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EDITORIAL

The rise of a new, invisible global contagion

The frightening assault on democracy which has unspooled in America over recent months is simply one aspect of the acceleration of efforts by extremist groups, cultists, merchants of hate and intolerance, and already entrenched authoritarian rulers to reshape societies in a new way – their way!
The new threats to global peace and stability are taking place at a time when normal societal checks and balances have been compromised by the impacts and constraints imposed by the COVID-19 virus and the apparently increasingly adverse effects of climate change.
The new contagion now evident in the world can be characterised as the failure of honesty and the death of truth on the part of those who seek to remake the world in their image and impose their vision of reality on the societies they seek to create.
Those who hold extreme views are not new.
Such individuals and groups have been elements of most societies for centuries.
However, things have changed in the past decade or so.
The uncompromising spruikers of the left and right, COVID-19 deniers, anti-vaxers, racists, unhinged prophets, fervent nihilists, conspiracy theory creators, QAnon ratbags, anarchists, libertarian fantasists, religious zealots, and political strongmen who despise democracy and all it stands for have eagerly adopted the digital technologies of the modern world to increase their reach and power by many orders of magnitude.
The role of ‘state actors’ (government-supported sources) to produce misinformation and ‘fake news’ is now well-recognised and well-documented.
But, no longer do loyal enthusiasts of domestic falsehood have to conduct letter box drops, stick up some posters or daub slogans on walls.
The internet, through a multitude of platforms and techniques, allows any tech-savvy group to spread its message far and wide.
Professionally-prepared material can be transmitted, inserted, and promulgated almost anywhere very quickly.
Information can be safely encrypted and sent to chapters, branches and sympathiser easily across national borders.
And it is not only the supporters who can be reached.
Clever techniques for reaching and convincing millions of ordinary people about ‘alternative facts’ – or, in fact, fake news – has been proven to be outstandingly successful.
Why, even mainstream media can be encouraged to promote and authenticate material that is actually false.
Look how quickly the false claim that Australia’s terrible bushfires in 2019/20 were the work of organised arsonists took hold!
The success of outgoing President Trump to convince scores of millions of American supporters that the 2020 Presidential election had been highjacked and its outcome manipulated to give Mr Joe Biden an undeserved victory has created seismic shifts in the American political scene which may play out for many months ahead.
The success of the oft-repeated lie by Mr Trump and his team that the election had been ‘stolen’ is also evident in the fact that a very large number of Republican politicians still hold the view that Mr Trump actually won the election – when sufficient factual evidence abounds that the 2020 election result convincingly went Mr Biden’s way.
Of course it is not only in America that political honesty can be said to have failed.
The failure of honesty and the death of truth is evident in a dishearteningly lengthy list of nations, large and small, around the world. China, Brazil, Hungary, North Korea, Russia … the Middle East … the list is easy to compile,
That Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites have taken steps to limit or otherwise exclude fake and/or anti-social material from their platforms is perhaps a somewhat belated realisation that such multi-billion dollar businesses do actually have a degree of social responsibility and care when it comes the transmission of untruthful material that actually scorn recognised boundaries of freedom of speech.
Freedom of speech remains a cornerstone of democracy but with the right to publish views, opinions and information comes responsibility.
The failure of honesty leads to the death of truth.
We need to be on our guard in the new digital environment against those who seek to mislead or destabilise our society.
People everywhere must also insist that those who seek to govern us must know that if they fail the honesty test then they have failed their right to represent us.

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Your Say

COVID-19 vaccination ‘key’ in the fight against the virus

We are still winning, but we have not yet won the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many readers would be aware of a confirmed case of COVID-19 travelling through Nyngan, Broken Hill and Orange at the beginning of January, and once again, I urge everyone to remain vigilant and monitor the latest information here.
The vaccination is a key component of how we’re dealing with the pandemic here in Australia, and the Prime Minister reassured the public that officials have been moving swiftly and safely to introduce the vaccine as soon as is safely possible.
In my view, we will not defeat the virus in Australia unless we have an extremely high rate of vaccination.
The Prime Minister is confident vaccinations of high priority groups will be able to commence in mid to late February.
This will remain conditional: most importantly, on final TGA approval and the delivery of the vaccine from suppliers. The vaccine is a two-shot process which needs to be managed, particularly for priority populations.
There will be five phases of priority populations over the course of 2021 to administer the vaccine: both the Pfizer vaccine and the AZ vaccine. Populations in the first phase are quarantine and border workers, front line health officials, those working in aged care and disability care, and those in aged care, and disability care residents.
Worth noting is the fact that vaccination is not a silver bullet. Once the vaccination starts, COVID-safe practices do not end – they will continue.
Mark Coulton, Member for Parkes.

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