Monthly Archives: December 2021

Australian Politics 2021-12-31 09:33:00


ANOTHER white "Aborigine"

There is NOTHING about her appearance that is Aboriginal. But she apparently has some remote Aboriginal ancestry. So what? Two of my remote ancestors were convicts. Does that make me a criminal? Remote ancestry is irrelevant

He actual ancestry is obviously from the British Isles overwhelmingly. She would have a much stronger and more realistic claim by saying she is British

image from

An Indigenous influencer has hit back at internet trolls accusing her of pretending to be Aboriginal because of her light skin and blue eyes - saying 'it doesn't matter how much milk you put in coffee, it's always going to be coffee'.

Kate Maree Cooper, a 22-year-old TikTok star from central New South Wales, posted a scathing reply to people questioning her heritage on social media on Thursday morning.

She responded to a comment after a user accused her of 'thinking she's Indigenous... but just isn't', saying it was unjustified and hurtful.

'It's not ok, I identify as an Aboriginal woman,' she said.

Kate, who has amassed nearly 370,000 followers on TikTok, said she's a proud member of the Wirdajuri mob, Indigenous Australians from central NSW.

She regularly posts content referring to her Aboriginal roots, and says her appearance shouldn't take away from her traditions.

'Just because I have fairer skin, blue eyes and dye my hair blonde, doesn't take away that I'm Aboriginal,' she said.


Greenie hate on display

Old Parliament House has suffered 'incalculable damage' after a fire ripped through the entrance to the historic landmark, with Scott Morrison branding the destruction 'disgusting' and 'appalling'.

Within hours of the building going up in flames on Thursday, Greens senator Lidia Thorpe posted a tweet - which was hastily deleted - remarking 'the colonial system is burning down'.

image from

She was quickly slammed for the post, in which she appeared to celebrate the destruction and told followers 'Happy New Year everyone'.

The entrance to the building was engulfed in flames after a smoking ceremony demanding Aboriginal Sovereignty in Canberra grew out of control - with some claiming it was spread intentionally.

Emergency crews arrived to douse the flames, but not before the fire had caused extensive damage to its heritage doors, the portico and the building's exterior.

Demonstrators were heard shouting 'let it burn', amid a tense stand-off with police who used pepper spray to disperse the crowd.

The smoking ceremony, which was approved by authorities as part of a protest, was to blame for the blaze while police begin to investigate how the chaos escalated.


ANZ bank’s climate policies stand up to scrutiny after activist attack

A bid by Friends of the Earth and three bushfire victims to have ANZ censured over its climate change disclosures and actions has failed, with a determination handed down that the bank’s actions are consistent with international guidelines.

In early 2020, Friends of the Earth and Jack Egan, Joanna Dodds and Patrick Simons lodged a complaint with the Australian National Contact Point (ANCP) – a government office responsible for promoting adherence to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

The complaint alleged “aspects of ANZ’s disclosures, target-setting and scenario analysis’’ breached the OECD’s guidelines, and that it had failed to be fully transparent about its “indirect emissions”, or those it contributes to by financing the fossil fuel industry.

Following a failed mediation on the issue, an examiner looked at the bank’s disclosure practices, and had found that while there is ambiguity in the guidelines, ANZ had been “undertaking actions and conduct consistent with (them)’’.

At the time the complaint was lodged, Mr Egan, who on New year’s Eve 2019 lost his home at North Rosedale, south of Bateman’s Bay in NSW to a bushfire, said holding large corporations to account on climate change was deeply personal.

“I saw our front deck catch on fire … the flames of the deck were licking into the window spaces and around the doors,” he said.

While he acknowledged Australia had always had droughts and bushfires, he said he was convinced global warming played a role in the severity of the drought and the fierceness of the blazes.

“Many scientists are saying this is well-predicted and it’s a consequence of the global heating,” he said.

The complaint was based on a similar one brought by Friends of the Earth Netherlands against ING Bank, which it said resulted in the bank committing to stronger climate action.

Friends of the Earth said at the time ANZ “remains the biggest financier of fossil fuels among the big four Australian banks, and it has neglected a number of opportunities to improve its direct and indirect environmental impact’’.

“ANZ’s lack of full disclosure about its climate change impacts prevents consumers from making informed decisions about whether or not to engage with the bank,’’ the complaint said.

The determination from the ANCP said the guidelines themselves did not mention climate change, and greenhouse gas emissions featured in only two paragraphs, which said organisations should seek to improve the environmental performance of themselves and their supply chain, and also “encourage” broad disclosure practices in areas where reporting standards are still evolving.

“There is limited explicit direction about climate change in the guidelines,’’ the determination says.

“There is, however, potential relevance from the guidelines’ statement that an enterprise’s environmental management system should include ‘where appropriate, targets … consistent with relevant national policies and international environmental commitments’.’’

It was recognised in the determination that climate change reporting was evolving in Australia, with the ASX, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission addressing the corporate management of climate risk.


Suspected fraud cases prompt calls for research integrity watchdog

Australia’s top scientists have called for a research integrity watchdog to oversee investigations into allegations of research misconduct at publicly funded institutions, declaring the age of self-regulation is over.

The Australian Academy of Science is in discussions with the government over its proposal for a national oversight body to work with any institution that has used public funds to conduct research, including universities, think tanks and the private sector, following a spate of academic research scandals.

It would have statutory authority to handle allegations of serious research misconduct such as fabrication, falsification and plagiarism, leaving issues that fell below that threshold to the governing institutions, and hear appeals if the institutions were deemed not to have dealt with matters fairly or in a timely manner.

The academy’s secretary of science policy, Ian Chubb, a former chief scientist and vice-chancellor of the Australian National University, said he was not suggesting universities were in the business of concealing research misconduct, but the rising number of Inspectors-General and Ombudsmen reflected a general distrust for self-regulation and growing support for independent oversight.

