Sunday 31 January 2021

The global COVID-19 pandemic appears to be increasing food insecurity & child hunger - even in OECD countries


Across the globe widespread food insecurity is a millennia-old enduring problem. It was said to affect an estimated 800 million people worldwide by 2001, with malnutrition in small children being a significant factor.

Action Against Hunger defines hunger thus:

  • Hunger is the distress associated with lack of food. The threshold for food deprivation, or undernourishment, is fewer than 1,800 calories per day.

  • Undernutrition goes beyond calories to signify deficiencies in energy, protein, and/or essential vitamins and minerals.

  • Malnutrition refers more broadly to both undernutrition and overnutrition (problems with unbalanced diets).

  • Food security relates to food availability, access, and utilization. When a person always has adequate availability and access to enough safe and nutritious food to maintain an active and healthy life, they are considered food secure.

By December 2020 UNICEF was warning that millions of children in crisis hotspots were ‘on the brink of famine’, highlighting the need of 10.4 million children in Democratic Republic of the Congo, northeast Nigeria, the Central Sahel, South Sudan and Yemen wiho are expectedb to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2021.

The African continent and Middle East are extreme examples of the world’s failure to equitably distribute food in times of crisis.

The Global Hunger Index 2020 indicates 33 counties experiencing alarming to serious levels of hunger in their populations and another 26 countries having moderate levels of hunger.

However, although the Index shows that by comparison OECD countries were the least affected by hunger, the COVID-19 global pandemic is increasing hunger, including child hunger, in these countries.

By way of example…………..

According to CNBC Make It in December 2020:

Millions of Americans are facing hunger as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic — and many of those are children. An estimated 17 million children could go without enough to eat this year, according to Feeding America, a leading national nonprofit food bank network.

Nearly 12% of Americans, or 25.7 million people, reported not having enough to eat over the past week, according to the latest Household Pulse Survey released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Dec. 2. Nearly 14 million households with children report they sometimes or often do not have enough to eat.

In June 2020 iPolitics reported:

One in seven Canadians lived in a household where there was food insecurity in April and those living with children are more likely to be impacted from food insecurity resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study from Statistics Canada.

The survey, which was part of the Canadian Perspectives Survey Series (CPSS), collected data from May 4 to 10 from 4,600 respondents in all 10 provinces. Of the participants, 14.6 per cent indicated that they lived in a household where there was food insecurity in the past 30 days.

The survey was based on a scale of six “food experiences” ranging from food not lasting until there was money to buy more, to going hungry because there was not enough money for food. Most Canadians reported only one negative experience, but 2 per cent reported the most severe food insecurity, with five or all six experiences reported.

Canadians who were employed during the week of April 26th to May 2nd, but absent from work due to business closures, layoffs, or other personal reasons related COVID-19, were more likely to be food insecure (28.4 per cent), compared to who were working during that period (10.7 per cent). The rate of food insecurity for those who were not employed during the reference week was in between these two, at 16.8 per cent.

The Guardian also reported in September 2020:

New data from the Food Foundation [UK charity] shared exclusively with the Observer has revealed that almost a fifth of households with children have been unable to access enough food in the past five weeks, with meals being skipped and children not getting enough to eat as already vulnerable families battle isolation and a loss of income…...

A reported 30% of lone parents and 46% of parents with a disabled child are facing food insecurity and finding it difficult to manage basic nutritional needs at home. With schools no longer providing a reprieve for children reliant on free breakfast clubs and school lunches, poorer families are at crisis point…..

The Borgen Project, September 2020:

Food insecurity, fortunately, has reduced to about 10% of New Zealanders in 2019. But with the outbreak of COVID-19, the Auckland City Mission estimated that that number had rocketed to 20%. Between citizens losing jobs, panic-buying at grocery stores and other factors, the pandemic is threatening more widespread food insecurity in New Zealand. Emergency food assistance services have seen large spikes in demand. Additionally, many essential workers may be working full-time but are still not making enough to put food on the table….

