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.




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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.




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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.




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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.




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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.




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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.




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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.




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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.




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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.




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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.




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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.




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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.

From the bushfires to coronavirus, our old ‘normal’ is gone forever. So what’s next?


Sarah Milne, Australian National University; Carolyn Hendriks, Australian National University, and Sango Mahanty, Australian National University

The world faces profound disruption. For Australians who lived through the most horrific fire season on record, there has been no time to recover. The next crisis is now upon us in the form of COVID-19. As we grapple with uncertainty and upheaval, it’s clear that our old “normal” will never be recovered.

Radical changes like these can be interpreted through the lens of “rupture”. As the social scientist Christian Lund describes, ruptures are “open moments, when opportunities and risks multiply… when new structural scaffolding is erected”.

The concept of rupture therefore explains what happens during periods of profound change – such as colonisation or environmental catastrophe – when relationships between people, governments and the environment get reconfigured.

This can help us to make sense of the bushfire crisis and COVID-19: we are in an open moment, when the status quo is in flux.

History of rupture

Colonisation is perhaps the most dramatic example of rupture in human history. Original ways of life are violently overthrown, while new systems of authority, property and control are imposed.

Novelist Chinua Achebe famously described the effects of colonisation on tribal people in Nigeria, with his 1958 novel Things Fall Apart. But rupture tells us that things do not just fall apart – they also get remade.

We have researched rupture in Southeast Asia, where hydro-electric dam projects have devastated river systems and local livelihoods. New kinds of political power and powerlessness have emerged in affected communities, who’ve had to adjust to flooding, resettlement and an influx of new settlers.




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We’ve also found new relationships between people and nature in these contexts. For example, as indigenous people have been displaced from their ancestral lands, they must reestablish access to natural resources and forest-based traditions in new places.

Importantly, the rupture metaphor can be scaled up to help us understand national and global crises. Three insights emerge.

1. Rupture doesn’t come out of nowhere

Both the bushfires and COVID-19 expose how underlying conditions – such as drought, social inequality, and the erosion of public goods and services – contribute to a dramatic event occurring, and in turn shape how it unfolds.

Before the fires hit in late 2019, the drought had already brought many rural communities to their knees. The combination of dry dams, farmers without income, and towns without water meant local capacity to cope was already diminished.

Similarly with COVID-19, pre-existing poverty has translated into higher infection rates, as seen in Spain where vulnerable people in poorly paid jobs have suffered most from the virus.

From this, it is clear that crises are not stand-alone events – and society’s response must address pre-existing problems.




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Conversely, favourable underlying conditions – such as social cohesion, public trust and safety nets – can help us adapt and improvise in the face of rupture.

For example during the last bushfire season, a small and nimble community-based firefighting team formed at Mongarlowe in southern New South Wales. The group extinguished spot fires that the under-resourced Rural Fire Service (RFS) could not reach – saving forests, property and potentially, lives.

Such groups emerged from already strong communities. Social cohesion and community responsiveness is also helping societies cope with COVID-19, as seen in the emergence of community-led “mutual aid” groups around the world.

A community supply centre near Bega, NSW, helping residents after the bushfires.
Sean Davey/AAP

2. Rupture changes the dynamics of government

Rupture can also expose frictions between citizens and their governments. For example, the Australian government’s initial response to the bushfire crisis was condemned as insensitive and ineffectual. As the crisis evolved, this damaged the government’s credibility and authority – especially in relation to its stance on climate change.

Against this foil, state governments delivered somewhat clearer messaging and steadier management. But tensions soon arose between state and federal leadership, revealing cracks in the system.

The COVID-19 pandemic means that more than ever, we need competent and coherent governance. However fractures have again emerged between state and federal governments, as some states moved ahead of the Commonwealth with faster, stricter measures to combat COVID-19.

Furthermore, as economic stimulus spending reaches A$320 billion – including wage subsidies and free childcare – the government’s neo-liberal ideology appears to have fallen away (at least temporarily).

Critical lessons from other ruptures show that Australians must remain vigilant now, as old systems of authority rewire themselves. To stem COVID-19, governments have announced major societal restrictions and huge spending. These moves demand new kinds of accountability – as demonstrated by calls for bipartisan scrutiny of Australia’s COVID-19 response.

