Privacy erosion by design: why the Federal Court should throw the book at Google over location data tracking


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Jeannie Marie Paterson, The University of Melbourne and Elise Bant, The University of Western AustraliaThe Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has had a significant win against Google. The Federal Court found Google misled some Android users about how to disable personal location tracking.

Will this decision actually change the behaviour of the big tech companies? The answer will depend on the size of the penalty awarded in response to the misconduct.




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ACCC ‘world first’: Australia’s Federal Court found Google misled users about personal location data


In theory, the penalty is A$1.1 million per contravention. There is a contravention each time a reasonable person in the relevant class is misled. So the total award could, in theory, amount to many millions of dollars.

But the actual penalty will depend on how the court characterises the misconduct. We believe Google’s behaviour should not be treated as a simple accident, and the Federal Court should issue a heavy fine to deter Google and other companies from behaving this way in future.

Misleading conduct and privacy settings

The case arose from the representations made by Google to users of Android phones in 2018 about how it obtained personal location data.

The Federal Court held Google had misled some consumers by representing that “having Web & App Activity turned ‘on’ would not allow Google to obtain, retain and use personal data about the user’s location”.

In other words, some consumers were misled into thinking they could control Google’s location data collection practices by switching “off” Location History, whereas Web & App Activity also needed to be disabled to provide this protection.




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The ACCC also argued consumers reading Google’s privacy statement would be misled into thinking personal data was collected for their own benefit rather than Google’s. However, the court dismissed this argument on the grounds that reasonable users wanting to turn the Location History “off”

would have assumed that Google was obtaining as much commercial advantage as it could from use of the user’s personal location data.

This is surprising and might deserve further attention from regulators concerned to protect consumers from corporations “data harvesting” for profit.

How much should Google pay?

The penalty and other enforcement orders against Google will be made at a later date.

The aim of the penalty is to deter Google specifically, and other firms like Google, from engaging in misleading conduct again. If penalties are too low they may be treated by wrongdoing firms as merely a “cost of doing business”.

However, in circumstances where there is a high degree of corporate culpability, the Federal Court has shown willingness to award higher amounts than in the past. This has occurred even where the regulator has not sought higher penalties. In the recent Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft v ACCC judgement, the full Federal Court confirmed an award of A$125 million against Volkswagen for making false representations about compliance with Australian diesel emissions standards.

The Federal Court found Google’s information about local data tracking was misleading.
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In setting Google’s penalty, a court will consider factors such as the nature and extent of the misleading conduct and any loss to consumers. The court will also take into account whether the wrongdoer was involved in “deliberate, covert or reckless conduct, as opposed to negligence or carelessness”.

At this point, Google may well argue that only some consumers were misled, that it was possible for consumers to be informed if they read more about Google’s privacy policies, that it was only one slip-up, and that its contravention of the law was unintentional. These might seem to reduce the seriousness or at least the moral culpability of the offence.

But we argue they should not unduly cap the penalty awarded. Google’s conduct may not appear as “egregious and deliberately deceptive” as the Volkswagen case.

But equally Google is a massively profitable company that makes its money precisely from obtaining, sorting and using its users’ personal data. We think therefore the court should look at the number of Android users potentially affected by the misleading conduct and Google’s responsibility for its own choice architecture, and work from there.

Only some consumers?

The Federal Court acknowledged not all consumers would be misled by Google’s representations. The court accepted many consumers would simply accept the privacy terms without reviewing them, an outcome consistent with the so-called privacy paradox. Others would review the terms and click through to more information about the options for limiting Google’s use of personal data to discover the scope of what was collected under the “Web & App Activity” default.




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This might sound like the court was condoning consumers’ carelessness. In fact the court made use of insights from economists about the behavioural biases of consumers in making decisions.

Consumers have limited time to read legal terms and limited ability to understand the future risks arising from those terms. Thus, if consumers are concerned about privacy they might try to limit data collection by selecting various options, but are unlikely to be able to read and understand privacy legalese like a trained lawyer or with the background understanding of a data scientist.

If one option is labelled “Location History”, it is entirely rational for everyday consumers to assume turning it off limits location data collection by Google.

The number of consumers misled by Google’s representations will be difficult to assess. But even if a small proportion of Android users were misled, that will be a very large number of people.

There was evidence before the Federal Court that, after press reports of the tracking problem, the number of consumers switching off the “Web” option increased by 500%. Moreover, Google makes considerable profit from the large amounts of personal data it gathers and retains, and profit is important when it comes deterrence.

Google’s choice architecture

It has also been revealed that some employees at Google were not aware of the problem until an exposé in the press. An urgent meeting was held, referred to internally as the “Oh Shit” meeting.

The individual Google employees at the “Oh Shit” meeting may not have been aware of the details of the system. But that is not the point.

It is the company fault that is the question. And a company’s culpability is not just determined by what some executive or senior employee knew or didn’t know about its processes. Google’s corporate mindset is manifested or revealed in the systems it designs and puts in place.




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Google designed the information system that faced consumers trying to manage their privacy settings. This kind of system design is sometimes referred to as “choice architecture”.

Here the choices offered to consumers steered them away from opting out of Google collecting, retaining and using personal location data.

The “Other Options” (for privacy) information failed to refer to the fact that location tracking was carried out via other processes beyond the one labelled “Location History”. Plus, the default option for “Web & App Activity” (which included location tracking) was set as “on”.

This privacy eroding system arose via the design of the “choice architecture”. It therefore warrants a serious penalty.The Conversation

Jeannie Marie Paterson, Professor of Law, The University of Melbourne and Elise Bant, Professor of Law, The University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

ACCC ‘world first’: Australia’s Federal Court found Google misled users about personal location data


Henry Perks / Unsplash

Katharine Kemp, UNSWThe Federal Court has found Google misled some users about personal location data collected through Android devices for two years, from January 2017 to December 2018.