Food insecurity in New Zealand remains an important problem. In the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, these problems are becoming harder to ignore. Recently, CPAG released a paper about its ideas to solve food insecurity for New Zealand’s youth, including food programs in schools. It showed that with awareness and advocacy, people can begin to find solutions to these problems. In fact, the 2020 budget plans to expand an existing school lunch program to ensure that by the end of 2021, 200,000 students will receive a healthy lunch every day at school, up from the 8,000 currently receiving aid from the program. This sort of increase is a promising step to reducing the amount of food insecurity for New Zealand’s children.

Additionally, since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Auckland City Mission has gone from supporting 450 families to over 1,200 and expect that number to stay high throughout the winter. Thanks to the 2020 New Zealand budget, Auckland City Mission will be able to continue helping those in need.

It is an unprecedented time for food insecurity in New Zealand, especially on top of existing challenges lower-income families have been facing. However, with help from the government and organizations like Auckland City Mission, the country is beginning to put more focus on providing food to those who need it most.

In late 2020 Food Bank Autralia released its Food Bank Hunger Report 2020 which revealed that:

While COVID-19 has made life even more difficult for already-vulnerable Australians, it has launched others into food insecurity for the first time. Almost a third of Australians experiencing food insecurity in 2020

(28%) had never experienced it before COVID-19.

Charities have seen two newly food insecure groups emerging as a result of the pandemic: the casual workforce and international students…..

Government assistance such as JobKeeper and JobSeeker, has been a means of survival for businesses and individuals. For the most vulnerable people in our communities, however, even with these lifelines, it has been anything but smooth sailing. Of those who are in

need of government assistance, only 38% suggest this assistance has helped their situation, whereas 62% are not receiving the help they need (37% needed additional assistance, 21% were ineligible, 4% found it

too difficult to apply)…..




















Angie, Reservoir Neighbourhood House.




















Peter, Kingborough Family Church, Hobart.

Friday 29 January 2021

World's largest islands

Australian's are used to calling mainland Australia "the largest island and the smallest continent" but we rarely wonder who our land mass is being compared to. 

Here's the answer.....

Uncertainty continues over Australian rollout dates for COVID-19 mass vaccinations

The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 January 2020:

Australia’s vaccine rollout plan is under a cloud after the European Union slapped export controls on COVID-19 vaccines produced within their territory, including the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs the Morrison government is relying on.

The controls, which effectively mean vaccine producers must ask for permission before shipping vials outside the region, will at the very least slow the distribution process for countries outside Europe. 

A spokesman for Health Minister Greg Hunt did not answer specific questions about what the European decision means for Australia’s vaccine rollout. Australia has ordered 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which is being manufactured in Belgium. The first shipment of at least 80,000 doses is due by the end of February.

On ABC News on 25 January 2021, Pfizer Australia Managing Director Anne Harris says surging demand for the Pfizer vaccine around the world has delayed the rollout of the vaccination program in Australia. She is anticipating that there will be a two week delay so the Pfizer vaccine will not arrive until later in February at the earliest.

Bloomberg, 26 January 2021:

European Union regulators proposed requiring drugmakers to flag exports of coronavirus vaccines in advance as the bloc seeks to step up inoculations amid growing anger about delivery delays by AstraZeneca Plc, which faces a fresh grilling at mid-week. 

The proposed “transparency mechanism” for vaccine exports comes after the European Commission expressed “deep dissatisfaction” with a disclosure by Astra that planned deliveries of its Covid-19 vaccine would face delays. The EU’s executive arm says that this would mean significantly fewer deliveries of the jab this quarter than what was foreseen in the advance purchase agreement struck between the two sides last summer.....

The federal government's phased rollout plan is that the vaccines will initially be available at between 30-50 hospitals around the country, with exact locations yet to be confirmed. Then the rollout will be extended to est. 1,000 locations, including GP practices, dedicated vaccine clinics and community health centres. Residential aged care and disability care facilities will be delivered doses to be injected into residents and staff on-site.

