Australia’s new vaccination campaign is another wasted opportunity


Australia’s new ‘Arm Yourself’ COVID-19 vaccination campaign advertisement.
Department of Health/Youtube

Lauren Gurrieri, RMIT University; Amanda Spry, RMIT University; Bernardo Figueiredo, RMIT University; Janneke Blijlevens, RMIT University; Linda Robinson, RMIT University; Marian Makkar, RMIT University; Samuelson Appau, RMIT University, and Torgeir Aleti (né Watne), RMIT UniversityThe Australian government’s new national vaccination advertisements have been described as exciting as a bowl of leftover cereal, with all the urgency of a stubbed toe. “It will be very difficult for Shaun Micallef to send this ad up,” said Opposition leader Anthony Albanese when asked about them on Sunday morning television.

He’s not wrong.

The “Arm Yourself” campaign — featuring various upper arms showing a bandaid and iterations of the same message to arm “yourself”, “your family”, “your community” — could easily come from a presentation by Karsten Leith, the kravat-wearing marketing consultant in the ABC comedy series Utopia.

The adverts have apparently been in the can for months, put on ice due to there being little point encouraging anyone to join an already long queue for vaccines.

Now that they are being wheeled out, it is hard to know exactly what they are meant to achieve. With all the allure of airline safety videos, they fly in the face of decades of research on effective advertising. They do little to engage the hesitant.

Nor is the “graphic” side campaign for Sydney-siders, portraying a distressed young woman on a ventilator in a hospital bed gasping for air, any better. To be persuasive and change attitudes and behaviours, advertising campaigns must astutely balance rational and emotional appeals.

Blending rational and emotional

For decades researchers have studied how advertising can influence people’s decision-making. A cornerstone contribution to this is the “hierarchy of effects model”, which suggests audiences go through both cognitive (rational) and affective (emotional) stages before they act (respond to the advertisement).

The most effective way to motivate behaviour is to blend the rational with an emotional message.

A good example of this is Singapore’s Get Your Shot, Steady Pom Pi Pi campaign.

It addresses safety concerns but in a humorous way — through an
“informative disco” sung by a well-known and beloved character from the popular sit-com Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd, which aired on Singaporean television from 1997 to 2007.

Singapore’s Get Your Shot, Steady Pom Pi Pi’ music video to promote vaccination.

This layering of emotional and rational appeals through a colourful, slapstick performance drives home the call to action to “faster go and vaccinate”. The video has been viewed more than 1.5 million times on YouTube to date (Singapore has a population of about 5.7 million).

The Victorian government did something similar with its campaign to encourage adherence to hygiene and distancing rules during the state’s lockdown in 2020. That featured Magda Szubanski’s character Sharon from the iconic Kath and Kim sitcom.




Read more:
Parental COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy may be next challenge for vaccination campaigns


Unity, humour, optimism

Another good example of integrating rational and emotional appeals is New Zealand’s Ka Kite, COVID (“see you, COVID”) campaign. Though without the “star power” of the Singapore campaign, it features instantly likeable and relatable characters — including cheeky teens and jazzercise dancers — to emphasise the idea of ordinary Kiwis coming together to protect themselves and the community.

New Zealand’s Ka Kite vaccination campaign ad.

It also offers a key motivator for getting vaccinated. In the ad, a health worker describes a vaccination centre as “the metaphorical door to freedom”. Scenes frame the different ways a return to normal can be enjoyed — from being reunited with family members to children playing together and a couple planning their wedding.

It drives home the rationale that vaccination benefits the entire community through three highly engaging emotional appeals to New Zealanders — their sense of belonging, humour and optimism. This brings home the campaign tagline to “Unite against COVID-19”.

Getting the balance right

The Australian Government’s vaccination messaging is struggling to find this balance.

Its first vaccination campaign, launched in January, relied too strongly on a rational appeal. In it infectious diseases physician Dr Nick Coatsworth talks about the vaccine being backed by experts, closely monitored for safety by the Therapeutic Goods Association and “free, simple, and the best way to protect ourselves against COVID-19”.

Dr Nick Coatsworth in the Australian government’s first COVID-19 vaccination promotion campaign.

It has been criticised as boring, sterile and too densely informative, making an ineffective call to action. It has been viewed on YouTube fewer than 1,200 times.

The new “graphic” advertisement for Sydney audiences swings in the other extreme, by relying solely on stimulating an emotional response through fear.

Australia has a long tradition of fear appeals in public health campaigns. The most famous is the “Grim Reaper” advert in the 1980s. This campaign was certainly memorable, but the evidence from research in more recent decades about the effectiveness of fear-based messages is mixed. Studies show they don’t necessarily stimulate action.




Read more:
Why using fear to promote COVID-19 vaccination and mask wearing could backfire


The new national “Arm Yourself” campaign is arguably even worse — failing to effectively executive either an emotional or rational appeal. It provides little information beyond a metaphoric battle slogan. Its primary call to action is to visit a website. It lacks the powerful imagery, stirring music or relatable characters needed to engage the audience.

The government’s story is that this phase of the campaign is focused on encouraging Australians to get vaccinated. If that’s the case, it needs to go back to the standard advertising playbook.

This is another missed opportunity to alleviate fears and align with the broader pandemic messaging of community spirit and solidarity to encourage a high uptake of the vaccine by Australians of all ages.The Conversation

Lauren Gurrieri, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, RMIT University; Amanda Spry, Lecturer of Marketing, RMIT University; Bernardo Figueiredo, Associate Professor of Marketing, RMIT University; Janneke Blijlevens, Senior Lecturer Experimental Methods, RMIT University; Linda Robinson, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, RMIT University; Marian Makkar, Lecturer in Marketing, RMIT University; Samuelson Appau, Senior Lecturer, RMIT University, and Torgeir Aleti (né Watne), Lecturer in Marketing, RMIT University

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

Morrison’s ‘new deal’ for a return to post-COVID normal is not the deal most Australians want


William Bowtell, UNSWAll-encompassing crises like a pandemic can expose systemic flaws and failures in government and society, clearing the decks for radical reform and renovation.

The question is in which direction and in whose interests.

Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a four-phase plan to lead Australia out of the COVID-19 crisis. The plan was devoid of numbers, facts, targets or commitments. But Morrison nonetheless declared it to be a “New Deal”.

It would be tempting, but mistaken, to pass this off as just one more politician riffing off US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who coined the phrase in 1932.

Yet, the disruption caused by the fear of COVID has delivered the Morrison government an unexpected opportunity to reshape Australian politics and society along neo-liberal lines.

Roosevelt’s vision for a new America

In the early 1930s, Roosevelt was confronted by a social and economic catastrophe — the Great Depression.

