Issue 10 | December 2020
2 20 The Year the Earth Stood Still
What happened this year?! Attempting to explain the inexplicable.
Science | Faith | Trust | Truth | Democracy
The Fulbright Program The Fulbright Program is the flagship foreign exchange scholarship program of the United States of America, aimed at increasing binational collaboration, cultural understanding, and the exchange of ideas. Born in the aftermath of WWII, the program was established by Senator J. William Fulbright in 1946 with the ethos of turning ‘swords into ploughshares’, whereby credits from the sale of surplus U.S. war materials were used to fund academic exchanges between host countries and the U.S. Since its establishment, the Fulbright Program has grown to become the largest educational exchange program in the world, operating in over 160 countries. In its seventy-year history, more than 370,000 students, academics, and professionals have received Fulbright Scholarships to study, teach, or conduct research, and promote bilateral collaboration and cultural empathy. Since its inception in Australia in 1949, Fulbright has awarded over 5,000 scholarships, creating a vibrant, dynamic, and interconnected network of Alumni.
Our future is not in the stars but in our own minds and hearts. Creative leadership and liberal education, which in fact go together, are the first requirements for a hopeful future for humankind.
Fostering these—leadership, learning, and empathy between cultures—was and remains the purpose of the international scholarship program that I was privileged to sponsor in the U.S. Senate over forty years ago. " Senator J. William Fulbright The Price of Empire
Populist Isolationism, or Global Humanism?
From the Ashes
Faith in America
The TRUST Project
Killing for Conservation
22 The Other Plague 26
The Divided States
The Post-COVID World Order
China: Indo-Pacific Challenges in 2021 and Beyond
COVID-19: Healthcare, Vaccines, and Ethics
Lemons into Lemonade
F u l b r i g h t A l u m n i U p d a t e s James Hill (2018, The University of Queensland to University of Michigan) published his new paper, Synthesis and evaluation of NLRP3-inhibitory sulfonylurea [11C] MCC950 in healthy animals, in the June 2020 issue of Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters.
Prof Bruce Chapman (1975), Prof Ian Harper (1987), Dr George Werther (1979), Prof Kaye Basford (1986), Emeritus Prof Robert Baxter (1971), and Emeritus Prof Roy Macleod (1963) were recognised for their significant contributions to their fields in the June 2020 Queen's Birthday Honours.
Elizabeth Madin (1999, Emory University to James Cook University) published her comparative study into the impact of fishing pressures on tropical and temperate marine ecosystems in the June 2020 issue of Ecology and Evolution.
Rebecca Sheehan (2002, University of New South Wales to University of California Los Angeles) published her research into women directors of the 1970s, and the challenges they faced in Hollywood, in the June 2020 issue of Women's History Review.
David Waddington (2010, TheUniversity of Sydney to Harvard University) published crucial research enabling the development of new low-cost MRI machines. The research was published in the July 2020 issue of Science Advances.
Nikita Roy (2019, Univerity of Connecticut to Western Sydney University) published her research highlighting the importance of genetics as a factor that influences intrinsic brain activity in the October 2020 issue of Nature.
Aiden Warren (2018, RMIT University to the Arms Control Association DC) published his new book, U.S. Foreign Policy and China: Security Challenges During the Bush, Obama, and Trump Administrations, in November 2020.
Tim Berra (1969/1978, Tulane University to the Australian National University and Monash University) published a new book, BOURBON: What the Educated Drinker Should Know, about the science behind crafting one of America's most iconic beverages.
Harris Eyre (2014, James Cook University to the University of California Los Angeles) published his research, The necessity of diplomacy in brain health, in the December 2020 issue of The Lancet.
Myles Steiner (2020, National Renewable Energy Laboratory to University of New South Wales) published his research on high efficienxy solar cells in the December 2020 issue of Advanced Energy Materials.
David Mizrahi (2019 University of New South Wales to St Jude Children's Research Hospital) contributed to the Exercise & Sport Science Australia eBook, Exercise & Cancer, writing the chapter on Childhood Cancers.
Renee Knake Jefferson (2019, University of Houston to RMIT University) published her new book, Shortlisted: Women in the Shadows of the Supreme Court, which tells the previously untold history of the women consideredâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; but not selectedâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;for the U.S. Supreme Court.
POPULIST ISOLATIONISM, or GLOBAL HUMANISM? By Peter Newman AO
Where to next for democracy on the Pale Blue Dot?
It has been a tough year -- starting with Australia's extraordinary bushfires highlighting global climate problems, then the COVID-19 Pandemic shut us down and tested every institution and personal character trait. But for me, much of 2020's most profound anxiety has come from a deeply-disturbing sense that the global humanism and international institutions I have assumed all my life, were disappearing. I was born a few days after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, bringing a decisive, tragic, and pyrrhic end to the second world war. It was an apocalyptic time no doubt for my mother (all other mothers at that time, in fact) facing a new and frightening future. But in America, Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-MI) was making the historic decision in the Republican Party to move from populist isolationism to a visionary global humanism, led by the U.S., that would establish the United Nations and associated institutions. Senator Fulbright was a leading part of the Democratic Party with the same values, showing how America must contribute its wealth to this cause and in particular, for him, to build the soft power infrastructure of international educational exchange.
I went to America in the early ‘70s as a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University, working on the new global problem of environment and climate change with Paul R. Ehrlich, internationally-renowned biologist and President of Stanford's Center for Conservation Biology. There was little doubt about the need to come to America as the leader in this space. I have been working as an Australian academic ever since, focusing on how to make cities more sustainable.
During my time in the U.S., I found many opportunities for educational exchange with like-minded academics at the Universities of Pennsylvania and Virginia, publishing American books and assuming that global institutions would continue to help in everything that global humanism institutions stood for. In the process I learned much about America’s roots in this global humanism that underpinned so much of what I was doing. People like Alexander Hamilton had such a vision and he created powerful institutions to enable the vision to be delivered in politics. I love America. I love my own country too of course but America has been so important in helping keep alive the global institutions that create wealth and sustainable development based on the need for global humanism that respects all human and natural life on the planet. It has been a rocky road to ensure that this vision is not undermined by the demands of cheap isolationist populism. For example, I was amazed to find that President Reagan banned the American government from using ‘sustainable development’; withdrew the U.S. from the Brundtland Commission, whose aim was to promote global cooperation on sustainable development; and appeared to support the myth that the UN was an agent of the devil. Global sustainability, a fundamental of global humanism, was won back not long after and I had the pleasure of launching my book ‘Sustainability and Cities’ in the White House in 1999.
The past year has been an onslaught. The populist isolationism became more entrenched daily by Twitter-borne rhetoric, and every night we went to sleep wondering what new catastrophic headlines we would awake to. It was deeply sad as we watched America tear itself apart. I am forever hopeful as I have learned over many years that we can win back the politics of global humanism so critical to the future of us all and the planet. Politics can be hard, however, and if institutions and cultures can no longer stand up to the appeal of cheap populism, that promises much but canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t deliver anything, global institutions can break irreversibly -- particularly if they donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t deliver jobs and safe futures for local communities.
The world needs America to rediscover its global humanist soul -- it was American gregariousness that brought the world together after the devastation of two world wars; American generosity that founded many of the international aid and human rights institutions that continue to help those in need, and American ingenuity that has helped lead the efforts to develop a vaccine for the pandemic that has caused so much devastation in 2020. There are many people like me who are hopeful that the rediscovery of America's humanism is now likely in 2021 and beyond.
Professor Peter Newman AO is an environmental scientist, author and educator based in Perth, Western Australia. His 2006 Fulbright Scholarship took him to the University of Virginia, Charlottsville. Peter is currently Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University and was awarded an Order of Australia for sustainable transport and urban design in 2014. Peter has written 20 books and over 330 papers on sustainable cities and is most known for creating the term "automobile dependence" in the second half of the 1980s. He was closely associated with community opposition to the closure of the Fremantle Railway in 1979 and subsequent redevelopment of the metropolitan rail system from 1983 to the present. He is a lead author for transport on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Dr Hannah Etchells grew up accustomed to the unmistakable acrid scent of burning eucalyptus, and understood the influence that fire has on ecosystems across Australia, for better and worse. In order for us to continue our way of life, living alongside the bush, we need a comprehensive, well-resourced approach to Fire Ecology, she writes.
’m not sure why it took me so long to realise how integral fire has been in shaping my identity. Growing up in Western Australia, building cubbies out of charred jarrah branches and leaf litter, drawing pictures in charcoal across the pavement, eating bright green fresh balga shoots, nostrils filled with lateritic soil laced with ash. As far back as I can remember, the presence of fire was always visible, tangible, olfactory; both ancient and recent. Instinctively, I’ve known that the heady smells of wood smoke meant the onset of what I grew up calling spring, but what the Whadjuk Noongar people call djilba; crisp sunny days and cool, still evenings. In the same way that falling asleep to djiti djiti song a few weeks before was the lullaby signalling the last of moody makuru, the coldest and wettest part of the year. Always obsessed with plants and leaves and dirt, with a grandad who taught me the names of trees and let me loose in the bush, I realise now I maybe didn’t even stand a chance of pursuing anything other than ecology. And to study ecology in southwest Australia is to study fire, in the end.
When I first had those philosophical, hazyIPA-fuelled bonding conversations about our childhoods with my mates in California, one thing I was struck by was how different our experiences with fire have been. Despite growing up in equally fire-prone places, they spoke of how they relatively recently became aware of the complicated intricacies of fire because they studied it at university.
Outside of the fire ecology and forestry world, my Californian mates from other industries told me they only really became conscious of fire in the last few years, as recordbreaking fire season after record-breaking fire season has meant they’ve known how to correctly use a P2 respirator well before 2020 reared its ugly head. And therein lies what I see as one of the main differences between the recent catastrophic fire seasons in Australia and California: public perceptions of fire. California has had a policy of fire suppression for the last century. Not only were no fires lit for fuels management purposes, like happens in Australia, but that every wildfire that ignited was suppressed as immediately as possible.
They too loved plants and leaves and dirt! But due to fire suppression efforts across the state that spanned generations before they were born, they didn’t grow up with as many smoky mornings. Their forests, their soils, their fingernails and nostrils weren’t that familiar with fresh ash or charcoal. At some of the best universities in the world, they studied forestry, dendrochronology, environmental management, and were therefore brought rapidly and expertly up to speed with the state of fire ecology, within the place that surely could be described as the State of Fire Ecology: California.