The rollout is intended to cover 25.7 million people.

In Phase 1a quarantine and border staff, frontline health workers, aged care and disability staff and residents, will receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Up to 1.4 million doses expected to be available.

Phase 1b will see anyone aged over 70, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are over 55, other healthcare workers, younger adults with an underlying condition and high-risk workers will receive a vaccine - likely to be the AstraZeneca vaccine. Up to 14.8 million doses expected to be available.

Phase 2a covers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are between 18-54 years of age, along with others in the population over 50 years old and other critical high-risk workers. Up to 15.8 million doses expected to be available.

Phase 2b is the rest of the adult population, plus anyone from the previous phases that have been missed out. Up to 16 million doses expected to be available.

Phase 3 will see child vaccination but only, but only if medically recommended. Up to 13 million does expected to be available.

NOTE: It is unclear whether the term "dose" is for the preliminary first dose of the two-dose vaccines or refers to the total vaccination per person. As other government documents mention an expectation of acquiring over 104.8 million doses of these two COVID-19 vaccines in 2021, it would appear it is likely the first dose which is mentioned in the three phases. 


The Guardian reported on 29 January 2021 that due to supply issues AstraZeneca is unable to meet the Morrison Government's initial order of 3.8 million doses of its vaccine and the order has been reduced to 1.2 million doses. At this stage Australia's order of 10 million vaccine doses from Pfizer remains unchanged.

Thursday 28 January 2021

Australia quite rightly boasts that it was there at the genesis of the United Nations , but it is not a member in good standing

Australia quite rightly boasts that it was there at the genesis of the United Nations.

However, Australian government and society never quite evolved apace with this peak international intergovernmental body and our relationship has been strained for some time. Most notably during the years Australia was led by the Howard, Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison federal governments. 

The strain probably reached its zenith when Australian Prime Minister & Liberal MP for Cook, Scott John Morrison, blinded by his bromance with then US President Donald John Trump, decided to follow Trump's lead and characterise the United Nations as dysfunctional, in need of reform and further, referred to it as a body which "allowed anti-Semitism to seep into its deliberations – all under the language of human rights".

Since 2017 Australia has been the subject of numerous UN agency reports concerning its treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, the over-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by the judicial system, failure to meet its obligations under the Convention of the Rights of the Child including those towards children in crisis or in detention and, its failure to meet its obligations under the Convention of the Rights of People With Disabilities including lack of full access to the justice system, lack of access to housing, forced institutionalisation and forced medical medical treatment.

This is not an exhaustive list of matters that have concerned the United Nations when it comes to Australian society.

These are the opening paragraphs of what Australia’s hard-right federal government told the latest United Nations General Assembly, Human Rights Council, Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Thirty-seventh session, held on 18–29 January 2021 :

1. Australia’s enduring commitment to protecting and promoting human rights is reflected in our strong domestic laws, policies and institutions and in our active international engagement and advocacy. Australia is proud of its contribution to the founding of the United Nations (UN) and the international human rights framework. Australia’s inaugural membership of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in 2018–20 reflects its continued commitment to this framework. Australia’s laws and institutions function to protect human rights and support robust public debate of human rights issues.

2. Since our second cycle Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2015, Australia has made significant achievements in the realisation of human rights. These include significant investments addressing family and domestic violence, human trafficking and modern slavery and the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

3. COVID-19 is presenting new challenges in the protection of human rights across Australia. However, our strong democratic institutions have ensured that our response carefully balances the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health with other rights, such as liberty of movement, which may need to be temporarily curtailed. Particular regard has been paid to the rights of people with unique vulnerabilities……

The Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Summary of Stakeholders’ submissions on Australia told a rather different story. 

Of special interest are the following observations and recommendations:

4. AHRC [Australian Human Rights Commission] recommended ensuring that Australia’s international human rights obligations are comprehensively incorporated into law.

