Monthly Archives: July 2020

29/7/20: COVID19 Update: US vs EU27

Updating my charts for COVID19 cases and deaths for the U.S. and EU27:

New Cases:

U.S. continues to show the way on how NOT to do pandemic response. However, in recent days, there has been a re-acceleration in the new cases arrivals in the EU27 - a trailing outrun of the fairly aggressive restrictions relaxation measures across Europe, and re-opening of some holidays travel. This is something to watch in weeks to come.

Daily Deaths:

No resurgence in new deaths in the EU27 so far, but this is consistent with the lags to new cases and to be expected, given some uplift in new cases arrivals.

The U.S. is clearly experiencing resurgence in deaths, as expected, with significantly longer lags between new cases and deaths than in the earlier phase of the pandemic.

Comparatives between the EU27 and the U.S.

Total deaths in the U.S. continue to pull away from the total number of deaths in the EU27 with the current gap at over 14,000.

The gap in total number of deaths and in deaths per capita of population between the U.S. and the EU27 continues to grow.

While the pandemic continues to accelerate in the U.S., it is the slight uptick in the EU27 new cases that is more concerning, given our general fatigue with pointing out the extent of the public health disaster that the U.S. represents.

But for those inclined to watch the complete meltdown of the American public health system (and the ethical monstrosity of the U.S. public indifference to the risks faced by the others), here is a summary table for the largest advanced economies (Ireland is included for different comparatives) COVID19 stats to-date:

29/7/20: COVID19 Update: Worldwide Cases and Deaths

Updating main charts for global COVID19 cases and deaths through today's data:

Global New Cases:

We are continuing to hit all-time highs in new cases globally as the pandemic shows no signs of moderation.

  • Week-to-date, daily case numbers ranked within top 10 in six days, including four all-time highs in the last 7 days. 
  • Historical mean of daily new cases is currently at 82,601. Last seven days average daily new cases count is 255,262. This is more than 2.2 standard deviations higher than the historical average. 30-days running average is 217,092 which is more than 0.5 standard deviations below the 7-days average.
  • Last local max was observed in early April 2020. Since then, the pandemic trend has been persistently upward.
Global Daily Deaths:

The trend in daily deaths counts is re-accelerating and starting to approach past peak:
  • In the last 10 days, deaths increased 14.1% over the previous 10 days period, reversing the negative rates of growth between June 26 and July 9.
  • Historical mean is 3,269 deaths per day, with the last 30-days average at 5,214 and the last 7 days average at 6,258. Current 7-days average is 0.75 standard deviations higher than the historical average.
  • The rate of new deaths arrivals has been slower than the rate of growth in new cases until 20/07/2020. Since then, the rate of new deaths growth is exceeding the rate of new cases arrivals. Both are positive (chart next):

As noted consistently in my posts, deaths are lagged to cases, but in addition, changes in geography of new cases (with an added change in methodology for attributing deaths in a range of developing countries, compared to the EU methodology) drive lower death counts in recent months. In addition, lags between new cases are being extended, while deaths and death rates per confirmed case are also being held lower by younger demographics of new cases in the U.S. and around the world.

All of this contributed to the growing sense of complacency amongst global policy leaders during the recent period of moderate deaths arrivals - from the late April through mid-July. It now appears that such complacency was premature, as death rates are now rising once again.

Summary tables of the largest pandemic cases by country (countries with > 25,000 cases):

Arizona’s Coronavirus Crest in Rear View Mirror

Two weeks ago, the data for cases and hospitalizations in Arizona signaled the state had turned a corner for the progression of coronavirus infections among its residents, but the data for deaths was too incomplete to confirm that milestone had been passed.

Two weeks later, all three major measures of the spread and severity of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus confirm the delayed first wave of infections Arizona has experienced has indeed passed through a crest in its coronavirus epidemic, which is now in its rear view mirror. We've continued to refine and update our analysis based on the best estimates of its characteristics, where we've been able to identify significant factors affecting the progression of the coronavirus within the state.

New Hospitalizations Continue Trending Downward

Data for new coronavirus-related hospitalizations in Arizona is especially useful for determining whether particular events affected the rate of exposure to COVID-19 infections within a population.

That's because the date a patient might be admitted to a hospital for health issues associated with a coronavirus infection is independent of any delays in performing COVID tests and the subsequent reporting of their results, which makes it more difficult to use testing-related data for that purpose. The reporting of test results may be affected by shortages of testing supplies and bottlenecks that slow the processing of test results when an unanticipated increase in demand for testing outstrips the capacity of a region's coronavirus testing supply chain to respond.

The CDC reports a median time from exposure to onset of symptoms of 5 to 6 days, with an additional median time of 6 to 7 days before symptoms might become severe enough for an infected person to seek admission to a hospital for treatment. Combined, that gives a stable and narrow median window of 11 to 13 days to use in determining whether a particular event influenced the rate of incidence of exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

We've used that median window of time in the following chart to indicate when we would expect a change in trend for the rate of new COVID-19 hospitalizations to occur following a significant event (shown as purple or green-shaded vertical bands), or to back calculate when an event would have had to occur to produce an observed change in trend (shown as red-shaded vertical bands).