The consequence for Californian vegetation, which like Australian vegetation evolved with both lightning-ignited wildfire and traditional burning from Indigenous people, is that there has been nothing to remove dry, dead leaves, branches and senesced plants for over 100 years.
This is particularly true in the mixed conifers forests of the Sierra Nevada: the extensive mountain range that runs down the spine of California and includes Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Because mixed conifer forests are very dry and warm in the summer/autumn and frozen in the winter, there is very little decomposition: it’s not damp or mild enough for leaves and branches to rot and decay, so they continue to build up over time. From studying charcoal scars in tree rings, we know that prior to 1900, fires were relatively frequent across the Sierra Nevada, but weren’t often severe enough to kill mature trees. Since frequent, lowseverity fires regularly removed fallen leaves and branches, there was not as much to burn, so even under extreme fire danger conditions, fires didn’t burn as hot, for as long, or spread as far as we see them doing now. In southwest Australia, we do use fire as a management tool: it’s used differently in different areas, and the frequency, severity, seasonality and extent with which it is used is a topic of continuing heated debate that’s too complex to get into in this short chat. Put simply, the main aim of current prescribed burning in southwest Australia is to remove those fallen leaves and branches, or fuels, so that when natural fires do ignite, they can’t burn as hot or for as long. Most of us are familiar with and relatively unthreatened by waking up to a vague smoky smell on a spring morning. We’re taught that fire is a natural part of our environment and that many of our plants and animals rely on fire to germinate, flower, forage or hunt. 10
My personal observation has been that, perhaps because of this familiarity, fire sits more comfortably in the minds of the average southwest Australian than the average Californian. Well, perhaps until the last few years at least. And what a last few years we had: close interval mega-fires across the Great Western Woodland, the largest and most severe karri and jarrah forest fires on record, not to mention of course the 2019/2020 fire season, Australia’s Black Summer. What happened in summer 2019/2020 across southern Australia? Why didn’t our fire management protocols prevent such a catastrophic series of events that in some way impacted almost the entire southern half of the country? Southeast Australia practises prescribed burning for fuels reduction too, yet the fires grew, spread and behaved in ways that shocked even us fire scientists. Turns out, decades of declining rainfall culminating in some of the most severe fire weather on record, has consequences that can’t simply be stopped by prescribed fire or fuels management. In the face of climate change, our preventative management measures can only take us so far: yes, removing fuels certainly can stop a moderately severe fire from spreading as quickly. In a firestorm situation, after a decade or more of drought, when a fire is burning so intensely that it creates its own self-perpetuating weather event, there is virtually nothing we as humans can do to stop it.
Dr Hannah Etchells earned her BSc in Botany and Conservation Biology and first class honours in Botany at the University of Western Australia. Her 2018 Fulbright Postgraduate Scholarship took Hannah to the University of California, Berkeley to learn about wildfire impacts and prescribed burning in California. Hannah's PhD research, focussed on the ecological impacts of large-scale, catastrophic wildfire events.
Climate change is the main culprit of recent mega-fires across southern Australia, and the key exacerbating factor in why California has seen back-to-back unprecedented fire seasons for the last few years. The difference is, California also has to deal with the effects of climate change within the context of over a century of fire suppression, and with population densities an order of magnitude higher, amplifying the problem to a dizzying degree. Don’t misinterpret me: southwest Australia’s fire management is nowhere near perfect.
We’re currently making fire management decisions without anywhere near enough long-term ecological research to know that the decisions we’re making are right. Yes, we practise prescribed burning, but without adequate funding for fire research, we’re only able to do the bare minimum: basic, short-term fuels-reduction with little nuance. California, on the other hand, thanks in part to its huge population and propensity for innovative research and scientific discovery, has a much greater capacity to undertake critical research into prescribed fire, but are lagging behind in on-ground management.
Both California and southwest Australia have made mistakes and had successes in fire management, both are currently facing an intimidating fire future that is projected to be much more like the last five years than the previous 100. Our fire-prone, sunny, biodiverse, threatened places share so many issues, so many opportunities and so many passionate, smart people. We need to be listening, collaborating and learning from each otherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s achievements and failures. Where one place is lacking, the other can complement; southwest Australia, with its vast wildernesses, hyperdiverse vegetation complexes and capacity for on-ground management, provides unsurpassed potential for undertaking ground breaking applied fire science.
California has the people power and motivation to actually make it happen. Figuring out how to manage fire in the face of climate change will take the ongoing combined efforts of researchers, traditional fire practitioners, land managers and government agencies across the world. All those kids who love plants and leaves and dirt, all of us whose lives have been shaped by fire whether we realise it or not, regardless of which hemisphere of the globe weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re in: this is our time to come together to navigate the new normal. - Dr Hannah Etchells
FAI H AMERICA IN
As a non-religious president became the unlikely hero of the American Evangelical movement, people around the word grappled with the question: where does religion fit into the sociocultural identity of the United States? We asked Senior Research Associate in Religion & Global Ethics at The University of Notre Dame, and Fulbright Scholar Professor John Rees for his thoughts:
Religion and politics have always had a close association in the United States. However, it can be misleading to view religion as wholly trapped in the present political moment that has created strongly differing religious constituencies for both Republicans and Democrats. Larger in scope and more analytically important than the current partisan divide, the religious engagements by President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden usefully illustrate what scholar Scott Hibbard once framed as two ‘competing visions’ of religion and nation in America. Each vision serves as a useful entry point into the complex role religion has played in American society since its founding.
The first vision is described as an ‘exclusive and aggressive religious nationalism’ and is powerfully illustrated in an image of President Trump standing outside St John’s Episcopal Church in Washington DC. In a staged photo opportunity taken on 1 June 2020, the President can be seen holding up a Bible to the camera with St John’s – known as the Church of the Presidents – set clearly in the background. The context of the photo is controversial: Trump had just delivered a speech on law and order at the White House in response to Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, police had violently cleared the church grounds of peaceful protesters to accommodate the President’s arrival, and no consultation on the visit or the security action occurred between the President’s team and the Episcopal Bishop of Washington.
Researchers in politics and religion will (ideally) want to understand the intensions behind this public act rather than immediately weigh into partisan critique. What was the photo trying to convey? What social logic was it designed to follow? Amidst nationwide protest after the death of black man George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, the President seemed to be attempting to reassure his supporters that strength of leadership is sourced in religious authority. Trump is likely reaching out to white evangelical conservatives, his largest support-base throughout the country, who both oppose the BLM agenda and understand state power as an extension of God-ordained order. Within this same constituency, the Bible is viewed iconically as ‘the sword of the Spirit’ (Ephesians 6:17) – not so much a book as a weapon of authority and truth. Framed in this way, Trump’s photo appears less like an illconsidered authoritarian impulse act, and more a staging event to create an enduring populist image of religious and national resistance in the face of looming anarchy. In the Trump photo, however, the spectre of a different reality looms: behind the President the phrase ‘All Are Welcome’ is clearly displayed on the Church’s public noticeboard. A second vision, according to Hibbard, understands the nation in service to religion-inspired principles that are larger than the nation itself. This vision is more inclusive, less captured by distinct religious traditions and more by universal values toward which all religions potentially point. Robert Bellah famously framed this as civil religion in America, where an admixture of traditional religious values and national artefacts (such as the Declaration of Independence) uphold a liberal vision of society and patriotism. Within this vision of religion and nation, local communities and practices of religion form strong and productive partnerships with authorities on agreed issues of the common good. This agreement may be hard to forge initially, but as the religion-inspired civil rights movement led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. illustrates, can be achieved on fundamental issues. Scholars recognize, for instance, that the concept of a ‘chosen people’ is an inclusive religious ideal that has long informed the civil rights struggle in the United States and is a central tenant of Dr King’s famous ‘I Have A Dream’ address at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.
We might therefore depict the inclusive vision of religion as more implicit in its devotion, measuring the gains of faith in larger outcomes such as social justice and community cohesion rather than by explicit religious language and expression. Less publicly than President Trump’s photo opportunity at St John’s, for instance, President-elect Joe Biden’s first act on election day 3 November 2020 was to go to Mass and visit his son’s grave at St. Joseph’s Church in Wilmington, Delaware. Biden will be only the second Catholic elected to the Office of President (after John F. Kennedy in 1960) and has spoken often of the importance of his religious faith, notably in times of family loss. Yet Biden has also fallen afoul of religious conservatives within his own tradition for upholding liberal views on issues such as abortion and climate change, all the while embodying core working-class Catholic narratives on justice and equality. One might interpret these tensions in many ways, including a view that Biden projects a religion-inspired but not necessarily religion-led view on what constitutes a healthy public life. Such an approach to religion and nation can be common to minority communities, of which Catholicism in America is one. The encounters with religion by Trump and Biden illustrate different views on the place of religion in national life, visions that transcend the present partisan moment. Biden’s inclusive and implicit approach could be embraced by Republicans. Likewise, a future Democrat candidate might successfully tap the longstanding seam of religious nationalism in America in the same way that Trump has done. Regardless of how political parties evolve in the future, the larger contest between exclusive and inclusive visions of religion and nation will have an enduring impact on the domestic and international character of the United States.
John A. Rees PhD is Professor of Politics and International Relations at The University of Notre Dame Australia. John is a recognised scholar of religion and politics and a 2020/21 Fulbright Scholar at the University of Wyoming.
TRUST was yet another casualty of 2020 -- trust in government, media, science, and even our close friends and colleagues all came under incredible duress, as the difference between 'fact' and 'opinion' was no longer black and white.
Political Partisanship and Trust
Being awarded the Milward L. Simpson Fulbright Scholarship was one of the true professional honours of my career. Carrying the ‘Simpson’ name in Wyoming comes with certain expectations and obligations. When you unpack the careers of the many members of the Simpson family who have served the people of Wyoming, one reason the family is so well respected is that they are trusted.
If we use the lens of trust to analyse the rise of partisanship, we come to some insightful conclusions including that the deep political divides we see in places like the United States is driven by a loss of trust in in expert systems by different ‘political tribes’ (a phrase I borrow from More in Common).
Over the last few years, I have been researching this concept of ‘trust’. While many of us use the word unthinkingly, in sociological, political and cultural studies, the theoretical understanding of trust has occupied many scholars. One scholar whose work in trust is ground-breaking is British sociologist, Anthony Giddens. Giddens argues that ‘trust’ is what divides modern and premodern societies. In pre-modern societies, communities and individuals built their own house, attended to their own transport, grew their own food.
