Behind Victoria’s decision to open primary schools to all students: report shows COVID transmission is rare

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Kathleen Ryan, Research Fellow, Asia-Pacific Health, Infection and Immunity Theme, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

At the weekend, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews announced all the state’s primary school kids would return to school for Term 4. This is an update from the previously planned staggered return to primary school, which would begin only with students in the early years — prep (first year) to Year 2.

The change was informed by our analysis of Victorian health and education department data on all cases and contacts linked to outbreaks at schools and early childhood education and care services (childcare and preschool).

We included data between January 25 (the date of the first known case in Victoria) and August 31.

Our analysis found children younger than 13 seem to transmit the virus less than teenagers and adults. In instances where the first case in a school was a child under 13, a subsequent outbreak (two or more cases) was uncommon. This finding played a key role in helping make the decision for primary school children to return to school.

Here is what else we found.

1. Outbreaks in childcare and schools are driven by community transmission

Infections linked to childcare, preschools and schools peaked when community transmission was highest in July, and declined in August. In addition, they were most common in the geographical areas where community transmission was also high.

This suggests infections in childcare, preschools and schools are driven primarily by transmission in the broader community. Controlling community transmission is key to preventing school outbreaks.

2. School infections are much lower than in the community

There were 1,635 infections linked with childcare, preschools and schools out of a total of 19,109 cases in Victoria (between January 25 and August 31).

Of 1 million students enrolled in all Victorian schools, 337 may have acquired the virus through outbreaks at school.


Read more: Coronavirus disrupted my kid’s first year of school. Will that set them back?


Of 139 staff and 373 students who may have acquired infection through outbreaks at childcare, preschools or schools, eight (four staff and four students) were admitted to hospital, and all recovered.

The infections in childcare, preschools and schools were very rarely linked to infections in the elderly, who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

3. Most infections in schools and childcare centres were well contained

Of all the outbreaks in Victorian childcare centres, preschools and schools, 66% involved only a single infection in a staff member or student and did not progress to an outbreak. And 91% involved fewer than ten cases.

Testing, tracing and isolation within 48 hours of a notification is the most important strategy to prevent an outbreak.

The majority of infections in childcare, preschools and schools were well contained with existing controls and rapid closure (within two days), contact tracing and cleaning.


Read more: Are the kids alright? Social isolation can take a toll, but play can help


4. Households are the main source of infection, not schools

The investigations of cases identified in schools suggest child-to-child transmission in schools is uncommon, and not the primary cause of infection in children. Household transmission has been consistently found to be the most common source of infection for children.

Closing schools should be a last resort

Based on our findings and a review of the international literature, we recommend prioritising childcare centres, preschools and schools to reopen and stay open to guarantee equitable learning environments — and to lessen the effects of school closures.

Children do transmit the virus and outbreaks can occur. But based on the international literature, this mostly happens when there are high rates of community transmission and a lack of adherence to mitigation measures (such as social distancing) at the school or childcare centre.

Childcare centres, preschools and schools play a critical role not only in providing education, but also offering additional support for vulnerable students.

With childcare centres and schools being closed, along with the additional economic and psychological stress on families, family conflict and violence has increased. This has led to many children and young people feeling unsafe and left behind in their education and suffering mental-health conditions.

Closing all schools as part of large-scale restrictions should be a last resort. This is especially the case for childcare centres, preschools and primary schools, as children in these age groups are less likely to transmit the virus, and be associated with an outbreak.

Now that community transmission in Victoria is so low, it’s time for all kids to go back to school.


Read more: From WW2 to Ebola: what we know about the long-term effects of school closures


The authors would like to thank their advisory committee from the Department of Education and Training and the Department of Health and Human Services. They would also like to thank outbreak epidemiologists at the DHHS and medical students Alastair Weng, Angela Zhu, Anthea Tsatsaronis, Benjamin Watson, Julian Loo Yong Kee, Natalie Commins, Nicholas Wu, Renee Cocks, Timothy O’Hare, and research assistant Kanwal Saleem, and Belle Overmars.

ref. Behind Victoria’s decision to open primary schools to all students: report shows COVID transmission is rare – https://theconversation.com/behind-victorias-decision-to-open-primary-schools-to-all-students-report-shows-covid-transmission-is-rare-147006

As universities face losing 1 in 10 staff, COVID-driven cuts create 4 key risks

As universities face losing 1 in 10 staff, COVID-driven cuts create 4 key risks

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Ian Marshman, Honorary Principal Fellow, Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Melbourne

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a sudden and very big decline in Australian universities’ revenue as a result of the loss of international student enrolments. Being excluded from the federal government’s JobKeeper program has forced universities to embark on immediate and sustained cost-cutting. Our newly released research identifies several significant risks associated with this approach.

Most universities have tried to reduce the impact on their permanent workforce. They have contained infrastructure programs and other operational costs, cut executives’ pay, reduced casual staff, frozen hiring and drawn on any available reserves.

However, 57% of Australian university expenditure is allocated to employment and related costs of an estimated total higher education workforce of 137,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff in 2019. Workforce savings are an inevitable consequence.


Read more: Why is the Australian government letting universities suffer?


Drawing on media reporting of university responses to mid-September 2020, we estimate the financial impact of the pandemic at A$3.8 billion for 2020. We estimate overall job loss expectations for continuing appointments to be at least 5,600 full-time equivalent staff. A conservative 25% reduction in casual and research-only fixed-term staff could result in further losses equivalent to 7,500 FTE, or an estimated 17,500 people.

In FTE terms, the total loss amounts to 10% of the workforce. In terms of the number of individuals losing jobs, the loss is greater.


Read more: More than 70% of academics at some universities are casuals. They’re losing work and are cut out of JobKeeper


Two approaches to cutting staff costs

To date, Australian public universities have taken two different approaches to cutting employment costs.

Firstly, ten universities have gained staff support to vary their enterprise agreements. These universities have individually adopted an approach similar to an earlier national Job Protection Framework proposal. That arrangement failed to gain sector-wide consensus.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Being denied access to the Morrison government’s JobKeeper program has forced universities to cut tens of thousands of jobs. Dean Lewins/AAP

Enterprise agreement variations enable these universities to reduce or delay job losses by freezing salary increases and purchasing leave entitlements. While saving some jobs, some of these universities have continued with agreed voluntary redundancy programs this year and are reserving options for next year.

Secondly, 17 universities have taken a management-led approach. These universities have implemented voluntary and involuntary redundancy programs within the framework of existing enterprise agreements.

Of the remaining universities, one has signalled it is not anticipating significant workforce change. Nine are still considering their responses, or are in discussions with staff and unions, or there is limited publicly available information.


Read more: COVID-19: what Australian universities can do to recover from the loss of international student fees


What risks do job cuts create?

Clearly, there is an immediate imperative driving most universities to reduce staff numbers. However, a COVID-19 response based on widespread staff reductions creates risks for universities. These include:

1. Inability to teach growing numbers of domestic students

Despite a decline in international students, some universities are reporting increased demand for domestic university places in semester 2 of 2020. A forecast decline in employment opportunities is likely to increase pressure on universities in 2021 to increase enrolments beyond 2020’s planned levels.

Across the board, voluntary redundancy programs are likely to lead to academic staff shortages in some discipline areas and loss of academic leaders. This could result in:

  • reduced capacity to absorb the increased demand for places

  • a decline in the quality of programs

  • diminished skilling of the future workforce.

2. Impact on research productivity

Reducing casual staff will increase pressure on continuing and fixed-term staff to dedicate more time to teaching and less to research. Research capacity will be reduced. Cuts to fixed-term early career researchers are an easy but not a strategic approach.


Read more: Job-ready graduates changes loom as last straw for emerging researchers


Combined, such actions will reduce research output. The result will be a decline in the overall capability of Australian university research.

3. Less capacity to reconfigure and rebuild to be effective in a post-COVID world.

Continual redundancy rounds and “death by a thousand cuts” are an undesirable consequence of many “bottom-up” voluntary redundancy processes. These are essentially tactical rather than strategy-led initiatives. They lead to diminished institutional capability and loss of institutional memory.

This is happening at a time that demands rethinking of the whole of higher education. This approach should include:

  • a greater focus on evidence-based and targeted cost reductions

  • investment in and development of new growth opportunities

  • an enhanced digital learning and student experience.


Read more: New learning economy challenges unis to be part of reshaping lifelong education


4. A weaker international market position

An inability to maintain current levels of academic commitment to research risks a slide in world rankings if universities elsewhere sustain their research productivity. This would reduce the attractiveness of Australian universities for international students and international research and industry collaborations. And that, in turn, would threaten future funding of higher education.

Universities have a significant role in the national and global COVID-19 recovery. They must contribute to the reskilling of workers and employment growth, provide educational opportunities for school leavers, research medical innovations such as COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, and collaborate in creating new industries and jobs.

This national role is threatened by an apparent unwillingness on the part of government to recognise and respond to the funding crisis in Australian higher education. Universities face a difficult balancing act to avoid cutting staff numbers so deeply that they lose the capacity to support the nation’s recovery, maintain international standing, drive innovation and discovery, and contribute to the well-being and prosperity of all Australians.


This article was co-authored by Teresa Tjia, a strategic adviser with senior executive experience in higher education. The article is based on more detailed analysis, which can be found here.

ref. As universities face losing 1 in 10 staff, COVID-driven cuts create 4 key risks – https://theconversation.com/as-universities-face-losing-1-in-10-staff-covid-driven-cuts-create-4-key-risks-147007

Birthdays, holidays, Christmas without mum or dad: how to support kids with a parent away fighting fires

Birthdays, holidays, Christmas without mum or dad: how to support kids with a parent away fighting fires

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Marg Rogers, Lecturer, Early Childhood Education, University of New England

Among the sacrifices made by firefighters, and those who support fire-affected communities, is precious time spent with family. In California, thousands of firefighters and community support workers or volunteers have missed important moments such as birthdays, school events or family gatherings.

In Australia, where bushfire season includes December-January, thousands routinely miss out on Christmas, New Year’s Eve and chunks of school holidays with family because they’re off fighting fires or helping those affected. Some only go home to sleep before returning to the fire front. Others are deprived of family time for weeks or months.

My research focuses on how to support children with at least one parent who must travel afar for work (such as military families). But the same techniques may apply in households with a firefighter or other fire-affected community support worker in the family.

A volunteer firefighter hoses a forest.
Many parents found open communication useful, explaining why they work away, where they are going, and what they will do. RICHARD WAINWRIGHT/AAP Image

How might children respond?

Children might respond to parents working away for long periods:

Children are never too young to realise a parent is missing.


Read more: How to support children whose parent works away for long periods


Parents can prepare

I conducted research with 19 children aged between 2 and 5 who had a parent who worked away at times. I also talked to one of their parents and educators about the children’s and family’s responses, strengths and coping strategies.

Many parents find it useful to explain why they work away, where they are going, and what they will do using age-appropriate language.

Some found it helpful to mark where they were going on a globe or map, repeating the story each day for a few weeks before leaving. Where possible, homemade sticker calendars marked off the days until the parent returned.

A young child photographs a burnt out landscape
Develop and practice a narrative simple enough for the child to repeat. For example: ‘Mum is away fighting fires. She will be home after New Year.’ Shutterstock

Pictures can help explain the roles of emergency services, defence personnel, front line workers and volunteers. Discuss how these workers use their skills to save people, forests, animals, farms and buildings. Partner with children’s educators to find resources to help children understand.

Talk about other jobs where parents work away, and explore some of the children’s resources available, including those designed for children with a disability or language delay. Share these, and bushfire resources, with educators. Children’s educators can be a great support when parents work away.

Develop and practice a narrative simple enough for the child to repeat. For example, “Mum is away fighting fires. She will be home after New Year.” This can improve children’s confidence.

Children should be able to talk about their fears

Some children fear their parent will be killed or injured when they work away. Parents can and should encourage children to talk openly about their fears.

Showing children pictures of safety precautions and equipment they use might reduce fears. Consider restricting unsupervised use of media to reduce exposure to the news. Telling their educators about children’s fears can be useful.

Two firefighters face a blaze.
Parents can and should encourage children to talk openly about fears they have regarding their parents work or service. Shutterstock

Parents found pets could be a comfort and a conversation topic. Some bought a new pet before they went away, asking for updates and photos (of course, pet ownership is a long term commitment and is not a decision that should be made lightly).

Other parents allowed pets to comfort children at night by letting the pet inside when they were away.

I’m here, you’re there, but we’re still in touch

Setting up a joint project before the parent goes away can increase children’s confidence and agency. Examples include a vegetable garden, flowerpots, worm or mushroom farms, craft projects, dolls house or adventure kingdom using recycled materials. Children can continue the project and send updates and photos.

When children missed their parent, the “at home” parents asked the child to draw what they were looking forward to doing with the “away” parent when they returned. These were photographed and sent to the parent via messages, emails or post. Parents set up a basket for these drawings. The “away” parent could then work through the activities on their return.

A parent and child water a garden.
Setting up a joint project, such as a garden, before the parent goes away can be helpful. Shutterstock

Providing art and craft materials for children helped them to express feelings. Some young children made faces out of modelling clay to show how they felt when their parent worked away.

Self-soothing tools

Other parents of young children used mascots, such as two teddy bears: one for the child and one for the away parent. The child could hug the bear when they wanted to cuddle the parent, and was told the parent would feel the hug (and vice versa). The parent took photos of the bear in different locations, as did the child did during outings.

A child and a teddy, both wearing masks, look out a window.
Some parents gave the child a teddy and had a matching one for themself. The child was able to hug the bear when they wanted to cuddle the parent. Shutterstock

Children found comfort in video and audio recordings of the parent reading bedtime stories, including short stories they enjoyed as a child. A small photo album featuring the child and the parent next to the child’s bed also helped. Some parents also allowed children to sit on the “away” parent’s loungechair when they were absent.

Overall, parents found children responded to situations differently, but finding strategies that boosted understanding and maintained connection with the absent parent built resilience.


Read more: Value beyond money: Australia’s special dependence on volunteer firefighters


ref. Birthdays, holidays, Christmas without mum or dad: how to support kids with a parent away fighting fires – https://theconversation.com/birthdays-holidays-christmas-without-mum-or-dad-how-to-support-kids-with-a-parent-away-fighting-fires-146317

With polls showing Labour could govern alone, is New Zealand returning to the days of ‘elected dictatorship’?

With polls showing Labour could govern alone, is New Zealand returning to the days of elected dictatorship?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Richard Shaw, Professor of Politics, Massey University

In the mid-1990s New Zealanders adopted electoral rules they hoped would end the tyranny of what Lord Hailsham once called the “elected dictatorship” of single-party majority government. And yet, a quarter century later, we are staring down the barrel of just that.

In the New Zealand parliament, which typically numbers 120 MPs, the threshold for this political grail is 61 seats. The latest polls indicate the Labour Party would exceed this number if it maintains its current popularity.

That’s significant because in parliamentary democracies single-party majority governments are powerful beasts, able to wield executive and legislative power without recourse to coalition or compromise with other parties.

Moreover, when the constitutional constraints on the (mis)use of executive authority are pretty feeble — as is the case here, with our dispersed constitution, limited scope of judicial review and unicameral legislature — such administrations have a propensity to go rogue.

Governments behaving badly

During the 1980s and 1990s, governments of both the centre-left and centre-right displayed stunning levels of executive arrogance: routinely ignoring pre-election commitments, embarking on structural reforms without mandates, and making a virtue of taking “hard” decisions that enriched some and made life miserable for many.

So in 1993 voters changed the rules, ditching the old first-past-the-post (FPP) system, which regularly delivered outsized parliamentary majorities to either Labour or National, in favour of mixed member proportional representation (MMP).


Read more: The major parties’ tax promises are more about ideology and psychology than equity or fairness for New Zealanders


Under the new system, providing a party wins at least 5% of the vote or one constituency seat (either Māori or general), its share of parliamentary seats is in more or less direct proportion to its support among voters.

That “more or less” is important. Depending on how many votes go to parties that fail to clear the threshold, a major party can win slightly less than a majority of the vote but still control a parliamentary majority.

For instance, last week’s 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton poll had Labour securing 62 seats on the basis of 48% support. That’s because the same poll showed a combined 7% support for parties that would not make it into parliament.

The eight seats represented by that so-called “wasted vote” would effectively be shared pro rata between the elected parties: Labour would pick up four, giving the party a majority.

Electoral snapshot as at September 27: a single-party majority government is possible. Screenshot/Newshub-Reid Research

Would Labour form a coalition anyway?

There has not been a reputable poll since March that does not put Labour in a position to govern alone. For some, and not just those on the political right, this is a concern. New Zealanders have become accustomed to power sharing rather than the power hoarding that is the hallmark of single-party majority, winner-takes-all government.

But are we necessarily staring back to the future? If Jacinda Ardern wakes up on October 18 (or when the official results are announced on November 6) with a parliamentary majority, what might she do?


Read more: With the election campaign underway, can the law protect voters from fake news and conspiracy theories?


The cautious approach (and the prime minister is nothing if not cautious) would be to form an arrangement with another party. For one thing, it is useful to have someone else to blame when things go wrong (as they will).

Also, Ardern knows the support she and her party currently enjoy is unlikely to last for the next three (let alone six or nine) years. Voters shop around. The last time a party won an election with a majority of the vote was in 1951.

Labour has never won more than 41.5% of the vote under MMP. To become the natural party of government it will need allies for those times when its vote falls beneath what is required to govern alone.

Electoral snapshot as at September 22: even at 48% Labour could form a parliamentary majority.

The temptation to go it alone

The other option is to go full retro: throw off the handbrake of current coalition partner New Zealand First, put aside the Greens (assuming they make it back in) and go it alone.

That would be tempting: no need to share scarce executive slots, plus the ability to legislate unimpeded by the moderating constraints of multi-party government.

Across all eight MMP elections the average vote share of the highest-polling party has been 42%. But that figure is climbing. In the first four elections it was 39%, but across the next four it rose to 46%. Under MMP, that is getting very close to winner-takes-all territory.


Read more: The missing question from New Zealand’s cannabis debate: what about personal freedom and individual rights?


In that sense, New Zealand has been flirting with a return to elected dictatorships since 2008. The go-it-alone option might not be the outlier it seems.

