The ebb and flow of COVID-19 vaccine support: what social media tells us about Australians and the jab


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Bela Stantic, Griffith University; Rodney Stewart, Griffith University, and Sharyn Rundle-Thiele, Griffith UniversityAustralia’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout has hit yet another crossroads. Public confidence has wavered following the federal government’s announcement last week that the Pfizer vaccine was the preferred choice for people under age 50.

The advice was based on an extremely low risk of severe blood clots forming in younger recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Many patients under 50 have since cancelled or been turned away from their vaccine appointments, according to reports.

Our Griffith University team is monitoring vaccine support levels among Australians. We’re doing this by analysing “big data” gleaned from social media platforms.

According to our analysis, the biggest drop in COVID-19 vaccine acceptance rates in Australia happened when blood clotting incidents were reported in some European countries, prompting rollouts to be stopped.

An evolving debate

Our team trawled through social media feeds for two months, collecting data on public attitudes towards the vaccine. We also watched these opinions change and evolve in response to important media announcements.

We found the Australian public cares about the vaccine’s effectiveness, side effects and roll-out process. Social media sentiment in particular is helping us identify misinformation in a way more traditional survey methods can’t.

Our findings, which have been provided to Queensland Health, are aiding decision makers in devising the best strategies to provide vaccine information to the public.




Read more:
Why telling stories could be a more powerful way of convincing some people to take a COVID vaccine than just the facts


Standard survey approaches

Carrying out surveys can be costly and time-consuming. It’s hard to get large samples because many people approached won’t participate. It’s also difficult to return to respondents later to understand how their beliefs may be changing over time.

Between October last year and February this year, the Gold Coast Public Health Unit ran a survey asking people if they intended to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Almost 19,000 survey invitations were given to people who visited fever clinics at the Gold Coast University Hospital and Robina Health Precinct. From these, 2,706 responses came back.

Results showed just over 50% of respondents “definitely intended” to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Around 15% said they “probably” or “definitely” wouldn’t receive the vaccine.

Results from the Gold Coast Public Health Unit’s survey of attitudes to COVID-19 vaccination.

Similarly, a study conducted by researchers at the Australian National University showed one in five (21.7%) respondents would “probably” not or “definitely” not receive a vaccine.

While such surveys provide a snapshot from one point in time, big data analytics can examine social media data (such as from Twitter) in real time and provide ongoing insight.

Nearly 100,000 posts from 42,000 accounts

We applied algorithms to social media content published between January 24 and March 24. In just two months, more than 97,000 Twitter posts from more than 42,000 Australian accounts (with 308,331 “likes”) were collected.

These posts attracted a further 49,642 comments from another 15,648 unique accounts. This sample size is much bigger than the surveys mentioned above. Notably, the data we collected showed us how vaccine hesitancy had changed during that time.

We used techniques called “sentiment polarity” calculations and “topic modelling analysis” and also looked at the number of likes received by posts for and against the vaccine.

During the two months, we were able to identify links between changes in sentiment and specific media announcements from trusted news sources. The announcements had an obvious impact on people’s opinions.

Negative reporting had a direct impact

Vaccine support started at around 80% in January. We then saw declining support as COVID cases in Australia dropped. But when the media showed people receiving the Pfizer vaccine in February, support grew again.

Pfizer vaccine in needle
The Pfizer vaccine is now the recommended one for people under age 50.
Joel Carrett/AAP

Negative stories started to appear mid-to-late February and support levels on social media feeds dropped. In late February, the media told us about a poorly trained doctor who gave higher than recommended vaccine doses to two elderly people.

We then received reports of multiple European Union countries banning the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, due to concerns of blood clotting as a potential side effect. This marked the biggest drop in support, from more than 80% to below 60%.

How Australian rates of vaccine acceptance changed over time, as measured by analysis of Twitter posts. Public confidence in the vaccine rollout shifted dramatically following key announcements in the media.

In late March, support bounced back when the same countries resumed rolling out the AstraZeneca vaccine, and news emerged that GP clinics in Australia were gearing up to do the same.

There are some limitations to our research method. For instance, the views of Twitter users don’t necessarily represent the general population. That said, our data pool does seem to reflect a fairly diverse group of users sharing opinions by posting, re-tweeting and liking posts.

All of these opinions are captured and incorporated into our analysis. Considering the large volume of data used, as well as insights from other correct predictions, we are confident in our ability to provide an accurate near real-time analysis.

Addressing what the public wants addressed

Big data analysis can deliver fast results that show not just the prevalence of vaccine hesitancy, but also help us understand the factors that drive it.

Further, by focusing on the regions or demographics which have the most doubts — whether this is certain age groups, or people with a given level of education — big data analysis can keep high-level decision makers informed about how the public feels.

This in turn assists them with pointing out key issues and vulnerable areas, to which they can direct targeted messaging. In this way, the news sources the public respects and trusts can (and must) be used to improve health outcomes for all.