His genius was to understand that a bold, radical reshaping of the economy and society was required to overcome the crisis and forestall the rise of alternatives to democracy from both the right and left.

The core of Roosevelt’s New Deal was redistribution of wealth from the few to the many. He ran large budget deficits, increased government spending and taxation, imposed regulations to rein in the worst excesses of the banks, and commissioned massive public and social works programs.

Roosevelt’s New Deal shifted the balance from profits to wages, created millions of new, better-paid jobs and stabilised society at a higher and better level for the American people.

The New Deal spent big to save on the grandest scale.

Unemployed men lining up outside a soup kitchen in Chicago in 1931.
Wikimedia Commons

Neo-liberalism’s impact on the COVID response

The resurgence of casino capitalism in the 1980s reinvigorated the free-market opponents of the New Deal era.

In the US, the neo-liberals laid waste to much of the New Deal public health system. In the UK, decades of “market reforms” to the National Health System steadily eroded the principles of public health provision.

These reforms were prosecuted in the name of providing choice and efficiency and went largely uncontested by public opinion.

But they had long-term and serious consequences that the COVID pandemic cruelly exposed. Neo-liberalism undermined the ability of public health structures and institutions to provide independent and open scientific advice.




Read more:
COVID won’t kill populism, even though populist leaders have handled the crisis badly


The US, UK and Brazil were all run by neo-liberal governments when the pandemic emerged, committed to free markets, small governments and budgets balanced by massive reductions in outlays on education, welfare and, ominously, public health.

Eighteen months into the pandemic, the three countries have recorded a combined 57 million cases and 1.25 million deaths (and counting) from COVID-19, with the actual death tolls considerably higher.

Roses in the sand on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro in honour of the more than 500,000 coronavirus deaths in Brazil.
Silvia Izquierdo/AP

By contrast, in countries that moved rapidly to apply tried and tested public health principles through long-established and resilient structures, COVID deaths and illnesses were, with difficulty, contained.

These countries dealt with the realities of COVID as best they could and strengthened their responses as dictated by the accumulation of facts and evidence. Broadly, science dictated the response.

Morrison government’s initial hands-off approach

In Australia, the split between traditional public health principles and the neo-liberal response to COVID was apparent from early 2020.

The initial response of the Morrison government and its planning for COVID was deeply influenced by the UK and US.

The Morrison government did not accept the Commonwealth government had an over-arching national responsibility for public health outcomes. As cases occurred in the states and territories, the responsibility for the response rested with them.




Read more:
Thanks to coronavirus, Scott Morrison will become a significant prime minister


In the critical early months, the Morrison government kept most borders open, limited surveillance of incoming travellers, moved too slowly to ban the export of PPE packs and let aged care operators follow free-market, self-regulation principles in the hope of reducing risk to residents and staff.

This laissez-faire approach provoked dismay and incredulity within the robust public health system.

Propelled by public health professionals and the public, the country locked down at the end of March, and after a rocky few months, brought about COVID zero.

This brought time and options to build an effective quarantine system and organise vaccine supply. But the Morrison government squandered the gift.

A recovery prolonged by two big missteps

From mid-2020, the economic and social disruption caused by the COVID response should have begun to dissipate. But instead, the Morrison government made the critical decision that prolonged and intensified the misery of the pandemic.

Rather than sign contracts with a number of vaccine manufacturers to guarantee adequate supplies this year, the government put much of its faith in one candidate – AstraZeneca.

Australia had plans for 50 million AstraZeneca doses to be manufactured domestically under its deal struck last year.
Alessandra Tarantino/AP

And after the more infectious Delta variant emerged in December 2020, the Morrison government resisted all entreaties, pleas and scientific evidence to build Delta-proof quarantine facilities.

The effect of these two decisions has been to prolong Australia’s emergence from the botched COVID response until next year.

On the present trajectory, there is no way most Australians will travel abroad again until sometime after March 2022 — the second anniversary of the lockdown that saved Australia.

A ‘New Deal’ that leaves people behind

The Morrison government did not create COVID, but it has skilfully magnified the impacts of COVID in Australia to clear the decks for its own “New Deal”.

But the only thing Morrison’s New Deal has in common with FDR’s is massive deficit spending.

When faced with mass dismissals of employees early in the pandemic, the federal government’s huge stimulus packages fell short. The sharpest blows and cuts fell on the universities, the arts sector and casual and gig economy workers.

JobKeeper arrangements largely excluded the hundreds of thousands employed in these sectors.

Businesses applied for JobKeeper on the basis that earnings would fall. But as was reported earlier this year, more than 30 ASX-listed companies recorded higher profits last year after receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in JobKeeper subsidies than before the pandemic.

Shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh has said between $10-20 billion could have gone to firms with rising profits.

Unlike Roosevelt’s New Deal, which lifted millions of people from poverty to sustained prosperity with a commitment to open democracy, Morrison’s plan for the future doesn’t contain a strong enough safety net to support those in need.

The need for openness and transparency

It is also deeply wrong such a blueprint is being put together behind closed doors, with the input of like-minded politicians, sectional interests and lobbyists, but without the involvement of the Australian people.

All the goals, assumptions, modelling, advice and arguments should be published in a white paper.

Let the Morrison government make its best case for reopening Australia’s borders without full vaccination of the population and a variant-proof quarantine system.




Read more:
JobKeeper and JobMaker have left too many young people on the dole queue


Put on the table the plans for vaccine passports and how the international travel system might be reconstructed to let people travel and not the virus.

Rather than concentrate on the gauzy benefits of “freedom”, the government needs to outline the costs in lives and jobs that will accrue to vulnerable and less-wealthy Australians.

Let’s have a full and frank discussion of the increase in surveillance and the erosion of rights and liberties that have taken place in the name of containing COVID.

And be told what, if anything, is being planned to ensure the next pandemic will be managed far better than the government has managed COVID.

Only a process based on the values of truth, transparency and debate can rebuild people’s confidence and trust in government. The New Deal Australia wants and needs is not the Old Deal being constructed in Scott Morrison’s Canberra office.The Conversation

William Bowtell, Adjunct professor, Kirby Institute for Infection and Immunity, UNSW

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

Apple’s new ‘app tracking transparency’ has angered Facebook. How does it work, what’s all the fuss about, and should you use it?


Amr Alfiky/AP

Paul Haskell-Dowland, Edith Cowan University and Nikolai Hampton, Edith Cowan UniversityApple users across the globe are adopting the latest operating system update, called iOS 14.5, featuring the now-obligatory new batch of emojis.

