Monday, 17 May 2021

The Morrison Government has found yet another way to turn the National Disability Insurance Scheme into a punitive horror story for participants

 

The National Disability Insurance Scheme, to be administered by the National Disability Insurance Agency, was introduced by the Gillard Labor Government on 1 July 2013 and, was originally allocated a funding stream of $19.3 billion over 7 years (inclusive of $7.1 billion in existing disability insurance funding) as well as the 0.5% increase in the Medicare Levy scheduled for 2014-15 onwards.


The federal and state governments share the total cost of the NDIS, with the federal government only being responsible for around half of the total cost once all the states and territories had joined the scheme. The final state joined in June 2018.


On 19 October 2017 the Australian Government Productivity Commission had stated: At full scheme, about 475 000 people with disability will receive individualised supports, at an estimated cost of $22 billion in the first year of full operation.


There has been no additional increase in the Medicare levy to fund NDIS, as shortly before the 2018–19 Budget, the Turnbull Coalition Government announced that it could ‘fully fund’ the NDIS without any increase.


That same year the Budget Papers revealed an est. $4.6 billion underspend on the NDISfunds which then Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison credited against the national budget deficit.


In 2019-20 Budget Papers revealed another underspend of est. 3 billion and, again this underspend was used to reduce the national budget deficit.


By April 2021 the National Disability Insurance Scheme itself reported that more than 430,000 people across Australia benefiting from the NDIS and it appears that the federal government now expects that number to rise to 500,000 participants by 2023-24 - an increase of 45,000 people more than likely predominately individuals 65 years of age and older who are already falling within the remit of aged care funding. 


In the 2020-21 Budget Papers the Morrison Government allocated an additional $798.8 million over four years from 2020-21 towards what appears to be a restructuring of NDIS.


Presumably so that the following can be fully implemented…...


The Guardian, 15 May 2021.


The agency that runs the national disability insurance scheme is seeking to increase the number of people that “exit” the scheme and reduce overall spending on funding packages through a “targeted review of existing participant plans”, internal documents show.


Leaked documents last month revealed the agency had set up a Sustainability Action Taskforce (SAT) with the aim of slowing spending on participant plans and growth in participant numbers.


The National Disability Insurance Agency has refused to discuss the actions of the taskforce, which Labor and the Greens have dubbed a “razor gang”. But new documents obtained by Guardian Australia under freedom of information laws provide further insight into its aims.


The previously reported internal talking points, labelled “strictly not for external distribution”, stated the taskforce’s three aims were to “slow net growth in participant numbers”, “slow growth in spend per participant”, and “strengthen operational discipline”.


The new documents, however, reveal the attempt to slow the growth in participant numbers will come, in part, from a focus on an “increase [in] participant exits”.


Further, slowing spending on participants’ funding packages will be achieved in part by a “targeted review of existing participant plans”, the documents state.


Other objectives include a focus on “tighter planning principles”, “tighter policies on specific reasonable and necessary supports”, “tighter price controls”, and an “increased enforcement of assurance policies”.


The unit’s aims relate to internal decisions made by the agency’s planners and are separate to a wider overhaul scheme through the controversial introduction of independent assessments, or a rewriting of the NDIS Act that determines in law what can be funded and who can receive support.


It comes as the government faces a backlash from the disability community over its warning the scheme is increasingly unsustainable.


The goal of the so-called Sustainability Action Taskforce is to stop disabled people getting on and kicking off people who are already on Jordon Steele-John


Tuesday’s budget papers showed spending on the scheme would hit $28.1bn next financial year, up from a projected $25.4bn forecast for 2021-22 in last year’s October budget.


Costs are tipped to hit $33.3bn in 2024-25, an increase from predictions in a 2017 Productivity Commission report that estimated the figure would reach $30.6bn by then.


The prime minister, Scott Morrison, and the NDIS minister, Linda Reynolds, have used these forecasts to claim a need for “hard discussions” about the sustainability of the current funding model.


Labor’s NDIS spokesman, Bill Shorten, said the new documents were “proof positive the Morrison government has no plan for Australians with disability except slash, slash, slash”.