3. Rupture asks us to re-think our relationships with nature

When Australia burned last summer, few could avoid the immediacy of dead wildlife, devastated landscapes and hazardous air. Australians were overwhelmed by grief, and a new awareness of the impacts of climate change. New debates emerged about how our forests should be managed, and the pro-coal stance of the federal Coalition was challenged.

COVID-19 is also a wake-up call to humanity. It is one of many emerging infectious diseases that originated in animals – a product of our “war on nature” which includes deforestation and unregulated wildlife consumption.




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As British writer George Monbiot argues, the pandemic means that we can no longer maintain the “illusion of security” on a planet with “multiple morbidities” – looming food shortages, antibiotic resistance and climate breakdown.

Rupture invites us to re-think our relationships to nature. We must recognise her agency – as firestorm or microscopic virus – and our deep dependence upon her.

Looking ahead

Indian author Arundhati Roy recently wrote that, in these troubled times, rupture “offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves”.

The challenge now is to seize opportunities emerging from this rupture. As our economies hibernate, we’re learning how to transform. Carbon emissions have declined dramatically, and the merits of slowing down are becoming apparent. We must use this moment to re-align our relationships to one another, and to nature.The Conversation

Sarah Milne, Senior Lecturer, Resources, Environment and Development, Australian National University; Carolyn Hendriks, Associate Professor, Public Policy and Governance, Australian National University, and Sango Mahanty, Associate Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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

Cap your alcohol at 10 drinks a week: new draft guidelines



Further evidence about the harms of alcohol has accumulated over the past decade since the last guidelines were released.
Syda Productions/Shtterstock

Nicole Lee, Curtin University

New draft alcohol guidelines, released today, recommend healthy Australian women and men drink no more than ten standard drinks a week and no more than four on any one day to reduce their risk of health problems.

This is a change from the previous guidelines, released in 2009, that recommended no more than two standard drinks a day (equating to up to 14 a week).

(If you’re unsure what a standard drink looks like, use this handy reference.)

The guidelines also note that for some people – including teens and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding – not drinking is the safest option.




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What are the new recommendations based on?

The National Health and Medical Research Council looked at the latest research and did some mathematical modelling to come to these recommendations.

It found the risk of dying from an alcohol-related disease or injury is about one in 100 if you drink no more than ten standard drinks a week and no more than four on any one day.

So, for every 100 people who stay under these limits, one will die from an alcohol-related disease or injury.

This is considered an “acceptable risk”, given drinking alcohol is common and it’s unlikely people will stop drinking altogether. The draft guidelines take into account that, on average, Australian adults have a drink three times a week.

Why did the guidelines need updating?

Recent research has shown there is a clear link between drinking alcohol and a number of health conditions. These include at least seven cancers (liver, oral cavity, pharyngeal, laryngeal, oesophageal, colorectal, liver and breast cancer in women); diabetes; liver disease; brain impairment; mental health problems; and being overweight or obese.

Some previous research suggested low levels of alcohol might be good for you, but we now know these studies were flawed. Better quality studies have found alcohol does not offer health benefits.




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The new guidelines are easier to follow than the previous guidelines, which gave recommendations to reduce both short-term harms and longer-term health problems. But some people found these confusing.

Although most Australians drink within the previously recommended limits, one study found one in five adults drank more than the guidelines suggested and almost half could not correctly identify recommended limits.

The draft new guidelines are easier to follow than the old ones.
sama_ja/Shutterstock

Although women tend to be more affected by alcohol than men, at the rates of consumption recommended in the guidelines, there is little difference in long term health effects so the guidelines apply to both men and women.

The recommended limits are aimed at healthy men and women, because some people are at higher risks of problems at lower levels of consumption. These include older people, young people, those with a family history of alcohol problems, people who use other drugs at the same time (including illicit drugs and prescribed medication), and those with physical or mental health problems.

The guidelines are currently in draft form, with a public consultation running until February 24.

After that, there will be an expert review of the guidelines and the final guidelines will be released later in 2020. There may be changes to the way the information is presented but the recommended limits are unlikely to change substantially, given they’re based on very careful and detailed analysis of the evidence.

