Watch yourself: the self-surveillance strategy to keep supermarket shoppers honest



Shutterstock

Gary Mortimer, Queensland University of Technology and Paula Dootson, Queensland University of Technology

Retailers have tried many overt tactics to limit theft, such as signs that display images of CCTV cameras, threats to prosecute offenders, bag checks, checkout weighing plates and electronic security gates.

These tactics are extremely costly and have failed to stamp out retail theft.

Now supermarkets are trying a different tactic, that’s part overt surveillance but also encourages “self-reflection” on any impulse to exploit loopholes in the bagging and payment systems.

In late May Australian supermarket giant Woolworths confirmed it is trialling self-service checkout terminals with built-in cameras. They display your image as you scan your items. Rival Coles started trying the technology in April 2019.

The idea is that watching yourself scan your own groceries will reduce the temptation to steal. It is supported by research that shows the effectiveness of cues that cause us to self-focus and self-regulate.

Retail theft continues to grow

Since 1990, when the Australian Insitute of Criminology published extensive research on retail crime and its prevention, it has been widely accepted crime-related losses account for about 1% of all retail revenue. Estimates of customer theft were woolier.

In August 2019 the Australia and New Zealand Retail Crime Survey came up with a specific number. It reported total crime-related retail losses amounted to 0.92% of revenue. Customer crime was 58% of that – or 0.53% of total revenue.

Though funded by retail technology company Checkpoint Systems, the survey sample is robust – almost a quarter of the retail industry in Australia and New Zealand. Also, the lead researcher, Emmeline Taylor, is a criminologist in the Department of Sociology at City, University of London respected for her expertise in retail crime.

Costs of loss prevention

Writing about her research in 2018, Taylor tells the story of a major Australian supermarket discovering it was selling more carrots than it had in stock.

Unfortunately this wasn’t a sudden switch to healthy eating or a desire to increase vitamin C intake, it was an early sign of a new type of shoplifter. Otherwise honest shoppers were using the self-service checkout to transact more expensive items – typically avocados – and put them through as carrots.

Self-service checkouts have enabled ‘swipers’ – seemingly well-intentioned patrons engaging in routine shoplifting, says criminologist Emmeline Taylor.
Shutterstock

She termed these self-service checkout thieves “SWIPERS” – seemingly well-
intentioned patrons engaging in routine shoplifting. As the Australia and New Zealand Retail Crime Survey states:

Their behaviour and motivations (that are often interlinked) fall into four main groups: the accidental thieves, the switchers of labels, those compensating themselves, and those that steal because they claim to have become frustrated with the process of self-checkout (e.g. triggering alerts or purchasing age-restricted items that require assistance from an employee).




Read more:
The economics of self-service checkouts


Prevention techniques

The traditional approach to loss prevention involves attendants and security guards, specialised display fixtures, reinforced packaging, training, in-store signage, display alarms and more cameras.

More of these can prove counter-productive, as highlighted by the Australian Institute of Criminology’s analysis of local crime prevention strategies in 2014. It found, for example, that introducing surveillance systems or security guards made shop staff less likely to approach suspicious shoppers.

Getting away with it

The research by Taylor and others into the motivators of shoplifting points to the potential of another way to reinforce honest behaviour.

While some forms of stealing might be considered irrational – such as kleptomania – shoplifters often rationalise their thefts.




Read more:
How shoplifters justify theft at supermarket self-service checkouts


How much they steal comes down to their own “deviance threshold” – the point at which they can no longer justify their behaviour alongside a self-perception as a good person. This helps explains the greater frequency of shoplifting lower value items. It’s easier to justify a small “discount” on your bill.

If it’s just a small theft, also, the chances of getting caught are smaller. If caught, the chance of getting away – passing it off as an honest mistake, perhaps – is higher. This semi-conscious calculation is known as the “denial of punishment probability”.

You are being watched

An obvious strategy for retailers is to make shoppers more aware they are being watched.

Research has demonstrated “eyes” images do this more effectively than images of security cameras or written reminders such as “you are being observed”. This is due to eyes triggering instincts connected to our evolutionary capacity for gaze detection – sensitivity to being watched.




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But eyes signs also have their limitations.

Newcastle University researchers Max Ernest-Jonesa, Daniel Nettleb and Melissa Bateson did an experiment in a campus cafeteria and found that posters featuring eye images resulted in less litter being left on tables than images of flowers, but less so when the café was busier.


Proportion of tables with litter left by quintile of number of people in the café at the time (1=fewest people, 5=most) under eye-image and flower-image conditions.
Max Ernest-Jones, Daniel Nettle, Melissa Bateson, CC BY-NC-ND

The more people around the more we relax. Those “eyes” can’t be watching everyone.

Think of yourself

A more effective tactic might be appealing to another honed evolutionary instinct: a “think of yourself” focus.

University of East Anglia researcher Rose Melaeady and colleagues demonstrated this with experiments using signs to encourage drivers to turn off their engines at a busy rail crossing with a two-minute average wait.

After an experiment just using an “watching eyes” image (with no discernible effect) they tried two signs.

One with set of human eyes and the words: “When barriers are down, switch off your engine”

The other with just the words: “Think of yourself: When barriers are down, switch off your engine.”