It is utterly unconscionable that vulnerable people are trying in good faith to get on the NDIS completely unaware there is a secret plan not to let them in,” he said…..


Read the full article here.


Sunday, 16 May 2021

Taking Australia's temperature in the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison years using death as the thermometer. WARNING: this post contains annual suicide statistics.


When it comes to forming government policy it often seems that politicians see policy implementation and outcomes in terms of the effect they will have on national GDP growth or decline and annual budget balances or deficits.


Very rarely does one hear a government minister discuss the effect ideologically driven policies have on human capital, on the sense of wellbeing of ordinary people.


Since late 2013 Australia has been governed by a collection of politicians led first by Tony Abbott, then Malcolm Turnbull and lastly Scott Morrison. The kindest term for this motley collection of MPs and senators would have to be 'enthusiastic cultural and economic warriors of the hard right'.


So using a crude measurement let's look at one indicator of when that sense of wellbeing fails.


CONFIRMED DEATHS BY SUICIDE IN AUSTRALIA 2012-2020


  • 2012 there were 2,580 deaths by suicide
  • 2013 there were 2,610 deaths by suicide

The Abbott Coalition Government was elected to govern in September 2013.Scott Morrison becomes a Cabinet Minister and Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.

  • 2014 there were 2,922 deaths by suicide

Scott Morrison ceases to be Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and becomes Minister for Social Services in December 2014.

As Minister for Social Services Morrison announces he is going to "stop the bludgers".

In the 12 months to 30 June 2014 a total of 1,373 income support payment recipients suffered financial loss caused by the department’s failure to follow proper procedure or to provide appropriate advice.

By June 2014 the number of unemployed people increased by 43,700 to 789,000, with the unemployment rate at a 12 year high. 

Newstart unemployment benefit remains well below the poverty line.

  • 2015 there were 3,093 deaths by suicide

Scott Morrison ceases to be Minister for Social Services in September 2015 and becomes Australian Treasurer. Christian Porter becomes Minister for Social Services, Alan Tudge Assistant Minister for Social Services and Stuart Robert becomes Minister for Human Services.

The number of unemployed people looking for full-time work reached 551,800 and the number of unemployed people looking for part-time work increased by 34,300 to 243,400.

As  Australian Treasurer Morrison strips est. $15 billion over 4 years from basic services in Budget 2015-16. These cuts are expected to impact families and low-income earners.

In the 12 months to 30 June 2015 the number of Indigenous deaths in custody was the highest recorded since 1979-80.


  • 2016 there were 2,902 deaths by suicide

National unemployment rate for 2016 nears a three-year low at 5.7%, with unemployment decreasing over the year by 11,900 persons.

In the 12 months to 30 June 2016 a total of 69,921 welfare recipients had their income support payments reduced. 

Unlawful ‘robodebt’ debt-averaging algorithm introduced in 2016 - letters began to be sent out to past & current welfare recipients in December of the year.

Cashless Debit Card trials commence, restricting welfare recipients access to cash withdrawals from their pensions, benefits and allowances.

  • 2017 there were 3,285 deaths by suicide

Australia’s unemployment rate hit a 14-month high, rising to 5.9% in February. Budget 2017-18 announced mutual obligation requirements attached to Newstart payments were being increased.

Aged Pension qualifying age began to rise on 1 July 2017.

  • 2018 there were 3,138 suicides - averaging 8 deaths per day. NSW had the highest state total at 899 deaths.

    As of June 2018  71%, or 802,600 people, received an unemployment payment—717,000 for Newstart Allowance and 85,600 for Youth Allowance (other). This represented 5.2% of the population aged 18–64. 

    In late June 2018, 10,600 Newstart Allowance recipients were aged 65, reflecting the increase in the qualifying age for the Age Pension to 65.5 from 1 July 2017.

    An est. 80,000 single parents now on Newstart unemployment benefit rather than a parenting payment.

    In July 2018 Parents Next program was introduced which applied governmental coercive control of single parents on parenting payments.

    In August 2018 Scott Morrison ceased to be Australian Treasurer and became Prime Minister.

