Hotel quarantine interim report recommends changes but accountability questions remain



James Ross/AAP

Kristen Rundle, University of Melbourne

The division of the findings of the Victorian COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry into two – the interim report published today, with a final report due December 21 – is aimed at making a timely contribution to the redesign of the quarantine systems that will remain key to Australia’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic for some time to come.

With a view to the expected influx of returnees at Christmas, the national cabinet is due to discuss necessary changes later this month. Justice Jennifer Coate’s clear recommendations for how to devise and operate a quarantine system will surely be pivotal to its deliberations.

Key recommendations

Coate’s primary message is that quarantine – in whatever form it might take – is a public health operation. So any future quarantine system needs to be designed in a manner that ensures the centrality of this public health imperative.

We must wait until the final report to find out what Coate has to say on the larger governance and accountability questions surrounding “the decision” to contract out the front line of Victoria’s hotel quarantine operation to private security provision. However, her interim report already tells us a lot – if indirectly.

The report states it “is clear from the evidence to date” that the majority of those involved in the hotel quarantine program who contracted the virus were:

private security personnel engaged by way of contracting arrangements that carried with them a range of complexities.

It is therefore unsurprising that the issue of the appropriateness of contracting-out is the elephant in the room across a number of its key recommendations.

In particular, the recommendations record that the expertise of those involved in future quarantine operations will be crucial. Moreover, every effort should be made to ensure people working at quarantine facilities are “salaried employees” who are “not working in other forms of employment”.

Rydges on Swanston was one of the quarantine hotels where coronavirus outbreaks occurred.
James Ross/AAP

It takes little effort to surmise that contracted-out service delivery is unlikely to meet any of these demands.

As I have explained elsewhere, to contract out a statutory function in whole or in part requires that it be translated into a “service” that private sector providers are capable of delivering.

In the Victorian case, this meant the front line of the hotel quarantine operation was performed pursuant to an “observe and report” security services contract. It was carried out by an entirely casualised workforce with little infection-control training and no lawful powers of enforcement. Many or most of them worked in other jobs at the same time.




Read more:
Melbourne’s hotel quarantine bungle is disappointing but not surprising. It was overseen by a flawed security industry


Coate also recommended that, alongside the “embedded” presence of expert infection-control personnel, a 24/7 police presence be established at every facility-based quarantine operation. This clearly points to the failure of contracting-out from an enforcement perspective as well.

So, by implication or otherwise, the interim report confirms that too little thought was given to whether the contracted service could meet the dual public health and detention demands of the function at issue.

Coate’s conclusions on how a facility-based quarantine program should work make the multiple dimensions of this mismatch plain.

Where to from here?

The final report of the inquiry may well prove to be the most sustained critique of contracting-out, from the perspective of public expectations of government action, that Australia has yet seen. This would be a welcome shift from what has prevailed so far, with much more effort dedicated to refining and expanding the practice than to challenging it.

As for where the interim report fits with the “whodunnit” exercise that has dominated so much of the interest in the inquiry’s work so far, Coate makes clear we must wait until the final report to find out more. Whether Victoria ended up with private security at the front line of its hotel quarantine program as a result of a “decision” by one or more individuals, or (as counsel assisting Rachel Ellyard described it) a “creeping assumption that became a reality”, is something that ultimately might never be clear.

Either way, the question of accountability will remain. Providing a clear answer to it stands to be every bit as complicated as it has been so far.

The inquiry, which found the bungled scheme cost the state $195 million, has shown the relationship between contracting-out and political accountability is incoherent. Substantial reform in both directions is needed to make it otherwise. Coate’s final report will hopefully guide that much-needed conversation.

But, again, we can already take a lot from the interim report about where – minimally – we need to be. Any future Victorian quarantine program must be operated “by one cabinet-approved department”, in accordance with a “clear line of command vesting ultimate responsibility in the approved department and Minister”.

That department must in turn be “the sole agency responsible for any necessary contracts”. Among other things, its responsible minister must also ensure senior members of its governance structure “maintain records […] of all decisions reached”.

Such is the vision for the future. But it also highlights why it is so important not to lose sight of the “why” questions when the issue of accountability for what actually happened in Victoria’s disastrous hotel quarantine program is again upon us.

If the front line of the hotel quarantine system was simply too important a responsibility to be outsourced, it is time to get to the bottom of why this was the case, and why it might also be the case for other high-stakes government functions that carry serious consequences for public health or safety.

Providing sensible answers to those questions needs to be the goal. But what matters above all else is that we actually start asking them.




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This piece was co-published with the University of Melbourne’s Pursuit.The Conversation

Kristen Rundle, Professor of Law, University of Melbourne

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

Older Australians deserve more than the aged care royal commission’s COVID-19 report delivers



Shutterstock

Joseph Ibrahim, Monash University

Amid the ongoing disaster in Victorian aged-care homes, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety yesterday released its special report into the COVID-19 pandemic.

This report finally states who is responsible for aged care — the federal government — finding its actions were “insufficient” to ensure the aged-care sector was prepared for the pandemic.

But the report doesn’t offer us a clear picture of what went wrong and why.

Importantly, its recommendations largely fall short and come too late.

5 main recommendations that don’t go far enough

The report’s first key recommendation addresses the vexed issue of isolating residents from family and friends during lockdowns. The commissioners have asked the government to fund providers to ensure adequate staff are available to facilitate loved ones to visit.

