Hillsong pastor Brian Houston charged with allegedly concealing information about child sex offences

Originally published on theconversation.com

Hillsong church pastor Brian Houston has been charged over the alleged concealment of information relating to child sex offences.

Houston is a personal friend of Scott Morrison who wanted him invited to the White House state dinner President Donald Trump held in the prime minister’s honour in 2019.

But the White House rejected Houston.

A NSW Police statement issued late Thursday said: “In 2019, an investigation commenced by officers attached to The Hills Police Area Command into reports a 67-year-old man had knowingly concealed information relating to child sexual offences.

“Following extensive investigations, detectives requested the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) review their brief of evidence.”

Earlier this week, the ODPP gave its advice to police. After further inquiries, “detectives served a Court Attendance Notice for conceal serious indictable offence on the man’s legal representative” on Thursday afternoon.

“Police will allege in court the man knew information relating to the sexual abuse of a young male in the 1970s and failed to bring that information to the attention of police.

“The man is expected to appear in Downing Centre Local Court on Tuesday 5 October 2021,” the police statement said.

In 2015 the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, which examined allegations against Houston’s father Frank, found neither the executive of the Assemblies of God in Australia nor Brian Houston referred the allegations to police.

It found Brian Houston “had a conflict of interest” in assuming responsibility for dealing with the allegations “because he was both the National President of the Assemblies of God in Australia and the son of Mr Frank Houston, the alleged perpetrator”.

The Wall Street Journal broke the story, during Morrison’s US trip, of the PM’s nomination of Houston for the dinner and the rejection.

Morrison dodged questions at the time and later about whether he had put Houston’s name up. He said the story was “gossip”.

It wasn’t until March 2020 that he confirmed it, telling 2GB “we put forward a number of names, that included Brian, but not everybody whose names were put forward were invited”. He said he had known Houston a long time.

In the 2GB interview, Morrison was asked whether he was not aware that Houston was under police investigation at the time.

“These are not things I follow closely,” Morrison said. “All I know is that they’re a very large and very well attended and well-supported organisation here in Australia.

“They are very well known in the United States – are so well known that Brian was actually at the White House a few months after I was. So the President obviously didn’t have an issue with it. And that’s why I think that’s where the matter rests.”

Houston has been living in the US for some time.

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.

When faces are partially covered, neither people nor algorithms are good at reading emotions

Originally published on theconversation.com

Shutterstock/Sergey Tinyakov

Artificial systems such as homecare robots or driver-assistance technology are becoming more common, and it’s timely to investigate whether people or algorithms are better at reading emotions, particularly given the added challenge brought on by face coverings.

In our recent study, we compared how face masks or sunglasses affect our ability to determine different emotions compared with the accuracy of artificial systems.

The study used full and partial masks and sunglasses to obscure parts of the face.
Author provided

We presented images of emotional facial expressions and added two different types of masks — the full mask used by frontline workers and a recently introduced mask with a transparent window to allow lip reading.

Our findings show algorithms and people both struggle when faces are partially obscured. But artificial systems are more likely to misinterpret emotions in unusual ways.

Artificial systems performed significantly better than people in recognising emotions when the face was not covered — 98.48% compared to 82.72% for seven different types of emotion.

But depending on the type of covering, the accuracy for both people and artificial systems varied. For instance, sunglasses obscured fear for people while partial masks helped both people and artificial systems to identify happiness correctly.

Read more:
AI is increasingly being used to identify emotions – here’s what’s at stake

Importantly, people classified unknown expressions mainly as neutral, but artificial systems were less systematic. They often incorrectly selected anger for images obscured with a full mask, and either anger, happiness, neutral, or surprise for partially masked expressions.

Decoding facial expressions

Our ability to recognise emotion uses the visual system of the brain to interpret what we see. We even have an area of the brain specialised for face recognition, known as the fusiform face area, which helps interpret information revealed by people’s faces.

Together with the context of a particular situation (social interaction, speech and body movement) and our understanding of past behaviours and sympathy towards our own feelings, we can decode how people feel.

A system of facial action units has been proposed for decoding emotions based on facial cues. It includes units such as “the cheek raiser” and “the lip corner puller”, which are both considered part of an expression of happiness.

Can you read the researchers’ emotion from their covered faces? Both artificial systems and people are compromised in categorising emotions when faces are obscured.
Author provided

In contrast, artificial systems analyse pixels from images of a face when categorising emotions. They pass pixel intensity values through a network of filters mimicking the human visual system.

The finding that artificial systems misclassify emotions from partially obscured faces is important. It could lead to unexpected behaviours of robots interacting with people wearing face masks.

Imagine if they misclassify a negative emotion, such as anger or sadness, as a positive emotional expression. The artificial systems would try to interact with a person taking actions on the misguided interpretation they are happy. This could have detrimental effects for the safety of these artificial systems and interacting humans.

Risks of using algorithms to read emotion

Our research reiterates that algorithms are susceptible to biases in their judgement. For instance, the performance of artificial systems is greatly affected when it comes to categorising emotion from natural images. Even just the sun’s angle or shade can influence outcomes.

Algorithms can also be racially biased. As previous studies have found, even a small change to the colour of the image, which has nothing to do with emotional expressions, can lead to a drop in performance of algorithms used in artificial systems.

Read more:
Face masks and facial recognition will both be common in the future. How will they co-exist?

As if that wasn’t enough of a problem, even small visual perturbations, imperceptible to the human eye, can cause these systems to misidentify an input as something else.