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) says this decision is a “world first” in relation to Google’s location privacy settings. The ACCC now intends to seek various orders against Google. These will include monetary penalties under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), which could be up to A$10 million or 10% of Google’s local turnover.

Other companies too should be warned that representations in their privacy policies and privacy settings could lead to similar liability under the ACL.

But this won’t be a complete solution to the problem of many companies concealing what they do with data, including the way they share consumers’ personal information.

How did Google mislead consumers about their location history?

The Federal Court found Google’s previous location history settings would have led some reasonable consumers to believe they could prevent their location data being saved to their Google account. In fact, selecting “Don’t save my Location History in my Google Account” alone could not achieve this outcome.

Users needed to change an additional, separate setting to stop location data from being saved to their Google account. In particular, they needed to navigate to “Web & App Activity” and select “Don’t save my Web & App Activity to my Google Account”, even if they had already selected the “Don’t save” option under “Location History”.




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ACCC Chair Rod Sims responded to the Federal Court’s findings, saying:

This is an important victory for consumers, especially anyone concerned about their privacy online, as the Court’s decision sends a strong message to Google and others that big businesses must not mislead their customers.

Google has since changed the way these settings are presented to consumers, but is still liable for the conduct the court found was likely to mislead some reasonable consumers for two years in 2017 and 2018.

ACCC has misleading privacy policies in its sights

This is the second recent case in which the ACCC has succeeded in establishing misleading conduct in a company’s representations about its use of consumer data.

In 2020, the medical appointment booking app HealthEngine admitted it had disclosed more than 135,000 patients’ non-clinical personal information to insurance brokers without the informed consent of those patients. HealthEngine paid fines of A$2.9 million, including approximately A$1.4 million relating to this misleading conduct.




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The ACCC has two similar cases in the wings, including another case regarding Google’s privacy-related notifications and a case about Facebook’s representations about a supposedly privacy-enhancing app called Onavo.

In bringing proceedings against companies for misleading conduct in their privacy policies, the ACCC is following the US Federal Trade Commission which has sued many US companies for misleading privacy policies.

The ACCC has more cases in the wings about data privacy.
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Will this solve the problem of confusing and unfair privacy policies?

The ACCC’s success against Google and HealthEngine in these cases sends an important message to companies: they must not mislead consumers when they publish privacy policies and privacy settings. And they may receive significant fines if they do.

However, this will not be enough to stop companies from setting privacy-degrading terms for their users, if they spell such conditions out in the fine print. Such terms are currently commonplace, even though consumers are increasingly concerned about their privacy and want more privacy options.

Consider the US experience. The US Federal Trade Commission brought action against the creators of a flashlight app for publishing a privacy policy which didn’t reveal the app was tracking and sharing users’ location information with third parties.




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However, in the agreement settling this claim, the solution was for the creators to rewrite the privacy policy to disclose that users’ location and device ID data are shared with third parties. The question of whether this practice was legitimate or proportionate was not considered.

Major changes to Australian privacy laws will also be required before companies will be prevented from pervasively tracking consumers who do not wish to be tracked. The current review of the federal Privacy Act could be the beginning of a process to obtain fairer privacy practices for consumers, but any reforms from this review will be a long time coming.


This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on UNSW Newsroom.The Conversation

Katharine Kemp, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, UNSW, and Academic Lead, UNSW Grand Challenge on Trust, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Dutton humiliates defence force chief Angus Campbell over citation


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraPeter Dutton has begun his tenure as defence minister by delivering a very public slap to his most senior military adviser, chief of the Australian Defence Force Angus Campbell.

Dutton’s overriding of Campbell’s initial command decision to revoke a meritorious unit citation that had been awarded to some 3,000 special forces soldiers who served in Afghanistan is a humiliation to the general who is supposedly in command of the military.

The minister’s claim that he has full faith in Campbell does not alter this point.

On an issue that goes to the core of military professionalism, ethics and discipline, the government has not trusted Campbell’s judgment.

The opposition is no better – it has supported Dutton’s decision.

We don’t know how Campbell is taking it, but Dutton says he’s “pragmatic”. In such circumstances, some military leaders would be considering their position.

The salt has been rubbed in by Dutton seeking to highlight the override, with a leaked story in The Australian and media interviews.

Dutton’s argument that “the decision [Campbell] made in the first instance is perfectly reasonable. But my judgment is that we look at the circumstances now,” doesn’t pass (as the government might say) the pub test.

Of course the government overrule effectively came months ago, after the release of the Brereton report on allegations of misconduct by Australian special forces in Afghanistan, which said the citation should be revoked.

The war crimes inquiry said there was “credible information” of 23 incidents in which one or more non-combatants or prisoners of war “were unlawfully killed by or at the direction of members of the Special Operations Task Group”. It recommended the ADF chief refer 36 matters to the Australian Federal Police for criminal investigation, involving 19 individuals.

Faced with pressure from veterans and from some within the special forces, Scott Morrison was quick to indicate he opposed the proposal to revoke the citation, and Campbell began a tactical retreat.

Former defence minister Linda Reynolds smoothed the waters to give time for consideration. But it was always clear what was going to happen.

A less assertive minister, however, might have found a form of announcement to allow Campbell to have saved a little more face (assuming he wished to).

As he grasps the reins of a portfolio he has long coveted, Dutton is sending the message that (unlike his predecessor) he wants be an activist minister who is in the public eye.

In considering how the citation award has been handled, it is important to understand exactly what it is.

The Brereton inquiry made separate recommendations about the Meritorious Unit Citation which went to the Special Operations Task Group, and individual awards, and it explained the reasons for viewing them differently.

“Although many members of the Special Operations Task Group demonstrated great courage and commitment and although it had considerable achievements, what is now known must disentitle the unit as a whole to eligibility for recognition for sustained outstanding service.

