The big barriers to global vaccination: patent rights, national self-interest and the wealth gap



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Ilan Noy, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington and Ami Neuberger, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology

We will not be able to put the COVID-19 pandemic behind us until the world’s population is mostly immune through vaccination or previous exposure to the disease.

A truly global vaccination campaign, however, would look very different from what we are seeing now. For example, as of January 20, many more people have been immunised in Israel (with a population less than 10 million) than in Africa and Latin America combined.

Notwithstanding recent questions about the effectiveness of the initial single dose of the vaccine, there is a clear disparity in vaccine rollouts internationally.

That is a problem. As long as there are still existing reservoirs of a propagating virus it will be able to spread again to populations that either cannot or would not vaccinate. It will also be able to mutate to variants that are either more transmissible or more deadly.

Counterintuitively, an increase in transmissibility, such as has been found with the new UK variant, is worse than the same percentage increase in mortality rate. This is because increased transmissibility increases the number of cases (and hence the number of deaths) exponentially, while an increase in mortality rates increases only deaths, and only linearly.

Evolutionary pressure on the virus will inevitably favour mutations that make the disease more transmissible, or the virus itself more vaccine-resistant. It is clear, therefore, that every nation’s interest is in universal vaccination. But this is not the trajectory we are on.

People waiting to be vaccinated in Israel
Fast roll out: a busy coronavirus vaccination station in Israel in mid-January.
GettyImages

Politics and profits

Fortunately, in the countries already vaccinating, the vaccine is (mostly) not allocated by wealth or power, but by prioritising those facing the highest risk. At a country level, however, national wealth is determining vaccine roll out.

Yet in the past we have managed to eradicate diseases worldwide, including small pox, a viral infection with much higher death rates than COVID-19.

There are two barriers that prevent us from rapidly pursuing a similar goal for the current pandemic:

  • big pharma is profit-driven and therefore keeps a tight lid on the intellectual property it is developing in the new vaccines

  • countries find it difficult to see beyond their national interest; not surprisingly, politicians are committed only to their own voters.

At this point, we don’t have a global system to confront either of these problems. Each vaccine’s patent is owned by its developer, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) is too weak to be the world’s Ministry of Health.




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The polio vaccine model

Overcoming big pharma’s profit motive has been achieved before, however.

In 1955, Jonas Salk announced the development of a polio vaccine in the midst of a huge epidemic. The news initially met with scepticism. Even employees of his own laboratory resigned, protesting that he was moving too fast with clinical experimentation.

When a huge placebo–controlled clinical trial involving 1.6 million children proved him right, however, he declared that in order to maximise the global distribution of this lifesaving vaccine his lab would not patent it. Asked who owned the patent, he famously replied:

Well, the people I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?

In an echo of the current moment, Israel (then a new state) was also experiencing a rapidly spreading polio epidemic. Efforts to purchase vaccines from the US were unsuccessful, as not all American children were yet vaccinated. So a scientist named Natan Goldblum was sent to Salk’s laboratory to learn how to make the new vaccine.

No lawyers were involved and no contracts signed. The young Dr Goldblum spent 1956 setting up manufacturing facilities for Salk’s vaccine in Israel and by early 1957 mass vaccination was underway.

Dr Jonas Salk and a nurse administering a polio vaccine to a girl
Could you patent the sun? Dr Jonas Salk and a nurse administer a polio vaccine in Pennsylvania in the 1950s.
GettyImages

Suspend patent rights

Israel, a small and relatively poor country in the 1950s, became the third country in the world (after the US and Denmark) to produce the vaccine locally and eventually eradicate polio. It took a handful of scientists, a modest budget and, most importantly, no patenting.

Like Salk, Goldblum was aware viruses have complete disregard for political borders. He was also involved in a very successful Palestinian polio vaccination campaign in Gaza.




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More recently, a highly successful international campaign in the early 2000s saw AIDS treatments distributed in poorer countries. Pharmaceutical companies that owned the patented drugs were forced to supply them at cost or for free, not at market prices set in the rich countries. This was achieved through public pressure and the willingness of governments to support the required policies.

A temporary withdrawal of the patenting rights to the successful COVID-19 vaccines, with or without compensation for the developers, seems a small price to pay for an exit strategy from this global and incredibly costly crisis.

Act local, think global

Overcoming national interest is perhaps more complicated. Clearly, countries have an interest in vaccinating their most vulnerable populations first. But at some point, well before everyone is vaccinated, it becomes more efficient for countries to start vaccinating their neighbours (the countries they are most exposed to through movements of people and trade).

Disappointingly, rich countries today behave as though they will reach 100% vaccination rates before they give away a single dose, with many having bought well in excess of what is needed for 100% coverage.




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The COVAX plan to distribute vaccines in poorer countries has so far been an under-funded effort that has not yet delivered a single dose of vaccine. Even if COVAX were to be fully funded, it mostly aims to donate an insufficient number of vaccine doses to the poorest countries, rather than really bring about a universal vaccination programme.