What’s the risk for people under 18?

The draft guidelines recommend children and young people under 18 years drink no alcohol, to reduce the risk of injury and other health harms.

The good news is most teenagers don’t drink alcohol. Among 12 to 17 year olds, only 20% have had a drink in the past year and 1.4% drink weekly. The number of teenagers who have never had a drink has increased significantly in the last decade, and young people are having their first drink later.




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However, we know teenagers are more affected by alcohol than adults. This includes effects on their developing brain. We also know the earlier someone starts drinking, the more likely they will experience problems, including dependence.

The idea that if you give teenagers small sips of alcohol it will reduce risk of problems later has now been debunked. Teens that have been given even small amounts of alcohol early are more likely to have problems later.

What’s the risk for pregnant and breastfeeding women?

The guidelines recommend women who are pregnant, thinking about becoming pregnant or breastfeeding not drink any alcohol, for the safety of their baby.




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Health Check: what are the risks of drinking before you know you’re pregnant?


We now have a much clearer understanding of the impacts of alcohol on the developing foetus. Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a direct result of foetal exposure to alcohol in the womb. Around one in 67 women who drink while pregnant will deliver a baby with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder is characterised by a range of physical, mental, behavioural, and learning disabilities ranging from mild to severe – and is incurable.

Worried about your own or someone else’s drinking?

If you enjoy a drink, stick within these recommended maximums to limit the health risks of alcohol.

If you have trouble sticking to these limits, or you are worried about your own or someone else’s drinking, call the National Alcohol and other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015 to talk through options or check out these resources online.




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The Conversation


Nicole Lee, Professor at the National Drug Research Institute (Melbourne), Curtin University

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

Define the boundaries in new phase of Australia-China relationship: Wong


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Shadow foreign minister Penny Wong says Australia needs to “define the boundaries” of its engagement with China now the relationship between the two countries is in a new phase.

Focusing on China policy in a Monday address – released ahead of delivery – Wong acknowledges the “substantial and growing differences” in the bilateral relationship.

“It is inevitable that Australia will make more decisions that China doesn’t like. This means that the way the relationship is handled will become even more important,” she says in the speech, to the Australian Institute of International Affairs.

“Although there continues to be convergence of interests, the divergences have become more apparent and acute – due to both Beijing’s increasing assertiveness and greater awareness in Australia as to the implications of the [Chinese Communist Party’s] behaviour and ambitions. We must look at how best to engage effectively with China while always standing up for our values, our sovereignty and our democratic system.”

Wong says where limitations around engagement are needed, the “boundaries should be as restricted as possible and as robust as necessary,” with opportunities and risks identified.

Boundaries and terms of engagement would differ between issues and between sectors.

Thus on research collaboration, engagement shouldn’t be ruled out across entire fields, but export controls and visa checks could be used for “a narrow set of the most sensitive defence oriented technology”.




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‘Developing’ rift points to growing divisions between Coalition and Labor on China


Wong says while the government has to provide the leadership all stakeholders, including the opposition, foreign policy community and business, “need to work together to identify those opportunities for deeper engagement where our interests coincide and to manage differences constructively”.

She puts the onus on the media “not only to hold the government of the day to account but to ensure they themselves don’t unthinkingly or inadvertently reinforce China’s tactics or narrative”, including by amplifying CCP claims.

Wong says Labor wants to engage in a bipartisan way on China policy, but the government isn’t willing to do so and Scott Morrison “has no plan for dealing with this new phase in Australia’s relations with China”.

“There’s no doubt Scott Morrison is the best political tactician in Australia right now… Is it enough to be a clever political tactician, when key relationships with our nearest neighbours are at stake? Is it enough to play short term political tactics on something so profoundly important as the integrity of our political system or the assertion of our national interests?

“Australia’s Prime Minister needs to look beyond the next manoeuvre, stop undermining his foreign minister and trade minister, and develop a serious long-term plan for Australia’s engagement in the region and the world.

“A serious and long-term plan that can proactively navigate us through the strategic competition between the US and China, and manage this new phase in our relationship with a more assertive China.”