Some of these misclassification issues can be addressed. For instance, algorithms can be designed to consider emotion-related features such as the shape of the mouth, rather than gleaning information from the colour and intensity of pixels.

Another way to address this is by changing the training data characteristics — oversampling the training data so that algorithms mimic human behaviour better and make less extreme mistakes when they do misclassify an expression.

But overall, the performance of these systems drops when interpreting images in real-world situations when faces are partially covered.

Although robots may claim higher than human accuracy in emotion recognition for static images of completely visible faces, in real-world situations that we experience every day, their performance is still not human-like.

Will Browne receives funding from Science for Technological Innovation, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

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

Australia’s vaccination plan is 6 months too late and a masterclass in jargon

Originally published on theconversation.com

from www.shutterstock.com

Six months after the prime minister received his first jab, Australia finally has a national plan to roll out COVID vaccines.

The plan’s goals, set out in the Operation COVID Shield document released this week, are to ensure public confidence in the vaccine rollout and to get as many Australians as possible vaccinated as early as possible.

The plan looks to reach the vaccination targets set out in modelling from the Doherty Institute and announced after national cabinet.

That would aim to have 80% of eligible Australians fully vaccinated by the end of the year. This figure has been criticised by some experts as too low. On this basis alone the plan is short-term and arguably short-sighted.

Media reports about the plan have so far focused on the prospect of drive-through vaccination clinics, incentives to vaccinate and the possible enrolment of dentists, midwives and physiotherapists to help vaccinate.

But, as the plan admits, there is no exhaustive detail for any of these initiatives, and in particular for how to reach the vaccination target. And any substance competes with jargon and sloganeering.

At best this is an optimistic vision for an improved vaccination rollout that fails to acknowledge and fully address the errors of the past.

The man in charge, Lieutenant General John Frewen, says: “Mathematically, we can get there.”

Read more:
National Cabinet’s plan out of COVID aims too low on vaccinations and leaves crucial questions unanswered

Coordinate, motivate and deliver

The plan proposes three key elements for achieving its vision — coordinate, motivate and deliver — each of which comes with inherent problems.


Ramping up the vaccination rollout will require an unprecedented level of collaboration between the Commonwealth and the states, and with other stakeholders. That’s a no-brainer.

But national cabinet has only agreed “in principal” to the prime minister’s plans, with more work to be done. If state and territory governments are not fully on board, then national coordination is impossible.


Positive public sentiment and the willingness of Australians to get vaccinated are seen as the “centre of gravity”.

The plan defines this as “the primary entity that possesses the inherent capability to achieve the desired end state” for the plan. This language is a direct steal from the Australian Defence Glossary.

The key new element in this section is setting up an “industry liaison cell” to coordinate messaging and to work with business.


Arguably the real centre of gravity of the plan must be the ability to deliver vaccinations at times and locations that ensure jabs in people’s arms. If these commitments are not met, the “positive public sentiments” seen as so crucial to the “motivate” part of the plan will quickly become negative.

Some pretty heroic assumptions underpin the 19 million vaccine doses expected to be available in November (that’s 10 million Pfizer, 5 million AstraZeneca, 4 million Moderna).

These assumptions include the willingness of Pfizer to bring forward supplies and the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s timely approval of the Moderna vaccine.

There is no explanation of how and why the vaccine numbers differ from an earlier vaccination allocations document in June.

Read more:
Here are 9 ways we can make it easier for Australians to get the COVID-19 vaccine

Too complex

The most striking feature of the plan is the array of new structures it imposes, such as new committees or “cells”. These are on top of the complicated array that already exists and the many stakeholders.

Frewen is the coordinator general of the National COVID Vaccine Taskforce, known as Operation COVID Shield. But there are many other hands on the tiller. He reports to the prime minister, the health minister, cabinet and the national cabinet. He must also work in partnership with the states and territories.

The taskforce now has streams to coordinate, motivate and deliver. It also oversees an “assessments cell”, which will analyse data and track progress of the vaccine rollout against targets.

There will also be a new “program governance committee” to oversee and advise the taskforce on managing key (unspecified) risks and achieving outcomes.

Then there are business stakeholders who will be looked after by the already mentioned new “industry liaison cell”.

This interesting addition will coordinate the allocation of vaccines to approved business partners, drive how businesses communicate about vaccination, and facilitate policy discussions relating to issues business raises.

This could help efficiently drive vaccinations in the workplace. But it’s easy to see how disruptive this could be if industry voices and needs are privileged over those of communities that may not have the government’s ear.

Read more:
We’re paying companies millions to roll out COVID vaccines. But we’re not getting enough bang for our buck

Will this work?

Two issues highlight the potential problems ahead.

The first is the deliberate decision that a number of vulnerable population groups — including community carers, people in mental health facilities and immigration detention, the homeless and prisoners — are not included in this plan and responsibilities for their vaccinations will be left to current jurisdictions. This is unfair and untenable.

The second is the lack of insight into what has gone wrong with the vaccine rollout to date.

Ultimately, the only way to know if this military-style campaign plan will fight the pandemic war and defeat the coronavirus enemy is to marshal the troops, invoke a national call to arms, and begin the battle, adjusting the battle plan as needed.

Read more:
Calling in the army for the vaccine rollout and every other emergency shows how ill-prepared we are

Lesley Russell 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.

