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Home Affairs’ online team referred over 1,500 violent or extremist items for take-down




The Department of Home Affairs has a dedicated team to find content on social media sites that promotes hate, incites violence, or points to terrorist propaganda. The team then works with social media platforms to have that content removed.

In the 12 months to 31 March 2021, 1,559 pieces of terrorist and violent extremist content were referred. 95% of that, or 1,486 items, were in the religiously motivated violent extremism space. 3%, or 51 pieces of content, were defined as being ideologically motivated violent extremist material. The remaining 2% was not defined.

The team has a budget of around AU$3 million.

Appearing before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) as part of its inquiry into extremist movements and radicalism in Australia, Dr Richard Johnson, first assistant secretary of Home Affairs’ Social Cohesion team, said this isn’t necessarily reflective of the amount of content that’s out there, as the platforms themselves engage in their own takedown procedures.

But there are some platforms that don’t have a referral function, which Johnson said points usually to the nature of those particular sites.

While the Home Affairs team deals with the more mainstream platforms — such as Facebook and Instagram and Twitter — it also engages the likes of Telegram and 4chan.

“We have referred material before, whether we’re successful very much depends on the nature of the platform, how they’re operating in a particular jurisdiction, and also the ethos of the particular platform,” he clarified.

Senators were concerned the 1,559 figure was at odds with other statistics they have seen.

See also: Facebook tightens screws on QAnon and US militia groups

“Firstly, platforms themselves do a lot of work in the first instance, to remove such materials. Not all platforms do. Secondly, we work in the open source … space. So we’re not seeing everything that’s on the internet — we’re not working in encrypted chat rooms, etc,” he said. “Thirdly … some of the material falls short of the thresholds in the first instance. Some of the platforms that host some of the material just don’t have a referral function. So part of their raison d’etre, so to speak, is to host such content.”

Johnson said violent extremist material in particular is what the team is looking for, but it also tracks down the likes of manifestos or content that advocates or instructs on how to commit a terrorist offence.

“The online team is principally about understanding the narrative focal points … it’s certainly not tracking individuals in that sense,” Johnson said, responding to questioning on whether an individual displaying symbolism, such as a radical flag, on their own personal Facebook page.

That work, he said, falls more in the hands of the teams that work with community leaders, as one example, in prevention activities and material that is counter to extreme ideological perspectives individuals might be exposed to.

One such program run on behalf of the Department of Home Affairs by Icon Agency is Rapt!. Rapt!, its website says, celebrates the many ways Muslim Australians contribute to society and its culture, by sharing stories and reflecting on different beliefs and opinions. With a presence already on Facebook and Instagram, as well as the web, Johnson said a YouTube channel will launch soon.

Johnson was asked by Shadow Minister for Home Affairs Kristina Keneally in her capacity as a PJCIS member how the department is helping people understand, for example, what “shitposting” is.

“We’ve run a couple of digi-engage forums for young people to specifically take them through what they’re seeing on the internet, what some of the tropes are … there’s ironic nodes that some of these groups use, for example, how to see it, to recognise it, and even to engage with it in an attempt to challenge it, if that’s appropriate,” Johnson said. “So we’ve got a capability set of work that we do precisely for that on the online environment.”

With Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade counter terrorism ambassador Roger Noble pointing to the “dark web” as making violent and extremist material more accessible in his testimony earlier in the day, Home Affairs was asked what legislation would help law enforcement activities in the space.

Must read: Intelligence review recommends new electronic surveillance Act for Australia

Chris Teal, Home Affairs deputy secretary of social cohesion and citizenship and also the counter-terrorism and counter foreign interference coordinator, told Senators the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (High Risk Terrorist Offenders) Bill 2020 is of need, as is the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020 and the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (International Production Orders) Bill 2020.

“One of the flow-ons from Dr Johnson’s evidence is that a lot of this is occurring out of sight, on the dark web … one of the reasons I would contend that the numbers are as they are in relation to takedowns is because we’re on what I think is known as the surface web and apparently there’s a bad thing underneath it,” he said. “I think that the numbers that we’ve been talking about is not demonstrative of what’s out there. It’s demonstrative of what we can see.”

“The International Production Orders legislation currently before the Parliamentary Joint Committee will create a step change in the way in which Australia can request information directly from US companies and the evidence that Dr Johnson outlined about some of the companies that we work with … this will short circuit what is a very long process in mutual recognition and mutual exchange of information processes,” explained first assistant secretary of Home Affairs’ Cyber, Digital and Technology Policy team, Hamish Hansford.

“The committee will consider that our marching orders on that legislation,” PJCIS chair Senator James Paterson declared.

