Vaccinating the highest-risk groups first was the plan. But people with disability are being left behind


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Helen Dickinson, UNSW and Anne Kavanagh, The University of MelbourneWith Australia’s COVID vaccination campaign set to open up to over 50s on May 3, many at-risk Australians eligible under phase 1A are still waiting.

Last week we learned only 6.5% of residents in disability care homes had received the vaccine.

Aged care is faring slightly better, with roughly 30% of aged-care facilities having received both vaccine doses. But that’s still some way to go.

Also worrying, an estimated 15% of aged-care workers and only 1% of disability-care workers have so far been vaccinated.

Federal health department officials have conceded the vaccine rollout in the disability sector is progressing more slowly than they would have liked.

But critics like shadow minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Bill Shorten have described the situation as reflecting a “pathology of dangerous incompetence” in the government’s treatment of vulnerable Australians.

After failing to address the needs of people with disability at the height of the pandemic last year, the poorly executed rollout in disability care does little to reassure this group the government has their best interests at heart.




Read more:
4 ways Australia’s COVID vaccine rollout has been bungled


A high-risk group

Australians with disability are at heightened risk during the COVID pandemic because many have other health conditions (for example, respiratory problems, heart disease, and diabetes). This makes them more likely to get sicker or die if they become infected.

People with disability are also more likely to be poorer, unemployed and socially isolated, making them more likely to experience poor health outcomes.

Many people with disability, particularly those with complex needs, require personal support, which puts them in close contact with other people. Different workers will come through residential disability-care settings, sometimes moving between multiple homes and services, just as in aged care.

Should there be an outbreak of COVID-19 in residential disability care, there’s high potential for it to spread because some residents may have difficulties with physical distancing, personal hygiene, and other public health recommendations.

In Victoria’s second wave we saw outbreaks linked to at least 50 residential disability settings among workers and residents.

Two people with Down Syndrome cooking in the kitchen.
People with disability are at higher risk during the pandemic.
Shutterstock

In other countries we’ve seen people with disability die from COVID-19 at higher rates than their non-disabled peers. In England, nearly six out of every ten people who died with COVID in 2020 were disabled, and this risk increases with level of disability.

While Australia has not seen these levels of deaths, the longer this group goes without being vaccinated, the longer they’re contending with this risk. Discussions about reopening international borders only serve to heighten fears.

Given the unique risks this group faces, the disability community fought hard to ensure disabled people living in residential care and their support workers were included in phase 1A of the vaccine rollout.




Read more:
People with a disability are more likely to die from coronavirus – but we can reduce this risk


Repeating previous mistakes

Last year the disability royal commission was presented with extensive evidence to show the Australian government had not developed policies addressing the needs of people with disability in their initial emergency response plans.

For example, while others on welfare payments received the COVID supplement, people with disability and their carers were denied this.

Many schools didn’t make appropriate adjustments so children with disability could engage with remote learning. And families with a child with disability struggled to secure the basics.

Advocates did significant work before governments started to consider people with disability in their COVID response plans. But this was often made more challenging because no data were collected about disability in the case numbers, reflecting an endemic problem of lack of recognition of people with disability in the health system.

We’re seeing this again in the vaccine rollout, where daily updates on vaccination numbers group aged and disability care together, rather than breaking these figures down across the sectors.

Without this sort of data, we can’t effectively plan for people with disability.

Meanwhile, the government’s announcement that the Pfizer vaccine is recommended for under 50s because of the very rare but serious side effect of low platelet count (thrombocytopenia) and blood clots (thrombosis) will see further pressure on Australia’s limited Pfizer supplies.

It may be some time before people with disability under 50 living in residential care are vaccinated. Yet the government continues to roll out Pfizer in residential aged care where AstraZeneca could be used, further demonstrating the low priority of the disability sector.

It appears little has been learned from the government’s earlier pandemic response (or lack thereof) concerning people with a disability. This group is being forgotten once again.

Getting back on track

In the Senate’s recent COVID-19 committee we heard confirmation aged-care residents had been prioritised over disability-care residents as they’re perceived to be at higher risk. This has angered many in the disability community who were not told the phase 1a group would be broken into sub-groups.

The government has some way to go in mending its relationship with the disability community. In addition to bungling the vaccine rollout, at the moment there’s significant concern over proposed reforms to the NDIS.