Daily COVID-19 New Hospital Admissions in Arizona, 3 March 2020 - 28 July 2020

The downside to using data for new hospitalizations to determine if a given event changed the incidence rate of exposures is that it takes three weeks to get an effectively complete picture of the number of new hospitalizations that occurred on a given date.

We've summarized what we observe in the data in the following table, where the letters correspond to the timing of the significant events indicated on the chart affecting the rate of spread of coronavirus infections in Arizona.

Timeline of Events Affecting Rate of Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus in Arizona
Event/Date Description Observed Change in Trends for Hospitalizations 11-13 Days Later
A 19 Mar 2020California imposes statewide lockdown orderSignificant change from rising to steady (bounded range) rate of hospitalizations. We think Arizonans effectively implemented practices to minimize their exposure risk to potential coronavirus infections, which then happened to show up as a change in trend immediately after Arizona implemented its own statewide lockdown order.
B 31 Mar 2020Arizona imposes statewide lockdown order through April 2020Minimal change, new COVID-19 hospitalizations continue within bounded range. We think the main effect of the lockdown order was to standardize how Arizonans minimized their coronavirus exposure risks, which allowed the benefits to extend until the order was lifted, although that came at great economic cost. The lockdown would later be extended to 15 May 2020.
C 15 May 2020Arizona lifts statewide lockdown orderSignificant change from steady to rising rate of new hospitalizations.
D 28 May 2020 to 15 Jun 2020Large scale political protests (Black Lives Matter/George Floyd/Anti-Police)Change in rate of growth in rate of new hospital admissions as the protests greatly increased the risk and rate of exposure to the coronavirus for younger Arizonans, who are less likely to require hospitalization. Sharp increase in number of cases not requiring hospital admission.
E 19 Jun 2020Governor Ducey's executive order allowing counties to require wearing masks in public venues begins to be implemented. Significant change as new COVID-19 hospital admissions peak and begin to decline.
F30 Jun 2020Arizona imposes 'mini-lockdown' orderMinimal change, though data still incomplete for this period. Continued downward trend.

One important thing to note for the change in trend associated with the anti-police protests in Arizona's larger cities is that older Arizonans, who are much more likely to require hospitalization and risk death if they become infected by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, appear to have recognized the heightened risk of exposure to the virus from these mass gatherings and have avoided participating in them. Their responsible choices reduced the rate at which hospitalizations for those Age 45 or older were observed to increase during the period where they would be expected to have an effect, while the share of younger Arizonans requiring coronavirus-related hospitalizations increased during this period.

The bigger story however is the peak and reversal in the period associated with Governor Doug Ducey's executive order allowing counties to require residents to wear masks in businesses and other public venues on 18 March 2020 that was quickly implemented in Arizona's four most affected counties on 19 March 2020.

Coming a few days after the anti-police protests petered out, which eliminated a major contributing factor to the spread of coronavirus exposures in Arizona, the governor's mask order appears to have directly contributed to a sharp decline in hospitalizations. It initially appears to be one of the most effective actions taken by any state or local government official during the state's experience with the global coronavirus pandemic.

Before closing this section, we should note that the data for daily new hospital admissions shown in the chart above was obtained on 27 July 2020, prior to a major change in COVID-19 reporting requirements for hospitals in Arizona that revises a large portion of the data. Beginning on 28 July 2020, Arizona's official data began reflecting a new policy where all hospitals in Arizona are now required to report cases to the state, which at this writing, affects data going back to early June 2020. We've presented the pre-revised data because it represents a consistent sample of hospital admissions during the prior reporting periods, without the sudden and incomplete addition of cases counted at those hospitals whose totals are only just now being included in the state's official figures.

Data for Deaths in Arizona Confirm a Corner Has Been Turned

Data for deaths is similar to that for hospitalizations in that there is a relatively stable window of time that can be used to trace a coronavirus-related death back to the time the ultimately fatal exposure occurred. Unlike the data for hospitalizations, it takes much longer to be realized.

For deaths attributed to COVID-19, the CDC indicates the median time death occurs is 12 to 15 days depending on age following the onset of symptoms, which follows the median period of 5 to 6 days from exposure to symptom onset, which gives a combined median window of 17 to 21 days from initial exposure to death for the affected individuals. On top of that, there is typically a seven day lag in reporting deaths.

In the following chart, we've applied that refined time estimate to project the expected changes in trend for the actual timing of coronavirus-related deaths, finding much of the same pattern we identified from the data for COVID-19 hospitalizations in Arizona.

Daily COVID-19 Deaths in Arizona, 3 March 2020 - 28 July 2020

Here, we confirm upturns in the expected periods following when Arizona lifted its statewide lockdown order and in the period associated with the anti-police protests. This latter surge occurs about 11 days into the forecast period. Since the reported deaths for this period are concentrated the Age 65+ demographic, we think it might be attributable to protest participants exposing older relatives after their initial exposure at the mass gatherings in which they participated.

Although it falls within the period for which officially reported data is still incomplete, there is enough data available to indicate Arizona has turned a corner for deaths during its coronavirus epidemic. The approximate timing falls within the period that would be expected following the end of the anti-police protests and the implementation of Governor Ducey's mask order.