Read more:
Just the facts, or more detail? To battle vaccine hesitancy, the messaging has to be just right


The Conversation


Bela Stantic, Professor, Director of Big data and smart analytics lab – IIIS, Griffith University; Rodney Stewart, Professor, Griffith School of Engineering, Griffith University, and Sharyn Rundle-Thiele, Professor and Director, Social Marketing @ Griffith, Griffith University

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

What happens when you free unemployed Australians from ‘mutual obligations’ and boost their benefits? We just found out


ldutko/Shutterstock

Elise Klein, Australian National University; Kay Cook, Swinburne University of Technology, and Susan Maury, Monash UniversityDuring COVID-19 the government ran what turned out to be a giant real-world experiment into what happens when you boost someone’s unemployment benefits and free them of the “mutual obligation” to apply for jobs.

On April 27 2020 the government as good as doubled the $565.70 per fortnight JobSeeker payment, lifting it by $550 per fortnight for what turned out to be six months. In September the boost dropped to $250 per fortnight, and in December to $150 per fortnight.

Next Thursday the boost vanishes, although the base rate of JobSeeker will climb by a less-than substantial $50 a fortnight, leaving recipients $100 a fortnight worse off than they have been, $500 per fortnight worse off than back when JobSeeker doubled and back well below the poverty line.

From Thursday April 1 they will also be subject to much more demanding work tests, having to show they have applied for a minimum of 15 jobs a month, climbing to 20 jobs a month from July 1.

On top of that the government has announced

  • a return to compulsory face-to-face meetings with Jobactive providers
  • work-for-the-dole after six months of unemployment
  • a dob-in line for employers to report jobseekers who seem not to be genuine
  • increased auditing of job applications to ensure they are legitimate

They are the sort of “mutual obligations” that were scrapped while JobSeeker was doubled.




Read more:
Australia has a long history of coercing people into work. There are better options than ‘dobbing in’


Yet the government’s natural experiment where they doubled benefits and freed recipients of “mutual obligations” provides us with an opportunity to examine how a more generous approach affected recipients and whether, as the government says, a tougher approach is needed in order to compel people to work.

During last year’s more generous approach, we conducted an online survey of JobSeeker recipients and found that (contrary to what appears to be the government’s expectation), it was helping get people into work.

Freed of “mutual obligations”, many were able to devote time to reengaging with the workforce.

As one respondent said,

I was able to focus on getting myself back into the workforce. Yes, mutual obligation activities PREVENT people from being able to start a new business or re-enter the workforce as an employee

And the extra income freed recipients to do things that would advance their employment prospects; either through study, through properly looking for work, or buying the tools needed to get work.

One said

I could buy things that helped me with employment — equipment for online work, a bicycle for travel, a proper phone”

An Australia Institute review of unemployment payments and work incentives in 33 OECD countries found something similar — that higher payments correlate to lower unemployment.

Another respondent said the suspended mutual obligation requirements made it easier to care for an elderly parent during pandemic and their recovery from major surgery.




Read more:
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Another said she had been able to focus on her health needs and her children.

People on social security are often accused of being dependent on welfare, but it’s often the economy and society that are dependent on their unpaid labour.

Yet (except for during the worst of the pandemic) these people have been denied a safety net that ensures their survival.

Fewer obligations meant parents were better able to care for children.
Shutterstock

The inadequacy of payments goes to a major and enduring flaw in the Australian social security system — its inability to recognise all of the productive activities people undertake, including unpaid care largely undertaken by women.

The decisions the government took during 2020 made a major difference to the lives of people outside the formal workforce.

They enabled them to turn their attention away from day-to-day survival towards envisioning and realising a more financially and emotionally sustainable future for themselves and their dependants.

The flow-on benefits, to all of us, ought to be substantial.

The government ought to be very interested.

If it was, it would examine the findings further, but they don’t seem to be on its radar.The Conversation

Elise Klein, Senior Lecturer, Australian National University; Kay Cook, Senior Lecturer, Justice and Legal Studies Department, Swinburne University of Technology, and Susan Maury, PhD candidate in Psychology, Monash University

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

How can governments communicate with multicultural Australians about COVID vaccines? It’s not as simple as having a poster in their language


Holly Seale, UNSW; Abela Mahimbo, University of Technology Sydney; Ben Harris-Roxas, UNSW, and Nadia Chaves, La Trobe University

Australia launched its COVID-19 vaccination campaign last week, beginning with frontline workers in hotel quarantine, health care and aged care.

But one critical question is whether the immunisation program will meet the needs of people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.

People from CALD backgrounds form a significant and growing share of Australia’s frontline workforce. This is especially true for aged, disability and community care, as well as hotel quarantine.

For example, 37% of Australian frontline care workers were born overseas according to 2016 statistics. Around 28% are from non‐English‐speaking backgrounds.

Others may have low health literacy skills or find it challenging to track down and understand information about COVID vaccines. Lower health literacy is associated with a reluctance to accept vaccines. Recent studies also suggest those who speak a language other than English at home are less willing to get vaccinated than those who speak English only.

It’s critical we deliver a program aligned with the needs of CALD communities to ensure high levels of public confidence in the COVID vaccine rollout.

To achieve this, in February the federal government released a plan to ensure COVID vaccine rollout information and services are accessible for CALD communities.

The plan outlines the need for clear messaging that’s inclusive, tailored and translated. It also emphasises the importance of working with community leaders and multicultural community organisations.

