February 18 - 24, 2024: Issue 614

Spotlight shone on NSW homelessness crisis

February 13, 2024
Sobering analysis that has been released today by Homelessness NSW lays bare the extent of the rising homelessness crisis.

This data further underscores the importance of immediate interventions to increase the supply of more homes across NSW, including an uplift of social and affordable housing. Both key priorities of the NSW Government.

The analysis reveals that the top council areas that have seen increases in homelessness numbers are Inner West and Canterbury-Bankstown Council areas. These are also key areas that the NSW Government is focussed on in supporting increased access to housing.

The top council areas that have seen an increase include:

In the wake of these statistics the NSW Government reaffirms its commitment to drive down homelessness numbers by delivering more and better social housing and increasing access to comprehensive support services.

Action already taken by the NSW Government has included:
  • The creation of Homes NSW, merging the housing and homelessness functions of the Department of Communities and Justice with the Land, Housing Corporation and the Aboriginal Housing Office to streamline support for residents and delivery pathway for more homes;
  • Committed to 30 per cent social and affordable housing in all developments on government surplus public land;
  • Undertaking a statewide land audit to identify state owned land to deliver more housing;
  • Fast tracking the delivery of more social and affordable homes through the $610 Million Federal Government’s Social Housing Accelerator payment and Housing Australia Future Fund;
  • Implemented planning reforms to expedite the delivery of more housing across the state;
  • Investigating innovative solutions to deliver more homes with $10 million allocated to Modular Housing Trial to deliver faster quality social housing;
  • The 2023-24 NSW Budget included a $224 million Essential Housing Package which allocated $70 million to accelerate the delivery of social, affordable homes in regional NSW;
  • Extended temporary accommodation from an initial period of two days to seven days;
  • Removed the 28-day cap ensuring vulnerable people are able to access support when they need it most;
  • Increased the cash assets limit from $1,000 to $5,000 when assessing eligibility for Temporary Accommodation;
  • Removed the cash asset limit assessment entirely for people escaping domestic and family violence;
  • Extended Specialist Homelessness Services contracts for two years, to 30 June 2026;
  • Deploying more assertive outreach services to engage people sleeping rough and support them into long term, stable accommodation;
  • Appointed a Rental Commissioner to work with us in designing and implementing changes that rebalance the rental market, making it fairer and more modern; and
  • Put a 12-month freeze on the requirement for people in temporary accommodation to complete a Rental Diary, while the scheme is reviewed.
The NSW Government is also undertaking once in a generation reforms to address this housing crisis and calls on the NSW Opposition and Councils across NSW to join them in tackling this crisis head on.

Minister for Housing and Homelessness Rose Jackson said:
“This report from Homelessness NSW highlights the very real housing crisis that is playing out in our suburbs and cities across NSW.

“The NSW Government, from the very beginning, has acknowledged this crisis is real and we must do everything we can to end homelessness.

“The report paints a harrowing picture of women and children being forced to live in cars, working families living in tent's and increasing rates of people sleeping rough especially in Western Sydney.

“The NSW Government is determined to confront this challenge. We know you can’t solve homelessness if you don’t have affordable homes for people to live in - that is the core work we are doing and we ask local councils and the community to walk with us on this journey.”

Australia’s oldest hospital recognised with Nightingale Award

Australia's oldest hospital has been presented with the prestigious Nightingale Badge, a worldwide symbol of nursing excellence, awarded to individuals and institutions who have made an exceptional contribution to the nursing profession.

NSW Health Secretary Susan Pearce AM said the Nightingale Fellowship of London Badge was presented to Sydney/Sydney Eye Hospital (SSEH) in celebration of all Nightingale-trained nurses in Australia.

“Our nurses are some of the best in the world, and it is great to see Sydney Eye Hospital and the Lucy Osburn Nightingale Museum receive international recognition as the founders of Nightingale nursing in Australia," Ms Pearce said.

“Steeped in history, the Hospital is Australia's oldest and has been providing high quality healthcare for more than 200 years."

The Museum, located in the historic Nightingale Wing on Macquarie Street, commemorates two very important women in the history of nursing; social reformer and founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale, and Lucy Osburn, an English nurse who in 1897, was sent by Nightingale at the request of the colonial government to Sydney, to establish the first Nightingale Training school in Australia.

SSEH Director of Nursing and Support Services Natalie Maier said it was a proud day for the Hospital.

“We feel extremely privileged to have been recognised by our international colleagues, in acknowledgement of the significant history of nursing first championed here by Lucy Osburn over 100 years ago," Ms Maier said.

“I thank the museum for preserving the legacy of Lucy Osburn, who very early on, set the standard for nursing in Australia. This high standard lives on today, as our nurses continue to provide world-class patient care."

President of the Nightingale Fellowship of London Christine Taylor said she was delighted to recognise Lucy Osburn's pioneering work.

“We are extremely proud and delighted to present this framed badge in recognition of Ms Osburn's pioneering work in establishing a Nightingale Training School at Sydney Hospital; and in recognition of all those nurses who have trained there and (UK) Nightingales who have come to Australia to work," Ms Taylor said.

The Lucy Osburn Nightingale Museum is home to a unique collection of medical equipment, records, implements and pathology that portrays the history of nursing and medicine in Australia since the arrival of the first fleet in 1788.

