such as where men live, their cultural background, religion and levels of education.

Men’s conformity to the Man Box is reinforced through perceived benefits personified by online personalities such as Andrew Tate. The prize is a spot in the alpha male “in-group” in return for endorsing a mix of misogyny, homophobia and classist bile. In some contexts, stepping outside the Man Box can result in immediate sanction—“don’t be a girl”; “what are you, a pussy?”. At their core, although often destructive, these dynamics centre around a search for identity, connection and belonging.

When Man Box norms are threatened, research finds the response can be dire. Consider one part of the Man Box—that “men should be the breadwinner”. A recent ANU study found when this norm is violated—i.e., women earn more than their male partner—the likelihood of men’s violence and emotional abuse against their partner increases. Importantly, there is also other evidence which suggests that greater economic equality can lead to more gender equal relationships. However, in the face of threats to the male breadwinner norm, rather than work through why this feels personally challenging, some men will choose to denigrate and degrade their female partner to assert superiority.

This does not seek to excuse violence or justify maintaining a gendered pay gap. Rather, by better understanding contributing factors to violence, we have a greater chance of addressing it.

Some emerging lessonsfour practice directions

Here are four (non-exhaustive) practice directions which form part of The Men’s Project’s approach to violence prevention.

These directions cannot be achieved through one-off workshops. They require a holistic approach involving ongoing engagement with people who can positively influence men and boys —parents, family, early childcare workers, teachers, social workers, coaches, and other community leaders—and attention on structural inequities often reflected in policies or processes. Influencers—ideally working in mixed-gendered groups—need space for self-reflection including on their own power and privilege. They need to be equipped to respond to inevitable backlash. In doing this work, we partner with organisations—including women’s health organisations—who prevent and respond to violence. While valuable guides and tools exist, there’s still much to learn. Those doing this work, including ourselves, should be explicit regarding their approach and engage independent evaluators supported by funders who are also adopting a learning mindset.

First, through group discussion, we must increase understanding of and facilitate reflection on the harms associated with stereotypically masculine norms. This work is deeply personal. Men—including this author—will have fallen short in the past, failing to challenge or perhaps actively supporting Man Box ideas. Group discussion should traverse reflection on research such as the Man Box and stating plainly the horrific facts about family violence, while also elevating the lived experience of those who have been victims of violence—including men who have experienced violence due to the behaviour of other men. Through our work, we aim to change the way men and boys relate to people in their lives as well as to cultural norms such as the Man Box that we know they’re perceiving.

Second, there’s work required to help men and boys better perceive the gap between what they think society believes and what their peers in fact believe. The Man Box findings add to research that suggests men overestimate other men’s sexist and violence-supportive attitudes while also understating men’s willingness to intervene to prevent sexual assault. Unsurprisingly, men who subscribe to Man Box attitudes are less likely to call out a sexist comment due to fears related to belonging. We’ve got to teach skills and create cultures that equip men and boys to intervene. While not all men are violent, all men have a role in preventing violence.

Third, demonstrating positive alternatives is crucial. Professor Michael Flood from the Queensland University of Technology offers some helpful principles: healthier masculinities are gender equitable, diverse, not unique to men and boys, and healthy for men and boys themselves.

There is not one set of behaviours appropriate for all situations. We must not create another Man Box. Research suggests that to decrease the use of violence we need to build greater consciousness of “rote-learned” thoughts or scripts. For instance, an effective violence reduction program delivered in Chicago, Becoming a Man, found that young people’s use of violence was often due to reflexive and over-generalised responses to provocation. In short, they were confusing when (unfortunately) a more confrontational response may be required for their own self-protection as against situations where they were safe.

We are all at risk of this; self-reflection and slowing down takes effort. An awareness of context matters. Dominance and competitiveness against opponents on the sports field can be appropriate, but have devastating consequences in a discussion with an intimate partner. And while we want men to be aspirational and seek out what they want in life, this is problematic if carried over to a sense of entitlement in the context of rape and sexual assault.

When positive alternatives are explored, we can also aspire to detach from socially-constructed masculinities. As Professor Bob Pease has pointed out, if part of the problem relates to masculinity being valued over femininity, any effort that continues to foreground masculinities is likely to be inherently limiting. In some contexts, our facilitators at The Men’s Project are using healthier identities as an alternative to healthier masculinities.

Fourth, men and boys need skills that enable a deeper connection with themselves, others and our planet. Understanding the impact of the stories we tell ourselves can loosen the grip of negative conceptions tightly linked to Man Box ideas. Trauma can compound these dynamics, including, and especially, boys and young men’s experience of male violence in the family.

Each of us need to learn critical self-reflection skills including what has shaped the way we relate. These need to be taught. It is not enough to point out that rigid attachment to Man Box norms may be at the root of problems or that violence is not acceptable. We have to support people to embrace the dignity of each human being—including themselves—as inherently and equally deserving of love, connection and belonging. To do this, boys and men have to be allowed and encouraged to feel and express the full range of human emotion without fear of being ostracised. It’s not surprising that research suggests describing emotions—a skill—is a protective factor that mitigates against aggression when young men are distressed.