5. AHRC stated that the Government should reform federal anti-discrimination laws to ensure comprehensive protection and improve effectiveness. The Government should also set a timetable for achieving reform of the Constitution to remove capacity for racial discrimination.

6. Racial discrimination was present in society, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. AHRC was concerned about the increase in severe Islamophobic attacks, far-right extremism, and increased racism experienced by people of Asian background during the COVID-19 pandemic and cyber racism.

7. Age discrimination was a major barrier to the participation of old persons in the labour force. Older women were the fastest growing cohort of homeless in 2011–2016.

8. AHRC was concerned about involuntary surgery on people born with variations in sex characteristics, especially infants.

9. The Governments should abolish mandatory sentencing laws and expand the use of non-custodial measures where appropriate.

10. The Governments should raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years, and prohibit the use of isolation and force as punishment in juvenile justice facilities.

11. National security laws and law enforcement powers on metadata retention and encryption, unjustifiably limited freedom of expression and privacy, especially for journalists and whistleblowers. Government should amend national security laws so that they do not unduly limit human rights, particularly freedom of expression and the right to privacy.

12. Some state and territory laws unduly restricted the right of peaceful assembly. Governments should ensure that all laws that regulate protest activity are consistent with the right of peaceful assembly.

13. AHRC recommended ensuring that restrictions enacted to combat the COVID-19 pandemic are proportionate and are removed as soon as the public emergency is over.

14. The main income support payment for unemployed Australians ‘JobSeeker Allowance’ was inadequate. AHRC expressed concerns at punitive welfare programs, notably the ‘ParentsNext’ ‘pre-employment’ program and compulsory income management schemes that disproportionately affected indigenous peoples. Government should ensure that JobSeeker Allowance payments provide recipients with an adequate standard of living, that Welfare support programs be reformed so they are not punitive, and that current models of income management be discontinued or redesigned as voluntary, opt-in schemes that are used as a ‘last resort’.

15. The Government should expand human rights education in all areas of the public sector, particularly for those working with children and in the administration of justice and places of detention, and incorporate human rights more fully in the national school curriculum.

16. The gender pay gap was 14 percent, contributing to the significant gap in retirement savings for women. Government should implement targeted strategies to close the gender pay gap and ensure women’s economic security later in life.

17. AHCR noted that domestic and family violence against women remained endemic. The Government should increase prevention and early intervention initiatives on domestic and family violence.

18. Rates of children in out-of-home care increased, with Indigenous children significantly over-represented. Governments should prioritise early intervention programs to prevent children entering child protection systems.

19. The National Disability Strategy 2010–2020 remained underfunded, with key commitments not achieved. There was limited progress in addressing the sterilisation of persons with disabilities without consent, and implementing a nationally consistent supported decision-making framework. Rates of labour force participation of persons with disabilities had not improved. Little progress were made in addressing the indefinite detention of persons with disabilities who were assessed as unfit to stand trial or not guilty by reason of mental impairment.

20. The Closing the Gap strategy aimed to ‘close the gap’ between Indigenous and nonIndigenous Australians across a range of life outcomes. In 2020, two of the seven targets-early childhood education and Year 12 attainment - were on track to be met by 2031. Other areas such as employment and school attendance had not seen improvements, and the life expectancy gap persisted.

21. AHRC recommended ensuring that immigration detention is justified, time limited, and subject to prompt and regular judicial oversight. Government should reduce numbers of people held in immigration detention to maintain safety during COVID-19 pandemic. Government should amend the Migration Act 1958 to prohibit placing children in immigration detention.

22. AHCR recommended conducting refugee status determination consistently with international obligations, and providing permanent protection for refugees and family sponsorship. Government should provide sufficient support to asylum seekers to ensure an adequate standard of living.

