Time for the federal government to catch up on political donations reform


File 20180810 30470 1mevuo3.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The states have pulled far ahead of the Commonwealth on improving transparency around political donations.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Carmela Chivers, Grattan Institute; Danielle Wood, Grattan Institute, and Kate Griffiths, Grattan Institute

Australians should be able to see who donates to political parties, but our political donations laws fall far short of this ideal. Recent reforms in New South Wales and Victoria mean that voters will have much better information about who is donating. But when it comes to donations at the federal level, voters remain largely in the dark.

Money in politics is regulated to reduce the risk of interest groups “buying” influence. Explicit quid pro quo is probably rare: as the saying goes, “you never bribe someone when you need them”. But the risk is in more subtle influence: that donors get more access to policymakers, or their views are given more weight.




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Publishing information about larger donors creates a public check on this behaviour. Voters are able to see who political parties rely on for funding, and MPs are more accountable for their subsequent decisions.

States are improving transparency

The trend in the states is promising. Victoria and NSW both increased the transparency of political donations last month.

In Victoria, donations of $1,000 or more will have to be disclosed to the Victorian Electoral Commission within 21 days. Anonymous donations of $1,000 or more are banned. Victoria even capped donations at $4,000 and increased public funding for election campaigns, which might help reduce the reliance of parties on larger contributions (but also comes with other risks).

NSW’s already extensive donations regime was tightened from July 1 this year. NSW political parties are now required to disclose donations of $1,000 or more within 21 days during election campaigns (as in Victoria), and within six months otherwise.

When it comes to transparency, Queensland does one better: the 2017 state election was Australia’s first with “real time” disclosure. Donations of $1,000 or more are lodged through an online portal and are made public within seven working days. The Queensland Electoral Commission even provides interactive maps of donations by electorate.

Most other states also have decent disclosure requirements. In South Australia, parties are required to disclose donations of $5,310 or more every seven days during an election period (and every six months otherwise). The disclosure threshold in Western Australia is $2,300.

Tasmania is the only state with disclosure laws as weak as the Commonwealth’s.

These laws mean voters can know, before they go to the ballot box, who is funding parties’ election campaigns.

The Commonwealth has a long way to go

The states are taking political donations reform seriously – and that’s a good thing. But state reforms are limited by state boundaries. Until the Commonwealth catches up, we won’t be able to “follow the money” across all jurisdictions.

Under Commonwealth regulations, it can take up to 19 months for donations to be made public. That’s why Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s $1.75 million donation to the Liberal Party in the lead-up to the 2016 election was not officially made public until the start of this year.

Only donations of more than $13,800 are required to be disclosed. And there is no requirement to aggregate donations, which means an individual donor can make a series of donations below $13,800 without disclosure.

The result is a huge amount of money in the federal system that we know nothing about. Parties received more than $100 million from undisclosed sources in the two financial years spanning the 2016 federal election. Without this information, it is difficult for public scrutiny to provide a “check” on the possibility of donor influence.

Some of this money no doubt came from “mum and dad” donors contributing $100 to their preferred party. But some is probably the result of “donations splitting”, where people or organisations make multiple donations below the threshold. Some might also be income from fundraising dinners and business forums, for which attendees pay thousands for an opportunity to “bend the ear” of elected representatives.

Donations can also be filtered through associated entities of the parties. This makes money (and influence) even more difficult to track. These entities – unions, investment funds, or fundraising organisations – occasionally frustrate donations restrictions by taking money on behalf of “their” party.

In a particularly egregious case, investigations uncovered that hundreds of thousands of dollars in unlawful donations had filtered into NSW Liberal Party accounts through a federal associated entity.




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Ban on foreign political donations is both too broad and too narrow, and won’t fix our system


Let the sun shine in

Growing public cynicism about special interest influence is partly born of secrecy. Simple changes could vastly improve what we know about money flowing to Commonwealth political parties.

The disclosure threshold should be lowered as the states have done. The current threshold of $13,800 is well above the amount that a regular voter could afford to contribute to a political cause. A lower threshold of around $5,000 would still protect the privacy of small donors while improving transparency and accountability.

Disclosure of donations should be much quicker. Queensland and South Australia now have “real time” disclosure during elections; the Commonwealth can clearly do better than a 19-month turn-around. Disclosure within three weeks – as in NSW and Victoria – would be far superior to the current system.

The ConversationThe states’ political donations laws aren’t perfect, but they are heading in the right direction. It’s time for Canberra to catch up.

Carmela Chivers, Associate, Grattan Institute; Danielle Wood, Program Director, Budget Policy and Institutions, Grattan Institute, and Kate Griffiths, Senior Associate, Grattan Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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The devil is in the detail of government bill to enable access to communications data


Monique Mann, Queensland University of Technology

The Australian government has released a draft of its long awaited bill to provide law enforcement and security agencies with new powers to respond to the challenges posed by encryption.

According to the Department of Home Affairs, encryption already impacts 90% of Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s (ASIO) priority cases, and 90% of data intercepted by the Australian Federal Police. The measures aim to counteract estimates that communications among terrorists and organised crime groups are expected to be entirely encrypted by 2020.

The Department of Home Affairs and ASIO can already access encrypted data with specialist decryption techniques – or at points where data are not encrypted. But this takes time. The new bill aims to speed up this process, but these broad and ill-defined new powers have significant scope for abuse.




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The Department of Home Affairs argues this new framework will not compel communications providers to build systemic weaknesses or vulnerabilities into their systems. In other words, it is not a backdoor.

But it will require providers to offer up details about technical characteristics of their systems that could help agencies exploit weaknesses that have not been patched. It also includes installing software, and designing and building new systems.

Compelling assistance and access

The draft Assistance and Access Bill introduces three main reforms.

First, it increases the obligations of both domestic and offshore organisations to assist law enforcement and security agencies to access information. Second, it introduces new computer access warrants that enable law enforcement to covertly obtain evidence directly from a device (this occurs at the endpoints when information is not encrypted). Finally, it increases existing powers that law enforcement have to access data through search and seizure warrants.

The bill is modelled on the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act, which introduced mandatory decryption obligations. Under the UK Act, the UK government can order telecommunication providers to remove any form of electronic protection that is applied by, or on behalf of, an operator. Whether or not this is technically possible is another question.

