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FactCheck: Can children under seven be sent to Manus Island?

By John McBride, James Cook University and Trevor Duke, University of Melbourne

“You cannot send children aged under seven to Manus Island because of the issues of inoculation – you can’t do it.


” – Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison, press conference, 21 July.

Scott Morrison has led the criticism of the lack of practical detail in the two-page asylum seeker agreement between Australia and Papua New Guinea, questioning how the Rudd government plans to safely process potentially thousands of people, including children, on Manus Island and other yet-to-be determined sites.

Morrison has repeatedly raised concerns about protecting young children’s health, asking on ABC Radio if the Rudd government was “going to ignore the medical advice that says you can’t send children to a place under age seven who need to be inoculated against tropical diseases”.

Election FactCheck contacted Morrison’s office about the source for the claim. “This was information conveyed to Mr Morrison by officials during his visit to Manus Island earlier this year,” a spokesman said.

Health checks for asylum seekers

Asylum seekers are vaccinated under the Australian schedule before being sent to offshore processing centres. The Immigration Department told Election FactCheck that all asylum seekers receive a physical and mental check-up and a chest x-ray. A blood sample is also collected, but which tests were done was not specified.

Asylum seekers receive the following vaccinations, and further boosters once on Manus Island if necessary: Hepatitis B; Diptheria; Tetanus; Pertussis (whooping cough); Polio; Meningococcal C; Measles; Mumps; Rubella and Influenza. If an X-ray detects tuberculosis, it is treated in Australia.

Asylum seekers also receive Malarone, a tablet treatment to prevent malaria, a mosquito-borne infectious disease which is prevalent in parts of Papua New Guinea, including Manus Island.


Without more information from Morrison’s office, it is difficult to say exactly what he means by his statement, but he may be referring to the practice of the Immigration Department under the Labor government not to send children under seven to Manus Island due to concerns about malaria, for which there is no vaccine.

The national communications manager for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Sandi Logan, told Election FactCheck that until now, the government has sent no children under seven to Manus Island because of a “conservative” approach to malaria health risks.

The World Health Organisation recommends that no child weighing less than five kilograms should receive Malorone. Babies generally weigh less than five kilograms and a seven-year-old child is normally around twenty kilograms. But Labor’s conservative approach has meant that no babies and no child under seven have been sent.

WHO also recommends that pregnant women should not receive Malorone until the second trimester of pregnancy, but it is understood that, so far, no pregnant woman has been sent to Manus Island.

Unless there are exemptions – and the government to date has said that all asylum seekers who arrive by boat would be sent to PNG and had “no chance” of settlement in Australia – it will mean a significant shift in policy, with children under seven being sent to Manus Island for the first time.

Children over seven were sent prior to the PNG deal being announced on July 19, but recently have been removed to Christmas Island, and the government has indicated that family groups won’t be sent until a suitable facility has been built.

Morrison is correct in raising health risks in children as a concern, but may have confused the issue by using the word “inoculation” – which is generally understood to mean vaccination. Treatment for malaria is not through inoculation.

It is possible to successfully vaccinate and otherwise protect young children against common tropical diseases with relatively modest resources. Despite the enormous challenges of vaccine delivery in a country where nearly 90% of the population live in rural and remote areas, the country has achieved high vaccine coverage rates.

There is no reason to believe that in a controlled environment of a refugee camp there would be anything other than total vaccination coverage. Other effective preventative measures which should be provided include insecticide-treated bed-nets, protective clothing, and mosquito control measures around camps.


Malaria is not the only health risk throughout PNG, particularly in low-lying regions.

Tuberculosis rates in Papua New Guinea are high. Effective diagnosis, treatment and contact tracing is a pre-requisite to control the spread of this disease.

A young child sent to a crowded detention centre is at risk of contracting TB, unless housed amongst adults who have been fully screened and treated. If the PNG Solution goes ahead, many refugees and their families may be resettled in communities in PNG, and they will then be exposed to a population where TB rates are high. BCG vaccination prevents some of the complications of TB and is part of the PNG vaccine schedule. It should be given before they go to PNG.


A child sent to Papua New Guinea faces greater risks of disease than in Australia. However, it is possible to successfully vaccinate and otherwise protect young children against common tropical diseases with relatively modest resources, especially in the controlled environment of a refugee camp.

The government has indicated that prior to the PNG deal, no child under seven was sent to Manus Island for health reasons and the public should be assured that camps are safe before this happens. This does not only include vaccination programs (which should be achievable and do not represent an impediment to the policy) but more comprehensive public health measures to prevent the spread of diseases against which there are no vaccinations. We should not forget that there are around a million children in this age group who already live in PNG.