Our new research, published today, supports the actions outlined in the plan but also highlights areas needing more focus.

We interviewed people working in multicultural and refugee agencies, as well as stakeholders in CALD community organisations, to understand barriers around communication and engagement during the pandemic.




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Can I choose what vaccine I get? What if I have allergies or side-effects? Key COVID vaccine rollout questions answered


Information gaps

Our research found gaps in information available during the pandemic. For example, there have been delays in making translations available.

Many people have sought information and news from their countries of origin to fill these gaps. This information may be irrelevant to the Australian situation, or contradictory to local recommendations.

There’s a divide between governments and individuals, with some people feeling like they’ve been left behind. Issues such as an inability to navigate government websites or difficulties accessing support have contributed to this divide.

Translated COVID information hasn’t always been appropriate for people with low literacy or low health literacy levels. This stems from the original source materials in English not being suitable, or translations not being reviewed to make sure the information makes sense.

Newly arrived migrant communities are most in need, as many don’t have established networks to support them. Translated resources have mostly been developed for larger, established CALD groups rather than new and emerging communities. There’s been a lack of tailoring in how messages and information are communicated, and ethnic newspapers and media haven’t been effectively used.

Some people are worried they’ll lose their jobs if they refuse to get vaccinated. The challenge is they don’t have anyone to ask questions of, and are unable to access trustworthy material online.

One issue that was repeatedly raised was burnout experienced by community leaders and other stakeholders. These leaders are asked to repeatedly translate, turn “government speak into community speak”, spread messages and answer questions. They take on this role in addition to their normal responsibilities, with little to no financial support and often with an emotional burden.

The federal government’s plan recognises we need to work with community leaders, but little detail has been provided about whether support, training or resources will be available.

Health-care worker giving patient a vaccine
Community leaders play a crucial role in disseminating COVID information, but they need to be adequately supported or they risk burning out.
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Here’s how things could change

Beyond the need to support community leaders, we also heard from participants about ways to improve communication and vaccine delivery.

Our research team makes a number of recommendations, including the need to:

  • identify other community ambassadors and provide training to build their knowledge and confidence

  • employ bilingual engagement officers from local communities, to support action being taken by communities themselves. Similar engagement officers have been used to support participation in Australian Bureau of Statistics data collection. Census engagement officers work within communities telling people about the census and ensuring everyone can take part and get the help they need. Internationally, this strategy has been used to promote HIV testing and counselling by encouraging community members to talk about the issues

  • invite local CALD communities to initiate and host forums in media of their choice, and to ensure government officials are available to answer questions

  • develop a glossary of immunisation terms. This would enable standard terminology relevant to COVID for community organisations, community and faith-based leaders, translators and interpreters

  • set up vaccination clinics in locations where communities feel safe. This could include outdoor facilities, sports clubs, community centres, faith-based locations and schools. Ensure there are transport options available

  • undertake ongoing surveys to capture how CALD communities feel, think and act in relation to the Australian COVID vaccination program. Tailoring messages will only be effective when informed by the issues that communities are actually concerned about

  • and support alliances between immunisation experts and those working in refugee health and multicultural services.

Participants repeatedly used the phrase “community ownership” during the interviews. It’s critical to genuinely engage communities in the development and testing of communication messages, images and videos. It’s also critical we work with different communities to identify the best ways to pass on information.

And when it comes down to it, word of mouth messages and conversations may be the most effective way to get people involved with the COVID vaccine program.

By supporting the development of community ambassadors to address misinformation and concerns about vaccine safety at a local level, the government will have the best chance of ensuring information reaches those who need it.The Conversation

Holly Seale, Associate professor, UNSW; Abela Mahimbo, Lecturer in Public Health, University of Technology Sydney; Ben Harris-Roxas, Associate Professor, UNSW, and Nadia Chaves, Casual Academic, La Trobe University

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

Can we use the RAAF to bring home stranded Aussies overseas?



Richard Wainwright/AAP

Peter Layton, Griffith University

Amid mounting concern about Australians stranded overseas during COVID-19, Labor leader Anthony Albanese has offered a solution.

This week, he suggested using the Royal Australia Air Force (RAAF) VIP aircraft to bring people home. Albanese says these could bring the estimated 25,000 Australians stuck overseas, “100 at a time”.




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Federal government pre-empts national cabinet to raise the cap for returning Australians


While the federal government has downplayed this suggestion, the pressure to do more to bring home Australians stuck overseas continues.

So, is it feasible to use the RAAF? What challenges might this pose?

What are the VIP aircraft?

The VIP fleet is operated by the air force to fly the governor-general, politicians and military leaders on official business when commercial flights are not suitable.

Albanese has honed in on the VIP fleet for obvious reasons: it’s currently sitting idle, the aircrews involved need to maintain their flying proficiency and Australians have always held a jaundiced view of the aircraft being simply another “pollie perk”.

However, while all five aircraft are long range, only the two B737 Boeing Business Jets could conceivably carry the 100 people mentioned — and that’s after reconfiguring their normal VIP fit-out that accommodates 30 passengers. The other three aircraft, the brand new Dassault Falcon 7X executive jets, have room for only 14 passengers.

