Vital Signs: Australia’s anti-lockdown tribe battles on against the evidence


Richard Holden, UNSWYou might have thought the “lockdown wars” in Australia were over.

After all, Australia navigated the pandemic better than essentially any other country in 2020.

We closed our international border in March, used an early and relative light lockdown in NSW to get contact testing and tracing up and running, squelched costly hotel quarantine leaks in Victoria with more dramatic measures, and generally kept Australia as COVID-free as possible.

We adopted the wise principle, borne out by so much tragic international experience, that we could not have a functioning economy with a pandemic raging.

The overwhelming focus of public policy has now shifted to getting people vaccinated. But some of the anti-lockdown tribe are battling on, suggesting our border controls and lockdown didn’t save lives.

Are they right? No.

Their latest argument uses a US National Bureau of Economic Research working paper by academics from the University of Southern California and the RAND Corporation that looks at “excess deaths”. That is, it compares total deaths from all causes in a particular jurisdiction with an estimate of “expected” deaths in that jurisdiction based on historical data.




Read more:
Yes, lockdowns are costly. But the alternatives are worse


Their data covers all 50 US states and 43 nations, including Australia. Their conclusion is that “shelter-in-place” policies were associated with an increase in excess mortality, with the exception of three countries: Australia, Malta and New Zealand.

So this isn’t a good argument against our approach. Nor did the authors find any statistical significant result covering more than the immediate weeks following shelter-in-place implementation in the more internally comparable US data.

Nonetheless it’s worth examining this paper, and also looking at what Australian data on excess deaths is showing.

A brave empirical method

The National Bureau of Economic Research is a distinguished organisation. It has published nine of my working papers. But this does not bestow some kind of magical status on them. It doesn’t mean they are peer-reviewed. Rather, it is an automatic privilege accompanying bureau affiliation.

Thus every paper comes with the disclaimer that “working papers are circulated for discussion and comment purposes” and “have not been peer-reviewed”.

The paper latched on to by the anti-lockdown tribe uses an empirical method known as an “event study”. Such studies were popularised in financial economics thanks to an influential 1969 paper on stock prices by American economist Gene Fama and colleagues.

Eugene Fama 1969 paper 'The Adjustment of Stock Prices to New Information'.
Eugene Fama 1969 paper ‘The Adjustment of Stock Prices to New Information’.
CC BY-SA

Fama has been called the “father of modern finance” for his work on the “efficient markets hypothesis” – the idea that asset prices reflect all available information, so it is impossible in the long run to “beat” the market.

The efficient markets hypothesis is a big and important idea in financial economics. It rightly led to the 2013 Nobel prize for economics, which Fama shared with University of Chicago colleague Lars Peter Hansen
and Yale University’s Robert Shiller, who built on Fama’s work and concluded that markets are often very far from efficient.

Whatever one’s view about the rationality of asset prices, it is important to understand the “event study” method relies crucially on rationality in financial markets and the efficiency of securities prices. As one survey article of event studies notes:

The usefulness of such a study comes from the fact that, given rationality in the marketplace, the effects of an event will be reflected immediately in security prices. Thus a measure of the event’s economic impact can be constructed using security prices observed over a relatively short time period.

Using an event study to assess a noisy measure of mortality in decidedly inefficient political markets (if one can even call them that in this case) is a million miles away from the purpose and internal logic of event studies in securities markets.

The nice way to describe using an event study to assess pandemic policy is that it’s “brave”.

Australian data on deaths

The Australian Bureau of Statistic collates definitive statistics about deaths after reports from state coroners are finalised. It usually publishes these annually, in September.

Due to the interest in deaths due to the pandemic, however, the bureau has been publishing monthly “provisional mortality statistics” based on doctor-certified deaths. (About 80-85% of all deaths are certified by doctors, without a coroner determining the cause.)




Read more:
You can’t fix the economy if you can’t see it: how the ABS became our secret weapon


The provisional statistics show Australia had slightly fewer non-COVID-related deaths in 2020 than normally the case (an average of 385.6 deaths per day, compared to the baseline average of 385.8.)


Doctor certified deaths, COVID-19 infections, Australia, 23 Feb 2020 - 28 Mar 2021 vs 2015-2019 benchmarks.

ABS, CC BY-SA

In 2020 and so far in 2021 Australians have been less likely than normal to die of heart disease and strokes, and dramatically less likely to die from flu.