The Spread of New Cases Continues Post-Peak Downward Trend

The data for confirmed cases is the most difficult to use in projecting when a change in trend will occur following a significant event that changes the risk of exposure. While potentially offering the shortest time between exposure and confirmed result, the reporting of results is subject to issues related to the available supply of test kits and bottlenecks in processing. For Arizona, that has meant a growing delay between the time when test specimens are collected after being requested and when a positive result is reported because of the increase in demand for testing related to its surge of coronavirus infections.

Assuming the onset of COVID-19 symptoms following exposure some median 5 to 6 days earlier is what prompts an individual to seek confirmation of a coronavirus infection via testing, the amount of time for an Arizonan to receive results has increased from 9 to 15 days after exposure in May 2020 up to a range of 13 to 19 days in June 2020, and then up to as many as 18 to 24 days after exposure in July 2020. These lags are consistent with what Arizona's Maricopa County has indicated applies for its daily case reporting.

The following chart takes these variable lags into account in projecting when a change in trend might be observed following significant events affecting the risk of exposure.

Daily COVID-19 Confirmed Cases in Arizona, 3 March 2020 - 28 July 2020

Once again, the reversal of the upward trend coinciding with the period in which the number of cases are projected to be affected by the timing of Governor Ducey's mask order stands out, with the number of newly confirmed cases falling sharply afterward.

Since this data captures the known extent of active coronavirus cases in Arizona however, it provides a means of approximating the number of additional coronavirus cases that resulted from the anti-police protests in Arizona using its seven-day moving averages. Here, we can use the upward trend in cases that was established following the lifting of Arizona's statewide lockdown order on 15 May 2020 to estimate the number of excess cases related to the protests, those above and beyond the state's initial post-lockdown trendline, which would be anticipated to fall between 11 June 2020 and 2 July 2020.

Doing that math, we find that if the number of new cases had simply risen at the rate indicated by its initial post-lockdown trendline, the state would have added 39,442 cases between these dates. Instead, Arizona added 52,474 cases, with nearly a quarter of this total attributable to the mass gatherings associated with the anti-police protests in this raw estimate.

Comparing the Coronavirus Experiences of Arizona and New York

Since mid-May 2020, Arizona has realized an incidence of cases that is very similar to what New York experienced from February through April 2020. The following chart shows just how similar, and also how different, Arizona's experience has been using the metrics of the daily 7-day average of newly confirmed coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents and the daily 7-day average of deaths attributed to COVID-19 per 100,000 residents.

7-Day Moving Averages: COVID-19 Confirmed Cases per 100,000 Residents and COVID-19 Deaths per 100,000 Residents, New York vs Arizona, 17 March 2020 - 28 July 2020

We confirm both New York and Arizona residents have experienced very similar rates of coronavirus infections. At their peaks, hospitals and health care systems within both states operated at or near 100% of their available capacity before the spreads of their respective coronavirus surges subsided.

Meanwhile, at both states' peak in deaths per 100,000 residents, we confirm New York experienced nearly 3.4 times as many deaths as Arizona. We believe this difference in outcomes is directly attributable to extremely poor policy decisions made in managing the coronavirus epidemic in New York as compared to how Arizona's state and public health officials have managed its similarly sized epidemic surge.

Finally, we should also address the role of politically partisan health care professionals in promoting participation in anti-police protests, who undermined their credibility and responsibilities to protect the public's health by doing so. In failing to "condemn these gatherings as risky for COVID-19 transmission" or to recognize that participants either could not or would not practice the precautions they advised to the general public to guard against virus transmission, their reckless and negligent advocacy sent a loud message that they did not take the precautions they advised seriously. That corrupt message greatly amplified the spread of transmissions in other public venues during the time the protests continued, such as bars, gyms, and public pools and water parks, where many young people in particular felt empowered to similarly disregard the precautions they observed protestors disregarding, both endangering themselves and greatly contributing to the spread of the coronavirus.

Arizona's Coronavirus Crest in the Rear View Mirror

The end of the anti-police protests in Arizona and the state government's mask order combined appear to be responsible for Arizona's turning the corner for the spread of coronavirus infections in its delayed first wave.

Arizona is not the only state experiencing a delayed first wave of coronavirus infections, but its experience and somewhat earlier timing can inform others, such as Florida, which are now passing through their own similarly delayed crests as the U.S. enters a "sustained downward trajectory of virus spread."

Previously on Political Calculations


Arizona Department of Health Services. COVID-19 Data Dashboard. [Online Application/Database].

Maricopa County Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). COVID-19 Data Archive. Maricopa County Daily Data Reports. [PDF Document Directory, Daily Dashboard].

Stephen A. Lauer, Kyra H. Grantz, Qifang Bi, Forrest K. Jones, Qulu Zheng, Hannah R. Meredith, Andrew S. Azman, Nicholas G. Reich, Justin Lessler. The Incubation Period of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) From Publicly Reported Confirmed Cases: Estimation and Application. Annals of Internal Medicine, 5 May 2020.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 Pandemic Planning Scenarios. [PDF Document]. Updated 10 July 2020.

