Would Australians support mandates for the COVID-19 vaccine? Our research suggests most would


Dean Lewins/AAP

David Smith, University of Sydney; Katie Attwell, The University of Western Australia, and Uwana Evers, The University of Western AustraliaAustralia’s vaccine rollout is moving far more slowly than the government had hoped, and there is evidence of vaccine hesitancy in a significant part of the population.

Some governments and media outlets are already considering whether mandates will be needed to reach sufficient vaccine coverage.

Last year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison briefly suggested a vaccine would be mandatory before walking it back hours later.

Supply and rollout problems must clearly be solved first. But if mandates do come back on the table in the face of vaccine hesitancy, our research sheds light on how widely supported they would be.

Last year, with our research partner Pureprofile, we surveyed 1,200 Australians about whether they would take a COVID-19 vaccine when it became available. We also asked if they thought the government should make the vaccine a requirement for work, travel and study.

Our sample included 898 respondents we had previously surveyed in 2017. Back then, we asked their opinions about the safety and necessity of vaccines and whether they supported the federal government’s “No Jab, No Pay” policy, which takes away financial entitlements from vaccine refusers.




Read more:
Should a COVID-19 vaccine be compulsory — and what would this mean for anti-vaxxers?


Of those who participated in both the 2017 and 2020 surveys, 88% agreed in 2017 with the statement that “vaccines are safe, necessary and effective”. Yet 30% gave a hesitant response (“maybe” or “no”) when asked in 2020 if they would take the coronavirus vaccine.

We asked all hesitant respondents why they were hesitant. Just 8% of them were “against vaccines”. Another 16% indicated they weren’t personally concerned about the coronavirus. But an overwhelming 70% had safety concerns about the vaccine because of how quickly it was being developed.

New research has found widespread support among Australians for mandating COVID-19 vaccination.
David Caird/AAP

This level of vaccine hesitancy is very high by Australian standards, but it is unfortunately normal for COVID-19. Other local and international studies have also found much higher than normal hesitancy about COVID-19 vaccines, driven by a variety of factors. Despite this higher-than-usual hesitancy, a comfortable majority of Australians still want the vaccine.

Moreover, large majorities of Australians are in favour of government mandates for COVID-19 vaccines. Surprisingly, more respondents in our survey said they favoured the government making the vaccine a requirement (73%) than said they would definitely take it themselves (66%).

This is the opposite of what vaccination mandate studies usually find in the US, where there is less support for government mandates than there is for personally taking vaccines. However, it is in line with what other researchers have found about Australians during the pandemic. We have generally been highly accepting of strict government measures to control it, even if we don’t agree with them. This may also be evidence of a broader culture of rule-following.

Another crucial difference between Australians and Americans is in the political makeup of support for COVID-19 vaccines. While vaccine hesitancy in the US previously didn’t map onto party-political affiliation, it has very much done so for COVID-19.

Donald Trump’s opposition to other measures to fight the pandemic, his scepticism about the pandemic itself, and perhaps even his earlier statements about childhood vaccines seem to have caused widespread rejection of the COVID-19 vaccine among Republicans. This is in spite of the Trump administration’s significant support of vaccine development, and Trump’s own claim that he is the “father of the vaccine”.

Making vaccinations mandatory is even less popular with Republicans, and threatens to become a significant culture war issue.




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However, in Australia, the COVID-19 vaccine and the prospect of government requirements are popular. Supporters of both the Coalition parties and Labor, which between them form every state and federal government in the country, embrace both: 72% of these major party voters say they would definitely take the vaccine, while 79% of them support requirements for it. There is no statistically significant difference between supporters of the different parties.

Donald Trump has recently declared himself the ‘father’ of the vaccine, despite being publicly sceptical at first about the seriousness of the virus.
Gerald Herbert/AP/AAP

On the other hand, voters whose first preference would go to another party or independent were more hesitant about the vaccine and requiring it. Only 56% of them said they would definitely take the vaccine, while 61% said they would support a mandate.

Politicians from the Coalition and Labor have led Australia’s response to COVID-19, appearing alongside each other in a sometimes fractious but generally co-operative national cabinet. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that supporters of these parties also support vaccination in large numbers.

The biggest pockets of opposition are found in supporters of parties that usually don’t form government, and which challenge the major party consensus from both the left and right. It is important to emphasise that even a majority of these minor party voters would definitely take the vaccine, and would also support government requirements to do so. But we must keep in mind that vaccine hesitancy may well have an “anti-establishment” character in Australia, found among those who are less satisfied with the major parties.

We conducted our survey before any vaccine had been developed, let alone rolled out. Now that Australians have seen both the spectacular successes and rare but worrying adverse events following some brands of vaccination, should we expect them to have different views?

The market research company Ipsos undertook the only other national study we know of on attitudes to making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory. In January, Ipsos asked whether this should be the case for those over 18, and found 54% of Australians said yes, 35% said no and 10% were unsure.

The stronger language of “mandates” and less clarity about what mandatory means in practice may have prompted less support than in our study. Comparisons to 13 other countries put Australians somewhere in the middle in terms of acceptance of mandates. The Ipsos survey, like ours, was conducted prior to the recent pivot away from AstraZeneca vaccination for under 50s.

However, a recent survey of Western Australians found much higher support when respondents were asked about a specific requirement. Some 86% of respondents said they would favour making a vaccine mandatory for anyone who wanted to travel overseas.

The authors of this piece are neither anti- nor pro- vaccine mandates. We believe in certain circumstances it is appropriate for governments to require people to be vaccinated, and we prefer this to leaving vaccine mandates to the private sector. The development of any mandatory vaccination policies should involve robust and transparent engagement with the public.