What we need now is a clear plan to roll out vaccinations, not only to people with disability in residential care settings, but also those in the wider community and their support workers. The government needs to set a clear timeframe for vaccinating disability-care residents and staff — and stick to this.

The World Health Organization argues community engagement is key to a successful vaccination rollout. In this light, commonwealth and state governments need to do some substantial work to engage people with disability and the broader sector to turn this situation around.




Read more:
‘Dehumanising’ and ‘a nightmare’: why disability groups want NDIS independent assessments scrapped


The Conversation


Helen Dickinson, Professor, Public Service Research, UNSW and Anne Kavanagh, Professor of Disability and Health, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne

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

Far-right groups have used COVID to expand their footprint in Australia. Here are the ones you need to know about



ERIK ANDERSON/AAP

Kaz Ross, University of Tasmania

The threat of far-right terrorism has loomed large in Australia this week. An 18-year-old from NSW has been arrested on charges of advocating terrorism and inciting others to violence. According to police, he had not only been sharing white supremacist and neo-Nazi views online, but had expressed support for being involved in a “mass casualty” event.

The arrest coincided with the launch of an inquiry into extremist movements in Australia by the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security. Headed by Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, the inquiry will consider both right-wing and left-wing extremism.

The teenager from Albury arrested this week by the NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team.
AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE

Also this week, the royal commission report into the Christchurch terrorist attack reported that New Zealand security and intelligence services had mistakenly ignored the potential of far-right groups to commit acts of terrorism due to an overwhelming focus on Islamist threats.

The commissioners confirmed the convicted terrorist behind the attack that killed 51 people had been active in Australian extremist groups before moving to New Zealand.

The far right becoming more visible during pandemic

Far-right extremism is not a new phenomenon in Australia, but it has certainly been on the rise in the past year in response to federal and state governments’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

In September, ASIO revealed that up to 40% of its counterterrorism efforts were now directed at far-right extremist activities, an increase from 10-15% before 2016.

ASIO has also warned that far-right groups were exploiting the pandemic to expand their operations. New groups have emerged and existing groups have become more radicalised and increased their memberships.




Read more:
Australia recognises the threat posted by far-right groups. So, why aren’t they listed on the terror register?


One such right-wing group is the Proud Boys. They received what seemed like an endorsement this year from US President Donald Trump when, after being asked to condemn white supremacist and militia groups during the first presidential election debate in September, he said they should “stand back and stand by”.

The group has also been growing in Australia this year. Its vetting channel on the encrypted app Telegram has been increasingly active, with a steady stream of new applicants. And members have participated in protests throughout the year.

At the Melbourne Invasion Day rally, a group of Proud Boys posed at Flinders Street Station wearing T-shirts that said “Governor Arthur Phillip did nothing wrong”. They dispersed before the rally commenced.

By November, however, they were bolder and appeared wearing their signature Fred Perry polo shirts at an anti-lockdown protest at Victoria’s Parliament House. They scuffled with police before being pepper-sprayed, arrested and fined.

The Proud Boys became more of a visible presence at a November protest in Melbourne.
Erik Anderson/AAP

The Proud Boys are a self-described “Western chauvinist” street-fighting gang for men. They claim to be non-racist, but members must take an oath upholding Western civilisation as supreme. Their process for becoming a member also involves violence against each other and against antifascists or “antifa”.




Read more:
Why Australia should be wary of the Proud Boys and their violent, alt-right views


This year, Proud Boys members in America have been arrested for assault, street brawls and weapons offences. They are an increasingly visible presence on the streets there, frequently wearing military body armour and carrying high-powered weapons.

The increased visibility of Proud Boys at demonstrations is concerning if it signals a new strategy by the group to engage in street violence either with police or left-wing protesters.

Proud Boys members protesting the presidential election outcome in Washington. Note right Wing Death Squad badge.
KYDPL KYODO/AP

Other far-right groups emerging

Other right-wing groups in Australia have benefited from public anger to the government’s coronavirus responses, as well.

Relatively new groups such as the Townsville Free Corps and the National Socialist Network, an offshoot of the Lads Society and incorporating ex-Antipodean Resistance members, have stepped up their recruitment and propaganda activities in Melbourne, Sydney and Queensland over the past year.