Australian Politics 2020-07-29 16:07:00


Ridd Case: IPA Welcomes Historic High Court Appeal

Ridd was fired for challenging Greenie lies about the Great Barrier Reef

The Institute of Public Affairs has welcomed the announcement that Dr Peter Ridd will appeal the judgement in the case of James Cook University (JCU) v Peter Ridd to the High Court of Australia. Dr Ridd is seeking to reverse the 2-1 decision of the Federal Court of Australia, which overturned the earlier decision in the Federal Circuit Court, which held that Dr Peter Ridd was unlawfully dismissed by JCU.

“This is an historic appeal. It will be the first time that the High Court has been asked to adjudicate on the meaning of intellectual freedom,” said Gideon Rozner, IPA Director of Policy.

“The fundamental issues of free speech at Australian universities, the future of academic debate and freedom of speech on climate change are all on the line in this historic High Court appeal.”

“This has been Australia’s David vs Goliath battle. Dr Peter Ridd on one side backed by the voluntary donations of thousands of ordinary Australians, and JCU on the other side who with taxpayer funds secured some of the most expensive legal representation in the country in Bret Walker SC to stifle the free speech of one of its own staff.”

Dr Peter Ridd, a professor of physics at JCU, was sacked by the university for misconduct for questioning in the IPA’s publication Climate Change: The Facts 2017 the quality climate change science surrounding the Great Barrier Reef, and for public statements made on the Jones & Co Sky News program.

Dr Peter Ridd today reopened his Go Fund Me page, appealing to thousands of mainstream Australians to once again support his historic fight for free speech on climate change.

“Peter Ridd’s fight is representative of every Australian who has been censored, cancelled or silenced,” said Mr Rozner. “Alarmingly, the decision of the Federal Court shows that contractual provisions guaranteeing intellectual freedom do not protect academics against censorship by university administrators. This is a point where the IPA and the NTEU are on a unity ticket.”

“James Cook University’s actions prove there is a crisis of free speech at Australian universities. Many academics are censured, but few are prepared to speak out and risk their career, particularly if faced with the prospect of legal battles and possible bankruptcy.

“The case has identified a culture of censorship when it comes to challenging claims surrounding climate change and the Great Barrier Reef. JCU to this date has never attempted to disprove claims made by Dr Ridd about the Great Barrier Reef,” said Mr Rozner.


Ideological fervour must not trump good public policymaking response

Victoria's inability to contain the coronavirus outbreak brought on by hotel quarantine failures risks becoming NSW's problem too. There are indications that by the end of this week NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian may face some tough choices. The
question is, will she make a similar mistake to Victoria? By letting ideology restrict her options to contain the spread of the coronavirus. By not locking the state down in part or in full — swiftly enough.

The Victorian experience has been hampered by a centralised public health bureaucracy: old-fashioned, slow and unwieldy in response to a virus that rapidly takes hold. It's a sharp contrast to NSW, where the decentralised public health system is fit for purpose: able to rapidly deploy contact tracers and pop-up clinics in order to not lose control of the situation too quickly.

Contact tracing in Victoria has been ineffective and centrally organised. Pop-up clinics haven't opened up quickly enough. The state's Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, sits too far down the health bureaucratic food chain —three rungs below the minister —to make decisions quickly enough to see action fluidly follow. Despite an impressive career, Sutton isn't a career public health clinician, in stark contrast to NSW CHO Kerry Chant. 

The centralised structure of public health in Victoria is a hallmark of how Dan Andrews likes to do business. The system 'has been years in the making, dating right back to the now Premier's time as the responsible minister during the Bracks government.

The harsh lockdown Andrews announced became his only option to try and regain the initiative against a virus that shows little mercy. However, because of the many system faults, Victoria is starting the fightback a long way behind. As of yesterday, there were 1583 cases still under investigation, which speaks to the poor contact tracing out of Victoria, not helped by the COVIDSafe app not working as effectively as promised, if, indeed, it's working at all. The six-week hard lockdown became a necessary evil for Victorians precisely because of the failures in Health Victoria's old-fashioned structures.

Polemicists on the right might like to mouth off about the hotel quarantine failures, which to be sure were the trigger for this disaster. But the magnitude of it has grown exponentially because of the structural failures outlined above. And those failures are
ideological — red meat for right-wing critics of Andrews.

The Liberal government in NSW now has its own ideological choice. Does it reject a lockdown because of its stated desire to keep the economy open, risking the spread of the virus getting out of control? Or does it recognise that even though a lockdown goes against the Liberal Party's mantra of opening the economy back up, in the long run, failure to contain this latest contagion will do more economic harm than a short (and perhaps limited) lockdown?

Andrews let his ideological preference for centralised power get the better of him, to the detriment of Victorians' health. For the same ideological reasons, he found re-embracing the lockdowns easier to stomach. The command-and-control nature of it suits his style. The economic cost of lockdowns are not front of mind.