Scott Morrison’s concerns are well founded, but not for the reasons of “issues of inoculation”.


PNG has among the highest rates of morbidity and mortality from malaria outside the African continent. Despite considerable reductions in malaria prevalence in the last decade in PNG, malaria is still in the top three causes of hospital admission amongst children.

Young children are particularly susceptible to malaria; infants are more prone to severe complications of malaria, including severe anaemia, seizures, coma and death. The risk is highest among children who have no immunity to malaria, particularly those who come from countries where malaria is not endemic.

As the author notes, it is possible to successfully vaccinate or otherwise protect young children against some common tropical diseases with relatively modest resources, but refugee children sent to PNG will be at risk of other diseases for which there are no effective or widely available vaccinations, and for which illness among young children can be severe or fatal, such as malaria.

Morrison’s statement that children under seven could not be sent to Manus Island due to “issues of inoculation” is partly correct if one interprets this as meaning not all diseases that children may be exposed to in Manus Island are prevented by vaccines.

Potential health risks for children in Manus Island for which no vaccines are widely available or effective include malaria, dengue fever, dysentery and, in some parts of PNG, cholera. These are health risks faced to a greater or lesser extent by PNG’s children in many area of the country. Most of these infections are preventable by good public health measures, vaccines, adequate nutrition, insecticide-treated bed-nets, and having a healthy environment for children to grow up in.

I would also note that the health risks for refugee children are broader than infectious diseases and include serious psychological problems, impaired development, or physical or sexual abuse if the environment of a detention centre is volatile, violent or lacking hope.

The policy of the Immigration Department not to detain babies and young children under seven on Manus Island is a good, cautious policy, because such infants and children who arrive from a country where there is no prevelance of malaria are particularly susceptible to a severe case of the disease if it is contracted. It is a cavalier attitude to change this policy on many levels, not just for malaria. It is potentially putting a child’s health at risk. – Trevor Duke

The Conversation is fact checking political statements in the lead-up to this year’s federal election. Statements are checked by an academic with expertise in the area. A second academic expert reviews an anonymous copy of the article.

Request a check at [email protected] Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.

The Centre for International Child Health at the University of Melbourne has received funds from AusAID through the Knowledge Hubs for Health Initiative and is a recipient of a grant from the RE Ross Trust Victoria for support to child health in Papua New Guinea. Trevor Duke is a member of the Child Health Advisory Committee for the National Department of Health in Papua New Guinea, and Adjuct Professor of Child Health in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of PNG.

John McBride does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Timeline: The space race


October 4: The Soviet Union launches Sputnik 1 into space.


It’s the first man made satellite to pass overhead making one revolution every 90 minutes.

November 3: Sputnik 2 is launched however this time with a female dog named Laika. The satellite was in orbit for 162 days but unfortunately Laika died soon after lift off. The American press rename the satellite “Muttnik”.


January 31: The United States sends Explorer 1 into orbit around the Earth. Later in the year Dwight Eisenhower signs the National Aeronautics and Sapce act of 1958 into law, establishing NASA.

December 6: America’s Pioneer 3 fails to reach the moon.


January: The Soviet Union launched Luna 1 on a Moon mission, but fails to land.

March 3: America sends an unmanned ship, Pioneer 4, to the moon in the first US lunar flyby.

April 9: John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Gordon Cooper, Scott Carpenter, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra and Donald “Deke” Slayton are named America’s first astronauts.

May 28: NASA launches two monkeys from Cape Canaveral and successfully recovers them in the Atlantic Ocean.

September: The Soviet Union launch Luna 2 which crash lands on the moon, making it the first man made object to reach another planetary body.

October: Not wasting any time the Soviets’ launch Luna 3, which successfully takes photos of the far side of the moon.


January 31: America launches Ham, a chimpanzee, into sub orbital flight on Mercury 2.

April 12: Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man into space onboard the Soviets’ Vostok 1.

May 2: Alan Shepard becomes the first American into space onboard Freedom 7.


June 6: Russia’s Valentina Tereshkova becomes the first woman to go to space.


March 18: Voskhod 2 carries Pavel Belyayev and Alexei Leonov into orbit. Leonov becomes the first man to conduct a “spacewalk”.

June 3: Edward White II is the first American to conduct a spacewalk.


March 31: Luna 10 launches from the Soviet Union and successfully achieves lunar orbit while sending information back to Earth.

May 30: America launches Surveyor 1 which lands on the Moon and transmits data back to Earth.

November 15: Jim Lovell and Edwin Buzz Aldrin conduct three spacewalks.


January 27: Three US astronauts – Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chafee – are killed during a routine testing of the Apollo.

