The evidence is clear: the medevac law saves lives. But even this isn’t enough to alleviate refugee suffering



Protesters holding a vigil last year for deceased asylum seeker Hamid Khazaei, who died in a Brisbane hospital due to an infection at the Manus Island detention centre in 2014.
Darren England/AAP

Sara Dehm, University of Technology Sydney

Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie has some sobering reading to do over the coming weeks: an 88-page Senate report into the government-sponsored bill to repeal the medevac law that allow refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru to seek medical care in Australia. The publication of the report last Friday paves the way for a Senate vote on the bill in mid-November.

As predicted, the Senate committee that issued the report split along party lines, with the Coalition majority calling for the medevac provisions to be repealed and the ALP, Greens and Centre Alliance senators releasing dissenting reports.




Read more:
Lambie stays mute on medevac vote after Senate inquiry splits on party lines


What is less predictable is how the report will influence Lambie’s deciding vote. She has indicated she will approach the bill as a conscience vote, saying

Tasmanians don’t want deals done over humanity.

An overwhelming health crisis in offshore detention

The medevac law allows a person to be transferred to Australia for medical treatment or assessment if two Australian-registered doctors recommend such care is necessary and unavailable in PNG or Nauru. There are limited exceptions for the minister of home affairs to reject a transfer on security and character grounds.

Since the law came into effect in March, over 130 people have been transferred for care.

The Coalition government maintains the pre-medevac medical transfer policy for refugees was adequate. This allowed transfers only in life-threatening cases in which the required specialist medical care could not be provided on PNG, Nauru or a third country like Taiwan.

However, evidence given to the Senate committee showed a drastic drop in medical transfers to Australia from 2015 to mid-2018, despite clear medical need.

Statistics given to the committee by the National Justice Project, a not-for-profit legal service that acts on behalf of refugees, documented how some patients had to wait more than four years for medical transfers to Australia.

Tony Bartone, the Australian Medical Association president, described the government’s pre-Medevac process as “torturous” and involving “long periods of delay,” without any appropriate oversight.

Court injunctions and prospective litigation from mid-2018 onwards did compel the government to bring around 350 people to Australia for urgent medical treatment or as an accompanying family member. But such court interventions can be costly, slow and resource-intensive for those in need of immediate medical attention.




Read more:
Peter Dutton is whipping up fear on the medevac law, but it defies logic and compassion


And that need is still extremely high for those refugees remaining in offshore detention. An independent health assessment in June found a staggering 97% of those in detention and processing facilities have been diagnosed with physical health conditions. A further 91% were experiencing mental health problems, including severe depression and PTSD.

All but two of the 95 public submissions received by the committee were strongly in favour of retaining the medevac law.

Tellingly, those two submissions were from the Department of Home Affairs and the International Health and Medical Service, a government-contracted health provider on Nauru.

Overlooked refugee suffering in Australia

What is missing from the Senate report is any mention of the intolerable situation that refugees and asylum seekers face even after they have been transferred to Australia.

Although people can access critical medical treatment here, most remain in community detention, facing economic insecurity and legal uncertainty about their future. Research shows such legal limbo can lead to feelings of despair and dehumanisation.

The day before the report’s release, 32-year-old Afghan doctor Sayed Mirwais Rohani died in Brisbane, the victim of an apparent suicide. Rohani had come to Australia for medical treatment two years ago, after spending four years in immigration detention on Manus Island.

After his death, his former roommate posted on Facebook:

We shared same pain for long time, long enough to destroy someone’s life.

Rohani’s death was at least the 13th among refugees held in offshore detention on Manus or Nauru.

‘Trying to kill themselves because they’ve lost hope’

No doubt the government will use the Senate report to convince Lambie to support its bill when the vote happens next month.

So far, Lambie has remained relatively reticent, even if she did rebuff Dutton’s claim that the “vast majority of veterans” want her to vote to repeal medevac.




Read more:
Explainer: how will the ‘medevac’ bill actually affect ill asylum seekers?


Instead, Lambie indicated she would look to “national security” considerations in weighing up the report’s findings, including the dissenting reports. She has in the past called for children not to be in immigration detention and voted against the Coalition government’s bill to introduce temporary refugee visas in 2014.

Even if the medevac provisions stay in place, the status quo of Australia’s offshore detention regime remains unsustainable and inhumane.

As former MP Kerryn Phelps, a key architect of the medevac law during her brief time in parliament, stated in her evidence to the Senate committee, refugees and asylum seekers are

not trying to make a point; they’re trying to kill themselves because they’ve lost hope.The Conversation

Sara Dehm, Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney

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

Peter Dutton is whipping up fear on the medevac law, but it defies logic and compassion



The medevac law was passed to streamline the process for emergency medical evacuation of refugees from Manus Island and Nauru. Thirty-one people have been transferred since its passage.
Refugee Action Coalition

Alex Reilly, University of Adelaide

With all the hyperbole about the medevac law, it is easy to lose sight of its purpose.

Refugees have been transferred off Nauru and Manus Island for emergency medical treatment since offshore detention restarted on these islands in 2013. The Department of Home Affairs reported to Senate estimates that 898 refugees and asylum seekers had been sent to Australia for medical treatment prior to the passage of the medevac law earlier this year. Of those, 282 were returned to Manus and Nauru after receiving treatment, and the rest remained in Australia in detention.

These transfers occurred in response to pleas from doctors and health professionals on an ad hoc basis. And it was up to the Home Affairs Department and Minister Peter Dutton whether to comply with such a request. Medical emergencies could include life-threatening brain or heart conditions, complex abortions, or emergency psychiatric care for children at risk for suicide – all of which are beyond the capacity of the health systems on Nauru and Manus to treat.

Although some refugees were granted emergency medical evacuation, many others were not. In response, legal cases were brought against the government for breaching its responsibility to care for the refugees.




