Biloela family moved to Perth in holding decision by Immigration Minister Hawke

Originally published on

AAP/Mick Tsikas

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has released the Biloela family from incarceration on Christmas Island but confined them to community detention in Perth while their court action proceeds.

But he has not yet made a decision – required by a court order – on whether to lift the legal bar currently preventing them from reapplying for temporary protection. They have previously had their refugee claims rejected.

In an outcome that will disappoint the family’s supporters in Biloela and elsewhere, but still leaves the door slightly ajar for later, Hawke has taken a minimalist decision.

He said in a statement the family would live “in suburban Perth through a community detention placement, close to schools and support services, while the youngest child receives medical treatment from the nearby Perth Children’s Hospital and as the family pursues ongoing legal matters”.

“Today’s decision releases the family from held detention and facilitates ongoing treatment, while they pursue ongoing litigation before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Federal Court and High Court. Importantly, today’s decision does not create a pathway to a visa.” The family’s legal actions are over the handling of daughter Tharunicaa’s visa application.

The release of the family from Christmas Island has effectively been forced on the government by the circumstances of Tharunicaa, who was hospitalised in Perth, and by the strong public reaction to the plight of the family, on Christmas Island since 2019.

It was clear the medical authorities were not going to release Tharunicaa any time soon to be returned to Christmas Island.

Since the child was urgently transferred to the Perth hospital, the family has been physically separated, with Tharunicaa’s mother with her in Perth and her father and sister still on Christmas Island.

Hawke said that in making his determination about the Sri Lankan family “I am balancing the government’s ongoing commitment to strong border protection policies with appropriate compassion in circumstances involving children in held detention”.

He had not made a decision about “exercising my powers in relation to the family’s request that I consider additional health information which will take additional time”.

“As required by court orders, I will consider at a future date whether to lift the statutory bar presently preventing members of the family from reapplying for temporary protection, for which they have previously been rejected.”

He reiterated the government’s hard line on boat arrivals. “Anyone who arrives in Australia illegally by boat will not be resettled permanently. Anyone who is found not to be owed protection will be expected to leave Australia.”

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.

Is a hybrid COVID strain behind Vietnam’s latest wave? Not exactly

Originally published on

We recently heard a new “hybrid variant” of the coronavirus has been detected in Vietnam, amid a spike in cases in the country.

The variant was originally described as a hybrid of the UK (now Alpha) and Indian (now Kappa B.1.617.1 and Delta B.1.617.2) strains of the virus. But what does this actually mean? And if we look at the science behind virus behaviour, is a hybrid really what we’re seeing?

What is a ‘hybrid’?

In virology, the scientific name for a hybrid is a “recombinant”. Recombination is when two strains infect a person at the same time and combine to make a new strain.

This process is common in influenza, where it’s often called an “antigenic shift”.

The major concern with viral recombination is the possibility the new strain will rapidly emerge with advantages of both strains, and you’ll get, for example, a strain that’s both more transmissible and faster at replicating. The same can be true for gradual mutation, but this takes more time.

Emerging evidence suggests coronaviruses can undergo recombination, which may have contributed to the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. There’s moderate evidence SARS-CoV-2 itself has undergone some recent recombination, with early reports suggesting a possible recombination event between an Alpha (B.1.1.7) and Epsilon (B.1.429) variant.

It’s important to note these reports are early and some of the science is not yet peer-reviewed. So, the role of recombination in the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 still needs to be confirmed.

Read more:
What’s the difference between mutations, variants and strains? A guide to COVID terminology

Lara Herrero, Author provided

According to early reports from the World Health Organization (WHO), genetic sequencing is now showing the strain circulating in Vietnam is a Delta strain that has developed some additional mutations.

Scientifically, and according to the WHO, this means it’s not a “hybrid” at all. Rather, it’s a mutated version of the Delta variant.

The Delta variant was originally detected in India and has since spread around the world, including to Australia. Early reports suggest it’s more transmissible and possibly more deadly than other variants, leading health authorities, including in Vietnam, to be on high alert.

We don’t yet know the details of which extra mutations are found in the Vietnam version of the Delta variant. But we have seen this phenomenon before, where mutations known in one variant are reported as accumulating in a different SARS-CoV-2 variant.

Recombination is when two strains of a virus infect a person at the same time and combine to form a new strain.
Lara Herrero, created using BioRender, Author provided

What we know, and don’t know

Late last month, Vietnamese health officials reported this so-called hybrid variant circulating was very dangerous and more transmissible than other strains of the virus. They said it was behind the surge in infections Vietnam experienced during May.

These initial reports were based on clinical observations. Whether this mutated variant is more infectious, and the degree to which it can be implicated in Vietnam’s current surge of infections, is not yet certain.

