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

Originally published on theconversation.com

Dean Lewins/AAP

Australia’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.

Read more:
Can the government, or my employer, force me to get a COVID-19 vaccine under the law?

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.

Katie Attwell receives funding from the Australian Research Council and the WA Department of Health. She is currently funded by ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award DE1901000158. She is a member of a government advisory committee, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) COVID-19 Working Group. She is a specialist advisor to the Therapeutic Goods Administration. All views presented in this article are her own and not representative of any other organisation.

Uwana currently works as a Data Scientist for data and insights company Pureprofile.

David Smith does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Charging Indians for COVID vaccines is bad, letting vaccine producers charge what they like is unconscionable

Originally published on theconversation.com

Countries around the world are racing against time to vaccinate their populations against the coronavirus.

But India has thus far been a poor performer, with only 9.6% of its population receiving a vaccine so far (compared to 51.8% in the UK, 45% in the US, 32.1% in Germany and 14.9% in Brazil).

While there are a few issues plaguing the vaccine roll out, the most egregious is the fact most Indians, many of whom live in poverty, are being made to pay for their shots. And the government is allowing vaccine producers to charge whatever they like.

Read more:
After early success, India’s daily COVID infections have surpassed the US and Brazil. Why?

Not enough jabs

To cover its entire adult (over 18 years) population, India needs 1.9 billion doses of vaccines. If these vaccines were to be administered over the next 12 months, India would need 161 million doses each month, or 5.4 million doses each day.

At present, India produces only about 2.5 million doses per day, which may rise at best to three million doses per day over the next few months. At the present rate, India would be able to cover only 30% of its population by early 2022.

Only by 2023 would it be able to administer the shot to everyone above 18, which would be late, given the pace and spread of the pandemic.

How did it come to this?

There are three major reasons for this issue.

First, while many countries permitted a diverse basket of vaccines for domestic use, India limited its emergency approvals to just two — Covishield and Covaxin.

Covishield is the Indian name for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India. Covaxin, on the other hand, was developed jointly by India’s public sector and a private company named Bharat Biotech.

The reason appears to be a belief – based on zero evidence – that the two “Made in India” vaccines would be sufficient to meet India’s domestic needs and international commitments.

Read more:
India’s staggering COVID crisis could have been avoided. But the government dropped its guard too soon

For example, India could have granted emergency approval to the Russian vaccine Sputnik V, and the US-based Pfizer vaccine, in February 2021. Sputnik V was refused approval in February on the grounds that it had not supplied data on immunogenicity (immune response).

However, the same standards did not appear to have been applied to the other two vaccines – Covishield was given approval in January, even though its immunogenicity data were not yet available. Trial data from the UK, South Africa and Brazil published in The Lancet was considered adequate at the time.

Similarly, Pfizer was compelled to withdraw its application for emergency approval because the drug regulator insisted conducting a local bridging study would be necessary. However, Covaxin was given approval in January even when its Phase 3 data on efficacy were not available.

Second, the vaccine business is risky, given the amount of money that has to go into research, development, and testing, and many won’t end up being effective. Early public investments reduce risk exposure for vaccine companies and help raise their production capacities. Countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany made large at-risk investments in vaccine companies for research and capacity expansion. India failed to do so.

Third, India failed to place advance purchase orders for adequate quantities of vaccines. The first purchase order wasn’t placed until January this year. By this time, capacities of vaccine producers were already locked into other supply commitments elsewhere.

As a result, vaccination centres are being closed, and people are being turned away. In most cities, the mobile application – CoWin – used to book appointments for vaccination, isn’t allowing people to register. And even if people manage to register, appointments are not available for many months.

There is enormous public anger against the government of India for this, as well as for the serious flaws in its public health system which have been exposed by the sharp rise of infections in the second wave. This includes a lack of oxygen in hospitals and even a lack of space for funerals in crematoriums.

Read more:
Why variants are most likely to blame for India’s COVID surge

Vaccine price deregulation

In April the government of India undertook a curious policy shift in its vaccine policy. It deregulated vaccine prices. Vaccine producers could “self-set” the price for their vaccines. Consequently, the two vaccine producers steeply raised the prices of vaccines by two to six times in just a week.

For the same vaccine, the government of India, state governments and private hospitals have different price tags. And the only people in India who receive the vaccine for free are healthcare and frontline workers, and those aged over 45.

The vaccine prices are now so unaffordable that informal workers are forced to spend about half of the household’s monthly salary on vaccinating all the adult members of their households. While it may only be about 800 Rupees for both doses (A$14), when a person at the poverty line may only earn around 50 Rupees (A$0.87) a day on average, this is a large portion of their monthly income. Depending on the definition, one-quarter to one-third of the Indian population is below the poverty line.

The vaccine producers lobbied hard to “free” vaccine prices. One producer said in a television interview he was hoping for “super profits”, and another said he wished the “maximum price” for his vaccine.

The government’s decision to deregulate the vaccine prices allowed “super profits” for private companies, even as an economic and humanitarian crisis was building and unemployment was rising.

Read more:
As pressure builds on India’s Narendra Modi, is his government trying to silence its critics?

Predatory capitalism during human tragedy

Many commentators welcomed the new vaccine policy in the hopes increased prices would incentivise producers to increase supply. But they fail to see that vaccines are global public goods. They impart not just private benefits, but also social benefits, and so every barrier to vaccination must be minimised.

