Australia: Foreign student enrolments 210,000 lower than expected

Steeper drop than in Canada (92,000 fewer international students, or 28 per cent):

Australia’s universities have enrolled 210,000 fewer international students this year than expected, with the loss of AU$1.8 billion (US$1.4 billion) in income. More than 17,000 jobs have already disappeared from campuses across the higher education sector.

To put the figure in context, according to government data, there were 442,000 international student enrolments in higher education in Australia in 2019, the latest figure available.

But Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge believes Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout could pave the way to boost its intake of international students as early as the start of next year.

Tudge told a conference that Australia’s lucrative international student market could be given a much-needed boost by February 2022.

“With the vaccine rollout under way, I am increasingly hopeful that student arrivals in larger numbers will occur by semester one of next year,” Tudge said.

“We are looking forward to welcoming back international students who remain overseas, and we thank them for their patience to date.

“I hope they appreciate that we have closed the borders for a very good reason.” 

Tudge also raised the possibility of individual universities bringing international students to Australia this year if the nation’s chief health officers agreed and safe quarantine quarters were provided.

Billion-dollar market collapses

Australia’s AU$10 billion (US$7.6 billion) international student market collapsed after the federal government closed the nation’s international borders at the beginning of the pandemic.

Tudge claimed enrolments of foreign students at the end of 2020 were only down 7% on 2019, although universities estimate 140,000 students have since been stranded overseas.

Whoever is correct, the fact is that Australia has 210,000 fewer international student enrolments this year than would otherwise have been expected.

Universities Australia, the nation’s representative body, has released data showing the university sector had lost AU$1.8 billion in income from foreign students last year, with at least 17,000 jobs on campuses across the nation having disappeared.

Bringing students back

“Of course, there is still the opportunity to bring students back in small, phased pilots,” Tudge said.

“This could occur if an institution works with the state or territory government and presents a plan to us for quarantining international students.”

But he warned that university plans to bring more foreign students into the country would have to be approved by the chief health officer of each state or territory.

“There must also be quarantine space available above and beyond that presently used for returning Australians.”

Tudge has discussed various plans with state government and university leaders but to date has not received any concrete proposals.

He said he hoped the federal government would have a clearer idea later this year as to when international borders would re-open.

“We are expecting more clarity on these issues by mid-year, at which time we should be more certain on border openings,” he said.

No large numbers returning

Tudge believes it is unlikely that foreign students will be allowed to return in large numbers until 2022, although universities may be able to enrol limited numbers of students from overseas.

He admits the strong growth in onshore international student numbers in recent years was unsustainable, and universities need to rethink this business model. 

Specifically: Australia must “rethink the on-campus business model of international education, and more broadly the international education strategy for the nation as a whole”.

“By using international student fees to fund research, universities have undermined the learning experience of domestic students and failed to address skills shortages,” Tudge said.

Narrow focus on management

He noted that half of all international students were enrolled in management and commerce, which were not experiencing skills shortages in Australia.

Instead, the nation’s universities should look towards online rather than onshore education, Tudge said.

“This incredible growth has been good for our economy, but even before COVID hit, strains were appearing and the continued rate of growth of on-campus enrolments was not sustainable in my view.” 

Tudge said this was particularly true for the public universities, institutions which had “a broader mandate”. 

“Having up to 60% of a classroom with international students from just one or two other countries is not optimising the Australian student experience – or the international student experience,” he said.

“Can we use levers, including migration levers, to encourage more students to study in the areas where we know we have shortages?” he asked.


Equivocating over the existence of rightwing extremism will cost Australia dearly

Given Canadian debates over how to “label” different forms of extremism, interesting take on Australia’s shift towards more neutral but yet clear terminology:

Last week Australia’s spy boss sent ripples through the national security community with the announcement that Asio will shift from using “rightwing extremism” and “Islamic extremism” to using “ideological extremism” and “religious extremism”. In his second annual threat assessment, director general Mike Burgess told a Canberra audience that “words matter”, and the old words were no longer fit for purpose.

Words do matter. Burgess’ words in his first public address in 2020 which took aim at the extreme right wing, were lightning bolts in Australia’s post-Christchurch discourse. The organisation’s disclosure that 30-40% of its caseload was associated with these issues gave invaluable context to a public debate that was severely lacking.

