Explainer: what’s new about the 2018 flu vaccines, and who should get one?


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The flu shot is free for at-risk groups, and available to others for around $10-$25.
Shutterstock

Kanta Subbarao, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

As winter draws closer, many Australians are wondering whether this year’s influenza season will be as bad as the last, and whether they should get vaccinated.

For most of us, influenza (the flu) is a mild illness, causing fever, chills, a cough, sore throat and body aches, that lasts several days. But some people – especially the elderly, young children and those with chronic diseases – are at risk of serious and potentially deadly complications.

While not perfect, the seasonal influenza vaccine is the best way to protect against influenza viruses. It’s free for at-risk groups, and available to others for around A$10A$25 (plus a consultation fee if your GP doesn’t bulk bill). In some states people can also get influenza vaccines from pharmacies.

Different viruses

There are four influenza viruses that cause epidemics: two type A viruses, called A/H1N1 and A/H3N2 and two type B influenza viruses, called B/Yamagata and B/Victoria viruses. All four cause a similar illness called influenza.

In any season, one of the viruses may dominate, or two or even three viruses could circulate.




Read more:
Influenza: The search for a universal vaccine


Last year’s influenza seasons in Australia and the United States were caused by A/H3N2, while B/Yamagata viruses predominated in Asia, and a mix occurred in Europe.

Influenza A/H3N2 viruses cause more severe epidemics that affect the entire population, from the very young to the very old.

In contrast, influenza B and A/H1N1 viruses tend to cause disease in children and young adults, respectively, sparing the elderly.

Developing the vaccine

Although influenza activity around the world is monitored throughout the year, influenza viruses mutate continuously and we can’t predict which virus will dominate. For this reason, the influenza vaccine includes components that are updated to protect against all four influenza A and B viruses.

Vaccination is the best option to prevent influenza and is offered in the autumn, in anticipation of influenza season in the winter. Typically, the influenza season begins in June, peaks by September and can last until November.

For best protection, you need a flu vaccine each year. Roberty Booy, Head of the Clinical Research team at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, explains why (via the Australian Academy of Science).

It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to induce immunity and the resulting protection lasts about six months.

The 2017 influenza season was severe in all states except WA. The epidemic began earlier than usual, there were more reported cases than in previous years, and there were a large number of outbreaks in residential care facilities in several jurisdictions.




Read more:
Here’s why the 2017 flu season was so bad


Who is most affected?

People of all ages can get influenza but some people are at greater risk of severe illness and complications that require hospitalisation. These groups include:

  • older adults who are over 65 years of age
  • children aged under five years and especially children under one
  • pregnant women
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons
  • people with severe asthma or underlying health conditions such as heart or lung disease, low immunity or diabetes.
Anyone can get a flu vaccine but some people have to pay for it.
Shutterstock

While the National Immunisation Program provides vaccines free of charge for the groups listed above, anyone who wants to reduce their risk of influenza can get vaccinated.

What’s new this year?

There are two notable changes.

One change is that several states (Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and the ACT) are now offering free vaccination for children under five years of age.




Read more:
Thinking about getting your child the flu vaccine? Here’s what you need to know


This is important because children are prone to severe illness and they spread the virus to their contacts, at home and in daycare. Previously, only WA offered children the influenza vaccine free of charge.

The second change is “enhanced” vaccines are available for adults over the age of 65. The standard influenza vaccine is not optimally effective in older adults.

Two products have been developed to improve the immunity offered by the vaccine: one is a high-dose vaccine four times the strength of the standard vaccine and the second is an “adjuvanted” vaccine, that contains an additive that boosts the immune response to the vaccine.




Read more:
Here’s what you need to know about the new flu vaccines for over-65s


These vaccines have been available in other countries for many years but are being introduced in Australia for the first time in 2018. Older adults will be offered one of the two enhanced vaccines for free.

What happens if you still get influenza?

Even if you’re vaccinated, you can still get influenza.

The effectiveness of the seasonal influenza vaccine varies and is usually around 40-50%. But last year’s vaccine was only around 33% effective overall, because it was not effective against the A/H3N2 virus though it was effective against the A/H1N1 and influenza B viruses.

While vaccines are given ahead of time to prevent influenza, antiviral drugs are available via GP prescription for people who get infected.

The antiviral drugs for influenza are most effective when taken within two days of illness and are only effective against influenza viruses. But they’re not effective against other respiratory viruses that cause colds and respiratory symptoms.

Influenza is a contagious virus that spreads through contact with respiratory secretions that are airborne (such as coughs and sneezes) or that contaminate surfaces (after wiping a runny nose, for instance). If you have influenza, stay home to avoid spreading the virus.

The ConversationUnfortunately, we can’t predict whether the 2018 influenza season will be mild or severe. Once we know which virus or viruses are circulating, we may be in a better position to predict how severe the season will be for older adults.

Kanta Subbarao, Professor, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

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

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Grattan on Friday: Government’s misjudgement on banking royal commission comes back to bite it



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In light of what is coming out the government should be ashamed of its past performance.
Flickr, CC BY-SA

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

If you are a politician, what do you do when your bad judgement – or worse – has been dramatically called out for all to see?

That’s the question which has faced the government as appalling behaviour by the Commonwealth Bank, AMP and Westpac has been revealed this week at the royal commission into misconduct in the banking, superannuation and financial services industry.

Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce went the full-monty confession. “In the past I argued against a Royal Commission into banking. I was wrong. What I have heard … so far is beyond disturbing”, he tweeted.

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Joyce is now a backbencher, and free with his opinions. It’s another story with current ministers. They continue trying to score political points over Labor, which had been agitating for a royal commission long before it was set up.

The ministers claim the government laid down terms of reference that took the inquiry beyond what Labor was proposing. But although Labor never released terms of reference, it flagged in April 2016 a broad inquiry into “misconduct in the banking and financial services industry”.

The real difference between the government and the opposition was the emphasis on superannuation. While Labor’s inquiry would have covered it, the government wrote in a specific term of reference, hoping evidence about industry funds might embarrass the unions and therefore the ALP. The commission has yet to reach those funds.