However, we believe mandates should be a policy of last resort. Well-funded and targeted public communications, easy access and incentives should come first. We are still waiting for our own eligibility to be vaccinated, so there is a long way to go.The Conversation

David Smith, Associate Professor in American Politics and Foreign Policy, US Studies Centre, University of Sydney; Katie Attwell, Senior Lecturer, The University of Western Australia, and Uwana Evers, Adjunct Research Fellow, The University of Western Australia

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

US support for waiving COVID vaccine intellectual property is a huge step. Australia must follow


Deborah Gleeson, La Trobe UniversityYesterday, the US Biden administration declared its support for waiving intellectual property rights, including patents, for COVID-19 vaccines.

This decision represents a huge breakthrough in discussions at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that have been deadlocked for more than six months.

Shortly afterwards, New Zealand’s trade minister Damien O’Connor announced his country’s support on Twitter, quickly followed by Canada’s expression of support for the proposal.

Other nations that have so far resisted pressure to support the waiver are likely to fall like dominoes in the wake of the US in coming days.

Today, Australia’s trade minister Dan Tehan said the waiver “will be an important part of trying to get a resolution in the World Trade Organisation”, but it remains unclear whether Australia has unequivocally thrown its support behind the proposal.

Waiving intellectual property rights is a necessary first step to scaling up the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines and correcting worsening inequities in access to these desperately needed products.

A decision by Australia to support the waiver would indicate we value human lives more than pharmaceutical industry profits, and are committed to bringing the pandemic to an end globally.




Read more:
Over 700 health experts are calling for urgent action to expand global production of COVID vaccines


Why do we need to waive intellectual property rights?

The exclusive rights to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines are currently held by a small number of companies that control the global supply. This is despite the huge amounts of public funding funnelled into their development.

Some of these companies have entered into licensing arrangements with other manufacturers to increase production, such as AstraZeneca’s contracts allowing CSL in Australia and the Serum Institute of India to make its vaccine.

But most have not. And no pharmaceutical company has taken steps to share its intellectual property, know-how, and technology through the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, a platform set up by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for this purpose almost a year ago.

The exclusive rights held by these companies are governed by the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, commonly known as “TRIPS”. WTO members are required by TRIPS to provide patent terms of at least 20 years, along with other types of intellectual property protection, such as protection of trade secrets.

Suspending patents and other intellectual property rights relevant to pharmaceuticals will remove legal barriers, allowing vaccine developers to enter the market more quickly without worrying about the prospect of litigation over potential infringements of intellectual property rights.

It will also mean vaccines manufactured in one country can be exported to others without having to navigate a legal maze.

What’s been happening at the WTO?

India and South Africa first put a proposal to the WTO in October 2020 for a waiver of certain intellectual property provisions in TRIPS for COVID-19 medical products for the duration of the pandemic. As envisaged by its sponsors, the waiver would apply to vaccines along with other medical products to fight the pandemic such as treatments, diagnostic tests and medical equipment.

Over the ensuing six months, more than 100 of the WTO’s 164 members moved to support the TRIPS waiver proposal.

But several countries have prevented negotiations from moving forward, including the US, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Japan, Brazil, Norway and Australia. If Australia now adds its wholehearted support to the US proposal for a waiver for vaccines, this could help shift the dynamics at the WTO further towards a resolution.

Meanwhile, the pandemic has been accelerating and inequities in vaccine access have been worsening. The director-general of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, noted in April that one in four people in rich countries had been given a vaccine dose, but only one in around 500 in low-income countries had received a dose.

It has become increasingly clear that unless governments take urgent action, the global supply of vaccines won’t be adequate to meet demand for a long time to come. COVAX, the global program for equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, has so far been able to deliver only 54 million of the two billion vaccine doses it planned to distribute by the end of 2021.




Read more:
The best hope for fairly distributing COVID-19 vaccines globally is at risk of failing. Here’s how to save it


Why is the US about-face so significant?

Historically, the US has been the world’s staunchest advocate for intellectual property rights. It has demanded its trading partners provide high levels of protection for IP in exchange for access to US markets, and has named and shamed countries it sees as providing insufficient IP protection, singling them out for trade sanctions.

The change in the US position signals how clearly the success of every country in fighting the pandemic depends on vaccinating the whole world. The risk of variants emerging in areas of uncontrolled transmission means no country can gain control of the situation just by vaccinating its own population.

The US move will give confidence to other countries to support the waiver and will isolate any countries that continue to oppose it.

Source: Médecins Sans Frontières

Does the US support for the waiver go far enough?

The US has agreed to support a waiver only for vaccines. This is short-sighted. COVID-19 treatments could become a more important part of the medical toolkit for fighting the pandemic further down the track — as treatments called “antiretrovirals” have proved crucial to reigning in the spread of HIV. And many countries are lacking sufficient diagnostic tests, which are critical for getting outbreaks under control.

The waiver also isn’t enough on its own: it’s necessary but not sufficient. Governments will need to incentivise pharmaceutical companies — or if they continue to drag their feet, force them — to share their knowledge of manufacturing processes and their technology through initiatives like the WHO Technology Access Pool.

And governments will need to invest in building production capacity in low- and middle-income countries and find solutions to problems like shortages of raw ingredients, rather than relying on the market to solve these structural problems.

What needs to happen next?

Given the consensus-based decision-making process at the WTO, the TRIPS waiver will still need to win the support of the remaining countries standing in the way.

Gaining the EU’s support will probably be the most difficult battle. The EU, where a large proportion of the world’s pharmaceutical companies are headquartered, has so far emphasised donations of vaccines as the way out of the pandemic. But European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has at least signalled the EU’s willingness to discuss the US proposal.

