Misinformation about COVID vaccines is putting Australia’s diverse communities at risk, experts say


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As high-risk groups begin rolling up their sleeves to receive COVID-19 vaccines, experts warn against misinformation being spread on social media platforms, including among culturally diverse groups.

For example, posts on Chinese social media platform WeChat have been spreading the false claim that mRNA vaccines, such as the Pfizer jab, can integrate with a person’s DNA and transform recipients into “genetically modified humans”.

According to various accounts viewed by the ABC, Chinese-language posts carrying this information have been shared in at least five active WeChat groups where over 2,000 Chinese Australians discuss public affairs and share information about the pandemic.

The same type of messaging has also surfaced in various exchanges between people claiming to be health experts, using academic language and referring to “scientific research” — which isn’t provided — from authoritative science journals, such as Nature.

Although China’s state-owned media has come out at times to refute these messages, clarifying that it is pseudo-science or misinformation, it’s often too late, as the material is carried over to WeChat where the conversations continue within the community.

Yang Bingqing, who leads a voluntary fact-checking group for Chinese Australians, told the ABC threads of misinformation appear in “almost every chat group” she joins.

In a statement to the ABC, WeChat said it’s “committed to providing a secure and open platform for users to stay connected and share information and ideas”.

“We take active steps to address misinformation and inappropriate behaviour on our platform by providing users an easy way to report that through the in-app reporting function so that we may follow up on these quickly and effectively,” the statement said.

“We are constantly expanding and enforcing our efforts to protect against misinformation.”

But how seriously are various communities taking these claims? And when language barriers and government distrust can fuel misinformation among some groups, what can be done to ensure they receive credible COVID-19 information?

Australia’s drug regulatory body has provisionally approved two vaccines for high-risk groups, including Pfizer, the world’s first mRNA vaccine and the only mRNA candidate approved for use in Australia.

mRNA — or messenger RNA — vaccines work by injecting a particular strand of mRNA into our cells. Our cells use the strand as a blueprint to build only the spike protein found on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. After a few days, the mRNA is broken down.

This trains our immune systems to “remember” the virus spike and make antibodies against it, so that if it ever meets the real virus, it ready to mount an immune response.

Dr Archa Fox, associate professor in RNA biology from the University of Western Australia, said the message circulating on WeChat was “completely untrue”.

She said it was not possible for an mRNA vaccine to become part of the DNA in our genome.

“I’d like to use the example of the DNA being like a big recipe book. And the RNA is a little scribbled piece of paper with handwriting,” Dr Fox told the ABC.

“Millions of people around the world have now received RNA vaccines, and there is no evidence of this happening,” she said, adding the misinformation could result in vulnerable groups refusing to have the vaccine.

“That will put themselves and their loved ones at risk.”

Dr Alexandra Grey, a University of Sydney researcher who studies the effectiveness of government messages within Australia’s multicultural communities, said in-language misinformation can significantly impact community trust in public health information.

“Particularly for things like health communications, where you want to affect behavioural change, you want your audience to trust what you’re saying,” Dr Grey told the ABC.

“It conveys something additional, something symbolic about inclusion and trust.”

The ABC spoke to around two dozen residents from Asian communities on the streets of Sydney over the past week, the majority of whom spoke English as a second language and found it difficult to access public health information in their own languages.

Several people confirmed they came across vaccine misinformation on social media, including Facebook, Instagram and WeChat.

Ms Yang launched her fact-checking group on WeChat during the early stages of the pandemic last April, when fake news and disinformation related to COVID-19 were on the rise in the Chinese-Australian community.

The fact-checking hub now consists of over 600 Chinese Australians who provide assistance in two WeChat groups and clear up misinformation concerns where they can.

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Victorian growers become olive oil ‘sommeliers’ after trip abroad to consult the experts


The word sommelier is often associated with fine wine, but did you know that it can also be used when talking about olive oil?

Central Victorian growers Milly Byrne and Julie Howard are olive oil sommeliers and just like their counterparts in wine they can assess its quality, chemistry and flavour.