But there’s another change that’s arguably less fun but much more significant for many users: the introduction of “app tracking transparency”.

This feature promises to usher in a new era of user-oriented privacy, and not everyone is happy — most notably Facebook, which relies on tracking web users’ browsing habits to sell targeted advertising. Some commentators have described it as the beginnings of a new privacy feud between the two tech behemoths.

So, what is app tracking transparency?

App tracking transparency is a continuation of Apple’s push to be recognised as the platform of privacy. The new feature allows apps to display a pop-up notification that explains what data the app wants to collect, and what it proposes to do with it.

Privacy | App Tracking Transparency | Apple.

There is nothing users need to do to gain access to the new feature, other than install the latest iOS update, which happens automatically on most devices. Once upgraded, apps that use tracking functions will display a request to opt in or out of this functionality.

iPhone screenshot showing new App Tracking Transparency functionality
A new App Tracking Transparency feature across iOS, iPadOS, and tvOS will require apps to get the user’s permission before tracking their data across apps or websites owned by other companies.
Apple newsroom

How does it work?

As Apple has explained, the app tracking transparency feature is a new “application programming interface”, or API — a suite of programming commands used by developers to interact with the operating system.

The API gives software developers a few pre-canned functions that allow them to do things like “request tracking authorisation” or use the tracking manager to “check the authorisation status” of individual apps.

In more straightforward terms, this gives app developers a uniform way of requesting these tracking permissions from the device user. It also means the operating system has a centralised location for storing and checking what permissions have been granted to which apps.

What is missing from the fine print is that there is no physical mechanism to prevent the tracking of a user. The app tracking transparency framework is merely a pop-up box.

It is also interesting to note the specific wording of the pop-up: “ask app not to track”. If the application is using legitimate “device advertising identifiers”, answering no will result in this identifier being set to zero. This will reduce the tracking capabilities of apps that honour Apple’s tracking policies.

However, if an app is really determined to track you, there are many techniques that could allow them to make surreptitious user-specific identifiers, which may be difficult for Apple to detect or prevent.

For example, while an app might not use Apple’s “device advertising identifier”, it would be easy for the app to generate a little bit of “random data”. This data could then be passed between sites under the guise of normal operations such as retrieving an image with the data embedded in the filename. While this would contravene Apple’s developer rules, detecting this type of secret data could be very difficult.




Read more:
Your smartphone apps are tracking your every move – 4 essential reads


Apple seems prepared to crack down hard on developers who don’t play by the rules. The most recent additions to Apple’s App Store guidelines explicitly tells developers:

You must receive explicit permission from users via the App Tracking Transparency APIs to track their activity.

It’s unlikely major app developers will want to fall foul of this policy — a ban from the App Store would be costly. But it’s hard to imagine Apple sanctioning a really big player like Facebook or TikTok without some serious behind-the-scenes negotiation.

Why is Facebook objecting?

Facebook is fuelled by web users’ data. Inevitably, anything that gets in the way of its gargantuan revenue-generating network is seen as a threat. In 2020, Facebook’s revenue from advertising exceeded US$84 billion – a 21% rise on 2019.

The issues are deep-rooted and reflect the two tech giants’ very different business models. Apple’s business model is the sale of laptops, computers, phones and watches – with a significant proportion of its income derived from the vast ecosystem of apps and in-app purchases used on these devices. Apple’s app revenue was reported at US$64 billion in 2020.

With a vested interest in ensuring its customers are loyal and happy with its devices, Apple is well positioned to deliver privacy without harming profits.

Should I use it?

Ultimately, it is a choice for the consumer. Many apps and services are offered ostensibly for free to users. App developers often cover their costs through subscription models, in-app purchases or in-app advertising. If enough users decide to embrace privacy controls, developers will either change their funding model (perhaps moving to paid apps) or attempt to find other ways to track users to maintain advertising-derived revenue.

If you don’t want your data to be collected (and potentially sold to unnamed third parties), this feature offers one way to restrict the amount of your data that is trafficked in this way.

But it’s also important to note that tracking of users and devices is a valuable tool for advertising optimisation by building a comprehensive picture of each individual. This increases the relevance of each advert while also reducing advertising costs (by only targeting users who are likely to be interested). Users also arguably benefit, as they see more (relevant) adverts that are contextualised for their interests.

It may slow down the rate at which we receive personalised ads in apps and websites, but this change won’t be an end to intrusive digital advertising. In essence, this is the price we pay for “free” access to these services.




Read more:
Facebook data breach: what happened and why it’s hard to know if your data was leaked


The Conversation


Paul Haskell-Dowland, Associate Dean (Computing and Security), Edith Cowan University and Nikolai Hampton, School of Science, Edith Cowan University

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

Upgrade rage: why you may have to buy a new device whether you want to or not



The Conversation, CC BY

Michael Cowling, CQUniversity Australia

We’ve probably all been there. We buy some new smart gadget and when we plug it in for the first time it requires an update to work.

So we end up spending hours downloading and updating before we can even play with our new toy.

But what happens when we can’t update our gadgets any further?

Vintage technology

Every year vendors such as Apple and Google add to their list of vintage devices that no longer get operating system or security updates.

For example, owners of the Pixel 2 smartphone (released by Google in 2017) were told in late 2020 they would no longer receive regular scheduled system updates and security updates.

Upgrading to Google’s newest smartphones won’t insulate them from this problem for long. Owners of the latest Pixel 5 are told to expect this device (released in October 2020) to be made vintage in 2023.




Read more:
Apple’s iPhone 12 comes without a charger: a smart waste-reduction move, or clever cash grab?


While Apple has a reputation for supporting devices for longer than Google and Samsung with Android, even Apple owners are occasionally in for a shock, such as those users who bought the Apple Watch SE or Apple Watch 3 late last year only to discover it only works with an iPhone 6s or above.

A frustrated comment from a user on a support group about incompatible Apple technology.
When technology doesn’t communicate.
Screenshot/Apple.com

Even if an operating system vendor still supports a device, this presumes the apps and network connections will still work for older devices, which is not always the case.

The unrelenting march of technology

Technology is not what it used to be. Twenty years ago, we could buy a laptop and everything would work pretty much the same for over a decade.

For example, switch on an old Windows XP machine (no longer supported by Microsoft) and any installed Word and Excel software will be there just as we left them, still available for your document and spreadsheeting needs. (We need to be careful about updating any software as then it might not work on the XP machine.)

If we want to play some old computer games, there’s an argument that an old machine or operating system will be a better choice to play on as a newer machine will run the game too fast, or be incompatible and not run it at all.

Gaming on a 25 year old laptop.