So, what will come from 16 days of activism against men’s violence? My hope is that there will be nuanced discussions regarding the merits of different approaches to violence prevention work with men and boys. My hope is that the calls of advocates are acted upon and we place the perpetrator at the forefront of efforts to address violence, filling the blanks on statistics like 1 in ? men has perpetrated physical violence, 1 in ? men has perpetuated sexual violence. My hope is that men and boys—standing in solidarity with people of all genders—make a meaningful contribution to ending violence.

Matt Tyler is the Executive Director of The Men’s Project at Jesuit Social Services working with a team committed to providing leadership on the reduction of violence and other harmful behaviours prevalent among men and boys. Prior to joining Jesuit Social Services, he worked as a Fellow for Harvard’s Government Performance Lab focused on child protection and he has also previously worked on reforms to family violence services and child protection in Australia. He is trained as an economist with a particular focus on statistics, holding a Master of Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School and Honours in Economics from Monash University.

The ideas presented in this article have been shaped by engagement with countless collaborators and have also been informed by The Men’s Project’s experiences delivering our Modelling Respect and Equality and Unpacking the Man Box programs in partnership with schools, workplaces and other community organisations.

Image credit: Ibrahem Bana / Getty Images

2022-12-09T09:05:40+11:009 December 2022|

Putting survivors’ rights at the centre of responses to modern slavery

To combat this human rights abuse, we need to understand the scale of the problem, amplify survivors’ voices and work towards a fair compensation system.

December 2 is the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. It provides an important marker for us to reflect upon the growing global problem of modern slavery. It’s also a call to action to rid the world of this scourge.

While most people believe that slavery in all its forms is an international problem, very few Australians are aware of how serious and widespread the problem is in our own country.

What is modern slavery and how big is the problem?

Modern slavery is an umbrella term that includes slavery, servitude, debt bondage, deceptive recruitment for labour, forced marriage, the worst forms of child labour and the trafficking of people into exploitation. Every story of a victim and survivor of slavery represents a horrifying instance of the dehumanisation and commodification of people. Yet perpetrators are rarely prosecuted, and even when they receive prison sentences the victim is unlikely under current law to receive financial compensation in recognition of the harm they have experienced.

The numbers of people living in these deplorable conditions continue to rise.

Recent estimates from the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage report indicate that there are 49.6 million people living in situations of modern slavery on any given day. Forced labour accounts for 27.6 million, and forced marriage for 22 million–or nearly one of every 150 people in the world. Tragically, more than 3.3 million of all those in forced labour are children.

The problem is growing. In 2017, the global number estimated to be in slavery was 40 million. This means the amount of people living in slavery has increased by 10 million over the past five years. 

Slavery in Australia

Sadly, slavery is a reality here too. Slavery is about control, the commodification of human beings and the exploitation of people. In Australia, people in slavery have been identified in restaurants, farms, building sites, and hidden in private homes.

In the 2021-22 financial year, the AFP received 294 reports of modern slavery and human trafficking. This is the AFP’s highest ever level of reports in a year, increasing from 224 in the previous year to 294. The five most reported crime types were: forced marriage (84 reports), sexual servitude and exploitation (54), forced labour (42), exit trafficking in persons (37), and trafficking in children (21).

When we look at these reported numbers, we must also recognise that this is the tip of the iceberg. In 2019, the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) estimated that for every identified victim of slavery in Australia, four go undetected.

Estimates of the number of victims of slavery in Australia in recent years have ranged between 1,500 to 15,000. It is an incredibly difficult task to assess the true number of victims as the problem is significantly under-identified and under-reported.

It is also a sad reality that without swift action these numbers will likely grow for reasons including the effects of climate change, civil disruption, war, the pandemic and the collapse of global markets. Yet despite 1,671 cases being referred to the Australian Federal Police between 2004 and 2021, only 31 offenders have been convicted. This has been the subject of a key report by the AIC on the attrition of human trafficking and slavery cases.

New Initiatives

In recent years important steps have been taken to try and address modern slavery in Australia and internationally.

In a welcome step, Australia introduced the Modern Slavery Act. In effect from 1 January 2019, the Act requires entities with annual consolidated revenue of $100 million to report on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains. However, a new report showed that 77 per cent of companies have failed to comply with the basic reporting requirements mandated by the legislation. It is clear that much more needs to be done by companies to comply with their obligations. The Commonwealth has responded by establishing a review of Australia’s Modern Slavery Act to be conducted by Professor John McMillan with an anticipated reporting date of March 2023.

Australia has settled the new National Action Plan to Combat Modern Slavery 2020-25 and in recent weeks, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong signed a Memorandum of Understanding in support of a new Centre of Excellence dedicated to countering human trafficking: the first centre of its kind in Southeast Asia, in which Australia and Thailand will collaborate and strengthen police and government responses, including reforms to protect and victims’ rights.

Additionally, NSW’s Modern Slavery Act came into effect this year with the appointment of Dr James Cockayne as the NSW Anti-Slavery Commissioner. Australia’s new Labor government has a long-standing commitment to establishing at the federal level the office of an independent anti-slavery commissioner.

While this sets the context of modern slavery in Australia, it is critical to remember that people are at the heart of such exploitation. These are people coerced, threatened and deceived.

Civil society organisations and businesses have responded to the challenges of modern slavery and created initiatives to address it. But while the developments outlined above are important, it is the most neglected area that should be at the heart of all initiatives. Survivor engagement and the survivor voice have been missing from policy deliberations. As a result, the response has not been informed by the expertise of survivors. A new report seeks to prioritise the centrality of survivor voice and leadership: Beyond Storytelling: Towards Survivor-informed Responses to Modern Slavery.