A brief history of asylum seekers at the Olympics — and why they are sometimes misunderstood

Originally published on theconversation.com

Martin Meissner/AP

The Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya left Tokyo this week after her Olympics were over, bound not for her home country, but a new home in Poland.

Tsimanouskaya was granted a humanitarian visa by the Polish government after claiming the Belarusian Olympic Committee was trying to force her back to Minsk where she was in danger for her life. According to Tsimanouskaya, “her team had ‘made it clear’ she would face punishment if she returned home”. She wanted protection and asylum.

Tsimanouskaya was not the only athlete to attempt to flee in Japan. On July 16, the Ugandan weightlifter Julius Ssekitoleko left his training camp, with a note saying he hoped to find work in Japan. He is now back in Uganda, where he has been charged with conspiracy to defraud for allegedly travelling to Japan without having qualified for the games.

A history of asylum claims

As the historian Barbara Keys notes, international sporting competitions “provide a very attractive opportunity for people to escape difficult situations at home, most often political repression”.

While athletes claiming asylum often have overlapping political and economic motives, the most high-profile defections of athletes were strongly linked to geopolitics during the Cold War.

In the 1948 London Games, the gymnastics coach Marie Provazníková became the first known defector from the Olympics when she refused to return to Czechoslovakia after the communist coup that toppled the democratic Benes government. Provazníková said she sought asylum because of the “lack of freedom” in Prague.

During the Cold War, athletes seeking to abandon communist states for the US or western Europe expressed diverse motivations, but newspapers mobilised the politicised language of “defection” as a catch-all phrase for these moves.

One of the largest numbers of asylum seekers at an Olympics were the Hungarians who defected during the 1956 Games in Melbourne.

The Olympics came shortly after the bloody Soviet invasion of Hungary, which ended political reforms in that country. CIA planners helped convince Hungarian athletes to defect, even as the Hungarians battled Soviet athletes in the pool and on the track. However, as historian Johanna Mellis explains, some of those defectors soon discovered that life in America was not necessarily as good as in communist Hungary.

Laszlo Tabori, a Hungarian champion miler, for instance, shared a three-bedroom house with 12 other athletes in California. A quarter of the defectors eventually returned to Hungary.

In 1972, over a hundred athletes defected during the Munich Olympics, but some reporters privileged political motives over other reasons in telling their stories.

And during the 1976 Montreal Games, Soviet diver Sergei Nemtsanov sought asylum in Canada, but his defection seemed motivated by love rather than by politics. When his American girlfriend broke up with him, he returned broken-hearted to the Soviet Union.

The role of international law

Under the 1967 protocol of the UN Convention Relating to the Status of a Refugee, a refugee is defined to be

anyone who is outside their own country and is unable or unwilling to return due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, membership to a particular social group, or political opinion.

Signatories to that convention have the obligation to not return refugees to their country of origin. Other international treaties offer rules and guidelines on the treatment of refugees in host countries.

Read more:
The Olympic movement claims political neutrality. In reality, that ideal is often selectively applied

The crux of many of these agreements is that asylum seekers need to be physically in another country to claim asylum and their reason for not wanting to return home is linked to political, ethnic or other forms of persecution, not economics.

Because of their greater mobility, athletes are more able than most to be in a position to ask for asylum. Before finally defecting at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, for instance, Iraqi weightlifter Raed Ahmed had sought international competitions “as the best way to get out of Iraq for good”, according to one report.

As a result, countries hosting international sporting competitions have long prepared for athletes to defect. Even so, officials can still be caught off-guard.

More than a dozen athletes sought asylum during the 2012 London Olympics, and over three years later, the government was still adjudicating their claims. Many athletes who seek asylum face difficult circumstances, including homelessness.

The number of athlete asylum seekers seems to be going up, as well. At the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, 26 athletes and officials sought asylum. At the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games a little over a decade later, the number was over 200. The government eventually rejected almost all of the claims.

Ironically, many countries happily welcome successful migrant athletes into their fold if they can win gold medals. Qatar and Bahrain have recently fielded Olympic teams full of migrants. In fact, 23 of the 39 Qatari athletes at the 2016 Rio Games were foreign-born.

Read more:
Athletes seek asylum at almost every games, as is their right

The IOC and Refugees

The International Olympic Committee’s uneven approach to refugees complicates how nations respond to athletic asylum claims.

Officially, the IOC keeps no official tally of asylum seekers at the games. In response to a German media outlet in 2012, the IOC said

There is no stipulation relating to this subject contained in the Olympic Charter. The IOC does not keep a record of cases where athletes, other members of team delegations, or sporting officials may have defected while attending the Olympic Games.

Nevertheless, for over 25 years, the IOC has worked closely with the UN Human Rights Commission to promote athletics in refugee camps and there is now even an Olympic refugee team that competes at the games.

This team nearly won its first medal in Tokyo when the Iranian refugee Kimia Alizadeh lost in the bronze-medal match in taekwondo. She left Iran in response to the regime’s severe restriction of women’s rights:

Whenever they saw fit, they exploited me […] I am one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran who they have been playing with for years.

At the same time, however, the IOC did not heed international calls to punish Iran after a wrestler was executed for what human rights activists say were political reasons. (The IOC says its president made appeals to Iran’s leaders to show “mercy” to the wrestler.)

The IOC has opened an investigation into Tsimanouskaya’s case and has demanded Belarus respond to allegations it tried to force the sprinter onto a plane back to Minsk last week. The IOC could sanction Belarus over the incident, but this remains to be seen.

Keith Rathbone 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.