The Summary of Stakeholders' Submissions on Australia also noted:

63. JS1 explained that cashless debit and income management schemes expanded in recent years despite their discriminatory impact on indigenous peoples and single mothers, their restriction on individual decision making, and weak evidence of effectiveness. SHRL explained that the Community Development Program required welfare recipients in remote communities to undertake work or training in order to access social security payments, with indigenous peoples heavily overrepresented in the program and in financial penalties resulting from non-compliance, further plunging them into poverty. JS1 stated that Australia must replace compulsory cashless debit and income management schemes with voluntary models which are non-discriminatory in design and implementation.

The final United Nations Human Rights Council review report is yet to be published. Its findings are unlikely to overly complimentary, given on 20 January 2021 so many other member nations voiced their concerns about Australia's human rights record.

Wednesday 27 January 2021

Why am I not surprised by a report of another dangerous blunder by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison & Co?

The Age, 22 January 2021:

Some of the masks distributed to hospitals and aged care homes at the height of the pandemic as part of the federal government's national medical stockpile have been judged defective by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Laboratory testing by Australia’s medical regulator identified a range of issues with some disposable surgical masks branded Softmed and imported by M House.

The issues include quality control, lack of proper labelling, and inconsistent fluid resistance between batches. Fluid resistance is vital for medical masks, as fluid droplets generated by coughing and sneezing have been found to spread COVID-19.

A Kirby Institute study, published in November, estimated Australian healthcare workers were nearly three times more likely to become infected with coronavirus than other Australians. More than 3560 healthcare workers have been infected with COVID-19 in Victoria. Nearly three-quarters of them caught the virus at work.

At the peak of the state's second wave of infections in early August, so many staff were off sick or isolating from the Royal Melbourne Hospital that the facility was forced to temporarily close four of its wards…...

"Based on the results of internal and external accredited laboratory testing, M House is very confident that its products supplied during the height of the pandemic do not pose a risk to frontline workers but in fact protect them," the spokeswoman said.

M House genuinely believes that, at best, the TGA has conducted itself incompetently in relation to the testing of the device and, at worst, has acted and continues to act in bad faith towards M House, in respect of which M House has reserved its rights and, if necessary, will prosecute them to the full extent necessary, including to obtain the removal of the alert notice which it genuinely believes is unjustified.”

The TGA issued a product defect alert for the disposable surgical masks in November and the Health Department has since written to aged care homes, healthcare networks, the National Disability Insurance Scheme and state and territory health authorities, warning about the defective batches.

The TGA has been running its own lab tests on masks, with priority given to the millions of masks on Australia’s national medical stockpile. Of the first 25 results released, seven had problems identified.

A spokeswoman for the TGA said: "A strong precautionary approach was taken by issuing a Product Defect Alert notice on 14 November 2020 for the relevant Softmed branded surgical masks, sponsored by M House, to ensure customers who purchase or are supplied with these masks safeguard healthcare workers if the masks are being used in high-risk settings,"

Andrew Hewat, Victorian Allied Health Professionals Association assistant secretary, said: “Any concerns in terms of the level of safety, the standards that are being applied, raises concerns for our members…..[my yellow highlighting]

Tuesday 26 January 2021

A Quote for Australia Day-Invasion Day 2021


“I'm astounded at the comment [from the Prime Minister]…..

"It indicates to me a very shallow understanding of the arrival of the First Fleet and the impact of that on Aboriginal Australia.

"It's a very selfish comment. He said nothing about the arrival of that fleet on the Aboriginal owners who own the place.

"There's no empathy there at all. He's turning it inward. It's all about self-praise and aggrandisement of white fella colonisation.

"It's so shallow in that it doesn't involve inclusion or diversity.

"I just think he's very lightweight when it comes to understanding Australian history and Aboriginal perspectives about the British colonisation of the country.”

[Former Australian of the Year. Northern Territory Treaty Commissioner and ANU Professor of Law, Michael Dodson AM, a proud Yawuru man, quoted in ABC News online, 22.01.21]

An example of how Australian colonial history was re-written

In 1803 the first British soldiers and convicts landed in Van Diemen's Land and in 1824 it became a separate colony to New South Wales. 

By then the colonial population of the island numbered est. 11,967 souls and a population explosion had begun which expanded across more of the land.