Read more:
What’s the Delta COVID variant found in Melbourne? Is it more infectious and does it spread more in kids? A virologist explains

When someone is diagnosed with COVID-19, it’s not always common to perform whole-genome sequencing on their viral sample. It’s often an expensive and time-consuming process undertaken by public health officials, epidemiologists and virologists to understand and predict the movement of an outbreak.

This means not all countries will have the capacity to rapidly provide whole-genome SARS-CoV-2 sequences. So the exact details of what strain is circulating where will always come after reports of case numbers.

It’s likely we don’t yet know if this altered Delta strain is the predominant one circulating in Vietnam. Vietnam has either not yet conducted full analysis of genomic data from enough patient samples, or is yet to make this information publicly available.

Additionally, we don’t yet know whether this mutated variant is more transmissible or causes more severe COVID-19 than the Delta variant or the original SARS-CoV-2. We also don’t know whether it will affect how well COVID vaccines work.

To answer these questions, we’ll need more detailed genomic data, time to see how things play out in the community, as well as data from scientific and clinical studies involving people infected with this variant.

New names

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, so too do the SARS-CoV-2 strains driving the chaos.

Initially reports focused on the “UK variant” or the “Indian variant”, and so on.

Recognising the need for a universal naming system, the WHO has assessed the genomic classification of strains and provided new, more general names based on the Greek alphabet.

This list includes both “variants of interest” and “variants of concern”. While Delta is classified as a variant of concern, this altered Delta variant detected in Vietnam is not listed at this stage.

To be considered as a new variant of the virus, or strain, a variant needs to show distinct physical properties, and therefore behave differently, from the original virus or an existing strain. From the WHO’s perspective, this doesn’t appear to be the case for the mutated Delta strain. At least not yet.

Read more:
Coronavirus variants have new names: we can finally stop stigmatising countries

A stark reminder

Vietnam was a country that prided itself on containing the virus, with initial success in border control and public health measures. This resulted in periods without community transmission. At the moment, it’s recording more than 200 new cases a day (on June 10 there were 413).

Hybrid strain or not, Vietnam’s situation should be a reminder to the world — and particularly countries like Australia, with a similarly good track record in containing the virus — of the continued importance of social distancing and vaccination in our fight against COVID-19.

Lara Herrero 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.

View from The Hill: Biloela family to be released but Hawke has yet to reveal the terms

Originally published on

The Biloela Tamil family will finally be released from detention.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke will announce this on Tuesday, but we have yet to learn the terms of that release.

There are several options. These include letting the Murugappan family live in the community while their current legal action continues, allowing them to apply for a non-refugee visa (the parents have been denied refugee status), or simply giving them some sort of other visa now.

The first course would be churlish, bring more criticism on the government, add to its taxpayer-funded legal costs, and risk inviting a new round of controversy at some later point.

The last option would be the simplest, cleanest way to deal with the whole unfortunate saga.

We should be clear about this. The government would not be removing the family from detention this week if the younger child Tharunicaa hadn’t become seriously ill, and had to be transferred from Christmas Island, where they have been since 2019, to a Perth hospital (accompanied by her mother).

To the extent the government is exercising compassion now, it is compassion driven by the bad publicity it is suffering.

The timing is also to pre-empt the parliamentary sitting, starting Tuesday, during which Michael McCormack is acting prime minister until Scott Morrison returns from overseas.

When the pictures of hospitalised Tharunicaa appeared in the media, there was a public outcry. Some Coalition backbenchers, including Trent Zimmerman and Katie Allen, started to speak out publicly to say enough was enough.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce went close to an accusation of racism, suggesting if the girls’ names were “Jane and Sally” and they played in the local netball team “we’d think twice about sending them back to another country which they’re not from”.

“Why not send them to Southern Sudan, why not send them to Rwanda to Belarus? They’re also countries they were never born in,” Joyce said, arguing they should be enitled to stay in Australia because they were born here.

Joyce’s message had cut-through, although on moral rather than legal grounds – they are not entitled to citizenship because they were born in Australia.

The Nationals Ken O’Dowd, whose electorate of Flynn covers Biloela, has been a long term advocate for the family, who have strong support in the town. He told the ABC he had spoken to Hawke who “wants a favourable outcome”.

Others in government ranks take a tougher line, worrying about the precedent of making an exception, and the message that would be sent.

They raise their binoculars to the horizon. Could that be a people smuggler boat?

Well no. More likely the ocean version of a mirage.

Even before Tharunicaa’s medical evacuation, Hawke had been asked as part of the legal process to review the case and consider whether he should lift the ban on the Murugappans being allowed to seek another sort of visa. O’Dowd said this involved more than 2,000 pages of reading.

The child’s evacuation shortened Hawke’s time frame and, given the public storm, effectively ensured the family had to be let out of detention.

Scott Morrison, questioned in the United Kingdom, had a tone of irritation in his answers, as he said options were being worked through.

