Morrison government quashes Victoria’s Belt and Road deal with China


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraThe Morrison government has cancelled the Belt and Road agreements Victoria has with China.

In the first decisions under the government’s new law allowing it to quash arrangements states, territories and public universities have, or propose to have, with foreign governments, Foreign Minister Marise Payne announced four Victorian agreements would end.

Two are with China, and the others are with Iran and Syria.

The agreements with China are the memorandum of understanding on the Belt and Road initiative signed in October 2018, and a subsequent more detailed framework agreement signed in October 2019.

The agreement with Iran related to student exchanges and dates from 2004. The protocol with Syria was for scientific co-operation, and goes back to 1999.

Payne, who makes the determinations under the foreign arrangements scheme, said the agreements were “inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy or adverse to our foreign relations” under the scheme’s test.

The action is likely to elicit another sharp response from China, which is extensively targeting Australian trade and regularly delivers rhetorical attacks.

The Victorian buy-in to the Belt and Road network – China’s global infrastructure and development strategy – was seen as the prime target when the government first announced its plan to review the agreements with foreign governments and their entities.

Scott Morrison said last year about Belt and Road that it was a program Australia’s foreign policy did not recognise “because we don’t believe it is consistent with Australia’s national interest”.

The foreign arrangements scheme, operating since December, was driven substantially by concern about foreign interference in Australia, in particular from China.

It also reflects the broader principle that foreign relations are a national matter and agreements by states and territories with foreign governments should not be at odds with the federal government’s policies.

Federal sources say the Victorian agreements with China have not yielded any tangible outcomes for the state.

The other two agreements have been overtaken by major changes in relations with those countries.

Payne said under the audits of existing and proposed foreign arrangements required by the new law, she had been notified of more than 1000 arrangements.

“States and territories have now completed their initial audit of existing arrangements with foreign national governments.

“The more than 1,000 notified so far reflect the richness and breadth of Australia’s international interests and demonstrate the important role played by Australia’s states, territories, universities and local governments in advancing Australia’s interests abroad.”

Payne has approved a proposed Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation on Human Resources Development in Energy and Mineral Resources Sector between the Western Australian and Indonesian governments.

A spokesperson for the Victorian government said the law was “entirely a matter for the Commonwealth government”.

UPDATE: Chinese embassy attacks cancellation of BRI agreements as ‘provocative’ and harmful to bilateral relations

The Chinese government has condemned the cancellation of the Belt and Road agreements as “provocative”.

A statement from a Chinese embassy spokesperson expressed “strong displeasure and resolute opposition” to Payne’s announcement.

“The BRI is an initiative for economic cooperation, which follows the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, and upholds the spirit of openness, inclusiveness and transparency.

“It has brought tangible benefits to the participating parties. The BRI cooperation between China and the Victoria state is conducive to deepening economic and trade relations between the two sides, and will promote economic growth and the well-being of the people of Victoria.”

The statement said this was “another unreasonable and provocative move taken by the Australian side against China.

“It further shows that the Australian government has no sincerity in improving China-Australia relations. It is bound to bring further damage to bilateral relations, and will only end up hurting itself.”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.

Vic, QLD and NSW are managing COVID outbreaks in their own ways. But all are world-standard


Hassan Vally, La Trobe University

It hasn’t been the start to 2021 many of us wanted. In the past three weeks Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales have dealt with fresh COVID outbreaks, but it’s worth remembering each have faced unique challenges, and tackled them in different ways.

Despite their differences, however, all three have been clear about their intention to aggressively suppress transmission, and all have been effective in their responses.

Significant challenges remain, including the vexed issues of how we define hotspots, manage state borders and deal with threats posed by new COVID strains. And of course, how we deliver the vaccine en masse.

But triumphing over the challenges we’ve faced over the past few weeks should give us confidence as we move to the next phase of the pandemic.

Queensland’s precautionary approach

Queensland’s strategy was clear, decisive, and well articulated. As health authorities explained, the Greater Brisbane lockdown was a circuit breaker aimed at limiting interaction and buying time. This allowed contact tracers to do their job and authorities to learn more about the nature of the outbreak.

The fact it involved a new, more transmissible strain posed a significant threat. And it wasn’t clear, at first, how many chains of transmission had been initiated by the hotel quarantine cleaner who tested positive for it.




Read more:
Brisbane’s COVID lockdown has a crucial difference: it aims to squash an outbreak before it even starts


This was no doubt a cautious response informed by the precautionary principle. Given what was at stake, it was justified.

Greater Brisbane’s three-day lockdown ended at 6pm Monday night, and Queensland has recorded just one case of community transmission in the last four days — the partner of the cleaner, who has been in quarantine since January 7 (though could have been infectious in the community for two days prior).

The threat seems to have been averted for now.

We need to wait out the full incubation period for the cleaner’s more than 350 close contacts to see if there are any more cases connected to her, though all of these contacts are in quarantine, and so pose no threat to the broader community.

Victoria showcased its improvement

The Black Rock cluster in Victoria posed a significant risk and required an equally decisive response. It didn’t represent the level of threat Victorians faced at the beginning of its second wave, but given it occurred during Christmas and New Year’s plus the scars Victorians carried from the second wave, the threat couldn’t be underestimated.




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Dear Australia, your sympathy helps, but you can’t quite understand Melbourne’s lockdown experience


The response to this cluster was rapid and decisive. It allowed the Victorian health department to showcase just how much their response capacities had improved in the previous six months. It was incredibly reassuring to see how quickly the public health team was able to establish links, and how quickly they were able to identify contacts of contacts in order to block chains of transmission.

It was a test they passed, and with six consecutive days of no locally acquired COVID cases, Victorians can breathe a collective sigh of relief — for now at least.

While the rapid closing of the border to NSW was an important element of the response, I remain uncomfortable with the scenes we witnessed at the borders, and the notion of Victorian residents being locked out of their homes. I hope that, as we have seen over the previous 24 hours with the new “traffic light” travel system, the government can continue to refine the way it handles this issue.

New South Wales less risk-averse

New South Wales has always appeared to have a greater tolerance for risk when it comes to COVID than other states. Its response has been characterised by a “test, trace and isolate” approach and a reticence to lock down huge areas of Sydney. Lockdowns have been localised and relatively brief.

