Over the next few years, science and technology will have a vital role in supporting Australia’s economy as it strives to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
At Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, we’ve identified opportunities that can help businesses drive economic recovery.
We examined how the pandemic has created or intensified opportunities for economic growth across six sectors benefiting from science and technology. These are food and agribusiness, energy, health, mineral resources, digital and manufacturing.
While some aspects of Australian healthcare are currently digitised, system-wide digital health integration could improve the quality of care and save money.
Doctors caring for patients with chronic diseases or complex conditions could digitally coordinate care routines. This could streamline patient care by avoiding consultation double-ups and providing a more holistic view of patient health.
We also see potential for more efficient healthcare delivery through medical diagnostic tests that are more portable and non-invasive. Such tests, supported by artificial intelligence and smart data storage approaches, would allow faster disease detection and monitoring.
There’s also opportunity for developing specialised components such as 3D-printed prosthetics, dental and bone implants.
Despite a short-term plateau in energy consumption caused by COVID-19 globally, the demand for energy will continue to grow.
Through clean energy exports and energy initiatives aligned with decarbonisation goals, Australia can help meet global energy demands. Energy-efficient technologies offer immediate reduced energy costs, reduced carbon emissions and less demand on the energy grid. They also create local jobs.
Innovating with food and agribusiness
The food and agribusiness sector is a prominent contributor to Australia’s economy and supports regional and rural prosperity.
Australia could earn revenue from the local production and export of more sustainable proteins. This might include plant-based proteins such as pea and lupins, or aquaculture products such as farmed prawns and seaweed.
We could also offer more high-value health and well-being foods. Examples include fortified foods and products free from gluten, lactose and other allergens.
Automating minerals processes
Even before COVID-19 struck, the mineral resources sector was facing rising costs and declining ore grades. It’s also dealing with climate change impacts such as droughts, bushfires, floods, and social pressures to reduce environmental harm.
Several innovative solutions could help make the sector more productive and sustainable. For instance, increasing automation and remote mining (which Australia already excels in) could achieve improved safety for workers, more productivity and business continuity.
Also, investing in advanced technologies that can generate higher quality data on mineral character and composition could improve yields and minimise environmental harm.
COVID-19 has escalated concerns around Australia’s supply chain fragility – take the toilet paper shortages earlier in the pandemic. Expanding local manufacturing efforts could create jobs and increase Australia’s earning potential.
This is especially true for mineral processing and manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, food and beverages, space technology and defence. Our local manufacturing will need to adapt quickly to changes in supply needs, ideally through the use of advanced designs and technology.
In April and May this year, Australian businesses made huge strides in adopting consumer and business digital technologies. One study estimated five years’ worth of progress occurred in those eight weeks. Hundreds of thousands of businesses moved their work online.
Over the next two years, Australian businesses could become more efficient and adaptable by further monetising the data they already collect. For example, applying mobile sensors, robotics and machine learning techniques could help us make better resource decisions in agriculture.
Similarly, businesses could share more data throughout the supply chain, including with customers and competitors. For instance, increased data sharing among renewable energy providers and customers could improve the monitoring, forecasting and reliability of energy supply.
Making the right plans and investments now will determine Australia’s recovery and resilience in the future.
The recent case of paper medical files from a Brisbane hospital found on a busy street highlights the need for secure, controlled disposal of medical records.
The files were said to be from out-patient clinics and contained patient names and their appointments, but not medical details. Now Queensland Health is investigating the circumstances of how the files came to be found in public, rather than being safely destroyed by a contractor.
So how are hospitals and clinics handling their old paper records as they move to electronic systems? How are they dealing with the tsunami of files that need to be safely disposed of?
Your medical records, whether paper or electronic, need to be kept while they’re relevant to your care, with restricted access to protect your privacy. But who decides when medical records are no longer needed? What happens then?
Governments at all levels have legislation for this. For instance, the Queensland health department specifies what is destroyed and when, according to a schedule from Queensland State Archives. This covers medical records in the public health care system in physical form (paper, photographs, film), in electronic form or a mixture of the two.
