The 93-page statement of agreed facts and admissions prepared by Westpac and the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) says Westpac contravened the Act more than 23 million times exposing Australia’s financial system to criminal exploitation.
It failed to pass on information to authorities about the origin of international funds transfers, and failed to pass on information to other banks in the transfer chain who needed to manage their own money laundering and terrorism financing risks.
“Westpac failed to identify activity potentially indicative of child exploitation risks by failing to implement appropriate transaction monitoring detection scenarios,” the agreed statement says.
“Three of the customers the subject of these proceedings had prior convictions relating to child exploitation offences.”
“One of these customers has been arrested in relation to further child exploitation offences since the commencement of these proceedings.
In reaching the agreement, Westpac also admitted to 76,000 additional contraventions relating to information that came to light after AUSTRAC launched proceedings last year, some which also relate to “failures to reasonably monitor customers for transactions related to possible child exploitation”.
The action triggered the departures of Westpac chief executive Brian Hartzer and chairman Lindsay Maxsted late last year.
The reports relating to Australian banks were filed by the US banks which dealt with them.
The Australian banks themselves might have also filed their own reports.
There’s little to suggest much was done about the reports by US banks at the time, either by the banks themselves or by the regulators they filed them to.
Indeed, the long timespan suggests the banks not only didn’t close suspicious accounts (which might have alerted account holders to suspicions) but also continued to open new ones.
The crime that makes other crimes possible
BuzzFeed, which obtained the documents, said money laundering was a crime that made other crimes possible, and had itself become an integral part of the financial system.
The networks through which dirty money traverse the world have become vital arteries of the global economy. They enable a shadow financial system so wide-ranging and so unchecked that it has become inextricable from what is regarded as the legitimate economy. Banks with household names have helped to make it so.
Commissioner Hayne held banks to higher standard than merely abiding by the law. He referred to “the kind of behaviour the community not only expects of financial services entities but is also entitled to expect of them”.
This is not the first time there has been a positive COVID-19 test for prison personnel in Australia; three justice health staff in New South Wales tested positive earlier this year.
Public health and prison officials look fearfully at the toll coronavirus has taken on incarcerated populations around the world. They recognise Australian prisons are also at high risk for coronavirus outbreaks.
Many have pushed for proactive measures to prevent this. Now the adequacy of the implemented measures is being tested.
Hygiene standards are poor and there have been reported shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) for both staff and prisoners. National Cabinet agreed in May supplying PPE to corrections facilities should be a priority “if COVID-19 cases are confirmed in the sector”, so it is not clear if this has happened.
Prisoners have higher rates of social disadvantage and many are medically vulnerable due to lifelong difficulties accessing health care; mental health and substance abuse problems; violence; and unhealthy prison conditions.
Indigenous Australians are significantly over-represented in the prison population. While coronavirus has been kept out of Indigenous communities, there is every reason to believe Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, like other First Nations people, are at increased risk from coronavirus infection and death.
There is significant churn in the justice system as people are taken into custody, bailed, jailed and released.
There is little data to assess the adequacy of health-care facilities in prisons. But prisoners have an inherent health-care disadvantage as they cannot make their own decisions about their health care, or access Medicare and medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
What’s happening in prisons during the pandemic?
There is little information about what is happening to protect Australian prisons from the pandemic.
One media report in March outlined some measures individual states and territories have taken. All jurisdictions have limited prison visits and most, including Victoria, have instituted a 14-day quarantine for new prisoners.
There has been some testing in some prisons, but the extent is not known. A media report in May stated Victoria would increase testing in prisons after three inmates returned inconclusive tests that were later found to be negative.
Should we be releasing prisoners?
Australian governments have faced renewed calls to urgently release some prisoners into the community. This would cut the number of people held in prisons and other places of detention, particularly Indigenous people and others at increased risk.
Governments in some states, have responded by introducing legislation to allow for this, although we don’t yet know the extent of any releases.
However, release into the community is only a safe option if people have appropriate housing and support services. There are concerns that releases — which are based on risk to the community, the safety of victims and access to accommodation — will be culturally biased against those most likely to benefit such as Indigenous prisoners.
Many Indigenous communities are closed to visitors and no-one can return until after a 14-day isolation period. This presents difficulties for those prisoners who do not have accommodation options outside their communities.
We need to avoid what’s happening overseas
The clear lessons from the second outbreak of coronavirus in Victoria and from the disastrous situation of rising coronavirus cases in prisons in the United States is that swift, concerted actions are needed to curtail spread of the virus.
The only way to know what is happening is rapid testing of prisoners and staff, whether or not they show symptoms, and effective isolation of anyone possibly infected.
At the same time, the human rights of this vulnerable population must be protected and their physical and mental health needs addressed. Already most prisoners are unable to have visitors and in Victoria they are unable to receive needed supplies such as toiletries, books, food and clothing.
