Monday, May 04, 2020

Morrison pressures ABC over app

The ABC altered a story on Australia’s Covid-19 contact tracing app following a written complaint from the office of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, which criticised “unnecessarily alarmist” coverage of privacy concerns. Morrison’s senior media adviser Nick Creevey emailed the complaint to ABC news director Gaven Morris regarding an April 24 story about the United States tech giant Amazon winning the contract for the app’s data storage, according to ($) The Australian. The article claimed the data could be “obtainable by US law enforcement”. The ABC later inserted a note in the online story to clarify that “the Covid-19 tracing app will not record people’s movements, only their contact with other people also using the app”, and altered a 7pm bulletin last Monday to change “tracking” references to “tracing”. The changes come amid concerns the app could generate a social contacts map of Australians, of potential value to foreign governments and Australian law enforcement. Meanwhile, new analysis finds the ABC has lost $783 million in funding since the Coalition came to power in 2014.

Two schools in the two most populous states have been closed due to Covid-19 infections, as the federal government stoush with the Victorian government continues to escalate. Warragamba Public School, a primary school in Sydney’s west, will close for thorough cleaning and contact tracing after a student tested positive for Covid-19. Meanwhile, a music teacher from Meadowglen Primary School in Victoria has also tested positive. The teacher had not had face-to-face contact with students this year and only two other teachers had been identified as being in close contact. The developments come as Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan attempts to backtrack on his Sunday comments that Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ refusal to reopen schools was a ‘‘failure of leadership’’. Morrison called Tehan after the comments to tell him he’d gone too far, reports The Conversation

A new report has found that coal mines and power stations in New South Wales and Queensland use as much water as all of Sydney’s households, according to Guardian Australia. The analysis, commissioned by the Australian Conservation Foundation, found the sector consumes about 383 billion litres of water a year, roughly equivalent to the household water needs of 5.2 million people. The amount of freshwater withdrawn from water resources for the coal industry is even larger, at 2383 billion litres, with about 1970 billion litres released back into the environment, although often in a polluted state. The report comes as the Morrison government announces it will change the investment mandate of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to make up to $300 million available for a new Advancing Hydrogen Fund.

The Spanish public has enjoyed some extended outdoor walks over the weekend for the first time in seven weeks, as the country eased its lockdown restrictions. “It felt so good to stretch our legs and to actually see we were still in Barcelona and not in some apocalyptic world,” said resident Rosanna West. Italy will begin easing restrictions today after recording its lowest daily Covid-19 death rate in months, with 174 deaths on Sunday. Meanwhile, Russia reported 9,623 new cases in 24 hours, its highest rise since the start of the pandemic.

 
 

“The technology behind the Australian government’s new COVIDSafe tracing app could create a comprehensive social contacts map of the nation – a potentially valuable dataset to foreign governments and Australian law enforcement. That’s the view of one analyst, Professor Dali Kaafar, executive director of the Optus Macquarie University Cyber Security Hub, who has studied the app’s functions and the source code of the Singaporean version, which he says the Australian app very closely matches.”

 

“There is a temptation to see a chaos theory–style event in this happenstance: a butterfly beats its wings and a chain of reaction ends in a hurricane; a man eats a pangolin in Wuhan, and Washington comes to a standstill. But while the virus, or something like it, may have been unstoppable, this chaos was not. It comes from a string of human failings that are political rather than medical. COVID-19’s virulence is made doubly dangerous by our ill-prepared condition.”

 

“My anger rose when I saw the announcement that the government was giving even more money to independent schools. They will get 25 per cent of next year’s funding in June – totalling about $3.3 billion – but only if, and this is the sting in the tail, they are fully open by then ... This is, no doubt, a political ploy designed to wedge the states, particularly Victoria. That state’s premier, Daniel Andrews, has stood firm in his decision to keep schools teaching remotely.”

 
 

“There is another, worst-case possibility: that no vaccine is ever developed ... Instead of wiping out COVID-19, societies may instead learn to live with it. Cities would slowly open and some freedoms will be returned, but on a short leash, if experts’ recommendations are followed. Testing and physical tracing will become part of our lives in the short term, but in many countries, an abrupt instruction to self-isolate could come at any time.”

 
 

“The majority of people who end up hospitalised, in intensive care or dying from COVID-19 have an underlying medical condition. One study showed 89% of those hospitalised in the US had at least one … All of these health issues have been associated with our lifestyle including poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, excessive alcohol and high stress. It’s obvious we have created a society where being active, eating healthily, drinking less and keeping our stress under control is difficult. Perhaps it’s time to push back.”

 
 

“This isn’t a candy dish, or a cake stand. It’s a wine glass, circa 1600, from Venice, Italy. If you attended a banquet at the house of an Italian lord, you’d be handed one of these, filled to the brim with red wine. You’d be expected to lift it by wrapping three fingers around the base, and raise it to your lips without spilling a drop. The whole process should look effortless. Sound tough? The difficulty was the point.”

 

Max Opray
is Schwartz Media’s morning editor and a freelance writer.