There is no MMP commandment that “thou shalt not have single-party majority governments”. Electoral systems translate votes into seats in the legislature. If a single-party majority government takes office next month it will do so because a near or clear majority of voters wanted one (unlike the last one in 1993, which was chosen by 35% of voters).

Underneath this lies the question of how executive power is constrained. Having changed the system to end a tradition of elected dictatorship, New Zealand may have to admit that the question has not yet been properly answered.

ref. With polls showing Labour could govern alone, is New Zealand returning to the days of ‘elected dictatorship’? – https://theconversation.com/with-polls-showing-labour-could-govern-alone-is-new-zealand-returning-to-the-days-of-elected-dictatorship-146918

We’re facing an insolvency tsunami. With luck, these changes will avert the worst of it

Were facing an insolvency tsunami. With luck, these changes will avert the worst of it

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Anil Hargovan, Associate Professor, UNSW

Ahead of the budget, the government has announced new rules that will allow small businesses at risk of collapse to continue to work out their problems instead of appointing an administrator.

They are needed because of an avalanche of insolvencies awaiting the end of an effective moratorium on bankruptcies (a so-called “regulatory shield”) that expires at the end of December.

Since it was introduced in March the number of companies entering external administration has been unusually low compared to earlier years (at a time of unusually bad conditions) suggesting a buildup of zombie companies waiting to die.


Number of companies entering external administration

Twelve months to each week (red) versus previous twelve months. ASIC

The new rules will allow insolvent small businesses with liabilities of less than A$1 million to keep trading under the eye of a small business restructuring practitioner for 20 days while they develop a restructuring plan to put to creditors rather than surrender control to an external administrator.

If half the creditors by value endorse the plan it will be approved and the business can continue under its present ownership with assistance from the restructuring practitioner. If not, it can be put out of its life quickly under a proposed simplified liquidation process.

Existing laws give directors little leeway

Under the current insolvent trading law, directors are expected to immediately stop the trading when they know or have reasonable grounds to suspect the company is insolvent. Directors who “give it a go” and try to trade their way out of financial difficulty face severe legal consequences: personal liability, a fine of up to $1.11 million per offence or a prison sentence of up to 15 years in extreme cases.

The only way to avoid these penalties is to quickly place the company in the hands of the administrator who temporarily manages the business until the company’s creditors make a decision on the company’s fate.

Its a regime not particularly suited to small businesses.


Read more: Australia needs new insolvency laws to encourage small businesses


The proposed new rules can be seen as a tacit admission of the failure to the “safe harbour” law reform of 2017. Applicable to all companies irrespective of size, it protects directors from personal liability for debts incurred by an insolvent company if they took a course of action “reasonably likely to lead to a better outcome” for the company and its creditors than administration or liquidation.

Anecdotal evidence suggests it is largely shunned by small businesses in part because of its uncapped cost. The fees of small business restructuring practitioners will be capped.

The new laws will create breathing space

The new rules are based on Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, with important differences.

The US law applies to all Companies, not just to those with debts of less than $1 million. And it gives the court an oversight role.

The absence of judicial supervision in what’s proposed for Australia is a double-edged sword. Court involvement generally means delays and high costs.


Read more: Government will reform insolvency system to improve distressed small businesses’ survival chances


On the other hand, it provides a valuable check against abuses – such as the deliberate liquidation and rebirth of “phoenix companies” in order to avoid paying debts.

In Australia, that’ll be the role of the small business restructuring practitioner.

It’s not yet clear how they’ll work

It won’t be a panacea for small businesses. They will be required to lodge any outstanding tax returns and pay any employee entitlements before a plan can be put to creditors.

In the current circumstances many small businsses will not be able to comply.

There’s much we don’t yet know about what’s proposed. The government’s briefing says time and cost savings will be achieved through “reduced investigative requirements”. It is unclear to what the extent the liquidator’s wide investigative powers into reasons for business failures will be curtailed.

The changes likely to have profound implications for many stakeholders, including creditors, employees and the general community.

It is important that the government consults properly before the new rules are put to parliament in time for their introduction on January 1.

ref. We’re facing an insolvency tsunami. With luck, these changes will avert the worst of it – https://theconversation.com/were-facing-an-insolvency-tsunami-with-luck-these-changes-will-avert-the-worst-of-it-146833

Not much relief for parents, but new childcare measures will rescue providers (again)

Not much relief for parents, but new childcare measures will rescue providers (again)

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Kate Noble, Education Policy Fellow, Mitchell Institute, Victoria University

Childcare will reopen to all Melbourne families this week, as the Australian government’s latest childcare support package comes into effect. Education Minister Dan Tehan has pledged:

an additional A$305.6 million for families and childcare providers to deliver hip pocket relief and ensure the sector remains open to help drive the COVID-19 recovery.

Most of the measures are designed to keep afloat Victorian service providers suffering financially due to lockdown (especially in Melbourne). Childcare — increasingly recognised as an essential service — has now effectively received three rescue packages in less than 12 months.

Some of the measures will also affect families, but this depends on circumstances such as where they live and what kind of service their children attend.

An educator speaks to children.
Most of the measures are designed to keep afloat Victorian service providers suffering financially due to lockdown (especially in Melbourne). DAVE HUNT/AAP

I’m a childcare provider. How will recovery payments help me?

The government introduced payments of at least 25% of pre-COVID revenue to approved Australian childcare services when the previous relief package and Jobkeeper ended for the sector. These payments are known as “transition payments”.

They were a lifeline for Melbourne services while only children of permitted workers and vulnerable children were attending (and paying fees).

These payments were due to end on September 28, but have now been extended for Victorian services only to January 31, 2021.

An additional 15% top-up payment will be provided to out of school hours care (OSHC) providers when schools open to more students. This is currently scheduled to happen in week two of term four (from October 12).

This top-up means OSHC providers’ payments will equal around 40% of their pre-pandemic revenue, recognising they have been hit particularly hard by the lockdown.

Payments to services won’t impact directly on fees for parents. But they will mean their service is more likely to remain financially viable, and open for children to attend when they open up to all families in September and October.

A sandpit in a childcare centre
Payments to services won’t impact directly on fees for parents. But they will mean their service is more likely to remain financially viable. DAVE HUNT/AAP

I’m a parent. Will fees change?

The fee freeze makes for a good headline promising more help for parents but it’s difficult to say how much difference it will really make.

Fee freezes might save some families up to A$5 per day, per child. But these aren’t savings on their current spending, it just means they’re being shielded from a planned fee hike. Parents using childcare shouldn’t face any fee hikes until January 31 at the earliest.

Whether families actually save anything at all depends on where they live and what provider they use.

Some local councils in Melbourne had already committed to no fee increases. Fees at childcare centres that are not run by councils, however, are determined by individual providers. They decide whether and how much to increase fees, so parents’ savings will vary significantly.

Parents with children in four-year-old sessional kindergarten will be saving on fees, with the Victorian government (which co-funds kindergarten with the federal government) committing to free kinder for term four.

Will childcare centres lose staff or reduce hours?

The federal government’s employment guarantee, which has been extended along with transition payments, is a big issue for educators and carers.

The government has made it clear it expects childcare providers receiving transition payments not to stand down educators or make them redundant, even where there is reduced need for staff.

However, it’s possible for childcare centre managers to reduce shifts significantly. For example, under the July transition payment arrangements, centre managers were only required to offer more than one shift to their workers over a period of ten weeks.

More than three quarters of the early childhood centre workforce is casual or part-time, so many Melbourne childcare workers are likely to face significant income reductions.

Despite the employment guarantee, there have been reports of Melbourne educators being stood down.

A childcare worker wipes down a table.
Many childcare workers are casual or part time. DEAN LEWINS/AAP

I’m a parent. How will changes to the Activity Test affect me and my subsidy?

The federal government’s “Activity Test” links how much time parents spend in work, education or training with the level of childcare subsidy. Parents working and studying less can only access a limited number of subsidised hours of childcare.

But the Activity Test was eased in July, meaning that if parents’ income has been impacted by COVID-19, they can still get the same or more childcare subsidy even if they were working or studying less. This measure has now been extended to April 4, 2021.

But parents will still have to meet the gap fees (the difference between fees charged by providers and subsidies paid by the government). For those really struggling, it may be difficult to keep paying fees if one parent is at home and able to care for children.

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit most from high quality early learning, and are more likely to start school developmentally vulnerable. Temporarily easing the activity test is unlikely to keep the lowest income families engaged.

I’m a parent and I lost my job. Can I get free childcare?

Parents who’ve lost their jobs may also be eligible for free childcare temporarily. Application for the Additional Childcare Subsidy must be made through Centrelink.

Although not included in the government’s announcement, this provision could be vital in helping families to keep their children connected with early education and care, providing children with stability and much-needed fun, and supporting their development and learning while families recover.

ref. Not much relief for parents, but new childcare measures will rescue providers (again) – https://theconversation.com/not-much-relief-for-parents-but-new-childcare-measures-will-rescue-providers-again-146752

PNG opposition’s Namah calls for end to ‘martial law-like’ restrictions

PNG opposition’s Namah calls for end to ‘martial law-like’ restrictions

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Papua New Guinea’s opposition has called on the government to explain the paralysing martial law type restrictions that has crippled the economy and will take years to return to normal, reports the PNG Post-Courier.

Opposition Leader Belden Namah said blaming covid-19 was not good enough and has called for an immediate halt to all restrictions.

“There are no hospitals full of covid-19 patients,” he said.

“There has virtually been no covid-19 death.”

However, his statement came as PNG health authorities reported a further covid case of infection with a 21-year-old woman from the Gerehu suburb in the North West electorate.

Worldometer reports 532 covid-19 cases, including the Gerehu woman, and seven deaths in Papua New Guinea.

Namah said the few covid-19 deaths that had been declared were only those involving pre-existing conditions.

Thousands without work
“Yet thousands of our people are without work,” he said.

“The education of our children has been disrupted beyond possible correction this year. Businesses have been disrupted and many have closed operations.

“The restrictions imposed on our people are causing serious impacts and disrupting activities across the country.”

Namah said the revised gross domestic product (GDP) had fallen to K11 billion (NZ$4.4 billion) in 2020 compared to the 2020 budget projections.

The fiscal deficit had increased by K2 billion and the economy had gone into negative growth.

“Revenue has fallen by K3.7 billion and yet the government has not done enough to reduce expenditure, thus increasing the deficit to an unprecedented K6.6 billion equivalent to 8.1 percent of GDP.”

This increased the pressure to borrow more or print more money – “both of which carry their own short term and long term negative consequences”.

Gold mine closed
“One operating gold mine had been forced to close and new resources development projects are on hold,” he added.

Namah said the only person announcing new projects would come on stream was Prime Minister James Marape, but he has absolutely no control over or say on investment decisions.

“Under the Marape regime, foreign investors are keeping away.

All he had to do is talk to the MRA and see the significant fall in exploration activities.

Namah said Prime Minister Marape must realise it was his words and actions that were to be blamed for the current state of affairs.

“They never listened to us when the opposition first called for a closure of our international borders, for strict controls on international travels and to declare international ports and provinces sharing international border hot-spots.

“They gave us a nationwide state-of-emergency and ran it like a martial law crackdown for civil unrest and not a health emergency as it was.

No verification
“Then seeing no alarming numbers to justify their actions, the government started cooking up the numbers of those infected or deaths with absolutely no verification announced and confirmed cases turned out to be negative.

“In between all this, Prime Minister Marape has allowed international flights for a few select foreigners without adequate checks.”

He did not release promised money to Western and Sandaun provinces which shared the common border with Indonesia, with the result that most confirmed cases were in Western Province and the OK Tedi mine was forced to close.

“Now the Prime Minister has announced a relaxation on restrictions to international flights,” Namah said.

“We call on the Prime Minister to provide adequate explanations for all these decisions that have caused the country so much hardship and endangering the lives of our people.”

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Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

Tahiti’s Nuutania prison detects covid-19 outbreak with 20 cases

Tahiti’s Nuutania prison detects covid-19 outbreak with 20 cases

By RNZ Pacific

The covid-19 outbreak in French Polynesia has reached Tahiti’s prison and infected 20 people.

The French High Commission said that after two cases were detected among corrections staff, tests had revealed an initial tally of 13.

A second round of testing then found another four cases among staff and three among the prisoners.

READ MORE: Updates on the covid-19 pandemic in Tahiti

While the employees were in isolation at home, the inmates had been transferred to separate premises.

The figures released by the French Polynesian government on Friday said to date there had been 1579 cases, including six deaths.

Of these cases, 1512 had been recorded after the borders were opened and mandatory quarantine requirements were abolished in July to boost tourism and revive the economy.

Meanwhile, a court in French Polynesia has thrown out a challenge to the order to wear masks brought in to stop the spread of covid-19.

The ruling came as the government announced the sixth fatality of the pandemic amid a jump in new infections.

Representing 47 individuals, lawyer Thibaud Millet had sought to quash the decrees issued by the government and the French High Commission, arguing that they were too restrictive and vague.

PNG confirms another covid case
Papua New Guinea’s confirmed cases of covid-19 has reached 532 after a new case was reported in the National Capital District (NCD) in the past 24 hours, reports RNZ Pacific.

The latest covid-19 case is a 21 year-old woman from the Gerehu suburb in the North West electorate.

She is now isolated at the Rita Flynn whilst the NCD response teams are carrying out contact tracing.

The total number of confirmed cases in NCD has reached 316, prompting calls for citizens to be on the look out for symptoms of covid-19 and get tested at the earliest.

In Guam, while the territorial government winds down some of its covid-19 restrictions the island has recorded its 39th death from the virus.

The Pacific Daily News reports a 66-year-old man was the latest fatality.

He had underlying health conditions compounded by covid and died on Thursday night at the Guam Memorial Hospital.

This article is republished by the Pacific Media Centre under a partnership agreement with RNZ.

  • All RNZ coverage of covid-19
  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP – don’t show up at a medical centre.
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White supremacists believe in genetic ‘purity’. Science shows no such thing exists

White supremacists believe in genetic purity. Science shows no such thing exists

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Dennis McNevin, Professor of Forensic Genetics, University of Technology Sydney

Far-right white supremacist ideology is on the rise in Europe, North America and Australia. It appeals to a racist notion whereby many white supremacists see themselves as members of a “pure” race that is at risk of dilution and contamination.

Science does not support the idea of pure races with ancient origins. In the past few years, genetic sequencing of ancient and modern humans and related species has given us a flood of new information about how human populations have evolved.

The evidence reveals a history of ongoing genetic mingling, due to interbreeding between different populations and even species. Humans from different groups had children together, and even with Neanderthals and members of other now-extinct hominin species.

This mingling occurred constantly in the long process of human migration across the globe. Europeans inhabit one region of a large genetic continuum and are no more or less “pure” than any other population.


Read more: How believers in ‘white genocide’ are spreading their hate-filled message in Australia


From Africa to the world

The genetic history of humanity begins in what we now know as Africa. The exact location (or locations) of the first anatomically modern humans is debated, but there is a consensus they lived south of the Sahara desert between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago.

A group or groups of these early humans migrated out of Africa and into the Middle East, as we now know it, some time between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago. Next, some went east into Asia while others headed west into Europe.

At some point, the wandering humans met and bred with Neanderthals. These now-extinct hominins had left Africa many thousands of years earlier.

Modern Asians and Europeans still carry genetic signatures of Neanderthals, while sub-Saharan Africans do not.


Read more: How DNA ancestry testing can change our ideas of who we are


The humans that migrated east into Asia also met and bred with other extinct species of hominins, including at least two major injections of genes from a group we call Denisovans.

Early modern humans almost certainly bred with other ancient hominins as well, because interspecies breeding was likely common. The remains of a girl with a Neanderthal mother and Denisovan father have recently been discovered. Another recent study has shown some Neanderthals too carried traces of human DNA.

Genetic diversity leads to greater fitness

Genetic diversity, as measured by a metric called heterozygosity, decreases with geographic distance from Africa. Higher heterozygosity is generally associated with greater genetic fitness for survival.

From this perspective it could be argued that, when the humans who walked away from Africa lost genetic diversity through living in small groups, they also lost genetic fitness. By the same argument, interbreeding between populations increases fitness.

In fact, Europeans probably benefited from picking up some Neanderthal DNA: these genes are thought to have diversified their immune systems and may have contributed to their lighter pigmentation.

Reconstructed models of two Neanderthals.
Neanderthals interbred with humans, and traces of their genes remain in the DNA of modern Europeans and Asians. Martin Meissner / AP

Humans who migrated west into Europe continued to meet and breed with other human populations.

Another wave of humans from what we call Anatolia (roughly modern-day Turkey) followed the initial spread of humans into Europe. The Yamnaya population from what we now know as the Russian steppe migrated west into Europe between 3,000 and 5,000 years ago. In fact, little genetic trace remains of the first human inhabitants of Europe, as they were continually supplanted by others.

Even the Roman civilisation, considered to be one of the historical foundations of European identity, was home to great genetic variety. A recent study looked at the genomes of 127 people from 29 sites across the past 10,000 years. It found an initial wave of hunter-gatherers had been supplanted by an Anatolian population, and during the age of Imperial Rome (27 BC to 300 AD) there were significant introductions of genes from what is now Iran and the eastern Mediterranean.


Read more: Vikings were never the pure-bred master race white supremacists like to portray


Even Vikings were diverse

Blonde-haired, blue-eyed northern Europeans are considered by many white supremacists as the ideal of racial purity. They are epitomised historically by the Vikings.

However, the reality was different. A recent study of 442 human genomes from archaeological sites across Europe and Greenland found substantial ancestry from elsewhere in Europe entering Scandinavia during the Viking Age. In fact, Vikings were more likely to have dark hair than modern Scandinavians.

In short, the idea of a pure white race has no basis in genetics. Lightly pigmented skin, hair and eyes are simply an adaptation to northern European climates (and represent an inferior adaptation in equatorial regions). These features exist in a background of countless other genetic influences borrowed from many populations, old and new.


Read more: How science has been abused through the ages to promote racism


ref. White supremacists believe in genetic ‘purity’. Science shows no such thing exists – https://theconversation.com/white-supremacists-believe-in-genetic-purity-science-shows-no-such-thing-exists-146763

Many anti-lockdown protesters believe the government is illegitimate. Their legal arguments don’t stand up

Many anti-lockdown protesters believe the government is illegitimate. Their legal arguments dont stand up

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Rick Sarre, Emeritus Professor of Law and Criminal Justice, University of South Australia

Lockdown has been particularly hard in Victoria and some dissent against restrictions is to be expected.