The Southern Poverty Law Centre in the US, which tracks far-right extremist groups, revealed in August that the white supremacist terror group The Base had also interviewed potential Australian members using its Perth-based recruiter to set up cells. By late 2019, at least a dozen Australian men had applied to join The Base.

One potential member had been a former political candidate for One Nation, the SPLC reported.

Many of these far-right groups are adherents to the same “great replacement theory” that motivated the Christchurch killer. According to this theory, white Europeans are threatened by increasing non-white immigration and are therefore facing “white genocide”.




Read more:
Coronavirus and conspiracies: how the far right is exploiting the pandemic


The Base follows an “accelerationist” ideology, which aims to bring about societal collapse as a way of “winning the race war” for whites.

The National Socialist Network, which has more than 2,000 members on Telegram, uses the “great replacement theory” to recruit. Its leader, Thomas Sewell, specifically targets young, white, “disgruntled” men.

When hateful speech turns into violence

Tyler Jakovac, the 18-year-old man arrested in Albury this week, fits this description. According to NSW police assistant commissioner Mark Walton, he hated anyone who did not look like him and was specifically opposed to Jews, Muslims and immigrants.

The National Socialist Network issued a statement via an encrypted app claiming that Jakovac applied to join six months ago, but didn’t pass the vetting process. The group claims that after being rejected, Jakovac abused it as being “too moderate”.

The Christchurch killer, meanwhile, had been invited to join an earlier version of Sewell’s group. He declined and went on to act alone.

This raises a problem: extremist groups with a public propaganda strategy are easier to identify, but as the inquiry into the Christchurch attack noted, lone actors can be almost invisible to authorities.




Read more:
The royal commission report on the Christchurch atrocity is a beginning, not an end


There are communities on gaming platforms, message boards and in encrypted apps that share racist, anti-semitic and hateful material every day. By ““weaponising” irony, users can hide behind plausible deniability (“it’s just a joke”) when challenged about the violence stated in their posts. But to outsiders, the language used can be confronting.

It is often insiders who have a more finely tuned sense of when someone is crossing over from sharing memes to something more sinister. We need to educate and support internet users to follow their hunches by identifying and reporting other users who are edging toward violent action.

The Christchurch murderer was reported to police in 2016 for threatening someone with retribution on the “day of the rope”, according to the inquiry report. This is neo-Nazi shorthand for the mass murder of race traitors. Unfortunately, no police action was taken.

There are thousands of references to the “day of the rope” in online groups — knowing when to step in is the challenge. And, as the events of this week show, disruptive preemptive action is essential to reduce the risk of another mass murder.The Conversation

Kaz Ross, Lecturer in Humanities (Asian Studies), University of Tasmania

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

Australia recognises the threat posted by far-right groups. So, why aren’t they listed on the terror register?



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Jessie Smith, University of Cambridge

This week, Kristina Keneally announced plans by Labor to review the nation’s register of terrorist organisations.

ASIO sounded an alarm last month that far-right groups pose an elevated threat to Australian national security. Cells have met to salute the Nazi flag and train in combat. ASIO is now investigating twice as many far-right leads as last year.

However, to date, no far-right group has been banned in Australia. This sits in contrast to the UK, where National Action and other far-right groups are outlawed and members have been convicted of terror-related and other crimes.

Keneally asks whether our laws are fit for purpose. One year after the Christchurch massacre, it’s time to investigate whether enough is being done to address the far-right threat in this country.

How groups are listed on the terror register

The definition of terrorism underpins the way terror organisations are registered in both the UK and Australia. Australia designed its laws from a British template, so the definitions are very similar.

At its core, a “terrorist act” is defined as conduct with special characteristics – namely, the advancement of a “political, religious or ideological cause” and the coercion of government or the intimidation of the public.

There are two ways to counter far-right groups in Australia.

The first is through the proscription process, or the creation of a “list” or register of banned groups.

To list a group on the national register, Home Affairs reviews intelligence from ASIO and must be satisfied the group is directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting, fostering or advocating terrorism. There is huge symbolism in proscription. It is the highest level of disendorsement, as it can allow the government to label a political movement as criminal.




Read more:
Australia isn’t taking the national security threat from far-right extremism seriously enough


There is good reason for the government to be selective – many hundreds of groups can meet the broad definition of terrorism. For instance, any rebel group in a war zone fits the bill, including allies we arm, train and partner with, such as certain groups in Syria.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is therefore guided by discretionary factors, such as a group’s ties to Australia and its threat profile and nature of its ideology. Most groups on the terror list are large, well-resourced Islamist outfits such as Boko Haram and al-Qaeda.

