Will COVID lockdowns hurt your child’s social development? 3 different theories suggest they’ll probably be OK



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Laurien Beane, Australian Catholic University and Anthony Shearer, Australian Catholic University

Social distancing during COVID-19 has seen a radical upheaval to the way we work and socialise.

But what are the implications for young children? Many children have been uprooted from their places of education and care, and may struggle to understand why their routine has been disrupted.

If you’re a parent, particularly in Victoria, you may be wondering whether this period — a significant amount of time relative to the life of a young child — might affect your child’s social development.

The good news is, with less of the day-to-day rush, many young children have probably benefited from extra socialisation at home with their families.

Looking through a theoretical lens

We can explore the ways COVID-19 might affect children’s social development by considering three theories in psychology.

1. Supporting the individual child (attachment theory)

It’s important for young children to develop strong and secure “attachments” with parents and caregivers. These emotional and physical bonds support children’s social development.

Psychologists have shown very young children who develop strong and secure attachments become more independent, have more successful social relationships, perform better at school, and experience less anxiety compared with children who didn’t have strong and secure attachments.

Where the extra time children have spent with parents and caregivers during COVID-19 has been in a supportive environment, this may help the development of these attachments.




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Don’t worry, your child’s early learning doesn’t stop just because they’re not in childcare


2. Supporting the child in the family (family systems theory)

Beyond parents and caregivers, it’s important for children to develop secure attachments within the whole family.

For young children, research shows these connections with family members can lead to improved social development, while fostering the child’s ability to develop their own identity as part of a family unit.

Young children might have spent more time with siblings and other family members during lockdown, possibly developing deeper connections with them.

3. Supporting the child in the community (sociocultural theory)

Sociocultural theory considers social interaction to underpin the ways children learn, allowing them to make meaning from the world around them.

While learning can and does take place between children and adults, there’s lots of research showing all children benefit from socialising with peers of the same age.

Evidence also indicates children learn to respond to social situations in social environments. This could be in early learning settings, on the playground, or with their families.

Two young children jumping on a trampoline.
Young children may have developed stronger connections with siblings and other family members during lockdown.
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COVID-19 has curtailed many interactions children would regularly have in early learning and social contexts. But at the same time, it’s created opportunities for other meaningful interactions such as at home with family.

Day-to-day life with family, or socially distanced interactions within the community, still provide great opportunities for social development.

We can’t know for sure what toll this pandemic will take on children’s social development.

But it’s important to remember children are always learning wherever they may be, and whoever they may be with. So try to focus on the benefits you’ve gained spending time with your child at home.




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It won’t be the same for everyone

COVID-19 has brought tough times for many Australian families. We know added financial pressures can adversely affect family life, and may be compounded during lockdown by a lack of external support.

The Australian Early Development Census consistently identifies lower socioeconomic status as one of the risk factors for poorer “social competence” — a child’s ability to get along with and relate to others.

This doesn’t mean all children in families experiencing socioeconomic hardship during COVID-19 will necessarily face challenges in their social development. It’s more complex that that. However, some might.

Other risk factors for social competence may have also been heightened during the pandemic. These include family conflict, anxiety or illness (of the child or the parent), and trauma, such as exposure to stressful events, grief, or loss.

Children who already live in vulnerable situations may have become even more vulnerable during this time.

A mother tries to work on her laptop while her young child is bothering her.
More time with family won’t always be a positive.
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Getting back to ‘normal’

Alongside risk factors, a range of protective factors may reduce the impacts of adversity on a child.

We should think about providing young children with extra support, helping them regulate their emotions, fostering warm relationships, promoting resilience and encouraging problem solving, and facilitating social contact within the COVID-19 social distancing norms, such as video chats.




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Are the kids alright? Social isolation can take a toll, but play can help


As children begin the transition back to early childhood education and care, some “clinginess” is natural.

Having a distressed child at drop-off time can be confronting. But trust in their capacity to regulate their emotions when you leave, and their ability to rediscover relationships with their educators, carers and friends. They should soon readjust.

To support smooth transitions back into early childhood education and care, talk positively with your child about the people they’re going to see, such as teachers and their friends, and encourage them to ask any questions they may have.

If you’re worried about how the lockdown has affected your child, you can always speak to your child’s educator, the centre director, or your GP about connecting with services designed to support you and your child.The Conversation

Laurien Beane, Course Coordinator, Queensland Undergraduate Early Childhood, Australian Catholic University and Anthony Shearer, Academic, Australian Catholic University

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

Are the kids alright? Social isolation can take a toll, but play can help



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Pasi Sahlberg, UNSW and Sharon Goldfeld, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

Many parents are worried the disruptions of COVID lockdowns and school closures may affect their children’s mental health and development.

In the Royal Children’s Hospital’s National Child Health Poll in June 2020, more than one-third of parents reported the pandemic has had negative consequences on their children’s mental health. Almost half of parents said the pandemic had also been harmful to their own mental health.

Many parents spent at least some months this year supporting their children to learn from home (and still are, in Victoria). This already substantial challenge was complicated by children not being able to go out and play with other children. In Victoria, such restrictions are still in place, although some have been relaxed and playgrounds are open.