Today, in our modern world, we can only survive by trusting others. Most of us do not grow our own food, few of us build our own houses and barely understand how the things we take for granted work (from air travel, to the cars we drive to the medical technologies that protect our health). We trust the pilot to fly us, the bus driver to get us to work and even trust the stranger to act like a stranger. Giddens’ argument is that our modern society relies on trusting these expert systems and the experts who operate them: the mechanics, pilots, engineers, scientists and the bureaucrats overseeing our political and democratic systems. But what happens when trust breaks down? For Giddens, the opposite of trust in expert systems is not distrust, but a sense of ‘dread.’ That is, we experience a sense of distress, anxiety and even fear.
Since the 2016 election of Donald Trump, the rise of populism has been the focus of scholars and commentators alike. Populist leaders create the sense that there is a gap between ‘the people’ and ‘the elites’ – offering themselves as the solution to bringing the elites to account. Consequently, people are electing leaders they see will hold faceless expert systems to account because they no longer ‘trust’ them. I am not saying there is a simple causality, but rather that experts and expert systems have been seen as elitist, out of touch and failing many. In Australia, our systematic response to the pandemic has resulted in increasing levels of trust in government and medical experts. This, however, should not create a false sense of security that we have arrested the increasing levels of distrust that has paralysed Australia’s energy policy and response to climate change.
Professor James Arvanitakis is the Pro Vice Chancellor (Research and Graduate Studies) at Western Sydney University where he was the founding Head of The Academy, receiving the 2016 Australian Financial Review higher education excellence award. He is also a lecturer in Humanities and a member of the University’s Institute for Culture and Society. James' Fulbright Scholarship took him to the University of Wyoming, teaaching classes in international relations focused on ‘the politics of outer space’, ‘citizenship’ and ‘data ethics’.
How do we restore this trust going forward? Professor James Arvanitakis, Pro Vice Chancellor at Western Sydney University and 2020 Fulbright Scholar has some ideas on the subject:
The Complexity of Scepticism
What is to be Done?
We should also remember that different ‘political tribes’ trust different expert systems: some of us trust climate science while others embrace the military, police and religious organisations. As such, different groups embrace scepticism in different ways.
As my Fulbright Fellowship came to a close, one area that I found needed to be addressed was this loss of trust. From climate change to dealing to the next global pandemic, the undermining of scientific institutions including universities must be confronted.
For some, scepticism is about holding science and scientists to account. Academics such as Alan Irwin and Brian Wynne have long outlined the limitations of expert systems and encouraged layperson oversight. They argue for ‘citizen science’ and localised (lay) knowledge as an important part of the scientific journey.
The question is, what response is required to build trust?
Others have long outlined the problematic nature of science in areas ranging from ‘race science’, eugenics and even vaccines. Scepticism amongst the Black population towards a Covid19 vaccine should be understood in the context of a long history of medical abuse experience by sections of the Black population. This included the Tuskegee study (1932- 1970) which investigated the consequences of syphilis on Black men by denying them assistance even when effective treatments became available. For others, the removal of scientific experts from decision-making is part of building a more business friendly environment. Twelve months ago, the New York Times outlined the way scientific expertise had been undermined and removed from influencing policy development in the White House. This was part of the Administration’s desire to free American business from what they saw as problematic red-tape: that is, they are giving prominence to the expert systems they trust.
In establishing the Trust Project, I am beginning to outline some of the steps required to bridge this divide. This also means learning to speak to those we disagree with. Previously I have argued that there is a need for us to build brave spaces not just safe spaces on university campuses to ensure we can have uncomfortable conversations including disagreements. How Can This All Work? We can all learn from UK-based Heidi Larson, who is the founder of the Vaccine Confidence Project. Larson sees her mission as dispelling vaccine hesitancy through the building of trust. To achieve this, she seeks to understand those who refuse vaccines and avoids labels such as ‘anti-vaxxers.’ Key here is to stop creating false binaries that place people into simple categories. For example, supporters of local coal industries can still want action on climate change. Those who supported Donald Trump may have disagreed with many aspects of his Presidency but voted for him because they feel betrayed by the mainstream of both parties. We all make decisions based on a complex series of issues – and our political opponents are no different.
Killing Conservation for
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Comrade Napoleon's infamous quote from the original Orwellian dystopia of Animal Farm might have been intended as social commentary, but the statement is also relevant to how we manage wild animals around the world. In Australia, quolls and numbats are considered ‘more equal’ than cane toads and rabbits. In the U.S., big game has been prioritised over conservation of animals considered less useful or charismatic. Biodiversity conservation often involves killing some animals to save others, and lethal management can be controversial. So how do we decide who deserves to stay and what actions are appropriate? Nine months’ working on wildlife management topics at The University of Washington caused me to think critically about conservation contexts and cultures in Australia and the U.S.
Early on in my Fulbright fellowship, I attended a conference run by The Wildlife Society in Cleveland, Ohio. There was one stark difference between this conference and conservation conferences I’d attended in Australia – hunting. Many talks were on topics like how to get more people into hunting and how to sustainably manage animals for hunting. Indeed, the so-called “North American Model” for biodiversity conservation is grounded in hunting: sales of hunting permits fund conservation management so maintaining populations of ‘game’ animals (i.e., those favoured as targets by hunters) is a major focus of conservation management. Some consider this to be to the detriment of other species whose conservation management is underfunded, and may not reflect public priorities given that public participation in hunting is declining in the U.S.
Meanwhile, in Australia, hunting is not a major leisure activity and game management plays a different (and minimal) role in conservation. Several species now regarded as pests in Australia, including foxes, rabbits, and several deer species, were introduced by European colonisers because they did not consider native Australian wildlife worthy as game. This lack of focus on hunting means that Australian conservation doesn’t have access to the comparatively large amounts of funding available in the U.S., but also that Australian priorities for conservation are different. As a geographically isolated nation, Australia’s flora and fauna are unique, with 87% of mammal species occurring nowhere else. Australia’s long isolation means that our biodiversity is not wellequipped to respond to introduction of new species, and introduced species like feral cats, foxes, rabbits, and deer are considered one of the biggest threats to Australian biodiversity. This means that controlling introduced species is a major focus of conservation management in Australia.
A large component of this management occurs through distribution of poison baits, typically laced with sodium fluoroacetate or ‘1080’. Australia and New Zealand are the largest consumers of 1080, which is primarily used to control introduced mammals. Despite its widespread use on agricultural and conservation land in these countries, poison baiting is a highly controversial tool elsewhere and has been largely banned from use in wildlife management in the USA since the early 1970s, in response to public backlash. Since European colonisation, our nations’ different biological contexts have caused our wildlife management practices and cultures to evolve differently and these differences are reflected in public attitudes. With collaborators at The Ohio State University, I conducted a study that compared Australian and USA public attitudes towards wildlife and pest management, finding that Australians are generally more supportive of using lethal wildlife control, especially techniques like poison baiting. Some researchers consider Australians to be ‘eco-nationalist’ in their preference for native species, meaning that a species being ‘non-native’ is generally considered justification for lethal control.
19 Dr Lily van Eeden investigates the human dimensions of wildlife management. Her research focuses on the conflict between livestock production and one of Australia’s largest predators: the dingo. For her 2018 Fulbright Postgraduate Scholarship, Lily traveled to the University of Washington to compare the Australian and American contexts, providing an opportunity for Australia to learn from the experiences of ranchers who live alongside large predators including wolves, mountain lions, and bears.
However, we also found that identifying with a social identity group (like farmers and ranchers or animal rights activists) was more important than whether someone was Australian or American in predicting attitudes towards management. If social groups that are concerned about wildlife management issues transcend national boundaries, public attitudes toward management may be shaped more by global narratives than by local contexts. Public backlash can derail management programs, so global narratives can shape conservation outcomes.
My time in the U.S. helped me to understand how Australiaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s conservation cultures and practices evolved and think critically about the ethics of decisions made in killing for conservation. It seems fitting that a major outcome of my Fulbright Scholarship was discovering that societiesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; views on the controversial wildlife management that is the focus of my research are shaped more by our shared understanding and values than differences in nationality.
COVID-19 received a lot of attention in 2020, but the agricultural world has been waging a war against another dangerous plague for years, one that is responsible for nearly half of all staple crop losses around the globe. We asked plant pathogen expert and 2020 Fulbright-Kansas State Scholar, Dr Barbara Kachigunda for the lowdown: Before the pandemic started you were slated to begin your Fulbright in the U.S. in 2020, what have you been doing here in Australia as you now wait to head off to the U.S.? Sometimes things do not go as planned, that is life, but 2020 was just one of those years where everyone’s life was disrupted, one way or the other. The whole world was subjected to a ‘new’ normal, the way our normal never was and we never imagined it would be. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted almost every individual across the world, with unfortunately over one and half million deaths and over sixty-two million cases. My plan was to leave for my post-doctoral research project with Biosecurity Research Institute, Kansas State University in October 2020, returning in September 2021. However, the pandemic has prevented travel to the U.S. for the present. I am hoping to travel in April 2021 pending university travel approval and with respect to personal safety. As a result, I have continued working with the Harry Butler Institute on some on-going environmental and horticultural market access biosecurity projects. In addition, I have been continuing to refine my research focus and activities for the Fulbright post-doctoral project next year. Your Fulbright research is in the area of biosecurity regarding the threat wheat blast pathogen poses to global food security, how did this threat come about? How are wheat blast pathogen and similar threats currently impacting communities across the world and what is being done to minimize these threats?
Wheat is the third largest cereal species produced in the world after corn and rice (Food and Agricultural Organization, http://faostat.fao.org). Wheat is the staple food for 35 percent of the world’s population and provides more calories and protein in the world’s diet than any other crop, particularly for low and middle income countries (CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, https://wheat.org/wheat-in-the-world). Plant pathogens and pests contribute to up to 40 percent of maize, wheat, rice, potato and soybean yield losses worldwide (Savary et al., 2019). Wheat blast caused by the Magnaporthe oryzae Triticum (MoT) pathogen is a devastating fungal disease causing up to 100 percent yield loss under favourable disease conditions. Originating from South America in 1985 (Islam et al., 2016), it was reported Bangladesh (South Asia) in 2016 for the first time (Callaway, 2016), and in Zambia (Southern Africa) in 2018 (Tembo et al., 2020). This intercontinental movement of wheat blast through trade has significant implications for wheat production, impacting directly on global food security. Wheat blast is both wind-borne and seed-borne and can survive on crop residue. To minimise its spread and mitigate its negative impacts, it requires development of convenient, cost-effective diagnostic tools for surveillance and monitoring of the pathogen before it becomes an epidemic.