Read more:
Explainer: how will the ‘medevac’ bill actually affect ill asylum seekers?


This required the federal court to convene at short notice to hear cases. It also required the expenditure of huge amounts of taxpayer money to call expert medical witnesses and file thousands of pages of supporting documentation.

Because of the delays in treatment, these legal battles were enormously risky for those in need of medical care.

Through these early cases, the court established that it was a breach of the government’s duty not to provide refugees with emergency medical treatment. And yet, the Home Affairs Department continued to fight applications for transfers for emergency medical treatment, only to be overturned by the courts, time and time again.

How the process works under the medevac law

The medevac law was passed due to concerns the department was rejecting transfer applications for political rather than medical reasons. The point was to provide an expedient, objective process to determine whether transfers were required.

And despite the Coalition government’s opposition to the bill, the process for determining which refugees are moved off Nauru and Manus for treatment remains highly deferential to the minister and Department of Home Affairs.




Read more:
Australia’s asylum seeker policy history: a story of blunders and shame


There are two stages to this process.

First, two doctors must assess the person and make a recommendation for transfer. The federal court recently ruled it was possible to make this medical assessment based on documentation alone, as opposed to an in-person or teleconference assessment. This was a necessary adjustment to the law, given that the Nauru government has banned teleconferences for residents.

The minister is required to approve or refuse the recommendation for transfer within 72 hours. There are three grounds for refusal:

  1. the person is deemed a security risk
  2. the person has a “substantial criminal record” (which equates to having been convicted of an offence with a sentence of imprisonment for 12 months or more)
  3. the minister does not accept the transfer is necessary on medical grounds.

If the minister rejects the transfer on medical grounds, the second stage of the process kicks in, with an independent health advice panel (IHAP) assessing the doctors’ recommendation. It is important to note that this panel is comprised of government medical officers and other health professionals appointed by the minister.

To date, there have been 31 medical transfers under the law. In addition, nine recommendations were refused by the government. The panel of health experts upheld seven of the minister’s refusals, and overturned two.

Dutton’s claims don’t stand up under scrutiny

Dutton has made a number of claims about the impact of the medevac law that he argues justify its repeal. All defy reason and logic.

First, the minister has claimed “activist doctors” were using the law to bring people to Australia when they do not require emergency medical care.

This is frankly highly offensive to the medical profession in Australia, and contradicts the clear intention of the law to take politics out of transfer decisions. Even if doctors making the initial recommendation are too left-leaning for Dutton, the expert panel is stacked with medical practitioners of his choosing.




Read more:
There are 70 million refugees in the world. Here are 5 solutions to the problem


Second, the minister has argued that the capacity to be transferred to Australia for emergency medical treatment will lead to a resumption of the people-smuggling trade.

This is patently absurd. It is true that people smugglers can make up all sorts of stories about Australia relaxing its policies and it being easier to get to Australia. But the facts are crystal clear: the Coalition government maintains a policy of boat turn-backs and indefinite offshore detention for anyone thinking of making the journey.

Medical transfers to Australia are for a temporary period. Once people have been treated, they are returned to detention on Nauru or Manus. It is true that many asylum seekers have remained in Australia for extended periods for ongoing treatment, but these refugees remain within the immigration detention system. They are escorted to medical appointments and remain under guard while receiving treatment. They are given no hope of putting down roots in Australia.

The deterrent to people smugglers remains overwhelming. And, unsurprisingly, we have not seen a restarting of boat arrivals following the passage of the medevac law. Dutton’s own department has signalled this is unlikely in a briefing:

[Potential illegal immigrants] will probably remain sceptical of smuggler marketing and await proof that such a pathway is viable, or that an actual change of policy has occurred, before committing to ventures.

The only possible messaging that people smugglers might use to persuade people to get on a boat is the Coalition government’s own dire warnings of reopening the floodgates and political stunts like the brief resurrection of the Christmas Island detention centre at the staggering cost to taxpayers of over A$180 million.

Dutton’s third claim is that some refugees are refusing resettlement offers in the US because of the medevac law.

Again, it defies logic for refugees to refuse the US option – it is the only hope of resettlement currently on offer. One wonders whether the minister is using this claim as a cover for the fact that transfers to the US have come to a grinding halt under President Donald Trump.

The medevac law and human compassion

For over six years, successive Australian governments have maintained an unwavering narrow focus on stopping refugee boats with no concern for the victims of this policy – the innocent people on Manus and Nauru.

These people are under Australia’s care. It is Australia that pays the governments of Nauru and PNG to house offshore detention centres to create the disincentive for others to travel by boat to Australia. It is Australia that pays the security companies to keep them detained. And so it is Australia that is responsible for the dramatic decline in their mental and physical health.

It is the narrowest of concessions to offer emergency medical treatment in Australia to people we have so mistreated.The Conversation

Alex Reilly, Director of the Public Law and Policy Research Unit, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide

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

The law is closing in on Facebook and the ‘digital gangsters’


Sacha Molitorisz, University of Technology Sydney and Derek Wilding, University of Technology Sydney

For social media and search engines, the law is back in town.

Prompted by privacy invasions, the spread of misinformation, a crisis in news funding and potential interference in elections, regulators in several countries now propose a range of interventions to curb the power of digital platforms.

A newly published UK report is part of this building global momentum.




Read more:
Why are Australians still using Facebook?


Shortly after Valentine’s Day, a committee of the British House of Commons published its final report into disinformation and “fake news”. It was explicitly directed at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and it was less a love letter than a challenge to a duel.

The report found:

Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like ‘digital gangsters’ in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law.

The committee was particularly vexed by Zuckerberg himself, concluding:

By choosing not to appear before the Committee … Mark Zuckerberg has shown contempt.

Its far-reaching recommendations included giving the UK’s Information Commissioner greater capacity to be “… an effective ‘sheriff in the Wild West of the Internet’.”