This addresses the universally recognised need for a humane and proportionate response to lockdown, and the need to reduce the mental and physical harms associated with isolation.

But a better approach would be to introduce a mandatory code for visits to aged-care homes during COVID-19, rather than the voluntary code we currently have. We’d also need a way of enforcing this code, including a process to address family concerns immediately.




Read more:
Federal government did not prepare aged care sector adequately for COVID: royal commission


Second, the commission recommends the government create Medicare Benefits Schedule items to increase the provision of allied health services, including mental health services, to aged-care residents.

While this will assist to some degree, a better recommendation would be instituting structured rehabilitation plans for residents with support from care workers. This would ensure the allied health advice provided through these new Medicare items is followed.

This recommendation also fails to address the fact many allied health staff work across multiple services, which increases the risk of infection spread.

The third recommendation requires establishing a national aged-care plan for COVID-19, including setting up a national aged-care advisory body. This is the most obvious step in any emergency response.

The commission indicates the plan should establish protocols between the federal government and states and territories, which may reduce some confusion around who is responsible for what. The plan should also set up procedures regarding who decides whether residents with COVID-19 are transferred to hospital.

As part of the plan, significant outbreaks in facilities are to be investigated by an independent expert, and any lessons promptly disseminated to the sector.

But the commission doesn’t provide any detail on what constitutes an independent expert, a major oversight. Ideally, the experts shouldn’t be directly involved with government departments, the regulator or affiliated groups involved in the pandemic response.




Read more:
4 steps to avert a full-blown coronavirus disaster in Victoria’s aged care homes


Perhaps most disappointing is the commission did not highlight that multiple outbreaks in aged-care homes reflect systemic issues rather than individual organisational failures. The most useful information is obtained by investigating every aspect of the sector as a whole. This is a missed opportunity and does not serve the best interests of older Australians.

As for the advisory body, the commission was clear the group Prime Minister Scott Morrison established in August was not sufficient — it lacked the right skill mix and was temporary.

But it’s extremely disappointing the commission has not directed that senior nurses, family members and residents (ideally supported by human rights lawyers) be appointed to the group. The people who will be most affected by the decisions should be directly involved in making them.




Read more:
Banning visitors to aged care during coronavirus raises several ethical questions – with no simple answers


The fourth recommendation stipulates all aged-care homes should have one or more trained infection control officers as a condition of accreditation.

The fifth is for governments to deploy accredited infection prevention and control experts into aged-care homes to provide training, and assist with preparing for and managing outbreaks.

These are sound recommendations, but should have been in place more than a decade ago, had we learnt from Hong Kong’s experience with SARS.

The challenges with implementing these recommendations will be having the human resources for such a workforce, including addressing the longstanding issue of health professionals’ willingness to work in regional and remote areas.

Some key omissions

The report’s recommendations are worthwhile, yet all are late in arriving and incomplete. Each recommendation provides a solution to an entirely foreseeable problem.

Notably, there’s an absence of strategies to address the known structural problems in aged care. These are issues the commission itself has previously described, around workforce limitations, widespread neglect of residents, and regulatory failures. They represent barriers to implementing the recommendations.

An elderly woman walks down the corridor of a nursing home using a frame.
Dedicated staff will be deployed to enhance infection control procedures in nursing homes.
Shutterstock

The commissioners also fell into the trap of inappropriate comparisons. References to Australia faring better than selected European and North American countries fail to acknowledge our advantages of being an island continent with lower community transmission and an extra three months to prepare. This provides false reassurance to the public.

We should judge our performance on the disparity between what we could have done and what we did do, rather than against countries in different situations.

There’s more to uncover

It’s not surprising the government has accepted all the recommendations, as each of these initiatives should have already been in place well before the second wave hit Victoria.

The commission has recommended the federal government report on the implementation of these recommendations no later than December 1.




Read more:
The budget must address aged care — here are 3 key priorities


Ultimately, this report was not designed, nor did it deliver, an understanding of what went wrong in aged care, and why.

Similarly, the recommendations do not go to the heart of the information gleaned from the appalling and tragic lived experiences of residents, families, aged-care workers and health professionals.

With so many outbreaks, many still ongoing, and tragically, several hundred deaths in aged care already, there remains much we need to uncover.The Conversation

Joseph Ibrahim, Professor, Health Law and Ageing Research Unit, Department of Forensic Medicine, Monash University

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

A tale of two media reports: one poses challenges for digital media; the other gives ABC and SBS a clean bill of health



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The competitive neutrality report has given the ABC, and SBS, a clean bill of health.
Shutterstock

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

Two reports out this week – one into the operations of Facebook and Google, the other into the competitive neutrality of the ABC and SBS – present the federal government with significant policy and political challenges.

The first is by far the more important of the two.

It is the interim report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission of its Digital Platforms Inquiry, and in a set of 11 preliminary recommendations it proposes far-reaching changes to media regulation.

Of particular interest are its preliminary recommendations for sustaining journalism and news content.

These are based on the premise that there is a symbiotic relationship between news organisations and the big digital platforms. Put simply, the news organisations depend heavily on these platforms to get their news out to their audiences.

The problem, the ACCC says, is that the way news stories are ranked and displayed on the platforms is opaque. All we know – or think we know – is that these decisions are made by algorithms.