Visitors to the museum can walk back in time into original refurbished rooms, view photos, artefacts, surgical instruments, costumes and the oldest morbid anatomy specimens in Australia.

Visits to the Lucy Osburn Nightingale Museum, which is open by appointment only, can be organised by emailing seslhd-sydhospmuseum@health.nsw.gov.au.​

Lucy Osburn was born in Leeds, England in 1835 and was trained by the social reformer and founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale. In 1867, Nightingale sent Osburn and five other nurses to Sydney at the request of Henry Parkes to establish nursing methods and training at the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary on Macquarie Street, now known as Sydney Hospital. 

Lucy Osburn had only been in Sydney for a week when she faced one of her first challenges. Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria’s second son, had been shot in an assassination attempt during his visit to Sydney and she supervised his nursing. She also faced challenges with the poor conditions of the hospital wards and infighting among her British nurses. Her main achievement was to reform nursing practice and establish training methods. At the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary she dismissed the male nurses, replaced them with female nurses, and introduced training on and off the wards. 

As the first Lady Superintendent of the Sydney Hospital, she also enforced a strict hierarchical and regimented system that reflected the class system of the time. Plagued by illness and criticisms regarding her management style, Osburn was forced to resign in 1884 and returned to England where she died in 1891. Osburn has since been recognised as the founder of Nightingale nursing in Australia. 

Lucy Osburn 1856, courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW (MIN 283)

Nightingale Wing, Sydney Infirmary, Macquarie Street c1869-74 courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW ( SPF/178)

Safely embracing AI in healthcare

February 12, 2023
NSW Health has established a new taskforce to inform and guide the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the public health system.

The taskforce, whose membership comprises of senior leaders and subject matter experts from across NSW Health, held its first meeting on Thursday. 

Several AI initiatives are already in place throughout NSW Health, including integrated electronic medical records, wound care management, data engineering for complex data analysis, coding automation support, and storeroom stocking and detailing.

The taskforce will play an important role in overseeing the creation of an AI Framework that ensures the safe and successful use of AI within NSW Health.

The framework will aim to embrace the potential of AI to have a significant impact on healthcare and drive transformative change in how we provide and manage healthcare and in further accelerating many aspects of clinical research.

It will also balance the opportunities and benefits presented by AI with consideration and management of potential risks around safety, ethics, privacy, security, and regulation.

The creation of the taskforce will build on the work of the Department of Customer Service, translating the whole of government approach into the healthcare context, as well as aligning with Australian Governments interim response to the Safe and Responsible AI consultation.

NSW Minister for Health Ryan Park said:
“NSW Health is demonstrating its innovative approach by establishing a taskforce to drive this change safely and effectively for patients and clinicians.

“Establishing a framework for NSW Health around AI is an important step towards meeting the future needs of our patients, community and workforce.

“The framework will enable us to look for more innovative ways to complement and support the capabilities of our highly skilled workforce, while addressing the risks and challenges that come with the use of AI in health.”

New sustainable water technology to be on ‘tap’ at NSW hospitals

A new environmentally friendly and clinically safe replacement for cleaning chemicals has been introduced in kitchens at public hospitals as part of NSW Health’s ongoing commitment to improving sustainability within the health system.

A free-flowing supply of biodegradable electrolysed water will replace synthetic chemical-based cleaning and sanitising products in more than 160 public hospitals across NSW over the next three years, providing a more sustainable and efficient cleaning alternative.

Medical Director of NSW Health’s Climate and Risk Net Zero Unit, Dr Kate Charlesworth, said the technology is a meaningful change that will replace the need to rely on cleaning chemicals that can be harmful to the environment.

“This change demonstrates our commitment to NSW Health’s Future Health Framework, to deliver an environmentally sustainable footprint for future health care,” Dr Charlesworth said.

In an Australian first, NSW Health’s shared services provider Healthshare NSW has formed a partnership with eWater Systems to supply onsite generators in kitchens that produce sanitising and cleaning solutions using electrolysed water technology.

The onsite generation technology uses just salt, water and electricity to produce sustainable cleaning, sanitising and disinfecting solutions that are suitable for many purposes.

HealthShare NSW Chief Executive Carmen Rechbauer said the organisation has been working hard to find new and innovative ways to further reduce their environmental footprint, while adhering to the stringent cleaning activities that are necessary for staff and patient safety.

“By using eWater Systems’ technology, we can reduce the risk of adverse environmental impacts of using chemicals, take better care of hospital infrastructure and equipment, and create a more efficient service,” Ms Rechbauer said.

The disinfectant is the only one of its kind registered with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) as a hospital grade disinfectant and the sanitiser is HACCP certified as food safe. Both products are Organic Certified.

eWater Systems founder Phil Gregory said the partnership with Healthshare NSW is a giant step toward realising a future where toxic chemicals are replaced with safer, more sustainable alternatives.

“It is anticipated when fully implemented the new technology will result in the annual replacement of over 2 million litres of chemicals and a reduction of hundreds of thousands of single use plastic packs across NSW Health. The impact on our waterways and marine life and reduced landfill will be significant, now, and for generations to come.”

Contract awarded to transform the Cutaway at Barangaroo

Barangaroo has reached a major milestone with a contract awarded to FDC Construction and Fitout to deliver a bespoke fit-out of the Cutaway, with work expected to start shortly.