The law is back in town

In December 2018, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) handed down its preliminary report into the impact of digital platforms. It tabled a series of bold proposals.




Read more:
Digital platforms. Why the ACCC’s proposals for Google and Facebook matter big time


Then, on February 12, the Cairncross Review – an independent analysis led by UK economist and journalist Frances Cairncross – handed down its report, A Sustainable Future for Journalism.

Referring to sustainability of the production and distribution of high-quality journalism, “Public intervention may be the only remedy,” wrote Cairncross. “The future of a healthy democracy depends on it.”

And a week later, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the House of Commons issued its challenge in its final report on disinformation and “fake news”:

The big tech companies must not be allowed to expand exponentially, without constraint or proper regulatory oversight … only governments and the law are powerful enough to contain them.

How do the responses of the three reports compare?

ACCC inquiry broadest in scope

First, it’s important to note that the scope of these three inquiries varied significantly.

The ongoing ACCC inquiry, billed as a world-first and set to hand down its final report in June, is seeking to assess the impact of digital platforms on media and advertising, with a focus on news.




Read more:
Attention economy: Facebook delivers traffic but no money for news media


The Cairncross Review was narrower in intent, addressing “the sustainability of the production and distribution of high quality journalism, and especially the future of the press, in this dramatically changing market.”

And the House of Commons committee had a very direct brief to investigate fake news. It then chose to focus on Facebook.

As such, the three inquiries overlap substantially, but the ACCC investigation is unequivocally the broadest in scope.

Not just distribution platforms

However, all three reports land in roughly the same place when it comes to characterising these businesses. They all see digital platforms as more than just conduits of other people’s content – and this brings certain responsibilities.

The ACCC says digital intermediaries are “considerably more than mere distributors or pure intermediaries” when it comes to the supply of news and journalism.

The Cairncross Review stresses there is a “fundamental difference” between distributors and content creators.

The House of Commons committee proposes “a new category of tech company” as a legal mechanism for having digital platforms assume liability for harmful content.

Need more oversight

A related important point is that all three reviews recommend that digital platforms are brought more squarely into the legal and regulatory environment.

By this, they don’t just mean cross-industry laws that apply to all businesses. There is some of that – for example, adapting competition laws so certain conduct is regulated.




Read more:
Google and Facebook cosy up to media companies in response to the threat of regulation


But these inquiries also raise the prospect of specific rules for platforms as part of communications regulation. How they go about this shows the point at which the inquiries diverge.

News reliability

The ACCC has flagged the need for further work on a platforms code of practice that would bring them into the orbit of the communications regulator, the ACMA.

The platforms would be bound to the code, which would require them to badge content produced under established journalistic standards. It would be the content creators – publishers and broadcasters, not platforms – that would be subject to these standards.

In the UK, Cairncross proposes a collaborative approach under which a new regulator would monitor and report on platforms’ initiatives to improve reliability of news – perhaps, in time, moving to specific regulatory obligations.

Algorithms regulator

In Australia, the ACCC has proposed what others refer to as a new “algorithms regulator”. This would look at how ads and news are ranked in search results or placed in news feeds, and whether vertically integrated digital platforms that arrange advertising favour their own services.

The algorithms regulator would monitor, investigate and report on activity, but would rely on referral to other regulators rather than have its own enforcement powers.

Unsurprisingly, the leading digital platforms in Australia oppose the new algorithms regulator. Equally unsurprisingly, media companies think the proposal doesn’t go far enough.




Read more:
Facebook needs regulation – here’s why it should be done by algorithms


For its part, Cairncross does recommend new codes on aspects such as indexing and ranking of content and treatment of advertising. The codes would be overseen by a new regulator but they would be developed by platforms and a move to a statutory code would only occur if they were inadequate.

In contrast to both these reviews, the House of Commons committee’s Code of Ethics is concerned with “online harms”. Right from the outset, it would be drawn up and enforced by a new regulator in a similar way to Ofcom, the UK communications regulator, enforcing its Broadcasting Code.

It says this would create “a regulatory system for online content that is as effective as that for offline content industries”. Its forcefulness on this is matched by its recommendation on algorithms: it says the new regulator should have access to “tech companies’ security mechanisms and algorithms, to ensure they are operating responsibly”.

Both the ACCC and Cairncross pointedly avoid this level of intervention.

However, the ACCC does raise the prospect of a new digital platforms ombudsman. Apart from delivering 11 preliminary recommendations, the ACCC also specified nine proposed areas for further analysis and assessment. Among these areas, the ACCC suggested the idea of such an ombudsman to deal with complaints about digital platforms from consumers, advertisers, media companies and businesses.

Data privacy

And then there is data privacy.

This is where the ACCC and the House of Commons committee delivered some of their most significant recommendations. It’s also where regulators in other jurisdictions have been turning their attention, often on the understanding that the market power of digital platforms is largely derived from their ability to access user data.

Earlier this month, Germany’s Federal Cartel Office (Bundeskartellamt) found that Facebook could no longer merge a person’s data from their Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp accounts, without their explicit consent.

In Germany, the law has spoken. In Australia and the UK, it’s still clearing its throat.The Conversation

Sacha Molitorisz, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre for Media Transition, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney and Derek Wilding, Co-Director, Centre for Media Transition, University of Technology Sydney

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

The problem with Australia’s banks is one of too much law and too little enforcement



File 20180928 48665 1bm221p.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
bank cards.

Deborah Ralston, Monash University

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg moved very quickly to deliver the interim report of the Royal Commission into Financial Services to the public. It was submitted to the Governor General, tabled in parliament (out of session), and made public on the same afternoon – Friday September 28.

The three-volume report is limited to findings from the first four rounds of hearings, on consumer credit, financial services, lending to small- and medium-sized enterprises, and experiences with regional and remote communities.