This, for example, says “records displaying evidence of clinical care to an individual or groups of adult patients/clients” should be kept “for ten years after last patient/client service provision or medico-legal action”. There are a number of exceptions relating to, for example, clinical trials, mental health and communicable diseases. For each exception, there is a specific time period of how long the file needs to be kept.
Queensland State Archives also advises on how records are to be securely destroyed, either by shredding, pulping or burning.
Hospitals can contract commercial services to destroy paper files. But the document owner, in this case the hospital, is ultimately responsible for ensuring this is carried out legally.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has established practice standards for GP clinics. These require the secure destruction (for instance, by shredding) of paper records before disposal.
So, hospitals and GP clinics need to develop and implement policies and procedures that state explicitly when and how medical records should be disposed of, and also keep a record of when that happens.
However, to determine whether an individual medical record among the vast quantities held has passed its “use by date” can be extremely resource-intensive for administrative staff.
This means the ultimate driver of paper record destruction is more likely to be the need to free up expensive office or storage space. It’s this sort of scenario that might eventually play out into records being accidentally or deliberately dumped wherever, whenever.
The move towards digital records
The Brisbane situation highlights the limitations of “business as usual” in relation to medical records, which includes paper records held in multiple locations, in hospitals, in GP clinics and with specialists.
Consider your own medical record “paper trail”, which may include files from hospital admissions, records held by your local doctor or other specialist, and results of blood tests and x-rays performed elsewhere.
At both a personal and whole-of-population level, there are clearly numerous opportunities for unintended access to these physical documents. Centrally and securely stored electronic records can address this risk, and also carry a number of other advantages.
Privacy breaches relating to paper medical records are in part a function of a worldwide transition from a trusted familiar environment of paper records to electronic medical records.
This dramatically multiplies the volume of paper records needing to be destroyed — from only those that are “out of date” to every record that is scanned and made redundant.
The Brisbane case also highlights the sensitivity of medical records in all their forms, a factor also playing out in the My Health Record debate.
My Health Record: the case for opting out
The Brisbane situation, by highlighting the limitations of paper records, certainly challenges notions of trusting the familiar and favouring the status quo.
My Health Record: the case for opting in
So, what can we expect?
Like all transitions of this scale, there are a range of costs involved in moving from paper to electronic medical records, one of which is the prospect of further paper record data breaches as mountains of redundant records are destroyed. However these transition costs need to be balanced against the ultimate benefit of electronic records.
Even accepting these benefits doesn’t necessarily mean people will automatically become more comfortable with electronic medical records, like My Health Record. For that to occur, people also have to overcome a general lack of trust in government.
However, our research shows it is possible to encourage people to use online government services. By harnessing behavioural science, we have shown that providing customer support and promoting the benefits and ease of online services helps the transition from queuing and paper forms to using online services.
Hope for the future
In the rush to drag people to shiny new online platforms, this illustrates the simple act of talking people through the advantages and supporting their transition can address many of the psychological barriers to change.
Then, hopefully, we can see the end of paper medical records and services, and fewer paper records being dumped on the side of the road. As long as paper records exist they will be vulnerable to unauthorised access – either within a storage facility or in transit to destruction. However, each case of unauthorised access is dwarfed by the number of paper records successfully and securely destroyed, never able to be physically accessed again.
Gillian Oliver, Associate Professor and Director, Centre for Organisational & Social Informatics, Monash University and Peter Bragge, Associate Professor, Healthcare Quality Improvement (QI) at Behaviour Works, Monash University
Hindu nationalists protest delegation as Christians cite injustices.
NEW DELHI, February 8 (CDN) — A delegation from the European Union concluded a “fruitful” trip to India’s violence-torn Orissa state on Friday (Feb. 5) amid a swirl of protests by Hindu nationalist groups and cries of injustice by Christians.
The delegation was able to hold “open and frank” discussions with Kandhamal officials on the visit, said Gabriele Annis of the Embassy of Italy.