Families are reportedly “sick with worry” they will not be notified if a family member falls ill.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that during a global pandemic,
the consequences of neglecting the prison population was “potentially catastrophic”.
In Australia, Hannah McGlade, academic, human rights lawyer and a member of the UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues, said:
Prison is the most unsafe place that Aboriginal people can be in a pandemic.
The Victorian government is already on notice. A recent decision of the Victorian supreme court found it had breached its duty to take reasonable care for the health of people behind bars during the coronavirus pandemic.
It is imperative that in the days ahead coronavirus infections in prisons and other correctional facilities are accepted as a public health problem for everyone.
You probably know the details of the death of George Floyd. He was a doting father and musician. He was killed when a police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes while he cried out “I can’t breathe!”
Do you know about David Dungay Jr? He was a Dunghutti man, an uncle. He had a talent for poetry that made his family endlessly proud. He was held down by six corrections officers in a prone position until he died and twice injected with sedatives because he ate rice crackers in his cell.
At the end of a long inquest that stretched to almost four years, the coroner declined to refer the officers involved in Dungay’s death to prosecutors (who might consider charges) or to disciplinary bodies.
When I heard [George Floyd] say ‘I can’t breathe’ for the first time I had to stop … My solidarity is with them because I do know the pain they are feeling. And as for the Aboriginal deaths in our backyard … it’s not in the public as much as it should be.
A perception Indigenous deaths in custody are expected
Many people on this continent know more about police and prison violence in the US, another settler colony, than the same violence that happens here. Both are deserving of our attention and action, so what’s behind the curious silence on First Nations deaths in custody in Australia?
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have raised this concern long before today in the media and social media.
Why do we have to? The reasons are complex, but boil down to a system of complicity and perceived normality in Indigenous deaths at the hands of police and prisons. The settler Australian public simply does not see Indigenous deaths in custody as an act of violence, but as a co-morbidity.
The choice of language is important: it evokes a certain response in the reader and shapes our understandings of events. In the case of Palm Island, the often-repeated meta-narrative of so-called ‘dysfunctional’ and ‘lawless’ Aboriginal communities served to justify further acts of colonial violence.
In my 2018 pilot study on a sample of 134 Indigenous deaths in custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, I found coroners considered referring just 11 deaths to prosecutors and only ended up referring five. Of those, only two made it to court and both resulted in quashed indictments or acquittals.
These are monumental figures. They are also stories of deep systemic complicity, both before and after death. And they are full lives, with loved ones who mourn and fight for them.
The scale of devastation is unthinkable – and violent, and racist.
What makes Australian silence about deaths in custody so especially bizarre is that, unlike the US, we have a mandatory legal review of every death in custody or police presence. Each case, regardless of its circumstances, goes before a judge called a coroner.
Just as public political will is always changing, so is law and legal strategy. Compared to the campaigns for justice for black people killed by police in the US, which have made relative gains, many families here are working in a complex space of honouring their loved ones, proper cultural protocols around death and the dead, and securing CCTV footage to mobilise the public for justice.
Coroners have offered mixed responses, and each state and territory’s coroner approaches the question in a slightly different way.
After the death of Ms Dhu, a Yamatji woman, in police custody in Western Australia in 2014, persistent advocacy from the families and media organisations prompted the coroner to release footage of her treatment before her death. Coroner Ros Fogliani did so
in order to assist with the fair and accurate reporting of my findings on inquest.
However, last year, NSW deputy coroner Derek Lee initially declined to release footage showing the circumstances of Dungay’s death, citing cultural respect, sensitivity for his family and secrecy over prison procedures.
Members of Dungay’s family, who had applied to have it released, responded with exasperation. It was eventually shown on the opening day of the inquest, although the fuller footage requested by the family remains suppressed from public view.
Other ways families are silenced
There are other transparency issues that give a legal structure to silence about Indigenous deaths in custody. Recently, there appears to be a new push in non-publication or suppression orders being sought by state parties in coroners courts.
In Dungay’s inquest, for instance, the media was ordered not to publish the names, addresses or any other identifying features (including photographs) of 21 NSW corrections staff members.
There have been other suppression orders in deaths in custody matters before criminal courts, such as the identity of the officer facing a murder charge in the death of Yamatji woman Joyce Clarke in Western Australia last year.
Officers in South Australia are also going to some strategic effort to avoid testifying before the inquest into the death of Wayne Fella Morrison, a Wiradjuri, Kookatha and Wirangu man, or even speak with investigators on the grounds of penalty privilege.
investigations surrounding the cause of death in prisons can have a great impact for our grieving families to at least get an account of what happened to our loved ones in the absence of our care. It can also raise the spotlight on the behaviours of correctional and police officers – like those that piled atop of my brother’s body.
Outside of coroners courts, there is the threat of subjudice contempt, when media coverage may pose a prejudicial threat to a potential trial.
This carries a risk for families who speak out about their loved one’s deaths in a way that even implies something happened or someone did something. Subjudice contempt poses liability to them personally when they speak out, but also could jeopardise their push for justice.
