Friday, August 07, 2020

COVID-19 kills Australia's sense of humour: Lottery ad is pulled for 'mocking social distancing guidelines' after complaints were made to watchdog

A lottery advert has been pulled from TV after a complaint made to the industry watchdog said it mocked social distancing guidelines.

The advertisement for a $25million jackpot first aired in November 2019 and showed a man exiting a bathroom stall after winning the lotto before he hugs a stranger without washing his hands.

A new version of the advert aired between July 5 and 7 and featured a re-done voiceover that said: 'There's Frank. Little does he know he's about to be hugged by a stranger in the toilet.

'There he is, enter stranger. He's won Oz Lotto. Forget the elbow taps, he's gone all in. Oz Lotto. Tuesday.'

A complaint made to Ad Standards said the advert mocked social distancing and hygiene regulations.

The watchdog found it to be in breach of the AANA's Code of Ethics which forced Lotterywest to pull it down.


How we lost trust in our universities

The debate over standards has been going on for a long time.  Universities have been under informal pressure to give Chinese and other foreign students "leeway" in marking because of their often imperfect command of English.  And in a way that is fair enough.  In such cases the ability of the student is not well represented by the mark that he would otherwise be given. So the standards of the university are not compromised and the student can be expected to go back home and perform well

There has however always been internal debate about where you draw the line.  Are you making a fair allowance for a basically good student or are you giving a pass to a genuine dummy?  There is never much in the way of clear guidelines in some situations and some universities have been known to give out passes to very poor students from abroad. -- often to the disgruntlement of the teachers who know the student well. 

One would think that it should be left to the markers to pass or fail the students but that is not always so. Admin sometimes increases the mark recorded.  That seems to me wholly obnoxious. There have been some well-known cases

I have myself once given an Aboriginal student marks commensurate with his poor performance only to be completely overridden by "higher-ups".  I made only a small fuss as I knew what I was up against.

But this latest development where there is a concerted campaign to lower standards is, I think, new.  It is of course completely foolish.  It just devalues whatever degree is awarded.  Such degrees will rapidly become known as "Chinese degrees" and will be disrespected by anyone in the know.  That is of course a huge disfavour for Chinese students who are genuinely up to par

The politicization of the universities mentioned below is a largely separate issue and I have already commented on the cases mentioned below.  Again it is not entirely new.  Judging by publications, my academic career could well have been stellar except for my conservative views

 Australian National University vice-chancellor and astronomer Brian Schmidt, who is the only university leader in the world to win a Nobel prize (for physics), made a telling point in his annual Foundation Day address this week. Australia needs universities more than ever amid the COVID-19 crisis, he said. But they have possibly never been more distrusted.

In an interview with Tim Dodd earlier this year, Professor Schmidt identified what families want universities to be. That is, a place where “Australian students can get an education as good as any place in the world but distinctively Australian”. That aspiration should serve as a model for our universities, which, since the days of the Colombo Plan in the 1950s, have attracted students from around the world for their quality and for the experience most students enjoy.

For decades the sector built on that reputation to the point where last year education had grown into the nation’s fourth-largest export, worth $40bn to the economy. For now, at least, the coronavirus has smashed the business model centred on international students. But that is only one of a range of problems facing the sector, as serious revelations reported in recent weeks have shown.

Most of these come down to the issue of standards, which university leaders must improve and defend if their institutions are to serve the nation and retain (or recover) their international reputations. Contentious cultural issues of academic freedom and censorship also loom large.

Suspicions that some institutions have “gone soft” in marking the work of foreign students have been rife for years. Alarm bells should be ringing among university leaders after confirmation that lecturers are being cowed into lowering academic standards by organised networks of overseas students. Academics admit they have “dumbed down” courses to ensure foreign students can complete degrees. Lecturers who refuse risk being targeted by official complaints signed by up to 100 students, as reported on Wednesday. It is even more alarming that such complaints are taken seriously by university executives and have the potential to derail academic careers. Language barriers are a major part of the problem, as local students know from experience. In defending standards, universities must insist on proficiency in English.

Recent scandals also show how far universities have strayed from what should be central to their raison d’etre — free speech and academic freedom. As Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven wrote recently, universities have two types of problems with freedom of academic expression. One is corporate, “where an academic writes something that could rile a major stakeholder: a sponsoring corporation, a government partner or — frankly — China”. Vice-chancellors understandably, but not heroically, Professor Craven noted, “feel for their institutional wallet”. The second assault on academic freedom is more insidious because it is internal. “An academic strikes trouble because he or she writes something counter to the accepted wisdom of their faculty or university as a whole.”

Despite an admirable policy on free speech, the University of NSW resorted to censorship when it withdrew a tweet quoting adjunct law lecturer and Australian director of Human Rights Watch Elaine Pearson criticising China’s miserable human rights record in Hong Kong. UNSW vice-chancellor Ian Jacobs, to his credit, has apologised for the decision to delete the tweet.