We may need to vaccinate children as young as 5 to reach herd immunity with Delta, our modelling shows

Originally published on theconversation.com

from www.shutterstock.com

Recently released modelling from the Doherty Institute, which the federal government used to back its roadmap out of the pandemic, misses one critical point — the importance of vaccinating children.

The Doherty modelling instead focuses on vaccinating 70-80% of the adult population as thresholds for easing various restrictions, such as lockdowns. It says vaccinating younger adults, in particular, is important to reach these thresholds.

However, our modelling shows vaccinating children is vital if we are to reach herd immunity, which would allow us to ease restrictions and safely open up.

This would mean potentially vaccinating children as young as 5 years old.

However, we are still waiting to see if this is safe and effective, with trials under way in the United States. So we need a plan that assumes we may never achieve herd immunity.

Here’s what our modelling shows and how it differs from the modelling used to advise the federal government.

Read more:
We need to start vaccinating people in their 20s and 30s, according to the Doherty modelling. An epidemiologist explains why

Here’s what we did

Our modelling, which we’ve uploaded as a pre-print and has yet to be peer-reviewed, considers different vaccine strategies for Australia to achieve herd immunity. That’s when we can expect no sustained transmission of the virus in the community.

We take into account the Delta variant, which is twice as infectious as the original Wuhan strain of the virus, and has a reproduction number estimated between 5 and 10. In other words, this is when one person infected with Delta is estimated to infect 5-10 others.

Read more:
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We also consider different contact patterns across various age groups. This is because some age groups are more mobile and have many contacts. If infected, these people are more likely to infect many others, particularly of similar age, which can lead to reservoirs of transmission.

We combine this information with possible vaccine effects. These include the possibility of having the vaccine then becoming infected, having symptoms, and if infected, how serious the illness is and how infectious people are.

This allows us to model what’s likely, given we’re focused on the Delta variant for now, and allows us to assess the impact of strategies across different age groups, types of vaccines and percentage vaccinated.

Our interactive tool also allows rapid response to changing information, such as new variants, or new evidence about vaccine impact.

Delta is more infectious

The Wuhan strain had a basic reproduction number of 2.5. This means, at the start of the pandemic, one person infected with it was expected to infect 2.5 others.

If the Delta variant is twice as infectious, this means its basic reproduction number may be over 5 (at the lower range of international estimates). So this changes the number (and type) of people we need to vaccinate to reach herd immunity considerably.

The simplest form of the herd immunity equation would suggest we needed to fully immunise 60% of the population to achieve herd immunity for the Wuhan strain but as much as 80% for the Delta variant.

If we take into account how different age groups mingle or are in contact with others, the situation is worse.

Read more:
Is it more infectious? Is it spreading in schools? This is what we know about the Delta variant and kids

For the Wuhan strain, children were not as infectious or susceptible to infection and we predict that if we vaccinate 65% of the adults, transmission would not continue among children.

However, with the Delta variant, we predict children will continue to infect other children, even when most adults are vaccinated.

We also know both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines are less able to protect against the Delta variant, with a reduced efficacy after one dose and slightly reduced efficacy after two doses.

All this makes achieving herd immunity a great challenge.

Read more:
When will we reach herd immunity? Here are 3 reasons that’s a hard question to answer

We estimate if the reproduction number is 5, then vaccinating 85% of the population, including children down to age 5, will be necessary to achieve herd immunity.

If the reproduction number is as low as 3, then vaccinating children will not be necessary to achieve herd immunity and we will only need to vaccinate 60% of the population.

The Doherty modelling uses an effective reproduction number of 3.6. This explains why its modelling does not see vaccinating children as critical to reaching herd immunity. This is the major difference between our model and theirs.

What happens next?

Of course, new variants may arise pushing Delta aside, and the world post-COVID is unpredictable.

The lesson from Delta is if we don’t vaccinate children, we may need to continue some form of public health action to prevent large-scale circulation of the virus.

This would not require stringent lockdown, but may require ongoing mask use and physical distancing, including in children. The alternative is to reduce the focus on case numbers, expect transmission and focus on protecting the most vulnerable.

Read more:
Should we vaccinate children against COVID-19? We asked 5 experts

Do we need to reach herd immunity?

Herd immunity is not the only possible target. Even if we don’t reach full herd immunity, we may achieve “herd protection”. This provides some reduced risk to people who can’t or won’t be vaccinated, and it will make outbreaks smaller and easier to control.

And without full herd immunity, individuals still benefit from vaccination as they are dramatically less likely to die from COVID.

Read more:
How well do COVID vaccines work in the real world?

Do we need to change our vaccination strategy?

We predict Australia’s strategy of vaccinating the elderly and vulnerable first is the best strategy for reducing deaths under most circumstances, particularly when there is insufficient vaccine available.

But once the most vulnerable groups have been covered, we should turn our attention to the highest transmitters to achieve herd protection. In Australia, this group is the late teens and young adults.

Whether we next focus on vaccinating children is controversial and many people have voiced their concerns about going down this path. This is because COVID is generally a very mild illness for most children — although long COVID and life-threatening complications can arise.

So we need to balance the risks with benefits. But included in the benefits should be the potential benefit of herd protection and the freedoms that may bring.

Read more:
National Cabinet’s plan out of COVID aims too low on vaccinations and leaves crucial questions unanswered

Emma McBryde receives funding from NHMRC. She is affiliated with the Australian Tuberculosis Forum and the Austrasian Society of Infectious Diseases.