Berejiklian can't let her ideological opposition to lockdowns be her undoing, especially when the decentralised public health structure in NSW has so comprehensively shown up the Victorian model. Like it or not, lockdowns for NSW might be the lesser of evils, for both health and economic outcomes. Sadly, the behaviour of some NSW residents has shown that if the virus becomes established, it may spread even more quickly than in Victoria.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee has been presented with modelling highlighting this. NSW still has a chance to contain the virus. It may even get lucky and tiptoe through unscathed, because of its decentralised structures. But if it doesn't, NSW will need to let good public policymaking guide its response, not the ideological fervour of the government of the day.

From "The Australian" of 22.7.20

Coronavirus: Hospital breakthrough removes the fear factor

A story of globally significant medical ingenuity has emerged from the rubble of Australia’s ­second coronavirus wave, as doctors and nurses use a local invention to better treat patients and protect staff.

Western Health and Melbourne University this year helped create a world-leading ventilation hood that is placed over victims, with the twin benefit of protecting staff and improving treatments.

Associate professor Forbes McGain has received the results of an initial study into the effectiveness of the hood, which is designed to contain the droplet spread of the coronavirus.

Dr McGain, who works for Western Health, said the study feedback from the first 20 patients had been “overwhelmingly positive”.

Many thousands of healthcare workers globally have been infected with COVID-19 while trying to save the lives of the sick and dying.

The ventilation hood separates medical staff from the patient without losing line of sight and contains the droplets.

For Dr McGain, an intensive care specialist at Melbourne’s Sunshine Hospital, the first obvious benefit is in the wellbeing of nurses and doctors. “The nurses in particular feel safe,” he said.

“That’s the most important thing for the hood. The nurses aren’t as worried nursing and caring for quite unwell patients.”

The hood, which effectively creates a bubble around the ­patient, also enables staff to provide less invasive therapies and improved interaction with those being treated.

Some 17 of the hoods are being used in Victoria as the medical world starts to struggle with the increasing load of the virus.

There is rising interest in the device from other hospitals and it has presented as a significant opportunity for local manufacturing and potential global exports.

The ventilation sucks air away from the patient but restricts the flow of droplets, with the hood acting as a barrier. It also enables other intensive care machines to function without compromising the safety of the staff.

The project was made possible with the support of Melbourne University’s School of Engineering, led by professor Jason Monty.

“We only have 17 of these hoods at the moment but more can be made,” Dr McGain said. “There is an opportunity for expansion with local manufacturing.”

There are 32 coronavirus inpatients at Sunshine Hospital with four in intensive care.

Western Health research nurse manager Sam Bates said the presence of the ventilation hoods was embraced by staff: “They are just so excited to see it.”


NAPLAN, attendance and aspiration best indicators of HSC results

Researchers have developed a system that predicts students' final High School marks with more than 90 per cent accuracy using information such as their year 9 NAPLAN results, their HSC subject choice and their year 11 attendance.

The University of Newcastle academics say their findings raise questions about whether the final two years of school that are now devoted to HSC courses and exams with predictable results could be better spent on deeper learning and more focused career preparation.

But critics argue using NAPLAN to determine students' future would just shift Higher School Certificate stress from year 12 to year 9, and say the HSC is not just about ranking and testing students, but also giving them a strong education regardless of their social background.

A team led by Professor John Fischetti, pro vice-chancellor of the university's faculty of education, developed a system that analyses information about students, such as NAPLAN results, family background, aspiration and attendance, to estimate how they would fare in their HSC.

After feeding in the results from 10,000 students across 10 years in 14 subjects, Professor Fischetti found it could predict students' exact HSC mark in each subject with 93 per cent accuracy.

The researchers began with 41 different variables, but narrowed them down to the most influential 17, which included the amount of time students had spent in Australia, their school's demographic index, and whether the students chose HSC subjects that challenged them.

"We anticipated that [the most influential factor] would be their marks all the way through, their teacher marks, assigned marks," Professor Fischetti said. "But it actually turned out that the year 9 NAPLAN, your year 11 attendance, and your year 11 course selection were most influential. We factored in some demographic information, but those three became critical."

Professor Fischetti said the analysis showed the importance of students mastering literacy and numeracy, which is tested by NAPLAN. English language skills were also important, as was aspiration, shown by a willingness to choose subjects that challenged them.

"It puts the pressure on, that primary education really does cover on [literacy and numeracy]," he said. "If students leave primary school weak in them, they struggle to catch up. It doesn't mean it's impossible, but we found it's that 7 per cent [whose result cannot be predicted]."

Professor Fischetti argued the approach to the final two years of high school could be changed, to give students greater depth in their learning or focus on their passions, rather than study for an exam in which their results were predictable.

His comments come as a new, federally commissioned report on post-school pathways has recommended students curate a learning profile, focusing on non-scholastic skills as well as academic results, as a way of reducing focus on the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank, which is based on HSC results.

"[The HSC] is not wasted time, but we haven't taken advantage of it in the ways we could," he said. "Our exit outcome is a score on an exam, not the habits of learning."

However, Tom Alegounarias, a former chair of the NSW Education Standards Authority and president of its predecessor the Board of Studies, said educators had always been able to predict the likely outcomes of students.