What about suicides?

A common claim by the anti-lockdown tribe is that suicides have risen due to people being socially isolated and losing work.

But early evidence from insurance companies on suicides shows the opposite.

There’s a good reason for this. As Simon Swanson, the chief executive of ClearView Life Assurance, told the House Standing Committee on Economics on June 25:

If you read our annual report last year you would have seen we increased assumptions for suicide. That did not actually happen — suicide actually went down —and in our research part of that was because people were participating in a global pandemic and everyone was in this together. The second impact was there was an incredible increase in telehealth, which was an interesting part of technology actually delivering to consumers.

Everyone was in this together.

There may, of course, be other mental health impacts from lockdowns. But there are no perfect options. We will have a greater array of policy options when at least 80% of the population are vaccinated.

With apologies to John Keating (played by Robin Williams) in Dead Poets Society: “‘Twas always thus, and always thus will be.”The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

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

Mounting evidence suggests COVID vaccines do reduce transmission. How does this work?


Jennifer Juno, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and Adam Wheatley, The University of MelbourneSince COVID-19 vaccines began rolling out across the world, many scientists have been hesitant to say they can reduce transmission of the virus.

Their primary purpose is to prevent you from getting really sick with the virus, and it quickly became clear the vaccines are highly efficient at doing this. Efficacy against symptoms of the disease in clinical trials has ranged from 50% (Sinovac) to 95% (Pfizer/BioNTech), and similar effectiveness has been reported in the real world.

However, even the best vaccines we have are not perfect, which means some vaccinated people still end up catching the virus. We call these cases “breakthrough” infections. Indeed, between April 10 and May 1, six people in hotel quarantine in New South Wales tested positive for COVID-19, despite being fully vaccinated.

But how likely are vaccinated people to actually pass the virus on, if they do get infected? Evidence is increasing that, not only do COVID-19 vaccines either stop you getting sick or substantially reduce the severity of your symptoms, they’re also likely to substantially reduce the chance of transmitting the virus to others.

But how does this work, and what does it mean for the pandemic?

Vaccinated people are much less likely to pass on the virus

Early evidence from testing in animals, where researchers can directly study transmission, suggested immunisation with COVID-19 vaccines could prevent animals passing on the virus.

But animals are not people, and the scientific community has been waiting for more conclusive studies in humans.

In April, Public Health England reported the results of a large study of COVID-19 transmission involving more than 365,000 households with a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated members.

It found immunisation with either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine reduced the chance of onward virus transmission by 40-60%. This means that if someone became infected after being vaccinated, they were only around half as likely to pass their infection on to others compared to infected people who weren’t vaccinated.

One study from Israel, which leads the world in coronavirus vaccinations, gives some clues about what’s behind this reduced transmission. Researchers identified nearly 5,000 cases of breakthrough infection in previously vaccinated people, and determined how much virus was present in their nose swabs. Compared to unvaccinated people, the amount of virus detected was significantly lower in those who got vaccinated.

More virus in the nose has been linked to greater infectiousness and increased risks of onward transmission.

These studies show vaccination is likely to substantially reduce virus transmission by reducing the pool of people who become infected, and reducing virus levels in the nose in people with breakthrough infections.

Why does this matter?

If COVID-19 vaccines reduce the chances of transmitting the virus, then each person who is vaccinated protects not only themselves, but also people around them. Breaking chains of transmission within the community and limiting onward spread is critical to help protect people who may respond poorly to immunisation or may not be able to get vaccinated themselves, such as children, some older people, and some people who are immunocompromised.

This also greatly increases the opportunity to achieve some degree of population (or “herd”) immunity, and a faster easing of social restrictions.




Read more:
We may never achieve long-term global herd immunity for COVID. But if we’re all vaccinated, we’ll be safe from the worst


But what about the limits of vaccines?

Reducing the risk of transmitting the coronavirus relies on developing strong immunity against the virus. But immunity, even from the vaccines, fades over time. Scientists are actively monitoring people who’ve had COVID-19 vaccines to understand how long vaccine immunity is likely to last, and if and when booster shots will be required.




Read more:
Why do we need booster shots, and could we mix and match different COVID vaccines?


Variants of the coronavirus are also concerning. These are strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that carry changes which make them harder to control by immunisation. Such variants present two major challenges: they can evade vaccine immunity and, in some cases, are also more transmissible.