The fit-out is set to transform the Cutaway from concrete shell, exposed to the elements, into one of Sydney’s premier cultural facilities and an outstanding venue.

The Cutaway is positioned under Barangaroo Reserve and within steps of the new Barangaroo Metro Station set to open this year. It will be easy to travel to and from the Cutaway and enjoy its natural surrounds.

The final design by FJC Studio was selected due to its practical, iconic design and its relationship to traditional custodians and the surrounding environment.   

Key features of the new design, which spans 3 levels include:
  • new event and gallery spaces
  • enclosure of the open ceiling voids with soundproof, glass skylights
  • improved acoustics
  • improved entry and forecourt
  • on site-amenities
  • back of house facilities (including commercial kitchen).
To find out more visit the Barangaroo website

Minister for Lands and Property Steve Kamper said:
“The Cutaway offers a unique opportunity for a major cultural destination for Sydney due to its accessible location and large dynamic space to host cultural events, festivals and exhibitions.

“The new and improved venue will accommodate multiple spaces for events, exhibitions, festivals, and installations for use, and there is no other venue that looks like this anywhere in NSW.”

“This design enhances the character and identity of the space, while incorporating a strong response to Connecting with Country.

Minister for the Arts, Minister for Jobs and Tourism and Minister for Music and Night-time Economy John Graham said:

“The fit out at the Cutaway will maximise the potential of the space and create a globally attractive venue.

“The NSW Government is committed to providing new cultural infrastructure in the heart of Sydney that attracts more visitors to the city from far and wide, and at the same time stimulating the local economy.

“The fit out displays architectural design excellence while embedding sustainability initiatives that are consistent with Barangaroo’s climate positive principles.”  

Contractor bio:
FDC is an Australian owned leading building delivery partner with over 34 years of experience.

They pride themselves on delivering best-in-class construction, fit out, refurbishment and building services across a diverse range of sectors.

Artists Impression image: NSW Government

One of NZ’s most contentious climate cases is moving forward. And the world is watching

Vernon Rive, University of Auckland, Waipapa Taumata Rau

In recent weeks, the Supreme Court of New Zealand has delivered a landmark decision on a case brought by Māori elder Mike Smith against a group of New Zealand’s largest corporate greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters.

The Supreme Court overturned lower court rulings which had struck out Smith’s ambitious claim seeking to establish civil (tort) liability for those emitters’ contributions to climate change. Smith argued these contributions had a negative impact on his family’s and tribe’s land, water and cultural values.

With the Supreme Court decision, Smith has won the right to present his full case before the High Court.

While only the beginning of what could be a long legal process, the Supreme Court’s decision has attracted local and international attention as one that “may open a new avenue in climate law”.

The case against the corporate emitters

In 2019, Smith sued seven New Zealand-based corporate entities in his capacity as an elder of the Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Kahu iwi (tribes) and climate change spokesperson for a national forum of tribal leaders.

The defendants include New Zealand’s largest company Fonterra (responsible for around 30% of the world’s dairy exports), along with other corporate entities involved in industries either directly emitting GHGs or supplying fossil fuels such as oil, gas or coal.

Smith argued the activities and effects of the corporate defendants amount to three forms of “tort” or civil wrong: public nuisance, negligence, and a new form of civil wrong described as a “proposed climate system damage tort”.

The first two causes of action – public nuisance and negligence – have long lineages in the common law.

As touched on in the Supreme Court decision, public nuisance claims were used by claimants affected by various forms of pollution and other harm during the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century.

Many of the leading common law tort cases – especially on public nuisance – were decided well before the emergence of modern scientific understanding and consensus on climate change.

A major issue for the Supreme Court (and now the High Court, where this claim will proceed) was whether longstanding rules and principles of tort liability should be adjusted in light of the contemporary, existential challenges presented by climate change.

This might involve adapting established tort categories of public nuisance and negligence. It might also involve fashioning an entirely new “climate system damage” tort.

A key plank of the corporate emitters’ argument was that the courts “are ill-suited to deal with a systemic problem of this nature with all the complexity entailed”. They argued the courts should leave those inherently political issues to the politicians.

The Supreme Court rejected that argument. Unless parliament has, through statute, clearly displaced civil obligations – and the court found that it had not – a judicial pathway is “open for the common law to operate, develop and evolve”.

The challenges of establishing causation

Questions of causation and proximity have been stumbling blocks for litigants overseas attempting to bring similar tort claims to Smith’s.

Defendants typically argue it is impossible to show the global emission contributions of a small group of even relatively large entities can be evidentially linked to the climate-related harm experienced by plaintiffs. In this case, the seven corporate emitters are associated with around 30% of total New Zealand emissions.

However, New Zealand contributes less than 0.2% of global emissions. As the High Court judge put it, “the defendants’ contribution to […] global emissions is minute”. To accept Smith’s claim “would be to expose (them) to an undue burden of legal responsibility, way beyond their contribution to damaging global greenhouse gas emissions”.

The Supreme Court did not agree that the challenges of causation or proximity necessarily doom Smith’s case to failure. The court suggested that there may be scope for adjusting the causation rules to better reflect the nature of modern environmental issues like climate change.

Smith’s position (in part) is that instead of requiring litigants to prove that damage to their land and resources is directly attributable to the activities of one or more corporate emitters, the legal test should be adjusted to establish civil liability if defendants have materially contributed to the global problem.