This puts First Nations peoples at the mercy of what can be raised before a jury, judge or coroner. With lengthy procedural delays, this can also mean a case is hard to talk about publicly for years.
This is problematic given that timely publicity about deaths in custody is what drives attention. Taleah Reynolds, the sister of Nathan Reynolds, who died in custody in NSW in 2018, said,
We’re coming up to a year since he died and we still don’t know anything more.
I feel like they don’t have any remorse; they hide behind the system. No one’s held accountable, that’s the most frustrating part.
All of this leaves our public discourse full of blak bodies but curiously empty of people who put them there.
The power of public campaigning
Prosecution or referral seems to come only from cases where First Nations families have strong public advocacy and community groundswells behind them and strategic litigation resources (not just inquest legal aid).
As the late Wangerriburra and Birri Gubba leader Sam Watson said of the campaign for justice for the death of Mulrunji Doomagee on Palm Island:
Unfortunately, the government had to be dragged to this point screaming and kicking every inch of the way. Every time there’s been a breakdown in the procedure, the family and community on Palm Island are being subjected to more trauma, drama and unnecessary grandstanding by politicians.
Right now, three deaths are either before prosecutors or in their early stages of prosecution. All have been part of growing, public campaigns driven by their families and communities — although many others, like Dungay’s family, have done the same and still been faced with institutional complicity.
Clearly, there is much legal structure that supports this silence, but the basis of the silence itself is colonisation and white supremacy. As Amy McQuire writes:
Their wounds also testify to this violence. But while this footage has been important for mobilising Aboriginal people, non-Indigenous Australia is still complacent and apathetic.
They are not ‘outraged’ because they are not ‘shocked’. There is nothing shocking about racist violence perpetrated by police, because it is normalised.
When we do hear about the Indigenous lives lost in custody, it is undoubtedly because of the persistence, expertise and courage of their families and communities who mourn them. But it is not enough to hear about justice, justice must be done.
There is no specific crime of catfishing in Australia. But there are many different behaviours involved in catfishing, which can come under various existing offences.
One of these is financial fraud. In 2018, a Canberra woman pleaded guilty to 10 fraud offences after she created an elaborate and false online profile on a dating website. She befriended at least ten men online, then lied to them about having cancer and other illnesses and asked them to help her pay for treatment. She obtained more than $300,000.
Another crime associated with catfishing is stalking. In 2019, a Victorian woman was convicted of stalking and sentenced to two years and eight months jail after she created a Facebook page where she pretended to be Australian actor Lincoln Lewis. This case is currently subject to an appeal.
The grey area of psychological and emotional abuse
When catfishing doesn’t involve fraud or threats, but involves psychological and emotional manipulation, it can be more difficult to obtain convictions.
One of the most notorious cases occurred more than a decade ago in the United States. Missouri mother Lori Drew catfished a teenager she believed had been unkind to her daughter.
With the help of her daughter and young employee, Drew created a fake MySpace profile as a teenage boy and contacted the 13-year-old victim. Online flirting took place until the relationship was abruptly ended. The victim was told that “the world would be a better place without her”. Later that day, she killed herself.
Because the harm suffered by the victim was not physical but psychological, and had been perpetrated online, prosecutors had trouble identifying an appropriate criminal charge.
Eventually, Drew was charged with computer fraud and found guilty. But the conviction was overturned in 2009 when an appeal court concluded the legislation was never meant to capture this type of behaviour.
Renae Marsden’s case
The harm done to Marsden was also psychological and emotional. She was deliberately deceived and psychologically manipulated through the creation of a fake online identity by one of her oldest female friends.
Marsden thought she had met a man online who would become her husband. For almost two years, they exchanged thousands of text and Facebook messages. Marsden ended an engagement to another man so that she could be with the man she met online. They planned their wedding.
When he abruptly ended the relationship, Marsden ended her life.
The coroner described the conduct of Marsden’s catfisher as “appalling” and an “extreme betrayal”, but found that no offence had been committed. She observed:
Where ‘catfishing’ is without threat or intimidation or is not for monetary gain, then the conduct appears to be committed with the intent to coerce and control someone for the purpose of a wish fulfilment or some other gratification. Though such conduct may cause the recipient mental and or physical harm because it is not conduct committed with the necessary intent it falls outside the parameters of a known State criminal offence.
Existing laws like manslaughter could apply
We disagree with the coroner’s conclusion. We think that existing state criminal offences might capture some of this behaviour.
In particular, deliberately deceptive and psychologically manipulative online conduct, resulting in the death of a victim by suicide, could potentially make a perpetrator liable for manslaughter.
We note, however, that the coercive control discussion is happening in the context of domestic violence. Whether prospective new laws can or should extend to catfishing will require careful consideration and drafting.
While we wait for a new offence, we should also ensure that we make use of the laws we already have to protect people from the devastating damage that can be done by catfishing.