Revenue Minister Kelly O’Dwyer, pressed about her refusal to admit the government had erred in opposing a commission, told the ABC on Thursday, “Initially, the government said that it didn’t feel that there was enough need for a royal commission. And we re-evaluated our position and we introduced one”.

Well, that’s the short version. In fact, the government was forced to drop its resistance when Nationals rebels threatened to revolt. Take a bow, Queensland Nationals backbenchers Barry O’Sullivan, George Christensen and Llew O’Brien. You did everyone a service.

Indeed, the Nationals were on the case of the banks very early. Nationals senator John “Wacka” Williams for years pursued the rorts, through Senate committee investigations.

The government’s resistance to the royal commission was bad enough but remember its earlier record on consumer protections in the financial services area.

When the Coalition came to power it was determined to weaken measures Labor had introduced. Eventually, it was thwarted by the Senate crossbench, with the upper house disallowing its changes.

Just why the government was so keen to shield an industry where wrongdoing had been obvious is not entirely clear. It appears to have been a mix of free market ideology, a let-the-buyer-beware philosophy, and some close ministerial ties with the banking sector.

In light of what is coming out, the government should be ashamed of its past performance.

This week, the commission heard about AMP, which provides a wide range of financial products and advice, charging for services it didn’t deliver, and deliberately misleading the regulator, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), about its behaviour. By week’s end, AMP Chief Executive Craig Meller had quit.

It also heard how the Commonwealth Bank’s financial planning business charged customers it knew had died, including in one case for more than a decade. Linda Elkins, from CBA’s wealth management arm Colonial First State, agreed with the proposition put to her that the CBA would “be the gold medallist if ASIC was handing out medals for fee for no service.”

A nurse told of the financial disaster after she and her husband, aspiring to set up a B&B, received advice from a Westpac financial planner, including to sell the family home.

Seasoned journalist Janine Perrett, who now works for Sky, tweeted, “I thought nothing could shock me anymore, but in my forty years as a journo, most of it covering business, I have never seen anything as appalling as what we are witnessing at the banking RC. And I covered the 80’s crooks including Bond and Skase.”

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The commission’s interim report is due September 30 and its final report by February 1, not long before the expected time of the election. There is speculation over whether the reporting date will be extended. Bill Shorten says the inquiry should be given longer if needed; Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has indicated the government would do what Commissioner Kenneth Hayne wanted.

Those in the government who think the original timetable should be adequate note that, unlike for example the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, this inquiry is not undertaking deep dives into everything, but exposing the general problems.

From the opposition’s point of view, it would be desirable for the inquiry to run on. That would keep the banks a live debate, and leave it for Labor, if elected, to deal with the commission’s outcome. Shorten is already paving the way for a compensation scheme financed by the industry. Given the poisonous unpopularity of the banks, the Coalition could hardly run a scare about what a Shorten government might do.

Ideally, the government needs the issue squared away before the election.

The government insists it has already put in train a good deal to clean up the industry including a one-stop-shop for complaints, higher standards for financial advisers, beefing up ASIC, and a tougher penalty regime.

Treasurer Scott Morrison and O’Dwyer on Friday announced the detail of hefty new penalties for corporate and financial misconduct, including ASIC being able to ban people from the financial services sector.

One argument the government made against a royal commission was that it would just delay action. But of course if it had been held much earlier, by now we might have in place a full suite of reforms.

The ConversationMost immediately, the shocking stories from the commission are adding to the government’s problems in trying to sell its company tax cuts for big business to key crossbench senators and to the public.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Telecommunications Ombudsman reports surge in complaints about services delivered over NBN


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NBN Co chief executive Bill Morrow will present an upbeat account of the network’s impact in a speech on Tuesday.
AAP Image/Supplied by NBN Co

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has strongly challenged the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) after its report showed complaints about services delivered over the NBN surged by 204% in the second half of 2017, compared with the same period a year earlier.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield also announced details of a review, earlier flagged, of the telecommunications consumer protections framework, saying the high level of complaints about telecommunications services generally showed “the existing model for complaints handling and redress is not working”.

Fifield said the way the information regarding the 22,827 complaints about services delivered over the NBN was presented in the TIO report, released Tuesday, “could give the impression that responsibility for this figure rests with NBN Co”.

But advice to the government from NBN Co was that of these complaints, less than 5% were sent to NBN Co as complaints to resolve.

The NBN has been been heavily criticised for a slow rollout – although it says it has met every target for the past 14 quarters – low speeds and connection problems, generating high levels of complaints.

The six months to December saw a 39% increase in NBN premises activated.

The government and NBN Co are also focusing on the 16% fall in the rate of complaints about these services from the first to the second half of 2017.

In January to June of 2017, there were 19,683 complaints about services delivered over the NBN, making the picture better for the NBN when comparisons are made between the first and second halves of the year.

But the TIO report warns generally about comparisons of the two halves of the same year because of seasonal variations, preferring to compare the same period of each year. The government rejects the seasonal variation argument, saying the TIO itself has previously made comparisons within a year. It also believes the TIO is letting retailers off the hook.

The TIO is an industry-funded complaints resolution body. The NBN is not represented on its board.

The TIO report includes complaints for the six months to December covering mobile and fixed line telephony and both pre-NBN and NBN broadband.

It received nearly 85,000 complaints in total, which was a 28.7% rise over the same period in 2016. There was a 30.7% increase in complaints from residential consumers, and a 15.6% rise in those from small businesses.

Total complaints decreased from the 92,000 in the first half of 2017.

Fifield said that no matter who was the responsible party, the complaints figures were too high. “The current model for protecting consumers needs reform”.

The review, to provide for the post 2020 environment, will be undertaken in three parts to ensure consumers

… have access to an effective complaints handling and redress scheme;

… have reliable telecommunications services including reasonable timeframes for connections, fault repairs and appointments, as well as potential compensation or penalties against providers;

… are able to make informed choices and are treated fairly by their providers in service, contracts, billing, credit and debt management and switching providers.