April 23: Commander of Soyuz 1 Vladimir Komarov becomes the first man to be killed during a space flight.


March 3: America tests the Lunar Module on the Apollo 9 mission.

May 18: Astronauts Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan onboard Apollo 10 descends within 50,000 feet of the surface of the Moon.

July 16: Apollo 11 begins its mission.

July 20: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become the first men to walk on the surface of the Moon.

July 24: Apollo 11 returns home.

November 14-24: The US sends Apollo 12 which successfully lands on the Moon. Astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean collect samples.

Explainer: What are the caretaker government conventions?

By Anne Twomey

The Coalition has raised concerns that the Memorandum of Understanding with Papua New Guinea over the Manus Island asylum seeker processing deal was entered into after the caretaker conventions commenced.


But what are these conventions and what are the consequences of breaching them?

What are the caretaker conventions?

The caretaker conventions have been adhered to by all political parties in Australia for decades. They set the ground rules for how governments are to behave in the lead-up to the election and in the post-election period until the election result is clear and a new government (if there is a change of government) is appointed. The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet issues formal Guidance on Caretaker Conventions before each election.

The caretaker conventions started applying to the Commonwealth government at 5:30pm on August 5, 2013, upon the dissolution of parliament.

Why do the caretaker conventions exist?

There are two rationales for the operation of the caretaker conventions. The first is that once parliament is dissolved, ministers are no longer “accountable” to parliament for their actions and should therefore be constrained in the way they behave.

The second rationale is that it is unfair if a (potentially) outgoing government can bind a future government just before it comes into office. If it could do so, a losing government could leave all kinds of booby-traps or impose enormous financial commitments upon its successor.

The caretaker conventions are intended to avoid unfairness and to constrain potentially inappropriate actions while parliament is dissolved and until the newly elected government takes office.

What limits apply to government actions during the caretaker period?

During the caretaker period, the ordinary administration of government must continue. It is only in relation to particular high level matters that there are any constraints. The conventions therefore provide that during the caretaker period the government should not: take major policy decisions that are likely to commit an incoming government; make significant appointments; or enter into significant contracts or undertakings.

Deciding whether a policy is major or an appointment or contract is significant is a matter of judgement. There are no hard and fast rules. Factors include whether or not it is a routine or contentious matter, whether it commits government resources, whether it involves large amounts of money, the length of any commitment and whether or not it can easily be reversed.

If circumstances arise where a major decision has to be made during the caretaker period (for example about whether to commit Australian troops to military action or whether to provide emergency relief to deal with a natural disaster), it is customary for the government to consult the Opposition to try to find a mutually agreed position.

What are the consequences of a breach of the caretaker conventions?

The caretaker conventions are just conventions. They are not law and are therefore not legally binding limits on the powers of the government. Ministers still have the formal power to enter into contracts and make decisions as long as they continue to hold office. There are therefore no legal grounds to challenge the validity of contracts or appointments simply because they are made during the caretaker period.

There is a possibility (albeit a remote one) that the governor-general could refuse to act upon advice (for instance, to make an appointment) during the caretaker period, or defer any action until after the caretaker period was over, if that advice involved a serious breach of the caretaker conventions. In constitutional terms, this would be because ministers are not responsible to parliament during the caretaker period, and therefore are not the “responsible advisers” of the governor-general.

For example, in Canada in 1896, after the Tupper government had lost the election but before a new government was sworn-in, prime minister Charles Tupper advised the governor-general to appoint a number of senators and judges. The governor-general refused and left it to the new government to advise upon filling the places. Equally, South Australian premier Don Dunstan sought the appointment of a new governor days before the election in 1968. However, the appointment was deferred until after the election, and the incoming government decided to appoint someone else.

What about Manus Island?

The Memorandum of Understanding with PNG is a borderline caretaker convention issue. It was reportedly entered into by Australia’s representative before 5:30pm on August 5 when parliament was dissolved, but was not executed by the PNG government until afterwards.

Given that the issue is when the decision of the Commonwealth government was actually made – rather than the decision of the PNG government – it would appear to have been made and formally executed before the caretaker period commenced. Hence it would appear not to be a breach of the conventions, even though it came very close to the line. Even if it had crossed the line, this would not be grounds for a legal challenge as it would only have breached a convention – not the law. Any consequences would be political.

Anne Twomey receives funding from the ARC and occasionally does consultancy work for governments and inter-governmental organisations.

Tamiflu ‘wasted on mild strain of swine flu’

Health authorities are wasting antiviral drugs on a “mild” form of swine flu that may be needed if the strain becomes more aggressive next year, experts say.