But the world of technology has changed in the last ten years or so. More and more apps need a network connection to operate, or take advantage of new features in the software or hardware that didn’t previously exist such as augmented reality (AR), so they need a new device to work.

Cables, chips and wireless networks

Even on the hardware front, there are concerns. Try and attach our old fitness band to our new smartphone and we might find the Bluetooth protocol it uses to communicate is no longer supported, or the servers they used to run were attacked and taken down by hackers.

Backers of the original smartwatch, The Pebble, found themselves on the wrong end of this situation when the company was bought by Fitbit, who decided to shut down the Pebble servers. This effectively turned all Pebble watches into paperweights, although an unofficial fix was developed.

The smartwatch in a box.
The original Pebble smartwatch.
Wikimedia/Romazur, CC BY-SA

Assuming the hardware works, we might find the network connection deserts us.

The WiFi Alliance last year announced a new WiFi standard, increasing speeds for countries that support it.

But it’s already the case that older WiFi devices running on older standards can have trouble connecting to new networks, and even if they can they are likely to slow down the whole network.

In the world of cellular networking, some parts of the old 3G network (famous for powering the iPhone 3G released a little more than ten years ago) has been shut down in some countries (including Australia), with the whole service destined for the dustbin in several years. Even if we could power up that old iPhone, it wouldn’t get any phone service.

A call for sustainable technology

So what’s the solution to this problem of disposable and expiring technology? One suggestion is that manufacturers move to making devices more modular, comprised of several detachable components.

Components could then be replaced as they expire, just like we are able to do with desktop computers by replacing the video card, sound card or other components.

Some manufacturers, such as Essential, Motorola and Google have all tried this approach with a modular phone but with limited success.

The modularisation process results in a larger, more cumbersome device in a world where thin and svelte is everything.




Read more:
Introducing Edna: the chatbot trained to help patients make a difficult medical decision


Perhaps the best we can hope for is for manufacturers to work harder to recycle and upgrade devices for consumers. Companies such as Apple already do this, with machines that can disassemble iPhones and remove the precious metals and components for recycling, but more work needs to be done.

Daisy, Apple’s new iPhone disassembly robot.

In particular, the commercial aspect of these initiatives likely still needs to be worked out. Some service providers offer trade-in in deals for old phones but you still have to pay for a new phone. Many people aim to use older devices to avoid paying for a new device after all.

Until manufacturers are willing to perhaps just do a straight swap of that old gadget for a new model with no money down, it’s likely we will still live in our expiring device culture for a while yet.The Conversation

Michael Cowling, Associate Professor – Information & Communication Technology (ICT), CQUniversity Australia

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

What you need to know about the new COVID-19 variants



B117, the SARS CoV-2 variant that was first detected in the U.K., has been found to be 30%-80% more transmissible.
Juan Gaertner/Science Photo Library via Getty Images

David Kennedy, Penn State

Editor’s note: Two new strains of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 called B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 have been found in the U.K. and South Africa and are thought to be more transmissible. In this interview, David Kennedy, a biologist who studies the evolution of infectious diseases at Penn State, explains how these new strains are different, what “more transmissible” means, what that means for the public and whether the vaccines will be effective against them.

David Kennedy explains the two new COVID-19 strains B117 and B1351, which were detected in December.

What are the two new variants of the SARS CoV-2 virus?

There are actually a few different variants that are emerging that you’ve probably been hearing about recently. Two of the most common ones that people are talking about and are most concerned about are the B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 variants. They were first detected in the U.K. and South Africa. It seems that they have been circulating since October at least but were only noticed in December. The concern about these variants is that they might have some differences in how transmissible they are and how the immune system sees them.

What does ‘more transmissible’ mean when it comes to these variants?

The data suggests that both of these variants are more transmissible. Most of the data that’s available is for the U.K. variant in particular. It’s still not clear exactly how much more transmissible it is, but current estimates are that it’s somewhere between 30% and 80% more transmissible than the original strains that were out there.

How did scientists arrive at those numbers? When spikes in cases in the U.K. raised concerns, they sequenced the virus from the cases during the spikes. They saw that there was this novel variant. They looked at the frequency of this variant farther back in time and saw that it was increasing in frequency over time. So it went from being very rare to very common. And based on the rate of increase, they estimate that it was around 70% or so more transmissible than the original virus.

The second way they determined it was more transmissible is through something called the “secondary attack rate.” What they do is, if they know that somebody is infected, they can look and see how many of their contacts got infected. And so they can do that for people who are infected with the original strain of the virus, and they can do that for people who are infected with this novel variant. What they saw was that people who had this novel variant were more likely to infect their contacts, and that increase was about 30% to 40%. So that means that this novel variant is more likely to get passed on to other individuals.

How does a more transmissible variant translate into risk? How does it affect people’s day-to-day risk levels?

The first thing that I should say is that there’s no evidence that there’s increased disease severity as a result of these variants. So it doesn’t seem like it is now more harmful. But the concern is that more people are going to get infected, and so in total, more people are going to get sick.

But the reason this is so concerning is that you get hit with the increase in transmissibility twice. First, more people will be infected, so it is more likely that you will be interacting with someone who is infectious. And second, the virus is more infectious, so each infected person is more likely to transmit it to you.

With that said, the basics of how we’re supposed to live our lives and how we’re supposed to control this are essentially unchanged. The mitigation measures that we have in place, things like social distancing, wearing a mask, avoiding indoor shared spaces, reducing any unnecessary risks, are still the best measures that we have to try to control this. At least until we all have access to vaccines.

What does this new variant mean for vaccine effectiveness?

If we look at the smallpox vaccine, we never saw resistance evolve to it. It’s the same for measles, polio and the majority of vaccines that we have. We never have to update them, and they just keep working.

But there have been vaccines where we do have to update them because resistance evolved. And so part of the concern about these new variants is that there might be evolution of resistance to the vaccines that are currently being developed.

The reason people are concerned is that a lot of the mutations in these new variants are in the site targeted by the vaccines, something called the spike protein. But just because we’re seeing changes in the spike protein of these variants doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to undermine the vaccine.

What researchers have seen is that one of the mutations found on both the U.K. and South Africa variants doesn’t seem to have any effect on how our immune system sees the virus, so that’s good news. But another mutation found on the South Africa variant does seem to impact how our immune response sees the virus.

We’ve learned that if you take blood serum from somebody who was previously infected with the old version of the virus, and you try to use that serum to stop the virus containing this new mutation, you need a higher concentration of the blood serum to neutralize the virus. That means that there’s a difference in the way that our immune system is seeing the virus. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the vaccine is going to be less effective. But it’s certainly something that needs to be studied more.

