Espionage is set to overtake terrorism as Australia’s top security concern – are our anti-spy laws good enough?

Originally published on

Terrorism has been one of Australia’s most significant threats to national security since the September 11 terrorist attacks. But this is set to change.

Australia’s domestic spy agency ASIO anticipates espionage – spying – will supplant terrorism as Australia’s principal security threat over the next five years. They do not explicitly say why, but note this is “based on current trends” and that “espionage attempts by multiple countries remain unacceptably high”.

Espionage can harm our independence, economy and national security. For example, stealing trade secrets would give a foreign country an advantage on the international market, which would undermine Australian businesses. Or stealing information about military weapons would give our enemies the chance to develop their own technology to obstruct our use of these assets.

But what exactly is the nature of this espionage threat? And are our laws enough to protect us?

The espionage threat

According to ASIO, foreign espionage is:

the theft of Australian information or capabilities for passage to another country, which undermines Australia’s national interest or advantages a foreign country.

Unlike the world wars or Cold War, foreign spies today do not just want to steal military or intelligence information. They seek any kind of sensitive or valuable information or things, including proprietary and commercial information, new technologies, and information about our relations with other countries.

ASIO head Mike Burgess has warned of a growing espionage threat.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Foreign spies steal this information by developing relationships with people working in sectors such as government, academia, business, science and technology.

They also engage in cyber espionage – today’s spies can steal large amounts of data in seconds. They can also do this anonymously and from outside Australia. The cyber espionage threat has been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen a drastic increase in the use and availability of cybertechnologies.

Espionage attempts are by no means a rare occurrence. ASIO warns they occur every day, in every Australian state and territory. And they are not just by China. A wide range of countries are attempting espionage against Australia.

The threat is real, sophisticated and wide-ranging. And ASIO warns that it will increase during times of “heightened tension”, like during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Australia’s espionage laws

To combat the growing threat of espionage, in 2018 the federal government introduced a complex scheme of 27 different espionage offences. These include a suite of underlying offences, plus a preparatory offence and a solicitation offence.

Foreign spies – and those who assist them – face life in prison if they break one of these serious national security laws.

All of Australia’s espionage crimes apply to people within Australia. They also apply to people in other countries too. This means they can capture spies who engage in cyber espionage from beyond Australia’s borders.

The underlying espionage offences

The underlying espionage offences criminalise dealing with information on behalf of, or to communicate to, a “foreign principal”, which includes foreign governments as well as entities they control, such as foreign intelligence agencies.

Read more:
ASIO chief Mike Burgess says there are more spies in Australia ‘than at the height of the cold war’

Here, “information” means any information or thing. This means the laws apply no matter what kind of information is taken, from classified government information and sensitive samples of new products (like vaccines) to seemingly innocuous information about Australia’s relations with other countries. They also apply no matter how that information is taken – it could be in person or via cybertechnologies.

Some of the offences require the person to have intended to (or been reckless as to whether) they would prejudice Australia’s national security or advantage the national security of a foreign country. Here, “national security” means traditional defence and intelligence matters. It also extends to Australia’s political and economic relations with other countries. So, the underlying offences would capture those who take information on behalf of another country and seek to harm our security, economy, or international relations – exactly what foreign spies do.

The preparatory offence

The aim of counterespionage is not to wait until espionage has happened, but to prevent espionage from occurring in the first place. With this in mind, the 2018 espionage reforms introduced a novel “preparatory offence”, which was modelled on similar terrorism offences.

The preparatory offence criminalises any act done to prepare or plan for espionage. It captures conduct far before the commission of any espionage offence, such as purchasing a laptop or googling the type of encryption used by the Australian Defence Force.

Googling certain terms could amount to planning for espionage, in the eyes of the law.

To amount to espionage, though, a person doing these kinds of things would need to intend to commit espionage at some time in the future.

Where foreign spies or their associates are concerned, this offence might be easier to prove than the underlying offences. It also gives law enforcement the power to intervene before the spies take anything.

The solicitation offence

The espionage offences take aim at the earliest stages of espionage in another way. The “solicitation offence” makes it a crime to do any act, intending to obtain someone else to commit espionage. The offence can be committed even if the other person never engages in espionage.

The solicitation offence would apply to foreign spies who try to develop relationships with Australians to get them to hand over valuable information.

Are our laws enough?

Australia’s revamped espionage laws are broad enough to capture modern – including cyber – espionage. But they are not enough to protect us from espionage.

One problem with the laws is that people who commit cyber espionage from outside Australia must be extradited here to face prosecution. This could be a significant impediment to prosecutions, especially where the spy is in a country that does not have an extradition treaty with Australia (or the treaty is not yet in force), such as China or Pakistan.

Read more:
You could break espionage laws on social media without realising it

Another problem is identifying who the spy is, and therefore who to charge. This is a big issue where a person engages in cyber espionage because they can use things like anonymous proxy servers to hide their identity.

These problems mean that our espionage laws may not be as effective as they could be, and other measures may be necessary to prevent espionage from occurring in the first place. These measures include robust and effective cyber security – not just for government agencies, but in our homes and workplaces too. They also include public awareness campaigns about the nature of modern espionage. Every Australian must know what to look out for so that they do not inadvertently hand valuable information over to a spy.

