Australian Politics 2020-05-06 16:30:00

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Pro-China University bullies student critic

The University of Queensland is going to extraordinary lengths to silence its most effective critic, a 20-year-old philosophy student who has campaigned against the university’s tight links with the Chinese Communist Party.

Drew Pavlou came to public attention in July last year when, while leading a protest in support of Hong Kong democracy activists, he was assaulted by men who gave every impression of being heavies working for the Chinese state.

He then was targeted by a torrent of online hate and death threats from patriotic Chinese students. China’s consul-general in Brisbane, Xu Jie, praised the violence, drawing a rebuke from Foreign Minister Marise Payne. Pavlou decided to seek a protection order against the consul-general through the courts.

Pavlou’s safety was threatened further when China’s state media vilified him, in effect giving official blessing to patriotic thuggery. He was no longer safe on campus.

How has the university responded to these events, surely one of the most worrying assaults on free speech?

None of the pro-Beijing students or the thugs who assaulted Pavlou has been disciplined. Xu, whom UQ had appointed an adjunct professor, appears to be as welcome as ever at the university.

Instead, irritated by Pavlou’s robust criticism, pranks and sarcasm, UQ seems to have decided to intimidate him into silence.

In February, Pavlou posted a mock Facebook announcement of a forthcoming “UQ Confucius Institute Panel: Why Uyghurs Must Be Exterminated”. A bit of undergraduate humour? Not for the mandarins at UQ.

University lawyers Clayton Utz wrote a letter to Pavlou that itself reads like a prank. It accused him of “making false statements” because, in fact, the Confucius Institute has no involvement with “the alleged event”. There follows a page and a half listing the rules and by-laws it claims he has viol­ated, and ends menacingly: if he fails to remove the post and will not agree to refrain from making “false and misleading” statements, then the university “reserves the right to commence proceedings”.

Pavlou complied with the first demand. But then UQ sought the nuclear option. On April 9, the disciplinary board delivered a 186-page document detailing 11 charges. Pavlou has been summoned to a secret meeting at which, if he cannot explain himself, he can expect to be expelled.

Most of the allegations are trivial to the point of risible. UQ somehow manages to construe jokes, obvious hoaxes and social media badinage as forms of harassment and bullying or acts that prejudice its reputation. It’s true Pavlou’s activism is often provocative and his criticisms sharp, at times over the top, but whatever case the disciplinary board might have had is vitiated by the series of frivolous allegations against him, the effect of which is to indicate the board itself is engaged in harassment and bullying.

The first allegation is that he used a rude word on Facebook (closely monitored by the university) to describe students enrolled in the bachelor of advanced finance and economics. The university claims this constitutes “discriminatory, harassing or bullying behaviour … towards these students”.

It is laughable. Can they produce one student among several hundred aspiring corporate executives who read Pavlou’s Facebook page and felt discriminated against, harassed or bullied? If they could, would anyone take them seriously?

Pavlou deleted his mock “Why Uyghurs Must Be Exterminated” announcement but the university won’t let it go. It claims “a member of the public” (either a fool or a satirist) complained the planned event was “absolutely disgustingly racist and fascist” and they’d be there to protest, and claims Pavlou’s post harmed the university’s reputation by “indicating to the public that UQ supports an ‘extermination’ of the Uyghur people”.

Seriously. One begins to suspect that Pavlou has a secret sympathiser on the board conspiring to make the “allegation notice” so outlandish as to be laughed out of court.

But the next allegation takes a more sinister turn. It’s alleged that Pavlou was guilty of behaviour that “unreasonably disrupted staff or students” when at 12.30pm “on or about 26 February 2020” he took a pen from a shelf at the university stationery shop, wrote something with it, put the pen back and left the shop paying only for three sheets of card.

This kind of surveillance and reporting to authorities has more in common with Beijing’s Orwellian social credit system than what we’d expect on an Australian campus. It’s clear that someone high up at UQ decided, through exasperation or vindictiveness, to “throw the book at Pavlou”.

If UQ wants to counter criticism of its China links it has vast resources with which to do so openly, both within the university and more broadly. Instead, it has set up a kangaroo court hoping to browbeat an undergraduate into submission or to expel him.