Violence has erupted across several US cities after the death of a black man, George Floyd, who was shown on video gasping for breath as a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck. The unrest poses serious challenges for President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden as each man readies his campaign for the November 3 election.
If the coronavirus had not already posed a threat to civil discourse in the US, the latest flashpoint in American racial politics makes this presidential campaign potentially one of the most incendiary in history.
COVID-19 and Minneapolis may very well form the nexus within which the 2020 campaign will unfold. Trump’s critics have assailed his handling of both and questioned whether he can effectively lead the country in a moment of crisis.
And yet, he may not be any more vulnerable heading into the election.
A presidency in crisis?
As the incumbent, Trump certainly faces the most immediate challenges. Not since Franklin Roosevelt in the second world war has a US president presided over the deaths of so many Americans from a single cause.
The Axis powers and COVID-19 are not analogous, but any presidency is judged by its capacity to respond to enemies like these. With pandemic deaths now surpassing 100,000, Trump’s fortunes will be inexorably tied to this staggering (and still rising) figure.
Worse, the Minneapolis protests are showing how an already precarious social fabric has been frayed by the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Americans have not come together to fight the virus. Rather, they have allowed a public health disaster to deepen divisions along racial, economic, sectional and ideological lines.
Trump has, of course, often sought to gain from such divisions. But the magnitude and severity of the twin crises he is now facing will make this very difficult. By numerous measures, his is a presidency in crisis.
Trump, a ferocious campaigner, will try to find ways to use both tragedies to his advantage and, importantly, makes things worse for his challenger.
For starters, Trump did not cause coronavirus. And he will continue to insist that his great geo-strategic adversary, the Chinese Communist Party, did.
And his is not the first presidency to be marked by the conflagration of several US cities.
Before Minneapolis, Detroit (1967), Los Angeles (1992) and Ferguson, Missouri (2014) were all the scenes of angry protests and riots over racial tensions that still haven’t healed.
Trump may not have healed racial tensions in the US during his presidency. But, like coronavirus, he did not cause them.
How Trump can blame Democrats for Minneapolis
Not unhappily for Trump, Minneapolis is a largely Democratic city in a reliably blue state. He will campaign now on the failure of Democratic state leaders to answer the needs of black voters.
Trump will claim that decades of Democratic policies in Minnesota – including the eight years of the Obama administration – have caused Minneapolis to be one of the most racially unequal cities in the nation.
These are not terrible numbers. Yes, Trump’s leadership has contributed to a series of disasters. But if the polls are correct, he has so far avoided the kinds of catastrophe that could imperil his chances of re-election.
Biden is far better than Trump on racial issues and should be able to use the current crises to present himself as a more natural “consoler-in-chief”, but instead, he has appeared somewhat flatfooted and derided for being racially patronising.
The opportunities COVID-19 and the Minneapolis unrest might afford his campaign remain elusive.
There is reason for hope
America enters the final months of the 2020 campaign in a state of despair and disrepair. The choice is between an opportunistic incumbent and a tin-eared challenger.
But the US has faced serious challenges before – and emerged stronger. Neither the civil war in the 19th century or the Spanish flu pandemic in the early 20th halted the extraordinary growth in power that followed both.
Moreover, the US constitution remains intact and federalism has undergone something of a rebirth since the start of the pandemic. And there is a new generation of younger, more diverse, national leaders being forged in the fire of crisis to help lead the recovery.
Hunt said he sought legal advice from the attorney-general’s department, which said such an action was an offence under the general criminal laws in every state and territory.
The most serious of these offences may carry maximum penalties up to imprisonment for life, if somebody was to take a step which led to the death of a healthcare worker. If it were a deliberate transmission.
He also said it was against the law to
cause someone else to fear that they are having transmitted to them the virus, for example by coughing on them.
NSW has also now introduced a A$5,000 on-the-spot fine for spitting or coughing on frontline workers, while intentionally spitting or coughing on police officers could result in six months in jail.
We understand these are extreme times, but governments should not rush to announcements that transmitting COVID-19 could be subject to criminal prosecution, especially with the risk of a life sentence.
In general, the passage and enforcement of all laws must be tested for “necessity”. This implies two things: the measure corresponds to a pressing social need and is proportionate to the legitimate aim being pursued.
There is also a distinction between public health and public order laws. The current emergency laws provide exceptional powers to require certain behaviours to protect public health, not to combat public disorder, which is dealt with under general criminal laws.
The danger of adding to general criminal laws in a crisis is the potential over-criminalisation of the general public.
There have been some reports of public disorder during the current pandemic, but as yet, there is no evidence of widespread deliberate and intentional transmission of COVID-19.
The application of the law in cases like this is also uncertain and unclear. For example, what do Hunt’s words, “take a step” and “deliberate”, mean in this context? How would it be proved that coughing on someone led to the death of a healthcare worker?