    • 2019 there were 3,318 deaths by suicide

    In the 12 months to 30 June 2019 under the privatised welfare-to-work scheme 121,604 people had their income support suspended without reason.

    The Cashless Debit Card trial now includes est. 15,000 cardholders.

    • 2020 no deaths data published for 2020 to date

    Dynamic modelling shows that there may be a 25 per cent increase in suicides recorded for 2020 due to COVID-19 impacts.

    Unemployment rate reached 6.2% in April, 6.8% in November and 6.6% in December 2020. Unemployment alone is associated with a two to threefold increased relative-risk of death by suicide, compared with being employed.



    PRINCIPAL SOURCES


    https://www.aihw.gov.au/suicide-self-harm-monitoring/data/deaths-by-suicide-in-australia/suicide-deaths-over-time


    https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/suicide-and-intentional-self-harm


    https://ama.com.au/media/joint-statement-covid-19-impact-likely-lead-increased-rates-suicide-and-mental-illness


    https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/7d12b0f6763c78caca257061001cc588/7dc1d5f5ad9c94a5ca2580c80013b0eb!OpenDocument


    https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/organisations/about-us/annual-reports


    https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/labour/employment-and-unemployment/labour-force-australia/dec-2020#:~:text=Seasonally%20adjusted%20estimates%20for%20December,Employment%20increased%20to%2012%2C910%2C800.


    https://www.aic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-05/sr_05_270418.pdf


    Friday, 14 May 2021

    Online violence has become the new frontline in journalism safety and women journalists sit at the epicentre of risk


    Social, cultural, environmental and community activists because they are often highly visible in their own local areas have long been subject to anonymous death threats, not so anonymous menacing behaviour, nuisance calls, minor vandalism and, even after the advent of social media, defamatory whispering campaigns. 


    In decades past, journalists were seemingly not as visible to the purveyors of hate within communities which were contesting local and regional issues.


    Once the Internet arrived it became a vehicle which could potentially intensify the hate directed towards such activists and at times it did. Since February 2004 highly organised bad actors have turned their attention towards the mainstream media and begun ripping away at the reputations of female journalists.


    Here is a recent research discussion paper which makes some interesting observations.......


    UNESCO, Posetti, J. et al, (April 2021) Research Discussion Paper, The Chilling: Global trends in online violence against women journalists, excerpts:


    INTRODUCTION


    There is nothing virtual about online violence. It has become the new frontline in journalism safety - and women journalists sit at the epicentre of risk. Networked misogyny and gaslighting intersect with racism, religious bigotry, homophobia and other forms of discrimination to threaten women journalists - severely and disproportionately. Threats of sexual violence and murder are frequent and sometimes extended to their families. This phenomenon is also bound up with the rise of viral disinformation, digital conspiracy networks and political polarisation. The psychological, physical, professional, and digital safety and security impacts associated with this escalating freedom of expression and gender equality crisis are overlapping, converging and frequently inseparable. They are also increasingly spilling offline, sometimes with devastating consequences…….


    The research underpinning this paper consists of: a global survey of 901 journalists from 125 countries conducted in five languages; long-form interviews with 173 international journalists, editors, and experts in the fields of freedom of expression, human rights law, and digital safety; two big data case studies assessing over 2.5 million posts on Facebook and Twitter directed at two prominent women journalists (Maria Ressa in the Philippines and Carole Cadwalladr in the UK) undertaken to validate the self-reporting of our interviewees and survey respondents with objective data; 15 detailed country case studies; and a literature review covering hundreds of scholarly and civil society research publications. A team of 24 international researchers6 from 16 countries contributed to the study……


    The chilling effect

    Online violence against women journalists is designed to: belittle, humiliate, and shame; induce fear, silence, and retreat; discredit them professionally, undermining accountability journalism and trust in facts; and chill their active participation (along with that of their sources, colleagues and audiences) in public debate. This amounts to an attack on democratic deliberation and media freedom, encompassing the public’s right to access information, and it cannot afford to be normalised or tolerated as an inevitable aspect of online discourse, nor contemporary audience-engaged journalism…..