While it might be easy to dismiss the anti-lockdown protesters by calling them selfish or deluded, we should not lose sight of just how far beyond our normal expectations of civic responsibility the last six months have taken us.

By and large, most Victorians have been exceptionally responsible and stoic. And while police enforcement has been problematic at times, regulatory requirements often unclear and emergency powers unlike anything we’ve seen in a century, the vast majority of Victorians, indeed all Australians, continue to trust the actions of governments are reasonable and constitutionally valid.

Not everyone agrees, however, with this proposition.

In recent weeks, there has been an increase in social media traffic asserting the lockdown measures — and indeed our legal institutions themselves — are unlawful and unconstitutional.

These arguments — some inspired by the “sovereign citizen” movement — are also showing up in online forums, the courts and the streets.

Some of these protesters argue, for example, that all laws passed since November 18, 1975, in Victoria are invalid because Queen Elizabeth did not personally sign off on the new state Constitution.

Another argument is the Victorian courts have no vested authority because the oath each judge takes is not addressed to the queen using her proper title, or at all.

These are strong accusations. But are they true?

Protesters have frequently taken to the streets in Melbourne in recent weeks. ERIK ANDERSON/AAP

How our system of government works

To address this question, it is important to start with some general principles of law.

In Australia, we are governed by a blend of constitutional styles: a federation of states (like the US) but in a Westminster setting (like the United Kingdom).

The central document that sets out our political system is the Commonwealth Constitution, which is augmented by state constitutions.


Read more: Why QAnon is attracting so many followers in Australia — and how it can be countered


The Constitution gives federal parliament in Canberra power over a range of specific matters (defence, customs, immigration), with the rest largely left to the states (including law enforcement).

However, the federal government has most of the money, and can therefore exert influence over policies dealing with education, health and the environment, all of which fall outside of its lawmaking mandate.

Protesters have taken aim at COVID-19 vaccines, 5G and other conspiracy theories. SCOTT BARBOUR/AAP

We have very few constitutionally protected legal rights. Fortunately, we have a rich tradition of legal conventions and common law principles that underpin our democratic processes.

Most people, however, do not understand these complexities. And that leaves many angry and frustrated.

The rise of the “sovereign citizen” movement — which purports to reclaim the law for the individual — is entirely understandable. But this does not mean that its proponents are correct.

Conspiracy theorists claims debunked

Let’s look at some of the arguments of those claiming Australia is in a constitutional crisis.

These conspiracy theorists claim, for instance, that every oath of office not using the full title “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom & Northern Ireland and the Commonwealth” is invalid. As a result, our judges, governors and police commissioners are all impostors.

This proposition is nonsensical. One accepted shortened form in oaths, “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors”, is based on the schedule to the Constitution. Another form, “the Queen of Australia”, is regularly used by the High Court.

Indeed, some jurisdictions, including Victoria, have legitimately removed references to the queen from their legal forms entirely, which parliamentary sovereignty allows them to do. These changes do not have to be approved by referenda.

Victoria police have come out in force against protests in recent weeks. ERIK ANDERSON/AAP

Also, according to conspiracy theorists, Victoria’s courts are invalid because the attorney general did not have a mandate from electors to set up the court services in 2014, as this plan was not in the party’s pre-election platform.

This claim is also unfounded. In a representative democracy, we elect politicians to make decisions for us — we do not vote directly on specific legislative actions.


Read more: ‘Living people’: who are the sovereign citizens, or SovCits, and why do they believe they have immunity from the law?


Another argument asserts the 1975 Victorian Constitution is invalid because the queen did not sign the bill that created it, only the Victorian governor did. According to one theory, the queen, as head of state, was required to put her signature on it.

But according to the High Court, this is a specious claim.

In 2013, in the case of Rutledge v Victoria, Justice Kenneth Hayne addressed this very argument. He found the bill did not need an actual signature. Instead, according to longstanding practice, the queen merely had to provide “royal assent”, in other words, a royal nod.

Better civics education is clearly needed

These conspiracy arguments have been routinely shown to be without legal foundation.

But the rise of “constitutional crisis” arguments highlights the shortcomings of our civics education in Australia to adequately explain governmental structures, legal principles and parliamentary conventions. For most people, the law remains mysterious and inaccessible.

While we have a system that makes it compulsory to vote, we do not equip Australians to understand how the legal system operates, how the myriad of accountability structures work and how citizens can engage with them.


Read more: Protests have been criminalised under COVID. What is incitement? How is it being used in the pandemic?


Despite laudable efforts to correct this, the lack of functional knowledge remains widespread. And the vacuum in legal knowledge is quickly filled with social media mischief-making.

Underlying the conspiracy theories is the idea there is an alternative legal truth, the revelation of which will liberate the oppressed from the constraints of authoritarian governments. While these claims are without any legal merit, their growing prevalence should ring alarm bells about the parlous state of civics education in this country.

We have learned during this health emergency the value of placing our trust in medical experts. Some people, however, are reluctant to extend that trust to other experts, including legal experts.

To some extent this is appropriate. Our political system belongs to us, and we need to question and test it at every opportunity.

However, legal quackery is as dangerous as the medical variety. In a time of crisis, such as in a pandemic, it is essential for us to have open and informed debate about the best way through it, based upon fact, not fiction.

The conspiracy theorists are doing themselves a disservice by throwing their considerable energies into irrelevancies rather than engaging in key political debates. While enticing to some, their pronouncements are the last thing we need right now.

ref. Many anti-lockdown protesters believe the government is illegitimate. Their legal arguments don’t stand up – https://theconversation.com/many-anti-lockdown-protesters-believe-the-government-is-illegitimate-their-legal-arguments-dont-stand-up-146668

Private health insurance premiums are going up this week. But the reasons why just don’t stack up

Private health insurance premiums are going up this week. But the reasons why just dont stack up

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Yuting Zhang, Professor of Health Economics, University of Melbourne

Private health insurance premiums are set to rise on October 1, an increase companies have delayed for six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But 2020 has been a year like no other. And some of the reasons insurance companies are using to justify this price rise don’t stack up.

These include increasing costs of hospital and health care, more claims, an increase in chronic health conditions, and an ageing population.

At a time when many policy-holders are facing financial stress and many elective surgeries or treatments suspended or delayed, this week’s price rise isn’t justified. With a further price rise already set for April 2021, it would be fairer to delay any fee hike until then.

1. Increasing costs of hospital and health care — false

Costs of hospital and health care paid by private insurers have reduced substantially in 2020, not increased, according to the latest figures from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority. That’s because many elective surgeries and routine extra care (such as dental check-ups) were suspended.

Private insurers paid reduced hospital treatment benefits in two consecutive quarters. They dropped 7.9% in dollar terms in the March 2020 quarter, compared with the December 2019 quarter. They fell another 12.9% in the June 2020 quarter, compared with the March 2020 quarter.

Man lying down in hospital bed signing papers
Insurance companies paid less for hospital treatments earlier this year, not more. Shutterstock

Private insurers’ payments for general treatment (also known as ancillary or extras) benefits dropped even more. They fell 32.9% in the June 2020 quarter, compared with the March 2020 quarter.

Some may argue the reduction in benefits paid is because substantially fewer people had private insurance in 2020. But this is not true.

While there was a small drop in the number of people with private health insurance in the first half of 2020, this was by less than a percentage point: the number of hospital memberships fell by only 0.4 percentage points. There was a similar drop in the number of people with extras cover.

2. Increase in claim frequency — false

Another reason for the price rise is there have been more claims over a given time, or an increase in claim frequency. This, again, is not true this year.

Private insurers paid for 16.7% fewer hospital treatments in the June 2020 quarter compared with the March 2020 quarter. That’s a 4.1% reduction in the 12 months to June 2020.

Private insurers paid out 28.4% fewer extras claims in the June 2020 quarter, compared to the March 2020 quarter. This was a 9.8% fall over the 12 months to June 2020.


Read more: How to clear Victoria’s backlog of elective surgeries after a 6-month slowdown? We need to rethink the system


In Victoria, services are only gradually returning to full capacity from November. So it will be a long while before claims return to pre-pandemic levels.

People have also been avoiding seeking needed health care because they are afraid of contracting the coronavirus, or cannot afford out-of-pocket costs due to increased financial stress. This would be another reason for the numbers of claims decreasing, not increasing.


Read more: Should I drop my private health insurance during the pandemic?


3. More chronic disease, an ageing population — no data supporting this for the next 6 months

In the long run, these claims are correct and premiums should increase gradually over the coming years because of the ageing population and growing incidence of chronic conditions.

However, they’re not likely to change enough in the next six months to justify a premium increase now.


Read more: FactCheck: do one in two Australians suffer from a chronic disease?


Here’s what should happen

Some insurers are already providing discounts for families in financial hardship, such as people receiving JobSeeker or JobKeeper. Others offer discounts or waive price rises to people who pre-pay their policies for up to 12 months. More insurers should do this.

Providing financial relief and delaying the October premium increase will not only help customers but also help private insurers in the long run.

Increasing premiums twice in six months (October 2020 and April 2021) during an unprecedentedly difficult time can backfire, especially if the reasons to support the increase do not stack up.


Read more: Young people dropping private health hurts insurers most, not public hospitals


When premiums increase, young people are more likely to drop private health insurance. This will drive up premiums further for everyone. This in turn will lead to more young and healthy people dropping their cover.

Consequently, it may cause a “death spiral”, driving private health insurance out of business.

ref. Private health insurance premiums are going up this week. But the reasons why just don’t stack up – https://theconversation.com/private-health-insurance-premiums-are-going-up-this-week-but-the-reasons-why-just-dont-stack-up-146480

Australians recorded frog calls on their smartphones after the bushfires – and the results are remarkable

Australians recorded frog calls on their smartphones after the bushfires – and the results are remarkable

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Jodi Rowley, Curator, Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Biology, Australian Museum

Frogs are one of the most threatened groups of animals on Earth. At least four of Australia’s 240 known frog species are extinct and 36 are nationally threatened. After last summer’s bushfires, we needed rapid information to determine which frogs required our help.

This was a challenging task. The fire zone ranged from southern Queensland through New South Wales and Victoria, to Kangaroo Island off South Australia. The area was too large for scientists alone to survey, especially with COVID-19 travel restrictions.

But all was not lost. Thousands of everyday citizens across the fire zone, armed with their mobile phones, began monitoring their local frogs through an app called FrogID.

In research published today, we reveal how 45 frog species, some rare and threatened, were recorded calling after the fires. This has allowed us to collate a snapshot of where frog species are surviving – at least for now.

A hand holds a mobile phone displaying the FrogID app.
The FrogID app means anyone can help monitor frog numbers. Jodi Rowley

Good news for a change

In late 2019 and early 2020, more than 17 million hectares of forest burned in Australia. By size, it was the largest fire season in southeastern Australia since European occupation.

Scientists knew the damage to many plant and animal species was likely to be dramatic, particularly for species already in trouble. Many of Australia’s frog species are already vulnerable, due to pressures such as disease and habitat loss. There was a very real risk the fires had pushed many frog species closer to extinction. However, information on how frogs respond to fires has historically been limited.


Read more: A few months ago, science gave this rare lizard a name – and it may already be headed for extinction


FrogID is a free app downloaded to smart phones. Led by the Australian Museum, the project allows anyone to record a frog call and upload it. The FrogID team then identifies the species by its call, to create a national frog database.

Since the app launched in November 2017, more than 13,000 citizen scientists have recorded the calls of about 220,000 frogs across Australia. Before last summer’s fires, app users had submitted 2,655 recordings of 66 frog species in what would later become fire zones. This gave us a remarkable understanding of the frogs present before the fires.

Burnt bushland
In some places, the fires burnt so intensely it was hard to imagine any wildlife survived. Dean Lewins/AAP

Within four months of the fires, app users submitted 632 recordings. These confirmed the existence of 45 of the 66 frog species known to live in the fire zones. Hearteningly, all 33 summer-breeding frog species recorded before the fires were also detected afterwards. In other words, there were no obviously “missing” frog species.

The frog species recorded most frequently in burnt areas were common, broadly distributed species of low conservation concern. These include the common eastern froglet (Crinia signifera) and striped marsh frog (Limnodynastes peronii).

However, rare and threatened species were also recorded in fire-damaged areas. These included:

  • the vulnerable southern barred frog (Mixophyes balbus), which lives in patches of forest along the NSW east coast. The species was recorded ten times after the fires in northern NSW

  • the mountain frog (Philoria kundagungan), endangered in NSW and known only from the headwaters of streams in a few pockets of rainforest in far northern NSW and southern Queensland. It is rarely encountered but was recorded once after the fires

  • the endangered giant barred frog (Mixophyes iteratus), found in forest from southeast Queensland to central NSW. It was recorded twice after the fires.

There was no clear trend in the ecological group or lifestyle of species that were detected post-fire. Burrowing frogs, tree frogs and ground-dwelling frogs were all detected, as were stream, pond, and land-breeding species.

Frog hides in burnt leaf litter
In many places, frogs survived the inferno against the odds. Jodi Rowley

A powerful tool

The FrogID records are good news. They show some species have survived in the short term, and male frogs are calling to attract female frogs to mate with.

But there is still much we don’t know about the fate of these frogs. For example, many frogs species in southeastern Australia don’t call in the cooler months, so we don’t yet have a clear picture of how these species have fared over winter.

The frogs’ longer-term prospects also remain uncertain. Fire damage varies dramatically from place to place, and the survival of a frog species in one burnt area does not guarantee its survival in another. We remain worried about species with small geographic ranges, especially rainforest species more sensitive to fire.


Read more: A deadly fungus threatens to wipe out 100 frog species – here’s how it can be stopped


We urgently need more information on how last summer’s fires affected Australia’s frogs. This is particularly important given the more frequent and severe fires predicted under climate change, combined with all the other threats frogs face.

Traditional biodiversity surveys by professionals will be needed. This is especially true for frog species of high conservation concern at remote or inaccessible sites, for which the FrogID app has little or no data.

But continued data collection by citizen scientists, through projects such as FrogID, will remain powerful tools. They allow information to be gathered quickly and at scale. This raises the chances that species suffering most after a catastrophic event might get the help they need.

ref. Australians recorded frog calls on their smartphones after the bushfires – and the results are remarkable – https://theconversation.com/australians-recorded-frog-calls-on-their-smartphones-after-the-bushfires-and-the-results-are-remarkable-146578

Not much relief for parents, but new child-care measures will rescue providers (again)

Not much relief for parents, but new child-care measures will rescue providers (again)

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Kate Noble, Education Policy Fellow, Mitchell Institute, Victoria University

Child care will reopen to all Melbourne families this week, as the Australian government’s latest child care support package comes into effect. Education Minister Dan Tehan has pledged:

an additional A$305.6 million for families and child-care providers to deliver hip pocket relief and ensure the sector remains open to help drive the COVID-19 recovery.

Most of the measures are designed to keep afloat Victorian service providers suffering financially due to lockdown (especially in Melbourne). Child care — increasingly recognised as an essential service — has now effectively received three rescue packages in less than 12 months.

Some of the measures will also affect families, but this depends on circumstances such as where they live and what kind of service their children attend.

An educator speaks to children.
Most of the measures are designed to keep afloat Victorian service providers suffering financially due to lockdown (especially in Melbourne). DAVE HUNT/AAP

I’m a child care provider. How will recovery payments help me?

The government introduced payments of at least 25% of pre-COVID revenue to approved Australian child care services when the previous relief package and Jobkeeper ended for the sector. These payments are known as “transition payments”.

They were a lifeline for Melbourne services while only children of permitted workers and vulnerable children were attending (and paying fees).

These payments were due to end on September 28, but have now been extended for Victorian services only to January 31, 2021.

An additional 15% top-up payment will be provided to out of school hours care (OSHC) providers when schools open to more students. This is currently scheduled to happen in week two of term four (from October 12).

This top-up means OSHC providers’ payments will equal around 40% of their pre-pandemic revenue, recognising they have been hit particularly hard by the lockdown.

Payments to services won’t impact directly on fees for parents. But they will mean their service is more likely to remain financially viable, and open for children to attend when they open up to all families in September and October.

A sandpit in a child care centre
Payments to services won’t impact directly on fees for parents. But they will mean their service is more likely to remain financially viable. DAVE HUNT/AAP

I’m a parent. Will fees change?

The fee freeze makes for a good headline promising more help for parents but it’s difficult to say how much difference it will really make.

Fee freezes might save some families up to A$5 per day, per child. But these aren’t savings on their current spending, it just means they’re being shielded from a planned fee hike. Parents using child care shouldn’t face any fee hikes until January 31 at the earliest.

Whether families actually save anything at all depends on where they live and what provider they use.

Some local councils in Melbourne had already committed to no fee increases. Fees at child care centres that are not run by councils, however, are determined by individual providers. They decide whether and how much to increase fees, so parents’ savings will vary significantly.

Parents with children in four-year-old sessional kindergarten will be saving on fees, with the Victorian government (which co-funds kindergarten with the federal government) committing to free kinder for term four.

Will child care centres lose staff or reduce hours?

The federal government’s employment guarantee, which has been extended along with transition payments, is a big issue for educators and carers.

The government has made it clear it expects child care providers receiving transition payments not to stand down educators or make them redundant, even where there is reduced need for staff.

However, it’s possible for child care centre managers to reduce shifts significantly. For example, under the July transition payment arrangements, centre managers were only required to offer more than one shift to their workers over a period of ten weeks.

More than three quarters of the early childhood centre workforce is casual or part-time, so many Melbourne child care workers are likely to face significant income reductions.

Despite the employment guarantee, there have been reports of Melbourne educators being stood down.

A child care worker wipes down a table.
Many child care workers are casual or part time. DEAN LEWINS/AAP

I’m a parent. How will changes to the Activity Test affect me and my subsidy?

The federal government’s “Activity Test” links how much time parents spend in work, education or training with the level of child care subsidy. Parents working and studying less can only access a limited number of subsidised hours of childcare.

But the Activity Test was eased in July, meaning that if parents’ income has been impacted by COVID-19, they can still get the same or more child care subsidy even if they were working or studying less. This measure has now been extended to April 4, 2021.