The five aircraft are good for the VIP role, but they are not large capacity international airliners. They are inherently a rather inefficient way to move large numbers of people.

What else could the RAAF use?

The RAAF does have seven large airliners in service. These are the aptly named KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport, a modified Airbus A330 airliner used for air-to-air refuelling of fighter aircraft and strategic airlift.

KC-30 Tanker flying over a mountain range.
The RAAF have larger aircraft than the VIP fleet.
Supplied/United States Air Force

In the latter role, each aircraft can carry 270 passengers. For the past several years, the aircraft have been busy in the Middle East. But the last deployed KC-30A is just returning.

Allowing for some aircraft being under maintenance and others busy with ongoing training, the RAAF could potentially allocate two to three KC-30A aircraft to the “bringing Aussies home” task.

It’s possible but not straightforward

This would not be as simple as it sounds. The KC-30As are military aircraft, so decisions would need to be made whether to fly them into civil or military airfields overseas.

In the latter case, embarking passengers may be difficult. Moreover, being military aircraft (not scheduled civil air services), formal diplomatic approval would need to granted by the other countries involved.

There are further technical issues of guarding RAAF aircraft if they need to remain overnight at a foreign airfield, refuelling the aircraft on arrival, embarkation procedures and keeping the crews COVID–free.

There are also more mundane matters. like having aircraft stairs available and monitoring pilot duty hours — exhausted pilots are a flight safety hazard.

What about Qantas?

While this is technically feasible, there are also efficiency concerns.

Australians are scattered across the globe. They may need to find their way to major departure airport hubs — as diverting a large aircraft to pick up only a few passengers from a country may not be sensible. In addition, smaller countries may be unsure about letting a large, obviously military aircraft use their airfields.

It is in these smaller countries that Albanese’s idea of using the two B737 Business Jets might be more appropriate.




Read more:
Australians don’t have a ‘right’ to travel. Does COVID mean our days of carefree overseas trips are over?


But if the RAAF has airliners, so too do the civil airlines. Qantas has many aircraft and crews available at the moment who, like the RAAF’s VIP crews, need to maintain their flying experience.

It’s true Australian taxpayers have already paid for the RAAF aircraft and crews, so the additional costs of picking up stranded Australians would be low. On the other hand, the airlines and their associated unions are in difficult circumstances. Should the RAAF do what Qantas could?

On Thursday, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce told Radio National the airline was in talks with the federal government to subsidise flights home.

Qantas plane waiting on a runway.
Perhaps Qantas flights should be used instead of the RAAF.
Joel Carrett/AAP

Finally, there’s the issue of quarantine. Only 4,000 Australians have been allowed back each week due to government imposed quarantine hotel restrictions. After a federal government push to the states, this is set to be increased to 6,000.

Large airliners, whether operated by the RAAF or commercial airlines, can bring many people home, but the cap on arrivals is a notable constraint.

This means the biggest benefit of such an approach might be not so much bringing more people home, but making the flights affordable and available. Today, with strict passenger limits, the airlines are charging high fees. This is a significant impediment to people returning, even with the Australian government offering loans to assist.

We could use the RAAF if we wanted to

So, while Albanese’s idea may be critiqued on its finer points, it is broadly doable. It’s perhaps a good if small example of politics in action.

At its core, when it comes to bringing home Australians in distress, it becomes a simple political question.

How should the government spend Australia’s taxpayer dollars?




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There’s a ban on leaving Australia under COVID-19. Who can get an exemption to go overseas? And how?


The Conversation


Peter Layton, Visiting Fellow Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University

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

Federal government pre-empts national cabinet to raise the cap for returning Australians


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The federal government, under pressure to expand and accelerate the return of stranded Australians, has pre-empted national cabinet by announcing the “cap” on these arrivals will be expanded from about 4,000 up to 6,000 a week.

After the announcement Western Australia immediately hit out, saying the national cabinet process was being flouted.

More than 25,000 people are presently registered as having expressed a wish to return, and there have been numerous hardship cases in the media and in representations to MPs offices.

The government says the new weekly caps will be: NSW 2,950 (present cap is 2,450), Queensland 1,000 (500), South Australia 600 (500), and Western 1,025 (525). Victoria, struggling out of its second wave, will not have any arrivals.

This adds up to only 5,575 but the government hopes the other jurisdictions will take some people, although there are not commercial airline services into the ACT, the Northern Territory or Tasmania.

The government wants the higher numbers operating by late this month.

The caps were imposed at the request of states, which were concerned at pressure on their quarantine facilities, in particular when Victoria, where there was a quarantine breakdown triggering the second wave crisis, stopped taking any returnees.

People wanting to come home are not just facing the problem of the cap but the difficulty of securing flights, and at reasonable prices.

Unveiling the higher cap Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who has responsibility for aviation, said he had written to premiers and territory leaders to tell them the caps for international flights based on quarantine levels.

“Not every Australian will be able to come home by Christmas, I accept that. But we want to get as many of those who need to come home, want to come home, paid for a ticket to come home, to be able to do so”, McCormack said.

The federal government says it has constitutional power over quarantine, and so does not need the states’ approval. But it will take the new quotas to Friday’s national cabinet.

Under the existing deal the states make the quarantine arrangements and carry the cost – although they are now charging returnees.