Although variants have spread widely throughout the world, there are several pieces of good news on this front. Countries with advanced vaccine rollouts are maintaining good control over the virus. For example, Israel began its mass vaccination campaign during their third wave, and quickly saw a decline in new cases.

What’s more, companies like Moderna are developing updated vaccines to specifically target these variants, with positive early results.

Vaccines don’t mean we should stop preventative behaviours

Right now, the global pandemic is complex. Many countries are quickly rolling out available vaccines, and there are a wide variety of lockdowns and social measures in place.

Yet, the number of new infections each day across the world is at an all-time high and concerning variants are circulating.

As people are vaccinated, there’s a temptation to stop or reduce some important social behaviours such as mask wearing or physical distancing. But, importantly, less transmission is not no transmission.

While vaccinated individuals most likely have a smaller chance of passing on the virus, it’s still important to keep up responsible behaviours into the immediate future to protect those who have not, will not, or cannot be immunised.The Conversation

Jennifer Juno, Senior research fellow, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and Adam Wheatley, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, The University of Melbourne

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

Is it the adenovirus vaccine technology, used by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, causing blood clots? There’s no evidence yet


Kylie Quinn, RMIT UniversityThis week, US health authorities recommended pausing the rollout of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine while investigations into exceptionally rare blood clots take place.

Six women suffered blood clots out of nearly seven million doses administered.

The J&J vaccine uses broadly similar vaccine technology as the AstraZeneca vaccine, known as adenoviral vectors, which has led some experts to speculate there might be a link between this vaccine platform and the very rare blood clotting condition known as “vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia” (VITT).




Read more:
What is thrombocytopenia, the rare blood condition possibly linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine?


So far, a link between adenovirus technology in general and blood clots is purely speculation — there’s no evidence yet — but it’s worthwhile for health authorities to assess the data and for researchers to try to understand:

  • can adenoviral vectors in general cause VITT?
  • is VITT specific to the AstraZeneca adenoviral vaccine?
  • are certain unlucky individuals pre-disposed to develop VITT?

So what’s an adenovirus, and how are they used in vaccines?

Adenoviruses are a large family of viruses found in humans and other animals. In humans, some of these viruses can cause the common cold.

Scientists can also use these viruses to make vaccines, by using them to make what’s called a “viral vector”. A vector is a virus shell that researchers can use to package up and deliver a target from another virus.

To make an adenoviral vector, scientists take an adenovirus and remove any genetic material that could either allow the virus to replicate and spread, or cause disease. Researchers then take the adenovirus shell and insert genetic instructions for how to make a target on the surface of another virus. For COVID-19, they use the instructions to make the “spike protein” on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.




Read more:
From adenoviruses to RNA: the pros and cons of different COVID vaccine technologies


To your immune system, an adenoviral vector looks like a serious virus, even though it can’t replicate or cause disease. As a result, your immune system mounts a serious response, which is why people have been reporting more noticeable side-effects like a fever, fatigue and sore arm in the couple of days after the vaccine.

Similar but different

Currently, four COVID-19 vaccines use adenoviral vectors: AstraZeneca, Janssen/Johnson&Johnson, CanSino Biologicals and Sputnik V.

There are many adenoviruses out there to use as a starting point to make different adenoviral vectors. While these vectors can share some characteristics, they can also be biologically pretty different.

Different adenoviruses use different access points, known as receptors, to get into our cells. This can result in a very different size and type of immune response. Also, the adenovirus used in the Sputnik V and CanSino vaccines, called “rAd5”, isn’t very good at setting off the alarms in our immune system, while other adenoviral vectors are better.

The different vaccines also deliver slightly different sets of instructions for the spike protein. The J&J vaccine, called “rAd26”, instructs our cells to make a spike protein that’s locked into a specific shape, to help our immune system recognise it, and it’s delivered to the surface of the cell. The AstraZeneca vaccine, called “chAdOx01” instructs the cell to make a spike protein that isn’t locked in place and it can be secreted from the cell.

Given these differences, if one adenoviral vaccine is linked with a particular effect in our bodies, for example blood clots, it doesn’t mean all vaccines in this family will have that same effect. But regulators should still investigate.

We need to understand more about these blood clots

A number of regulatory bodies have issued notifications of a plausible link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and VITT.