Similar to the UK laws, the Australian bill puts the onus on telecommunication providers to give security agencies access to communications. That might mean providing access to information at points where it is not encrypted, but it’s not immediately clear what other requirements can or will be imposed.




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End-to-end encryption isn’t enough security for ‘real people’


For example, the bill allows the Director-General of Security or the chief officer of an interception agency to compel a provider to do an unlimited range of acts or things. That could mean anything from removing security measures to deleting messages or collecting extra data. Providers will also be required to conceal any action taken covertly by law enforcement.

Further, the Attorney-General may issue a “technical capability notice” directed towards ensuring that the provider is capable of giving certain types of help to ASIO or an interception agency.

This means providers will be required to develop new ways for law enforcement to collect information. As in the UK, it’s not clear whether a provider will be able to offer true end-to-end encryption and still be able to comply with the notices. Providers that breach the law risk facing $10 million fines.

Cause for concern

The bill puts few limits or constraints on the assistance that telecommunication providers may be ordered to offer. There are also concerns about transparency. The bill would make it an offence to disclose information about government agency activities without authorisation. Anyone leaking information about data collection by the government – as Edward Snowden did in the US – could go to jail for five years.

There are limited oversight and accountability structures and processes in place. The Director-General of Security, the chief officer of an interception agency and the Attorney-General can issue notices without judicial oversight. This differs from how it works in the UK, where a specific judicial oversight regime was established, in addition to the introduction of an Investigatory Powers Commissioner.

Notices can be issued to enforce domestic laws and assist the enforcement of the criminal laws of foreign countries. They can also be issued in the broader interests of national security, or to protect the public revenue. These are vague and unclear limits on these exceptional powers.




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Police want to read encrypted messages, but they already have significant power to access our data


The range of services providers is also extremely broad. It might include telecommunication companies, internet service providers, email providers, social media platforms and a range of other “over-the-top” services. It also covers those who develop, supply or update software, and manufacture, supply, install or maintain data processing devices.

The enforcement of criminal laws in other countries may mean international requests for data will be funnelled through Australia as the “weakest-link” of our Five Eyes allies. This is because Australia has no enforceable human rights protections at the federal level.

It’s not clear how the government would enforce these laws on transnational technology companies. For example, if Facebook was issued a fine under the laws, it could simply withdraw operations or refuse to pay. Also, $10 million is a drop in the ocean for companies such as Facebook whose total revenue last year exceeded US$40 billion.

Australia is a surveillance state

As I have argued elsewhere, the broad powers outlined in the bill are neither necessary nor proportionate. Police already have existing broad powers, which are further strengthened by this bill, such as their ability to covertly hack devices at the endpoints when information is not encrypted.

Australia has limited human rights and privacy protections. This has enabled a constant and steady expansion of the powers and capabilities of the surveillance state. If we want to protect the privacy of our communications we must demand it.

The ConversationThe Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 (Cth) is still in a draft stage and the Department of Home Affairs invites public comment up until 10th of September 2018. Submit any comments to assistancebill.consultation@homeaffairs.gov.au.

Monique Mann, Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow in Regulation of Technology, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

New data access bill shows we need to get serious about privacy with independent oversight of the law



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MICK TSIKAS/AAP

Greg Austin, UNSW

The federal government today announced its proposed legislation to give law enforcement agencies yet more avenues to reach into our private lives through access to our personal communications and data. This never-ending story of parliamentary bills defies logic, and is not offering the necessary oversight and protections.

The trend has been led by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, with help from an ever-growing number of security ministers and senior officials. Could it be that the proliferation of government security roles is a self-perpetuating industry leading to ever more government powers for privacy encroachment?

That definitely appears to be the case.

Striking the right balance between data access and privacy is a tricky problem, but the government’s current approach is doing little to solve it. We need better oversight of law enforcement access to our data to ensure it complies with privacy principles and actually results in convictions. That might require setting up an independent judicial review mechanism to report outcomes on an annual basis.




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Where is the accountability?

The succession of data access legislation in the Australian parliament is fast becoming a Mad Hatter’s tea party – a characterisation justified by the increasingly unproductive public conversations between the government on one hand, and legal specialists and rights advocates on the other.

If the government says it needs new laws to tackle “terrorism and paedophilia”, then the rule seems to be that other side will be criticised for bringing up “privacy protection”. The federal opposition has surrendered any meaningful resistance to this parade of legislation.

Rights advocates have been backed into a corner by being forced to repeat their concerns over each new piece of legislation while neither they nor the government, nor our Privacy Commissioner, and all the other “commissioners”, are called to account on fundamental matters of principle.

Speaking of the commissioner class, Australia just got a new one last week: the Data Commissioner. Strangely, the impetus for this appointment came from the Productivity Commission.

The post has three purposes:

  1. to promote greater use of data,
  2. to drive economic benefits and innovation from greater use of data, and
  3. to build trust with the Australian community about the government’s use of data.

The problem with this logic is that purposes one and two can only be distinguished by the seemingly catch-all character of the first: that if data exists it must be used.

Leaving aside that minor point, the notion that the government needs to build trust with the Australian community on data policy speaks for itself.

National Privacy Principles fall short

There is near universal agreement that the government is managing this issue badly, from the census data management issue to the “My Health Record” debacle. The growing commissioner class has not been much help.

Australia does have personal data protection principles, you may be surprised to learn. They are called “Privacy Principles”. You may be even more surprised to learn that the rights offered in these principles exist only up to the point where any enforcement arm of government wants the data.




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So it seems that Australians have to rely on the leadership of the Productivity Commission (for economic policy) to guarantee our rights in cyber space, at least when it comes to our personal data.

Better oversight is required

There is another approach to reconciling citizens’ interests in privacy protection with legitimate and important enforcement needs against terrorists and paedophiles: that is judicial review.

The government argues, unconvincingly according to police sources, that this process adequately protects citizens by requiring law enforcement to obtain court-ordered warrants to access information. The record in some other countries suggests otherwise, with judges almost always waving through any application from enforcement authorities, according to official US data.

There is a second level of judicial review open to the government. This is to set up an independent judicial review mechanism that is obliged to annually review all instances of government access to personal data under warrant, and to report on the virtues or shortcomings of that access against enforcement outcomes and privacy principles.

There are two essential features of this proposal. First, the reviewing officer is a judge and not a public servant (the “commissioner class”). Second, the scope of the function is review of the daily operation of the intrusive laws, not just the post-facto examination of notorious cases of data breaches.