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In a series of sharp criticisms of Morrison’s handling of the government’s policy towards China and foreign policy more generally, Wong includes as examples the PM’s claim Labor was using racism in its attack on Liberal MP Gladys Liu, his labelling of China a developed economy, and his attack on globalism.

Wong’s speech follows the blunt words on China on Friday from Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton, who said the government had a very important relationship with China, but it was going to “call out” instances where the wrong thing was done.

“We have a very important trading relationship with China, incredibly important, but we’re not going to allow university students to be unduly influenced. We’re not going to allow theft of intellectual property and we’re not going to allow our government bodies or non-government bodies to be hacked into,”he said.

Dutton stressed the issue was not with the Chinese people or the local Chinese community in Australia, but with the Chinese Communist Party.

The Chinese embassy reacted with an angry statement, saying that Dutton’s “irrational accusations” were “shocking and baseless”, and a “malicious slur on the Communist Party of China” and “outright provocation to the Chinese people”.

“Such ridiculous rhetoric severely harms the mutual trust between China and Australia and betrays the common interests of the two peoples,” the statement said.

Morrison at the weekend sought to play down the Dutton comments. “What Peter was talking about was the fact that there are differences between Australia and the People’s Republic of China. Of course there are,” he said. Australia was a liberal western democracy; China was a Communist Party state. “I would warn against any sort of over-analysis or over-reaction to those comments. Because I think they just simply reflect the fact that we’re two different countries”.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.

Why we need ‘crazy’ ideas for new city parks



Sea Line Park, one of the shortlisted entries in the competition to design a new park for the Melbourne of 2050.
Future Park Design Ideas Competition, Author provided

Wendy Walls, University of Melbourne

Two seemingly unrelated but important things happened in Melbourne last week. One was a memorial service for David Yencken AO; the other was the exhibition opening of the Future Park Design Ideas Competition. The connection between the two is that both gave us radical ideas for Melbourne’s open space.

David Yencken was a visionary man who had a profound impact on Victoria and Melbourne. He was responsible, among many things, for the transformation of Southbank and co-founding Merchant Builders. But one of his wildest ideas was the 1985 Greening of Swanston Street, when vehicle traffic was closed and a weekend street party was held right in the middle of Melbourne.




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As the secretary (chief executive) of the Ministry for Planning and Environment, Yencken had been charged with changing perceptions of the city by rethinking its public spaces. At a time before pop-up parks and guerrilla gardening, his radical idea demonstrated what was possible for the inner city and sowed the seed of the idea of closing Swanston Street to traffic.

The project was not without controversy – it was costly and came in for political criticism as a stunt. But looking back to a time when inner Melbourne was underutilised and dominated by traffic, we can see how that radical idea sparked the imagination about what was possible for the city centre.

The Greening of Swanston Street in 1985.
Victorian Ministry of Planning



Read more:
A day for turning parking spaces into pop-up parks


Future Park fires imaginations and debate

This is just what the Future Park competition needs to achieve. The open competition held by the University of Melbourne and the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects has attracted global interest, with 123 entries from 20 countries.

The brief was simple but provocative. Designers were to find space within 10 kilometres of the city centre and design a future park that responds to the challenges of Melbourne today. The design responses from the 31 shortlisted entries ranged from manufactured lagoons to urban wildlife corridors and street transformation parks that Yencken would be proud of.

Melbourne from Past to Last, a vision of a city street park.
Future Park Design Ideas Competition, Author provided

The first wave of media coverage on the competition inspired a range of public comments about Melbourne’s open space. For example, from the online comments in The Age:

Royal Park is a massive area of underutilised space. Driving down Elliott Av it’s just an open wasteland. Grassland and scattered gum trees does not make a welcoming “park”.

How about bulldozing the eyesore known as Federation Square and putting a park in its place?

These designs forget to include the things that make it a Melbourne park, graffiti, vandalism, weeds and the homeless.

Architects and landscapers rarely, if ever, have a grasp on what will work for people … they are too busy trying to be creative, and not busy enough trying to make people happy.

What the public comments show us is that there is no single or obvious solution to our parks and public spaces. Some people like it busy, some people like the quiet. Some want European trees and others desire native plantings. It’s complicated, and each of these opinions make valid points.