This is why most other nations, including Australia, the US, UK, Germany, France and China, are providing vaccines free of cost to all. India is an unfortunate exception to this global trend, and vaccines are now unaffordable to many.

Poor and faulty planning by the government of India has led to an acute shortage of vaccines. In the midst of the vaccine shortage, the government has effectively withdrawn from the social responsibilities of a welfare state. It has also opened the flood gates for a vulgar form of predatory capitalism to take the stage amid a raging human tragedy.

R. Ramakumar is also affiliated with the Kerala State Planning Board as a non-ministerial member. This is an advisory body that helps the Government of Kerala design its policies and budgets. See https://spb.kerala.gov.in/members.

Australia Post’s worst nightmare: Christine Holgate to head delivery rival Global Express

Originally published on theconversation.com

TK Kurikawa/Shutterstock

“This is the one thing we didn’t want to happen.”

That line – from the satirical British current affairs television program BrassEye – could easily be reverberating through federal government offices this week.

Yesterday the news dropped that Christine Holgate, the Australia Post chief executive pushed so roughly from her job by the Morrison government, has a new job with a rival delivery company.

Holgate resigned last November, after Prime Mnister Scott Morrison told parliament she been told to stand aside over the “optics” of rewarding four senior managers with luxury watches, worth about $20,000 – and “if she doesn’t wish to do that, she can go”.

Now Holgate has gone to a new role as chief executive of parcel-delivery competitor Global Express.

Her appointment, just a week after the expiry of her non-compete clause with Australia Post, is a gift for the new owners of Global Express, a former division of well-known Australian transport company Toll Holdings that has been struggling to find profitability.

If anyone can help turn around Global Express’s fortunes in Australia’s parcel-delivery market, Holgate can. Doing so will cost Australia Post, and Australian taxpayers.

A direct competitor

Until last month Global Express was one of three divisions of Toll Group, the Australian transport company that began in Newcastle in 1888. Its business has involved express parcel, freight delivery and domestic forwarding services in Australia, and transport and contract logistics services in New Zealand.

Toll Group was taken over in 2015 by Japan Post Holdings, the publicly traded company that runs Japan’s postal service. The acquisition was part of Japan Post’s strategy to diversify into global parcel deliveries. It proved less successful than the owner hoped, however, and in April the sale of Global Express to Australian private equity company Allegro Funds was announced.

Private equity firms have a reputation for quickly improving company bottom lines by ruthlessly cutting costs and focusing on the most profitable parts of the market.

In the case of Global Express – which has trucks, planes, depots and other infrastructure worth an estimated A$1 billion – this will almost certainly mean identifying the most lucrative parts of the parcel delivery market.

This is a market in which it competes head-on with Australia Post, relying on similar logistics and delivery infrastructures. It is a market Holgate knows very well. Arguably no one in Australia knows it better.

Cherry-picking parcels

Parcel delivery was a key area of concern for Holgate after she became Australia Post’s first female chief executive in 2017. It became even more crucial in 2020,
as the COVID pandemic and lockdowns led to massive surges in online shopping and thus parcel deliveries.

Holgate saw the opportunity to pivot more of Australia Post’s massive logistics processes – tied up with delivering dwindling numbers of letters – to the surging parcel delivery game.

Read more:
COVID hands Australia Post opportunity to end daily delivery

All seemed on track for Australia Post to grow and prosper with Holgate at its head. Then it came unstuck due to the federal government’s political reaction to the news Holgate in 2018 authorised the luxury watches gifts as a reward to four senior executives who secured a deal worth a reported A$220 million.

The view widely held in the industry is that the bonuses were within the normal operation practices of a commercial enterprise. Indeed, if the executives rewarded the watches had been given a cash bonus instead, it probably would never have become an issue and Holgate would still be Australia Post’s chief executive.

Now Holgate takes everything she knows about parcel delivery market, and her demonstrable ability in growing businesses, to Global Express.

Read more:
Vital Signs: Christine Holgate’s ‘principal’ error was applying corporate logic to Australia Post

Bad news for taxpayers

At Global Express, Holgate won’t have have to worry about a public service obligation to deliver mail to every postal address in Australia. She can say “no” to any unprofitable market segment. She can cherry-pick the most desirable business from Australia Post.

Nor will she have to worry about her board chairman taking her to task over luxury watches, or being excoriated in parliament.

It’s “game on” in the parcels business. Which is bad news for Australia Post, and ultimately Australian taxpayers.

Paul Alexander does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Want to save the children? How child sexual abuse and human trafficking really work

Originally published on theconversation.com

Sandor Szmutko/Shutterstock

Millions of kidnapped children are imprisoned in underground tunnels, being sexually abused and tortured by a shadowy global cabal of paedophiles.

That, at least, is some of the misinformation about child sex trafficking being spread on social media. You’ll also see such ideas being promoted at protests from Los Angeles to London, with hashtags such as #saveourchildren and #endchildtrafficking emblazoned on shirts and placards.

The thought of a child being abused, exploited or trafficked for sex elicits a powerful emotional response. These lurid tales have proven to be a potent gateway for mothers (and others) to “go down the rabbithole”.