After receiving a Young Farmers Scholarship from the Victorian Government in 2018, Ms Byrne, along with Mrs Howard, travelled to Europe to learn the art.

“We decided we would either going to go to Greece or Spain because they’re the experts — they’ve had olives since before 800BC,” Ms Byrne said.

The trip didn’t disappoint.

“When we did our research, we discovered that yes, there was an equivalent reality with olive oil as there is with wine,” Mrs Howard said.

Over the course of a week the pair learnt to identify the characteristics and types of olive oil, its flavours and what kinds of food you can pair it with.

“We learnt when to identify that olive oil is off and what they call ‘lampante’, which means the oil is only fit for lighting a lamp, not for eating,” Mrs Howard said.

She said extra virgin was pressed, plain olive juice, whereas virgin was mixed or slightly damaged.

Mrs Howard said the flavour of olive oil depends on where and when the fruit was harvested.

“A lot of growers pick them very green and so you’ll get very pungent, spicy flavours, which can also indicate polyphenol, that can show health benefits,” she said.

“They can also take on fruity flavours — it could smell like apricots, it could smell like bananas or green tomatoes.

“The whole idea is to taste the freshest olive oil and to know how to identify it with your nose, using your sensory responses.

“And then your palate, which includes your tongue, your taste buds, the side of your tongue and the retro nasal down the back — you need lots of practice.”

When it comes to food, Mrs Howard said certain oils best suited certain meals.

“One of the qualities of olive oil is its texture — the arbequina olive is a very creamy buttery texture, so that can be used for an appetiser and I would use it as a dessert oil,” she said.

But she said that everyone’s taste buds were different.

“People should find some samples for tastings and discern what flavours there are, and the differences — someone else’s palate may not be the same as ours,” she said.

The pair hope to share their knowledge soon through classes.

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Startling twist in Tiger Woods crash as forensic experts suggest new theory


Tiger Woods appeared to not be paying attention in the moments before his devastating crash — and may have fallen asleep at the wheel of the luxury SUV he was driving, according to a report citing forensic car accident experts.

The 45-year-old links legend was driving a 2021 Genesis GV80 alone when he veered across the median on Hawthorne Boulevard in Rancho Palos Verdes, went off the road and struck a tree — causing the car to roll over.

Woods broke several bones in his lower right leg, which indicates he was applying the brake at the time of impact, experts told USA Today, adding that the evidence indicates he braked late into the collision sequence.

“To me, this is like a classic case of falling asleep behind the wheel, because the road curves and his vehicle goes straight,” Jonathan Cherney, a consultant who serves as an expert witness in court cases, told the news outlet.

The former police detective examined the crash site in person.

“It’s a drift off the road, almost like he was either unconscious, suffering from a medical episode or fell asleep and didn’t wake up until he was off the road and that’s where the brake application came in,” Cherney told USA Today.

LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has said there were no skid marks to indicate braking — but the vehicle had anti-lock brakes, so even if Woods slammed on the brakes, “you wouldn’t necessarily see tire marks,” Felix Lee, an accident reconstruction expert, told the outlet.

Lee said a key clue is how the SUV did not change direction entering the curve.

“My feeling is that speed wasn’t that much of an issue. It was just some kind of inattention that caused the kerb strike,” said Lee, who is part of the Expert Institute, a network that provides expert witnesses in court cases.

Cherney also said he didn’t see evidence of “any steering input” that would show the golfer tried to avoid the accident.

Rami Hashish, principal at the National Biomechanics Institute, which investigates accidents, told USA Today that this suggests a “very delayed response.”

“It was suggesting he wasn’t paying attention at all,” said the expert, adding that he suspects the damage would have been much greater if Woods had been travelling at an excessive speed.

The speed limit on that stretch is 45mph (72km/h).

“You can walk away with a broken leg from 45 to 50 mph,” Hashish said. “If you’re hitting 60, 65 (105km/h) and you’re hitting a stationary object, your likelihood of death increases exponentially.”