So far the commission has received almost 10,000 submissions, mainly related to banking (67%), superannuation (12%), and financial advice (9%). Most address issues relating to personal finance, superannuation, or small business finance.

In receiving the interim report, Frydenberg reiterated its key message that financial institutions have put “profits before people”.

It’s about the money

According to the report, poor culture and conduct in banks have been driven by their remuneration policies, with almost every instance of misconduct being directly linked to monetary benefit.




Read more:
Banking Royal Commission’s damning report: ‘Things are so bad that new laws might not help’


The interim report is also highly critical of the regulators, painting a disconcerting picture of their determination to detect and monitor misbehaviour and enforce compliance with the law.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission comes in for particular scrutiny, with Commissioner Kenneth Hayne noting that where the law had been broken, “little happened beyond an apology from the entity, drawn-out remediation, and an infringement notice or an enforceable undertaking that acknowledged no more than ASIC had reasonable concerns about the entity’s conduct”.

The penalties imposed were often immaterial, given the size of the institutions involved.

The letter of the law can smother its spirit

It’s hard to know how to regulate. On occasions, as with the Future of Financial Advice legislation, the spirit of the law has been lost in complexity about prescribed behaviour, and of course so-called “grandfathering provisions” which ensure commissions that began in the past can continue even though they would no longer be legal.

The interim report asks whether, rather than more legislation, the answer lies in less: in simplifying the laws to better reflect their intentions.




Read more:
Royal Commission shows banks have behaved appallingly, but we’ve helped them do it


It is something Labor had in the original version of the financial advice legalisation – an overarching obligation on advisers to act in their client’s “best interests”, an obligation the Coalition tried to remove on attaining office, arguing that specific provisions would do the job just as well.

On releasing the interim report, Frydenberg was asked where our regulators had been ineffective because they had been captured by industry or had inadequate resources.

Frydenberg replied that culture was indeed substandard, but that giving the regulators more resources would be seriously examined.

The government has already given ASIC and APRA more.

In August, ASIC received A$70 million in additional funding to strengthen supervision and give it the capability to embed its staff members inside major banks.

Earlier this year the government appointed a second ASIC deputy chairman, Daniel Crennan QC, to bolster its enforcement credentials.

The new chairman James Shipton appears to be reshaping the ASIC culture.

But that’s only the beginning of the changes we are likely to see.

It’s our turn now

Public submissions in response to the interim report are now open and are due by Friday October 26, 2018.

Two more rounds of hearings are yet to be held, with the final report due by February 1, 2019.The Conversation

Deborah Ralston, Professor of Finance, Monash University

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

The devil is in the detail of government bill to enable access to communications data


Monique Mann, Queensland University of Technology

The Australian government has released a draft of its long awaited bill to provide law enforcement and security agencies with new powers to respond to the challenges posed by encryption.

According to the Department of Home Affairs, encryption already impacts 90% of Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s (ASIO) priority cases, and 90% of data intercepted by the Australian Federal Police. The measures aim to counteract estimates that communications among terrorists and organised crime groups are expected to be entirely encrypted by 2020.

The Department of Home Affairs and ASIO can already access encrypted data with specialist decryption techniques – or at points where data are not encrypted. But this takes time. The new bill aims to speed up this process, but these broad and ill-defined new powers have significant scope for abuse.




Read more:
New data access bill shows we need to get serious about privacy with independent oversight of the law


The Department of Home Affairs argues this new framework will not compel communications providers to build systemic weaknesses or vulnerabilities into their systems. In other words, it is not a backdoor.

But it will require providers to offer up details about technical characteristics of their systems that could help agencies exploit weaknesses that have not been patched. It also includes installing software, and designing and building new systems.

Compelling assistance and access

The draft Assistance and Access Bill introduces three main reforms.

First, it increases the obligations of both domestic and offshore organisations to assist law enforcement and security agencies to access information. Second, it introduces new computer access warrants that enable law enforcement to covertly obtain evidence directly from a device (this occurs at the endpoints when information is not encrypted). Finally, it increases existing powers that law enforcement have to access data through search and seizure warrants.

The bill is modelled on the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act, which introduced mandatory decryption obligations. Under the UK Act, the UK government can order telecommunication providers to remove any form of electronic protection that is applied by, or on behalf of, an operator. Whether or not this is technically possible is another question.

Similar to the UK laws, the Australian bill puts the onus on telecommunication providers to give security agencies access to communications. That might mean providing access to information at points where it is not encrypted, but it’s not immediately clear what other requirements can or will be imposed.




Read more:
End-to-end encryption isn’t enough security for ‘real people’


For example, the bill allows the Director-General of Security or the chief officer of an interception agency to compel a provider to do an unlimited range of acts or things. That could mean anything from removing security measures to deleting messages or collecting extra data. Providers will also be required to conceal any action taken covertly by law enforcement.

Further, the Attorney-General may issue a “technical capability notice” directed towards ensuring that the provider is capable of giving certain types of help to ASIO or an interception agency.

This means providers will be required to develop new ways for law enforcement to collect information. As in the UK, it’s not clear whether a provider will be able to offer true end-to-end encryption and still be able to comply with the notices. Providers that breach the law risk facing $10 million fines.

Cause for concern

The bill puts few limits or constraints on the assistance that telecommunication providers may be ordered to offer. There are also concerns about transparency. The bill would make it an offence to disclose information about government agency activities without authorisation. Anyone leaking information about data collection by the government – as Edward Snowden did in the US – could go to jail for five years.

There are limited oversight and accountability structures and processes in place. The Director-General of Security, the chief officer of an interception agency and the Attorney-General can issue notices without judicial oversight. This differs from how it works in the UK, where a specific judicial oversight regime was established, in addition to the introduction of an Investigatory Powers Commissioner.

Notices can be issued to enforce domestic laws and assist the enforcement of the criminal laws of foreign countries. They can also be issued in the broader interests of national security, or to protect the public revenue. These are vague and unclear limits on these exceptional powers.