This risk is very, very low — around one in 200,000 people that receive the vaccine could develop the condition. But for the rare person that develops VITT, the consequences can be serious, with around one-quarter of those with the condition dying from it. So regulators are taking the situation seriously.

VITT isn’t like other clotting conditions. There are many different types of clotting conditions but it seems VITT is likely to be caused by an unusual immune response.

We don’t know exactly what triggers this immune response. There have been reports of clotting conditions with adenovirus infections or very high doses of adenoviral vectors. However, this occurred very quickly, while VITT is a delayed response, observed 4-20 days after vaccination. It seems more likely at this stage that, in certain very rare patients, some kind of unusual immune response may be triggered.




Read more:
How does the Johnson & Johnson vaccine compare to other coronavirus vaccines? 4 questions answered


While researchers try to understand VITT, many regulators are taking a cautious approach — advising their communities, giving guidelines for preferred vaccines with younger age groups and revisiting data for other vaccines to be vigilant.

In doing this, regulators must balance a very rare risk of VITT with the AstraZeneca vaccine, with a very real risk of death and disease that face people with COVID-19. For many people, particularly older people in regions with community transmission of the virus, it still makes clear sense for their health to receive whichever COVID-19 vaccine is available.

These are complex decisions resulting in nuanced information that is hard to communicate. But the fact regulators are engaging with them quickly and transparently has been reassuring to me and, I hope, others in our broader community.The Conversation

Kylie Quinn, Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow, School of Health and Biomedical Sciences, RMIT University

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

Australians think our politicians are corrupt, but where is the evidence?



File 20180821 30593 idbm42.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Former NSW minister Ian Macdonald (left) and union boss John Maitland are just two of the prominent figures who have been swept up in anti-corruption investigations at the state level.
Joel Carrett/AAP

Yee-Fui Ng, Monash University

A recent survey by Griffith University has found Australians’ trust in government is sliding. Trust and confidence in government fell in the last year to 46% at the federal and state levels.

There are also serious concerns about officials and politicians using their positions to benefit themselves or their families (62%), or favouring businesses and individuals in return for political donations or support (56%).

Worse still, there has been a 9% increase since 2016 in perceptions that federal members of parliament are corrupt (85% saying “some” are corrupt, 18% responding that “most/all” are corrupt).

What has caused the loss of public trust?

There is a public perception that a small elite is reaping large benefits in Australian society in terms of political influence and its flow-on dividends.

In Australia, the “game of mates” is flourishing. There’s now a revolving door in politics with many politicians, advisers and senior government officials leaving the public sector to become well-paid lobbyists.

Add to that the appointments of political “mates” to commissions, tribunals and cushy ambassadorships and the blatant misuse of parliamentary entitlements such as helicopter trips on taxpayer funds.

Political parties are also accepting millions of dollars in donations from lobbyists and others interested in influencing policy outcomes.

All of this adds to the perception that the system is rigged – and not in favour of the person on the street.

So, there is evidence of corruption in Australia?

The question is whether the perception of corruption is matched by reality.

Australia has fallen steadily in Transparency International’s global corruption index, from 8th place in 2012 to 13th this year. But even so, Australia is the 13th-least corrupt country in the world, which is still a respectable ranking.

More alarming is the fact that one in 20 Australian public servants said in a survey last year that they had seen a colleague acting in a corrupt manner. This figure has doubled in the past three years.

In the 1980s, there were incidences of large-scale corruption that rocked the country, culminating in the Fitzgerald Inquiry in Queensland and the WA Inc Royal Commission in Western Australia. These scandals led to the resignations and imprisonments of various former ministers and officials.

Although we have not sunk to such depths since then, state anti-corruption commissions, such as the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, have uncovered various instances of corruption in recent years. The NSW ICAC’s inquiries have led to the resignations of several politicians, as well as the conviction of former MP Eric Obeid.

Another classic case of corruption exposed by the ICAC led to the downfall of former Newcastle lord mayor, Jeff McCloy. McCloy famously bragged that politicians treated him like a “walking ATM” and admitted to giving two MPs envelopes of cash amounting to AU$10,000.

There is also a question about what we don’t know. Many more politicians may be getting away with corrupt activities because Australia doesn’t have a federal anti-corruption body.

Do we need a federal anti-corruption commission?

In one word: yes.