Read more:
Constant attacks on the ABC will come back to haunt the Coalition government


The ACCC says this lack of transparency causes concerns that the algorithms and other policies of the platform giants may be operating in a way that affects the production of news and journalistic content.

To respond to this concern, the preliminary recommendation is for a new regulatory authority to be established. It would have the power to peer into these algorithms and monitor, investigate and report on how content – including news content – is ranked and displayed.

The purpose would be to identify the effects of the algorithms and other policies on the production of news and journalistic content.

It would also allow the authority to assess the impact on the incentives for news and journalistic content creation, particularly where news organisations have invested a lot of time and money in producing original content.

In this way, the ACCC is clearly trying to protect and promote the production of public-interest journalism, which is expensive but vital to democratic life. It is how the powerful are held to account, how wrongdoing is uncovered, and how the public finds out what is going on inside forums such as the courts and local councils.

So far, the big news media organisations have concentrated on these aspects of the ACCC interim report and have expressed support for them.

However, there are two other aspects of the report on which their response has been muted.

The first of these is the preliminary recommendation that proposes a media regulatory framework that would cover all media content, including news content, on all systems of distribution – print, broadcast and online.

The ACCC recommends that the government commission a separate independent review to design such a framework. The framework would establish underlying principles of accountability, set boundaries around what should be regulated and how, set rules for classifying different types of content, and devise appropriate enforcement mechanisms.

Much of this work has already been attempted by earlier federal government inquiries – the Finkelstein inquiry and the Convergence Review – both of which produced reports for the Gillard Labor government in 2012.

Their proposals for an overarching regulatory regime for all types of media generated a hysterical backlash from the commercial media companies, who accused the authors of acting like Stalin, Mao, or the Kim clan in North Korea.

So if the government adopts this recommendation from the ACCC, the people doing the design work can expect some heavy flak from big commercial media.

The other aspect of the ACCC report that is likely to provoke a backlash from the media is a preliminary recommendation concerning personal privacy.

Here the ACCC proposes that the government adopt a 2014 recommendation of the Australian Law Reform Commission that people be given the right to sue for serious invasions of privacy.

The media have been on notice over privacy invasion for many years. As far back as 2001, the High Court developed a test of privacy in a case involving the ABC and an abattoir company called Lenah Game Meats.

Now, given the impact on privacy of Facebook and Google, the ACCC has come to the view that the time has arrived to revisit this issue.

The ACCC’s interim report is one of the most consequential documents affecting media policy in Australia for many decades.

The same cannot be said of the other media-related report published this week: that of the inquiry into the competitive neutrality of the public-sector broadcasters, the ABC and SBS.

This inquiry was established in May this year to make good on a promise made by Malcolm Turnbull to Pauline Hanson in 2017.




Read more:
The politics behind the competitive neutrality inquiry into ABC and SBS


He needed One Nation’s support for the government’s changes to media ownership laws, without which they would not have passed the Senate.

Hanson was not promised any particular focus for the inquiry, so the government dressed it up in the dull raiment of competitive neutrality.

While it had the potential to do real mischief – in particular to the ABC – the report actually gives both public broadcasters a clean bill of health.

There are a couple of minor caveats concerning transparency about how they approach the issue of fair competition, but overall the inquiry finds that the ABC and SBS are operating properly within their charters. Therefore, by definition, they are acting in the public interest.

This has caused pursed lips at News Corp which, along with the rest of the commercial media, took this opportunity to have a free kick at the national broadcasters. But in the present political climate, the issue is likely to vanish without trace.

While the government still has an efficiency review of the ABC to release, it also confronts a political timetable and a set of the opinion polls calculated to discourage it from opening up another row over the ABC.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

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

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


Peter Martin, The Conversation

Royal Commissioner Kenneth Hayne has identified “greed” as the key reason banks and other financial institutions repeatedly broke the law, along with an inability to manage, and repeated decisions by the Securities and Investments Commission and the Prudential Regulation Authority not to properly punish them.




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The three-volume interim report of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, released today, concludes that Australia’s banks have built every part of their operations around selling, to maximise profits, at the expense of serving their customers’ needs.

The report says:

Selling became their focus of attention. Too often it became their sole focus of attention. Products and services multiplied. Banks searched for their “share of the customer’s wallet”. From the executive suite to the front line, staff were measured and rewarded by reference to profits and sales… How else is charging continuing advice fees to the dead to be explained?

The report reaches damning conclusions about the management systems in place at the Commonwealth Bank and the National Australia Bank, saying they were the only two organisations unable to furnish a proper list when asked about the misconduct they had been aware of over the previous five years:

Taken together, the course of events and the explanations proffered can lead only to the conclusion that neither CBA nor NAB could readily identify how, or to what extent, the entity as a whole was failing to comply with the law.

If that is right, neither the senior management nor the board of the entity could be given any single coherent picture of the nature or extent of failures of compliance; they could be given only a disjointed series of bits of information framed by reference to particular events.

It says when misconduct was revealed, it either went unpunished or hurt the perpetrators little:

The corporate regulator ASIC rarely went to court to seek public denunciation of what had been done. The prudential regulator, APRA, never went to court.

Much more often than not, when misconduct was revealed, little happened beyond apology from the entity, a drawn out remediation program and protracted negotiation with ASIC of a media release, an infringement notice, or an enforceable undertaking that acknowledged no more than that ASIC had reasonable “concerns” about the entity’s conduct.