The tragedy is that misinformation is turning well-intentioned people into “digital soldiers” unwittingly working against genuine efforts to eliminate child sexual abuse and human trafficking.

Let’s try to untangle the misconceptions.

The truth about child sexual abuse

Statistics on child sexual abuse are never exact. Less than 40% of victims report being abused when children. The average time before disclosure, according to Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, is about 20 years for women and 25 years for men. Some never disclose.

There are enough robust studies, however, to suggest about one in ten children are sexually abused before age 18 – one in seven girls (14%) and one in 25 boys (4%).

Most typically the abuser is an adult known and trusted by the child and their parents. Then by a non-biological relative or in-law. In fewer than 15% of cases is the perpetrator a stranger.

A 2000 study for the US Bureau of Justice Statistics found 7.5% of all known female victims under the age of 17, and 5% of male victims, were abused by a stranger. More recent data published in 2016 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found strangers accounted for 11.5% of sexual abuse of girls under the age of 16, and 15% of boys.

The differences between these findings are most likely due to greater awareness reducing opportunities for abuse by “acquaintances” such as clergy, teachers and coaches. In the 2000 data, to illustrate, 69% of molested boys were abused by an acquaintance; in the 2016 data it was about 47%.

Exaggerating stranger dangers

Media coverage tends to distort understanding of child sexual abuse. It focuses on “stranger danger” and amplifies the threat of children being molested at the park or shopping centre.

Even more intense coverage goes to the rarer cases where children are abducted or murdered. Think of the fascination with cases such as the 2007 disappearance of three-year-old Madeleine McCann. But such cases are memorable because they are so rare.

The so-called “Pastel-Q” conspiracy theory, however, asserts millions of children a year are being kidnapped and trafficked for sex.

Read more:
How QAnon uses satanic rhetoric to set up a narrative of ‘good vs. evil’

A QAnon meme about missing children.

This claim rests on misrepresented numbers from missing persons reports. In the case of the US, for example, the claim is that 800,000 children disappear each year. (A similar rate applied globally would mean about 19 million children disappear every year.)

In fact, the FBI’s data shows the number of people under the age of 17 reported missing in the US in 2020 was about 365,000. In most cases (based on the several decades’ of data) these missing reports involve a child running away from home or being taken by a custodial parent. Almost half are found within three hours, and more than 99% are found alive. Since 2010, in the US fewer than 350 people a year under the age of 21 have been abducted by strangers.

Sex trafficking in reality

So no, there’s no evidence millions of children in wealthy nations are being kidnapped by paedophiles.

This is not to say child sex trafficking isn’t a serious concern. But it is a different problem to the Pastel-Q portrayal.

The United Nations’ Trafficking in Persons Protocol defines human trafficking as:

“the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation”

This means human trafficking doesn’t necessarily require moving a person from one place to another, in the way we think of weapons and drugs being trafficked. It’s not the same as people smuggling. Nor is it exactly the same of modern slavery, although there is broad crossover in definitions.

Read more:
How trafficked children are being hidden behind a focus on modern slavery

The crucial point of trafficking is the abuse of power to exploit another human being. It thrives in conditions of poverty, economic and gender inequality, corruption and instability. It requires systemic solutions, which the cartoonish constructions of Pastel-Q distract attention from.

A ‘Save Our Children’ protest outside the BBC’s London headquarters. September 5 2020.
Graham Hodson/Shutterstock

Trafficking and modern slavery

Accurately estimating the true scale of child sex trafficking is, like child sexual abuse, complicated. There is the hidden nature of these crimes, differences in policing and reporting between nations, and little uniformity in how statistics are compiled.

The United Nations’ Global Report on Trafficking in Persons only reports on “detected” cases. There are no more than 25,000 cases each year.

But researchers have good reasons to believe this is just the tip of the iceberg. The most commonly accepted estimates of the true number of trafficking victims in the world is about 21 million. About 16 million have been trafficked for labour; about 3 million of these are aged under 18.

About 5 million are trafficked for sex – most typically by being coerced into sex work. More than 99% of sex-trafficking victims are women. More than 70% are in Asia, followed by Europe and Central Asia (14%), Africa (8%), the Americas (4%), and the Arab States (1%). About a million are aged under 18.

We must be cautious about these total estimates. Nonetheless there is sufficient research to be confident only a very small percentage of cases involve scenarios like that in the movie Taken, where Liam Neeson’s character uses his “very particular set of skills” to rescue his kidnapped 17-year-old American daughter from sex slavery.

More often, traffickers approach families living in poverty or socially and economically vulnerable girls – such as runaways – offering false promises of affection, work and a better life. Instead the girls find themselves being pressured or coerced into sex work.

This was the case with the victims of Jeffrey Epstein, whose intermediaries lured girls aged 14 to 18 with cash to perform massages, then nude massages, then sex.

Read more:
Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest is the tip of the iceberg: human trafficking is the world’s fastest growing crime

How do we address this?

Child sexual abuse and child sex trafficking are both serious global problems. We should all be concerned about them.

But they can’t be divorced from the broader conditions that allow many more millions of children and adults to be trafficked and exploited as modern slaves.

They require sophisticated, holistic and broad-based legal and policy responses.
They will not be tackled by misunderstanding their reality and complexity, and indulging in false narratives that divert attention from the real issues.