“The era of self-regulation is further in the past than you might like to believe,” Professor Chubb said. “We’re proposing that there be an Australian system for investigating research misconduct that has some real substance to it.”

The academy has engaged Universities Australia, which represents Australia’s 39 universities and has given in principle support to the proposal.

“Universities Australia is actively interested in how the quality and integrity of Australian research can be secured and improved,” chief executive Catriona Jackson said.

Australia and New Zealand are unusual among Western nations for not having an office of research integrity, a version of which exists in the UK, Japan, China, Canada, the United States and 23 European countries.

The proposal for a national oversight body follows a string of allegations regarding image manipulation in scientific papers that have embroiled UNSW, the University of Sydney and Macquarie University and the referral of one of Australia’s top cancer scientists to Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission.

But scientists have been trying to promote an office of research integrity for years. In late 2017, it was discussed at a meeting that involved representatives from the Australia Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Chief Scientist and the office of Health Minister Greg Hunt. People with close knowledge of the meeting said although major research bodies supported the proposal, it was actively opposed by Universities Australia and later shelved.

Professor Chubb said the current model was developed after fellows of the academy raised the issue in May last year. Cases would have to be triaged so the office would only handle the most serious matters, and it was expected to cost around $5 million, though it was uncertain how many cases would emerge.

Among those who raised their concerns was University of Melbourne scientist Peter Brooks, who was commissioned by UNSW in 2013 to investigate a complaint of research misconduct against a senior researcher.

“The terms of reference were incredibly tight, so we couldn’t deviate from those,” Professor Brooks said.

Professor Brooks concluded the professor had committed misdemeanours that fell short of research misconduct, but unearthed other issues during his investigation that the university chose to refer to separate committees, none of which were allowed to make findings about a pattern of behaviour.

“It was a very, very disappointing and unfortunate situation,” Professor Brooks said.

Each of the five committees cleared the professor of research misconduct, finding the breaches were the result of genuine error or honest oversight. UNSW said in a statement the findings were later considered together by a further external independent panel and still found not to constitute research misconduct.

Professor Brooks, who has conducted several investigations into academic misconduct, said the tertiary education system was so reliant on overseas students and research funding that universities could ill afford to lose senior researchers.

At the same time, there were financial and career incentives to researchers who publish prolifically or publish in journals that are classified as high impact. This created conditions for academics to perform sloppy or even fraudulent research. Other scientists then read the papers and spend years trying to reproduce the experiments or develop them further.

“The opportunity costs are enormous because that costs money that could have been used for legitimate research,” Professor Brooks said. “And often they’ve been funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, so it’s a really serious issue




Australian Politics 2021-12-30 06:41:00


Queensland Covid cases surge to 1,589 with 80 per cent of them Omicron but NONE in ICU - as rapid antigen tests are allowed for visitors

Queensland has recorded 1,589 new cases of Covid but only eight patients are in hospital and none in the ICU.

Another 93 people in hospital who tested positive to the virus are hospitalised, but they being treated for unrelated health conditions.

Chief health officer John Gerrard said 80 per cent of the 6,368 active cases in the state were the Omicron variant, and it appeared to be more dominant in Queensland than other states.

'Case numbers are going to rise very rapidly in the next few weeks,' he said.

'It has a downside in that it's much more contagious than Delta but on the good side it does appear to be a milder disease, particularly for those who are vaccinated.'

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was notably absent from Wednesday's Covid update press conference as Police Minister Mark Ryan fronted the media alongside Dr Gerrard and Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll.

She announced earlier that the state would drop its requirement of a PCR test for entry from January 1, in the face of pressure from other states.

Mr Ryan said that from today, those who wished to come into Queensland within the next 72 hours would therefore be able to use a rapid antigen test as a valid test to enter the state.

The move will immediately relieve pressure on testing queues in NSW and Victoria.

No test will be required after Queensland reaches 90 per cent of its 16 years and over population with two doses of a Covid vaccine. The state currently sits at 86.14 per cent of people doubled dosed.


Australian company that can make MILLIONS of rapid antigen tests a year is tied up in red tape while the country cries out for an alternative to hours-long PCR queues

An Australian company that can produce millions of Covid-19 rapid antigen tests can do nothing to help the country's testing crisis due to red tape.

Brisbane biotechnology company AnteoTech3 has developed its own 15-minute test that is already regularly used in the US and Europe.

But the Therapeutic Goods Administration is yet to give the company the green light to sell its kits in Australia.

With thousands of Australians queueing up all day to get a PCR test, only to then wait up to another five days for results, chief executive Derek Thomson said the red tape was adding to the delays.

'We've always said that rapid testing has a place to be used to control the pandemic and now we're seeing that play out,' he told the Courier Mail.

The nasal swabs tests are more than 97 per cent accurate, Mr Thomson said, and are done by a health professional and not at home.

'We believe governments should use rapid tests instead of PCR tests for screening of people who are wanting to travel as they do in Europe,' he added.

'There's too much stress on the PCR testing system in all Australian states and it's really not necessary to go to the full extent of doing a PCR test when you've got rapid tests readily available now.'

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk backflipped on her demand for PCR tests from interstate travellers on Wednesday morning.

Those entering the Sunshine State from hotspots can from January 1 provide a negative rapid antigen test instead of having to queue all day for a PCR result.

But rapid tests are hard to come by with the kits flying off pharmacy shelves.

Pharmacy Guild Australia President Professor Trent Twomey said there would be 'scattered supply shortages' of RATs until January 15, before stores would then be 'awash' with testing kits.

Queensland Health Minister Yvette D'Ath said she was 'sure' the federal government was speaking to the TGA about approving different rapid tests.

'We absolutely want to see Queensland businesses be able to produce and provide them in Queensland but it has to be approved - it has to meet our standards and that is up to the TGA whether it does that or not,' she said.


Is solar energy really green?

As the world continues to push towards net zero emissions, more large-scale solar farms will be built in Australia.