These are two of the mutations. There are many more mutations in these variants, which scientists need to continue to study.

The summary here is that at least one of the mutations seems like it could be relevant, but there isn’t good evidence to suggest that means the vaccines are not going to be effective. Vaccines tend to be robust against evolutionary change. And so my hope and my expectation is that the vaccine protection will be robust.The Conversation

David Kennedy, Assistant Professor of Biology, Penn State

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

Meet North Queensland First, the party that wants to kill crocs and form a new state



http://www.shutterstock.com

Claire Brennan, James Cook University

Many of the minor parties vying for votes in the Queensland election will already be very familiar to Australians.

But Pauline Hanson, Clive Palmer and the Katters are not the only minor party players worth watching in the lead up to October 31.

A new party has recently emerged in northern Queensland, with crocodiles and the balance of power on its mind.

It is also a prime example of how issues in northern Queensland can vary wildly from those in the south.

North Queensland First

North Queensland First was set up in October 2019 by member for Whitsunday, Jason Costigan.

Jason Costigan speaking in the Queensland Parliament.
Jason Costigan has been the member for Whitsunday since 2012.
Glenn Hunt/ AAP

Costigan was expelled from the Liberal National Party earlier last year, following harassment allegations (the woman who made the complaint has since withdrawn it and apologised).

NQ First is aimed at appealing to voters disillusioned with the major parties. It lists establishing a separate state of “North Queensland” among its primary aims and is promoting itself as a possible balance of power holder.

North Queensland’s history of feeling separate

The north Queensland separatist movement has a long history and separation remains a popular cause in the region.




Read more:
Remember Quexit? 5 reasons you should not take your eyes off the Queensland election


Some north Queenslanders feel every inch of their distance from the state government in Brisbane: the notion of resources being extracted by a negligent, remote government has featured in northern politics for over a century.

Separatism was promoted by Palmer at the 2013 federal election and remains a Katter’s Australian Party policy.

Croc killing

That sense of remoteness also manifests itself in policies against crocodiles. Katter’s Australian Party and Bob Katter himself periodically make announcements about killing crocodiles.

Saltwater crocodile swimming in a river.
Anti-crocodile policies are common in north Queensland.
http://www.shutterstock.com

Last last month, NQ First sought to establish its northern credentials by announcing a “shoot to kill” policy.

This “croc culling” polling has a focus on “public safety”, according to Costigan.

If there is a crocodile on one of our beaches in a populated area, perhaps a tourist spot or in a swimming hole or where workers are at risk of being attacked, it’ll be shot by a licensed contractor whose job it will be to go in and deal with the problem as a matter of urgency.

Do Costigan’s crocodile proposals make sense?

Costigan’s policy was triggered by a September 23 crocodile attack on a snorkeler off Lizard Island.

By the time Costigan released his policy, that crocodile had already been euthanised by government wildlife officers. The current Queensland government crocodile management plan allows for the removal of crocodiles located near centres of population or that attack humans. So, further legislation, as proposed by Costigan, would not speed up that process.

In fact, NQ First’s enthusiasm for killing more large crocodiles might be counterproductive and increase the number of crocodile attacks.

Crocodiles are territorial and when large crocodiles are removed, other crocodiles move in. When the crocodile hierarchy is disturbed, it increases the risks to humans and livestock.

Why do politicians want to kill crocodiles?

Northern Australia is crocodile country, and saltwater crocodiles are capable of killing and eating humans. Australian crocodiles have been fully protected from hunting since 1974 and populations have recovered from heavy hunting after the second world war.

But living with crocodiles can be frightening. Costigan’s press release described crocodiles as “maneaters” and “monsters”, playing on primal human fears.




Read more:
Queensland’s unpredictable election begins. Expect a close campaign focused on 3 questions


Politicians talking tough about crocodiles are speaking to residents of northern Australia’s suburban frontier, which is pressing into crocodile habitat as urban areas expand. Crocodile sightings and attacks are increasing as more humans spend time in regions where crocodiles have always lived.

Politicians also target crocodiles because hunting — of other animals, particularly pigs — is popular in the north and big game hunting is big business. Australia still has a safari hunting industry, which started by hunting crocodiles, but now targets other species.

Politicians promoting crocodile shooting appeal to a sense of rugged Australian individualism and environmental competence among their constituents.

However, the reality of legal crocodile hunting in Australia is very different. Safari hunting tends to be restricted to the wealthy.

Will being tough on crocodiles help Costigan?

Costigan has been elected to the seat of Whitsunday three times before, but all three times he was a member of the LNP and only won by slender margins (in 2017 he won by 372 votes). In 2020, he faces numerous challengers.

Both major parties are fielding candidates in Whitsunday, as are the Greens, One Nation, Katter’s Australian Party and the United Australia Party.

Palm trees and umbrellas on a beach in the Whitsunday Islands.
Costigan faces numerous challengers to be re-elected on October 31.
http://www.shutterstock.com

Those last three parties are all vying to occupy similar populist territory to Costigan.

Whether suggesting crocodiles should be shot will help Costigan retain his seat remains to be seen. One danger is NQ First’s policy may in fact alienate tourist operators and residents who live off the crocodile’s back.

However, promising even a limited ability to “shoot to kill” crocodiles will still resonate with some north Queenslanders.

Indeed, with a high profile as the sitting member and the LNP struggling with internal divisions and questions about donations, NQ First may well be part of the next Queensland parliament.




Read more:
Fundraising questions have interrupted the Queensland LNP’s election campaign. What does the law say?


The Conversation


Claire Brennan, Lecturer in History, James Cook University

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

Healthcare, minerals, energy, food: how adopting new tech could drive Australia’s economic recovery



CSIRO, Author provided

Katherine Wynn, CSIRO; James Deverell, CSIRO; Max Temminghoff, CSIRO, and Mingji Liu, CSIRO

Over the next few years, science and technology will have a vital role in supporting Australia’s economy as it strives to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

At Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, we’ve identified opportunities that can help businesses drive economic recovery.

We examined how the pandemic has created or intensified opportunities for economic growth across six sectors benefiting from science and technology. These are food and agribusiness, energy, health, mineral resources, digital and manufacturing.

Advanced healthcare

While some aspects of Australian healthcare are currently digitised, system-wide digital health integration could improve the quality of care and save money.

Doctors caring for patients with chronic diseases or complex conditions could digitally coordinate care routines. This could streamline patient care by avoiding consultation double-ups and providing a more holistic view of patient health.

We also see potential for more efficient healthcare delivery through medical diagnostic tests that are more portable and non-invasive. Such tests, supported by artificial intelligence and smart data storage approaches, would allow faster disease detection and monitoring.