Currently, major wheat growing countries are free from the pathogen, however, a coordinated global effort is required to prevent it spreading to unaffected areas and ensure a secure, continued wheat supply to the world market. We are currently seeing how a human-transmitted virus is plaguing the world and threatening global security, are their similarities between the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat that wheat blast pathogen poses to the world? Plant epidemics spread without getting much world attention, however impacting individual country economies and food security. Outbreak analytics, which refers to the variety of tools and methods used to collect, curate, visualize, analyse, model and report on outbreak data and inform outbreak response, is applicable to understanding both plant and animal (including human) disease outbreaks (Polonsky et al., 2019) (Figure 1). Wheat blast pathogen has the potential to spread globally and wipe out wheat production in places where the agro-ecological conditions are conducive for it to establish, as it is wind-borne and can be spread through trade of seed and grain. Due diligence is necessary to ensure that wheat blast remains confined to areas where it is known to exist, whilst putting strict biosecurity controls to wheat producing regions that are still currently free from the pathogen.
Dr Barbara Kachigunda is a postgraduate researcher with the Harry Butler Institute whose focus is on statistical modelling of biological and environmental data. She has worked extensively as a statistical consultant in multi-disciplinary agricultural research in a variety of international settings. Barbara will use her Fulbright Scholarship to travel to sponsors, Kansas State University to design an appropriate surveillance and sampling strategy for wheat blast pathogen, Magnaporthe grisea.
In relation to the previous questions, how does statistical modeling help to manage these threats and facilitate early detection? Disease surveillance is important for early event detection and to provide situational awareness. Statistical modelling plays an important role in predicting and assessing the dynamics of an outbreak and provide insights into the complex systems at work (Fricker Jr et al., 2018). Statistical modelling and simulation studies can be conducted to investigate the potential for spread of M. grisea, providing a necessary tool for evaluating different surveillance strategies. A wide range of scenarios can be tested, and simulations can be replicated with identical conditions to provide good estimates of likelihood of occurrence. Incorporation of climate data, including temperature, relative humidity, rainfall, and solar radiation is essential as M. grisea thrives between temperatures of 20oC - 30oC (Islam et al 2019). Predictions based on climate modelling are an efficient way to predict locations for surveillance and monitoring both locally and globally and act as an early warning system to farmers. What more can be done to address the threat wheat blast pathogen and similar agriculture biosecurity threats pose to food security worldwide? Providing a sustainable, safe, and secure food supply has been a challenging task requiring continuous monitoring of the food quality and quantity from production to consumption (Khalil et al., 2018). Increased worldwide demand for wheat is linked to population growth, changing diets and improved living standards, particularly for developing countries. Food demand is expected to increase anywhere between 59 percent to 98 percent as the global population increases from 7.3 billion currently to 9.7 billion by 2050. As such, climate change, globalization of food business, biological weapons, disruption of logistics supply chain and biocrime could represent major hurdles to the sustainable production of food (Kastner et al., 2012; Stack, 2008; Valin et al., 2014). Food biosecurity strategies are essential to protect the food supply from intentional or accidental threats through global collaborative strategies. Compared to COVID-19 which has impacted the whole world, crop/plant pandemics affect populations in the developing world and hence are rarely highlighted as much (Savary et al., 2019). What would you like people to understand most about your research, its implications, and the practical implementation of your findings? The spread of wheat blast has the potential to threaten global food security. This is of fundamental concern at a time when the world population is reaching unprecedented numbers and food production is finite. My research has important implications for the surveillance and monitoring of wheat blast and consequently of global importance for informing decision making targeted at reducing the spread of this pathogen. Surveillance and monitoring provides critical information to prevent wheat blast from becoming endemic. My research aims to highlight that limiting the spread of the pathogen and providing evidence of areas of freedom of the pathogen through on-going surveillance is critical, while acknowledging that other strategies like ongoing breeding strategies concurrently aimed at producing resistant wheat strains, complement such efforts.
Biosecurity Research Institute, Kansas State University is a leading institute in wheat blast research, and it is an unparalleled opportunity for me to work in collaboration with leading scientists in this field. For this, I am grateful and hope to share my research experience in the United States with the Australian grain industry and foster enduring relations between Murdoch University and Kansas Sate University. References Callaway, E. (2016). Devastating wheat fungus appears in Asia for first time. Nature News, 532(7600), 421. Fricker Jr, R. D., & Rigdon, S. E. (2018). Disease surveillance: Detecting and tracking outbreaks using statistics. Chance, 31(2), 12-22. Islam, M. T., Croll, D., Gladieux, P., Soanes, D. M., Persoons, A., Bhattacharjee, P., . . . Mahboob, M. G. (2016). Emergence of wheat blast in Bangladesh was caused by a South American lineage of Magnaporthe oryzae. BMC biology, 14(1), 84. Kastner, T., Rivas, M. J. I., Koch, W., & Nonhebel, S. (2012). Global changes in diets and the consequences for land requirements for food. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(18), 6868-6872. Khalil, A. T., Iqrar, I., Bashir, S., Ali, M., Khalil, A. H., & Shinwari, Z. K. (2018). Preemptive and Proactive Strategies for Food Control and Biosecurity. In Food Safety and Preservation (pp. 39-58): Elsevier. Polonsky, J. A., Baidjoe, A., Kamvar, Z. N., Cori, A., Durski, K., Edmunds, W. J., . . . Keating, P. (2019). Outbreak analytics: a developing data science for informing the response to emerging pathogens. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 374(1776), 20180276. Savary, S., Willocquet, L., Pethybridge, S. J., Esker, P., McRoberts, N., & Nelson, A. (2019). The global burden of pathogens and pests on major food crops. Nature ecology & evolution, 3(3), 430-439. Stack, J. P. (2008). Challenges to crop biosecurity. In Crop Biosecurity (pp. 15-23): Springer. Tembo, B., Mulenga, R. M., Sichilima, S., Mâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;siska, K. K., Mwale, M., Chikoti, P. C., . . . Peterson, G. L. (2020). Detection and characterization of fungus (Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype Triticum) causing wheat blast disease on rain-fed grown wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) in Zambia. PLoS One, 15(9), e0238724. Valin, H., Sands, R. D., Van der Mensbrugghe, D., Nelson, G. C., Ahammad, H., Blanc, E., . . . Havlik, P. (2014). The future of food demand: understanding differences in global economic models. Agricultural Economics, 45(1), 51-67.
Donald Trump and Joe Biden went head-to-head in a grueling slug-fest election campaign; one that will go down as one of the most bitter, and controversial in U.S. history. Allegations of fraud, international interference, hacking, and corruption plagued the final months of 2020, but was everything as convoluted as the allegations made it out to be?
We asked some of our politically-erudite Fulbright Scholars to explain a little more in the following pages!
A First-hand Account of Voting in DC Fulbright Scholar/Political Scientist Michael Bongani Reinders was studying at Georgetown University in Washington DC while the U.S. presidential election was taking place. He coordinated an observation mission with a number of delegates from African nations. We asked him for his observations:
Per your observations, and understanding of the U.S. voting system, how secure was the 2020 U.S. presidential election? On November 3, I was able to visit polling stations in Maryland and Washington DC and it was a fascinating experience. I helped coordinate ten observers from African nations to a number of different polling stations in the morning as they opened, during the day, as well as to watching the close of the polling stations. We were able to see how the voting was administered and got a tour of a few of the polling stations with a detailed explanation of the voting process. It was notable that all of the poll workers we interacted with were extremely professional and knowledgeable of the voting process. In addition we observed the various checks and balances that were in place to guarantee the security of the election. What we noticed is just how secure the process is and how it would be nearly impossible to commit any form of fraud on election day or with the mail-in ballots. Overall it was a well administered, secure, and peaceful election day from what we observed.
Mail-In ballots have come under particular scrutiny this year -- do you have any comments on the veracity of the claims of fraud? I do not believe that there is any veracity to the claims of widespread voter fraud that is alleged by Trump and many of his supporters. Mail in voting has been going on for years and is how millions of Americans vote every electoral cycle. There has never been a serious case of voter fraud, certainly not one that would have effected a different election outcome. Despite the volume of mail-in voting increasing, the security of the system remains the same. Each state has mechanisms such as barcodes, secure databases, and oversight which ensures that nobody can vote twice or vote for anybody else. At most I heard of one person who attempted to vote for someone else and was stopped. It would be extremely difficult and nearly impossible to pull off major mail-in vote fraud without being stopped or caught.
Michael Bongani Reinders is a graduate student studying an MA in Democracy and Governance at Georgetown University in Washington DC. Michael is an international student from South Africa studying in the US on a Fulbright scholarship. Michaelâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s area of interest and expertise is Sub-Saharan Africa having grown up in South Africa and his focus is on development and democratization in the region.
From your conversations with everyday U.S. voters, how confident are they in the integrity of the system? I have had a few conversations with my friends and colleagues who are US Voters and there is no doubt in their minds of the integrity of the election.
I must disclaim that I live in Northern Virginia near to Washington DC, which is a very progressive Democrat-leaning area, so it is to be expected that people around me will trust in the election.
There are concerns about malfeasance from certain conservative actors who might wish to undermine the system, but for the most part there is confidence in the system itself.
I have not interacted with anyone who doubts the integrity of the system.
So far the President has refused to concede the election, citing 'widespread fraud', yet his legal team have failed to produce any significant evidence of this, and in fact have admitted in court that their case in Pennsylvania is not based on fraud claims. To what would you attribute the discrepancy between what the President's team are saying to the media, and what they are saying in court? I would attribute this stark discrepancy to political tactics. Trump wants to cast doubt on the results due to both an unwillingness to accept defeat as well as an attempt to overturn the results. It is therefore in his interests to promote rhetoric that casts doubt on the election and mobilizes support from the millions who voted for him. Alternatively, his lawyers cannot lie in court (at least not without consequences) and therefore have to admit that the presidentâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s claims are baseless.
Is it theoretically possible for the Electoral College to vote against the winner of the popular vote in any given state? (Ie. 'Faithless Electors'). Is there a precedent for this, and what would it take for this to occur? From what I understand having listened to a number of experts, it is technically possible but highly unlikely. Essentially electors from specific states could defy their mandate and vote for Trump. However, due to the margin of victory that Biden has, quite a few states would have to do this. Furthermore, so far there has been little indication that any states are planning to do this. Even Republican electoral officials in Pennsylvania and Michigan have supported the results of the election. What effects/consequences do you think these fraud claims have on the U.S. voting system? I think that the voting system itself is not directly affected by the fraud claims, but the trust in U.S. democracy is, on both sides. The democrats are infuriated and frustrated by the baseless claims of fraud and the extent to which Trump is willing to go to try and overturn this election. On the other hand, Trump supporters are under the impression that Trump won and that the election is fraudulent and therefore have less trust in the system.