Still, it’s fair to say that across the country, some children are not socially engaging with their peers in the same way they did before. This is not only detrimental to children’s learning but also their physical and mental health. It is understandable if parents are worried.

What social isolation means for kids

In June 2020, in the context of COVID-19, a group of researchers in the UK reviewed 80 studies to find how social isolation and loneliness could impact the mental health of previously healthy children. They found social isolation increased the risk of depression and possibly anxiety, and these effects could last several years.




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The review also concluded loneliness puts children’s well-being at risk of these things long after the social isolation period is over.

The impact of social isolation may be particularly significant for children with special educational needs, when support provided at school to them is interrupted.

Other children – perhaps those living in medium and high-density housing with limited access to outdoor play space – may also be particularly vulnerable to the effects of social isolation.

Father and son racing a toy train on a track.
Playing with your kids can help them feel less lonely.
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Some parents with only one child have also voiced concerns about loneliness.

It is difficult to substitute what real human interaction with peers means to a child. Active engagement in creative play alone or physical activity with parents can be helpful for children who miss the company of their friends.

The power of play

What could possibly fix this situation? The answer is: help children play.

The benefits of regular play are many and they are well documented in research. Paediatricians say play improves children’s language skills, early maths knowledge, peer relations, social and physical development and learning how to get new skills.

When children can’t play for any reason, anxiety and toxic stress can harm the healthy development of social behaviours.




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Let them play! Kids need freedom from play restrictions to develop


During the pandemic, play can be an effective tonic for stress and can encourage the development of positive behaviours.

When children play together, play effects become even more powerful. Experts say social play can help children develop skills in cooperation, communication, negotiation, conflict resolution and empathy.

In social play, children can rehearse and role play real-world situations safely. Through play, they make sense of the world and process change. Parents playing with their children help children play better with their peers.

Group of kids playing
When children play together, the benefits of normal play are enhanced.
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Now is the time to stress the importance of play. A survey done by the Gonski Institute in 2019 showed four out of five Australians believe today’s children are under pressure to grow up too quickly. More than 70% think the lifelong benefits children gained from play, such as creativity and empathy, are mostly ignored today.

Research from previous pandemics shows we need well-planned and coordinated solutions to potentially long-term emotional issues. We can embrace the role of play to mitigate the losses children have experienced while living through a pandemic.

What can parents do?

Children need both guided indoor play and free play ourdoors. Playing with family members at home, or with friends at school, are good for social play.

Digital devices can provide children a way to play together with their friends when they can’t meet with them. But the benefits of play are more long-lasting through social play in person.

Parks, green spaces and quiet streets are suitable for outdoor play. Natural environments both soothe and stimulate children, while connecting them to their environment and community. So here are four things you can do to encourage play.

1. Make time for play

The most important thing you can do is to make time every day for your children to play. Take play time seriously and show your children you value it for the benefit of their well-being, health and learning.

2. Set clear guidelines to technology use at home

It is important to talk with your children about safe and responsible use of digital media and technology. This may require agreeing to put some limits to the use of screens at home, and encourage children to actively engage with friends by playing interactive games when using digital devices.




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3. Go out whenever possible

A recent review of nearly 200 studies found “green time” — time in parks, nature reserves and woods — appeared to be associated with favourable psychological outcomes, while high levels of screen time appeared to be associated with unfavourable psychological outcomes.

Parks and playgrounds are open now in Victoria, while in other states they have been for some time.

So find fun outdoor exploratory activities for your children, and where possible bring other kids along.

4. Be a role model of all of the above

Children often mimic their parents. The best way to ensure children grow up healthy and happy is to be a role model to them. More play, and enough quality time outdoors with children is good for your own health and happiness, too.


For more see the Raising Children Network and the Gonski Institute.The Conversation

Pasi Sahlberg, Professor of Education Policy, UNSW and Sharon Goldfeld, Director, Center for Community Child Health Royal Children’s Hospital; Professor, Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne; Theme Director Population Health, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

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

Money for social housing, not home buyers grants, is the key to construction stimulus


Brendan Coates, Grattan Institute

There’s no doubt Australia’s construction industry is facing tough times. COVID-19 has caused migration to slow to a trickle. Some 2.6 million Australians have either lost their jobs or had their hours cut in the past two months. Many economists expect property prices to fall.

It all adds up to fewer homes being built in the coming months. That means fewer jobs in the construction industry, which employs nearly one in 10 Australians. The sector has already lost nearly 7% of its workforce since March.

The Morrison Government is set to anounce a stimulus package for the construction sector as soon as this week. But what should it include?




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Why the focus of stimulus plans has to be construction that puts social housing first


More home-buyer grants on the way

The federal government has signalled it will offer cash grants of at least A$20,000 to buyers of newly built homes. Unlike past schemes that have targeted first home buyers, it seems these new grants will be available to everyone including upsizers and investors. Grants may also be extended to renovations.

Large handouts would prompt some more residential construction by encouraging some people to bring forward their home purchases. It’s why in 2008 the Rudd government tripled the first home buyer grant to A$21,000 for new homes in response to the Global Financial Crisis.