It would take a lengthy academic volume to make the case for judicial review of this kind. But it can be defended simply on economic grounds: such a review process would shine light on the efficiency of police investigations.

According to data released by the UK government, the overwhelming share of arrests for terrorist offences in the UK (many based on court-approved warrants for access to private data) do not result in convictions. There were 37 convictions out of 441 arrests for terrorist-related offences in the 12 months up to March 2018.




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The Turnbull government deserves credit for its recognition of the values of legal review. Its continuing commitment to posts such as the National Security Legislation Monitor – and the appointment of a high-profile barrister to such a post – is evidence of that.

But somewhere along the way, the administration of data privacy is falling foul of a growing bureaucratic mess.

The ConversationThe only way to bring order to the chaos is through robust accountability; and the only people with the authority or legitimacy in our political system to do that are probably judges who are independent of the government.

Greg Austin, Professor UNSW Canberra Cyber, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Fractured Liberals need a new brand – ‘broad church’ is no longer working


Gregory Melleuish, University of Wollongong

Political parties wishing to win majority support in the pursuit of gaining control of government cannot afford to be tied too closely to a rigid ideology or set of views. They must accommodate a range of viewpoints and approaches to matters of public policy, even as they decide which policy to pursue.

In the case of the Liberal Party, former Prime Minister John Howard summed up this reality of political life with his description of the party as a “broad church” that married the conservative tradition exemplified by the Irish writer Edmund Burke with the liberalism of John Stuart Mill.

This formulation was vague enough to encompass a range of political positions, even if they were at odds with one another. The “broad church” ideal had a simple goal – ensure that all Liberals were inside the tent and shared a common outlook.

The left-right divide

In earlier days, the Liberal Party could define itself in terms of being “anti-Labor”. Labor sought an Australia based on national planning, abolishing the federal system and nationalising institutions such as the banks. The Liberals summed this up in one word: socialism.

The ALP increasingly adopted liberal principles, not just in economic terms as exemplified by the Hawke/Keating reforms, but also in social matters. The party also dropped its traditional social conservatism; its last exponent was 1960s leader Arthur Calwell.




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As the ALP “modernised” and jettisoned much of its earlier ideological baggage, the Liberal Party needed to find what is described these days as a new “brand”, and Howard’s “broad church” was a response to these changing circumstances.

In many ways, the “broad church” formulation of the Liberal brand is much weaker than “anti-socialism”. This may reflect the fact that the old left vs. right division, with its clear-cut understanding of politics in material terms, has largely ceased to be relevant.

In these circumstances, the possibility of conflict within the Liberal Party based on both values and interests becomes greater. For example, the issue of the National Energy Guarantee cannot be conceptualised in traditional left/right terms.

The same is true of climate change in general. One of the biggest international critics of anthropogenic global warming is Piers Corbyn, the brother of UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who considers “climate change” an attack by globalists on the working class.

The advocates of coal-fired power stations in the Coalition would seem to have more in common with Piers Corbyn and the values of Calwell’s Labor Party than with contemporary progressive liberalism. And from an old-style Labor perspective,
the focus in that party would be on prioritising cheap energy for the ordinary working person.




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What this suggests is that divisions about contemporary political issues are becoming increasingly difficult to comprehend with the ideological tools handed down to us from the past, and to do so is to paint a false picture. Of course, there are intellectual differences between those advocating for the increased use of renewable energy sources and those who wish to build new coal-fired power stations. There are also other interests involved of a more material kind.

Another issue currently being debated in parliament – whether to allow the territory governments to legalise euthanasia – is again not so much a left/right issue as a liberal/conservative one. I think it would be true to say that such a bill would have horrified the Labor party of the 1950s, especially given the significant number of Catholics in its ranks.

The Coalition is now the home of social conservatism in the Australian parliament. Given the success of the same-sex referendum last year, one can only wonder if the tide is flowing against them also on euthanasia.

Evolving for the modern political age

It may be possible to conclude that the Liberal reformulation of its brand in terms of the “broad church” model is limited by the way in which Australian politics in the 21st century has been evolving. The reason: the “broad church” model paints politics in what are largely 19th century terms.

The ALP has claimed at least some of the heritage of John Stuart Mill as expressed in contemporary liberal progressivism. The party has left the conservative working class behind. In so doing, they seem to have created a much stronger brand.




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The Liberals, on the other hand, have perhaps created a rod for their own backs. They have a liberal progressive wing, exemplified by Malcolm Turnbull, and a conservative wing, exemplified by Tony Abbott. On matters where the ALP are unified, the Liberals are divided.

One reason for this division is the heterogeneity of the current Liberal Party and its support base. It can longer define itself as being “anti-socialist”. The “broad church” brand was an attempt to turn that heterogeneity into unity, but it may have only papered over the cracks. This reflects the ideological muddle of 21st century politics.

Modern-day Australia imposes certain realities on political parties. The most important one is that the important public policy issues of the day go beyond old-fashioned left/right characterisations.

The ConversationPolitical parties need to be nimble and agile if they are to escape from the labels of a past age. Otherwise, they will continue to repeat the errors of recent years.

Gregory Melleuish, Professor, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull beats Abbott over NEG, now Frydenberg has to win Victoria


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has secured a decisive party room victory over Tony Abbott, taking the government’s signature National Energy Guarantee policy another step towards implementation.

Tuesday’s Coalition party room, in a 155-minute debate, gave strong support to the plan. But sources variously said four or five MPs – Abbott, Andrew Hastie, senator Eric Abetz, Tony Pasin and George Christensen – had reserved their right to cross the floor when the federal legislation for the emissions target comes to parliament, and others expressed doubts and criticisms.

In a statement after the meeting, Abbott said at least a dozen had expressed “serious concerns about the NEG or about turning the non-binding Paris targets into law”.

During the debate, Abbott pointedly referred to “merchant bankers’ gobbledigook”.

Tuesday’s party room mood reflected that most Coalition MPs accept that to save marginal seats and give the government, embattled in the polls, its best chance of survival, they need to unite behind Turnbull and the government’s policies.

During the meeting, several MPs told the dissidents they should reconsider their position and show cohesion.

The fate of the NEG scheme now depends crucially on the Labor states – notably Victoria – giving consent to it, and on the parliamentary numbers for the federal emissions reduction legislation.