In the context of UQ’s documented discomfort with Pavlou’s political activism — especially his highlighting of links between the university, its vice-chancellor and various agencies of the Chinese Communist Party — the threat of expulsion can be read only as an attempt to silence legitimate political activism on the campus.

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‘Death sentence’: Morrison rails against herd immunity idea

Herd immunity is the only alternative to a vaccine so he is relying on a vaccine arriving soon

Scott Morrison has railed against the coronavirus herd immunity strategy being pursued by some nations, describing it as a death sentence.

The Prime Minister said the US, Britain and Sweden – which have all tried for similar strategies – were nowhere near reaching immunity targets.

“That’s a death sentence,” he told 2GB radio host Ray Hadley on Wednesday.

Instead, the virus had wrought “death and destruction” on those countries, he said.

Britain has one of the world’s worst coronavirus tolls, with nearly 30,000 deaths and more than 195,000 confirmed cases.

In the US, more than 70,000 people have died and there are more than 1.23 million infections.

Sweden, which has a similar population to Australia, has more than 2800 COVID-19 deaths from 23,000 confirmed infections.

“This could have all happened here. We could have gone down that path,’’ Mr Morrison said.

By Wednesday, Australia had fewer than 7000 infections, with 97 dead.

But weeks ago, the country faced a much grimmer outlook, with “thousands, if not tens of thousands, and certainly in terms of people contracting the virus, potentially hundreds of thousands”, the PM said.

“This idea of herd immunity, nobody’s got herd immunity. I mean the United States haven’t reached it, Sweden hadn’t reached it, the UK hasn’t reached it,” he said.

Instead, Australia has pursued a “suppression” strategy to try to defeat the coronavirus. Describing that plan more than a month ago, Mr Morrison said Australia’s lower-than-forecast numbers were a tribute to support for social distancing and other strict regulations imposed by state and territory governments.

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Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk provides update on coronavirus

QUEENSLAND Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has revealed the state has recorded no new cases of coronavirus overnight while also announcing a domestic violence summit to combat a spike in brutal attacks. It means there have now been 1043 cases in Queensland, of which 52 are active cases

There have been over 120,000 tests since the outbreak earlier this year, including about 2,400 more in the past 24 hours.

Premier Palaszczuk said it was good news, and that her Government was now focused on jobs.

She said the Government would be holding meetings tomorrow with tourism operators and the hospitality industry. “A lot of work continues behind the scenes of making sure that we have our roadmap in place for the recovery,” she said. “Of course that is front and centre. We need to get people back to work. We need to get people back into jobs.”

Health Minister Steven Miles said nine patients were in hospital, including several who were in intensive care. “We were really pleased to see a rebound in the testing rate,” he said. “In the last more than 24 hour period, we had 2457 Queenslanders tested for COVID-19.

“It’s results like today’s, no further COVID-19 cases, that will allow Queensland to continue to ease those restrictions.”

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Coronavirus: Old or young – every life has a different value and we accept that

When the pandemic has passed, there will need to be a reckoning of responses by state and federal governments. The reckoning should focus in particular on the costs incurred and the benefits accrued from the Morrison government’s decisions, how and when they responded to the health crisis, the costs of lockdown, and when and how they unlocked the economy.

This reckoning should not be downplayed as negative or unfair criticism of governments forced to fly in the dark, hampered by ­incomplete modelling, hamstrung by medical experts who are all trained, and paid, to expect the worst, and hindered by their political aversion to risk.

This should be about constructive learning, gathering information, comparing real outcomes to the modelling and the experts’ advice, and doing a rigorous cost-benefit analysis of responses. We might learn we need a precautionary principle to the precautionary principle because overreactions are not usually cost-free.

But a few straw men must be dismantled first. Some say we should put people ahead of economics. Scott Morrison says every Australian matters. Some say it is wrong to ignore the old.

If only dealing with COVID-19, not to mention settling on many other policies, were that simple.

Choices we make are never ­between a person, or people generally, and the economy. As rich and fortunate as we are, the starting point in Australia is still that resources are limited. That is the case whether we are talking about taxpayer dollars in federal coffers used by government for the people, the supply of livers, hearts and lungs for patients on a transplant list, or the availability of ventilators to coronavirus victims. When resources are limited, they must be rationed.