“It has to be said that what this Report discloses is disgraceful and a profound betrayal of the Australian Defence Force’s professional standards and expectations. It is not meritorious.

“The inquiry has recommended the revocation of the award of the Meritorious Unit Citation, as an effective demonstration of the collective responsibility and accountability of the Special Operations Group as a whole for those events.

“In contrast, the cancellation of an individual award such as a distinguished service award impacts on the status and reputation of the individual concerned, could not be undertaken on a broad-brush collective basis, and would require procedural fairness.”

Brereton is making a very reasonable distinction between collective and individual responsibility, and the need to send a broad signal about, and from, the collective.

In rejecting Campbell’s judgment, Dutton and the government have rebuffed the official inquiry, led by a distinguished and experienced judge – a bad look of the political taking precedence over the legal.

One has to wonder just how much will finally be delivered as a result of the Brereton investigation. The process to get prosecutions for alleged crimes is underway but by its nature it will be incredibly complex and difficult.

Which, one could argue, made it even more important to carry through the symbolic gesture of removing the citation.

Meanwhile on another front, Morrison on Monday announced a royal commission into past suicides in the defence forces and among veterans.

This wasn’t the government’s preference. Its plan was for an ongoing commissioner on the issue, but that did not satisfy many families and veterans, and the government couldn’t muster the parliamentary numbers.

Now both processes will be undertaken, the government says.

The outcome on these very different issues – the citation and the royal commission – reflect the political power of veterans.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Incomplete strategy and niche contributions — Australia leaves Afghanistan after 20 years


Department of Defence/AAP

John Blaxland, Australian National UniversityPrime Minister Scott Morrison has declared Australia will withdraw its remaining 80 troops from Afghanistan by September, marking the end of its longest involvement in a war.

This follows President Joe Biden announcing the United States will leave Afghanistan by September.

The path to this point has appeared inevitable for years. Ten years ago, journalist Karen Middleton highlighted the futility of the counterinsurgency campaign in her aptly-titled book, An Unwinnable War.

High hopes dashed

Back in 2001, it all seemed so different. Only weeks after the September 11 attacks, Australian special forces deployed to southern Afghanistan alongside US, Canadian, British and other NATO troops to defeat al-Qaeda, who was hosted by the then-Afghan government, known as the Taliban.

Prime Minister John Howard talks to troops in Afghanistan in 2007.
Prime Minister John Howard, seen here with troops in 2007, sent Australia to Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
Department of Defence/AAP

After dusting off their boots and leaving in early 2002, Australian forces were drawn back in 2005 with a special forces task group. This was followed by an engineering reconstruction task force that over time morphed into a mentoring task force, intended to help the Afghan national security forces establish law and order.

But without a clear strategy for effective governance and widespread corruption, the Taliban returned with a vengeance. The mentoring created opportunities for so-called “green on blue” attacks, which contributed to the deaths of a number of Australians.

By 2014, 41 Australian soldiers had been killed. Many understandably wondered: was it worth it?

Australia’s niche approach

Australian politicians and policy makers were always risk-averse about the commitment. Eager to avoid casualties on the scale of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War (where 500 Australians were killed), successive governments opted to make niche contributions that relied on critical support and leadership from US and other allies.

But never wanting to manage everything itself left Australia vulnerable.

For example, Australia handed detainees to Afghan authorities who, soon enough released them. Some of these, it appears, ended up fighting against Australians again.

With special forces, in particular, undertaking rotation after rotation, operating without a compelling strategy and running into such characters repeatedly would have tested their resolve to operate ethically. In this context, it is not surprising their actions have generated enormous controversy addressed in the Brereton Report.




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Building ADF skills and experience

Defenders of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan reflect on how the operational experience has honed the force. It enabled the components of the Australian Defence Force to sharpen their skills, refine their procedures and improve their capabilities. This includes the acquisition of advanced American military technology seen as crucial for an (at least partly) self-reliant defence posture for Australia.

Having a capable and sharp-edged defence force is a worthy goal. The question still remains whether the price was justified.




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As the US plans its Afghan troop withdrawal, what was it all for?


The lack of involvement in international strategy formulation left Australia vulnerable to incoherent policy-making and planning by US political and military leaders. This may not affect Australia directly. But America’s US$2 trillion dollar expenditure on the campaign points to a spectacular failure of political and military leadership.

Back in 2001, the so-called “unipolar moment” — with the US as an unchallenged superpower — seemed enduring. Two decades later, a three-pronged series of challenges relating to great power contestation, looming environmental catastrophe and a spectrum of governance challenges (including terrorism, people and drug smuggling, and corruption) suggests the Afghan project distracted many countries — including Australia — from addressing other more pressing global issues.

There were other options

This does not mean the complete withdrawal was the only possibility. There could have been a compromise arrangement to protect the rights of women and institutions of Afghan civil society. This would have required buy-in from neighbouring states including the “stans”, India, Russia, China and Iran, let alone the invested European powers.

But Biden’s declaration of withdrawal has emboldened the Taliban and makes any such outcome now virtually impossible to secure. Indeed, with al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State resurgent, we may come to deeply regret not persisting with maintaining a modest foothold there, akin to the level of support provided by NATO that has endured in the Balkans for decades since the war broke out there in the 1990s.

Most of our work now lost

As we look back, Australia did work to improve the lives and livelihoods of the people of Afghanistan, particularly in Uruzgan province, where Australian forces were stationed from 2005—2013.

However, most of that work has now been lost and many of Australia’s interlocutors there killed, intimidated into submission or chased away. Some, thankfully, have made it to Australia as refugees.

We owe it, particularly to those who worked with Australia, to offer them a better future, including by inviting them here and welcoming them, much as we, belatedly, took in refugees fleeing from Vietnam after that war ended.

