Explainer: what are the Australian government’s powers to quarantine people in a coronavirus outbreak?



AAP/Mick Tsikas

Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle and Bin Li, University of Newcastle

The Australian government has announced its intention to use powers under the Biosecurity Act, if needed, in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Attorney-General Christian Porter has described these powers as “strange and foreign to many Australians”, but potentially necessary in the face of a pandemic.




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The 2015 Biosecurity Act aims to manage biosecurity threats to human, animal and plant health. In the context of coronavirus (COVID-19), a biosecurity risk under this legislation would be defined as:

  • the likelihood of a disease spreading in Australian territory
  • the potential for that disease to cause harm to human health and/or economic consequences.

What powers could the government exercise?

The Biosecurity Act is a mammoth piece of legislation, comprising 11 chapters and 645 sections. It is framed in terms that deliver extensive powers to relevant officers. The attorney-general is correct in saying these powers will seem very foreign to many members of the Australian community.

The director of human biosecurity, in consultation with chief health officers in the states and territories, may determine that a disease is a “listed human disease”. COVID-19 has been listed as such a disease, as it is communicable and may cause significant harm to human health.

People with listed diseases may be subject to “human biosecurity control orders”. Control orders can require people, among other things, to:

  • provide their contact information and health details (including body samples for diagnosis)
  • restrict their behaviour
  • undergo risk-minimisation interventions (including decontamination) and/or medical treatment
  • accept isolation from the community for specified periods.

If a person does not consent to a control order, the director may require them to comply. In some cases, if they refuse, a person may be detained by police.

A person who fails to comply with a control order or escapes from detention could be charged with a criminal offence. Under the act, these offences carry penalties ranging up to imprisonment for five years.

The director may also designate “human health response zones”. This may result in restrictions on entering or leaving a particular area. Failure to comply may incur a fine.

Chapter 8 of the Biosecurity Act sets out circumstances in which the governor-general may declare a “human biosecurity emergency”. Sweeping powers are then available to the health minister.

During a human biosecurity emergency period, the Health Minister may determine any requirement that he or she is satisfied is necessary:

a) to prevent or control…

(ii) the emergence, establishment or spread of the declaration listed human disease in Australian territory or a part of Australian territory…

This power includes, but is not limited to, imposing requirements on:

  • entering or leaving specified places
  • restricting or preventing the movement of people in or between places
  • evacuating places.

Criminal and civil penalties can also apply to people who refuse to comply with requirements under such emergency powers.

In practice, the health minister or delegated officials could require the closure of premises such as shopping centres or sporting facilities. The potential restrictions could have a far-reaching impact on people’s daily lives.

Coercive powers and the community

Such powers, including civil and even criminal penalties, are not uncommon globally. Other countries have similar laws for the purpose of containing the spread of communicable diseases. For example, in Singapore the police can enforce quarantine-related measures.

In China, where the COVID-19 outbreak originated, some infected people are facing police investigation for failing to avoid contact with other people. Indeed, some have been charged with the crime of endangering public security. Penalties for conviction could be very severe, ranging up to life imprisonment or even the death penalty.

To avoid the abuse of such powers, the Chinese Supreme Court has recently warned against the strict application of endangering public security charges in relation to pandemic control measures.

Concerns will certainly be raised in Australia about the exercise of special and emergency powers. The attorney-general is clearly aware of this. He has said the more extreme powers would be used only as a “last resort”. Yet he has also confirmed that biosecurity powers are very likely to be used on a large scale.

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is the frontline agency administering the Biosecurity Act. Its website aims to engage Australian citizens with their responsibilities to protect Australia’s biosecurity.

The Biosecurity Act sets out extensive provisions with the apparent aim of ensuring special powers only be exercised where warranted and for the shortest possible time. It also provides for judicial review of certain decisions under the act. Lay people may find it quite challenging, though, to interpret their rights under the act when faced with the imposition of a coercive measure.




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Many Australians may be tolerant of special governmental powers if they see such intervention as essential to protect everyone’s health. The community is undoubtedly being inundated with information about the COVID-19 outbreak from government and media sources.

On the other hand, some people may be tempted to resist coercive powers that interfere with their personal liberty. The president of the Law Council, Pauline Wright, notes that the powers under the Biosecurity Act can be exercised against a person even where the relevant officer does not know or reasonably suspect the person is infected with coronavirus.

It will be crucial for government officers to be cautious in their use of special powers. They must seek to balance legitimate efforts to protect public health with individuals’ rights to liberty and due process.The Conversation

Amy Maguire, Associate Professor, University of Newcastle and Bin Li, Lecturer, University of Newcastle

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

Feel like you’re a mozzie magnet? It’s true – mosquitoes prefer to bite some people over others



Photo by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash, CC BY

Cameron Webb, University of Sydney

It’s always you, isn’t it? The person busy swatting away buzzing backyard mosquitoes or nursing an arm full of itchy red lumps after a weekend camping trip.

You’re not imagining it – mosquitoes really are attracted to some people more than others.

Why do mosquitoes need blood?

Only female mosquitoes bite. They do it for the nutrition contained in blood, which helps develop their eggs.

Mosquitoes don’t just get blood from people. They’re actually far more likely to get it from biting animals, birds, frogs and reptiles. They even bite earthworms.

But some mosquitoes specifically target people. One of the worst culprits is the Aedes aegypti species, which spreads dengue and yellow fever viruses.

Another that prefers humans are the Anopheles mosquitoes, responsible for spreading the parasites that cause malaria.