The suspension of pro-Hong Kong democracy student activist Drew Pavlou by the University of Queensland also smacked of repressive censorship. Both universities’ approaches were anathema to Western ideals of free speech. But Chinese Communist Party propagandist media, unsurprisingly, were deeply critical of both Ms Pearson and Mr Pavlou. Such erosion of intellectual integrity has compromised universities’ credibility.

The treatment of James Cook University physicist Peter Ridd by his employers also was indicative of an increasing hostility to debate on campus. The cardinal sin that brought about Dr Ridd’s demise was his questioning of the rigour of university-linked research on the health of the Great Barrier Reef under climate change.

Last year’s campus free speech report by former High Court chief justice Robert French made the point that university codes of conduct could be hostile to the freedoms they purported to uphold. That is particularly the case in relation to opinions that challenge progressive norms among academics. But when it suits them, some faculties prefer to turn a blind eye to empirical evidence. For instance, too many education faculties fail to prepare trainee teachers to use phonics in teaching children to read, despite impressive evidence about the method’s effectiveness compared with trendier “whole-word recognition” systems. Nor should promoting “cancel culture” be academics’ focus.

Regardless of such problems, universities remain our prime drivers of ideas and scientific breakthroughs. As Professor Schmidt said, few people realise how large and direct a part the ANU and other universities are playing in the fight against coronavirus. During the enforced interruption in their operations because of the pandemic, vice-chancellors and other leaders have a chance to raise academic standards, reinforce the value of free speech and improve accountability to taxpayers and to the Australian students who primarily fund universities. Doing so would rebuild trust and enhance their international standing.


Apartment owners win legal victory over combustible cladding

A group of apartment owners battling to have combustible cladding replaced on their buildings have won a landmark legal victory – giving hope to the thousands more facing similar dangers.

In an Australian first, a major building company which installed timber-PVC Biowood cladding on four multi-storey apartment blocks in Ryde has lost its appeal against being forced to rectify the work.

Further, if it doesn’t reach an agreement with the owners on a timetable for the remediation, a date will be set for them by the state authorities.

“This is a precedent for Australia,” said the victorious owners’ lawyer, Faiyaaz Shafiq of JS Mueller & Co Lawyers. “This is the first reported case where a court or tribunal has upheld a finding that a particular type of cladding is combustible.

“The outcome of the case represents a win for owners’ corporations and sends another timely warning to builders and developers that use of combustible cladding is fraught with risk and carries with it substantial consequences.”

Concern about combustible panels follows the catastrophic 2017 blaze at London’s Grenfell Tower in which 72 people died after fire raced up the building fuelled by aluminium composite cladding. In Melbourne, a cladding fire at the Lacrosse building in 2014 saw owners win $5.7 million in damages.

Currently, there are two class actions underway in Australia against the manufacturers of cladding, and a call went out earlier this week from the peak body for apartment owners, the Owners Corporation Network, for other affected strata schemes to join.

In this latest case, Lindsay Spencer, chair of the owners’ corporation of The Gardens at Putney Hill, developed by Frasers Property and built by Taylor Construction Group, said the owners and residents of the 148 apartments of the scheme were “pleased and relieved” at the verdict.

“They [Taylor and Frasers] appealed the original decision that they should replace the panels and now they have lost. We hope it ends here,” he said. “No one wants to live with this kind of risk to their safety.

“We hope this decision now makes the situation clearer for others living with combustible cladding. Others builders have to look at it, and deal with it.”

The Appeals Panel of the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) threw out an appeal by Taylor Constructions and Frasers Putney against an NCAT decision last year that the Biowood cladding was combustible, posed an undue risk of fire spreading and should be replaced.

It ruled that any fire spread via the external walls where the Biowood cladding is located could enter the building from the facade by windows and balconies from level to level.

There is one more possible appeal to the Supreme Court against the decision, but Taylor Construction would not say what it plans to do. “We have no comment to make at this stage,” said Stephen Williams, the general manager commercial. “We are still reviewing the decision.”

Calls to the representative for Frasers Property were not returned.

The companies argued to the NCAT Appeals Panel that the building had already been issued with an interim occupation certificate which created a presumption that the works performed in the building complied with statutory warranties and all the relevant codes and standards.

The Panel, however, ruled that occupation certificates do not prevent owners from suing for building defects.

Mr Shafiq said the decision has now set a precedent for the thousands more buildings with Biowood panelling, and other combustible cladding, across Australia. “It now means owners in my client’s building, and others, can have more certainty to get on with their lives,” he said.

“Combustible cladding presents a risk that if fire happens in a multi-storey building and you don’t have time to escape, then we saw what happened with Grenfell and the terrible sight of people throwing themselves out of windows with so many lives lost.