But under such schemes, governments also end up giving grants to people who would have bought a home anyway. Even the more pessimistic industry forecasts expect 110,000 homes to be built in Australia next year. Giving A$20,000 to all of these home buyers would cost A$2.2 billion without adding a single construction job. Grants of A$40,000 would double the bill.

That’s a lot of spending for little economic gain.

Nor do grants to home buyers actually make housing more affordable. They are typically passed through into higher house prices, which benefits sellers more than buyers. In this case, that is likely to include developers eager to clear their existing stock of both newly and nearly built homes.




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Cash grants for renovations would likely hit the economy quicker since they don’t necessarily require building approvals. But they bring their own problems. Grants will likely see in-demand tradies raise their prices, especially if the government is effectively paying for most of the work done. It will be also be harder for officials administering the scheme to determine if the work has been done before paying out the money.

Nor is it clear the renovation sector needs further stimulus: reports suggest COVID-19 is driving a renovation boom across many parts of Australia. Research by credit bureau Illion and economic consultancy AlphaBeta shows spending on home improvements is already 33% higher than pre-COVID levels.

There’s a better option

There’s a better way to support residential construction without providing such big windfalls to developers: fund the building of more social housing.

Social housing – where rents are typically capped at no more than 30% of household income – provides a safety net to vulnerable Australians.

In particular, the Morrison government should repeat another GFC-era policy, the Social Housing Initiative, under which 19,500 social housing units were built and another 80,000 refurbished over two years, at a cost of A$5.2 billion.

Under the initiative the federal government funded the states to build social housing units directly or contract community housing providers to act as housing developers

Public residential construction approvals spiked within months of the announcement.



Building 30,000 new social housing units today would cost between A$10 billion an A$15 billion. Because state governments and community housing providers won’t have to worry about finance, marketing and sales, they’ll be able to get to work building homes much quicker than the private sector.

The boost to the economy would be pretty immediate.

Just as important, building social housing would also help tackle the growing scourge of homelessness. At the most recent Census (2016), more than 116,000 people were homeless, up from 90,000 a decade earlier. COVID-19 has shown us that if we let people live in unhealthy conditions it can help spread disease – affecting everybody’s health.




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The drivers of homelessness are complex. Nonetheless the best Australian evidence and international experience shows social housing substantially reduces tenants’ risk of homelessness. But Australia’s stagnating social housing stock means there is little “flow” of social housing available for people whose lives take a big turn for the worse.

Funding social housing won’t boost house prices or provide windfalls for developers. It will do more to keep construction workers on the job, while also helping some of our most vulnerable Australians.The Conversation

Brendan Coates, Program Director, Household Finances, Grattan Institute

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

Government to repay 470,000 unlawful robodebts in what might be Australia’s biggest-ever financial backdown


Terry Carney, University of Sydney

In a near-complete capitulation, the government will refund every alleged overpayment it has collected from welfare recipients under the discredited “robodebt” system of income averaging.

Unveiling the automated system in mid-2016 then treasurer Scott Morrison and social services minister Christian Porter promised more “accurate and appropriate income testing”.

They were going to work with the prime minister’s Digital Transformation Office to “cut red tape and ensure that mistakes are minimised”.

The man who headed Digital Transformation Office at the time later described what happened as “cataclysmic”.

Three quarters of a billion to be paid back

Almost half a million Australians received letters from Centrelink telling them they had been overpaid because the income their employer had reported to the Tax Office was more than the income they had reported to Centrelink.

Unless they explained why within 21 days, they would have an assessment made against them and be hit by a 10% recovery fee.

Many paid up, in part because the alleged overpayments went back six years or more, and the Centrelink website had only asked them to keep payslips for six months.

Hundreds of thousands of these assessments appear to have been wrong.

Rather than using the recipients’ actual income in the fortnights for which benefits had been paid, Centrelink calculated an average fortnightly income over a longer period which often included fortnights they were in paid employment and not receiving Centrelink benefits.

November backdown

In November 2019 a week before it was due to defend a test case brought by a 33-year-old local government worker, and after press reports that its own lawyers had told it such collections were unlawful, the government conceded all points and abandoned income averaging.

A court order declared that the debt notice was not validly issued because the decision-maker could not have been satisfied that the debt was owed.




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Robodebt failed its day in court, what now?


At the time the minister for government services Stuart Robert described the decision not to proceed with income averaging as “a refinement” that would affect a “small cohort”.

On Friday, ahead of the hearing of a larger class action, Mr Robert announced that the government would refund everything collected under the scheme, whether it was calculated using partial or whole income averaging.

The refunds will be paid to all 470,000 Australians who have had debts calculated using income averaging, whether they had paid up voluntarily or not.

Now the half a million repayments

Included in the refunds will be interest charged and collection fees charged, at an estimated total cost of A$721 million.

What the Government has not agreed to is damages for harm and suffering of supposed debtors, which were sought by the class action. Although liability for damages is more difficult to establish, the class action is unlikely to abandon the attempt to obtain compensation.

The harm suffered by many of those caught up by the Government’s illegal and immoral robodebt scheme is an injustice still to be rectified.