Many restrictions, however, are still in place — residents of Greater Sydney, Central Coast and Wollongong, for example, can still only have five visitors to the home, including children, and masks are now compulsory in many places. Hotel quarantine remains a vulnerability and refinements continue to be made, in NSW and elsewhere.

Despite its challenges, time and time again the state has shown it can keep virus transmission under control.

The situation it faced with multiple new clusters over the past three weeks could be considered one of its biggest tests. And for the most part, the state seemed to have a reasonable understanding of chains of transmission.

The way authorities respond to threats must be proportionate, but it’s as much an art as it is a science. Judgement calls must be made, and striking the right balance is not easy when uncertainty is high and luck plays such a huge part.

NSW has seemed to walk this line successfully so far. The latest outbreak did call for more aggressive measures such as a targeted lockdown in the Northern Beaches and the introduction of mandatory mask wearing. Along with testing, tracing and isolating, this has helped bring transmission rates under control.

On the downhill run to the end of this pandemic

There’s still a way to go in the fight against COVID. But unlike other parts of the world, Australia is on the downhill run to the end.

As much as we should be thankful for the good leadership shown by those making decisions, the real thanks is to the community, who have followed the rules and made huge sacrifices to get us where we are now.

Although we will face many challenges over the next year, Australia remains one of the shining lights in the fight against COVID. We are seeing the benefits of our sacrifices now, and will continue to see them for many years to come.The Conversation

Hassan Vally, Associate Professor, La Trobe University

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

#IStandWithDan, #DictatorDan, #DanLiedPeopleDied: 397,000 tweets reveal the culprits behind a dangerously polarised debate


Timothy Graham, Queensland University of Technology; Axel Bruns, Queensland University of Technology; Daniel Angus, Queensland University of Technology; Edward Hurcombe, Queensland University of Technology, and Samuel Hames, Queensland University of Technology

The Victorian government’s handling of the state’s second coronavirus wave attracted massive Twitter attention, both in support of and against the state’s premier Daniel Andrews.

Our research, published in the journal Media International Australia reveals much of this attention was driven by a small, hyper-partisan core of highly active participants.

We found a high proportion of active campaigners were anonymous “sockpuppet” accounts — created by people using fake profiles for the sole purpose of magnifying their view.

What’s more, very little activity came from computer-controlled “bot” accounts. But where it did, it was more common from the side campaigning against Andrews.

A larger concern which emerged was the feedback cycle between anti-Andrews campaigners (both genuine and inauthentic), political stakeholders and partisan mainstream media which flung dangerous, fringe ideas into the spotlight.

A few highly-charged accounts driving debate

In mid-to-late 2020, thousands of Australian Twitter users split themselves into two camps: those who supported Andrews’ handling of the second wave and those who didn’t.

We looked at 397,000 tweets from 40,000 Twitter accounts engaging in content with three hashtags: #IStandWithDan, #DictatorDan and #DanLiedPeopleDied.

Our comprehensive analysis revealed pro-Dan activity greatly outnumbered the dissent. #IStandWithDan featured in 275,000 tweets. This was about 2.5 times more than #DictatorDan and 13 times more than #DanLiedPeopleDied.

A hashtag network showing the polarised Twitter discussions in support of (red) and against (blue) Victorian Premier Dan Andrews.
This hashtag network shows the polarised Twitter discussions in support of (red) and against (blue) Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.

Activity on both sides was mostly driven by a small but highly-active subset of participants.

The top 10% of accounts posting #IStandWithDan were behind 74% of the total number of these tweets. This figure was similar for the top 10% of accounts posting anti-Andrews hashtags — and the same pattern applied to retweet behaviour.

Our findings challenge the idea of Twitter as the true voice of the public. Rather, what we saw was a small number of pro- and anti-government campaigners that could mobilise particular Twitter communities on an ad hoc basis.

This suggests it only takes a small (but concentrated) effort to get a political hashtag trending in Australia.




Read more:
The story of #DanLiedPeopleDied: how a hashtag reveals Australia’s ‘information disorder’ problem


Who started the campaigns?

Our analysis showed Liberal state MP Tim Smith was instrumental in making the #DictatorDan hashtag go viral.

It was in low circulation until May 17, when Smith created a Twitter poll asking whether Andrews should be labelled “Dictator Dan” or “Chairman Dan”.

Subsequent growth of #DictatorDan activity was driven largely by far-right commentator Avi Yemini and his followers, along with a key group for fringe right-wing politics in Australian Twitter.

Meanwhile, #DanLiedPeopleDied went viral later on August 12, sparked by another right-wing group led by a handful of outspoken members. This group managed to get the hashtag trending nationally.

This attracted Yemini’s attention. The same day the hashtag started trending, he posted seven tweets and seven retweets with it to his then 128,000 followers. A considerable increase in activity ensued.

The hashtag #IStandWithDan had little activity until July 8, when it suddenly went viral with nearly 1,600 tweets. This spike coincided with the announcement of stage 3’s “stay at home” restrictions for metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire.

Activity surrounding #IStandWithDan was driven by factors including the various stages of lockdown, attacks on Andrews from conservative media and the emergence of anti-Andrews Twitter campaigners.

Tweeting (loudly) from the shadows

We analysed the top 50 most active accounts tweeting each hashtag, to figure out how many of them didn’t belong to who they claimed and were in fact anonymous sockpuppet accounts.

We found 54% of the top 50 accounts posting anti-Andrews hashtags qualified as sockpuppets. This figure was 34% for accounts posting #IStandWithDan.

The onslaught from anonymously-run accounts on both sides had a massive impact. Just 27 sockpuppet accounts were behind 9% of all #DictatorDan tweets and 14% of all #DanLiedPeopleDied tweets.

Similarly, 17 accounts were responsible for 6% of all #IStandWithDan tweets.

Inauthentic activity

Many of the anti-Andrews accounts were created more recently than those posting pro-Andrews hashtags. The imbalance between new accounts posting pro- and anti-Andrews hashtags probably isn’t by chance.

Bar plot showing distribution of account creation years per hashtag
This graph shows the distribution of when accounts from both sides were created. From the accounts pushing the #DictatorDan tag, 19% were created this year — compared to 10.7% of accounts posting #IStandWithDan.

It’s more likely anti-Andrews activists deliberately created sockpuppets accounts to give the impression of greater support for their agenda than actually exists among the public.

The aim would be to use these fake accounts to fool Twitter’s algorithms into giving certain hashtags greater visibility.