Which is why more than 130 anti-trafficking organisations have said anybody who lends credibility to these false claims “actively harms the fight against human trafficking”.

Alexandra Baxter is a member of ACRATH; however, does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article.

Wesley Enoch: the 2021 budget must think big and reinvest in the social capital of ideas

Originally published on theconversation.com

Big thinking has been unfashionable for too long. Over the past decade, successive leaders have overseen cuts to universities, the arts and public broadcasting. There has also been a rejection of First Nations attempts to wrestle back dignity and create lasting change for the whole country.

When former arts minister George Brandis cut the Australia Council budget by $100 million in 2015 no one could predict the whopping 65 arts companies and 70% of grants to individual artists that would be lost.

In one fell swoop, the funded arts sector — and the creative imagination of the nation — shrunk.

This money was redirected away from peer assessment into funds for distribution at the discretion of the minister. After a long and consistent outcry, much was returned to the Australia Council’s peer assessment process — but grants and funding to artists from the Australia Council decreased by 19% in real terms between 2013-14 and 2019-20, and increased by $1 million in last year’s budget.

Just as the arts were recovering, COVID hit. The industry was dealt another blow with pandemic restrictions and shutdowns and lack of access to JobKeeper for our mostly freelance workforce.

Read more:
The year everything got cancelled: how the arts in Australia suffered (but survived) in 2020

Career paths have been snuffed out. Although government funding belatedly arrived for some, the lack of predictability has hindered long term planning, audience development and risk taking.

Larger arts companies and their boards have become scared of upsetting policy makers, shrinking into compliance out of an instinct just to survive.

I have spent decades in the arts working as a playwright and theatre director. I have been artistic director at Kooemba Jdarra Indigenous Performing Arts, Ilbijerri, the Queensland Theatre Company and the Sydney Festival.

I think the arts are smaller, less effective and more timid because of the 2015 cuts. Australia’s arts funding suddenly felt more fragile, in the face of one individual wielding extraordinary power.

Australia as a culture is the biggest loser from all this.

Ideas in crisis

The arts aren’t the only sector of ideas struggling. The ongoing funding cuts and freezes for public broadcasting have severely hindered the ABC, especially during the dual tragedies of bushfires and COVID-19.

Our country needs the ABC. Information free from hyperbole and ideological selectivity has been a godsend.

Universities have a crucial role in honing the public role of big thinking and innovation. But they have come through the past year battered and bruised. Universities need to be supported as a place for investing in industries, ideas and cultural changes we are yet to imagine.

The successful 2020 renegotiation of the Closing The Gap strategies to give more emphasis on community controlled delivery was a milestone in self-determination and a return to logic. But we still have no recognised Voice to Parliament. And 30 years on from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody we continue to see systemic issues unresolved or neglected.

Read more:
We have 16 new Closing the Gap targets. Will governments now do what’s needed to meet them?

The issues facing the arts, public broadcasting, universities and First Nations Australians are not just a matter for funding. But in considering how they could be funded, we can have a greater discussion about who we are as a country.

Imagined futures

It is time to reinvest in the social capital of ideas.

There are jobs in new big ideas. There are economic benefits to leadership and risk taking. There is moral authority in doing the right thing.

I hope we use the cash splash of the COVID-19 recovery budget to place arts and creativity at the centre of education and community building, creating robust centres of debate, imagination, innovation and expression.

If we increased funding to the Australia Council, and to artists, storytelling could give greater voice to neglected corners of our national identity, and more citizens would see themselves reflected in the national narrative.

We should fully fund the Closing the Gap initiatives and plan for a new Constitutional Convention. We should fund domestic students in education — properly subsidising course fees and improving financial support — to build new full-time jobs, rather than piecemeal gig work and underemployment.

We should restore funding to the ABC, to ensure it can better fulfil its charter, fund greater local content and expand its digital offerings.

Deloitte Access Economics forecasts a deficit of about $87 billion for 2021-22. Culture and ideas should be as much a part of any deficit and recovery as health and infrastructure.

Read more:
View from The Hill: a budget for a pandemic, with next year’s election in mind

What kind of country could we become if we encouraged — and supported — reasonable and considered thought?

Funding discomfort

Too often we think the thing that makes us uncomfortable is “wrong”.

I fear discomfort is no longer a spur to our curiosity to discover and explore new ideas. Instead, discomfort becomes a justification for the rejection of the new, the different and the other.

The arts, universities, public broadcasting and the relationship with First Nations peoples are at the frontier of the new and the important big ideas we need to embrace — and fund — to build an Australia we can be proud of.

Too often, these issues — alongside questions of equality and sustainability — seem to be on the chopping block.

I want our funding priorities to change. Australians need to play our role, too, by being informed, thoughtful and prepared to listen to evidence. We need a smarter, better informed public debate about important issues — and leaders who talk to us and answer our questions.

We will all see the benefit in a more vibrant cultural conversation.

Wesley Enoch is Chair Australia Council First Nations Strategy Panel, Chair the Aboriginal Arts and Culture Board for Create NSW, Director Annamila First Nations Foundation, Board member of NAISDA, QUT Indigenous Chair in Creative Industries

I have asthma, diabetes or another illness — can I get my COVID vaccine yet?

Originally published on theconversation.com


Australia is currently in Phase 1a and Phase 1b of the COVID vaccine rollout but as a GP, I have had many questions from patients unsure if they’re in those categories or not.