All states have anti-corruption bodies that have brought to light many indiscretions by politicians that would have otherwise remained hidden. The federal government is lagging behind in this crucial area.

At the federal level, there is no transparency in backroom dealings by those in power, coupled with lax rules that can be abused. In these circumstances, corruption can take root without us knowing about it. An anti-corruption agency would be a powerful deterrent against improper behaviour.

There is strong public support for a federal anti-corruption body in the Griffith University survey, with two-thirds (67%) of Australians in favour of this.

The Labor Party has pledged to introduce a federal integrity commission if it wins the next election.

There are also other activities that do not amount to corruption, but nevertheless shows an undue influence on government. Ideally, a federal anti-corruption commission should sit alongside a broader package of reforms that impose stronger rules on lobbying and political donations, as well as a code of conduct for MPs, policed by an independent commissioner.

This would form an interlocking political integrity system that would keep the politicians honest.

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The Conversation

Our faith in government has been eroded by a lack of transparency and the perception that those in power are enjoying unfair benefits. Creating robust institutions, rules and processes that can act as checks and balances on governmental power is key to a vibrant democracy – and will be the first step towards rebuilding public trust.

Yee-Fui Ng, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Monash University

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

Missing evidence base for big calls on infrastructure costs us all


Hugh Batrouney, Grattan Institute

When the case for big transport projects is made without due analysis, we risk building the wrong projects. The result is we waste billions of dollars and rob ourselves of the infrastructure our booming cities need to be more liveable. Given how fast our big cities are growing, we simply can’t afford to make decisions based on limited or misleading information. Yet this keeps happening.

Two stark examples – proposed rail links to Western Sydney and Melbourne airports and road congestion charges – illustrate the problem in different ways.

The proposed airport rail links show how governments continue to make huge taxpayer commitments to projects before they are able to articulate the costs, benefits and risks.

In the case of proposed road congestion charges we see an important reform languishing. This is because when reforms rest on obscure or unclear analysis they inevitably fail to generate public support.


Read more: Western Sydney Aerotropolis won’t build itself – a lot is riding on what governments do
Airport rail link can open up new possibilities for the rest of Melbourne


Funding pledges don’t wait for a business case

In the case of the recently announced multi-billion-dollar investments in airport rail in Western Sydney and Melbourne, neither project has a business case. Yet politicians on both sides tripped over themselves in committing to building them.

There are good reasons to be wary of their eagerness. A government study released this year stated that Western Sydney airport rail wouldn’t be needed to cater for customers and workers at the airport until 2036 at the earliest. Without a business case, we have no way to understand the grounds on which the government still believes this project represents value for money.




Read more:
Flying into uncertainty: Western Sydney’s ‘aerotropolis’ poses more questions than answers


In the case of Melbourne airport rail, the project’s route hasn’t been resolved, let alone its costs, ticket pricing structure, or potential benefits. Infrastructure Australia’s most recent priority list did not include a proponent for the project.

And Infrastructure Victoria says upgrading airport bus services should be investigated first. This is because, at A$50-100 million, bus services would be a much cheaper way to tackle the same problem. It has also said the rail line should be delivered – but not for at least 15 years.




Read more:
Melbourne Airport is going to be as busy as Heathrow, so why the argument about one train line?


Touting estimated benefits without showing calculations

The second example of Australia’s transport planning information deficit is different but still damaging. It concerns the way infrastructure experts encourage governments to make worthwhile but politically challenging reforms to how we use existing infrastructure. The idea is to get more value from the assets we already have.

Infrastructure Australia advocates a road congestion tax. This would replace annual registration fees and petrol taxes with a scheme that charges motorists more when they travel in congested places at congested times.

It’s a very good idea. Indeed, a Grattan Institute report last year recommended governments think seriously about road congestion charges for Sydney and Melbourne. But the way Infrastructure Australia has mounted the case leaves a lot to be desired.




Read more:
Delay in changing direction on how we tax drivers will cost us all


Last month, Infrastructure Australia released estimates of the benefits, prepared with PwC, of a scheme to charge motorists more precisely according to the location, time and distances they travel. According to these estimates, in just over a decade, Australia’s GDP would be A$21 billion larger every year – and this would increase to A$36.5 billion a year by 2047.

The problem is that Infrastructure Australia provides little information about how these enormous numbers were calculated. In a flawless example of circular reasoning, IA refers to analysis done by PwC. PwC in turn notes that the estimates were “collaboratively developed by IA and PwC”.