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The Conversation


Terry Carney, Emeritus Professor of Law, University of Sydney

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

Why the focus of stimulus plans has to be construction that puts social housing first


Geoff Hanmer, University of Adelaide

Australia has done better with COVID-19 than anyone dared hope. This opens up the prospect of a progressive relaxation of restrictions later this year. Organisations that could participate in an economic stimulus program will need to be in a position then to deliver “shovel-ready” projects to help revive the economy.

The construction sector is the obvious focus of a stimulus plan, and the construction of social housing should be the priority, for reasons that I’ll outline below.




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The Rudd government’s stimulus package during the Global Financial Crisis gives us a helpful guide to what does and doesn’t work. The initiatives that failed did so because of a lack of proper planning.

Fortunately, if we get going now, we have months to plan the recovery program. Getting it right will be crucial. By September, one month before JobKeeper payments end, many businesses are going to be on their knees.

Why construction?

Most of the successful elements of the Rudd package focused on construction. The reason is simple. Nearly one in ten Australians work in the construction industry. Many more are employed locally in the production of building products.

Both construction and building product manufacturing provide jobs for people with varying levels of skill, including people who are unskilled. The vast majority of concrete and steel reinforcement, bricks, wall framing, building boards, windows and doors, roof tiles and metal cladding are still made here. A substantial portion of domestic electrical and plumbing products, including stainless steel sinks, copper pipes and electrical cables are also made here.

It’s important to realise that the type of building being constructed will affect its local stimulatory impact. For buildings up to three storeys high, over 50% of their cost is labour on site. Of the remaining cost, the vast majority is Australian-made materials and components. (Although the Australian Bureau of Statistics stopped its series on Australian-made construction products in 2014, the employment impact can still be estimated from ABS manufacturing statistics.)

For typical single and double-storey housing, more than half the cost goes into labour and locally made materials account for most of the rest of it.
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However, the taller a building gets, the greater the percentage of imported components – lifts, mechanical components and facade systems are mostly imported.

Why social housing?

What sort of construction projects should the government consider for a stimulus package? While the response so far has been to focus on “fast-tracking” infrastructure, the current crisis has highlighted a number of pressing social needs. Various aspects of social housing top the list:

  1. Housing to reduce the number of people living in precarious private rentals. A substantial program to increase the stock of social housing would be a great legacy.

  2. Housing for people who are homeless. They will not be able to go on living in hotels once the lockdown ends.

  3. Affordable housing for workers in health, emergency services, education and retail who cannot afford to live close to the communities they provide vital support to. It turns out they are essential workers, some of the most important people in Australia, so we need to look after them.




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Housing construction is a very effective way to create jobs, both directly and downstream. About 6% of Australian jobs are related to housing.

What other construction work is needed?

There are other opportunities for well-targeted construction stimulus.

In many areas of Australia, public schools and kindergartens still rely on low-quality portable buildings or buildings that have exceeded their economic life. A program to replace them with new and efficient buildings would produce substantial social benefits, cut maintenance costs and improve sustainability.

Improving the deteriorated state of community buildings and parks, particularly in disadvantaged areas, would also deliver social benefits and potentially employ a lot of unskilled labour. Having decent parks and exercise facilities close to where people live will allow social distancing to continue as long as needed.

A Victorian government plan to remove combustible cladding from residential and community buildings could also be extended to all states. It’s essential work that would also create jobs.




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The government could also consider a program to replace or refurbish university teaching and research buildings that are over 40 years old. Incredibly, as we have found at ARINA in our consultancy work, these older buildings still provide more than half of the 11.8 million square metres of gross floor space occupied by the higher education sector.

These ageing buildings are not well suited to supporting the research into solutions to SARS-CoV-2 and other pressing medical and economic problems. Replacing or refurbishing them would improve outputs, cut maintenance costs and improve sustainability, plus give a much-needed boost to the higher education sector.

Plan now to be shovel-ready

Anglicare SA is already thinking of what it can do to deliver more social housing. Its CEO, Peter Sandeman, told me he is making sure Anglicare has “shovel-ready projects that can be rolled out the moment a stimulus package is announced. There is no better way of stimulating the economy than by constructing social housing.”

This is stimulus that also meets critical social needs, Sandeman says.

There is a desperate shortage of social housing. Our waiting list and the number of people who are homeless demonstrates that.

Social housing provides a long-term benefit to everyone. It adds stability to the lives of the occupants and this is a particular benefit to their children and their education. Safe, affordable housing is the foundation stone that gives people a chance in life.

Other organisations that could be part of the stimulus package should be getting ready, too, and making sure the government knows what they are doing.




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Australia’s housing system needs a big shake-up: here’s how we can crack this


The Conversation


Geoff Hanmer, Adjunct Professor of Architecture, University of Adelaide

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

Why are we calling it ‘social distancing’? Right now, we need social connections more than ever



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Katharine H. Greenaway, University of Melbourne; Alexander Saeri, Monash University, and Tegan Cruwys, Australian National University

We are now a society at a distance. As of this week, New South Wales has closed restaurants, bars, gyms, and entertainment venues where people gather in large numbers.