Between 1825 and 1831 - when the British-European population had almost tripled - Aboriginal resistance to invasion and occupation of their country increased, with 219 colonists and 260 Aboriginals reported killed. [Nicholas Clements, 2014] 

Though the reality is that Aboriginal deaths were likely considerably higher as this number may not have counted all men, women and children gratuitously murdered, as it is believed that few so-called 'reprisal' incidents were officially recorded at the time they occurred. [Hobart Town Gazette December 3, 1823; Ryan, 1996:86-88; Bonwick, 1870:99, Hobart Town Gazette May 5, 1827; Colonial Times May 11, 1827; George 2002:13, Lee 1927:41; AOT VDL 5/1 No.2, 14/1/28 in SciencePo, 5 March 2008]

However, contemporary colonial history often tried to paint a different picture......

Legend reads: "Why Massa Gubernor", said Black Jack. "You Profflamation all gammon.
"How blackfellow read him eh? He no learn him read book."
"Read that then", said the Governor, pointing to the picture.'

Images are treacherous; labels more so. As it happens, Governor Davey’s Proclamation to the Aborigines 1816 had nothing to do with Governor Davey. It does not date from 1816. And it is not really a proclamation. It was commissioned by Lieutenant Governor Sir George Arthur; in 1830, around one hundred copies were published by the government printer in Hobart, placed on wooden boards, and disseminated. The misattribution dates from its re-discovery in the 1860s and might be explained in two ways. First, by setting the date back almost a generation, the notion that the British colony was founded on the principle of the rule of law is thereby promoted.

Law always needs some mythic retrospectivity to shore up its legitimacy—a penal colony established by dispossession and maintained by violence over whites and blacks alike, especially. The violence and chaos that mark the birth of any new legal order thus become cloaked in a myth that emphasizes instead its inevitability, its order, and its naturalness. By the 1860s, it surely served the interests of Tasmania’s free settlers to inject the rule of law into their narrative of legitimate settlement, as early as possible.

Secondly, Thomas Davey cuts a more attractive figure as author of the Proclamation than Sir George Arthur. As governor, Davey had protested in 1814 his “utter indignation and abhorrence” about the kidnapping of Aboriginal children. But Governor Arthur was an altogether more paradoxical figure, a man who oscillated wildly between expressions of concern for the Aborigines and military campaigns against them; between inciting white settlers to kill Tasmania’s first inhabitants and expressing outrage when they did. He was a man who combined eruptions of extreme action with outbursts of remorseful reflection. Above all, as the man behind the notorious Black Line, the dragnet which attempted to corral like cattle the Aboriginal population of the whole island, Arthur symbolizes a way of thinking about the original Tasmanians that “would be laughable were it not so criminally tragic.” Such a background surely taints and complicates the promise of the rule of law.

The cartoon was suggested and apparently drawn by Arthur’s Surveyor-General George Frankland, and he in turn was inspired by Aboriginal bark paintings.....

The paradox that this drawing raises lies in the difficulty of squaring “the real wishes of the government,” as the Proclamation presents it, with the “the actual state of things” in Van Diemen’s Land. At the very same time that Governor Arthur’s Proclamation elaborated an expansive commitment to the rule of law, he was extending martial law throughout Tasmania. Martial law had initially been declared in 1828 in the face of Aboriginal resistance to colonial settlement. In February of 1830, a reward of five pounds was proclaimed for the capture of adult Aborigines (two pounds for a child), describing them as “a horde of [s]avages” consumed by “revengeful feelings.” In October of 1830, faced by “continued repetitions of the most wanton and sanguinary acts of violence and outrage,” Arthur extended martial law to “every part of this Island.” On October 7, “the [white] community . . . en masse” was to spread out like a human chain across the whole island and, by moving forward, herd the Black or Aboriginal Natives on to Tasman’s Peninsula where they could be penned in once and for all.