The Need for Compensation

In all these developments, it is critical that the rights of victims to compensation are recognised.

Anti-Slavery Australia (ASA), established at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), is advocating to introduce a national compensation scheme that will finally provide some recompense to the many victims of modern slavery in this country. As the only specialist legal centre dedicated to the eradication of slavery in Australia through direct legal advice to survivors, research and policy, the Centre has been well-placed to observe the injustices that have arisen through the currently inadequate approach to compensation. This proposed compensation scheme has undergone widespread consultation with industry, legal and community organisations, and will be presented to government within weeks.

An effective remedy should form the basis of any worthwhile discussion on assisting victims of human rights abuses. A remedy will provide survivors with financial security and some certainty, it will allow survivors to make decisions about their lives, and importantly it will acknowledge the harm that has been perpetrated on our watch.

Australia is signatory to many international conventions and treaties, such as the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, which states that signatory countries must develop legal mechanisms to provide protection and compensation to victims.

Yet under the current system of compensation, Australia is unable to deliver on its commitments and instead continues to rely on eight different state-based schemes for this federal offence.

Continuing to rely on a state-based approach to compensation presents various problems, including: inconsistencies between state and territory schemes, such as time frames for reporting; differences in eligibility criteria; differences in definitions of violence, including debt bondage and coercive control; and varying compensation limits, not designed for modern slavery.

This approach is not only illogical but a major obstacle to survivors being able to gain compensation and properly rebuild their lives. It also risks people falling back into positions of vulnerability and slavery. When someone has left a situation of slavery, they often have nothing: no money, no home, no visa and no options. They may have little or no knowledge of their rights or know how to connect with the Australian community. What they are left with is fear: of arrest, deportation, and the revenge of their captor(s). Their mental and physical health is likely to have been impacted. They may have lost weeks, months or even many years of their lives. Relying on state-based compensation schemes designed for other criminal offences, and not designed for modern slavery, is simply not good enough. It is vital that a national compensation scheme for victims of slavery is established to ensure consistency.

The path ahead

As a society, when we think of slavery, we often imagine chains and whips; artefacts and behaviours, that we believe are of a bygone era. While slavery today might be more subtle than that, and may not necessarily involve obvious physical restraint, it is no less repugnant or demeaning of the human condition. It is a gross breach of human rights.

Under international law, a breach of human rights requires a remedy. A national scheme that properly addresses the circumstances of slavery in Australia is an important means to ensure a proper path to justice for survivors.

It is vitally important for all Australians to know that slavery happens here, and to get a sense of what it can look like—as we can all play a role in helping those affected.

At Anti-Slavery Australia we are working to eradicate slavery through free legal services for survivors, conducting research and advocacy, and providing training and advisory services. But we all have a role to play, and we all must do more.

This includes focusing more on the wellbeing of survivors, and doing more to address the lives of the individuals behind the numbers. It is not enough to simply identify a victim-survivor; we have an obligation to help remedy their abuse.

Globally there is an increasing resistance to the protection of human rights and democracy. Australia has an opportunity to illuminate a clear path toward greater engagement and support for survivors of modern slavery.

A national compensation scheme for survivors is a crucial step towards remedying the catastrophic harm and trauma experienced by victims of modern slavery.

Professor Jennifer Burn is a lawyer and director of Anti-Slavery Australia at UTS, the nation’s only specialist legal practice, research and policy centre committed to the abolition of slavery in this country.

The James Martin Institute for Public Policy, in partnership with the Office of the NSW Anti-slavery Commissioner, is convening a series of expert workshops bringing together policymakers, academics and practitioners to discuss challenges and identify opportunities for an effective approach to combat modern slavery, to support the development of the NSW Anti-slavery Commissioner’s first Strategic Plan. This article is one in a series from workshop participants.

Image credit: kemalbas / Getty Images

2022-12-09T08:01:53+11:002 December 2022|

Collaboration is the key to fighting modern slavery

The battle against modern slavery is increasingly occupying the mind of investors—collaboration can contribute to its demise.

I want to share a small anecdote that is still rich in my mind today. In 2011, I was privileged and humbled to take my first field trip for the purposes of assessing ESG (“environmental, social and governance”) at site for suppliers and factories in Hong Kong and China. Though they always showcase the best workshops when I visit, what struck me at the outset was what a complex world manufacturing and supply chains really are, from suppliers, suppliers to suppliers, manufacturers, agents, buyers, factory auditors and sustainability consultants.

When I arrived, people seemed happy and were welcoming. However, as I moved beyond the energy of meeting new people, the facility tours and management presentations, I began to form a picture, at first from small things, and then larger things, on what life was really like for workers. First, I noticed old machinery with no safety markings. I saw the close proximity of workers to each other, and the cramped working conditions. I could see there was little in the form of occupational health and safety. Then finally, I was struck by the biggest realisation of all. Two friendly workers held up a handmade t-shirt for me to photograph. Then the epiphany. This was the very same shirt I had seen in a prominent discounted retailer in Sydney. What do you think was the recommended retail price? $4. Bearing in mind that a retailer has to mark-up such a product by some 100 per cent, leaving $2, and the importer needs their cut, the manufacturer, and then the worker, through their wages. How much of this $2 is left for the people who make the shirt with their labour?