But why are they being built on productive agricultural land and are how credible are claims about toxic contamination?

The Clean Energy Council (CEC) is forecasting a massive increase in the number of solar panels in the short term.

The amount of solar power installed in Australia has doubled in the past three to four years, and the CEC is forecasting it will double again in the next couple of years.

Concern is global

Achim Steiner, administrator of the United Nations Development Program, said solar panels were adding significantly to the world's non-recycled waste mountain.

"But it also poses a growing threat to human health and the environment due to the hazardous elements it contains," Mr Steiner said.

Australia is adding to that mountain by sending 40,000 old panels a year in containers to markets in developing countries.

While that trade provides cheap panels for poorer nations, the UN is concerned that many of them will end up in landfill overseas.

The vast majority of solar panels are made of thin silicon wafers using refined silicon dioxide.

It is the same chemical compound as sand, which is used in making glass, so it is harmless.

The solar cells are connected by thin strips of tin and copper which is sealed and protected under glass.

Almost all of the materials can be recycled and there are several new plants in development that will be able to turn old panels into reusable materials.

There are, however, a small number of panels that were made in the past using cadmium, which is highly toxic and associated with serious health problems.

Some panels are also made with nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), a gas that is associated with global warming.

A South Korean study from 2020 raised concerns about contamination from solar panels that are "released into the environment during their disposal or following damage, such as that from natural disasters."

The United States wants to address the problem as well, with a report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory from March 2021 pointing to a lack of incentives for recycling companies and confusing and conflicting state regulations.

Are solar farms taking over productive farm land?

The NSW government has set up five renewable energy zones in regional areas where it is promoting the development of solar farms close to large populations and the existing electricity grid.

That means productive farming land is sometimes used to build large-scale solar plants, and farmer Bianca Schultz right is in the firing line.

She owns a property next door to the proposed Walla Walla site in the Riverina in south-west NSW, while the Culcairn project borders her other boundary.

"There's been talk of heat island effects and heavy metal leachate, [while] the visual impact is a large concern for us being directly across the road," she said.

Ms Schultz said the property was used in the past for grazing livestock, making hay, and cropping. She thinks that turning it into an industrial-scale solar plant with just a few employees for maintenance will negatively affect the local economy.

"The on-flow effect on the transport companies, the grain merchants, the rural merchants; it's taking away a lot from our community," she said.


A former Queensland councillor exonerated of fraud has spoken out against the Crime and Corruption Commission after being asked to act as a witness in a separate trial

Trevina Schwarz, a former Logan City councillor, was one of eight councillors to lose their jobs after fraud charges were laid in 2019.

Earlier this year, the councillors were cleared of all charges, prompting the Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee, the governing watchdog of the CCC, to examine what went wrong.

Ms Schwarz said she was relieved the charges had been dropped, but the damage to her career and reputation had already been done. "My family and I were so excited for this Christmas, this was to be our first Christmas of many to have this cloud lifted from upon us," she said.

"I'm a person of high integrity and to be charged with the scandalous charge of fraud … I was extremely shameful of something I didn't do."

Last week, Ms Schwarz said she was contacted by the CCC and asked to act as witness in next year's trial of former Logan City Council mayor Luke Smith.

Mr Smith is being accused of corruption and perjury after allegedly accepting a power boat from a political donor to progress the development approval of a hotel.

Ms Schwartz was contacted by the CCC as a potential witness.

"I believe it's highly inappropriate and potentially a conflict for a staff member of the CCC, particularly one that was involved in our case and in the parliamentary inquiry, to be contacting us," Ms Schwarz said.

The Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee has called for a Royal Commission into the CCC and the resignation of chair Alan MacSporran.




Australian Politics 2021-12-29 11:22:00


‘Her views no longer aligned’: Anglicans defend sacking of gay teacher

The Anglican Church has defended the sacking of a gay Sydney schoolteacher this year, saying she was not terminated because of her sexuality but because she believes Christians should be able to enter same-sex relationships.

Steph Lentz was lawfully sacked in January from Covenant Christian School in Belrose, in Sydney’s north-east, after telling the school the previous year she was a lesbian – as first reported by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in August.

In a submission last week to a parliamentary inquiry on the federal government’s Religious Discrimination Bill, the Sydney Anglican Diocese used Ms Lentz’s subsequent public remarks to justify her removal from the school.

It quoted two opinion pieces she wrote for the Herald and The Age in which she said she was sacked “because of my belief that a person can be a Christian and be gay” and acknowledged “in relation to sexuality, the school’s statement of belief and my view do not align”.

The submission’s author, the Right Reverend Michael Stead, who chairs the Anglican Diocese of Sydney’s religious freedom reference group, argued Ms Lentz was not “sacked for being gay”, and called that interpretation a “sensationalist headline”.

“Correctly understood, the teacher’s sexuality is not the key issue in this case,” he wrote.

“A heterosexual teacher who held the same theological views on sexuality and relationships, and therefore was unable to sign the statement of belief, would also have had his or her employment terminated. Conversely, there are those in the LGBTIQ+ community who self-identify as ‘celibate gay Christians’ who would be able to sign the school’s statement of belief.”

Ms Lentz is Anglican, but Covenant Christian School is non-denominational and has no connection to the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. Rev Stead said he commented on her case because it had recently received media attention.

“Ms Lentz has changed her religious beliefs, and (as she herself acknowledges) her beliefs were no longer consistent with beliefs of the school. So the issue was not about her same-sex attraction but her inability to sign the school’s statement of belief, and to teach that from a place of personal conviction,” Rev Stead told the Herald and The Age on Tuesday.

“Where a religious body has clearly set out its core doctrines in a statement of belief that is available to employees and prospective employees, it is entirely reasonable that the body should be able to require employees to endorse those beliefs.”