If he was speeding at 80 mph (129km/h), “he wouldn’t be having an open fracture in this leg — he’d be dead,” he said.

The sheriff has said investigators didn’t know the vehicle’s speed yet but said it could have been a factor, as well as inattentiveness.

“This stretch of road is challenging, and if you’re not paying attention, you can see what happens,” Villanueva said Wednesday, adding that the crash was “purely an accident” in a preliminary assessment.

There was no evidence of impairment or medication involved, he added.

However, the experts were surprised that Villanueva had determined it to be an accident without yet having examined the SUV’s “black box” computer, which could reveal steering, braking or acceleration actions before impact.

“There’s no real accident unless it’s a true medical emergency,” Cherney said. “There’s always some level of negligence, whether it’s simple negligence like looking down at your phone or changing the radio station that starts the whole collision sequence.

“So when the sheriff is saying this is just an accident, I don’t know how in the world you can state that so early in the game without completing an in-depth, thorough investigation and reconstruction analysis,” he added.

In 2017, police found Woods asleep at the wheel in Florida. A toxicology report said he had Vicodin, Dilaudid, Xanax, Ambien — which is used to treat sleep problems — and THC in his system at the time.

Cherney also questioned whether the SUV actually rolled over “several times,” as Villanueva has indicated.

“I consider a rollover one full revolution, not just falling onto the side,” Cherney said. “I don’t think that vehicle experienced as many revolutions or complete rolls as they are portraying.”

In his first comments after the crash, Woods said Sunday: “It is hard to explain how touching today was when I turned on the TV and saw all the red shirts,” referring to his peers wearing his signature Sunday outfit of red shirt and black pants during the final round of the WCG-Workday Championship.

“To every golfer and every fan, you are truly helping me get through this tough time.”

— New York Post

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Experts doubt October vaccination target




Medical experts believe the federal government’s coronavirus vaccination target will be hard to achieve unless jab rates are dramatically ramped up.

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Experts say this is what Australia needs to do to solve the housing crisis


What can we do with Australia’s property market, with soaring prices and rental shortages in many regional areas of Australia, from WA’s Pilbara to Hobart in Tasmania?

While more than 60 per cent of Australians own their own home, Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows home-ownership rates for people aged under 40 are declining, part of a trend of intergenerational inequality and a growing gap between the haves and have nots.

Building more houses is often given as the answer to easing housing stress in areas of high demand but it’s not that simple, argue the four housing policy and economic experts the ABC spoke to.

Here are three policy areas they suggest Australia needs to address if we want to solve the housing crisis.

One housing policy expert said Australia had not had a national strategy since World War II, and the federal government needed to act quickly to form one and not leave it up to the states.

Professor Pawson, at the City Futures Research Centre UNSW, went on to say: “We don’t necessarily need to spend more money on housing as a country, we need to spend more smartly”.

“We have to measure the problem and commit to a strategy which addresses what we find.”

We also need to have “brave conversations” according to Swinburne University Professor of Housing Policy, Wendy Stone, who said just building more housing did not help to address inequality.

She pointed to Australians generating their wealth from housing, and said we should explore “setting boundaries” around that investment.

“How can we retain existing housing stock in regional areas for housing and home, rather than so much of it being held as vacant investment or being used as tourism investments?” she said.

“We need some urgency to establishing some parameters to reduce spiralling inequality.”

She argued a limit of how many properties any one person could own could help keep house prices lower and could take the pressure off rental shortages — especially as the federal government’s COVID support measures come to an end.

Professors Stone and Pawson argue that in the short term, the federal government needs to keep COVID emergency interventions such as JobKeeper. and rental eviction moratoria to prevent thousands of people becoming homeless.

“What we can see in our data and our analytics, is that a very large number of households are still heavily dependent on these crisis COVID response mechanisms and it is absolutely premature to withdraw these mechanisms,” Professor Stone said.