Interestingly, despite accusations of bot activity from both sides, our work revealed bots actually accounted for a negligible amount of overall hashtag activity.

Of the top 1,000 accounts most frequently tweeting each hashtag, there were just 50 anti-Andrews bot accounts (which sent 264 tweets) and 11 pro-Dan accounts that posted #IStandWithDan (which sent 44 tweets).

Polarisation creates a feedback loop with media

Some of the ways news media engaged with (and amplified) the debate around Victoria’s lockdown helped stoke further division. On September 17, Sky News published the headline:

‘Dictator Dan’ is trying to build a ‘COVID Gulag’.

Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt repeated the “Dictator Dan” label in both his blogs and widely read opinion columns, which were part of a much-criticised series attacking the premier.

Here, we witnessed the continuing problem of the “oxygen of amplification”, whereby news commentators amplify false, misleading and/or problematic content (intentionally or unintentionally) and thereby aid its creators.

The #DictatorDan hashtag was used to cast doubt on Andrews’ lockdown measures and establish a false equivalence between the two rivalling Twitter communities, despite Andrews’ having strong approval ratings throughout the pandemic.

The “debate” surrounding the premier’s lockdown measures even gained international attention in a Washington Post article, which Sky News used in a bid to legitimatise its “Dictator Dan” narrative. Yet, at the end Victoria emerged as the gold standard for second-wave coronavirus responses.




Read more:
Finally at zero new cases, Victoria is on top of the world after unprecedented lockdown effort


A polarised Twittersphere might be entertaining at times, but it sustains a vicious feedback loop between users and partisan media. Irresponsible news commentary provides fuel for Twitter users. This leads to more polarity, which leads to more media attention.

Those with a voice in the public sphere should ask critical moral questions about when (and whether) they engage with hyper-partisan content. In the case of COVID-19, it can carry life and death consequences.The Conversation

Timothy Graham, Senior Lecturer, Queensland University of Technology; Axel Bruns, Professor, Creative Industries, Queensland University of Technology; Daniel Angus, Associate Professor in Digital Communication, Queensland University of Technology; Edward Hurcombe, Research associate, Queensland University of Technology, and Samuel Hames, Data Scientist, Queensland University of Technology

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

Hotel quarantine report blasts government failures, but political fallout is likely to be minimal


James Ross/AAP

Mirko Bagaric, Swinburne University of Technology

The final report of the COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry, issued by former judge Jennifer Coate, outlines monumental errors made by the Victorian government and its public servants.

Despite this, the governmental failings that led to a second wave of the pandemic, resulting in 800 deaths, are likely to be politically irrelevant.

The clever strategy by Premier Daniel Andrews to defer analysis of these missteps until the virus had been suppressed makes the findings largely academic and historical.

Victoria Premier Dan Andrews told the inquiry that Health Minister Jenny Mikakos was responsible for the program.
James Ross/AAP

Program based on ‘assumptions’, not clear decision-making

The report also contains no real surprises — it’s just a confirmation of the muddled and incomprehensible decision-making approach we already knew about.

Victoria’s hotel quarantine program was established over the weekend of March 28–29. At this point, it was known COVID-19 was highly contagious and presented the gravest public health risk to Australians in a century.

Instead of using professional and trained staff to manage the risk, the Victorian government used contract security staff, many of whom were largely oblivious to appropriate protocols for dealing with the 21,821 returned travellers who went through the program, according to the report.

Just 236 people tested positive for COVID in quarantine, but despite this low number, containment breaches caused the virus to spread to the wider community in May and June.




Read more:
Hotel quarantine interim report recommends changes but accountability questions remain


Much of the focus of the inquiry was on who was responsible for appointing untrained workers to deal with the most serious public health threat confronting Victorians in living memory.

The most compelling theme of the final report is the ruthless incompetence of the Andrews government and its agencies to put in place coherent systems and protocols to deal with such an enormous risk.

Perhaps most significantly, the report says decisions relating to the program were made at the wrong level — absent scrutiny by ministers or senior public servants. Instead, decisions were made by people

without any clear understanding of the role of security in the broader hotel quarantine program [who] had no expertise in security issues or infection prevention and control. They had no access to advice from those who had been party to the decision to use security and had limited visibility over the services being performed.

Competent institutions deal with complex problems by following several key principles. Within governments, the scope of each person’s responsibility is carefully defined and there should be meticulous attention to detail when it comes to implementing crucial decisions such as this.

The Victorian government failed abysmally on both of these measures.

The report said ‘no actual consideration’ was given to using ADF personnel instead of security guards at the start of the program.
James Ross/AAP

It beggars belief, for example, for highly-paid public servants to tell the inquiry that decisions in the hotel quarantine program were actually not made, but instead were creeping “assumptions”.

Even more disturbing is that it might actually be true, in which case the Victorian government system is fundamentally broken. Certainly, there is nothing in the report to contradict this position. The report noted the decision to appoint private security guards was

made without proper analysis or even a clear articulation that it was being made at all. On its face, this was at odds with any normal application of the principles of the Westminster system of responsible government.

That a decision of such significance for a government program, which ultimately involved the expenditure of tens of millions of dollars and the employment of thousands of people, had neither a responsible minister nor a transparent rationale for why that course was adopted, plainly does not seem to accord with those principles.

Why was the program allowed to continue?

If such errors or negligence happened in other government programs, the problem might be fixed by throwing more taxpayer money at it.

COVID was different. It was not a rail overpass or cultural event. It was a public health issue, which could only be managed through intelligent design and thorough implementation.

Of course, Victoria is now COVID-free, and the Andrews government will point to this as evidence of the success of its response.

The realty is different. Effectively barricading millions of residents at home for three months was a sure-fire way to suppress the virus. But the fact Victoria alone was the only jurisdiction in Australia that had to resort to this extreme measure is the reference point against which the actions of the Victorian government should be evaluated.




Read more:
Victoria’s hotel quarantine overhaul is a step in the right direction, but issues remain


A telling aspect of the report is what it failed to address. The inquiry (and the media) had a near-obsessive focus on who was responsible for appointing private security guards in the first place.

What hasn’t received as much scrutiny is the more pressing issue of why the government continued with this arrangement despite clear questions from the onset as to whether it was a viable approach.

It also continued using security guards for a month after ministers were first made aware of a guard testing positive at the Rydges Hotel in Carlton.