There’s also opportunity for developing specialised components such as 3D-printed prosthetics, dental and bone implants.

Green energy

Despite a short-term plateau in energy consumption caused by COVID-19 globally, the demand for energy will continue to grow.

Through clean energy exports and energy initiatives aligned with decarbonisation goals, Australia can help meet global energy demands. Energy-efficient technologies offer immediate reduced energy costs, reduced carbon emissions and less demand on the energy grid. They also create local jobs.




Read more:
It might sound ‘batshit insane’ but Australia could soon export sunshine to Asia via a 3,800km cable


Innovating with food and agribusiness

The food and agribusiness sector is a prominent contributor to Australia’s economy and supports regional and rural prosperity.

Global population growth is driving an increased demand for protein. At the same time, consumers want more products that are sustainable and ethically sourced.

Australia could earn revenue from the local production and export of more sustainable proteins. This might include plant-based proteins such as pea and lupins, or aquaculture products such as farmed prawns and seaweed.

We could also offer more high-value health and well-being foods. Examples include fortified foods and products free from gluten, lactose and other allergens.

Automating minerals processes

Even before COVID-19 struck, the mineral resources sector was facing rising costs and declining ore grades. It’s also dealing with climate change impacts such as droughts, bushfires, floods, and social pressures to reduce environmental harm.

Several innovative solutions could help make the sector more productive and sustainable. For instance, increasing automation and remote mining (which Australia already excels in) could achieve improved safety for workers, more productivity and business continuity.




Read more:
The coronavirus has thrust human limitations into the spotlight. Will it mark the rise of automation?


Also, investing in advanced technologies that can generate higher quality data on mineral character and composition could improve yields and minimise environmental harm.

High-tech manufacturing

COVID-19 has escalated concerns around Australia’s supply chain fragility – take the toilet paper shortages earlier in the pandemic. Expanding local manufacturing efforts could create jobs and increase Australia’s earning potential.

This is especially true for mineral processing and manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, food and beverages, space technology and defence. Our local manufacturing will need to adapt quickly to changes in supply needs, ideally through the use of advanced designs and technology.

Digital solutions

In April and May this year, Australian businesses made huge strides in adopting consumer and business digital technologies. One study estimated five years’ worth of progress occurred in those eight weeks. Hundreds of thousands of businesses moved their work online.

Over the next two years, Australian businesses could become more efficient and adaptable by further monetising the data they already collect. For example, applying mobile sensors, robotics and machine learning techniques could help us make better resource decisions in agriculture.

Similarly, businesses could share more data throughout the supply chain, including with customers and competitors. For instance, increased data sharing among renewable energy providers and customers could improve the monitoring, forecasting and reliability of energy supply.

Making the right plans and investments now will determine Australia’s recovery and resilience in the future.The Conversation

Katherine Wynn, Lead Economist, CSIRO Futures, CSIRO; James Deverell, Director, CSIRO Futures, CSIRO; Max Temminghoff, Senior Consultant, CSIRO, and Mingji Liu, Senior Economic Consultant, CSIRO

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

As the first ‘remote’ sitting starts in Canberra, virtual parliaments should be the new norm, not a COVID bandaid



Lukas Coch/AAP

Sarah Moulds, University of South Australia

Federal parliament is back today after a nine-week break. And it’s going to look a bit different.

Some MPs, unable to travel to Canberra for health reasons or COVID-19 border restrictions will participate via video.

It will be the first time MPs have been able to contribute remotely like this during a sitting week. This is a big leap for the parliament.

What will change in the chamber?

Federal parliament is adopting a hybrid model. Many MPs are still expected to attend the chamber in person. But others will be there via secure video link from their electorate office, with strict rules against slogans and novelty items in the background.




Read more:
View from The Hill: ‘Virtual’ participants and border restrictions will make for a bespoke parliamentary sitting


Those attending via video won’t be able to vote or be counted for quorums. But they will be able to ask questions in question time and speak as part of debates.

There will not be a free-for-all on the video option. As Attorney-General and Leader of the House, Christian Porter explains, it will only be available to MPs who can prove the pandemic makes it,

essentially impossible, unreasonably impracticable, or would give rise to an unreasonable risk for the Member to physically attend.

The remote access will be via the existing system used for parliamentary committee hearings that frequently take place around the country.

Virtual parliaments around the world

This may be new for Australia, but it is not radical. Before COVID-19, other parliaments have been experimenting with remote proceedings and online participation.

Spain’s parliament has allowed remote voting since 2011 if people are seriously unwell or on maternity leave.

Brazil’s parliament – which covers a large geographical area, with more than 500 members in its lower house alone – had already begun using virtual discussion tools to conduct debates among MPs and between MPs and citizens. This is supported by an app, called Infoleg, which provides information on parliamentary business for both citizens and MPs and enables secure online voting.

Both Spain and Brazil were among the first parliaments to swap to hybrid and virtual sittings during COVID-19, thanks to their technical know-how and procedural flexibility.

What about Westminster parliaments?

Westminster parliaments were also making tentative online moves pre-COVID.




Read more:
A virtual Australian parliament is possible – and may be needed – during the coronavirus pandemic


The United Kingdom had introduced a CommonsVotes app, which shows how MPs have voted, following a division. There is also a HousePapers app which contains parliamentary papers.

The UK, New Zealand and Australian parliaments have been among those using video conferencing for committee work.

Question time is not the same

Despite some success, reconfiguring Westminster traditions into virtual parliamentary settings during COVID-19 has been challenging.

This is particularly so when it comes to facilitating the spontaneous scrutiny that should occur in question time. Or the visual drama that comes from voting together or calling a physical division.

House of Commons chamber with MPs spaced out on benches and appearing on video screens.
Video links were used when the UK Parliament sat in May.
Jessica Taylor, UK Parliament Handout/AAP

The UK parliament muddled through its post-Easter 2020 sitting, using online voting, Zoom and Microsoft Teams in the chamber and pre-prepared questions for ministers. But it has since backed away from virtual proceedings, citing the need for a “proper level of scrutiny”.

But there are ‘real positives’

The response to UK parliament’s decision has been mixed. British Labour MP Chi Onwurah has spoken of the need to be there in person.

Video engagement is not the same as being there face-to-face with a minister. You also lose the spontaneity, because you have to put in questions five days in advance, so you can’t ask a question about something a constituent emailed you about in the morning.

On the other hand, the Electoral Reform Society, has argued there are “real positives” to virtual methods. Such as,

Less booing and jeering during Prime Minister’s Questions, the ability to call Select Committee witnesses from afar through video-link […] MPs from far ends of the UK noted that they’d be able to spend more time in their constituencies if they could contribute remotely, or that they could spend more time on casework if voting times were cut down through online voting.