The government is likely to need Labor support to get the emission legislation through. The legislation will be introduced this parliamentary fortnight.

Labor’s position is that it does not want this legislation debated until the states have made their decision on the NEG. When it is debated, the opposition will seek to amend it for a higher target. It has not said what it would do if, as expected, its amendment failed.

The Victorian Energy Minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, said after the Coalition party meeting: “We’ll study the Commonwealth NEG legislation thoroughly to see what concessions Malcolm Turnbull has given the climate sceptics in his party room.”

“We have said all along – we won’t let Malcolm Turnbull put our renewable energy industry and Victorian jobs at risk. We’ll continue to work through the COAG energy council to address our concerns.”

Energy minister Josh Frydenberg has a phone hook up with state ministers late Tuesday. They are set to release draft state legislation for the NEG mechanism.

But the states are not due to consider their support for the scheme again for some weeks, after failing to sign up last Friday. It is a race against time for the federal government, because Victoria goes into caretaker mode in October for the November election.




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With Victoria the main obstacle, Frydenberg said: “It’s time Daniel Andrews stopped walking both sides of the street and put the interests of Victorians first and the businesses of Victorians first. And he would do that by signing up to the National Energy Guarantee before he goes into caretaker mode.”

The pro-coal MPs were reassured in the party room by the government’s acceptance of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission recommendation for the federal government to underwrite new despatchable power projects.

After the meeting, Abbott released an angry statement in response to the “rampant hostile briefing of journalists while the meeting was underway.”

“Yes, as the Prime Minister said at its close, there was party room support for the minister’s position. Much of it though, was of the ‘yes … but’ variety: congratulating him for the work he’d done in difficult circumstances and saying that the NEG was the best way through a bad situation.

“But most then added that what really mattered was actually getting prices down – not just talking about modelling – and actually getting more despatchable power into the system via ACCC recommendation 4 [on underwriting].

“Unfortunately, most explanations of how the NEG (as it stands without price targets) might theoretically get prices down sound like merchant bankers’ gobbledigook.

“It was a real pity that the meeting broke up before the chairman of the backbench committee, Craig Kelly, was able to finish his contribution.

“Yes, there were lots of pleas for unity but as one MP said, we’ve got to be loyal to our electorates and to party members too, and not show the ‘unity of lemmings’”.

“Yes, there was lots of regard for the ‘experts’ and for ‘business leaders’ but as one MP said ‘I’m not here for the technocrats’.

“I heard at least four lower house MPs formally reserve their position on the legislation and at least a dozen express serious concerns about the NEG or about turning the non-binding Paris targets into law with massive penalties attached.

“This is the big question that the party room didn’t really grapple with: when the big emitters are not meeting Paris, why should we? Especially, as even the Chief Scientist said, the difference meeting our target would make is ‘virtually nothing’”, Abbott’s statement said.

The Business Council of Australia called on “state and territory leaders to now get on with the job of implementing the National Energy Guarantee by releasing the draft legislation.

“It’s up to Victoria and Queensland, along with the other states and territories, to stop playing political games with people’s power bills.

“COAG Energy Council must stop dithering and finally act to end the decade of dysfunction that has plagued our energy sector.”

UPDATE

The ConversationIn a phone hook-up on Tuesday night the COAG energy council agreed to release an exposure draft of the National Electricity Law amendments needed to establish the mechanism for the NEG.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull pushes the ‘reset’ button with China, but will it be enough?



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In a recent speech, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull attempted to reset Australia’s relationship with China, which has become strained in recent months.
AAP/EPA/Kanzaburo Fukuhara / POOL

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s so-called “China reset” should be viewed for what it is. That is, neither a self-criticism of mistakes made in managing the China relationship, nor necessarily a self-confident assertion of Australia’s foreign policy priorities.

For all intents and purposes, Turnbull’s speech at the University of New South Wales last week was an exercise in damage limitation, as he trod lightly over vexed issues in relations with Beijing.




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Among the motherhood statements about contributions Chinese-Australians have made to the greater good was a key passage in which Turnbull emphasised a common interest in “free trade and open markets in every part of the world”. He said:

So in the midst of this rapid change, Australia continues to address its own interests by pursuing a relationship with China based on mutual respect and understanding. For our part, we act to advance Australia’s prosperity, ensure independence of our decision-making, and secure the safety and freedom of our people.

After this summation of the national interest, Turnbull reproduced a quote from Chinese President Xi Jinping to the Australian parliament in 2014, long before any thought of a disruptive Donald Trump presidency had materialised. At the time, Xi said:

The United Nations Charter and the basic norms governing international relations should apply to all countries. With that, countries big or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, are all equal. This means not only equal rights and interests for all countries, but also equality of all countries before international rules.

In doing so, Turnbull sought both to assert Australia’s sovereignty in pursuit of its own interests, and also to remind Xi of China’s commitment to a “rules-based” international order.

This was diplomacy at work, prompted by a realisation that relations with Australia’s cornerstone trading partner have become strained – due partly to Turnbull’s own clumsiness, which I will come to later. His mission on this occasion was to unstrain them.

Beijing has put Canberra in a freeze for the past year or so over statements by both Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop that were regarded as unhelpful. China took particular exception to a Bishop speech in which she criticised its political model.

Bishop herself has not been to China for two years. As a consequence, relations are perceived to be drifting or, worse still, in a state of disrepair.

Judging by Beijing’s mild response to Turnbull’s speech via a foreign ministry spokesperson – and the presence in the audience at UNSW of China’s ambassador to Australia and its consul-general in Sydney – the prime minister achieved part of his objective.

This was Australian statecraft at work, driven not by China hawks in Canberra, or advisers who are jaundiced where Beijing is concerned, but by realpolitik.

In other words, no purpose would be served by a continued freeze in relations with Beijing, notwithstanding real policy concerns about Chinese assertiveness in both the South China Sea, and in Australia’s own southwest Pacific sphere of influence.

Turnbull had yielded to diplomatic advice to separate domestic politics from foreign policy, as if such advice should have been necessary.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advisers, led by the Chinese-speaking head of DFAT, Frances Adamson, had secured a “battle victory not a strategic victory”, in the words of a prominent Canberra China-watcher.

Why is a reset needed?

In all of this, the question might reasonably be asked: how did Australia manage to aggrieve its cornerstone trading partner in the first place?