Once consensus is reached, it will be important for the negotiations to be transparent, with draft texts shared publicly, as the benefits that flow from the waiver will rely on the detail of its wording.

Negotiations will also need to progress at speed. There have been millions of deaths from COVID-19 since the proposal was first tabled six months ago. The world can’t afford another long wait.The Conversation

Deborah Gleeson, Associate Professor in Public Health, La Trobe University

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

‘I felt immense grief’: one year on from the bushfires, scientists need mental health support



Daniella Teixeira

Daniella Teixeira, Griffith University

One night in January 2020, I couldn’t sleep. I kept waking to check my phone for news from Kangaroo Island, off South Australia. Fires had already burned through several sites where I’d researched the island’s endangered glossy black cockatoos, and now it was tracking towards two critical habitat areas.

The areas were crucial to the birds’ feeding and nesting. I knew losing these places would be a disaster for the already small and isolated population. At home in Queensland, I felt helpless and anxious.

As ecology students, we learn a lot about the problems facing the most vulnerable life on Earth, but not how to cope with them. And as conservationists, we front up to ecological devastation each day, but sometimes without the professional support to help us deal with the emotional consequences.

This was exceptionally clear to me during the Black Summer fires. I was in no way equipped to deal with the possible extinction of my study species.

The author, Danielle Teixeira, with a glossy black cockatoo.
The author, Daniella Teixeira, with a glossy black cockatoo.
Mike Barth

What chance of survival?

The fires destroyed almost everything on the western half of Kangaroo Island. Most of Kangaroo Island’s glossy black cockatoo population lived in the burnt areas, and I was anxious to know their fate.

A colleague on the island emailed with some news. One critical habitat area I was concerned about, Parndarna Conservation Park, had been destroyed. The fires reached the other habitat area, Cygnet Park, but thankfully most of it was saved.

The eastern end of Kangaroo Island was untouched. This offered a sliver of hope; if the remaining habitat could be saved, the glossy black cockatoos had a chance of surviving.




Read more:
‘This situation brings me to despair’: two reef scientists share their climate grief


I started urgently raising money and dealing with media requests. Taking these pressures off the team on the island was one way I could be useful from afar.

As the fires raged, and for weeks afterwards, I poured immense energy into this mission, spurred by the belief that conservationists must be strong and resilient in the face of disaster. But I was stressed and worried. How could the island possibly recover from such a fire? What is my role as a scientist in such a crisis?

At one point, a friend and fellow conservationist checked in. He reminded me that taking time out is OK. I was thankful to hear this from another scientist; it made me feel better about periodically stepping away from my inbox and the ever-expanding fire scar maps.

Burnt landscape on Kangaroo Island
Conservationists are not always well equipped to deal with the tragedies they face.
Daniel Mariuz/AAP

Heading back to Kangaroo Island

I returned to Kangaroo Island in late February. Until then, I had not grasped the gravity of the island’s condition. In many places, no birdsong remained. The wind no longer rustled through the needles of the she-oak trees.

The most difficult time was returning to a nesting site of the glossy black cockatoo which I knew well. I found nest trees burnt to the ground. Their plastic artificial nest hollows, built to encourage breeding, were a melted mess.

A nest box that melted in the fires.
A nest box that melted in the fires.
Daniella Teixeira

Remarkably, amid the charred remains I found an active nest. The female watched me intently; she didn’t flee or make a sound. I watched her, amazed, and hoped there was enough food to support the four-month nesting period.

I felt immense grief standing at the nesting site. I grieved not only for the glossy black cockatoos and other damaged species, but also the loss that would come in the future under climate change.

At that time, we didn’t know how many cockatoos remained. But thankfully, in the following months it became clear most cockatoos escaped the inferno. In 2016, 373 birds were counted on the island, and those numbers increased before the bushfires, thanks to conservation efforts. In spring this year, field staff and volunteers counted at least 454 birds on the island.

It was a wonderful but surprising result, which might not have been the case if the fires took place during the breeding season when the cockatoos would be reluctant to abandon their nests. The concern now is whether the remaining habitat can maintain the population over time.

Coping with ecological grief

In the year since the fires, my acute grief at the plight of nature has lifted. But an underlying sadness, and concern for the future, remains. From my discussions with other conservationists, I know I’m not the only one to feel this way.

glossy black cockatoos on a branch
The fires destroyed critical habitat for glossy black cockatoos.
Dean Ingwersen

Black Summer was a wake-up call for me. As an early career scientist, I will inevitably face more crises, and dealing with them effectively means keeping my mental health in check. I believe conservationists should be offered more mental health education and support. I don’t have all the solutions, but offer a few ideas here.

Universities and workplaces offer limited counselling services, but they may not be enough when grief is an inherent part of your job. I believe there is scope for more ongoing support for conservationists, which should be integrated into regular workplace practices and training.

Regular discussions with supervisors and colleagues can also help. I find such open and honest discussions very beneficial. There is a shared sense of grief, as well as purpose.

Importantly, we should all work to break down the culture that says action is the only response to environmental disasters. Some conservation scientists feel they are risking their reputation or career progression by taking time out. But they must be given space to process emotions such as grief and anger, without guilt or shame.




Read more:
Hope and mourning in the Anthropocene: Understanding ecological grief


And scientists are easily overworked and overwhelmed in workplaces, such as universities, when productivity and output takes priority over the welfare of staff.

Since Black Summer, I have made a concerted effort to spend more time in nature. I listen to birdsong and the wind, and marvel at the complexity of life. I do this not to remember what I’m fighting to save, but simply because it brings me joy.