Yet martial law had always been understood as involving the suspension of the rule of law. In 1829, the brutal murder of an Aboriginal woman was deemed by the Solicitor-General to be beyond the reach of the common law precisely because it fell under the very broad rubric of “necessary operations against the enemies.” Subject to “an active and extended system of Military operations against the Natives generally” and until the “cessation of hostilities,” Aboriginal Tasmanians were specifically placed outside the rule of law. The Black Line, a dismal and notorious folly, led to the capture of a grand total of two Aborigines and the shooting of two more, but it was powerfully evocative of the colonial government’s attitude towards them….

[Desmond Manderson (January 2013) in NYLS Law Review, Vol 57, Issue 1, THE LAW OF THE IMAGE AND THE IMAGE OF THE LAW”, pp. 157-158]

Monday 25 January 2021

Despite Prime Minister Morrison's recent assurances concerning free speech in Australia - there is no blanket protection of speech in this country. In fact there are severe constraints made worse in the last 7 years by the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government


Australian LNP MP for Warwick George Christensen
exercising the peculiar form of free speech fully endorsed by 
his prime minister, Scott Morrison 
IMAGE: @maxiedexter

The Age, 21 January 2021:

When Prime Minister Scott Morrison was invited to condemn far-right conspiracy theories promoted by government members such as George Christensen, he refused. He defended another Liberal backbencher, Craig Kelly, who undermined the government's health message by spreading false information about COVID-19. "There's such a thing as freedom of speech in this country and that will continue," Morrison said.

In fact, there are severe constraints on free speech in Australia, more so than in North America or Western Europe. The Coalition government's 2018 security laws make it an offence to leak, receive or report a wide range of "information, of any kind, whether true or false and whether in a material form or not, and includes (a) an opinion and (b) a report of a conversation". Another clause makes it a serious crime to say anything that harms "Australia's foreign relations, including political, military, and economic relations". Even if ministers should sometimes be circumspect, other people should be free to criticise any country without resorting to disinformation.

Jail sentences for some offences can be 15 or more years, even when little genuine harm results. There is no recognition that leaked information has never killed anyone in Australia. In contrast, secret intelligence generated by Australia and its allies has led to innocent people, including children, being killed in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Parliamentarians have endorsed the serious erosion of core liberties. The rot set in when they abjectly acquiesced in the Australian Federal Police's raid on Parliament House in 2016, with police accessing IT systems and seizing thousands of non-classified documents to search for the source of leaks to a Labor opposition frontbencher. The leaks revealed problems with rising costs and delays in the National Broadband Network - information that should have been public.

In an earlier era, ASIO and the AFP would never tap phones in Parliament House, let alone raid it. The Parliament should have found the AFP in contempt. Instead, politicians squibbed it.

Last July, the AFP recommended charging ABC journalist Dan Oaks, co-author of the 2017 series "The Afghan Files", which exposed alleged war crimes committed by Australian special forces in Afghanistan. In October, the prosecutor declined to proceed. The law should clearly state the AFP should not pursue a journalist acting in the public interest.

Undeterred, the government is pushing for more powers that undermine free speech and civil liberties. Its International Production Orders bill would give ASIO and the AFP the right to order communications providers in "like-minded" countries to produce any electronic data they request and remove encryption. One downside is that the FBI and a wide range of US security bodies would have reciprocal rights to access private data held by Australian people and corporations. A big stumbling block is that the US law, called the CLOUD Act, prohibits other countries accessing data if they have weaker privacy and civil liberties protections than the US. Australia falls into that category.

Last month, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton introduced a bill creating extraordinary powers to affect a wide range of people, not just paedophiles as the government claims. The bill covers all crimes with a jail sentence of three or more years. This includes whistleblowers and journalists and innocent people expressing an opinion that falls foul of foreign influence laws.

If passed, Dutton's bill will give the AFP and Australia's Criminal Intelligence Commission the ability to covertly take over a person's online account to gather evidence of a crime. These proposed new powers should be severely curtailed.