Read more:
Police want to read encrypted messages, but they already have significant power to access our data


The range of services providers is also extremely broad. It might include telecommunication companies, internet service providers, email providers, social media platforms and a range of other “over-the-top” services. It also covers those who develop, supply or update software, and manufacture, supply, install or maintain data processing devices.

The enforcement of criminal laws in other countries may mean international requests for data will be funnelled through Australia as the “weakest-link” of our Five Eyes allies. This is because Australia has no enforceable human rights protections at the federal level.

It’s not clear how the government would enforce these laws on transnational technology companies. For example, if Facebook was issued a fine under the laws, it could simply withdraw operations or refuse to pay. Also, $10 million is a drop in the ocean for companies such as Facebook whose total revenue last year exceeded US$40 billion.

Australia is a surveillance state

As I have argued elsewhere, the broad powers outlined in the bill are neither necessary nor proportionate. Police already have existing broad powers, which are further strengthened by this bill, such as their ability to covertly hack devices at the endpoints when information is not encrypted.

Australia has limited human rights and privacy protections. This has enabled a constant and steady expansion of the powers and capabilities of the surveillance state. If we want to protect the privacy of our communications we must demand it.

The ConversationThe Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 (Cth) is still in a draft stage and the Department of Home Affairs invites public comment up until 10th of September 2018. Submit any comments to assistancebill.consultation@homeaffairs.gov.au.

Monique Mann, Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow in Regulation of Technology, Queensland University of Technology

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

New data access bill shows we need to get serious about privacy with independent oversight of the law



File 20180814 2921 15oljsx.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

MICK TSIKAS/AAP

Greg Austin, UNSW

The federal government today announced its proposed legislation to give law enforcement agencies yet more avenues to reach into our private lives through access to our personal communications and data. This never-ending story of parliamentary bills defies logic, and is not offering the necessary oversight and protections.

The trend has been led by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, with help from an ever-growing number of security ministers and senior officials. Could it be that the proliferation of government security roles is a self-perpetuating industry leading to ever more government powers for privacy encroachment?

That definitely appears to be the case.

Striking the right balance between data access and privacy is a tricky problem, but the government’s current approach is doing little to solve it. We need better oversight of law enforcement access to our data to ensure it complies with privacy principles and actually results in convictions. That might require setting up an independent judicial review mechanism to report outcomes on an annual basis.




Read more:
Australia should strengthen its privacy laws and remove exemptions for politicians


Where is the accountability?

The succession of data access legislation in the Australian parliament is fast becoming a Mad Hatter’s tea party – a characterisation justified by the increasingly unproductive public conversations between the government on one hand, and legal specialists and rights advocates on the other.

If the government says it needs new laws to tackle “terrorism and paedophilia”, then the rule seems to be that other side will be criticised for bringing up “privacy protection”. The federal opposition has surrendered any meaningful resistance to this parade of legislation.

Rights advocates have been backed into a corner by being forced to repeat their concerns over each new piece of legislation while neither they nor the government, nor our Privacy Commissioner, and all the other “commissioners”, are called to account on fundamental matters of principle.

Speaking of the commissioner class, Australia just got a new one last week: the Data Commissioner. Strangely, the impetus for this appointment came from the Productivity Commission.

The post has three purposes:

  1. to promote greater use of data,
  2. to drive economic benefits and innovation from greater use of data, and
  3. to build trust with the Australian community about the government’s use of data.

The problem with this logic is that purposes one and two can only be distinguished by the seemingly catch-all character of the first: that if data exists it must be used.

Leaving aside that minor point, the notion that the government needs to build trust with the Australian community on data policy speaks for itself.

National Privacy Principles fall short

There is near universal agreement that the government is managing this issue badly, from the census data management issue to the “My Health Record” debacle. The growing commissioner class has not been much help.

Australia does have personal data protection principles, you may be surprised to learn. They are called “Privacy Principles”. You may be even more surprised to learn that the rights offered in these principles exist only up to the point where any enforcement arm of government wants the data.




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94% of Australians do not read all privacy policies that apply to them – and that’s rational behaviour


So it seems that Australians have to rely on the leadership of the Productivity Commission (for economic policy) to guarantee our rights in cyber space, at least when it comes to our personal data.

Better oversight is required

There is another approach to reconciling citizens’ interests in privacy protection with legitimate and important enforcement needs against terrorists and paedophiles: that is judicial review.

The government argues, unconvincingly according to police sources, that this process adequately protects citizens by requiring law enforcement to obtain court-ordered warrants to access information. The record in some other countries suggests otherwise, with judges almost always waving through any application from enforcement authorities, according to official US data.

There is a second level of judicial review open to the government. This is to set up an independent judicial review mechanism that is obliged to annually review all instances of government access to personal data under warrant, and to report on the virtues or shortcomings of that access against enforcement outcomes and privacy principles.

There are two essential features of this proposal. First, the reviewing officer is a judge and not a public servant (the “commissioner class”). Second, the scope of the function is review of the daily operation of the intrusive laws, not just the post-facto examination of notorious cases of data breaches.

It would take a lengthy academic volume to make the case for judicial review of this kind. But it can be defended simply on economic grounds: such a review process would shine light on the efficiency of police investigations.

According to data released by the UK government, the overwhelming share of arrests for terrorist offences in the UK (many based on court-approved warrants for access to private data) do not result in convictions. There were 37 convictions out of 441 arrests for terrorist-related offences in the 12 months up to March 2018.




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Explainer: what is differential privacy and how can it protect your data?


The Turnbull government deserves credit for its recognition of the values of legal review. Its continuing commitment to posts such as the National Security Legislation Monitor – and the appointment of a high-profile barrister to such a post – is evidence of that.

But somewhere along the way, the administration of data privacy is falling foul of a growing bureaucratic mess.