Meanwhile, in Australia, the price is still being paid for an incomplete strategy, with ongoing trauma for our veterans and their families and lives being lost.The Conversation

John Blaxland, Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What’s the risk if Australia opens its international borders? An epidemiologist explains


Tony Blakely, The University of MelbourneCoinciding with the Trans-Tasman travel bubble starting today, over the past week there have been murmurings Australia could soon relax its borders further, through mechanisms such as home quarantine or letting in vaccinated people.

But what are the risks?

Here I propose three things we must consider:

  • the prevalence of the virus in the country from where travellers are coming, including the strain of virus
  • measures taken for the people travelling, including home quarantine and whether travellers are vaccinated
  • the percentage of our population who are immune.

Importantly, all these factors matter. It’s not simply a case of needing to ensure all travellers are vaccinated.

The level of infection in the country of origin matters enormously

At around Christmas time, roughly 2% of the UK population was infected. That percentage is now considerably less, but it’s still likely around 1,000 times higher or more than the risk in China and other East Asian countries. The risk is near zero for New Zealand, Taiwan and many Pacific countries.

However, things will change. At the moment the United States seems to be maintaining high infection rates while also rapidly vaccinating the population. This is probably because of more transmissible variants, and society loosening up, offsetting gains from more people being immune. But at some point, perhaps around mid-year, the infection rate in the US should plummet as the percentage of people immune increases to somewhere around 60-80%. All this is to say we can expect infection rates in countries to vary a lot in the next six to 12 months.




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Let’s work through an example of the United Kingdom. Assume the UK has another surge of infections such that 0.5% of British people are infected and unaware of it, and could jump on a plane to Australia. Let’s assume we decide to let 10,000 Brits come to Australia each month. So 0.5% of 10,000 would mean roughly 50 infected people arriving per month.

Mitigating the risk of travellers

Of course, we would do more to reduce the risk. We could test people before they get on the plane and when they arrive. Let’s assume that weeds out another 50%, as the other half may be still incubating and not yet testing positive. That’s 25 COVID-positive British people arriving per month.

Next, let’s assume we require all travellers to be vaccinated. That will reduce their risk of unwittingly carrying the virus (through either symptomatic or asymptomatic infection) by between 66% for the UK variant and 81% for “normal” virus for the AstraZeneca vaccine. Data are still sketchy on any infection for Pfizer, but it’s likely 90% or more, given 95% protection against symptomatic disease in Pfizer’s clinical trial. If we assume 80%, we are now down to five infected Brits arriving here per month.

Importantly, the vaccine also reduces both the duration of the disease and its infectiousness, for vaccinated people unlucky enough to get infected. We don’t know by how much as the real-world evidence is still accruing, although animal data on peak viral load and duration of likely infective viral load supports this contention.

If we assume (conservatively in my view) that there is a 50% reduction in duration and 50% reduction in peak infectivity for hapless vaccinated people who still get infected, that is 25% of the risk of passing it on (that is, 50% of 50%).

Therefore, if an unvaccinated person, infected with the UK variant, was going to infect an average of 3.5 people in the absence of any social measures such as mask-wearing, the infected-after-vaccination person would only infect 0.875 other people – a 75% reduction in the reproductive rate. So our remaining five infected Brits are less infectious.

Intensity of quarantine measures for arrivals

Let’s consider the option of home quarantine. We don’t know how effective this will be, because of potential compliance issues.

But the risk of home quarantine breaches can be reduced by technology like ankle bracelets, GPS tracking on travellers’ phones to ensure they stay home, and only allowing home quarantine if any other members of the household are also vaccinated, to give an extra layer of protection.

Let’s assume home quarantine with these extra measures stops 80% of infected people getting out and about in Australia while infectious.

So we are now down to one infected British person who has slipped through per month. But given they are also vaccinated, they’re less likely to pass on the infection. And this risk can be reduced further still by ensuring they’re wearing a mask – although if they “breached” home quarantine rules they may not be likely to wear a mask.

It’s important to remember even “proper” quarantine isn’t foolproof. About one in 250 infected people last year in hotel quarantine caused a leakage.

Is Australia a tinderbox?

Yes. Perhaps only 5% of us are immune. Even if, via the above measures, we get just one infected person a month in Australia – the situation could blow up. Keep in mind the above example assumes we’re only allowing travellers from one country too. More countries means more travellers means more risk – although as above, the risk varies based on the infection rate in the origin country.

You can play with various scenarios in our COVID-19 Pandemic Trade-offs tool, launched two weeks ago. What you’ll find is that until most adults in Australia are vaccinated, any loosening up of how we respond to the virus incursion is unwise. If contact tracing cannot mop up the inevitable incursions, we’ll still need to use social restrictions, including lockdowns, until the vaccination rollout is complete.

But we can probably think about inching forward to some increased risk once all over-50s are vaccinated (phase 2A), with some modest relaxation of the border. Yet we can never totally escape the risk of outbreaks.

So what can we do now with borders?

First, continue with the Trans-Tasman bubble.




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Second, remove or greatly reduce quarantine for vaccinated travellers from many East Asian countries, which present a low risk to Australia. As an example, the average number of known active infectious people in China at any point in time recently is about 250. Let’s assume this equates to about 100 unknown infections at any point in time (that is, people who are not yet symptomatic or detected). For a population of 1.4 billion, that’s a 0.000007% risk of any person in China being infected.

This suggests that for 10,000 vaccinated arrivals from China per month with modified quarantine, the expected number of infected people unwittingly getting out into the Australian population per month is 0.000014. Or, put another way, our above UK example presents 70,000 times the risk of an arrival from China. Given such low risk, it’s hard to justify why university students from China cannot start in time for semester two this year if they’re vaccinated and going into some form of modified quarantine.