"Some students achieve results that are not predicted, and that's an important part of a meritocratic process," he said. "Particularly for disadvantaged students, we should not be defining their prospects even in part as a function of their socio-economic background."

Greg Ashman, author of The Truth About Teaching, said year 9 NAPLAN assessments were not high-stakes tests at present. "As soon as they are used to determine university entrance, you'll have all the pressures of year 12, only three years earlier," he said. "It also seems unfair on students who may improve over those three years and it creates a licence for those who are so inclined to learn little in that time."

Professor Fischetti said students spent 10 years gathering the knowledge and skills they would need to do well in year 9 NAPLAN, so it would not involve the same pressure as a two-year, high-stakes HSC program.


 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

Australian Politics 2020-07-28 15:42:00


Sydney Black Lives Matter protest organiser detained, protesters ordered to move on

A Black Lives Matter rally in Sydney's CBD was shut down before it even started, with police arresting and fining several protesters, including one of the organisers.

While the protest was scheduled to start at midday in The Domain, by noon protesters had left the area after being encouraged to disperse and issued with move-on orders.

Almost 1500 people had indicated on Facebook they would attend the rally, but only about 40 turned up.

Six were arrested, five of whom were issued with a $1000 penalty infringement notice for breaching public health orders.

One of those was co-organiser Paddy Gibson who was removed by police before midday after speaking to an officer. The officer had been telling protesters on a megaphone they were breaching the public health orders.

Protesters chanted, "Let him go, let him go," as Mr Gibson was being led away. He urged the crowd to disperse and not to come to his aid.

A woman, 25, was also arrested and issued a criminal infringement notice for offensive language.

The protest was organised by the family of David Dungay jnr, a Dunghutti man who died in custody in 2015 after he was held down by Corrective Services officers while gasping "I can't breathe".

Mr Dungay's nephew Paul Silva said he wanted to see the officers involved in his uncle's death stood down and the matter reinvestigated by Safework NSW.

He said police had shut down a table where protesters were handing out masks and hand sanitiser.  Mr Silva was issued with a move-on order and, as he was leaving the area, said: "NSW Police have told us we will be arrested."

Mr Gibson was released from police custody and issued a $1000 fine.

As he was leaving, Mr Gibson said he was "all right". "We tried to be as safe as we could today," he said. “We’ll continue our fight for justice. I don’t regret it at all."

Another man, who was also issued a $1000 fine, tore it up and said he would take the matter to court.

Several hundred police officers were at the rally, including the riot, dog and mounted police squads.

NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing said while the force appreciated people's right to protest, it was not appropriate to do it in the midst of a pandemic.

"We understand that the issues in question here are significant and are sensitive to a lot of people. However, we must do what we can to ensure that the public in general are safe at this time," he said.

"We are not anti-protest, just don't do it in the middle of a pandemic. "Find another way to express your views, find another way to have your voice," he said.

Last week, police took court action seeking a prohibition order for the rally, which was granted on Sunday.

The prohibition order did not ban the rally, but left participants exposed to potential criminal sanction including for breaching public health orders.

While an appeal was lodged, it was later dismissed by the NSW Court of Appeal. Despite the outcome, protesters vowed the rally would go ahead.

Mr Dungay’s mother Leetona appeared at State Parliament with supporters just before 3pm to present a petition calling for the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions to consider laying criminal charges against the prison guards who restrained her son.

Almost 100,000 people have signed the petition. "It was a bit scary,” she said of the rally. "But we succeeded in showing them we aren't going to give up."


Why the Black Lives Matter protest is dangerous

By immunologist John Dwyer

The vast majority of people infected with COVID-19 met the virus while in close physical proximity to an infectious individual for an extended period of time. Prolonged exposure not only results in a much greater chance of being infected; it makes it likely one will be infected by a lot of virus – "high viral load" – which will be a major factor in determining the clinical consequences.

This reality is not being given sufficient emphasis in our mitigation strategies.

As we attempt to tame this epidemic it is crucial that we not only practise social distancing but also focus on minimising occasions when we are close to fellow citizens for a prolonged period of time, a strategy we might call "social brevity".

Remember our local experience of one infected individual attending a wedding reception with 35 others, all of whom went home infected.

No matter how laudable the cause of yesterday’s planned Black Lives Matter protest in Sydney, it was ridiculous to even contemplate having a gathering which 1500 people had indicated on Facebook they would attend – even if wearing masks – to give voice (and potentially virus) to their shared concerns for a prolonged period.

While the organisers had pledged to divide into legal groups of no more than 20, how feasible might that have been? As it turned out, only 40 turned out for the rally, which was abandoned when its leader and others were arrested. But it shouldn't have come to that.

What irony that a protest about the need to save lives could be responsible for the loss of lives. It’s disturbing that after all these months of struggle to contain COVID infections, the organisers were defying a court order not to proceed.

As we have seen in Melbourne, a single carrier can set off a tidal wave of infections. Prolonged exposure to COVID carriers results in clusters of infection as we have seen in meat-packing plants, nursing homes, cramped housing estates and, increasingly notable, hospital settings.