The opposition has called for the government to use RAAF planes to return some people. But the government says there are thousands of unused commercial seats, and the VIP fleet has only very small capacity. It also rejects calls for the use of federal facilities for some of the returnees, saying they are not available or suitable.

Attorney-General Christian Porter, asked on Perth radio whether WA had agreed, said he did not know but “we very much hope they will”.

WA premier Mark McGowan said he had not known about the announcement beforehand and described it as “very directly outside the spirit of the national cabinet”.

“I don’t really like the fact that this has been sprung via a press conference without a discussion with the people actually required to implement it,” McGowan said.

He warned of the risks of putting pressure on hotel quarantine and said using Commonwealth facilities should be looked at.

The federal government says it would consider ADF assistance with more quarantine, noting ADF personnel have been helping WA with hotel quarantine for weeks.

WA Health Minister Roger Cook said it was extraordinary the matter was being dealt with through a letter from McCormack and said Scott Morrison should call “his dogs off” and work with the premiers.

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said that after a request from the prime minister “I consulted my relevant ministers and the police commissioner, who is in charge of quarantine, and everybody said they could take on that extra load”. Her agreement was on the basis other states agreed.

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk also indicated her government was willing to take more people.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Scott Morrison set to slow the arrival home of Australians amid coronavirus fears


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison will take a proposal to Friday’s national cabinet to slow arrivals of Australians returning from overseas.

Morrison’s proposal followed this week’s request from Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan for a cap on international flights landing in Perth to relieve pressure on resources, and the earlier diversion of flights from landing in Melbourne because of the new outbreak.

There is already a cap applying to NSW, and the WA government has said the federal government has responded favourably to its representation. Queensland also wants limits.

The prime minister told a news conference his proposal would be to contain the flow rather than pause it. He said the numbers coming in were very low “but at this time, we don’t want to put any more pressure on the system than is absolutely necessary”.

New Zealand has moved to slow the flow of returnees.

Morrison also said the federal government would support state governments charging travellers returning from abroad for their quarantine.

It was up to the states but “if they wish to do that, then the Commonwealth would have no objection to that”.

“I think that would be a completely understandable proposition for people who have been away for some time.”

There had been “many opportunities for people to return. If they’re choosing to do so now, they have obviously delayed that decision for a period,” he told a news conference.

Queensland is already charging – $2,800 for one adult, $3,710 for two adults, and $4,620 for two adults and two children, with some provision for waivers. The Northern Territory also charges.

As Victoria announced 134 new cases, Morrison’s message to Melburnians facing the six-week lockdown was: “It’s tough. And it will test you and it will strain, but you have done it once before and you will be able to do it again because you have proven that”.

“We’re all Melburnians now when it comes to the challenges we face. We’re all Victorians now because we’re all Australians.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the cost to the economy of the Victorian re-imposed lockdown would now be factored into the government’s July 23 economic statement. It would affect forecasts for growth and unemployment. “Victoria is a big part of the national economy” and “the cost to Victoria is up to a billion dollars a week and that will fall heavily on businesses”.

“This is a major challenge to the economic recovery. This is going to have an impact well beyond the Victorian border. It’s already starting to play out in consumer confidence numbers that have been down in the last two weeks, ” Frydenberg said.

“We have been there with JobKeeper and the cash flow boost, which together have provided more than $10 billion into the Victorian economy,” he said.

“We’re ready to do what is required to support Victoria, and Daniel Andrews himself has said whenever he’s asked the Prime Minister for support the answer has been an unequivocal yes.”

Frydenberg confirmed there will be another phase of income support for the period beyond September when JobKeeper is due to finish. The future support would be temporary and targeted, he said. The higher JobSeeker payment is also scheduled to snap back at the end of September, although it is not expected to return to the old rate.

Frydenberg also indicated the government was considering bringing forward the next round of the legislated tax cuts. “We are looking at that issue, and the timing of those tax cuts, because we do want to boost aggregate demand, boost consumption, put more money in people’s pockets, and that is one way to do it”.

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian told people in communities along the NSW-Victorian border not to move outside their “bubble”; nor should people go into these areas. She warned “the probability of contagion in NSW given what’s happening in Victoria is extremely high”.

The ACT has three new cases, the first in more than a month. Two arrived from a Melbourne hot spot and the third is a household contact.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Despite 432 Indigenous deaths in custody since 1991, no one has ever been convicted. Racist silence and complicity are to blame



JAMES GOURLEY/AAP

Alison Whittaker, University of Technology Sydney

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!”

Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and there is speculation other officers involved will be charged soon.

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.

Dungay’s last words were also “I can’t breathe”.

An officer replied “If you can talk, you can breathe”.




Read more:
‘I can’t breathe!’ Australia must look in the mirror to see our own deaths in custody


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.

Paul Silva, Dungay’s nephew and among the his most powerful advocates for justice, said as he was leaving court,

What am I meant to do now? Go home, look at the ground. Tell my Uncle? — Sorry, Unc, there’s no justice here!‘

This week, he told the Guardian:

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.

Leetona Dungay has pursued a very public campaign for justice in the death of her son.
Brendan Esposito/AAP

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.