Rose Meleady et al, Environment and Behavior, February 10 2017., CC BY-NC-ND

With no sign, 20% of drivers switched off their engines. With the watching eyes sign, 30% switched off. With the “think of yourself” sign, 51% did so.

Self-surveillance

So the supermarkets’ self-surveillance strategy combines two tactics. First, a “traditional” external motivation to do the right thing – amplifying the spotlight effect with an overt reminder we are being watched. Second, it is also intended to evoke self-reflection and self-regulation.

These steps will likely add to concerns about personal privacy, though Woolworths and Coles say no recordings are being made.




Read more:
From fare evasion to illegal downloads: the cost of defiance


Even if they were, though, the embrace of cashless transactions – with just 27% of all payments now made with cash – suggests most customers aren’t overtly concerned about how much others know about their shopping habits.The Conversation

Gary Mortimer, Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour, Queensland University of Technology and Paula Dootson, Senior Lecturer, Queensland University of Technology

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

It’s time to admit our COVID-19 ‘exit strategy’ might just look like a more flexible version of lockdown


Toby Phillips, University of Oxford

As the COVID-19 curve starts to flatten in Australia and New Zealand, people are rightly wondering how we will roll back current lockdown policies. Australia’s federal health minister Greg Hunt says Australia is looking to South Korea, Japan and Singapore to inform our exit strategy. New Zealand is relaxing some measures from next week.

A long-term solution – a vaccine – is many months, probably years, away.

In the meantime, we must rely on social distancing policies to contain the epidemic – and begin to accept the idea that an “exit strategy” may really look more like a more flexible version of lockdown.

What can we learn from other countries?

Total lockdown is not a prerequisite for success, but nonetheless seems to be where most countries are going.

In a study of more than 100 countries, currently under peer review, my colleagues and I find that on average, stricter policies (as measured by what we called a “stringency index”) lead to lower death rates after two to four weeks.

When looking at most of the other countries mentioned by Australian health minister Greg Hunt we see that they are not exiting lockdown but are, in fact, getting stricter.

Indeed, of Minister Hunt’s countries, Japan is the only one that has not escalated its policies recently. It has, however, seen an uptick in daily deaths over the last week, going from an average of five deaths per day to 20.

(COVID-19 deaths is a better measure of epidemic severity than case numbers, as case numbers are vastly underestimated in some countries. For instance, some researchers have estimated that the United Kingdom might have over 10 times more cases than reported.)

South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore all initially managed to keep their curve flat through aggressive testing, a small amount of targeted closures, and voluntary social distancing by citizens.

But from mid-March onwards, these countries started banning small gatherings and closing businesses. First South Korea, then Hong Kong and finally Singapore (with their April 7 “circuit breaker” measures).

Even though they aren’t exiting lockdown, there are still useful lessons: despite being officially “open” at the time, these countries had slow infection growth rates over February and March.

We should add Taiwan to the list of countries to watch. They seem to have the epidemic under control – or close to it – without a national lockdown. The key seems to have been rapid tracing and quarantining, community measures (such as temperature testing checkpoints), and citizen compliance. They have been preparing for a major pandemic since SARS in 2004.

When should we start to loosen the rules?

Last week the Australian prime minister Scott Morrison outlined three things Australia needs to have before restrictions can be lifted:

  • a more extensive testing regime (including asymptomatic people)
  • industrial scale contact tracing
  • stronger local response capabilities.

Broadly speaking, these mirror the criteria set by the WHO director general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, three days earlier. Tedros also included that epidemic transmission should be under control and communities must be adjusted to the “new normal”.

On these criteria, Australia is one of the leading countries in the world. For testing, South Korea used to be at the front of the pack, but now we’ve conducted more tests per person than most countries (although not as many as New Zealand or Italy).

In terms of controlling the epidemic, we are averaging around one or two deaths each day. Australia ramped up its policy approach three and half weeks ago; and now we are seeing the curve start to flatten.

So we’re approaching the point where it makes sense to start thinking about loosening rules. But there aren’t really any examples to learn from. China has made the most significant reductions in policy strictness, but it is still too early to assess the impact of this.

What does life look like after lockdown?

Ultimately, we can’t think of lockdown as a national on-off switch. Just as there is an epidemic curve of cases, so too there is a curve of policy responses. Over 200 Australian economists signed an open letter on Monday urging the government not to roll back too far too quickly.

All eyes will be on New Zealand as they reduce their lockdown level next week. It is the first step of a slow and measured roll back – many aspects of a “lockdown” will remain. Some businesses must stay closed. People must still stay at home unless working or making essential trips.

Until a vaccine arrives, containing the virus is about reducing how often people come into contact and how closely – as we saw from Taiwan, a formal lockdown may not be necessary. Data from firms such as Apple and Google can serve as a proxy for people’s movement and likelihood of coming into contact with others.

As Australia was heading into the pandemic, the data in the chart above suggest it took blunt lockdown measures (late-March) for people to reduce their contact with each other (for example, Bondi Beach was closed after crowds gathered there in defiance of social distancing recommendations).

Conversely, individual Singaporeans and South Koreans reduced their level of interaction back in February, without the strict lockdowns that are only just now being implemented in their countries.

Exiting the lockdown doesn’t mean going back to business-as-usual. Under the “new normal” we will need people to behave like Singaporeans and South Koreans did in February: voluntarily limiting contact. Hiking will be back on the cards; big barbecues might not be.