The author with a nestling cockatoo
The author, with a nestling glossy black cockatoo, says conservation scientists need more mental health support.
Mike Barth



Read more:
I’m searching firegrounds for surviving Kangaroo Island Micro-trapdoor spiders. 6 months on, I’m yet to find any


The Conversation


Daniella Teixeira, Researcher, Griffith University

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

Year 12 exams in the time of COVID: 5 ways to support your child to stress less and do better



Shutterstock

Erin Mackenzie, Western Sydney University; Penny Van Bergen, Macquarie University, and Roberto H Parada, Western Sydney University

Year 12 exams can be stressful at the best of times; this is particularly true for the Class of 2020.

Here are five ways parents and carers of Year 12 students preparing for their final exams can support them.

1. Check in and listen

It is important to remember teenagers are often more resilient than we think. In most cases, they can cope well with challenges. But some students find exams more stressful than others, and some may also be worried about the influence of COVID on their future.

Research consistently shows parental monitoring that supports the autonomy of the young people is linked with their better psychological adjustment and performance during difficult times. This means checking-in with your teen, seeing how they are going and empowering them to use whatever coping skills they need.

Unfortunately, in times of stress, many parents use a high-monitoring low-autonomy style. Parents may still monitor their teen’s coping but also take over, hurry to suggest solutions, and criticise the strategies their child is trying.

This is a low-autonomy style, which may signal to the young person their parent doesn’t believe in their ability to cope.

So, to not come across as controlling or undermining their autonomy:

  • ask your teen, “How are you coping?”

  • listen to their answers

  • check you have understood and ask if they need your support.

  • Let your actions be guided by their response. If they say “I’m very stressed”, ask if there is something you can do. You could say: “Tell me what you need to do and we’ll work it out together”.

If they do the famous “I dunno”, say something like “OK, think about it, I’ll come back in a bit, and we can chat”. Follow through and let them know you will check in more regularly over the coming weeks.

2. Encourage them to take care of their physical and mental health

Support your teen to get exercise, downtime and sleep. Exercise helps produce endorphins — a feel-good chemical that can improve concentration and mental health.

Downtime that is relaxing and enjoyable such as reading, sport, hanging out with friends or video games, can also help young people recharge physically and mentally. If you see your Year 12 child studying for numerous hours without a break, encourage them to do something more fun for a while.

A change of scene can help avoid burnout and helps students maintain focus over longer periods of time.




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Good sleep is important for alertness, and teenagers should aim for eight to ten hours per day. Sleep also helps memory consolidation: a neural process in which the brain beds down what has been learnt that day.

Even short-term sleep deprivation, such as five hours across a week of study, can have a negative impact on teens’ mood, attention and memory.

To ensure your child priorises self-care, help them put together a routine. This may involve scheduling specific times for exercise, meals and downtime each day, and breaking up blocks of study time with short breaks.

Also negotiate a nominated time for them to turn their phone off at night. Stopping phone use one hour before bedtime can increase sleep.

3. Help them maintain connections

Connections with friends are critical for young people, especially during times of stress. Teens regularly talk about academic concerns online, and may use online support more when stressed. Research shows seeking support in person is more effective than doing so online, so try to encourage your teen to connect with friends in person if possible.

But also be aware of the risks. Talking with friends over and over about problems can actually make young people feel worse. Your son or daughter may find their friends are increasingly leaning on them for support too, which can exhaust their own emotional reserves.

Two girls sitting on swings and chatting.
Connections with friends are important for stress.
Unsplash, CC BY

Encourage your child to use time with friends as time away from studying. It’s OK to seek support from friends, but help your child think about when might be too much — and to have a balance of happy and serious conversations when they are together.

Encourage your child to continue talking to you and to ask their teachers for help with academic concerns.

4. Help your child understand their own brain

When asked, most young people report frequently using rehearsal — which involves simply going over textbooks, notes or other material — as a study technique. This is one of the least efficient memory strategies.

The more active the brain is when studying — by moving information around, connecting different types of information and making decisions — the more likely that information will be remembered. Active study sometimes feels harder, but this is great for memory.




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Studying for exams? Here’s how to make your memory work for you


Encourage your child to study actively by making their own test questions, reorganising information into concept maps, or explaining the topics to you. It can also help to “intersperse” different study topics: the brain grows more connections that way. It also gets more practice reactivating the original material from memory.

5. Look out for warning signs

While most teens are resilient, some may more frequently report negative mood, uncertainties about the future or a loss of control. This is particularly true in 2020. You might hear evidence of “catastrophic thinking” (“what’s the point?” or “this is the worst thing ever”).

You can help by modelling hopeful attitudes and coping strategies. Reactive coping strategies are things like taking a break, selectively using distractions and going for a run to clear your head.




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Year 12 can be stressful, but setting strong and healthy goals can help you thrive


Pair these with proactive coping strategies, which prevent or help manage stressful situations. These include helping the young person get organised and reminding them that if they don’t have life figured out right now, that’s OK. Help them see opportunities that come with challenges. These include self-development (learning what they like and don’t like), self-knowledge (knowing their limits and character strengths) and skill development (organisational and coping strategies).

Some teens may be struggling more than they let on. Look out for warning signs. These can include:

  • not participating in previously enjoyed activities

  • avoiding friends or partners

  • drastic changes in weight, eating or sleeping

  • irritability over minor things

  • preoccupation with death or expressing how difficult it is to be alive.

If these behaviours occur most of the time you are with them or seem out of character, consult a mental health professional as soon as possible. This is particularly so if your teen has a history of mental health concerns.