    A worsening crisis

    Online attacks on women journalists appear to be increasing significantly, as this study demonstrates, particularly in the context of the ‘shadow pandemic’ of violence against women during COVID-19. The pandemic has changed journalists’ working conditions, making them yet more dependent on digital communications services and social media channels. The emergence of the ‘disinfodemic’ has also increased the toxicity of the online communities within which journalists work, making journalists “sitting ducks” according to the UK National Union of Journalists’ Michelle Stanistreet, interviewed for this study……


    Another major issue in evidence is the role of political actors - including presidents and elected representatives, party officials and members - in instigating and fuelling online violence campaigns against women journalists. Additionally, partisan, mainstream and fringe news media can be shown to amplify such attacks, triggering ‘pile-ons’ that escalate the risks of online violence morphing into offline assault or causing significant psychological injury……


    Our research confirmed that online violence against women journalists comes from State officials, and is increasingly associated with legal harassment. In Pakistan, founder of the Digital Rights Foundation, Nighat Dad, said: “The attacks are made by people declaring affiliation with the ruling party, and in the coordinated campaigns women journalists are referred to as peddlers of ‘fake news’, enemies of the people and accused of taking bribes. Some journalists [have] shared that after official harassment, their social media accounts are bombarded with gendered slurs and abuse by accounts displaying the ruling party’s flag or the Prime Minister’s picture on their accounts.” ......


    These methods of attack are growing more sophisticated, and they are evolving with technology. They are also increasingly networked and fuelled by political actors. This points to the need for responses to online violence to grow equally in technological sophistication and collaborative coordination. Another point highlighted by our research: most women journalists do not report or make public the online attacks they experience, in line with low levels of reporting when it comes to violence against women more broadly. As our research participants also demonstrated, many media employers still appear reluctant to take online violence seriously. This aligns with the evident failure of the internet communications companies - whose social networks, messaging and search services facilitate much of the harassment, intimidation, abuse and threats targeting women journalists - to take effective action to address this freedom of expression and gender equality crisis…..


    This study shows that male politicians will also use lawsuits as weapons against female journalists and, multiple defamation actions may be instigated by wealthy individuals who are often political donors.


    Online newspapers which publish the work of female investigative journalists sometimes come under attack. In August 2020, Guardian Media Group took legal action to shut down a website generating fake Guardian headlines and byline profiles which were being shared with the trending Twitter hashtag #TrollingTheGuardian.


    The full discussion paper can be read at:

    https://en.unesco.org/sites/default/files/the-chilling.pdf.


    Thursday, 13 May 2021

    State of Play Australia 2021: Morrison Government mismanagement of national response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues


    On 22 February 2021 what should have been the biggest logistical exercise in Australia’s history got underway – the vaccination of the population against the COVID-19 global pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.


    This vaccination program launches us down our path out of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021. Every Australian will be given the opportunity to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, free of charge that has been proven to be safe and effective by our own medical experts.” [Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, media release, 21 February 2021]


    Eleven months earlier in an effort to contain the spread of viral infection within Australia, the Morrison Government had finally closed Australia’s borders at 9pm AEDT on Friday, 20 March 2020, with exemptions only for Australian citizens, permanent residents (including NZ permanent residents) and their immediate families, including spouses, legal guardians and dependants, as well as Pacific Islanders transiting to their own countries.


    From the very start of the pandemic the Morrison Government had refused to take responsibility for creating/re-establishing a national human quarantine system with dedicated purposed-built quarantine facilities. 


    Instead an ad hoc system of leased hotels in capital cities was established, primarily operating as quarantine sites under the control of state governments, in order to fill the unmet need to isolate those who at the time were still coming to Australia as tourists, as well as Australians returning from overseas or those transiting through Australia. This ad hoc system allowed COVID-19 to spread into the community on multiple occasions and state border closures became a feature of domestic pandemic response measures.


    Commencing on 3 March 2020 there had been repeated announcements from the Prime Minister concerning the development of a COVID-19 vaccine and his government’s successful efforts up to November 2020 to secure over 134 million vaccine doses for the national vaccination program.