Nevertheless, overcoming the profit-maximising interest of big pharma and the national focus of governments is not a pipe dream. The world has done it before.The Conversation

Ilan Noy, Professor and Chair in the Economics of Disasters and Climate Change, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington and Ami Neuberger, Clinical Assistant Professor, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology

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

National and state leaders may not always agree, but this hasn’t hindered our coronavirus response



ALEX ELLINGHAUSEN/AAP

Narelle Miragliotta, Monash University

It is understandable why the different measures introduced across Australia to contain COVID-19 have caused confusion. It does seem inexplicable that the rules – and penalties for breaching them – are different depending on where one lives.

It is also understandable that the finger-pointing between the Australian Border Force and the NSW government over the Ruby Princess debacle is regarded as a sign of weak governance arrangements caused by overlapping state and federal responsibilities for the nation’s borders.

But as understandable as these reactions might be, Australia’s response to COVID-19 is a testament to the benefits of federation, with its multiple tiers of government.

A useful division of governmental labour

The two levels of government have responded to this crisis in slightly different ways, especially initially.

It was the premiers and chief ministers who acted decisively to manage the spread of the pandemic when it first emerged. Their primary concern was to minimise further transmission of the virus, and to prevent the health system from becoming overwhelmed by the influx of infected patients.

While some of the premiers were warning that extreme measures would have to be instituted, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was still suggesting it was acceptable for people to attend sporting events ahead of a ban on mass gatherings.

For Morrison, the (very) reasonable concern has been on reducing the human costs of the virus for the economy. This has rendered the prime minister slightly less disposed to push for stringent measures that might cause further economic ruin.




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The different focuses of the two levels of government is in constant tension, but this provides a check on each other in managing their particular core (constitutional) responsibilities during the pandemic.

Moreover, it has permitted a useful division of governmental labour during this crisis. The federal government is able to concentrate on managing the economy, while the states and territories are able to prioritise managing the health of their populations and hospital systems.

And through the National Cabinet, the consultative body consisting of the prime minister, premiers and chief ministers, the country’s leaders have been able to coordinate their activities and share vital information.




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States and territories need to adapt policies for their residents

Although the social distancing measures imposed by the states and territories are different, they stem from guidelines agreed to by the National Cabinet.

Differences in their application by the state and territories can be partly explained by differences in size and demographics.

Some states are more densely populated than others, which places their residents at greater risk of community transmission. Some also have a higher proportion of older Australians and remote Indigenous populations – two communities that are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

These differences are on top of the fact some states and territories have natural geographical features that enable them to more easily control who enters the state, for example, Tasmania and Western Australia. This enables these leaders to consider less stringent social distancing and other measures than their counterparts.

It makes good sense, therefore, that national guidelines should be adapted to meet the unique challenges of each state or territory.

Why the Ruby Princess is not a failure of federalism

It is undeniable the decision to allow the Ruby Princess passengers to disembark was disastrous, since it has been linked to hundreds of infections and upwards of 15 deaths at last count.

However, it is far from clear the incident could have been avoided if Australia had only one level of government.

The fiasco resulted from a series of poor decisions involving multiple state agencies and one federal agency. It was likely aggravated by the possibly misleading or inaccurate information provided by the cruise ship operator about the health of those on board.




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But the decision-making failure(s) that occurred here are not unique to federations. The challenge of adequately vetting information under pressure, and coordinating the overlapping responsibilities of different administrative agencies, occurs within all governments.

If anything, federations have greater capacity to reduce the intensity, frequency and scale of policy failures.

As a model of government, federations do not prevent bad policies from being implemented. Rather, they can minimise the harm caused by bad policies. A policy failure in one state, for instance, will generally only affect that particular state – not the entire country.

Importantly, leaders can learn from the policy errors made by their counterparts.

Federalism as a salve to poor leadership

Those who need further convincing about the benefits of federalism need look to the United States.

The devastation that is unfolding in the US has been amplified by the absence of competent national leadership. The Trump administration vacillates between dismissing the pandemic and arguing the economic costs of shutting down the country are graver than the loss of lives.

But amid the national decision-making vacuum, many state governors have risen to the challenge. Some have even sought alliances with other governors to coordinate regional responses to the crisis.

That federations give rise to multiple governmental leaders might seem inefficient. But this pandemic has revealed that not all leaders rise to the challenge during crises. When this occurs, having other leaders who can step into the breach can prove critical.The Conversation

Narelle Miragliotta, Senior Lecturer in Australian Politics, Monash University

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

Australia needs a national crisis plan, and not just for bushfires



Bushfires aren’t the only catastrophic emergency Australia is likely to see.
AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

Andrew Gissing, Macquarie University and Michael Eburn, Australian National University

Calls are growing for a national bushfire plan, including from former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who says they are an issue of national security and the federal government must provide hands-on leadership.

It’s true that more people are living in high-risk bushfire areas, emergency services are stretched and the climate is rapidly changing. Future crises are inevitable. We must consider the prospect of a monstrous bushfire season, the likes of which we’ve never seen.

But bushfires aren’t the only catastrophe Australia must prepare for. If we are to create a national crisis plan, we must go much further than bushfire planning.




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Not just bushfires

In the decade since Victoria’s Black Saturday fires, we have improved fire predictions, night-time aerial firefighting, construction codes and emergency warnings. All of these have no doubt saved many lives.




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There are calls for more resources to fight fires, as part of a coordinated national plan. But few people have proposed an all-encompassing vision of such a plan.