Just like Yencken’s Greening of Swanston, there will always be debate about what makes good public space. And that is exactly why we need more radical ideas – some might call them “crazy” – for our cities.

We know the future of our cities will be complicated. Like it or not, there will be more people, a changing climate and increasing pressure on infrastructure and services.




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Wicked problems call for radical thinking

These messy issues are often described as wicked problems. Popular in public policy and management, the term is used to explain problems with debatable cause and effect. Critically, the lack of agreement about wicked problems produces conflicting goals towards resolution.

Obviously, we need science, governance and planning, but finding solutions to wicked problems will also require creativity and collaboration. We need debate and we need ideas that can expand our imagination about what our cities can be. This is why it is so important that the competition entries for the Future Park explore new and outrageous possibilities.

Ideas throughout the shortlisted entries include plans for a new NBN: the National Biodiversity Network, which creates ecological corridors across the country. Others propose transforming schools into parkland; parks designed for bees; designs that return darkness to our urban landscapes; and sculpting new islands as rising sea levels engulf our coastline.

Multi-deck parks: as cities grow and space becomes ever more precious, urban parks replace car parks.
Future Park Design Ideas Competition, Author provided

As design solutions, these ideas reflect the challenges of our world today. While many of these schemes are technically, socially or economically unfeasible, they remind us of the power of thinking outside of the box. Importantly, the competition format puts all of these ideas together in one place for us to think about and discuss.

In Australia, we have a limited culture of “open design competitions” for either built projects or speculative solutions. But design competitions provide opportunities for new voices and discovering unexpected solutions within these wild ideas.

Radical ideas are important and so is having the freedom to voice them. Especially as a way of expanding the discussions we need to have about the challenging future.




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The Future Park competition winners will be announced on Friday, October 11, at the 2019 International Festival of Landscape Architecture in Melbourne. The Future Park exhibition is at Dulux Gallery, Melbourne School of Design, University of Melbourne, from October 4 to November 1.The Conversation

Wendy Walls, Lecturer in Landscape Architecture, University of Melbourne

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

5 questions about superannuation the government’s new inquiry will need to ask



Superannuation has a smaller role in the retirement incomes system than is often suggested.
Shutterstock

Peter Martin, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

The government’s new retirement incomes review will need to work quickly.

On Friday Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he expected a final report by June, just seven months after the issues paper he wants it to deliver by November.

The deadline is tight for a reason. In recommending the inquiry in its report on the (in)effeciency of Australia’s superannuation system this year, the Productivity Commission said it should be completed “in advance of any increase in the superannuation guarantee rate”.

In other words, in advance of the next leglislated increase in compulsory superannuation contributions, which is on July 1, 2021.




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The next increase (actually, the next five increases) will hurt.

The last two, on July 1 2013 and July 1 2014, took place when wage growth was stronger. In 2013 wages growth was 3% per year.


Source: Australian Tax Office

And they were small – an extra 0.25 per cent of salary each.

The next five, to be imposed annually from July 1 2021, are twice the size: 0.5% of salary each.

If taken out of wage growth, they’ve the potential to cut it from its present usually low 2.3% per annum to something with a “1” in front of it, pushing it below the rate of inflation, for five consecutive years.

If we were going to do that (even if we thought the economy and wage growth could afford it) it would be a good idea to have a good reason why. After all, compulsory superannuation is the compulsory locking away of income that could otherwise be spent or used to pay down debt or saved through another vehicle, regardless of the wishes of the person whose income it is.

Question 1. What’s it for?

Fortunately, the new inquiry doesn’t need to do much work on this one.

For most of its life compulsory super hasn’t had an agreed purpose. At times it has been justified as a means of restraining wage growth, at times as means of restraining government spending on the pension, at times as means of boosting national savings.

In 2014, more than 20 years after compulsory super began, the Murray Financial System Review asked the government to set a clear objective for it, and two years later the government came up with one, enshrined in a bill entitled the Superannuation (Objective) Bill 2016.