This polarization which is driven by disinformation is to the detriment of democracy in the US. This is because democracy is based on the buy in of voters and the acceptance of the system and its results. If elections and their results are no longer widely accepted this could greatly impact the future of the country. There has been some criticism of the integrity of the system due to eg. institutional arrangements and electoral laws, some of which tend to disenfranchise voters -- can you comment on this? This is a clear weakness of the U.S. electoral system. Despite the infrastructure of the election being secure, there are a lot of concerns about the power that specific states have to undermine the elections.
Each state oversees its own electoral law and this means that there is inconsistency across the country. An example of this was that states like Pennsylvania and Michigan had laws preventing any mail-in ballots from being counted until election day, this led to the slowing down of the results and the chaos that ensued after election day. There was no reason for this law, other than to slow down the count. However, this does suggest a more sinister reason behind the law and indicates a possible intentionality from partisan actors to attempt to undermine the election. Additionally, some states (almost exclusively conservative states) have issued laws which make it harder for minorities to vote. This is a real threat to American democracy as it goes against equality and freedoms that should be protected for all. Are there any reforms that you think could improve the integrity of the U.S. voting system for future elections? There are many reforms which I would like to see in the U.S, particularly in terms of the political and court structures. However, there are also a lot of aspects of the U.S. voting system which could use reform. Firstly, a reform which would make a major difference would be the creation of a centralized electoral authority which could ensure uniform voting laws across the country. This would allow for equality of rights in all states and ensure a more consistent counting and reporting process. Although I do think that this would be unlikely to happen as states would not easily give up their autonomy. Another reform that could improve the integrity of the election is allowing for a public holiday on voting day or more widespread early voting to ensure that those who work on election day have the opportunity to vote. The same can be said for extending same day registration which would make it easier for first-time voters.
The Divided States: How can one state sue another?! In early December, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a Supreme Court suit seeking to overturn the presidential election in four swing states—Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin—based on the specious asserion that “unlawful election results” should be declared unconstitutional. The filing argued that those states used the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to unlawfully change their election rules “through executive fiat or friendly lawsuits, thereby weakening ballot integrity.” The Supreme Court quickly dismissed the suit (on the grounds that "Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections"), but not before Republican attorneys general in 17 other states, as well as 126 of the 196 House Republicans and Trump himself publicly and explicitly came out in support for the suit. The fact that such an ostensibly flimsy lawsuit had the backing of so many Republican leaders begs many questions: how can a state sue another state? Why did they think this would work? What on Earth is happening?! We asked Fulbright-Flinders Distinguished Chair in American Political Science Professor Carol Weissert for some answers! What are your thoughts on Paxton's suit? It was highly unusual, improbable, baseless and steeped in politics. Politics aren’t necessarily unusual for state attorneys general. For example, Republican attorneys general (led by Florida’s AG) filed suit against Obama’s Affordable Care Act minutes after it was signed. But this case was way beyond that. It essentially attempted to invalidate the votes of 20 million Americans. The fact that elected officials of some states are trying to invalidate election laws in other states is unprecedented. How is it possible for one state to 'sue' another state? The supreme court has original jurisdiction over disputes between states. For example, the court now has a case where Florida is suing Georgia for using so much water in a joint river they share that Florida’s oyster business has been devastated. Even that type of case is uncommon and doesn’t apply here. Paxton is arguing that state officials in the four states (which went for Biden, of course) violated the law by systematically loosening the measures for ballot integrity so fraud becomes undetectable. So the argument is about state law—not actual fraud which didn’t occur.
Paxton was seeking emergency relief in the form of invalidating the vote in these states and allowing state legislatures to pick their states’ electors who will cast new votes (the election has already been certified in all four states). Did you think there was a chance that the Supreme Court would hear this case? No, I don’t think there was ever even a remote chance of them taking the case. First, there is the issue of standing. Can a state attorney general from one state bring a case against the electoral laws of another state? Hard to believe. Paxton argued that he was protecting Texas voters, one assumes by assuring a different result in the presidential election. But the court generally requires demonstration of harm to Texas citizens from the electoral laws of other states which seems impossible. Then there is the substantive issue of whether one state has the right to sue over another state’s electoral processes. It has never been done and the legal justification was sketchy at best.
Professor Carol Weissert is the LeRoy Collins Eminent Scholar & Chair of Civic Education and Political Science at Florida State University. Her 2016 Fulbright Distinguished Chair Scholarship brought her to sponsor Flinders University to research the impact of hyper partisanship on federal-state relationships, and on the health policies that result, in the U.S. and Australia.
Why do you think it is Texas/Paxton, in particular, that decided to bring this case to the Supreme Court? Paxton is running for his third term as attorney general in Texas in 2022 and has ambitions for higher posts. This gives him great national visibility, support and gratitude from Trump and his supporters, and makes it appear he is protecting Texas voters. He has been under indictment for state securities fraud since 2015 (his attorneys have been successful at delaying the case) and more recently is under federal investigation for abuse of office. He had a close election in 2018 so probably feels this notoriety will help him and distract voters from his legal problems (yes, ironic for the top state legal officer). Some have even argued he may be after a preemptive pardon from Trump (or dropping the federal investigation); however, he still has the state indictment to deal with.
I think more interesting is why 17 other state attorneys general signed on. For example, Florida’s AG has sought in some sense to stay out of partisan politics but here has jumped in big-time. Our governor is a strong Trump supporter so that may account for some it this. She is up for reelection in 2022 as well so may feel this action is important to secure Trump Republican supporters’ votes AND to avoid possible competitors in the Republican primary. In short, this effort is really part of the 'scorched earth' policy of the Trump Administration and their partisans. Elections are run at the state level here (thank heavens) and state election officials, including Republicans, have stepped up to defend their elections in spite of tremendous political and even physical pushback. State and federal judges have done the same with baseless claims of fraud.
It is interesting that this case isn’t based on actual fraud but rather ballot integrity so fraud becomes undetectable. This is nonsense. Ironically, in large part because of Trump’s claims of fraud before the election, the elections were very transparent and without problems. It was our best election in recent memory. Paxton and others argue that just because there was no evidence of fraud, doesn’t mean there isn’t any fraud. Breathtaking. This 'scorched earth' policy of the outgoing administration, coupled with the fact that many elected Republicans have continued doubling down on 'Trumpism', even as their ideological colleagues are caught in the crossfire. Do you think 'Trumpism', which seems more akin to the authoritarian/dictatorial ideologies of Putin or the Kim Jong dynasty, will replace conservatism as the primary platform of the Republican party going forward? That is indeed the question of the day. I don’t actually know. There are some who think that Trumpism will fade when Trump leaves the White House—or at least fade gradually. Others think that he has substantially changed the Republican Party in ways that it will never fully recover from. I think it will be a bit of both. I think Trumpism will fade but the Republican Party will not fully be the same business oriented, economic conservative party that it was before Trump. It will be a bit more populist, appealing to more non-collegeeducated Whites than during previous Republican Administrations. The relatively strong support from Hispanic voters also offers a possible avenue for post-Trump change. But we’ll see.
The Post-COVID World Order Australian diplomat, lawyer and Fulbright Scholar Helen Zhang knows a bit about international affairs. Having just returned from her MPA at the Harvard Kennedy School (and being stuck in hotel quarantine) we thought it was an opportune moment to ask her for her thoughts on the pressing global issues of tomorrow!
Can you tell us a little about your Fulbright at Harvard in the U.S.? I completed a Master in Public Administration at the Harvard Kennedy School with the support of the Fulbright Scholarship. This program required me to take coursework across a range of areas, including economics and quantitative analysis, leadership and management, as well as public ethics and political institutions. I had also cross-registered at the Harvard Business School to deep-dive on international trade and management, and participated in a variety of extracurricular activities, including through the Harvard Belfer and Shorenstein centres, for which I coproduced a podcast. How have your studies informed or reached beyond what you’ve learned through your career thus far? My studies consolidated what I learned about international affairs and law in my career. In particular, coursework taught by pre-eminent practitioners of foreign policy such as former-Defence Secretary Ash Carter (on the technology’s social dilemmas) and Ambassador Nicholas Burns (on forecasting geopolitics) better equipped me for the unconventionally complex global problems we will face. Development courses by Professors Ron Heifetz and Tim O’Brien taught me the value of being a “self-transforming” person and reflective leader.
Can you tell us a bit about the current state of the rules-based international order and the challenges to it? In contrast to my beliefs prior to my studies, I think, on balance, the rulesbased international order has proven resilient and remains in solid shape, in spite of major crises thrown its way in recent years (e.g. COVID-19, climate change). Even absent strong U.S. leadership over the past four years, international institutions have functioned effectively and huge multilateral trade agreements have been concluded, with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership recently signed. But challenges always linger, including players who seek to bend and reshape the rules of the international order to their advantage, and the growing role of technology (e.g. AI, semi-conductor chips) in global affairs. Where are the U.S. and Australia likely to land in the formation of a new world order? With the Biden-Harris Administration at the helm, the U.S. will likely strive to regain its primacy in the world order and return to globalism. But it may be an uphill battle: not only will the U.S. need to rebuild trust with allies and reconstruct mechanisms dismantled, Biden will need to address U.S. domestic issues (e.g. recession, COVID-19) and reunite a divided country by appealing to those who voted differently.
Of course, the U.S. will continue to be met by intensifying political and economic competition from China, an issue which will not disappear from geopolitics in the foreseeable future.
What are your thoughts on global trends of increasing authoritarianism and populism, their causes and symptoms, and how Australia and the U.S. are addressing them?
Australia stands to benefit from a U.S. return to the global diplomacy. As a creative Middle Power globally and substantial player in the Indo-Pacific region, our prosperity and security have derived from an rules-based international order with strong institutions. This encompasses open trade with regional agreements, cooperation on aid development programs and multilateral agreements on trans-national issues as arms control and cyber-security. Australia benefits from a global order which echoes our commitment to democracy, and champions universal values such as human rights.