For a start, it should not be confined solely to bushfires. Far more people die during heatwaves and residential housefires. Tropical cyclones, floods and hail each cost our economy more.

Any plan must provide a strategic vision across these various facets for at least the next ten to 20 years.

A national firefighting force?

Calls for a national firefighting force to supplement existing state resources are fundamentally short-sighted. A national force – quite apart from the level of duplication it would create – would spend much of its time idle.

Even during severe fires, such as those now raging, there would be limits to its usefulness. At a certain point, the size and energy of the fires means no amount of firefighting technology will extinguish them all.

Research conducted by Risk Frontiers, the Australian National University and Macquarie University through the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre, has focused on better planning and preparedness for catastrophic events.

This research concludes it is unrealistic to resource the emergency management sector for rare but truly catastrophic events. It is wildly expensive to remain 100% prepared for the worst-case scenario.

Instead of simply scaling up existing arrangements, we need to think differently.

Bush firefighting could be improved by innovation and research. Future investments must focus on rapidly detecting and extinguishing ignitions before they spread out of control.

Everyone is responsible

States and territories are traditionally responsible for emergency management in Australia. But almost by definition, a catastrophic disaster exceeds one’s capacity to cope – inevitably drawing on nationwide resources.

This means preparing for catastrophic disasters is everyone’s responsibility.

Existing plans allow for assistance across state borders, and between state and federal governments. But there is no national emergency legislation defining the Commonwealth’s role, or assigning responsibility for responding to a truly national disaster.

The Australian Defence Force has a well-defined support role in natural disasters, but should not be relied on due to its global commitments.

However, resource-sharing between states could benefit from more investment in programs that enable emergency services to work better together.

International help in massive emergencies also needs better planning, particularly around timing and integration with local agencies.

Non-government organisations, businesses and communities already make valuable contributions, but could play a more central role. We could look to the US, which successfully uses a whole-of-community approach.

This might mean emergency services help community organisation provide aid or carry out rescues, rather than do it themselves. These organisations are also best placed to make sure vulnerable members of the community are cared for.




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The most important task is to reduce the risk in the first place. The vast majority of disaster-related spending goes on recovery rather than risk reduction. Calls from the Productivity Commission and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) for more disaster mitigation funding have been largely ignored.

The federal government’s recent National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework highlights the need to identify highest-priority disaster risks and mitigation opportunities.

This would see priority investments in flood mitigation and strengthening of buildings against cyclones in northern Australia. (This will also help address insurance affordability.)

Land-use planning needs to be improved to reduce the chance that future developments are exposed to unreasonable risks.

Infrastructure must be constructed to the highest standards and, following a disaster, destroyed buildings should be rebuilt away from dangerous areas.

Finally, communities have the most critical role. We must understand our local risk and be ready to look after ourselves and each other. Governments at all levels must facilitate this spirit of self-reliance. Local leadership is crucial to any crisis plan and communities need to be involved in its construction.

Eastern Australia’s bushfire crisis has triggered emotional arguments for throwing resources at the problem. But planning must be careful and evidenced-based, taking into account the changing face of natural disasters.




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The Conversation


Andrew Gissing, General Manager, Risk Frontiers, Adjunct Fellow, Macquarie University and Michael Eburn, Associate Professor in Law, Australian National University

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

A national drought policy should be an easy, bipartisan fix. So why has it taken so long to enact a new one?



The Coalition has been promoting its $7 billion drought relief package, but critics say what’s needed is a more effective national drought policy.
Dan Peled/AAP

Linda Botterill, University of Canberra

In a country as dry as Australia, surely it is a no-brainer that we have in place a coordinated, national drought response that can be rolled out the same way that the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements are triggered when the country experiences cyclones, floods or bushfires.

Drought used to be part of these arrangements but, for good policy reasons, was removed in 1989.

Our last attempt at national drought policy

Once upon a time, Australia had a national drought policy. It was enacted in 1992 following a comprehensive review and report by an independent panel, the National Drought Policy Review Task Force, and detailed negotiations between Commonwealth and state ministers and their officials.

The policy included commitments by both state and Commonwealth governments to implement a coordinated and comprehensive package of programs covering drought preparation and response.

At the Commonwealth level, these measures were centred around:

  • the controversial “exceptional circumstances” provisions of its revised Rural Adjustment Scheme, which were aimed at supporting farm businesses by subsidising up to 100% of the interest paid on commercial loans.

  • a farm household support scheme that provided short-term income support to farmers and also offered grants for those who decided to leave the land.

  • farm management bonds, later known as farm management deposits, that allowed farmers to set aside pre-tax income they could later draw on in times of need.

  • a drought relief payment (added to the policy in 1994) that provided income support for farmers in areas declared to be experiencing “exceptional circumstances” drought. By May 1995, over 10,000 families were accessing this payment every month.

Grain feed left for sheep grazing on a failed crop in NSW.
NSW drought stock/AAP

Flaws in the policy

As anyone familiar with these programs will know, the exceptional circumstances program was plagued by problems.

The first was the lack of clarity around defining when a drought moved from a “normal” situation that was expected to be managed by farmers, to an “exceptional” situation with which even the best manager could not be expected to cope.