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How do mosquitoes find us?

Most mosquitoes will get their blood from whatever is around and don’t necessarily care if they’re biting one person or another.

Although it’s our blood they’re after, there is no strong indicator they prefer a particular blood type over another. Some studies have suggested they prefer people with type O blood but that’s unlikely to be the case for all types of mosquitoes.

Whether we’re picked out of a crowd may come down to heavy breathing and skin smell.

When they need blood, mosquitoes can pick up on the carbon dioxide we exhale. Around the world, carbon dioxide is one of the most common “baits” used to attract and collect mosquitoes. If you’re exhaling greater volumes of carbon dioxide, you’re probably an easier target for mosquitoes.




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When the mosquito gets closer, she is responding to a range of stimuli.

Perhaps it’s body heat and sweat: exercise that increases body temperature and perspiration can attract mosquitoes.

Perhaps it’s body size: studies indicate pregnant women are more likely to be bitten by mosquitoes.

How hairy are you? Mosquitoes may have a tough job finding a path through to your skin if there is an abundance of body hair.




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More than anything else, though, it’s about the smell of your skin. Hundreds of chemicals are sweated out or emitted by our body’s bacteria. The cocktail of smells they create will either attract or deter mosquitoes.

The saltmarsh mosquito is one of the biggest nuisance-biting pests in Australia.
Dr Cameron Webb

It’s not just who they bite but where

Mosquitoes could also have a preference for different parts of the body.

One study showed mosquitoes are more attracted to hands and feet than armpits, but that just turned out to be because of deodorant residues.

Mosquitoes may also be more attracted to our feet: studies have shown cheese sharing similar bacteria to that found between our toes attracts mosquitoes!

Who is to blame for this misery?

It’s not your diet. There is no evidence that what you eat or drink will prevent mosquito bites. Some food or drink may subtly change how many mosquitoes are likely to bite you but it won’t make that much difference.

Eating bananas or drinking beer has been shown to marginally increase the attraction of mosquitoes but the results aren’t enough to suggest any dietary change will reduce your mosquito bites. That’s why our supermarket shelves aren’t full of “mozzie repellent” pills.




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What can I eat to stop mosquitoes biting me?


Your irresistibility to mosquitoes may not be your fault. Blame your parents. Studies have shown the chemicals responsible for the “skin smell” that attracts mosquitoes has a high level of heritability when twins are exposed to biting mosquitoes.

Whether you’re a mosquito magnet or not, topical insect repellents are the best way to stop mozzie bites.
Dr Cameron Webb

What can you do about it?

We have to be careful about generalisations. There are thousands of types of mosquitoes around the world and all will have a different preference for what or who to bite. And the attraction of individuals and the scenario that plays out in one part of the world may be much different in another.

Remember, it only takes one mosquito bite to transmit a pathogen that could make you sick. So whether you’re a mosquito magnet or feeling a little invisible because you’re not bitten so often, don’t be complacent and use insect repellents.The Conversation

Cameron Webb, Clinical Lecturer and Principal Hospital Scientist, University of Sydney

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

High Court rules Indigenous people cannot be deported as aliens, but the fight for legal recognition remains



Mick Tsikas/AAP

Kate Galloway, Griffith University and Melissa Castan, Monash University

The High Court made an important decision today about whether it is possible for Aboriginal Australians to be deported from the country if they are not citizens.

By a majority of 4:3, the court decided that

Aboriginal Australians … are not within the reach of the ‘aliens’ power conferred by s 51(xix) of the Constitution.

The outcome of the decision is clear for one of the men, Brendan Thoms, who is a registered native title holder. As such, it is beyond the power of the Commonwealth to deport him.

However, the majority was divided on the question of whether the other plaintiff, Daniel Love, was an Aboriginal person as a question of fact, and so did not make a finding about whether or not he was an “alien”.

This case is significant. In some regards, it is about questions of deportation and immigration. But, crucially, it is a constitutional law case grappling with the deeper question of whether Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians can be aliens and therefore excluded from the Australian state.

Although the decision applies to only a small number of people – Indigenous Australians who are not citizens – it has a broader impact in recognising the special status of Indigenous Australians in Australia.

Background of the case

The case involved two Aboriginal men born overseas who were ordered to be deported from Australia because they each had a criminal conviction. Both men appealed to the High Court and their cases were heard together late last year.

Love, a Kamileroi man, was born in Papua New Guinea to an Aboriginal father and PNG mother. He moved to Australia in 1984 when he was five years old, but never applied for citizenship. After serving a 12-month sentence for assault occasioning bodily harm, his permanent residency visa was cancelled by the government. He was in detention but was released in 2018 pending the High Court’s decision.




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Thoms, a Gunggari man and declared native title holder, was born in New Zealand to an Aboriginal mother and New Zealand father. He has lived in Australia since 1994. Like Love, his visa was cancelled after he served part of an 18-month sentence for a domestic violence assault. He has remained in immigration detention pending the court’s decision.

The Commonwealth has maintained that since the men are not citizens of Australia, the minister for Home Affairs has the power to cancel their visas and deport them. Under Section 51 (xix) of the Constitution, the Commonwealth has the power to make laws relating to “naturalisation and aliens”.

However, lawyers for the two men argued that although they are not citizens, they cannot be aliens – and therefore cannot be deported.

As a question of law, an alien is a person who owes allegiance to another country because they were born there. For people recognised as Aboriginal Australians, with longstanding connections to community, culture and traditional land, this implies they do not belong in their own country.