Third, we need a national framework to assess the risk. Focusing on one measure alone isn’t wise — you have to look at the whole system. Such a framework can be developed now, at the same time as setting our risk thresholds so policy-makers, airlines and other industries can start planning.The Conversation

Tony Blakely, Professor of Epidemiology, Population Interventions Unit, Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As the US plans its Afghan troop withdrawal, what was it all for?


David Goldman/AP

Jared Mondschein, University of SydneyUnlike most US presidents, Joe Biden did not come to the White House with many fixed ideological positions. He did, however, come with fixed values. Chief among them is understanding how US policies impact working American families.

In his nearly half century of experience in and around Washington, Biden was known to ask any staffers using academic or elitist language to

pick up your phone, call your mother, read her what you just told me […] If she understands, we can keep talking.

The debate about the nearly 20-year US presence in Afghanistan has challenged three prior US presidents — George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Yet Biden, as the first US president in 40 years to have had a child who served in combat, sees things differently.

There undoubtedly remains a strategic argument — albeit shared by increasingly fewer Americans — for maintaining a US presence in Afghanistan. Namely, that it would continue to prevent terrorists from once again making safe haven there.

But Biden’s announcement that he would withdraw the remaining US troops by September essentially meant he saw no way of making the parent of another soldier killed in Afghanistan understand such an argument. As he said,

Our reasons for remaining in Afghanistan have become increasingly unclear.

Biden said it is ‘time for America’s troops to come home’.
Andrew Harnik / POOL/EPA

Shifting US support for the war

Today, most Americans agree with him.

When the longest war in American history began, 83% of Americans were in favour of it. But by 2019, 41% of Americans simply had no opinion on whether the US had accomplished its goals in Afghanistan.

Perhaps clearer than the US rationale for maintaining troops in Afghanistan is the fact Americans are dramatically less concerned about terrorism than they were 20 years ago.

A woman embracing her husband after his return from a deployment to Afghanistan in 2014.
David Goldman/AP

One month after the September 11, 2001, attacks, 71% of Americans said they were worried about a terror attack.

But by July 2020, terrorism ranked last in a list of ten issues that Americans deemed to be a “very big problem in the country today.” Climate change, violent crime, unemployment, government ethics, and racial injustice were all deemed more important.

And in February of this year, Americans were asked what of 20 options should be given “top priority” as a long-range foreign policy goal. The top-ranked priority, with 75% in support, was “protecting the jobs of American workers”.

The very last one? “Promoting democracy in other nations”, at just 20%.




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What was it all for?

The rationale for maintaining US troops in Afghanistan was not only unclear to most Americans, it also became unclear to a growing number of US veterans. In late 2019, 44% of veterans said they supported US troop reductions from Afghanistan — compared to just 33% of the general public.

As Biden reminded the world in his announcement, the US invaded Afghanistan to root out al-Qaeda and prevent future terror attacks on the US. He posited the death of Osama bin Laden and the degradation of al-Qaeda were evidence of success on that front.

But both of those were accomplished a decade ago — leading Biden to wonder what had been accomplished since then, and what could be accomplished in the future.

More than 2,400 American service members were killed in Afghanistan and more than 20,000 were wounded.
Massoud Hossaini/AP

More than a decade ago, the Obama administration fiercely debated the merits of decreasing the US troop presence in Afghanistan. Around that time, a US Marine colonel who did multiple deployments to the region reflected to me about the many Marines he lost there and the parents he consoled. He asked a simple question:

What exactly am I supposed to tell these mothers that their sons died for?

Ultimately, the withdrawal of US troops has led veterans and non-veterans alike to ask another question that others have asked in the past: What was it all for?




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It remains unclear if the more than 2,400 US troop and personnel deaths, US$2 trillion and 20 years achieved anything truly lasting on the ground in Afghanistan.

Yet, perhaps the greatest legacy from the US war in Afghanistan should not be something the US gained, but instead what it lost — unbridled confidence in and dependence on US hard power.

Such humility and restraint may be exactly what is needed for the challenge the Biden administration wants to focus on most, and is perhaps most relevant to the American working family: rebuilding at home.The Conversation

Jared Mondschein, Senior Advisor, US Studies Centre, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

To abandon vaccination targets is to abandon the mantle of leadership


Peter Gahan, The University of Melbourne and Jesse E. Olsen, The University of MelbourneThe Australian government has abandoned its ambitious targets to have the adult population vaccinated by the end of October. It has, in fact, abandoned having any target.

We all sometimes find ourselves in tough positions and just want to call it a day. But this decision is not what we should expect from the nation’s leaders when so much is at stake. It also goes against decades of research and evidence on the importance of goal-setting.

In January Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the plan was to have four million Australians vaccinated by the end of March, and the entire adult population by the end of October. At the start of April, however, the actual number was less than 842,000. (As of April 15 the number was just over 1.4 million doses.)

Then, on April 11, in a video posted to his Facebook page at 11:35pm, Morrison announced there would be no more targets. “We are just getting on with it,” he said.

But without any target, what is the “it” we should be “getting on with”?


Australia's vaccination score card as of April 4 2021.
Australia’s vaccination score card as of April 4 2021. Don’t expect to see any more of these.
Australian Government/Department of Health, CC BY-SA

Imagine if at your next work meeting the boss echoed the prime minister’s words that “one of the things about COVID is it writes its own rules” and said something like:

This quarter, rather than set targets that can get knocked about by every to and fro, we are just getting on with it.

Will these words inspire your team to succeed?

According to leadership research, good management necessarily entails influencing others to achieve goals or objectives. This is a point made even in introductory undergraduate management textbooks.

To abandon goals or targets is, by definition, to abandon the mantle of leadership.




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When goals work

Study after study has demonstrated why setting ambitious targets is important for virtually any activity — from turning a couch potato into a marathon runner, to putting an astronaut on the Moon, to building a driverless car.