The calculations do not appear to have included the costs of implementing and running such a scheme. And we have been told nothing about how this grand plan might work in practice.

Converting reductions in travel times to increases in GDP

The most commonly cited estimates of the “avoidable costs” of congestion in Australia come from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics. In 2015, BITRE estimated the annual costs for Australia’s eight capitals totalled about A$16.5 billion. This was forecast to rise to about A$30 billion by 2030.

Such estimates have been important in highlighting the fact that congestion is not just aggravating but costly. But such estimates are, as BITRE itself states, “very blunt instruments for estimating and projecting congestion occurrence”.

It is difficult to precisely convert estimates of avoidable congestion costs into changes in GDP, of course. But the new Infrastructure Australia estimates do not even follow some simple, but important, rules of modelling.

First, they don’t make it easy for readers to see the basis for the assumptions used. Second, they don’t appear to have factored in costs as well as benefits. And third, in a situation where significant uncertainty surrounds the estimates, they haven’t published a range for the estimated impacts.

Getting transport projects right is critically important in cities that are already under pressure. Yet too many big infrastructure calls in Australia are based on misleading information or wafer-thin evidence. We need to do better.


The Conversation


Read more:
Budget policy check: do we need ribbon-cutting infrastructure for jobs and growth?


Hugh Batrouney, Transport Fellow, Grattan Institute

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

Jobs Minister Michaelia Cash resists call to give evidence in AWU court case


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government’s pursuit of Bill Shorten over a 2005 donation to GetUp has again come back to bite it, as Jobs Minister Michaelia Cash seeks to avoid a court appearance about last year’s police raids on Australian Workers Union offices.

Cash has been subpoenaed to appear in the AWU’s case against the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC) on August 1, as well as to produce documents earlier. But she told a news conference on Wednesday she had instructed lawyers to have the subpoena set aside.

Last year Cash wrote to the ROC about the A$100,000 donation to GetUp from the Australian Workers Union, made when Bill Shorten was union secretary. Shorten was one of the founding directors of the activist group.

The ROC commenced an investigation into whether the donation had been made with proper authority from the union.

Subsequently a member of Cash’s staff tipped off media that the Australian Federal Police were about to raid the AWU offices. Cash denied any knowledge of the alert given by her staffer, who quit over the incident.

The AWU launched court action claiming the warrants and the investigation were invalid.

This week Cash – who refused to say whether she has been interviewed by the AFP – declined on Tuesday evening and Wednesday to appear at the Senate hearings into the workplace portfolio, sending an assistant minister – even though she represents workplace minister Craig Laundy in the Senate.

Labor’s workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor accused Cash of being in hiding.

“She should have taken responsibility for the conduct of her office seven months ago and resigned, which would have been consistent with the Westminster principles of ministerial responsibility,” O’Connor said.

Cash accused Labor and the unions of “a stunt”. “The subpoena was issued at the request of the Australian Workers Union – Bill Shorten’s former union. This is, in fact, the third subpoena at the AWU’s request,” she told news conference.

She said she was not a party to the court proceedings, which were between the AWU and the ROC.

It was Shorten who had questions to answer, Cash said, “Did he donate $100,000 of union members’ money to GetUp, of which he was a director at the time, without proper approval of the union’s executive?”

Cash said she would attend estimates “where I am the responsible minister” but in this case “Craig Laundy is the relevant minister”.

She had “issued instructions to the lawyers to have the subpoenas set aside”.

“This is a protection racket to protect Bill Shorten. Way back last year, if the AWU had produced the evidence that those donations were properly authorised, the matter would have ended there and then”.

The AWU has said the support for GetUp was approved by the union’s executive at the time.

In question time Malcolm Turnbull declared he had “complete confidence in the minister”.

He told parliament: “On the application of the union, the court has issued the subpoena. This is the third subpoena. One was substantially set aside; the other was completely set aside. Senator Cash is entitled to seek to set aside a subpoena if it’s judged not relevant.”

Turnbull said the “central issue was whether Shorten had paid the $100,000 to GetUp without authority, which would be very serious misconduct, “misappropriating other people’s money”.