As Love’s lawyers argued to the court,

as a member of the Aboriginal race of Australia and the child of an Australian citizen … [he] is not an alien.

This argument suggests a new category of person described as “non-citizen non-aliens”. And under this special category, the lawyers argued, the minister would not have the constitutional right to deport them.




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The conflict in this case arises because it seems contradictory for Aboriginal people to be thought of as strangers in their own land. This is especially so for registered native title holders, such as Thoms. As a native title holder, the law recognises his connection to the land.

The basis of the men’s argument, therefore, rests on the connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to their country and the obvious implication of belonging.

Impact for Indigenous Australians

The court’s decision is good news for Indigenous Australians, as it expresses a new form of relationship between Indigenous people and the state – that of a “non-citizen, non-alien”.

The category will protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians born overseas, ensuring they will not lose their right to traditional lands because of an accident of birth. The decision upholds the law’s recognition of the importance of Indigenous Australians’ connection to, and rights over, their lands.

But it does mean that a person must be able to prove their Aboriginality before the court as a question of fact.




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Because Thoms is a native title holder, his circumstances were clear. The majority was divided, however, on Love’s status as an Aboriginal person, as he is not a native title holder. And there was ultimately no finding as to whether he qualifies as an alien under the law.

The case also highlights the ongoing challenges for Indigenous Australians in their fight for proper legal recognition in relations with the state.

The minister ignored the implications of these men’s Aboriginality in seeking to deport them. And the Commonwealth argued before the High Court that these men did not belong in Australia – that they were aliens. Further, three of the seven judges agreed with that argument and decided there was no special category for “non-citizen, non-aliens”.

The fact this case was brought at all indicates that the relationship between Indigenous Australians and the state remains unresolved.

Despite the majority decision, it seems First Nations peoples’ close connection with the land is still not enough on its own to guarantee their ongoing rights to be part of Australia, and to retain their ties to community and country.

This decision will be recognised as a milestone for Indigenous Australians. But the closeness of the decision and the qualified finding in relation to Love’s case means this question of belonging for non-citizen Indigenous people will likely be raised again.The Conversation

Kate Galloway, Associate Professor of Law, Griffith University and Melissa Castan, Associate Professor, Law Faculty, Monash University

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

Online tools can help people in disasters, but do they represent everyone?



Social media helped some people cope with the Townsville floods earlier this year.
AAP Image/Andrew Rankin

Billy Tusker Haworth, University of Manchester; Christine Eriksen, University of Wollongong, and Scott McKinnon, University of Wollongong

With natural hazard and climate-related disasters on the rise, online tools such as crowdsourced mapping and social media can help people understand and respond to a crisis. They enable people to share their location and contribute information.

But are these tools useful for everyone, or are some people marginalised? It is vital these tools include information provided from all sections of a community at risk.

Current evidence suggests that is not always the case.




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Online tools let people help in disasters

Social media played an important role in coordinating response to the 2019 Queensland floods and the 2013 Tasmania bushfires. Community members used Facebook to coordinate sharing of resources such as food and water.

Crowdsourced mapping helped in response to the humanitarian crisis after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Some of the most useful information came from public contributions.

Twitter provided similar critical insights during Hurricane Irma in South Florida in 2017.

Research shows these public contributions can help in disaster risk reduction, but they also have limitations.

In the rush to develop new disaster mitigation tools, it is important to consider whether they will help or harm the people most vulnerable in a disaster.

Who is vulnerable?

Extreme natural events, such as earthquakes and bushfires, are not considered disasters until vulnerable people are exposed to the hazard.




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To determine people’s level of vulnerability we need to know:

  1. the level of individual and community exposure to a physical threat
  2. their access to resources that affect their capacity to cope when threats materialise.

Some groups in society will be more vulnerable to disaster than others. This includes people with immobility issues, caring roles, or limited access to resources such as money, information or support networks.

When disaster strikes, the pressure on some groups is often magnified.

The devastating scenes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017 revealed the vulnerability of children in such disasters.

Unfortunately, emergency management can exacerbate the vulnerability of marginalised groups. For example, a US study last year showed that in the years after disasters, wealth increased for white people and declined for people of colour. The authors suggest this is linked to inequitable distribution of emergency and redevelopment aid.

Policies and practice have until recently mainly been written by, and for, the most predominant groups in our society, especially heterosexual white men.

Research shows how this can create gender inequities or exclude the needs of LGBTIQ communities, former refugees and migrants or domestic violence victims.




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We need to ask: do new forms of disaster response help everyone in a community, or do they reproduce existing power imbalances?

Unequal access to digital technologies

Research has assessed the “techno-optimism” – a belief that technologies will solve our problems – associated with people using online tools to share information for disaster management.

These technologies inherently discriminate if access to them discriminates.

In Australia, the digital divide remains largely unchanged in recent years. In 2016-17 nearly 1.3 million households had no internet connection.

Lower digital inclusion is seen in already vulnerable groups, including the unemployed, migrants and the elderly.

Global internet penetration rates show uneven access between economically poorer parts of the world, such as Africa and Asia, and wealthier Western regions.

Representations of communities are skewed on the internet. Particular groups participate with varying degrees on social media and in crowdsourcing activities. For example, some ethnic minorities have poorer internet access than other groups even in the same country.

For crowdsourced mapping on platforms such as OpenStreetMap, studies find participation biases relating to gender. Men map far more than women at local and global scales.