The director of the Austin Hospital’s infectious diseases department, Lindsay Grayson, and his deputy Paul Johnson said if the current strain of swine flu developed resistance to Tamiflu because of its early, widespread use, it would be a “nightmare scenario” that would leave medicos with “few treatment options”.

Swine flu’s spread could have been slowed with better testing guidelines and more efficient use of laboratory facilities, the pair said in an article in the online version of the Medical Journal of Australia, Fairfax newspapers reported on Thursday .

Victorian guidelines that asked doctors to test only people who had returned from overseas or had had close contact with a proven case were the “opposite of what should have occurred”, they said.

The move to send all samples to a single lab for testing created delays up to five days for patients, many of whom were not in quarantine or not receiving antiviral treatment, they said.

“If all hospitals had testing capacity and the rules for testing were not based on preconceived assumptions, the current influenza situation might have been different,” they said. Authorities were “extremely slow, to distribute masks and drugs, especially to GPs in the front line, they said.

The harsh criticism comes as Australia swings into a new pandemic “protect” phase, with the number of swine flu cases soars past 2,000.

The new phase will focus antiviral drugs and medical attention on those deemed most at risk, including pregnant women, the morbidly obese and those with respiratory conditions such as asthma.

People who live with or have come into contact with swine flu patients will no longer be quarantined.

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon said the states and territories would reopen schools closed because of swine flu and students who had returned from areas affected by the disease would return to school.

Only people with moderate or severe symptoms, or those in vulnerable groups, will have access to the national and state stockpiles of Tamiflu.

As it happened: Federal budget 2013



00pm. Thank you for following our live blog tonight. You can find more on the budget on our budget minisite, and a wrap of today’s event here: Welfare cuts, taxes fund big Labor pledges.

Also, don’t forget that you can get your head around the changes announced tonight using our interactive graphic.

21.59pm. Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey slammed the budget, saying it delivered more “debt, chaos and spin”.

Govt says #Budget is about “jobs and growth”, yet it delivers higher unemployment and lower growth.

— Joe Hockey (@JoeHockey) May 14, 2013

He spoke to SBS Chief Political Correspondent Karen Middleton.

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21:55pm. Australia’s AAA rating remains unchanged despite the federal government handing down an $18 billion deficit.

21.45pm. As the post-budget storm rages on, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott tweets about something totally different.

I’ve just signed the London Declaration on Combating Antisemitism. twitter.com/TonyAbbottMHR/…

— Tony Abbott (@TonyAbbottMHR) May 14, 2013

21.41pm. West Australian Premier Colin Barnett has welcomed the significant federal budget commitment to building road and rail in the state, including $500 million towards key election rail commitments.

21.31pm. SBS Chief Political Correspondent Karen Middleton brings you an analysis of the budget.

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21.23pm. NITV correspondent Jeremy Geia takes a look at how the federal budget announcements might affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

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21.21pm. Do you want to know what academics think of the budget? You can check our article : Federal budget 2013: expert reaction, featuring Ben Spies-Butcher; Cameron Gordon, University of Canberra; John Quiggin; Lin Crase, La Trobe University; Simon Marginson, University of Melbourne, and Zareh Ghazarian, Monash University.

21.10pm. The federal budget has missed the opportunity to take the pressure off business, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) says.

ACCI Budget Response: “Budget Ignores Small Business and Hard Savings Choices”Media release: tinyurl.com/cyf8u4p

— ACCI Comms (@ACCIBizVoice) May 14, 2013

“It’s a budget of band-aids when the patient required targeted surgery to spending and the oxygen of cost relief to boost confidence,” ACCI chief executive Peter Anderson said in a


21.07pm. The Australian Labor Party posted this video, tweeting : “The Federal Budget. Why it matters, and what it’s all about in 3 minutes”.

21.05pm. Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes said for the first time in Australian history, disability was at the centre of the federal budget.

“The national disability insurance scheme (NDIS) is a huge reform and it’s very pleasing that it’s supported by all political parties.

21.01pm. The Australian National Retailer’s Association, the body representing Australia’s largest national retailers, said there was little in Mr Swan’s speech to support the retail sector and cuts to welfare payments would hurt the sector, which employs 1.2 million Australians.

20:55pm. SBS Chief Political Correspondent Karen Middleton brings you a summary of what announced tonight:

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20.44pm. John Freebairn from the University of Melbourne says “an increasing structural deficit is unsustainable; and it threatens the ability of governments to assist the economy to recover from inevitable future international and domestic shocks”. Treasurer Wayne Swan has delivered a budget with a $19.4 billion deficit this financial year.