Asked whether the family would be settled in Australia, he said, “Well, when we have more to say on that matter, well, settled? Well, that wouldn’t be government policy for a pathway to permanent settlement. That is not the government’s policy.”

Pressed further, he said, “Well, I just said there are options that are being considered that are consistent with both health advice and the humanitarian need and the government’s policy.”

Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack had a bob each way, saying the government didn’t want to do anything to encourage people smugglers; on the other hand, this was a “humanitarian government”, and he personally was a “compassionate person”.

The formal decision about the family rests in the hands of Hawke as minister. We usually hear little about Hawke, and when we do it’s often in his role as a member of Morrison’s inner factional circle and a numbers man. He can be expected to have been working closely with his leader.

Michelle Grattan 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.

Netanyahu leaves behind a complex legacy in Israel. His successor will need to deliver change — and fast

Originally published on

zz/Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx/AP

Israel’s 36th government was approved today, with a slim majority of 60–59 in the Knesset (parliament).

The new prime minister is the leader of national-religious party Yamina, Naftali Bennett. A religious person, former commander in an elite army combat unit and successful high-tech entrepreneur, Bennett was forced to form a unity government with centrist Yair Lapid, head of Israel’s second-largest party, Yesh Atid.

Lapid is slated to become prime minister in 2023. Other coalition partners include the left-wing Meretz and Labour parties; the right-wing parties Tikva Hadasha (“New Hope”) Israel Beiteinu (“Israel is our home”); and Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party.

Read more:
Historic change: Arab political parties are now legitimate partners in Israel’s politics and government

The cherry on top of this ideologically mixed-up parfait is the Arab Islamic party Ra’am, headed by Mansour Abbas, which has successfully carried out Abbas’s strategic plan to be the first Arab party leader to join an Israeli government.

His move signifies the preference of many Arab Israelis to focus on domestic priorities, such as reducing crime and retrospectively attaining permits for illegal constrictions in Arab towns, rather than Palestinian nationalism.

The ultra-orthodox parties are the big losers. For the first time in many years, they are outside the government, disconnected from the fountain of public funding that has long flowed to their religious and educational institutes.

Challenges facing the new government

The eight parties forming the government had only one thing in common — a determination to oust Israel’s longest serving prime minister, the charismatic Benyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu.

As head of the right-wing Likud party, Netanyahu has been the face of Israel for the past 12 years, as well as during his earlier stint as prime minister from 1996–99. Famous for his political wizardry and clever coalition manoeuvres, he ended up losing the trust of almost everyone in the political arena. Many of his former allies were among those who ousted him.

Israelis celebrate the swearing in of the new government in Tel Aviv.
Oded Balilty/AP

The ideologically diverse new government will now need to deliver change, and fast. Another flare-up of tensions with Hamas, designated a terrorist organisation by many nations, is likely in the cards. A budget must be approved swiftly, after two years without one. Netanyahu can no longer be blamed if the government fails to deliver.

The complex set of coalition agreements between the parties means the government will most likely focus its attention domestically and avoid major initiatives on divisive topics, such as the Palestinian issue. One key task will be to work to heal the social tensions that have resurfaced in Israel in recent years, dividing Arabs and Jews, secular and religious, and left and right.

The coalition needs to find a way to work together efficiently or it could face a rapid collapse. Now the official opposition leader, Netanyahu has made clear he is not going anywhere and will work tirelessly to oust the new government.

But Netanyahu may go somewhere in the future – to jail. He is facing several indictments over bribery, fraud and breach of trust. His trial could take years, and was the prime motivator for Netanyahu’s almost desperate attempts to hold on to power. Many rallied against him because he is seen as corrupt and decadent.

Israel’s new prime minister Naftali Bennett holds a first cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
Ariel Schalit/AP

New peace treaties in the region

In Washington, there will have been a sigh of relief. Netanyahu alienated former US President Barack Obama over the latter’s drive to sign the problematic 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. The current president, Joe Biden, was among the first to call Bennett, signalling US hope for greater leverage over the new government.

Netanyahu’s overall legacy will be marked by unequivocal diplomatic, economic and political achievements, alongside his deliberate strategy to turn Israelis from different sectors against each other, exacerbating long-lasting internal rifts.

Under his premiership, Israel became a world leader in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Drawing on his personal ties with the CEO of Pfizer, Netanyahu mobilised the health system to inoculate almost the entire adult population of Israel in record time.

Using his close relationship with former US president Donald Trump, he also orchestrated a move of the US embassy to Jerusalem, solidifying the city’s status as Israel’s capital.

Netanyahu maintained a staunch and uncompromising position against Iran’s aspirations to develop a nuclear weapon, which helped Israel secure the Abraham accords, peace treaties with four Muslim countries. Israel also undertook covert flirtations with Saudi Arabia, the leader of the anti-Iran camp.

Netanyahu’s reign ends with Israel enjoying an emboldened status in the region and a strong economy.