The House of Lords library also suggests there was more debate.

Almost 1,000 more contributions were made during the interim virtual/chamber phase than during a comparative period at the beginning of the year.

There were also more contributions from female MPs. Women made up a “slightly higher proportion” of those participating in the virtual chamber, up from 31% earlier in the year to 35%.

Scottish National Party MP Kirsty Blackman also noted the remote provisions made it easier for MPs with disabilities to participate.

Technology is key

The big lessons from these experiences are very similar to those facing other workplaces.

That is, the need to be flexible and invest in suitable technology. This includes secure and individually verifiable voting apps – such as Infolegpolitical discussion software and reliable, high-quality video conferencing facilities.

Australia’s parliament can do better (it needs to)

Long before COVID-19, researchers have been calling for parliaments to make better use of technology, to be more efficient and enhance the quality of public engagement.

A 2009 parliamentary survey of MPs found most spent between 5% and 10% of their time travelling. It is a common refrain of MPs they would rather spend more time in their electorates than in Canberra.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg pulling a sad face on the frontbencher, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison in foreground.
Is coming to Canberra really necessary?
Lukas Cosh/ AAP

There is also growing acknowledgement travel and work requirements on our MPs – particularly in such a geographically dispersed country – are unhealthy and unreasonable. Travel time and time away from family has also been identified as a particular barrier to attracting more more female MPs.




Read more:
Australia can do more to attract and keep women in parliament – here are some ideas


So, this is our big chance to make a change

Yes, there are challenges when it comes to “going virtual”. But by forcing our parliaments to experiment with new ways of operating, COVID-19 presents a critical opportunity to reimagine how our democratic institutions can work better.

If we embrace this moment with energy and enthusiasm, we can create new spaces for new voices (as well as better spaces for those we already have).

Aged Care Minister Richard Colebeck appearing at a Senate hearing via video link.
Parliamentary committee have already been using video conferencing to conduct hearings.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

This might sound naïvely optimistic, but we have been here before.

About 40 years ago, someone stood in a dry Canberra paddock and imagined the light-filled, architectural wonder that is the current “new” Parliament House. And how MPs could be inspired by that environment to communicate their ideas with each other and their country.

Now, as we sit in front of our screens, we can begin to see a new parliamentary landscape. It might feel impersonal at first, but it has the potential to make parliament more user-friendly for MPs and citizens alike.The Conversation

Sarah Moulds, Senior Lecturer of Law, University of South Australia

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

Explainer: what’s the new coronavirus saliva test, and how does it work?


Deborah Williamson, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity; Allen Cheng, Monash University, and Sharon Lewin, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

A cornerstone of containing the COVID-19 pandemic is widespread testing to identify cases and prevent new outbreaks emerging. This strategy is known as “test, trace and isolate”.

The standard test so far has been the swab test, in which a swab goes up your nose and to the back of your throat.

But an alternative method of specimen collection, using saliva, is being evaluated in Victoria and other parts of the world. It may have some benefits, even though it’s not as accurate.




Read more:
Victoria is on the precipice of an uncontrolled coronavirus outbreak. Will the new measures work?


Saliva testing can reduce risks for health workers

The gold standard for detecting SARS-CoV-2 (the coronavirus that causes COVID-19) is a polymerase chain reaction (PCR). This tests for the genetic material of the virus, and is performed most commonly on a swab taken from the nose and throat, or from sputum (mucus from the lungs) in unwell patients.

In Australia, more than 2.5 million of these tests have been carried out since the start of the pandemic, contributing significantly to the control of the virus.

Although a nasal and throat swab is the preferred specimen for detecting the virus, PCR testing on saliva has recently been suggested as an alternative method. Several studies demonstrate the feasibility of this approach, including one conducted at the Doherty Institute (where the lead author of this article works). It used the existing PCR test, but examined saliva instead of nasal samples.




Read more:
Keep your nose out of it: why saliva tests could offer a better alternative to nasal COVID-19 swabs


The use of saliva has several advantages:

  • it is easier and less uncomfortable to take saliva than a swab

  • it may reduce the risk to health-care workers if they do not need to collect the sample

  • it reduces the consumption of personal protective equipment (PPE) and swabs. This is particularly important in settings where these might be in short supply.

But it’s not as sensitive

However, a recent meta-analysis (not yet peer-reviewed) has shown detection from saliva is less sensitive than a nasal swab, with a lower concentration of virus in saliva compared to swabs. It’s important to remember, though, this data is preliminary and must be treated with caution.

Nonetheless, this means saliva testing is likely to miss some cases of COVID-19. This was also shown in our recent study, which compared saliva and nasal swabs in more than 600 adults presenting to a COVID-19 screening clinic.

Of 39 people who tested positive via nasal swab, 87% were positive on saliva. The amount of virus was less in saliva than in the nasal swab. This most likely explains why testing saliva missed the virus in the other 13% of cases.

The laboratory test itself is the same as the PCR tests conducted on nasal swabs, just using saliva as an alternative specimen type. However, Australian laboratories operate under strict quality frameworks. To use saliva as a diagnostic specimen, each laboratory must verify saliva specimens are acceptably accurate when compared to swabs. This is done by testing a bank of known positive and negative saliva specimens and comparing the results with swabs taken from the same patients.

When could saliva testing be used?

In theory, there are several settings where saliva testing could play a role in the diagnosis of COVID-19. These may include:

  • places with limited staff to collect swabs or where high numbers of tests are required

  • settings where swabs and PPE may be in critically short supply

  • some children and other people for whom a nasal swab is difficult.

The use of saliva testing at a population level has not been done anywhere in the world. However, a pilot study is under way in the United Kingdom to test 14,000 health workers. The US Food and Drug Administration recently issued an emergency approval for a diagnostic test that involves home-collected saliva samples.

In Australia, the Victorian government is also piloting the collection of saliva in limited circumstances, alongside traditional swabbing approaches. This is to evaluate whether saliva collection is a useful approach to further expanding the considerable swab-based community testing occurring in response to the current outbreaks in Melbourne.




Read more:
These 10 postcodes are back in Stage 3 coronavirus lockdown. Here’s what that means


A saliva test may be better than no test at all

Undoubtedly, saliva testing is less sensitive than a nasal swab for COVID-19 detection. But in the midst of a public health crisis, there is a strong argument that, in some instances, a test with moderately reduced sensitivity is better than no test at all.