Of course, just setting an ambitious goal is not enough. Done poorly, they can be discouraging and undermine performance, and even lead people to behave unethically. To work, people and organisations need to have the capabilities and resources to address unexpected twists and turns, as well as strategy to manage risks and overcome any barriers that crop up.

But so long as goals are set with these things in mind, they help achieve results, driving creativity, innovation and performance.

We already see evidence of this in COVID vaccinations overseas.

The US government’s Operation Warp Speed, the private-public partnership to develop and distribute multiple vaccines in record time, started with this goal:

to deliver tens of millions of doses of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine — with demonstrated safety and efficacy, and approved or authorised by the US Food and Drug administration for use in the US population by the end of 2020, and to have as many as 300 million doses deployed by mid-2021.

The goal was both ambitious and specific, defining the “it” that everyone should “get on with”. It formed the basis for planning that has started paying dividends after a year of death and economic destruction.

Goal setting and effective leadership

The federal government’s decision to abandon goals goes against research the Commonwealth itself commissioned just a few years ago.

In 2015, the federal Department of Employment and Workplace Relations funded the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Workplace Leadership to survey more than 3,500 Australian workplaces about how the quality of management and leadership affects productivity and innovation.

The Study of Australian Leadership, which surveyed both private and public sector organisations, found very basic management practices to be among the most important drivers of organisational performance and innovation. These basic practices include setting clear and ambitious targets, communicating them, and regularly monitoring progress.

Scott Morrison communicates via a Facebook video on April 11 that the Australian government has abandoned vaccination uptake targets.
Scott Morrison communicates via a Facebook video on April 11 that the Australian government has abandoned vaccination uptake targets.
Facebook

Leading rapid implementation

Given the evidence, any government with claims to having competent leadership should be setting and communicating a clear and ambitious goal for its vaccination roll-out.

Successful roll-outs in other countries show this should be done in consultation with local and regional governments, health professionals and key players in the public and private sectors (who must also be involved in the design and implementation of strategies and processes).

Given the federal government’s own limited capacities at the local level (public hospitals, for example, are run by the state and territory governments), its engagement with other stakeholders must be meaningful — not just lip service. It must also resist the urge to control everything.

Let there be goals

When faced with complex problems, getting agreement on ambitious goals can be extremely powerful. Nor does it need to take forever, as is often claimed. Australia’s response to the pandemic in 2020 largely shows this.

There will be challenges with meeting targets. Vaccine supplies are limited. There will be hiccups. But abandoning any sense of ambition is not the answer.

Because COVID “writes its own rules”, as Morrison has rightly pointed out, the federal government should pursue multiple alternative paths to achieving its goals. In other words, it should not put all it eggs in one basket, as it did with its plan to rely on local GPs to deliver vaccines, rather than use “vaccination hubs” as other nations have done.




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Abandoning vaccination targets now undermines all that has been sacrificed to be in the relatively good position the nation is now in. The economic and social costs, as well as the potential further loss of life, will mount unless the Morrison government reconsiders its misguided decision.

It must put aside concerns about the political fallout of missing targets. We cannot “get on with it” without leadership that defines the “it” to be gotten on with.The Conversation

Peter Gahan, Professor of Management, Faculty of Business and Economics, The University of Melbourne and Jesse E. Olsen, Senior Lecturer, Dept of Management & Marketing, Faculty of Business & Economics, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Remembering Andrew Peacock, a Liberal leader of intelligence, wit and charm


AAP/Paul Miller

Ian Hancock, Australian National UniversityAndrew Sharp Peacock, for so long “the coming man” of Australian politics, has died in the United States aged 82.

Born in 1939, he was educated at Scotch College, Melbourne, acquired a law degree at the University of Melbourne, where he also met his first wife, Susan Rossiter, the daughter of Victorian Liberal politician Sir John Rossiter.

By the age of 26 he had been president of the Victorian Young Liberals and became president of the Victorian Division of the Liberal Party at a time when Victoria was the Liberals’ “jewel in the crown”.

Liberal warhorses, of whom Senator Magnus Cormack was one, saw Peacock as the future of the Liberal Party. Peacock also gained an impeccable contact with the past when, in 1966, he succeeded Sir Robert Menzies in the seat of Kooyong.

He immediately attracted attention when he arrived in Canberra, where in the Liberal Party Room he experienced the resentment of the envious and of the by-passed.

There was a minor setback when John Gorton in 1968 brought another Victorian, Phillip Lynch, into the ministry, overlooking Peacock who believed Gorton had promised him a promotion. Perhaps surprisingly, 35 years later Peacock was still expressing hurt at being overlooked.

In the parliamentary party, he joined the so-called Mushroom Club with other good friends like Jim Killen, Tom Hughes and Don Chipp, all of whom were expected to advance, and did so.

Gorton promoted Peacock after almost losing the supposedly the unlosable election of 1969. As minister for the army, Peacock found it difficult working under Defence Minister Malcolm Fraser, and would again feel a lasting pain when “Bill” McMahon, with Fraser’s help, displaced Gorton in March 1971.

Peacock survived a McMahon cull of Gorton supporters, performed well as minister for external territories, and stayed on the front bench after Gough Whitlam won the 1972 election.

The “coming man” appeared closer to arrival when Fraser appointed Peacock foreign minister in 1975, a move that benefited Fraser by keeping a potential challenger out of the country.




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The job meant Peacock could do what he always did so well: meeting and greeting the high-ranking and influential from around the world. His natural charm, good looks and genuine goodwill, combined with a sympathy for people and an understanding of different countries’ situations, enabled him to work with and alongside Asians and Africans, Europeans, Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Cormack wanted his “pupil” to challenge Fraser for the leadership. Peacock flopped badly when, having previously moved to the seemingly unsuitable portfolio of industrial relations, he did try for the leadership in 1982.