While my diagnosis is not exhaustive of the full suite of causes and symptoms for rising authoritarianism and populism, I do believe there are three key issues. First, social media platformsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; algorithms have created epistemic bubbles and echo chambers among users. This results in an increasingly divergent and polarising range of views. Second, misinformation and disinformation (which can be weaponised as a tool for sowing discord by nefarious actors) exacerbate this phenomenon, further entrenching certain views and, in some cases, give rise to fringe and extreme views. Finally, this chasm can be exploited by autocratic leaders who now have a toolkit of technologies for surveillance and monitoring, particularly in a post-COVID era. Australia has addressed this phenomenon domestically and internationally. Domestically, Australia enacted legislation that would prevent foreign actors from interfering in our democratic process. Internationally, Australia has led efforts to strengthen democratic institutions in fragile regions of the world. The Biden Administration has already flagged as part of its foreign policy the importance of rehabilitating and safeguarding democracies, and will hold a global summit in 2020 to reinvigorate democratic resilience against creeping authoritarianism and populism.
What has this 2020 U.S. election cycle demonstrated about the state and quality of U.S. democracy? I have been impressed by the 2020 U.S. election cycle – particularly because it has been the largest voter turnout in 120 years. Regardless of your politics, it’s hard not to acknowledge that it’s a good day for democracy when 100+ million people living across the country from varying socioeconomic, racial and religious backgrounds came out and voted, when voting was not compulsory. It is testament to the belief that democracy is not an idea, it is an action and right to be exercised. Despite legal challenges mounted by the Administration, the election’s integrity remains solid. What is the biggest challenge for the U.S.-Australia Alliance going forward? While the health of the Alliance remains in good shape, its playing field has shifted and both parties must adapt. The salient challenge for the U.S.-Australia Alliance going forward is how we can execute our shared interests and agenda on a more contested world stage with powers that hold divergent worldviews to ours. It will require creative diplomacy and new initiatives, and a review of existing mechanisms to determine if they are still fit-for-purpose in the world we now operate in. How do you see the relationship between the U.S. and Australia changing in the future, given rates of young Australians’ disillusionment with the importance of the Alliance? I think the U.S.-Australian alliance will strengthen in years to come. With norms shifting in the global order towards more authoritarian flavours, the alliance will be a steady foundation for helping both countries resist this trend. While there may have been a recent dip in young Australians’ perspectives of the United States, the alliance has proven enduring over the years and likely to bounce back.
With continuous people-to-people links, trade and investment flows, defence and political ties to the U.S., there will be ample opportunity to build on the alliance and consolidate it for coming years. What do you think will be the most pressing issues for each of the U.S., Australia, and for global cooperation in the next 5-10 years? For the U.S., its immediate issue is to contain COVID and blunt the impacts of economic recession. Its longer-term (and more difficult) challenge is bridging its increasing political polarity and fracturing. For Australia, our immediate issue is to diversify away from reliance on China in trade – and take advantage of RCEP. Long-term, Australia faces challenges to the existing international world order. Global cooperation was tested in COVID-19 and will continue to be challenged by the urgent need to address climate change. Long-term, ongoing China-US competition may hinder global cooperation.
Helen Zhang is an Assistant Director in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). She served as Consul (Political/Economic) in Hong Kong in 2019, and Vice-Consul in Tel Aviv, Israel, from 2015-2018. Helen's 2019 Fulbright Anne Wexler Scholarship took her to the Harvard Kennedy School of Government to complete a Mid-Career Master’s degree in Public Administration.
IDENTITY CRISIS: Nationalism and Multiculturalism in Australia and the U.S.
Nationalism and Multiculturalism often play central roles in the cultural identities of Americans and Australians respectively -- the flag-bearing patriot, and the gregarious, laid back, 'mateship' oriented Aussie are akin to unofficial mascots for the two countries. But do these concepts truly reflect popular sentiment? We asked Dr Ray Taras, Professor of politics at Tulane University, expert in multicullturalism, xenophobia and ethnic conflicts, and 2019 Fulbright-ANU Distinguished Chair for his thoughts!
Can you tell us about your Fulbright at the Australian National University? ANU was in the midst of dramatic changes during my Fulbright period. From improvised bantu-like meeting places and pop-up food trucks, and after years of planning and construction sites, the university centre was moved to the carefully-cultivated banks of Sullivan’s Creek. Its new centre, Kambri or meeting place, is just that. My stay was exhilarating and I was delighted to see my Fulbright months result in a transformed campus replete with bristling residence halls; theatre, film and cultural centres; innovative multi-level teaching and learning facilities; and a plethora of what in the US would be called fast-food options.
ANU’s ambitions are far reaching as the uni name implies. It begins with the Vice Chancellor whose lectures and informal talks I attended on several occasions. A 2011 Nobel Prize winner in Physics, American-born Brian Schmidt’s Weltanschauung goes well beyond standard administrative retooling. Academics has been his keen interest and it reflects both high scientific and intellectual standards. All power to him if bureaucratic and apparatchik ploys left him cold. I remember concisely how, in debating climate change, he made the argument that we have all the knowledge and resources we need to reverse environmental degradation. It was the lack of political will and commitment, and the economic dictates of globalization, that prevents this from happening.
Fulbright funding provided me with opportunities to attend numerous conferences in 2019. Sydney was never far from the imagination, whether it was to give two-day-long seminars at Macquarie, meetings with colleagues at the University of Sydney and UNSW or to attend performances at the Sydney Opera House. For research on social cohesion Australia’s most active institution is Monash where I spent a week. While there I took advantage of my research in Russian Studies to give a lively talk at the University of Melbourne. Next was a oneweek stay at the University of Western Australia where I was graciously hosted by Samina Yasmeen, director and founder of the Centre for Muslim States and Societies. She and her strong academic team have pioneered methods of deradicalization – an important feature of creating social cohesion. Other extended research visits were paid to Brisbane (Griffith) and Hobart (University of Tasmania). It all started with a rather kitschy novel written by Kristina Olsson called Shell. It focused on the building of the Opera House at a time when protests against the Vietnam war were at their height. From that moment my passion for Australian literature expanded quickly. If I totaled up the number of Australian novels I read during my Fulbright period and compared it to my reading of scholarly texts, would the Australian-American Fulbright Commission have been concerned that I was more moved by and committed greater time to prose and literature, and less to purely academic research? I think not; the Commission encourages chaqun á son goût. In 2021 I’ll teach a course not in Australian politics but about contemporary Indigene fiction.
Writers such as Patrick White and Tim Winton, of course, but also Thea Astley, Kate Grenville, Richard Flanagan, Sally Morgan, Kim Scott, Helen Garner. A strong Aborigine component in my course was the product of having a flat on Livermore at ANU which allowed me to walk over to the artifacts and events located in the National Museum of Australia. What have you been working on in the time since? We have experienced how profoundly life has changed with Covid. On a personal level, 90 percent of my ‘administrative effort’ in 2020 has gone into remote teaching – instruction in the teachanywhere platform; course design; adding content (sometimes seen as less pressing); setting up rubrics; marking papers. The mental health of students is an increasing concern at the end of 2020. In New Orleans multiple hurricanes raced through Louisiana with one direct hit, unnerving students and staff alike. Some universities have shifted to teaching remotely exclusively. Others, however, have been attentive to revenue streams while using the understandable wish of college students to live on campus. We all know, Australia particularly, that in-person or hybrid teaching fills up residence halls; there was not a uni that wasn’t madly constructing dorms and classroom space. For academics conferences this year have been cancelled or postponed. Acquisition editors are hard to contact. Publishing in peer-reviewed journals is more difficult due to reviewer availability. The bottom line is this: why should universities have four-year undergraduate programs or, for that matter, three years? Why go away to study? Why not study remotely? A reformed system, as in Australia, may make the case for less expensive courses in medicine and public health, and pricier ones for international relations and, alas, literature. I have proposed a new book provisionally titled ‘Xenophobia in extreme times.’ But with the many obstacles that academics now face, plus concern for loved-ones, students, staff, and the community we live in, completing that book is easier said than done.
What is your assessment of the current state of efforts to increase multiculturalism and social cohesion in the U.S. and Australia? The concept of social cohesion is one that in my view may have a longer shelf life than, say, multiculturalism. I have defined it as genuine partnership among established settler societies, recent immigrants, and First Peoples, who I have termed the ‘Always Other’ because of protracted neglect, poverty, discrimination, land grabs, slaughter, forced sterilization, among other hardships. Cross-cultural bonding, meaning peoples talking less to ethnic kin and more to different communities in the lingua franca (there can be more than one), is a critical issue. Malcolm Turnbull was an admirer of multiculturalism and probably correctly claimed that Australia was the most multicultural society in the world. Not so Scott Morrison. Indeed, in most other countries it is risky for a political leader to advocate multiculturalism for fear of electoral defeat. Diversity has taken over as buzzword du moment. It’s a particularly popular word in the U.S. But can diversity be much more than a photo op having few value-added consequences? How has the development, in both countries, of COVID-19 xenophobia and mass Black Lives Matter racial inequality protests impacted these efforts? It’s clear that more radical groups exist than Black Lives Matter. To be sure, racial inequality protests have been impactful in the U.S. On social media we hear of an echo effect where contributors parrot each other’s sentiments. Today ‘Black Lives Matter’ is a meaningful symbol in the U.S., outbidding counter-protesters saying that ‘all lives matter’ or even more ‘police lives matter.’ It’s extraordinary how police defunding has made it to our agenda too. A radical reawakening is cutting across American social consciousness. Possibly of all the research topics I have devoted most time to since returning from my Fulbright has been studying the phenomenon of Sinophobia in Australia. Is it a ‘dirty little secret’ to wish to examine nuances about the Chinese Communist Party’s dealings in Australia, with the inevitable scolding that may follow?
Juxtaposing China as leading trade partner, major direct investor, tourist magnate, top student sending country, on the one hand, with the U.S. with which Australia has an unshakeable alliance will be a touchy and contentious subject of research. One reason I plan to return to Australia next June is to investigate further the degree of anti-Chinese sentiment (distrust may be a preferable term). I hope to learn from policymakers (Canberra is the place), scholars (ANU’s Centre on China and the World is the place too), independent journalists as well as prominent members of the Chinese community. How do multiculturalism and a ‘melting pot’ sense of belonging intersect with notions of nationalism and national identity in both countries? I have deep affection for constructive and integrating nationalism. My 2002 book Liberal and illiberal nationalisms highlights that it’s illiberal nationalism – not nationalism per se – that is a scourge. For some time the U.S. has put identity politics at the forefront.