The answer to that question lies partly in Turnbull’s own poor political judgement.

The prime minister makes much of his China experience as a merchant banker seeking to do deals on the frontier of that country’s economic emergence in the 1980s.

On the evidence, Turnbull still has a bit to learn about dealing with China, including the importance of nuance. The Chinese are masters of diplomatic subtleties – unless it suits them to be otherwise.

Turnbull’s error was to frame Australia’s foreign interference laws – aimed at limiting the ability of foreign entities to intrude into Australian domestic politics – in such a way that his public statements caused unnecessary offence in Beijing.

While these laws clearly had China’s state propaganda apparatus and Chinese money in mind, there was no need for Turnbull to rub it in. And yet rub it in he did.

In a surprising display of ineptitude between December 7 and December 9 last year, he said on three separate occasions Australia had “stood up” against outside attempts to interfere in its internal affairs.

On the last occasion, he said it in his own version of Chinese. Such phraseology – “the Chinese people have stood up” – has sacred meaning in China. This was the expression attributed to Mao Zedong when proclaiming the People’s Republic in 1949 after decades of foreign interference, including unspeakable crimes by the Japanese.

It might also be observed that China is not the only country that seeks to influence Australian domestic politics via its various agencies and an active diaspora. Hardly less assiduous in its attempts to exert pressure on an Australian political process is the State of Israel, via its own government and semi-government apparatuses and an assertive domestic lobby.

Complications arise when activities cross a boundary between the legitimate exercise of soft power and attempts to corrupt the political process, or resort to forms of intimidation.

Where to from here?

There is no doubt that managing relations with China is challenging, especially at a time when Beijing is constantly testing the limits of what is acceptable in ruthless pursuit of its interests.

A mercantilist China will seek to get away with what it can.

That said, Australia has no choice but to strive to get the balance right in dealing with a rising power whose trajectory is such that by mid-century, or sooner, it will have the world’s largest economy and a military capability that will enable it to project power far beyond its shores.

Turnbull’s early priority should be to restart bilateral interactions at senior level, including a Beijing visit before the year is out either by himself or by Bishop.

Where Turnbull was on firmer ground in his UNSW speech was in the emphasis he laid on shared interests with China on free trade and open markets. Leaving aside Chinese mercantilism in which it invariably seeks to tilt the trade environment in its favour, Turnbull identified what is clearly a common interest, and one that needs to be exploited.




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This is resistance to the sort of trade bluster emanating from Washington in which the Trump administration seems bent on disrupting an international trading environment that is being run ragged by capricious policymaking. Turnbull said:

When it comes to trade, we should never forget that protectionism is self-defeating, not a ladder to get you out of the low growth trap, but a shovel to dig it deeper… In trade, there will always be more winners, more growth and more jobs, on a level playing field.

The ConversationIn the end, relations with China can be likened to a long march, in which each step along the way needs to be taken with care – or as Deng Xiaoping might have advised: Cross the river by feeling the stones.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: A ray of bipartisan good comes out of obscure senator’s hate speech


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Immigration has become one of the most divisive issues in Australian politics. It has created open fractures within government ranks and sparked dog whistling; it’s being exploited to nefarious political ends by fringe and not-so-fringe players.

But an appallingly racist diatribe, by a senator who not one in a thousand Australians would have heard of, on Wednesday brought almost all the parliament together to reassert some core values of Australia’s policy.

Delivering his maiden speech on Tuesday, Fraser Anning called for a ban on all further Muslim immigration and invoked the words “final solution” – the term referring to the Nazi extermination of millions of Jews – when calling for a popular vote on immigration.

Anning arrived in parliament by chance, replacing the equally controversial Malcolm Roberts from One Nation, who fell foul of the citizenship crisis. But Anning immediately parted ways with One Nation, and has recently joined Katter’s Australian Party.

Among much else, the Queensland senator told parliament on Tuesday that “the one immigrant group here and in other Western nations that has consistently shown itself to be the least able to assimilate and integrate is Muslims”.

“The first terrorist act on Australian soil occurred in 1915 – when two Muslim immigrants opened fire on a picnic train of innocent women and children in Broken Hill – and Muslim immigrants have been a problem ever since.”

Such are the rituals of first speeches that many Coalition senators and even crossbencher Derryn Hinch (who has been beating up on himself publicly ever since) went over to pay Anning the traditional congratulations afterwards.

But after that reactions were quick, and by Wednesday morning condemnation was raining down on Anning from almost everywhere.

Labor with the support of the government moved a motion in the Senate and the House; the leaders in both houses spoke.

The motion, which did not mention Anning by name, acknowledged “the historic action of the Holt Government, with bipartisan support from the Australian Labor Party, in initiating the dismantling of the White Australia Policy”.

It gave “unambiguous and unqualified commitment to the principle that, whatever criteria are applied by Australian Governments in exercising their sovereign right to determine the composition of the immigration intake, race, faith or ethnic origin shall never, explicitly or implicitly, be among them”.

The motion was the same (except for the addition of the word “faith”) as the one prime minister Bob Hawke moved in 1988 after opposition leader John Howard had suggested a slowing of Asian immigration. Then, the Liberals voted against the motion, though with three defections.

In our frequently depressing and often toxic political climate, Wednesday’s bipartisanship was a small but significant and encouraging moment of unity on what we stand for as a nation.

Mathias Cormann, an immigrant from Belgium, said: “This chamber in many ways is a true reflection of what a great migrant nation we are.”

“We have … representatives of our Indigenous community. We have in this chamber representatives of Australians whose families have been here for generations, who are the descendants of migrants to Australia of more than 100 years ago.

“We have in this chamber first-generation migrants from Kenya, Malaysia, Belgium, Germany and Scotland. What a great country we are. Where first-generation Australians can join First Australians and those Australians whose families have lived here for more than 100 years and all work together to make our great country an even better country.”

While the mainstream had its act together, on the fringe it was a wild ride.

Hanson denounced Anning’s speech. “I have always advocated you do not have to be white to be Australian,” she said. And “to actually hear people say now that, as Senator Hinch said, it is like hearing Pauline Hanson on steroids – I take offence to that”.

Never mind that in her own maiden speech as a senator Hanson had declared that further Muslim immigration should be stopped and the burqa banned. “Now we are in danger of being swamped by Muslims who bear a culture and ideology that is incompatible with our own,” she said in September 2016.