Infringement notices imposed penalties that were immaterial for the large banks. Enforceable undertakings might require a “community benefit payment”, but the amount was far less than the penalty that ASIC could have properly asked a court to impose.

Commissioner Hayne says in the report that it may be pointless to introduce new laws designed to achieve what the existing laws did not:

The law already requires entities to “do all things necessary to ensure” that the services they are licensed to provide re provided “efficiently, honestly and fairly”. Much more often than not, the conduct now condemned was contrary to law… Passing some new law to say, again, “Do not do that” would add an extra layer of legal complexity to an already complex regulatory regime. What would that gain?

What is needed is better enforcement in order to ensure that banks and other financial institutions apply basic standards of fairness and honesty “by obeying the law, not misleading or deceiving, acting fairly, providing services that are fit for purpose, delivering services with reasonable care and skill, and, when acting for another, acting in the best interests of that other?”




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Vital Signs: for all its worth, the banking royal commission could hurt a generation of battlers


Commissioner Hayne says the basic ideas are very simple.

That means there is a case for the laws being made even simpler rather than more complex to reflect the ideas better.

Receiving the report, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said if the regulators
enforced the laws but they had at their disposal and imposed the
penalties they had available, banks were more likely to comply with the law.

But he said whatever the criticisms of the regulator, it was important to remember who perpetrated the misconduct.

“That was the financial institutions themselves,” he said. “They are
ultimately, and the individuals involved, ultimately the ones who must
be held accountable and responsible for their actions.”




Read more:
There is nothing sacrosanct about corporate culture; we can and must regulate it


The chief executive of the Australian Bankers Association, Anna Bligh, described the report’s findings as “shocking”.

“Our banks have failed in many ways – failed customers, failed to obey
the law and failed to meet community standards. And all of these
failures are totally unacceptable,” she said.

“Too many customers have been hurt and it has to stop.”

“Australians have every right to expect the world’s best
banks. It is clear today that as an industry we have failed to deliver
that.




Read more:
Embedding regulators in banks can help change cultures of wrongdoing, despite the risks


“Make no mistake, today is a day of shame for Australia’s banks.”

“Having lost the trust of the Australian people, we must now do whatever it takes
to earn that trust back. To move from a selling culture
to a service culture, there is much more work to be done in every
bank. But every bank is determined to find the problems, to fix them
and to pay back every penny.”

The interim report released on Friday examined only the behaviour of the banking, financial advice and wealth management industries. An entire volume details case studies of misconduct.

The Commission’s final report, which will also cover the superannuation and insurance industries, is due on February 1.The Conversation

Peter Martin, Editor, Business and Economy, The Conversation

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

Government report provides important opportunity to rethink Australia’s relationship with India



File 20180721 142411 ixjnxe.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Importantly, the new strategy is ambitious, and will be led by, at least for now, the governments of Malcolm Turnbull and Narendra Modi.
AAP/Ella Pellegrini

Craig Jeffrey, University of Melbourne

By 2060, India may be the world’s largest economy. It will certainly be the world’s most populous country. At that point, Australians will ask, “What did we do in the 2020s to build a relationship with this superpower?” They may also ask: “How did economic cooperation with India benefit both countries in the early 21st century?”

The federal government’s report, An India Economic Strategy to 2035, was launched last week in Brisbane. Written by University of Queensland Chancellor Peter Varghese, it is an excellent basis for reflecting on these questions and the wider issue of Australia-India cooperation.

The strategy identifies numerous sectors – health, education, and tourism, for example – that can help enhance economic cooperation, and in which Australia has some comparative advantage. It also specifies ten Indian states as targets for collaboration based on their economic heft, commitment to reform, and relevance to the sectors in which Australia has competitive advantages.

Importantly, the strategy is ambitious. It sets itself the goal by 2035 to lift India into Australia’s top three export markets. It intends for India to become “the third largest destination in Asia for Australian outward investment”, and for it to be brought “into the inner circle of Australia’s strategic partnerships.”




Read more:
Why it’s the right time for Australia and India to collaborate on higher education


The strategy emphasises two areas that need attention in order to meet these objectives. First, Australia needs to leverage the strengths of the Indian diaspora, which now numbers about 455,000.

The rapid growth of the Indian diaspora population can be a spur to economic cooperation. The Indian population in places like Silicon Valley drive the IT and biotech booms in India and the US. Canada is highly adept in enrolling its Indian diaspora in projects of national and international development.

Second, Australia needs to build more knowledge of India and support organisations that work on the bilateral relationship. While Australia made a pivot towards China in the last quarter of the 20th century, businesses, governments, and the public developed comparatively little knowledge about India.

The emphasis on China led to a neglect of India in education, media, and the policy sphere. There is a need to rebuild public understanding of India and the institutions that can activate this understanding to achieve lasting impact. Culture and arts will be very important here, both as a sector and enabler – points implicit in the strategy.

Varghese says we need to move beyond constantly drawing comparisons between India and China. “India is not the next China,” he writes. India is a distinct opportunity for engagement that merits discussion in its own terms.

The base from which Australia is working with respect to cooperation is certainly different: Australian exports to India are less than a sixth of those to China.

Two further issues will be crucial for the strategy’s successful implementation. The first concerns the relationship between growth and wellbeing. It is clear that the India Economic Strategy imagines enhanced cooperation not as a basis for economic growth as such, but also higher standards of living.