How AI can help choose your next career and stay ahead of automation

Originally published on theconversation.com

Rawpixel / Shutterstock

The typical Australian will change careers five to seven times during their professional lifetime, by some estimates. And this is likely to increase as new technologies automate labour, production is moved abroad, and economic crises unfold.

Jobs disappearing is not a new phenomenon – have you seen an elevator operator recently? – but the pace of change is picking up, threatening to leave large numbers of workers unemployed and unemployable.

New technologies also create new jobs, but the skills they require do not always match the old jobs. Successfully moving between jobs requires making the most of your current skills and acquiring new ones, but these transitions can falter if the gap between old and new skills is too large.

We have built a system to recommend career transitions, using machine learning to analyse more than 8 million online job ads to see what moves are likely to be successful. The details are published in PLOS ONE.

Our system starts by measuring similarities between the skills required by each occupation. For example, an accountant could become a financial analyst because the required skills are similar, but a speech therapist might find it harder to become a financial analyst as the skill sets are quite different.

Next, we looked at a large set of real-world career transitions to see which way around these transitions usually go: accountants are more likely to become financial analysts than vice versa.

Finally, our system can recommend a career change that’s likely to succeed – and tell you what skills you may need to make it work.

Measure the similarity of occupations

Our system uses a measure economists call “revealed comparative advantage” (RCA) to identify how important an individual skill is to a job, using online job ads from 2018. The map below visualises the similarity of the top 500 skills. Each marker represents an individual skill, coloured according to one of 13 clusters of highly similar skills.

The similarity between the top 500 skills in Australian job ads in 2018. Highly similar skills cluster together.

Once we know how similar different skills are, we can estimate how similar different professions are based on the skills required. The figure below visualises the similarity between Australian occupations in 2018.

Each marker shows an individual occupation, and the colours depict the risk each occupation faces from automation over the next two decades (blue shows low risk and red shows high risk). Visibly similar occupations are grouped closely together, with medical and highly skilled occupations facing the lowest automation risk.

The similarity between occupations, coloured by technological automation risk.

Mapping transitions

We then took our measure of similarity between occupations and combined it with a range of other labour market variables, such as employment levels and education requirements, to build our job transition recommender system.

Our system uses machine learning techniques to “learn” from real job transitions in the past and predict job movements in the future. Not only does it achieve high levels of accuracy (76%), but it also accounts for asymmetries between job transitions. Performance is measured by how accurately the system predicts whether a transition occurred, when applied to historic job transitions.

Read more:
Don’t be alarmed: AI won’t leave half the world unemployed

The full transitions map is big and complicated, but you can see how it works below in a small version that only includes transitions between 20 occupations. In the map, the “source” occupation is shown on the horizontal axis and the “target” occupation on the vertical axis.

If you look at a given occupation at the bottom of the map, the column of squares shows the probability of moving from that occupation to the one listed at the right-hand side. The darker the square, the higher the probability of making the transition.

A small piece of the transitions map, with 20 occupations. Transitions occur from columns to rows, and darker blue shades depict high transition probabilities.
Source, Author provided

Artificial intelligence-powered job recommendations

Sometimes a new career requires developing new skills, but which skills? Our system can help identify those. Let’s take a look at how it works for “domestic cleaners”, an occupation where employment has shrunk severely during COVID-19 in Australia.

New occupations and skills recommendations made by the Job Transitions Recommender System for ‘Domestic Cleaners’ – a ‘non-essential’ occupation that has experienced significant declines during the COVID-19 outbreak in Australia.

First, we use the transitions map to see which occupations it is easiest for a domestic cleaner to transition to. The colours split occupations by their status during the COVID-19 crisis – blue occupations are “essential” jobs that can continue to operate during lockdown, and red are “non-essential”.

We identify top recommended occupations, as seen on the right side of the flow diagram (bottom half of the image), sorted in descending order by transition probability. The width of each band in the diagram shows the number of openings available for each occupation. The segment colours represent whether the demand has increased or decreased compared with the same period of 2019 (pre-COVID).

The first six transition recommendations for are all “non-essential” services, which have unsurprisingly experienced decreased demand. However, the seventh is “aged and disabled carers”, which is classified as “essential” and grew significantly in demand during the beginning of the COVID-19 period.

Since your prospects of finding work are better if you transition to an occupation
in high demand, we select “aged and disabled carers” as the target occupation for this example.

What skills to develop for new occupations

Our system can also recommend skills that workers need to develop to increase their chances of a successful transition. We argue that a worker should invest in developing the skills most important to their new profession and which are most different from the skills they currently have.

For a “domestic cleaner”, the top-recommended skills needed to transition to “aged and disabled carer” are specialised patient care skills, such as “patient hygiene assistance”.

Read more:
The benefits of job automation are not likely to be shared equally

On the other hand, there’s less need to develop unimportant skills or ones that are highly similar to skills from your current occupation. Skills such as “business analysis” and “finance” are of low importance for an “aged and disabled carer”, so they should not be prioritised. Similarly, skills such as “ironing” and “laundry” are required for the new job but it is likely that a “domestic cleaner” already possesses these skills (or can easily acquire them).

The benefit of smoother job transitions

While the future of work remains unclear, change is inevitable. New technologies, economic crises and other factors will continue to shift labour demands, causing workers to move between jobs.

If labour transitions occur efficiently, there are significant productivity and equity benefits for everyone. If transitions are slow, or fail, it will have significant costs for both individuals and the state and the individual. The methods and systems we put forward here could significantly improve the achievement of these goals.