Research shows participation biases in community mapping activities towards older, more affluent men.

Protect the vulnerable

Persecuted minorities, including LGBTIQ communities and religious minorities, are often more vulnerable in disasters. Digital technologies, which expose people’s identities and fail to protect privacy, might increase that vulnerability.

Unequal participation means those who can participate may become further empowered, with more access to information and resources. As a result, gaps between privileged and marginalised people grow wider.

For example, local Kreyòl-speaking Haitians from poorer neighbourhoods contributed information via SMS for use on crowdsourced maps during the 2010 Haiti earthquake response.

But the information was translated and mapped in English for Western humanitarians. As they didn’t speak English, vulnerable Haitians were further marginalised by being unable to directly use and benefit from maps resulting from their own contributions.

Participation patterns in mapping do not reflect the true makeup of our diverse societies. But they do reflect where power lies – usually with dominant groups.

Any power imbalances that come from unequal online participation are pertinent to disaster risk reduction. They can amplify community tensions, social divides and marginalisation, and exacerbate vulnerability and risk.

With greater access to the benefits of online tools, and improved representation of diverse and marginalised people, we can better understand societies and reduce disaster impacts.

We must remain acutely aware of digital divides and participation biases. We must continually consider how these technologies can better include, value and elevate marginalised groups.The Conversation

Billy Tusker Haworth, Lecturer in GIS and Disaster Management, University of Manchester; Christine Eriksen, Senior Lecturer in Geography and Sustainable Communities, University of Wollongong, and Scott McKinnon, Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Wollongong

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

How much do sedentary people really need to move? It’s less than you think


File 20190417 139116 v5n9hw.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
As little as 20 minutes of exercise a day can offset a sedentary lifestyle. And that exercise can include walking the dog.
from www.shutterstock.com

Emmanuel Stamatakis, University of Sydney; Joanne Gale, University of Sydney, and Melody Ding, University of Sydney

People who spend much of their day sitting may need to move around less than we thought to counteract their sedentary lifestyle, new research shows.

Our research, published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found about 20-40 minutes of physical activity a day seems to eliminate most health risks associated with sitting.

That’s substantially lower than the one hour a day a previous study has found.




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We spend almost all our waking day sitting, standing, or moving. The health impact of each one of these can be complex.

For example, too much standing can lead to lower back problems and even a higher risk of heart disease. But sitting for too long and not moving enough can harm our health.

Then there are people who sit for many hours and also get in reasonable amounts of physical activity. For example, someone who has an office job but walks to and from work for 20 minutes each way and runs two to three times a week easily meets the recommended level of physical activity.




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While we know moving is better than sitting, what is far less clear is how much of a good thing (moving) can offset the harms of a bad thing (sitting).

That’s what we wanted to find out in our study of almost 150,000 Australian middle-aged and older adults.

We followed people enrolled in the 45 and Up Study for nearly nine years. We looked at links between sitting and physical activity with deaths from any cause, and deaths from cardiovascular disease such as heart disease and stroke, over that time. We then estimated what level of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity might offset the health risks of sitting.

This kind of activity is strenuous enough to get you at least slightly out of breath if sustained for a few minutes. It includes brisk walking, cycling, playing sports or running.

What we found

People who did no physical activity and sat for more than eight hours a day had more than twice (107%) the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to people who did at least one hour of physical activity and sat less than four hours a day (the “optimal group”).

But it wasn’t enough just to sit less. People who did less than 150 minutes of physical activity a week and sat less than four hours a day still had a 44-60% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than the optimal group.

We also calculated the effect of replacing one hour of sitting with standing, walking, and moderate and vigorous physical activity.

Among people who sit a lot (more than six hours a day) replacing one hour of sitting with equal amounts of moderate physical activity like strenuous gardening and housework, but not standing, was associated with a 20% reduction in dying from cardiovascular disease.

Replacing one hour of sitting with one hour of vigorous activity such as swimming, aerobics and tennis, the benefits were much greater, with a 64% reduction in the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

What does it all mean?

The great news for people who sit a lot, including sedentary office workers, is that the amount of physical activity needed to offset the health risks of sitting risks was substantially lower than the one hour a day a previous study found.

Even around 20-40 minutes of physical activity a day – the equivalent of meeting the physical activity guidelines of 150 to 300 minutes a week – seemed to eliminate most risks associated with sitting.

For people who sat a lot, replacing sitting with vigorous physical activity was better than replacing it with moderate activity; and replacing sitting with moderate activity or walking was better than replacing it with standing.

What’s the take-home message?

Our study supports the idea that sitting and exercise are two sides of the same health “coin”. In other words, enough physical activity can offset the health risks of sitting.

Should we worry about sitting too much? Yes, because sitting takes up valuable time we could spend moving. So too much sitting is an important part of the physical inactivity problem.

We also know only a minority of adults get enough physical activity to offset the risks of sitting.

For those who sit a lot, finding ways to reduce sitting would be a good start but it is not enough. The most important lifestyle change would be to look for or create opportunities to include physical activity into our daily routine whenever possible.

How to widen our activity ‘menu’

Not everyone has a supportive environment and the capacity to create opportunities to be active. For example, lack of time and physical activity being low on people’s list of priorities are the main reasons why inactive adults don’t exercise. Also, many do not have the motivation to power through a strenuous workout when they are juggling many other life challenges.

There are no known remedies to a lack of time or low motivation. So, perhaps we need to add new approaches, beyond exercising and playing sport for leisure, to the “menu” of physical activity options.