There is a need to reflect carefully here. We must think not only about spurring growth in the Australian and Indian economies, but also ensuring that growth is meaningful in four ways: that it addresses social and economic inequalities, creates jobs, is environmentally sustainable, and fosters opportunities to lead fulfilling social and cultural lives.

This is where the comparison between India and China is important. Since 2000, India’s economic growth has been not much more than half as effective at lifting people out of poverty as China’s economic growth. This means that for every 1% growth in Gross Democratic Product in China nearly twice as many people are elevated out of income poverty as in India. This partly reflects the depth of social inequalities in India.




Read more:
Australia and India: some way to go yet


In the context of rising concern over inequality in Australia as well, the key question is: How can international economic cooperation create growth that reduces inequalities, generates jobs, and protects the environment in the countries concerned? It is a question that puts Australia and India on the same side of the table.

A second issue concerns the term “navigation”, which is in the title of the strategy. As the Danish anthropologist Professor Henrik Vigh has pointed out, navigation is a great metaphor. It connotes plotting and re-plotting a course on a moving plane. The complexity of that plane in this case calls to mind the six degrees of motion of a boat: pitch, roll, yaw, sway, heave, and surge. The strategy’s recommendations and ideas are excellent, and can be re-calibrated as India and Australia pitch, heave, and yaw.

The ConversationThe India Economic Strategy is an exciting document written with confidence and ambition. It provides a foundation for reflecting on economic cooperation and striving for meaningful growth.

Craig Jeffrey, Director and CEO of the Australia India Institute; Professor of Development Geography, University of Melbourne

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

Lessons to learn, despite another report on missing flight MH370 and still no explanation


Geoffrey Dell, CQUniversity Australia

The latest report into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 says that investigations have failed to find any explanation as to why the aircraft went missing with 239 passengers and crew on board.

The 449-page main report (with additional appendices) from the Malaysian government builds on previous reports on the investigation into the missing aircraft but admits it is “limited by a significant lack of evidence”.


Read the report: MH370 Safety Investigation Report – Ministry of Transport Malaysia


It’s been four years since the Boeing 777-200ER went missing from its routine flight between Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur and China’s capital Beijing.

The aircraft was later found to have deviated from that flight path, with calculations showing that it probably disappeared somewhere in the Indian Ocean, off the Western Australian coast.

But despite an extensive search led by Australia, and later a private operator search, the report says no main wreckage or bodies of the 227 passengers and 12 crew on board have ever been found.

Some parts identified as confirmed or almost certain to have been from the missing aircraft have been recovered, washed up around the Indian Ocean.

Confirmed and almost certain debris identification wreckage from MH370.
Ministry of Transport Malaysia

The aircraft itself has not been located, and neither the aircraft’s Flight Data Recorder (FDR) nor the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) has been recovered. The only information available to the investigators was from other sources, making triangulation and validation of evidence difficult, if not impossible.




Read more:
The search for MH370 is over: what we learnt and where to now


Who’s to blame?

The report notes that MH370 went missing on March 8, 2014, soon after a routine handover from the Malaysian to Vietnamese air traffic control. Communications with the aircraft were lost less than 40 minutes after takeoff.

Both Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic controllers delayed initiation of emergency procedures once communication could not be established with the aircraft following the crossover from one air space to another. This, the report says, delayed any search-and-rescue response.

Given that the initial search area was north of the Malaysian Peninsula on the aircraft’s intended track, and any information suggesting the aircraft might have flown back over the peninsula didn’t emerge for some time, the initial delays in initiating the search-and-rescue phase may be moot.

The report covers several other issues related to the flight, aircraft maintenance, the crew, the cargo etc, but its conclusion ends with the line:

…the (Investigation) Team is unable to determine the real cause for the disappearance of MH370.

Still a mystery

Clearly, someone or something was responsible for the loss of the aircraft, passengers and crew. But without evidence from the flight recorders it’s unlikely that any of the many theories as to the cause will be proven.

The report suggests that from the available information and simulations, the aircraft was manually turned off the planned track, suggesting an intent on behalf of whoever was flying the aircraft. The turning off of the transponders that allow the aircraft to be tracked by civilian radars also suggests intent.

Hence the report goes to some lengths to suggest that unlawful interference with flight MH370 cannot be ruled out.

But extensive background checks of the captain and other crew found absolutely no evidence of anything other than a dedicated, professional team who set off to do their job as they had done many many times before.

So the causes of the tragedy are likely to remain conjecture for some considerable time, unless new evidence comes to light.

No closure for the families

Clearly the families of those who perished onboard MH370 will not gain much closure from this report. It contains very few answers for them.

But it needs to be said that the air safety investigators need data from multiple sources to try to establish with a reasonable degree of certainty the causes of crashes.

Aviation is a very complex socio-technical system that requires reliable analytics to fully understand the system interactions and deviations. Yet without the recorded flight data and no access to the wreckage, the ability to find cause is critically hampered.

Lessons learned (and to learn)

Since the loss of MH370 there has been a global push to improve tracking of airline aircraft. Clearly the travelling public want air traffic control authorities to know where all the aircraft are all of the time, without fail and without the capacity for anyone to turn the tracking system off.