We thank Bledi Taska and Davor Miskulin from Burning Glass Technologies for generously providing the job advertisements data for this research and for their valuable feedback. We also thank Stijn Broecke and other colleagues from the OECD for their ongoing input and guidance in the development of this work.

Nik Dawson works as a Senior Data Scientist for FutureFit AI. Nik received funding from the OECD as a Future of Work Fellow to support this research. Burning Glass Technologies generously provided the job advertisements data that enabled this research.

Marian-Andrei Rizoiu receives funding from Facebook Research under the Content Policy Research Initiative grants and by the Commonwealth of Australia (represented by the Defence Science and Technology Group).

Mary-Anne Williams receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

4 gambling reform ideas from overseas to save Australia from gambling loss and harm

Originally published on theconversation.com


It’s now well recognised gambling can cause significant harm. However, many countries have done much more to reduce gambling-related harm than we have in Australia.

Here’s four examples of how other countries have responded to the challenge of growing gambling-related harm, drawn from my research on the topic.

Setting loss limits for everyone

Norway replaced harmful high-intensity slot machines — similar to poker machines seen in many clubs, pubs and casinos in Australia — with machines that require users to register their gambling.

For example, every Norwegian using one of these machines has to create a registered account, with maximum limits set on how much you can lose per day and per month, and the capacity to set a lower limit than the universal maximum.

These kind of pre-commitment systems help prevent harm, and help people keep track of their losses.

Finland also has universal loss limits (meaning limits on how much can be bet per day or per month) to prevent “catastrophic” losses for online gambling.

There’s no reason Australia couldn’t follow suit, if it wanted to.

Victoria already offers a voluntary pre-commitment scheme, which allows people to opt-in if they want to set a loss limit. It’s been shown to be ineffective, partly because it is optional. A universal scheme that applied to all would work much better to reduce gambling-related harm.

Reducing the stakes

In 2019, the British government responded to reports of a surge in harms related to slot machines known as “fixed odds betting terminals” (FOBTs). This is a kind of electronic roulette game that sits in betting stores in the UK.

Despite the gambling industry, as one report put it, “disputing a causal link between FOBTs and problem gambling”, harm-reduction campaigners publicised stories of people bereaved by gambling-related suicide.

In response to subsequent public concern, the government reduced stakes on FOBTs from £100 to £2.

In other words, the maximum amount you could lose per spin shrank from £100 to £2.

By contrast, in Australia in 2010, the Productivity Commission recommended a reduction in the maximum stake on poker machines in clubs and hotels from $10 to $1.

A decade later, this has yet to be tried, although most Australian states (other than NSW and the ACT) have reduced the maximum loss per spin to $5.

Other countries have shown reforms that reduce gambling-related harm are possible.

Reducing reliance on gambling revenues

The gambling industry often argues harms from gambling are offset by its donations to good causes.

Many Nordic countries also divert gambling revenue to good causes such as not-for-profit organisations providing child protection services or Olympic teams.

In Finland, over 69% of gambling revenue goes to good causes (though even this is coming under scrutiny).

In Australia, donations to good causes are around 2% of revenues. The community benefits from gambling are tiny.

Australian state and territory governments rely on gambling taxes for around 6% of their state tax revenue.

This is may pose a challenge to reform; any significant reduction in harm will reduce revenues.

Finland is achieving reform by introducing it incrementally, allowing the reduction in revenue to be managed over time.

A national regulator

Australia’s fragmented system, where gambling is regulated at state and territory levels, is another challenge.

National strategies to prioritise action and coordinate efforts can help align responses. A national regulator could assist in implementing and strengthening existing responses.

The standardised system of regulation in the countries I researched was a feature that could be adopted in Australia, which has a relatively small population.

An opportunity for reform

The recent Bergin inquiry into whether Crown was fit to hold a license in a new casino in Barangaroo and ongoing royal commissions in Victoria and Western Australia continue to expose flaws in the provision of gambling with Australia’s largest casino operator.

These overseas examples show there are many effective ways to reduce gambling harm in casinos, clubs, pubs and suburban communities.

We are fortunate at least in Australia that online gambling has been limited to wagering and lotteries; in many countries slot machines and casino table games are available online 24/7.

Australia has an opportunity now to reduce harm by considering approaches implemented elsewhere.

If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone
you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858.

Angela does not accept funding from the gambling industry. She has been employed on grants funded by the Australian Research Council and the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation. She has contributed to studies funded by Australian Institute of Family Studies, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety, and the Australian Commonwealth Department of Social Services. Angela has received travel funding from the Turkish Green Crescent Society, Monash University and the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.

Morrison government sets up redress scheme for survivors of Stolen Generation in territories

Originally published on theconversation.com

The Morrison government will provide $378.6 million for a new redress scheme for Stolen Generation survivors as part of more than $1 billion for its Closing the Gap implementation plan.

The one-off payments will go to living survivors of the Stolen Generation who were removed as children from their families in the Northern Territory and ACT, which were administered by the Commonwealth at the time, and Jervis Bay Territory. The states are responsible for their own arrangements.

Under the Territories Stolen Generations Reparation Scheme eligible people will be entitled to a payment of $75,000 “in recognition of the harm caused by forced removal” from families, and a $7000 “healing assistance payment … in recognition that the action to facilitate healing will be specific to each individual”.