    In Morrison’s own words “our strategy puts Australia at the front of the queue” for vaccine supply.


    By February 2021 most Australians were anticipating the pledge that the adult population would be fully vaccinated by the end of October 2021.


    Then we discovered how comprehensively we had been mislead.


    There had never been a well-defined strategy behind efforts to obtain enough vaccine doses to provide the Australian population with protection against COVID-19 infection – just what looked suspiciously like a game of mates.


    With the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine becoming flavour of the pandemic with Morrison (there was already a Liberal Party connection with that big pharma corporation and with CSL) and an early offer by Pfizer to supply Australia with its COVID-19 vaccine rejected.


    Then as international circumstances changed and demand for vaccines began to exceed big pharma stockpiles, it became much more difficult for Australia to successfully compete with other nations for vaccine doses.


    As for the national COVID-19 vaccination program rollout, Morrison's plan avoided using the mass vaccination expertise of state and territory departments of health and put together a pottage of primarily private sector vaccine delivery methods which failed to meet the vaccination target of 4 million people receiving their first vaccine dose in the first four weeks of the rollout.


    When one looks at the identified priority groups it is clear that by 8 May 2021 only around 260,000 vaccine doses have been administered across the aged care and disability sectors and many frontline health workers were yet to receive their first vaccine dose.


    The wheels really fell off the bus when the AstraZeneca vaccine was shown to produce a life threatening adverse reaction in some people days or weeks after receiving a vaccine dose - thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS).


    After one woman died from TTS Morrison declared that the AstraZeneca vaccine would no longer be given to individuals under 50 years of age and, with not enough Pfizer vaccine on hand to vaccinate the under 50s Morrison declared there was no longer a fixed time table for the national vaccination program rollout and no new target would be set for when the Australian population would be fully vaccinated.


    Since that early April 2021 decision to keep vaccinating those 50 years of age and older with the problematic AstraZeneca vaccine, 5 people aged between 51 and 74 years of age have been hospitalised with TTS. Bringing to 11 the number of people diagnosed with TTS after receiving an AstraZeneca vaccine dose - that is 11 TTS adverse events in approximately 1.4 million doses administered - with 5 of those 11 people being 64 years of age and older.


    So this is now Australia's reality…… 


    The Guardian graph showing Australia's vaccine supply as of March-April 2021:




    The Guardian graph showing changing 'aspirational' targets and the 2.7 million doses gap between expected doses administered and actual doses administered by 10 May 2021:
















    The end result of what appears to be Prime Minister Scott Morrison's personal pandemic strategy - to offload as many federal responsibilities onto the states and territories in the hope of avoiding political blame if things go awry - is that Australia still has (i) no safe and secure national human quarantine system in place; (ii) an inadequate vaccine supply currently on hand; and, (iii)  only est. 12 per cent of its eligible population having received at least a first vaccine dose; at a time when the global pandemic is escalating in the south-east Asia region and highly infectious COVID-19 variants are spreading globally.


    Morrison has created the risk that a wave of COVID-19 community transmitted infections, possibly exacerbated by a virus variant, could take off between now and the end of first quarter of 2022.


    In a classic political ploy on Tuesday 11 May he began sending his MPs forth to leak his 'private' concerns that the global pandemic was more threatening now than it was a year ago, that COVID-19  remained a danger to Australia as it is "racing" through countries such as India, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea like nothing we had seen in our lifetimes. He warned his MPs against complacency.


    Those allegedly private concerns and, an election campaign inspired Budget 2021-22 (that continues to leave establishing Commonwealth human quarantine stations out of federal budgets) which he revealed later on the same day, are apparently supposed to divert the attention of voters. So that we all fail to notice that it is because of his own mismanagement of the federal government's role in the national response to the global pandemic that Australia's national border will need to remain closed until well into the 2022 calendar year.


    Prepare for his office to release more publicity photos of prime ministerial visits to defence force bases, walks down red carpets, chin-jutting poses surrounded by flags or twee pics with wife and children. As well as more keynote speeches to industry & assorted lobby groups, along with upbeat announcements of a better future. All scattered as media releases in order to distract both mainstream journalists and the national electorate from pondering that looming public health risk he created.