But parents will still have to meet the gap fees (the difference between fees charged by providers and subsidies paid by the government). For those really struggling, it may be difficult to keep paying fees if one parent is at home and able to care for children.

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit most from high quality early learning, and are more likely to start school developmentally vulnerable. Temporarily easing the activity test is unlikely to keep the lowest income families engaged.

I’m a parent and I lost my job. Can I get free child care?

Parents who’ve lost their jobs may also be eligible for free child care temporarily. Application for the Additional Childcare Subsidy must be made through Centrelink.

Although not included in the government’s announcement, this provision could be vital in helping families to keep their children connected with early education and care, providing children with stability and much-needed fun, and supporting their development and learning while families recover.

ref. Not much relief for parents, but new child-care measures will rescue providers (again) – https://theconversation.com/not-much-relief-for-parents-but-new-child-care-measures-will-rescue-providers-again-146752

Close up: Inception’s mindbending Paris scene

Close up: Inceptions mindbending Paris scene

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Bruce Isaacs, Associate Professor, Film Studies, University of Sydney

How do filmmakers communicate big ideas on screen? In this video series, film scholar Bruce Isaacs analyses pivotal film scenes in detail.



Watching Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film Inception, especially in the cinema, is an overwhelming experience. The viewer has no idea what is going on but can marvel at the visual spectacle.

In this scene on a Parisian street, young architect Ariadne (Ellen Page) rebuilds the landscape with her imagination and without being bound by physical constraints. It is notable that Nolan forgoes a fully digital effect here, perhaps drawing inspiration from the work of Stanley Kubrick decades prior. This is live-action footage, seamlessly blended digitally. The “radical realness” of the impossible image — with cars travelling vertically through space and the street folding onto itself — is what makes it so strange and so strangely unsettling to us as the audience.

See more video analysis of great movie scenes here.

ref. Close up: Inception’s mindbending Paris scene – https://theconversation.com/close-up-inceptions-mindbending-paris-scene-145620

View from The Hill: Morrison government’s message to Daniel Andrews: ‘open faster’

View from The Hill: Morrison governments message to Daniel Andrews: open faster

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Daniel Andrews’ Sunday announcement of some modest steps out of lockdown will bring both relief and reassurance to many Victorians, but frustration to those who think he should move faster.

Certainly the Morrison government wants the state to take bigger strides.

As the federal government finalises next week’s budget, with a deficit for this financial year of a magnitude none of us have seen before and large red numbers into the future Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt applied the blow torch to the premier.

“It will be important that more be done in the weeks ahead to safely ease more restrictions,” they said in a joint statement.

“We note that at similar case levels NSW was fundamentally open while remaining Covidsafe due to a world class contact tracing facility.

“As many epidemiologists have encouraged, we would support Victoria in reviewing the trigger of five and zero cases with regards to the third and last steps.

“As it stands this lockdown is already longer than that faced by residents in many cities around the world. We remain deeply concerned about the mental health impacts of a prolonged lock down on Melbourne residents,” they said.

Andrews has responded to a more rapid than expected fall in new cases, and says he will now be driven by numbers rather than dates.

But there is every indication he will continue to be risk averse, after the disaster of the second wave, and on the evidence of last week’s Newspoll, he has public support for that approach. Some 62% of Victorians thought he was handling COVID well.

Andrews has become a highly polarising figure in the pandemic and that’s only likely to increase after his and other evidence to the inquiry into hotel quarantine, followed by Saturday’s resignation of health minister Jenny Mikakos.

In contrast to his demeanour at his news conferences, when appearing before the inquiry on Friday Andrews seemed to be barely containing his anger.

He, like a conga line of witnesses, couldn’t say who had decided to use private security guards to supervise the quarantine.

But he made it clear he held Mikakos responsible for the program.

She, however, thought responsibility spread more widely and indicated her resignation was triggered by Andrews throwing her under the bus.

It continues to be unfathomable to most observers that no one – whether minister, bureaucrat or anyone else – can answer the fundamental but on the face of it simple question: who made the decision about the private security guards?

But Kristen Rundle, from Melbourne University’s Law School, is not so surprised, given the often opaque accountability situations created by contracting out, increasingly a default practice of governments around the country.

She writes in a policy brief titled Reassessing Contracting-Out published last week, that “we need to look beyond standard mechanisms of political accountability in order to address the structural problems posed by contracting-out highstakes government functions.

“Specifically, we need to analyse more deeply the appropriateness of contracting-out in cases that carry serious consequences for public safety and security, and develop frameworks to achieve better decision-making on when, and whether, to contract out complex government functions.

“The failures in this case underscore that choices about who delivers such government functions, and how, matter to those directly affected by them.”

Clearly the Victorian disaster had three root causes: the bad quarantine arrangements, the failure of Victorian contact tracing, and the vulnerability of aged care.

The first two can be completely sheeted home to the Victorian government; aged care is a federal government responsibility although the state government is responsible for the public health aspects.

Andrews’ supporters aren’t too preoccupied with the state government’s mistakes. They believe he has put health first (despite the death toll, which has been overwhelmingly in aged care). They have been impressed by his willingness to front up day after day to those extended news conferences. They see that as a sign of accountability.

The premier’s critics look at the news conferences in a totally different way. Andrews’ physical presence is not a mark of accountability, they argue, because he pushes aside vital questions (often repeated again and again), saying they must wait for the inquiry’s findings.

Many of Andrews’ strongest critics are those who believe the economy and people’s livelihoods have not received sufficient consideration generally in the pandemic. They are outraged at the economic costs of Victoria’s second wave, and at the slowness of the reopening.

The divisions have an ideological element, between the priorities of the left and the right during the crisis.

Mikakos’ quitting has renewed the calls from those who say it is the premier who should go.

There doesn’t seem a lot of common sense in this. Andrews has said he accepts ultimate responsibility for what’s happened. So he should – what’s occurred in Victoria has been appalling.

But would his going actually do any good? Would a replacement perform any better? Would a change of leader amount to anything more than a notch on the critics’ belts?

While Andrews remains the best person for the current job, the pandemic has revealed serious inadequacies in his government, and thus in his leadership, and in parts of the state’s administration.


Read more: Daniel Andrews has flagged a quicker easing of Melbourne’s restrictions. But cases are still in the ‘red zone’


ref. View from The Hill: Morrison government’s message to Daniel Andrews: ‘open faster’ – https://theconversation.com/view-from-the-hill-morrison-governments-message-to-daniel-andrews-open-faster-146997

Vale Susan Ryan, pioneer Labor feminist who showed big, difficult policy changes can, and should, be made

Vale Susan Ryan, pioneer Labor feminist who showed big, difficult policy changes can, and should, be made

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Chris Wallace, Associate Professor, 50/50 By 2030 Foundation, Faculty of Business Government & Law, University of Canberra

The politician who achieved equal rights legislation for women in Australia, Hon Susan Ryan AO, died unexpectedly yesterday in Sydney aged 77, still fighting for fairness in a country challenged by deep inequalities.

In 1983, new Prime Minister Bob Hawke appointed Ryan Minister for Education and Youth Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women. She was the first woman to be appointed to cabinet in a Labor government.

Rivalled only by the achievement of voting rights for women earlier in the 20th century, the Sex Discrimination Act Ryan created and saw through parliament was the single biggest step forward for women in Australian history.


Read more: The larrikin as leader: how Bob Hawke came to be one of the best (and luckiest) prime ministers


Ryan was a wry, intelligent, witty and energetic force for good in public life. She rose to the biggest policy challenges besetting Australia – inequality and discrimination – and achieved real change.

She brought brains and spirit to the big fights and relished them. Not for Ryan any slinking to the sidelines, crushed by sledges and slights.

The first time I saw her was at a party in 1983, in the Old Parliament House office of her Hawke Government cabinet colleague, Peter Walsh. Here they led a raucous wine-fuelled rendition of a Catholic hymn, followed by an equally spirited version of The Internationale. Ryan was from a generation of politicians who knew how to fight, have fun and get really important things done.

Born in Maroubra in 1942, Ryan was educated at the Brigidine School where she absorbed the lesson that “St Brigid was the equal of St Patrick, she worked with him in partnership”. It was here she registered too that:

… women were as clever, energetic and knowledgeable as men (but) society at large and the Church placed women in an inferior position and fought hard to keep us there.

Ryan was the first in her family and school to win a scholarship to the University of Sydney. She studied education, expecting to go on to a career in teaching. After graduating she married public servant and later diplomat Richard Butler. “Because of this I lost my scholarship and had to pay back the scholarship money,” Ryan recalled, a penalty not suffered by men in the same position.

In 1965, Ryan and Butler moved to Canberra and the next six years saw Ryan study for an MA in English Literature at the Australian National University, tutor at the Canberra College of Advanced Education (now University of Canberra), and become a founding member of the Belconnen Branch of the ALP.

This was interrupted by two periods living overseas when Butler was posted first to Vienna and then, in the early 1970s, to New York just as the foundational texts of second-wave feminism by Kate Millett, Gloria Steinem and others, primed by earlier work by Betty Friedan, were published. Ryan’s fellow Sydney University alumna Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch was part of the mix too, giving Ryan and her peers revolutionary insights into the outrageous injustices permeating their lives as women.

Ryan returned to Canberra in 1971 with their two children but without Butler, whom she divorced the following year. Her energetic, entwined Women’s Electoral Lobby (WEL) and ALP activism were conducted while completing her ANU masters degree and being employed as head of the Australian Council of State School Organisations.

Ryan worked hard for the Whitlam government’s election in 1972. Two federal elections later, at the “Dismissal” election of December 1975, she was elected a Labor senator for the ACT. When Bill Hayden succeeded Gough Whitlam as opposition leader after the 1977 election, he made Ryan Labor’s first ever woman frontbencher with responsibility for communications, the arts, media and women’s affairs.

Focused intently on the development of high-quality policy, Ryan was on the progressive end of the Labor party and impatient with the its left/right factional battles, which she perceived as more about personal power struggles than genuine differences over ideas.

Ryan joined the Hayden-led Centre Left faction, home of federal parliamentary Labor’s sophisticated policy thinkers who modernised the ALP platform in a progressive direction focused on jobs and social justice.

These policies were embraced and implemented by the Hawke government on its election in March 1983, with tremendous success.

Susan Ryan in 1984, the first woman appointed to cabinet in a Labor government. National Museum of Australia

Ryan was initially sceptical of the virtues of Bob Hawke over Hayden as Labor leader and she, like Paul Keating whose dynamism she admired and with whom she shared a deep mutual respect, switched camps late.

Ryan nevertheless came to admire Hawke’s leadership, which culminated in the 1983 victory and three subsequent election wins. With Paul Keating’s 1993 election win, this gave Labor five consecutive terms of government in what it retrospect has come to be seen as a golden age in postwar social democratic politics and policy in Australia.

Within three months of the government’s election, Ryan introduced the Sex Discrimination Bill, which drew heavily on a private member’s bill she pursued unsuccessfully from the opposition benches in 1981. The bill was controversial and its passage rocky. Ryan fought the good fight and won.

Ryan’s work as a spearhead for progressive policy took its toll. As the government wrestled with economic policy adjustments necessitated by Australia’s current account crisis in the mid-1980s, she left politics after just five years in cabinet. Her post-parliamentary life saw her focus on superannuation policy and rights for the aged, especially for older women.

Ryan’s contribution to public life was outstanding. She was happy with the reality of her achievements and did not look for credit or applause. She is a signal example to those who despair of getting things done in democratic politics. Ryan showed, even on the most controversial issues, it can and should be done.


Read more: Quotas are not pretty but they work – Liberal women should insist on them


ref. Vale Susan Ryan, pioneer Labor feminist who showed big, difficult policy changes can, and should, be made – https://theconversation.com/vale-susan-ryan-pioneer-labor-feminist-who-showed-big-difficult-policy-changes-can-and-should-be-made-146996

Labour support slips in new NZ poll, but could still govern alone

Labour support slips in new NZ poll, but could still govern alone

By RNZ News

With just under three weeks until the election, Newshub’s new political poll shows the gap is closing between Labour and National, but Labour could still govern alone.

The Newshub Reid Research Poll had Labour at 50.1 percent – down 10 percent on the last poll – but well above National at 29.6 percent.

ACT is on 6.3 percent and the Greens are at 6.5 percent. NZ First is at 1.9 percent.

NZ ELECTIONS 2020 – 17 October

On those figures, Labour would have 65 seats in Parliament, National 38, and the Greens and ACT eight each.

As for the minor parties, the New Conservatives are polling at 2.1 percent, the Māori party at 1.5 percent and The Opportunities Party at .9 percent.

In the preferred prime minister stakes, Jacinda Ardern is on 53.2 percent and Judith Collins is on 17.7 percent.

Last week’s TVNZ Colmar Brunton poll had Labour at 48 percent, National on 31 percent, ACT on 7 percent, Greens on 6 percent and NZ First on 2 percent.

Newshub’s last poll in late July had on 60.9 percent and National at 25.1 percent.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will face National Leader Judith Collins in the second leaders debate tomorrow night, this time on television Three.

The election date is October 17.

This article is republished by the Pacific Media Centre under a partnership agreement with RNZ.

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Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

Curfew lifted and COVID-19 roadmap is ‘ahead of schedule’ as Melbourne inches towards end of lockdown

Curfew lifted and COVID-19 roadmap is ahead of schedule as Melbourne inches towards end of lockdown

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Stephen Duckett, Director, Health Program, Grattan Institute

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced an end to the curfew and a COVID-safe return to work for 127,000 Melburnians, as restrictions ease at 11.59pm tonight. He has also flagged a provisional early lifting of many other aspects of the lockdown on October 19.

The downward trend in new COVID cases has been better than expected, with the crucial 14-day moving average of daily new cases reaching 22.1. This is good news for Victorians, prompting Andrews to move metropolitan Melbourne to the second step of the state’s roadmap to COVID-normal.

According to the roadmap, today’s announcement was contingent on the 14-day rolling average being below 30-50 cases. The 50-case mark was passed on September 17, and the lower bound of 30 cases was reached a week later, on September 24.

Graph of Victoria's COVID-19 cases
covid19data.com.au

Rather than easing restrictions when the criterion for new cases was met, the government had also, unnecessarily, set a date for moving to the second step: September 28.

Before today’s announcement, the better-than-expected decline in case numbers, coupled with the reduction in the number of “mystery” cases with an unknown source, had led Andrews to flag the possibility of easing restrictions faster than the provisional dates in the roadmap.

This is indeed what he has announced, with the next step potentially moving forward from October 26 to October 19. The government will now rely predominantly on epidemiological thresholds rather than dates. But Andrews added it is necessary to monitor the effects of today’s announcement for a further three weeks.

Andrews and his advisors had to keep in mind the ultimate goal of reaching zero active cases. Lifting restrictions too soon would jeopardise that.


Read more: Daniel Andrews has flagged a quicker easing of Melbourne’s restrictions. But cases are still in the ‘red zone’


The main changes are cautious ones, and still consistent with the zero target. The key changes are shown below.



One of the most welcome changes will be the abolition of the curfew. It had no real evidence base, given the other restrictions in place, and it became a policy orphan with no one owning up to recommending it.


Read more: Worried you might test positive and put a spanner in Victoria’s COVID roadmap? Here’s why you should get tested anyway


The other major change is to formalise the return of on-site schooling. The research evidence on schools is complex, with different countries adopting very different rules about whether children can attend. But evidence suggests transmission risk is lower for kids under ten, so primary school return is welcome.

The return of VCE and VCAL students is presumably based on the assumption older teenagers should be able to follow physical distancing guidelines.

ref. Curfew lifted and COVID-19 roadmap is ‘ahead of schedule’ as Melbourne inches towards end of lockdown – https://theconversation.com/curfew-lifted-and-covid-19-roadmap-is-ahead-of-schedule-as-melbourne-inches-towards-end-of-lockdown-146987

PNG police minister says officers being probed for gun-smuggling, fraud

PNG police minister says officers being probed for gun-smuggling, fraud

By Clifford Faiparik in Port Moresby

Retired and serving police officers in Papua New Guinea are being investigated for alleged offences such as gun-smuggling, fraud and theft, according to Police Minister Bryan Kramer.

It includes “massive corruption at the police headquarters in Port Moresby by retired and serving senior police officers”.

“Cases now under investigation are the smuggling of firearms, land/housing fraud, payroll fraud, drugs, fuel theft, insurance scam, stealing from the retired officers’ pension fund and misusing police allowances,” Kramer said.

“Investigations are halfway complete in most of the cases.

“Arrests will be done at the completion of the investigations.”

Kramer said the “massive corruption” at police headquarters in Konedobu was done during the term of the previous government led by former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.

Kramer said the police force, once described as a national pride, had been “reduced to a private security business serving corrupt politicians and dodgy foreign businessmen”.

Weapons on-sold to province
Meanwhile, a source at police headquarters said detectives were struggling with the investigations into the smuggling of guns allegations because the suspects were retired senior police officers.

PNG’s Police Minister Bryan Kramer…PNG police “reduced to a private security business serving corrupt politicians and dodgy foreign businessmen” under the previous government. Image: Kramer Report

“These retired senior officers purchased firearms for the police force and brought them into the country,” the source said.

“However, the firearms were then smuggled out of Port Moresby to another province by a private security company.”

Clifford Faiparik is a reporter for The National newspaper in Papua New Guinea. The Pacific Media Centre republishes National articles with permission.

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Top economists back boosts to JobSeeker and social housing over tax cuts in pre-budget poll

Top economists back boosts to JobSeeker and social housing over tax cuts in pre-budget poll

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Overwhelmingly, Australia’s leading economists want the budget to boost social housing and the JobSeeker unemployment benefit rather than bring forward personal income tax cuts.

The 49 eminent economists who responded to Conversation-Economic Society of Australia pre-budget survey were asked to rate 13 options in terms of “bang for the buck” – effectiveness in boosting the economy over the next two years.

Among the options offered were boosting JobSeeker (previously called Newstart), wage subsidies beyond the expiry of JobKeeper, one-off cash payments to households, big infrastructure spending, bringing forward the personal income tax cuts, and company tax cuts.

The options were selected by a committee of the central council of the Economics Society and were presented to each surveyed economist in a random (shuffled) order.