Appearing earlier in the day before the PCJIS, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) Director-General of Security Mike Burgess said the security legislation before Parliament would certainly help law enforcement, but said ASIO was content with the powers it is awarded under the Telecommunications and other Legislation Amendment (Assistance & Access) Act 2018 (TOLA Act).

“With TOLA, our investments in our capability to deal with this evolving — I’m satisfied at this point in time, we have the right legal mechanisms in place for my agency, noting my federal police colleagues have other needs that they’re prosecuting the case for now,” Burgess said.


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Budget 2021: NBN has repaid AU$5.5 billion of its AU$19.5 billion government loan




Over the past year, NBN has been lining up private debt at cheaper rates to replace its AU$19.5 billion loan from the Commonwealth.

Australian Budget 2021

Since March 2020, the company has raised AU$12 billion in new debt, with AU$1.6 billion from Australian five and 10-year bonds, and AU$8.5 billion from banks. In its December debt raising, the company raised AU$1.2 billion at 1%, while its government loan has an interest rate of 3.96%, with interest payments in 2021-22 to hit AU$759 million.

NBN has previously said it would use the new debt to pay down its old debt, but never detailed the full extent of its payments.

In the 2021 Budget papers, the Australian government revealed the extent to which NBN has met its obligations.

“The Australian government has provided a loan of AU$19.5 billion to NBN Co, on commercial terms, which was fully drawn in July 2020. The loan was established in December 2016 and must be repaid in full by 30 June 2024,” it said.

“AU$3 billion was repaid in December 2020 and a further AU$2.6 billion was repaid in May 2021, with an outstanding balance of AU$13.9 billion expected as at 30 June 2021. The loan has a fixed interest rate of 3.96% per annum, with interest payable monthly over the life of the facility.”

The government added its guarantee to cover NBN payments to Optus for using its cable network has generated liabilities under AU$200 million as of February 28 and the agreement is set to terminate in 2021.

For Telstra, under a similar arrangement covering its agreement with NBN Co, the liabilities reached AU$10.7 billion by February 28, with that guarantee to expire once NBN reaches a specified credit level for two continuous years, and when the company is capitalised to an agreed amount or the Communications Minister has declared the network is built, which occurred in December.

In recent weeks, NBN has amended some of its documents to state it has withdrawn its ethernet multicast functionality, dubbed Multicast Domain and Multicast AVC.

“Multicast is the future of television” a dated NBN document [PDF] proudly declared.

Due to lack of use, that future will never arrive.

Citizen, ScoMo wants to text you

Under the headline of “Building Australia’s Resilience”, the federal government has set aside AU$1.2 billion over four years to improve how Australia prepares, responds, and recovers from natural disasters.

A small portion of that funding, AU$2.2 million over two years, will be used to design a “cell broadcast national messaging system” that is intended to “provide information to the Australian public concerning events of national significance”.

In 2018, a similar system used in Hawaii sent residents scurrying after an emergency alert saying, “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill,” was mistakenly sent during an internal test.

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IBM just solved this quantum computing problem 120 times faster than previously possible




Using a combination of tweaked algorithms, improved control systems and a new quantum service called Qiskit Runtime, IBM researchers have managed to resolve a quantum problem 120 times faster than the previous time they gave it a go. 

Back in 2017, Big Blue announced that, equipped with a seven-qubit quantum processor, its researchers had successfully simulated the behavior of a small molecule called lithium hydride (LiH). At the time, the operation took 45 days. Now, four years later, the IBM Quantum team has announced that the same problem was solved in only nine hours

Quantum Computing

The simulation was run entirely on the cloud, through IBM’s Qiskit platform – an open-source library of tools that lets developers around the world create quantum programs and run them on prototype quantum devices that IBM makes available over the cloud. 

SEE: Building the bionic brain (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The speed-up that was observed was largely made possible thanks to a new quantum service, Qiskit Runtime, which was key to reducing latencies during the simulation.  

IBM teased Qiskit Runtime earlier this year as part of the company’s software roadmap for quantum computing, and at the time estimated that the new service would lead to a 100-time speed-up in workloads. With a reported 120-time speed-up, therefore, it seems that Big Blue has exceeded its own objectives. 

Quantum programs: blending classical processors and quantum circuits 

Classical computing remains a fundamental part of Qiskit, and of any quantum operation carried out over the cloud. A quantum program can effectively be broken down into two parts: using classical hardware, like a laptop, developers send queries over the cloud to the quantum hardware – in this case, to IBM’s quantum computation center in Poughkeepsie, New York. 

“The quantum method isn’t just a quantum circuit that you execute,” Blake Johnson, quantum platform lead at IBM Quantum, tells ZDNet. “There is an interaction between a classical computing resource that makes queries to the quantum hardware, then interprets those results to make new queries. That conversation is not a one-off thing – it’s happening over and over again, and you need it to be fast.” 