Meanwhile chief executive of NBN Co Bill Morrow will present an upbeat account of the network’s impact in a speech at the National Press Club on Tuesday.

He will say the network generated an extra $1.2 billion in economic activity in 2017 and is encouraging more women to become their own bosses.

Morrow, who is leaving his job at the end of the year, will present figures prepared by the economic advisory firm AlphaBeta, using census data, modelling and polling to estimate the impact of the network – labelled “the nbn effect”.

He will say that “nbn-connected women are becoming self-employed at twice the overall rate of self-employment growth in nbn areas.

“In percentage terms, these results are stunning. The number of self-employed women in nbn regions grew at an average 2.3% every year, compared to just 0.1% annual average growth in female entrepreneurs in non-nbn areas.

“If this trend continues, up to 52,200 additional Australian women will be self-employed by the end of the rollout due to the ‘nbn effect’”, he will say.

The 2017 overall $1.2 billion estimated increase in economic activity – through new jobs, businesses and greater productivity – excludes the economic stimulus of the rollout itself.

“By the end of the rollout, this ‘nbn effect’ is predicted to have multiplied to $10.4 billion a year,” Morrow will say. “This represents an extra 0.07 percentage points to GDP growth, or 2.7% of the estimated GDP growth rate in 2021. By the end of the rollout, the ‘nbn effect’ is forecast to have helped create 31,000 additional jobs,” Morrow will say.

The ConversationThe network is now more than halfway built. About one in three homes and businesses are connected. The rollout is due to be completed by the end of 2020. Morrow has been CEO since 2014.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Angus Campbell to head Australian Defence Force


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The new Australian Defence Force Chief will be Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell, Chief of Army since 2015, who became the operational public face of the Coalition government’s Operation Sovereign Borders.

Campbell replaces the present chief, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, 58, who will retire from the ADF in July.

With his promotion, Campbell has jumped over the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, who was involved in controversy over his relationship with a junior officer, whom he later married. Two reviews cleared Griggs of any impropriety. He is now leaving the military.

While the vice chief is frequently promoted to chief, as were Binskin and David Hurley before him, it is not an invariable practice. Neither Angus Houston nor Peter Cosgrove had been vice chief before taking the top role.

Campbell joined the army in 1981, graduating from Duntroon in 1984. Later he served in the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS).

In 2005, he joined the Prime Minister’s Department, rising to become Deputy Secretary and Deputy National Security Adviser. In 2011, he took command of Australian forces deployed in the Middle East area of operations.

He has a Bachelor of Science (honours) from the University of New South Wales and a Master of Philosophy in international relations from Cambridge University.

In his role in Operation Sovereign Borders, Campbell was known for his tight lips in face of questions, often ruling them out as “on water” matters.

Announcing the ADF changes, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Campbell brought leadership and experience to his new position. Defence Minister Marise Payne said he had shown leadership across many roles – “from operational periods of the highest tempo to what some might call a character-building period in Prime Minister and Cabinet some years ago”.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also praised the Campbell appointment, saying it was well-deserved and the Labor Party “wholeheartedly support it”.

The new Vice Chief of the ADF will be Vice Admiral David Johnston, currently Chief of Joint Operations, where his role has been “to plan, control and conduct military campaigns, operations, joint exercises and other activities” to meet Australia’s national objectives.

John Blaxland, Professor of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU, praised the appointments, tweeting that these were “a good call”. Both were “well-seasoned, intelligent and highly regarded officers”, he said.

He said Campbell understood the importance of closer engagement with our Southeast Asian and South Pacific neighbours.

Houston said Campbell was “an outstanding appointment”. He was very happy the government had appointed such a “strong and well-credentialed team”.

The new Chief of Army will be Major General Rick Burr.

Rear Admiral Mike Noonan becomes Chief of Navy, replacing Tim Barrett the present Navy Chief, who will also retire in July after a 42 year career.

Air Vice Marshal Mel Hupfeld will become Chief of Joint Operations – he is currently the head of Force Design.

The ConversationChief of Air Force, Air Marshal Leo Davies, continues in his present position.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Why mandatory retirement ages should be a thing of the past


Alysia Blackham, University of Melbourne

Mandatory retirement ages are – rightly – mostly a thing of the past in Australia. But they still linger both formally and informally in some sectors and roles. This is of major concern for a country with an ageing population, such as Australia.

Compulsory retirement ages have been progressively prohibited in Australia since the 1990s. There are good reasons for this: reliance on irrational stereotypes about older workers can prevent businesses from finding the best person for the job. Allowing workers to choose when they retire can improve staff retention, increase workforce morale, and help employers retain vital skills and experience.

At a national level, prohibiting mandatory retirement can help relieve the burden of an ageing workforce on pension systems. It also promotes labour market supply and removes barriers to older people participating in society.




Read more:
Keeping mature-age workers on the job


Abolishing mandatory retirement can reduce welfare expenditure and increase self-reliance. Importantly, it recognises the inherent worth and dignity of workers of all ages, and sends a strong national message about the importance of ending age discrimination.

Where mandatory retirement remains

Federal Australian judges must retire at the age of 70, as outlined in section 72 of the Australian Constitution. While section 72 does not generally apply to state or territory courts, all states and territories also impose a retirement age for their judges. These range between ages 65 and 72.

The Australian Defence Force has also maintained a mandatory retirement age of 60 for personnel and 65 for reservists, though this can be extended on a case-by-case basis.

In Australia, federal court judges have a mandatory retirement age of 70.
Shutterstock

Overseas, some countries still allow mandatory retirement. The UK, for example, allows employers to justify a mandatory retirement age for their workforce. The UK Supreme Court has identified two broad categories of legimitate justification: intergenerational fairness and dignity.

Retirement provisions have been retained by some UK universities, including Oxford and Cambridge. These organisations have claimed that retirement ages are justified by very low turnover, which may limit progression for other staff. They also cite the need to increase staff diversity, refresh the workforce, and facilitate succession planning.