The economists surveyed are Australia’s leaders in the fields of microeconomics, macroeconomics, economic modelling and public policy. Among them are former and current government advisers, former heads of statutory authorities, and a former member of the Reserve Bank board.

Each was asked to nominate the four most effective options for boosting the economy.


Economic Society of Australia/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

The most popular option, endorsed by 55% of those surveyed, was boosting spending on social housing.

Monash University econometrician Lisa Cameron said the budget provided an unusual opportunity to fix things for the long term while boosting the economy.

Social housing would leave us with something worthwhile (as did the school hall building program during the global financial crisis) in addition to providing work for the building industry. Alleviating homelessness would be a lasting benefit.

If it goes to the unemployed, it will be spent

The second most popular option, endorsed by 51%, was permanently boosting JobSeeker, previously known Newstart. The temporary boost in the A$282.85 per week payment was wound back last week and will end in December.

Melbourne University economist John Freebairn pointed out that with no real increase in Newstart since 1993 and many on it in demonstrable poverty, every extra cent spent on it will be spent rather than saved.

Supported by fewer than half of those surveyed, but third most popular at 45%, was more funding for education and training.


Read more: Should the government keep running up debt to get us out of the crisis? Overwhelmingly, economists say yes


Flinders University labour market specialist Sue Richardson said education was labour-intensive, which would help with employment, and would assist young people severely hit by the pandemic to get the skills they would need to get jobs rather than stay unemployed.

Matthew Butlin, who heads the South Australian Productivity Commission, said the decimation of income from student fees means universities will have less money to subsidise research. There was a case for more direct funding of university research in the form of competitive grants for projects with practical applications.

The fourth most popular option was infrastructure spending, supported by 41%.

Why not a Hoover Dam, a new Opera House?

Many made the point that the projects chosen would have to be worthwhile in their own right, and feared this might not be the case. Others looked to big “nation building” projects along the lines of the Hoover Dam in the United States which was built during the Great Depression and employed 21,000 people.

“Why not building a massive dam in Australia? Why not building a new Sydney Symphony Orchestra building like the Berlin Philharmonie? Why not expand the National Parks? Why not building green libraries all over Australia?,” asked Sydney University’s Stefanie Schurer.


Read more: Homelessness and overcrowding expose us all to coronavirus. Here’s what we can do to stop the spread


Done right, like the Sydney Harbour Bridge which was completed during the Great Depression, big imaginative projects could leave us with something valuable.

There was less enthusiasm for continued wage subsidies (35%) and an expanded investment allowance (29%) with University of NSW economist Gigi Foster saying investment allowances could be replaced with income-contingent loans along the lines of the Higher Education Contributions Scheme.

That way businesses could borrow to invest, with an obligation to repay if the investment paid off.

If it goes on tax cuts, it might not be spent

The same approach was taken by some to funding higher quality aged care (supported by 31%) and increasing subsidies for child care (29%).

Economic modeller Warwick McKibbin suggested funding child care through income-contingent loans (repayable on the basis of income) rather than subsidies.

Bringing forward the leglislated personal income tax cuts as proposed by the government and cash payments to households were relatively unpopular, supported by 20% and 16%.

Saul Eslake said that while he agreed with the treasurer that early tax cuts would “put money in people’s pockets”, there was no guarantee the high earners “into whose pockets most of that money would be put”, would take it out and spend it in sufficient quantity.


Read more: Frydenberg is setting his budget ambition dangerously low


Eslake suggested that rather than supporting households with cheques as happened during the financial crisis, households could be handed time-limited tradeable vouchers that could be spent in areas hurt by restrictions, such tourism and the arts, or used for other worthwhile purposes such as childcare or reskilling.

Among those who did support bringing forward the tax cuts was John Freebairn, who said that although presented as cuts, what was proposed would do little more than restore what had been lost to bracket creep, keeping income tax steady.

Company tax cuts an also-ran

Company tax cuts, once touted by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull as the key to jobs and qrowth garnered minimal support, being backed by just six of the 49 economists surveyed.

The least popular option, backed by only economists surveyed, was government support for cleaner fossil fuels such as natural gas. In contrast 13 of those surveyed (26%) backed support for renewable energy.


Individual responses

ref. Top economists back boosts to JobSeeker and social housing over tax cuts in pre-budget poll – https://theconversation.com/top-economists-back-boosts-to-jobseeker-and-social-housing-over-tax-cuts-in-pre-budget-poll-146914

What would Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, mean for abortion rights in the US?

What would Amy Coney Barrett, Trumps pick for the Supreme Court, mean for abortion rights in the US?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Prudence Flowers, Lecturer in US History, College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, Flinders University

Last week, US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died of metastatic pancreatic cancer. Ginsburg’s “most fervent wish”, revealed by her granddaughter, was that she “not be replaced until a new president is installed”.

Just eight days later, President Donald Trump has announced Amy Coney Barrett to fill Ginsburg’s newly vacant seat.

Barrett is 48, a devout Catholic and a professor at Notre Dame Law School in Indiana.

She was appointed by Trump to the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in 2017 and was shortlisted for the Supreme Court vacancy ultimately filled by Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.

The future of Roe v. Wade

Ginsburg, known to her fans as the “Notorious RBG”, dedicated her life to the fight for equality and was the de facto leader of the liberal Supreme Court justices. If Barrett is confirmed, and Republicans have indicated they have the votes to fill the vacancy, this will be Trump’s third Supreme Court appointment.

Conservatives on the court would then have a 6-3 majority, which would likely have sweeping implications for an array of issues, including the future of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that guarantees a woman’s right to an abortion.

Abortion rights advocates have protested Trump’s move to immediately fill Ginsburg’s seat. Rick Bowmer/AP

Since the late 1970s, Republicans have made opposition to Roe v. Wade a central element of their social, political and legal identity.

The Supreme Court has been at the heart of this strategy. Every Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan has campaigned on a pledge to appoint justices who respect “the sanctity of innocent human life”.


Read more: This is why the fight over the Supreme Court could make the US presidential election even nastier


How conservative justices differ today

However, once a justice is confirmed to a lifetime appointment on the nation’s highest court, his or her voting behaviour is impossible to guarantee.

In the early 1990s, there were ostensibly seven conservative justices on the court, five of whom had been nominated by Republican presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Yet in the case Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), a challenge over abortion laws in the state of Pennsylvania, a triumvirate of Reagan-Bush appointees sided with the two liberal justices, arguing that “liberty finds no refuge in a jurisprudence of doubt” and the weight of precedent meant Roe v. Wade must be upheld.

Trump believes he has enough Republican votes in the Senate to confirm his pick. ALEX BRANDON/POOL/EPA

But the current crop of conservative justices share a more uniform judicial philosophy than the Reagan-Bush appointments.

Like Barrett and her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, they champion the legal theory of “originalism”, which views Roe v. Wade and the broader right to privacy as a “fanciful reading” of the US Constitution.

Anti-abortion lawyers argue that if the court finds that the right to privacy does not exist, “the state would be free to regulate and prohibit abortion”.


Read more: The case of Biden versus Trump – or how a judge could decide the presidential election


Roberts no longer the swing vote

When Kavanaugh was confirmed in 2018, conservatives had a 5-4 majority on the court. Court watchers predicted Chief Justice John Roberts would emerge as a swing vote on a range of issues.

Roberts had cast votes with the liberal justices, most significantly in upholding the constitutionality of Obamacare (otherwise known as the Affordable Care Act) in 2012. He also has a well-established interest in the reputation of the Supreme Court and the importance of precedent.

In his 15 years on the bench, Roberts has made it clear he does not support abortion rights, but he was expected to avoid an outright assault on Roe v. Wade.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts would no longer be a swing vote on a 6-3 majority conservative court. Leah Millis/Pool Reuters

In June this year, Roberts sided with the liberal justices to rule a Louisiana anti-abortion law unconstitutional on the grounds that precedent was established in a nearly identical case the court had struck down in 2016. Yet in his separate concurrence, Roberts was clear he still agreed with his dissenting position in 2016.

If Barrett is confirmed, Roberts’ power as a swing voter will be dramatically diminished. This would affect the final judgements of the court, but just as significantly, it would shape what kind of cases the court hears.

Less dependent on Roberts, the conservative justices are likely to take up a broader range of controversial matters, confident they have a majority.

What abortion cases could be decided next

In her academic writing, Barrett has indicated significant opposition to Roe v. Wade, and in her brief time as a circuit judge, has ruled twice against abortion rights.

Currently, there are two abortion cases the justices could decide to hear. One is a challenge to a 2018 Mississippi law that banned abortion from 15 weeks, and the other relates to the provision of early medication abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the past decade, an unprecedented number of anti-abortion laws have been passed in US states, many based on model legislation developed by anti-abortion groups.

Many of these could be heard by the court in the next year or two. These include targeted regulation of abortion provision (TRAP) laws, which place prohibitive and medically unnecessary restrictions on doctors and clinics that provide abortion care.

Activists protesting a new law in Utah last year banning abortions after 18 weeks. Rick Bowmer/AP

There are also gestational bans (outlawing abortion after 20 weeks), method bans (targeting dilation and evacuation, the most common second-trimester abortion procedure) and reason bans (outlawing abortion for reasons of race, sex or disability).

There are also more restrictive bans that prohibit abortion in the first trimester, either at conception or up to 6–8 weeks’ gestation.

Although Roe v. Wade is politically contentious, its popularity with the general public has remained stable since the late 1980s.


Read more: Can Trump and McConnell get through the 4 steps to seat a Supreme Court justice in just 6 weeks?


Most Americans support the ruling; surveys last year found between 60% and 77% want to see the decision upheld.

Yet the future of safe, legal abortion in the US will ultimately depend on how emboldened the conservative justices now feel.

Will they choose cases that incrementally erode abortion rights and access, or will they, for the first time since the 1990s, push for reconsideration of the constitutional issues and rights at the very heart of Roe v. Wade?


UPDATE: This story was updated on September 27 after Trump officially announced Barrett as his pick.

ref. What would Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, mean for abortion rights in the US? – https://theconversation.com/what-would-amy-coney-barrett-trumps-pick-for-the-supreme-court-mean-for-abortion-rights-in-the-us-146931

Arrested ship crew deny ‘bunkering’, other marine charges in PNG court

Arrested ship crew deny ‘bunkering’, other marine charges in PNG court

By Miriam Zarriga in Port Moresby

Three crew members of an unnamed foreign ship intercepted by a Papua New Guinea Navy vessel near Kavieng, New Ireland, last month have denied violating local laws and withholding information from authorities.

In the Kavieng District Court before Magistrate Patrick Baiwan on Wednesday were ship’s captain Shi Kehu from Fujian province in China, second-in-command Ying Kit Lam from Hong Kong, and crew member Mariglen Dhimogjini from Albania.

They will return to court next Tuesday and have been ordered to stay on board the vessel berthed at the Kavieng port, under a 24/7 police guard.

The unnamed vessel which police believe is linked to a K1.47 billion (NZ$642 million) drug bust recently in Australian waters, was intercepted in waters north of Kavieng on August 23 by the crew of the HMPNGS Moresby.

Shots were fired at the crew when they refused to stop.

The captain was later treated in hospital for a gunshot wound.

National Fisheries Authority (NFA) executive manager monitoring control and surveillance Giza Komangin told The National the three had violated provisions of the Fisheries Management Act 1998.

Captain charged
Captain Shi was charged with:

  • REFUSING to divulge names and contacts of persons and vessels that the vessel was conducting bunkering activities at sea;
  • REFUSING to stop the vessel for boarding and inspection by fisheries and navy officials when instructed to;
  • DESTROYING and deleting electronic data and tracks to avoid seizure or detection by fisheries officers;
  • FAILING to comply with requirements of gear stowage when navigating inside PNG waters; and,
  • VIOLATING other state laws to supply fishing vessels with fuel and other supplies an activity requiring a valid fishing licence.

Yong was charged with knowingly giving information that is false and misleading about the operation of the vessel and refusing to divulge names of contacts of person to investigation officials.

Dhimogjini was charged with refusing to divulge names and contacts of persons and vessels engaged in its operation inside Pacific Island waters.

Vessel named Min Shi Yu
NFA officials during their investigations discovered that the vessel’s name was Min Shi Yu 00368 engaged in fishing activities, and supplying fuel and food to other fishing vessels at sea.

On May 1, 2020, it left Quanzhou in China with a crew of seven and picked up Kit Lam and Mariglen Dhimogjini in Hong Kong.

The vessel had no markings to show its name, flag or country of registry, or international radio call sign to show that it was legitimately navigating through PNG waters.

Only three of the nine crew members have passports, five have identification cards, and one has no identification at all and no logbooks or records were available.

Miriam Zarriga is a reporter for The National newspaper in Papua New Guinea. The Pacific Media Centre republishes National articles with permission.

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What would Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s expected pick for the Supreme Court, mean for abortion rights in the US?

What would Amy Coney Barrett, Trumps expected pick for the Supreme Court, mean for abortion rights in the US?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Prudence Flowers, Lecturer in US History, College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, Flinders University

Last week, US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died of metastatic pancreatic cancer. Ginsburg’s “most fervent wish”, revealed by her granddaughter, was that she “not be replaced until a new president is installed”.

Just eight days later, President Donald Trump is expected to announce Amy Coney Barrett to fill Ginsburg’s newly vacant seat.

Barrett is 48, a devout Catholic and a professor at Notre Dame Law School in Indiana.

She was appointed by Trump to the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in 2017 and was shortlisted for the Supreme Court vacancy ultimately filled by Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.

The future of Roe v. Wade

Ginsburg, known to her fans as the “Notorious RBG”, dedicated her life to the fight for equality and was the de facto leader of the liberal Supreme Court justices. If Barrett is confirmed, and Republicans have indicated they have the votes to fill the vacancy, this will be Trump’s third Supreme Court appointment.

Conservatives on the court would then have a 6-3 majority, which would likely have sweeping implications for an array of issues, including the future of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that guarantees a woman’s right to an abortion.

Abortion rights advocates have protested Trump’s move to immediately fill Ginsburg’s seat. Rick Bowmer/AP

Since the late 1970s, Republicans have made opposition to Roe v. Wade a central element of their social, political and legal identity.

The Supreme Court has been at the heart of this strategy. Every Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan has campaigned on a pledge to appoint justices who respect “the sanctity of innocent human life”.


Read more: This is why the fight over the Supreme Court could make the US presidential election even nastier


How conservative justices differ today

However, once a justice is confirmed to a lifetime appointment on the nation’s highest court, his or her voting behaviour is impossible to guarantee.

In the early 1990s, there were ostensibly seven conservative justices on the court, five of whom had been nominated by Republican presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Yet in the case Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), a challenge over abortion laws in the state of Pennsylvania, a triumvirate of Reagan-Bush appointees sided with the two liberal justices, arguing that “liberty finds no refuge in a jurisprudence of doubt” and the weight of precedent meant Roe v. Wade must be upheld.

Trump believes he has enough Republican votes in the Senate to confirm his pick. ALEX BRANDON/POOL/EPA

But the current crop of conservative justices share a more uniform judicial philosophy than the Reagan-Bush appointments.

Like Barrett and her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, they champion the legal theory of “originalism”, which views Roe v. Wade and the broader right to privacy as a “fanciful reading” of the US Constitution.

Anti-abortion lawyers argue that if the court finds that the right to privacy does not exist, “the state would be free to regulate and prohibit abortion”.


Read more: The case of Biden versus Trump – or how a judge could decide the presidential election


Roberts no longer the swing vote

When Kavanaugh was confirmed in 2018, conservatives had a 5-4 majority on the court. Court watchers predicted Chief Justice John Roberts would emerge as a swing vote on a range of issues.

Roberts had cast votes with the liberal justices, most significantly in upholding the constitutionality of Obamacare (otherwise known as the Affordable Care Act) in 2012. He also has a well-established interest in the reputation of the Supreme Court and the importance of precedent.

In his 15 years on the bench, Roberts has made it clear he does not support abortion rights, but he was expected to avoid an outright assault on Roe v. Wade.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts would no longer be a swing vote on a 6-3 majority conservative court. Leah Millis/Pool Reuters

In June this year, Roberts sided with the liberal justices to rule a Louisiana anti-abortion law unconstitutional on the grounds that precedent was established in a nearly identical case the court had struck down in 2016. Yet in his separate concurrence, Roberts was clear he still agreed with his dissenting position in 2016.

If Barrett is confirmed, Roberts’ power as a swing voter will be dramatically diminished. This would affect the final judgements of the court, but just as significantly, it would shape what kind of cases the court hears.

Less dependent on Roberts, the conservative justices are likely to take up a broader range of controversial matters, confident they have a majority.

What abortion cases could be decided next

In her academic writing, Barrett has indicated significant opposition to Roe v. Wade, and in her brief time as a circuit judge, has ruled twice against abortion rights.

Currently, there are two abortion cases the justices could decide to hear. One is a challenge to a 2018 Mississippi law that banned abortion from 15 weeks, and the other relates to the provision of early medication abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the past decade, an unprecedented number of anti-abortion laws have been passed in US states, many based on model legislation developed by anti-abortion groups.

Many of these could be heard by the court in the next year or two. These include targeted regulation of abortion provision (TRAP) laws, which place prohibitive and medically unnecessary restrictions on doctors and clinics that provide abortion care.

Activists protesting a new law in Utah last year banning abortions after 18 weeks. Rick Bowmer/AP

There are also gestational bans (outlawing abortion after 20 weeks), method bans (targeting dilation and evacuation, the most common second-trimester abortion procedure) and reason bans (outlawing abortion for reasons of race, sex or disability).

There are also more restrictive bans that prohibit abortion in the first trimester, either at conception or up to 6–8 weeks’ gestation.

Although Roe v. Wade is politically contentious, its popularity with the general public has remained stable since the late 1980s.


Read more: Can Trump and McConnell get through the 4 steps to seat a Supreme Court justice in just 6 weeks?


Most Americans support the ruling; surveys last year found between 60% and 77% want to see the decision upheld.

Yet the future of safe, legal abortion in the US will ultimately depend on how emboldened the conservative justices now feel.