Some resources that may help if you are worried include Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636, Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 and Headspace

Your GP can also help to connect your teen with a suitably qualified professional.The Conversation

Erin Mackenzie, Lecturer in Education, Western Sydney University; Penny Van Bergen, Associate Professor in Educational Psychology, Macquarie University, and Roberto H Parada, Senior Lecturer In Adolescent Development, Behaviour, Well-Being & Paedagogical Studies, Western Sydney University

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

Is fast-tracking funds to Foxtel the best way to support the media during COVID?



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Johan Lidberg, Monash University

According to an ABC report, government funds were fast-tracked to Foxtel during the coronavirus pandemic.

This news will raise eyebrows, as the media — like so many industries — tries to survive the pain and disruption brought by COVID-19.

Why are some outlets missing out when others have their requests prioritised?

The Foxtel fast-track

The background to these latest Foxtel funds is a $30 million grant, controversially awarded to the subscription broadcaster in 2017.

This was to

support the broadcast of underrepresented sports on subscription television, including women’s sports, niche sports and sports with a high level of community involvement and participation.

At the time, media reports noted the government did not adequately explain why it had given the funds to Foxtel.

Fast-forward to April 2020 and COVID-19 was wreaking havoc in the media sector. The federal government announced a support package for the media, but Foxtel missed out.




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However, as the ABC reported, after a letter from Foxtel chief executive Patrick Delany, the TV service quickly received $17.5 million.

This included bringing forward $7.5 million of taxpayer money already granted to Foxtel. In July 2020, a further $10 million was awarded to Foxtel, with the same opaque justification as the 2017 grant.

The ABC was able to report the process behind these developments following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

Foxtel supported as national broadcaster struggles

The Foxtel funds came amid yet another round of cost-cutting and job losses at the ABC. In June, the ABC announced 250 job losses to deal with an $84 million budget shortfall.

ABC logo against colourful light backdrop
The ABC recently announced 250 job losses.
http://www.shutterstock.com

As of this week, the iconic 7:45am radio bulletin no longer features in Australians’ morning routines as a result of the cuts.

Meanwhile, regional media outlets have been particularly hard hit during COVID. We have also seen recent job losses at News Corp (who is a part owner of Foxtel) and Channel 10.

What support have media companies had during COVID?

The government announced a COVID-support package for the media in April.

This included $41 million in rebates for use of the broadcasting spectrum, targeted at commercial television and radio broadcasters.




Read more:
The government’s regional media bailout doesn’t go far enough — here are reforms we really need


A $50 million Public Interest News Gathering program was also announced to support public interest journalism delivered by commercial television, newspaper and radio businesses in regional Australia.

Is this the best use of taxpayer funds?

The reports of the fast-tracked funds to Foxtel beg the question, where is public money best spent? On the public broadcaster so it can maintain its crucial services (with another bushfire season around the corner) — or on a subscription-based commercial broadcaster?

When you consider the different support packages the Morrison government has launched as part of its pandemic response, there is one glaring omission — support for the national broadcaster.

The ABC is the most trusted media brand in the country. But instead of supporting it, to help us get through the pandemic, the Coalition continues to bleed it. This is the polar opposite to its support of News Corp-owned Foxtel, a relationship the government seems much more comfortable with and clearly prioritises.

Not enough information

When considering whether Foxtel deserves its funding, it would be useful to see a government-issued summary of how it used the first $30 million.

We have seen some reporting (again via FOI requests) of how the initial $7 million was used to boost sports coverage. But given this is taxpayers’ money, best practice would be open and transparent government reporting on how the funding is utilised.

It would also be useful to have an explanation of why the extra funds were provided now.

Unfortunately, information access and openness has not been the Morrison government’s forte.

We have seen a number of cases where the FOI process has been contrary to the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act, which holds that as much information as possible should be made available to the public.

Open filing cabinet, with paper files
The Australian government has been criticised for the high rate of FOI refusals.
http://www.shutterstock.com

The blocking of FOI requests over Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s attack on Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore is one recent example.

The recent requests to the Morrison government about Foxtel is another. According to the ABC, more than half of the hundreds of pages released were blacked out and 80% of the rest had substantial redactions. Communications Minister Paul Fletcher’s chief of staff, Ryan Bloxsom, was one of the FOI decision makers and justified the extensive redactions in this way:

I do not consider it would inform debate on a matter of public importance or promote effective oversight of public expenditure.

This is not just out of line with the aims of the FOI Act, it means Australians remain ill-informed about how and why tax payer money is being spent. Our public discourse is worse of for it.

This makes funding public interest journalism even more important — especially in the regions where coverage of courts and local councils is the engine room of our democracy.




Read more:
Funding public interest journalism requires creative solutions. A tax rebate for news media could work


The Conversation


Johan Lidberg, Associate Professor, School of Media, Film and Journalism, Monash University

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

Government announces $2.5 billion package to support training and apprenticeships



Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Morrison government has announced $2 billion – to be augmented by another $500 million from the states – for a skills package to boost training and job creation.

A $1 billion JobTrainer program will provide training or re-skilling for up to 340,700 school leavers and job seekers. Places for courses will be available from September.

This is to be funded on a 50-50 basis with the states. The government says there has been early support from most states after Scott Morrison raised the plan at national cabinet last week.

To get the JobTrainer funding the states will need to sign up to an agreement to reform their vocational education and training systems. Morrison has previously said the VET system needs to be simplified and better attuned to the skills employers are seeking.

The start of the courses would come just before with the scaling back of government COVID support measures. Not only are a huge number of unemployed in the job market but school leavers looking for jobs will find it extremely difficult.

The package also includes an extra $1.5 billion to expand and extend the wage subsidy for apprentices and trainees. This follows $1.3 billion announced in March.

The subsidy now supports 47,000 employers with 81,000 apprentices and trainees – the expansion will take this to nearly 90,000 businesses and 180,000 apprentices.