Since then, I have undertaken many field trips: Hong Kong (2011, 2012), China (2011, 2012, 2016), Bangladesh (2014), Cambodia (2018, 2019), and Thailand (2019). The pandemic put these field trips on hold for some time, but I can now schedule more in my research on what matters in supply chains, and most importantly, how we can identify, reduce and ultimately eradicate modern slavery.

Back to the world of investing, you might ask yourself, what is the relevance of modern slavery for investors? The answer might seem apparent to most of The Policymaker’s readers, but for some time it was not so obvious to investors and companies alike. Making it obvious has been one of my missions, and it starts with an investment philosophy.

Take Ausbil, where I work. Our investment philosophy is that we believe earnings growth and revisions drive share prices. We also have a preference for companies with sustainable earnings, good and improving ESG scores, and quality governance and leadership amongst other criteria.

For investors, apart from the moral hazard and ethical concerns that surround the risk of modern slavery, there are also fundamental risks that can impact returns. While this may seem a crude angle, in investing it often helps to appeal to the hip pocket when seeking to achieve a result.

Here is our thesis, well supported by observation. In business, a key risk to earnings is of course brand damage. Brands are key assets and take years, even generations to build. They can add up to a lot of value over time. According to Statista, Apple’s brand equity is valued at USD 355 billion. Toyota’s is USD 64 billion. Brand damage can therefore be costly and time consuming to restore once it has been partially or fully destroyed. For example, in 2020, the share price of UK-listed retailer BooHoo lost 46 per cent of its value on the news of allegations about labour rights issues in its supply chain. It recovered afterwards but the initial reaction was massive. A similar case occurred at Top Glove, a Malaysian glove manufacturer. Allegations published by The Guardian of wage slavery, debt bondage and other human rights abuses in the supply chain of Top Glove had a similar impact on the share price. Moreover, legislation in the US prohibiting imports from hotspots for modern slavery unless importers can prove goods are not made by forced labour saw not just Top Glove but at least six Malaysian companies banned for some time from exporting to the US.

The bottom line is that if you have a business model where earnings rely on underpaid labour, weak regulation or even illegal activities, like modern slavery in the supply chain, the earnings you generate are simply not sustainable from a risk perspective. However, it does not end at earnings. I mentioned quality governance and leadership before as something that we rate as critical in our investment philosophy. If a company in 2022, three years into the era of the Modern Slavery Act, still pays lip service to modern slavery in the supply chain, or does not understand the risks in its supply chain, it begs the question, what else should you be worried about in their business model and practices?

I have engaged with companies on human rights issues, including modern slavery, for over a decade. Since the Commonwealth Modern Slavery Act was passed in 2018, there has been more investor interest in this topic than ever before. As expected, there has been a marked increase in investor interest in modern slavery now that there is an act with a compulsory reporting regime. The Modern Slavery Act requires investors to assess the risk to humans in operations and global supply chains of companies in which we invest.

Say you are an investor who has never looked at the issue of modern slavery. You will quickly discover that it is very different to other ESG issues. Take climate change, for instance. You can choose to not invest in companies that are exposed to increased climate risk, and you can choose to invest in companies that are providing the solution on climate change, and that will benefit from decarbonisation. In this case, some companies have significant risk, and for some there is a significant benefit.

What about modern slavery? The starting point for a risk assessment is that all companies have some element of modern slavery risk in their businesses. It is almost impossible to diversify away from the risk of modern slavery in an investment portfolio. As modern slavery is an existential risk for all firms, it makes sense for everyone to work together in the fight against such human rights abuses in supply chains. Collaboration is sometimes dismissed as a cliché, but in this case, it is the best way to attack such a problem. No government has been able to eradicate modern slavery, nor any company, so how could one investor alone eradicate such risks?

Last year, I reviewed over 250 modern slavery statements issued by listed companies. Sadly, many stop short at a high-level risk analysis, sometimes only spelling out the obvious, without any depth of analysis. More sadly, this is often deliberate. Perhaps, taken individually, these statements may not make such a big impact. But if everyone strives together, the power of collective action does make a difference. Collaboration starts with doing your very best, and taking the extra steps to eradicate modern slavery. If the 250 largest companies listed on the stock exchange each do this, and report it in their annual “Modern Slavery Statements”, this collective action can make a huge difference in not only identifying and reporting the risks of modern slavery, but helping to eradicate it from supply chains.

Only when we act together in a collaborative system can we begin to eliminate the risks that are systemic, like modern slavery. When I say act, I mean actively engage with companies we invest in, trying to find win-win solutions, where workers are better off, companies are better off, we as investors are better off, and we as a community are better off.

In my field trips to places like China, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Thailand, no one ever invites you into a “bad” factory. You only get to see the best factories, but that can also be valuable if you apply the logic. When you go on such trips you get to speak to workers, unions and NGOs on the ground and that can help you understand the complexities and nuances. You can learn what leaders are sourcing responsibly. We can bring this information back to Australia and encourage companies here to follow what international best practice is doing. In our experience, this is a very effective way to engage. We have found that companies are happy to listen to new ideas, particularly when your focus is on win-win solutions for companies, workers and investors alike.