One way to find out is to use the Australian government’s eligibility checker here, or ask your GP.

Phase 1a includes quarantine and border workers, frontline health care workers, aged care and disability care staff/residents.

Read more:
Vaccinating the highest-risk groups first was the plan. But people with disability are being left behind

Phase 1b includes many more categories of people, including

healthcare workers currently employed and not included in Phase 1a
household contacts of quarantine and border workers
critical and high risk workers (including defence, police, fire, emergency services and meat processing)
people aged 70 years and over
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 years and over
adults with an underlying medical condition or significant disability.

Many people are unsure if their condition qualifies as an underlying medical condition or significant disability. There is a useful factsheet on Phase 1b on the federal health department website here.

Here’s what you need to know.

What if I have asthma?

If you have mild or moderate asthma, you do not qualify under Phase 1b. The rate of severe asthma in Australia is under 4%, so most people who have asthma do not have “severe asthma” and so the vast majority don’t qualify under 1b.

If you take a high dose preventer (inhaled corticosteroid) every day and still need to use your reliever puffer (ventolin/salbutamol) more than twice a week, then that is counted as severe.

It may also be counted as severe if you cannot reduce your preventer dose without having an asthma attack — even if you currently have the right mix of medications to keep your asthma under control.

If you have other chronic lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis or interstitial lung disease, then you are eligible for a vaccine under Phase 1b.

What about diabetes?

Yes, diabetes is counted as a severe underlying medical condition under Phase 1b. It doesn’t matter if it is Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes — you are eligible for a jab.

Everyone with diabetes, type 1 or 2, is currently eligible for a COVID vaccine in Australia under phase 1B.

Does obesity count?

Yes. Anyone with a BMI over 40 is eligible. Obesity predisposes you to a range of chronic health problems so it is considered serious enough to qualify.

What about heart disease?

It depends. If you’ve had ischaemic heart disease, valvular heart disease, cardiomyopathies and pulmonary hypertension, then you qualify under Phase 1b. It would need to be, for example, a documented heart attack or enlarged heart or clear damage to the valves. If in doubt, ask your GP.

Specified underlying medical conditions for Phase 1b.
Created using data from Australian Department of Health.

Does high blood pressure count?

Yes, it does if it is difficult to control; so if you are on two or more medications then you are eligible under Phase 1b.

I have cancer or have had it in the past, can I get the jab yet?

It depends, but the answer may well be yes. For example, if you had breast cancer in the last five years you would be eligible. Check the list here.

What about chronic inflammatory conditions?

Some people with chronic inflammatory conditions requiring medical treatments are eligible, including systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.

Usually these diseases need treatment with disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), immune-suppressive or immunomodulatory therapies.

Osetoarthritis doesn’t count.

This category is generally not inclusive of people living with osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome or similar non-immunocompromising inflammatory conditions.

Is kidney disease included?

Yes, but only if you have kidney impairment with an eGFR of <44ml/min. Ask your GP if you are not sure. Mild to moderate chronic kidney disease doesn’t count.

What about migraines?

Probably not. The chronic neurological conditions category includes stroke, dementia, multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy. It’s generally not inclusive of migraine or cluster headaches.

What if I am a carer?

You might well qualify. Check the details here but many carers of people with serious medical conditions or disability will qualify. I have had many people bringing in someone they care for to be vaccinated, not realising they are also able to get the a shot under this phase of the rollout.

However, family members of people with disability who are not carers aren’t yet eligible. Carers of adults not eligible under Phases 1a or 1b are also not yet able to get the jab.

What’s next?

Phase 2a of the rollout is coming soon. That includes:

people aged 50 years and over
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 16-49 years
other critical and high risk workers

After that comes Phase 2b, which is where people aged 16-49 years can be vaccinated.

Read more:
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Natasha Yates is affiliated with RACGP.

Shrill, bossy, emotional: why language matters in the gender debate

Originally published on theconversation.com

Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

There has been much debate recently about the way women who work in our federal parliament are treated. This discussion has highlighted that society continues to place very different values on the way women and men behave.

Language – as a behaviour – holds a mirror up to these values. And changing the way we think about language is an important step toward changing the way we think about gender.

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From ‘arse-ropes’ to ‘flying venom’, a history of how we have come to talk about viruses and medicine

Smoke-and-mirror fixes for folksy sneer winces

Folk wisdom provides a dizzying array of misleading accounts of how women communicate, many of them riddled with sexism. Proverbs tell us “women’s tongues are like lambs’ tails; they are never still”. But research tells us men talk and interrupt more – especially when they’re speaking to women.

It’s hard to stop the proverb and folk juggernaut once it gets started. It’s much easier to tell tales. And these are tales of linguistic problems, particularly for women in the workplace. Descriptions like “shrill”, “hysterical”, “scold”, “emotional” – the list goes on – speak to the wider truth that women’s language is policed more aggressively and condemned more readily than men’s.

British TV producer Gordon Reece reputedly mused “the selling of [former UK prime minister] Margaret Thatcher had been put back two years” with the broadcasting of Question Time, as “she had to be at her shrillest to be heard over the din”.