Governments and policymakers are confronted by tough questions every day about where to spend money. Safer roads will mean money taken from some other area. More money put into prostate cancer for men may mean less money for breast cancer. This is the reality that confounds those who say that we must put people ahead of economics.

No one is saying we should ignore the old either. However, the doctors I have spoken to, many who have worked for more than 30 years in Australia’s best teaching hospitals, acknowledge they make decisions every week about older patients that they don’t have to make about younger ones. Age, unfortunately, is inevitably a determinant in health decisions. As one senior anaesthetist told me last weekend: “These decisions are often shrouded in secrecy, but we don’t have unlimited resources to treat everyone to the maximum.”

The committed Catholic accepts that sometimes he has to make difficult decisions. This is not something he or his colleagues are comfortable with. But reality cannot be wished away by saying that all lives matter. They do. Life is precious. But no life is priceless. Lives are priceless only in a fictional place called La La Land where resources are infinite.

Another doctor pointed to the decision-making infrastructure purposely built to determine who gets a set of lungs or a heart transplant. These are dreadfully difficult decisions about who will live and who might die, given the demand for organ transplants exceeds supply. And when allocating scarce resources, the age of a ­patient is relevant because doctors are asked, among many other things, to decide who will get more years of life from a new set of lungs or a new heart.

Measuring the responses to COVID-19 raises similarly confronting issues that many prefer not to think about. Obscuring the difficulty of these issues with simplistic sound bites such as putting ­people ahead of the economy is unhelpful at best and dishonest at worst.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet already has a document that many will find confronting. It is called the Best Practice Regulation Guidance Note: Value of Statistical Life. The note “provides guidance on how officers preparing the cost-benefit analysis in regulation impact statements should treat the benefits of regulation designed to reduce the risk of physical harm”.

The concept of “the value of statistical life” is an estimate of the value society places on reducing the risk of dying. The modelling starts with a young adult with 40 years of life ahead and uses a related concept called the “value of a statistical life year”, which is an estimate of the worth society places on a year of life. Drawing on research in 2007, and updating in 2019 dollars, the August 2019 Guidance Note suggests the value of saving the life of someone who has 40 years of life ahead is $4.9m, and a value of a statistical life year is $213,000.

The note draws on work that argues these estimates will vary according to the characteristics of people affected and the nature of the risk or hazard: “For example, society may be willing to forgo more to prevent the death of a young person, or to avoid conditions that significantly reduce the quality of life.”

The point of the Guidance Note is to make clear that these key concepts, though highly contestable, should be one input into assessing proposed regulations. In other words, comparing the statistical value of lives saved and the costs of implementing the regulation. Given that decisions to deal with COVID-19 needed to be made quickly, the Prime Minister granted an exemption from the usual regulatory impact statement and this kind of analysis. But after the pandemic has passed, we need a hard-headed and rational analysis of the responses to COVID-19. Indeed, the Morrison government has already committed to a post-implementation review within two years to assess its decisions.

It will have to include many tricky and tough questions. How many lives were saved? What was the average age of death from COVID-19 (not with COVID-19) compared with the average mortality rate in normal periods? How did deaths from COVID-19 compare with an awful flu season that kills young people too? How many people died from other medical conditions that were not treated because of the lockdown? How many additional suicides or cases of domestic violence were caused by the lockdown? Did more children drop out of school when schools were closed?

How much money did governments spend dealing with COVID-19 and how many businesses were brought asunder by the lockdown?

What other financial impacts arose from locking down the economy?

Could older Australians, who are most vulnerable to COVID-19, have been protected with different responses that carried fewer costs? In other words, could we have handled this crisis differently?

Only by providing answers to very tough questions will future governments have more complete information at their fingertips the next time a pandemic threatens.

This is not an immoral endeavour. It is not even a utilitarian one. It is simply one driven by realism and honesty about the imperfect world in which we live. The worst outcome would be to blindly ­assume that governments performed so terrifically that an investigation into this pandemic, not just its origins, but its handling by governments, is not needed.

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 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here