Amanda Porter, an Indigenous scholar of policing and criminal justice, wrote about media coverage of Indigenous deaths in custody in Australia compared with the US.

She noted differences in the way the media covered the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, with the killing of Mulrunji Doomagee on Palm Island:

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.

A protest against the police shooting of Michael Brown in Missouri in 2014.
Larry W. Smith/EPA

Why the silence?

Since 1991, some 432 Indigenous people (and possibly more) have died in custody.

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.

Aunty Tanya Day, for instance, campaigned for justice for her uncle who died in custody and later died in custody herself.

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.




Read more:
Scales of justice still tipped towards police who harm people in their custody


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.




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FactCheck Q&A: are Indigenous Australians the most incarcerated people on Earth?


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.

So far, they have not been successful in claiming the blanket privilege, despite taking the matter to the SA Supreme Court.

Morrison’s sibling Latoya Rule has written:

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.

Combined with plaintiff-friendly defamation laws, media ignorance and racist editorial decisions, and a lack of institutional support for Indigenous journalism, this contributes to some of the hedging language we see around police brutality in Australia, like someone “appearing” to do something captured on video.

All of this leaves our public discourse full of blak bodies but curiously empty of people who put them there.

A Melbourne protest seeking justice in the death of a 19-year-old NT man shot by police.
David Crosling/AAP

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.The Conversation

Alison Whittaker, Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney

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

Pandemic dents Australians’ views of both China and the United States


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Both China and the United States have suffered reputational damage with the Australian public as a result of their handling of the coronavirus crisis, according to a Lowy COVIDpoll.

Most Australians (68%) say they feel “less favourable towards China’s system of government” when thinking about China’s handling of the outbreak.

Nearly seven in ten (69%) think China has dealt with it badly.

An overwhelming 90% believe the US has performed badly. The US is rated at the bottom of a list of six countries, also including Singapore, the United Kingdom and Italy, in how well COVID has been handled.

In contrast, 93% think Australia has done well so far.

Building on the anti-Trump feeling that showed up in earlier Lowy polling, 73% said they would prefer Democratic candidate Joe Biden to become president at the November election, compared 23% who want Donald Trump to be re-elected.

The poll of 3036 was done April 14-27.

It comes as trade relations with China have become increasingly tense this week with disputes over Australian exports of barley and beef. China has suspended imports from four abattoirs in Australia and threatened hefty tariffs on Australian barley.

Although the barley row has been going on some time, as have some of the beef complaints, the actions on both fronts are seen as retaliation for Australia pushing for a inquiry into the origin and handling of COVID-19.

As of late Wednesday trade minister Simon Birmingham had not been able to get in contact with his Chinese counterpart.

The trade difficulties are also generating domestic pressure.

On Wednesday Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she was writing to Birmingham asking him to get a resolution to the beef dispute as soon as possible. She said thousands of Queensland jobs were involved.

Australia China Business Council CEO Helen Sawczak said: “To go out like a shag on a rock little Australia demanding an inquiry and insinuating blame was probably not a great foreign policy move.”

On the other hand some Coalition backbenchers have been taking strong public positions against China, complicating the government’s attempt to manage the disputes between the two countries.

In the Lowy poll, 37% said that when the world recovers from the crisis, China will be “more powerful” than it was before the crisis; 27% said it would be less powerful; 36% predicted no change. In 2009 in the wake of the global financial crisis 72% said China would be more powerful.

Just over half (53%) say the US will be less powerful; 41% predict no change; 6% believe American power will grow. In 2009 33% said the US would be less powerful than before.

Lowy’s Natasha Kassam, author of the Lowy report, said: “Despite Beijing’s efforts to shift the focus from its early mismanagement and coverup of the virus, to its apparent success in containment and providing support to struggling countries, Australians appear unconvinced.

“Australians’ views of China during the pandemic track with the previous downturn in sentiment towards China: in 2019, only a third of Australians said they trusted China, and the same number had confidence in China’s leader Xi Jinping to do the right thing in world affairs.

“As much as Australians have expressed disappointment in China’s handling of the outbreak, they are even more concerned by the response of the United States.

“While watching the current tragedy unfold in the United States, the competence and reliability of the United States is looming even larger as a question for Australians,” Kassam said.

In the poll, people gave a big thumbs up to Australian medical authorities and governments. More than nine in ten (92%) said they were confident the chief medical officers were doing a good job responding to the outbreak. The rating for states and territories was 86%, and 82% for the federal government. Confidence in the performance of the World Health Organisation was a much lower 59%.

Australians are not retreating from globalisation as a result of the crisis. Seven in 10 people say globalisation is “mostly good for Australia”. This is consistent with 2019.

Some 53% want “more global co-operation rather than every country putting their own interests first” in a global crisis.

A majority (59%) say they are just as likely to travel overseas as before, when COVID is contained.

Asked their preferred sources of information during the coronavirus outbreak (and allowed to choose up to three), 59% chose the Prime Minister and government officials, 50% government websites, 50% the ABC, 31% newspapers and news websites, 28% commercial, pay TV news and radio, 20% social media, and 5% word-of-mouth.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Urban Aboriginal people face unique challenges in the fight against coronavirus



Shutterstock

Fiona Stanley, Telethon Kids Institute; Daniel McAullay, Edith Cowan University, and Sandra Eades, Curtin University

There seems to be a myth in Australia that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people mostly live in remote communities. But the vast majority (79%) live in urban areas.