This decision to continue with a failed system is arguably far more ethically and legally problematic than how the program was set up in the first place, especially since this was an unprecedented health threat.

The Victorian government’s failure to speedily unwind the security guard quarantine program is the legal equivalent of not repairing a crater-sized hole on a busy road for many weeks: utterly reprehensible.

Rydges Hotel, one of the sources of Melbourne’s coronavirus outbreaks.
James Ross/AAP

A shrewd move to minimise political fallout

Perhaps that most important message to emerge from the inquiry is that Andrews is the shrewdest politician in Australia.

In the midst of one of longest and harshest lockdowns on the planet, his decision to launch the inquiry allowed him to deflect any questions regarding his responsibility for the second wave.

The timing of the report — well after the second wave has passed — has also lessened any political damage his government is likely to experience from the failures of the program.




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


The disappointment and anger that many Victorians were experiencing at the height of the lockdown is now a distant memory as people are focusing on their Christmas plans in a COVID-free environment.

Against this context, the criticisms in the report are unlikely to get much traction. Rather, they will likely just become background noise as attention focuses on the new outbreak in NSW — and who is to blame for this latest quarantine failure.The Conversation

Mirko Bagaric, Professor of Law, Swinburne University of Technology

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

Almost half a million tests, zero positives: how statistics shows we can be confident COVID-19 is gone from Victoria


Michael P.H. Stumpf, University of Melbourne

How do you know that something you are looking for is not there? Looking for a needle in a haystack is fundamentally easy – however laborious and tedious – if you know it’s definitely there. Looking for something, not finding it, and therefore concluding it does not exist is a different problem.

In Victoria, at the time of writing, we have had 35 consecutive days of zero newly detected COVID-19 infections. But, obviously, not everyone in the state has been tested.




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So what does the lack of new cases tell us about the true frequency of infections in the Victorian population? Or, to put it another way, what is the maximum number of infections that could still lurk out there undetected?

Number of daily tests carried out in Victoria since October 31 2020.
Michael Stumpf

These are what statistician call sampling problems. We do not test everyone, but instead rely on people with symptoms to come forward for testing. If everyone with symptoms gets themselves tested, this should give us a good idea of how many cases there are.

There are caveats: some people do not come forward for testing while others get tested several times; cases tend to cluster in families. But we can account for such uncertainties in the analysis framework that we use below.

Plenty of people are still getting tested. People check the Department of Health and Human Services’ social media feeds to see the daily “0” (the celebrated “doughnut”); some are concerned about the number of tests performed each day; and many people seriously worry about the chance of a return of the virus.

Working out the probabilities

However, we can estimate the probability the virus is still out there in Victoria. There are different ways to do it, but ultimately they all give very similar results.

One good way is to adopt a “Bayesian” approach, which also lets us work out how accurate the estimate is likely to be, given the uncertainties in our assumptions and inputs. We could do the calculations exactly (using a paper and pencil, or computer algebra software), but for making predictions we usually use simulations.

For our estimate we need to know a few numbers:

  • N: the total number of people in Victoria (about 6.5 million)

  • n: the number of tests carried out

  • p₀: what we think (or fear) the frequency of infected people in the Victorian population is, before we look at the testing data.

With this we can estimate p, the frequency of cases, after taking into account that we found 0 positives among n tests. A p value of 1 would mean everybody in Victoria has COVID, and 0 would mean nobody does.

Running the numbers

In the Bayesian framework we calculate p as a compromise between our prior knowledge (or beliefs) and the new information gleaned from the data.

The prior forces us to state explicitly what we expect or believe reality to look like. And because it is a probability it also accounts for our level of certainty or ignorance. When possible we can, for example, use information from previous studies to generate the prior.




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To be cautious, we will start with the very pessimistic assumption that an average of 1% of people in Victoria are actually infected. (We can be confident the real number is much smaller, but we are interested in a worst-case scenario.)

We put this 1% figure into our model as a probability distribution (called a “beta distribution”) that produces variable results with an average of 0.01 (which is another way of writing 1%).

If there are 0 positive tests among n tests then this will happen with probability (1 – p)n. The bigger p is, the more people have the virus, and the smaller the chances we would see 0 positive results.

Just a few lines of code (here shown in the Julia programming language) can simulate the probability that there are still cases in Victoria.
Michael Stumpf

With these two ingredients, the prior knowledge and the information from the data, we can now estimate the true frequency of infection in the Victorian population.

On the first day of the ongoing sequence of zero cases, October 31, 2020, there were 19,850 tests performed (thus n=19,850). The expected value for the true positive rate in Victoria on that day was therefore a tiny 0.0000000041 (4.1 × 10–9). We ran a million simulations of this scenario, and only in 260 instances were there any cases at all left in the population, with a maximum of 986 possible hidden cases.

Now after over a month of zero cases, and a total number of 438,950 tests between October 31 and December 2, the estimated probability has gone down even further to 0.00000000011 (1.1 × 10–10). The highest number of lurking infections in one million simulations is now 39 cases (and only 132 of our million simulations contained any cases at all).

Expected number of cases in Victoria per day since the 31st of October 2020. We expect there is less than 1 case in the community (about 1/10,000). If this is true it would mean that we have achieved elimination of the virus in the community.

What we can learn from this

Three points are worth considering, especially when applying this approach in the context of other states and territories, or Australia as a whole.

  1. These estimates are based on assumptions, but we can test how changes (or errors) in our assumptions affect the analysis. In this case relatively little: it is extremely unlikely there is even a single COVID case left in the Victorian community.

  2. We can also ask when we would be likely to detect cases of COVID-19 if it re-enters the community. The current testing regime turns out to be remarkably sensitive. Even with only 5,000 randomly(!) administered tests we would have a better than 50-50 chance of detecting a case if only 0.0014% of Victorians – or about 91 people – were (asymptomatically) infected. If people with symptoms continue to get tested even single cases will be detected and that is what we want.

  3. Testing is therefore important and the key to prolonged suppression. The simplistic statement that you get more cases if you do more testing fails to take into account just how important testing is to control the disease, especially in the early and the final suppression stages. For as long as testing is easily accessible throughout the state and used by (a large fraction of) people exhibiting COVID-like symptoms we should be able to detect and quell any resurgence, even before a vaccine becomes available.

We were arguably lucky to get to zero cases, but we can be very confident that we have now eliminated COVID-19 in the community. The absence of evidence for coronavirus infections has slowly become evidence for the absence of the virus from Victoria.