While the quick pivot away from these terms took many by surprise, it has not happened in a vacuum. The change is similar to one undertaken by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in 2020. Far from signalling the diminishing resolve of the country, Canada took the bold step of listing the Proud Boys on its terror register in February. Likewise, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence published an unclassified memo dated 1 March 2021 which contained similar rhetorical shifts throughout. The memo, which warns more “racially motivated extremist attacks” will “almost certainly” take place in 2021, was in the process of being released to the public when a gunman shot and killed eight Asian Americans in Atlanta.

Following this year’s address, Burgess told Guardian Australia that political pressure did not factor in the organisation’s decision process. But as the director general acknowledges, the organisation doesn’t control or seek to control the way Australia’s leaders in politics and the media discuss these issues and this is where rhetoric plays its most important role.

Source: Equivocating over the existence of rightwing extremism will cost Australia dearly

Adopt anti-racism framework, urges Australian Human Rights Commission

Of note:

The Australian Human Rights Commission is calling on the federal government to implement its new plan for a national anti-racism framework.

The concept paper, released on Wednesday, outlines key components that need to be included in the framework. According to the paper, the framework must recognise and acknowledge Australia’s ancient Indigenous heritage, its British heritage, and its diverse multicultural heritage.

“A national framework should also acknowledge Australia’s geo-political location in the Asia-Pacific region in the ‘Asian century’ as well as being capable of embracing the history and circumstances of Australia’s diverse diaspora communities,” the paper said.

Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan noted that recent events have shown that Australia is facing a resurgence in racism.

“The Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted injustices experienced by people from culturally diverse backgrounds and by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed ugly racism against people of Asian descent here in Australia,” he said in a speech on Tuesday.

“And ASIO and the AFP have repeatedly identified home grown terrorism and extremism as a significant threat to the national security of Australia. It is also now just over two years since the terrible events in Christchurch, New Zealand, where an Australian man murdered 51 people, and attempted to murder another 40 people.”

Tan argued that it’s time to treat the “scourge of racism” in the same way that issues such as domestic violence and child abuse are treated.

“On those issues we have in place longstanding national frameworks, signed onto by all governments in Australia, with three-year action plans to target priority issues and make serious headway in addressing them,” he said.

“Let me be clear: racism is a significant economic, social and national security threat to Australia. It is time we treated it as such. We need a new approach to combatting racism — one that is more cohesive across government, that builds community partnerships to prevent racism from flourishing, and one that is smarter and more effective.”

The AHRC’s proposed national framework would do this, Tan said.

Source: Adopt anti-racism framework, urges Australian Human Rights Commission

‘Very concerning’: Indian students abandon Australian universities

Of note given likely impact on Indian students choosing Canada (the largest group currently). Overall, the number of study permit holders in Canada fell by 34.5 percent, April-December 2020 compared to the same period in 2019:

The number of new Indian students choosing to study at Australian universities collapsed by more than 80 per cent in the second half of 2020, in a further blow to the country’s more than $30 billion international education system.

The Indian student market was worth $6.6 billion to the Australian economy in the 2019-20 financial year, second only to China as the top source country of foreign students studying in Australia.

But the impact of ongoing border closures has proved devastating for universities’ recruitment efforts. Around 2500 Indian students began studying at Australian universities between July and November last year — a decline of 83 per cent compared with the same period in 2019, data from the Department of Education shows.

In contrast, new commencements from Chinese university students declined by just over 8 per cent to around 8600 students over the same period. It is unclear how many international students elected to defer their universities studies in 2020 as the data has not been made public.

Ravi Singh, managing director of Global Reach, which recruits south Asian students to universities across the world, said his organisation had noticed a 50 per cent decrease in the numbers of students registering their interest to study in Australia at open day events in India, Nepal and Bangladesh.

“As a contrast, Global Reach has doubled inquiries for UK and Canada. This is very concerning,” Mr Singh said.

“Even though we are recognised in the market as an Australian education specialist, the interest even amongst our pipeline students seem to be changing for the destinations that are open: UK, Canada and the US.”

He said more than 30 Australian universities participated in a virtual event targeted at Indian students last week, but fewer than 1000 people registered interest, while similar events last year routinely drew more than 2000 attendees.

“We can’t keep counselling the students that Australia has contained the virus and classes on the campuses is face-to-face. This means nothing to a student who is not able to travel to Australia even though visas are being granted,” he said.