The definition of an “exceptional circumstances” drought became the subject of ongoing debate, along with concerns that drought assistance was based on administrative boundaries, leading to inequities that became known as the “lines on maps” problem.




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The second issue was the amount of information farmers were required to provide in order to demonstrate eligibility for “exceptional circumstances” assistance. The process was considered onerous and time-consuming.

Amid these concerns, a comprehensive review of drought policy was conducted in 2008 by the Productivity Commission. This was accompanied by a report by the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO on the likely impact of climate change on the frequency and severity of droughts in Australia, and an independent report on the social impact of drought.

Following the review, the government decided to end the “exceptional circumstances” program in 2009. This effectively gutted the national drought policy.

Since then, there has been no further attempt at developing a comprehensive, predictable drought policy response from the federal or state governments. There have been intergovernmental National Drought Agreements, but these have done little more than restate the principles underpinning the country’s drought policy since 1992.

In recent years, the Coalition government has appointed a drought envoy, Barnaby Joyce, and drought coordinator-general, Stephen Day, to study the impact of drought on farmers and recommend possible solutions, but we have yet to see what either has come up with.

Drought envoy Barnaby Joyce says he has sent drought reports directly to Scott Morrison, but these have not yet been made public.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Providing meaningful, timely and predictable support

Much of the criticism levelled at the government’s response to the current drought relates to its ad hoc and knee-jerk nature. This reactive way of dealing with drought highlights the need to return to a more predictable approach. This would avoid perceptions of pork barrelling and provide certainty to farmers about what support is available and under what circumstances.

A new national drought policy needs to take several forms. First, it needs to support farmers to prepare for drought before it happens. This is one area where the current policy has been moderately successful.

As of August 2019, Australian farmers had set aside a total of $5.809 billion in farm management deposits. These deposits have encouraged farmers to manage financial risk by building up cash reserves in high-income years, which they could then use during times of drought.

Individual farmers can currently hold a total of $800,000 in deposits. One possible improvement is to raise the ceiling on annual deposits in the years following drought recovery to allow a rapid rebuilding of cash reserves.

Second, a strong drought policy needs to provide support to all farmers during drought, not just those who have accumulated sufficient deposits to help them ride out the lean years.

In recent years, many farmers have taken advantage of long-term, low-interest loans to help during drought, and some have called for zero-interest loans to be made available, as well. But loans are not an ideal solution, as repayments are generally required even when farm incomes remain low.

An alternative to low- or no-interest loans are income contingent loans. Similar to the HECS-HELP scheme in higher education, these types of loans only require repayment when the borrower can afford to do so.

This would not only give farmers greater flexibility when it comes to repayment, it would also greatly reduce the extensive red tape that strangled the old “exceptional circumstances” scheme.




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Third, we need a serious rethink of the way we provide income assistance to farmers in a broader sense. Providing income support to farmers who are asset-rich, for instance, raises questions about fairness when compared with poor people in cities who are struggling to get by on Newstart payments.

This imbalance has come into stark focus in recent weeks, particularly on social media, as government ministers have discussed the introduction of drug testing for Newstart recipients, and in the debate around the Indue card.

There has been no serious attempt in the past 45 years to measure the extent of poverty among farmers. We can develop more appropriate and equitable income-support policies if we can better understand the genuine nature of their need.

The elephant in the room

While the government has assiduously avoided making the link, an effective national drought policy also cannot be divorced from discussions about climate change.

The 2008 Productivity Commission report was pretty clear in its conclusions about the impact of climate change on drought in Australia. A growing number of farmers are now acknowledging this reality. Denying the need for serious consideration of climate change is not doing our agricultural producers any favours.




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Developing an effective national drought policy is hard work. But in another sense, it should also be easy. This is because, unlike many other areas of government policy, it can be bipartisan.

Although the National Party has historically been aligned with rural voters, all parties are broadly sympathetic to farmers and value their contributions to the economy and, importantly, our national identity. The public also generally regards farmers positively and is responsive to their plight when they are faced with hardship.

As such, this should be one area where our politicians can come together to develop a coherent national response — one that is known in advance, forward-looking, equitable with other income-assistance programs in the community, and provides meaningful support before, during and after drought.The Conversation

Linda Botterill, Professor in Australian Politics, University of Canberra

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

Australia’s quest for national security is undermining the courts and could lead to secretive trials



Bernard Collaery’s whistleblower trial will be a key test of the National Security Information Act and the restrictions it places on defendants and the courts.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Keiran Hardy, Griffith University

This is part of a new series looking at the national security challenges facing Australia, how our leaders are responding to them through legislation and how these measures are impacting society. Read other stories in the series here.


In August, the intelligence officer known as Witness K indicated he would plead guilty to a conspiracy charge under section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act. That section prohibits the disclosure of information acquired or prepared by the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS).

His lawyer, Bernard Collaery, will contest the same charge in the ACT Supreme Court.

Concerns have been raised about the use of the National Security Information Act (NSIA) in the Collaery trial. Anthony Whealy, a former judge who presided over several of Australia’s recent terrorism trials, said

This could be one of the most secretive trials in Australian history.

Both cases will be back in court this month. A hearing is also scheduled to consider how national security information will be dealt with in the Collaery trial.