Eligibility will be widened from small businesses to medium-sized businesses with 199 or fewer employees. The subsidised apprentices will have had to be in place from July 1.

The program will also be extended by six months to the end of March.

The subsidy covers half the apprentice’s wages up to $7,000 a quarter.

Already $365 million has been paid out under the program.

The JobTrainer courses will be free or low cost and aimed at areas of need. These areas will be identified by the National Skills Commission in consultation with the states.

Morrison said: “COVID-19 is unprecedented but I want Australians to be ready for the sorts of jobs that will come as we build back and recover. The jobs and skills we’ll need as we come out of the crisis are not likely to be the same as those that were lost.”

Current sectors looking to expand their workforces include health care and social assistance; transport, postal and warehousing; manufacturing; and retail and wholesale trade.

The courses will be delivered by public, private and not-for-profit providers.

Speaking on Melbourne radio on Wednesday, Morrison again made it clear the government will avoid a hard cut off of assistance at the end of September. He said it would continue to provide income support to those who needed it.

“And obviously in Melbourne in particular, that demand is going to be very great now for some period of time.”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.

What’ll happen when the money’s snatched back? Our looming coronavirus support cliff



Shutterstock

Danielle Wood, Grattan Institute and Nathan Blane, Grattan Institute

At almost 10% of gross domestic product, and a much larger per cent of government spending, Australia’s fiscal response to the COVID-19 crisis has been one of the biggest in the world.

The government is spending an average of A$26 billion a month on programs that didn’t exist in February.

To put that in perspective, before COVID-19 the government’s total average monthly expenditure this financial year was going to be $42 billion.

While far from perfect, these emergency measures have been successful at supporting the incomes of many households and businesses.

But, as this chart shows, each and every one will be gone by the end of October, making October a very dangerous time for businesses and for the economy.

In his address to parliament on Tuesday, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg spoke of a return to work as restrictions were eased.

But he noted that any new outbreaks of COVID-19 could see restrictions re-imposed at a loss of more than $4 billion per week to the economy.

Treasurer Frydenberg’s address to parliament.
MICK TSIKAS/AAP

Even if things go to plan, the harsh reality is that big parts of the economy are still likely to be doing less than they should for some time yet.

Most of the world has not fared as well as Australia in limiting deaths and the spread of the virus, which means global economic activity and demand will be weak for some time.

Businesses and consumers are likely to be cautious. Many will find themselves financially challenged because their loan and rent obligations were deferred rather than removed during the crisis.

Australia’s population growth will be much slower because of the reduction in temporary migration, hitting consumer-facing businesses and the broader economy.

Against this backdrop, the sudden withdrawal of massive government spending will leave an enormous hole in economy activity and the incomes of business and households.

The chart below shows that huge amounts of government support (more than 25% of gross domestic product) scheduled to vanish by the end of October.

It’s a recipe for a second downturn.

A much better approach would be to remove the measures slowly.

JobKeeper could be wound back in line with the recovery of individual businesses.

Reassessing eligibility after most physical distancing restrictions have been removed, particularly if the health situation is well controlled, seems sensible.

Support should end early for some, late for others

If the revenues of some businesses rebound to close to pre-coronavirus levels, they could come off JobKeeper early, before the September deadline.

But if the revenues of others remain weak because their operations are still constrained by health restrictions, the government could consider extending their JobKeeper payments beyond September.




Read more:
That estimate of 6.6 million Australians on JobKeeper, it tells us how it can be improved


Targeting support to the firms that need it most in this way would be a better use of taxpayers’ money – and it would help stop the economy falling off a “cliff” in late October.

The JobSekeer supplement could also be phased out more slowly than the government currently plans.

JobSeeker should stay higher than it was

The treasurer should settle on a new level of income support – lower than JobSeeker with the supplement but probably $75 to $100 a week better than JobSeeker without the supplement – so that people on it are spared significant financial distress while searching for work.

It could also announce a range of measures to boost demand in the danger zones that will be created by supports coming off.

There are plenty of good options.

  • one-off cash payments to households, which we know have boosted spending

  • more spending on mental health services or programs to help disadvantaged students catch up on learning lost

  • infrastructure spending on shovel-ready projects with good returns to the community including social housing, roads and school maintenance

Debt will need to be managed over the medium term, but it shouldn’t constrain the government from implementing the policies needed to drive recovery.

On Wednesday the Office of Financial Management unloaded $19 billion of new 10-year bonds in the biggest bond sale in Australian history after receiving bids for more than twice that many.




Read more:
Were it not for JobKeeper, unemployment would be 11.7%, up from 5.2% in one month. Here’s how the numbers pan out


It will pay an interest rate of 1.025%, which is less than the rate of inflation.

Transitioning the economy from emergency settings to business as usual will not be easy, but there’s no imperative to do it suddenly.The Conversation

Danielle Wood, Program Director, Budget Policy and Institutional Reform, Grattan Institute and Nathan Blane, Analyst, Grattan Institute

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

Coronavirus TV ‘support’ package leaves screen writers and directors even less certain than before



Worst Year of My Life, Again!
IMDB

Kay Nankervis, Charles Sturt University

Federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher announced three measures last week to help commercial TV broadcasters deal with COVID-19 financial stress.

First, the spectrum tax broadcasters pay the government for access to audiences will be waived for 12 months.

Second, the government has released an options paper on how to make Australian storytelling on our screens fair across new and old platforms.

But it’s the third measure that is a shock: for the rest of 2020, all quotas requiring commercial TV networks to make Australian drama, documentary and children’s television have been shelved. Fletcher said networks can’t create the content because COVID-19 constraints have stalled most production.