The bill lapsed, but the objective at its centre lives on as the best description we’ve come up with yet of what compulsory super is for:

to provide income in retirement to substitute or supplement the age pension

Which raises the question of how much we need. For compulsory super, the answer is probably none. People who want more than the pension and their other savings can save more through voluntary super. People who don’t want more (or can’t afford to save more) shouldn’t.

Question 2. How much do people need?

Assuming for the moment that how much people need in retirement is relevant for determining how much compulsory super they need, the inquiry will need to examine what people need to live on in retirement.

The “standards” prepared by the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia are loose. The more generous of the two allows for overseas travel every two or so years, A$163 per couple per fortnight on dining out, $81 on alcohol “or equivalent spent
with charity or church”.




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It isn’t a reasonable guide to how much people need to live on, and certainly isn’t a reasonable guide for how much the government should intervene to make sure they have to live on. They are standards it doesn’t intervene to support while people are working.

And there’s something else. Super isn’t what will fund it. Most retirement living is funded outside of super, either through the age pension, private savings, or the family home (which saves on rent). Most 65 year olds have more saved outside of super than in it, and a lot more than that saved in the family home.

It’s a slight of hand to say that retirees need a certain proportion of their final wage to live on and then to say that that’s how much super should provide.

Question 3: Does it come out of wages?

The best guess is that, although paid by employers in addition to wages, compulsory super comes out of what would otherwise have been their wage bill.

Treasury puts it this way:

Though compulsory superannuation guarantee contributions are paid by employers, wage setting generally takes into account all labour costs. As such, it is widely accepted that employees bear the cost of higher superannuation guarantees in the form of lower take home pay.

The inquiry will probably make its own determination. If it finds that extra contributions do indeed come out of what would have been pay rises, it will have to consider the tradeoff between lower pay rises (and they are already very low) and the compulsory provision of more superannuation in retirement.

Question 4: Does it boost private saving?

It’d be tempting to think that the compulsory nature of compulsory superannuation meant that each extra dollar funnelled into it increased retirement savings by an extra dollar. But it doesn’t, in part because wealthy Australians who are already saving a lot have the option of offsetting it by saving less in other ways.

For them, the increase in saving isn’t compulsory.

For financially stretched Australians unable to afford to save (or for Australians at times in times life when they can’t afford to save) the compulsion is real, and unwelcome.

The inquiry will have to make its own assessment, updating Reserve Bank research which found in 2007 that each extra dollar in compulsory accounts added between 70 and 90 cents to household wealth.

Question 5: Does it boost national saving?

Boosting private saving (at the expense of people who are unable to escape) is one thing. Boosting national savings (private and government) is another. The tax concessions the government hands out to support superannuation are expensive. The concession on contributions alone is set to cost $19 billion this year and $23 billion in 2022-23, notwithstanding some tightening up. It predominately benefits high earners, the kind of people who don’t need assistance to save.




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On balance it is likely that the system does little for national savings, cutting government savings by as much as it boosts private savings. But because the question hasn’t been asked, not since the Fitzgerald report on national saving in 1993 shortly after compulsory super was introduced, we don’t know.

It’ll be up to the inquiry to bring us up to date.The Conversation

Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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

Chinese propaganda goes tech-savvy to reach a new generation



As younger Chinese become increasingly addicted to their mobile devices, the government’s propaganda offices have had to rethink their strategies.
Roman Pilipey/EPA

Wanning Sun, University of Technology Sydney

Earlier this year, a new app was launched in China to put the patriotism of Chinese citizens to the test.

Named “Study Xi to Strengthen the Nation”, the app quizzes users on all things related to President Xi Jinping – his policies, activities, achievements, theories and thoughts. Users can earn points and win prizes for correct answers and compete with colleagues and friends to see who knows the most about China’s leader.

The app is the latest example of a rethink by the Communist Party when it comes to its propaganda efforts and how best to justify the legitimacy of its one-party rule, extol the virtues of the party, and promote patriotism to an audience of young, tech-savvy Chinese.

For those institutions responsible for the production of effective propaganda, this is a real challenge. After all, propaganda in the 21st century has to go beyond forcing people to sit in study sessions on Friday afternoons, read the People’s Daily newspaper, or watch China Central Television (CCTV) in group meetings.