Our espionage laws serve as a warning that broader does not necessarily mean better.

In addition to their questionable effectiveness, the breadth of the laws means they can capture entirely innocent conduct too, like social networking, media reporting, and academic research.

So, in attempting to capture spies, the laws may also catch innocent Australians.

Sarah Kendall 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.

After a horrific COVID wave, India’s health system is now overwhelmed by a different virus

Originally published on

After a deadly second wave of COVID-19 overwhelmed hospitals in India earlier this year, the country is battling yet another viral outbreak. Hospitals are struggling to treat dengue, a viral disease that spreads through the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

At least 15 Indian states have been badly affected, including the capital city of Delhi that reported a five-year high in the number of cases.

Data from the federal health ministry suggests more than 100,000 dengue infections and 90 deaths were reported in the country from January to October.

Federal teams have been rushed to nine of the worst-affected states to assist them in controlling the outbreak. Health systems in India have been struggling to treat patients with dengue. Bed shortages have been reported across several states.

Read more:
Explainer: what is dengue fever?

Dengue infections occur cyclically, peaking every alternate year. Last year there were fewer than 45,000 cases.

This time, the challenge is compounded by patients with both COVID and dengue. Since the initial presentation of dengue and COVID infections are similar, they can be misdiagnosed, leading to catastrophic, including fatal, consequences.

Dengue causes a wide spectrum of disease, ranging from asymptomatic infection to severe flu-like symptoms. Severe dengue infection, though less common, can be accompanied by any number of complications including severe bleeding, organ impairment and plasma leakage from the blood into surrounding tissue.

The risk of death is higher if severe dengue is not managed properly. Some 90% of those with severe dengue needing hospitalisation are children below five years of age; 2-3% of children in this age group infected die from dengue.

How do you catch dengue?

Dengue is an urban-centric disease spread by the Aedes mosquitoes that bite during the day.

The Aedes mosquito breeds in stagnant artificial collections of water which abound in homes and other urban areas in India. A teaspoon of stagnant water is enough for thousands of Aedes mosquitoes to breed. This mosquito is a lazy one. It does not travel beyond 300-500 meters and therefore, most breeding spots are close to residential premises or within homes.

The dengue virus belongs to the Flaviviridae family, with four closely related but distinct strains – DENV-1, DENV-2, DENV-3, and DENV-4. The incubation period for the virus is between four and ten days after the mosquito bite, and symptoms last two to seven days. This year, DENV-2, marked by early onset of symptoms and rapid progression of illness, has been found to be responsible for the rise in the number of cases.

Peak numbers for dengue are recorded in the post-monsoon period in India. This year, early signs of a particularly bad outbreak were reported in the northern state Uttar Pradesh. Reports of a “mystery fever” that caused several deaths among children surfaced in late August. Dengue fever was found to be the main cause.

The dengue situation in India

Dengue is among the top ten diseases prioritised by the World Health Organization for the period 2019 to 2024. This is because incidence of this viral disease has increased over 30-fold in the last five decades.

A third of the global burden of dengue is in India. Of the 96 million cases reported each year, 33 million of them are in India.

However it’s thought this is a huge underestimate of the number of cases worldwide. It’s estimated the real figure could be as high as 400 million, since many are undiagnosed.

A nationally representative, community-based survey in India showed close to half of the population (48.7%) has been exposed to dengue infection in India at some point in their life. The highest numbers are in the southern states (76·9%), followed by the western (62·3%), and northern (60·3%) states.

Given the makeup of these states, these statistics show urbanisation is one of the main drivers for rising dengue incidence in India. No urban part of India is now untouched by the disease.

Can we stop the virus?

The disease caused to humans has no specific treatment. However, several interventions have been successfully used to reduce this type of mosquito breeding. These include indoor and outdoor residual spraying of walls, the use of attractive toxic sugar baits to trap female mosquitoes and larvae-killing agents like gambusia fish. Personal protection measures like screens for windows, and mosquito repellent creams are also important deterrents.

Results of a trial conducted by Monash University on the efficacy of infecting mosquitoes with a bacteria called Wolbachia show the technique reduced the incidence of dengue by 77%. The Wolbachia bacteria competes with other viruses in the mosquito’s system, such as dengue, zika, chikungunya or yellow fever. This makes it harder for these viruses to reproduce inside the mosquitoes.

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How we convinced people to trust a new innovative approach to eliminate dengue

Male mosquitoes infected with the bacterium are released in areas where the disease is endemic. They breed with the wild female mosquitoes. Over time, the percentage of mosquitoes with Wolbachia increases, meaning fewer mosquitoes which are able to transmit harmful viruses to humans.

The process of infecting, breeding and then releasing mosquitoes in the community has not yet been cleared for use in India. But experimental studies are taking place to study its effects in certain regions. It could be a useful intervention for India.

Isn’t there a vaccine for dengue?

There is a dengue vaccine on the market but its use is very limited. For those who have never had dengue it can make infection more severe, so it is only recommended for people who have previously had dengue and live in regions where the virus is endemic.

Read more:
Here’s why we don’t have a vaccine for Zika (and other mosquito-borne viruses)

Work on a new vaccine that could be effective against all four strains of the virus in the same vaccine is currently being undertaken in India and elsewhere. Trials are to commence soon.