Victoria has similarly implemented a shut down of all non-essential activities, including closing schools. People are strongly advised to stay at least 1.5 metres away from others where possible.

But the label used to describe these measures – “social distancing” – is a misnomer. While we must be physically distant, it’s crucial we maintain, or even increase, social contact with others during this unprecedented time.




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In a crisis, we need support

The so-called social distancing measures seek to limit the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, by reducing physical contact between people. And there’s evidence these measures work.

But research also shows being isolated can have negative effects on a person’s mental health. Specifically, periods of quarantine have been shown to increase negative emotions like anxiety, confusion and anger.

Importantly, strong social support can help us counter these negative effects. And as well as improving our mental health, being socially connected is linked to better physical health too.

One US psychologist rightly noted rather than talking about social distancing, we should be practising distant socialising.




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Of course, this can be difficult when so much of our social closeness depends on physical closeness. Humans are innately social, and often our instinct is to reach out to touch or be close to others when we feel unwell or afraid.

This makes it all the more difficult to stay away from others right now.

Social solidarity, not social distance

Staying socially connected in times of threat has benefits beyond helping us manage our mental well-being. Other people can provide us with practical support, like picking up groceries or passing on relevant information, as well as emotional support.

Building this kind of social infrastructure, where people help neighbours and strangers as well as their friends, fosters the feeling we as Australians are all in this together.

This feeling is called social solidarity, and if we get it right we’ll be much better equipped to respond to this and other crises.

In the case of coronavirus, social solidarity may be the key to getting people to comply with public health recommendations. Recent research found if people were told distancing was important for the sake of others, they were more likely to say they would adhere to the relevant guidelines than if they were told it was to avoid negative consequences.




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To mitigate the dangers of conflating physical distancing and social distancing, and to work towards social solidarity, here are three things we need to see:

1. Consistent messaging

The Victorian health department now refers to physical distancing rather than social distancing, in line with calls from experts to change the terminology.

But the federal government and most other state governments are still using the social distancing moniker.

Consistent messaging from our leaders, including an explanation of why the label must change, could serve to encourage people to adopt practices that promote social closeness while maintaining physical distance.

We can remain socially connected using technology, even when we can’t be physically close.
Shutterstock

2. Social tips alongside physical tips

Much of the current messaging from government sources focuses on maintaining physical health by washing hands with soap, practising correct cough and sneeze etiquette, and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces. These measures are undoubtedly critical.

But missing from most official advice is guidance about the importance of maintaining social connectedness. The government should add evidence-based recommendations for staying connected to its official resources.

3. Prioritising communication

Where state governments are increasingly limiting activities to allow for only essential services, phone and internet services that allow people to connect virtually should be seen through the same essential lens.

The government should consider policies which encourage providers to waive late fees or stop disconnections that may occur because of financial hardship related to the virus.




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Physical distance is important, but it’s equally necessary we maintain social closeness during this time. Staying connected with others will make us happier, healthier, and more socially responsible as we continue to contend with this crisis.The Conversation

Katharine H. Greenaway, Senior Lecturer, University of Melbourne; Alexander Saeri, Research Fellow, BehaviourWorks Australia, Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Monash University, and Tegan Cruwys, Senior Research Fellow and Clinical Psychologist, Australian National University

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

View from The Hill: Victorian Liberal candidates find social media footprints lethal


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Whether or not it’s some sort of record, the Liberals’ loss of two Victorian candidates in a single day is way beyond what Oscar Wilde would have dubbed carelessness.

Already struggling in that state, the Victorian Liberals managed to select one candidate who, judged on his words, was an appalling Islamophobe and another who was an out-and-out homophobe.

The comments that have brought them down weren’t made in the distant past – they date from last year.

Jeremy Hearn was disendorsed as the party’s candidate for the Labor seat of Isaacs, after it came to light that he had written, among other things, that a Muslim was someone who subscribed to an ideology requiring “killing or enslavement of the citizens of Australia if they do not become Muslim”. This was posted in February 2018.

Peter Killin, who was standing in Wills, withdrew over a comment (in reply to another commenter) he posted in December that included suggesting Liberal MP Tim Wilson should not have been preselected because he’s gay.

Scott Morrison rather quaintly explained the unfortunate choice of Killin by saying “he was a very recent candidate who came in because we weren’t able to continue with the other candidate because of section 44 issues”.

Oops and oops again. First the Victorian Liberals pick someone who didn’t qualify legally and then they replaced that candidate with one who didn’t qualify under any reasonable test of community standards.




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It’s not just the Liberals with problems of candidates with unacceptable views, or bad behaviour.

Labor’s Northern Territory number 2 Senate candidate Wayne Kurnoth, who shared anti-Semitic material on social media, recently stood down. Bill Shorten embarrassed himself on Wednesday by saying he hadn’t met the man, despite having been filmed with him.

Then there’s the case of Luke Creasey, the Labor candidate running in Melbourne, which is held by Greens Adam Bandt, who shared rape jokes and pornographic material on social media. He has done a mea culpa, saying his actions happened “a number of years ago” and “in no way reflect the views I hold today”. Creasey still has his endorsement. Labor Senate leader Penny Wong has defended him, including by distinguishing between a “mistake” and “prejudice”.