InnovationAus, 7 December 2020:

The federal government last week introduced legislation handing new powers to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) to hack into the computers and networks of those suspected of conducting criminal activity online, specifically targeting the dark web.

The bill introduced three new warrants, allowing authorities to “disrupt” data of the suspected offenders, to access their devices and networks to identify who they actually are, and to take over their accounts covertly.

The laws were introduced without any consultation and with little fanfare from the government, and were quickly met with widespread concerns, and comparisons with the highly controversial anti-encryption powers, which were passed in a rush in the last days of Parliament in 2018.

The Law Council of Australia said the “extraordinary” powers needed to be subject to proper review and oversight and must be referred to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS).

A Home Affairs spokesperson confirmed the bill would be referred to the PJCIS and would be debated in Parliament after a report is tabled.

It is important for the PJCIS to consider this critical and complex piece of legislation, the spokesperson told InnovationAus.

The new powers point to authorities wanting to conduct “poisoned water hole” operations, where police or other agencies take over an illegal platform or service on the dark web and continue to operate it in order to obtain the identities of its users.

The network activity warrants in the new bill would allow the AFP to access the device and networks of groups or individuals suspected of taking part in criminal activity online, but whose identities they do not know.

They serve to “target criminal networks about which very little is known”. These warrants would be issued by an eligible judge or member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Information obtained under one of these warrants could be the subject of derivative use, the explanatory memorandum said, which means it could be cited in an affidavit on application for another investigatory power, such as the issuing of another warrant.

These warrants could be used in combination with the new account take over warrants, which would allow the AFP and ACIC to take over the online accounts of individuals suspected of taking part in criminal activity, covertly and without consent, and would be approved by a magistrate.

The legislation unveiled last week by the government also included “minor amendments” to the Controlled Operations Act, scrapping a requirement that the illicit goods used by authorities as part of an “online controlled operation” be under their control at its conclusion.

This means that if an undercover AFP officer is posing as a drug dealer, any drugs used in the operation must still be in their control at the end of the operation.

This is intended to address how easy data is to copy and disseminate, and the limited guarantee that all illegal content will be able to be under the control of the AFP and ACIC at the conclusion of an online control operation,” the explanatory memorandum said.

According to Deakin University senior lecturer in criminology Dr Monique Mann, these changes point to the government looking towards “poisoned water hole” operations, where authorities take control of a criminal platform or marketplace and then continue to operate it in order to gather information on its users.

The amendments to those laws, combined with the computer network operations powers and capabilities, indicates to me that they want poisoned water hole operations,” Dr Mann told InnovationAus.

Effectively this is giving law enforcement the ability to conduct extraterritorial government hacking of websites around the world, that they don’t know where they are, which is beyond the legal authority of Australian law enforcement,” she said.

They will potentially be running poisoned water holes and hacking companies where they’re not sure where they are located. That has significant extraterritorial implications for due process for suspects.

Because they’re going for an expansion of hacking and account takeovers, it shows they’re going to hack into them, take them over and continue to run them as controlled operations. This suite of powers combined in this way is for poisoned water holes, it’s pretty clear.”.....

Australian Parliament, Parliamentary Business, 3 December 2020:

Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020

Referred to Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security on 8 December 2020.


Under the amendments found in the aforementioned bill, essentially a member of the Australian Federal Police can telephone an eligible judge and verbally request a Data Disruption Warrant based on the vague requirement of "reasonable grounds". 

Likewise a Network Activity Warrant can be granted by a judge or AAT member which is "unsworn" and an Account Takeover Warrant can be granted by a magistrate over the phone - again based on "reasonable grounds".

Nowhere in this bill is a request for such a warrant restricted to activities on so-called 'dark web' sites as is implied by Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton, nor does the type/level of Commonwealth or State "serious offence" on which the bill relies to trigger federal government hacking of an individual's digital devices, web sites or social media/chatroom accounts appear to exclude communications by/with journalists, whistleblowers or political/environmental activists acting in good faith.