But the Court didn’t think these difficult questions could be resolved without a full trial.

What role for tikanga and where now?

An important dimension of the case which distinguishes it from similar proceedings overseas is the relevance of a body of indigenous custom, law and practice known as “tikanga Māori”.

Recent Supreme Court decisions have accepted and applied tikanga as the “first law of New Zealand” including in relation to environmental protection.

The Court followed that approach in this case, accepting that crucial aspects of Smith’s case rely on tikanga principles.

Smith is not just suing on his own behalf, “but as a kaitiaki (carer) acting on behalf of the whenua (land), wai (freshwater) and moana (sea) – distinct entities in their own right”. The court pronounced that “addressing and assessing matters of tikanga simply cannot be avoided”.

With Smith’s claim having been reinstated, the parties now return to the High Court. Unless there is legislative intervention, the normal pretrial steps of discovery, evidence exchange and preparation will proceed. It promises to be one of New Zealand’s hardest fought and most closely watched private law climate cases.The Conversation

Vernon Rive, Associate professor, University of Auckland, Waipapa Taumata Rau

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cute grandpa or authoritarian in waiting: who is Prabowo Subianto, the favourite to win Indonesia’s presidential election?

Tim Lindsey, The University of Melbourne

Ambitious and mercurial, with a dark past, former army general Prabowo Subianto has spent a lifetime vying for the ultimate prize in Indonesian politics. Now, with a large lead in the latest polls ahead of this week’s election, it looks as though the presidency is finally within his grasp.

So, who is Prabowo and how will he change Indonesia if he wins?

A rapid rise through the military ranks – and fall

Prabowo Subianto Djojohadikusumo is a true Indonesian blueblood. His family claims to be descended from national hero Diponegoro, a prince of the Mataram sultanate who led the Java War rebellion against Dutch colonial forces in the 19th century.

Prabowo’s grandfather was the founder of Indonesia’s first state bank and a prominent member of Indonesia’s independence movement. His father was a leading economist who served as minister of finance, minister of trade and minister for research in the government. His brother is a wealthy tycoon.

Prabowo (standing right) with his siblings and grandparents. Wikimedia Commons

Prabowo, too, has long sought national prominence. An ambitious military officer serving mostly in the Special Forces (Kopassus), his marriage to a daughter of the authoritarian former president, Soeharto, fast-tracked his career. Prabowo rose to the rank of lieutenant general and, finally, the key position of commander of the powerful Army Strategic Reserve (Kostrad) in the capital, Jakarta.

As Soeharto’s regime began to falter amid the financial crisis of 1997, Prabowo become involved in covert operations to defend Soeharto’s army-backed and repressive New Order regime against its critics.

Under his leadership, the Special Forces’ “Rose Brigade” was accused of abducting and torturing more than 20 student protesters, 13 of whom are still missing, presumed dead. Prabowo has admitted to the abductions, but denies being involved in any killings.

Prabowo never faced trial, although several of his men were tried and convicted. The allegations against him meant he was, for years, denied a visa to enter the US.

Prabowo also denies a wide range of earlier accusations relating to human rights abuses committed by Special Forces under his command in East Timor and Papua, including alleged torture and killings.

He also denies accusations he was involved in engineering the violent rioting in the capital in 1998 that contributed to the collapse of his father-in-law’s regime, likely the result of an internal military struggle to become Soeharto’s successor. It seems Prabowo hoped to climb high amid the chaos at the time.

After Soeharto resigned in May 1998, his newly installed successor, B.J. Habibie, refused Prabowo’s request to be made head of the army, instead effectively demoting him. Prabowo is said to have responded by arming himself with a pistol and driving to the palace with truckloads of soldiers, but was stopped outside the president’s office.

Soon after, Prabowo was cashiered for “misinterpreting orders”, although the precise details of his dismissal still remain mysterious. He went into voluntary exile in Jordan for some years and it seemed his career was over.

Three unsuccessful bids for higher office

But Prabowo remained an ambitious man. By 2009, he was a wealthy business figure and had co-founded his own political party, Gerindra. He had also rehabilitated himself enough to make a formal bid for power, running for vice president in the 2009 elections on a ticket with former president Megawati Soekarnoputri. They lost in a landslide.

In 2014, Prabowo tried again. This time he ran as a presidential candidate against Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. Prabowo campaigned as a nationalist “strongman”, riding his horse around stadiums of cheering uniformed supporters and promising a return to the authoritarian model of the New Order. He lost both the election and a challenge to the results in the Constitutional Court.

In 2019, he tried once again against Jokowi, this time turning to conservative Islamists to support him. He was a strange choice as their figurehead, given he had a Christian mother and brother and, although a Muslim himself, had previously shown little public piety. In his 2014 campaign, he had even promised to protect religious minorities against Islamists.

Prabowo’s use of identity politics proved deeply polarising, strengthening the hand of hardline Islamist groups in Indonesia and deepening tensions between religious communities for years to come.

But Prabowo lost this election, too. He accused Jokowi of cheating, sparking rioting in Jakarta in which eight people died. He again contested the results in a highly publicised Constitutional Court challenge, which he also lost.

Prabowo then made the extraordinary decision to reinvent himself again. Dumping his supporters, he took the position of defence minister in the cabinet of his rival, Jokowi. The two former foes were photographed shaking hands and sharing jokes to seal their extraordinary deal.