The pandemic has exposed the heavy reliance on high fee-paying Chinese international students, particularly by the elite Group of Eight universities, as a key source of operating revenue. These concerns have been further heightened by fears that universities are the next target in China’s trade strikes on Australian industries, as reports emerged last month that Chinese authorities were directing local recruiters not to send students to Australia.

But less attention has been paid to the impact of border closures on the Indian market.

Dr Peter Hurley, a higher education expert at Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute, said the data indicated Indian students, who are more likely to enrol in regional and non-Group of Eight institutions, have been far less willing to begin their studies online compared with their Chinese counterparts.

“When you look at the [new students] data, it’s dropped across the board, but it’s the Chinese market that is holding up strongest,” Dr Hurley said.

“Even if the borders were to open, it’s not clear that the flow will return to the same levels they were at before the pandemic. It might take some time for those people to come back and enrol.”

Luke Sheehy, executive director of the Australian Technology Network, which includes the University of Technology Sydney and RMIT University as members, said Australia was facing “fierce competition” from other countries for Indian students.

“China and India are the two largest markets but clearly they are very different. Indian students want face-to-face teaching, and we haven’t been able to offer that this year. They can’t get here, so they are choosing other options,” Mr Sheehy said.

Education Minister Alan Tudge said overall international student enrolments in universities had declined by 5 per cent in 2020 “with many students from all nationalities continuing their study online”.

International Education Association of Australia chief executive ‎Phil Honeywood said the Indian student market closely followed changes in government policy, which heightened the need for communication around a possible return date.

“Many Indian students were prepared last year to just defer for a 12-month period, but faced with another year of closed borders, they are now jumping on planes to the UK and Canada,” he said.


How Australia stripped alleged Isis fighter of citizenship without evaluating her case

Complete lack of due process:

New Zealand authorities are still refusing to comment publicly on the likely deportation from Turkey of Suhayra Aden, the former Australian-New Zealand dual citizen alleged by Turkish authorities to be an Islamic State terrorist.

But according to one report, it is likely New Zealand officials will eventually escort her from Turkey, along with her two children, aged two and five.

Aden was arrested in mid-February trying to enter Turkey from Syria. Her detention triggered a diplomatic row when it emerged that Australia had stripped the 26-year-old of her Australian citizenship, leaving New Zealand to deal with her predicament.

Born in New Zealand but having lived in Australia since she was six, Aden travelled to Syria on an Australian passport in 2014. Alleged to be involved with Isis, her Australian passport was cancelled in 2020. The timing of her actual loss of citizenship is less clear.

Media coverage has largely centred on New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s accusation that, in stripping Aden of her citizenship, Australia has “abdicated its responsibilities”.

Ardern was right. But what has been less well covered is how the Australian government disabled itself from making a decision – let alone an informed one – on that loss of citizenship.

Aden lost her citizenship automatically under a now-repealed law. That law deprived her of her citizenship without any Australian official evaluating her circumstances.

An automatic rule

Introduced under Tony Abbott’s prime ministership, the powers of citizenship deprivation were enacted in December 2015, early in the Malcolm Turnbull government. Automatic loss of Australian citizenship could occur if:

  • The person was aged over 14
  • They would not be rendered stateless (Aden’s New Zealand co-citizenship ensured this)
  • They had either fought for a declared terrorist organisation or engaged in “disallegient” conduct (defined with reference to various terrorist offences, though not incorporating key elements of those offences)

A person lost their Australian citizenship the instant the statutory conditions were met, irrespective of any official knowing this had occurred. Of course, officials could only act when they found out the relevant conditions had been met – but that might be years later, if ever.

Source: How Australia stripped alleged Isis fighter of citizenship without evaluating her case

The Bon Appétit and Reply All saga shows how far behind we still are in Australia


The editor of a well-known food publication resigns after numerous staff speak out about an alleged toxic work culture where people of colour are underpaid, underrepresented in senior roles and regularly face racism.

The team behind a wildly successful podcast decide to launch a new series investigating what happened. But halfway through the series the producers are themselves accused of contributing to a toxic work culture where people of colour are alleged to be underpaid, underrepresented in senior roles and regularly face racism. Key staff suddenly quit, the podcast is suspended, apologies are issued and everyone following the story is left dazed and confused.