    BACKGROUND


    The Guardian, 22 April 2021:


    Australia has received just 70% of the vaccine doses the government expected to have on hand by mid-April, according to a Guardian Australia analysis.


    In a presentation published online on 14 March, the government included monthly forecasts for Australia’s expected vaccine supply, accounting for the disruptions to overseas supply that had already occurred leading up to that point.


    Based on these forecasts, and figures cited by the health minister, Greg Hunt, for the number of doses received from domestic and international suppliers, there is a shortfall of about 1.8m vaccine doses.


    The federal government has previously blamed international shipment delays for the slow rollout, which could take a couple of years to complete at the current pace.


    However, comparing the government’s forecast with the number of doses we have actually received shows there has also been a shortfall in domestic production, with the number of locally-produced AstraZeneca vaccine doses lower than the government expected.


    CSL, the company producing the AstraZeneca vaccine locally, put out a press release in February suggesting it would be able to produce 2m doses by the end of March.


    On 24 March, CSL confirmed the release of 830,000 doses, and on 7 April, Hunt revealed CSL had produced at least 1.3 million doses by that point.


    When asked why the 2m doses target had been missed, Hunt went into detail about the production and approval process, but did not directly answer the question.


    Hunt did, however, indicate that CSL would be scaling up production, and called the production of 1.3m doses so far an “extraordinary achievement”.


    It is not clear whether the March forecasts were too optimistic or if there are other issues involved.


    According to people familiar with how vaccines are made, the process for creating such a vaccine involves a series of complex biological procedures and involves ongoing refinement, sometimes over several years, to reach peak levels of production.


    Guardian Australia sent detailed questions about the vaccine supply shortfall to the health department, and a spokesperson said Pfizer shipments were expected to increase and CSL would produce more than 50m doses this year.


    Australia has entered into four separate agreements for the supply of Covid-19 vaccines, if they are proved to be safe and effective,” the spokesperson said in a statement.


    These include agreements with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Novavax and the Covax facility. Combined, these agreements will ensure access to approximately 170 million doses.


    As shipments of Pfizer and AstraZeneca are made available, they will be dispatched across Australia to vaccinate the population. Deliveries from Pfizer are expected regularly and will increase over the coming months. CSL is producing 50 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses over the course of this year.”


    A CSL spokesperson was positive about production, saying: “Production of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is progressing well at both CSL Behring and Seqirus, and the teams continue work around the clock to meet our commitment to the Australian community.


    The process for releasing vaccines involves extensive safety and quality checks and no batch is released until all parties – CSL, the TGA and AstraZeneca – are satisfied that each vaccine meets the required quality standards.


    CSL is proud of our unique role in manufacturing this vaccine for Australia.”


    The government has also now made figures on vaccine utilisation by states and territories available, with the most recent update on 19 April.


    South Australia had the lowest utilisation rates, having administered just 59% of the vaccine doses available.


    Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory both had very high rates, at 97% and 98% respectively.


    Guardian Australia analysis had previously found that the smaller states were doing better in their rollout on a per-100 population basis. Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory each have administered more than four doses per 100 population.


    With more vaccines on the horizon, Dr Mark Hanly from the University of New South Wales says the groundwork has to be laid now for how to administer them out.


    [Federal] and state governments need to be planning now for how they will administer 1,000,000 doses a week,” he says. “We need to plan the logistics of how to administer vaccine at a rate that can match supply once local production is up and running. If suitable vaccination facilities aren’t in place, it is possible that the bottleneck will simply shift from supply to administration.”


    South Australia is the latest to announce the creation of mass vaccination hubs to speed up the rollout, something Hanly was calling for in February, even before the rollout faltered.


    Mass vaccination sites and GPs have different advantages, so a rollout that draws on the benefits of both delivery modes is likely to help us get to high levels of coverage faster than drawing on either mode alone,” he says. “All of this, of course, is contingent on supply and people’s willingness to come forward to be vaccinated.”