Australian Politics 2022-06-10 06:36:00


Court order to expose @PRguy17 threatens the right to be anonymous online

The problem is not anonymity. It is defamation. A more robust and accessible system to punish misleading and derogatory tweets is what is needed

A Federal Court order forcing Twitter to hand over identifying details of a prominent anonymous account has far-reaching consequences for all internet users.

For those who engage in heated online debates under a pseudonym, the decision means they may be at risk of having their identity exposed.

But even if you’re not a chronic online poster, this court decision has important implications for our online rights. It is part of a growing debate about the merit of online anonymity, which stands to affect the way we can participate in cyberspace.

The court order is a result of defamation proceedings launched by far-right social media personality Avi Yemini against anonymous Twitter account @PRGuy17, which was set up in March 2020 and has since attracted more than 80,000 users.

The account is known for posting content in support of the Labor Party, with particular emphasis on praising Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. PRGuy has been critical of the anti-lockdown “Freedom Movement”, of which Yemini has been a figurehead. Sky News has accused the account of pumping out “pro-Labor propaganda” and some have claimed it may be connected to the premier’s office.

However, the precedent created by this case – where a social media platform has been ordered to hand over identifying information so a party to a court case can legally pursue the person behind the account – is chilling for many who use anonymity to participate in online debate. Defamation has a notorious history in Australia, and certain plaintiffs have used it to strategically silence criticism.

Those who benefit from the use of pseudonyms online are not a small minority. People who have jobs that limit their ability to engage in public debates, such as those in the public service or in frontline client-facing roles, often rely on anonymity to call out bad behaviour (or to simply have an opinion) without fear of repercussions in the physical world.

Human rights defenders, political organisers, lawyers and whistleblowers often rely on the shield offered by anonymity to do their vital work while also engaging in regular online life. Even if you aren’t one of these people, we all benefit from their ability to hold power to account.

We cannot glorify the Arab Spring protests and the might that social media has given to other social movements since then, then seek to remove the key ingredient which made those movements possible.

All this must be balanced against the proliferation of online trolling, in which people can be subjected to hundreds, even thousands, of abusive messages, often for posting something innocuous.

Defamation policy won’t tackle online trolls, lawyers tell PM

In criticising trolls in October 2021, then prime minister Scott Morrison labelled social media a “cowards’ palace” and called for a crackdown on anonymous accounts. In March that year, a federal parliamentary committee had recommended people be required to provide 100 points of ID to create a social media account. Morrison’s government then unveiled draft legislation purported to tackle online trolls with a requirement that social media companies collect unspecified additional identifying information. This has a huge impact on those who need online anonymity for safety, such as victims of domestic violence.

Regardless of whether you personally feel you have “nothing to hide”, in an environment where it is increasingly difficult to protect our data from breaches and misuse, the proposal to hand over additional information to big tech giants – despite the privacy and security risks – is troubling.

There is little evidence that reducing anonymity online would prevent trolling. Research has found that prohibiting anonymity online does not necessarily reduce bullying or the spread of misinformation. And when it was attempted in South Korea, 35 million people had their national identification numbers stolen by hackers. We need to improve the quality of online debate, but policies should be based on evidence, not instinct.

These are not easy challenges to tackle. Anyone who has ever been attacked by an anonymous online troll would tell you the abuse has real-world consequences. But if we give up the ability to be anonymous we pave the way for the complete erosion of privacy online, to the detriment of public debate, safety, expression and democratic participation.

Regardless of your opinion on Yemini or PRGuy, we shouldn’t let a public beef between two of Australia’s most divisive people on the internet obscure why online anonymity is vital for our democracy. The consequences of this court decision may very well impact all internet users, not just the people who say things we don’t like.


Australian universities have held their position in world rankings through the pandemic with seven institutions in the latest global top 100 list released by higher ­education analyst firm QS

At 30th, the Australian Nat­ional University retains its position as the best ranked local institution in the 2023 QS World University Rankings, down three places from 27th last year.

Second is the University of Melbourne at 33rd, followed by the University of Sydney at 41st.

Also in the top 100 are UNSW (45th), the ­University of Queensland (50th), Monash University (57th) and the University of Western Australia (90th).

Among other Australian universities, La Trobe stood out, rising 46 places to 316th in the latest ranking list. QS said the improvement was mainly due to a rise in the number of citations per ­research paper published by La Trobe academics.

La Trobe has also increased its output of research papers, up by 37 per cent since 2016, nearly three times higher than the 13 per cent average growth in research output over that period.