Many in aviation would like that ideal world too. But the current tracking systems don’t have that capacity. The amount of data that would entail is well beyond the capacity of the present systems, and the cost of upgrading the systems to cope with that would be exorbitant.

For example, the current satellite constellation would need to be expanded or significantly enhanced. So, there has to be a compromise.

As the report suggests, it’s likely that improvements to the system will result in airborne aircraft “handshaking” with the tracking system every 15 minutes with GPS position, altitude, heading and speed data.

This should significantly improve the probability of finding an aircraft lost, but it will not guarantee a lost aircraft’s location will be known.

For example, if the aircraft is cruising at 350 knots (about 650kph) when it makes its last handshake with the tracking system, in 15 minutes it could be anywhere in a search area with around a 300km diameter, still representing a significant search conundrum.

Changes in emergency locator beacon capability are also arising from the MH370 experience. The problems with underwater signal acoustics will remain problematic. So design changes in future will likely see beacons that have the capability to detach and float to the surface if an aircraft crashes into water.

From the perspective of the families and from the basis of needing to understand the real lessons from MH370, ideally the search for the aircraft should continue.

The ConversationBut the real challenge is where to look. Without new data to inform a new search effort, the only thing really known is the aircraft is most likely in the Indian Ocean somewhere. That’s the message from the wreckage that has washed ashore.

Geoffrey Dell, Associate Professor/Discipline Leader Accident Investigation and Forensics, CQUniversity Australia

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

Consumers let down badly by electricity market: ACCC report


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has called for sweeping reform of the national electricity market to lower power prices and restore consumer confidence.

In its damning report, to be released on Wednesday, the ACCC says consumers face a confusing and unfair market. Discounts are misleading and need to be made fairer; customers should be able to compare these against a benchmark rate set by the Australian Energy Regulator.

The ACCC backs the Turnbull government’s push for its National Energy Guarantee (NEG), calling on other governments to commit to it. The federal government is presently trying to bed down the NEG with states and territories, against a distracting background of criticism from former prime minister Tony Abbott.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will deliver a consumer-focused speech on energy and power prices to the Queensland Media Club on Wednesday.

The ACCC’s recommendations would require action by federal and state governments.

The ACCC says the electricity market is facing its most challenging time, with the present situation being unacceptable and unsustainable. But it holds out the prospect of “significant gains” for consumers and businesses if the changes it recommends are made.

Urging a reset, it says reform can “bring down prices and restore consumer confidence and Australia’s competitive advantage”. Unnecessary costs need to be got out of the system to save consumers hundreds of dollars annually.

The ACCC urges changes to get greater competition among wholesalers and retailers, and says network charges must fall.

Tougher powers should be given to the Australian Energy Regulator to deal with “market manipulation”.

The customer transfer process needs to be speeded up, enabling people to move to new offers quickly. Special conditions like pay-on-time discounts should not operate in a harsh punitive manner.

The ACCC says small businesses should get access to the same improved rules as households.

Third-party sites showing comparisons in prices should state their commissions, it says.

The ACCC says there is a case for government support to underpin long-term contracts for large commercial and industrial users that brings on new dispatchable generation from operators that do not currently have a large market share.

It says big generators and retailers (“gentailers”) have market strength and often charge a large premium when selling wholesale electricity to their own retail operations.

The ConversationIt recommends a cap on any further merger or acquisition by a company with more than 20% generation market share – although such a company would be permitted to build new generation capacity.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

No clear target in Australia’s 2030 national innovation report



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The new report started as a central plank of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s 2015 National Innovation and Science Agenda.
from www.shutterstock.com

Leigh Dayton, Macquarie University and Roy Green, University of Technology Sydney

The long wait is over. As of this week, Australia has a strategic plan that promises to rejuvenate the nation’s lagging innovation performance – Australia 2030: Prosperity Through Innovation. But instead of a roadmap for action, it’s more of a sketch with detours, dead ends, and red lights which should be green.

This plan started as a commitment in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s 2015 National Innovation and Science Agenda. And it has now been prepared and released by an independent public agency, Innovation and Science Australia (ISA), after a Senate inquiry into the Australia’s research and innovation system and broad consultation across the community.

The report offers a range of 30 recommendations categorised into five “imperatives for action”: Education, Industry, Government, Research and Development, and Culture and Ambition. As part of this last imperative, ISA also proposes an ambitious National Missions initiative, comparable with moon shots.

We have a problem

Not only has Australia 2030 been widely anticipated in industry and in the research and education sector, it is much needed. The nation has a problem. On most international measures, such as the widely recognised Global Innovation Index, Australia consistently lags behind international competitors.

In 2017, the index ranked Australia 23rd of 127 countries in terms of its research performance. But on innovation efficiency, which is a measure of how well we translate research into commercial outcomes, we rank a lowly 76th. Even New Zealand beat Australia on both measures. And it gets worse. Australia was last on the 2017 OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard when it comes to high growth enterprises.

Before he was appointed Chair of the ISA Board, Bill Ferris bluntly declared of the nation’s research and development (R and D) performance,

Australia has internationally competitive R and bugger-all D.