More than 700 Australian health professionals caring for COVID patients have been infected. In the Italian crisis more than 100 previously healthy and often young doctors died as they were constantly exposed to huge numbers of infected individuals over many weeks.

Now, you might get infected making you way around a crowed supermarket. You might pick up COVID from a solid surface or meet it in air exhaled by a fellow shopper, but the risk is low. To avoid the greater risks, we have to extend our thinking to social brevity.

Religious services, choirs, funerals, parties, hotels where drinking while standing in groups is allowed, public transport and the normal daily routines in nursing homes all create dangerous opportunities for infection.

The data also highlight how important are opportunities to work at home. We need to pay special attention to the working conditions associated with "essential services". We have had clusters of infection on construction sites and in factories. Industry experts should be working with government health authorities to devise the best possible protective gear and arrangements for workers in such industries.

The recent outbreak of infections in Victoria clearly illustrates how quickly we can see a reassuringly low rate of new infections explode to produce so many new infections that our best efforts at contact tracing are unable to arrest the exponential increase in cases.

In NSW we are understandably nervous that our currently manageable numbers of new infections could suddenly accelerate.

While vaccine news features much optimism, the data is very preliminary and we are learning from numerous studies that natural infection may not be associated with any long-term immunity.

Too often we hear that COVID infections are only a problem for "oldies". Yet globally they are causing more and more serious clinical consequences for young people (very noticeable in Victoria at the moment), often resulting in chronic illness.

It was of some comfort that the Black Lives Matter protesters had pledged to wear masks, but that would have given them no guarantee. Numerous studies have been performed trying to quantify the value of mask wearing by the general population as a strategy for defeating COVID; the results are mixed. The controversies are well presented on the NSW Department of Health’s COVID website.

The wearing of masks by all citizens, as is currently required of Victorians, needs to be put into an evidence-based perspective. There is no doubt about the effectiveness of masks in reducing the likelihood that an infected individual will infect another.

Of course, individuals with respiratory symptoms should wear a mask as they seek testing and then self-isolate until the results are in. No-one with symptoms should be at large in the community and thinking that a mask will guarantee they are harmless.

The World Health Organisation and America’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the importance of mask wearing by all in situations such as Victoria’s. Certainly the same is true for the likes of Florida and Texas where 25 per cent of those tested are infected, but mask wearing will not provide the panacea that will terminate the COVID epidemic.

Stay-at-home orders will slow the infection rate but our need to "live" with this virus and restore our economy requires us to adapt our normal social interaction to the long-term epidemiological reality we face. That adaptation must address the need for "social brevity" for the foreseeable future.


Irrigators warn Berejiklian that her minister is picking the environment over farmers

Irrigators have taken a complaint against NSW Environment and Energy Minister Matt Kean to the Premier, claiming the minister appears to be choosing environmental concerns over the interests of farmers and agriculture.

In a stunning broadside against the minister in a letter sent to Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Friday, NSW Irrigators' Council interim chief executive Claire Miller suggested the water and agriculture sectors were being treated as "part of the problem" by some wings of the government.

The letter comes after a tense meeting with irrigators on July 1, in which Mr Kean apparently stated he had been appointed by the Premier to represent his energy and environment stakeholders, and left early.

"We quickly got the impression Minister Kean was not much interested in engaging with us," Ms Miller wrote to the Premier.

"It was troubling to realise Minister Kean does not consider farmers to be among his stakeholders. This narrow view is divisive and perpetuates the false binary that pits environmental interests against farming, as if the two are mutually exclusive."

In a strong warning to the Premier, Ms Miller said the agriculture sector regarded itself as a critical player in the state’s COVID-19 economic recovery program.

"We see ourselves as part of the solution and trust we [will] not be treated as part of the problem in some quarters of government."

Ms Berejiklian declined to comment on Monday, and did not respond to a question on a claim made by irrigators that Mr Kean said she had instructed him to deal only with energy and environment sector stakeholders.

Mr Kean declined to comment on the tone of the meeting, but was forthright in what he said during the session: he wanted to see more done to look after the environment.

"In my view, farmers and industry have an important role to play in caring for our natural environment, including our rivers and waterways," he said. "But I also think that more needs to be done. That is what I communicated to the [Irrigators’ Council]."

In response to other questions regarding the objective of the meeting, he said: "I want to see a sustainable agriculture industry thriving in NSW and an environment that is in a better state than the way we inherited it."

The tension between the minister and the state’s farmers and irrigators comes at a delicate time for the Premier, who is increasingly having to mediate between MPs pushing for more ambitious environmental action while regional communities continue to reel from drought and bushfires.

Within his own portfolio, Mr Kean is pushing the accelerator on his own steep environmental ambitions — including a plan to double the koala population by 2050, announced on Sunday, and a commitment to renewable energy.

Meanwhile, regional MPs argue the government hasn't done enough to help rebuild regional and agricultural communities still suffering hardships from a nightmare summer.

"Hopefully he can remember that he's the minister for the whole of NSW and if he busts this relationship with farmers he'll be essentially hurting the environment," one unnamed backbencher said. "And I very much doubt he's been given the Premier's instruction to disregard farmers."

Another was more blunt, saying, "Kean has shown a complete disregard for the people putting food on our tables in a time of crisis."