Later on Wednesday Hanson introduced her private member’s bill “to give voters a say on whether Australia’s immigration levels are too high by casting a vote at the next general election”.

Then there was that force of nature, Bob Katter, who said he supported his new recruit “1000% … I support everything he said”.

It is never easy to navigate one’s way through Katter speak – on Wednesday it was at times close to impossible.

“Fraser is dead right – we do not want people coming in from the Middle East or North Africa unless they’re the persecuted minorities. Why aren’t you bringing in the Sikhs? Why aren’t you bringing in the Jews?” he told a news conference in Cairns – he could not fly to Canberra and parliament because of a sinus procedure.

As for the “final solution” reference: “Fraser is a knockabout bloke, he’s owned pubs and he’s not stupid – he built his own aeroplane. But he hasn’t read all the history books.

“He didn’t go to university, he was out working building pipelines for the coal and the gas and the oil with a hard hat on. He’s a member of the hard left, not the lily pad left. He didn’t go to university to know the significance of all these words.

“Fraser would have no idea about what that meant. For those of us, like myself that are fascinated by history and have read the history books – it is one of the worst statements in all of human history.”

“He like myself, has had constant meetings and addressed Jewish groups around Australia. We are strongly behind the Jewish people.”

Hanson wasn’t the only one complaining of being insulted. Katter turned on a journalist who referred to his Lebanese grandfather.

The Conversation“He’s not. He’s an Australian. I resent, strongly, you describing him as Lebanese. That is racist comment and you should take it back and should be ashamed … No prouder Australian than my grandfather.”

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Poll wrap: Turnbull’s Newspoll ratings slump; Labor leads in Victoria; Longman preferences helped LNP



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In this week’s Newspoll, 36% (down six) were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance, while 55% (up seven) were dissatisfied.
AAP/Richard Wainwright

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted August 9-12 from a sample of 1,607, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, unchanged on last fortnight. Primary votes were 37% Coalition (down two), 35% Labor (down one), 10% Greens (steady) and 9% One Nation (up two).

This is Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition’s 38th successive Newspoll loss, eight ahead of Tony Abbott’s 30 losses and five ahead of the previous record losing streak for a government. Labor’s primary vote in this poll is its lowest since April 2017, and the Coalition’s primary is its lowest since March.

36% (down six) were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance, and 55% (up seven) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of -19, down 13 points, Turnbull’s lowest net approval since April. Analyst Kevin Bonham says this is Turnbull’s second biggest poll-to-poll net approval drop. Opposition leader Bill Shorten’s net approval was up one point to -24, and Turnbull led Shorten by 44-32 as better PM, down from 48-29 last fortnight.

By 37-36, voters thought Turnbull and the Coalition would be better than Shorten and Labor at maintaining energy supply and keeping power prices lower, a narrowing from a 40-34 Coalition lead in June. 63% (steady since June) thought the government’s priority should be to keep energy prices down, 26% (up two) thought it should meet targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and 8% (down one) thought it should prevent blackouts.

A question on lifting restrictions on gas exploration is skewed because it asks, “Would you be in favour or opposed to the lifting of these restrictions if it would lead to lower energy prices?” The italicised part should not be part of a poll question.

In the past few months, Turnbull has benefited from a more united Coalition. The main issue has been the company tax cuts, which the right wing of the party strongly supports. With Shorten under pressure owing to Turnbull’s dominance of the better PM measure, last fortnight’s Essential, which I covered on my personal website, showed that the Coalition and Labor were perceived as equally divided; the Coalition had a 13-point lead in November 2017.

I believe Turnbull’s ratings have been damaged by Coalition disagreements in the wake of the Longman byelection. Some Coalition backbenchers would now like the tax cuts scrapped. Tony Abbott and other hard right Coalition MPs disagree with Turnbull on the National Energy Guarantee. Some of the drop for Turnbull may be caused by the awarding of $444 million to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

Whatever the cause of Turnbull’s ratings slump, the Coalition cannot take much comfort from the still-close voting intentions. The PM’s net approval and voting intentions are strongly correlated. If Turnbull’s drop is sustained, the Coalition is likely to lose ground on voting intentions.

Victorian Galaxy: 51-49 to state Labor

The Victorian election will be held on November 24. A Galaxy poll for The Herald Sun, presumably conducted last week from a sample of 1,095, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since a December Galaxy poll. Primary votes were 42% Coalition (up one), 38% Labor (up two), 10% Greens (steady) and 5% One Nation (down one).

By 46-29, respondents thought Matthew Guy and the Coalition would be tougher on crime than Daniel Andrews and Labor. Andrews and Labor led by 37-35 on keeping the cost of living in check. Andrews led by 40-33 as better Premier (41-25 in December).

This is the third successive Victorian poll to give Labor a 51-49 lead, after Newspoll in April and ReachTEL in July. It will be a relief for Labor that they have a lead after 17 people were arrested on August 2 in connection with the “rorts for votes” scandal.

In July, I wrote that time is running out to abolish the group voting ticket system in the upper house. With less than six weeks until September 20, the last scheduled Victorian parliamentary sitting day before the election, there is still no proposal for upper house reform.




Read more:
Victorian ReachTEL poll: 51-49 to Labor, and time running out for upper house reform


WA Galaxy: 51-49 to federal Coalition, 54-46 to state Labor

A federal Western Australian Galaxy poll for The Sunday Times, conducted August 2-3 from a sample of 831, gave the Coalition a 51-49 lead, a three-point gain for the Coalition since July 2017, but still a 4% swing to Labor in WA since the 2016 election. Primary votes were 42% Coalition (up three), 36% Labor (down one), 10% Greens (down one) and 5% One Nation (steady).

By 50-36, voters opposed company tax cuts for all businesses, including those with turnovers over $50 million a year. Turnbull and Shorten were tied at 40% each on ensuring WA receives a fairer share of GST revenue.

State Labor had a 54-46 lead in the same poll, a 1.5% swing to the Liberals/Nationals since the March 2017 state election. Primary votes were 40% Labor, 32% Liberal, 6% National, 11% Greens and 5% One Nation.