The ConversationThe only way to bring order to the chaos is through robust accountability; and the only people with the authority or legitimacy in our political system to do that are probably judges who are independent of the government.

Greg Austin, Professor UNSW Canberra Cyber, UNSW

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

Criminal charges against banking ‘cartels’ show Australia is getting tough on competition law


Barbora Jedlickova, The University of Queensland

A two-year probe by Australia’s consumer watchdog has resulted in criminal charges against ANZ, Citigroup and Deutsche Bank, as well as six of their senior executives, over alleged “cartel-like” behaviour.

The case, brought by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) after an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), is the second prosecution of its kind to be brought in Australia since competition laws were tightened almost a decade ago.




Read more:
Cartel case shows not all corporate misbehaviour goes unpunished


The banks and six investment bankers are charged with cartel conduct related to the sale of A$2.5 billion worth of unsold ANZ shares to investors in August 2015. The ACCC alleges that senior executives from the three banks colluded in the way they dealt with these shares.

The exact details of the alleged criminal conduct will only become clear at a Sydney court hearing on July 3, 2018.

What is cartel behaviour?

Cartels are forms of anti-competitive conduct where cartel participants decide to stop competing and start colluding. Australian civil law has banned cartels for decades. But the practice only became a criminal offence in 2010. Only its serious forms are subject to criminal law; civil law still governs the rest.

Cartels can take different forms. In the most common instance, participants collude by setting their prices. Other forms include: output restrictions; dividing markets among cartel participants on mutually agreed terms; and bid-rigging, in which a commercial contract is decided in advance but other operators put in sham bids to give the appearance of competition.

There is one primary reason why businesses or executives would stop competing and start colluding: profit. In short, cartel participants cheat to get more money, creating higher prices and lower output in the process. This disadvantages consumers, the economy and society at large.

But proving criminal collusion in a court is harder than it might seem.

Beyond reasonable doubt

Although we need to wait for the case to unfold to find out more, what we can tell at this stage is that the ACCC and the CDPP perceive the alleged conduct as serious enough for it to constitute a criminal case. Criminal cases are harder to prove than civil cases. Cartel collusion must be proved beyond reasonable doubt, and the evidence has to show that the individuals involved knew (or believed) that they were colluding.

What these charges also show is that the ACCC and the CDPP are prepared to go after the most powerful corporations and their executives for alleged cartel-like conduct. This is an enormously important step for deterrence, because criminal charges are naturally more attention-grabbing than civil lawsuits.

Charging high-ranking bank executives will potentially make the deterrent more effective still, because high-ranking executives set the cultural tone for their organisations.

Research has shown that significant prison time – or the threat of it – for individuals is a more effective deterrent than civil penalties; especially if the penalties are not high enough, as was argued in the recent OECD report on corporate penalties for cartels in Australia. The report showed that the penalties applied in Australia were low in comparison with competition law regimes in the European Union and the United States.

Just the beginning?

This is the second Australian criminal case of cartel conduct – the first involved a Japanese company shipping cars to Australia. We can reasonably expect more of these kinds of charges in the future, given that the laws are only eight years old and investigations of this type typically take years to reach fruition. (The alleged cartel conduct in the latest case took place in August 2015, almost three years ago.)

There are differences in investigation procedures between criminal and civil cases, to ensure that collected pieces of evidence are admissible in a criminal proceeding. It is ultimately the CDPP’s (and not the ACCC’s) decision whether or not to prosecute.




Read more:
Cartels caught ripping off Australian consumers should be hit with bigger fines


The final step is for criminal proceedings to be prosecuted. The first cartel criminal case, which concerned the shipping industry, can be perceived as successful, with two global shipping companies pleading guilty.

It is still early days for Australia in terms of tracking down and punishing examples of cartel behaviour via criminal prosecutions. But the latest developments suggest that Australia is prepared to follow the example of the world leader in successful cartel-related criminal prosecutions: the United States.

The US criminal regime is one of the oldest in the world, having existed since 1890. The US boom of cartel-related criminal cases began in the late 1990s with the lysine cartel and the vitamin cartel and with the first foreign national being sentenced to imprisonment in July 1999. One of the first criminal cartel investigations inspired the production of the 2009 movie The Informant!.

The ConversationThe numbers further illustrate the success of the US criminal prosecutions. For instance, 27 corporations and 82 individuals were charged in the fiscal year 2011. Australia has a long way to go before it can match those numbers.

Barbora Jedlickova, Lecturer, School of Law, The University of Queensland

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

New electoral law could still hobble charities



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Charities are unclear about how they can engage in democracy because the terms in the proposed bill are unclear.
Shutterstock

Krystian Seibert, Swinburne University of Technology

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has released its report into the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017.

The bill seeks to ban foreign donations to political parties and their “associated entities”. But it also seeks to capture organisations, including charities, that undertake public advocacy on policy issues.

While much of the media attention has focused on the foreign donation ban, the bill also introduces a new compliance framework for such actors. This applies irrespective of whether they receive foreign donations or not.

The inquiry received over 200 submissions from a diverse range of charities, not-for-profit organisations, think tanks and legal experts. Most expressed major concerns about the complex and burdensome nature of the proposed compliance framework, and the “chilling effect” it could have on advocacy by charities in particular.

The committee made 15 recommendations in its report, released on Monday. It provided in-principle support for the bill’s passage, subject to the recommendations being adopted.




Read more:
Ban on foreign political donations is both too broad and too narrow, and won’t fix our system


The recommendations are a step in the right direction, responding to many of the concerns raised in the inquiry. But they are light on detail, and much will depend on how the government responds to them.

Contrary to what the chair of the committee, Senator Linda Reynolds, has stated, a number of the recommended changes are complex. This is particularly the case with redefining “political expenditure”, a key term that underpins almost the entire bill.

What is ‘political expenditure’?