Ms Lentz said the statement of belief she signed did not contain any doctrine on homosexuality. She agreed a heterosexual teacher who was unable to sign up to the school’s views on sexuality was liable to be dismissed – as allegedly occurred with Victorian teacher Rachel Colvin in 2019 – but said that was “no less problematic in my view”.

Existing provisions that allow religious schools to sack or expel LGBTIQ teachers and students are not dealt with by the Religious Discrimination Bill, and have been referred for a separate legal inquiry. However, some government MPs want those provisions removed or amended as a precondition for passing the bill.

In its submission, the Anglican Diocese of Sydney explicitly supports the removal of provisions that allow religious schools to expel gay students. This is “a right that religious schools do not want, and do not use”, Rev Stead writes.

“The exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act are too broad, and give religious bodies the right to do many things that they do not, in fact, do, and are not wanted or required to conduct their affairs in a way consistent with their religious ethos.”

The church also contends that when a religious body’s doctrine clashes with the beliefs of an individual, the religious body’s views should prevail.

To do otherwise “would lead to tyranny of the majority by many minorities, forcing a religious body to accept mutually contradictory doctrines concurrently”.

Ms Lentz said that approach was characterised by “fear and hubris” and that accepting diverse religious beliefs “could provoke a re-examination of the issues, leading to mutually beneficial progress”.


Adani's first Carmichael Mine coal export shipment imminent after years of campaigns against it

The first coal shipment from central Queensland Carmichael Mine is about to leave Australian shores after years of controversy, international media coverage and environmental campaigning against the facility.

Bravus Mining and Resources, the Australian arm of Adani, today confirmed the shipment had been assembled at the North Queensland Export Terminal in Bowen.

Bravus CEO David Boshoff celebrated the milestone, calling it a "big moment".

"From day one, the objectives of the Carmichael Project were to supply high-quality Queensland coal to nations determined to lift millions of their citizens out of energy poverty and to create local jobs and economic prosperity in Queensland communities in the process" Mr Boshoff said.

"With the support of the people of regional Queensland we have delivered on that promise."

The shipment comes amid continuing protests against the mine and follows years of fierce campaigning from environmental activists.

The Australian Conservation Foundation said the mine made "a mockery" of Australia's emissions targets.

And, locally, scuba diving guide and Whitsunday Conservation Council spokesperson Tony Fontes said he felt "despair and anger".

"Both state and federal governments supported Adani in opening the mine,and ensuring that the Great Barrier Reef is not going to survive this century" Mr Fontes said.

"[But] one would hope that in the very near future, there will not be a market for thermal coal.

"And it's unfortunate that people that are working in the industry have been misled by the government suggesting that there's a long-term future in working in thermal coal."

However, Bravus insisted Australian coal would have a role alongside renewables for decades "as part of an energy mix that delivers reliable and affordable power with reduced emissions intensity".

In 2016, the Wangan and Jagalingou people voted 294 to one in favour of an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) with Adani. Subsequent challenges against the ILUA were dismissed in court.

Mine opponents now represent a small portion of traditional owners who, since signing the agreement, have been working with Bravus.

Bravus said the first shipment of coal would be loaded and dispatched, subject to the port's shipping schedule. It did not say when the shipment would leave or where it was going.

"The first export shipment is of a commercial scale and is going to a customer, with further details remaining commercial in confidence" it said.

The company plans to produce 10 million tonnes of coal a year from the mine, to be sold to customers in the Asia-Pacific region at 'index adjusted pricing'.


A major Queensland university has become the latest institution to introduce a Covid-19 vaccine mandate, insisting anyone attending its campuses must be fully-vaccinated from early next year

Queensland’s largest university has mandated anyone attending its campuses must be fully-vaccinated against Covid-19 from early next year, as the state continues to experience a record number of infections.

The University of Queensland has announced from February 14th 2022, anyone attending the institution’s campuses, facilities or sites must be fully vaccinated, unless they hold a valid exemption.

The institution has also issued a warning that students who do not get vaccinated could face “disciplinary” policies if they fail to comply in certain circumstances.

From early January, UQ staff and students would be requested to declare their vaccination status, which must be completed by the end of February 13th.

“UQ has a diverse community that attends our locations every day – often in close settings,” an online post from the university stated.

“An outbreak of Covid-19 would pose a significant health risk to this community and substantially impact our teaching, research and community engagement services.”

UQ is not the first Sunshine State institution to implement such a mandate for students and staff.

Earlier this month Griffith University announced it would require anyone attending its campuses to be fully vaccinated from February 18.

At the time Vice-Chancellor Professor Carolyn Evans warned students they could potentially be unable to finish their degrees unless they were vaccinated.

The UQ statement went on to say while the vaccine may not “prevent you from getting Covid-19”, it would “reduce the severity and duration of the illness, hospitalisation rates and transmission”.

“Vaccination will be a key measure for the University to minimise the impacts from the inevitable spread of Covid-19 next year,” it read.

UQ also said there were some exemptions from the mandate, including people who were under the age of 16, people performing urgent and essential health and safety work, or those responding to an emergency.

But a statement from the university also warned that students could face penalties or disciplinary actions if they failed to adhere to the direction.

“Where alternative workplace or study practices cannot be implemented, and the student is required to attend a UQ location to undertake their studies, the student may need to consider their enrolment options,” the statement read.

“A student’s failure to comply may be considered as misconduct, and may result in student disciplinary proceedings, which may, in turn, lead to penalties being imposed pursuant to UQ’s student disciplinary policies.”


Sydney Festival boycott a blunt instrument that blocks voices of dissent

This week’s fracas at the Sydney Festival over the inclusion of Decadance, a renowned dance piece in the repertoire of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company, and the festival’s sponsorship by the Israeli embassy, has followed a familiar script.

In response to the sponsorship, some artists have now withdrawn from the festival, with Khaled Sabsabi saying he was doing so “out of solidarity with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian cause”.