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Incidental physical activity like active transportation – think walking fast or cycling part or all of the way to work – or taking stairs are great ways to become or stay active without taking much extra time.The Conversation

Emmanuel Stamatakis, Professor of Physical Activity, Lifestyle, and Population Health, University of Sydney; Joanne Gale, Research Fellow Biostatistician, University of Sydney, and Melody Ding, Senior Research Fellow of Public Health, University of Sydney

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

People and issues outside our big cities are diverse, but these priorities stand out


Stewart Lockie, James Cook University

This is part of a major series called Advancing Australia, in which leading academics examine key issues facing Australia in the lead-up to the 2019 federal election and beyond. Read the other pieces in the series here.


Rural and regional Australia is a big place – too big to be contained in one rural policy or represented by a single political party.

Several features of contemporary rural and regional Australia stand out, though, as deserving of serious policy attention.




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The Indigenous estate

Indigenous peoples are among rural and regional Australia’s largest landholders. Native title rights are recognised on more than 37% of the Australian landmass. Exclusive possession native title applies to around 13%. Both these numbers will grow.

The cultural and social significance of the Indigenous estate is immense. So too is its economic significance. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander enterprises are active in agriculture, mining, infrastructure development, land and water management, and protected area management.

Governments have taken some positive steps to assist Indigenous enterprise. Changing procurement policy to encourage local suppliers is an excellent example. This must be seen in the context, however, of the missteps of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy and failure to engage with the Uluru Statement from the Heart.




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Respecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander aspirations for sovereignty and “closing the gap” on health, safety, education and employment are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, finance, insurance and business models that are relevant to the collective and enduring nature of native title rights will go a long way towards realising the economic potential of the Indigenous estate.

Native Title determinations as at December 31 2018. Native Title exists in green areas (darker green denotes exclusive title) and does not exist in brown areas (lighter brown denotes title extinguished).
National Native Title Tribunal, CC BY



Read more:
The Indigenous community deserves a voice in the constitution. Will the nation finally listen?


New labour markets

Agriculture, mining and other resources industries contribute mightily to Australia’s GDP. Yet their contribution to employment is comparatively small.

In 2016, agriculture, forestry and fishing accounted for 215,601 jobs in regional Australia. Mining provided 102,639 jobs. By contrast, health care and social assistance provided 445,087 jobs, retail 341,190, construction 292,279, education and training 291,902 and accommodation and food services 253,501.

Health care and social assistance and education and training contributed more new regional jobs over the last decade than any other industry.

This is not about commodity price cycles and their short-term impact on labour demand. It is about the relentless substitution of labour with technology as business owners strive to lift productivity and lower costs. Advances in automation and telecommunications will accelerate this trend.

The policy imperative is not to ignore resource industries or the workers who depend on them, but to face up to structural change in the labour market.

It is not unreasonable for regions hit by job losses following mine or plant closures to look for new projects to fill the void. But it is important to recognise that fewer jobs will be on offer in the resources industries. And these jobs will require higher levels of skills and training.

Maintaining high employment across non-metropolitan regions will depend, ultimately, on continued growth in other industries.




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Climate action

In the land of drought and flooding rain, climate variability is a given.

Managing for that variability is something we need to do better, even before taking climate change into account. The South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission into water use shows that political commitment to cross-border cooperation and the maintenance of environmental flows is fragile.

What evidence we do have on rural and regional Australians’ beliefs about climate change suggests uncertainty and lack of trust in government are more prevalent than outright denial. A precautionary approach to climate is favoured over business as usual.

Why a precautionary approach? Because failure to act on climate presents a number of risks. These include:

  • reduced market access for regions and industry sectors not seen to be reducing emissions
  • failure to develop cost-effective and industry-specific technologies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • lost opportunities to develop markets in carbon sequestration
  • escalating economic and social impacts on rural and regional communities as climate variability increases.

Importantly, only the last of these risks is actually contingent on climate change.

Transition planning

The sustainability challenges facing rural and regional Australia are not solely environmental.

In the 21st century, industries require stable, high-speed telecommunications infrastructure. That’s no less true of agriculture and mining than it is of tech start-ups and e-retailers. Unfortunately, the digital divide between urban and rural Australia is a significant constraint on innovation.




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Will Australia’s digital divide – fast for the city, slow in the country – ever be bridged?


The industries of the 21st century also require stable and responsive institutional and governance infrastructure.

The rural politics we see reported in the media looks every bit as polarised and resistant to change as anywhere. Yet Australia’s best rural policies have always been the result of collaborative approaches to planning and innovation.

Landcare and regional natural resource management programs stand out for the positive relationships they have built across the agriculture, conservation, industry and Indigenous sectors.

While federal and state infrastructure funding is critical for the regions, so too is support for integrated and collaborative planning. Place-based approaches are not a panacea but it is always in specific places, and specific communities, that business, services, natural resource management, energy, transport and telecommunications infrastructure, and so on, come together.

Electoral diversity

Social conservatism, support for traditional rural industries and scepticism about climate change are all highly visible in rural politics today.

I have outlined some of the risks arising from climate scepticism, but contemporary social conservatism carries political risks too.

Most obvious is the alienation of voters who do not share these views. They include:

  • farmers who want meaningful action on climate
  • lifestyle migrants with no historical loyalty to the National Party
  • young people with more socially progressive attitudes.