The second way to affix a terrorist label to a group is by satisfying a jury, at trial, that it meets the legal criteria of “terrorist organisation”. This process does not involve Home Affairs; the decision rests with the jury.

Smaller, home-grown cells have been tried in this way, such as the conviction of the Benbrika group (the “MCG plotters”) in 2006. The jury found they were members of a terrorist organisation despite their absence from the national terror register. As such, leaving a group off the list does not create a meaningful gap in the law.

This two-tiered approach allows flexibility. At times, a group might not have a name, or it might not be organised or have a public profile.

There might also be operational reasons for ministerial restraint for not listing a group, such as fear that public declarations could disrupt covert police investigations into its activities.

Why have far-right groups been banned in the UK?

So, what explains the difference between the UK and Australia when it comes to dealing with far-right groups?

Despite Keneally’s concern, there is no meaningful difference between proscription criteria in the two countries. The UK includes violence committed on racial grounds, but this is matched by our reference to ideological motive. The UK looks to those who “glorify” terrorism, but we include groups that “advocate” or “praise” similar conduct.




Read more:
‘Alt-right white extremism’ or conservative mobilising: what are CPAC’s aims in Australia?


However, one way the two countries diverge may be in the scale of the threat.

National Action, a neo-Nazi group whose members have called for a “race war”, has a large following in the UK. Members cheered the murder of MP Jo Cox and have been jailed for plotting to kill other left-wing politicians.

The far-right in Australia may not yet have gained the same momentum.

Greater parliamentary powers over Home Affairs

Keneally is trying to figure out whether the failure to list far-right groups in Australia is due to the law, the lack of sufficient threat or the lack of political will.

But the law is fit for purpose, and ASIO has issued a serious public warning. What’s left hanging is politics.

Rather than review the criteria for proscription, Keneally should press for an enhanced role for parliament’s intelligence and security committee over Home Affairs.




Read more:
ASIO chief’s assessment shows the need to do more, and better, to prevent terrorism


Parliament’s intelligence and security committee can currently review (and veto) a decision by Dutton to add a group to the register of terror organisations. But the committee cannot intervene in cases Home Affairs deliberately rejects.

Perhaps an expanded parliamentary review function over the minister’s decision-making and the department’s method of prioritisation would give Keneally the answers she seeks.

In response to ASIO’s warning on far-right groups, Dutton was quick to label Islamists as “left-wing” extremists.

Despite Labor’s objections to this characterisation, Islamic extremist and “far-right” groups have much in common – all are driven by elements of hate, misogyny, supremacy, destruction and brands of extreme social conservatism. All deserve sober consideration, whatever the label, and without political distraction.The Conversation

Jessie Smith, PhD in Law, University of Cambridge

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

Racism in a networked world: how groups and individuals spread racist hate online



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We could see even sharper divisions in society in the future if support for racism spreads online.
Markus Spiske/Unsplash

Ana-Maria Bliuc, Western Sydney University; Andrew Jakubowicz, University of Technology Sydney, and Kevin Dunn, Western Sydney University

Living in a networked world has many advantages. We get our news online almost as soon as it happens, we stay in touch with friends via social media, and we advance our careers through online professional networks.

But there is a darker side to the internet that sees far-right groups exploit these unique features to spread divisive ideas, racial hate and mistrust. Scholars of racism refer to this type of racist communication online as “cyber-racism”.

Even the creators of the internet are aware they may have unleashed a technology that is causing a lot of harm. Since 2017, the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, has focused many of his comments about the dangers of manipulation of the internet around the spread of hate speech, saying that:

Humanity connected by technology on the web is functioning in a dystopian way. We have online abuse, prejudice, bias, polarisation, fake news, there are lots of ways in which it is broken.

Our team conducted a systematic review of ten years of cyber-racism research to learn how different types of communicators use the internet to spread their views.




Read more:
How the use of emoji on Islamophobic Facebook pages amplifies racism


Racists groups behave differently to individuals

We found that the internet is indeed a powerful tool used to influence and reinforce divisive ideas. And it’s not only organised racist groups that take advantage of online communication; unaffiliated individuals do it too.