Read more:
As restrictions ease, here are 5 crucial ways for Australia to stay safely on top of COVID-19


The Conversation


Michael P.H. Stumpf, Professor for Theoretical Systems Biology, University of Melbourne

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

Victoria’s hotel quarantine overhaul is a step in the right direction, but issues remain


Peta-Anne Zimmerman, Griffith University; Matt Mason, University of the Sunshine Coast, and Vanessa Sparke, James Cook University

On Monday the Victorian government announced an overhaul of the state’s hotel quarantine program. The government has introduced a new oversight agency, COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria, and crafted a “reset” of rules and regulations in the hotel quarantine process.

This robust suite of interventions, based on nationwide experience, aims to prevent transmission of COVID-19 to the Victorian community primarily from returning international travellers who have a high risk of infection.

From an infection prevention and control standpoint, the new system definitely has some improvements. But there are still issues yet to be resolved, and some unknowns that haven’t been made clear to the public.

No more private security

One of the most obvious changes, and possibly the most controversial, is Victoria Police taking the lead on security and management. They will be assisted by the Australian Defence Force (ADF), in a bid to avoid a repeat of the previous program’s high-profile breaches.

Corrections Commissioner Emma Cassar will lead the new agency, and will report to police minister Lisa Neville, who will have overall responsibility for the new system.

But we are concerned this could be perceived to be an armed security detail, with a custodial approach rather than a public health focus. Experience has shown this can be detrimental. Gaining community trust, rather than appearing to take a punitive approach, is vital. Recent events in Adelaide highlight the crucial importance of people being able to cooperate with contact tracers without fear of the ramifications.

Infection control must be handled by experts

The government has repeatedly said the new system will have stronger infection prevention and control protocols, with rigorous training and evaluation. Failure to comply with infection prevention and control resulted in numerous incidences of transmission in hotel quarantine in the past.

Reinforcing these procedures can only be a good thing, as long as the expertise is sourced from recognised experts, and supported by advice from other specialities such as public health and occupational hygiene.




Read more:
Aged-care facilities need accredited infection control experts. Who are they, and what will they do?


Staff ‘bubbles’ and daily testing

The new system will also feature “staff bubbles”. Having a group of staff who consistently work together on the same shifts, with no crossover with staff on other shifts, aims to minimise the number of people an infected person can be in contact with.

This approach has been used in a range of industries, and has been recommended by occupational hygiene experts throughout the COVID-19 response.

The addition of the current active simulation exercises, which stress-test Victoria’s strategy, can only be a positive.

Daily COVID testing of staff and weekly testing of their household contacts is another big change. Daily testing of staff has some merit, although the suggested changes and restrictions being placed on their household contacts such as increased testing and limitations on where they can work is concerning.

There are significant privacy concerns with the new “contact tracing in advance” system, which will identify staff and all their significant contacts, such as members of their households and other frequent contacts, in advance. These contacts will have to provide information on their places of work, schooling and so on. In the event a staff member contracts COVID, part of the legwork is already done.

But while undoubtedly useful for contact tracing, privacy breaches from government IT systems are not uncommon.

Also troubling is the suggestion that recruitment may exclude those with contacts who work in other high-risk industries, such as aged care. This measure could potentially put existing staff out of work. COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria suggests that other places to live may be found if workers live with an at-risk contact, which has human rights implications and doesn’t take into account family or carer responsibilities.

The hotel quarantine overhaul will also see staff exclusively employed or contracted by COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria, with cleaners and others only working at one site. This will mean more secure work for some, which is a positive, and may reduce the risk of transmission between workplaces. Indeed, insecure and casual employment has been a common theme in the spread of COVID-19.

But we don’t yet know exactly how this will work. For example, it’s not clear whether this also applies to the police, who may have casual jobs on the side.




Read more:
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Regional quarantine not necessarily better

Some experts have raised the possibility of having quarantine facilities in regional areas, to reduce the risk of breaches in dense urban areas.

The Northern Territory’s quarantine program for returned travellers at Howard Springs has shown that this approach can work, but there are potential issues.

Such a facility needs a sustainable workforce who aren’t travelling between locations. There is little point in moving quarantine outside of cities only to have the workforce commute from cities or elsewhere, with the associated transmission risks this brings.

Also, extensive health care would need to be provided for returned travellers. Returnees could have many chronic and acute health-care needs that may strain local health services. A proliferation of sites like Howard Springs would test the capabilities of AUSMAT (multi-disciplinary medical assistance teams deployed during crises) and the state and territory health services that support them, particularly as we head into the storm and bushfire season.

As with anything during COVID-19, only time will tell how successful this new strategy will be. The Victorian government is certainly showing a capacity for reflection, and a determination to do better. But there is only so much preparation we can do when facing the greatest variable and challenge in any outbreak response: human nature.




Read more:
AUSMAT teams start work in aged care homes today. But what does this ‘SAS of the medical world’ actually do?


The Conversation


Peta-Anne Zimmerman, Senior Lecturer/Program Advisor Griffith Graduate Infection Prevention and Control Program, Griffith University; Matt Mason, Lecturer and Program Co-ordinator: Nursing, University of the Sunshine Coast, and Vanessa Sparke, Lecturer in Nursing and Midwifery, and Course Coordinator of the Graduate Certificate of Infection Control, James Cook University

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

Victoria may have eliminated COVID-19, but eradication is a distant dream


Michael Toole, Burnet Institute

Today Victoria satisfied a common definition of elimination for COVID-19, recording its 28th consecutive day of zero new cases. While there is no international definition of elimination, two average incubation periods without community transmission is widely accepted as local elimination, especially in a geographically isolated country like Australia.

It’s a remarkable achievement following a severe second wave which peaked at daily new case rates of around 700 in early August. But elimination is not eradication, and we can expect the virus to return at some point, as has happened in several countries that previously boasted minimal or no community transmission.

So how did Victoria get here, and what can it do to keep numbers as low as possible?

Elimination is not eradication

There’s no universal definition of elimination. As applied to other infectious diseases such as polio and measles, it means a prolonged period of zero local transmission in a country or region. For measles, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is very exacting and demands no community transmission for 36 months.

With more than 500,000 new daily COVID cases being reported globally, preventing new local transmission in Victoria will depend on the state building a virus-proof defence.