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Meet the new seachangers: now it’s younger Australians moving out of the big cities


It is worth remembering that in the plebiscite on marriage equality most rural and regional electorates took the progressive option and voted yes.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voters warrant extra attention. Indigenous voters have swung elections in the Northern Territory with their preference for candidates who respect local leadership and priorities over traditional party allegiances and ideologies. Candidates for any seat with a large Indigenous population ignore these voters at their peril. As the Australia Electoral Commission works to lift the Indigenous vote, this influence will grow.

In sum, the issues that matter to rural and regional Australians are far more diverse than those discussed here. Many will disagree with how I have represented one or other issue. That, really, is the point.The Conversation

Stewart Lockie, Director, The Cairns Institute, James Cook University

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

Royal commission on the abuse of disabled people to be announced soon


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Morrison government is about to establish a royal commission into violence and abuse of people with a disability.

The aim is to have the terms of reference finalised before the
election. The disability area is a shared one, so the royal commission would be set up jointly with the states and territories.

As of late Wednesday, Queensland, Victoria, NSW, South Australia and Tasmania had agreed to the inquiry; Western Australia and the two territories are expected to do so soon.

Scott Morrison, campaigning in Tasmania, flagged a very extensive
scope for the commission.

“I think it will be a royal commission of a similar size and standing as what we saw with institutional child sexual abuse. Let’s remember that went for four years. It had five commissioners,” he said.

There is no cost for the royal commission as yet and the federal
government wants the other governments to contribute. The child sexual abuse commission cost about A$500 million; the banking inquiry was around $75 million; the aged care one is set to cost about $100 million.

The disability sector has been pressing for the inquiry. Greens
senator Jordon Steele-John, who has a disability, has been one of the loudest voices. The opposition has promised a royal commission, and earlier this month parliament passed a motion calling for one. The Coalition opposed that motion in the Senate but voted for it in the lower house.

In a letter to state and territory leaders Morrison said the scope of the inquiry being proposed by disabled people and advocates “is broad, including mainstream services that are regulated by state and territory governments such as health, mental health and education services provided prior to the establishment of the NDIS.

“The cooperation and support of state and territory governments is therefore essential”.

Morrison said he was seeking views from the states and territories on the “most appropriate consultation pathways to progress” the commission, including through the Council of Australian Governments. This process should also consider cost sharing. “I am also seeking views on options to undertake meaningful consultation with the disability sector, to ensure that the perspectives of people with disability are incorporated and they are provided with appropriate support”.

The opposition accused Morrison of haggling with the states over the funding of the royal commission, saying that “Labor committed to a separate, dedicated and fully federally funded royal commission in May 2017”.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.

Conform to the social norm: why people follow what other people do



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Some people just follow the social norm, whether it’s right or not.
Shutterstock/LENAIKA

Campbell Pryor, University of Melbourne and Piers Howe, University of Melbourne

Why do people tend to do what others do, prefer what others prefer, and choose what others choose?

Our study, published today in Nature Human Behaviour, shows that people tend to copy other people’s choices, even when they know that those people did not make their choices freely, and when the decision does not reflect their own actual preferences.

It is well established that people tend to conform to behaviours that are common among other people. These are known as social norms.

Yet our finding that people conform to other’s choices that they know are completely arbitrary cannot be explained by most theories of this social norm effect. As such, it sheds new light on why people conform to social norms.




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Would you do as others do?

Imagine you have witnessed a man rob a bank but then he gives the stolen money to an orphanage. Do you call the police or leave the robber be, so the orphanage can keep the money?

We posed this moral dilemma to 150 participants recruited online in our first experiment. Before they made their choice, we also presented information about how similar participants in a previous experiment had imagined acting during this dilemma.

Half of our participants were told that most other people had imagined reporting the robber. The remaining half were told that most other people had imagined not calling the police.

Crucially, however, we made it clear to our participants that these norms did not reflect people’s preferences. Instead, the norm was said to have occurred due to some faulty code in the experiment that randomly allocated the previous participants to imagining reporting or not reporting the robber.

This made it clear that the norms were arbitrary and did not actually reflect anybody’s preferred choice.

Whom did they follow?

We found that participants followed the social norms of the previous people, even though they knew they were entirely arbitrary and did not reflect anyone’s actual choices.

Simply telling people that many other people had been randomly allocated to imagine reporting the robber increased their tendency to favour reporting the robber.

A series of subsequent experiments, involving 631 new participants recruited online, showed that this result was robust. It held over different participants and different moral dilemmas. It was not caused by our participants not understanding that the norm was entirely arbitrary.

Why would people behave in such a seemingly irrational manner? Our participants knew that the norms were arbitrary, so why would they conform to them?

Is it the right thing to do?

One common explanation for norm conformity is that, if everyone else is choosing to do one thing, it is probably a good thing to do.

The other common explanation is that failing to follow a norm may elicit negative social sanctions, and so we conform to norms in an effort to avoid these negative responses.

Neither of these can explain our finding that people conform to arbitrary norms. Such norms offer no useful information about the value of different options or potential social sanctions.

Instead, our results support an alternative theory, termed self-categorisation theory. The basic idea is that people conform to the norms of certain social groups whenever they have a personal desire to feel like they belong to that group.

Importantly, for self-categorisation theory it does not matter whether a norm reflects people’s preference, as long as the behaviour is simply associated with the group. Thus, our results suggest that self-categorisation may play a role in norm adherence.

The cascade effect

But are we ever really presented with arbitrary norms that offer no rational reason for us to conform to them? If you see a packed restaurant next to an empty one, the packed restaurant must be better, right?