With every request that is sent, a few tens of thousands of quantum circuits are executed. To simulate the small LiH molecule, for example, 4.1 billion circuits were executed, which corresponds to millions of queries going back and forth between the classical resource and the quantum one. 

When this conversation happens in the cloud, over an internet connection, between a user’s laptop and IBM’s US-based quantum processors, latency can quickly become a significant hurdle.

Case in point: while solving a problem as complex as molecular simulation in 45 days is a start, it isn’t enough to achieve the quantum strides that scientists are getting excited about. 

“We currently have a system that isn’t architected intrinsically around the fact that real workloads have these quantum-classical loops,” says Johnson. 

Based on this observation, IBM’s quantum team set out to build Qiskit Runtime – a system that is built to natively accelerate the execution of a quantum program by removing some of the friction associated with the back-and-forth that is on-going between the quantum and the classical world. 

Qiskit Runtime creates a containerized execution environment located beside the quantum hardware. Rather than sending many queries from their device to the cloud-based quantum computer, developers can therefore send entire programs to the Runtime environment, where the IBM hybrid cloud uploads and executes the work for them. 

In other words, the loops that happen between the classical and the quantum environment are contained within Runtime – which itself is near to the quantum processor. This effectively slashes the latencies that emerge from communicating between a user’s computer and the quantum processor. 

“The classical part, which generates queries to the quantum hardware, can now be run in a container platform that is co-located with the quantum hardware,” explains Johnson. “The program executing there can ask a question to the quantum hardware and get a response back very quickly. It is a very low-cost interaction, so those loops are now suddenly much faster.” 

The multiple faces of quantum computing 

Improving the accuracy and scale of quantum calculations is no easy task. 

Until now, explains Johnson, much of the research effort has focused on improving the quality of the quantum circuit. In practice, this has meant developing software that helps correct errors and add fault tolerance to the quantum hardware. 

Qiskit Runtime, in this sense, marks a change in thinking: instead of working on the quality of quantum hardware, says Johnson, the system increases the overall program’s capacity. 

It remains true that the 120-times speed-up would not have been possible without additional tweaks to the hardware performance.

Algorithmic improvements, for example, reduced the number of iterations of the model that were required to receive a final answer by two to 10 times; while better processor performance meant that each iteration of the algorithm required less circuit runs. 

At the same time, upgrades to the system software and control systems reduced the amount of time per circuit execution for each iteration. 

“The quality is a critical ingredient that also makes the whole system run faster,” says Johnson. “It is the harmonious improvement of quality and capacity working together that makes the system faster.” 

Now that the speed-up has been demonstrated in simulating the LiH molecule, Johnson is hoping to see developers use the improved technology to experiment with quantum applications in a variety of different fields beyond chemistry. 

In another demonstration, for example, IBM’s quantum team used Qiskit Runtime to run a machine-learning program for a classification task. The new system was able to execute the workload and find the optimal model to label a set of data in a timescale that Johnson described as “meaningful”. 

Qiskit Runtime will initially be released in beta, for a select number of users from IBM’s Q Network, and will come with a fixed set-up of programs that are configurable. IBM expects that the system will be available to every user of the company’s quantum services in the third quarter of 2021. 

Combined with the 127-qubit quantum processor, called the IBM Quantum Eagle, which is slated for later this year, Big Blue hopes that the speed-up enabled by Runtime will mean that a lot of tasks that were once thought impractical on quantum computers will now be achievable.  

The system certainly sets IBM on track to meet the objectives laid out in the company’s quantum software roadmap, which projects that there will be frictionless quantum computing in a number of applications by 2025. 


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Budget 2021: A ‘patent box’ to sprout innovation and talent attraction measures




As part of its digital economy strategy, unveiled ahead of the federal Budget on Thursday, the government promised to deliver tax incentives for businesses to “stimulate investment in digital technologies to enhance their productivity and grow and create jobs”.

This included a “digital games tax offset” for qualifying Australian games expenditure to eligible businesses, which will see the introduction of a 30% refundable tax offset for eligible businesses that spend a minimum of AU$500,000 on qualifying Australian games expenditure; the ability for taxpayers to self-assess the effective life of certain depreciating intangible assets; and the government undertaking assessment reviews of the venture capital tax concessions to ensure they are achieving their intended objectives.

“The government will allow taxpayers to self-assess the tax effective lives of eligible intangible depreciating assets, such as patents, registered designs, copyrights, and in-house software,” it added on Tuesday night.

This measure will apply to assets acquired from 1 July 2023, after the temporary full expensing regime has concluded.

This measure is expected to cost AU$170 million over the forward estimates.

The government also added a handful of measures to this umbrella on Tuesday, including a promise to reduce red tape and remove cessation of employment as a taxing point where Employee Share Schemes (ESS) are concerned.