There has been significant media discussion around the ASIS bugging that Witness K and Bernard Collaery exposed, but less about the NSIA.

So what is the National Security Information Act? Why was it introduced and how could it lead to secretive trials?

Having its cake and eating it, too

The purpose of the NSIA is to protect national security information while allowing it to be used in Australian courtrooms. It applies in federal court proceedings, both civil and criminal.

Before the NSIA, prosecutors faced a difficult choice. They could prosecute someone for terrorism, national security or secrecy offences and risk having sensitive information disclosed publicly, or they could keep the information secret and possibly have the prosecution fail.

The act was introduced in 2004 as part of Australia’s vast suite of counter-terrorism laws, designed specifically to help prosecutors convict people for terrorism offences.

Now, the government can have its cake and eat it too: it no longer needs to choose between protecting sensitive information and prosecuting someone for disclosing it.




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What does the NSIA do?

The NSIA creates special procedures by which national security information can be protected while still being used as evidence.

National security information is defined broadly under the act as any information relating to

Australia’s defence, security, international relations or law enforcement interests.

There are two circumstances in which the NSIA procedures can be triggered. The first is when the parties know in advance they are likely to reveal national security information during the trial. The parties must notify the attorney-general of this, or face two years in prison.

The second set of circumstances relates to when a witness is being questioned on the stand and an answer has the potential to reveal national security information. If a lawyer or the defendant knows this could happen, he or she must stop the witness from answering and notify the court, or the same penalty applies.




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In either of these circumstances, the attorney-general can issue a non-disclosure certificate that prohibits the information from being revealed or allows it to be revealed in summary or redacted form. The court then holds a closed hearing in which the judge will determine whether and how the information may be used.

In a closed hearing, not only are journalists and members of the public barred from attending, but also the jury. The judge may even exclude the defendant, the defendant’s lawyer or a court official if revealing the information to them would be likely to compromise national security.

Supporters of Bernard Collaery and Witness K protesting outside Supreme Court in Canberra in August.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Withholding information from defendants

That the legislation permits closed hearings is not necessarily the main issue, though this certainly undermines the principles of open justice. However, closed hearings are an option in other sensitive cases, such as those involving child victims of sexual assault.

The main problem with the NSIA is that it creates a situation in which national security information can be used in a courtroom without the defendant, jury, media or general public knowing the details of that information.

Producing evidence in summary or redacted form means that the gist of the information is provided, but key details are kept secret. In fact, it is not even clear under Australian law that something approximating a gist needs to be given.




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This undermines the defendant’s ability to argue their innocence. A core aspect of procedural fairness and the right to a fair trial is that defendants must know the case against them. This allows their lawyers to contest the veracity of the evidence through cross-examination.

Without knowing when or how the prosecution’s evidence was collected, or even the precise claims the evidence is making, lawyers cannot adequately defend their clients. They are fighting with one hand tied behind their backs.

Weighing national security vs a fair trial

Moreover, in deciding how potentially sensitive information can be used in court, judges must give greater weight to national security than the defendant’s right to receive a fair hearing.

In other words, the NSIA does not require a judge to balance national security and a fair trial equally. More weight must be given to the former under the law.

It may be that judges can still strike an appropriate balance so defendants receive a fair hearing in cases like these. But if a contest between national security and a fair trial needs to be decided, it is clear which one wins.

Using the NSIA in the Collaery trial is also significant because the accused is a whistleblowing lawyer and not someone accused of terrorism.

After the recent police raids on the ABC headquarters, the home of a News Corp journalist and the home of an Australian Signals Directorate officer, the Australian media will be watching this trial closely.

It is likely, given the sensitive nature of the ASIS bugging scandal, that information will be withheld from Collaery’s defence team for national security reasons. This is a significant test case for whether whistleblowers can receive a fair trial in the current climate of government secrecy.The Conversation

Keiran Hardy, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University

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

The proposed National Integrity Commission is a watered-down version of a federal ICAC


Yee-Fui Ng, Monash University

The federal government has announced it will establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission. This new commission will be the peak body to detect and investigate corrupt and criminal behaviour by Commonwealth employees.

This announcement followed mounting pressure from Labor, the Greens and independent MPs, who argued that a national integrity commission was vital to rebuild trust in Australian democracy.




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On November 26, independent MP Cathy McGowan introduced a private member’s bill for the introduction of a national integrity commission, further increasing the pressure on the government.

All Australian states have anti-corruption commissions, and the federal government is lagging behind in this area.

Why do we need this commission?

The case for a national integrity commission is strong.

Australia has fallen steadily in Transparency International’s global corruption index, from eighth place in 2012 to 13th this year.

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

Moreover, a Griffith University survey has found strong public support for a national integrity commission, with two-thirds (67%) of Australians in favour of one.

What will the commission look like?

The commission will be an independent statutory agency led by a commissioner and two deputy commissioners. It will have two divisions: a public sector division and a law enforcement integrity division.

The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity will be reconstituted as the law enforcement integrity division with an expanded jurisdiction. But its jurisdiction will be limited to certain departments and agencies dealing with law enforcement and those that have coercive powers, such as the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

The public sector integrity division has a broader coverage. It includes public service departments and agencies, parliamentary departments, statutory agencies, Commonwealth companies and corporations, Commonwealth service providers and any subcontractors they engage, as well as parliamentarians and their staff.