Community measures are also imperative in curbing dengue transmission. This includes removing all sources of stagnant water around your home – from flower pots, air coolers and old tyres lying around, at least once a week. Reducing the burden of dengue is something we all must take part in.

GVS Murthy 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.

Rare fossil reveals prehistoric Melbourne was once a paradise for tropical pig-nosed turtles

Originally published on

Hany Mahmoud, Author provided

The pig-nosed turtle, an endangered freshwater turtle native to the Northern Territory and southern New Guinea, is unique in many respects. Unlike most freshwater turtles, it is almost completely adapted to life in water. It has paddle-like flippers similar to sea turtles, a snorkel-like “pig-nose” to help it breathe while staying submerged, and eggs that will only hatch when exposed to the waters of the wet season.

It is also the last surviving species of a group of tropical turtles called the carettochelyids, which once lived throughout the northern hemisphere. Scientists thought pig-nosed turtles only arrived at Australia within the past few millennia, as no pig-nosed turtle fossils had ever been found here – or so we thought.

Artist’s impression of the pig-nosed turtle swimming in an ancient river.
Jaime Bran

A 5-million-year-old fossil from Museums Victoria’s collections has now completely rewritten this story. Discovered at Beaumaris, 20km southeast of Melbourne, this fossil lay unidentified in Melbourne Museum’s collection for almost 100 years until our team came across it.

We identified the fossil as a small section of the front of a pig-nosed turtle’s shell, as we report today in the journal Papers in Palaeontology. Although the fossil is just a fragment, we were lucky that it was from a very diagnostic area of the shell.

The 5-million-year-old pig-nosed turtle fossil, in life position on the shell of a modern pig-nosed turtle.
Erich Fitzgerald

The fossil shows that carettochelyid turtles have been living in Australia for millions of years. But what was a pig-nosed turtle doing in Beaumaris 5 million years ago, thousands of kilometres from their modern range?

Well, in the past, Melbourne’s weather was a lot warmer and wetter that it is now. It was more akin to the tropical conditions in which these turtles live today.

In fact, this isn’t the first prehistoric tropical species discovered here: monk seals, which today live in Hawaii and the Mediterranean, and dugongs also once lived in what is now Beaumaris.

Read more:
The most endangered seals in the world once called Australia home

A tropical Melbourne?

Millions of years ago, Australia’s eastern seaboard was a tropical turtle hotspot. The warmer and wetter environment would have been perfect for supporting a greater diversity of turtles in the past. This is in stark contrast to modern times; today, Australia is mostly home to the side-necked turtles.

Tropical turtles would have had to cross thousands of kilometres of ocean to get here. But this is not unusual – small animals often cross the sea by hitching a ride on vegetation rafts.

Distribution of Australia’s freshwater turtles today, and the location of the pig-nosed turtle fossil. Star shows where the new fossil was found at Beaumaris.
Author provided, turtle silhouette by Aline M. Ghilardi

So where are these turtles now? Why is the modern pig-nosed turtle the last remaining species of the carettochelyids? Well, just like today, animals in the past were threatened by climate change. When Australasia’s climate became cooler and drier after the ice ages, all the tropical turtles went extinct, except for the pig-nosed turtle in the Northern Territory and New Guinea.

Australia wasn’t always dry and sunburnt. Millions of years ago, it was a tropical paradise filled with bizarre animals.
Dorothy Dunphy/Riversleigh by Archer, Hand & Godthelp/Reed Books

This also suggests that the modern pig-nosed turtle, already endangered, is under threat from human-driven climate change. These turtles are very sensitive to their environment, and without rain their eggs cannot hatch.

This is true of a lot of Australia’s native animals and plants. In reptile species such as turtles and crocodiles, sex can be determined by the temperature at which eggs are incubated. This is yet another factor that could put these species at risk as the climate changes.

Many amazing fossils have been found on the beach under the red cliffs of Beaumaris.
Erich Fitzgerald

The treasure trove of fossils from Beaumaris shows just how important Australia’s previously tropical environment was for ancient animals. Southern Australia used to be home to many tropical species that now have much more restricted ranges.

Just last year, the discovery of tropical monk seals fossils from Beaumaris completely changed how scientists thought seals evolved. This shows just how much we still have to learn about Australia’s prehistoric past, when it was so different from the sunburnt country we know today.

Read more:
Scientists thought these seals evolved in the north. 3-million-year-old fossils from New Zealand suggest otherwise

James Patrick Rule receives funding from an Australian Research Council Discovery Project (DP180101797). Museums Victoria receives support for research on The Lost World of Bayside from Bayside City Council, Community Bank Sandringham, Beaumaris Motor Yacht Squadron, Bayside Earth Sciences Society, Sandringham Foreshore Association and generous community donations to Museums Victoria.

William Parker receives funding from an Australian Government RTP Stipend and a Museums Victoria – Monash University Robert Blackwood Scholarship.

The uninvited Christmas guest: is New Zealand prepared for Omicron’s inevitable arrival?

Originally published on

David Hallett/Getty Images

As New Zealand gets ready for the festive season under the new traffic light system, the emergence of the Omicron variant is a reminder this pandemic is far from over.

The new variant of concern is already fuelling a new wave of infections in South Africa and there is some evidence hospitalisations are increasing.