If a charity or other organisation incurs “political expenditure” above $13,500, then it becomes subject to the bill’s compliance framework. Additional requirements are imposed for those incurring more than $100,000, but the committee recommended this level be reviewed.

The definition of this term is unclear. It’s also potentially very broad. It includes any expenditure on the public expression of views on an issue that is “likely to be before electors in an election”, regardless of whether an election has been called. This could include activities such as publishing reports advocating for changes to government policies, media engagement, advertising and potentially even paying staff to do this work.

A big problem is that the bill provides no guidance on the specific types of activities that are captured, nor how a charity is meant to look into the future and predict whether an issue is “likely to be before electors in an election”.

This makes it almost impossible for a charity to know with any certainty whether it’s complying with the definition.

The Australian Electoral Commission provided a supplementary submission to the inquiry, setting out the seven steps it uses to interpret the definition.

But it’s complicated and unworkable, and involves looking at different party platforms to assess how topical an issue may be. A leading constitutional law expert, Professor Anne Twomey, has extensively critiqued it.

It’s therefore not surprising that the committee recommended the definition be amended to make it more precise. The aim would be to ensure it applies only to:

expenditure undertaken to influence voters to take specific action as voters, so as not to capture non-political issue advocacy.

However, this will be no simple task, as the line between the two is not clear.

For example, if a charity produces a document outlining the positions of different political parties on the issue of homelessness, how would that be defined? Arguably, it is just providing information to voters, rather than influencing them to “take specific action as voters”.

What should be done?

Although the committee made a laudable attempt to address the various flaws in the bill, there is no quick fix.

Given the key term underpinning the bill is flawed and cannot be easily redrafted, the best outcome would be for it to be withdrawn.

This would allow for more public consultation and the preparation of a comprehensive regulatory impact statement. This would quantify compliance costs and consider alternative policy options.

If the government won’t withdraw the bill, it at least needs to act on each of the committee’s recommendations. In doing so, it should undertake public consultation on the detail of any amendments and seek a genuine outcome that ensures advocacy by charities and other organisations isn’t stifled.




Read more:
Federal government’s foreign donations bill is flawed and needs to be redrafted


More broadly, it’s arguable that the entire premise for increased regulation of non-political party actors such as charities and other organisations is flawed.

Few would argue against the need for some basic disclosure requirements regarding their direct electioneering activities, to provide transparency about the origin of the funds used for these activities. But these requirements already exist.

It’s not clear why a new compliance framework is needed to further burden these organisations, made up of people coming together to participate in our democratic processes. This is something explored in a US context in the book Unfree Speech. It argues against increased regulation because it restricts the free exchange of views, which is meant to be a cornerstone of democracy.

The argument for increased regulation of charities, including banning them from receiving donations from international philanthropy for use towards “political expenditure”, is particularly weak. By their very nature, charities exist for the public benefit. They are not permitted to have politically partisan purposes under the Charities Act 2013.

There is no evidence that international philanthropy is using Australian charities to subvert our democracy. On the contrary, the support it provides helps charities advocate on important issues such as the role of Australian aid.

The ConversationRegulation can have benefits, but it can also have costs. If this bill becomes law, the cost could be a less vibrant democracy, with fewer voices willing to debate the policies that will shape our nation’s future.

Krystian Seibert, Industry Fellow, Centre for Social Impact, Swinburne University of Technology

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

Victoria gets serious on its political donations rules – now it’s the federal government’s turn



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The Andrews government’s proposed reforms will significantly improve Victoria’s donations system.
AAP/Mal Fairclough

Yee-Fui Ng, RMIT University

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced a suite of reforms to the state’s political donations system. It includes:

  • a cap on donations by individuals, unions and corporations of A$4,000 over a four-year parliamentary term;

  • public disclosure of donations above $1,000;

  • a ban on foreign donations; and

  • real-time disclosure of donations.

Harsh penalties will be imposed on those who breach the rules, with fines of up to $44,000 and two years in jail.

These proposals follow several dubious events, including Liberal Party fundraiser Barrie Macmillan allegedly seeking to funnel donations from a mafia boss to the party after Opposition Leader Matthew Guy enjoyed a lobster dinner with the mafia leader.

According to Andrews, these changes are intended to:

… help put an end to individuals and corporations attempting to buy influence in Victorian politics.

Are these reforms good?

The proposed reforms will significantly improve Victoria’s donations system.

The caps on donations will level the playing field and reduce the risk of corruption in the state’s political system. It will prevent rich donors from exerting greater influence over politicians than those who lack the means to do so. Parties will no longer be able to rely on these wealthy donors to fund their election campaigns.

The caps equally target individuals, unions and corporations, meaning that money cannot be channelled through shady corporate structures to evade the rules. However, donations can still be channelled through the federal level, where there are no caps.

Real-time disclosures, which have already been introduced in Queensland, will improve the timeliness of disclosures. Combined with the lower disclosure threshold of $1,000, these are commendable steps towards enhancing transparency.

The move to ban foreign donations may face constitutional issues.

The tough penalties may deter people from breaching the rules. But proper enforcement by the Victorian Electoral Commission is still essential for the laws to be effective.


Further reading: Banning foreign political donations won’t fix all that ails our system


How will elections be funded?

Election campaigns are currently funded by a mix of public funding and private donations. As there will be caps on private donations, public funding of Victorian elections from taxpayers’ pockets will need to increase.

There will be debate as to the level of public funding that should be given. Public funding should adequately compensate parties, but not be overly generous or allow them to rort the system.

Detractors may argue that, in the age of social media, there may be cheaper ways for political parties to get their messages across, so less public funding would be needed.

It is tricky to work out how to allocate public funding between established political parties, minor parties and new parties. There is also a question of whether public funding should cover activities such as policy development and party administration.

But public funding is already part of Australia’s system. In the 2016 federal election, $62.8 million of public funding was provided, which is about half of federal campaign costs.

