Monday, June 26, 2023

Alarming attack on "misinformation"

Who is to decide what is misinformation? The government? Much that was called misinformation about Covid subsequently was vindicated as truth. We may have to rely on the High Court to strike this arrogance down

Digital platforms – including social media, search engines, and dating sites – could face fines of up to $6.8m under proposed new laws aimed at combating misinformation online.

Under historic new legislation proposed by the government, digital platforms could face penalties of up to $6.88m for failing to address systemic disinformation and misinformation.

The government has released a draft framework to empower the Australian Communications and Media Authority to hold digital platforms responsible for misleading or deliberately deceptive information online.

Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland said the proposed legislation was aimed at protecting Australians from the growing threat.

“Mis and disinformation sows division within the community, undermines trust, and can threaten public health and safety,” she said.

“The Albanese Government is committed to keeping Australians safe online, and that includes ensuring the ACMA has the powers it needs to hold digital platforms to account for mis and disinformation on their services.”

The Communications Legislation Amendment (Combating Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill would give the media regulator greater powers to act on systemic issues.

For the first time, the ACMA would be empowered to access documents from digital providers related to misinformation and disinformation on their platforms.

The proposed authority would not extend to the content of private messages sent online.

The bill targets endemic misinformation and disinformation issues which pose a serious harm to Australians, and it would allow the ACMA to fight continued noncompliance from digital providers.

If platforms allow the spread of harmful lies and propaganda to continue, the regulator would be able to register enforceable industry codes with a maximum penalty of $2.75m or 2 per cent of a company’s global turnover (whichever is greater).

Should the code of practice prove insufficient, the ACMA would be able to implement an industry standard which would carry maximum penalties of $6.88m or 5 per cent of global turnover.

The proposed powers would apply to digital platforms accessible in Australia, including search engines, social media sites, dating sites, and web forums.

The ACMA would be focused on encouraging services to implement strong systems to tackle misinformation and disinformation rather than regulating specific content.

Unlike the eSafety Commissioner, the regulator would not have the authority to request the removal of posts or content.

The proposed legislation enacts key measures recommended in the 2021 ACMA report on the adequacy of digital platform measures to combat disinformation.

Public consultation on the draft bill will begin on Sunday and conclude on August 6, with the legislation to be introduced later this year.

“This consultation process gives industry and the public the opportunity to have their say on the proposed framework, which aims to strike the right balance between protection from harmful mis and disinformation online and freedom of speech,” Ms Rowland said.

“I encourage all stakeholders to make a submission and look forward to introducing the Bill into parliament later this year, following the consultation process”.


Dirty little secrets of Australia’s dangerous EV rollout

The electric vehicle take-up among Australian consumers may provide a warm and fuzzy feeling for the environmentally conscious, but as machines, EVs are significantly heavier than the traditional motor car and a challenge more likely to weigh on Australian roads.

According to data provided by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, electric vehicles accounted for 6.8 per cent (17,396) of light vehicle sales (257,094) in the 12 months to March this year.

It is important to note there are more than 20 million registered cars nationally.

Electric vehicles such as the Tesla 3 which dot the more fashionable areas of Australia are also very heavy, due primarily to the weight of the battery required to power such vehicles.

A Tesla Model 3 weighs 1844kg (1.84 tonnes) at the higher end while the fuel-efficient Mazda 3, for example, tips the scales at 1.4 tonnes.

Considering the popularity of sports utility vehicles, the weight difference would be even greater than the 400kg gap between the Tesla Model 3 and the Mazda sedan.

If hydrogen-powered or battery-powered trucks ever make the leap from concept vehicle to commercial reality, then Australia’s road network would require far greater levels of maintenance and construction than exist currently.

In the United States, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported earlier this year that the safety aspect around collisions (a heavier vehicle tends to keep going when it collides with a lighter vehicle) as well as braking performance were increasingly major areas of concern.

It appears that environmental posturing requires a reality check.

While EVs are popular, the question of whether such vehicles should be subsidised is debatable.

To be exact, more than 85 per cent of the driving public through their registration fees have enabled the Queensland government to provide a $3000 rebate for zero-emission vehicles, (this of course does not consider the dirty offshore refining practices to acquire the specific minerals for these cars).

For fans of the George Orwell novel Animal Farm, the idea that “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” rings true as the 85 per cent represent the horse.

With a market share of 6.8 per cent and growing, electrical vehicle owners should be coming under the purview of policy makers in terms of a timeline to legislate a road usage fee as opposed to being given a $3000 kicker.

As it stands, most car owners subsidise would-be Tesla owners the equivalent of a year’s fuel as the batteries EVs use are included, meaning those same EV drivers pay nothing in fuel excise which, of course, helps fund the nation’s roads.

Fuel excise receipts from petrol is expected to hit $60bn over the next four years according to federal budget papers, although is likely to decline given the incentives to the more
well-heeled to buy an EV.

Well-paid politicians such as Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, an electrical vehicle evangelist, in a YouTube video where she test-drove a Tesla told her adoring fans afterwards, “Wow, I’m hooked!” If only the good senator took an interest in the minerals used for such cars, the emission intensity of the mining effort to create that same vehicle and the industrial resources required to upgrade the transport network so it can cope with the extra load.

While noting Tesla’s desire to be free of cobalt, the mineral mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the raw material that powers the rechargeable batteries used in modern-day computers, phones, and electric vehicles as well as being a standout in human rights abuses.

Children as young as seven, according to Human Rights Watch, are working in cobalt mines, all in the name of the great green leap forward.