Read more:
How we could make the retirement system more sustainable


My research on how Australian universities are operating without mandatory retirement shows that there has been an increase in the number of academics working longer. The percentage of total academic staff at Australian universities aged over 64 increased from 0.96% in 1997 to 4.66% in 2012.

Extending academics’ working lives may be affecting the employment prospects of younger academics, particularly in relation to the availability of permanent academic posts at junior levels. Overall, though, there have been few negative impacts from the removal of mandatory retirement ages in universities.

I found Australian universities value the experience and skills of their older academic workforce, and explicitly reject any link between age and declining performance.

Judicial retirement ages

Even for the judiciary, mandatory retirement ages are outdated and inefficient. When they were introduced at the federal level in 1977, retirement ages were intended to “contemporise” the courts by introducing new people and ideas. They were designed to prevent declining performance on the bench and provide opportunities for younger judges.

But the workforce and our attitudes to older workers have changed since 1977. My research found that mandatory retirement ages for judges are inconsistent with modern workplace practices and are contrary to the desire for age equality. There is no evidence that older judges are “out of touch”, and age is a bad predictor of individual capacity.

Instead, judicial retirement ages may deprive the courts of expertise and experience. Retirement ages also appear to be contrary to the wishes of judges themselves. Justice Graham Bell, who retired from the Family Court of Australia on 20 February 2015, was quoted as saying:

These days 70 is equal to 60 or 55. … Judges should be able to go on till 80 provided they pass a medical inspection. After all, the pension makes judges pretty expensive creatures in retirement. They are sent out to pasture too early.

What’s more, judicial retirement ages are largely unnecessary in practice. Judges are entitled to generous pensions and often retire of their own accord. New judges will still be given opportunities even if we remove mandatory retirement ages.

Informal retirement pressures

Where mandatory retirement has been officially removed, there can still be pressure to retire at a certain age. My research found that some Australian universities may be using potentially discriminatory methods (such as redundancy) to manage an ageing workforce.

A significant proportion of older Australian workers report experiencing age discrimination. In 2014, over a quarter (27%) of Australians aged 50 years and over reported experiencing age discrimination in employment in the last two years.

Given these findings, in 2016 the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) conducted a national inquiry into discrimination against older workers. It recommended a suite of changes including discrimination law reforms and appointing a cabinet minister for longevity.




Read more:
Age discrimination in the workplace happening to people as young as 45: study


Previous studies have suggested that declining numbers of older men in the workforce are mostly due to employer constraints, not constraints on the part of older workers. This suggests the need for a shift in employers’ attitudes towards older workers, to encourage continued participation.

Why mandatory retirement ages are inefficient

With an ageing population, Australia cannot afford to lose skilled workers prematurely. In 2013, the Productivity Commission estimated that overall labour supply per capita will fall by nearly 5% by 2059–60 due to demographic ageing. The commission concluded that:

A period of truly diminished outcomes is likely to be at hand, unless luck or appropriate policy initiatives intervene.

The ConversationOne of the key policy measures available to address this looming issue is to increase workforce participation rates for older workers. Eliminating the last vestiges of mandatory retirement is an obvious first step.

Alysia Blackham, Senior Lecturer in Law and ARC Discovery Early Career Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

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

The far-right’s creeping influence on Australian politics


Andrew Markus, Monash University

This article is the last of a five-part series on the battle for conservative hearts and minds in Australian politics. Read part one here, part two here, part three here and part four here.


Far-right political groupings are a constant feature on the fringes of Australian politics. In the 1950s and 1960s, they included the League of Rights and minuscule neo-Nazi parties. In the 1980s, there was National Action, the Australian Nationalist Movement, Australians Against Further Immigration and the Citizens Electoral Council.

In recent years, we have witnessed the emergence of a number of groups that combine online organisation with intimidating street activity: Reclaim Australia, Rise Up Australia, the Australian Defence League, the United Patriots Front, True Blue Crew and Antipodean Resistance.

While hostility between – and within – far-right groups is typical, they are united by their nationalism, racism, opposition to “alien” immigration and disdain for democracy.

Most far-right activists continue to be excluded from polite society. But the endorsement of their ideas by some mainstream political figures has allowed them to make creeping gains into the political culture.

Paranoid style

A feature of far-right movements was characterised in the 1960s by the American political scientist Richard Hofstadter as the “paranoid style”:

a style of mind that … evokes [a] sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.

A common belief concerns conspiracies that are hidden by the media, which disseminates what today is termed “fake news” or “alternative facts”, previously known as propaganda and misinformation.

The conspirators have been identified in various guises, with the common element being the promotion of international and cosmopolitan, as distinct from national, values. They include Freemasons, Catholics (or “Papists”), Jews, Muslims, Communists, Socialists and Fabians.

International organisations such as the United Nations are especially suspect – seen as agents of a “New World Order”. Climate scientists and environmentalists, with their proliferation of international treaties, have become major targets in recent years.

Eric Butler, the driving force of the League of Rights for half a century, strove to unmask what he saw as the “New International Economic Order”, orchestrated by Jews, manifested in the Indigenous land rights movement, the destruction of family farms and small businesses, and the policies of “multi-racialism and multi-culturalism”.

In the 1980s and 1990s, far-right groups focused on their discovery of the “The Grand Plan – Asianisation of Australia”. The 1997 book The Truth, issued in Pauline Hanson’s name by a group of her followers, revealed “the internationalist elite of The New World Order” that was plotting the destruction of Anglo-Saxon Australia through “immigrationism, multiculturalism, Asianisation and Aboriginalism”.

In contemporary Australia, far-right movements focus on Islam. It is seen as an authoritarian force that supposedly seeks world domination through the infiltration of Muslim populations into the West, the establishment of a separate legal system (Sharia Law) enforced through mosques, and the subjugation of non-Muslims through acts of terror.

Hostility to immigration

The distinctive mindset that characterises supporters of minor political parties of the right is evident in public opinion surveys, but findings on members of fringe political groupings are less reliable because their numbers in national surveys are very small.