What’s more, we will need to figure out how to scale the response up and down as needed – possibly several times and in ways you might not expect.

We might need to return to full lockdown in a specific place when a flare-up is detected there. This requires new policy instruments to flexible and locally switch areas on and off – not the whole country – to deal with isolated outbreaks.

We can’t remain in a nationwide lockdown forever. If people can voluntarily practise the behaviours that slow the virus’ spread, then the formal lockdown can relax. But life can’t return to how it was before. At least not yet.

The Oxford data on policy measures is available on GitHub, and the data on movement is available from Apple’s website.The Conversation

Toby Phillips, Public policy researcher, University of Oxford

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

What might trigger a return to ‘normal’? Why our coronavirus exit strategy is … TBC


Katherine Gibney, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and Jodie McVernon, University of Melbourne

The unprecedented restrictions Australians are living with are working, so far, to curb the rise in new COVID-19 cases.

Nationally, on average around 50 new COVID-19 cases were reported each day in the week leading up to April 15, compared with a peak of 460 on March 28.

Fewer people are testing positive, and these cases are infecting fewer additional people, as we close international borders, work and study from home, keep 1.5m apart and limit unnecessary travel.

New modelling indicates ten people with the virus now infect only five others.

So many people are asking when physical distancing measures can be relaxed.




Read more:
Latest coronavirus modelling suggests Australia on track, detecting most cases – but we must keep going


When can life go back to normal?

The simple answer is, life as normal cannot resume anytime soon. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said current restrictions will be in place for at least the next four weeks.

COVID-19 remains highly infectious, and our population is still almost entirely susceptible to catching it.

Most people won’t have been exposed to the virus and won’t have built up immunity to it. And we’re unlikely to have a vaccine for at least the next 12–18 months.

This means we need to continue to modify the way we work, socialise and travel to minimise the chance of catching the virus.

What might trigger a return to ‘normal’?

When we know who’s immune

Serosurveys survey the population for antibodies in blood that protect against COVID-19. These can indicate the proportion of the population with natural immunity after COVID-19 infection.

These studies are underway internationally, including in the United States, and are planned for Australia.

Eventually they could inform who gets vaccinated and guide decisions around lifting restrictions. But these results are still likely to be some time away.




Read more:
Here’s why the WHO says a coronavirus vaccine is 18 months away


Few new unexplained local cases for at least two weeks

The widespread physical distancing measures in place in Australia aim to prevent community transmission of COVID-19. This is distinct from border measures, which are designed to prevent the introduction of new cases from overseas.

As the restrictions on daily life have important health, social and economic ramifications beyond COVID-19, we will need to begin to roll them back before the Australian population is COVID-19 immune (and before we have results from serosurveys to confirm this).

These changes could begin when the number of locally acquired cases, particularly those transmitted in the community without a known source, is very low for a sustained period. This would need to be longer than the incubation period (the time from infection to symptoms showing), which for COVID-19 can be up to two weeks.

Now is an appropriate time to develop this “exit plan”, but we need to be cautious and responsive in doing so.

More testing, tracing and quarantine

First, we need an even stronger capacity to identify and isolate cases, and to trace and quarantine contacts.

As we’ve increased testing capacity in Australia, we’ve also expanded testing criteria. While initially restricted to returned travellers and contacts of a known case, some jurisdictions are now testing all people with COVID-19 symptoms – regardless of their travel or contact history – to determine the extent of community transmission.

Testing should continue to identify geographical areas or sub-populations with ongoing (or new) transmission, to pave the way for rapid and targeted public health responses.




Read more:
More testing will give us a better picture of the coronavirus spread and its slowdown


Once a case is identified, a network of thousands of contact tracers work to to identify their contacts and provide advice around quarantine requirements.

Many countries have employed technological solutions such as contact tracing apps, and Australia is looking to follow suit. But such an app will be effective only if uptake is high.

Fewer than one-fifth of Singapore’s population had downloaded their TraceTogether contact tracing app by April 1, well short of their target.

When we know more about people with mild or no symptoms

Social distancing measures minimise the risk a person will transmit the virus to others when that person doesn’t know they’re infected. So before we consider relaxing them, we need to better understand the relative infectiousness of people with no or mild symptoms.

Studies currently underway are following families and close contacts of cases to see who develops typical COVID-19 symptoms, who is infected with mild or no symptoms, and who is not infected.

Likewise, understanding the role of children in transmitting infection is essential to support reopening schools, with appropriate social distancing in place. Research is similarly underway to attempt to answer this question.

We will likely see restrictions lifted in stages

While returning children to classrooms and opening businesses will be a priority, restrictions around international travel are likely to be in place for many months. Isolation of cases and quarantine of contacts are likely to be ongoing.

While Australia is developing its “exit plan”, other countries have revealed theirs. Iceland has announced physical distancing restrictions will be gradually lifted starting on May 4, including increasing the limit for gatherings from 20 to 50 people, and re-opening schools and universities.

Likewise, Norway is planning to re-open kindergartens, primary schools and certain businesses from April 20.