Then there is the question of intent. As a matter of law, it is not merely proof of deliberate (rather than accidental) conduct that creates criminal liability, but also someone’s state of mind at the time of the action and whether it is in the public interest to prosecute.
This is a much more complex issue in public health cases.
a person’s awareness of the risk that his or her conduct may result in harm does not … support the inference that the person intended to produce the harm.
There is a very fine distinction between deliberately infecting someone with a disease – particularly where the chance of infection is low (as it is with HIV) – and taking a risk that could infect someone.
Moreover, assaulting or spitting at public health workers is already a crime under existing laws, and doing so during a health emergency can be taken into account on sentence. So, Hunt’s announcement has no practical effect beyond mere rhetoric.
The threat of prosecuting people for deliberately transmitting the virus may also add to people’s fears during an uncertain time. For instance, people could be worried about the legal implications of coughing near a healthcare worker and delay getting medical help as a result.
In addition, large on-the-spot fines could also disproportionately affect certain segments of society, such as the poor or homeless.
The need to decriminalise transmission of viruses
Advocates in other countries are seeking to decriminalise the transmission, exposure or non-disclosure of viruses like HIV, arguing such laws can be unfairly or unevenly applied.
In the United Kingdom, a hairdresser, Daryll Rowe, was sentenced to life in prison two years ago for intending to infect or attempting to infect 10 men with HIV.
In the trial, the prosecution relied on the number of his sexual partners, his deception about his HIV status, the finding of tampered condoms and the vile text messages he sent after sexual encounters to prove its case that he intentionally infected the other men.
But there was also evidence that he was otherwise trying to control his infectiousness through alternative remedies and, notably, that he had limited contact with sexual partners rather than relationships, meaning there was less regular contact and less chance of transmission.
As a result, he was convicted of intentional infection, even though there was evidence he was otherwise trying to avoid this.
The criminal law in both the UK and Australia does not provide a defence where others voluntarily assume risk. This could put all promiscuous people at risk of conviction in cases like this, even though such actions themselves are not crimes.
The same theory could apply to COVID-19. Anyone who does not maintain appropriate social distancing could be at risk of conviction under these laws and subject to an overly harsh punishment.
We need a public health, not criminal law, approach
Governments should allocate adequate resources to protect healthcare workers, rather than promoting the application of extreme laws that will be difficult to prove and waste resources attempting to do so when the current emergency laws are more than sufficient.
Tackling a health crisis such as COVID-19, with society in lockdown can’t help but place families under strain.
It’s been reported family violence notifications to police nearly tripled in some areas of China’s Hubei province (where SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 originated) during the lockdown in February.
Some family violence organisations in Australia are already reporting a rise in demand for services.
The federal government recently announced A$1.1 billion for mental health services, domestic violence support and Medicare assistance for people at home, and emergency food relief. This support is welcome but more practical and creative measures are also required to protect vulnerable families.
COVID-19 and vulnerable children
Prior to the pandemic, in 2018-19, about 170,000 children aged up to 17 years (around 30 out of 1,000) received child protection services. These services include investigations, which may or may not lead to substantiated cases of child abuse or neglect, care and protection orders, or out-of-home care placements.
Most of these children remain in their families of origin with social workers from government and community agencies, as well as teaching, medical and other professionals supporting these families and monitoring children’s safety.
But the social structures and services which normally support children and families – such as schools, parenting or mother’s groups, and family services – have been removed or are operating at reduced capacity.
Reduced service provision will amplify the pre-existing and COVID-19 related challenges that impact children’s safety. These include parental substance misuse, mental health problems and neglect.
Hard-to-detect types of abuse, such as child sexual abuse, are likely to increase. Studies show social isolation increases the risk for vulnerable children, allowing perpetrators greater ability to employ grooming strategies.
Existing family stress will be magnified through widespread job and income loss, food security issues in regional areas and medication shortages. The need for families to spend extended periods of time together in confined spaces will only add to the pressure, testing relationships and potentially exacerbating mental-health issues and aggressive behaviours.
One concern is that as families become more isolated due to the pandemic, children already at risk will be hidden at the same time that they are facing heightened danger from violence, abuse and neglect in their homes.
A recently released Canadian review of the literature on child welfare issues during pandemics found a number of challenges will confront welfare, family and community services. These include:
a decrease in in-home family support services, which reduces chances to detect and respond to health and care concerns
limits on substance abuse and addiction services
reduced visitation and reunification processes with parents, for children in out-of-home care
substantial court delays, including with child protection orders to determine if a child will return home or remain in out-of-home care
a decreased capacity among the major agencies who report child maltreatment and domestic violence, such as education and health, resulting in decreased detection of serious safety threats
a reduction in the capacity of police and child protection services to investigate and respond to serious safety threats.
At June 2019, there were 44,900 children in out-of-home care. Most of these children were in home-based care, with just over half cared for by relatives, such as grandparents, who are at higher risk of more severe effects of COVID-19.