Several countries have shown the virus can return after a long period of minimal local transmission. The most pertinent example is New Zealand, which experienced 102 consecutive days of zero community transmission before a cluster cropped up in Auckland on August 11. Israel, South Korea, Vietnam and Hong Kong have also experienced reemergence of the virus following significant periods of minimal community transmission. And this month, we witnessed a cluster in suburban Adelaide that originated in a quarantine hotel, after South Australia had experienced many months of no community transmission.




Read more:
Of all the places that have seen off a second coronavirus wave, only Vietnam and Hong Kong have done as well as Victorians


Indeed elimination doesn’t mean the virus is completely gone. For example, Australia eliminated local transmission of polio in 1972. But it wasn’t until 30 years later, in 2002, that the WHO declared Australia polio-free.

Almost 20 years after that declaration, we still can’t say we’ve eradicated polio because eradication refers to the global removal of a human pathogen; only smallpox has achieved that status. One strain of the polio virus continues to circulate in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2007, a 22-year-old student from Pakistan was diagnosed with polio at Box Hill Hospital in Melbourne’s East.

So, how did we get to zero?

Since the grim height of Victoria’s second wave in July and August, several coordinated interventions have eventually borne fruit. One of the most important was the strengthening of the test-trace-isolate-support system. While details are emerging during the parliamentary inquiry into Victoria’s hotel quarantine system, some of the features of this strengthening are known:

  • decentralisation through regional hubs and metropolitan public health units

  • increased engagement and involvement of communities, through programs aimed at public housing estates and local initiatives led by GPs and community health centres

  • adoption of “upstream” contact tracing, identifying contacts of index cases before they developed symptoms as well as after developing symptoms. In both groups, contacts of contacts were identified. This led to the rapid control of clusters such as those in Kilmore and Shepparton.

Other important initiatives included the joint federal-state Victorian Aged Care Response Centre, which eventually managed the explosive outbreaks in residential aged care facilities, and more effective infection prevention and control in health-care settings.

And there were the containment measures that kept people from intermingling. Stage 3 restrictions were reimposed on July 8, limiting the reasons people could leave home. A study published in early August found these restrictions averted between 9,000 and 37,000 cases. From July 23, masks were mandatory at all times outside the home. On August 2, stage 4 restrictions and a night curfew effectively shut down Melbourne. From then on, the number of new cases steadily declined.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of Victoria’s response was to maintain a strong health focus amid a chorus of criticism, much of it from Canberra or the Sydney-based media, pushing the “economy first” mantra. In fact, data show countries that managed to protect the health of their citizens have generally protected their economy more effectively.




Read more:
Data from 45 countries show containing COVID vs saving the economy is a false dichotomy


How can we stay where we are?

The first requirement is an effective quarantine system for returned travellers. With cases surging globally, the proportion of travellers who are infected will increase significantly from the 0.7% reported between March and August. This will require arrangements that employ well-trained and adequately paid workers who are regularly monitored by infection control and occupational health and safety experts. The advance contact tracing, which will identify the close contacts of staff before they might test positive for the virus, announced by Premier Daniel Andrews would be a useful adjunct as long as confidentiality is assured.

Crucially, experienced teams of contact tracers must be on standby. They need to maintain the rigorous standards developed over the past few months and engage in simulation exercises that test their capacities. They must retain a focus on community trust and avoid the vilification of individuals that marred the South Australian response.

What’s more, the state must sustain proven containment measures such as physical distancing, hand hygiene, masks indoors, and getting tested if you have symptoms.

Australia is an almost COVID-free oasis, surrounded by a tsunami of virus. Maintaining this status for the next six months or so, while at the same time opening up, will be a huge challenge. Recent responses in Victoria, NSW and SA suggest we are up to it.

And as the story of the sharp-eyed doctor in Adelaide showed us — when she tested a patient in the emergency room who’d initially felt “weak” but had very few COVID symptoms, alerting authorities to the previously silent spread of the virus — to maintain elimination we’re also going to need a little luck.




Read more:
South Australia’s 6-day lockdown shows we need to take hotel quarantine more seriously


The Conversation


Michael Toole, Professor of International Health, Burnet Institute

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

Victoria’s $5.4bn Big Housing Build: it is big, but the social housing challenge is even bigger



Shutterstock

Katrina Raynor, University of Melbourne

The Victorian government has announced the big social housing investment for which housing advocates, industry groups, academics and social service providers have been clamouring for decades.

The A$5.4 billion “Big Housing Build” aims to create over 12,000 homes in four years. Of these, 9,300 will be social housing. The rest will be affordable or market-rate housing. The program will replace 1,100 old public housing units.




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


The headline programs include:

  • $532 million to build on public land, including six “fast start” sites, resulting in 500 social housing homes and 540 affordable and market homes

  • $948 million to spot-purchase homes, projects in progress or ready-to-build dwellings from the private sector, adding 1,600 social housing and 200 affordable homes

  • $1.38 billion for community housing projects to build up to 4,200 homes

  • $2.14 billion for “new opportunities” with private sector and community housing providers, producing up to 5,200 homes.

Chart showing numbers of homes to be built over four years
The Big Housing Build time frame.
Homes Victoria/Victorian government, CC BY

Up to $1.25 billion will go into regional Victoria, which is welcome.

In addition, $498 million was announced in May to refurbish and build public housing.

Just how big is the Big Housing Build?

A target of 9,300 new social housing units over four years is definitely “big” by recent Victorian standards. The state’s social housing stock grew by just 12,500 dwellings over the past 15 years – about 830 dwellings a year.

The only comparable investment in Australia in the past two decades was the Commonwealth’s $5.6 billion Social Housing Initiative in 2009. This post-GFC stimulus program built around 19,700 social housing dwellings and repaired 12,000.

Chart showing number of social housing dwellings completed each year in Australia from 1969-2018

Australian Bureau of Statistics, Author provided

Is it enough?

No. It will take a long time and continued commitments of a similar scale to overcome the massive shortages in Victoria and Australia.

Victoria has a history of spending less on social housing per person than the rest of Australia.

Chart showing net recurrent spending per head of population for states and territories

Productivity Commission, Author provided

University of Melbourne research estimated a 164,000 shortfall in social and affordable housing in Victoria in 2018. The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute estimated an extra 166,000 social units would be needed by 2036.




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


The Big Housing Build aims to increase social housing dwellings in Victoria from 80,500 to about 89,000 – about 3.5% of all housing. That’s still less than the Australian average of 4.2% and the OECD average of 6%.