While foodies are proud of the “paddock to plate” mantra around its clean supply chain practices, the same cannot be said for the “resources to road” moniker for Australia’s electric vehicle enthusiasts where questions around a sustainable transport future remain murky.


A new low for Queensland Health

Director-General wants penalties for whistleblowers

Health Minister Shannon Fentiman has told the head of Queensland Health that she does not support the punishment of whistleblowers following his sensational call to introduce gag laws that punish those who speak out about issues involving the health department.

The Sunday Mail revealed Health Director-General Shaun Drummond wrote a submission to the inquiry into Public Interest Disclosure laws, requesting that whistleblowers providing journalists “inappropriate” information about Queensland Health should be penalised.

The unorthodox request sent shockwaves through media outlets, with Mr Drummond accused of attempting to muzzle journalists who report on medical mistakes such as the DNA lab testing bungle.

A spokesman for Health Minister Shannon Fentiman on Sunday confirmed she had since spoken with Mr Drummond and “communicated her position” on the matter.

But the Minister refused to reveal whether the debacle had caused her to lose confidence in Mr Drummond as the Director-General.

“As has been made clear, the Minister does not support introducing penalties for the disclosure of information to journalists,” the spokesman said. “The Minister’s position has been communicated to the Director-General.”

Earlier on Sunday, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Mark Furner issued a stern warning to Mr Drummond, reminding him that public servants don’t make laws.

“It’s the government that makes decisions on what laws will be introduced in the parliament, not Director-General’s, they are public servants to assist in that process,” Mr Furner said.

“There’s no agenda on the table in terms of the cabinet currently, in regards to this particular proposal, so it should be reminded that it is the government of the day, the Palaszczuk government, (that) makes those laws, not senior public servants.”

When asked if it was unusual for a senior public servant to make a request to criminalise whistleblowers, Mr Furner said: “I think the Minister of Health will no doubt be wanting to have a discussion with her Director General over this”.

Ms Fentiman on Saturday distanced herself from Mr Drummond’s submission, saying the department was independent of her own ministerial office.

She also referred to her strong support of the expansion of Queensland’s shield laws last year. “While journalists’ sources are generally identified in media reports, there are some occasions when important information can only be reported through confidential sources,” she said at the time.


Non-mulesed wool attracts premiums but the transition away from mulesing has been slow

In southern New South Wales in Howlong, Ian Trevethan has 4,000 merino ewes running around in the paddocks.

By the end of this year, after some careful genetic selection, he hopes the new lambs won't require mulesing.

"We weren't sure when to transition [away from mulesing] or how [to]," Mr Trevethan said. "But I think the debate over whether or not mulesing is going to be an option down the track is over. We can see that it'll only be a matter of time before we can't."

Mr Trevethan said the transition through genetic selection would take time.

"Last year we bought non-mulesed ewes from a farm which ceased mulesing a while ago, and we're buying rams and placing more emphasis on low breech wrinkle," he said. "With the combination of plainer rams and those ewes we're hoping to set ourselves up for a mules-free flock."

Mulesing refers to a one-off procedure where flaps of skin are removed from a lamb's breech and tail.

After the area has healed, the skin should have no folds or wrinkles and is less likely to attract blowflies and reduce the risk of flystrike.

Over recent years, animal welfare groups such as the RSPCA have called for the end to the practice and to breed sheep that are less susceptible to flystrike.

In 2019, the Victorian government passed legislation legally requiring the use of pain relief when mulesing lambs.

Mr Trevethan said the transition would require more reliance on chemicals to protect against disease and changing to six-month shearings to control wool length.

"Society moves, and we have to move with it," Mr Trevethan said.

"We don't look forward to mulesing. It's not pleasant and no-one enjoys it. "We are looking forward to having animals that we don't have to mules, but it'll take time and needs to still be a tool for some producers."

In the latest annual report from the Sheep Sustainability Framework, only 15.8 per cent of merino wool was declared as non-mulesed, increasing by only 0.5 per cent from the previous year.

The 2023 annual report also found 52 per cent of producers mules their flocks.

Currently, there is no official target date for the industry to phase out mulesing, however, Mr Trevethan believes farmers need time to get it right.

"If the carpet were ripped away and we couldn't mules overnight, the animal welfare outcomes would be disastrous," he said.

"Although we have to transition, it'll take some time to get there, so it still needs to be a tool for some people to use."

Grower group Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) said they do not tell growers how to run their farming operations, but was committed to helping producers find ways to manage flystrike without mulesing.

Since 2001, AWI has spent more than $44 million to research flystrike and find alternatives to mulesing.

More money for non-mulesed wool

Jenni Turner, a wool broker and area manager for Fox and Lille Rural, said the volume of non-mulesed wool has changed in the past decade. "In rough figures, 10 years ago about 10 per cent of the clip would have been unmulesed, but now it's more around the 20-per-cent mark," Ms Turner said. "Over the past five years, there's been some demonstrable premiums for non-mulesed wool."

Ms Turner said even though the market right now had low demand, there was a growing premium market for non-mulesed wool. "In terms of your wool marketing, being non-mulesed is a really good price risk management tool," she said. "It's one of the safest things you can do in terms of trying to assure yourself a good price compared to a market.

"The demand comes from America and Europe, and not China."

In 2019, a string of retailers such as Kmart, Target, Country Road and Myer announced they were transitioning away from using mulesed wool.

"I think the attitude amongst buyers and brokers is that it's very pragmatic," Ms Turner said. "We're taking the orders from the mills and fabric makers. It's clear that breech modification is not their preference at all."

"In terms of grower attitudes, money talks. However, it's not an easy tool to take out of your toolbox."




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