Nevertheless, we can confidently conclude that a high proportion of people attracted to the far-right have a heightened negative view of their life circumstances, a stronger sense that the area in which they live – and their country – is on a downward path, and negative views of immigration and ethnic diversity.

The 2017 Scanlon Foundation national survey, which I led and analysed, disaggregated attitudes by political alignment. In response to the open-ended question “What do you think is the most important problem facing Australia today?”, immigration (viewed negatively) was the most important issue for One Nation supporters. By contrast, it ranked fifth for Coalition voters, sixth for Labor, and was not ranked at all by Greens voters.

When asked for their view of the level of immigration, 86% of One Nation supporters indicated that the intake was too high, compared with just of 37% of the national sample.

Heightened concern over immigration links to nationalist values. Asked to respond to the proposition that “people who come to Australia should change their behaviour to be more like Australians”, 78% of One Nation voters strongly agreed, compared with 37% of Coalition voters, 30% of Labor and 4% of Greens. An overwhelming 92% of One Nation voters strongly agree that “in the modern world, maintaining the Australian way of life is important.”

Expanding reach

While there is consistency over time in far-right values, in one respect there has been change. Where once these previously fringe political groupings struggled to reach large audiences, they have now improved their messaging and, most importantly, harnessed the power of the internet and social media to grow their networks.

This is illustrated by the “Stop the Mosque” campaign in the Victorian regional centre of Bendigo, which reached a level of activism and civil disobedience that won national and international attention. Opponents of the mosque established a Facebook page in January 2014; within six months, it had amassed more than 8000 followers.

Links were forged with like-minded groups across Australia, the United States and Europe, who provided encouragement, campaign advice, donations and access to resources. Protest activities were maintained for over two years and spread to other areas.

The emphasis on the perceived threat of Islam has been a crystallising issue for the far-right in recent years, helping it to grab headlines and recruit followers. Pauline Hanson and the Liberal National Party’s George Christensen spoke at anti-Islamic Reclaim Australia rallies in 2015.

The politics of the paranoid style remains in vogue among the far-right, which limits its possibilities for growth. But today, as Collette Snowden has observed, its reach is greatly enhanced:

with the dedication and commitment of a few passionate supporters, small and more marginalised groups are able to create a public presence that previously would have required years.

The ConversationThe influence of the far-right should not be overstated, but it is a danger sign when mainstream politicians associate themselves with its hateful agenda.

Andrew Markus, Pratt Foundation Research Chair of Jewish Civilisation, Monash University

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

Why the Australian Christian right has weak political appeal


Geoffrey Robinson, Deakin University

This article is the fourth in a five-part series on the battle for conservative hearts and minds in Australian politics. Read part one here, part two here and part three here.


The Christian right has been a forceful presence in American political life since the 1970s. Conservative Christians in Australia have attempted to mobilise religion in similar ways, but have not been able to gain a permanent foothold in our mainstream political culture.

Religion is never just religion; it can mean at least three different things. First, propositions about the world: Does God exist? Is Jesus his son? Second, an expression of shared identity: “we are Christians/Muslims/Jews”. A third approach understands religion as a “technology of self-governance”. That is, we reflect on our conduct and thoughts and try to live according to a moral code.

In the lives of the politically religious, these concepts are entangled. Australian political religion began as an expression of identity, but today draws much of its appeal on notions of self-governance. Yet this appeal has limited political potential.

Catholics and Protestants

For the first half of the 20th century, religious identity was a major faultline in Australian politics: Protestants tended to support conservative parties; Catholics generally favoured Labor.

Popular Protestantism emerged as a technology of self-governance associated with crusades for moral reform. Among Catholics, disproportionately less educated, religion was still understood as a form of group identity rather than a way of living. Australia, like other countries of European settlement, saw an alliance between Catholics and the left, despite the illiberalism of the Catholic hierarchy.

It was only in the 1930s that a new generation of Catholics (exemplified by B.A. Santamaria) adopted the style and rhetoric of Protestant politics. Santamaria called on Catholics to live their faith and let it specifically shape public policy.

A new generation of educated Catholics was enthralled. They defied the Labor and Catholic establishment to form the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) after the 1955 Labor Party split.




Read more:
Australian politics explainer: the Labor Party split


This period represents the high point of Australian political religion. The DLP was a distinctively religious party, overwhelmingly supported by Catholics, while the suburban Protestantism of Sunday schools and Freemasonry shaped Liberal politics.

Traditional divisions dissolve

Yet, the edifice of old Australian political religion began to dissolve in the 1960s. Social upheavals undercut the power of religion as a set of unchallenged norms. For some, modern liberalism provided an effective substitute. For others, it offered only social disintegration and meaninglessness.

Established churches acquiesced in the rebellion against the old morality. Catholic certainties were shattered by the liberal reforms of Vatican II. Protestant certainties of sin and damnation seemed absurd in the age of post-ideological prosperity, and Protestant church attendance fell rapidly.

For a time, the DLP defied the trend, but it’s very cohesion as an anti-Labor force undercut its own rationale. After the DLP’s electoral collapse in the mid-1970s, it was logical for sympathisers (such as Tony Abbott and Kevin Andrews) to transition to the Liberal Party. For these Liberals, Catholicism was a faith of group identity, persecution fears and clerical heroes (such as, in more recent times, George Pell).

Rise of the evangelical Christian right

But at the very time that political religion seemed doomed, it began to revive. Religious conservatives fought back and activated previously passive church membership in defence of traditional morality. In the United States, the 1970s was the decade of faith. Australia provided only a faint echo, but for ambitious evangelicals, the American Christian right was a model.

Fred Nile’s Call to Australia (later renamed the Christian Democratic Party) polled 9% at the 1981 New South Wales state election. Political religion offered a new way for its voters to have lives of self-fulfilment and purpose, lifting them from the suburban routines of empty churches to participation in a wider world.

Two years later, the Hills Christian Life Centre (later Hillsong) was established in explicit emulation of the American mega-church model.