A recent survey conducted by Professor Pawson’s team estimated 75,000 tenants across Australia had accrued rent debt and he argued the Australian economy was yet to feel the full impact of COVID shutdowns.

“By the middle of this year, we may see some of that sort of stored up trouble … we know that at least a quarter of renters did lose income,” he said.

Rachel Ong ViforJ, Professor of Economics at Curtin University, said she would like to see rental reform for longer-term change, including increasing the Commonwealth Rent Assistance, and making sure it was better targeted to those who need it.

“Another major issue has to do with tenure security within the private rental sector,” Professor Ong ViforJ said.

“More Australians are renting, including older Australians. However, Australia’s private rental sector is lightly regulated and landlords are allowed ‘without-grounds’ lease termination.

“If the government can implement policy reforms that would make home ownership more affordable, that would also free up some rental properties as some renters became homebuyers.”

Economist Cameron Murray said there was little political will to act to decrease housing prices, particularly among households that use property as investment.

“The political reality is that we want higher and rising house prices, it’s a political winner and doing something to stop that is political suicide,” he said.

“Australian housing is worth about $7 trillion and a policy that effectively reduced the price of housing, even 20 per cent would wipe off $1.5 trillion of value from those 70 per cent of households who own their own home.”

Dr Murray said in the next 20 or so years as the Baby Boomer generation died, more houses would be moved through the market as inheritances were divided and sold, but that would not be leaving everyone with a house.

Increasing stock in social housing should be part of a national housing policy, said Professor Pawson, who pointed out that Australia’s social housing numbers had remained stagnant over the years despite a growing population, meaning its capacity to house those in need had reduced over the years.

Professors Stone and ViforJ agreed that increasing social housing stock was needed to help those most in need of secure housing, but Dr Murray said perhaps Australia should rethink its whole approach to subsidising housing.

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Experts say this is what Australia needs to do to solve the housing crisis


What can we do with Australia’s property market, with soaring prices and rental shortages in many regional areas of Australia, from WA’s Pilbara to Hobart in Tasmania?

While more than 60 per cent of Australians own their own home, Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows home-ownership rates for people aged under 40 are declining, part of a trend of intergenerational inequality and a growing gap between the haves and have nots.

Building more houses is often given as the answer to easing housing stress in areas of high demand but it’s not that simple, argue the four housing policy and economic experts the ABC spoke to.

Here are three policy areas they suggest Australia needs to address if we want to solve the housing crisis.

A national housing policy

One housing policy expert said Australia had not had a national strategy since World War II, and the federal government needed to act quickly to form one and not leave it up to the states.

Professor Pawson, at the City Futures Research Centre UNSW, went on to say: “We don’t necessarily need to spend more money on housing as a country, we need to spend more smartly”.

“We have to measure the problem and commit to a strategy which addresses what we find.”

We also need to have “brave conversations” according to Swinburne University Professor of Housing Policy, Wendy Stone, who said just building more housing did not help to address inequality.

She pointed to Australians generating their wealth from housing, and said we should explore “setting boundaries” around that investment.

“How can we retain existing housing stock in regional areas for housing and home, rather than so much of it being held as vacant investment or being used as tourism investments?” she said.

“We need some urgency to establishing some parameters to reduce spiralling inequality.”

She argued a limit of how many properties any one person could own could help keep house prices lower and could take the pressure off rental shortages — especially as the federal government’s COVID support measures come to an end.

What about rental relief?

COVID has seen a shift in rental pressure with vacancy rates increasing in inner city Melbourne and Sydney but drastically dropping in regional areas as people are moving out of the major cities.(ABC News: Loretta Lohberger)

Professors Stone and Pawson argue that in the short term, the federal government needs to keep COVID emergency interventions such as JobKeeper. and rental eviction moratoria to prevent thousands of people becoming homeless.

“What we can see in our data and our analytics, is that a very large number of households are still heavily dependent on these crisis COVID response mechanisms and it is absolutely premature to withdraw these mechanisms,” Professor Stone said.