But the way groups and individuals use the internet differs in several important ways. Racist groups are active on different communication channels to individuals, and they have different goals and strategies they use to achieve them. The effects of their communication are also distinctive.

Individuals mostly engage in cyber-racism to hurt others, and to confirm their racist views by connecting with like-minded people (seeking “confirmation bias”). Their preferred communication channels tend to be blogs, forums, news commentary websites, gaming environments and chat rooms.

Channels, goals and strategies used by unaffiliated people when communicating cyber-racism.

Strategies they use include denying or minimising the issue of racism, denigrating “non-whites”, and reframing the meaning of current news stories to support their views.

Groups, on the other hand, prefer to communicate via their own websites. They are also more strategic in what they seek to achieve through online communication. They use websites to gather support for their group and their views through racist propaganda.

Racist groups manipulate information and use clever rhetoric to help build a sense of a broader “white” identity, which often goes beyond national borders. They argue that conflict between different ethnicities is unavoidable, and that what most would view as racism is in fact a natural response to the “oppression of white people”.

Channels, goals and strategies used by groups when communicating cyber-racism.




Read more:
How the alt-right uses milk to promote white supremacy


Collective cyber-racism has the main effect of undermining the social cohesion of modern multicultural societies. It creates division, mistrust and intergroup conflict.

Meanwhile, individual cyber-racism seems to have a more direct effect by negatively affecting the well being of targets. It also contributes to maintaining a hostile racial climate, which may further (indirectly) affect the well being of targets.

What they have in common

Despite their differences, groups and individuals both share a high level of sophistication in how they communicate racism online. Our review uncovered the disturbingly creative ways in that new technologies are exploited.

For example, racist groups make themselves attractive to young people by providing interactive games and links to music videos on their websites. And both groups and individuals are highly skilled at manipulating their public image via various narrative strategies, such as humour and the interpretation of current news to fit with their arguments.




Read more:
Race, cyberbullying and intimate partner violence


A worrying trend

Our findings suggest that if these online strategies are effective, we could see even sharper divisions in society as the mobilisation of support for racism and far-right movements spreads online.

There is also evidence that currently unaffiliated supporters of racism could derive strength through online communication. These individuals might use online channels to validate their beliefs and achieve a sense of belonging in virtual spaces where racist hosts provide an uncontested and hate-supporting community.

This is a worrying trend. We have now seen several examples of violent action perpetrated offline by isolated individuals who radicalise into white supremacist movements – for example, in the case of Anders Breivik in Norway, and more recently of Robert Gregory Bowers, who was the perpetrator of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.

In Australia, unlike most other liberal democracies, there are effectively no government strategies that seek to reduce this avenue for the spread of racism, despite many Australians expressing a desire that this be done.The Conversation

Ana-Maria Bliuc, Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology, Western Sydney University; Andrew Jakubowicz, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Technology Sydney, and Kevin Dunn, Dean of the School of Social Science and Psychology, Western Sydney University

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

Central African Republic in Crisis


The Central African republic is a nation in crisis, following the recent coup in that country. Persecution against Christians and others has continued, even while some of these groups are attempting to assist those who are suffering as a consequence of the national emergency. The link below is to an article reporting on the situation in the Central African Republic.

For more visit:
http://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/2013/07/article_2617003.html/



Pakistan: Persecution News


The link below is to an article that explores persecution against minority groups in Pakistan.

For more visit:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324392804578358492194037734.html

South China Sea: Trouble is Brewing in Territorial Disputes


  1. Is war brewing in the South China Sea? Territorial disputes are raging between China and Vietnam and also between China and the Philippines over a number of island groups in the South China Sea. A recent law passed by Vietnam has added fuel to the fire. The articles and videos below look into the disputes.

Latest Persecution News – 28 April 2012


Kidnapped Swiss Christian Freed Amid Mali’s Unrest

The following article reports on the latest news of persecution in Mali, with Al Qaeda linked terrorist groups taking advantage of the unrest in the country.

http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/otherafrica/article_1520258.html

 

The articles linked to above are by Compass Direct News and  relate to persecution of Christians around the world. Please keep in mind that the definition of ‘Christian’ used by Compass Direct News is inclusive of some that would not be included in a definition of Christian that I would use or would be used by other Reformed Christians. The articles do however present an indication of persecution being faced by Christians around the world.