Read more:
The coronavirus contact tracing app won’t log your location, but it will reveal who you hang out with


Even the best-laid plans might not eventuate. Physical distancing measures had been relaxed in Singapore, Japan and South Korea after flattening the curve, but were recently re-introduced following a surge in cases.

No-one knows how the coming months will play out, but this is a marathon, not a sprint. We’ll need to carefully manage the risks that come with easing restrictions. But Australia is well-placed to do this, having successfully navigated the COVID-19 journey so far.The Conversation

Katherine Gibney, NHMRC early career fellow, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and Jodie McVernon, Professor and Director of Doherty Epidemiology, University of Melbourne

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

Eradicating the COVID-19 coronavirus is also the best economic strategy


Brendan Coates, Grattan Institute and Jonathan Nolan, Grattan Institute

Less than a month after restrictions first took effect, Australia appears to have contained the spread of COVID-19 more successfully than we could have possibly imagined.

But we’ve done so at unimaginable cost: large swathes of the economy have been shut down, leaving the livelihoods of millions of Australians on hold indefinitely. With new cases now on the decline, the conversation at today’s National Cabinet meeting will turn to what can reopen, and when.

But the economic costs of re-opening prematurely could be enormous.

The least costly economic strategy is eliminating COVID-19 from Australia altogether. Growing epidemiological evidence suggests it may be possible for us to eliminate coronavirus within the next two to three months.




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The case for Endgame C: stop almost everything, restart when coronavirus is gone


New Zealand is pursuing such a strategy.

Australia’s state and territory governments should explicitly declare that they want to eliminate the virus, and maintain harsh lockdown restrictions until new cases are down to zero or close to it.

And in the meantime we’ll accrue invaluable intelligence from other countries about how best to emerge from lockdowns, and plan accordingly.

There’s no doubt this strategy would have big short-term economic costs.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that severe shutdowns like our level-three restrictions wipe out almost a quarter of economic activity, costing Australia’s economy about 2% of annual GDP for each month they remain in place.

This means a three-month shutdown would shave six percentage points off Australia’s annual GDP.

But the Government’s unprecedented package of economic support means many firms and households are well-placed to weather a short but severe storm.

Short term pain, long term gain

There’s also enormous economic upside if we eliminate the virus and the economy can more or less return to normal.

Schools and offices could re-open, as could bars, cafes and restaurants. Import and export goods would flow freely. International students could still come to Australia with quarantine and testing, and being COVID-free would mean more would choose Australia over alternative destinations.

Not everything could return to normal. International tourism would take a hit, because tight border controls would be maintained until the pandemic subsides abroad. But international tourism accounts for just 2% of our gross domestic product. And domestic travel would boom.

And while the prospect of 90 days of stage-three restrictions is daunting, it poses fewer economic costs than the alternatives.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has rightly ruled out allowing the virus to spread through the community.




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Unlocking Australia: What can benefit-cost analysis tell us?


Even with a so-called herd immunity strategy, there is little chance that economic life would return to normal for at least 12 months. Spatial distancing would still be needed to ensure our hospitals were not overwhelmed, and fear of infection would prevent many people from going outside. Many businesses would remain closed.

Adopting a Goldilocks strategy – where we try to find just the right balance between allowing some economic activity while keeping infections low – would mean fewer die, but would still be bad for the economy.

While there is hope that widespread use of face masks and improvements in tracking and tracing of the disease might change this – there is no certainty.

Sophisticated contract tracing and surveillance were initially effective in helping countries like Singapore to largely stay open, but they too have since resorted to a lockdown to keep infections under control.




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Coronavirus: what causes a ‘second wave’ of disease outbreak, and could we see this in Australia?


In practice, few sectors currently closed could be reopened in Australia under a Goldilocks strategy.

Modellers at the University of Sydney estimate that even a 20% reduction in spatial distancing compliance would push rates of transmission back above one (that is, where one infected person on average infects more than one other).

That suggests schools could probably re-open, but many workplaces and university classes may have to stay closed.

As would domestic air travel and much non-essential retail. The political lobbying over which industry should have the privilege to re-open first would also be intense.

And whatever is required to keep infection rates stable would need to remain in place until there was herd immunity or a vaccine – and that probably means for as long as 18 months, assuming either happens.

We’ve a choice of a long or a short shutdown

For 18 months of lighter restrictions to be better for the economy than shutting down for another 2-to-3 months to eliminate the virus, the economic costs of a lighter shutdown need to be six to nine times less damaging to the economy than a severe shutdown.

That would require an almost complete removal of spatial distancing, which isn’t on the table.

If there were extended shutdowns, millions of Australians would come out the other side with significant scarring; many would never work again.

Firms that can endure a three-month shutdown without going bust are unlikely to survive for 12 months without further government support. And the budgetary costs of that support would become much bigger for future generations if extended to 12 months or more.




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Relaxing most restrictions without sparking a second round of contagion may be possible in time, but only after making enormous new investments in our ability to identify cases and isolate them quickly.

Economist Paul Romer argues for universal testing of Americans every two weeks; others call for a new digital surveillance state to enforce self-isolation. In each case the technological obstacles are large, and so we should start investing now. Extending the shut down would give us valuable time to prepare if we fail.