Chart showing social housing stock as percentage of total housing in Victoria and OECD countries.

OECD (data from 2018 or more current available), Author provided

What the scheme gets right

This program leans heavily on the use of state and local land to reduce the cost of the new housing. My colleagues and I have previously pointed out the large swathes of “lazy” government land across Victoria that could be used for this.




Read more:
Put unused and ‘lazy’ land to work to ease the affordable housing crisis


Offering $1.38 billion in competitive capital grants for community housing providers is also substantially more cost-effective for government than models that rely on private finance and provide an operating subsidy to providers. It appears the entire amount will be spent on supporting construction, rather than on creating a seed fund that drip-feeds investment returns into the not-for-profit sector like the Social Housing Growth Fund does.

Victoria is also joining Canada and the state of California in spot-purchasing homes from the private sector in response to COVID-19. This will deliver social housing quickly. It will also support developers in a depressed market while capitalising on lower prices.

The focus on victim-survivors of domestic violence, Indigenous Australians and people living with mental health conditions is welcome too.




Read more:
Why more housing stimulus will be needed to sustain recovery


Remaining concerns

Privatisation of social housing

This announcement continues trends across Australia to shift social housing provision from a state responsibility (public housing) to a more partnership-based model led by community housing providers (community housing).

This approach can leverage substantial contributions from other sectors in the form of land, capital, skills and ideas, producing exemplary outcomes. An example is the Education First Youth Foyer partnership, which is changing how “at risk” young people access housing, education and other services.

However, complex arrangements between multiple partners, especially when using private finance, can be inefficient and costly. Such partnerships are often opportunistic rather than strategic, with priority given to commercial over social outcomes. Community housing residents have less tenancy rights than those in public housing and sometimes pay more of their income on rent.

An emphasis on mixed-tenure developments can lead to cherry-picking of “acceptable” tenants and destroy tightly knit communities. Previous public housing renewal programs based on private sector involvement left a legacy of poorly integrated communities and loss of public land for negligible gains in social housing. We cannot afford to make those mistakes again.

private garden area at Carlton housing estate redevelopment
Previous Victorian housing estate redevelopments have led to segregated areas of public and private housing.
Kate Shaw



Read more:
Social mix in housing? One size doesn’t fit all, as new projects show


Lack of a strategic plan

The program comes with a new government agency, Homes Victoria, and the promise of a ten-year policy and funding framework. This level of strategic leadership has been lacking in Victoria and will require bipartisan support. Strong partnerships with local councils will also be needed.

Good policy depends on many elements, including:

  • research
  • housing targets with geographical and population-group breakdowns
  • transparent decision-making
  • clearly identified funding streams and responsible agencies
  • shared definitions
  • monitoring and evaluation mechanisms
  • clear time frames
  • integration with other policy areas and levels of government.

These elements appear to still be a work in progress for the Big Housing Build. The risk is that this announcement will follow Australia’s pattern of “lumpy” funding and inconsistent policy on social and affordable housing.

Without long-term funding streams, providers find it hard to to scale up, make strategic decisions, invest in internal capacity and plan development pipelines. Without overarching strategy and monitoring, Victoria’s lacklustre history of social housing provision may continue.




Read more:
Ten lessons from cities that have risen to the affordable housing challenge


Reduced community engagement

Planning approvals for larger social housing developments will be streamlined. In many cases, the state will take over final decision-making from local government. This will reduce opportunities for community consultation and the state government will need to work hard to ensure high-quality design is integrated into developments.

Where to from here?

As COVID-19 has made clear, everyone needs a home and society benefits from caring for those in need. The speed with which governments moved to house rough sleepers, a seemingly intractable problem before COVID, shows homelessness and severe housing stress can be overcome.




Read more:
The need to house everyone has never been clearer. Here’s a 2-step strategy to get it done


The Big Housing Build is not perfect and will not solve Victoria’s huge housing challenges on its own. It must be the start of regular cycles of funding to sustain social housing in Victoria. It should also be tied to longitudinal evaluation of outputs and an aligned research agenda to shape best-practice outcomes.

And powers-that-be in Canberra, the list of partners in this program has a large federal-government-shaped gap. When are you going to come to the party?The Conversation

Katrina Raynor, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Hallmark Research Initiative for Affordable Housing, University of Melbourne

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

Biden’s Electoral College win was narrow in the tipping-point state; Labor surges in Victoria



AAP/AP/Carolyn Kaster

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

With all states called by US media, Joe Biden won the Electoral College by 306 votes to 232 over Donald Trump, an exact reversal of Trump’s triumph in 2016, ignoring faithless electors. Biden gained the Trump 2016 states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia; he also gained Nebraska’s second district.

While Biden’s win appears decisive, he won three states – Wisconsin (ten Electoral Votes), Arizona (11) and Georgia (16) – by 0.6% or less. Had Trump won these three states, the Electoral College would have been tied at 269-269.

If nobody wins a majority (270) of the Electoral College, the presidency is decided by the House of Representatives, but with each state’s delegation casting one vote. Republicans hold a majority of state delegations, so Trump would have won a tied Electoral College vote.

Wisconsin (Biden by 0.6%) will be the “tipping-point” state. Had Trump won Wisconsin and states Biden won by less (Arizona and Georgia went to Biden by 0.3% margins), he would have won the Electoral College tiebreaker.

The national popular vote has Biden currently leading Trump by 50.9% to 47.3%, a 3.6% margin for Biden. This does not yet include mail ballots from New York that are expected to be very pro-Biden.

Biden is likely to win the popular vote by 4-5%, so the difference between Wisconsin and the overall popular vote will be 3.5% to 4.5%. That is greater than the 2.9% gap between the tipping-point state and the popular vote in 2016.

Prior to 2016, there had not been such a large gap, but in both 2016 and 2020 Trump exploited the relatively large population of non-University educated whites in presidential swing states compared to nationally.




Read more:
US 2016 election final results: how Trump won


This article, written after the US 2016 election, has had a massive surge in views recently.

Relative to expectations, Democrats performed badly in Congress. In the Senate, Republicans lead by 50-48 with two Georgian runoffs pending on January 5. In the House, Democrats hold a 218-203 lead with 14 races uncalled. Republicans have gained a net seven seats so far, and lead in ten of the uncalled races.