The ConversationHe questioned why minutes of the relevant meeting hadn’t been produced. “No wonder people increasingly believe they cannot trust the Leader of the Opposition with other people’s money, let alone with the management of our economy”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Gonski 2.0: there is evidence inclusive schooling will help those left behind



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The benefits of mixed-ability classes are shared by all.
Shutterstock

Linda J. Graham, Queensland University of Technology; Ilektra Spandagou, University of Sydney, and Kate de Bruin, Monash University

The recently released Gonski 2.0 Review aimed to examine how school funding should be used to improve school performance and student outcomes. A particular area of focus was to improve outcomes across all student cohorts including disadvantaged and vulnerable students, and academically advanced (“gifted”) students.

The report sets out a radically different vision of Australian school education but does not fully explain how this vision can be achieved.




Read more:
Gonski review reveals another grand plan to overhaul education: but do we really need it?


This omission has been rightly criticised. But there has been little acknowledgement of the positives in the report or the problems it seeks to address. These problems are real and are important to confront as they affect us all and will increase in the future.

By far the biggest problem is more than one quarter of Australian school students are “missing out” from their school education. This affects their ability to participate in an increasingly high skills economy, setting them up for a lifetime of precarious work or welfare dependency.

The presumption has always been that these students just aren’t “smart enough” to “keep up” and seldom is the need to do so questioned. Gonski 2.0 changes that by recognising and challenging deep fault lines in our education system that have extremely negative equity effects.

What’s the problem?

The report notes our current age/grade system leaves too many students behind. It acknowledges the huge range in the learning readiness of students the same age, stating the:

most advanced students in a year group can be five to six years ahead of the least advanced.

The presence of this gap does not mean students at the lower end are destined to remain there. These students can and do succeed, but it takes the right supports from expert teachers and the time to provide them.

Yet, our system is currently structured in such a way that those who fall behind get left behind. This is because the Australian curriculum is content heavy and the pressure to cover this content over the course of a year leaves teachers with little time to provide the individualised support needed by almost one in five Australian students.

“Summative assessment”, or benchmarking, is used as a blunt tool to determine what students have or have not learned. They are then graded A-E against the achievement standards. In some schools they’re also ranked against their peers.

By the end of their schooling, some 26% have still not achieved a Year 12 Certificate or its equivalent.


https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/mHvRV/1/


What is Gonski’s solution?

The report proposes a “radical” new approach based on:

  • all students being educated in mixed-ability classrooms

  • greater use of formative assessment to determine where students are in their learning

  • differentiated teaching to meet students at their respective point of need

  • a redirection in focus from comparative achievement against an age/grade standard to individual growth in achievement against a defined learning progression.



The Conversation/Federal government, CC BY-ND

Some commentators have criticised the lack of supporting evidence and it’s true the report relies heavily on a select range of sources and does not make the grade in terms of academic rigour. This does not mean the ideas proposed or practices described are fanciful or have no evidence to support them.

Take, for example, the concept of teaching students in mixed-ability classrooms, the use of formative assessment, and differentiated teaching. While these might sound radical when combined into a new vision for school education, each has evidence to support them. They’re all elements of inclusive practice.

The evidence for inclusive education

The benefits of mixed-ability classes are shared by all. There are a range of important academic and social benefits for students with disabilities (including improved memory and stronger language and literacy and mathematics skills), as well as students without disability (such as social and emotional development).

Ability “streaming”, which involves assigning students of the same grade into ranked classes based on prior achievement or perceived ability levels, has a neglible effect on achievement and profoundly negative consequences for lower ranked students. Despite strong evidence against streaming, many schools still stream classes by ability and some education systems stream entire schools.




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Formative assessment is feedback given to students during the course of their learning, and can help students understand what progress they have made and what the next steps are. It has been highlighted as one of the most effective practices a school can adopt to individualise learning for all students with long-standing and consistent evidence to support its use. Teachers can also use the information to differentiate their teaching to ensure that they are truly teaching each student based on their needs.

Teachers differentiate when they provide appropriately challenging work for all students, using a variety of means to help them engage with the content and demonstrate their learning. There is evidence whole-school models of differentiation can improve academic outcomes and close achievement gaps including in high stakes tests. Teachers who have the opportunity to practice differentiated instruction and receive ongoing professional development develop competency and stronger belief in their own capability.

Inclusion is better for everyone

In offering a bold vision for the future, the Gonski 2.0 report has encouraged Australia to help more of our young people successfully navigate a precarious future.