Queensland Galaxy: 51-49 to state Labor

A Queensland Galaxy poll for The Courier Mail, conducted August 8-9 from a sample of 800, gave state Labor a 51-49 lead, a two-point gain for the LNP since May. Primary votes were 37% LNP (up two), 35% Labor (down three), 11% Greens (up one) and 10% One Nation (down two).

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk had a 41-38 approval rating (46-38 in May). Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington had a 31-26 approval (31-28). Palaszczuk led by 44-23 as better Premier (47-27 in May).

Super Saturday byelections: final results and analysis

This section gives final results and analysis of the three contested Super Saturday byelections held on July 28. Swings are compared against the 2016 election results.




Read more:
Super Saturday: Labor holds Braddon and easily wins Longman, while Sharkie thumps Downer in Mayo


In Braddon, Labor defeated the Liberals by a 52.3-47.7 margin, a 0.1% swing to Labor. Primary votes were 39.3% Liberal (down 2.3%), 37.0% Labor (down 3.1%), 10.6% for independent Craig Garland, 4.8% for the Shooters and 4.0% for the Greens (down 2.7%). Labor probably benefited from Liberal attacks on Garland, which increased his profile and made his voters more hostile to the Liberals.

In Mayo, the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie defeated Liberal Georgina Downer by 57.6% to 42.4%, a 2.6% swing to Sharkie. Primary votes were 44.4% Sharkie (up 9.5%), 37.4% Liberal (down 0.3%), 8.9% Greens (up 0.9%) and 6.1% Labor (down 7.5%).

In Longman, Labor defeated the LNP by a 54.5-45.5 margin, a 3.7% swing to Labor. Primary votes were 39.8% Labor (up 4.5%), 29.6% LNP (down 9.4%), 15.9% One Nation (up 6.5%) and 4.8% Greens (up 0.4%).

We do not yet have the preference flows for each candidate, but we can make some deductions. In Longman, if 80% of Greens preferenced Labor (it was 80.7% in 2016), then the LNP received 58% of all Others preferences, up from 44% in 2016. In 2016, One Nation directed preferences to Labor, and Labor won 56.5% of their preferences; at the byelection, Labor probably won less than 40% of One Nation preferences.

As regards One Nation preferences, the Longman byelection validates Newspoll’s decision to assign One Nation preferences about 60-40 to the LNP, rather than the 50-50 split at the 2016 federal election.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Labor’s Newspoll lead narrows federally and in Victoria


There have been three vigorously contested byelections between the major parties since the last election: Bennelong, Braddon and Longman. At the December 2017 Bennelong byelection, there was a 4.8% swing to Labor, compared with a 3.7% swing in Longman and just 0.1% in Braddon.

The ConversationHowever, at the 2016 general election, there was a 7.7% swing to Labor in Longman, a 4.8% swing in Braddon, but a 2.0% swing to the Liberals in Bennelong. Adding the byelection swings to the 2016 swings gives an 11.4% swing to Labor in Longman, a 4.9% swing in Braddon, but just 2.8% in Bennelong.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Refugees are integrating just fine in regional Australia


Jock Collins, University of Technology Sydney and Carol Reid, Western Sydney University

As the Australian population surpassed the 25 million mark last week, another immigration debate emerged over the burden newcomers are placing on Melbourne and Sydney in terms of congestion and rising home prices.

With government data showing 87% of skilled migrants settled in either of the two cities in the past year, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Minister Alan Tudge made an urgent appeal to redirect new arrivals to regional Australia instead.

New research being released publicly on Tuesday suggests Tudge is spot-on in his argument that regional Australia can take more permanent immigrants, including refugees. But the research also shows he’s wrong on another contention – that newly arrived refugees don’t want to learn English and that integration is not likely due to migrants living in a “language and cultural bubble”.

According to our survey of 155 newly arrived adult refugees and 59 children from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan who settled in Queensland (in suburban Brisbane and in regional Logan and Toowoomba), those who settled in Toowoomba have had the easiest time integrating and feeling a part of their local communities.

A warm welcome in the country

Funded by the Australian Research Council, the findings are the first to emerge from a three-year study of settlement outcomes of recently arrived refugees in NSW, Victoria and Queensland.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

While nearly all of the refugees surveyed in Brisbane and Logan were Christians – a consequence of the Turnbull government’s decision to take mainly Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq, Toowoomba has also settled a large number of Yazidi refugees from Iraq, who follow their own religion, and a smaller number of Muslim refugees from Afghanistan.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

One key issue related to immigrant and refugee settlement in regional and rural Australia relates to the warmth of the welcome. The stereotypes of the Australian bush being “redneck” would suggest new immigrants would find settlement difficult outside large metropolitan centres.

An earlier research project on immigrants living in regional Australia a decade ago, however, dispelled this myth, with 80% of respondents reporting a warm welcome.

Our new research confirmed this finding, with 68% of the refugees surveyed in Queensland overall – and 81% in Toowoomba – reporting it was “very easy” or “easy” to make friends in Australia.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

This is also a better result than what researchers found in the larger, national survey of refugee resettlement in Australia, “Building a New Life in Australia”, which has been conducted since 2013. It’s referred to in the graph as “BNLA”.

Another indication of the “warmth of the welcome” in regional Australia is the finding that about half of the immigrants in Queensland – and 60% in Toowoomba – found it “very easy” or “easy” to talk to their Australian neighbours, a similar result to the BNLA. When we revisit these families in 2019 and 2020, we expect the numbers will even be higher.

The exception here were the immigrants who moved to Logan, who reported a lower level of ease talking with neighbours. Previous research has found a complex array of factors creates a different experience for refugees in Logan, which was one of the most disadvantaged municipalities in Australia in 2016.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

A desire to learn English

Being able to communicate with neighbours and other people is high on the list of critical needs of the immigrants we interviewed.

Since most of these refugees had arrived in the past 12 months, a key challenge was improving their English language skills. Most wanted more opportunities for conversational English and workplace English to assist in gaining employment. But for many, this was a Catch-22. The new arrivals needed to keep applying for jobs and attend English classes, but couldn’t do both at the same time.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

The adult refugees we surveyed were unanimously thankful to the Australian government and people for giving them and their families the opportunity for a new life. They desperately want to give back and contribute to their new country. But most had not yet found a job in Queensland.