Victoria’s move toward more public funding is not unprecedented. New South Wales already has caps on political donations of $5,800 per party and $2,500 for candidates, as well as a ban on donations from property developers and those in the tobacco, liquor and gambling industries. This was accompanied by an increase in public funding of elections, amounting to about 80% of campaign costs.


Further reading: NSW is introducing full public funding of major political parties – by stealth


In Europe and Canada, there are high levels of public funding: between 50% and 90% of costs.

Another worry is that enterprising people and businesses might still circumvent the rules through creative means.

In the US, super PACs (political action committees) are special interest groups involved in fundraising and campaigning that are not officially affiliated with political parties. These groups can raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, and then spend this money to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.

If this possibility is not regulated in Australian jurisdictions, then our system will remain broken.

How can we improve our national system?

Australia’s political donations system remains fragmented. Ideally, we would have a uniform system with tough rules at both the federal and state levels, so that donors cannot easily evade the rules by channelling their money through more lax jurisdictions.


Further reading: Explainer: how does our political donations system work – and is it any good?


The time is ripe for reform. A federal parliamentary committee is looking into how to improve the federal donations rules. The committee will issue its report by December 2017.

The ConversationVictoria has thrown down the gauntlet – and it’s now time for the federal government to take heed.

Yee-Fui Ng, Lecturer, Graduate School of Business and Law, RMIT University

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

Minister to get unprecedented power if Australia’s new citizenship bill is passed



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It’s not clear how proposed extensive powers for the immigration minister strengthen the integrity of Australian citizenship.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Sangeetha Pillai, UNSW

The government has introduced legislation to reform Australia’s citizenship regime, under the guise of strengthening the integrity of citizenship. The bill, if passed in its current form, confers sweeping new powers on the immigration minister.

Access to Australian citizenship has always involved some executive discretion. But if the bill is passed, the minister will gain unprecedented control over the criteria governing citizenship acquisition, the time it takes for a person to gain citizenship after their application has been approved, and even the circumstances in which citizenship can be revoked.

The minister will also be able to override certain citizenship decisions made by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).

Powers to control citizenship acquisition

The bill gives the minister a range of new powers that relate to various aspects of the citizenship acquisition process.

As the government’s discussion paper on the proposed changes indicated, the bill creates several new requirements for citizenship applicants. Aspiring citizens will be required to demonstrate “competent English”, and show they have “integrated into the Australian community”.

The bill gives the minister the power to create regulations determining what these requirements mean. It also allows the minister to determine an Australian Values Statement, which applicants will be required to sign and lodge with their citizenship application.

Where a person’s application for citizenship has been approved, the bill gives the minister a new power to cancel this approval, if he or she determines it should no longer be granted – for any reason.

While determining whether to exercise this cancellation power, the minister may block a person from acquiring citizenship for up to two years by barring them from making the mandatory citizenship pledge.

Power to override AAT decisions

As foreshadowed, the bill also seeks to give the minister the power to override certain citizenship decisions made by the AAT.

The AAT is an independent administrative tribunal that reviews executive decisions on their merits. A person whose application for citizenship is rejected may apply to the AAT to have this decision reviewed.

The bill enables the minister to personally override AAT decisions in particular circumstances. This power applies where it has reviewed a departmental decision to refuse citizenship, provided a ground for refusal was that the applicant was not of good character, or that their identity could not be determined. The minister must also be satisfied that overriding the AAT is in the public interest.

Additionally, the bill removes the right for an applicant to appeal to the AAT where the minister decides to refuse them citizenship, and states that this is in the public interest.

The bill’s explanatory memorandum stresses that ministerial decisions to override the AAT can be reviewed by the courts. However, this is likely to be of limited utility. This is because courts typically regard the “public interest” as a matter for ministerial determination.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has said the proposed power to override AAT decisions merely aligns the minister’s citizenship powers with powers that exist in relation to visa cancellations.

Current law allows the minister to override certain AAT visa decisions where this is in the national interest, and where the character of the visa holder is at issue. However, these existing override powers weaken – rather than strengthen – the case for the new powers the bill proposes.

To apply for citizenship, a person must have held a visa for several years. Throughout this time, the minister has extensive power to revoke that visa and remove the holder from Australia if they fail to meet character requirements.

Given this, the need for sweeping new powers is unclear.

Power to revoke citizenship

One of the bill’s most insidious features is a proposal to allow the minister to revoke a person’s citizenship, provided they are satisfied the person obtained ministerial approval for citizenship as a result of fraud or misrepresentation. The minister must also be satisfied it would be contrary to the public interest for the person to remain an Australian citizen.

Current citizenship laws allow the minister to revoke citizenship where it is acquired by fraud. However, before this can be done, the person or a third party must be convicted by a court of migration fraud.

If the bill is passed, such a conviction will no longer be necessary. The minister will have the power to determine when fraud or misrepresentation has occurred.

The bill does not spell out the criteria that will be used to make such decisions. But, it does specify that misrepresentation includes “concealing material circumstances”. This absence of criteria creates uncertainty about how the minister will make decisions. It also decreases the prospect of meaningful judicial review.

In particular, it is not clear how the expanded revocation powers interact with the bill’s other provisions.

For example, take a situation where the minister believes a person who has been granted citizenship is not demonstrating the values or integration they were assessed for during the application process. Could the minister revoke citizenship on the basis that the person, when applying for citizenship, misrepresented their values or commitment to integration?

If so, this would create a dangerous back-door route to citizenship revocation for people whose conduct falls far short of the current thresholds that parliament has set.

What’s next?

It is not clear how these extensive ministerial powers strengthen the integrity of Australian citizenship.

The ConversationQuite the contrary, creating broad executive powers with minimal review undermines the rule of law. This, ironically, is said to be one of the fundamental values underpinning Australian citizenship.

Sangeetha Pillai, Senior Research Associate, Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW Law School, UNSW

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