The use of laboratory testing in these huge volumes as a public health strategy has not been tried for previous infectious diseases outbreaks. This has required a scaling up of laboratory capacity far beyond its usual purpose of diagnosing infection for clinical care. In the current absence of a vaccine, widespread testing for COVID-19 is likely to occur for the foreseeable future, with periods of intense testing required to respond to local outbreaks that will inevitably arise.

In addition to swab-free specimens like saliva, testing innovations include self-collected swabs (which has also been tested in Australia), and the use of batch testing of specimens. These approaches could complement established testing methods and may provide additional back-up for population-level screening to ensure testing is readily available to all who need it.


This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.The Conversation

Deborah Williamson, Professor of Microbiology, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity; Allen Cheng, Professor in Infectious Diseases Epidemiology, Monash University, and Sharon Lewin, Director, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, The University of Melbourne and Royal Melbourne Hospital and Consultant Physician, Department of Infectious Diseases, Alfred Hospital and Monash University, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

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

Is it time for a ‘new way of war?’ What China’s army reforms mean for the rest of the world



Jason Lee/Reuters

Bates Gill, Macquarie University and Adam Ni, Macquarie University

The ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu once said,

Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.

Looking at the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) today, it’s hard to say which of these tactics is most germane.

Getting the answer right will have enormous consequences for the United States and the future of the Indo-Pacific region. Underestimating the PLA breeds complacency and risks costly overreach. Overestimating the Chinese military grants it unwarranted advantage.

Similarly, for the Chinese leadership, miscalculating its military capability could lead to disaster.

As such, any serious appraisal of Chinese military power has to take the PLA’s progress – as well as its problems – into account. This was the focus of a recent study we undertook, along with retired US Army lieutenant colonel Dennis Blasko, for the Australian Department of Defence.

The PLA’s new-found might

By all appearances, the PLA has become a more formidable force over the past decade. The massive military parade in Beijing last October to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China showed off more than 700 pieces of modern military hardware.

One of these weapons, displayed publicly for the first time, was the DF-41, China’s most powerful nuclear-armed ballistic missile. It is capable of hitting targets anywhere in the US.

Under President Xi Jinping, China has also expanded its military footprint in the South China Sea. Military experts say China has used the global distraction of the coronavirus pandemic to shore up its position even further, drawing rebukes from neighbours. Tensions have heightened in recent days as the US and Australia have sent warships into the sea for drills.




Read more:
With China’s swift rise as naval power, Australia needs to rethink how it defends itself


In the past few years, China has also stepped up its military exercises around Taiwan and disputed waters near Japan, and last December, commissioned its second aircraft carrier, the Shandong, into service with the PLA Navy.

The most recent annual assessment of the PLA by the Pentagon acknowledges China’s armed forces are developing the capability to dissuade, deter or, if ordered, defeat third-party armed forces (such as the US) seeking to intervene in “a large-scale, theatre campaign” in the region.

The report also expects the PLA to steadily improve its ability to project power into the Pacific and beyond.




Read more:
Despite strong words, the US has few options left to reverse China’s gains in the South China Sea


A recent study commissioned by the US Congress goes further, saying China’s strategy aims to

disrupt, disable or destroy the critical systems that enable US military advantage.

The report called for a “new American way of war”.

All of these highlight the increasing capabilities of the PLA and underscore the challenges China’s rising hard power pose to the United States and its regional allies. But what of the challenges the PLA itself faces?

A Chinese destroyer taking part in a naval parade off the eastern port city of Qingdao last year.
Jason Lee/Reuters

Overcoming the ‘peace disease’

Interestingly, many of these problems are openly discussed in official Chinese publications aimed at a Chinese audience, but are curiously absent when speaking to a foreign audience.

Often, pithy formulaic sayings of a few characters summarise PLA shortcomings. For example, the “two inabilities” (两个能力不够), a term that has appeared hundreds of times in official Chinese media, makes reference to two shortcomings:

  • the PLA’s current ability to fight a modern war is insufficient, and

  • the current military commanders are also not up to the task.

Another frequent self-criticism highlights the “peace disease” (和平病), “peacetime habits” (和平积习) and “long-standing peace problems” (和平积弊).

The PLA was last at war in the mid-1980s, some 35 years years ago. Today’s Chinese military has very little combat experience.

Put more pointedly, far more soldiers serving in the PLA today have paraded down Chang’an Avenue in Beijing than have actually operated in combat.




Read more:
Xi Jinping’s grip on power is absolute, but there are new threats to his ‘Chinese dream’


Owing to these and many other acknowledged deficiencies, Xi launched the most ambitious and potentially far-reaching reforms in the PLA’s history in late 2015.

This massive structural overhaul aims to transform the PLA from a bloated, corrupt and degraded military to one increasingly capable of fighting and winning relatively short, but intensive, conflicts against technologically sophisticated adversaries, such as the United States.

But, recognising how difficult this transformation will be, the Chinese political and military leadership has set out a decades-long timeline to achieve it.

DF-17 ballistic missiles on parade in Tiananmen Square last year.
Xinhua News Agency handout/EPA

In Xi’s estimations, by 2020, the PLA’s mechanisation will be “basically achieved” and strategic capabilities will have seen major improvements; by 2035, national defence modernisation will be “basically completed”; and by mid-century, the PLA will be a “world-class military.”

In other words, this transformation – if successful – will take time.

At this relatively early point in the process, authoritative writings by PLA leaders and strategic analysts make clear that much more work is needed, especially more realistic training in joint operations, as well as improved leadership and greater communications integration across the services.

PLA modernisation depends more on “software” — human talent development, new war-fighting concepts and organisational transformation — than on the “hardware” of new weapons systems. This underscores the lengthy and difficult nature of reform.

‘Know the enemy and know yourself’

The many challenges facing the PLA’s reform effort suggest the Chinese leadership may lack confidence in its current ability to achieve victory against a strong adversary on the battlefield.

However, none of this means we should dismiss the PLA as a paper tiger. The recent indictment of PLA personnel for the 2017 hack of Equifax is a cautionary reminder of the Chinese military’s expansive capabilities.

Better hardware is not what China needs at the moment – it needs to improve its software.
ROMAN PILIPEY/EPA

Rather, it means a prudent assessment of the PLA must take its strengths and weaknesses into account, neither overestimating nor underestimating either one. Should strategic competition between the US and China continue to escalate, getting this right will be more important than ever.

So, is China appearing weak when it is strong, or appearing strong when it is weak? Much current evidence points to the latter.

But this situation will change and demands constant reassessment. Another quotation from Sun Tzu is instructive:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.

He added,

If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.The Conversation

Bates Gill, Professor of Asia-Pacific Security Studies, Macquarie University and Adam Ni, China researcher, Macquarie University

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