It’s a busy restaurant so it must be good, right?
Shutterstock/EmmepiPhoto

Well, if everyone before you followed the same thought process, it is perfectly possible that an initial arbitrary decision by some early restaurant-goers cascaded into one restaurant being popular and the other remaining empty.

Termed information cascade, this phenomenon emphasises how norms can snowball from potentially irrelevant starting conditions whenever we are influenced by people’s earlier decisions.

Defaults may also lead to social norms that do not reflect people’s preferences but instead are driven by our tendency towards inaction.

For example, registered organ donors remain a minority in Australia, despite most Australians supporting organ donation. This is frequently attributed to our use of an opt-in registration system.

In fact, defaults may lead to norms occurring for reasons that run counter to the decision-maker’s interests, such as a company choosing the cheapest healthcare plan as a default. Our results suggest that people will still tend to follow such norms.

Conform to good behaviour

Increasingly, social norms are being used to encourage pro-social behaviour.

They have been successfully used to encourage healthy eating, increase attendance at doctor appointments, reduce tax evasion, increase towel reuse at hotels, decrease long-term energy use, and increase organ donor registrations.




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The better we can understand why people conform to social norms, the able we will be to design behavioural change interventions to address the problems facing our society.

The fact that the social norm effect works even for arbitrary norms opens up new and exciting avenues to facilitate behavioural change that were not previously possible.The Conversation

Campbell Pryor, PhD Student in Psychology, University of Melbourne and Piers Howe, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Melbourne

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

How will Indigenous people be compensated for lost native title rights? The High Court will soon decide


William Isdale, The University of Queensland and Jonathan Fulcher, The University of Queensland

Today, the High Court of Australia will begin hearing the most significant case concerning Indigenous land rights since the Mabo and Wik native title cases in the 1990s.

For the first time, the High Court will consider how to approach the question of compensation for the loss of traditional land rights. The decision will have huge implications for Indigenous peoples who have lost their land rights and for the state and territory governments responsible for that loss.

For Queensland and Western Australia in particular, the outcome will likely provide clarity on the significant amounts of compensation they may be liable for in the future.

Western Australia, for example, has areas of determined native title that are collectively larger than the entire state of South Australia. Within those boundaries, there are a number of potential native title claims that could be compensable in the future.

In 2011, the state’s attorney-general, Christian Porter, reportedly described potential compensation claims as a “one billion dollar plus issue”.

Background on native title

The Mabo decision first recognised, and the Wik decision later clarified, how Australia’s common law acknowledges and protects the traditional land rights of Indigenous peoples. Following some uncertainty and political clamour caused by both of those decisions, the Native Title Act 1993 provided a legislative structure for the future recognition, protection and compensation of native title.




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The act provides a right of compensation for the “impairment and extinguishment” of native title rights in a range of circumstances. However, it provides little guidance on what compensation means in practice. Parliament decided to leave the details to the courts.

Surprisingly, it was not until the end of 2016 that the first-ever compensation claim wound its way to the point of judicial determination – in the Timber Creek decision.

The Timber Creek decisions

The case coming before the High Court today is an appeal following two earlier decisions by the Federal Court.

In Griffiths v Northern Territory (the first Timber Creek decision), Federal Court Justice John Mansfield made the first-ever award of compensation for loss of native title rights.

Mansfield awarded the Ngaliwurru and Nungali peoples AU$3.3m in August 2016 for various acts of the NT government going back to the 1980s. These acts included grants of land and public works affecting areas totalling 1.27 square kilometres near the remote township of Timber Creek.

Mansfield approached the compensation award in three steps:

  • Firstly, he worked out the value of the land rights in plain economic terms. He did this by looking to the freehold market value of the land, but discounting it by 20% to reflect the lower economic value of the native title. This is due to the fact its use is limited to rights under traditional law and custom, such hunting and conducting ceremonies, but does not include a right to lease the land, for example.

  • Secondly, he considered how to compensate for the loss of the non-economic aspects of native title, such as cultural and spiritual harm. This involved having to:

…quantify the essentially spiritual relationship which Aboriginal people … have with country and to translate the spiritual or religious hurt into compensation.

  • Thirdly, he gave an award of interest to reflect the passage of time since the acts of the NT government occurred.

The decision was quickly appealed to the Full Court of the Federal Court, which corrected a few errors and reduced the award to just over AU$2.8m. But in broad terms, it approved the three-step approach Mansfield used to calculate the award.

Whether the High Court will follow the same path remains to be seen. A number of new parties, including various state governments, have now become involved in the proceedings, each with their own barrow to push.

The challenge of valuing native title

The challenge is that conventional methods for valuing land may not be suitable to reflect the unique nature of native title rights and the significance of those rights to Indigenous peoples. New principles, or adapted versions of old ones, may be needed.

For example, in most cases where a piece of land is resumed by a government for an infrastructure project or some other purpose, the principal measure of compensation is the market value of the land.

But in the case of native title rights, there is no market to value the land. Native title cannot be sold, mortgaged or leased. Further, native title is different in every case, with no uniform content. Native title rights can include everything from a right to exclusive possession of land to a very limited right to conduct traditional ceremonies on a piece of land.




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Whether the Federal Court has taken the right approach – or whether a new approach should be adopted – will be the subject of debate in the High Court.

The Ngaliwurru and Nungali people contend the correct approach would have seen them awarded roughly AU$4.6m. The NT government is arguing, however, that the amount should be no more than about AU$1.3m.