More recently, Donald Trump said Hillary Clinton’s raised voice made her sound “shrill” and “too much”. And, of course, closer to home, Tony Abbott called Prime Minister Julia Gillard “shrill and aggressive”. Gillard suffered an onslaught of criticism for her accent and non-standard English, whereas Bob Hawke was celebrated for his.

Australian linguist Lauren Gawne also pointed to other features condemned in Gillard’s language, including sentence-final prepositions, passive voice and over-abundant adverbs. These are all features widely used by other politicians, and indeed by English speakers generally.

As prime minister, Julia Gillard was criticised for her use of language, whereas Bob Hawke was celebrated for his.
Alan Porritt/AAP

Sadly, the response to linguistic judgments seems to be a desire to “fix” women’s language. All kinds of advice literature instruct on how to replace these undesirable ways of speaking and writing with better ones.

Thatcher is probably the best-known example of someone who underwent a complete linguistic makeover. She famously altered her accent and her delivery and deepened her voice by nearly half the average difference in pitch between male and female voices.

In 2015, a Gmail plug-in (Just Not Sorry) was developed largely with women in mind. Like a grammar or spell checker, it highlighted for correction such features as hedging expressions like just, I think and sorry. The development of the Just Not Sorry plug-in was well-intentioned — it emerged from a networking event at which women worried words like these made them look like pushovers.

But quick fixes like the Just Not Sorry plug-in don’t engage with the broader issue that society shouldn’t be policing women’s language. Moreover, it doesn’t stop to consider that so-called women’s conversational styles — found in many studies to be more co-operative, polite and collaborative — might lead to better outcomes in the workplace.

Baronet, King Kong and the dame in the creek: what words tell us about society

“Shrill” hints at an English lexicon that does not reflect kindly on women. A lexicon is not an inanimate beast, but rather a social one. The social beast shines through in this Australian schoolyard chant:

Boys are strong,

like King Kong,

Girls are weak,

chuck ’em in the creek.

And the Oxford English Dictionary entry for “sex” highlights the corresponding linguistic imbalance. Here women are referred to as the “weaker”, “fairer”, “gentler” and “softer” sex, while men are the “stronger”, “sterner”, “rougher” and “better sex”. However, we might mention on an optimistic note that the adjectives associated with men are now listed as “rare”.

Synonym dictionaries like thesauruses are also revealing. The entry under “woman” shows an abundance of expressions for a sexually active or available woman. Many are appallingly derogatory.

The comparable set under “man” is considerably smaller and noticeably less negative. Labels like “rake” or “womaniser” have nothing of the same pejorative sense of sexual promiscuity — there’s nothing equivalent to “whore” or “slut”.

What has given rise to this imbalance is the fact that words referring to women are unstable and typically deteriorate with time. Words like “lady” or “dame” show the mildest form of deterioration. These referred to persons in high places but then became generalised — compare the stability of the once comparable “lord” and “baronet”, and others such as “governor”, “master”, “sir” versus “governess”, “mistress”, “madam”.

Even more striking is the way words meaning simply “young woman” take on negative connotations. Some expressions even start off referring to males, but once they narrow to female application they are quick to take on overtones of sexual immorality. This is true not just of old expressions like “whore”, “slut” and “slag” — in the case of Modern English’s “bimbo” and “skank”, the changes were extremely rapid.

Sissy pricks and twatty prats: insults and gender

While we’re on the subject of asymmetries, we might also point out the vast difference in wounding capacity between insults invoking male and female sex organs. The most striking is “cunt”, meaning “nasty, malicious, despicable”, versus “prick” meaning “stupid, contemptible, annoying”.

Moreover, while “cunt” (and its gentler counterparts “twat” and “prat”) freely apply to both males and females, females are rarely, if ever, abused by “prick” and “dick”. Should women be concerned by this, you’re probably wondering? Only in that it’s indicative of a more general story. Terms for women are insulting when used of men (for example, “throws like a girl”, “old woman”, “sissy”), but there’s no real abuse if male-associated words are used of women. In fact, “she’s ballsy” was said of Thatcher in praise of her strength of character.

Language is a mirror and a lens

Our language behaviour — perhaps best illustrated by the lexicon — provides particularly clear windows into speech communities. If you’re not convinced already, consider the staggering 2,000 expressions for “wanton woman” that English has amassed over the years. This says it all really: a linguistic tell-tale of sexual double standards. Even the adjective “wanton” no longer refers to men.

These asymmetries in our language are significant, and we haven’t even started on the maledictions invoking animal terms! Language both reflects and reinforces the thoughts, attitudes and culture of the people who use it, and that’s why language matters when it comes to talking about gender.

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

View from The Hill: a budget for a pandemic, with next year’s election in mind

Originally published on theconversation.com

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg calls this a “pandemic budget” – one to sustain the economy in times that are still uncertain – but it also has a substantial element of an election budget.

That’s not to suggest Prime Minister Scott Morrison will rush to the polls this year. But given the election has to be held by May 21, 2022, this is likely to be the last budget of the cycle. Another could be squeezed in, as in 2019, but it would have to be brought forward from the normal time.

Last year the treasurer said budget repair and debt repayment – otherwise known as the hard and unpleasant decisions – wouldn’t be undertaken before unemployment was “comfortably” below 6%.