Israel’s largest contemporary dance company, Batsheva is hailed as one of the most important in the world today, having developed its acclaim over the last 30 years during choreographer Ohad Naharin’s time at the helm. During these decades, the company and Naharin himself have pushed every boundary, challenged every taboo, and remain a national treasure.

Naharin’s movement language “Gaga” is world renowned and productions using the dance vocabulary are popular around the globe. Decadance itself has been performed for more than two decades.

As one of Israel’s most well regarded cultural exports, Naharin’s productions are both an obvious inclusion in global events like the Sydney Festival and a way to attract much needed funding for the arts from a local embassy. Equally, it is a hot target for supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement which seeks to isolate and pressure the state of Israel because of its treatment of Palestinians.

There is nothing out of hand illegitimate – and certainly not inherently antisemitic – about a boycott of Israel. This is particularly so when the call comes from Palestinians themselves whose personal and collective experiences with the conflict trump claims they might be unfairly and disproportionately targeting Israel for opprobrium.

Stories of injustice, as well as the voices of those speaking up against that injustice, are extremely important to amplify on our stages here in Australia. As a blunt instrument which blocks access to important Israeli artists like Naharin, the BDS movement is a counterproductive tool.

I want Australians to see the beautiful art that Naharin creates, of course, but mostly I want us to get to hear his views.

Like countless other Israeli artists, Naharin is one of the most articulate, persuasive and prominent critics of 54 years of Israeli government policies in the occupied territories.

He has raised funds for leading civil rights organisation the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and participated in public demonstrations for Breaking the Silence, an organisation of military veterans who have taken it upon themselves to persuade Israelis of the price paid for the continuing occupation.

Which brings us to the deep irony of what’s happening now. In speaking out against the occupation he “earned” a spot in a despicable McCarthyist campaign peddled by Israel’s ultra-nationalist right-wing and politicians against progressive artists.

Other Israeli icons like Amos Oz and David Grossman were on that list, as was singer Achinoam Nini, a Jewish-Israeli artist known for her stirring Eurovision collaboration with Palestinian Mira Awad and her broader activism for Jewish-Arab equality.

Five years ago, the organisation I run, the New Israel Fund (NIF), brought Nini to perform in Australia where her performances were protested by right-wing Jewish groups because of her peace and coexistence work, while the BDS movement continues to consider her problematic as an Israeli singer and musician.

Platforming these anti-occupation activists and their art can be a very effective tool to help Israelis and others around the world who hold attachments to the place and its people understand the injustice of the occupation.

A cultural boycott which targets them – either directly or by opposing those who fund them – shrinks the discourse, limits the access that influential allies of Palestinians have to the public square, and reduces the pressure within Israel to take serious steps to end the conflict.

Given how much the Israeli government’s policies conflict with Naharin’s own political positions, a meaningful act of subversion could be to play up that divergence.

Little would frustrate the right-wing pro-Israel lobby more than flipping the story into a discussion about how the shining lights of Israeli society – the products of which Israelis are most proud to showcase to the world, to prove itself a worthy member of the family of Western democratic nations – are also the most damning critics of the deep, dark occupation-shaped hole the country is in.

Art is always deeply political and should remain so. Responses which claim it shouldn’t be, hinting that antisemitism is at play, or which use Israel’s new relationships with human rights abusing Gulf dictatorships as a point of reference, do not positively contribute to the discourse around Israel-Palestine or provide a constructive environment for its resolution.

At the New Israel Fund our theory of change – to realise our mission of equality and justice for all – hinges on strategic, impactful investment in civil society organisations at the forefront of the campaign for Palestinian human rights and the realisation of Israel’s founding vision as a liberal democracy.

Success in those efforts will only come when more Israelis realise the toll that half a century of government policies continue to have on Palestinians, and how much they contribute to the degradation of democratic values, norms and institutions inside Israel.

There is a place for pressure on Israelis and their institutions to bring about change. People like Ohad Naharin have a big role to play in applying that pressure at home and abroad – but they most definitely should not be its targets.




Australian Politics 2021-12-28 11:14:00


Queensland scraps day-five testing for visitors

Queensland has scrapped day five COVID-19 tests for interstate travellers as cases spike.

Six cases were in hospital for COVID-19-related symptoms and 83 others were in hospital for other illnesses.

There were no people in the intensive care unit, while 976 patients were currently receiving care at home.

The percentage of Queensland’s population who had received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccination was 90.49, while 86.14 per cent were fully vaccinated.

Ms D’Ath also announced the scrapping of the day-five testing requirements, following scrutiny over long waiting times of up to three hours.

“Based on the data we have, I welcome the advice of the Chief Health Officer [John Gerrard] that we can move away from that test,” she said.

“The Chief Health Officer has advised us that the data that we have received just in the last 24 hours can show that we are seeing only about 0.6 per cent positive cases coming from those day-five tests.”

Dr Gerrard said those rates were extremely low.

“I have given a very strong recommendation to the Premier that I believe that performing the day-five test is unnecessary and that these resources are better used elsewhere to test people with symptoms and for other reasons to require testing,” Dr Gerrard said.

Interstate travellers were still required to provide a negative COVID-19 test result within the 72 hours before entering Queensland.

Dr Gerrard said despite the large number of cases, there were few patients with COVID-19-related symptoms in hospital. “This indicates that the vaccines are working,” he said.

Dr Gerrard urged people to stay home while waiting for their COVID-19 test result. “We have noticed that when people get this report some of them are going straight to the emergency department, even if they are quite well,” he said.

“This is causing a little bit of a problem in some of our emergency departments, and it’s not necessary. “Please go to the emergency department only if you have significant symptoms like breathlessness or chest pain.


Queensland hugely popular: ‘No one anticipated 400k visitors’

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced today the Government would be bolstering staff numbers at the state’s testing centres following days of long lines at clinics.

She admitted officials had never anticipated that 400,000 people would apply to enter the state when borders reopened earlier this month.