Read more:
National Science Statement a positive gesture but lacks policy solutions: experts


A curate’s egg

So it comes as a disappointment that the new strategic plan is something of a “curate’s egg” – good in some parts, but with missed opportunities in others. It is perfectly right, for example, in:

  • restating the need for urgent action if Australia is to maintain its social, economic and environmental well-being

  • recognising that the nation’s science and innovation system is a fragmented collection of institutions, programs and enterprises – public and private – cobbled together in a complex array of federal and state jurisdictions

  • identifying a leading role for government in the establishment of the policy and regulation settings within which participants in the innovation system operate, and

  • urging government to take an active role itself in the innovation process by, for instance, encouraging pre-commercial procurement of products from industry and “role modelling” 21st century service delivery.

Implementation not clear

However, the plan’s weaknesses become apparent when considering the policies and mechanisms needed to achieve the goals it outlines. How often is it in these discussions that laudable aspirations struggle to be matched by a coherent and adequately funded implementation strategy?

Consequently, the plan reads like a shopping list of disconnected ideas and initiatives, many of which are jarringly specific – “grow government procurement from Small to Medium Enterprises to 33% by 2022” – while others are sweeping: “increase commercialisation capability in research organisations”.

The problem is that details about how to turn such ideas into reality are less easy to find. This is surprising as there are many programs and approaches, both in Australia and internationally, which offer models and solutions.

An example: many Australian universities are taking steps to ramp up their “commercialisation capability” by hiring people with industry experience, encouraging scientists to collaborate with the end-users of their research, and simplifying the management of their intellectual property.

Similarly, little is said about the broader research and innovation system, and its deficiencies, in which the policy proposals are supposed to achieve results? These deficiencies are noted, not tackled. In contrast, global players like the UK, Germany, Finland, Sweden, South Korea and Singapore are busy reshaping their innovation systems with targeted industry policies to identify areas of current and future competitive advantage.

What are we good at?

While the ISA’s strategic plan paints a broad picture of where Australia needs to be in 2030, it does not provide any guide, let alone analysis, of these areas of potential competitive advantage. What is this country good at doing? What does it need to learn to do to compete in the global markets and value chains, and in which sectors of the economy?

Answering such questions is the job of technology foresight exercises where future scenarios are mapped out and planned for – something ISA seems not to have tried. It certainly had plenty of time to do so. Instead, the plan offers a set of national missions and strategic opportunities, with only isolated illustrations of how they can be achieved.

For example, the plan proposes a national mission to make Australia “one of the healthiest nations on Earth”. Who could argue? But in targeting “genomics and precision medicine”, where Australia does indeed excel, it avoids more controversial issues like controlling the population’s sugar intake.




Read more:
It’s 2030, and precision medicine has changed health care – this is what it looks like


Moreover, some of the other major issues facing Australia were seemingly not up for discussion, such as the challenges of renewable energy and super-fast broadband. Though these are mentioned as “beyond the scope of this plan”, can we realistically sell new national missions while current ones are unresolved?

For a plan that is supposed to embody longer term thinking, it is disappointing to see such capitulation to short-term political pressures. Why not try to deal head-on with the reality that the current government – every government – is ruled by politics and the three year political cycle. It’s frustrating for everyone that policies, funding and programs are chopped and changed, according to the government of the day.

Right now, the Turnbull government is moving in the opposite direction to the policies and priorities needed to underpin the ambitions of Australia 2030. It is cutting research and education, ignoring climate change, and clinging to a commodity economy.

Need for clear direction

Of course these are difficult challenges for a body like ISA. However, it is the function of a national science, research and innovation strategy to identify challenges and address them. It must offer not only a clear direction for the future but also coherent and effective pathways that enable those operating in the innovation system to deliver tangible outcomes.

No doubt the ISA strategy contains elements that will hit these targets, which is why we must wish it well. But equally it needs an organisational rethink: what are the national goals? What are the problems, and how do we go about fixing them, step-by-step, in a systematic way? Maybe this can be the next item on its agenda.

The ConversationGlossy plans and lofty ambitions are good, and their educational value for both the political classes and the wider community should not be underestimated. But a blueprint for a constantly evolving, properly funded and joined-up research and innovation system would be better.

Leigh Dayton, PhD candidate, Macquarie University and Roy Green, Dean of UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney

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

The royal commission’s final report has landed – now to make sure there is an adequate redress scheme



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The royal commission has handed down its final report – now the real work begins.
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Ben Mathews, Queensland University of Technology

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has performed its task magnificently. Its scale, complexity and quality is unprecedented. Its work is already being acknowledged internationally as a model of best practice.

As a nation, we can be proud of the commissioners and their staff. We should acclaim the courage of all survivors, including those who informed the commissioners about their experiences, and we should honour those who have not lived to see this day.

We must recognise the integrity and strength of those who advocated for the inquiry, including survivors, their families, journalists and police. We should applaud former prime minister Julia Gillard for initiating the commission, and the current federal government for ensuring it was adequately resourced.

But this is not the end. The real work begins now. Australian governments and major social institutions now have not only the opportunity, but the responsibility, to create lasting social change. Their responses will be monitored here, including through requirements to report on their actions, and around the world.

The royal commission’s impact

This watershed inquiry has created the conditions for a seachange in how society deals with child sexual abuse in institutions, which can flow to our treatment of sexual abuse in other settings.

Our society’s leaders can build progress from the pain of former failings. Not meeting this responsibility would surely stick as a lifelong regret for those in positions to cement change. Fulfilling this imperative can leave a legacy of which these government and institutional leaders can be proud.

Substantial progress has already been made. The commission’s earlier reports have influenced important changes to civil justice systems, criminal justice systems, organisational governance, and prevention, including situational prevention in child and youth-serving organisations.