Welcome to the Bon Appétit / Reply All saga.

What’s been playing out over the past few weeks and months is the culmination of a reckoning in US media workplaces that accelerated in the wake of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests. 

And it’s a reckoning that shows how far behind we still are here in Australia.

Bon Appétit, a monthly magazine published by media giant Condé Nast, has long been one of the most popular and influential food publications in the world. But it was in 2014, under the leadership of then editor Adam Rapoport that the outlet turbocharged its online presence and became a digital media powerhouse by creating fun, engaging and helpful cooking shows on YouTube, making stars out of staff who had largely remained behind the scenes.

When the pandemic hit and Americans were confined to their homes, the magazine’s YouTube channel had its biggest ever month, attracting a mammoth 77m views in March alone.

But just a few months later the magazine was rocked by a controversy that it’s still struggling to recover from.

The killing of George Floyd sparked global protests demanding racial justice, and the media was among the institutions put under the spotlight. In an Instagram post, Bon Appétit aligned itself with the Black Lives Matter movement but staff quickly accused the publication of hypocrisy, alleging they were subject to racism in the workplace.

Sohla El-Waylly, one of the most popular presenters on the magazine’s YouTube channel, accused the company of only paying its white staff for appearing in online videos. Condé Nast denied the allegations, but a number of senior staff said they would stop appearing on YouTube until pay equity concerns were addressed.

Like the US, Australia also has a deep history of structural racism embedded in our institutions

Then an image of Rapoport in brownface surfaced, leading to his resignation. Soon after, three other presenters, all people of colour, resigned. The magazine was in turmoil. A broader reckoning across the US media followed.

It was a strange thing to observe from Australia. Like the US, Australia also has a deep history of structural racism embedded in our institutions. But there was no comparative reckoning in our media organisations.

While the Bon Appétit drama was playing out in the US, the ABC’s flagship current affairs program featured an all-white panel discussing Black Lives Matter, the Melbourne Press Club elected an all-white board of 20 people, the most-read columnist in the country blamed the spread of Covid-19 on “multiculturalism”, the Age newspaper published an editorial asserting Australia did not have a history of slavery, and the list goes on.

While there have been some minor reforms in some of these areas, there was nothing like the wave of resignations and apologies we saw in the US.

Which brings us to Reply All. The podcast was founded by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman in 2014 and described itself simply as “a show about the internet”.

In February the show shifted gears and announced it would be airing a new series called The Test Kitchen examining what happened at Bon Appétit, through exclusive interviews with former staff. The series was presented by Sruthi Pinnamaneni, a senior producer on Reply All.

The first episode of the series felt deeply cathartic. Pinnamaneni allowed those who had been marginalised, undervalued and mistreated to talk about their experiences on their terms. The series was accessible without being patronising. People of colour who had similar workplace experiences could relate, and white audiences could understand.

The “original sin”, as Pinnamaneni put it, was the decision by Rapoport to only hire white people in senior management roles. According to her, that decision is where the other problems – the racialised pay inequality, the everyday racism faced by staff – stemmed from.

It did occur to me that on that metric of an all-white leadership team, pretty much every news organisation in Australia deserved its own racism expose.

And that’s exactly what was being remarked upon in group chats across the country, full of journalists who worked at those organisations. I lost count of the number of people who messaged me saying that this exact story, the story being told on The Test Kitchen, could be done about their own media workplace. Many described it as triggering, and some said they didn’t even want to listen to avoid being re-traumatised over their own experiences.

After the second episode of The Test Kitchen aired, it was Reply All’s turn to face the music.

Eric Eddings, a former staffer at Gimlet, the company that produced Reply All, publicly accused Pinnamaneni and Vogt, one of the co-hosts of the show, of contributing to the same kind of toxic work culture that they were reporting on.

In particular, Eddings said that Pinnamaneni and Vogt had actively opposed efforts to form a union at the company, an organising push that was focused on pay inequality and mistreatment of staff who weren’t white.

Pinnamaneni and Vogt apologised and announced they were stepping away from the podcast.

Last week it was announced that the show had been suspended and no more episodes of The Test Kitchen would air. The show’s remaining original co-host, Goldman, said that the decision to make the series was a “systemic editorial failure”.

It was an extraordinary and abrupt conclusion to a story about two of the most popular and influential media organisations of their time.