Read more:
After 12 years of Netanyahu, here’s what to expect from a new coalition government in Israel

Managing the conflict with the Palestinians

Netanyahu’s track record in dealing with the Palestinians is far more disputed. He won office after the murder of Labour Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1994, and effectively broke away from Rabin’s Oslo peace agreements with the Palestinian leadership, without repudiating them completely.

Following a surge in bombings by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the mid-1990s, Netanyahu was elected in 1996 to slow down Israel’s retreat from territories in the West Bank. He also delivered to his base continued expansion of settlements in that disputed area — a move opposed by many in the international community.

Hamas militants hold a rally in Gaza to commemorate its members who were killed in the recent violence with Israel.
Felipe Dana/AP

In the past 12 years, Netanyahu worked to mostly manage — not resolve — the conflict. His approach to the two-state solution has been ambiguous at best, even though he showed some willingness to make concessions during the US-led talks in 2014. Trying to soothe Hamas with Qatari money – part of his managerial approach — backfired dramatically in the latest war with Gaza.

With this scorched earth legacy behind him, Netanyahu has been removed from power, at least for the time being. The Bennett-Lapid government is not expected to stray much from existing Israeli foreign policies. Israel’s strong strategic actions against Iran are here to stay.

Read more:
Benjamin Netanyahu was on the brink of political defeat. Then, another conflict broke out in Gaza

With regards to the Palestinians, there is very little that can be done until another long-serving leader is ousted – 86-year-old Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is increasingly seen as corrupt and dysfunctional.

The new government remains on shaky ground. All its participants know a single actor among them can take the government down. But no one has an appetite now for another election; they have too much to prove and a lot to lose if they do. It seems that at least for the next 12 months, Israel will finally have a government.

Ran Porat is a research associate at The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC). The views in this article are private and do not represent any academic institute related related to Dr. Porat.

G7 showed that post-Trump, the world has shifted

Originally published on

What a difference a year makes in international diplomacy.

A year ago, then-US President Donald Trump was obliged to abandon his plans for a G7 summit at the presidential retreat of Camp David outside Washington.

Various excuses were advanced by participants, including the inadvisability of travelling across the world in the midst of a pandemic. But in reality few, if any, G7 leaders wanted to associate themselves with Trump in what was hoped would be the last days of an ill-starred presidency.

A year later, these same leaders gathered at an English coastal retreat – in the shadow of a persistent COVID-19 pandemic – to celebrate the end of a disruptive chapter in diplomatic history. Relief was palpable in the interactions of representatives of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada.

Another year, and a new US president, have made a significant difference to international diplomacy.
AAP/AP/Jack Hill

America was back, not in its “America First” guise, but as the proclaimed leader of the free world, to use an old-fashioned description.

However, in the four years of the Trump presidency, during which Washington effectively abandoned its global leadership role in favour of an inward-looking posture defined by its embrace of an America First doctrine, the world had changed, and shifted dramatically.

Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Scott Morrison’s quest to be a Biden ‘bestie’

In 2016, the final year of the Obama administration, the G7 summit in Japan focused on the issue of climate in the wake of the Paris Agreement signed in April of that year. Its other priorities were disputes in the South China Sea and, interestingly enough, the need to strengthen a global response to pandemics in light of experiences with the Ebola virus in Africa.

That global response has been found to be inadequate. This prompts the question: what notice did global health authorities, principally the World Health Organization, take of the G7’s 2016 communique?

Five years later, the challenges identified in the 2016 document have been vastly magnified. This has been brought about by a combination of lack of US leadership on issues such as climate, and a broader global failure to manage China’s rise.

In 2016, China’s activities in the South China Sea in defiance of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) were a growing concern, as were signs of its increasing assertiveness under its nationalist leader, Xi Jinping.

But the consensus view then was that China’s rise could be accommodated without undue disruption to a rules-based international order. That has proved a significant miscalculation.

Fast-forward to the 2021 G7 in Cornwall, where concerns about China’s rise in its various dimensions stalked the round-table discussions and bilateral meetings. No other issue came close to matching worries about China: not climate change, nor the ongoing challenges of the pandemic.

In the end, the G7 communique was relatively restrained on China. This reflected differences of opinion among participants about how to manage a difficult situation. The US and Canadians would have liked stronger language. The Europeans favoured a less hawkish approach. Japan was somewhere in the middle.

There was a palpable sense of relief that international diplomacy had been restored to something like normal at this 2021 meeting.
AAP/AP/Leon Neal

References to China were nevertheless pointed, in contrast to previous G7 communiques, which have danced around the issue of Beijing’s challenges to a rules-based global order.

From an Australian perspective, the communique’s reference to China’s resort to economic reprisals to punish those who found themselves at odds with its policies will have been welcome:

With regard to China, and the competition in the global economy, we will continue to consult on collective approaches to challenging non-market policies and practices which undermine the fair and transparent operation of the global economy.