Investors have already established frameworks for collaboration. One example is Investors Against Slavery and Trafficking (IAST-APAC). Another is the Human Rights Working Group of the Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA), of which I am Chair. Last year, we updated an investor toolkit with RIAA on modern slavery, which is a collection of leading practices on responsible sourcing in the corporate world. Investors actively use the examples in this toolkit to encourage local companies to take up those practices.

One such practice includes consolidation of the supply chain, sourcing more from fewer suppliers, which gives the buying company more leverage over the supplier. This makes it more likely that the supplier meets their responsible sourcing criteria. It also gives better visibility over the supply chain. We also encourage companies to develop strong long-term relationships with suppliers, rather than just transactional relationships, and encourage buying companies to incentivise suppliers to monitor conditions further down the supply chain by giving suppliers more business when they comply.

We encourage companies to remove potential conflicts of interest between procurement and responsible sourcing. When I met with supplier factories in Bangladesh, we uncovered a common conundrum. Factory owners often complain that the buying company first sends a responsible sourcing team that makes demands on factory conditions and asks the supplier to take corrective action. The factory owner complies at some expense. Then the buyer’s procurement team arrives, at which point the factory is then only incentivised on price, or the buyer will go elsewhere. This then typically leads to subcontracting, where supply chain risks typically occur, in chains that have not been reviewed by the buyer’s responsible sourcing team. Again, here we have a perfect example of the potential for collaboration to fix the problem, with the power and determination of everyone working together.


Måns Carlsson OAM has been Head of ESG at Ausbil since 2015. In 2022, Måns was recognised as a Member of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to the sustainable investment sector, including special mention of his work on modern slavery.

The James Martin Institute for Public Policy, in partnership with the Office of the NSW Anti-slavery Commissioner, is convening a series of expert workshops bringing together policymakers, academics and practitioners to discuss challenges and identify opportunities for an effective approach to combat modern slavery, to support the development of the NSW Anti-slavery Commissioner’s first Strategic Plan. This article is one in a series from workshop participants.

Image credit: kemalbas / Getty Images

2022-12-02T09:20:46+11:002 December 2022|

Beyond roads, rates and rubbish: innovating city governance around the world

This article was co-authored by Pauline McGuirk, Alistair Sisson, Tom Baker, Robyn Dowling and Sophia Maalsen.

Local governments are vital laboratories for policy innovation and experimentation. How can Australia better harness this potential?

You don’t need to be a fan of the sitcom Parks and Recreation to know the stereotype of local government as arcane, slow, needlessly bureaucratic, and stubbornly resistant to change.

Acknowledging this stereotype (and the elements of truth it contains), local governments—and city governments in particular—are rolling out a range of “innovation” initiatives. These are fueled by international campaigns, supported by organisations ranging from KPMG to Bloomberg Philanthropies to the World Bank and the OECD, to advance visions of more effective, responsive and efficient city government.

Driving this trend is a view of cities as places where the world’s thorniest public policy challenges are most intense.

More than 50 per cent of the world’s population live in cities and the continued concentration of human activity within cities can heighten the challenges posed by climate change, infectious disease transmission, and increasingly unaffordable housing and insecure work—to name just a few.

At the same time, cities are increasingly seen as spaces where the solutions to these problems are closest to hand.

In contrast to the scale of national governments, often judged to be sluggish in response to the major societal problems of our time, the city-scale is presented as one at which innovative solutions can be rapidly developed, trialed, improved, implemented and then replicated or scaled to national or international levels.

Being closer to citizens, city governments are framed as more democratic and accountable. And cities are where networks of powerful institutions and individuals are concentrated. They are places with the mix of resources and skills to deliver innovative policy solutions to contemporary social, economic and environmental challenges.

But, as we ask in a recent paper, what exactly does this trend towards innovation within city governance entail, how does it work, who does it involve, and what are its implications?

There are numerous examples of city innovation labs, offices or teams. Boston’s Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics experiments with and prototypes policies and interventions like additional dwelling units on existing residential properties as a way of increasing housing supply. The Office of Civic Imagination in the city of Bologna, focuses on the “urban commons”, and coordinates participatory and collaborative policymaking between government, citizens and community groups.

Co-design or human-centred design approaches are also prevalent. Mirroring the role of consulting firms like IDEO, Singapore’s internal Public Sector Division Innovation Lab coaches public servants across multiple departments and agencies in these practices.

Relatedly, prototyping policies and projects to drive more agile, responsive and iterative governance is a popular practice—one seen in Vancouver’s City Studio, which pairs university students with city authorities and other private and NGOs to devise and test interventions ranging from migration services to bicycle repair stations.

There has been a proliferation of challenge prizes to source and fund innovative urban solutions, such as the City of Melbourne’s Open Innovation Competition for supporting digital and data-led solutions to the City’s policy objectives. And at a global scale, the Bloomberg Mayors’ Challenge has municipalities compete for million-dollar philanthropic grants to implement “best practice” policies and programs.

It’s tempting to position innovation in city governance as improving service delivery and enhancing the common good. But its disruptions to city governance need to be carefully weighed. Innovation might deliver enhanced citizen participation in government or make it more technocratic, or even reduce its accountability. They might involve enhancing public value or monetising public services.