A recent survey conducted by Professor Pawson’s team estimated 75,000 tenants across Australia had accrued rent debt and he argued the Australian economy was yet to feel the full impact of COVID shutdowns.

“By the middle of this year, we may see some of that sort of stored up trouble … we know that at least a quarter of renters did lose income,” he said.

Rachel Ong ViforJ, Professor of Economics at Curtain University, said she would like to see rental reform for longer-term change, including increasing the Commonwealth Rent Assistance, and making sure it was better targeted to those who need it.

“Another major issue has to do with tenure security within the private rental sector,” Professor Ong ViforJ said.

“More Australians are renting, including older Australians. However, Australia’s private rental sector is lightly regulated and landlords are allowed ‘without-grounds’ lease termination.

“If the government can implement policy reforms that would make home ownership more affordable, that would also free up some rental properties as some renters became homebuyers.”

Subsidise home buying, like Singapore?

Economist Cameron Murray said there was little political will to act to decrease housing prices, particularly among households that use property as investment.

“The political reality is that we want higher and rising house prices, it’s a political winner and doing something to stop that is political suicide,” he said.

“Australian housing is worth about $7 trillion and a policy that effectively reduced the price of housing, even 20 per cent would wipe off $1.5 trillion of value from those 70 per cent of households who own their own home.”

Dr Murray said in the next 20 or so years as the Baby Boomer generation died, more houses would be moved through the market as inheritances were divided and sold, but that would not be leaving everyone with a house.

Increasing stock in social housing should be part of a national housing policy, said Professor Pawson, who pointed out that Australia’s social housing numbers had remained stagnant over the years despite a growing population, meaning its capacity to house those in need had reduced over the years.

Professors Stone and ViforJ agreed that increasing social housing stock was needed to help those most in need of secure housing, but Dr Murray said perhaps Australia should rethink its whole approach to subsidising housing.

He pointed to Singapore where about 80 per cent of the population was able to buy a subsidised home through the government.

“To me, Singapore’s public housing model is probably one of the best interventions,” Dr Murray said.

“It’s essentially a public, subsidised doorway to get into the market.”

Without change, inequality will grow

House prices and rising rents are a major problem if you are a renter who can’t afford to buy a house, but are probably not your concern if you own property.

However, all four experts warn that if we let housing inequality continue to grow unabated, it will affect everyone.

“A continual upward trend in house prices that outstrip wage growth should be a concern for homeowners, especially those carrying a mortgage,” Professor ViforJ said.

“Highly indebted homeowners are more likely to fall behind on mortgage payments if they were, to say, become unemployed or go through a period of financial difficulty.”

Professor Stone said if the federal government did not do more to balance the housing market, Australia would have an “increasing pool of losers and a smaller, wealthier group of property winners”.

“Without intervention we will see an increase in homelessness.

“We know that an unequal society with a high degree of economic polarisation is going to undermine our economy in the longer term.”

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Coronavirus scammers prepare to target Australians over vaccine rollout, experts warn


There are thousands of fraudsters preparing to exploit the COVID-19 vaccine program, experts say, warning the scams will look legitimate and the people behind them may even know your name, phone number and email.

Michael Connory, a cyber security consultant and CEO of the company Security in Depth, said there was a significant number of scam emails sent in the UK and US relating to vaccination programs.

“[They have] scammed numerous people, tens of thousands of people over in the UK, as well as in the US,” he said.

Fraud protection consultants said the rollout of vaccinations across Australia this week was giving fraudsters a prime opportunity to pose as health authorities.

“Bad actors will look for opportunities — be it tax time or be it the imminent distribution of vaccines.” Mr Levinsohn said.

Mr Connory said scams would be very hard to distinguish from genuine communication.

“It will look like a legitimate email coming from a government agency,” he said.

He said he expected the scams would convince people to click on a link to give personal information or install malicious software that steals information.

“Cyber-criminals then take that personal information, and use that for things such as identity theft, which is hugely prevalent in Australia.” Mr Connory said.

He said people should expect scammers to call or even text them.