The federal government has rightly decided the best policy to protect Indigenous people from COVID-19 is to socially isolate remote communities.

Now the government needs to turn its attention to the risks Indigenous people face in urban and rural areas.




Read more:
Coronavirus will devastate Aboriginal communities if we don’t act now


Greater risk of harm

So far SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, has infected more than 6,600 Australians and killed 75 people. The elderly and those with underlying conditions are most at risk of severe illness and dying from the virus.

Chronic diseases such as respiratory diseases (including asthma), heart and circulatory diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney diseases and some cancers are more common in Indigenous people, and tend to occur at younger ages, than in non-Indigenous people.

These diseases, and the living conditions that contribute to them (such as poor nutrition, poor hygiene and lifestyle factors such as smoking), dramatically increase Indigenous people’s risk of being infected with coronavirus and for having more severe symptoms.

So Elders and those with chronic disease are vulnerable at any age.

We know from past pandemics, such as swine flu (H1N1), Indigenous Australians are more likely to become infected with respiratory viruses, and have more serious disease when they do.




Read more:
Coronavirus: what the 2009 swine flu pandemic can tell us about the weeks to come


So far, there have been 44 cases of coronavirus among Indigenous people, mostly in our major cities. We’re likely to see more in coming months.

This suggests the decision to close remote communities has been successful so far. But we also need to now focus on urban centres to prevent and manage further cases.

Current Australian government advice is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 50 years and over with existing health conditions to self-isolate. General government health advice tells all Australians to maintain good hygiene and seek health care when needed.

But this advice is easier said than done for many urban Indigenous people.

So what unique family and cultural needs and circumstances so we need to consider to reduce their risk of coronavirus?

Large households

Many urban Indigenous households have large groups of people living together. So overcrowding and inadequate accommodation poses a risk to their health and well-being.

This is particularly the case when it comes to infectious diseases, which thrive when too many people live together with poor hygiene (when it’s difficult for personal cleanliness, to keep clean spaces, wash clothes and cook healthy meals) and when people sleep in close contact.

Crowded accommodation also means increased exposure to passive smoking and other shared risky lifestyles.




Read more:
Fix housing and you’ll reduce risks of coronavirus and other disease in remote Indigenous communities


Households are also more likely to be intergenerational, with many children and young people living with older parents and grandparents. This potentially increases the chances of the coronavirus spreading among and between households, infecting vulnerable older members.

Immediate solutions to prevent infection are, with guidance from Aboriginal organisations, to house people in these situations in safe emergency accommodation. But it is also an opportunity to work with Aboriginal organisations in the longer term to improve access to better housing to improve general health and well-being.

Most Indigenous people live in our cities, not in remote Australia.
Shutterstock

Poor health literacy

Indigenous Australians don’t always have access to good information about the coronavirus in formats that are easily understood and culturally appropriate.

The National Indigenous Australians Agency (a federal government agency) has developed some excellent videos in languages and in Aboriginal English, using respected First Nations leaders, as have others in Western Australia.

The challenge is to get these distributed in urban centres urgently. These health messages should also be distributed in Aboriginal Medical Services waiting rooms and on Indigenous television and radio.




Read more:
Coronavirus: as culture moves online, regional organisations need help bridging the digital divide


Inadequate access to soap and vaccines

Poverty will limit some families’ ability to buy hand sanitiser, face masks, disinfectant and soap.

Although there are provisions for Indigenous Australians to receive free vaccines against the flu and pneumococcal disease to protect against lung disease, not all age groups are covered.

Scepticism of mainstream health services

Due to policies and racism that have marginalised Indigenous people, many do not use health and other services.

This is why Aboriginal Controlled Health Services are so important and successful in providing culturally sensitive and appropriate care.

However, there is concern these health services are not adequately funded or prepared to manage a coronavirus pandemic in urban centres.

They need more personal protective equipment (including masks). They also need more Aboriginal health workers, community nurses and others for testing and contact tracing.

Not everyone can afford to buy soap and hand sanitiser to limit the spread of the virus.
Shutterstock

What do governments need to do?

Some regions’ responses have been better than others.

In Western Australia, the urban-based Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS) are working with key state government departments to coordinate the COVID-19 response. This includes guidance about how best to prevent and manage cases.

In Southeast Queensland, the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health, which manages 21 ACCHS, is coordinating health and social government services.

It’s time for other governments to set up collaborative arrangements with ACCHS and other Aboriginal controlled service organisations in urban centres to better manage the COVID-19 pandemic.

This should include more staff to:

  • provide care
  • help people self-isolate
  • explain and embed the digital COVID-19 media messages about hand washing, use of sanitisers and social distancing
  • enable accommodation that is acceptable and safe, especially for Elders and homeless people.

These services should also provide free flu and pneumococcal vaccinations.

Getting Indigenous health experts to lead this defence is clearly the way to go. We must listen and respond to these leaders to implement effective strategies immediately. If ever there was an opportunity to demonstrate that giving Indigenous people a voice to manage their own futures is effective, it is this.