No wonder national identity cannot break through. Other states such as in western Europe are fixated on minority rights. Putting national identity and majority rights back in the picture is crucial in these times. Valerie Hudson’s observations that culture and identity matter has been a long-ignored wake up call for American politics.. I am a great admirer of Virginia Woolf’s writings. Three Guineas and The Waves are powerful calls to action. I disagree with just this one observation: ‘As a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.’ She had a penchant for exaggeration, bombast too. I would correct her assertion and say that women embrace nation and nationhood, for instance, Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of Australia’s neighbour across the Ditch. A book by Liav Orgad, a scholar originating in a society that has existed for 5,000 years, is seminal. It’s called The Cultural Defense of Nations: A Liberal Theory of Majority Rights. Let’s be contrarian, not conformist, then. The more ways we can approach the truth, the better.
Professor Raymond Taras has served on the faculty of universities in North America and Europe including Harvard, Stanford, Michigan, the European University Institute, Malmö, Warsaw, and Sussex.He has authored or edited over twenty books: on the collapse of the USSR, Russia's identity in international relations, the rise of liberal and illiberal nationalisms, the internationalization of ethnic conflicts, the dangers of xenophobia, the critique of multiculturalism, the impact of fear on European foreign policy, and the makings of nationhood. His 2019 Fulbright Distinguished Chair at the Australian National University in Canberra saw him investigating social cohesion – a process in which settler societies, indigenous peoples and recent migrants work together to build prosperous, creative and robust societies. 36
Indo-Pacific Security Challenges in 2021 and Beyond Australia's diplomatic dispute with China looms large at the end of 2020, and a quick resolution seems unlikely. What lies ahead for the fractured relationship with our largest trading partner? We asked Dr Aiden Warren, who just happened to publish a new book: U.S. Foreign Policy and China: Security Challenges During the Bush, Obama, and Trump Administrations.
You’ve just published your new book, U.S. Foreign Policy and China: Security Challenges During the Bush, Obama, and Trump Administrations. Can you tell us a little about it, and why you wrote it? In our book, Dr Adam Bartley and I have attempted to add much-needed connective tissue to what can be defined as the most significant bilateral relationship in the world. In recognizing the sharp deterioration of the U.S.China relationship by 2018, we wanted to essentially unpack how engagement had failed and what perceptions and/or policies had contributed to this failure on the U.S. side. We observed a rather large gap in this area of the literature. For instance, it became clear that each new administration basically rejected the policies and strategies of the previous often without even a cursory glance at the lessons each had learned. What occurred, we found, was in some ways a positive feedback loop. A new administration would come in, try something new, but in the end revert to the course of relations in the former without really progressing towards a general aim of what was wanted. So we wanted to assess how each president’s chief successes and failures had been addressed by the next administration as they searched for a workable formula with China; what legacies each had left when it came to engagement in the security domains; and finally, in what ways had engagement as a mechanism for building trust and mitigating differences finally run its course.
How have foreign policy challenges for the U.S., with respect to China, changed over the course of the three administrations you covered in your book? In the earlier stages we examine the rise of the “China threat” and its relationship to policy in the Bush White House. While the China threat narrative ebbed and flowed throughout all three administrations, it was particularly acute in the first Bush administration, which, prior to the catastrophic events of 9/11, was heading toward increasing competition, much like the one we see today. Of course, this changed with the terrorist attacks, and in the second administration, we see a continuation of China-engagement strategies, presaged by a closer relationship with the State Department in the White House and post9/11 cooperation in counter-terrorism. Yet, what emerged was very much a false perception of growing integration. That is, while engagement was bolstered on such issues as North Korean nuclear proliferation and the War on Terror, the trust deficit in fact widened and the challenges increased.
Though much more of an ideologue than his predecessor, the election of Barack Obama in 2008 saw a president determined to rebuild America’s relationship with the Asia-Pacific after years of what some described as “benign neglect” during the Bush administration. During its two terms in the White House, the Obama administration frequently endeavored to reassure Beijing that the United States was amenable to rising status in world affairs. That said, ongoing points of concern for Washington became more pronounced across the eight Obama years in office: trying recognize the true basis of China’s military modernization program; China’s use of its military and paramilitary forces in disputes with states over territorial claims in the South and East China Seas; its noticeable progress in creating incendiary militarized structures in such contested waters; the strategic and security aspects of the BRI; and its continued threat to use force in unification tensions with Taiwan. 38
The final chapter of our book examines the Trump administration’s many changes to the United States-China bilateral relationship and the president’s, by any measure, unconventional style of leadership and White House management. Remarkable differences in experience, behavior, priorities, and processes marked the administration from its two notable predecessors. Trump ushered in a change of style and thinking about relations with China that opened policy channels to new changes, and indeed policy reversals, deemed perhaps out of reach for his immediate predecessor.
In Australia, the talk of these challenges during the (pre-COVID) Trump admin primarily revolved around the U.S.-China Trade War. What was the purpose of this, and how successful was it for U.S. interests? While the initial approach of Trump focused predominantly on trade, it veered into other directions that yielded other allencompassing tensions, with ramifications for Australia. China has clearly ratcheted up its trade sanctions on Australia, but the message has had more broader strategic applications relating to our “outspoken” role regarding COVID-19 and other matters in the Indo-Pacific region. From the U.S. perspective, having undertaken some damaging policy departures with respect to China (tariffs, bans and scrutiny on Chinese investment in particular industries), a newly elected Biden administration looks like he will not backpedal, at least not precipitously. Even amongst Trump’s political adversaries, there is a recognition that China is a strategic competitor and a different U.S. approach is required; and that Trump’s measures – albeit at times bombastic – have seen the US acquire leverage visà-vis China and are crucial indicators of U.S. determination. In this regard, Biden has pledged his China policy will be “more scalpel, less sledgehammer,” particularly in relation to economic and technological decoupling.
Of course, developing and executing this nuanced China approach will be contested and complicated, and will compete with the plethora of other domestic and foreign policy issues on his agenda. Australia has much at risk and should not be a reactive onlooker. (Re)normalising and (re) strengthening relations with allies and partners will feature prominently in Biden’s foreign policy ambitions, and with this, the Indo-Pacific should feature significantly in the equation. Both sides of U.S. politics recognize that the enormity and scope of the China challenge can only be successfully convened in collaborating with allies, and this acknowledgement appears more workable through a Biden administration. International scientific consensus posits that COVID-19 originated in China -- what ramifications do you think this will have on both U.S. and Australian foreign policy towards China going forward? It is still difficult to unpack the fallout from the global contagion given that U.S. numbers have increased markedly in recent weeks, with various cities going into contrasting forms of lockdown. But clearly, a “post-COVID-19” phase in relations will take a while for levels of trust to return in my view.
The environment of the two states’ (U.S. and China) political realities in 2020 led to mishandling of the disaster on both sides of the Pacific. The exchanges between the two countries, and with other actors, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), have so far wasted potential opportunities for cooperation to confront this global security threat. China’s assertiveness on the global stage since the 2008 financial crisis and particularly since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012-2013 has engendered a more a bipartisan consensus in the United States that a harder and more competitive approach toward the PRC is necessary. In the past few years, the U.S.-China trade war, massive repression against Uighurs in Xinjiang, pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, and expanded U.S. and Chinese naval endeavors in contested waters off China’s coast have all worked to intensify bilateral tensions. But the widespread threat presented by the virus could have produced an opportunity for de-escalation of those frictions if both capitals had decided to work together to confront it together (and along with others). In its place, COVID-19 has so far been a cause of greater antagonism, rather than greater bilateral cooperation, between the PRC and the United States.
What are the foreign policy challenges facing the incoming Biden administration, and how would you recommend they be navigated? In many ways Trump encouraged America’s adversaries while wasting valuable time and influence contending with national security challenges from North Korea to Iran. He initiated ill-informed trade wars against the United States’ friends and adversaries alike, and relinquished American leadership in assembling collective action to counter emerging threats, specifically those unique to this century.
Most profoundly, Trump seceded from the democratic principles that have for main extent emboldened the U.S. and unified its people. In the meantime, the global challenges confronting the United States—from climate change, emerging technological disruption, and infectious diseases— have become more complicated, while the precipitous momentum of authoritarianism, nationalism, and illiberalism has undercut the U.S. capacity to collectively counter them. In response, a Biden administration will seek greater multilateralism, and restoration in the U.S.led liberal international order (as imperfect as it is), and a return to some semblance of decency.
Considering the potential for intensifying antipathy in the future U.S.-China relationship, should Australia be doubling down upon our U.S. Alliance, or acting more as a moderating go-between to help deescalate tensions? Hopefully, a change of leadership will see a more balanced approach. In simple terms -- out goes a U.S. President who was clearly not a proponent of allies, global institutions, or the rulesbased international order. In comes a President who should see a return to steady alliances, multilateral diplomacy, investment in America’s economic-technological strength, and a competitive but practical strategy on China and the Indo-Pacific.
That said, with an expanding national deficit, decreasing defence expenditure, and a likely increase of international and domestic commitments under Biden, bankrolling a revived U.S. global leadership will be a marked challenge. Attempting to do so risks disrupting a Biden administration from prioritising its operations in Australia’s part of the world. Australia has never quite before been in a situation where our ally’s biggest strategic competitor is also our biggest trading partner and our region’s strongest power. The idea that we can keep these two relationships in separate silos is an illusion.
"A Biden administration will seek greater multilateralism, and restoration in the U.S.-led liberal international order, and a return to some semblance of decency."
That doesn’t mean we will inevitably be forced to choose one or the other. But it does mean that a leaning to one side has emerged and our diplomacy must carefully weigh how each move we make with one will be viewed by the other. In this regard, Canberra will need to embolden its own leadership engagement in the Indo-Pacific, collaborating with regional allies to share resources and sustain U.S. attention on our joint IndoPacific priorities. Here, Biden should work with friends and allies as regional supporters across the defence, security, economic, trade, diplomatic, technology and developmental domains. In more specific terms, Australia could leverage Biden’s predilection for a multifaceted and multilateral approach to strategic competition to attain a greater role for Australia in defining and impacting the region’s broader security.
Dr Aiden Warren is an Associate Professor in RMIT University's School of Global, Urban and Social Studies. His teaching and research interests are in the areas of International Security, U.S. national security and foreign policy, U.S. Politics, International Relations, and issues associated with Weapons of Mass Destruction proliferation, deterrence, arms control, and disarmament. As the 2018 Fulbright Scholar in Australia-U.S. Alliance Studies, based at the Arms Control Association in Washington DC, Aiden’s project examined the tensions between U.S. nuclear force modernization and the global non-proliferation regime.