Federal Budget 2013: Why our unsustainable structural deficit must be tackled, by John Freebairn: bit.ly/ZWjjrm

— The Conversation (@ConversationEDU) April 28, 2013

And if you’d like another expert’s view on the budget, read Michelle Grattan’s piece.

20.33pm: As Rhiannon Elston reports from Canberra, the federal government has set aside $500,000 to fund programs to raise awareness over the practice of female genital mutilation.

It’s hoped the plan will help support change within Australian communities where the practice still occurs. The government will also undertake research and examine Australia’s legal framework to determine whether laws around the issue are adequate.

20.22pm: Would you like to find out who are the winners and losers in this year’s federal budget? Here is a quick list: Factbox: Winners and losers in the federal budget.

20:20pm. SBS has welcomed an additional $20 million in new funding over the next triennium.

The federal government will provide the funding over three years, on top of last year’s $95.2 million investment. A further $10 million has been allocated for local content.

SBS Managing Director Michael Ebeid tweeted:

Really pleased that @sbs was a budget winner again tonight with additional funding for even better content. tinyurl.com/d3b3ja4

— Michael Ebeid (@michaelebeid) May 14, 2013

“SBS is a lean and agile hybrid broadcaster which punches above its weight with distinctive and innovative content, despite operating on one fifth of the average budget of all the other broadcasters,” Mr Ebeid said.

20:15pm. What’s in the budget for universities?

* $1.2 billion cut by converting student start up scholarships to income contingent loans for new youth allowance, Austudy and Abstudy recipients from January 1, 2014

* $902.7 million cut via efficiency dividend applied to niversity funding (2 per cent in 2014 and 1.25 per cent in 2015)

* $236.6 million cut from ending discounters for up-front and voluntary repayments of HECS-HELP debts

* $520 million cut from capping work-related education expenses

* $135.3 million (over five years) to continue Australian Research Council future fellowships

* $97 million to 2017 for new university places, targeted at areas of need like teaching and language studies

* $185.9 for running cooperative research infrastructure

* $51 billion expected higher education investment over five years

20.08pm. As Rhiannon Elston reports from Canberra, services for Indigenous Australians will be boosted by $1.6 billion formally handed down in today’s budget, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin says.

The bulk of the money will go towards health, education and early childhood programs. An investment of $659 million will be made to extend targeted education programs for Indigenous students, on top of a previously announced $44 million in scholarships.

The total figure also includes $777 million over three years for a commitment to renew the National Partnership Agreement (NPA) for Indigenous Health Outcomes, a figure expected to grow once states and territories announce their joint contribution.

New Indigenous funding announcements made today:

– $127.5 million to extend employment programs

– $12 million for additional support for specialised Indigenous legal services – $15 million over three years to continue funding for the National Congress, starting in 2014

– $6.2 million for upgrades to nine hostels in Queensland and the Northern Territory

– $1.3 million over two years for a developmental study of Indigenous children

20.00pm. As AAP reports here is where the new savings are:


* $16.3 billion from education reform including cuts to universities, making student scholarships into loans, cap on self-education expenses and redirection of National Partnership schools funding

* $10.6 billion from family payments changes including replacing the baby bonus; freezing means testing on family tax benefits and freezing the child care rebate cap

* $14.3 billion from closing corporate tax loopholes

* $3.1 billion from changes to visa application charges and public sector efficiencies


* $33 billion from increasing Medicare levy

* $6 billion from changes to superannuation tax exemptions and concessions

* $6.5 billion from changing indexation on government contributions to the private health insurance rebate and the lifetime cover penalty

* $20.6 billion from changing tax concessions for fringe benefits and net medical benefits, indexation of tobacco excise, increasing import processing charges and other changes.

19.50pm. You can read Wayne Swan’s full speech here:

The full text of Wayne Swan’s #budget2013 speech: ow.ly/l0s9k

— smh.com.au (@smh) May 14, 2013

19.46pm: The baby bonus will be abolished from March 1, 2014.

Under the benefit change, eligible Eligible Family Tax Benefit A recipients will receive a $2000 boost for their first-born child and $1000 for subsequent children, to be paid in instalments, as long as they aren’t accessing thegovernment’s paid parental

leave scheme.

19.45pm: Would like to quickly find out how the budget will affect you? Check out this interactive graphic.

19.43pm: The government will address loopholes in the corporate tax system to save over $100 million in 2013/14 and $4.2 billion over four years.

19.40pm Treasurer Wayne Swan announces $9.8 billion in new school funding.

19.39pm: You can watch the Treasurer’s speech live here.

19: 37pm: Treasurer Wayne Swan says there will be $24 billion invested in both urban road and rail infrastructure.

“These investments will boost productivity, build capacity, improve safety and relieve congestion as well as improving the quality of life in our communities across the nation,” he told parliament.