So, there are some critical questions to be asked of efforts to innovate city governance. What is being innovated and by whom? Who is seen to possess the capacity for innovation? Which problems, values and perspectives are prioritised and which are downplayed as a result? And what changes can city governments realistically determine and deliver given limits on their capacities, resources and—in federal systems like Australia—jurisdictional limitations?

Our early analysis points to a range of other issues that elected officials and policy professionals are grappling with: moving from isolated and time-limited innovation “projects” to more lasting organisational norms and more widely-applicable policies; developing sustainable resourcing, particularly for weathering changes in personnel and political leadership; and how to navigate issues of distributed authority and accountability in partnerships with philanthropic organisations that are active players in the world of city government innovation.

There is much at stake as city governments attempt to shed their Parks and Recreation stereotype, embracing the language and tools of “innovation”, sometimes in ways that are hard to distinguish from the corporate sector-speak of another sitcom: Silicon Valley.

Maintaining a strong sense of public purpose in efforts to innovate within city government, serving citizens over consumers and prioritising social value over narrower financial metrics, will go some way to ensuring we don’t replace one stereotype with another.

Pauline McGuirk is Director of the Australian Centre for Culture, Environment, Society and Space, University of Wollongong. Her work revolves, broadly, around critical studies of urban governance, its changing geographies, material practices and politics, and the differential implications for urban places, communities, subjectivities and power.

Alistair Sisson is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the School of Architecture, Design and Planning, University of Sydney. His work spans housing, stigma, gentrification, urban development, and urban governance.

Tom Baker is senior lecturer in the School of Environment, University of Auckland. His research focuses on how public policies are made and implemented, addressing social, institutional, ideological and spatial dimensions.

Robyn Dowling is Dean of the School of Architecture, Design and Planning, University of Sydney. Her current research is concerned with the ways in which urban governance and urban life are responding to climate change, technological disruptions and the diffusion of innovation practices.

Sophia Maalsen is senior lecturer in the School of Architecture, Design and Planning, University of Sydney. Her research is predominantly situated at the intersection of the digital and material across urban spaces, housing and governance.

You can read their paper, “Innovating Urban Governance: A Research Agenda”, in Progress in Human Geography.

Image credit: kemalbas / Getty Images

2022-12-02T05:26:51+11:0023 November 2022|

Australia’s research funding system is broken—here’s how to fix it

Australian universities contribute to the public good. But we need to be more ambitious about realising their potential. It’s time to remedy and reimagine our research system.

It’s an auspicious time for the Australian higher education sector. A new government and a new minister are in place. A review of the Australian Research Council’s (ARC) legislative framework and operations is underway. A working group is looking at the future of our research assessment exercise (full disclosure: I am on that working group). And finally, a new university “accord” is being developed, led by the Commonwealth, that promises to build consensus on key issues facing the sector. It is potentially a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset some of the fundamental aspects of our higher education system and develop a nation-building, bipartisan vision for Australia’s universities.

At the same time, we are seeing extraordinary new investments in research and development (R&D) globally. The United States announced the largest new investment in research in its history earlier this year—the “CHIPS and Science Act”—worth over $400 billion (AUD) in new funding, including doubling the budget of the National Science Foundation, and, remarkably, with considerable bipartisan support despite a deeply divided Congress.

Given the scale and urgency of the challenges facing Australia and the world today, we will need more high-quality basic research, more multidisciplinary research, and better collaboration between universities, industry, communities, and government. We will also need more highly-skilled graduates able to move between these components of our research system.

Can Australia rise to the challenge?

The challenge is that the way research is supported in Australia is broken. What isn’t in question is the quality of research we produce. Our researchers are among the best in the world however you measure it. And we produce research at scale—with only 0.3 per cent of the global population, we produce 4 per cent of the world’s published research.

Our research-intensive universities are consistently ranked among the top 100 in the world in the research-heavy global rankings. And as we saw during the pandemic, investment in high-quality basic and applied research delivered life-saving benefits. Our clinicians, clinician-researchers, biomedical researchers, social scientists, and others drew on years of training and research to tackle the public health crisis.

But we need to confront the realities facing our research system.

Funding is stagnant, falling in real terms. Working conditions for younger researchers—the lifeblood of our research eco-system—are deteriorating. Many are choosing to leave, given precarious employment and a lack of a clear future. Australia is disinvesting in basic research, which is the cornerstone for all future downstream benefits from research.

Our research funding processes have become politicised, overly bureaucratic, and with punitively low success rates, demoralising many researchers, but also tying up precious resources in exasperating machinations.

The numbers speak for themselves. Based on OECD figures, Australia currently invests only 1.79 per cent of its GDP in R&D. That is well below the OECD average of 2.67 per cent. But more importantly, it is even further behind some of our main competitors, as well as countries we like to compare ourselves with: Germany (3.13 per cent), Japan (3.27 per cent), US (3.45 per cent), South Korea (4.81 per cent), and Israel (5.43 per cent).

That is gross domestic spending on R&D, including private investment. So, it’s not only government that has under-invested, but also Australian companies. Business investment in R&D in Australia is woeful—less than 1 per cent of GDP.

Government higher education expenditure on R&D in Australia is around $12 billion annually. But only about 30 per cent of that is made up of government grants through the National Competitive Research Grants and Research Block Grant funding for the indirect costs of research. Funding for the ARC and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is declining in real terms. Universities cover more than 50 per cent of their spending on R&D from their own funds. Even with recent reforms, the government spends more on the R&D tax credit (about $2.9 billion) than it does on the ARC and NHMRC combined, with considerably less rigorous assessment of value for money. And there is no national interest test for R&D tax claims.