Will they choose cases that incrementally erode abortion rights and access, or will they, for the first time since the 1990s, push for reconsideration of the constitutional issues and rights at the very heart of Roe v. Wade?

ref. What would Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s expected pick for the Supreme Court, mean for abortion rights in the US? – https://theconversation.com/what-would-amy-coney-barrett-trumps-expected-pick-for-the-supreme-court-mean-for-abortion-rights-in-the-us-146931

University of Waikato launches taskforce to address racism

University of Waikato launches taskforce to address racism

By Katie Todd, RNZ News Reporter

Academics who made allegations of racism at the University of Waikato are welcoming the outcome of an independent review.

While individual claims have been dismissed as “inaccurate”, “incorrect” and “reflective of differing perspectives”, it is hoped the findings could lead to nationwide action on racism at tertiary institutions.

Six academics wrote to the Ministry of Education last month, expressing concerns about casual and structural racism at the University of Waikato – prompting the review.

The review was led by Harawira Gardiner and Hekia Parata, who held individual and group meetings with 80 people and received 96 submissions, and the findings were released yesterday.

Instead of upholding specific claims, it concluded that New Zealand’s public institutions, including universities, adhere to Western university traditions and cultures – so there was a case for structural, systemic, and casual discrimination.

“Today, in 2020, in this post-settlement world, it is not acceptable for places of teaching and learning, of research, scholarship and debate, of nation building, to continue this selectively accommodating patronage, of Māori, tāngata whenua, their mana, tikanga and mātauranga,” it said.

Delighted with outcome
Professor of Māori Education at Victoria University of Wellington Joanna Kidman – who has publically supported the six academics – says she was delighted with that outcome, and confirmation from the University of Waikato that it would set up a taskforce to “open up the dialogues” and tackle the issues.

“I think this will be a positive step forward… we will look towards the university to lead what could be a model for other universities in times to come,” she said.

However, she said the findings could also be put on a “national footing”.

“We’ve seen recently, a group of Māori professors have put an open letter to Education Minister Chris Hipkins saying that they would like an independent review of New Zealand universities. I think this is an excellent way forward.”

The report also recommended the university engaged in a future-focused process to determine how to apply the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, and to refresh its relationships with iwi.

The University of Waikato declined to comment further on the report or speak to RNZ, but Vice-Chancellor Professor Neil Quigley posted a video statement saying the university council unanimously accepted the recommendations.

He said the taskforce would create an action plan over the next few months.

“This is an opportunity for the University of Waikato to provide leadership both here, and nationally, for the development of ideas that will address structural and systemic discrimination and racism in the university system,” he said.

“It’s going to be a difficult journey, a challenging journey, but we are committed to making it work.”

This article is republished by the Pacific Media Centre under a partnership agreement with RNZ.

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Body fat deep below the surface is a toxic risk, especially for your heart

Body fat deep below the surface is a toxic risk, especially for your heart

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Lea M D Delbridge, Professor of Physiology, University of Melbourne

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to forget one of the largest health challenges we face remains the global obesity epidemic. World Health Organisation data shows obesity has nearly tripled in less than 50 years, with about 40% of adults worldwide now overweight or obese. High body fat increases the risk of chronic diseases, including heart problems, diabetes and cancer.

However, it’s not simply the total amount of body fat that can increase the risk of disease. The type and location of fat is also important. We’ve known for some time that subcutaneous fat — the fat just below the skin — increases inflammation in the body. But in recent years, researchers have realised an even more serious risk is the unseen deep body fat that accumulates around vital organs.

Fat around organs can be ‘toxic’

Fat is not all bad — in fact, some fat does a lot of good. It helps protect vulnerable organs and tissues, and provides a convenient energy supply. If you’re out in the cold, it’s essential fuel for body warming through shivering.

But excess fat can increase blood pressure and potentially lead to complications such as heart disease and stroke. Many clinicians use body mass index (BMI) to measure a healthy weight range. It’s calculated as body weight divided by the square of height, and it factors in a healthy amount of fat.

But BMI can’t provide information about the shape and size of potentially dangerous internal fat deposits, known as “visceral fat”. Over recent years it’s become apparent visceral fat can lead to disease, and good fat can turn into toxic fat when there is too much.

A person with obesity
It’s well-known high amounts of body fat can lead to further health problems. But lesser-known is that deep fat wrapped around organs can release damaging molecules. Shutterstock

Various organs seem to accumulate visceral fat. This can be a problem because it can create and release damaging molecules and hormones into the blood. These are transported in the bloodstream, potentially causing health complications in distant parts of the body.


Read more: Obesity has become the new normal but it’s still a health risk


For example, toxic fat can release proteins that blunt the body’s sensitivity to insulin. Blood glucose levels then rise, potentially causing diabetes in the long term. Visceral fat can also stimulate uncontrolled cell growth and replication, potentially triggering some forms of cancer. A fatty liver is associated with metabolic diseases, and excess kidney fat interferes with the body’s fluid balance.

The heart is especially vulnerable

Visceral fat can also directly affect the organ around which it’s wrapped. Our new research, published in September in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found visceral fat around the heart produces biochemical molecules that can make the heart beat erratically. These molecules potentially cause a serious heart condition called atrial fibrillation, by disrupting the heart’s electrical activity.

Atrial fibrillation is one of the most common types of heart rhythm disturbance, and one in three people over 55 will develop the condition. It occurs when the regular signal to drive each heartbeat originating in the top portion of the heart, the atria, is disrupted. It can cause an irregular and chaotic heartbeat, disrupting the heart’s coordinated pumping action. This can mean not enough fresh blood is circulated to allow regular daily activity.

For some people, living with episodes of atrial fibrillation is a daily challenge – coping with bouts of dizziness, the distressing awareness of a “racing heart”, and chest palpitations. Other people may be unaware they have the condition and the first sign could be tragic, such as a stroke due to a blood clot travelling to the brain. This can lead to heart failure.

An advertisement from the Western Australian health department warning viewers about toxic fat. Only in recent years have researchers discovered the dangers of hidden fat around organs.

We worked with clinical cardiologists at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and found fat around the heart secretes molecules which change how nearby cells “talk” to each other, slowing cell-to-cell communication. Because the transfer of electrical signals in the heart muscle are delayed, the heartbeat is potentially destabilised.

Although a high BMI increases the risk of atrial fibrillation, it’s the fat burden on the heart, and not BMI itself, that’s most important in electrical and structural disruption.

This suggests toxic substances released from the surrounding fat can directly harm the nearby organ, without travelling via the blood.


Read more: Evidence obesity is a risk factor for serious illness with coronavirus is mounting – even if you’re young


For heart patients, these findings mean the surgical removal of cardiac fat could be an effective treatment to consider. Also, it potentially paves the way for the future development of drugs that can suppress the release of damaging molecules from hidden fat.

Nevertheless, these findings underscore the danger of an “obese heart”, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Research is emerging that obesity is a major risk factor for serious complications while infected with the virus, and the fat load on the heart may be implicated.

ref. Body fat deep below the surface is a toxic risk, especially for your heart – https://theconversation.com/body-fat-deep-below-the-surface-is-a-toxic-risk-especially-for-your-heart-146307

USP staff slam Fiji’s freezing of F$28m grant as holding university to ransom

USP staff slam Fiji’s freezing of F$28m grant as holding university to ransom

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Staff of the regional University of the South Pacific have condemned the Fiji government’s “dictatorial” action in freezing a $28 million grant, accusing it of holding the governing University Council to ransom and jeopardising the future of students.

“Fiji is reneging on its commitment to its people and the region,” say the staff in a letter to Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama.

The letter, signed yesterday by the university’s academic Association of USP Staff (AUSPS) and the USP Staff Union (USPSU) leadership, was sent in support of the 29,000 students following the grant suspension statement by the Attorney-General that has “sent shock waves across this regional institution to which 80 percent of graduates from Fiji are indebted”.

Attorney-General Aiyaz Saiyed-Khaiyum was reported as saying the Fiji government – as the largest grant contributor to the USP – was concerned at the “continuous question marks about the lack of adherence to the principles of good governance in the day to day administration of USP”.

This came after months of conflict at the regional institution between the University Council and the Fiji-based university management.

It also followed recent exoneration by the University Council of popular Canadian vice-chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia who had been targeted by two senior Fiji officials over his reforms.

Yesterday’s staff letter said: “It is poor governance when a single member state of the USP Council attempts to dictate its course of action.

Critical financial position
“The staff of the USP strongly object to the AG and Minister for Economy’s decision to cease Fiji’s grant contribution to the USP,” the letter said.

“This places the university in a critical financial position, jeopardising the education of Fiji students (80 percent) and Fiji staff (80 percent).

“This decision is viewed as an assault on the Fiji students and staff who, to date, in this covid and pre-covid environment of 2019 have been able to continue their education and work with minimum impact under the current vice-chancellor’s prudent leadership and council oversight.

“The government is seen to be using Fiji students and staff to dictate to and to hold the USP Council to ransom whilst holding a ‘gun’ to the head of the vice-chancellor and president.

“The action is tantamount to ‘cutting off USP students and staff legs at their knees’ and therefore their lifelines to coping with living in the current and post-covid environment.

“Not only will hundreds of families suffer, the quality of support and education for USP students in Fiji and the region will be seriously affected due to the domino effect of this decision.

“The question being asked is, why would the government use such strong arm tactics and punitive action to jeopardise the education of its youth who are their voters and the next generation of leaders when the USP’s supreme governing body of 12 regional states and development partners have spoken,” the letter said.

‘Mere pawns on political game’
“Rather than being treated as valuable citizenry, it appears that all are mere pawns
in a political game.

“The vice-chancellor and president is doing what every government, university, corporation and family business in the world needs to do to survive – reflect, redesign and reorganise.

To date, said the letter, no staff member had lost a job, no student had been refused admission – except for “mandated academic reasons” – and there had been an increase in student enrolments.

“The gravity of this decision and its implications require serious reflection on the basis of the decision and in-depth reconsideration by the Fiji government for the greater good of the students of Fiji and our Pacific `vuvale’ [canoe sail].”

Fiji Labour Party Leader Mahendra Chaudhry has branded the Economy Minister’s suspension of Fiji’s grant to USP as “simply childish”, reports Fiji Village radio.

Chaudhry said it looked like Fiji wass on its own, “like a lone wolf crying foul”.

The FLP leader said he was concerned that students’ university education would be affected and it would also affect the reputation of USP.

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The new 15-minute test has potential, but standard tests are still the best way to track COVID-19

The new 15-minute test has potential, but standard tests are still the best way to track COVID-19

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Katherine Gibney, NHMRC early career fellow, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

Testing remains a vital component of Australia’s success in managing COVID-19.

We need to diagnose people infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, as early as possible so they can be isolated from others and their contacts quarantined. Testing also helps us understand to what degree the virus is present in the population, so we can tailor public health measures accordingly.

If you’ve had a COVID-19 test, in all likelihood you received a PCR test. That’s the one with the throat and nose swabs, and is regarded as the “gold standard” in COVID-19 testing.

But now the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has approved a new kind of COVID-19 test, which can produce results in as little as 15 minutes, as opposed to a day or more for standard tests.

So is this new rapid test set to revolutionise COVID-19 testing in Australia? Not quite yet.

The traditional tests

Nucleic acid tests, or PCR tests, can detect ribonucleic acid (RNA) of SARS-CoV-2 from a day or two before symptoms start, and for a week or more afterwards, as symptoms resolve. Of course, some people will test positive without ever having symptoms.

PCR tests have been the backbone of SARS-CoV-2 testing worldwide. Because of the vast global experience with PCR tests and their high performance, they’re considered the most reliable COVID-19 test.

PCR tests require specialised laboratory equipment and trained scientists and technicians to test the specimens; processing and testing take several hours.

Since January, we’ve performed an astonishing 7.4 million SARS-CoV-2 PCR tests in Australia, which has needed a massive upscaling of capacity in laboratories nationally.

An illustration of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
PCR tests detect SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA. Shutterstock

At times, demand for PCR testing has exceeded capacity, occasionally resulting in delays of up to several days in getting results back to patients. Meanwhile, laboratories swamped with COVID-19 tests may be limited in their capacity to perform their routine business, including diagnostic testing for other infectious diseases.

As people are required to isolate until they receive a negative test result and their symptoms resolve, these delays may come at a cost to the person waiting, their family, and the economy.

Recognising these costs may lead some people to choose not to be tested, Victoria has offered financial compensation for people without leave entitlements awaiting test results.

But delayed case confirmation also increases the time to identification and quarantine of contacts, undermining public health efforts.


Read more: Australia’s coronavirus testing rates are some of the best in the world – compare our stats using this interactive


What can we expect from the antigen test?

Rapid antigen tests can diagnose COVID-19 in 15 minutes. They’re relatively inexpensive and require a swab from the nose.

These tests detect viral antigens, proteins on the surface of SARS-CoV-2. The immune system recognises these proteins as foreign, and responds by making antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 (“anti-gen” means antibody generator).

Antigen tests perform best early in the infection when the amount of virus in a person’s system is highest. For a person with symptomatic COVID-19, this would be in the first week of symptoms. So they only pick up current infections – unlike antibody tests, which can detect if a person was previously infected with SARS-CoV-2.

Four SARS-CoV-2 rapid antigen tests have been licensed for use in Australia in the past two months.

Unfortunately, rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 appear to be less sensitive than PCR tests, meaning they may give a negative result in someone who does actually have COVID-19. One of the recently licensed rapid antigen tests may give a false negative result in up to 18.3% of people with COVID-19 diagnosed by PCR.


Read more: Explainer: what’s the new coronavirus saliva test, and how does it work?


While a positive rapid antigen test result is more reliable, widespread use of these tests in asymptomatic people will result in some false positive results — that is, a positive test result in someone who doesn’t have COVID-19.

At this stage, national COVID-19 guidelines don’t include information on antigen tests. So a person with a positive antigen test would need to undergo a PCR test to be counted in Australia’s official COVID-19 case numbers.

Two health-care workers wearing PPE are processing test samples.
Our capacity to process COVID-19 tests has been challenged at times during the pandemic. James Ross/AAP

Considering the pros and cons

We’re faced with a trade-off between the potential benefits of the rapid antigen tests — the ability to test larger numbers of people, consuming fewer laboratory resources, and quicker results — and the potential to miss a few cases because of the lower test sensitivity.

Despite the lower sensitivity, increasing testing rates might result in an overall net increase in the proportion of COVID-19 cases diagnosed, and therefore a public health benefit by preventing onward transmission from these cases.

One possible strategic use of these tests may be in screening people without symptoms to detect asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic infection that might otherwise go undetected. This could include people in workplaces where ongoing exposure to colleagues and the public is unavoidable, including sectors of the food supply chain or other essential services.


Read more: Why can’t we use antibody tests for diagnosing COVID-19 yet?


Because of the lower test sensitivity for the rapid antigen test, a PCR test remains most appropriate for people with symptoms, those at greater risk of poor outcomes from COVID-19, and people working in high-risk settings like aged care and health care.

While rapid antigen tests show promise, we’ll need to evaluate their efficacy in Australia before we can determine their role in our fight against COVID-19.

ref. The new 15-minute test has potential, but standard tests are still the best way to track COVID-19 – https://theconversation.com/the-new-15-minute-test-has-potential-but-standard-tests-are-still-the-best-way-to-track-covid-19-146844

At last, the arts Revolution — Archibald winners flag the end of white male dominance

At last, the arts Revolution — Archibald winners flag the end of white male dominance

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Joanna Mendelssohn, Principal Fellow (Hon), Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne. Editor in Chief, Design and Art of Australia Online, University of Melbourne

The 2020 Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes, held under the strangest of all circumstances, has produced a neat piece of history.

In 1956 Sir William Dargie, best known for his academic paintings of prominent Australians, won the Archibald for his painting the Aboriginal artist, Albert Namatjira. This year’s Archibald winner is by the subject’s grandson, Vincent Namatjira.

Namatjira junior’s subject is a double portrait of himself with Adam Goodes called Stand strong for who you are. The painting, in Namatjira’s characteristic style, shows the two firmly clasping hands.

In the background we see Goodes the champion footballer, Goodes responding to racial vilification, and Goodes standing firm with the Aboriginal flag. Blood red footprints are the record of the path they have walked. This is the art of a generation of Aboriginal people who will not accept being downtrodden.


Read more: ‘The most refreshing Archibald exhibition I can remember’: the 2020 portrait prize finalists


More than an art prize

It is worth noting the trustees, laid down by Jules François Archibald’s will as judges of the prize which he established, are (with two exceptions) non-artists. Their choice is more than purely aesthetic.

I have long argued the Archibald is in essence a social history prize, not an art prize. In announcing the first Indigenous winner in the prize’s history, this year the guardians of New South Wales’ visual cultural heritage are proclaiming the value of integrity, and for Aboriginal people to stand proud. They are also indicating it is no longer a given white men of a certain class are entitled to take the prize.

Man in painting studio
Winning artist Vincent Namatjira. AGNSW/Meg Hansen/Iwantja Arts

As fine as this painting is, it is not as strong as his 2018 entry Studio self portrait, which later entered the gallery’s collection. That showed his studio, his love of Chuck Berry, and in the background the always present legacy of Albert.

Albert Namatjira’s legacy is seen throughout all the prizes. Every Aboriginal artist I know is aware of how he appropriated the grammar of Western art to paint his country. Every Aboriginal person I have met knows how he was chewed up and spat out by the colonial legal system. His art has stood as a message to successive generations that they too can be artists.


Read more: Terra nullius interruptus: Captain James Cook and absent presence in First Nations art


Landscape legacy

Nowhere is that legacy more evident than in Hubert Pareroultja’s Tjorita (West MacDonnell Ranges, NT), this year’s Wynne Prize winning painting. The Wynne Prize is awarded annually for “the best landscape painting of Australian scenery in oils or watercolours or for the best example of figure sculpture by Australian artists”.

This is a large work, exquisitely painted in a detailed style that cites Namatjira’s landscapes. But because of its detail, it also holds an otherworldly quality.

Pareroultja is a Western Aranda man, so those who know Namatjira’s country will find the subject matter to be familiar. It is no longer a surprise to find Aboriginal artists being awarded the Wynne Prize, but this is the first time a painting that belongs to the same visual tradition as well as the same cultural tradition as Namatjira has been so honoured.

Australian landscape painting
Tjoritja (West MacDonnell Ranges, NT), winner of the 2020 Wynne Prize, by Hubert Pareroultja. AGNSW/Mim Stirling

Artists’ choice

The Sulman Prize is judged by an artist, and is more adventurous than the Archibald and Wynne. Khadim Ali awarded this year’s prize to Marikit Santiago for The divine, a tribute to her three children.