Data from the South African COVID-19 monitoring consortium show the impact of the Omicron variant.
SACMC Epidemic Explorer, CC BY-ND

Omicron has already arrived in Australia and the question now is whether it will get to New Zealand during the summer holiday season and potentially affect plans for border openings.

New Zealand is currently planning to start opening its borders and allowing quarantee-free entry from early 2022, first to fully vaccinated New Zealand citizens arriving from Australia after January 16, and then for New Zealanders arriving from all other countries after mid-February. There’s already some discussion about whether this plan may have to be reviewed.

Omicron contains 32 mutations in the spike protein alone. These are mutations that may make the virus more transmissible and better at evading immunity. There is also some evidence to suggest it poses a higher risk of reinfection.

Other anecdotal evidence suggests more children are being hospitalised with moderate to severe symptoms with Omicron.

However, it is still too early to draw any firm conclusions. Data over the next few weeks will help determine the variant’s full impact.

Delta has taught us important lessons

New Zealand’s elimination strategy resulted in good economic performance, the lowest COVID-19 mortality in the OECD and increases in life expectancy. However, the emergence of the Delta variant forced us to abandon that strategy.

Perhaps most importantly, Delta also taught us that when new variants emerge, they do not stay in one place for very long.

So, how prepared is New Zealand?

In the short term, New Zealand is well placed to deal with Omicron. Our strong border controls, testing and rapid genome sequencing mean that when Omicron arrives at our border, we can respond quickly and prevent community incursion.

It is unlikely it will be our unwanted guest this Christmas. Despite this, significant challenges lie ahead in the long term, including vaccination inequity and disruptions to routine healthcare.

Percentage of the double vaccinated

Click the button in the top right corner to expand the interactive map – then swipe down for Māori vaccination rates and up for the overall population to compare.

iFrames are not supported on this page.

In several regions, including Auckland and Canterbury, 90% of the eligible population are now fully vaccinated. High vaccination rates may blunt the extent of future potential waves of infection, but significant inequities in vaccination levels remain.

We know that vaccinated people transmit COVID-19 less than unvaccinated people, but only 70% of Māori have received both doses.

Read more:
Are new COVID variants like Omicron linked to low vaccine coverage? Here’s what the science says

Even without COVID-19 spread widely, there is already pressure on hospital capacity and staff with delayed surgeries now more common, be that in Hawke’s Bay, Dunedin or Christchurch.

So far, New Zealand has been luckier than other countries where concerns are growing about disruptions to routine healthcare. Delays may leave patients with treatable conditions suffering illnesses that can become fatal.

New Zealand has one of the lowest ICU capacities in the world. While the government has announced $644 million to raise ICU capacity, it will take time to build capacity and train staff.

Although unlikely, should Omicron breach our border like Delta did, it will have to be tackled against the backdrop of trying to manage the current Delta outbreak.

Child vaccinations are set to start at the end of January. However, low vaccination levels are often in areas where health provision and hospitals are a long way away. This will need to be incorporated into the rollout strategy to ensure equitable childhood vaccination rates.

Looking forward to Christmas and beyond

The Auckland border will lift on December 15 and many are bracing themselves for a COVID summer. Calls for staycations have emerged as popular summer holiday spots such as Matai Bay close and iwi are asking people to stay away from some destinations.

Our analysis by regional tourism areas in the map below supports this. It shows most regional tourism areas have low vaccination rates, especially for Māori and Pacific peoples.

Click the button in the top right corner to expand the interactive map – then swipe down for Māori and Pacific peoples vaccination rates and up to compare to overall population.

iFrames are not supported on this page.

As New Zealand heads into the holiday season, public health measures such as mask wearing, physical distancing, hand hygiene, contact tracing, case isolation and vaccination will remain essential.

Mandating the COVID tracer app increased the number of scans while less than 1% of paid staff at St John’s ambulance service left due to the vaccine mandate.


Some experts have suggested the emergence of Omicron could be a result of low levels of vaccine coverage in developing nations.

The root of this is that the world isn’t doing enough to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Read more:
Are new COVID variants like Omicron linked to low vaccine coverage? Here’s what the science says

While some countries, including New Zealand, have had domestic success at controlling COVID-19, wealthy countries around the world continue to hoard vaccines. This ultimately gives the virus more opportunities to replicate and mutate.

Omicron should act as a wake-up call to ensure worldwide equitable vaccine delivery before even more concerning variants emerge.

Matthew Hobbs receives funding from New Zealand Health Research Council, A Better Start National Science Challenge, Cure Kids and IStar for this research.

Lukas Marek has previously received funding from the Ministry of Health.

Overhaul of payments system to cover digital wallets, buy now pay later, cryptocurrency

Originally published on


Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will announce on Wednesday a comprehensive reform of regulations governing the payments system, to bring it up to date with innovations such as digital wallets and cryptocurrency.

The government says without the changes – the biggest in 25 years – Australians businesses and consumers could increasingly be making transactions in spaces beyond the full reach of Australian law, where rules were determined by foreign governments and multinationals.

It points out that in three decades payment methods have gone from cash to cheques, cheques to credit cards, credit cards to debit cards and now to “tap and go” via digital wallets on phones or watches.

Around a decade ago, cryptocurrency was a concept. Currently, there are more than 220 million participants in the worldwide crypto market, including many in Australia.