Is the proposed model adequate?

The proposed model is a watered-down version of an anti-corruption commission, with limited powers.

The Commonwealth Integrity Commission will have the power to conduct public hearings only through its law enforcement division.

Conversely, the public sector integrity division with the broader remit will not have the power to make public findings of corruption. Instead, it will be tasked with investigating and referring potential criminal conduct to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

This is a far more limited jurisdiction compared to its equivalent state counterparts, such as the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), which has the ability to conduct public hearings and make findings of corruption in the public sector.

Although it is envisaged that the Commonwealth Integrity Commission will play a role in preventing corruption, this model lacks a dedicated corruption prevention division. This is a pro-integrity function that monitors major corruption risks across all sectors.




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

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

The government is taking submissions on the proposed model for the Commonwealth Integrity Commission.

It is commendable that the government is finally taking action on anti-corruption measures. However, it is important to get the model right. The proposed model is an improvement on the status quo of patchwork regulation, but does not go far enough to properly investigate corruption in federal government.The Conversation

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

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

Government agrees to national anti-corruption body – with strict limits


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has given in to pressure to set up a new Commonwealth
Integrity Commission
but its operation would be strictly
circumscribed, without the ability to hold public hearings into
allegations of corruption against politicians.

While the new organisation would be the lead body in Australia’s
multi-agency anti-corruption framework, Scott Morrison stressed the
government had learned the lessons of “failed experiments” at state
level.

“I have no interest in establishing kangaroo courts that, frankly,
have been used, sadly, too often for the pursuit of political,
commercial or bureaucratic agendas in the public space”, he told a
joint news conference with Attorney-General Christian Porter.

The announcement comes after crossbench pressure in the final sitting
of parliament for a new federal anti-corruption body, which had
earlier been promised by the opposition. Morrison said the government
had been working on the issue since January.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Day One of minority government sees battle over national integrity commission


Opposition leader Bill Shorten slammed the proposed body as “not a
fair dinkum anti-corruption commission”. It would be limited in scope
and power and have no transparency.

Also – given it would not be able to investigate matters
retrospectively – “Mr Morrison should explain to the Australian people
why he wants to set up a national anti-corruption commission which
curiously exempts himself and the current government from any
scrutiny”.

Morrison and Porter said in a statement that the CIC, an independent
statutory agency, would be headed by a commissioner and two deputy
commissioners, and have public sector and law enforcement integrity
divisions.

“The public sector integrity division will cover departments, agencies
and their staff, parliamentarians, and their staff, staff of federal
judicial officers, and subject to consultation judicial officers
themselves, as well as contractors.”

The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity would be
reconstituted as the law enforcement integrity division. It would have
an expanded jurisdiction to also include the Australian Competition
and Consumer Commission, the Australian Prudential Regulation
Authority, the Australian Securities and Investment, the Australian
Taxation Office, and the whole of the Agriculture Department.

Both divisions would investigate allegations of criminal corruption.
The criminal law would be amended to add new corruption offences.

The CIC would have the power to conduct public hearings only through
its law enforcement division.

The public sector integrity division would not be able to make public
findings but would investigate potential criminal conduct and refer
matters to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

The government outline of its proposed operation says “it will only
investigate criminal offences, and will not make findings of
corruption at large.

“It will not make findings of corruption (or other criminal
offending). Findings of corruption will be a matter for the courts to
determine, according to the relevant criminal offence. This addresses
one of the key flaws in various state anti-corruption bodies, being
that findings of corruption can be made at large without having to
follow fundamental justice processes.”

The CIC’s investigatory role is to “complement” the work of the
Australian federal Police. “The AFP will retain its role in
investigating criminal corruption outside of the public sector, and
could cooperate with or take over investigations on referral by the
CIC where appropriate”.

The public sector division “will focus on the investigation of serious
or systemic corrupt conduct, rather than looking into issues of
misconduct or non-compliance under various codes of conduct”.

Independent Andrew Wilkie said the proposal was “fundamentally flawed
and entirely unacceptable.”

“For example the public sector integrity division, which will
investigate parliamentarians and their staff, can only investigate a
specific set of criminal offences and can’t make findings of
corruption, which is just bizarre.

“Moreover an MP can only be referred by a particular agency and
there’s no way for the public to refer someone – and there’ll be no
public hearings at all meaning the Commission will operate behind
closed doors”.

Crossbencher Kerryn Phelps tweeted “I can’t speak for the entire
crossbench but I certainly won’t be supporting any proposal that fails
to result in adequate transparency and proper investigative powers”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

How ABC chairman Justin Milne compromised the independence of the national broadcaster



File 20180926 48634 1rc7hxx.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Reports this week revealed that ABC Chairman Justin Milne called for a journalist to be fired after receiving complaints from the government.
Joel Carrett/AAP

Peter Fray, University of Technology Sydney and Derek Wilding, University of Technology Sydney

Update: Justin Milne has now resigned as chair of the ABC board.


Behind the extraordinary events engulfing the national broadcaster lies a rather ordinary and clear statement of principle enshrined in the ABC Act. It clearly stipulates that one of the functions of the board is to maintain the corporation’s independence and integrity.