H E A LT H C A R E , VAC C I N E S , A N D E T H I C S As much as we wanted to, we couldn't leave our final issue of 2020 without a COVIDrelated story.The year was certainly defined by this virus -- it affected literally every single person on planet Earth in some way, but some felt its effects far more than others. We wanted to find out more about this, and how societies deal with the ethical fallout from inequitable access to treatment. In the last issue, we spoke to University of Notre Dame Bioethicist, Dr Xavier Symons. We decided to catch up with Xavier again to hear his thoughts on how the U.S. and Australia have coped since our last conversation:
The last time we spoke, we were discussing the ethics behind healthcare rationing during a pandemic. Here in Australia, our healthcare system didn't quite come under enough pressure to lead to the 'worst case scenario' of (eg.) hospital beds and medicine being rationed out only to those with the greatest chances of survival, but how do you think we fared with the pandemic response, from an ethical point of view?
I think it’s fair to say that Australia has for the most part prioritised ethical and humanitarian considerations in its pandemic response. Early in the pandemic, there was pressure on the National Cabinet to relax COVID-19 restrictions and to aim instead for a strategy of herd immunity, whereby the virus would be allowed to spread through the community in a ‘controlled fashion’. Fortunately, state and federal governments resisted this proposal and instead sought to protect society’s most vulnerable by suppressing the virus. The wisdom of this approach can be seen in the near-elimination of the virus in all states and territories, save New South Wales. That being said, there were clear errors made by the aged care regulators that led to avoidable deaths in long-term care facilities in both New South Wales and Victoria. In the early stages of the pandemic, for example, evidence was accumulating from overseas of the need for rapid infection response teams in aged care homes with COVID-19 outbreaks. And yet it seems that state and federal regulators were slow in introducing rapid response teams in Australian aged care homes, particularly when Victoria was experiencing its second wave of infections. Some may say this was just an oversight.
Though I do fear that our society suffers from an unconscious ageist bias whereby the needs of older members of the community are seen as being of secondary concern in comparison to those of the general population. I do wonder to what extent this bias is latent in the errors that were made during Victoria’s second wave. It is encouraging to see how in Australia there has been less politicisation of certain aspects of our public health response, such as mask wearing, than has been the case in other countries. There has also been a shift away from judgemental language when assessing responsibility for covid outbreaks, which is a positive development. I don’t think stigmatisation of the disease is helpful in the long-run, nor is it helpful to stigmatise people who unintentionally are responsible for transmitting the virus. People should do the right thing and obey public health orders, but they shouldn’t be demonised when they are exposed to the virus through no fault of their own. The U.S. is quite a different story, with infections still on the rise, and hospitals coming under intense pressure. President Trump himself contracted the virus, along with a significant number of his aides, advisors, cabinet members, and legal team -- many of whom received experimental treatments that are not available to the public. Firstly -- do you think it is ethically reasonable that Trump and his aides have access to these treatments, considering their key positions, or should they be reserved for those who are medically vulnerable? Secondly -- many of these same people are using their recoveries as evidence that the virus is less harmful than reports suggest. What are the ethical implications of this? This is a good question. I do think it’s ethical to prioritise political leaders and other people in positions of government during a pandemic, as their health is important for allowing for a coordinated and orderly public health response. That being said, I think these leaders have a responsibility to ensure that the public realise the seriousness of the viral threat, and there were clearly issues with the Trump Administration’s attempts to downplay the seriousness of COVID-19. There should be ethical limits on the extent to which we prioritise people based on their social utility. When taken to the extreme, such an approach would lead to the marginalisation of vulnerable groups, who often may be perceived as a ‘burden’ on society. We need to have robust principles of justice to function as a check on our prioritisation of people based on their social role. There has been significant debate on the effectiveness of lockdowns -- what are your thoughts on the line between the ethical consequences of economic hardship caused by lockdowns, and those of putting vulnerable populations at risk through non-enforcement of these measures? I feel like a lot of these questions have to do with getting the facts straight first and then thinking through ethics. In the case of lockdowns, it's good to consider whether it’s safe to open certain institutions (schools, universities, government services, and so on) before we have a debate about ethics. In the case of schools, it seems that in many cases it is safe to keep schools open on account of the limited impact of the virus on children and also the limited possibility that teachers will be infected. Though we obviously need to consider just how much risk is acceptable for teachers working in schools. Teachers unions have expressed grave concern about opening schools before COVID-19 outbreaks are under control. Some people have been critical of Australia’s draconian measures to control the virus. But I do think Australia’s attempt to suppress and eliminate the virus have been vindicated in light of the fact that many states can now operate without restrictions (and, from an economic point of view, have improved consumer confidence). So we should be careful about adopting a negative view of, say, Victoria’s approach to controlling COVID-19.
I do, however, have some concerns about the impact that lockdowns have on mental health, and I do feel like this is something that is deserving of serious consideration. Clearly people’s physical health must be weighed against their mental health, and we need to ensure that adequate support is in place to provide for the psychological needs of people in lockdown. Two promising vaccines have now been approved for distribution -- do you have any concerns about the accelerated development of these (considering that until now, the trial/approval process has traditionally been measured in years)? I think we will discover things along the way. Though I don’t feel like there is more cause for concern with COVID-19 vaccines than other vaccines. Health authorities overseas are doing a good job of encouraging people to receive the vaccine, and initial signs suggest that the Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines are just as safe as other existing widely used vaccines. We still need to be vigilant, however, about other health challenges posed by vaccines. UQ's COVID-19 vaccine was delivering false positive HIV test results, for example. I was encouraged by the transparency surrounding the cancellation of this COVID-19 vaccine trial, and I think this transparency will improve public confidence in the integrity of vaccine development processes. From an ethics perspective, what are your thoughts on Australia's COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan? Do you think they have it right? Australia’s vaccine distribution advice comes from an organisation called ATAGI -the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, a Department of Health committee that advises the Minister on the National Immunisation Program (NIP) and other immunisation issues. ATAGI has, in the first instance, recommended the prioritisation of healthcare workers, the elderly and those with comorbidities. It’s good to see that ATAGI has published comprehensive guidelines for COVID-19 vaccine distribution and monitoring, and it’s important to keep the public informed about these guidelines. But it’s important not to forget other vulnerable groups, such as homeless populations, indigenous and ethnic minorities and also prison populations. We need to be careful about compounding the injustice that social minorities are already experiencing by failing to give them timely access to a COVID-19 vaccine.
Xavier Symons is a Research Associate in the Institute for Ethics and Society at the University of Notre Dame, where he convenes a bioethics and healthcare ethics research program. A bioethicist with extensive philosophical training and clinical experience, Xavier’s research interests range from gene editing and genomics to ethical issues in aged care and end of life care. He is passionate about aged care reform, having volunteered in nursing homes in Sydney and Melbourne for several years and experienced first-hand the many human and organisational challenges facing aged care providers in Australia. Xavier’s Fulbright scholarship will take him to the Kennedy Institute for Ethics (KIE) at Georgetown University to complete a research project on the ethics of dementia, focusing in particular on issues identified in the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety
LEMONS INTO LEMONADE: Could COVID be the catalyst that causes us to finally recognise inequality?
The COVID-19 Pandemic hit the Fulbright program hard. University of Queensland Associate Professor and Fulbright Future Scholar Paul Harpur turned this disruption into a project, which has now just born fruit. The COVID-19 Pandemic is devastating the United States. As at 16 November there are over 10.6 million confirmed infections and almost a quarter of a million deaths in the U.S. Public health interventions are critical to saving lives, so Harpur decided to team up with his Fulbright host, Professor Peter Blanck from the Burton Blatt Institute, Syracuse University, to seek funding from the U.S. Social Science Research Council Just Tech Covid-19 Rapid-Response Grant. Their bid was successful, and a new Social Science Research Fellowship will be supported with funds from the Ford and MacArthur Foundations. The joint project, â&#x20AC;&#x153;The Unsettling of Old Norms by a New World of COVID-19 Public Health Surveillanceâ&#x20AC;?, will ask:
1. How has COVID-19 public health surveillance shifted social norms pertaining to health status in public spaces? 2. How are the new health norms created by COVID-19 health surveillance creating new sites of disablement in society? 3. Whether or not disabled groups wish to claim the mantle of disability, how does disability discrimination and ability equality measures apply to people disabled by COVID-19 health surveillance? 4. How can this unsettling of able and disabled be used to help mainstream ability equality and make a more inclusive society?
Harpur and Blanck explain that the disabling impact caused by the introduction of COVID-19 public health surveillance has rapidly emerged and is profound for individuals and their families. Almost overnight, there has been a massive reduction in the capacity of people with certain medical conditions to be in public spaces. Certain medical conditions attract the attention of public health surveillance systems and/or their human operators. While a medical practitioner might understand the condition, the tens of thousands of people hired and deployed to implement public health surveillance measures may lack the qualifications to understand complex disabilities and how to appropriately respond.
Overnight, conditions that were regarded by society as within the normal range of abilities are now regarded as unacceptable. For people who were not previously regarded as disabled, but who are now disabled by COVID-19 health surveillance, the impact on their lives will be profound. With the individual, their families and friends being unaccustomed to managing social exclusion, this could result in major social disruptions. Interrogating what the full impact of COVID-19 health surveillance has upon ability diversity will be an on-going project lasting decades. It is urgent to ensure that the framing and responses to new disablement reflects the gains made by the disability rights movement. Harpur and Blanck's project may not be a panacea, but it is an avenue of hope, and one very large step in the right direction.
Dr Paul Harpur is a senior lecturer with the TC Beirne School of Law at the University of Queensland. He became blind following a train accident at the age of 14 and found himself disabled by society. The question of why barriers to ability exist and how they can be removed has evolved into an impressive academic and advocacy career for Paul. Paul's Fulbright Future Scholarship took him to the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University and Harvard University to collect data and build relationships between advocates and researchers involved with the development and promotion of design that is accessible to everyone in society, whether they be able or disabled.
That's it from us for 2020! A big thanks to all of the scholars who contributed to this issue (often under extreme duress!), and an even bigger thank you to everyone who read until the end. We wish you all the best for a happy, safe, and enjoyable holiday season. We'll be back in 2021, and we hope you'll join us to hear more from some of the smartest folks in Australia and America. - Alex Maclaurin (Editor) - Allison Kephart (Contributor)
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