While some listeners have applauded the apology from Goldman, others have interpreted the decision to cancel the series as a cop-out and pointed out that the former Bon Appétit staff who bravely told their stories publicly deserve better than an unfinished production subsumed by its own internal chaos.

In his apology, Goldman said Reply All should never have delved into this story. It’s an interesting question. There were clear warning signs that perhaps Reply All didn’t have the experience of self-awareness to undertake such a thorough examination of race.

In the first episode, Pinnamaneni admitted that it was only after the Black Lives Matter movement reignited last year that she understood for the first time how racism manifested in the workplace.

“If you’d asked [me] what does it mean to be an Indian woman in the workplace, I would’ve said it’s mostly fine,” she said. “Back then, I didn’t really want to think of my race as a disadvantage. Like I preferred to focus on how it actually helped me.”

It was a reminder that being a person of colour doesn’t automatically give you the authority or experience to explore complex racial dynamics, especially when as an Indian migrant to the US, she isn’t subject to the same kinds of oppression as the black colleagues who criticised her.

Reply All could have covered this story, but they couldn’t do it without acknowledging their own complicity and lack of self-awareness.

As depressing as elements of this saga have been, particularly the decision to not go ahead with finishing The Test Kitchen, it perhaps counterintuitively shows progress is being made. Powerful people in charge of influential institutions were forced to acknowledge their racism and apologise for it. Twice.

But looking on from here in Australia, I’m still waiting for the day our media organisations have enough staff who aren’t white to actually warrant a racism scandal

Source: The Bon Appétit and Reply All saga shows how far behind we still are in Australia

ICYMI: Revoking citizenship just global NIMBYism

Good commentary:

Last week, news broke that New Zealand-born woman Suhayra Aden had been detained with her surviving two children (aged five and two) near the Syrian border by Turkish authorities, who labelled her an Islamic State terrorist. She now faces the prospect of being deported to New Zealand – despite having not lived in New Zealand since childhood, and despite her family residing in Australia. Just how did this happen?

Aden left New Zealand aged six to live in Australia, and she eventually became an Australian citizen. In 2014, she reportedly travelled on her Australian passport to join the Islamic State. She was known to both Australian and New Zealand authorities, and the question of which country ought to be responsible in the event of her capture had been discussed by Prime Ministers Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison.

However, Ardern was subsequently informed that Australia had revoked Aden’s citizenship, leading to the prospect of Aden’s deportation to New Zealand. Ardern expressed her disappointment, stating that she was “tired of having Australia export its problems”. Morrison responded that he was simply putting Australia’s national security first and that Aden’s citizenship had been automatically revoked under Australian law.

Underlying this diplomatic stoush is the phenomenon of citizenship deprivation for counterterrorism purposes, which some states have employed to bar the return of so-called foreign terrorist fighters – in essence, individuals who travel overseas to participate in an armed conflict with a terrorist group. In this case, by stripping Aden of her citizenship, Australia makes her New Zealand’s problem (since she is no longer legally entitled to return to Australia), while avoiding the international law prohibition on rendering people stateless (since she still has New Zealand citizenship).

Two provisions of the Australian Citizenship Act that were in force between December 2015 and September 2020 automatically revoked the citizenship of dual citizens aged 14 years or over if they engaged in various terrorism-related activities, served in the armed forces of a country at war with Australia, or fought for, or were in the service of, a declared terrorist organisation. These provisions operated automatically; no actual decision was needed to revoke citizenship. As soon as the person engaged in the specified conduct, the revocation occurred – as if by magic. In contrast, further action, such as the cancellation of a passport, requires official action.

From the standpoint of administrative fairness and accountability, these automatic provisions are deeply problematic. The practical obstacles to challenging the revocation of citizenship are daunting – not least because there was no ministerial decision to challenge, but also because notice that revocation had occurred could be lawfully delayed for several years. These provisions are also problematic from the standpoint of legal certainty. Since these provisions did not depend on any Australian official even being aware of the conduct triggering the loss of citizenship, it can be unclear who had actually had their citizenship revoked and when.