“That text will say something like: ‘Hi Michael, here is your COVID information’ with a link,” he said.

“Now because you can’t really see the link in detail on the text, it’s much more likely that you will click on the link, and it will take you to a compromised website.”

The other way criminals had been scamming people, was by duping them into trying to “jump” the vaccination queue.

“They’re going to say, ‘if you want to get the Pfizer vaccine rather than the AstraZeneca vaccine, then pay $150 and you can jump the queue’,” Mr Connory said.

“The reality is that there’s no jumping the queue.”

Then there is what else scammers can steal from you, Mr Connory said.

“What they’re really looking for is your information, the more personal information they have on you, such as your Medicare details, your driver’s licence, your date of birth — they can then utilise that information and attack you from an identity theft perspective,” he said.

“These individuals will go out and get credit with your name, they will create companies, they will start to trade, they can get mobile phones with your details, they can do a whole range of different things with your personal information.

“Last year, the Australian Cybersecurity Centre and ID Care, which are both government organisations, had a look at 41,000 cases of these types of scams, and the average loss was $18,000 per person.

“We’ve seen from research that within Australia … on average 20 per cent of individuals will still click on a link.”

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AFLW experts’ tips: Round 4


Our experts give their tips for the fourth round of the 2021 AFLW season.

Emma Kearney, North Melbourne captain
Last week: 4
Total: 17
St Kilda by 10
Carlton by 19
Fremantle by 30
North Melbourne by 6
Brisbane Lions by 11
Melbourne by 13
GWS by 9

Meg Lanning, Australian cricket captain
Last week: 4
Total: 16
St Kilda 7
Carlton 15
Fremantle 12
North Melb 4
Adelaide 10
W Bulldogs 5
GWS 11

Anthony Colangelo, The Age
Last week: 3
Total: 15
St Kilda by 10
Carlton by 20
Fremantle by 33
North Melbourne by 2
Adelaide by 5
Melbourne by 11
GWS by 4

Bec Goddard, Hawthorn VFLW coach
Last week: 3
Total: 15
St Kilda by 14
Richmond by 2
Fremantle by 40
North Melbourne by 18
Adelaide by 7
Melbourne by 15
GWS by 9

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Facebook’s ‘ambush’ of Australian sites could place people in danger, experts say


Facebook’s ham-fisted “ambush” take-down of the social media pages of Australian news sites and other organisations mark a world-first experiment that may cause a significant backlash, an expert says.

It comes as Queensland Health warned the drastic action, which led to its own page being inadvertently shuttered, could have hindered the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, while there were concerns people fleeing domestic violence may be left without vital support.

Domestic violence service DVConnect’s Facebook page was also swept up in the shut-down.

Domestic violence service DVConnect’s Facebook page was also swept up in the shut-down.Credit:Facebook

On Thursday, the social media giant enacted a sweeping shutdown of traditional media organisations’ Facebook pages but several critical government pages were also caught-out.

University of Queensland law and marketing associate professor Sarah Jane Kelly said Facebook’s actions were the first of its kind in the world, which was watching to see how it would play out.

“We haven’t seen Facebook behave in this way before, to ambush a whole nation effectively,” she said.

“Maybe Facebook is running an experiment to see what occurs when they ban these news links as defined by their algorithms.”

Professor Kelly said she believed Facebook would be in a “world of pain” as it tried to “fix” the pages of organisations caught in the crossfire of its stoush with the government, and it may require brand repair to combat user backlash.

Among the other organisations banned were TransLink, Brisbane City Council, the Bureau of Meteorology, Energex and RACQ.

That ban came on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Brisbane mother’s death, with her parents describing it as “very disappointing”.

DVConnect director Sophie McCashin said the service, which was still unable to share posts on Facebook on Thursday night, was concerned about decreased visibility.

“We know that many people used Facebook around the clock to seek information about services available, and some people have only small amounts of time where they feel safe to use the internet or their social media accounts freely,” she said.