The planned reforms will centralise oversight of the payment system by ensuring government plays a greater leadership role. The treasurer will be given more power to intervene in certain circumstances.

Consumer protection will be strengthened, and more competition and innovation will be promoted.

The reform program will be in two phases. There will be consultations in the first half of next year on those that are most urgent and easy to implement. Consultations on the rest will be done by the end of the year.

Read more:
The paradox of going contactless is we’re more in love with cash than ever

The government says the present one-size-fits-all licensing framework for payment service providers will be replaced graduated, risk-based regulatory requirements.

There will be consideration of the feasibility of a retail central bank digital currency, and an examination of “de-banking” (where a bank declines to offer a service to a business or individual).

Frydenberg says the comprehensive payments and crypto asset reform program would “firmly place Australia among a handful of lead countries in the world.

“It is how we will capitalise on the opportunity for Australia to lead the world in this emerging and fast-growing area which has almost endless potential applications across the economy,” he says.

“For businesses, these reforms will address the ambiguity that can exist about the regulatory and tax treatment of crypto assets and new payment methods.

Read more:
Can Bitcoin be a real currency? What’s wrong with El Salvador’s plan

“In doing so, it will drive even more consumer interest, facilitate even more new entrants and enable even more innovation to take place.

“For consumers, these changes will establish a regulatory framework to underpin their growing use of crypto assets and clarify the treatment of new payment methods.”

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.

Word from The Hill: Michelle Grattan on Labor’s climate policy and Liberal’s fight for Warringah

Originally published on

As well as Michelle Grattan’s usual interviews with experts and politicians about the news of the day, Politics with Michelle Grattan now includes “Word from The Hill”, where all things political will be discussed with members of The Conversation’s politics team.

This week they discuss Labor’s newly announced climate policy which includes a target of 43% emissions reduction. They discuss how this plan differs from the Coalitions target and the support it has from key business groups.

They also canvass the push for former NSW Premier Gladys Berejilikan to run for the federal election in a bid to win the seat of Warringah back from Independent Zali Steggal. This move, if it goes ahead, is controversial as there is still an ongoing ICAC investigation into her conduct.

The United States has announced that they will hold a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, with speculation that the Morrison Government will follow the lead of the US. This boycott is over human rights in China. This is a diplomatic gesture rather than a full boycott, as the athletes would still attend.

Michelle Grattan no recibe salario, ni ejerce labores de consultoría, ni posee acciones, ni recibe financiación de ninguna compañía u organización que pueda obtener beneficio de este artículo, y ha declarado carecer de vínculos relevantes más allá del cargo académico citado.

Australia’s asylum policy has been a disaster. It’s deeply disturbing the UK wants to adopt it

Originally published on

Late last month, at least 27 people drowned after their inflatable dinghy capsized while trying to cross the English Channel to the UK. The International Organization for Migration has called it the biggest single loss of life in the channel since data collection began in 2014.

While British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “shocked and appalled and deeply saddened” by the tragedy, it will no doubt spur on efforts to rush through the country’s much-maligned Nationality and Borders Bill.

This bill, which is being debated in the UK parliament again this week, seeks among other things to “deter illegal entry into the United Kingdom”.

The sense of urgency mounting around this issue does not sweep aside the need for reasoned and rational policymaking. In Australia, we have seen the damage caused by hurried and ill-conceived asylum policies. It is deeply disturbing to see the UK barrel down the same path.

Protesters outside Downing Street in London calling on the government to scrap the Nationalities and Borders Bill.
Aaron Chown/PA

Flawed assumptions about Australia’s system

Much of the UK’s proposed “solution” to channel crossings borrows from Australia’s efforts to “stop the boats” and deter people in need of protection from seeking (or finding) it here.

The UK proposal to “offshore” asylum seekers by sending them to Albania or some other country is modelled on Australia’s experience sending asylum seekers to the Pacific nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Given all we now know about the ramifications of offshore processing, it is astonishing the UK is seeking to replicate it. Offshore processing has been an unmitigated policy failure here.

Read more:
UK Nationality and Borders Bill Q&A: how will it affect migration across the English Channel?

A group of Conservative MPs, including David Davis, have rightly challenged the humanity, feasibility and cost of the UK adopting Australian-style offshore processing. They have tabled an amendment which would see offshore processing struck from the bill.

However, some other MPs have been led to believe the Australian model of offshore processing is “the best way to control illegal immigration” and “the single most important step any sovereign nation can take in protecting its own borders against illegal immigration”.

One MP claimed that when offshore processing was introduced in Australia, the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat “fell off a cliff straightaway”.

Many of us watch these developments from afar with bewilderment. The UK government appears to be taking at face value claims by the Australian government that offshore processing was a success in stopping boat arrivals.

These claims do not stack up to scrutiny. They belie the government’s own data and are not supported by any independent source.

A makeshift migrant camp in Calais, France, across the English Channel from the UK.
Rafael Yaghobzadeh/AP

Misleading evidence about Australia’s program

In September, George Brandis, the Australian high commissioner to the UK, gave what we believe to be [inaccurate and misleading evidence]( about offshore processing to the UK parliamentary committee tasked with considering the bill.

My colleagues at the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law and I submitted to parliament a point-by-point rebuttal to this evidence, addressing just some of the errors and misrepresentations.