It’s commonly assumed that the public health and economic objectives of managing COVID-19 are in conflict. That’s wrong. Eliminating the virus from Australia is the best strategy for our health and for our economy.The Conversation

Brendan Coates, Program Director, Household Finances, Grattan Institute and Jonathan Nolan, Associate, Grattan Institute

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

Coronavirus debate turns to whether Australia should embrace ‘elimination’ strategy


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Health Minister Greg Hunt has said the goal of the government’s suppression policy is the “effective eradication” of the coronavirus in Australia – while at the same time casting doubt on the possibility of eliminating it.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy also was doubtful about being able to eliminate the virus here, saying that would involve very aggressive long term border control.

Both Hunt and Murphy on Monday warned that while an exit strategy from present tough restrictions was on the minds of decision-makers (and the public), now was not the time to take the foot off the brake.

With the number of new cases low (46 over the previous 24 hours on Monday’s figures), shooting for eliminating the virus in Australia is being advocated by some experts as a realistic option.

The national cabinet’s medical advisers are preparing possible scenarios for the period ahead.

Pursuing elimination is the declared policy in New Zealand.

Writing in the Nine media, the Grattan Institute’s John Daley and Stephen Duckett (a former secretary of the federal health department) strongly argue for an elimination strategy.

“The least-bad endgame is to eliminate the virus from Australia, continue to control our borders until there is a vaccine or a cure, and restore domestic economic and social activity to “normal”, albeit keeping a close watch for new cases,“ they write.

“The leading alternative to an elimination strategy is to hold infection rates at close to one – that is, so each infected person on average infects only one other. It’s the “Goldilocks strategy” – it requires us to calibrate social distancing measures with precision. Too tight, and we inflict extra economic damage for a long time. A little too loose, and infections would again grow exponentially.“

Hunt told a Monday news conference that developing herd immunity – deliberately letting the virus spread through a large part of the community in a controlled way – “is not the government’s strategy and it’s not the medical advice.”

He said if it required 60% of the population to get the virus, that would be 15 million Australians. If the death rate were one percent, it would be “an unthinkable strategy and one we reject”.

What the government was doing, Hunt said, was “containment and suppression” with “this goal of effective eradication, but without ever being able to promise that any country could completely do that”.

The current strategy “means that we are giving ourselves the time to plan the exit”.

Murphy said: “The challenge with elimination is that nobody yet knows whether it’s possible. We don’t know to what extent there is asymptomatic transmission of this virus.

“The challenge … also with an elimination strategy is that you have to keep the most aggressive border measures in place for a very long time – potentially until you’ve got a vaccine.”

Murphy said one reason for New Zealand’s keenness to be very aggressive was its shortage of critical care beds. It had fewer of these beds as a proportion of population than Australia had.

While cautioning in general about early lifting of restrictions, Murphy said one thing the national cabinet was “quite keen to do is to get children back to school,” although he conceded some states were keener than others.

Scott Morrison has been consistently wanting to ensure schools are functioning so parents can work. It was the premiers, led by NSW and Victoria but in other states too, who wanted people to keep children home, which has become the general model, except for parents unable to do so.

Education Minister Dan Tehan last week warned independent schools they face their funding being cut if they don’t stay open for those who need them.

Murphy said: “we are working with some advice for the national cabinet on how schools can be made a safer environment to prevent transmission, if it does occur between children, and to protect teachers. So that’s one very important measure that the national cabinet is keen to get advice on.”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.

With China-US tensions on the rise, does Australia need a new defence strategy?



File 20181120 161621 1g1rmsp.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
China’s rising influence in the region has alarmed many defence experts. But the question remains: would Australia ever need to fight China on its own?
Joel Carrett/AAP

Greg Raymond, Australian National University

There is no evidence that China has ever contemplated using its nuclear weapons to coerce another state. Instead, China has maintained a “no first use policy” on nuclear weapons. Surprising as it may sound to many, China wants to build an image of itself as a responsible power.

But the fact remains that China could threaten to use those weapons to force the Australian government into, say, ceasing its patrols of the South China Sea, regardless of the much-debated US “nuclear umbrella” in East Asia.

This is the reality that Australian defence planners have lived with for some 50 years. Australian defence force planning has long accepted the premise that our self-reliance needs to be viewed within an alliance context. As recently as 2009, the government plainly conceded that the Australian Defence Force was not expected to deal with a situation:

…where we were under threat from a major power whose military capabilities were simply beyond our capacity to resist.

In such a situation, we don’t expect to be alone.

This point is important to bear in mind when we consider recent discussions of a “Plan B” to strengthen Australia’s defence posture.




Read more:
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Commentators have suggested recently that Australia’s strategic risk is increasing and the A$195 billion defence spending plan announced in the 2016 Defence White Paper is now insufficient.

Australian taxpayers would certainly be interested to know why a plan that doubles our submarine fleet, significantly expands our navy and adds 100 of the most advanced and expensive combat aircraft ever invented would now be seen as insufficient.

The answer lies in the shifting strategic landscape in the Asia-Pacific region, which has led to greater concerns about China’s long-term intentions and rising tensions between China and the US. So what exactly has changed?