Around 30% of children in out-of-home care also live with a disability or mental health issue. These children require high levels of support, which places extra pressure on carers who may be homeschooling while coping with reduced childcare and respite support.
What needs to be done
Government and community agencies are facing unprecedented and significant challenges. There is a real risk of some services and supports, that are essential to child safety, being overlooked as our attention is focused on COVID-19.
Governments can employ a number of strategies to minimise the risk of further exacerbating issues in vulnerable families. These include:
continued and sustained financial support for families who suffer income and job loss, through timely access to unemployment benefits. This support must be enabled as soon as possible to reduce heightened individual and family stress
online consultations for mental health and addiction, so service provision is broader than just tele-health but includes community based support services. This can assist families in self-isolation to reduce symptom escalation and enable triaging of in-person support for those who need it
provide urgent support to service providers to develop policy on how to safely sustain service provision in the event of a community “lockdown”. Like health services, social services are essential for maintaining child and community safety.
use creative strategies to provide refuges and emergency accommodation for those seeking safety. Empty hotels and Airbnb rooms could be used for women and children at-risk. Regional community strategies will also be required to address this need with restricted travel being imposed
create flexible, innovative strategies, such as respite services and child care provisions for in-home support for families and carers who are vulnerable or who have children with high care needs.
extend care this year for young people turning 18 so they can remain in out-of-home care placements with foster and relative carers. Currently children in out-of-home care are required to leave their placements when they turn 18.
increase the workforce capacity for welfare and community agencies – downturns in other sectors may enable a boost in this workforce. For example people working in youth recreation who have lost their jobs could assist in youth support agencies as they have working with children checks and youth experience. Training will be challenging but not impossible.
encourage everyone who can to provide support to neighbours and friends who may be struggling. A phone call, virtual chat or a food delivery can make a huge difference.
This is a challenging time for everyone, but especially so for those already vulnerable. Australia can employ innovative strategies to address the health and safety concerns for our most vulnerable children and families.
The National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.
The New South Wales government has passed emergency legislation providing the Corrections Commissioner with powers to release some of the state’s 14,034 prisoners.
This legislation was introduced in the wake of the global release of prisoners to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Most recently, the United States has begun to release thousands of prisoners across four states.
Long Bay jail in Sydney was locked down this week when two prison staff tested positive for COVID-19 and several inmates displayed symptoms. The higher incidence of chronic health conditions among inmates predisposes them to suffer serious and critical outcomes from the virus.
Why is legislation needed?
The NSW government has introduced the COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 (NSW) to address the escalation of COVID-19 cases in the state.
NSW has the highest per capita rate in Australia, with more than 1,000 cases as of March 25. The emergency legislation provides for the release of prisoners. The provision will apply for a minimum of six months and may apply for up to 12 months under regulations.
This emergency provision is concerned with protecting vulnerable inmates and releasing prisoners who pose a low risk to the community. Attorney-General Mark Speakman said the legislation was designed to protect the health of inmates and frontline prison workers as well as the “good order and security” of prisons.
Freeing up prison space through the early release of prisoners will enable the remaining prisoners to be isolated, to prevent or control an outbreak. It also allows the health needs of remaining inmates to be better addressed.
We have seen what happens without this action in prisons overseas: infection spreads rapidly and foments unrest among prisoners. In Italy, prisoner fears that they faced a death sentence because of COVID-19 resulted in riots in 23 Italian prisons and the deaths of 12 prisoners.
Who can be released under the legislation?
The COVID-19 legislation allows for the release of prisoners who belong to a prescribed “class of inmates”. They may be defined according to their health, vulnerability, age, offence, period before the end of the prison term and any other matter as set down in regulations.
Serious offenders are excluded. This not only rules out those specifically mentioned, including prisoners convicted of murder, serious sex offences and terrorism, but also high-level drug and property offenders.
The Corrections Commissioner will determine an individual’s release where it is “reasonably necessary” due to “the risk to public health or to the good order and security of correctional premises”. Community safety and the prisoner’s access to suitable accommodation outside prison are necessary aspects of the decision-making. Other consideration are whether the offender has previously committed a domestic violence offence and the impact of the release on the victims.
Prisoners will be released on parole and subject to standard parole conditions. They will, for example, have to be of good behaviour and not reoffend, as well as any additional conditions determined by the commissioner, including home detention and electronic monitoring.
Does this cover all prisoners?
There are some concerning omissions from this legislation if it is to achieve its objectives of protecting inmates, prison staff and the community.
First, it is not clear whether it will apply to youth detention centres. This vulnerable group requires special protection in this period when they are denied visits from their parents, family and lawyers, have fears about COVID-19 infection and most likely are unaware of their rights to health care.
The legislation also does not refer to remand prisoners, who constitute over one-third of prisoners in NSW. The legislation explicitly refers to parole, rather than determinations on bail.
Administrators must set down regulations to include this group in the prescribed “class of inmates” for release. Otherwise, those most entitled to liberty – who have not been convicted or sentenced – will be left in prison to suffer through the pandemic. The suspension of new jury trials will mean they spend further time in prisons until well after the COVID-19 crisis.