One of the most serious issues was the conflation of two very different policies – boat turnbacks and the offshore processing system.

“Offshore processing” involved sending asylum seekers from Australia to Nauru and PNG to have their claims processed there. Australia stopped transferring new arrivals offshore in 2014.

By contrast, the policy of boat turnbacks is ongoing, and has largely achieved its goal of deterring the arrival of people by sea. Since late 2013, the policy has involved intercepting asylum seekers at sea and sending them straight back to their countries of departure, without allowing them to apply for asylum. The humanitarian consequences of the turnback policy can be dire, especially for those returned to persecution and serious human rights abuses. It is also contrary to international law.

Brandis wrongly claimed that offshore processing and boat turnbacks were introduced at the same time. This gave the false impression that they are inseparable elements of a single approach to boat arrivals, the effectiveness of which can only be assessed holistically.

In fact, offshore processing was introduced in August 2012, a full year before boat turnbacks. During that year, boat arrivals continued to increase. In fact, more asylum seekers arrived in Australia by sea than at any other time in history.

Indeed, just three months after the offshore processing policy was announced, the government was already forced to admit that more people had arrived by boat than could ever be accommodated offshore.

Read more:
Multibillion-dollar strategy with no end in sight: Australia’s ‘enduring’ offshore processing deal with Nauru

Exporting a cruel, inhumane and costly system

The fact that offshore processing did not stop people travelling by boat to Australia should be sufficient to put an end to debate in the UK. But there are other reasons this Australian “model” should not be adopted elsewhere.

First, extreme cruelty is an inherent and unavoidable part of the system.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Médecins Sans Frontières have found the rates of mental illness of asylum seekers and refugees in Nauru and PNG to be among the highest recorded in any surveyed population, and some of the worst they had ever encountered.

Paediatricians reported children transferred to Nauru were among the most traumatised they had ever seen.

In fact, the Australian government was eventually forced to evacuate all families back to Australia when previously healthy children developed a rare psychiatric condition known as traumatic withdrawal syndrome, or “resignation syndrome”. In the most serious stage of this condition, children enter an unconscious or comatose state.

No liberal democracy should entertain the possibility of inflicting such cruelty and suffering on human beings, let alone do it.

The Australian experience also shows that it is extraordinarily expensive to implement offshore processing.

Costs continue to mount with each passing year, with the policy expected to cost more than A$800 million (£424 million) in the financial year 2021-22, despite there being less than 230 people left offshore. The cost to hold a single person offshore on Nauru is now believed to have risen to A$4.3 million (£2.28 million) each year.

The UK government will need to account to taxpayers for billions of pounds spent on a policy that likely will not achieve its stated aims.

Read more:
Debunking key myths about Britain’s ‘broken asylum system’

The UK is also hanging its hat on a policy which may be ruled unlawful and never get off the ground.

In Australia, offshore processing has faced a constant barrage of legal challenges, many of which have forced the government to alter its policies or pay out large sums in damages.

In the UK, where human rights law limits government power, the legal obstacles will be even bigger.

The prospect of sending asylum seekers “offshore” might sound like a convenient solution in theory. But the reality of this policy in Australia has proven it to be difficult, ineffective, expensive, cruel and controversial.

Madeline has previously provided oral and written evidence to the UK House of Commons on the proposal to introduce offshore processing.

Remembering Geoff Harcourt, the beating heart of Australian economics

Originally published on


Australian economics has lost one of its most internationally renowned scholars with the passing of Geoffrey Harcourt AC at the age of 90. He was also one of its most prolific.

He wrote more than 30 books and 400 articles.

The award of Companion in the Order of Australia in 2018 cites his

eminent service to higher education as an academic economist and author, particularly in the fields of post-Keynesian economics, capital theory and economic thought.

He was a distinguished fellow of the Economic Society of Australia in 1996 among numerous other honours.

Lewis Miller’s painting of Geoffrey Harcourt, submitted for the Archibald Prize, 2019.

An historian of ideas

Geoff gained his first class honours degree at the University of Melbourne. It was there he made a life-long commitment to work toward alleviating poverty and against social and racial discrimination.

As he later wrote, “I became an economist because I hated injustice, unemployment and poverty”.

He then moved to Cambridge where he got his PhD. He was supervised by economics greats Nicky Kaldor and Ronald Henderson. He taught for many years at the University of Adelaide.

He was not just an ivory tower academic. He worked with some colleagues on the very practical 1974 “Adelaide Plan”, which proposed disallowing tax deductions for wage increases above a certain level as a means of reining rampant inflation.

Read more:
Geoff Harcourt: Why treasurers should go back to economics school

Another part of the plan was trading off wage increases for personal income tax cuts. It was not adopted, but later found an echo in the prices-wages accords of the Hawke government.

He declined an offer by Jim Cairns, briefly treasurer in the Whitlam government, to be appointed Governor of the Reserve Bank.

Geoff Harcourt with students in the 1970s.

When Whitlam was dismissed, Geoff’s son (the economist Tim Harcourt) recalled his father speaking at a protest rally just as he had at anti-Vietnam war rallies a few years earlier.

In 1979, during the term of the Fraser Coalition government, he drafted an economic policy programme for a future Labor government. He later joked that Hawke followed it for “at least a good half-hour”.