They are painted as saints, gold haloes and all. She has consciously drawn on her heritage as a Filippina artist as well as the central place her children hold in her life. The work’s subjects even participated in creating its complex patterned background.

Painting of three children on green background.
Marikit Santiago’s The divine, winner of the 2020 Sulman Prize. AGNSW/Jenni Carter

The Archibald and Wynne are judged on the morning of the announcements, but the Sulman is judged some time before. So Santiago was the only artist physically present when the chairman of the trustees, David Gonski, made his announcement.

People standing around computers in art gallery.
A different kind of announcement at AGNSW. Author, Author provided (No reuse)

Unlike previous years where the crush of journalists, artists, dealers and others associated with the event can induce claustrophobia, the gallery was dominated by television cameras and a crew at the bank of computers. The silence in the minutes before AGNSW Director Michael Brand introduced Gonski for the announcements was almost unnerving. The switch to the other winners, streamed live from their studios in the Northern Territory went without a hitch. It was an impressive production, this art prize in the time of COVID-19.

Archibald finalists will be on view at the AGNSW until January 10. They will then travel to the Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre, Cairns Art Gallery, Griffith Regional Art Gallery, Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery, Shoalhaven Regional Gallery, and Penrith Regional Gallery.

ref. At last, the arts Revolution — Archibald winners flag the end of white male dominance – https://theconversation.com/at-last-the-arts-revolution-archibald-winners-flag-the-end-of-white-male-dominance-146832

You wouldn’t hit a dog, so why kill one in Minecraft? Why violence against virtual animals is an ethical issue

You wouldnt hit a dog, so why kill one in Minecraft? Why violence against virtual animals is an ethical issue

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Simon Coghlan, Senior Research Fellow in Digital Ethics, Centre for AI and Digital Ethics, School of Computing and Information Systems, University of Melbourne

Violence against animals in video games is ubiquitous. Players can kill or torture animals in various popular games, including Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto V. The rise of this (increasingly realistic) trend in games, along with people’s tendency to go along with it, raises important questions.

Violence against humans in video games has long been contentious – underpinned by the never-ending debate over whether on-screen violence begets the real thing. But violence against animals in video games has attracted considerably less attention.

In a recently published paper, we argue there is good reason to think violence against animals in video games is problematic – perhaps even more so than in-game violence against humans. We think game violence against animals is more likely to promote disrespect for their living counterparts.

The jury is out

In 2005, Australia banned a first-person shooter game called Postal 2, in which players could mutilate and desecrate (virtual) human bodies. Australia has controversially banned several games available in other countries because of depictions of violence and other potentially objectionable themes.


Read more: Australia bans video games for things you’d see in movies. But gamers can access them anyway


Players evidently have varying views on harming virtual animals. Some express concern or remorse — one gamer wrote on a forum:

It’s weird how bad I feel about killing animals in the game … I will actively try and shoot guys off horses instead of just shooting the horses.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) – itself a somewhat troubled organisation – has criticised games it says “promote hurting and killing” animals. Examples include whale-hunting in Assassin’s Creed, and fishing and catching bugs in Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Other players have no such qualms, however, with one writing:

I kill humans in games all the time. Why would I care about animals?

Many share this view. Video game “amoralists” say abusing animals (or humans) in video games can’t be wrong, as the “victims” are virtual and no living being is hurt.

It’s not clear exactly why players feel so differently about in-game violence. Attitudes towards in-game violence may be shaped by personal views, social mores, gaming culture and also the amount someone plays violent games.

If video games can promote particular ethical messages, could certain games encourage disrespect for living things?

A sniper focuses on a chicken in a video game.
First-person shooters, such as Call of Duty, have been around for more than 45 years now. They’re some of the most popular video games today. jit/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

A moral dilemma in plain sight

Social scientists have long debated whether violent video games cause antisocial attitudes towards other people. Some think they might, but conclusive evidence for a causal link is lacking. The moral issue of violence against animals in video games has received much less philosophical attention.

Both animals and humans are often portrayed as objects to kill and harm for fun in gaming. However, animals are presented in even more disposable ways. They are often mere tools for players to kill to complete quests, or to gain materials and trophies.

This is true even for games in which players are encouraged to reflect morally on their in-game actions. In Dragon Age: Inquisition, the game’s characters will approve or disapprove of a wide variety of player actions. But harming non-aggressive wild animals is not one of the things that prompts a moral reaction.

While societal respect for animals is growing (albeit slowly), animals today are routinely treated very badly. We confine them to factory farms, put them on live export ships where many suffer (and even die) and “humanely” kill unwanted companion animals.

Many of us ignore these realities. Morally speaking, animals are relatively invisible to society – whereas other humans generally are not. In this context, depicting animals as disposable commodities in video games could reinforce disrespect towards them, at least for many players.

Some games may help normalise the mistreatment and moral invisibility of animals.

Examining our prejudices

So if video games can, in fact, reinforce disrespect for animals, does this mean we should ban or boycott them? We don’t advocate that. However, it would be useful for scientists to investigate whether video games do help or hinder social respect for animals.

Game designers may also consider depicting animals in ways that encourage (or at least don’t inadvertently discourage) respecting them. Some already do this. In Red Dead Redemption, killing your horse leads to the same loss of “honour” points as killing an innocent person.

Character on his horse in Red Dead Redemption 2.
In the Red Dead game series, ‘honour’ is a system that measures the social acceptability of the main character in his world. Specific in-game actions are considered honourable or dishonourable. ekkun/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Finally, players themselves could choose to become more aware of how animals are portrayed in the various games they spend hours of their lives absorbed in.

Given the enormous popularity and ongoing transformation of video games, there is an opportunity here for all of us to reassess our often unjust treatment of animals.


Read more: Violence towards women in the video game Red Dead Redemption 2 evokes toxic masculinity


ref. You wouldn’t hit a dog, so why kill one in Minecraft? Why violence against virtual animals is an ethical issue – https://theconversation.com/you-wouldnt-hit-a-dog-so-why-kill-one-in-minecraft-why-violence-against-virtual-animals-is-an-ethical-issue-146845

VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on the upcoming budget, government reform, and the NBN

VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on the upcoming budget, government reform, and the NBN

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

University of Canberra Professorial Fellow Michelle Grattan and University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Paddy Nixon discuss the week in politics.

This week Michelle and Paddy discuss the upcoming 6 October budget, the government’s plans to reform the insolvency system, comments made by former Prime Minister Paul Keating on the reserve bank, and former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s thoughts on the government’s ‘gas-lead recovery’.

ref. VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on the upcoming budget, government reform, and the NBN – https://theconversation.com/video-michelle-grattan-on-the-upcoming-budget-government-reform-and-the-nbn-146921

Australia’s natural history and native species should be on the citizenship test

Australias natural history and native species should be on the citizenship test

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Thomas M Wilson, Honorary Research Fellow in Literature and Environment, University of Western Australia

Australia’s proposed changes to the citizenship test has raised questions about whether you can really evaluate someone’s “Australian values” via a set of exam questions.

But here’s another question not even considered by the test: should Australian citizenship entail a knowledge and appreciation of Australia’s unique wildlife and natural history?

At its heart, this is a question about what it truly means to be an Australian. Some would argue I’m not qualified even to ask it. My ancestors arrived in Perth in 1830 from England and unloaded plenty of inappropriate cultural baggage, including cats, onto the shores of Australia.

Modern Australia is both an ancient land of hundreds of different languages and cultures, and a creation of transplanted Europeans who have sought to establish Western democratic ideals such as freedom of speech. There have also been many waves of economic migrants or those fleeing persecution and violence in their homelands.

With democratic ideals attacked or disregarded in many parts of the world, Australia’s citizenship test aims to ensure new citizens have a shared knowledge of these values and responsibilities. The current test puts a lot of emphasis on knowing about free speech, the constitution, and how parliaments are organised.

Armed forces members carry a large Australian flag with Parliament House in the background
There’s more to being Australian than knowing how Canberra works. Mick Tsikas/AAP Image

But being Australian shouldn’t just mean agreeing with the principles of free speech and deliberative democracy. In 2006, the Australian author William J. Lines published Patriots: Defending Australia’s Natural Heritage. The title presupposes that being Australian is bound up with knowing and appreciating at least a little of Australia’s heritage of unique lifeforms and ecosystems.

My own book, Stepping Off: Rewilding and Belonging in the South West, published in 2017, also champions the idea of embracing the natural environment as part of one’s identity, with a particular focus on Perth and Australia’s southwest corner, an internationally recognised hotspot for unique plants and animals.

An appreciation of Australia

In my book I lament some aspects of the “Britanisation” of this country by my forebears. I also decry the smooth surface that corporate globalisation has more recently smeared over our modern cities.

As a counterbalance to these forces, I suggest other ways of “becoming Australian” that might help us live more gracefully and sustainably on this landscape.


Read more: Why so many Australian species are yet to be named


What if we asked prospective Australian citizens to know and value the land on which we live, and the living things with which we share it? This might involve knowing facts such as:

  • much of southern Australia is geologically ancient, and broke from Antarctica around 40 million years ago before drifting north alone, evolving thousands of unique species

  • a eucalyptus leaf contains oils that can cause massive explosions in the forest canopy when fires tear through the environment, but which can also be used in kitchen detergents

  • Australia has about 70 species of macropod, of which kangaroos and wallabies are just two examples, and kangaroo meat is more sustainable than beef or lamb because of its low carbon footprint and its softer impact on the landscape compared with hoofed animals

  • a chuditch (or a quoll on the eastern side of the country), is a small carnivorous marsupial that is very friendly, although it’s (sadly) illegal to keep one as a pet.

Chuditch
Do you know a chuditch when you see one? SJ Bennett/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

I’m not suggesting throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I appreciate many of the legacies of Western civilisation, including freedom of speech, deliberative democracy, and the rule of law by an independent judiciary. Of course being Australian should mean accepting these central tenets.


Read more: The new Australian citizenship test: can you really test ‘values’ via multiple choice?


But we should expect new arrivals to our shores — including those whose ancestors have been here for a couple of centuries — to supplement this culture with an understanding and appreciation of land and ecosystem we live in. These values are also more aligned with those of Indigenous Australian cultures.

Being Australian shouldn’t just mean knowing about federation and the ANZACs, mateship and Vegemite. It should also mean knowing at least a little of the plants and animals, stones and clouds, smells and sights, of our wide shared land.

ref. Australia’s natural history and native species should be on the citizenship test – https://theconversation.com/australias-natural-history-and-native-species-should-be-on-the-citizenship-test-106940

We accidentally found a whole new genus of Australian daisies. You’ve probably seen them on your bushwalks

We accidentally found a whole new genus of Australian daisies. Youve probably seen them on your bushwalks

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Alexander Schmidt-Lebuhn, Research Scientist, CSIRO

When it comes to new botanical discoveries, one might imagine it’s done by trudging around a remote tropical rainforest. Certainly, that does still happen. But sometimes seemingly familiar plants close to home hold unexpected surprises.

We recently discovered a new genus of Australian daisies, which we’ve named Scapisenecio. And we did so on the computer screen, during what was meant to be a routine analysis to test a biocontrol agent against a noxious weed originally from South Africa.


Read more: Tree ferns are older than dinosaurs. And that’s not even the most interesting thing about them


The term “genus” refers to groups of different, though closely related, species of flora and fauna. For example, there are more than 100 species of roses under the Rosa genus, and brushtail possums are members of the Trichosurus genus.

This accidental discovery shows how much is still to be learned about the natural history of Australia. Scapisenecio is a new genus, but thousands of visitors to the Australian Alps see one of its species flowering each summer. If this species was still misunderstood, surely similar surprises are still out there waiting for us.

How it began

It all started with a biocontrol researcher asking a plant systematist, who looks at the evolutionary history of plants, to help figure out the closest Australian native relatives of the weed, Cape ivy (Delairea odorata).

Cape ivy leaves covering a tree stump
Cape ivy is destructive to agriculture and native plants. Murray Fagg/Australian Plant Image Index, Author provided

Weeds like Cape ivy cause major damage to agriculture in Australia, displace native vegetation and require extensive management. Biological control (biocontrol) is one way to reduce their impact. This means taking advantage of insects or fungi that attack a weed, generally after introducing them from the weed’s home range.

A well-known Australian example is the introduction of the Cactoblastis moth in 1926 to control prickly pear in Queensland and New South Wales. Even today it continues to keep that weed in check.


Read more: Explainer: how ‘biocontrol’ fights invasive species


To minimise the risk of selecting a biocontrol agent that will damage native flora, ornamental plants or crops, it’s tested carefully against a list of species of varying degrees of relatedness to the target weed.

Authorities will approve the release of a biocontrol agent only if scientists can show it’s highly specific to the weed. Assembling a list of species to test therefore requires us to understand the evolutionary relationships of the target weed to other plant species.

If such relationships are poorly understood, we might fail to test groups of species that are closely related to the target.

Missing data

Our target weed Cape ivy is a climbing daisy that has become invasive in temperate forests and coastal woodlands throughout south-eastern Australia. One of us, Ben Gooden, is researching the potential use of Digitivalva delaireae — a stem-boring moth — for its biocontrol.

We tried to design a test list, but could not find up-to-date information on Cape ivy’s relatives. We already knew it is related to the large groundsel genus Senecio, but we didn’t know how closely. And no genetic data existed for many Australian native species of Senecio.

So, we set out to solve this problem together.

First, we assembled already-published DNA sequences for as many Senecio species and relatives as we could find, and then generated sequences for an additional 32 native Australian species.

We then united all these genetic data into a comprehensive phylogenetic analysis. “Phylogenetics” infers the evolutionary relatedness of organisms to each other.

Hidden in the evolutionary tree

The resulting “evolutionary tree” showed many of the native Senecio species where we expected them to be. More importantly, however, it showed us that Cape ivy is actually quite distantly related to Senecio.

To our surprise, the analysis also placed several Australian species traditionally belonging to the Senecio genus far outside of it, indicating they didn’t belong to Senecio at all and needed to be renamed.

Simplified phylogenetic tree
Simplified phylogenetic tree of the daisy tribe Senecioneae showing the evolutionary distance between Senecio, Cape ivy, and the new genus. Unlabelled branches indicate other lineages of the same tribe. Alexander Schmidt-Lebuhn, Author provided

The most interesting group of not-actually-Senecio are five species with leaf rosettes and one (or rarely, a few) flowerheads carried on distinctive stalks.

They’re all restricted to alpine or subalpine areas of south-eastern Australia, and all except one are found only in Tasmania. They turned out to be so unrelated, and so distinct from any other named plant genera, that they have to be recognised as a genus in its own right.

Introducing Scapisenecio

We have now named this new genus as Scapisenecio, after the long flower stalks (scapes) characterising the plants.

The most widespread and common species is Scaposenecio pectinatus, commonly known as the alpine groundsel, which is a familiar sight to hikers and bushwalkers in the Australian mainland alps and the central highlands of Tasmania.

Close-up of a single yellow daisy
Species belonging to this genus are a common sight to alpine hikers. Alexander Schmidt-Lebuhn, Author provided

Apart from the excitement of finding a previously undescribed, distinctive genus, these results were also directly relevant to the original purpose of our work: informing a plant list to test possible biocontrol agents.

The traditional misclassification of these species would have misled us about their true relationships. Our new genetic data now allow us to test biocontrol agents on an appropriate sample of species, to minimise risks to our native flora.

It is not often we find that a new, unexpected lineage of plants has existed all along, right in front of us.


Read more: ‘Majestic, stunning, intriguing and bizarre’: New Guinea has 13,634 species of plants, and these are some of our favourites


ref. We accidentally found a whole new genus of Australian daisies. You’ve probably seen them on your bushwalks – https://theconversation.com/we-accidentally-found-a-whole-new-genus-of-australian-daisies-youve-probably-seen-them-on-your-bushwalks-139754

Is Malaysia heading for ‘BorneoExit’? Why some in East Malaysia are advocating for secession

Is Malaysia heading for BorneoExit? Why some in East Malaysia are advocating for secession

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By James Chin, Professor of Asian Studies, University of Tasmania

Unity is a common theme every year on Malaysia Day, the holiday celebrated last week that marks the day Malaysia became a federation in 1963.

That year, Britain agreed to relinquish control of most of its remaining colonies in Southeast Asia — Singapore, North Borneo (now called Sabah) and Sarawak. They then joined with Malaya, which had gained independence from Britain in 1957, to form a new nation called Federation of Malaysia.

The legal instrument to form the federation is called the Malaysia Agreement (MA63).

Yet, for the people of Sabah and Sarawak, located on the island of Borneo, the agreement left many with mixed emotions. Some people in these states have long desired secession and, in recent years, the drumbeat of separation has only grown louder.

This issue is now a key political issue in the Sabah state election this weekend and upcoming the Sarawak elections, which must be held before the end of 2021.

The two parts of Malaysia are separated by the South China Sea. Shutterstock

Source of historical grievances

In a nutshell, most people in Sabah and Sarawak (also known as East Malaysia) are unhappy with federation because they think it has not delivered on two main promises made in 1962 — high levels of autonomy and economic development.

In the first area, the federal government has stripped away a lot of local powers in Sabah and Sarawak in the last 57 years. On top of that, the federal authorities have tried to impose the same toxic racial and religious politics found in Malaya (also known as West Malaysia) to the eastern states.

East Malaysia is much more ethnically and religiously diverse compared to the west. For example, the Malay population is a minority in both Sabah and Sarawak; in fact, no ethnic group constitutes more than 40% in either state. As a result, political Islam has not taken root here.


Read more: Now that Malaysia has a new government, the real work begins reforming the country


In fact, one of the defining features of East Malaysia is intermarriage among the different ethnic and religious groups. The divide between Muslims and non-Muslims is reasonably insignificant — a marked difference from the often suspicious attitude Islamic leaders have toward non-Muslims in Kuala Lumpur.

In terms of economic development, Sabah remains one of the poorest states in Malaysia. And the infrastructure in both Sabah and Sarawak is vastly underdeveloped compared to the west of Malaysia.

To add insult to injury, more than half of Malaysia’s oil and gas production comes from Sabah and Sarawak. The common joke is that all the iconic infrastructure in peninsular Malaysia, such as the Petronas Towers, Penang Bridge and Kuala Lumpur international airport, was built with money from East Malaysia.