QS senior vice-president Ben Sowter said although Australian universities had suffered from international isolation during the pandemic, their rankings had stagnated rather than declined.

“There are as many universities rising as falling,” he said. “Australia continues to shine for research excellence, but its recognition among the global academic community and employers has taken a hit, connected with the reduced international engagement during the pandemic.”

Mr Sowter said if the number of international students in Australia took a long time to recover, it would “jeopardise the intellectual diversity and exchange that are causing Australia’s institutions to thrive”.

Because of two years of closed borders during the pandemic, Australian universities also went backwards in the reputation surveys that account for half of the QS ranking. Of the 38 ranked Australian universities, 37 declined in the academic reputation survey of more than 150,000 ­academics globally, which makes up 40 per cent of the QS ranking.

And all 38 ranked universities declined in the employer reputation survey (which samples nearly 100,000 employers ­globally), which makes up 10 per cent of the ranking.

However, Australian universities did well on the research measure, which counts the number of research citations per academic, and makes up 20 per cent of the ranking score. Thirteen Australian universities are in the world’s top 100 on the research measure.


Why men kill themselves

Bettina Arndt

Over twenty years ago, federal member of parliament Greg Wilton took his own life. The tragedy was the culmination of a series of events which highlight how poorly we deal with vulnerable men. Three weeks earlier, Wilton had been found “in a distressed state” with his children in a car in the national park, apparently rigging a hose to the exhaust. It was widely reported as an attempted murder-suicide.

He spent time in psychiatric care, but with his Labor colleagues maneuvering to force him out of parliament and relentless hounding from the press, it wasn’t long before he tried again. This time he succeeded. On June 14, 2000, the 44-year was found dead in his car, with the exhaust hose attached.

A few years earlier Wilton had given a speech to parliament pointing out that group most likely to commit suicide in this country were men like him – adult males struggling with marital separation. He mentioned extensive research that had emerged over previous years showing “men kill themselves due to an inability to cope with life events such as relationship breakups of the kind I myself have suffered.”

In the two decades since then, that research has piled up. The case is now overwhelming that men facing relationship breakdown should be a key target of Australia’s suicide prevention policies.

There’s no way our health bureaucrats are going to let that happen. The March 2022 budget allocated $2.1 billion to services for women and girls and just $1 million to “improve long term health outcomes” for men and boys. Isn’t that extraordinary? Somehow females are seen as deserving of 2000 times more investment in their health than men, despite their more robust health resulting in four extra years of life expectancy.

What a tribute to the mighty efforts of our feminist health bureaucracy which for decades has strenuously ignored the enormous elephant sitting in their room - namely, the ever-increasing male suicide rate wiping out so many younger adult males.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for people aged 25-44. Male vulnerability is at the heart of the problem. Look at these statistics:

· Men account for 3 in 4 of the lives lost to suicide.

· 7 of the 9 people who kill themselves every day are male.

· There have always been more male than female suicides.

· Over the past ten years males have become even more at risk.

· The male suicide rate is twice the annual road toll.

Men wiping themselves out is a hugely important health issue – yet there’s a very good reason why our politicians and feminist bureaucrats don’t want to go there. As Greg Wilton pointed out, the evidence is piling up that a key reason many of these young men are at risk is they are casualties of family breakup.

The consequent minefield that hits these men, who are frequently fathers, often proves unbearable. Most face some combination of stressful legal battles, false accusations, crippling child support payments; financial ruin and most importantly, the loss of their children.

Marty Grant could have been one such casualty. He had it all planned. The tough young farmer from the West Australian wheat belt had the wire around his neck.

The other end was tied to a tree and the car ready to surge into motion. But he stopped himself. “I realized I couldn’t do it to my family and friends.” Marty pulled back, drove himself home, packed a bag and set off to seek help from the local nurse.

I wrote about Marty many years ago in an article on bush suicide for the Australian Women’s Weekly, covering all the stresses these farmers were going through, including crippling drought, dropping commodity prices, succession problems. But it took some doing to persuade the magazine editors to let me tackle the major suicide research issue emerging at that time – family breakdown. It was the loss of his loved ones which pushed Marty over the edge. His partner took off because she didn’t want to be a farmer’s wife, and then the son from a previous relationship – a child Marty had cared for a decade as a single parent - went off to live with his mum. Marty’s family disappeared.

This was the type of story highlighted in research published around that time by the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention at Griffith University which found relationship breakdown to be the main trigger for suicide, with male risk four times that of females.