A Cambridge man

While always Australian, he was also very much a Cambridge man. He visited there to lecture in 1964-1966, 1972-1973 and 1980. He moved there on a more permanent basis from 1982 to 1998.

He was president of Jesus College for most of the period 1988 to 1992. He was on the University Council for eight years.

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Geoff Harcourt: climate challenge calls for a rethink of economics

Some of his best-known work revolved around Cambridge. He wrote on the “Cambridge controversies”. This refers to an argument about the nature of capital between economists from the University of Cambridge and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He co-wrote the definitive intellectual biography of famous Cambridge economist Joan Robinson. (Geoff, like many others, thought she should have been the first woman to win the Economics Nobel Prize.)


Geoff described himself as an “all-rounder” with a range of research interests. He is probably best remembered for his work on what is now termed “post-Keynesian economics”.

Geoff Harcourt and family.

Both authors of this hastily-written obituary remember Geoff with great affection.

Harry Bloch, the incoming co-editor of History of Economics Review, remembered Geoff as “the beating heart of the history of economic thought in Australia”.

The review will feature a tribute to Geoff in due course.

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

Is foam rolling effective for muscle pain and flexibility? The science isn’t so sure

Originally published on


Many physically active people get muscle pain after exercise, known as “delayed onset muscle soreness” or DOMS.

Foam rolling has emerged as a popular means of alleviating delayed onset muscle soreness and stiff muscles.

You’re likely to find foam rollers in any gym, or you may have one yourself, and many people swear by using them before and after exercise.

But what does the science say? Is foam rolling actually effective in reducing delayed onset muscle soreness, and in increasing flexibility?

Unfortunately, it’s often the case that scientific studies don’t necessarily support anecdotal evidence.

This seems to be the case with foam rolling. The evidence doesn’t strongly support the use of foam rollers – though some studies do show a small benefit.

Read more:
Health Check: why do my muscles ache the day after exercise?

What is foam rolling?

Foam rolling is a type of self-massage, usually using a cylindrical foam roller.

They were first used in the 1980s, and are now usually used in warm-up and/or cool-down exercises.

Proponents say foam rolling can reduce muscle pain, and increase flexibility (also known as range of motion).

But the mechanisms underlying these claims are not well known.

Read more:
Physio, chiro, osteo and myo: what’s the difference and which one should I get?

How does foam rolling work?

Foam rollers and other similar devices are claimed to release the tightness of “myofascia”.

Myofascia is a thin connective tissue that surrounds our muscles. It prevents friction between tissues, and transfers force generated by muscle fibres to the bone.

Myofascia can become sticky and tight because of a sedentary lifestyle, repetitive movements that overworks one part of the body, injury, or surgery. Tight myofascia can reduce flexibility.

My research team and I at Edith Cowan University investigated the role of myofascia in delayed onset muscle soreness.

Participants in our study did ten sets of six bicep curls, and developed very sore arms in the following days.

Delayed onset muscle soreness might have more to do with the fascia surrounding muscles, than the muscles themselves.

We assessed their muscle soreness one, two and four days after the exercise.

We also assessed their pain using an “electrical stimulator” to quantify the sensitivity of the bicep fascia and muscle to electric current.

We found the fascia surrounding the muscle became more sensitive to electrical stimulation than the muscle itself.

Scientists think tiny tears in muscle fibres are responsible for delayed onset muscle soreness. But our research suggests damage to, or inflammation of, myofascia is more associated with delayed onset muscle soreness than damage to muscle fibres.

Foam rolling claims to stretch the myofascia and thereby could reduce such soreness and inflammation.

But the evidence for foam rolling is mixed

The evidence is still emerging, but there have been some studies into foam rolling.

A systematic review article of foam rolling based on 49 studies concluded foam rolling reduced muscle stiffness and pain, and increased range of motion. But the authors stated it should be used in combination with dynamic stretching and an active warm-up before exercise.

Another study examined whether foam rolling was effective in reducing delayed onset muscle soreness and enhancing muscle recovery. The participants performed two workouts four weeks apart, each involving ten sets of ten back squats.

One group then foam rolled for 20 minutes immediately, 24 and 48 hours after exercise, while another group did no foam rolling at all. Foam rolling had a moderate effect on reducing delayed onset muscle soreness.

Read more:
Feeling sore after exercise? Here’s what science suggests helps (and what doesn’t)

But another recent review article with meta-analysis (which combines the results of multiple scientific studies) of 21 studies on foam rolling concluded the effects of foam rolling on performance and recovery were very minor, and foam rolling should be used as a warm-up activity rather than a recovery tool.

The article also found foam rolling before exercise resulted in a small improvement in flexibility by 4%. And rolling after exercise reduced muscle pain perception by 6%.

But statistical significance doesn’t necessarily reflect practical significance. A 4% increase in flexibility and 6% reduction in pain may not be noticed very much by most people.

Also, multiple studies found foam rolling increased range of motion, but only for roughly 20 minutes.

So, the effects of foam rolling on flexibility do not appear to be large and the long-term effects are inconclusive.

One problem with this area of research is the rolling protocols used in the studies were diverse with no definitive agreement regarding the ideal number of sets, duration, rolling frequency, or intensity.