This is of course a national problem, as the BNLA survey shows. But in our research, we found those in regional Toowoomba fared worse than those in Brisbane. Most of the Toowoomba residents expressed a desire to stay in the community, though, and would happily do so if they could find a job.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

Good place to raise children

Despite these early difficulties learning English and finding employment, an overwhelming majority of new refugees in Queensland (86%) reported feeling safe in their neighbourhoods, slightly lower than the national BNLA figure (93%). Again, Toowoomba is the standout: 100% of refugees felt safe living there.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

Overwhelmingly, most respondents also felt the arduous journey from Syria and Iraq had been worth it – 85% of all Queensland respondents believe they’ve found a neighbourhood that’s a good place to bring up children.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

Their children also revealed a strong sense of belonging, despite early feelings of loss and isolation. This is again higher in Toowoomba and lower in Logan – a result partially explained by the proactive nature of the community towards refugees in Toowoomba.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

This welcoming environment has been seen in many acts of kindness by teachers, community workers and church leaders. As one 14-year-old Afghan girl told us:

I was homesick. I was like there’s nowhere to go. We didn’t know many people around, like our own Afghanis. … So, the good thing in my life that happened last year was Ross, the pastor, came to our home and introduced us to church. Though we are not Christians, we still go there. It’s a youth group. So there we found many friends. We got to know more about other Afghanis living in Toowoomba and other cultures.

The ConversationAt a time when the integration of immigrant communities is being questioned, this study shows new arrivals to regional areas are actually doing well, and those in communities that welcome them may have the best support of all.

Jock Collins, Professor of Social Economics, UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney and Carol Reid, Professor, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

‘Use this app twice daily’: how digital tools are revolutionising patient care



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New electronic devices are being used by people of all ages to track activity, measure sleep and record nutrition.
Shutterstock

Caleb Ferguson, Western Sydney University; Debra Jackson, University of Technology Sydney, and Louise Hickman, University of Technology Sydney

Imagine you’ve recently had a heart attack.

You’re a lucky survivor. You’ve received high-quality care from nurses and doctors whilst in hospital and you’re now preparing to go home with the support of your family.

The doctors have made it clear that the situation is grim. It’s a case of: change your lifestyle or die. You’ve got to stop smoking, increase your physical activity, eat a healthy balanced diet (whilst reducing your salt), and make sure you take all your medicine as prescribed.




Read more:
Evidence-based medicine is broken: why we need data and technology to fix it


But before you leave the hospital, the cardiology nurse wants to talk to you. There are a few apps you can download on your smartphone that will help you manage your recovery, including the transition from hospital to home and all the health-related behavioural changes necessary to reduce the risk of another heart attack.

Rapid advancements in digital technologies are revolutionising healthcare. The benefits are numerous, but the rate of development is difficult to keep up with. And that’s creating challenges for both healthcare professionals and patients.

What are digital therapeutics?

Digital therapeutics can be defined as any intervention that is digitally delivered and has a therapeutic effect on a patient. They can be used to treat medical conditions in a similar way to drugs or surgery.

Current examples of digital therapeutics include apps for managing medications and cardiovascular health, apps to support mental health and well being, or augmented and virtual reality tools for patient education.

Paper-based letters, health records, prescription charts and education pamphlets are outdated. We can now send emails, enter information into electronic databases and access electronic medication charts.

And patient education is no longer a static, one-way communication. The digital revolution facilitates dynamic and personalised education, and a two-way interaction between patient and therapist.

How do digital therapeutics help?

Digital health care improves overall quality of care, even in cases where a patient lives hundreds of kilometres away from their doctor.

Take diabetes for example. This condition affects 1.7 million Australians. It’s a major risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease and stroke. So it’s important that people with diabetes manage their condition to reduce their risk.

A recent study evaluated a team-based online game, which was delivered by an app to provide diabetes self-management education. The participants who received the app in this trial had meaningful and sustained improvements in their diabetes, as measured by their HbA1c (blood glucose levels).

App based games of this kind hold promise to improve chronic disease outcomes at scale.

New electronic devices are also being used by people of all ages to track activity, measure sleep and record nutrition. This information provides instant and accurate feedback to individuals and their therapists, allowing for adjustments where necessary. The logged information can also be combined into large data sets to reveal patterns over time and inform future treatments.




Read more:
How virtual reality spiders are helping people face their arachnophobia


Digital therapeutics are spawning a new language within the healthcare industry. “Connected health” reflects the increasingly digital ways clinicians and patients communicate. A few examples include text messaging, telehealth, and video consultations with health professionals.

There is increasing evidence that digitally delivered care (including apps and text message based interventions) can be good for your health and can help you manage chronic conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

But not all health apps are the same

Whilst the digital health revolution is exciting, results of research studies should be carefully interpreted by patients and providers.

Innovation has led to 325,000 mobile health apps available in 2017. This raises significant governance issues relating to patient safety (including data protection) when using digital therapeutics.

A recent review identified that most studies have a relatively short duration of intervention and only reflect short-term follow up with participants. The long-term effect of these new therapeutic interventions remains largely unknown.

The current speed of technological development means the usual safety mechanisms face new ethical and regulatory challenges. Who is doing the prescribing? Who is responsible for the efficacy, storage and accuracy of data? How are these technologies being integrated into existing care systems?

Digital health needs a collaborative approach

Digital health presents seismic disruption to patient care, particularly when new technologies are cheap and readily accessible to patients who might lack the insight required to recognise normality or cause for alarm. Technology can be enabling and empowering for self management, however there’s a lot more needs to be done to link these new technologies into the current health system.

Take the new Apple Watch functionality of heart rate notifications for example. Research like the Apple Heart Study suggests this exciting innovation could lead to significantly improved detection rates of heart rhythm disorders, and enhanced stroke prevention efforts.

But when a patient receives a high heart rate notification, what should they do? Ignore it? Go to a GP? Head straight to the emergency department? And, what is the flow on impact on the health system?




Read more:
Why virtual reality won’t replace cadavers in medical school


Many of these questions remain unanswered suggesting there is an urgent need for research that examines how technology is implemented into existing healthcare systems.

The ConversationIf we are to produce useful digital therapeutics for real-world problems, then it is critical that the end-users are engaged in the process. Patients and healthcare professionals will need to work with software developers to design applications that meet the complex healthcare needs of patients.

Caleb Ferguson, Senior Research Fellow, Western Sydney University; Debra Jackson, Professor, University of Technology Sydney, and Louise Hickman, Associate Professor of Nursing, University of Technology Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.