Interstate travellers also must have evidence of a negative CPR test 72 hours before entering Queensland – but Ms Palaszczuk again today signalled that could also change to a rapid antigen test, with a decision to be made by January 1.

Meanwhile, the Premier announced bookings for children aged 5 to 11 to get their vaccine would open from December 27 ahead of school resuming after the summer holidays. Children won’t be able to get the vaccine though until January 10.

“We’ve seen an excellent uptake in vaccination from children aged 12 to 15 and we expect a similar positive response from parents of younger kids,” Ms Palaszczuk said. Children will receive two doses, administered eight weeks apart.

Earlier, Queensland has recorded 784 new cases of Covid-19, with the State Government now opening bookings for under-12s to get a coronavirus vaccine.

There are four people in hospital, with one – an 85-year-old man – described as moderately to severely unwell. He is not in intensive care.

Ms Palaszczuk said the health system was coping well with Omicron outbreaks, but that the government would monitor the situation carefully. A total of 72 health and hospital staff have now tested positive to Covid-19, with 350 in quarantine.


How China’s trade war with Australia backfired

Economic sanctions of any kind rarely have much success

Australia hasn’t broken. Eighteen months after Beijing launched its trade war against Canberra, its economic impact was negligible. And the world’s resolve has only hardened.

“I think China’s preference would have been to break Australia. To drive Australia to its knees,” US National Security Council Indo-Pacific affairs advisor Kurt Campbell said earlier this month. “I don’t believe that’s going to be the way it’s going to play out.”

It already hasn’t.

“The bottom line: Beijing’s attempt to bully Canberra has been a spectacular failure,” says USAsia Centre research director Jeffrey Wilson.

And because of Australia’s example, Beijing faces a growing backlash in 2022.

“If this is what decoupling from China looks like, Australia’s resilience suggests the costs are far lower than many have assumed,” added Dr Wilson. “That fact will not be lost on other countries that have differences with China.”

The attempt at economic coercion began in April 2020. Beijing was incensed that Prime Minister Scott Morrison had made a public call for a wide-ranging investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic in Wuhan. It risked damaging the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) reputation.

So it attempted to silence him. And set an example of what happens to nations that contradict the CCP. Australia’s $150 billion export market with China was its weakest link. So it was hit with a trade war.

Barley. Beef. Coal. Copper. Cotton. Gas. Lobster. Sugar. Timber. Wheat. Wine. Wool. All were suddenly subject to various tariff, dumping, hygiene and quality challenges. In essence, China stopped buying them.

But Beijing’s seemingly reflexive wolfish aggression triggered an unanticipated response. Former Australian diplomat Philip Eliason says it triggered a “sacred values” response. That’s why Australia was so willing to dig in its heels, regardless of the cost.

And that cost has turned out to be unexpectedly small.

Concern about the economic cost of standing up for such principles is declining. As one market closes its doors, others tend to open elsewhere on the international stage.

Australian Treasury estimates put the cost of Beijing’s sanctions at some $5.4 billion. But at least $4.4 billion of that was recovered through finding new markets.

For example, China switched its coal purchase to Russia and Indonesia. That left their previous buyers out in the cold. So, the likes of South Korea and Japan simply turned to Australia.

“(This led) Australian coal producers’ export earnings to rise this year — not exactly the effect China had in mind,” Dr Wilson concluded. “While the adjustment process is not pain-free, it is far less costly — and less of a deterrent to political action — than most assume.”

And the value of Australia’s exports to China grew – thanks to surging iron ore prices – over the past year. It’s not in Beijing’s interests to interrupt the flow of that strategically vital resource.

“Australia’s experience offers an important lesson: Trade decoupling does not automatically mean trade destruction,” said Dr Wilson. “Indeed, Australia’s resilience may now be inspiring others to take a stand.”


Aussie wine icon Penfolds’ genius move amid brutal trade war with China

The relationship between Canberra and Beijing first began to sour in 2016, resulting in a diplomatic freeze – but things stepped up a notch last year, when around a dozen Australian goods exports were slapped with tariffs.

Coal, barley, beef, timber, lobster and wine have been among the casualties, and earlier this month, we learnt just how crushing the spat has been.

According to an eye-opening report from the Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI) in early December, Australia’s exports across 12 key commodities impacted by Beijing’s sanctions plummeted by a staggering $17.3 billion in the first nine months of 2021, compared with 2019.

Professor James Laurenceson, the director of ACRI at UTS, told many Australian brands and livelihoods had been devastated by the ongoing trade war.

“When you start looking to the longer term, a lot of the cost will depend on whether the Chinese market continues to outperform alternate markets as it has done for the past 20 years – for example, research shows that for the past 15 years, China has added 60 million people to the middle class every year, and that far exceeds anywhere else – India is nowhere near that,” he said.

“So when we’re locked out of the Chinese market, diversification is all well and good, but all we can try and do is sell to smaller, slower-growing markets, and that comes at a cost.

“In 2017 an Australian government foreign policy white paper forecasted that China’s economy would add more new purchasing power than the US, Japan, India and Indonesia combined, and if that’s true, it does suggest the cost from being locked out and having that disruption to the Chinese market is going to rise over time.”

Aussie icon’s ‘clever’ move

Prof Laurenceson said the impact on some commodities such as coal and barley were less severe as sales were simply able to be diverted elsewhere.

But other industries like wine were beginning to “really struggle” – although he said some Australian brands, such as the iconic Penfolds, had taken some “really clever” steps to stay in the game.

“Penfolds is a flagship Australian wine brand, and guess what they are doing? They are still selling in China, and they are sourcing product in California rather than the Barossa Valley,” he said.

“So it’s an Australian brand going into China, but the product is not actually Australian – California grape growers are benefiting from that trade now, and we will see more and more Australian companies do things like that – and good for them, they are keeping the brand afloat, but it comes at a price to the Australian economy.