Interestingly, the magnitude of the effect on range of motion following foam rolling is similar to that of stretching.

So if your goal is to increase range of motion, both stretching and foam rolling can be considered as adequate warm-up routines. No previous studies have clearly showed foam rolling was more effective than other interventions to improve flexibility before exercise.

But remember: though foam rolling is generally considered safe, it’s better to avoid it if you have a serious injury such as a muscle tear, unless your doctor or a physical therapist has cleared you first.

Ken Nosaka receives funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council and Defence Science and Technology.
He is affiliated with the Stay Sharp Program (not-for-profit group in a community in Perth).

Who’s the unsung architect behind Labor’s climate plans? A retiring Coalition minister

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The architect of the ingenious mechanism at the heart of Labor’s plan to sharply cut carbon emissions is about to leave the parliament.

Throughout the pandemic, Greg Hunt has been best known as Australia’s health minister. But before that, when the Coalition was swept to office in 2013, he became Tony Abbott’s environment minister, charged with destroying Labor’s carbon tax.

(I’m calling it a “carbon tax” here to distinguish it from the mechanism Greg Hunt quietly slipped in to replace it, and also because the Bureau of Statistics decided it was a tax when it recorded it as a tax in the national accounts.)

Labor’s scheme taxed (or “charged” if you must) each big emitter in the industries covered A$23 for each tonne of carbon dioxide or equivalent they pumped into the atmosphere.

There were all sorts of problems with Labor’s scheme, problems Hunt was keenly aware of, having co-authored a prize-winning research paper on carbon taxes at university and having been immersed in the topic when Labor was last in power, as the Coalition’s environment spokesman under leaders Nelson, Turnbull and Abbott.

One big problem was that Australian exporters (of products such as steel and aluminum) would be placed at a disadvantage by having to pay the tax, while their overseas competitors did not.

Steel and aluminium would still be sold to the eventual customers but from a country other than Australia that didn’t charge the tax, a phenomenon known as carbon leakage.

Labor’s carbon tax had problems

And not only exporters. Australian producers of products for local consumption stood to suffer in the same way, losing sales to foreign suppliers who weren’t charged the tax, a problem the European Union is trying to fix at the moment by imposing a so-called Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, or “carbon tariff”.

Greg Hunt put in place the system of baselines Labor will use.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Labor’s solution was to grant firms in “emissions-intensive trade-exposed” sectors free permits to the tune of 94.5% of industry average carbon costs in the first year (and less exposed firms free permits to cover 66% of costs), a gift that would be wound back 1.3% each year.

Another solution, being pursued by Hunt as he took soundings while in opposition, was to limit Australian facilities to emitting no more than they are now.

Over time the entitlement could be wound back.

But the problem was it would stop firms expanding.

BHP, for instance, might get a big contract that required it to double its output of steel but be unable to fulfil it without halving its emissions intensity – the amount it emitted per unit of steel produced.

Hitting on a baseline winner

Hunt’s solution, the one he and independent senator Nick Xenophon slipped into legislation being drawn up to replace the carbon tax with direct grants, was to set up “baselines” for each large emitter.

To be determined by the Clean Energy Regulator in accordance with rules set by the minister and disallowable by parliament, the baselines set the maximum amount each big plant can emit without being in breach and paying penalties.

Importantly, the baselines were to be calculated on the basis of previous emissions. Facilities were to be allowed to emit what they had, but no more.

More importantly, plants could have their baselines calculated on the basis of emissions intensity – the amount emitted per unit of production, which would mean they would be able to expand so long as they didn’t emit more per unit.

More importantly still, the Clean Energy Regulator is in the process of converting almost all baselines to emissions intensity baselines.

All Labor has to do, and what intends to do, is to make use of the mechanism Hunt and Xenophon put in place.

Business is backing baselines

Each facility that emits more than 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year – 215 of them – is subject to a baseline.

What Labor has pledged to do, and it is backed by the Business Council, is to get the Clean Energy Regulator to wind down those baselines “predictably and gradually over time” to support the transition to net zero.

Businesses that are already reducing their emissions want this, because they want other firms to be made to do the same.

Business Council chief Jennifer Westacott backs tightened baselines.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

The beauty of the mechanism set up on Abbott’s watch is that each facility, each
“gas well, aluminium smelter and coal line” as Labor’s Chris Bowen puts it, will have its tightened baseline calculated individually.

Each will be asked to do no more than what is needed after considering what it can cope with.

Within minutes of Friday’s announcement, Energy Minister Angus Taylor labelled it “a sneaky new carbon tax on agriculture, mining and transport”, but it is better described as a system of guidelines and penalties, one legislated by Taylor’s side of politics.

Quite a lot will be needed. Labor’s modelling, released on Friday, didn’t spell out what would be needed to get emissions to net-zero by 2050, but the Coalition’s modelling, released in November, did.

No matter what reasonable assumptions the model included, including “global technology trends”, it couldn’t get all the way to net-zero by 2050.

Read more:
Labor’s 2030 climate target betters the Morrison government, but Australia must go much further, much faster

So the Coalition’s modellers added in something fanciful which they named “further technology breakthroughs” to get the remaining 15%.

Greg Hunt retires as health minister and retires from parliament at the next election. He has set us on the path to getting where we will need to be.

Peter Martin 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.