Universities also carry out more than 90 per cent of all basic research, as well as almost half of all applied research. Industry performs less than 40 per cent of all applied research. New funding through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) and the Morrison Government’s commercialisation initiative is welcome, but focused mainly on applied research. The indirect costs of research meant to be supported through the block grant are now mainly carried by universities. At the University of Sydney, for example, we need to find an additional ~$1.50 for every $1 of research grants we receive from the ARC, NHMRC, MRFF and other schemes. This is undermining the long-term sustainability of research in Australia.

A new policy agenda

So, what needs to change? Here are five policy ideas.

First, we need to return to first principles and ask what we want our research system to be. What is research for? Who is it for? At its most basic level, we do research because we want to understand ourselves and the world around us. For universities, it is a critical part of our mission as truth-seeking institutions. But research is also valuable because in pursuing new knowledge and human understanding, we make discoveries that help our societies and economies develop. So, as a first principle, our R&D system should be seen as contributing to the public good. That deep purpose should inform the policy settings we create.

Second, we need to take a holistic approach to our research system. There are at least four distinct parts. First, the role that universities and public research institutions play, which is very much at the early stage of the system. This is where almost all basic research occurs, and where we train our research workforce. Next, are the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that make up most of the Australian economy, as well as start-ups, who are innovating around products and services, but often struggle to capitalise their efforts and develop their businesses. Third are the larger corporate players, who have greater resources and are major employers of graduates, but who are failing to invest in R&D. Finally, there is the investment community, who support translation of new ideas into future products and services. Although venture capital in Australia is growing, it is still considerably smaller per capita than most of our competitors such as Singapore, US, Israel, Canada and France.

Our policy framework should address the different components of the research system. We should be investing to ensure our universities continue to do world class basic research, not forcing the ARC to become more commercially oriented. We also need to consider how we fund basic research more generally. This is the third aspect that needs to change.  For the most part, we fund projects rather than people. And yet this is becoming increasingly unsustainable. The gap between what it costs to do the research and the funding available is growing, putting enormous pressure on university budgets and distorting the business model of our higher education system. Success rates for major funding schemes are punitive—in most cases well below 20 per cent. This is demoralising our researchers and means we are wasting resources given the research that goes unsupported.

We must shift the emphasis from projects to people to stem some of the current distortion in the system. This will mean difficult trade-offs, especially if funding remains stagnant—but that is unavoidable. We should provide more and longer funding periods for early career fellows (5-7 years). And we should be providing more funding, in general, for supporting people (and especially post-docs) in other programs, such as for centres of excellence, investigator grants (in the NHMRC), and laureate fellowships.

This will potentially mean reducing funding for projects in the ARC for example (which makes up 50 per cent of their allocation). We should also be providing more support for building networks (including international collaborations) across disciplines. For example, the ARC runs a successful Centres of Excellence program, which is funded at scale, but usually only every three years.

Almost all the other schemes are targeted at individual fellowships and projects. We need more support targeted explicitly at bringing researchers together in multidisciplinary and multisectoral teams at different stages of development. We also need more national, thematic based initiatives aimed at tackling major challenges, developed by a bipartisan, expert commission, akin to an intergenerational roadmap for research priorities. It is time to ditch “science priorities” or “manufacturing priorities” and instead identify those priorities for Australia that require multidisciplinary strengths across all our disciplines. There isn’t a major challenge facing Australia and the world today that doesn’t require our humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, engineering, and health researchers to work together.

I believe a powerful signal of intent in this regard would be to create a new, single research agency—“Research Australia”—that would combine the ARC and NHMRC (and potentially other government funders). This would create a single portal for researchers, reduce administrative burdens, create greater incentives for multidisciplinary research at scale, drive innovation within government and focus accountability for better research outcomes, which is currently dispersed across at least three different Commonwealth departments.  This agency would be charged with setting our national research direction and working with the entire higher education sector, including government, industry and community.

Fourth, we should be encouraging SMEs and industry leaders to invest in R&D by providing incentives for them to work with publicly funded research institutions (as the 2016 Ferris review recommended) and recruit PhD graduates. There are almost 60,000 PhD students in Australia (a third of which are international), with 10,000 graduating every year. There are not 60,000 new academic jobs likely to be available, but nor does every graduate want to be an academic. Are our companies doing enough to think about how these graduates could help their businesses?  Are universities doing enough to help PhDs consider different pathways? No, on both counts. This is a huge opportunity to deepen and complexify the Australian economy. The Morrison Government provided new funding for 1,800 PhD fellowships in industry-focused areas over 10 years, which is welcome. But that amounts to only an additional 180 students per year in a too narrow range of areas.

Australia is poor at converting its world class research into commercial outcomes: this is the fifth area for reform. Industry-university cooperation is improving, and new schemes to support and encourage those developments are welcome. But they should not come at the expense of investing in the core pillars of the innovation system, such as the ARC, NHMRC and universities more generally. What we lack currently are the structural enablers of university and industry collaboration at scale. The UK has its Catapult centres, and Germany its Fraunhofer Institutes, which are long term, collaborative initiatives intent on building a genuine ecosystem approach to innovation. The Morrison Government introduced its “Trailblazer” program for manufacturing, but it is a pale imitation of these bolder initiatives: too short-term and too narrowly focused.