Take Aden’s case as an example. She reportedly travelled to Syria in 2014. But beyond her having three children to two Swedish men (both deceased), little is known about what she did there. If (as I think most likely) Aden’s citizenship was revoked because she was in the service of a declared terrorist organisation, she would have lost her Australian citizenship on or after May 6, 2016, the date the declaration that Islamic State was a terrorist organisation became effective. (As an aside, if the foregoing analysis is correct, Aden’s eldest child, reportedly aged five, would remain an Australian citizen by descent.)

The leader of the opposition, Judith Collins, suggested the Government has been outmanoeuvred by the Australian government and should have revoked Aden’s citizenship first. However, the only New Zealand legal provision that might have applied to Aden requires that she voluntarily acquired the citizenship of another country and acted in a manner contrary to the interests of New Zealand. She must also have done these things “while a New Zealand citizen and while of or over the age of 18 years and of full capacity”. So in order for this provision to be applicable, Aden would have had to have acquired Australian citizenship only as an adult. Moreover, deprivation of citizenship requires a ministerial decision that is rightly subject to judicial scrutiny. Set against the Australian provisions that automatically revoke citizenship at the point in time specified conduct occurs, there was never much prospect of New Zealand winning this race to the bottom.

Dual citizenship offered Australia an easy out in Aden’s case; the law automatically revoking her citizenship conveniently obfuscated responsibility (the Australian government has, unsurprisingly, not drawn attention to its power to exempt a person from losing citizenship under these provisions). But Aden is just one instance of a broader phenomenon. The Syrian civil war attracted tens of thousands of foreigners, among them women. There are thousands of women, often with children, who find themselves in a similar situation to Aden. In the end, citizenship deprivation is a form of legalised NIMBYism with dual citizens as objects, and as such, is neither a sustainable nor internationally responsible way of addressing the problem.

Source: Revoking citizenship just global NIMBYism

New Zealand, Australia in rare row over Islamic State militant

Right call. UK did the same with Jack Letts (Jihadi Jack) when it revoked his UK citizenship given that he had Canadian citizenship by virtue of his father even if he had never lived in Canada:
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday accused Australia of shirking its responsibility for a dual national arrested in Turkey over reported links with Islamic State.

In an unusually blunt message to her counterpart Scott Morrison, Ardern said Canberra was “wrong” to expect Wellington to accept the woman, who she said had strong ties to Australia.

“Any fair minded person would consider this person an Australian and that is my view too,” Ardern said in a statement. “We believe Australia has abdicated its responsibilities.”

The 26-year-old woman was reportedly arrested with her two children this week while trying to illegally enter Turkey’s southern province of Hatay, bordering war-torn Syria, and identified as a member of Isis.
Ardern said the woman had been a dual Australian-New Zealand citizen until authorities in Canberra cancelled her passport, making her Wellington’s responsibility.
“It is wrong that New Zealand should shoulder the responsibility for a situation involving a woman who has not lived in New Zealand since she was six,” she said.

“[The woman] has resided in Australia since that time, has her family in Australia and left for Syria from Australia on her Australian passport.

“New Zealand, frankly, is tired of having Australia exporting its problems,” Ardern said. “If the shoe were on the other foot, we would take responsibility. That would be the right thing to do and I ask Australia to do the same.”

Morrison defended his government’s decision as in “Australia’s national security interests”.

“We do not want to see terrorists who fought with terrorism organisations enjoying privileges of citizenship, which I think they forfeit the second they engage as an enemy of our country,” he said during a press conference in Canberra.

But Morrison added that he would speak with Ardern further, saying: “There is still a lot more unknown about this case and where it sits and where it may go to next.”

Ardern also urged Australia to consider the welfare of the woman’s children.

“These children were born in a conflict zone through no fault of their own,” she said. “Coming to New Zealand, where they have no immediate family, would not be in their best interests. We know that young children thrive best when surrounded by people who love them.”

Ardern said her government has an obligation to its citizens regardless of the circumstances or offences committed, and was also engaging with Turkish authorities over the issue.

New Zealand has previously criticised Australia for deporting people across the Tasman Sea who have tenuous ties to the country.

Since 2014, around 3,000 New Zealanders in Australia have had their visas cancelled “on character grounds” – which does not always require a criminal conviction.

Ardern has pointed out many of those being deported have lived most of their lives in Australia and described the issue as “corrosive” to the relationship between the neighbouring nations.

The woman’s case has been known to Australian and New Zealand authorities for some time. Ardern said she told Morrison the decision to strip the woman of her citizenship was wrong.