On human rights, the G7 was commendably forthright:

We will promote our values by calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang and those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British joint declaration and the Basic Law.

Significantly, Taiwan made its way into a G7 communique for the first time. Here, the world’s leading democracies issued a fairly blunt warning to Beijing not to further destabilise relations across the Taiwan Strait:

We underscore the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues. We remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas and strongly oppose any unilateral attempt to change the status quo and increase tensions.

Predictably, Chinese commentators dismissed the G7 process as a sideshow, claiming “the world’s economic and political centre of gravity had shifted”, as the nationalist Global Times put it.

Morrison, as an official guest, will have been relieved the G7 did not reach a consensus on the timing for a phase-out of coal for generating electric power. On the other hand, he will not have overlooked strong language in the communique calling for a commitment to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible”.

Australia will have had no issue with other G7 initiatives such as calls for a global minimum tax to ensure greater global equity. Nor will it object to a proposal for liberal democracies to contribute to an infrastructure fund to compete with China’s Belt-and-Road initiative in the developing world.

Scott Morrison met with several world leaders, including the summit’s host, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
AAP/AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth

Morrison will no doubt have been disappointed he did not have a “one-on-one” meeting with US President Joe Biden. Instead, he had to make do with a three-way conversation involving the summit’s host, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. It is not clear whether this was a snub, but those briefing journalists in advance of the G7 should not have raised expectations.

In one respect, Morrison will have found the Cornwall G7 awkward. No other leader of a Western liberal democracy had aligned themselves as closely with the Trump White House.

Read more:
Spot the difference: as world leaders rose to the occasion at the Biden climate summit, Morrison faltered

In his attempts to position himself alongside Trump, Morrison echoed the then US president’s antagonism towards international institutions, broadly summed up by the Morrison’s reference to “negative globalism” in a Lowy Institute speech in 2019. These were sentiments the former US president used to promote his version of an America First policy, in contrast to the multilateralist tendencies of his predecessors.

Morrison’s adoption of this Trumpism, now quietly discarded in his public statements, sits uncomfortably with the new president’s emphasis on Washington’s global leadership in partnership with like-minded countries and institutions.

Pointedly, the G7 communique reiterated liberal democracies’ commitment to “multilateralism”.

If nothing else, Australia’s prime minister should have concluded in Cornwall that his own personal investment in a Trump presidency was not the most prudent course. The world has shifted.

Tony Walker 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.

Do aliens exist? We asked five experts

Originally published on


Speculation has been rife about the contents of an unclassified report set to be released later this month from the Pentagon’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) task force.

The document, expected to drop on June 25, will supposedly provide a comprehensive summary of what the US government knows about UAPs — or, to use the more popular term, UFOs.

While the report is not yet public, the New York Times recently published what it claimed was a preview of the findings, provided by unnamed senior officials who were privy to the report’s contents.

According to the Times’s sources, the report does not provide any clear link or association between more than 120 incidents of UFO sightings from the past two decades, and a possibility of Earth having been visited by aliens.

If the Times’s sources are to be believed, there’s clearly still no good reason to interpret an unexplained object in the sky as evidence of aliens. But does that mean aliens aren’t out there, somewhere else in the universe? And if they are, could we ever find them? Or might they be so different to us that “finding” them is impossible in any meaningful sense?

We asked five experts.

Four out of five experts said aliens do exist

Here are their detailed responses:

If you have a science or technology-related question you’d like posed to Five Experts, email it to:

Read more:
The US military has officially published three UFO videos. Why doesn’t anybody seem to care?

Do vegan diets make kids shorter and weaker?

Originally published on


Research Checks interrogate newly published studies and how they’re reported in the media. The analysis is undertaken by one or more academics not involved with the study, and reviewed by another, to make sure it’s accurate.

Diets that exclude meat and fish (vegetarian) or all animal products including dairy and eggs (vegan) are becoming increasingly popular for health, environmental and ethical reasons.

Past research in adults has linked vegetarian and vegan diets with a reduced risk of heart disease but a greater risk of fractures, caused by low calcium intakes. But the impact on children has not been evaluated, until the release of a new study this week.

The researchers found a link between shorter heights and lower bone mineral content among vegan children, compared to meat-eaters. But they didn’t show vegan diets caused the difference. Nor can they say the differences will last into adulthood.

How was the study conducted?

The paper, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examined the differences in children aged five to ten years of age in Poland.

They looked at 187 healthy children between 2014 and 2016 who had been on their respective diets for at least one year: 72 children were omnivores (meat eaters), 63 were vegetarians and 52 were vegans.

The research team looked at the children’s nutrient intakes, body composition and cardiovascular risk – how likely they are to have heart disease or a stroke in the future.

The study was observational, so researchers didn’t make any changes to the children’s diets. They recruited children who were already eating these diets.