So, there is much to do, but the opportunity exists to do something significant. Universities need to enable their academics and students to move more freely between academia, industry and community partners, while ensuring this does not slow down their careers. We need to continue to recognise excellence and impact not based solely on publications. Australia’s universities have demonstrated they are willing to invest and change. But government, business and Australia’s investment community also have a critical role. The most radical proposition is that we take collective responsibility for improving the outcomes of our research system for the benefit of all Australians.

Duncan Ivison is Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Sydney. He was Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) from 2015-2022 and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences from 2010-15.

Image credit: simarik / Getty Images

2022-11-23T09:09:58+11:0016 November 2022|

Lessons from a pandemic

COVID-19 exposed significant fault lines in Australian society and revealed weaknesses in our national capabilities. We now have to build the lessons learned into our institutional structures.

The story of Australia during COVID-19 will depend on who’s telling it.

For some, it’s a story of inconvenience. It’s a narrative of cutting our own hair, struggling to exercise and endless Zoom meetings.

But for others, it’s a story of trauma. It’s a tale of lockdowns in overcrowded housing, job loss, deteriorating mental health, isolation and domestic violence. It’s a story of losing loved ones and missing final goodbyes.

These were the heartbreaking stories Jillian Broadbent, Isobel Marshal, Peter Varghese and I heard as we undertook our Independent Review into Australia’s Response to COVID-19.

The Review was a first for Australia. Its terms of reference were not set by a politician. It was entirely independent of government. It was philanthropically funded. It was apolitical.

The more than 350 people who participated in the Review were not compelled to appear. They did not feel obliged to defend a decision in public. Their evidence was entirely confidential.

They participated because they wanted to help answer the Review’s core question: What can Australia learn from the pandemic to be better prepared for the next health crisis?

We did not seek to ascribe blame. Politicians and public servants did their best in the fog of uncertainty in which they had to make decisions.

We titled the Review ‘Fault Lines’ because this is what COVID-19 exposed. The crisis exacerbated inequalities. It exposed vulnerabilities. The adverse consequences of the pandemic were not distributed equally.

We must address societal fault lines in our decision-making, especially in a crisis. This was the core finding of our Review.

Australia got many things right. The financial support extended was important. So was our initial health response to such an uncertain disease. But we got four consequential matters badly wrong.

First, economic supports should have been provided more fairly. Casual workers, migrants and international students should not have been excluded. Sick leave should have been immediately provided to all workers, JobKeeper should have had a clawback mechanism for employers whose profits rose significantly.

Second, lockdowns and border closures were overused. Initially these are useful measures to buy time and prepare. But many were the result of policy failures in quarantine, procurement of vaccines and equipment, contact tracing, testing and disease surveillance. Too many were guided by politics.

Third, school systems should have stayed open. Closing schools was a mistake when we knew that children were unlikely to be severely ill when infected and that schools were low transmission environments. The costs of educational disruption and increased mental stress will continue for years.

Fourth, older Australians should have been better protected. Making it difficult for aged care residents to transfer to hospital when they contracted COVID 19 was a mistake. It cost many lives.

We take five lessons from these shortcomings: we must have societal fault lines front of mind when we make decisions; we must better plan, prepare and practice for future health crises; we must avoid the perils of overreach; we must be transparent, clear and consistent in making and communicating decisions; and we must better balance competing trade-offs between health, social and economic outcomes.

It’s not enough to note these lessons. Building these lessons into institutional structures is the goal of our six recommendations.

First, we need to strengthen crisis preparation, planning and scenario testing. Australia’s pandemic plans were not regularly tested. Many key actors didn’t even know they existed. It’s little wonder they were quickly discarded. Failing to plan is planning to fail.

Second, we need an expert body and trusted voice on public health. We need a fully independent Australian Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, with complete access to national data. Australia is the only OECD country that doesn’t have one.

Third, we need to improve government decision-making. We should establish a panel of multidisciplinary experts and representatives—not just health experts—to advise governments during crises. We should better harness the frontline experience of business, unions, the community sector and local government. We also need to publicly release the modelling and evidence used in government decision-making. Transparency creates trust.

Fourth, we need to enhance public service capability. It is imperative that governments authorise better collaboration between jurisdictions and strengthen their collective capabilities, particularly in data, digital skills and communication.

Fifth, we need to significantly enhance how governments use data. We must improve the collection, linking and sharing of real-time data while keeping it safe and protecting privacy. Only then can we adapt our crisis response as new evidence comes to light.

Finally, we need to build a culture of evaluation and learning in the public sector. We should establish a politically independent Office of the Evaluator General to assess which policies work, which don’t and how they can be improved, particularly in a crisis.

The wisdom of hindsight only comes if we have the wisdom to seek it. We won’t be prepared for the next pandemic if we don’t learn from the current one. And one thing is certain: there will be another.


Peter Shergold, the Chancellor of Western Sydney University, is Chair of the James Martin Institute for Public Policy. He headed the panel which undertook the independent review of Australia’s response to global pandemic.

Image credit: simarik / Getty Images

2022-11-16T06:55:02+11:0014 November 2022|
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