According to the researchers Drs Chris Cantor and Pierre Baume, men are most vulnerable in the period immediately after separation – with separation from children a major source of their despair.

That’s a red flag, crying out for suicide prevention intervention. Just think what usually happens when we discover one of these trigger points. Like mothers at risk of suicide due to post-partum depression. When that first made the news, support groups got to work, government funding started pouring in, and now prevention programs are everywhere.

Currently the federal government is targeting anorexic girls. Wham, the latest suicide funding promised $20 million for eating disorder treatment services. Then there’s indigenous suicide. Righty-o. They’ve come up with $79 million in the budget for that one.

Yet for the last two decades there has been absolutely no government funding to follow up Cantor and Baume’s work on vulnerable divorcing men, even though recent Griffith University research still shows relationship difficulties to be the major triggering life event, accounting for 42.5 % of suicides. The Australian Bureau of Statistics data lists relationship disruptions/problems as the key suicide psychological risk factors after self-harm, which is more a symptom of distress than a trigger.

But this key issue never features in the public narrative. Instead, we are presented with carefully constructed red herrings. Remember the lavish 2016 ABC television program, Man Up, which spent three episodes claiming we need to teach suicidal men to show their feelings. Hours of television about men having to learn to cry, but not a word about what they were crying about.

Then they announced a mental health expert, Christine Morgan, as National Suicide Prevention Officer, and followed up with $5.6 million from mental health funding to encourage men to seek help. Don’t they love this new diversion, focussing on encouraging men to rid themselves of their toxic masculinity and show their softer side?

But the fact is that even though many suicidal men have mental health problems, our authorities are strenuously ignoring the key event which might push them over the edge. Data from the Queensland Suicide register shows that 42% of men who die by suicide have a mental health diagnosis but 98% have experienced a recent life event, such as relationship breakdown.

Given the ongoing male suicide crisis, it is an absolute scandal that our suicide policies are still proudly “gender neutral” with up to 4 of 5 beneficiaries female, according to analysis by the Australian Men’s Health Forum. Read the case AMHF makes for a male suicide prevention strategy here.

Yet finally there are tiny green shoots appearing midst the ongoing gloom. In January this year Suicide Prevention Australia, the peak body for suicide prevention organisations, announced that “it’s time to talk about male suicide prevention.”

“Of the 3,000 lives tragically lost to suicide each year, over 75% are men. They are our husbands and fathers, our brothers and uncles, our colleagues and friends”, wrote CEO Nieves Murray, announcing they were pushing for an “ambitious male suicide prevention strategy,” guided by “the evidence” and “addressing underlying issues that might lead men to the point of crisis,” and actually mentioning support for men in family courts.

The Morrison government announced last November that some suicide prevention funding would be targeted at risk groups including men but didn’t manage to get this up before the election. No doubt the health bureaucrats have no interest in rushing this one through and it’s hard to imagine this happening if a Labor/Green government gets into power.

Look what happened after Pauline Hanson had the guts to speak out about false allegations and bias against men when appointed Deputy Chair of the recent parliamentary inquiry into family law. She was ripped apart in the media and her Labor/Green committee members stymied any hope of addressing these issues, despite hundreds of submissions documenting how men are being done over.

Tackling male suicide means highlighting the way the family law system is now weaponised against men. This will attract huge resistance from the feminist mob controlling our media, so adept at cowering politicians into inaction. But too many people now know and care about what’s driving so many men to take their lives.

The time is right for a mighty campaign to galvanise public opinion and demand real change


The power struggle: inconvenient truth proves renewables can’t cut it

Australia’s low-emissions energy journey is locked in a struggle ­between engineering and hope.

The nation has lost its way on energy because it has failed to think long term, excluded emerging technologies from the discussion, and refused to learn the lessons of failure from elsewhere.

Debate this week about how a capacity market should work to keep the lights on and industry in business underscores the point.

Too many people with too little understanding have turned a problem of physics and engineering into one of politics and economics. The breakdown in electricity supply is as serious as it has been predictable. Engineers know that grinding the coal sector into the ground won’t make renewables produce electricity when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining. Leaving gas in the ground, as NSW and Victoria have done, won’t power a back-up supply. Stealing back supplies of gas from companies that have contracted to sell it elsewhere will compound the problems.

Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen has fired back at the Coalition over their push for Labor to…
Governments generally don’t last long enough to reap the product of the chaos they sow. But new governments should learn the mistakes of others.