China’s recent activities in the region

Since the last Defence White Paper in 2016, Australian defence observers have been alarmed by four things:

  • China’s rejection of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling that deemed its nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea illegal

  • China’s conversion of its South China Sea artificial islands into military bases, which was largely complete by the end of 2016, despite a pledge President Xi Jinping gave then-President Barack Obama that China had “no intention to militarise” the islands

  • reports in April of this year that China was establishing partnerships with Pacific nations like Vanuatu for potential future military bases and other arrangements

  • the election of Donald Trump as US president and the uncertainty this has brought to the region due to his disparaging of traditional alliances and disdain for multilateral institutions

These events have occurred against a backdrop of China’s rapidly expanding global footprint. This includes the establishment of its first overseas military base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, and its growing access to regional ports such as the controversial Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, which the Sri Lankan government ceded to Beijing on a 99-year lease.

President Xi Jinping has rapidly expanded China’s presence in the Pacific region in recent years.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

These regional shifts have also come amid growing illiberalism in China, evidence of increasing Chinese intelligence and influence operations in Australia (especially the Dastyari affair) and bullying behaviour from Chinese officials in their meetings with Australian politicians.

In addition, Trump appears to mark a significant break with the strategic priorities of previous US administrations. He’s threatened to walk away from America’s support for the traditional allies and global trade institutions that have characterised US foreign policy since the Second World War. This has put unprecedented distance between the United States and Australia, which as a middle power needs healthy global institutions.




Read more:
Australia’s naval upgrade may not be enough to keep pace in a fast-changing region


But on China, it’s different. The Trump administration and importantly, the US security apparatus, share Australia’s darkening view of China to the point we may now be seeing a new Cold War developing in the region.

Case in point: the recent announcement of US participation in the development of a joint naval base with Australia on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. This is clear evidence of the US’s new willingness to compete with China and a signal the US wants to dispel the uncertainty left in the region in the wake of Obama’s problematic “pivot” to Asia.

Assessing the risks for Australia

In assessing whether Australia needs a steep increase in its defence spending, there are two questions we must ask: Firstly, what regional developments could the 2016 Defence White Paper not have anticipated? And of these, which equate to risks that increased defence spending can obviate?

Our defence planners have been well aware since at least 2009 of China’s gradually modernising defence forces and steadily growing navy. China’s moves toward a blue-water fleet, including new carriers and cruisers, were also well understood in 2016.

While the artificial islands in the South China Sea were still being built, their eventual militarisation was also anticipated by Australian defence leaders, despite China’s protestations to the contrary.

But even knowing all of this, Australia’s defence planners essentially decided in the 2016 White Paper to continue with the “Force 2030” force structure they envisaged in 2009. There have been some additions like shore-based anti-ship missiles, but our plan has largely been focused on enablers – that is, the capability to make the force operate with greater certainty, precision and coordination. Importantly, this White Paper did not envisage Australia fighting China on its own.




Read more:
The risks of a new Cold War between the US and China are real: here’s why


Of the strategic developments involving China since 2016 – from the revelations of its influence operations to its new-found interest in the Pacific – the question defence planners should now be asking is whether any undermine the fundamental judgements of the 2016 White Paper. Do they point to a need to radically change Australia’s defence posture?

Combating China’s illicit influence in Australia is being dealt with through our stronger foreign influence laws. Offsetting China’s influence in the Pacific will be best undertaken through Australia’s aid and diplomatic programs.

This leaves the big question of the role of the US in the Asia-Pacific region – the most critical of defence planning factors. Will Australia be left on its own in the foreseeable future?

And here we must observe that despite Trump’s anti-alliance rhetoric, the American force posture in the Western Pacific actually remains unchanged. There have been no base closures and no force draw-downs as of yet from the bases encircling China in Guam, Japan and South Korea, though Trump has threatened this.

Mike Pence signaled a harder US stance towards China in a speech last month, saying: ‘We will not stand down.’
Fazry Ismail/EPA

Moreover, the hardening US view against China means a likely strengthening of its Asia-Pacific posture under the new National Security Statement, the cardinal US security policy document.

In fact, the US is now expanding its presence in the region with the announcement of the new joint naval base on Manus Island. The US also recently put its nuclear deterrence guarantee to Australia in writing for the first time in history. And the American Marine build-up in Darwin continues.

Although China’s military advances are making the task of possibly defeating its navy more challenging, the fact remains that it will be a long time before it’s able to start a war with the US confident of victory. The US also seems unwilling to leave China to dominate Asia.

In these circumstances, would China use its forces against other countries in the region, like Australia, without the US getting involved? In my view it could not.

Therefore, while every responsible government should continue to assess defence planning and ensure appropriate levels of readiness, the case for a sharply increased defence spending plan is not at this point compelling.The Conversation

Greg Raymond, Research fellow, Australian National University

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

US approach to security is deeply troubling – and it’s not just about Trump



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Is Donald Trump really the one setting the direction of US security policy?
Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Joseph Camilleri, La Trobe University

Media coverage of Donald Trump’s presidency has fixated on his outlandish, off-the-cuff tweets, his ill-conceived and inflammatory positions on immigration, race relations and climate change, his “America First” mantra, and his unrelenting attacks on the various inquiries into collusion with Russia.

The image created has been of a man who, though ignorant, vulgar and deeply polarising, struts the political stage. But is Trump really setting the direction of US security policy?

Mounting evidence suggests the theatre around Trump is so mesmerising that we have lost sight of how the US security establishment wields power – and to what end.