The politics of Timber Creek

Just as Mabo and Wik resulted in political furore, so, too, may Timber Creek.

One sore point is between the federal government and the states and territories over who will pay any compensation. Under both the Keating and Howard governments, the Commonwealth undertook to pay 75% of the compensation a state or territory may be required to pay in future claims (with some exceptions).




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But in 2011, Porter tabled in the WA parliament a letter from Prime Minister Julia Gillard renouncing any Commonwealth obligation “for the cost of native title compensation settlements”.

Porter may now find himself on the opposite side of the table, having shifted from state supplicant to his new position as a Commonwealth purse holder.

Just how much political friction there will be will depend on the High Court’s approach to determining compensation and the potential cost if hundreds of other native title groups pursue compensation claims in the future.The Conversation

William Isdale, Postgraduate Research Student, T.C. Beirne School of Law, The University of Queensland and Jonathan Fulcher, Program Director, Energy & Resource TC Beirne School of Law, The University of Queensland

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

Australia and other countries must prioritise humanity in dealing with displaced people and migration



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The United Nations says the number of forcibly displaced persons around the world has risen to 68.5 million.
Shutterstock

Samuel Berhanu Woldemariam, University of Newcastle; Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle, and Jason von Meding, University of Newcastle

After six rounds of consultations, United Nations member states have produced the final draft of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM).

It is preceded by the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which the UN General Assembly adopted in 2016. This was an intergovernmental declaration to initiate development of two separate global compacts: one on refugees and another on migrants.

This latest global compact document focuses on the latter issue. It lays down 23 objectives in order to establish “a cooperative framework to address migration in all its dimensions”.

Key points include securing the human rights of migrants, reducing vulnerabilities in migration, and the use of migration detention only as a last resort. The global compact also promotes “integrated, secure and coordinated” border management. Its aim is for states to cooperate rather than focus strictly on their domestic priorities.

National responses to the draft global compact

Over the last month or so, states have started to declare their positions on the draft text. Notably, these positions do not always align with how those states have conducted themselves in intergovernmental negotiations. As is often the case, tensions can arise between domestic political priorities and intergovernmental relations.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said Australia would not sign the global compact in its current form. Australia is “happy to negotiate in good faith”, according to Dutton, but it will not “sign its border protection policy over to the UN”.




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The Hungarian government also declared its opposition and officially announced its exit from the adoption process.

These developments follow the high-profile US withdrawal from the drafting process in December 2017. At the time, the Trump administration argued that numerous provisions of the New York Declaration were “inconsistent with US immigration policy”.

As the Global Compact on Migration moves towards finalisation in December 2018, there is a chance these early challenges may snowball.

The key to Australia’s resistance

The grounds for Australia’s particular resistance to the global compact are the provisions relating to migration detention. The compact insists detention should only be used as a “last resort”. Signatories would commit to:

review and revise relevant legislation, policies and practices related to immigration detention to ensure that migrants are not detained arbitrarily, that decisions to detain are based on law, are proportionate, have a legitimate purpose, and are taken on an individual basis, in full compliance with due process and procedural safeguards, and that immigration detention is not promoted as a deterrent or used as a form of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment to migrants, in accordance with international human rights law.

Critical readings of domestic policy and practice find Australia’s behaviour in violation of some or all of the compact’s checks on migration detention.




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Indeed, Dutton effectively acknowledges that Australia’s practice is out of alignment with international legal standards. He notes that “we’ve fought hard for [our policies]” and “we’re not going to sign a deal that sacrifices anything in terms of our border protection”.

Multiple actors have sought to bring Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers before the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. The Australian government faces allegations including crimes against humanity and torture, arising from the system of mandatory offshore immigration detention it continues to enforce.

Global forced displacement and migration challenges are unprecedented

It is clear that states typically prioritise their national interests in international relations. Arguments are often framed in such a way as to absolve states of responsibility and position vulnerable refugees and migrants as a “problem”. It is past time for this mentality to change.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently released the 2017 Global Trends Report. It confirms that the number of forcibly displaced persons around the world has risen to 68.5 million. This is 2.9 million more than reported at the end of 2016.

The estimated global migrant population is 244 million.

States’ approaches to challenges of forced displacement and migration often fail to acknowledge a sometimes competing, but always essential, consideration – the basic dignity of the human person.

The agenda of the global compact is to encourage states to prioritise human dignity. This consideration does not have to contravene sovereignty. It does not dictate that a country abolish its borders. Nor is it against measures to protect its security.

To construct a justification for state cruelty based on sovereignty is an affront to the shared objectives of member states of the UN.

The case for greater cooperation

The current scope of forced displacement and migration necessitates more rather than less cooperation. Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN, Maleeha Lodhi, stated that the “success rests on mutual trust, determination and solidarity to fulfil the 23 objectives and commitments contained in the GCM”.

Bonds of solidarity at the international level are heavily strained by the disproportionate burdens borne by a small number of receiving states. Developing countries now host 84% of the world’s refugees.

In this context, the last thing national governments should do is abandon cooperative efforts to build stronger global responses to migration and refugee protection.

The ConversationThe lives and wellbeing of millions of people depend on countries working together and prioritising humanity in their domestic policies.

Samuel Berhanu Woldemariam, PhD Candidate (Law), University of Newcastle; Amy Maguire, Senior Lecturer in International Law and Human Rights, University of Newcastle, and Jason von Meding, Senior Lecturer in Disaster Risk Reduction, University of Newcastle

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