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From sermons to ‘indoctritainment’

Thanks to a number of developments, the old propaganda messages of previous generations can easily be repackaged for millennials. Like the rest of the world, Chinese millennials are keen adopters of the latest mobile technologies and suffer from short attention spans. They are also just as enthusiastic as their Western counterparts about posting jokes, music videos and short, sharp, attention-grabbing memes on social media.

The Chinese government, meanwhile, is putting more of an emphasis on humanising its approach to leadership. Politicians are keen to be seen as relatable rather than authoritative figures.

So, to get its messaging across in a new way, party propaganda has morphed from dry sermons to what I like to call indoctritainment. And these campaigns are often high-end productions.

Increasingly, ideological messages are more effective if they are delivered using a platform that’s already been trialled and proven in marketing. In 2016, for instance, CCTV launched a promotion of the Communist Party in the form of a public awareness advertisement to mark the 95th anniversary of the founding of the party.

The one-minute video, titled “I am a Chinese Communist Party member,” features heartwarming vignettes of individuals from different walks of life – teacher, cleaner, surgeon, policeman, local public servant, fisherman – who are all good Samaritans doing their bit to help others.

The message is clear: the party is being re-branded as an organisation made up of unsung heroes. As the voice-over explains:

I am the first one to arrive, I am the last one to leave, I’m the one who thinks of myself the least, and cares about others the most … I am the Chinese Communist Party, and I am always there with you.

Another video promoting the Chinese military, “I am a Chinese soldier”, demonstrates the point. Even without the English subtitles, it’s not hard to see what the producers were going for: a patriotic Hollywood movie or romantic tear-jerker.

The pop culture treatment, with American accents

Another tactic is the use of popular culture as a way of conveying sometimes dense or dull Chinese government policies, especially if the intended audience is global.

In 2015, a video called “The 13 what” used catchy pop music, colourful animation, and American-accented English to explain China’s 13th five-year national plan.

Channelling David Bowie, Monty Python and the psychedelia of the 1960s, the three-minute video was produced by a digital media production team operating under the auspices of the government’s main propaganda offices in Beijing.

Two years earlier, the same studio also produced the widely circulated five-minute video clip, “How leaders are made”. Xi Jinping appears in the clip as a cartoon character, as do US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Light-hearted, zany, and (again) featuring American English, the video informs viewers that Xi has worked long and hard to move up China’s political ladder. The implication is that Xi’s power is just as legitimate as that of his Western counterparts.

Within a short period after its release, the video had been viewed more than a million times on Youku, China’s version of YouTube.

Propaganda by way of screen bullets

Increasingly, the Communist Party’s propaganda material goes viral only after it appears on popular video-sharing websites with “bullet screens”. This is an interactive feature that enables viewers to “shoot” text comments across the screen as the video is being streamed. It’s very popular with younger audiences.

One of China’s biggest bullet screen platforms is Bilibili, often referred to as “the B site”.

The site used to be occasionally shut down for streaming what the government considers “morally unsound” material.

To stay on the party’s good side, Bilibili now plays host to a wide suite of propaganda produced by CCTV or the Chinese Department of Propaganda. In 2015, the Communist Youth League of China also began to hold regular courses on the site aimed at promoting patriotism among young people.

But how effective is it?

Just how successful these strategies have been is still not entirely clear. While the “Xi Jinping thought” app has captured the imagination of many outside China, party members who have been encouraged – in some cases requested – to download the app seem less than enthusiastic.

And some of these new propaganda efforts have backfired and attracted cynical responses online, even ridicule.




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But judging by the many comments viewers have left on the B site, it seems fair to conclude that some of the tactics have had the intended effect of endearing the party and its leaders to the young and impressionable.

This is a reminder of how naïve it is to assume that technologies are inherently democratising, and that digital disruption is likely to spell the end of communism in China. Such assumptions still permeate most Western media stories about the Communist Party’s new propaganda strategies, but this is clearly not the case.

As the party’s propaganda strategies become more nuanced and sophisticated, so should our frameworks for understanding them.The Conversation

Wanning Sun, Professor of Media and Cultural Studies, University of Technology Sydney

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