For the next four years, Prabowo dutifully performed the role of loyal minister – even when Jokowi’s government moved against some of the Islamist organisations that had backed him in his last bid for the top job.

Controversial political moves

Now 72, Prabowo’s ambitions are undiminished, but his tactics have, once again, changed dramatically.

In his current run for president, Prabowo has selected Jokowi’s son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, as his vice-presidential running mate. And Jokowi himself now backs him. (Although Jokowi has never explicitly endorsed Prabowo, Gibran’s candidacy makes Jokowi’s preferences crystal clear.)

Jokowi’s decision to join forces with Prabowo and his Gerindra party was driven by the fact he was prevented from running himself by the two-term presidential limit in the constitution. He therefore needed to find another way to maintain influence. Having his son as vice president would certainly suffice.

Jokowi is hugely popular, with approval rates still well over 70%. This means his decision to back Prabowo may – at last – deliver the presidency to the former general.

But building a new alliance with Prabowo has proved to be a seismic event in Indonesian politics, for two reasons.

First, according to the country’s election law, candidates for president and vice president must be at least 40 years old. The 36-year-old Gibran didn’t qualify.

Helpfully, the chief justice of the Constitutional Court was Gibran’s uncle and had been appointed by Jokowi. The court duly delivered a ruling that younger candidates could run if they had held elected office as a regional head. Gibran just happens to be mayor of the city of Solo (a position his father once held), so he was now eligible.

Uproar ensued, and the chief justice was demoted for his obvious conflict of interest. But, incredibly, the decision stood, and Gibran is running.

Second, Jokowi is a member of the PDI-P party, which had twice nominated him for president. The party has its own candidate running for president, Ganjar Pranowo.

So, by backing Prabowo, Jokowi has effectively turned his back on his own party and may help defeat its candidate for the presidency.

His actions also pose a major threat to PDI-P’s prospects in the legislative elections (held at the same time as the presidential vote). To the PDI-P leader, former president Megawati, and many of her supporters, Jokowi is now a traitor and enemy who may inflict huge damage on their political prospects.

Why this election matters

Prabowo’s big lead in the polls is partly thanks to Jokowi’s support and the many government officials now openly backing him. However, Prabowo has undergone (yet another) spectacular reinvention in recent months that has helped as well.

His campaign team has heavily promoted him as a baby-faced gemoy (cute) grandpa, using viral memes, video clips and even huge screens with anime avatars of Prabowo and Gibran smiling and winking at passers-by.

But Prabowo is not cute. In fact, he has repeatedly said Indonesia’s democratic system is not working and the country should return to its original 1945 constitution. This would mean unravelling most of the reforms introduced since Soeharto fell, which are largely based on constitutional amendments.

Among other things, Indonesia’s charter of human rights would go, as would the Constitutional Court. The courts would no longer be independent, direct presidential elections would end, the two-term presidential limit would go and the president could again control the legislature.

Of course, these changes might not be easily done, but it is a chilling prospect if Prabowo wins. And that may happen because much of the electorate doesn’t seem to care all that much about the consequences of picking him.

The average age of Indonesia’s 205 million eligible voters voters is just 30, and more than half are millennials or Gen Z. This means many have no memory of Soeharto’s oppressive and abusive New Order that Prabowo seems to want to revive.

Young voters also seem untroubled by Prabowo’s dark past and the credible allegations of violence and human rights abuses made against him. Instead, they seem captivated by the cute Prabowo and cool Gibran imagery saturating social media, backed by the charisma of Indonesia’s most popular public figure, Jokowi.

If Prabowo does become president, as many now expect, Indonesia’s fragile democratic system may be the next thing he reinvents – or, more likely, dismantles.The Conversation

Tim Lindsey, Malcolm Smith Professor of Asian Law and Director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

If we want more Australian students to learn to read, we need regular testing in the early primary years

Anika Stobart, Grattan Institute

When you send your child to school, you expect they will learn how to read. But according to 2023 NAPLAN results, about one-third of Australian school students can’t read at their grade level.

For Indigenous students, students from disadvantaged families, and students in regional and rural areas, it’s more than half.

This is deeply troubling. When children do not learn to read fluently and efficiently in early primary school, it can undermine their future learning across all subject areas, harm their self-esteem, and limit their life chances.

Our new Grattan Institute report, The Reading Guarantee, outlines a strategy to ensure at least 90% of Australian school students are proficient readers.

This includes measures such as more support for lower-performing schools, coaching and building teachers’ expertise. On top of these, a key part of the strategy is that all schools regularly assess students’ reading progress and provide additional catch-up support – either in small groups or one-on-one – to those who are falling behind.

Struggling students need early support

As previous Grattan Institute research shows, struggling students need early support so they do not fall even further behind.

Developing foundational reading skills, like decoding (the ability to sound out unfamiliar words on a page), are vital for students’ later reading success. A 2014 study of more than 400,000 students in Years 1, 2, and 3 found if a students’ decoding and vocabulary skills developed normally, fewer than 1% of students had problems with reading comprehension later on.

A focus on these early reading sub-skills is also more likely to instil a love of reading in students.

If students don’t master reading in early primary school, they may struggle with the reading demands of subjects such as biology and history in high school.

Tests can help

The earlier we assess students’ reading skills, the better, so struggling students can be supported to catch-up. For example, a 2017 US study of nearly 200 students found Year 1 and Year 2 students receiving additional help to catch up on their word reading progressed twice as fast as students who didn’t receive this help until Year 3.