Specifically, it was a type of observational study called a cross-sectional study. They looked back at the children’s diets, growth and cardiovascular risk factors at a given time point.

The researchers tracked 187 children in Poland.

The research team ensured the children in the vegan and vegetarian group were similar to children in the omnivore group, in factors that impact growth and cardiovascular risk factors. These include sex, age, parental smoking, parental education, clinical characteristics of their mother’s pregnancy and, importantly, their parents’ height.

Read more:
Are there any health implications for raising your child as a vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian?

What did the researchers find?

The researchers found that compared to children on omnivore diets, children on vegan diets had a healthier cardiovascular risk profile, with 25% lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or unhealthy cholesterol).

However the vegan children had an increased risk of nutritional deficiencies. They were more likely to have lower levels of vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D and iron in their diet.

Children on vegan diets had about 5% lower bone mineral content and were on average 3cm shorter in height. This is important, as the higher the bone mineral content, the higher the bone mineral density.

This 5% difference is concerning, as people have a limited period of time at this age in which they can optimise their bone mineral density; 95% of bone mass is attained by about 20 years of age. Lower bone densities are linked to higher rates of fractures in later life.

Vegetarians showed less pronounced nutritional deficiencies but, unexpectedly, a less favourable cardiovascular risk profile compared to both meat-eaters and vegans. The authors attributed this to a lower-quality diet, with these children consuming more processed foods.

Are there any problems with the study?

Observational studies are only able to tell us if something is linked, not if one thing caused another. This study only tells us there is a link between these diets and the outcomes they looked at.

But in this study, there are plausible biological links between bone development and growth in children.

Calcium, vitamin D and protein are critical for bone development and growth. These nutrients may be lower in vegan diets, as they come mainly from animal products:

calcium is found in dairy products
vitamin D, which we normally get from exposure to sunlight on our skin, is also found in animal foods but in smaller amounts
protein from plant foods is considered of lower biological value than animal sources.

One single plant source of protein won’t provide you with all the essential amino acids (the protein building blocks your body is unable to make for itself) that are needed. Vegans need to make sure they eat a variety of plants so they get a good mix of all the essential amino acids.

Children get vitamin D from sunlight, but also small amounts from food.

So, why didn’t the researchers carry out an intervention study and change the diets of the children?

First, it would be difficult to find children and their families who are willing to change their diets for a long period.

Second, it would be unethical to put children on a diet potentially affecting their growth and cardiovascular risk factors.

This study, conducted in Poland, is the only one to look at growth and cardiovascular outcomes in vegan and vegetarian children.

One small study in children aged five to ten years isn’t enough for the scientific community to say these results are valid and we must act on them.

But it does give us clues about potential problems and what we can look out for.

As the researchers indicated, more observational studies are needed, and in different countries.

Read more:
Have you gone vegan? Keep an eye on these 4 nutrients

So what does it mean for children on vegan and vegetarian diets?

This doesn’t mean every child who follows these diets is going to have these nutritional and health benefits or problems. And we also can’t say whether these problems will persist into adulthood.

But it does highlight potential risks which health practitioners and parents need to be aware of. And it’s a reminder to either find suitable replacements that align with the family’s diet philosophy, or prescribe supplements if a deficiency is diagnosed through a blood test.

In particular, parents and caregivers need to be careful their children are maintaining a good intake of protein from a variety of vegan sources (beans, lentils, nuts) and calcium (from calcium supplemented plant milks).

The study highlights potential risks for parents to be aware of.

Whether you’re following a vegan, vegetarian or meat-eating diet, you still need to make sure the diet is balanced across all food groups.

The study is also a reminder to minimise your family’s intake of processed foods which are high in salt, sugar and saturated fat, which are risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

If you’re concerned about your children’s diet, talk to your GP or an accredited practising dietitian, who can assess their growth and diet. – Evangeline Mantzioris

Blind peer review

The reviewer has provided an accurate assessment of the research paper.

The study highlights the importance of meal planning to optimise food and nutrient intakes of children whose usual dietary pattern is vegan or vegetarian and the need for regular use of fortified foods and/or dietary supplementation with vitamin B12 and vitamin D and potentially calcium and iron, particularly for vegans.

However, the results of the study may be a “best case scenario”, given most families participating were highly educated and hence likely to be more invested in planning family meals. It is possible other families might have less healthy dietary patterns, and therefore greater nutritional deficits.

Together with the results highlighted by the reviewer about bone mineral content and height, as well as iron and cholesterol levels, this study confirms both the potential risks and benefits associated with vegan and vegetarian diets in children.

A key message is that families following plant-based diets need more advice and support to optimise their food and nutrient intakes, and their children’s diet-related health and well-being. – Clare Collins

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Evangeline Mantzioris receives funding from National Health & Medical Research Council.