At least he was well placed to succeed Fraser after the Coalition lost the 1983 election to Bob Hawke’s Labor Party. Peacock proceeded to lose two of his own – in 1984 and 1990 – while doing better than expected in adverse circumstances in opposing Hawke.

Critically, however, Peacock exposed a weakness that offset the advantages of intelligence, charm, and apparent self-possession. Beyond proclaiming the shibboleths, it was never clear just what he believed in and what he stood for.

During Peacock’s supposed rivalry with Howard – beneath the surface it was really one between their supporters – one senior moderate Liberal explained his own dilemma:

do I vote for Howard, whose views I dislike, or for Peacock, whose views remain a mystery?

A former federal president from the 1980s once described Peacock as a man who would denounce you in a “vile” manner and then walk through a door, see you, smile broadly and greet you warmly.

After losing in 1990, Peacock drifted towards the exit door of politics and looked more at ease as the Howard-appointed Ambassador to the United States. At the end of his tenure in 2000 he took various positions in business in America and Australia.

So, why did the “coming man” never arrive at the Lodge? Commentators usually scoffed at Peacock’s own explanation that he was never sure he really wanted the top job.

Yet, looking at how he went about his early career in the Liberal Party, where he was striving to advance himself and was not in a mood to accept setbacks, he was not the same man who reached for the party leadership three times in the 1980s.

Peacock with John Howard in 2000.
AAP/Alan Porritt

Unlike Peacock, Fraser and Howard went for the leadership with agendas. They stood, most of the time, for identifiable and consistent positions and they were there for the long haul.

Peacock was probably at his best when he left that world behind him.

He married happily the third time, and through Penne Percy Korth gravitated to a world occupied by the more moderate Republicans. He also had a close relationship with his three daughters.

Beyond appearances, Peacock had the endearing quality of generating a natural warmth, charm and wit.The Conversation

Ian Hancock, School visitor, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A ‘deep clean’ has been ordered for a Brisbane hospital ward. What does that actually involve


Brett Mitchell, University of Newcastle and Philip Russo, Monash UniversityThe Australian public’s infection control literacy continues to expand. We know what PPE is, what “flattening the curve” means, and we are growing increasingly familiar with the term “deep clean”. But what does a deep clean involve, and when is it necessary?

This week, media reported that a ward at Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital was to undergo further “deep cleaning” after testing found a “COVID-19 related virus” in the ward. This was to be combined with further engineering reviews, although the ward’s isolation rooms were deemed to be functioning as expected.

What role does environmental cleaning play?

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can survive on surfaces. This means if a surface is contaminated by someone with COVID-19, it is theoretically possible for other people to become infected if they touch those surfaces and then touch their nose, mouth, or eyes.

It is not clear how many cases of COVID-19 are acquired through surface transmission, although the risk from this transmission route is thought to be lower than other routes, such as droplets, aerosols and direct contact.

The other good news is that SARS-CoV-2 is easily broken down and can degrade quickly upon contact with particular cleaning agents and under certain environmental conditions.




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Nonetheless, because SARS-CoV-2 can survive on surfaces and there is a theoretical risk, it is important that measures to reduce subsequent transmission include cleaning. This is on top of other, potentially more important measures such as increasing appropriate ventilation, waiting as long as possible before entering the space (at least several hours), and using personal protective equipment (PPE).

So, what is a deep clean?

There is no nationally agreed definition of what constitutes a “deep clean”. The term seems to have originated during disease outbreaks in hospitals in the 1990s and 2000s.

Cleaning is a complex and skilled process involving many facets. Evidence has shown that improving routine cleaning in hospitals can reduce infection risk, and that this is cost-effective. But what is the difference between a routine cleaning and deep cleaning?

Hospital worker mops floor
There’s no agreed definition of a deep clean, but it goes a long way beyond mopping the floor.
Masanori Inagaki/AP

In the absence of detailed guidelines, institutions and companies have developed their own approach to deep cleaning. In Victoria, there is some limited guidance of what a deep clean involves.

Broadly speaking, a deep clean should pay particular attention to cleaning objects or surfaces that may not be cleaned as part of a routine clean. These could include walls, ventilation ducts, curtains, and harder-to-reach surfaces that are touched less frequently. In contrast, routine cleaning focuses on surfaces that are frequently touched.

Deep cleaning typically involves the use of a disinfectant, as well as a detergent. Typically detergents are used to remove organic matter. Disinfectant can kill bacteria and viruses (depending on the type of disinfectant). Products or surfaces that are more difficult to clean, such as carpets, soft furnishings or certain equipment, may also be included in a more thorough clean, noting that care has to be taken not to damage such items in the process.

Training and auditing are also crucial for effective cleaning. Cleaners need to be properly trained, including in the correct use of PPE to ensure they are protected.

Regular auditing of cleaning can be done in various ways, including direct observation or by using fluorescent markers. Fluorescent markers are invisible to the naked eye, but are removed when a surface is cleaned. They can be applied before cleaning a surface and checked again after, to determine whether it has been effectively cleaned.

What about ‘fogging’?

Media footage often shows workers “fogging” rooms and facilities as part of a deep clean. This involves spraying the area with very fine droplets of disinfectant, and it certainly makes for compelling television.

But several Australian organisations have recommended against fogging, including the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, New South Wales’ Clinical Excellence Commission and Safe Work Australia.

The US Environmental Protection Agency does not recommend fogging or fumigation, unless the product label specifically includes disinfection directions. Australia’s Therapeutical Goods Administration has also noted that testing of disinfectants may not apply to techniques such as fogging.

Where to from here?

Like all things COVID-19, our understanding of the role of surface transmission and the benefits of deep cleaning continues to evolve. Any unusual transmission events or “mystery” cases, particularly in a health-care setting, need to be thoroughly investigated.