Survivors will also have the opportunity, if they wish, to confidentially tell the story of the effect of their experience to a senior official, and receive a face-to-face or written apology “for their removal and resulting trauma.”

Applications will open on March 1 and the program will run until June 2026.

Scott Morrison said he was delivering practical action on a long-standing issue that was nationally important. It would improve the health and wellbeing of Stolen Generation survivors and their families and communities, he said.

The Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, said it “reflects the government’s commitment to recognise and acknowledge the wrongs of the past as part of the nation’s journey to reconciliation”.

Wyatt said supporting intergenerational healing was key to the government’s commitment to Closing the Gap.

The government, with Indigenous leaders, previously re-worked the Closing the Gap program, originally set up under Labor.

The implementation plan also includes an additional $254.4 million towards infrastructure for Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations.

There will be $160 million to help give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children “the best start in life” through initiatives such as the Healthy Mums and Healthy Bubs program, the Community Child Care Fund, the Connected Beginnings Program and the Early Years Education Program.

Beginning next year the federal government will produce an annual report on progress to deliver on its plan.

In addition, funding will be provided to Aboriginal community-controlled organisations to assist families resolve post-separation parenting and property disputes. Support will be also provided to these organisations to increase involvement in Indigenous family support services.

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.

‘The blood of Jesus is my vaccine’: how a fringe group of Christians hijacks faith in a war against science

Originally published on theconversation.com

Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

“The blood of Jesus is my vaccine” read one of the signs at a recent protest against lockdown regulations in Sydney. While our tendency might be to roll our eyes at such ridiculous anti-science views, these sentiments have a long and complicated history in the Christian tradition.

On social media platforms, a small number of Christians are offering a pastiche of biblical symbols to link the idea of Jesus’s blood and protection. In one video, a man claims we know the blood of Jesus will protect Christians in the 21st century from COVID because the blood of the Passover lamb protected the Israelites in Egypt (Exodus 12). As an analogy, it is a stretch.

Kolina Koltai, a vaccine misinformation researcher with the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, points out that appealing to people’s beliefs and values in spreading vaccine misinformation is particularly potent. Such views can be extremely hard to combat, because doing so is perceived as an attack on someone’s core beliefs.

While for some, Jesus’s “blood” is spiritually invoked through prayer, other misinformation links the protective power of Jesus more explicitly to taking communion (or the Eucharist). Taking communion daily, such people claim, prevents you from getting sick from COVID.

Communion is a Christian ritual in which token amounts of bread and wine are consumed to recall Jesus’s last meal with his disciples before dying on a cross. While different Christian traditions hold a variety of theological views, at the heart of communion is the idea that bread and wine are ritually shared as a way to spiritually connect, to have “communion”, with Jesus and with one another. The bread symbolises Jesus’s body and the wine his blood. Drinking communion wine then is drinking the blood that saves, according to these fringe views.

Melbourne Anglican priest Peter French told me that, in the past year, he has had to refuse requests from people who want to buy communion bread and wine from his church in the belief that taking it daily will prevent them from contracting COVID. Anglicans, we should note, do not teach that communion will protect you from sickness and the Archbishop of Canterbury has urged people to be vaccinated.

Read more:
God, plagues and pestilence – what history can teach us about living through a pandemic

The association of the Eucharist and healing were around long before COVID. In 2013, Pope Francis addressed exactly this issue in a sermon stating the Eucharist is not a “magic rite”, but a way to encounter Jesus.

Where does this association of communion and healing come from? Nowhere explicitly, yet the Christian tradition has a long association of communion and health metaphors.

In the second century, Bishop Ignatius wrote the Eucharist is the “medicine of immortality” and the “antidote” to death. Ignatius’s “medicine” is one that brings eternal life rather than freedom from physical suffering.

In the third century, Bishop Cyprian claimed the blood of Jesus has pharmacological benefits, being “health-giving” and superior to the benefits of ordinary wine. The medicinal effects of wine were widely known in antiquity, often being a safer drink than water. But here we have Christians claiming something more for the wine that represents Jesus’s blood, even if their claim is still primarily a spiritual one.

In the Christian churches, taking communion is a way to be closer to Jesus, not a magical cure for COVID.

Andrew McGowan, professor at Yale Divinity School, has written extensively on the history of the Eucharist. He says:

The Eucharist is always an enacted sign of the love and regard for community shown by Jesus, not a talisman for personal gain or benefit.

In this sense, it is only like the vaccine in that it exists for the good of the whole community, not ourselves as individuals.

McGowan notes there are more early Christians stories indicating that wrongly taking the Eucharist could do you harm than there are ones suggesting communion will bring healing. In several post-biblical apocryphal sources, bread and wine are shared after a healing miracle as a means of thanksgiving and confirming faith, but it does not bring physical healing.

Similarly today, communion is regularly administered to the sick or dying. It serves as a reminder of Jesus’s salvific action to people of faith, not as a magic pill or healing potion.

Indeed, traditional Christian churches usually anoint the sick with oil for healing or have other prayers for healing that do not involve communion. However, one can see how superstitious ideas developed linking recovery from illness to the body and blood of Jesus. To do so is to conflate spiritual well-being and physical health. While spiritual health can correlate with other forms of health (mental, physical), it is not the same thing.

Read more:
Pray, but stay away: holding on to faith in the time of coronavirus

The vast majority of religious leaders are urging people to be vaccinated. No serious Christian teaches that taking communion will magically protect a person against illness.