Critically, the legislation is silent on people who are facing a prison sentence or remand order, but not yet in prisons. For those people, there is no legislation urging the courts to consider the coronavirus pandemic in promoting non-prison sentences or allowing bail applications.
Over the past week, lawyers have rushed to collect evidence on the effect of the pandemic on prisoners to support their clients’ pleas not to be imprisoned. Supreme Courts in Victoria and the ACT have accepted the relevance of COVID-19 in bail applications. But there is a lack of guidance elsewhere on bail and sentencing, increasing the risk of more people being sent into the prison system.
Schedule 1 of the emergency legislation granted controversial powers to the attorney-general to alter the bail laws by regulation during the crisis. The NSW government has indicated it intends to use these powers to deliver changes on bail to prevent more prisoners entering jail on remand. The timing and scope of these changes have not been detailed, but are certainly critical to preventing the pandemic entering our prisons.
Not only would the entry of new inmates add to the burden on prisons, it could also create a devastating situation where unknown carriers of the coronavirus enter the system.
While there are no laws to limit courts ordering imprisonment during the pandemic, Corrections Commissioner Peter Severin could use his discretion to review the release of prisoners at the point of reception. In other words, the process between the court order and physical entry into a prison cell. Regulations should clarify the use of the commissioner’s power at this point to prevent unnecessary entry of new prisoners.
Does it strike the right balance in community protection?
The immediate release of NSW prisoners will protect prisoners from greater exposure to COVID-19, limit the outbreak of the virus in prisons and minimise the spread between prison and the community.
But there is more to be done. The release of less serious offenders should not be based on the pre-pandemic criteria of the risk of the individual. These criteria often discriminate against Indigenous people, those with mental health issues and socio-economically deprived. Rather, it should be based on the health needs of prisoners and the interests of community safety in managing the health risk.
Given that many prisoners have poor health and are serving short prison terms, the broad use of the commissioner’s discretion could result in thousands of prisoners being released from NSW prisons.
Ultimately, the legislation will only work to minimise the worst effects of COVID-19 in prisons if the commissioner exercises his discretion widely to prevent overcrowding and take the load off already scarce health services in prisons.
Apart from the obvious health and economic impacts, the coronavirus also presents a major opportunity for cybercriminals.
As staff across sectors and university students shift to working and studying from home, large organisations are at increased risk of being targeted. With defences down, companies should go the extra mile to protect their business networks and employees at such a precarious time.
Reports suggest hackers are already exploiting remote workers, luring them into online scams masquerading as important information related to the pandemic.
On Friday, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch reported that since January 1 it had received 94 reports of coronavirus-related scams, and this figure could rise.
As COVID-19 causes a spike in telework, teleheath and online education, cybercriminals have fewer hurdles to jump in gaining access to networks.
High-speed access theft
The National Broadband Network’s infrastructure has afforded many Australians access to higher-speed internet, compared with DSL connections. Unfortunately this also gives cybercriminals high-speed access to Australian homes, letting them rapidly extract personal and financial details from victims.
The shift to working from home means many people are using home computers, instead of more secure corporate-supplied devices. This provides criminals relatively easy access to corporate documents, trade secrets and financial information.
Instead of attacking a corporation’s network, which would likely be secured with advanced cybersecurity countermeasures and tracking, they now simply have to locate and attack the employee’s home network. This means less chance of discovery.
Most infections from a cryptolocker virus happen when people open unknown attachments, sent in malicious emails.
In some cases, the attack can be traced to nation state actors. One example is the infamous WannaCry cyberattack, which deployed malware (software designed to cause harm) that encrypted computers in more than 150 countries. The hackers, supposedly from North Korea, demanded cryptocurrency in exchange for unlocking them.
If an employee working from home accidentally activates cryptolocker malware while browsing the internet or reading an email, this could first take out the home network, then spread to the corporate network, and to other attached home networks.
This can happen if their device is connected to the workplace network via a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This makes the home device an extension of the corporate network, and the virus can bypass any advanced barriers the corporate network may have.
If devices are attached to a network that has been infected and not completely cleaned, the contaminant can rapidly spread again and again. In fact, a single device that isn’t cleaned properly can cause millions of dollars in damage. This happened during the 2016 Petya and NotPetya malware attack.
Encryption: not a cryptic concept
On the bright side, there are some steps organisations and employees can take to protect their digital assets from opportunistic criminal activity.
Encryption is a key weapon in this fight. This security method protects files and network communications by methodically “scrambling” the contents using an algorithm. The receiving party is given a key to unscramble, or “decrypt”, the information.
With remote work booming, encryption should be enabled for files on hard drives and USB sticks that contain sensitive information.
Enabling encryption on a Windows or Apple device is also simple. And don’t forget to backup your encryption keys when prompted onto a USB drive, and store them in a safe place such as a locked cabinet, or off site.