The Child Safe Standards now promoted by the commission are substantially embedded in legislation in several states, requiring organisations to adopt comprehensive measures to prevent, identify and respond appropriately to child sexual abuse.

Civil laws have been amended in most jurisdictions to allow claims for compensation, holding individuals and organisations accountable.

In some states, new requirements to report known and suspected cases apply through special “failure to report” and “failure to protect” offences in criminal laws. They also apply through separate reportable conduct schemes that add essential independent external oversight.


Read more: Royal commission recommends sweeping reforms for Catholic Church to end child abuse


Yet much remains to be done. The reforms already made in some states must be adopted elsewhere to create national consistency.

Accountability of individuals and organisations is essential to create cultural change, and needs to be achieved through both civil systems (such as following Western Australia’s recent bill enabling lawsuits against organisations that previously could not be sued, such as the Catholic Church), and criminal systems (for example, prosecuting those who harbour offenders, and removing criminal law principles that compromise criminal prosecutions).

Other state and territory mandatory reporting laws need to be harmonised, as recommended by the commission. Many of the commission’s new 189 recommendations are rightly directed towards prevention, especially through the Child Safe Standards, including their requirements for education, codes of conduct, situational prevention, and the commitment required of organisations’ leadership.

We must focus our efforts on the future, but we must also ensure we properly deal with the past. Perhaps the single most important aspect of this is the redress scheme.

What happens now with redress?

The national redress scheme is behind schedule and must be finalised with sufficient funding, and government and institutional commitment.

The bill for the scheme remains before parliament, awaiting a committee report due in March 2018. It is yet to receive the commitment of all states, territories, and relevant organisations.

The commission recommended the scheme be operational by July 1, 2017, with an upper cap of A$200,000 and an average redress payment of $65,000. Under the bill, the scheme’s cap is $150,000, substantially below the recommendation, and even further below the average payment awarded in Ireland of more than €60,000 (about A$92,200). In Ireland, the highest payment was more than €300,000 (about A$461,000).

The Australian scheme contains three elements. First, a monetary payment as tangible recognition of the wrong suffered by a survivor. Second, access to counselling and psychological services (estimated at an average of $5,500 per person). Third, if requested, a direct personal response from the responsible institution(s), such as an apology.

Not all survivors will apply to the scheme, as many are not financially motivated. However, it is an essential part of a healing response. This has been shown internationally in Canada, Ireland and elsewhere.

Redress schemes are more flexible and speedy, with less formality and cost, and less trauma and confrontation, than conventional legal proceedings. Payments are not intended to replicate the amount that would be payable under a formal civil compensation claim, and instead are far lower.

Accordingly, institutions should recognise the lower financial commitment required to discharge their ethical obligation to participate compared with their liability in formal civil compensation amounts, especially since recent reforms to civil statutes of limitation have removed time limits and allow a claim to be commenced at any time.

Ten key aspects of the proposed Australian scheme are:

  1. People are eligible to apply to the scheme if they experienced sexual abuse in an institution while they were a child, before July 1, 2018.

  2. A lower evidentiary threshold applies, meaning that eligibility for a redress payment is assessed on whether there was “a reasonable likelihood” the person suffered institutional sexual abuse as a child.

  3. Applicants who have received redress under another scheme or compensation through a settlement or court judgment are still eligible, but prior payments by the institution will be deducted from the amount of redress.

  4. Only one application per person can be made; where a person was abused in more than one institution, provisions enable the decision-maker to determine the appropriate share of each institution.

  5. Applicants can access legal assistance to help determine whether to accept the offer of redress.

  6. A person who accepts an offer of redress must sign a deed of release, meaning the institution(s) responsible for the abuse will not be subject to other civil liability.

  7. Payments are not subject to income tax.

  8. Reviews of decisions are limited to internal review, and not to merits review or judicial review.

  9. Criminal liability of offenders is not affected.

  10. The scheme is intended to open on July 1, 2018, and operate for ten years; applications need to be made at least 12 months before the closing date of June 30, 2028.


Read more: When it comes to redress for child sexual abuse, all victims should be equal


Five further factors need to be accommodated by the scheme to ensure it functions properly and complies with the clear recommendations of the royal commission.

  1. The upper cap should be $200,000 to ensure sufficient recognition of severe cases.

  2. To ensure equal access to the scheme, legal assistance must be made available to assist people in making applications.

  3. Governments and institutions should opt in as soon as possible and commit resources to discharge their duty to participate in the scheme.

  4. Governments – federal or state – should be the funder of last resort in all cases where the institution is unable to reimburse the Commonwealth (for example, where the institution no longer exists, or lacks resources to participate).

  5. The method of determining the amount of the payment, based on the severity of the abuse, its impact, and other relevant factors, must be made available as soon as possible so it can be adequately debated.

The commission’s work contributes a historic, international legacy. The sexual abuse of children in institutions will be revealed in more nations in coming years. This will involve some of the same religious institutions in which it has been found here to be so prevalent, and so heinously concealed and facilitated. Simply due to population, countless children will be shown to be affected.

The ConversationFor this reason, our governments and institutions must now ensure their actions add to the royal commission’s example, and demonstrate to other countries how civilised societies should respond.

Ben Mathews, Professor, School of Law, Queensland University of Technology

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