But arts, screen directing and screenwriting bodies disagree. They say the quota pause across two financial years will cost jobs. And they’re worried this measure signals how the government will act on regulation options in the paper released at the same time.

4 ways forward

The paper from Screen Australia and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) explores two issues: firstly, how to promote Australian drama, documentary and children’s television across all home screen platforms; secondly, how to level the regulatory playing field across those platforms.

Commercial TV broadcasters have had to meet a 55% Australian content quota for decades – including sub-quotas of drama, documentary and children’s programs. Meanwhile, the global streaming services Australian audiences are flooding to, such as Netflix and Stan, do not have to meet any quotas. Nor do other digital platforms in Australia.

The Screen Australia/ACMA paper presents four possible ways forward:

  1. keep the status quo: leave commercial networks as the only platform bound to content quotas
  2. minimal change: ask streaming services to invest voluntarily in Australian content and revise what commercial networks have to produce (maybe axing children’s TV quotas)
  3. establish a “platform-neutral” system to compel and encourage Australian content-making across all of commercial television, digital platforms and global streaming services
  4. deregulation: no one – including commercial networks – would have to meet any content quota requirements.

There is still time for industry bodies to respond to these choices. But option 3, cross-platform incentives and Australian content rules for all, would appeal most to the arts sector. It is the only option of the four which genuinely promotes Australian storytelling on our screens and the jobs that go with it.

Streaming services such as Netflix and Stan will hate that proposition. They and other digital platforms will resist having to follow content rules.

Would hit kids’ show Bluey have been made without content quotas?
ABC

Levelling the field or throwing away the rules?

Commercial networks have long sought a level playing field – and the platform-neutral option offers that. But what they really want is the freedom the other platforms have now: to make and deliver whatever content they think audiences will watch. That’s option 4: total deregulation and all content obligations removed.

Deregulation would hurt Australian creative production jobs. A PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) study quoted in the Screen Australia/ACMA paper predicts that if quotas were dropped from commercial television, children’s TV production there would end, drama production would fall 90% and documentary making would halve.

Enter the government’s Relief for Australian media during COVID-19: commercial networks still have to broadcast 55% Australia content in 2020. But they don’t have to make drama, documentary or children’s content as part of that quota.

The Australian Writers Guild (AWG) – representing drama and documentary screen writers – has slammed the quotas pause. They say the government has abandoned creative workers to help a handful of media companies. They’re worried this trial deregulation will change the production landscape forever. And they accuse networks of using COVID-19 as “the excuse they need in their quest to end the quota system once and for all”.

The Directors Guild, Screen Producers Australia and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance are also anxious about screen jobs – and where the federal government will go on the quotas issue.

That’s understandable.

We’ve just seen the government dismiss Australian content quotas as “red tape”. We can only guess where its sympathy for corona-stressed TV networks will take us next.The Conversation

Kay Nankervis, Lecturer in Theatre, Media and Creative Practice., Charles Sturt University

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

For people with a mental illness, loved ones who care are as important as formal supports



People with mental illness are especially vulnerable after they are discharged from hospital.
From shutterstock.com

Emily Hielscher, The University of Queensland; James Graham Scott, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, and Sandra Diminic, The University of Queensland

People living with mental illness often require support from carers, such as family and friends, on a long-term and somewhat unpredictable basis.

But these support networks are not always in place. Geographical or emotional distance from family members, conflict with friends, and the tendency for people with mental illness to withdraw from others means these individuals are often isolated.

In two Australian surveys – a national snapshot survey of Australian adults with psychosis and another looking at adults with long-term mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and psychosis – only one-quarter reported receiving regular assistance from family or friends. About three out of every four people living with mental illness reported the absence of a carer or other informal support.




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From hospital to homeless: Victoria’s mental health system fails the most vulnerable


For someone living with mental illness, having a carer or support person facilitates continuity of care and provides advocacy and support, particularly during and after episodes of acute illness.

People with mental illness are at their most vulnerable following discharge from hospital or other inpatient facilities. Reintegrating back into society can be challenging. And during this time, the risk of suicide is high.

It’s somewhat unsurprising, then, that people without a carer or support network face poorer outcomes in terms of recovery.

How does having a carer help?

Following hospitalisation for an acute episode of mental illness, people typically require assistance with a myriad of tasks.

They may need help with day-to-day activities like grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning. People in recovery may also need support to re-engage with the community, including returning to work or study.

They will likely benefit from assistance in adhering to care plans, including managing medications and attending follow-up appointments. A person recovering from hospitalisation for an eating disorder may need support from family members to ensure they are eating as much as they need to at mealtimes.

As well as these practical supports, someone recovering from an acute episode of mental illness requires ongoing emotional support which reaffirms their sense of self and capacity to recover.




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Depression: it’s a word we use a lot, but what exactly is it?


We surveyed 105 Australian mental health carers and found the most commonly reported care tasks were “providing encouragement and motivation”, “prompting their loved ones to do things”, and “liaising with health professionals”.

Carers spent the majority of their caring time providing emotional support, and the least of their care time assisting with activities of daily living, such as feeding and dressing.

Research has shown having a carer increases the likelihood of follow-up care and better health outcomes in the short and long term. Following hospitalisation, carers can recognise and respond to early warning signs of relapse and encourage better engagement in prescribed care plans.

And although it’s rarely considered part of the caring role, safe and stable housing is crucial for recovery. Most mental health carers also live with the person they are caring for.




Read more:
Looking after loved ones with mental illness puts carers at risk themselves. They need more support


What about discharged patients who don’t have informal supports?