Read more:
Vital Signs. The RBA wants to cut unemployment, and nothing — not even soaring home prices — will stand in its way

Now unemployment is 5.6% (the March figure) but Frydenberg has shifted the goal posts, so the emphasis remains on recovery, with more difficult reckonings a way off – beyond the election.

Given a grim COVID picture internationally and a long way to go with the vaccine program locally, that is sound – and also politically convenient.

In this budget, the government’s policy approach is firmly aligned with that of the Reserve Bank, with Frydenberg embracing the bank’s objective of pushing unemployment well below pre-pandemic levels, which means to a rate with a 4 in front of it.

Two central spending areas in the budget have been, in effect, imposed on the government.

It had to respond to the damning findings of the aged care royal commission. The fact most Australian COVID deaths occurred in aged care underlined how unfit for purpose the system is. Frydenberg told the ABC there will be more than $10 billion spending on aged care over the forward estimates.

The budget’s “women’s” focus — a sharp contrast to last year — has drivers that go beyond the urgent need to do more to combat violence against women, and other imperatives.

Morrison’s “women problem”, which exploded with the demonstrations following the high-profile allegations of rape, most obviously increased the attention on women in this budget, which will include a women’s statement with initiatives on health, safety, and economic security.

Also, Labor’s decision to make childcare one of its main policy pitches, promising a big spend, reinforced economic considerations pushing the government to produce its own childcare policy (which doesn’t start until July 2022).

Even in the middle of the pandemic last year, few would have thought that by now we’d still have no firm idea when our international borders will re-open.

Morrison is cautious about it, and judges that’s in line with the thinking of the Australians public at the moment. He can read those state electoral results as well as anyone — he knows people put health safety above all else.

“International borders will only open when it is safe to do so”, he said on Facebook at the weekend. “Australians are living like in few countries around the world today.”

On the other hand, the pressure for students to come, migration to resume and people to be allowed to travel must build sooner or later.

The budget’s assumptions will put the reopening in 2022, Frydenberg told the ABC at the weekend.

Read more:
Frydenberg promises housing breaks in ‘pandemic budget’

Economist Saul Eslake says while keeping the country closed to the outside world is obviously not sustainable in the long run, it has, in a perverse way, some short run plusses for the government’s economic objectives.

“It’s very easy to get unemployment down when the border is closed. You only need to create 5000 new jobs a month to prevent unemployment rising.

“Previously [with migrants coming] you needed 16,000 new jobs a month. Currently we’re creating 60,000 a month,” Eslake says.

Migrants stimulate growth. But so does having Australians unable to travel overseas, Eslake says. They can only spend domestically – or save – the $55 billion they would normally be spending abroad. They appear to be spending quite a deal of it on things like home equipment, furnishings, renovations, cars, and even clothing.

While fiscal repair is formally delayed, the budget will show it is gradually, to a degree, repairing itself.

The quicker-than-expected bounce back of the labour market, which reduces welfare costs and boosts tax revenue, and the similar rebound in corporate profits, help the bottom line. Frydenberg says that, despite JobKeeper coming to an end, 105,000 people came off income support in April. High iron ore prices are also a godsend to revenue.

Chris Richardson, from Deloitte Access Economics, has forecast a deficit for this financial year of about $167 billion, compared with the December budget update figure of $198 billion. For 2021-22 , the Deloitte forecast is a deficit of about $87 billion compared with the update’s forecast of $108 billion.

Still, a balanced budget will be some years off, Richardson says.

He gives four reasons: substantial structural spending on aged care, mental health, childcare, disability and the like; low wage and price inflation (inflation helps budgets); missing migrants; and interest payments on debt (helped by low interest rates but still significant).

On what we know, the budget will be safe rather than adventurous. And while budgets can always unexpectedly trip over their own feet, and inevitably have plenty of critics, this will be the sort of benign one that doesn’t go out of its way to hurt or offend voters.

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Frydenberg promises housing breaks in ‘pandemic budget’

Originally published on theconversation.com

Josh Frydenberg says he will bring down a “pandemic budget” on Tuesday, warning that despite Australia’s strong recovery, there is “still a great deal of uncertainty out there”.

The Treasurer points to new strains of the coronavirus, the COVID crisis raging in India, and local lockdowns. “We can’t take for granted the strong economic recovery we’ve seen. We’ve got to lock in those gains,” he said on Friday, speaking to The Conversation.

Touted as big spending, the budget will contain, besides a large reform package for aged care, significant outlays on mental health.

In measures on housing, it will increase from $30,000 to $50,000 the maximum amount of voluntary contributions aspiring home buyers can take from the First Home Super Saver Scheme.

This scheme allows people to make voluntary contributions to superannuation to save for their first home.

At present these contributions are capped at $15,000 a year and $30,000 in total.

With the rise in house prices, the current cap on the amount that can be released is a diminishing proportion of the deposit needed.

There will also be another 10,000 places added to the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme, which can only be used for new housing. This means-tested measure allows first home buyers to build a new home or buy a newly-built one with a deposit of as little as 5%.

The budget will have an “improved bottom line, particularly in 2021”, compared with the earlier forecasts, Frydenberg confirmed.

This will be thanks in large part to a stronger-than-expected labour market as well as high iron ore prices.

The aim of pushing unemployment down below 5% will be a central feature of the budget.

“There’s a historic opportunity to drive the unemployment rate back to where it was pre pandemic and even lower,” Frydenberg said.