The picture is becoming clear

The security establishment is no monolith, nor does it function as a conspiratorial cabal. Personalities and institutional interests compete for attention and resources.

Yet it has a reasonably coherent mindset, which has its origins in the early days of the Cold War. It is a sense of belonging to a club that connects first and foremost the Department of Defence, various arms of the intelligence community and law enforcement agencies, but also significant voices in other key government departments, areas of the judiciary and Congress, and some of America’s most influential think-tanks and corporations – in particular the leading arms manufacturers.

How this security establishment is handling the Trump phenomenon is an intriguing story, highly complex, and still unfolding. However, several pieces of the jigsaw are beginning to fall into place. Three merit special attention:

  • the competition for influence within the Trump administration

  • the Russia investigation

  • the unmistakable shift in US strategic planning.

Taken together these form a picture of a political and military elite intent on maintaining control of US security policy. They feel the need to immunise it from Trump’s erratic behaviour and his supposedly pro-Russian inclinations, and revive a Cold War mindset that views Russia and China as major adversaries.

The battle for influence

Though Trump and the security establishment may be suspicious of one another, there is also common ground. They disagree not about placing “America first”, but about how this should be done.

The security establishment prefers a carefully devised, longer-term strategy and a less confrontational approach toward friends and allies. It sees value in continuing to extol the virtues of free trade and democracy, though it does not necessarily practise what it preaches.

And it is generally suspicious of personal deal-making – especially where this involves Russia – to which Trump is drawn by instinct, and commercial interest and experience.

The security establishment has therefore made it a priority to gain influence within the administration. It took no more than six months for reliable establishment figures to be firmly in the saddle: Jim Mattis as defence secretary, John Kelly as White House chief-of-staff and H.R. McMaster as national security adviser.

Key Trump campaign advisers thought to have cultivated links with Russia or be otherwise unreliable – including Michael Flynn (whom Trump initially appointed as national security adviser), George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Stephen Bannon and even Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner – have been gently or not-so-gently eased out of their previously influential roles.

Trump himself is seen at best as an unknown quantity, and at worst prone to dangerous illusions about the prospects of cultivating a fruitful personal relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Behind the lurid accusations of Russian meddling in the US presidential election and alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, and more recently behind the claims and counterclaims of obstruction of justice by the Trump administration, we can now discern a far more significant jostling for control of US policy.

The ‘new’ Russian threat

The Russia investigations being conducted by congressional committees and by special counsel Robert Mueller are clearly designed to put Trump on the defensive. Congressional Democrats are doing all they can to prolong these inquiries – in some cases with the support of senior Republican senators close to the intelligence community.

Hundreds of witnesses have already given evidence to these inquiries. Many more are expected to appear. And in public comments and her recently published memoir, Hillary Clinton, well known for her antipathy to Putin and his reassertion of Russian influence, has been at pains to identify Russia’s meddling in the election as a key factor in her defeat.

Yet the hard evidence so far produced to support the charges of Russian interference has been scant to say the least.

Putin and his underlings are no angels. But as journalist Aaron Mate has argued:

In Russiagate, unverified claims are reported with little to no scepticism … developments are cherry-picked and overhyped, while countervailing ones are minimised or ignored. Front-page headlines advertise explosive and incriminating developments, only to often be undermined by the article’s content, or retracted entirely.

Whatever the outcome of these various inquiries, one thing is clear. The security establishment has concluded that a resurgent Russia needs to be contained and that any advocacy of dialogue with it must be nipped in the bud.

Allegations of Russian interference in the politics of the US and other Western countries are part of a larger strategy that aims to magnify the threat Russia poses and to thwart any intention on Trump’s part to reset the relationship.

Donald Trump has been keen to offer a hand of friendship to Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Reuters/Carlos Barria

Back to the Cold War

The national defence strategy Mattis recently unveiled delivers a stark message. Countering China’s rise and Russia’s resurgence are now at the heart of US policy. The Cold War outlook is back with a vengeance.

To this end, the US military will confront its adversaries across the spectrum of conflicts – mainly in Europe and the Indo-Pacific region, but without neglecting the Middle East.

American armed forces will modernise and build its readiness for future conflicts and consolidate military ties with allies and partners around the world. But conspicuously absent is any notion of neo-isolationism or renewed dialogue with Russia – both of which featured prominently during Trump’s presidential campaign.

The national defence strategy should, in any case, be read in conjunction with the national security strategy released in December 2017 and the more recent nuclear posture review released last week.

The shift in US strategic priorities, which is well under way, will affect all aspects of defence budgeting, weapons development and force management. Training is already focused on high-intensity conflict with major adversaries. Heavily armed deployments are stationed continuously in Europe and across East and Central Asia.

The plan is to modernise all three arms of the US nuclear arsenal – land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic bombers and submarine-launched ballistic missiles – and design low-yield nuclear weapons that make them more readily usable. In other words, the US is boosting its capacity to escalate non-nuclear conflicts into nuclear war, thereby lowering the nuclear threshold.

Trump’s rhetoric of “fire and fury” is at first sight in accord with these developments. Whether he fully understands them is another matter.

The ConversationWe may not much like what Trump says or wants to do. But even more troubling is the US security establishment’s vision of the future. For US allies, not least Australia, it spells danger and much heartache.