The choice of assessment matters too – they need to be quick to administer and give teachers useful information. They should tell teachers what specific areas of reading students are struggling in, so support can be well targeted.

One example of this is The University of Oregon-developed DIBELS (the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills). This has six short assessments of about one minute each of different reading sub-skills, such as “phonemic awareness” (identifying speech sounds in spoken language) and “reading fluency” (how quickly and accurately a child reads with the right expression). It also has benchmarks for the beginning, middle and end of the year.

Most Australian state and territory education departments mandate some specific early reading assessment tools and make recommendations about other assessments to use. But our report argues they are not necessarily recommending effective tests and they do not always provide the information teachers need to monitor reading progress.

We need a national Year 1 Phonics Screening check

There should be a nationally consistent Year 1 Phonics Screening Check to provide governments with a useful “health check” on early reading performance across states. The test was developed in the United Kingdom where it has been mandated for government schools since 2012.

It is also currently mandated in Tasmania, New South Wales and South Australia.

Phonics is not the only important reading skill students should master in early primary school. But having a test focusing on phonics acknowledges how the ability to accurately decode words is a good predictor of students’ future reading achievement.

This test assesses students’ decoding skills across 40 real and made-up words (such as “lig”) of increasing complexity. It takes about seven minutes to complete per student. By assessing 40 words, it can identify the letter-sound combinations a student is struggling with.

Parents would then get a report on their child’s results and aggregate results would also be published at the state and sector levels.

We should also be assessing students at other times

The Year 1 Phonics Screening Check will tell governments how students are tracking on phonics. But schools should also be regularly tracking students’ progress on reading.

Governments should require all schools to assess students’ reading skills (using robust assessments such as DIBELS) at least twice a year from the first year of school to Year 2 and on entry into high school. This would identify students who may not have learnt necessary reading skills in primary school.

Governments should also provide clearer guidelines about which assessment tools are effective. And they should provide guidance on when assessments should be done and advice on what to do with the results.

The alternative is we keep going with a “wait-to-fail” approach, which lets too many students fall through the cracks.The Conversation

Anika Stobart, Senior Associate, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia is in desperate need of a Whistleblower Protection Authority. Here’s what it should look like

A J Brown, Griffith University and Jane Olsen, Griffith University

Making it safer for insiders to speak up about wrongdoing is crucial for public integrity in Australia. Ask anyone, from the public servants who tried to speak up against Robodebt, to Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, again at the front end of whistleblower protection reforms.

But what it will take to make reform a reality has long been the issue. This is particularly salient as the federal government consults on how to better protect whistleblowers in the public sector, including contractors. In addition, reviews are underway or looming for other whistleblower protections in the Corporations Act, Taxation Administration Act, and the aged care sector, to name a few.

Naturally, the key to improved protections is making them work. This is why many years of research support the need for a dedicated Whistleblower Protection Authority to fully enforce our “speak up” laws, irrespective of what improved protections they contain.

Together with Transparency International Australia and the Human Rights Law Centre, we have released draft design principles for a Whistleblower Protection Authority, informed by our research and the experience of many who have blown the whistle.

Here are our five key recommendations for this crucial reform.

1. The agency must actually protect whistleblowers

The first priority is to fill the gaps in what institutions currently do to implement whistleblower protections, given these types of laws have already been around for years.

Several federal bodies have the task of fighting wrongdoing and ensuring integrity, including the new National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).

Yet, drawing on international research, we found when it comes to the crunch, out of 15 key official functions required to make whistleblowing laws work, only four of those were currently fully provided for. This leaves substantial or total gaps for the remaining 11.

Of these weak or missing roles, the most important are powers to independently investigate claims of detriment or vengeful harm to whistleblowers, and to ensure remedies are found. This massive and obvious gap lies at the heart of the need for institutional reform.

2. Capture the financial benefits of whistleblowing

What does effective protection look like? Our research found that even in deserving cases, more than half (56%) of public-interest whistleblowers are suffering serious direct or indirect repercussions. In turn, only about half (49%) of these are receiving any remedies to address the impacts – with less than 6% receiving any compensation.

This is despite the huge benefits whistleblowers bring to government and taxpayers by uncovering wrongdoing, including financial benefits through penalties imposed, court settlements or money saved.

A whistleblowing agency needs full resources to support whistleblowers in compensation claims, provide legal assistance, and mediate with agencies to secure remedies.

A Whistleblower Protection Authority could also administer a reward scheme where a proportion of the penalties, savings or income gained by the Commonwealth from whistleblower disclosures is channelled back into compensation.

Whistleblower reward schemes in other countries have had great success, which is especially relevant for protections that also apply across the private sector. This was highlighted last week by former Australian Competition and Consumer Chair Allan Fels.

3. Protect whistleblowers across all sectors

Whistleblowers don’t just exist in the public sector. And even when it comes to revealing public sector wrongdoing, many whistleblowers are located in private companies that deliver government contracts. They can also be consultants, or witness wrongdoing involving other companies, even if not their own, and can still face detriment.

This is why a major 2017 parliamentary inquiry recommended consistent whistleblower protections across the sectors under federal laws, including a “one stop shop Whistleblower Protection Authority”.