Evangelical Christians pushed into politics even more explicitly in the 2000s. In 2001, the obscure Australian Christian Coalition rebadged itself as the Australian Christian Lobby and rapidly developed a high profile, as it sought to bring a Christian influence to politics. In 2002, former Assemblies of God pastor Andrew Evans established the political party Family First, and was elected to the South Australian upper house.

At the 2004 federal election, this kind of politics burst onto the national stage with the election of a Family First senator from Victoria and the Hillsong-affiliated Liberal Louise Markus in the western Sydney seat of Greenway. Markus’s Muslim opponent, Labor’s Ed Husic, believed religion was used against him during the campaign.

Dwindling appeal

In May 2004, the Howard government legislated to prevent same-sex couples from marrying, and by the end of the year, the devout Christian George W. Bush had been re-elected to the US presidency. Secular liberals feared the worst about the increasing political influence of the Christian right.

But this moral panic misjudged the appeal of religion. Political entrepreneurs like Evans successfully corralled religious voters, but for many of them the appeal of religion was as a technology of self-governance.

This fact underlay the failure of the religious right in the 2017 same-sex marriage debate. The driving force of opposition was a belief that religion made truth claims: a moral law that homosexuality was wrong. Yet even in the United States, younger evangelicals have become more sympathetic to same-sex marriage. The project of marriage equality with its emphasis on authenticity within limits is compatible with evangelical religion.

Yet the response to this failure on the religious right has been to pursue new “truths”, such as the natural rights economic liberalism of Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives, which absorbed Family First last year.

This position contradicted the economic centrism of many Family First voters and probably contributed to the Conservatives’ electoral failure at the recent SA state election.

The ConversationThe Australian Christian right never managed to scale the heights of its American counterpart, but it has still fallen a long way. Its rare and fleeting political successes are but fond memories for its adherents, even as evangelical faith continues to shape the lives of many outside politics.

Geoffrey Robinson, Senior Lecturer, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Deakin University

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

Flesh-eating bacteria cases on the rise and we need an urgent response


File 20180413 47416 1fmbesr.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
In Australia, cases of Buruli ulcer have been associated with coastal areas – like Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula.
Bernard Spragg. NZ/Flickr, CC BY

Daniel O’Brien, University of Melbourne

Victoria is facing a worsening epidemic of flesh-eating bacteria that cause a disease known internationally as Buruli ulcer – and we don’t know how to prevent it. Also called Bairnsdale ulcer or Daintree ulcer, this disease causes destructive skin lesions that can lead to severe illness and occasionally even death.

Buruli ulcer is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium ulcerans (M. ulcerans) and often results in long-term disability and cosmetic deformity.

An epidemic, or an outbreak, is when cases of a disease occur more often than expected in a given area over a particular period of time.

In 2016, there were 182 new cases in Victoria, which, at the time was the highest number ever reported. But the number of casesreported in 2017 (275) have further increased by 51%, compared with 2016 (182). The cases are also becoming more severe in nature and occurring in new geographical areas.

In Australia, Buruli ulcer is frequently reported from the Daintree region, and less commonly the Capricorn coast, of Queensland. Occasionally we’ve heard of cases from the NT, NSW and WA. But most reports come from Victoria, where the disease has been recognised since 1948.

Despite this, we still don’t know the exact environmental niche where the organism lives and how it is transmitted to humans.

Our article, published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, calls for an urgent investigation to answer some critical questions. These include finding out the natural source of M. ulcerans; how the infection is transmitted to humans; what role possums, mosquitoes and other species play in transmission; why the disease incidence is increasing and spreading into new areas in Victoria; and why cases are becoming more severe.

Why is Buruli ulcer such a problem?

Buruli ulcer occurs most commonly in the tropical regions of West or Central Africa, and is a significant public health problem there.

Ulcers are the most common form of this disease. But it can also manifest as a small swelling or lump below the skin, a plaque or as a cellulitic form, and can be complicated by bone or joint infection. The disease can affect all age-groups, including young children.




Read more:
Explainer: what is the flesh-eating bacterium that causes Buruli ulcer and how can I avoid it?


Treatment effectiveness has improved in recent years and cure rates have approached 100% with the use of combination antibiotics (rifampicin and clarithromycin). But these are expensive and not subsidised under Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

The treatments are also powerful and about one-quarter of people have severe side-effects including hepatitis, allergy or a destabilisation of other medical conditions such as heart disease or mental illness.

Buruli ulcer usually requires reconstructive surgery, like in the case of this 76-year-old man.
Author provided

Many people require reconstructive plastic surgery – sometimes with prolonged hospital admissions. On average it takes four to five months for the disease to heal, and sometimes a year or more.

All of this results in substantial costs through such things as wound dressings, medical visits, surgery, hospitalisation, and time off work or school.

What do we know about the bacteria?

M. ulcerans disease is concentrated in particular sites, and endemic and non-endemic areas are separated by only a few kilometres. In Africa it’s usually associated with wetlands, especially those with slow-flowing or stagnant waters. But in Australia it’s found mostly in coastal regions, like Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.

We know the risk of infection is seasonal, with an increased risk in the warmer months. Lesions most commonly occur on areas of the body that have been exposed. This suggests bites, environmental contamination or trauma may play a role in infection, and that clothing is protective.

Human-to-human transmission does not seem to occur, although cases are commonly clustered in families, presumably as a result of similar environmental exposure.

The rest is unclear. Possible sources of infection in the environment include the soil, or dead plant material in water bodies such as lakes or ponds.

It may be transmitted to humans though contamination of skin lesions and minor abrasions – through trauma or via the bite of insects such as mosquitoes.

In Victoria, some possums in Point Lonsdale on the Bellarine Peninsula (an endemic area) were found to have Buruli ulcers and have high levels of M. ulcerans in their faeces. The location, proportion and concentration of M. ulcerans in possum faeces was also strongly correlated with human cases. But no M. ulcerans was found in possum faeces in nearby areas with no human cases.

So, it’s thought possum faeces might increase the risk of infection to humans in contact with that environment, or infection could be potentially transmitted by insects biting possums and then humans.