It should be remembered that, given the post-nomination timing, these latest candidates unloaded by their parties have not lost their spots or their party designations on the ballot paper.

As Antony Green wrote when a NSW Liberal candidate had to withdraw during the state election (after a previous association with an online forum which reportedly engaged in unsavoury jokes) “the election goes ahead as if nothing had happened”.

It won’t occur this time, but recall the Pauline Hanson experience. In 1996, the Liberals disendorsed Hanson for racist remarks but she remained on the ballot paper with the party moniker. She was duly elected – and no doubt quite a few voters had thought she was the official Liberal candidate.

What goes around comes around – sort of.

This week Hanson’s number 2 Queensland Senate candidate, Steve Dickson, quit all his party positions after footage emerged of his groping and denigrating language at a Washington strip club. But Dickson is still on the Senate ballot paper.

While the latest major party candidates have been dumped for their views, this election has produced a large number of candidates who clearly appear to be legally ineligible to sit in parliament.

Their presence is despite the fact that, after the horrors of the constitution’s section 44 during the last parliament, candidates now have to provide extensive details for the Australian Electoral Commission about their eligibility.

Although the AEC does not have any role of enforcing eligibility, the availability of this data makes it easier in many cases to spot candidates who have legal question marks.

Most of the legally-dubious candidates have come from minor parties, and these parties, especially One Nation, Palmer’s United Australia Party and Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party are getting close media attention.

When the major parties discovered prospective candidates who would hit a section 44 hurdle – and there have been several – they quickly replaced them.

But the minor parties don’t seem too worried about eligibility. While most of these people wouldn’t have a hope in hell of being elected, on one legal view there is a danger of a High Court challenge if someone was elected on the preferences of an ineligible candidate.

The section 44 problems reinforce the need to properly fix the constitution, as I have argued before. It will be a miracle if it doesn’t cause issues in the next parliament, because in more obscure cases a problem may not be easy to spot.




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View from The Hill: Section 44 remains a constitutional trip wire that should be addressed


But what of those with beyond-the-pale views?

At one level the fate of the two Victorian Liberal candidates carries the obvious lesson for aspirants: be careful what you post on social media, and delete old posts.

That’s the expedient point. These candidates were caught out by what they put, and left, online.

But there is a deeper issue. Surely vetting of candidates standing for major parties must properly require a very thorough examination of their views and character.

Admittedly sometimes decisions will not be easy – judgements have to be made, including a certain allowance in the case of things said or done a long time before (not applicable with the two in question).

But whether it is the factional nature of the Victorian division to blame for allowing these candidates to get through, or the inattention of the party’s powers-that-be (or likely a combination of both) it’s obvious that something went badly wrong.

That they were in unwinnable seats (despite Isaacs being on a small margin) should be irrelevant. All those who carry the Liberal banner should be espousing values in line with their party, which does after all claim to put “values” at the heart of its philosophy. The same, of course, goes for Labor.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.

The Coalition’s record on social policy: big on promises, short on follow-through


Anja Hilkemeijer, University of Tasmania; Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle; Katharine Gelber, The University of Queensland, and Peter Whiteford, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is part of a series examining the Coalition government’s record on key issues while in power and what Labor is promising if it wins the 2019 federal election.


Religious freedom

Anja Hilkemeijer, Law Lecturer, University of Tasmania; and Amy Maguire, Associate Professor, University of Newcastle Law School

In December 2017, joyous scenes accompanied the long-awaited enactment of marriage equality in Australia. This joy was soon replaced by outrage, however, when the community learned of the extent to which religious schools may legally discriminate against students and staff on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

In response, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last October that parliament would swiftly act to disallow religious schools to expel students on the basis of their sexuality.




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However, action on removing the special exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (SDA) for religious schools quickly stalled. Following a number of private members’ bills, a range of amendments and two Senate inquiries, it became clear the Coalition government wanted religious schools to retain some special exemptions.

In a Senate committee report in February, Coalition senators insisted the matter of religious school exemptions from the SDA be referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission.

To date, no referral has been made. And given the few parliament sitting days scheduled before the federal election, it appears this issue will fall to the next parliament to resolve.

The Coalition has also announced a number of initiatives to boost protections of religious freedom following the release of the long-awaited Ruddock Religious Freedom Review in December.




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Why Australia needs a Religious Discrimination Act


Contrary to the panel’s recommendation, Morrison said the government would appoint a religious freedom commissioner to the Australian Human Rights Commission. He also said he wanted to pass a Religious Discrimination Act before the next federal election, but the government has not provided any details on what form such a statute might take.

While the Liberal Party’s election policies have yet to be released, it is safe to assume the Coalition would seek to implement all the proposals announced in response to the Ruddock report if re-elected.

What about Labor?

If Labor wins the May election, it will feel pressure to follow through on removing exemptions for religious schools in the SDA, as it has committed to doing.

Labor has also indicated it supports enacting a federal law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs, but it needs to see the details of such a proposal before committing to it.