International standards support a consistent, seamless approach, so whistleblowers do not fall through the cracks or face extra costs and barriers due to differences in rules and enforcement. Our research shows great similarities in how reports of wrongdoing are handled between the sectors.

With most federal whistleblowing laws up for review, it’s the perfect time to move to a simpler approach, with an authority able to ensure public interest whistleblowers are protected irrespective of where they come from.

4. Ensure agencies respond properly to whistleblowers

We can only be sure that whistleblowers are being protected – and their disclosures dealt with – if they are on the radar of their own organisation, with an independent agency there to make sure that’s the case.

Our best guess is that perhaps only 10% of actual Commonwealth whistleblowers are being identified as such under the current public interest disclosure regime. Upwards of 1,200 public officials who need support and protection every year are not even on the radar.

Under-reporting is a problem everywhere. But every year, NSW government agencies identify four times as many whistleblowing disclosures as the federal government (on a pro rata basis), while the Queensland government reports seven times as many. This confirms the federal regime is broken.

Robodebt is a good example. Several staff raised concerns about the unlawful and unfair nature of the scheme, as aired in the royal commission. They have rightly been praised as “whistleblowers” by the Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten, but none seems to have triggered the necessary responses and legal protections.

A Whistleblower Protection Authority will close these gaps by checking how well agencies are recognising disclosures and being an independent doorway where whistleblowers can go confidentially for guidance and support.

5. An independent, standalone body

A Whistleblower Protection Authority could be located in various places in our system. For example, independent MPs Cathy McGowan and Helen Haines have previously put forward legislation that included a new whistleblower protection commissioner as part of the NACC.

The crucial thing is for whistleblower protection to be recognised as a standalone job. It must have an independent statutory commissioner supported by adequate resources and staff, who cannot be diverted onto other jobs.

The authority will still need to work in close partnership with other agencies, especially those that already investigate whistleblowing disclosures.

However, independence is crucial, so the authority can act impartially to conciliate disputes between whistleblowers and organisations, investigate when whistleblowers allege detriment for raising their concerns, and act as a powerful circuit breaker against reprisals.

For example, we recommend any federal agency who proposes taking legal action against a whistleblower – such as in the ongoing prosecutions of Richard Boyle by the Australian Taxation Office, or David McBride by Defence – must first prove to the authority that the action is justified.

It’s time to get the design of this crucial body right. It’s not enough for workers and officials, who serve us every day by raising their concerns, just to have protections on paper. We need an authority that will finally ensure these protections work fully, in practice.The Conversation

A J Brown, Professor of Public Policy & Law, Centre for Governance & Public Policy, Griffith University and Jane Olsen, Research Fellow & PhD Candidate, Centre for Governance & Public Policy, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Vaccination, testing, clean air: COVID hasn’t gone away – here’s where Australia needs to do better

Stephane Bouchoucha, Deakin University; Matt Mason, University of the Sunshine Coast; Peta-Anne Zimmerman, Griffith University, and Sally Havers, The University of Queensland

In May 2023 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID was no longer a public health emergency of international concern. For many, this signalled the pandemic was over.

But the virus continues to infect millions of people globally and the WHO recognises COVID as an ongoing pandemic.

In Australia, more than 50,000 infections have been reported so far in 2024. And this is likely to be a significant underestimate, as we are testing much less than we used to. As of February 1 there were 287 outbreaks in residential aged care homes, and people are still dying from the virus.

Although we’ve come a long way since earlier in the pandemic, as we enter its fifth year, COVID continues to have negative effects on individuals, health services and society at large.

To reduce the impact on health services and the community, the Australasian College for Infection Prevention and Control, of which we are on the board of directors, is calling for ongoing infection prevention and control strategies in Australia. These include supporting people to access vaccination and testing, and cleaner air in shared indoor spaces.


COVID vaccination reduces severe illness and can in turn reduce pressure on the health system. But, to reap the greatest benefits, a high proportion of the population must be vaccinated and receive regular booster doses.

Boosters are important as we know immunity wanes over time, both after infection and vaccination. Also, because COVID continues to evolve, vaccines are updated to keep up with circulating strains.

Current advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) indicates adults over 75 should receive a routine booster, and adults 65 to 74 should consider doing so. Younger people are only eligible if they have an increased risk of severe COVID, for example due to a particular medical condition.

There’s also no recommendation that people at greater occupational risk of catching COVID, such as health-care workers, childcare workers or emergency and essential services workers receive another vaccination at this stage.

Yet broadening eligibility could help in several ways. For example, having a high proportion of the population unvaccinated or undervaccinated may increase opportunities for the virus to mutate and for new variants to develop.

Also, although older people are generally at greatest risk from a COVID infection, COVID in younger age groups can still in some cases cause severe and potentially long-term illness (and we know vaccination reduces the risk of long COVID).

We believe the current advice provided by the Australian government is out of date. There needs to be a review of ATAGI advice to allow booster access for more people, as is offered in other countries, such as the United States.

A male health-care worker draws up a vaccine.
Younger people are no longer routinely offered COVID boosters in Australia. Supamotionstock.com/Shutterstock

Even among those who are eligible, uptake is poor. Recent figures show only 16.6% of people aged between 65 and 74 have received a booster dose in the past six months.

As such, in tandem with updated guidelines, there should be focused promotion of COVID boosters to all vulnerable people, as well as nation-wide promotion of free access to vaccinations for the wider population.