Yet, the line between taking the Eucharist (the blood of Jesus) for spiritual wholeness and taking it as a magical potion that will protect one physically remains thin enough to be abused by irresponsible people touting conspiracy theories.

To do so is preying on the vulnerable, a most anti-Christian activity in the guise of religion.

Robyn J. Whitaker 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.

We need to start vaccinating people in their 20s and 30s, according to the Doherty modelling. An epidemiologist explains why

Originally published on theconversation.com

Lukas Coch/AAP

Last week the federal government announced 70% of over-16s would need to be vaccinated for COVID-19 restrictions to be eased.

And this week, Melbourne’s Doherty Institute published the modelling informing this. The Doherty Institute had been asked by national cabinet to model the effects of increasing vaccination rates on Australia’s pathway out of the COVID pandemic.

The collaboration created an impressive assembly of models that allows them to assess the impacts of outbreaks under a range of infection-control scenarios. The model can be adapted to explore easing of specific restrictions, or changed conditions, for example if the dominant variant changes, or our response is more or less effective than anticipated.

They found vaccinating 70% of over-16s would allow for lesser restrictions in the event of an outbreak, and getting to 80% would mean significant easing and likely no lockdowns.

Read more:
Vaccination rate needs to hit 70% to trigger easing of restrictions

The ongoing need for interventions highlights how difficult it is to manage the Delta variant compared to previous strains. Even vaccinating 80% of the population over 16 still requires a level of active control in an outbreak setting, albeit with light restrictions.

The modelling uses Australian data gathered from across the country since August last year. This includes data on “transmission potential”, which is effectively the average number of people one infected person is likely to infect. Under varying levels of public health responses and people’s compliance with restrictions, the modellers were able to estimate this reproduction rate of the virus to understand what it will take to get transmission potential below one, and keep it there, so infections don’t climb beyond manageable levels.

The modelling forecast extends out six months. This is actually a relatively long time horizon given how quickly things change in this pandemic. The parameters start to become unreliable beyond that, and therefore the reliability of forecasts wanes. The modelling is a very well informed best guess, but there are many uncertainties. The value here lies in comparing different scenarios to chart the most strategic course, rather than the specific number of ICU beds or cases predicted.

Read more:
Australia shouldn’t ‘open up’ before we vaccinate at least 80% of the population. Here’s why

The modelling gives us a guide for the level of vaccination coverage we’ll need to control the virus. The 80% mark for those currently eligible delivers a level of protection that promises an escape from our current cycling between lockdowns. It also highlights that time is of the essence — we need to get there before new variants emerge.

If we stay in the current limbo, we’re at risk of community transmission becoming embedded in other states, repeating the New South Wales situation across Australia.

As vaccination rates increase, the need for heavy restrictions decreases, so vaccination is the path out of the limbo we’re in.

Why the focus on younger people?

To date, Australia’s rollout has focused on those most at risk of severe outcomes from the disease, including older Australians, protecting them and our health-care systems from overload.

But to reach the vaccination targets in the most effective way, the modelling demonstrates the value in turning our focus now to reducing transmission.

Our highest transmission and case rates occur in 20-39 year olds. This group is the most mobile. They tend to socialise and mix with other people the most and therefore have the most close contacts on average. Many live in shared houses, have young families, and make up a large portion of the workforce, particularly essential workers. The Doherty Institute’s Professor Jodie McVernon said people aged 20-29 in particular were “peak spreaders”.

It’s vital we start vaccinating 20-39 year olds, because this approach gives a better bang for our vaccination buck.

Vaccinating this group protects not only them, but the whole population including those who can’t be vaccinated. Vaccinated people are less likely to become infected and, even if they do, less likely to pass it on. The Doherty Institute’s technical report on the modelling indicates the combined effect is a reduction in transmission risk of 86% for AstraZeneca and 93% for Pfizer.

Professor McVernon said vaccinating as many 20-39 year olds as possible could double the protection for over-60s, and protect everyone else, making it the most equitable strategy at this stage of our rollout.

Why weren’t kids included?

The Doherty Institute wasn’t asked to factor in vaccinating those younger than 16, so kids are treated as unvaccinated in the model. Their protection, and the protection of schools from the impact of outbreaks, therefore relies on adults reaching the 80% target, and parents in particular.

The risk here is that if the virus does find its way into schools, it might cause significant outbreaks that quickly spread across schools — like we’re seeing in Queensland at the moment. Stronger public health interventions might still be required to contain an outbreak.

We’ll have to monitor this closely over time, and as COVID vaccine trials in kids continue, to help us weigh up risks and benefits.

This week, ATAGI advised kids aged 12-15 should be prioritised for vaccination if they’re Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, live in a remote community or have underlying medical conditions.

As overall vaccination rates rise, we need to look out for areas with low vaccination coverage. If the virus finds its way in, we may still see a degree of local transmission that requires restrictions. But in these instances, restrictions would be more localised and targeted rather than a whole city or state.

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, said it well in Tuesday’s press conference: we can aim for a “soft landing” where other countries can’t. The modelling tells us when we get to 80% adult vaccination coverage, we can avoid the huge wave of infections we’ve worked so hard to prevent.

Unlike the United Kingdom, where cases peaked again on reopening, or the United States, where cases and hospitalisations are both on the rise, we can leverage our past success in outbreak control and get through this without ever seeing a wave of a truly international proportions.

Catherine Bennett receives funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council and The Medical Research Future Fund. Catherine is also an independent expert on the Covid-19 AstraZeneca Vaccine Advisory Board, Australia.