19:30pm. Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan says Canberra projects a higher-than-expected deficit of $19.4 billion for this financial year, followed by a shortfall of $18 billion in 2013/14.

18:45pm. As SBS’s Political Correspondent Richard Davis revealed, the budget will unveil a $24 billion infrastructure fund. The federal government will also scrap the baby bonus, as it tries to cut spending and find a way back to surplus.

The scrapping of the baby bonus was widespread news also on other media outlets.

The baby bonus will be scrapped in tonight’s #budget2013 and replaced by a lower payment, according to reports ow.ly/l0gqC

— smh.com.au (@smh) May 14, 2013

18: 15pm Canberra is promising a surplus, but not for another four years. In other breaking news this afternoon, it emerged that Canberra plans a return to surplus in 2016-2017.

Budget leaks suggest forecast of a return to surplus in 2016-17, baby bonus to be abolished #budget2013 afr.com/p/national/bud…

— Financial Review (@FinancialReview) May 14, 2013

17.10pm World Vision has already expressed disappointment over delays to the aid budget announced by Foreign Minister Carr yesterday.

World Vision Head of Policy Nancy Waites shares her #budget thoughts over at @womensweeklymag: wva.me/13Xn1oH #dontcutaid

— World Vision AUS (@WorldVisionAus) May 14, 2013

“Each day 19,000 children and 800 pregnant women in the developing world die and many more suffer domestic violence and other forms of gender discrimination,” World Vision Head of Policy Nancy Waites said.

“That’s why it’s extremely concerning that Foreign Minister, Senator Carr, indicated yesterday that the Australian Government will delay its promise to increase aid to reach the UN target of 0.5% of Gross National Income (GNI)”.

17: 00pm Politicians and reporters have been in the budget lock-up since 1.30pm today, but earlier today Tresurer Swan found some time to have this picture taken:

The Treasurer takes a short break from #Budget preparation to spend some time with his family– TeamSwanny twitter.com/SwannyDPM/stat…

— Wayne Swan (@SwannyDPM) May 14, 2013

Explainer: The legality of turning or towing back asylum boats

By Ben Saul

The Coalition promises it will ‘turn back” asylum seeker boats in Australian waters where it is safe to do so if it wins the next election.


With Australian border patrols said to be at “breaking point” with the numbers of boat arrivals, the asylum debate has reached a heightened pitch in intensity.

But what are the facts? Can the Coalition legally turn back boats? Can boats be towed back out of Australian waters? Or intercepted in international waters?

The Conversation spoke with Ben Saul, Professor of International Law, Sydney Centre for International Law at the University of Sydney, to gain a sense of the legal ramifications of a potential “tow back” or “turn back” policy.

Is it legal for Australian forces to turn back or tow back asylum seeker boats?

Australia cannot turn back boats if it would expose a person to return to persecution contrary to the [UN] refugee convention. That includes sending people back to countries which do not offer effective refugee protection. Those can include transit countries like Indonesia and Malaysia where there is no refugee protection status given to people who are there to claim refugee status.

The second consideration is under the law of the sea. It is not legal to turn back a boat which is unseaworthy and on which the lives of passengers are in danger or at risk. Those kind of operational decisions about the safety of boats will be particularly important in assessing whether a “turn back” is legal.

A third factor is that Australia has no right to board and search foreign vessels on the high seas, so Australia’s power to turn back boats is really confined in most cases to boats which are already in Australian territorial waters. The only case in which Australia could board a vessel on the high seas that is outside Australian territorial waters is where the vessel is not registered to another country – in other words, it is a stateless vessel, or where vessel is at risk and it’s a rescue of people whose lives are at risk at sea.

Is there any legal difference between turning back boats or towing them back? Is there any element of culpability?

It could only have relevance in certain situations – for example, if a boat is not seaworthy. But by attaching a rope to it and towing it by an Australian vessel, that would make the boat safe enough to continue back to an Indonesia port. That case is pretty unlikely though – it might arise where an engine onboard a vessel is no longer functioning, but the boat itself is safe, so it would be a way of enabling the boat to return from where it came.

That would ultimately require the safety of the vessel to be ensured, so Australia presumably would then need to tow it right back to an Indonesian port. It couldn’t just then leave the boat stranded without a motor on the edge of the Indonesian territorial sea, for example. Indonesia is fairly unlikely to accept the right of Australian naval vessels to bring refugee boats back into Indonesia.

Are there international examples of countries doing this? Have they been doing it legally?