Read more:
Are mosquitoes to blame for the spread of ‘flesh-eating’ bacteria?


What should we do?

We need to understand the risk factors for M. ulcerans disease by comprehensively analysing human behaviour and environmental characteristics, combined with information on climate and geography.

It’s especially relevant that over the last two years, the number of cases have been increasing in the Mornington Peninsula, while decreasing in the adjacent Bellarine Peninsula. Studying this could allow us to pinpoint the risk factors that underlie the differing incidence patterns.

Once identified, more specific analysis can be performed to further assess the role of these risk factors. We can then explore targeted interventions such as modifying human behaviour, insect control, changes to water use and informed urban planning. Through this we have the best chance to develop effective public health interventions to prevent the disease, and promote more community education and awareness campaigns to help people protect themselves.

It will also facilitate the development of predictive models for non-affected areas that closely monitor these areas for the emergence of the organism. This knowledge can hopefully also be applied globally to benefit those affected overseas.

The ConversationWe need an urgent response based on robust scientific knowledge. Only then can we hope to halt the devastating impact of this disease. We advocate for local, regional and national governments to urgently commit to funding the research needed to help stop Buruli ulcer.

Daniel O’Brien, Associate Professor, University of Melbourne

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

Are Australians ready to embrace libertarianism?


Chris Berg, RMIT University

This article is the third in a five-part series on the battle for conservative hearts and minds in Australian politics. Read part one here and part two here.


How much influence does libertarianism have on Australian politics? The first thing to know is that the Australian political system has very few libertarians in it.

The only federal member of parliament to self-describe as a libertarian is Senator David Leyonhjelm of the Liberal Democratic Party. Other candidates – like my former colleagues at the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), Senator James Paterson and Tim Wilson – describe themselves as classical liberals.

Ideological classifications can get very tedious very quickly, but generally libertarianism is a variety of classical liberalism. Both philosophies believe that public policy should be designed to maximise free markets and civil liberties. That is, governments should get out of both the wallet and the bedroom. Libertarianism is generally seen as inhabiting the more radical end of the classical liberal spectrum.

A 2007 study published by the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) estimated that 3–6% of the Australian electorate were classical liberals. So it is unsurprising they have little electoral influence on Australian politics.

The reason libertarians and classical liberals exercise some degree of influence is that they make up a disproportionate share of Australia’s policy wonks, think tank staff (especially at the IPA and CIS), and political commentators.

An extremely big tent

Australia’s right-of-centre political community is not so large as to have exclusively libertarian or conservative think tanks, as exist in the United States. Everyone works together. This co-mingling hasn’t generally been an issue because Australian political debate has tended to pivot around economic issues (taxation, regulation, privatisation) or basic shared liberty issues (like freedom of speech) rather than the thorny moral debates that might divide the two camps.

Occasionally there have been polarising issues. Same-sex marriage is one. Conservatives were generally opposed, while libertarians tended to be in favour. But there was also broad agreement that any change to marriage laws should also protect religious freedom.

Immigration – particularly asylum seeker policy – is another. Libertarians are inclined towards freer immigration, whereas conservatives want more control over the borders. Here the tiny number of libertarians have been completely ineffective against the policy stalemate.

For the most part, there is much agreement between conservatives and libertarians about the current state of Australian politics. Both think the Turnbull government is a disappointment, for much the same reasons. It failed on the campaign to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which has become an iconic restriction on free speech. It has also repeatedly raised taxes, and been unable to drive any serious economic reform.




Read more:
Can the Liberal Party hold its ‘broad church’ of liberals and conservatives together?


This may sound excessively Pollyanna-ish, as if everything is just swell between Australian conservatives and libertarians. Much has been said (almost all by commentators on the left) about a political split between libertarians and classical liberals on the one side and conservatives on the other. But I don’t really see it.

In the US, the fusion movement of the 1950s and 1960s was a deliberate project to build an alliance between these two distinct systems of political thought. The presidency of George W. Bush pushed that alliance to breaking point, and it seems the Trump administration has broken it.

By contrast, Australian politics has never been large enough to maintain such divergent streams. Every Liberal prime minister has for the most part maintained a sort of centre-right middle ground that kept everyone equally disappointed and dissatisfied. People are leaving the Liberal Party under the Turnbull government, not because it is too conservative or libertarian, but because it is too, well, nothing.

Liberal achievements and libertarian growth

The last quarter of the 20th century saw Australian public policy take major strides in a classical liberal direction. The economic reform movement that substantially liberalised the economy was matched with social reforms such as the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the repeal of obscenity laws.

I’ve argued in the past that Australian economic thought has had a distinct – even occasionally dominant – classical liberal tradition. There is no question that this tradition has driven policy debate and reform at a few key historical moments.

Though classical liberal efforts were often focused on economics rather than social policy, it’s worth pointing out that the IPA was one of the key voices against state overreaches such as the Hawke government’s ill-fated Australia Card, and more recently, mandatory internet data retention.




Read more:
Tony Abbott and the revenge of the ‘delcons’


In recent years, there has been some notable growth of libertarianism as a self-aware and distinct group. A large part of that has been the Friedman Conference – named after Milton Friedman, David Friedman and Patri Friedman, who represent nearly the entire spectrum of classical liberal/libertarian thought in one family – which attracts hundreds of libertarians and fellow travellers to Sydney every year.

The Friedman Conference is in its sixth year, thanks to the organisational efforts of Tim Andrews (of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance) and John Humphreys (of the Australian Libertarian Society). The political success of the Liberal Democrats with David Leyonhjelm in the Senate is another factor in libertarianism’s modest gains.

My hope is that this sort of organisational effort fosters the idea in Australia of libertarianism as a distinct political philosophy, not just a quirky sub-category of the Australian right.

The ConversationThere is a need for this. The challenges we face now are not the same as they were in the over-mythologised 1980s. The combination of growth of the regulatory state, radical technological change, and the crisis of democratic trust require new ideas and new policy solutions. Libertarianism offers a framework to understand how these economic and social questions interact.