Freedom of speech

Katharine Gelber, Professor of Politics and Public Policy, The University of Queensland

Freedom of speech has become a prominent topic in public debate in recent years. One trigger was the 2017 marriage equality survey. During the campaign, the Australian Christian Lobby argued that marriage equality would “take away” people’s right to free speech and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott insisted that a “no” vote was essential, “if you’re worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech”.

A second trigger was the 2017 parliamentary inquiry into freedom of speech, which raised the question of whether the wording of the racial vilification provision in federal law (Section 18C) should be changed, and whether the procedures under which complaints are dealt with by the Australian Human Rights Commission should be altered. Subsequent attempts to change the text of Section 18C were unsuccessful.




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Free speech: would removing Section 18C really give us the right to be bigots?


What has received far less media attention, though, are the multiple ways in which the Coalition has undermined free speech while in government. The Coalition appears to be a friend of free speech only when it suits them.

The list includes extensive laws that restrict free speech far more than is necessary for legitimate national security purposes.

These include counter-terrorism laws prohibiting the unauthorised disclosure of information that does not have a public interest exemption. Another new law ostensibly designed to prevent foreign interference in Australian affairs exposes journalists and charities to risk of prosecution.

In addition, the Coalition included secrecy provisions in the 2015 Border Force Act intended to prevent people who work in offshore detention centres from disclosing information. The legislation was so draconian, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants cancelled a planned visit to Australia in September 2015 on the grounds it would prevent him from doing his work. Eventually, in the face of a High Court challenge in 2017, the government removed the provisions.

What about Labor?

Labor’s position on free speech is less clearly stated. On the one hand, it has a record of support for national security laws that restrict free speech. However, Labor takes a different stance from the Coalition on anti-vilification laws, which it defends as narrow, valid restrictions that prevent racism, bigotry and discrimination.

Perhaps the biggest shift in public discourse around free speech has been the degree to which politicians from One Nation, Katter’s Australian Party and the United Australia Party, as well as some from the Coalition, have been emboldened to promote harmful stereotypes of migrants, asylum seekers, LBGTQI and other marginalised groups.

Indeed, in some quarters, political rhetoric has become so caustic that it has separated informed public debate from evidence and reasoning, and undermined core democratic institutions.

If Labor wins the election, its biggest challenge will be to provide the leadership to shift public discourse away from this and facilitate a political culture that embraces diversity and provides free speech to as many people as possible.


Social security and welfare

Peter Whiteford, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Social security and welfare remains the largest component of government spending. In the latest budget released by the Coalition government, spending is projected to increase from A$180 billion in 2019-20 to just over A$200 billion in 2022-23. This represents a slight fall, however, from 36.0% of total spending to 35.8%.

Compared to previous budgets, there are no major proposed cutbacks in assistance. The Coalition government has attempted to slash funding for social security and welfare in its past six budgets, with little success.

There are some welcome initiatives set out in the budget, including a commitment of A$328 million over four years to the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children, and a commitment of A$527.9 million over five years to establish the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.




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But the budget also extended the government’s Cashless Debit Card trials, which have courted controversy. The Australian Council of Social Service has argued the card curtails people’s freedoms and hasn’t resulted in any positive effects. This followed an Australian National Audit Office report, which concluded that the card had major flaws and it was difficult to see where social harm had been reduced due to a “lack of robustness in data collection.”

The Coalition government has attempted to play up its social security and welfare successes in recent years, pointing to the fact that the proportion of the working-age population receiving income support is at its lowest level since the early 1980s.

But this appears to be the result of fewer people applying for benefits rather than people moving off benefits more rapidly, as has been claimed. It also reflects a somewhat stronger labour market in recent years and changes introduced to the Parenting Payment Single and Disability Support Pension programs under the Rudd/Gillard governments.

What about Labor?

Whoever wins the next election will face pressure to further increase welfare and social security spending as the National Disability Insurance Scheme ramps up and the Aged Care Royal Commission releases its findings. The recent report by the Parliamentary Budget Office projects that real spending on aged care will increase by around A$16 billion over the next decade as a result of Australia’s rapidly ageing population.

Newstart, the main payment for unemployed Australians, is also increasingly being seen as inadequate. It has slipped relative to pensions and wages each year because it is indexed to the slower-growing consumer price index.

Labor has promised that, if elected, it will use a “root and branch review” to look at lifting the rate of the Newstart unemployment benefit. However, it is not just Newstart that is inadequate, but support for single parents and families with children, which has been cut by both major parties over the last 15 years.The Conversation

Anja Hilkemeijer, Lecturer in Law, University of Tasmania; Amy Maguire, Associate professor, University of Newcastle; Katharine Gelber, Professor of Politics and Public Policy, The University of Queensland, and Peter Whiteford, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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

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



File 20181123 149332 rgzoch.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
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.

Labor’s housing pledge is welcome, but direct investment in social housing would improve it


Julie Lawson, RMIT University and Laurence Troy, UNSW

Despite recent falls in the housing market, housing costs and indebtedness bite deeply into household budgets, especially at Christmas time. Just over 433,000 households confront housing stress and homelessness every day across Australia. They represent the current shortfall of social housing.

If Christmas offers a moment for reflection, ask yourself what should our resolutions be for the housing market? What should we expect our governments to do about it?