Has Justin Milne, as chairman of the board, done that?

Reports from Fairfax Media this week revealed email correspondence between Milne and the then managing director, Michelle Guthrie. In the emails, Milne called for chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici to be sacked over a report on government funding for research and innovation.

Then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had complained about the article; this followed complaints in February about two other pieces by Alberici on corporate tax, also critical of government policy. The ABC amended and reposted one of these pieces and eight days later republished the other, an analysis.

An internal ABC review found fault with both earlier articles, which had attracted considerable attention.

Another report this week in The Daily Telegraph makes further claims that Milne later demanded the resignation of ABC political editor Andrew Probyn, following anger from Turnbull. “You have to shoot him”, Milne is claimed to have said to Guthrie.




Read more:
ABC Board Chair over-reaches in a bid to appease hostile government


On one view, the performance of a journalist is an operational matter for the MD or other executives, not a strategic matter, and there was no cause for intervention by Milne.

But others might ask, isn’t it the role of the board to intervene if there’s possibly severe reputational damage to the organisation and executives are not acting?

Both points seem reasonable, but this is the ABC, not a commercial operation.

It’s hardly contentious to say that its journalistic role distinguishes a news organisations from other businesses. Watchdog, fourth estate – however we describe it – news media are different. Editorial independence, along with editorial standards, is important.

But this is even more pronounced for public broadcasters. While government funds the ABC and SBS using public money, these are not state broadcasters. Being free from state control is a part of the legislation under which the ABC operates. It’s when we look at the ABC Act that we see the problem for Milne.

Although we often speak of the ABC “charter”, this is really just section 6 of the ABC Act. It sets out the functions of the ABC and it’s where we find reference to the ABC providing “innovative and comprehensive broadcasting services of a high standard”.

But important obligations are found elsewhere. The requirement to provide a news service, for example, is in a later, operational section.

And it’s section 8 where we find the twin requirements of independence and editorial standards. These are worth setting out in full:

  • 8(1)(b) to maintain the independence and integrity of the Corporation

  • 8(1)(c) to ensure that the gathering and presentation by the Corporation of news and information is accurate and impartial according to the recognised standards of objective journalism

The problem for Milne is that these obligations are not imposed on the ABC as an organisation. They are imposed on the board. The lead-in to section 8 is: “It is the duty of the Board…”




Read more:
Media Files: ABC boss Michelle Guthrie sacked, but the board won’t say why


Returning then to the emails, at issue was a report by Alberici on the main 7pm television news bulletin on May 6. According to the Fairfax report, Turnbull sent an email to news director Gaven Morris the next day complaining about the report.

Morris sent it to Guthrie, who contacted Milne. Milne responded, saying “they [the government] hate her” and “get rid of her”.

This apparently is before Communications Minister Mitch Fifield complained about the same report on May 9 and before the ABC’s complaints review unit had a chance to assess the complaint. When it did, it found no problem with the article except for one inaccuracy – certainly nothing that would justify the dismissal of the journalist.

It appears Milne acted to protect the reputation of the ABC. He and the board are required to do that – protecting its “integrity” is a part of their statutory duties. And the board also has a role in upholding standards.

Had the ABC’s complaints unit found there was a serious problem for a second time and executives had failed to act, maybe the board would have been right to intervene. But that step – assessing the validity of the complaint – was skipped, and it seems the main reason for proposing Alberici’s dismissal was to appease the government.

In this case, “independence” should have trumped the reputational aspect of “integrity”, especially when the risk was political. Instead, the chairman of the ABC may have compromised both values.The Conversation

Peter Fray, Professor of Journalism Practice, 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.

Government senator Dean Smith urges national debate about population


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Liberal senator Dean Smith has called for a national debate about Australia’s population, as it hits the 25 million mark.

Smith, from Western Australia, said on Sunday that population issues were broader than just immigration, and included such questions as a lack of population growth in regional communities as well as congestion and infrastructure gaps in the biggest cities.

His comments are a wider take on what has become a highly charged political row, with former prime minister Tony Abbott pressing for a big cut to immigration and Pauline Hanson making advocacy of a lower migrant intake one of her signature pitches.

Smith, speaking to the ABC, pointed to the need to forecast population growth much better – previous predictions have substantially underestimated the actual speed of growth – so “we can prepare and plan better, and importantly maintain that very strong sense of public endorsement that is necessary for all of our population matters.”

He said as a senator from Perth, which had a much smaller population, “I’m interested that we get the benefits of population growth without having to pay the high price [that] perhaps Melbourne or Sydney commuters are having to pay”.

He wanted “to make sure that other cities are immune from some of the negative consequences of unbridled population growth – population growth that has been poorly predicted … poorly planned for”.

The call comes as latest figures show the annual permanent migrant intake fell to 162,400 last financial year – compared with a 190,000 planning level.

Speaking on Sky, Home Affairs Minister Petter Dutton sought to set up immigration as an election issue, and contrast the government’s approach and that of Labor.

“At the next election Bill Shorten will be promising to migrate more people to Australia than what this government is prepared to do,” he said.

“Labor got themselves into a position where at the end of the financial year they were ticking and flicking applications to get to the 190,000 target. We’ve treated the 190,000 not as a target, but as a ceiling and that’s why it has come in at 162,000 this last financial year”.