The ConversationMore flesh is needed to make this vision a reality but the individual components that make up the vision are not radical and, if done well, can enhance students’ learning experiences and outcomes. And that is better for everyone.

Linda J. Graham, Professor in the School of Early Childhood & Inclusive Education, Queensland University of Technology; Ilektra Spandagou, Senior lecturer, University of Sydney, and Kate de Bruin, Researcher in Inclusive Education, Monash University

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

What the Royal Commission can do if the banks don’t play ball on evidence


Anna Olijnyk, University of Adelaide

At the first round of hearings of the Financial Services Royal Commission, the counsel assisting, Rowena Orr QC, was unimpressed with the material some of the banks have provided. The Commonwealth Bank provided two submissions, the first of which, according to Orr:

…adopted a high level and general approach, which meant that it did not disclose the totality of the conduct that it has engaged in…

The CBA’s second submission was no more helpful: it consisted primarily of a large number of spreadsheets. Orr said these were “not in a form which made it possible to easily understand the type and the scale”, of CBA’s conduct.




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CBA wasn’t alone; the National Australia Bank also won a mention from Orr for “failing to grapple with the task” set by the commissioner.

Can the Royal Commission do anything to get more useful information out of the banks? There are two issues here: what the Royal Commission can make the banks do, and what it has to ask the banks to do.

What can the Royal Commission make the banks do?

The Royal Commission has several powers under the Royal Commissions Act 1902 that might be used here. Failure to comply with the Royal Commission’s requirements under these powers is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment.

The Royal Commission can require the banks to produce documents. But this is not a power to make the banks create new documents to help the Royal Commission.

The Royal Commission can require witnesses to give evidence. Using this power, the Royal Commission could make key personnel within the banks attend the Royal Commission and answer questions about the bank’s conduct.

It can also require a person to provide information, or a statement, in writing. This is probably limited to matters the person already knows about; it’s not a power to order a person to conduct investigations to provide a full picture of a bank’s conduct.

What the commission can ask for

Quite apart from its coercive powers, the Royal Commission can ask the banks to provide the material it wants, in the form it wants. In fact, the commissioner wrote to the banks the day after the commission was established, inviting them to make submissions. It was in response to this invitation that CBA and NAB provided the documents Rowena Orr QC referred to on the first round of hearings.

The Royal Commission could ask the banks, for example, to provide as much or as little detail as the commission needs; to create summaries or chronologies of events; to explain how to interpret technical documents; to provide a full account of a specified event.

It would then be up to the banks as to whether (and when) they comply with the requests.

The banks have announced their intention to cooperate with the Royal Commission. Given this, it would be surprising to see the banks defying any reasonable requests for additional documents or information without giving a good reason.

But it’s not quite as simple as “ask and it shall be given you”. Banks hold millions of documents.




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Each bank stores its documents in a system that suits the bank’s operational needs, and is unlikely to align with the Royal Commission’s priorities. A request to collate all documents on a given topic might take the bank many hours of searching and analysis across multiple databases. The banks then may have to return to the Royal Commission to clarify what is required.

There’s nothing to stop the Royal Commission using both coercive and cooperative techniques. It may, for example, ask banks to provide an overview of the handling of certain complaints, and then require the banks to produce certain documents mentioned in that summary.

The ConversationBut a combination of asking and demanding may be needed to get the information the Royal Commission needs.

Anna Olijnyk, Lecturer, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide

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

Turkey blocks Twitter as people use social media to share corruption evidence


Gigaom

Turkish officials have blocked access to Twitter(s twtr), after people used the microblogging service to disseminate evidence of alleged corruption at the top of government.

The internet was already pretty restricted in Turkey before the passage of a law this past February, allowing local telecoms regulator TIB to demand the blockage of any website within 4 hours, without a court order. The law also requires ISPs to store web usage data for 2 years so authorities can go through it if they want.

According to AFP, it was only a matter of hours between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatening to “wipe out” Twitter in Turkey, and the blocks coming into force. On Friday, shortly after the blockade drew widespread condemnation, Turkish President Abdullah Gül said (via Twitter, ironically) that he doesn’t approve of blocking entire social media platforms. Turkey’s bar association has also filed a legal challenge.

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Sudan: Latest Persecution News


The link below is to an article that provides more evidence of Sudan’s mission against Christians.

For more visit:
http://www.christiantelegraph.com/issue17666.html