“I never believed the right response was to simply have a race to revoke people’s citizenships … they did not act in good faith,” she said.

Source: New Zealand, Australia in rare row over Islamic State militant

What Canada can learn from Australia’s COVID response

While an Australian strict travel restrictions much harder to do in Canada given our long land border with the USA and the high level of economic integration, it is striking that Canadian governments have been unable and late in responding to COVID-19, with the results we are familiar with:

This temporary Saskatchewan expat is loving Melbourne this summer, for the reason many of the locals aren’t. It’s cool – not cool as in hip, but low-20s temperature cool. Great for running and biking and walking. Not so great for the beach or dining on restaurant patios and decks.

Those patios and decks are nonetheless open and full (maximum density of one person per two square metres), spilling out onto busy streets full of shoppers. The Australian economy is now projected to grow by 3.2 per cent in 2021, a major turnaround from last July’s estimate of minus 4.1 per cent for this year. Whence this miracle?

Maybe pandemic control has something to do with it. Here, “pandemic control” is not an oxymoron. Australia isn’t an orderly, fastidious society like Japan or hospitable to healthy doses of authoritarian rule like Singapore. It is a raucous democracy with its politics evenly divided between conservative and progressive camps. Last November saw a big anti-lockdown demonstration in Melbourne convened to protest the measures that drove the case count down to zero.

You cannot attribute Australia’s success to logistical genius or Delphic foresight. There were some legendary missteps. The Ruby Princess cruise ship debacle that disgorged a boatload of infected passengers onto the streets of Sydney a year ago. The slapstick hotel quarantine theatre in Melbourne that created the second wave of cases last June. The multi-million-dollar inquiry never did get to the bottom of exactly how, and by whom, quarantine security was contracted out to a company with no experience and ill-trained staff. The State of Victoria cabinet secretary, a cabinet minister,  and a secretary (deputy minister) lost their jobs, while others were shunted aside.

But as of Feb. 5, Australia has had 35 COVID deaths-per-million since the beginning of the pandemic. By comparison, Canada has had 543.

So, what accounts for the difference? Some is luck and circumstance. Australia is an island off the world’s heavily beaten paths. But at the beginning, its numbers were similar to Canada’s. As of March 31, 2020, Australia had 4,763 cumulative cases and Canada had 8,612 (about 20 per cent more per capita). By early February 2021, Canada had 19 times as many cumulative cases per capita.

Early in the pandemic, no one knew with certainty how contagious or lethal it was and which measures were essential to containing it. Different jurisdictions tried different policies and practices. The results of the global experiment are in. What can we learn from Australia?

First, testing is important but is powerless without good policy. Over the past year, there were periods where Australia’s testing rate was about double Canada’s, but since last summer overall rates have converged and at times Canada’s rate has exceeded Australia’s. Testing tells you what you’re dealing with. It doesn’t tell you how to deal with it.

Second, both external and internal travel restrictions are effective. Australian states – over the objections of the national government – are quick to close their borders to each other as well as the outside world. Since last September, the highest daily count of new cases nationally has been 44. Yet even after five months of stable, low numbers, people still had to quarantine for 14 days to go to Western Australia (rescinded as of Feb. 5, 2021).

On Jan. 31, a single case popped up in Perth, in Western Australia: a guard working in the hotel quarantine program. His flatmates tested negative, as have others of his reported contacts. Yet Victoria has closed its border to most populated areas of Western Australia and will fine people up to the equivalent of $4,900 if they enter without a permit.

Third, people are more likely to follow rules if you enforce them. Victoria levied the equivalent of about $29.5 million in fines last year. People were upset. Many resulted from minor infractions and/or confusion about what was permitted. Most weren’t paid and all but the most brazen violators can get the fine rescinded if they go to court and promise to behave. But the government took the heat to make a point. Pandemic control measures carry the force of law. Four hundred people were arrested at the November anti-lockdown rally.

Fourth, decisions are swift and decisive. Australia doesn’t wait for a prolonged spike in numbers. As soon as there is a small outbreak – a single case in Perth, a few cases in the Northern Beaches area of  Sydney – the system springs into action. The hot zones are mapped. Activities are suspended. Contact tracing and testing intensify. Perth and the surrounding region are locked down for an initial five-day period – the vaunted circuit-breaker approach that gives the testing-and-tracing system time to nip the contagion in the bud before the numbers get out of hand.