“This product may look aesthetically pleasing but people need to be able to safely sleep at night in their homes, and builders need to be careful.”

The two class actions currently running are against Germany-based Alucobond manufacturer 3A Composites and supplier Halifax Vogel Group, and against the Australian company Fairview Architectural, the supplier of polyethylene-core Vitrabond panels based in Lithgow, NSW. Last month (July) Fairview announced it had initiated voluntary administration.

OCN administrator Karen Stiles said if a building had cladding it could register to join the class action, which is independent of any other action the scheme might be taking.

“OCN supports owners’ rights to pursue their full legal rights in terms of building defects,” she said. “Of course, it is wrong that they have to – unlike other consumers saddled with faulty products like Takata airbags or Infinity Cable where the product is recalled by the manufacturer at their own cost.

“But that’s the current state of Australian play sadly. Hopefully our owner advocacy will improve the situation for future owners.”


Australian government to reopen Christmas Island detention centre during Covid-19 crisis

The Australian government will reopen the detention facility on the remote territory of Christmas Island to house people currently in immigration detention on the Australian mainland.

The Australian Border Force confirmed on Tuesday evening that people currently in immigration detention woud be “temporarily” transferred to the centre at North West Point on Christmas Island, where Australians returning from Wuhan were held in the first weeks of the coronavirus pandemic.

Those transferred would include up to 200 detainees from Western Australia’s Yongah Hill detention centre, the Australian reported. The transfer would create space for detainees in eastern states to be transferred to Western Australia to avoid the risks of coronavirus infection in Sydney and Melbourne. After a period of quarantine in Yongah Hill, those detainees could be sent to Christmas Island.

On Wednesday, the Australian Border Force said on Twitter that no refugees would be transferred to Christmas Island. It said that only “those convicted of serious criminal offences” would be transferred there.

In response to criticism that Christmas Island lacked specialist medical care, Border Force said the contractor IHMS would provide primary and mental health clinics onsite, and other medical care would be provided by visiting specialists or referral to the Australian mainland.

The West Australian had earlier reported that refugees and asylum seekers would be transferred to Christmas Island from Victoria as early as this month, but later removed references to asylum seekers.

In a statement on Monday evening, Border Force said Christmas Island was being reopened “to relieve capacity pressure across the detention network in Australia”.

“With required Covid-19 distancing measures in place within the detention network, this is placing the detention network under pressure.

“The cohort being transferred consists of those who have been convicted of crimes involving assault, sexual offences, drugs and other violent offences. This cohort is detained because of their risk to the Australian community.”

Refugees and their advocates have raised concerns about the risks of infection and outbreaks in immigration detention settings, particularly as Melbourne has endured a brutal second-wave outbreak.

A staff member at the Mantra hotel in Preston, where around 65 refugees and asylum seekers who were transferred to Australia from offshore detention under the medevac law are detained, tested positive to the virus last month.

While Victoria has turned to extreme measures to contain its outbreak, Western Australia has very few cases and Christmas Island has remained coronavirus-free.

Refugee advocates, who have called for detainees to be released into the community, criticised the decision to reopen the facility as a dangerous response to the Covid-19 risks.

“The government clearly knows people are at risk in their crowded immigration detention centres – it beggars belief that they are going to such extraordinary lengths to avoid a humane and logical solution,” said the Human Rights Law Centre’s David Burke.

“By reopening detention facilities on a remote island, thousands of kilometres from specialist medical care, minister Dutton has chosen a dangerous and cruel response to a public health crisis.”

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s advocacy director, Jana Favero, said the organisation was “highly concerned” by the reports. The centre’s clients were experiencing “rapidly deteriorating mental and physical health” and needed to be released to go into lockdown to protect themselves, she said.

“Instead of following the advice of medical professionals, the government is resorting to removing people offshore to Christmas Island, intentionally out of sight and far away from their case workers, legal representation and community support networks, risking mental health even further,” Favero said.

The controversial Christmas Island detention facility was closed in 2018, only to be reopened the following year as the government threatened to send sick refugees from Manus Island and Nauru there instead of the mainland. That never happened, but the centre was kept in “hot contingency” with more than 100 staff.

In February, Australians evacuated from Wuhan in China because of the coronavirus outbreak were sent to Christmas Island to quarantine for two weeks before returning to the mainland.

The Tamil family of asylum seekers known as the Biloela family have been detained on the island for almost a year, but not in the facility that is being reopened.

Mother Priya Murugappan was recently returned to the island after travelling to Perth for medical care that was not available on the remote island.

Supporters of the family argued the transfer showed there was insufficient medical care available on Christmas Island, which does not have a tertiary-level hospital.

At the end of May, the latest date for which official statistics were available, there were 369 detainees at Yongah Hill. Guardian Australia understands that 15 New Zealand men who had been held at Yongah Hill were returned to New Zealand on Tuesday.


 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

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