“We had a very good meeting with the Kandhamal district administration,” Annis told reporters. “It is fruitful. We had open and frank discussion. It helped us in understanding the situation and understanding happenings over the past 15 months.”
The delegation was led by Christophe Manet, head of Political Affairs of the European Commission delegation to India and consisted of members from Spain, Hungary, Poland, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Finland and Sweden. A delegation from five European countries had visited Orissa earlier in November 2009, but the government of Orissa denied them permission to visit Kandhamal district, where Christians say they continue to be threatened and destitute.
Archbishop Raphael Cheenath said on Saturday (Feb. 6) that despite the claims of the state and district administrations, life for the Christian victims of violence in August-September 2008 remains far from normal: thousands still live in makeshift shanties along roadsides and in forests, he said, and local officials and police harass them daily.
“The block officers have been playing with the facts, indulging in corrupt practices and cosmetic exercises whenever political and other dignitaries come to visit or inspect,” the archbishop said in a statement. “Innocent people are coerced into giving a false picture. The chief minister must investigate the role and functioning of the entire district administration . . . It is strange that officers in whose presence the violence took place and thousands of houses were burnt are still in office and are declaring that there is peace in the district.”
Following attacks in the area after Hindu extremists stirred up mobs by falsely accusing Christians of killing Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23, 2008, more than 10,000 families were displaced from their homes by the violence. Since then, Cheenath said, an estimated 1,200 families have left the area. Between 200 and 300 families reside in private displacement camps in the district, and more than 4,400 families still live in tents, makeshift shelters or the remnants of their damaged houses, he said.
The number of attack victims who have received financial assistance from the government, churches or Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) is unknown, but is estimated at 1,100 families, Cheenath added.
He criticized Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Chief Minister of Orissa Naveen Patnaik saying, “Both of them had promised to provide adequate compensation for the damages caused during the 2008 communal violence. But the victims have not been adequately compensated.”
Cheenath said the state government had decided not to compensate any riot-affected religious institutions even though India’s Supreme Court had directed the government to compensate them for all damages.
“This is a national calamity and demands a special package for the affected people, which should include land, income generation, education and healthcare,” the archbishop said.
Prior to the visit, Christian leaders expressed their shock at Kandhamal district authorities attempting a cosmetic makeover by evacuating nearly 100 Christians from G. Udayagiri.
In letters to the EU delegation, the state government and national human rights and minorities commissions, Dr. John Dayal of the All India Christian Council narrated the plight of the 91 members of 21 families from 11 villages who were living under plastic sheets along a road in the marketplace area of G. Udayagiri.
Dayal said the group included 11 married women, three widows, an elderly man with a fractured hip and thigh, and two infants born in the camp. They had faced almost daily threats, he said, as they had not been allowed to return to their villages unless they renounced their faith and became Hindus.
Soon after the decision to allow the EU delegation, the water supply to the makeshift site was cut off and police and civil officers drove away the residents, who had only plastic sheets to protect them from the cold, he said. The refugees said officers later gave them permission to come back at night but to keep the area clear.
“The families are in G. Udayagiri, they have moved in front of the road, and they are in a very bad state,” the Rev. Samant Nayak of G. Udayagiri told Compass. “They are literally on the road.”
He said that approximately 55 families were living in G. Udayagiri, where they had been given land, and a Christian NGO was helping to construct houses for them.
The Press Trust of India reported that Orissa officials were nervous about last week’s delegation visiting Kandhamal but finally gave permission under pressure from the central government. State officials finally allowed the visit with the pre-condition that the delegation would be allowed only to interact with people and not engage in fact-finding, according to a senior official in Orissa’s home department.
The Kandhamal district collector, Krishna Kumar, told Compass that all went well and “no untoward incidents took place,” but sources reported at least one minor disturbance in Bodimunda village. On Wednesday (Feb. 3), one house was reportedly damaged there in a scuffle that also resulted in two arrests by the local police.