Contrary to popular opinion, Germany’s transition away from nuclear power has not been fuelled by wind and solar. It has been powered by greater use of brown coal and a dependence on Russian Gas. Power shortages in South Australia, California, Texas, UK and Europe all share a common feature, a naive hope that renewable energy will do the job it is not equipped to do.

Politicians have been cowered into supporting solutions they don’t understand. No serious thinker believes it’s economically sensible to firm up a national grid with batteries but a whole industry is willing to take government money to give it a try.

It might well be an expensive fix for individual households, but not industry. Spending billions to extend the national grid is based on the premise that the wind will always be blowing somewhere. The reality is this is not necessarily the case.

Hydrogen is a promising technology but experts who have worked in the field maintain it is a dangerous substance, difficult to contain and invisible when it burns. From an environmental perspective, the vast amount of materials and area of land needed to attempt what is being proposed using wind, solar, batteries, pumped hydro, hydrogen and transmission lines does not meet the cost/benefit test. A bigger concern is electricity is only a small part of the challenge ahead. Bigger and more important for industry is process heat, something that wind and solar can never deliver.

Alinta Energy chief executive Jeff Dimery belled the cat this week that the energy crisis was caused by chaotic market planning that had swamped the country with renewables that in turn made coal uncompetitive.

“We’re committing economic suicide if we rush and try to do it too quickly when we haven’t got the alternative supplies in place,” he told a Melbourne conference.

To illustrate the point, he said renewable energy plants in South Australia last Wednesday at 6.15pm were producing one megawatt of electricity, a tiny fraction of capacity. There was no wind in Victoria either.

“So it wouldn’t have mattered if you doubled the capacity of the transmission, and it wouldn’t have mattered if you quadrupled the capacity of intermittent generation. Without coal and gas, the lights would have gone out in South Australia, that is a fact,” he said.

Watching on, as the nation’s energy thinkers look for Band-Aid solutions to potentially fatal conditions in the energy market is the former head of Australia’s Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, Adi Paterson, who has also commercialised pioneering research on lithium ion batteries and participated hydrogen policy work in South Africa.

Paterson says the nation is locked in a false struggle. “This ­debate has become about economics and the universal law of economics is that it does not trump physics,” he says.

“We have the burden of ­explaining more clearly to people what the real energy choices look like. Carbon-free process heat is a much bigger problem than electricity. And the fundamental problem is, if we are going to electrify everything, we are going to need reliable, predictable, ‘always-on’ electricity for a rational society to function.

“With the energy cost issues, people are starting to see that when you take the baseload out the costs go up.”

He said it was important to have an intergenerational view of the problem: “We do not have to do it all in 10 years. In the next century, I believe, if we just take off the false time problem, we will be looking for the highest density of energy we can get, and at the top of that pile is nuclear fusion.”

There are critics who can point to decades of promises but the world is looking to new-generation nuclear reactors and fusion to solve the problem of low-emissions electrification to run a developed industrial economy.

In the domain of nuclear fission, the first small-scale modular nuclear reactor by a US firm NuScale is under construction and will be completed this decade.

The US National Academies road map has set a time line to build nuclear fusion reactors from 2035. Australian company HB11 Energy, of which Paterson is a ­director, is leading the world in ­exploring nuclear fusion using a new generation of high-energy ­lasers. The technology won a Nobel prize for the inventors and can bring decades of theory into reality.

HB11 Energy is looking at the 2040s to have a plant operating based on the principles of inertial fusion using lasers.

Despite this, nuclear fission and fusion technology are not part of Australia’s official energy discussion. Jim Chalmers, says he has ruled out nuclear energy because “the economics don’t stack up”.

The Treasurer said he had never been a supporter of nuclear power and would maintain his opposition to it, which was “economic not ideological”.

Paterson says this view misunderstands the problem.

“There is a tendency to oversimplify,” he says. “I think the fundamental problem of wind and solar is it is highly accessible to the domestic consumer but most of what is useful in our society we don’t really understand. You can win an argument by saying solar, wind and batteries because people understand it.

“I think we need to have this discussion about fission and fusion as a low-cost source of electrons because it gives us predictability and optionality.

“It will give us a stab at solving the energy problem not just the electricity problem. The question for wind, solar and batteries is ‘Where is the process heat?’

“If we solve the issue of nuclear fusion plants – because they will also provide process heat for ­industry – they will be the anchor tenant of most modern economies from about 2060.”

This line might not suit the catastrophisation narrative of a climate emergency. But at least it might just work.