Dutton said the government was putting integrity into the program by making sure those applying through the skilled stream had the qualifications they claimed, and were not travelling on fraudulent documents. “We’ve applied a greater level of scrutiny than Labor ever did”.

“We’re not talking about the refugee and humanitarian program here.

“We’re talking about people who are coming here under the skilled program and under the family settlement, predominantly the partner visa stream. These are people that are claiming that they’re in a relationship. We’re finding cases where they’re not legitimate relationships.

“We’re finding cases where people don’t have the qualifications that they claimed that they had or the work experience that they claimed they had. If you’re bringing those people in, well clearly that is not a productive outcome for our economy.”

Smith said “moderation” of the intake was important. “We need to perhaps give ourselves some time to breathe, some time to pause and reflect, to make sure the predictions are the best they can be and if they’re not – let’s correct that. Importantly, to make sure the infrastructure spending and public confidence is maintained”.

He said there were several ways of leading the debate he advocated – such as by an “audit commission approach” or by a parliamentary inquiry.

The “tone” of such a discussion was very important. “We’ve seen in previous debates that you can have a civilised national discussion around difficult or sensitive issues if parliamentarians, if commentators get the tone right”.

Smith was one of the Liberals MPs at the forefront of the push for same- sex marriage, and he is making it clear he would like to play a prominent role on the population issue.

Citing the 2018 Lowy Institute poll, he said community sentiment was changing around population debates in a negative direction.

The poll found that for the first time, a majority of Australians (54%) oppose the current rate of immigration. This is up 14 points on last year.

“Australians also appear to be questioning the impact of immigration on the national identity,” Lowy said. It found while 54% said “Australia’s openness to people from all over the world is essential to who we are as a nation”, a substantial 41% said “if Australia is too open to people from all over the world, we risk losing our identity as a nation.”

POSTSCRIPT

The Coalition continues to trail Labor 49-51% in two-party terms but Malcolm Turnbull has increased his Newspoll lead over Bill Shorten as better prime minister to his widest margin since before the 2016 election.

The poll, in Monday’s Australian, is the 36th consecutive Newspoll the government has lost. It comes a fortnight ahead of the July 28 Super Saturday of five byelections, with two of them – Longman and Braddon – tough contests for Labor and considered important for Shorten’s leadership.

Turnbull has a 19 point lead over Shorten as better PM – 48%-29%. Turnbull’s rating rose by 2 points; Shorten’s fell 2 points,

But on satisfaction, Turnbull lost a point, to 41%, while his dissatisfaction rating rose a point to 49%. Satisfaction with Shorten was steady on 32%, while his dissatisfaction fell a point to 56%.

The ConversationBoth Coalition and Labor lost a point in their primary votes. The Coalition is on 38% to Labor’s 36%. The Greens (10%) were up a point, as was One Nation (7%).

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Turnbull government to give national apology to victims of child sexual abuse


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull will give a formal national apology on October 22 to victims of child sexual abuse, as part of the federal response to the royal commission.

Outlining the government’s detailed response on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said that Western Australia had now agreed to sign on to the redress scheme so there will be a fully national scheme from July 1.

Victims will be entitled to up to A$150,000, with average payments of $76,000. The maximum is lower than the $200,000 recommended by the commission, but the average will be higher. There will be a low evidentiary standard.

The government will set up a new National Office for Child Safety within the Social Services department, which it says will “work across government and sectors to develop and implement policies and strategies to enhance children’s safety and prevent future harm”.

But Turnbull was unspecific when questioned at a news conference about how to deal with one current big issue of child safety – protecting at risk children in some Indigenous communities. There has been recent controversy about whether too many or too few children are being removed from families. The issue has been highlighted by some high profile alleged rapes.

Turnbull said he had discussed the problem with the Northern Territory chief minister.

Asked about the level of removal of children he said: “the safety of children has to be paramount. It’s difficult to generalise about this because every case is different.” He pointed to the duty of parents and neighbours to ensure children’s safety. “If you … believe a child is being abused, don’t turn a blind eye.”

The government has opened consultations on the content of the national apology and the form of the ceremony.

The commission made 409 recommendations. Of these 84 relate to redress matters. Of the remaining 325, 122 are directed wholly or partly to the federal government, which has accepted 104 of them. It has noted the other 18, which mostly overlap other jurisdictions and will need more consideration. It has not rejected any recommendation.

The government said in a statement it expected non-government institutions would indicate what action they would take on recommendations of the commission and report annually in December, along with all governments. The government will report its progress annually for five years with a comprehensive review after a decade.

“Where institutions decide not to accept the royal commission’s recommendations they should state so and why”.

Speaking at his news conference Turnbull said: “The survivors that I’ve met and the personal stories that have been told to me have given me but a small insight into the betrayal you experienced at the hands of the people and institutions who were supposed to protect and care for you.”

“Now that we’ve uncovered the shocking truth, we must do everything in our power to honour the bravery of the thousands of people who came forward.”

The Conversation“The royal commission has made very clear that we all have a role to play to keep our children safe – governments, schools, sporting clubs, churches, charitable institutions and, of course, all of us.”

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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