In this article, we look at this week’s major statement on housing policy from a key contender to lead Australia’s next government – made by Bill Shorten at the ALP national conference.

We applaud the principle of fairness and the ambition of the ALP policy. We are less supportive of the reliance on for-profit investors, market rent mechanisms and land grabs. Our research shows direct government investment in social housing is ultimately far more efficient and effective than subsidising investors in the long term.




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Australia needs to triple its social housing by 2036. This is the best way to do it


So what is Labor’s policy?

Shorten’s announcement also pledges reform of tax concessions that are driving inequality between households and investors. However, Labor recognises that this might not be enough to tilt the balance in favour of low-income households, and directing the savings from these changes into housing programs is a welcome move.

Labor proposes to subsidise investors in affordable rental housing, much like the Rudd government’s National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS). Labor would offer an $8,500-a-year subsidy over 15 years to investors who build new homes for low-income and middle-income households to rent at an “affordable” rate – 20% below market rent.

Starting modestly, the program aims to produce 20,000 affordable units over three years, building to a much larger target of 250,000 dwellings over ten years.




Read more:
Shorten’s subsidy plan to boost affordable housing


State governments would also be required to get on board through partnership agreements, as they have done in the past, providing land and other forms of co-investment. Hefty stamp duty revenues in recent years should make this easier for the states.

While Labor’s targets appear high by recent standards, Commonwealth and state governments directly funded the building of 9,000 public housing dwellings each year for the better half of the 20th century – until 1996. Annual production is now down to 3,000 dwellings. That’s not even enough to maintain the existing public share of housing.

Since the mid-1990s, a preference for outsourcing social responsibility through private rental providers and indirect rental support payments has dominated public policy. The ALP’s subsidy-based policy continues this trend.

The proposal centres on maintaining returns to investors at levels that encourage investment. As our previous research has shown, over the longer term this increases cost per dwelling. The question remains, as it did under the NRAS: who are we trying to subsidise here, the investors or the tenants, and is it really equitable and effective?

What are the alternatives?

Previous work has shown that NRAS-type schemes offer most benefit to new affordable housing developments when the funds are directed to not for profit organisations, rather than “leaking” out to the for-profit private sector. The advantages of this approach include:

  • subsidies are retained within the affordable housing system
  • benefits are directed to regulated not-for-profit developers with a social purpose
  • the benefit is stretched out over a longer time, meaning government investment does not expire after a set time.

In the UK, a lack of direct conditional investment and weak definitions of affordability led to an 80% decline in social housing production. Without public equity, recurrent operating subsidies have no influence on design quality or ongoing impact after the expiry of providers’ obligations – or their cancellation. Yes, they can be switched on and off like a tap – as happened in 2014 with the NRAS.

With good design, a new scheme could overcome some of these deficiencies. Labor promises to provide lower annual subsidies than NRAS but for longer – 15 rather than 10 years – adding up to at least $127,500 from the Commonwealth for a tenancy to be offered at below market rents. It’s a substantial commitment.

Yet if this level of support was invested up front to build dwellings, rather than provided as an annual operating subsidy, it would make a substantial and enduring contribution to Australia’s housing needs. This is not only socially responsible, it can drive green innovation and is also more financially responsible too.

The only thing that stands in the way is the narrow public accounting doctrine that privileges day-to-day expenditure over long-term investments. This is something that, in the UK, even the Treasury and the National Audit Office are learning to overcome after the painful experience of the Private Finance Initiative.




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Homeless numbers will keep rising until governments change course on housing


How much more cost-effective is direct investment?

If equity and fairness are to be the yardsticks of policy, age pensioners, people with disabilities and low-paid workers should be the focus of our deepest support. Our AHURI research has established the level, type and location of investment required to meet the needs of 433,000 low-income households in housing stress or homeless across Australia. The current market offers no affordable or secure options for them.

Our research also compared the cost of subsidising investors versus direct investment by government. Our modelling of costs and review of international experience provide evidence that direct investment is far more efficient and effective in the medium and long term.

Capital funding model.
Lawson et al, 2018, Author provided
Operating subsidy funding model.
Lawson et al, 2018, Author provided

Thus, we argue for more direct investment in social housing, strategic use of efficient mission-driven financing and retained investment via public equity and public land leases.

Recognition of the need for national leadership and policy reform is growing. After backpedalling, the Coalition government moved forward in 2018 to establish, with cross-party support, the National Housing Finance Corporation. This mission focused public corporation will soon channel lower-cost financing towards regulated not-for-profit housing. Of course, financing is debt and not quite the same as funding.




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The Australian Greens have yet to announce their policy but an outline suggests a commitment to invest in social housing and establish a federal housing trust.

The ALP’s proposals are framed in line with the laudable principle of fairness and are a work in progress – rather than mission accomplished. Overcoming the shortfall of affordable and secure housing will require purposeful Commonwealth and state government funding, mission driven financing as well as land policies to make housing markets fairer for all.The Conversation

Julie Lawson, Honorary Associate Professor, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University and Laurence Troy, Research Fellow, City Futures Research Centre, UNSW

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