It’s pretty rare by world standards but it has happened. I guess the most prominent example is the United States, which over some decades now has had a “turn back” – and “tow back” policy in some cases – of vessels with people coming from both Haiti and Cuba. The rationale is that according to the United States, most of those people are not refugees and therefore are just coming to America for a better life. Whether that’s legal obviously depends upon whether they are refugees: typically, many people coming from Cuba fleeing Castro’s regime were in fear of persecution, and so too in Haiti where there were various troubles, so that potentially engages the international legal responsibility of the United States.

What the United States did to try to comply with international law though was to have refugee status determination personnel onboard US coastguard vessels, which were intercepting these boats. So if a person expressed a fear of persecution they could make that claim to somebody onboard the vessel that their hearing be expedited, and a decision would then be made. Obviously that’s not optimal, and then if you expedite processing like that it might magnify the risk of making bad decisions and sending back someone who is actually a refugee.

Ben Saul does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Swine flu vaccine rollout back on track

The national rollout of a swine flu vaccine is back on track after one of Australia’s largest medical insurance providers agreed to cover doctors administering the drug.


Insurers reportedly didn’t want to indemnify doctors offering swine flu injections because inadequate testing and the possibility of spreading infections meant there was too high a risk that patients would sue.

Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer Professor Jim Bishop anticipated the drug would be ready for surgeries around the country by October.

He said indemnity issues were unlikely to hinder the availability of the swine flu vaccine.

“We don’t expect this to be an obstacle to the rollout of this program,” Prof Bishop told AAP. He said discussions with doctors, insurers and general practitioners were going “extremely well”.

Already MDA National has announced it will cover the vaccine’s delivery. President Julian Rait said the company’s main concern had been the use of multi-dose vials, which have led to disease being spread between patients.

“But if we can educate doctors and communicate effectively with our membership (on using the vials), we think that risk can be minimised if not eliminated,” he told ABC Radio.

“In this situation where … there is a need to deploy the vaccine quickly, we agree with the Commonwealth that we have to approach this from a different perspective.”

Mr Rait said it would have been nice if the government underwrote doctors’ liability for the vaccinations but it wasn’t a major worry for MDA National.

“There are already some subsidies to the indemnity insurance industry that the Commonwealth provides,” he said.

“That plus our own solid capital position meant that we are quite comfortable accepting this risk.”

Health Minister Nicola Roxon announced in May an order with pharmaceutical giant CSL for 21 million doses of the vaccine – enough to protect at least half the population from the flu strain.

Australian Medical Association president Andrew Pesce said it wasn’t fair to give a drug company incentive to produce a product but not offer anything to the doctors administering it.

“CSL was identified by the government to put this vaccine out quickly,” he told Sky News.

“So if the government has found it necessary to do that, it obviously has to complete the equation by indemnifying the providers who provide the vaccine.”

Dr Pesce warned some insurers may find it difficult to cover the administration of the drug before it was approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

“Insurers are also bound by their contracts with reinsurers so… especially ahead of TGA approval, it’s going to be necessary that the government indicate it will underwrite the insurance for that treatment,” he said.

Clinical trials into the flu vaccine have finished but the results are still being analysed. Prof Bishop said early signs were good.

“Early preliminary results have given us some comfort,” he said. There are 86 people in intensive care nationwide as a result of swine flu, with 420 patients being treated in hospitals.

Aussie cricket, football not linked to doping: chiefs

A year-long Australian Crime Commission probe concluded that drug use was widespread across multiple Australian sporting codes, with growing links to organised crime.


Specific players, teams and sports were not revealed for legal reasons but rugby league boss Dave Smith admitted the game had been implicated in the scandal.

“We’ve worked with the crime commission in the last week or so and information has come forward for NRL (National Rugby League) specifically that affects more than one player and more than one club,” he said.

Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland said the sport, rocked when Pakistani pacemen Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif failed drugs tests in 2006, was not included in the report.

“There was no specific evidence or links suggested to Australian cricket, which has a record of proactive management on issues such as anti-doping, illicit drugs, anti-corruption and bans on cricketers and cricket employees betting on cricket,” he said.

“But no sport can afford anything other than constant vigilance.

“Sport is an important part of the Australian way of life and fans rightly have high expectations of Australian sports’ integrity.”

Football Federation Australia chief executive David Gallop said: “There’s nothing specific in relation to football in relation to this report.

“But that doesn’t mean we don’t join in the general concern about the issues that are raised in the report.”

“We must maintain vigilance in education, in making sure that players are aware of penalties that can be imposed, (and) in surveillance.”

The investigation identified common use in professional Australian sport of prohibited substances including peptides — a type of stimulant — hormones and illicit drugs.

It said criminal networks were involved in the distribution of illegal substances.