Joseph Camilleri, Emeritus Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University

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

Australia’s digital strategy needs major readjustment



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When it comes to digital competitiveness, Australia needs to step up and get serious about education.
University of Washington/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Ron Johnston, University of Sydney

Australia ranks 15 out of 63 nations when it comes to digital competitiveness, according to a new report from the International Institute for Management Development (IMD). While we’re in the top 20, the result highlights serious structural flaws in our economy that will impact our future performance and living standards.

According to the IMD, Australia has also fallen four places to 21st in the world in economic competitiveness. On both scores, lead performers like Hong Kong, Switzerland and Singapore are very different from Australia, not just in their size or geography but because of a deep commitment to growing their competitiveness and technological capabilities.

Being 15th in digital competitiveness is worrisome. On most measures included in the score, Australia is steadily falling behind and changing this trajectory will take time and commitment.

Are we digitally competitive?

IMD’s analysis of digital competitiveness is based on three (somewhat opaque) performance characteristics:

  • Knowledge: the capacity to understand and learn new technologies, which includes talent, training and education, and scientific performance,
  • The technology environment: encompassing regulatory and technological frameworks, and capital, and
  • Future readiness: based on adaptive attitudes, business agility and IT integration.

According to a summary of the IMD report by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA is the official Australian partner for the yearbook), we have some areas of high comparative performance. These include the net flow of international students (in which we lead the world), e-participation and e-government (in which we rank 2nd respectively), and ease of starting a business (we place 5th).

But by many other measures we are at the bottom of the pack. Australia rates 45th when it comes to digital and technological skills. There’s hardly been silence on this issue: the Australian Computer Society, among many others, has long emphasised the growing labour market for IT skills, and the need to enhance training.

Singapore is surpassing Australia when it comes to digital competitiveness.
Etienne Valois/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

In education, Australia has a global ranking of 51st, down 20 places since 2013. In my view, this is substantially due to two factors. The first is the telling ranking of 52nd for the pupil-teacher ratio in tertiary education, which raises questions about the adequacy of university funding.

The second is a very low level of employee training, where we rank 43rd. The National Centre for Vocational Education and Research (NCVER) has argued that the growth of casual employment, together with outsourcing, has had a significant impact on vocational education and training (VET) in the workplace. As it states,

There has been a shift in the balance of responsibility for VET in Australia. Employers using labour hire or outsourcing have tried to shift the burden of training onto the labour-hire firm or the outsourced service provider. However, these organisations are in turn trying to minimise any investment in training. At the same time the government’s role in direct provision of generalist and comprehensive trade and vocational training has declined in favour of support for a training market and user choice.

Given regular reports of the failings of Australia’s slow internet and broadband rollout, it comes as no surprise that Australia ranks 40th for internet bandwidth speed and 54th in communications technology. What chance for a “smart country” when we cannot invest in the necessary infrastructure?

Finally, despite the almost daily reports of cyber insecurity, and announcements of investment by government, our current ranking on cybersecurity is an alarming 40th. We clearly lag well behind most other countries in preparing for this new threat.

So what might be done?

Specific policies focused on these failings are not the answer. Australia’s innovation policy has suffered for years from fragmentation, short-term measures, changes of emphasis and an almost indecent desire to “clean the slate”.

Rather, as has been emphasised by the Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE), each of these elements needs to be seen as interconnected, and afforded support over many years. The ATSE has said,

Australia needs a suite of complementary measures to incentivise innovation which are delivered at sufficient scale, with sufficient funding, and with the long-term support and stability necessary to be effective.

For Australia, the difference between us and Singapore is all too evident.

Its government-affiliated Committee on the Future Economy released a commendable seven-point national economic strategy in 2017. The group suggested, among other points, substantial measures to boost trade and investment through a “a Global Innovation Alliance”, the requirement for companies to play a stronger role in developing their workers and further building digital capabilities.

In contrast, we have little problem taking on 5 to 10 year projects to expand the housing supply, build roads, airports and dams, but seem to baulk at investment in what has become the biggest driver of economic competitiveness – the generation and application of knowledge.

The root cause of Australia’s continuing decline in competitiveness may well be what Ross Garnaut and others have labelled the country’s “great complacency” – the “she’ll be right” attitude that assumes because we have prospered in the past, it must inevitably continue.

The ConversationSuch critics will be proven correct if we continue to imagine our future wealth is a matter of providence, as opposed to welcoming major reform and investment in education.

Ron Johnston, Executive Director, Australian Centre for Innovation, University of Sydney

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

Social Media: Gaining Control


The following articles are the first two in a series concerning the very difficult task of controlling social media and the various social networks/web applications that you use. There are of course various strategies that can be used and usually some customised form that suits your own situation is generally the way to go. I find myself constantly adapting what I do to meet my current situation. Sometimes the strategy works for a while before breaking down, while at other times the strategy doesn’t appear to get me too far at all.

Perhaps what is outlined in the various articles below will be a help to you. Some of what is mentioned in the articles are strategies I already use and that sucessfully, but not owning a smartphone means I am limited to using various web applications and strategies, so they won’t all work for me.

For more, visit:
http://buckontech.blogspot.com.au/2012/02/2012-year-to-get-control-of-your-social.html
http://buckontech.blogspot.com.au/2012/02/5-must-have-tools-for-managing-social.html