“Employers use ESS to attract, retain, and motivate staff by issuing interests such as shares, rights (including options) or other financial products to their employees, usually at a discount,” the Budget papers explain.

Currently, under a tax-deferred ESS, where certain criteria are met, employees may defer tax until a later tax year — the deferred taxing point. This change will result in tax being deferred until the earliest of the remaining taxing points, instead.

“This measure will help Australian companies to engage and retain the talent they need to compete on a global stage, which is consistent with recommendations from the Global Business and Talent Attraction Taskforce,” it said.

The measure is expected to decrease receipts by AU$550 million over the forward estimates period.

In a bid to back Australian science and technology, the government has also announced the introduction of the “patent box”.

“The government will introduce a patent box tax regime to further encourage innovation in Australia by taxing corporate income derived from patents at a concessional effective corporate tax rate of 17%, with the concession applying from income years starting on or after 1 July 2022,” it said.

It hopes the patent box will drive research in medical and biotech technologies, and support skilled jobs by encouraging companies to base their R&D laboratories in Australia.

“The government will consult closely with industry on the design of the patent box and explore whether expanding the incentive would be an effective way of supporting clean energy,” it said.

Elsewhere, the government will also remove the concessional 10% effective tax rate that applies to income derived from eligible offshore banking activities, under the banner of “removing the preferential tax treatment for Offshore Banking Units”.

It believes the measure will address concerns raised by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development over preferential tax treatment.

The measure is flagged as AU$160 million over forward estimates.

The government said it will also update the list of jurisdictions that have an effective information sharing agreement with Australia.

“The measure will help maintain alignment between the [exchange of information] relationships that have been established and the concessional [Managed Investment Trust] withholding rate, to encourage jurisdictions to establish information sharing agreements with Australia,” the Budget documents state.

“These agreements form an important part of Australia’s commitment to safeguard against offshore tax avoidance and evasion.”

The government will also be providing the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) with AU$1.9 million capital funding in 2022-23 to build an online system to enhance the transparency of income tax exemptions claimed by not-for-profit entities.

Currently, non-charitable NFPs can self-assess their eligibility for income tax exemptions, without an obligation to report to the ATO. From 1 July 2023, the ATO will require income tax exempt NFPs with an active Australian Business Number (ABN) to submit online annual self-review forms with the information they ordinarily use to self-assess their eligibility for the exemption.

Elsewhere, the government will extend the power of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) to pause or modify ATO debt recovery action in relation to disputed debts that are being reviewed by the Small Business Taxation Division (SBTD) of the AAT.

This measure will take effect from the date of Royal Assent of the enabling legislation.

Australian Budget 2021

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Budget 2021: Digital mental health services to see AU$110m injection




The Australian government will provide AU$111.2 million over four years to expand and enhance the nation’s digital mental health services to provide Australians with easier access to high quality digital mental health services.

The decision to allocate funds into expanding digital mental services was made to ensure Australians are able to quickly access appropriate care, Budget documents say. The funding is part of a larger AU$2.3 billion package dedicated specifically for expanding Australia’s mental health and suicide prevention services.

“The AU$2.3 billion package in this Budget is a first step to responding to recommendations from the Productivity Commission and the National Suicide Prevention Adviser. With this commitment to Australians’ mental health, the government is laying the foundations for systemic, whole-of-government reform to deliver preventative, compassionate, and effective care,” the government said.

AU$117.2 million will also be spent over four years, from 2012-22, to establish a national database on service delivery, performance, and outcomes across the mental health system. 

Meanwhile, AU$365.7 million will spent on improving access to primary care and other health services in residential aged care, with some of that to go into digital assistance to make it easier to navigate the aged care system. The government did not provide details on how much would be spent on improving digital assistance, however.

Money has also been allocated towards modernising diagnostic imaging, with AU$7.2 million to be spent on the development of an integrated electronic diagnostic imaging referral system.

The federal government also provided more details on its decision to extend financial support for telehealth services to the end of the year, detailing that it will provide an additional AU$204.6 million, instead of the AU$114 million it initially declared, as part of the 2021-22 Budget.

The extension of telehealth includes services for general practitioners, medical practitioners, specialists, consultant physicians, nurse practitioners, participating midwives, allied health providers, and dental practitioners.

The additional funding comes off the back of telehealth services being used by millions of Australians. A fortnight ago, Health Minister Greg Hunt said over 56 million COVID-19 Medicare Benefits Scheme telehealth services were delivered to 13.6 million patients from 13 March 2020 to 21 April 2021.


  • Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
  • Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
  • MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
  • Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
  • Headspace on 1800 650 890
  • QLife on 1800 184 527

Australian Budget 2021

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