Before the election, Democrats were expected to win the Senate and extend their House majority. The House would be worse for Democrats if not for a judicial redistribution in North Carolina that gave Democrats two extra safe seats.

US polls understated Trump again

New York Times analyst Nate Cohn has an article on the polls. Biden was expected to greatly improve on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance with non-University educated whites and seniors, but the results indicate that Trump held up much better with these demographics than expected.

Trump also had large swings in his favour in heavily Latino counties such as Miami Dade, Florida; polls suggested a more modest improvement for Trump with Latinos.

After the 2016 election, most polls started weighting by educational attainment, but this did not fix the problem. Cohn has some theories of what went wrong. First, Republican turnout appears to have been stronger than expected. Second, Trump’s attacks on the mainstream media may have convinced some of his supporters to not respond to polls.

A third theory is that coronavirus biased the polls’ samples, because people who followed medical advice and stayed home were more likely to respond to pollsters and more likely to be Democrats. Polls had suggested Biden would win Wisconsin, a coronavirus hotspot, easily, but he only won by 0.6%.

While US polls understated Trump in both 2016 and 2020, it is not true that international polling tends to understate the right. At the October 17 New Zealand election, polls greatly understated Labour’s lead over National. Polls also understated UK Labour at the 2017 election.

Victorian Labor surges after end of lockdown

In a privately conducted Victorian YouGov poll reported by The Herald Sun, Labor led by 55-45 from primary votes of 44% Labor, 40% Coalition and 11% Greens. Premier Daniel Andrews had a strong 65-32 approval rating, while Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien had a terrible 53-26 disapproval rating. The poll was conducted from late October to early November from a sample of 1,240. Figures from The Poll Bludger.

A Victorian Morgan SMS poll, conducted November 9-10 from a sample of 818, gave Labor a 58.5-41.5 lead, a seven-point gain for Labor since the mid-October Morgan poll. Primary votes were 45% Labor (up five), 34.5% Coalition (down 5.5) and 11% Greens (up two). In a forced choice, Andrews had a 71-29 approval rating, up from 59-41 in mid-October. Morgan’s SMS polls have been unreliable in the past.

Labor wins Queensland election with 52 of 93 seats

At the October 31 Queensland election, Labor won 52 of the 93 seats (up four since 2017), the LNP 34 (down five), Katter’s Australian Party three (steady), the Greens two (up one), One Nation one (steady) and one independent (steady). Labor has an 11-seat majority.

Primary votes were 39.6% Labor (up 4.1%), 35.9% LNP (up 2.2%), 9.5% Greens (down 0.5%), 7.1% One Nation (down 6.6%) and 2.5% Katter’s Australian Party (up 0.2%). It is likely Labor won at least 53% of the two party preferred vote. The final Newspoll gave Labor a 51.5-48.5 lead – another example of understating the left.

Labor gained five seats from the LNP, but lost Jackie Trad’s seat of South Brisbane to the Greens. Two of Labor’s gains were very close and went to recounts, with Labor winning Bundaberg by nine votes and Nicklin by 85 votes.

Federal Newspoll: 51-49 to Coalition

In last week’s federal Newspoll, conducted November 4-7 from a sample of 1,510, the Coalition had a 51-49 lead, a one point gain for Labor since the mid-October Newspoll. Primary votes were 43% Coalition (down one), 35% Labor (up one), 11% Greens (steady) and 3% One Nation (steady). Figures from The Poll Bludger.

Scott Morrison is still very popular, with 64% satisfied with his performance (down one) and 32% dissatisfied (up one), for a net approval of +32. Anthony Albanese’s net approval jumped eight points to +4, but he continued to trail Morrison as better PM by 58-29 (57-28 previously).

A YouGov poll in former Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon’s seat of Hunter had a 50-50 tie; this would be a three-point swing to the Nationals from the 2019 election. Primary votes were 34% Labor, 26% National, 12% One Nation, 10% Shooters and 8% Greens.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

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

Morrison government commits $1 billion over 12 years for new vaccine manufacturing supply



PMO, Author provided

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The federal government has concluded a $1 billion agreement, funded over 12 years, with Seqirus to secure supply from a new high-tech manufacturing facility in Melbourne which would produce pandemic influenza vaccines as well as antivenoms.

This would boost Australia’s sovereignty when the country was faced with a future pandemic, and make for quick responses.

Seqirus, a subsidiary of CSL Ltd, will invest $800 million in the facility, which will be built at Tullamarine, near Melbourne airport. It will replace Seqirus’ facility in the inner Melbourne suburb of Parkville which is more than 60 years old. The Victorian government has supported the procurement of the land for the new operation.

Seqirus says the complex will be the only cell-based influenza vaccine manufacturing facility in the southern hemisphere, producing seasonal and pandemic flu vaccines, Seqirus’ proprietary adjuvant MF59 ®, Australian antivenoms and Q-Fever vaccine.

Work on construction will begin next year; the project will provide some 520 construction jobs. The facility is due to be fully operating by 2026, with the contract for supply of its products running to 2036.

The present agreement between the federal government and Seqirus is due to end in 2024-25.

Seqirus is presently the only company making influenza and Q fever vaccine in Australia, and the only one in the world making life-saving antivenom products against 11 poisonous Australian creatures, including snakes, marine creatures and spiders.

Scott Morrison said that “while we are rightly focused on both the health and economic challenges of COVID-19, we must also guard against future threats.

“This agreement cements Australia’s long-term sovereign medical capabilities, giving us the ability to develop vaccines when we need them.

“Just as major defence equipment must be ordered well in advance, this is an investment in our national health security against future pandemics,” he said.

Stressing the importance of domestic production capability, the government says when there is a global pandemic, countries with onshore capabilities have priority access to vaccines.

Health minister Greg Hunt said: “This new facility will guarantee Australian health security against pandemic influenza for the next two decades”.

Seqirus General Manager Stephen Marlow said: “While the facility is located in Australia, it will have a truly global role. Demand for flu vaccines continues to grow each year, in recognition of the importance of influenza vaccination programs. This investment will boost our capacity to ensure as many people as possible – right across the world – can access flu vaccines in the future.”

To deal with the present pandemic, the government has earlier announced $3.2 billion to secure access to over 134.8 million doses of potential COVID-19 vaccine candidates developed by the University of Oxford-Astra Zeneca and the University of Queensland, Pfizer-BioNTech and Novavax.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.