The Australian government has recognised the need for a strong vaccination program as a means to minimise levels of severe COVID and death. So securing and delivering an ongoing supply of up-to-date vaccinations is paramount.


While testing is encouraged if you have COVID symptoms, there’s no requirement or incentive to test or report positive results. This poses two problems: under-reporting of COVID cases, and people not knowing they have COVID (and therefore not knowing they might transmit it).

In New South Wales for example, laboratory confirmed cases are trending downwards while wastewater testing suggests COVID prevalence remains high.

Reinstating easy access to rapid antigen and PCR testing would enable people to better manage their illness, and provide a clearer picture for health authorities.


COVID is airborne and evidence shows clean air is key to minimising its spread.

In September 2023 the Australasian Health Infrastructure Alliance released guidance on pandemic preparedness. This document calls for the design of any new health-care building to take minimising the risk of infection transmission into account.

There are examples where investment in building design to minimise infectious disease transmission has had positive results. But guidance documents lack the legal clout needed to drive true change, and these examples are the exception. COVID still spreads in our hospitals and aged care facilities.

Two hospital staff pushing a bed through a hospital corridor.
New health-care facilities should be built with ventilation in mind. Spotmatik Ltd/Shutterstock

Infection prevention and control specialists should play a key role in designing health-care facilities and residential aged care homes. Strategies to optimise ventilation in buildings must involve early consultation with qualified ventilation specialists who can address requirements such as the air exchange rate relative to the size of the building and number of expected occupants.

Mandating this would ensure we build facilities which minimise the transmission of most respiratory infections – not just COVID.

Other things

Support for communities to engage in key prevention strategies such as promoting the use of surgical masks or preferably P2/N95 respirators and staying home when unwell is important. Employers have a responsibility to enable access to paid sick leave, especially for those working with vulnerable communities and in health care.

Hand hygiene, although a foundation of infection prevention and control, appears to have less of a role in controlling COVID transmission. So we need to spend less time thinking washing our hands will protect us from COVID, and more time on what the evidence actually shows will help us ride this stage of the pandemic.

We also need new research initiatives such as large-scale clinical trials to prevent and treat long COVID, and more funding for the development of new vaccines and antiviral drugs as new variants arise.The Conversation

Stephane Bouchoucha, Associate Professor in Nursing and Associate Head of School (International), Deakin University; Matt Mason, Lecturer and Academic Lead for Work Integrated Learning, University of the Sunshine Coast; Peta-Anne Zimmerman, Senior Lecturer/Program Advisor, Griffith Graduate Infection Prevention and Control Program, Griffith University, and Sally Havers, Conjoint Nurse Researcher, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

HILDA survey at a glance: 7 charts reveal we’re smoking less, taking more drugs and still binge drinking

Roger Wilkins, The University of Melbourne

Australians’ vices, including drinking, smoking and illicit drugs, have been revealed in the latest HILDA survey.

The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey tracks the same 17,000 Australians each year, with participants followed over the course of their lifetime. The survey collects information on many facets of life and is the only study of its kind in Australia.

Smoking is declining, but young people are more likely to vape

There has been substantial progress in reducing smoking rates since 2001, when 25% of males and 20% of females aged 15 and over reported being smokers. In 2021, these rates had dropped to 16% for males and 12% for females. This likely reflects the effects of tobacco control measures, as well as increased public awareness of the harmful health effects of smoking.

Declines have been biggest for young people, which reflects the fact that it is easier to prevent the take-up of smoking than it is to get smokers to quit. Indeed, HILDA shows that over 60% of people who quit smoking take it up again within three years.

The progress on reducing smoking appears to have been somewhat offset by the rise in vaping or using e-cigarettes. In 2021, 14.1% of people aged 15 and over reported having tried vaping, and 16% of these people vaped daily.

Vaping is very much a young person’s activity. It is most common among people aged 15 to 24, and also relatively common among people aged 25 to 29. Many people who report vaping also report being smokers.

Binge drinking remains common, especially for young men

Risky drinking, here defined as usually consuming five or more standard drinks on each occasion, is relatively common, applying to over 20% of males and about 10% of females who ever drink alcohol.

After rising slightly between 2003 and 2009, there has since been a small decline in this measure of risky drinking for males. There has been little change in this measure for females.

Another measure of risky drinking, presented in the figure, is “excessive binge drinking”, defined as drinking at least five (if female) or seven (if male) drinks per occasion at least twice per month. This measure of risky drinking is more prevalent, but it has declined for both males and females since 2007.

Risky drinking is most common among men aged 20 to 24, followed by men aged 25 to 29. However, for both males and females, regular (but not necessarily “risky”) consumption of alcohol (drinking on five or more days per week) is more common in older age groups, and highest among people aged 60 and over.

30 to 34 year-olds had the largest increase in using drugs

The HILDA survey shows use of illicit drugs, such as marijuana, methamphetamine and cocaine, increased between 2017 and 2021, with annual use increasing from 15.7% to 17.6% for males and from 8.6% to 11% for females.

People aged 20 to 24 are the most likely to use illicit drugs, but the increase in use was greatest for people aged 30 to 34.

The use of multiple types of illicit drugs, known as polydrug use, is common for users of methamphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy, but much less common for users of marijuana.

The Conversation

Roger Wilkins, Professorial Fellow and Deputy Director (Research), HILDA Survey, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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