But the most important lesson is that Australia learned and applied the lessons. It gave up on selective restrictions when the modelling and the epidemiology suggested they couldn’t keep numbers stable and low.

The world knew from the beginning that travel was a major risk factor. Australia took that knowledge to heart. Leaders took a whole-of-pandemic perspective, reasoning that in the case of Victoria, which had most of the country’s cases for months, a severe 112-day lockdown would be less damaging to health and the economy than attempts to finesse the risks with more selective policies. The state premiers became pandemic hawks, determined to do whatever it took to avoid greater and more prolonged misery.

I don’t know how closely Australian officials have observed Canada’s pandemic performance. I suspect they would use it as an object lesson in what not to do. There is, of course, no pan-Canadian strategy – that is part of the problem – but too many provinces have catered to special-interest group pleading, played to their political bases, left bars open, made mask-wearing optional, did little enforcement and responded belatedly to emerging threats. They gave the virus a huge headstart before they chased it in earnest.

Policy and practice have to be grounded in an understanding of the citizenry. Fascinating new research reported in The Lancet shows that countries with “loose” cultures of adherence to social norms (like Canada, the U.S., most of Europe) have had infection rates five times higher, and death rates nine times higher, than those with “tight” cultures (such as Singapore, China and South Korea). Australia and New Zealand are in the loose culture camp, but they have succeeded nonetheless. They did not bank on voluntary, universal adherence to sensible guidelines. They did not make suggestions or request adherence. They raised the stakes, communicated unambiguously, came down hard and showed force where force was needed.

For once, the resolve appears to have achieved consensus among governments of different political stripes. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is a social democrat, as are three Australian premiers. The other three state premiers are conservatives, as is Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Despite their political differences, they’ve all sung largely from the same pandemic-control hymn book.

Now that more virulent mutations are on the scene. Canada needs to steepen its learning curve. The material is not difficult to master. The lessons are clear. The learning from failure has gone on too long. If Canada wants to succeed, emulate success.

Australia’s strategy is worth a close look not because the country is a paragon of hyper-efficiency and extraordinary governance, but because it is not. You don’t have to be perfect to do well. You simply have to say what you mean; mean what you say; pay attention to the science; and accept that while you may be vilified in some quarters for overreach, you invite catastrophe if you underestimate the strength and agility of the virus.

Source: What Canada can learn from Australia’s COVID response

Toughing out Covid: how Australia’s social fabric held together during a once-in-a-century crisis

Interesting take. Generally, the Scanlon Foundations public opinion research is similar to that carried out in Canada by Environics, and thus tends to highlight some of the similarities that are lost in political discourse and debate:

Politics, and media coverage of politics, is powered by conflict and spectacle. But the social scientist Andrew Markus wants to focus on something quieter: the resilience and optimism of Australians during a crisis; a country under duress that chose not to fracture.

Markus is the principal researcher on the Scanlon Foundation’s annual Social Cohesion report – a project that has mapped a migrant nation since 2007. The report published on Thursday is a snapshot of a country managing a once-in-a-century crisis.

The research (sample size 3,090 respondents) is normally conducted in July. Given Australia was at that time about to tip into a second wave of coronavirus infections in Victoria, and had slipped into the first recession for 30 years, the Monash University emeritus professor was puzzled when many of the snapshots of community sentiment were positive.

That seemed counterintuitive.

To be certain of the findings, a second survey of 2,793 respondents was conducted in November. “In November, we again got very positive data,” he says. By positive data, this is what Markus means. Stepping through his findings, a supermajority was on board with Scott Morrison’s response to the crisis, and the level of trust in government in Australia hit the highest point in the history of the survey.

People had confidence in the public health response. More than 90% of respondents in the five mainland states said lockdowns to suppress transmission were definitely or probably required. While the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, endured a period of being flogged by the Murdoch media for locking down the state, 78% of respondents backed Andrews, and when they were asked whether the lockdown was required, 87% said yes.

While America and Britain battled resurgent nativism, the inward turn triggered by the global financial crisis of a decade ago, Australians, walled in behind a preemptive international border closure, and marooned periodically behind hard state borders, continued to look to the world.

Source: Toughing out Covid: how Australia’s social fabric held together during a once-in-a-century crisis