Meanwhile, Prof Laurenceson said it was a similar story with the rock lobster industry, which was locked out of China last November.

While the industry feared a looming disaster at the time, fishers simply started selling to Hong Kong instead, with the lobsters then smuggled into China via a so-called “grey route”, which meant that “sales have hardly been affected” by the sanctions.

Prof Laurenceson said sadly, he didn’t believe the trade war would be resolved any time soon.

“I see no reason for China to suddenly turn around and change tack – Kurt Campbell, Joe Biden’s Indo-Pacific tsar, said in a speech to the Lowy Institute recently that he expects in time China will re-engage with Australia, ‘on Australia’s terms’, but why would China choose to re-engage on Australian terms?” he said.

“If anything, this deadlock would end with a mutual agreement, but this idea China would come with its cap in its hand begging to have us back is utterly ridiculous to me.

“The prospect of Beijing doing a 180 degree turn is almost zero.”

Prof Laurenceson said while many nations currently had issues with China, Australia was unique in the sheer range of sanctions it faced.

“New Zealand, Korea, Japan – what really sets them apart is … the way they manage diplomacy with more caution,” he said.




Australian Politics 2021-12-27 07:21:00


Only a handful of Covid patients in ICU have Omicron and most are unvaccinated with underlying health conditions as Delta drives hospitalisations - not the new variant

The first major study into Omicron in Australia has revealed the new variant is responsible for very few hospitalisations and the majority of those are unvaccinated.

NSW Health released data on who is actually sick with Covid even as cases surge, finding Delta is responsible for most of the state's severe cases.

Most of the patients being treated in intensive care are unvaccinated, many with underlying health conditions.

There are 52 people in ICU, 34 of whom are unvaccinated. That rose slightly to 55 by Monday morning.

All but a handful of these patients are infected with the Delta variant rather than the new Omicron strain, which early studies indicate is less severe.

'Everybody in NSW is probably going to get Omicron at some stage. Everyone in Australia,' NSW Health minister Brad Hazzard said.

'From early indications NSW Health believe the majority of ICU Covid patients have the Delta variant. Health are seeking to confirm this through additional tests.'

Despite another 6,324 new infections on Monday, officials encouraged people to live life normally as studies indicate Omicron isn't as serious as its predecessors.

Covid patients need to be cleared by a medical professional before leaving isolation, but Mr Hazzard said Australians could manage it with rapid antigen tests, plenty of fluids, and paracetamol.

Mr Hazzard also pleaded with Australians to only get a PCR test if they had symptoms or were directed to as a close contact, and instead to use rapid antigen.

He said the time delay at overwhelmed clinics meant results would take so long, residents could catch the virus between testing and getting results.

'If you have a test today and then you are visiting Aunty Mabel in three or four days, it may well be that by then, you are positive,' he said.

'A far simpler, far quicker measure would be simply to be get a rapid antigen test… preferably half an hour or an hour beforehand.

'If you're not particularly sick, you probably don't need to be doing very much except probably taking some Panadol if you've got a temperature and making sure you're drinking plenty of fluids.'

Free rapid tests will be rolled out from 2022 onwards at the NSW government looks to normalise living with the virus.

'Take personal responsibility, socially distance, follow the rules that are in place … but we are about instilling confidence in our people, confidence has been key,' Premier Dominic Perrottet said.

'Whether that's consumer confidence, business confidence.

'We are going to get through it… let's not look at the negative, let's look at the positive.'


‘Very interested’: Israel eyes closer security ties with Australia

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has opened the door to deepening security ties with Australia and the Five Eyes spying network to counter Iran’s cyber attacks and combat terrorism.

Mr Lapid said Australian law enforcement agencies now had the opportunity to hunt Hezbollah’s global terror network after the Morrison government last month declared the Lebanese group a terrorist organisation.

In an exclusive interview with The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, Mr Lapid said Israel was “very interested in deepening our ties with Australia and with all countries in the Indo-Pacific”.

Mr Lapid said striking a free trade agreement with Australia was also a priority which would “expand trade and help create jobs in both our countries”, and floated the prospect of direct flights between the two countries.

His comments suggest that Israel wants to become more relevant in the Indo-Pacific region amid escalating tensions between China and the United States.

In recent years, there have been calls from many national security experts for an expansion of the Five Eyes spy network - which includes Australia, the United States, Britain, New Zealand and Canada - with Japan and Israel named as potential additions.

Mr Lapid said Israel already had extensive ties with Five Eyes nations, including an “incredibly close intelligence-sharing and security partnership with our closest ally, the United States”, but would look to deepen the relationships.

“We’re focused on continuing to deepen these ties through their existing frameworks and agreements, and we would consider any other options for expanding these ties should they present themselves,” he said.

Australia in November listed all of Lebanese political party and militant group Hezbollah as a terrorist entity, making it a criminal offence to be a member.

Mr Lapid, who spoke with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne last month, said Israel was “interested in deepening our security cooperation with Australia” in light of the move.

“A major first step in this regard was Australia’s decision just last month to declare the entirety of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation,” he said.

Australia to back international definition of anti-Semitism
“Australia is one of a number of countries around the world to do so in just the past two years, and the decision will give Australian law enforcement agencies the tools necessary to fight Hezbollah’s global terror network.

“We are glad that Australia has come to the right conclusion that Hezbollah is a cruel terrorist organisation which endangers the citizens of all countries.”

He said countering Iran’s state-sponsored cyber attacks and its support for “brutal dictators and terrorist proxies” should also be a priority for both countries after signing a memorandum of understanding on cyber security in 2019.

“In the cyber realm, Iran and its proxies frequently attack security, economic, and even civilian infrastructure in countries all around the world,” he said. “As a global cyber security leader, Israel certainly has expertise and experience to share with Australia. And we know Australia is today prioritising and making record investments in cyber security, which will offer even more ways for Israel to learn from Australia as well.”