“And that’s why in this budget, you’ll see significant investments in energy, infrastructure, skills, the digital economy and lower taxes. Strengthening our economy will lead to a stronger budget position.”

Frydenberg said the dire predictions about what would happen with the end of JobKeeper in late March had not been fulfilled. In fact fewer people had been on income support after JobKeeper ended.

“And what you’ll see is that the budget improves as a result of the labour market strength, even more so than it does as a result of the higher iron ore price, because you get lower welfare payments and you get more tax revenue coming in from people at work.”

The budget will push out the assumptions about when Australia will reopen its international border. Last October’s budget assumed the border closure easing by the latter part of this year.

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Vital Signs. The RBA wants to cut unemployment, and nothing — not even soaring home prices — will stand in its way

Originally published on theconversation.com

Ahead of the definitive official read of the economy from the treasury in the budget on Tuesday, the Reserve Bank has given us two special insights into its own thinking in the space of 14 hours.

They suggest that (first) the economy is improving, and (second) the bank is not going to let up on driving that improvement, not for anything — including concern about climbing home prices — until it has pushed unemployment down and wage growth back up to where it believes it should be.

The first insight was in Deputy Governor Guy Debelle’s Shann Memorial Lecture on Thursday night. The second was in Friday’s Statement on Monetary Policy

Growth without inflation

The statement emphasised that the although the bank expects economic growth to bounce back fairly strongly, getting inflation back within the bank’s 2-3% target band and getting wages growth up will take much longer

As the statement put it:

despite the stronger outlook for output and the labour market, inflation and wages growth are expected to remain low, picking up only gradually.

On one measure just 1.1%, the lowest on record, underlying inflation is to climb to 1.5% over the course of 2021 before gradually climbing to close to 2% by mid 2023.

It’s well short of the bank’s target of 2-3% which is only likely to be achieved with much higher wages growth driven by much deeper inroads into unemployment.

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Those inroads will be easier to achieve if COVID is firmly under control.

The bank explicitly linked its forecasts of an improving economy to an assumption that Australia’s vaccine rollout accelerates in the second half of the year. It could have added to that (but didn’t) the importance of getting purpose-built quarantine facilities up and running.

Its baseline forecast has economic growth of 4% in the year to June 2022 and 3% in the year to June 2023.

RBA Statement on Monetary Policy, May 7 2021

But there is a fairly wide range around its downside and upside scenarios.

Economic growth might be as low as 2.5% or as high as 5% in 2022 and as low as 2% and as high as 3% in 2023.

Similarly, the unemployment forecast is somewhere between 4.25% and 5.25% by June 2022 and in a very wide range of 3.75% and 5.5% by June 2023.

RBA Statement on Monetary Policy, May 7 2021

These forecasts produce below-target inflation forecasts of between 1.5% and 2% in June 2022 and 1.5% to 2.25% in June 2023.

What the bank will do to help drive the upside scenario, and what else will need to happen, was laid out by Debelle in Thursday night’s Shann Memorial Lecture.

The Debelle Doctrine

Adjectives like “seminal” are bandied about liberally these days, but for me, Debelle’s speech on Monetary Policy During COVID was a masterpiece.

He began by outlining the suite of measures the bank introduced from the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. They involved

cutting the cash rate to a record low of 0.25% and then cutting it again to 0.1%

undertaking to not increase the cash rate target until the bank is confident that inflation will be sustainably within the 2–3% target band

cutting the rate paid on private banks’ exchange settlement balances with the bank to 0.1% and then to 0.0%

buying enough three-year government bonds to target a yield of 0.25%, later 0.1%

guaranteeing to buy $5 billion of five-year and ten-year state and Commonwealth week-in week-out whatever the economic circumstances

buying bonds as needed to address the “dysfunction” in the bond market

offering banks cheap lending finance through a new term funding facility

ensuring that the financial system has sufficient liquidity

Debelle methodically described how each of these measures are likely to flow through into economic activity.

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That is, he articulated what economists call the “transmission mechanism” — how the measures work.

As an example, the following chart he provided summarises the transmission mechanism for bond purchases.

And then he delivered the setup for the punchline.

The tools the bank is using might affect all sorts of things, including house prices. But the bank plans to focus on just one thing — getting unemployment down until it gets inflation back up to its target band.

Then the punchline itself: the bank will do this even if it leads to higher house prices

there are a number of tools that can be used to address the issue. But I do not think that monetary policy is one of the tools. Monetary policy is focussed on supporting the economic recovery and achieving its goals in terms of employment and inflation

It was important to remember that while housing prices may not rise as fast without low interest rates, unemployment would definitely be materially higher without low interest rates.

Unemployment has serious consequences.

What it all means

The Debelle Doctrine is that the bank will focus on a narrow range of objectives, and will not be timid about using the tools in its arsenal to achieve them.

This may not be a seismic shift, but it is significant.

It gives the bank a much clearer focus; it gives others a much better way to judge how it is performing; and it makes clear that if the government is concerned about rising house prices, it’ll have to do something itself (perhaps by tightening the tax rules governing capital gains and negative gearing).

Debelle produced a clear, precise, and authoritative statement of what the Reserve Bank can, should, and will do.

In a word, it was gubernatorial.

Richard Holden is affiliated President-elect of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.