Clare Collins is affiliated with the Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, the University of Newcastle, NSW. She has received research grants from NHMRC, ARC, MRFF, Hunter Medical Research Institute, Diabetes Australia, Heart Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, nib foundation, Rijk Zwaan Australia, WA Dept. Health, Meat and Livestock Australia, and Greater Charitable Foundation. She has consulted to SHINE Australia, Novo Nordisk, Quality Bakers, the Sax Institute and the ABC. She was a team member conducting systematic reviews to inform the Australian Dietary Guidelines update and the Heart Foundation evidence reviews on meat and dietary patterns.

VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on the G7 summit and the Biloela Tamil family

Originally published on

University of Canberra Professorial Fellow Michelle Grattan and University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Paddy Nixon discuss the week in politics.

This week Michelle and Paddy discuss the G7 summit which is set to take place in Cornwall, where Prime Minister Scott Morrison will be meeting with some of the world’s leaders and discussing COVID-19, climate change, and China.

Crucially, it will be Morrison’s first face-to-face meeting with US President Joe Biden.

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.

Auckland is the world’s ‘most liveable city’? Many Māori might disagree

Originally published on

While I am always happy to celebrate any accolades my country and city might garner on the international stage, seeing Auckland/Tāmaki Makaurau awarded the top ranking in a recent “most liveable cities” survey left me somewhat flummoxed.

In particular, I would argue that many Māori whānau in Auckland do not enjoy the benefits of this supposed “liveability”.

This is important, given Māori comprised 11.5% of the Auckland population in the 2018 Census. Roughly one in four Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand are living in the greater Auckland region.

The survey was conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, sister company of The Economist, and looked at 140 world cities. Auckland was ranked 12th in 2019, but took top spot this year for one obvious reason:

Auckland, in New Zealand, is at the top of The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Liveability rankings, owing to the city’s ability to contain the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic faster and thus lift restrictions earlier, unlike others around the world.

Alternative liveability criteria

Each city in the survey was rated on “relative comfort for over 30 qualitative and quantitative factors across five broad categories: stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure”.

Overall rankings depended on how those factors were rated on a sliding scale: acceptable, tolerable, uncomfortable, undesirable, intolerable. Quantitative measurements relied on “external data points”, but the qualitative ratings were “based on the judgment of our team of expert analysts and in-city contributors”.

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The methodology, particularly around culture and environment, seems somewhat subjective. It’s predicated on the judgement of unnamed experts and contributors, and based on similarly undefined “cultural indicators”.

To better understand the living conditions of Māori in Auckland, therefore, we might use more robust “liveability” criteria. The New Zealand Treasury’s Living Standards Framework offers a useful model.

This sets out 12 domains of well-being: civic engagement and governance, cultural identity, environment, health, housing, income and consumption, jobs and earnings, knowledge and skills, time use, safety and security, social connections and subjective well-being.

Inner-city housing in Auckland: an average price increase of NZ$140,000 in one year.

The Māori experience

Applying a small handful of these measures to Māori, we find the following.

Housing: According to recent reports, Auckland house prices increased by about NZ$140,00 on average in the past year. That contributed to Auckland being the fourth-least-affordable housing market, across New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, the US, UK, Ireland, Canada and Hong Kong.

Next to that sobering fact, we can point to estimates that Māori made up more than 40% of the homeless in Auckland in 2019. We can only assume this rapid increase in house prices has made homelessness worse.

Poverty: Alongside housing affordability is the growing concern about poverty in New Zealand, and particularly child poverty. While there has been an overall decline in child poverty, Māori and Pacific poverty rates remain “profoundly disturbing”.

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Employment: As of March 2021, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment recorded a Māori unemployment rate of 10.8%, well above the national rate (4.9%). This is particularly high for Māori youth (20.4%) and women (12.0%).

Health: Māori life expectancy is considerably lower than for non-Māori, and mortality rates are higher for Māori than non-Māori across nearly all age groups. Māori are also over-represented across a wide range of chronic and infectious diseases, injuries and suicide.

The digital divide: The Digital Government initiative has found Māori and Pasifika are among those less likely to have internet access, thus creating a level of digital poverty that may affect jobs and earnings, knowledge and skills, safety and security, and social connections.

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Making Auckland liveable for all

Taken together, these factors show a different and darker picture for far too many Māori than “liveable city” headlines might suggest.

I say this as someone who has lived in Auckland for the majority of the past 60 years. It is a city I love, and I acknowledge the grace and generosity of the mana whenua of Tāmaki Makaurau, with whom I share this beautiful whenua and moana.

I am also part of a privileged group of Māori who enjoy job security, a decent income, a secure whānau and strong social networks.

But, until we address and ameliorate the inequities and disadvantages some of our whānau face, we cannot truly celebrate being the “most liveable city in the world”.

Ella Henry 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.