The Israel-Palestine conflict continued to be a source of tension in the Australian Labor Party this year after an outbreak of violence in May which included protests, rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas and Israeli airstrikes targeting the Gaza Strip. Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese in July slammed a Labor motion backed by former NSW premier Bob Carr calling for a boycott of Israel over its treatment of Palestinians, saying it was counterproductive and not supported by anyone in his party room.

Asked whether divisions within the broader ALP movement were a concern, Mr Lapid said Australia’s friendship towards Israel had “thrived under the leadership of governments left, right and centre in Israel, and led by both parties in Australia”.

”Our friendship is also based on shared values including commitments to human rights and the fundamental elements of democracy – a free press, an independent judiciary, a strong civil society, and religious freedom,” he said.

He also said Israel was “grateful” for Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to support the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition on “antisemitism”.

Critics of the definition, including the Palestinian movement and human rights groups, have warned it could be used to stifle legitimate debate about the Israeli government and threatens freedom of speech.

Mr Lapid said Mr Morrison’s decision was “yet another example of Australia’s consistent friendship towards Israel and the Jewish people, which also includes standing up against horrendous bias against Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, in international institutions such as the United Nations”.


As Omicron COVID cases continue to surge, the race is on to find a variant-proof vaccine

In a state-of-the-art science lab, nestled into the genteel slopes of the NSW Southern Highlands, a group of genetically engineered mice have become frontline soldiers in the fight against COVID-19.

The mice have been inoculated with carrier proteins – used as the early building blocks of a new generation of vaccine — that scientists hope will make them resistant to any variant of SARS-CoV-2.

While still very early days, the goal is to create a variant-proof vaccine that is effective against not just the coronavirus mutations we have grappled with so far, but anything the virus throws at us in the months and years ahead.

“We are using some pretty cutting-edge technology,” says Deborah Burnett, a vet-turned-research officer with the Garvan Institute’s Immunogenomics Lab. “If the COVID-19 pandemic had happened even five years ago we would not have been able to do the kind of work we are doing now.”

As COVID-19 cases surge through the community with bleak predictions on how high the numbers will go, and the sheer anxiety of living with so much uncertainty — will you encounter COVID on a trip to the supermarket? How sick are you likely to become if infected? Who might you unknowingly transmit it to? Will hospitals cope? – the steady progress of science continues to offer hope.

Universal vaccines are the next great goal in efforts to control COVID-19, and Burnett and the Garvan Institute are not the only ones focused on their promise.

Vaccine researchers in the US and Norway, for example, are also progressing with variant-proof vaccine candidates.

And at Sydney’s Westmead Institute for Medical Research, Sarah Palmer and Eunok Lee are doing promising research into a variant-proof COVID booster shot.

The question now, Palmer says, is not so much how do we fight SARS-CoV-2, but "how do we fight a variant?"

"I think the best way to fight these variants is to develop a universal booster," Palmer says.

Back in the Southern Highlands, Burnett explains that the mice used in the trials are raised in a controlled, pathogen-free environment so their immune system has not been primed by exposure to any other viruses.

The mice are not given COVID-19, rather they are immunised with different carrier proteins sourced from a database of 192,000 different coronaviruses and mutations. Burnett then studies individual cells to determine what antibodies the mice have made from a lab at Garvan's Darlinghurst research hub in Sydney.

"We have access to these amazing mice that have been genetically engineered to make fully human antibody responses to vaccination,” she says.

"These mice really are quite ground-breaking technology and the next best thing you can have to a human. They give us ability to explore things that were previously very difficult to study in anything other than human trials."

The Garvan mouse trials, being undertaken in collaboration with UNSW’s RNA and Kirby institutes, uncovered a surprising finding: immunisation with proteins from related viruses like SARS-CoV-1, or bat viruses, generated a more significant antibody response to key sites than using proteins from the virus that causes COVID-19.

“This was a pretty surprising and key finding and potentially suggests that maybe the ideal vaccine targets we should be using to protect people from COVID-19 could actually be proteins derived from related viruses rather than from the actual virus that causes COVID-19,” Burnett says.


Bad examples from America

As soon as Wall Street decided America had an inflation problem and would soon be putting up interest rates, our local geniuses decided we’d soon be doing the same.

Small problem – we don’t have a problem with inflation. Our money market dealers know more about the US economy than they know about their own. To them, we’re just a smaller, carbon copy of America. If you’ve seen America, you’ve seen ’em all.

The Americans have a lot of people withdrawing from the workforce – leaving jobs and not looking for another – which they’re calling the ‘Great Resignation’. Wow. Great new story. So, some people in our media are seizing any example they can find to show we have our own ‘Great Resignation’.

Small problem. Ain’t true. Following the rebound from the first, nationwide lockdown in 2020, our “participation rate” – the proportion of the working-age population participating in the labour force by have a job or actively looking for one – hit a record high. With the rebound from this year’s lockdowns well under way, the rate’s almost back to the peak.

A lot of America’s problems arise from the “hyperpolarisation” of its politics. Its two political tribes have become more tribal, more us-versus-them, more you’re-for-us-or-against-us. The two have come to hate each other, are less willing to compromise for the greater good, and more willing to damage the nation rather than give the other side a win. More willing to throw aside long-held conventions; more winner-takes-all.

The people who see themselves as the world’s great beacon of democracy are realising they are in the process of destroying their democracy, brick by brick – fiddling with electoral boundaries and voting arrangements, and stacking the Supreme Court with social conservatives.

Donald Trump continues to claim the presidential election was rigged, and many Republicans are still supporting him.

It’s not nearly that bad in Australia, but there are some on the ‘Right’ trying to learn from the Republicans’ authoritarian populism playbook.

When your Prime Minister starts wearing a baseball cap it’s not hard to guess where the idea came from. Or when the government wants to require people to show ID before they can vote, or starts stacking the Fair Work Commission with people from the employers’ side only. Enough.