Chris Berg, Postdoctoral fellow, RMIT University

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

Tony Abbott and the revenge of the ‘delcons’


Dominic Kelly, La Trobe University

This article is the second in a five-part series on the battle for conservative hearts and minds in Australian politics. Read part one here.


When Liberal Party MPs dumped Tony Abbott for Malcolm Turnbull in September 2015, they could hardly have pleaded ignorance of the turmoil they were creating for themselves. The fact they were in government could largely be credited to the Labor Party having torn itself apart in the Kevin Rudd-Julia Gillard leadership wars.

Almost three years later, veteran political journalist Paul Kelly believes Australian conservatism is in crisis:

Conservatism is consumed by confusion over its principles and purpose. It is fragmenting in party terms – witness the Coalition bleeding votes to Hanson’s One Nation and Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives. With John Howard long gone, it is devoid of any authority figure in office able to hold the movement together and retain it within the party. Abbott remains its figurehead with the faithful but his internal standing has nosedived.

Much as Rudd did for Gillard’s entire prime ministership, Abbott continues to stalk Turnbull, using his media allies to insert himself in national debates whenever possible. This delights his supporters, but infuriates those Liberal colleagues more interested in governing than fighting internal battles.

But can Abbott and the hardline conservative base succeed in reclaiming control of the Liberal Party?


https://public.flourish.studio/story/5533/embed


The ‘delcon’ insurgency

In April 2016, conservative Daily Telegraph columnist Miranda Devine came up with the memorable term “delcon” to describe those “delusional conservatives” who remained firmly in the Abbott camp following the Turnbull coup. “The Delcon movement is tiny but viciously punitive to those it regards as heretics,” she wrote.

Devine had in mind prominent right-wing figures such as James Allan, a law professor at the University of Queensland, and John Stone, the former Treasury Secretary and National Party senator. Following the coup, both were quick to announce they would never vote for the Liberal Party “while led by Malcolm Turnbull and his fellow conspirators.”

But Devine’s delcon jibe did nothing to make them reconsider their positions. If anything, it hardened their resolve. Allan wore the term with pride, and re-affirmed his position that:

with Malcolm in charge it’s actually in Australia’s long-term interest to see the Coalition lose this next election, for the long-term good of party and country.

Stone preferred the term “dis-con” – claiming to be a disaffected, not delusional, conservative – and argued that voting against the Liberals was an act of principle intended to teach the party a lesson about loyalty.

Meanwhile, Stone and Allan have used every opportunity to urge the Liberal Party to restore Abbott to the leadership. They were especially emboldened by Turnbull’s disastrous election performance in 2016, which increased the power and influence of the Liberal Party’s right wing, even as it remained in the minority.




Read more:
Can the Liberal Party hold its ‘broad church’ of liberals and conservatives together?


Though other leadership options have been canvassed, Stone’s overwhelming preference is a restoration of Abbott:

Readers will know I have continued to believe the Coalition’s best chance at the next election will be by restoring Abbott as its Leader. A different choice, hailing from the party’s right (Peter Dutton?), would be enough to see many Dis-Cons stream back into the Liberal’s corner; but if the choice were Abbott, that stream would become a flood. Like him or loathe him, Abbott towers head and shoulders over anyone else in the Liberal party room, whether seen from a domestic policy viewpoint or as international statesman.

Minor party alternatives

However, while Turnbull remained in the job, disaffected conservatives were forced to consider placing their votes with other parties of the right. In the 2016 election, Stone recommended merely placing candidates from “acceptably ‘conservative’ parties” (such as Family First, the Australian Liberty Alliance, Fred Nile’s Christian Democrats and the Shooters and Fishers Party) above those Liberals who voted for Turnbull in the leadership spill.

But by April 2017, increasingly exasperated with the Liberal Party’s unwillingness to remove Turnbull, Stone was ready to abandon the party altogether:

If … nothing has been done by mid-year, we still loosely unattached Dis-Cons will need finally to make the break – to sever our former Liberal loyalties and definitively look elsewhere to lodge our votes. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, of course, beckons, as do the Liberal Democrats. Perhaps most attractive may be Cory Bernardi’s Conservative Party; but one way or the other, decision time approaches.

However, the recent electoral results of these alternatives have been decidedly underwhelming. One Nation seemingly came from nowhere to win four Senate seats in 2016, but performed significantly below expectations in subsequent state elections in Western Australia and Queensland.

The performance of Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives in the South Australian election in March this year was even more disappointing. Launched in April 2017 as the party for conservatives fed up with the direction of the Liberal Party under Turnbull, the party received a miserable 3% of votes in Bernardi’s home state, and has since suffered the defection of one MP to the Liberals.

Abbott’s relentless campaign

And so, an Abbott-led Liberal Party remains the goal for disaffected conservatives, and Abbott has proven more than willing to present himself as their flag-bearer. One report suggested he is preparing the ground for a return to the leadership in opposition, though Abbott publicly refuted the story.

But the former prime minister continues his relentless campaign to undermine Turnbull’s leadership. He launched Pauline Hanson’s book at Parliament House, urging the Coalition to work with the “constructive” One Nation, and mischievously suggesting that “you are always better the second time around”.




Read more:
The pro-coal ‘Monash Forum’ may do little but blacken the name of a revered Australian


Abbott is also a central figure in the Monash Forum, a loose collection of conservative Liberals and Nationals urging the government to invest in coal-fired power stations. Tellingly, the story of the group’s emergence was first broken by Peta Credlin, Abbott’s former chief of staff.

As they did in 2009, conservative MPs are exploiting internal divisions over climate and energy policy to undermine Turnbull’s leadership. The Monash Forum was slammed as “socialist” by Paul Kelly, and derided by Miranda Devine as merely “the usual suspects among the tiny delcon contingent of Liberal MPs”.

The ConversationBut though their numbers may be small, the delcons’ political impact is immense. They are determined to bring down the prime minister at any cost, including doing long-term damage to the Liberal Party.

Dominic Kelly, Honorary Research Fellow, La Trobe University

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