During their Kandhamal visit, the EU delegation was reportedly forced to cancel a meeting with judges of Fast Track courts established in Phulbani, in Kandhamal district, to prosecute hundreds of those accused in the 2008 violence, due to protests from the local lawyers’ association.
Kumar, however, pointed out that the lawyers’ protest was secondary to the lack of clearance from the High court for the meeting with the judges. “The same was not informed to us prior to the visit,” he added.
The anti-Christian violence in August-September 2008 killed over 100 people and burned 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions. Archbishop Cheenath said justice is critical to long term peace.
“The two Fast Track courts, and the court premises, have seen a travesty of justice,” he said in the Feb. 6 statement. “Witnesses are being coerced, threatened, cajoled and sought to be bribed by murderers and arsonists facing trial. The court premises are full of top activists of fundamentalist organizations. The witnesses are also threatened in their homes with elimination, and even their distant relatives are being coerced specially in the murder and arson cases against Member of Legislative Assembly [MLA] Manoj Pradhan.”
Though some witnesses have testified on Pradhan’s alleged involvement in crimes in depositions, he has been acquitted in case after case, the archbishop added.
“We are demanding a special investigation team to investigate every case of murder and arson,” he said. “Similarly, there is also need for transferring the cases against politically powerful persons such as Pradhan to outside Kandhamal, preferably to Cuttack or Bhubaneswar.”
Cheenath said victims have filed 3,232 complaints at Kandhamal police stations, but officers registered only 832 cases. As many as 341 cases were in the G. Udayagiri area alone, 98 in Tikabali and 90 in Raikia, he said.
“Even out of this small number [in G. Udayagiri], only 123 cases were transferred to the two Fast Track courts,” he said. “So far, 71 cases have been tried in the two courts, and 63 cases have been disposed of. Of these, conviction occurred only in 25 cases, and even that is partial as most of the accused have not been arrested or brought to trial.”
Only 89 persons have been convicted so far in Orissa state, while 251 have been acquitted, supposedly for lack of witnesses against them, he said.
“Among them is Manoj Pradhan,” Cheenath said. “It is strange that in the case of 10 deaths by murder, nine cases have been closed without anybody being convicted, while there has been partial conviction in the case of one death. Who will bring justice in the case of the nine murder cases?”
The archbishop demanded that independent lawyers be allowed to assist overworked special public prosecutors.
Hindu Nationalist Protests
Protesting the delegation visit was the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and other Hindu nationalist organizations. VHP State General Secretary Gouri Prasad Brahma had lamented on Jan. 31 that the visit would trigger tension and demanded their immediate withdrawal.
“There is no business of the outsiders in the internal matter of the state,” he said.
The delegation also faced the ire of the Hindu extremist Bajrang Dal on the day of its arrival in Bhubaneswar, capital of Orissa, on Tuesday (Feb. 2). Hundreds of its cadres met the delegation at the airport shouting loudly, “EU team, go back.”
Five Bajrang Dal members were detained for creating trouble, Deputy Commissioner of Police H.K. Lal told media on Wednesday (Feb. 3).
After the delegation had left, the Orissa Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) heavily criticized the central and the state governments, with BJP state President, Jual Oram telling a press conference that the state had allowed the visit to “divide people on communal lines.” He said that the delegation had not met any Hindu leader during their visit to Kandhamal, which “exposed their communal agenda.”
Oram accused the delegation of violating protocol in trying to meet the judges of fast-track courts in Kandhamal, saying this “amounted to interference into internal affairs of a sovereign independent member state under the U.N.”
At the same press conference, BJP MLA Karendra Majhi said that allowing the visit was an attempt by the chief minister to win back the confidence of minority Christians. He alleged that the delegation had held secret meetings in a Catholic church at Phulbani with church leaders and select NGOs to facilitate conversions to Christianity.
“I have every reason to believe that the promised assistance of 15 million euros to Kandhamal by the EU delegation will be utilized for conversion activities,” Majhi said.
Report from Compass Direct News