‘Waiting to stab me’: new research reveals the threats and daily trauma judges face in their jobs

Originally published on


As a judicial officer, being subject to death threats not only for you but your family is a concern […] you are expected to simply soldier on and go to work the next day.

You can’t un-see or un-hear the material; and it’s impossible to forget, particularly when it involves very young children.

There is a cumulative effect for me, getting worse year by year.

These are some of the distressing sentiments that judges in NSW revealed as part of a recent study I conducted with colleagues at UNSW on the stresses they face in their jobs.

In surveys of 205 serving and retired members of state courts, we found the majority were exposed to alarming levels of traumatic experiences on a daily basis.

This included a high incidence of threats of physical harm to themselves and their families. Perhaps most worrying were the 47 respondents (about 25%) who had received death threats, and those whose families and/or children had been threatened with harm or death.

These types of threats are typically made by individuals with the means and motive to carry them out — namely, defendants in criminal cases and their associates. Said one respondent,

An offender smuggled a knife into the courtroom and was waiting for an opportunity to stab me. An attentive sheriff intervened before the opportunity arose.

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‘Soldier on and go to work the next day’

Added to these stresses is the sometimes daily exposure to the cruel and sadistic behaviour of defendants to other adults and children, including physical and sexual violence.

Three-quarters of our respondents reported being exposed to events associated with trauma, and 30% reported symptoms consistent with trauma-related effects from being exposed to these types of cases on a daily basis.

Many respondents described the soul-destroying repetition of nastiness to which they are privy in both written and oral evidence. They also described the expectation that they “simply soldier on and go to work the next day”.

Said one participant:

The cumulative effect of witnessing violence towards and the degradation of others is a trauma which has a detrimental effect on one’s life, functioning and relationships. It is like an osmosis and manifests itself both physically and psychologically.

Judges frequently don’t have anyone to discuss these things with. Nor can they take on “other duties” to have an occasional respite from the grind. They live with their trauma and it can take a heavy toll on their health.

On top of this, and because of the very public nature of their roles, judges are considered fair game for criticism. This can sometimes be extreme and amount to vilification: they’re incompetent, they’re soft, they’re out of touch, they should have their face “smashed in”.

Sometimes this criticism comes from those in positions of power, which can carry greater weight. For instance, three federal ministers — Greg Hunt, Alan Tudge and Michael Sukkar — narrowly avoided contempt of court charges in 2018 after criticising what they perceived as lenient sentences for terrorism offences.

Usually, judges have little or no recourse to challenge such comments. The vast majority of respondents in our study said they did nothing about such vilification. Only a very small number said they had taken legal action, which, in the case of defamation, is a costly and precarious path.

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The toll on judges’ health

The costs of these pressures and repeated traumatic experiences are shown in two psychological indices we used to gauge our respondents’ well-being, the K10 and the Impact of Event Scale.

On both, the study participants scored significantly worse than the general public. I am a clinician and if someone were referred to me with these scores, I would know I was looking at serious clinical issues.

The suicide of Melbourne judge Stephen Myall in 2018 shows just how taxing and unrelenting the job can be. Myall was said to be overwhelmed by an enormous caseload and had attended a well-being course two weeks before his death.

Another judge, Guy Andrew, was found dead in Queensland last year after he was ordered to undergo counselling and mentoring following complaints about his behaviour on the bench.

A public-facing job with high costs

In societies that value the rule of law, judges are seen as the pinnacle of the system and are held in high esteem, paid well, and honoured. Their task is to weigh evidence impartially and to speak without fear or favour.

In the courtroom, the judge is the only person who sits facing the court, on show to all. This arrangement is not accidental. Justice is supposed to be public and transparent.

But judges have historically paid a high price for their status.

Judges have been murdered in recent decades in Italy (by the Mafia), the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries. Others have survived attempts on their lives.

In Australia, a man named Leonard Warwick, who was embroiled in a dispute with his ex-wife, targeted several Family Court judges in the early 1980s — shooting to death one and killing another one’s wife in a bombing of his home. Warwick also bombed the Family Court at Parramatta.

Ways forward

If there was a silver lining in our study, it was the extraordinarily high response rate. Our judicial officers are engaged and keen to have a say in how to improve the working conditions for themselves and their fellow judges.

There were many suggestions about how to do things better, and a degree of optimism about the future. Among the initiatives put forward were

devising formal mechanisms of mutual support for judges

making stress and trauma legitimate topics of discussion in the legal community

increasing safety and security precautions in courtrooms

instituting an annual mental health check for judicial officers.

As one of our participants expressed to us, change can only come from listening to judicial officers and hearing their concerns.

Thank you for doing this [survey]. […] I see people working so hard with no real voice and a desire to do right by all. It’s pretty sad.

Read more:
Deep cultural shifts required: open letter from 500 legal women calls for reform of way judges are appointed and disciplined

Kevin O’Sullivan 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.