Australian Olympic Committee chief John Coates has long campaigned for tougher measures to weed out drugs cheats and said the latest developments showed “the gloves are now off”.

“I urge our member sports to get involved with the other codes. Olympic sports would be naive to think their sport is immune from the scourge of doping and illegal betting,” he said.

World Anti-Doping Agency president John Fahey said he was alarmed, but not surprised, by the report’s findings, which proved the issue of doping was “alive and well”.

“I think it tells us how wide (and) how deep this problem is — in a country that prides itself on fair play we’ve got a problem of the nature we’ve heard of today,” Fahey said.

Wong blames green energy woes on ETS

Uncertainty around emissions trading could be to blame for a serious problem in a renewable energy scheme, Climate Change Minister Penny Wong says.


The Renewable Energy Target (RET) scheme, which is separate to emissions trading, will see 20 per cent of electricity come from renewable sources by 2020.

But the scheme is in trouble after the price of its trading units – called “certificates” – slumped recently from over $50 to under $30.

That means there’s a much weaker financial incentive for the building of wind farms and installation of solar panels. Solar panels cost more when the RET price is low.

Many in the clean energy sector are crying foul and want the problem fixed. Australian Greens climate change spokeswoman Christine Milne has grilled Senator Wong about the issue, saying the government had “got it wrong”.

Senator Milne said in granting too many RET certificates to solar hot water heaters and heat pumps, the government had distorted the scheme and jeopardised clean energy jobs.

“The government bends over backwards to protect the profits of coal corporations, but they won’t lift a finger when clean and clever renewable energy jobs are on the line,” Senator Milne said.

But Senator Wong said the emissions trading scheme, also called the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), could be to blame.

“It may also be for example one proposition is the uncertainty around the CPRS,” she told the Senate.

Senator Wong played down the RET price problem, saying the debate had focused on the spot price of RET certificates, whereas some investors were locked into long-term contracts so were not vulnerable to the spot price.

As concerns grew about the RET scheme, parliament focused on the other big climate scheme – the ETS.

The ETS is back before the House of Representatives for the second time after it was rejected in August.

The government wants a vote next month before UN climate talks in Copenhagen in December.

They won’t get the scheme up without the coalition; negotiations are taking place between the major parties.

Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull took the floor in parliament to move amendments to the scheme, which were essentially the coalition’s negotiating position on the scheme.

“These proposals demonstrate Labor’s emissions trading scheme could be improved to better protect jobs and investment without sacrificing environmental objectives,” Mr Turnbull said.

“With these changes the CPRS could deliver exactly the same environmental outcomes … with much less economic cost and dislocation.” A vote is due to be held in the lower house, where 57 MPs are listed to speak, in the week beginning November 16.

The legislation would then go straight to the Senate, to be voted on in the week beginning November 23.

Debate was expected to run until 11pm on Wednesday and into Thursday to get through the long list of speakers.

Comment: Heat on Coalition to stump up its costings

By Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Coalition is now under pressure to get out its policy costings, following the release of the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook, which shows virtually no change in key figures since the government’s economic statement.


But shadow treasurer Joe Hockey said the opposition would go through the PEFO figures methodically and prudently and would not give any timing for the Coalition figures.

“You’ll get good time. Labor delivered their costings the day before the election in 2007; we’ll do better than the day before the the election.

“People will have a terrific opportunity to have a look at our numbers and the details in them”. He said the opposition was waiting for some costings from the Parliamentary Budget Office.

The only small change in the key indicators in PEFO, prepared by Treasury and Finance departments and independent of the government, is that the projected surplus in 2016-17 is $4.2 billion compared with $4 billion in the economic statement.

Treasurer Chris Bowen said there was no excuse for the opposition not to release all its policy costings, in compliance with the Charter of Budget Honesty. There was “nowhere to hide”.

He said that Liberal frontbencher George Brandis has said opposition policies were costed and ready to go. “If they are all there, ready to go, what’s the excuse for not releasing them?” He said inevitably there would be deep cuts to health and education.

Tony Abbott today confirmed that the opposition is ruling out any change to the GST under a Coalition government. “Let me be as categoric as I can, the GST won’t change, full stop, end of story. Let me repeat it – the GST won’t change full stop, end of story.”

Asked why he would bother keeping the GST in the planned review of taxation, Abbott said: “I don’t know what people are going to raise in the review. I just don’t. All sorts of things will be put forward by all sorts of people. I am telling you the GST won’t change. It is not going to change, full stop end of story.”

Pressed on whether he would like to take the opportunity to remove it from from the review, he said “Let’s not play these sorts of games” A “desperate Labor Party” was running a GST scare.

The “full stop” line is being repeated by all opposition MPs who appear publicly.

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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