VPNs help close the loop
A VPN should be used at all times when connected to WiFi, even at home. This tool helps mask your online activity and location, by routing outgoing and incoming data through a secure “virtual tunnel” between your computer and the VPN server.
Existing WiFi access protocols (WEP, WPA, WPA2) are insecure when being used to transmit sensitive data. Without a VPN, cybercriminals can more easily intercept and retrieve data.
VPN is already functional in Windows and Apple devices. Most reputable antivirus internet protection suites incorporate them.
People often backup their files on a home computer, personal phone or tablet. There is significant risk in doing this with corporate documents and sensitive digital files.
When working from home, sensitive material can be stored in a location unknown to the organisation. This could be a cloud location (such as iCloud, Google Cloud, or Dropbox), or via backup software the user owns or uses. Files stored in these locations may not protected under Australian laws.
Businesses choosing to save files on the cloud, on an external hard drive or on a home computer need to identify backup regimes that fit the risk profile of their business. Essentially, if you don’t allow files to be saved on a computer’s hard drive at work, and use the cloud exclusively, the same level of protection should apply when working from home.
Appropriate backups must observed by all remote workers, along with standard cybersecurity measures such as firewall, encryption, VPN and antivirus software. Only then can we rely on some level of protection at a time when cybercriminals are desperate to profit.
There’s been an overwhelming outpouring of love and support around the world for those impacted by the bushfires, from social-media donation drives to music concerts to authors auctioning off their books.
Sadly, but unsurprisingly, we’ve also seen a number of scams directed at those who want to help, as well as victims of the fires.
In recent days, the ACCC set up a hotline dedicated to the reporting of scams associated with the bushfire crisis. The agency notes some 86 scams have been reported since the fires started in September – and counting.
While it’s difficult to believe offenders would seek to profit from other people’s generosity and heartache, this is entirely to be expected.
In 2018, Australians lost over A$489.7 million to fraud. While a large part of this was through investment and romance fraud schemes ($146.5 million), Australians were also cheated out of A$210,000 in charity frauds. This increased to over A$400,000 in 2019.
The key element to fraud is lying for financial gain. Offenders will use whatever means possible to manipulate and deceive people into giving them money. This can involve obtaining money directly from a person, or by convincing victims to provide personal information to get cash through identity theft.
In charity frauds, offenders sometimes use the legitimate name of an organisation or individual to secure donations from victims, or they might use the pretext of a natural disaster or other negative event to obtain cash.
Harnessing the goodwill of strangers
Fraudsters use natural disasters in a variety of ways. They take advantage of our sense of sympathy and desire to help victims struggling through terrible events unfolding before our eyes. They also convey a sense of urgency aimed at convincing people to immediately part with their cash.
Importantly, offenders also exploit the fact people are highly motivated during times of disaster to donate money they ordinarily would not consider giving.
Social media enables offenders to readily advertise their fraudulent schemes. With online fraud, it is often difficult for victims to authenticate email accounts, websites, individuals or organisations soliciting money. Offenders often create fake documentation to support their schemes, as well.
Social media can also be used by fraudsters in disinformation campaigns. As these posts are shared across platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, offenders can generate traction for their “charity” pitch before it is identified as fraud. By this stage, it can be too late.
Victims vulnerable in disaster recovery, too
It’s important to note the risk of fraud is not limited to the time of the actual disaster, or the immediate aftermath.
Many of those who have experienced loss or damage in the bushfires, for instance, face a long road to recovery and could be susceptible to scams at any time.
Research indicates negative life events can make a person more vulnerable to fraud. Those affected by the bushfires may find themselves the victims of fraudulent investment opportunities, romantic relationships and other schemes claiming to help them get their lives back on track.
For example, offenders may offer to assist with the negotiation of mortgage repayments with banks, obviously for a fee (large or small).
Protecting ourselves against fraud
There are steps people can take to protect themselves from scams as the bushfire crisis is unfolding – and into the future.
In the short term, it’s important to think about how we donate financially to those in need. There are many appeals that have been set up by registered charities and organisations (such as the Red Cross, the CFA, and the RFS). These are the safest ways to send money. Remember requests through social media channels and other platforms may not be genuine.
Importantly, the internet is not the only way offenders operate. Fraudsters still use the telephone and even face-to-face communication to collect money.
Only call organisations you have researched to donate money and always ask for identification from those door-knocking for donations. If in doubt, don’t feel pressured to say yes and simply hang up or walk away.
In the longer term, we also need to be aware fraudsters take advantage of people when they are isolated, so it’s important to rally around family members, friends and others who are facing significant losses and feeling alone.
We need to better understand how fraud works and acknowledge anyone can be targeted. We also need to be able to talk about our vulnerabilities more openly in our homes and communities.
Fraud is an ongoing challenge globally. The current Australian bushfire crisis is simply the latest way for fraudsters to target our generosity and cause additional grief.