The transition from hospital to home can be frightening and difficult. Patients tend to become accustomed to the day-to-day hospital routine and in turn can feel increasingly disconnected from the outside world. These challenges are exacerbated in the absence of support from health professionals, family or friends.

Without family or carer involvement at discharge, a person with mental illness may be more likely to relapse and be readmitted, falling into a “revolving door” pattern of multiple hospitalisations.

A support person can help ensure medical appointments are organised and attended.
From shutterstock.com

One study of older psychiatric patients found absent or dysfunctional family support was one of the strongest predictors of hospital readmission in the 18 months after discharge. Patients without reliable family support were nearly twice as likely to be readmitted to hospital than those who had dedicated family carers.

Similar results have been found in broader and larger samples. Among 1,384 adult patients admitted to a psychiatric hospital, unreliable social support at discharge was associated with an increased risk of being readmitted to hospital within one year.

Further, reduced social support and lack of continuity of care has been shown to be an important predictor of suicide following hospital discharge. For self-harm and suicide, the risk is most pronounced in the three months following discharge from hospital.

What needs to improve?

Alongside the absence of family support, lack of connection with community-based services and supports is similarly associated with poor post-discharge outcomes.

Discharge planning and transitional programs have been established to provide additional practical and emotional support to people with mental illness after they leave hospital. These have reported promising results in terms of preventing hospital readmission and promoting engagement with community treatment (such as psychological support services, medication monitoring, and alcohol and drug recovery services). Further research which identifies the key benefits of such programs is needed, using larger controlled studies.

Another solution is improving housing support for mental health patients after discharge. Programs such as Housing Mental Health Pathways in Victoria assist people with mental illness and a history of homelessness who have no suitable accommodation at the time of hospital discharge. More programs like this are needed.




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Mental health care spending saves money, and that’s worth investing in


The time following hospitalisation is one of the most vulnerable for people with mental illness. More needs to be done at both a community and policy level to better support people during this period – particularly those without a carer or informal support network.

If this article has raised issues for you or you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.The Conversation

Emily Hielscher, PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland; James Graham Scott, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Senior Scientist and Head of Mental Health, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, and Sandra Diminic, Adjunct Fellow, School of Public Health, The University of Queensland

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

Just because both sides support drought relief, doesn’t mean it’s right


Lin Crase, University of South Australia

The bipartisan parliamentary vote to transform the A$3.9 billion Building Australia Fund into a pot of cash to drought-proof Australia, the Future Drought Fund, should not be taken as universal endorsement.

Labor opposed the idea before caving in, saying it did not “want to be painted as a party that opposes support for farmers”.

Rather, it simply shows that Australian politicians coalesce on some things: few miss the opportunity to be photographed with an affectionate child, and even fewer are willing to be critical of public funds being handed to drought-stricken farmers.

But support something (or feeling too scared not to oppose something), doesn’t necessarily make it the right policy.




Read more:
Drought is inevitable, Mr Joyce


Australian governments have sought to drought-proof parts of inland Australia through publicly funded irrigation schemes for much of the past century.

Whenever dryland farmers experienced drought, they were viewed as having experienced a natural disaster, even though the variability of dryland rains was well understood.

Then, from the 1960s, things changed.

First there was a growing realisation that public monies spent on irrigation were not the best means of dealing with a variable climate.

We’ve moved away from thinking about drought as disaster

Second, governments started to describe drought differently, culminating in a 1992 National Drought Policy that required farmers to be more self-reliant and absorb the impacts of drought as something to be expected.

The decades that followed continued this trend with all states and the Commonwealth agreeing on national principles in 2013. Concessional loans and a farm management deposit scheme with taxation advantages were available to help farmers, but would only be useful to those that were viable in the long term.

A Farm Household Allowance, set at the level of Newstart and available for up to four years in return for setting out a plan to improve the farmer’s financial circumstances, was also introduced in 2015 and refined in 2018.

Part of the thinking was that climate change is expected to make droughts more common and severe, although there are good reasons for encouraging adaptation to the existing climate in any case.




Read more:
Helping farmers in distress doesn’t help them be the best: the drought relief dilemma


However, getting the balance right between “supporting” farm businesses and encouraging them to adapt and be self-reliant isn’t straightforward, especially when the climate and political cycles coincide.

It’s hard to imagine politicians being fiscally prudent when they know they have access to a drought slush fund and are heading into an election during a drying phase.

So, what’s wrong with the new drought fund?

First, there is mounting evidence that farm businesses can actually benefit from drought in the longer term. This seems to occur because businesses that go through a drought develop coping strategies that when invoked in good years produce much greater profits.

That is not to say that droughts are financially a good thing – but it does mean that shielding farm businesses from drought runs the risk that they will not adapt.

Second, an obsession with drought undoes much of the good work done in reclassifying it as something to be expected rather than a natural disaster. Nearly all of the natural disaster payments made in the decade leading up to 2012-13 – one of the driest on record – were spent on rebuilding after floods and storms rather than droughts.

Third, while repurposing the Building Australia Fund as the Future Drought Fund is designed to appeal to rural and regional voters, it is unlikely to help them. Agriculture simply does not generate the jobs that it once did and public pronouncements about drought-proofing will not change the underlying economics of farm businesses and regional communities.




Read more:
Droughts, extreme weather and empowered consumers mean tough choices for farmers


Farming is generally helped by scale, and that means bigger farms with bigger machines displacing smaller farms. The upshot is fewer jobs and the shutdown of small towns, allowing only the larger regional centres to survive. Finding ways to manage this social phenomenon should be the priority rather than shielding farms from drought.

But it’s hard to be optimistic. Politicians love handing cheques to farmers as much as they love photographs with adoring children.The Conversation

Lin Crase, Professor of Economics and Head of School, University of South Australia

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