Our hope is that, after this pandemic, the value of Aboriginal control will be recognised as the best way to improve Aboriginal health and well-being.




Read more:
The answer to Indigenous vulnerability to coronavirus: a more equitable public health agenda


This article was co-authored by Adrian Carson, Institute for Urban Indigenous Health; Donisha Duff, Institute for Urban Indigenous Health; Francine Eades, Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service; and Lesley Nelson, South West Aboriginal Medical Service.The Conversation

Fiona Stanley, Perinatal and pediatric epidemiologist; distinguished professorial fellow, Telethon Kids Institute; Daniel McAullay, Associate Professor, Edith Cowan University, and Sandra Eades, Dean, Medical School, Curtin University

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

During the Great Depression, many newspapers betrayed their readers. Some are doing it again now



Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Sally Young, University of Melbourne

Many newspapers betrayed their readers during the Great Depression and now some are doing so again during the coronavirus pandemic.

During the Depression, Australia’s major daily newspapers loudly resisted calls for economic stimulus to revive the economy. Even the tabloids – whose working class audiences were feeling the full brunt of unemployment – campaigned instead for government spending cuts that hit their readers hard.

Self-interest was behind this. The companies and individuals behind Australia’s most popular daily newspapers in the early 1930s were bondholders who had lent enormous sums of money to Australian governments before the Depression. So had banks, trustee and life insurance companies that were allied with newspaper owners, and also major newspaper advertisers. If Australian governments had not made severe cuts to spending and instead injected money into the economy through welfare and job creation projects, they would not have been able to pay back their debts. Domestic bondholders would have lost millions in interest payments.

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Now, we see some news outlets again betraying their readers by prioritising business over public health.

In the Murdoch News Corp/Fox Corporation stable in the US, Fox News downplayed the spread of the virus for as long as it could. Its presenters ridiculed predictions about its impact as coming from “panic pushers” and liberals out to damage Trump, while the Wall Street Journal editorialised that shutdowns might be safeguarding public health but “at the cost of its economic health”. Trump jumped on cue and began spouting the same shameful rhetoric that the cure might be worse than the disease because of its economic impact. He wanted Americans back to work by Easter.


The Sun newspaper

Murdoch’s Sun in the UK represented shutdowns there with a bleak front page calling them “HOUSE ARREST” and showing a padlock over the Union Jack.

In the Murdoch outlets in Australia, these views are being faithfully reproduced by Andrew Bolt of the Herald Sun and Sky News. Bolt’s column on March 30 was headed “Aussies should be back at work in two weeks”.

During the Great Depression, the mainstream press strongly reflected the economic conservatism of bankers, economists and business leaders. The most vehement outlets were the Argus and the Herald in Melbourne, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Daily Telegraph in Sydney, the Mercury in Hobart, and the Brisbane Telegraph and Brisbane Courier. They attacked the Scullin Labor government’s plan to reflate the economy through government stimulus as “economic insanity”, “a dangerous experiment”, “grotesque and menacing”.

But in a turn of phrase that even those papers might have found too hysterical, Bolt recently described economic stimulus packages during coronavirus as “Marxism”. This is despite the fact that economic stimulus is now so widely accepted as part of a mainstream economic toolkit that conservative politicians are using it in Australia, the UK and the US.

Sky News host Alan Jones has also downplayed the virus, saying “we are living in the age of hysteria” and that he wants to see the emphasis placed on protecting people “in nursing homes and hospitals instead of schools and football stadiums”.

Right-wing commentators – presumably working from home themselves – are keen to get everyone back to work in the midst of a pandemic, even though the medical advice says otherwise.

The usual pretence that they are on the side of their audience falls away at a time of crisis. They are representing the interests of business – particularly their own.

Media companies that were already financially fragile are extremely worried about coronavirus. The sudden halt to business has meant the loss of advertising revenue, possibly for a long period, but also the loss of reader income. This means people have less to spend on media and on buying advertisers’ products.

Combined with this is the dramatic loss of sport (of vital importance to the struggling Foxtel, Kayo Sports and tabloid newspapers) and also the end of house auctions when real estate sections and real estate websites were one of the few remaining bright spots for the newspaper groups. The bread-and-butter events that newspapers cover, from entertainment and leisure to restaurant and movies, have stopped, and nobody knows for how long.




Read more:
A matter of trust: coronavirus shows again why we value expertise when it comes to our health


These are unprecedented and menacing threats to commercial media groups. At News Corp, there is the added pressure of a transition in leadership from the 89-year-old Rupert Murdoch to his son, Lachlan Murdoch, a less tested – and less trusted – leader who is unlikely to have the business nous of his father or even his grandfather, Keith Murdoch.

As a journalist and editor, Keith Murdoch was one of those who promoted business interests during the Depression. Rupert’s father was also a vehement conscriptionist during the first and second world wars. Although Keith never signed up for military service himself, he propagandised, almost obsessively, for conscription and called on other men to make a sacrifice for a greater cause.

We need to beware the media commentators of today, anti-science and anti-expertise armchair generals, who likewise call on their fellow citizens to do things they won’t do themselves.The Conversation

Sally Young, Professor, University of Melbourne

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