Modern Monetary Theory: ABC might like the idea, but it’s just printing money

For a man who had just announced the biggest deficit in the commonwealth Treasury’s history, Josh Frydenberg appeared to be getting off lightly.

Four minutes of ABC interview under his belt and just one interruption from Leigh Sales. It was hardly a light saute, let alone a grilling. At the mention of tax cuts, however, Sales cranked up the heat.

“But, Treasurer, on that point, sorry to cut you off there …”

“You’re not really sorry,” sighed Frydenberg. “But that’s okay.”

If the ABC were a local shire council, Sales would have been obliged to leave the room at that point, so great is her conflict of interest. So too would have the camera operator, and the bloke with the clipboard and the makeup woman, since all of them draw their wages from the public purse.

An $87bn deficit is not everything they would wish for, but at least it’s a start. A government focused on spending rather than saving might leave the ABC’s budget intact.

Sales, of course, is not foolish enough to frame her fiscal narrative like that. Her complaint about tax cuts is that they favour the wealthy. Instead, she told the Treasurer, he should target “the most disadvantaged”. “You’re forgoing income to the government at a time when you need to spend more,” she said.

If a family on the median income in a rented house in Rockdale is rich, then Sales may be right. Under the changes promised for 2022, workers earning between $43 and $57 an hour will be removed from the top tax bracket.

If targeted assistance is the way to go, our imagined middle-income family in Rockdale, a tree-starved suburb unfashionably close to Sydney Airport, would be a good place to start.

Not even the most brilliant government is able to spend with the precision of a household on a tight budget.

In the course of a grouchy interview with the Prime Minister the previous evening, Sales nominated sectors where government spending might be directed. The universities, perhaps, or the arts, where JobKeeper, JobSeeker, a special injection of $250m plus $400m in assistance for the film industry clearly wasn’t enough.

Did the Prime Minister accept that the government spending would have to remain high for some time? Did he accept that there is no urgency to pay down debt? Would the government’s spending commitments remain high and would he rule out slashing government spending in the short to medium term?

Crisis or no crisis, the conviction that governments spend more wisely than the citizens they serve is superglued to the consciousness of the utopian left. Margaret Thatcher’s projection that socialism would be exhausted when it ran out of other people’s money proved to be a fallacy.

Once its citizens’ pockets had been emptied, governments started borrowing on their behalf expecting them to pay the interest.

The left’s new fiscal fancy takes this one step further. Modern Monetary Theory postulates that governments don’t even have to borrow the money they spend. They just have to print it.

MMT began on the fringes of Australian universities as a critique of Peter Costello’s effort to pay down public debt. It found new life with the arrival of quantitative easing in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Now the principles of MMT have been embraced at the ABC as the start of a new dawn.

“We may be on the cusp of a revolution,” wrote business reporter Gareth Hutchens earlier this month.

“What if everything we thought we knew about public finance over the past 40 years has been wrong?”

Australia’s political elite could afford to spend far more on public health and education, social housing, scientific research and green energy schemes, while eliminating unemployment, the credulous Hutchens continued.

“And yet they’re not — either from a misunderstanding of government finances or because they don’t want to.”

MMT holds that any nation with a sovereign currency and a floating exchange rate, like Australia, can print all the money the government needs to spend. The ready supply of currency will keep interest rates low.

Inflation would be kept in check by raising taxes, rather than increasing the cost of borrowing.

Coupled to MMT is a Job Guarantee program underwritten by the federal government. Community improvement schemes and other worthy public objects would act as a buffer against unemployment.

The reinterpretation of permanent public debt as a sign of good government is troubling. A Job Guarantee scheme, however well intentioned, would quickly drain the nation of its enterprising spirit and its people of ambition. It would lead us towards the dystopia described by Robert Menzies in 1942: “ … an all-powerful state on whose benevolence we shall live, spineless and effortless … where we shall all have our dividend without subscribing our capital.”

As Henry Ergas explained eloquently on these pages last Friday, the Menzies decision to harness personal ambition as the motive-power of progress, rather than state spending, was the key to Australia’s post-war achievements.

The inevitable consequence of MMT would be the expansion of the public sector at the expense of the productive private sector. Conventional economics suggests that controlling inflation by raising taxes and funding make-work schemes would put the brakes on business investment, reduce workforce participation, undermine productivity and send jobs offshore, hardly the recipe for success in a post-COVID-19 world.

Yet conventional economics, or “the neoliberal orthodoxy” as the ABC calls it, has become old hat. The tried and tested macro-economic theory that turned the fortunes of almost every industrial nation in the final decades of the 20th century is just another stone monument awaiting the sledgehammer.

The truly eye-watering thing right now is not the projection for debt or deficit, the likely need to extend emergency assistance or the Victorian government’s incompetence.

It is the break in the political consensus on fiscal policy that threatens to make our current level of government spending the new normal, even in the good times.

Public debt is heading from the billions to the trillions. But what the heck? Let’s chuck another boondoggle on the barbie.

“Gov debt is manageable & affordable,” tweeted Emma Alberici last week. “Maybe time for high speed rail?”


 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