Technologies such as genomic testing, which provide detailed information about specific chains of transmission between people, could provide rich data to help us understand the role of the environment and inform future strategies.

Importantly, any findings from investigating these unusual events need to be made publicly available so the wider community can better understand how to combat the spread of COVID-19.




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The Conversation


Brett Mitchell, Professor of Nursing, University of Newcastle and Philip Russo, Associate Professor, Director Cabrini Monash University Department of Nursing Research, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Christine Holgate gets her own bully pulpit – and uses it to effect


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraQueensland Nationals Senator Matt Canavan, juggling a couple of committee engagements, hadn’t planned to attend Tuesday’s hearing at which former Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate appeared.

But party elder Ron Boswell was insistent, telling Canavan he must be there, in the room, fighting for Australia Post’s small business licensees.

Boswell, himself a former senator, retains one of the best political “noses” in the business. He’d spoken to Canavan soon after the Holgate affair blew up last October, warning the issue was trouble and needed to be fixed.

Canavan was initially sceptical, thinking people would react against the Cartier watches she’d given four executives as a reward for a deal with banks to shore up Post’s licensee network.

But he’s come round to Boswell’s thinking.

The government has been somewhat dismissive of the campaign the licensees have waged in support of Holgate.

But Canavan judges the many small post office businesses in regional areas could pack quite a punch in next year’s election campaign if they chose. And in these areas in Queensland the Nationals are competing with One Nation.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Canavan wasn’t backward. It was he who put to Post’s chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo the pointed question: “Given that, as you say, Miss Holgate has a lot of support amongst your employees and important clients and suppliers, and given that Miss Holgate this morning has called for your resignation, would it not be better for Australia Post if you were to leave now, as well?” It was a reasonable proposition, but the chairman said he wasn’t going anywhere.

What has been notable, as Holgate lashed out at Prime Minister Scott Morrison for “bullying” her with his parliamentary tirade and Di Bartolomeo for not backing her, is the breadth of her constituency of support. It includes business figures and respected financial journalists, as well as the licensees.




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With her claim gender was a factor in how she was treated, and the suffragette-white attire, she has now astutely tapped into the new women’s movement that’s arisen off the back of the Brittany Higgins issue. In doing this, she’s hit Morrison where he’s particularly vulnerable.

Politically, her advocates stretch from Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young to One Nation’s Pauline Hanson, who was the moving force behind the Senate inquiry.

The bedfellows might be somewhat uncomfortable with each other, but it’s a big bed.

The week left Morrison and the government on the ropes over Holgate’s treatment. References to “luxury watches” have lost much of their shock value.

The government can only hope the issue will simply fade with time, as issues do. Except that those small business operators mightn’t forget.

There’s an interesting contrast in how Morrison is currently dealing with Higgins, who alleges she was raped by a colleague in a minister’s office, and with Holgate.

The PM has reaffirmed he plans to meet Higgins. She’s indicated she’s not keen on re-entering Parliament House, so he’s willing to arrange another venue. He says he’s looking forward to hearing what she has to say.

Holgate, who wants an apology from Morrison, this week asked him to call her.

But he rejected that as unnecessary. Outstanding issues are between her and the Post board, he said. That may be true. By the same token, not to make the gesture is discourteous, at the least.

Remember, this was an executive who performed extremely well at Australia Post and who came out of the inquiry into the watches affair with only minor points against her.

Neither Morrison nor the two Australia Post shareholder ministers (Communications Minister Paul Fletcher and then Finance Minister Mathias Cormann) spoke directly to Holgate on October 22, the day Morrison excoriated her in Parliament.

Again, they would say that was a matter for the chairman, and again, they would be technically right. But given the stakes, wouldn’t one have thought Fletcher, in particular, might have sought to make direct contact?

Holgate’s appearance at the Senate inquiry not only gave a detailed insight into the behind-the-scenes events of that October day, but also revealed some of the arguments that had been going on about the future of Australia Post.

She produced part of a review by consultants BCG the government had commissioned, that canvassed cost-cutting measures and the possible sale of Post’s parcel section. She and the management team had pushed back against cutting services and jobs, and opposed divestiture.

So before the watches affair, the government was already – to a greater or lesser extent – irritated by the forceful head of this government business enterprise that some Liberals would like to see part or even fully privatised.

As speculation grew after her evidence about the BCG report, Fletcher on Wednesday said the government had no plans to sell off the parcels service – which performed strongly over the pandemic.

Anyway, probably any attempt to do so would run into vigorous resistance from the Nationals.




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The government hasn’t released the BCG report. Obviously it canvasses important issues about the business and should be in the public domain.

But who is surprised? It is of a piece with this government’s penchant for secrecy, if it can get away with it (not that it’s alone among governments here).

It even tried to hold back the report into Holgate and the watches, until public pressure made that untenable.

Further afield, among the advantages, from the government’s point of view, of the national cabinet is that much more can be kept “in confidence” than in the old Council of Australian Governments days.

Crossbench senator Rex Patrick has a “test case” in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for the release of minutes from the national cabinet, which has been crucial in the pandemic decision-making process. Patrick says he “wants to expose the government’s secrecy overreach and to open the document vault for others to look in and see”.

Morrison this week talked about how Australia Post must be accountable. But his government likes to minimise the extent of its own accountability, especially when awkward issues surface.

It is worth remembering that if we didn’t have Senate inquiries like the Holgate one we would get even less information.




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If bullying can happen to Christine Holgate at the highest level, then what happens to other women at work?


Question time, at least in the House of Representatives, has become almost useless as a means of holding the government to account. There is a report imminent from a House committee about how to improve it, but you’d have to be an optimist to see a prospect of qualitative change.

But the Senate committee on COVID, the inquiry into the Holgate affair, and regular estimates hearings on a range of issues, have forced some transparency and accountability.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.