“As a very common communication tool, it’s natural that some individuals would go to Facebook in the first instance to seek out information, including information about domestic, family and sexual violence services they can contact.”

Queensland Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman described the scrubbing of domestic violence pages as “incredibly outrageous”.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said her department directly lobbied Facebook over the closure of key government pages.

“They should not be caught up in this ban,” she said.

“The ball is firmly in the federal government’s court here … it needs to be sorted out.”

Treasurer Cameron Dick described the move as “nuts” while Brisbane lord mayor Adrian Schrinner said Facebook was the “world’s biggest cyberbully”.

Katter’s Australian Party MP Nick Dametto, whose own page was wiped, said he was “disgusted” Facebook would shut down community and news pages that provided information people relied on in times of crisis and natural disasters.

“I am of the view that journalists should be paid for the content they produce no matter the format, which is shared by these platforms,” he said.

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“As a platform used by more than two billion people worldwide, Facebook’s actions demonstrate gross negligence and immaturity unbecoming of a globally recognised company.”

A Facebook company spokesman said government pages should not be impacted by the decision and any pages that were inadvertently impacted would be reversed.

Energex, TransLink, RACQ, RACQ LifeFlight, Queensland Council of Social Service, University of Southern Queensland, Bond University, Small Steps 4 Hannah and the Centre Against Domestic Abuse were all still blocked on Thursday night.

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‘A devastating outcome’: Legal experts condemn Family Court merger



Legal experts and politicians have condemned a looming Family Court merger, warning of devastating outcomes for women and children.

A bill combining the court with the Federal Circuit Court received federal parliament’s final approval on Thursday after passing the Senate overnight.

The Morrison government insists the change will reduce backlogs with as many as 8000 extra cases resolved each year.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said the move ignored women’s and community legal services, family violence experts and 150 organisations working within the system.

“It is a terrible betrayal of Australian families by a government of wreckers,” he told parliament.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said a single point of entry would make the system simpler and reduce confusion for families.

He said many of the loudest voices opposing the reform had a vested interest in delays that led to increasing tensions and rising costs.

“Families who need to use the court to resolve matters at the end of a relationship have a right to expect the system will help them settle their matters quickly, efficiently and at as low cost as possible,” he said.

“Unfortunately, for too many families, this has not been the reality as the system itself has been exacerbating the stress and pressure being experienced by users of the courts.”

Women’s Legal Services chief executive Angela Lynch said it was a bizarre decision to move from a specialist court to a generalised model.

“This is a devastating outcome for families in Australia, for vulnerable children, and vulnerable women who are affected by domestic violence,” she told the ABC.

The government committed $140 million for courts and the family law system in last year’s budget including money for a new family law judge, five registrars and support staff.

There was also funding for a range of legal programs but the attorney-general said any further money must be tied to genuine reform.

“There is simply no point pushing more funding into a failed structure,” Mr Porter said.

Ms Lynch is concerned the merger will put an extra burden on an underfunded system.

She’s pushing for extra funding for specialist representation for domestic violence victims who were increasingly having to represent themselves.

“They are facing off against their perpetrator and it’s a very unsafe situation.”

Women’s Legal Services is among more than 155 legal stakeholders who have consistently opposed the bill, including the Law Council of Australia, Community Legal Centres Australia and the National and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services.

In a joint statement, the coalition of stakeholders said the “flawed” bill is not only a “disappointing” outcome for children and families, but one that tasks judges with an “impossible task”. 

“For three years, we have put the merger proposal to proof,” the coalition said on Thursday. 

“Not because it was popular to do so, but to put to challenge a fundamental change that will directly impact on Australian lives and hard-working judges, because it is our job to advocate for the best outcomes for children, families and victim-survivors of family violence.” 

They said throughout the process, the advice of highly-respected experts has been “consistently disregarded”. 

“Like many others, we have warned of the dangers this legislation poses for the most vulnerable in our community at a time of relationship breakdown,” they said.

“We now call on the government to step up and properly fund the family law system and legal assistance, and to repair the years of government neglect of this critical infrastructure.”

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