The infrastructure in Kuala Lumpur far exceeds that in Malaysia’s eastern states. FAZRY ISMAIL/EPA

Britain’s hand in the federation

In recent times, one of the biggest grievances in East Malaysia comes from the process of decolonisation administered by the British after the second world war.

There is clear, documented evidence that back in 1962, the colonial office in London used its powers and influence to get the local leaders in Sabah and Sarawak to agree to the formation of Malaysia.

The British wanted a clean exit from Southeast Asia and to ensure its former colonies did not turn to communism. So the British conceived the idea of a “Federation of Malaysia”, where its former territories would come under a single political entity.

Activists in East Malaysia say if the British had not supported the formation of the federation, it was highly unlikely local leaders would have agreed to it. Many would have instead preferred independence or a federation consisting of Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei (which gained independence from Britain much later, in 1984).

A campaign event in Sabah ahead of this weekend’s elections. Shutterstock

What Sabah and Sarawak want

All these historical grievances have led to a growing movement in Sabah and Sarawak advocating for secession from the federation.

With elections upcoming in both states, all local politicians — including those serving in the federal government — are now claiming to be MA63 nationalists trying to keep “Malaya out” of Sabah and Sarawak.

Social media is one key reason the secessionist movement has taken off in East Malaysia. It is now much easier for advocates to organise and magnify their grievances.

What the Sabah and Sarawak people want, at the very least, is a constitutional amendment to recognise the special autonomy of both states. But a significant minority argues the whole federation has failed, and thus secession is the only way forward.

Currently, the secessionist groups pose no real threat to the federation. But if enough people buy the secession argument in the future, public sentiment may be too strong for the national leaders to ignore.

How should the federal government respond?

There are basically two options available to the federal government.

The first is the ostensibly easy option — the political route. This would require the federal government to recognise the historical grievances and try to resolve them.

However, this is not as simple as it seems. The government is reluctant to grant real autonomy to the two states, worried this will end up weakening federal powers in the other 11 states of the federation.


Read more: Will the Najib Razak verdict be a watershed moment for Malaysia? Not in a system built on racial superiority


There was an attempt to reword the Constitution last year to symbolically recognise the special status of both states, but it failed.

This is the only way to keep the federation together, however. The federal leaders need to agree to recognise the special status of Sabah and Sarawak and grant them wide autonomy in the Constitution, as envisaged in the 1963 Malaysia Agreement.

The second option for the government is to play a wait-and-see game. Politically, this is dangerous, as the final outcome could very well be secession.

By way of comparison, the push for independence in Catalonia was similarly based on historical grievances that mushroomed into a mainstream political movement and eventually an independence referendum — declared illegal by Spain’s constitutional court.

At the very least, what is happening on the ground in East Malaysia suggests the decolonisation process in Southeast Asia is not yet complete. This colonial legacy is not merely history, but is clearly reflected in the present reality.

ref. Is Malaysia heading for ‘BorneoExit’? Why some in East Malaysia are advocating for secession – https://theconversation.com/is-malaysia-heading-for-borneoexit-why-some-in-east-malaysia-are-advocating-for-secession-146208

Televising school sport could put too much focus on performance, a price too high for young athletes

Televising school sport could put too much focus on performance, a price too high for young athletes

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Chris Whatman, Associate Professor, Sport and Exercise Science, Auckland University of Technology

A new deal to televise and live stream more secondary school sports in New Zealand has attracted significant attention and debate.

First XV secondary school rugby in New Zealand has been televised for some time on Sky Sport. The attraction of new revenue for broadcasters and other sporting organisations is clear, but what might the cost be for young athletes?

The new broadcast deal is a collaboration between the New Zealand Sport Collective (created by former Olympic rowing champion Rob Waddell and representing more than 50 sports) and Sky Sport Next, a YouTube channel run by Sky TV.

The deal evolved after consultation with several bodies including the New Zealand Secondary School Sports Council (NZSSSC), which coordinates secondary school sport.

It is easy to understand why some school students would like to be on television. But there are moral and ethical issues that need to be considered by those charged with governing school sport.


Read more: Children have fun playing sports and don’t need to satisfy adults’ ambitions


Some principals claim the partnership was not discussed with them in advance.

The increased television exposure adds to concerns of an overly professionalised, “win at all costs” culture that already exists in some school sport.

In response to these concerns, the NZSSSC set up a broadcasting charter in an attempt to protect the health and well-being of students and allow those who do not want to be televised to opt out.

But in reality, the power imbalances at play and other influences mean the charter is unlikely to be effective in many situations. For example, rather than opting out, some schools may feel pressure on them to stay in, to please players and parents.

Health vs performance

Adult high-performance sport must constantly balance health and performance, but secondary school sport must prioritise health.

Evidence suggests professional, high-performance athletes are at increased risk of a “high athlete identity”. This is the degree to which someone defines themself based on their athletic role, and looks to others for confirmation based on that role. This can have both positive and negative consequences.

Two players in a game of school rugby, one running with the ball.
School sport should be more about promoting health. Shutterstock/taka

A performance culture in school sport increases the likelihood of students developing a high athlete identity and this has been linked to dropout from sport.

Given only a very small number of students will become professional athletes (possibly less than 2%) the potentially negative consequences on mental health are a major concern.

Research in adults and US college athletes shows greater difficulty adjusting to a lack of sporting success and more frequent psychological issues in people with higher levels of athletic identity.

A recent secondary school rugby study in New Zealand found high performance expectations often led to a fear of failure. The expected commitment was too much alongside academic workloads.

On the physical side, there is real concern about attitudes to injury. The under-reporting of concussion in rugby is associated with the perceived importance of a match. More than 50% of players across multiple secondary school sports say they’ve seen a player play on when they thought they were concussed.

Beyond concussion, 80% of secondary school netball and football players say they have played while injured, and 50% report being pressured to do so. Increased intensity, driven by a performance culture, has also contributed to increased injuries at even earlier ages in intermediate school sport (ages 12 and 13).

Recent data from the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) and Netball NZ reveal a rise in injuries in the 10–14 age group over the past ten years.

Protecting young athletes

In response to concerns, Sport New Zealand recently launched its Balance is Better initiative, which promotes an evidence-based, developmental approach to youth sport.

We’re all about competition, but …

This philosophy does not seem to align with increased television exposure for school sport. It led to questions being asked about the mixed messages emanating from our government agency and their lack of leadership on this issue.

In New Zealand we appear to be at a crossroads in relation to youth sport. As researchers concerned about some of the costs associated with the increasing professionalisation of youth sport, the Balance is Better philosophy suggests we were moving in the right direction.

But increased exposure on television risks extending the high-performance culture in which success is measured solely by the scoreboard. This is increasingly irreconcilable with a culture in which healthy competition contributes to positive youth development.

School sport for all

At a time when the current culture of youth sport is a concern in many countries, is validating participation through the televising of youth sport the direction we want to go?


Read more: Let’s get real with college athletes about their chances of going pro


School sport should be an inclusive form of physical activity. It should be strategically aligned with health and developmental benefits for all students. It should engage as many students as possible, for as long as possible.

A performance-driven culture in school sport, fuelled by television exposure, promotes an inefficient and ineffective way to identify and develop talent. There is little evidence success in school sport predicts future adult sporting success.

The priority for schools should be to develop healthy, high-performing people, not high-performing athletes. School sport can (and should) be a highlight in the educational experience of youth, potentially enhancing physical, social and cultural development.

ref. Televising school sport could put too much focus on performance, a price too high for young athletes – https://theconversation.com/televising-school-sport-could-put-too-much-focus-on-performance-a-price-too-high-for-young-athletes-145680

Keith Rankin Analysis – The 2020 New Zealand Election is Not a Foregone Conclusion

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and National Party leader Judith Collins - the first One News leaders debate, 2020.
Analysis by Keith Rankin.
Keith Rankin.

The most recent TVNZ Colmar Brunton poll felt about right: Labour/Green on 54% and National/Act on 38% of decided voters. But I sense that Labour is losing momentum.

What needs to happen to make Judith Collins the Prime Minister in October? National/Act need just five percentage points more, and Green to fall below five percent. This combination of possibilities is not improbable.
Act is running hot with many voters just now, and seems to be winning over many undecided voters, just as the Bob Jones party did in 1984. While Act’s message of fiscal rectitude – a message laced with comedy – is quite cynical, it is effective with an electorate trained by almost all of our political messengers to be very afraid of public debt.
National has managed this fiscal policy issue much better than Labour, by promising – through ‘temporary’ tax cuts – both the need for immediate fiscal stimulus and the promise of lower future public debt. Further, Labour has boxed itself into a corner with its doubled ‘winter energy benefit’ soon coming to an end. Many poor Auckland families will fall into immediate poverty as a result, because they have been using this to pay the rent.
Disenchantment arising from the insensitivity of withdrawing benefits at this time may see many potential Labour voters not bothering to vote at all.
Labour stands to being seen as, simultaneously, both stingy, which it is, and profligate, as Act paints it. Both perceptions could be costly to Labour.  The Green Party suffers likewise, and is looking less attractive to its past left-feminist supporters, thanks to the James Shaw ‘Green School’ gaff.
Not only has Labour mismanaged the messaging about fiscal stimulus and public debt, it has also mismanaged the messaging about our two-vote voting system. Labour has failed to train the media into properly distinguishing between the proportional party vote and the plurality (ie ‘FPP’) electorate vote. Labour has shown no inclination to facilitate the election of a Green electorate MP, and that naïve pretence that the candidate vote is also a party vote could cost the present Government dearly.
To vote Labour in Auckland Central or Wellington Central or Tamaki-Makaurau (or anywhere else) is to vote for the Labour Party, not for the Labour electorate candidate. To vote for a Labour-led government, Labour supporters in those named electorates should vote for the Green Party candidate; in each case, to achieve their political objective, it is crucially important that those three Green candidates be in Parliament.
Even if Labour wins this time despite the Green Party failing, this would make a Jacinda Ardern led  government unnecessarily vulnerable in 2023.
I think that Labour/Green will prevail, nevertheless, despite both parties’ ‘own goals’. First, Labour’s billboards emphasising the electorate vote over the party vote may inadvertently help the Green Party get over five percent. Second, Labour’s biggest asset is the Judith Collins’ billboards showing Gerry Brownlee standing behind her. Gerry is truly yesterday’s man, is gaff-prone, and unpopular. The important question is whether Labour or Act becomes the main beneficiary of the Brownlee ‘turn-off’ effect.
(Judith Collins will be very happy if National gets 30% and Act gets 20%. Indeed, in that scenario, National may get some overhang MPs. And, with Paul Goldsmith not making it back to Parliament under that scenario, then David Seymour may become the next Minister of Finance. Help!)

Frydenberg is setting his budget ambition dangerously low

Frydenberg is setting his budget ambition dangerously  low

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Brendan Coates, Program Director, Household Finances, Grattan Institute

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s announcement that he’ll prioritise reducing unemployment ahead of reducing government debt is welcome news.

The government is required by the Charter of Budget Honesty to develop and publish a fiscal strategy to be used in each budget.

The one that it has been using doesn’t mention unemployment at all and instead talks about offsetting new spending “by reductions in spending elsewhere” and commits it to “achieve budget surpluses, on average, over the course of the economic cycle” – something that’s not going to happen for a long time.

A realistic fiscal strategy is a good idea. A lot of behaviour is driven by expectations. If consumers and businesses think the government is going to slash and burn its way to a surplus, any stimulus in the meantime will be less effective.

People are more likely to save, and businesses less likely to hire, if they think tax hikes and spending cuts are around the corner.

A clear statement that is not the case will help.

But the Treasurer’s pledge to keep running deficits “until the unemployment rate is comfortably back under 6%” is nowhere near ambitious enough.

Former US Federal Reserve Chairman William McChesney Martin Jr. once famously said that the central bank’s role is “to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going”.

Tightening budget policy – raising taxes or cutting spending – when unemployment crosses the 6% mark would be packing away the booze when many of the guests haven’t even arrived.

In the 15 years before COVID-19 struck, Australia’s unemployment rate had been above 6% only briefly, between mid 2014 and early 2016.


Unemployment rate, 2015 – 2019

Seasonally adjusted. ABS Labour Force, Australia

The unemployment rate was well below 6% before the pandemic struck, yet the labour market was clearly running below its potential.

Before the pandemic, the Reserve Bank revised down its estimate of the unemployment speed limit – the unemployment rate at which inflation and wages would accelerate – from 5% to around 4.5%.

The Treasurer should wait until we’re closer to that speed limit before reaching for the brakes. The difference between 6% and 4.5% unemployment might not sound like much, but it amounts to an extra 200,000 people or so in work.

And it affects the rest of us too. Most Australians won’t get anything more than modest pay rises until the labour market tightens.

The danger is declaring victory too soon

The government handled the acute phase of this crisis well, although not perfectly. It deserves credit for moving very quickly to support the economy. But the danger now is that it turns too soon to budget tightening, stunting a nascent recovery.

This is the mistake many governments and central banks made after the global financial crisis – acting commendably to shore up activity in the crisis phase, but then pulling away support before enough of the damage had been repaired.

With interest rates are so low, the government has a lot of capacity to run deficits without the debt-to-GDP ratio getting out of control.

As Frydenberg noted, “with historically low interest rates, it is not necessary to run budget surpluses to stabilise and reduce debt as a share of GDP — provided the economy is growing steadily”.


Read more: COVID will leave Australia with smaller economy and older population: Frydenberg


It’s a point made by former IMF Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard in one of the most influential recent papers in economics – his 2019 presidential address to the American Economics Association.

Blanchard noted that when the interest rate on government debt is less than the nominal growth rate of the economy, “public debt may have no fiscal cost”.

We’ve access to money for nothing

The Australian government can borrow for 10 years at a fixed interest rate of about 0.9%. It recently issued 30-year fixed-rate bonds for less than 2%.

Both are less than the Reserve Bank’s inflation target, suggesting that over time in real terms the money will cost nothing.

Over the past five years, Australia’s nominal growth rate has averaged 4%. The most recent Intergenerational Report projected average nominal growth of 5.25% a year for 40 years.

Even if economic growth falls well short of that projection it is hard to imagine it going below the rate at which the government can borrow for very long.

That means debt is likely to remain manageable relative to the size of the economy, and debt servicing costs will be modest, particularly compared to the benefits of stimulus.


Read more: Now we’ll need $100-$120 billion. Why the budget has to spend big to avoid scarring


Over the medium-term the government will need to ensure its debt is sustainable and does not continue to rise as a share of the economy.

But rushing too quickly to “repair” the budget position would be an economic ‘own goal’ – hampering job creation, economic growth, and ultimately the bottom line it sought to protect.

Reserve Bank Deputy Governor Guy Debelle said this week that “absent the fiscal stimulus, the economy would be significantly weaker and debt levels even higher”.

He is right. Taking the foot off the economic accelerator when unemployment is at 6% would condemn Australia to a long and slow recovery. It’s not in the Treasurer’s interest, and it’s not in ours.

ref. Frydenberg is setting his budget ambition dangerously low – https://theconversation.com/frydenberg-is-setting-his-budget-ambition-dangerously-low-146855

Fiji academic calls for more action to reverse Suva foreshore pollution

Fiji academic calls for more action to reverse Suva foreshore pollution

By Sheldon Chanel in Suva

Fiji’s Suva foreshore has been under “enormous” pressure from decades of destructive practices with little to no public awareness about the various afflictions, says prominent academic professor Vijay Naidu.

The problems have been exacerbated by no sustained public awareness campaign, absence of environmental issues in Pacific news media coverage and lack of leadership, Professor Naidu said.

Professor Naidu made the comment while delivering his keynote address at a two-day workshop this week organised by the University of the South Pacific’s journalism programme and the Earth Journalism Network (EJN).

The workshop looked at the causes and impacts of pollution in the Suva bay area and possible solutions.

“I have observed over 60 years massive changes to our foreshore including reclamation, destruction of mangrove forests, sewerage and solid waste, and the epidemic of plastic pollution,” he said.

“Fisheries in Suva Bay have been depleted enormously, and it is not safe to consume shell fish, or ‘kaikoso‘, collected here. Very sadly, there has hardly any systematic ‘fight back’!

“The public who use the water around the Suva Bay area for fishing have little or no idea about the state of the lagoon and what needs to be done to preserve such a wonderful resource for the people of Suva.

‘Need a penicillin injection’
“Some years ago, USP reported that if you fell in the waters of Suva harbour and Laucala Bay, you’d need a penicillin injection.”

The former head of the University of the South Pacific’s School of Government, Development and International Affairs was speaking as the chief guest at an environmental journalism workshop.

Professor Naidu said there was a need for greater collaboration between journalists and scientists to bring attention to these issues and to “help us begin the fightback”.

He commended the EJN for providing crucial support to Pacific journalists in the form of grants and training for stronger environmental reporting.

“The workshop is a great example of how scientists and journalists can work together for the greater good,” Professor Naidu said.

Such partnerships should make the public become more aware of the issues regarding the marine environment, and lead to stronger calls for change, Professor Naidu said.

Sheldon Chanel is the training editor for Wansolwara, USP Journalism’s student training newspaper and online publication. USP Journalism works in partnership with the Pacific Media Centre.

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Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

Greyhound pups must be tracked from birth to death, so we know how many are killed

Greyhound pups must be tracked from birth to death, so we know how many are killed

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Alexandra McEwan, Lecturer: Law, CQUniversity Australia

It’s been more than four years since New South Wales greyhound racing was rocked by a special inquiry that found overwhelming evidence of systemic animal cruelty, including mass killings. Overbreeding and euthanasia of healthy dogs is still one of the industry’s biggest challenges.

A key issue to emerge from the 2016 inquiry was the euthanasia of healthy greyhounds. It found evidence that, over 12 years, between 48,891 and 68,448 dogs were killed because they were considered “too slow to pay their way or were unsuitable for racing”.

The NSW Greyhound Racing Act was established in 2017 in response to the inquiry. The act is now under review. One question being examined is whether the industry needs an “unnecessary euthanasia” target.

I believe such a target is necessary. But it would require tracking greyhounds over their entire lives, to ensure none slip through the cracks. Such a scheme will come with a financial cost, but is the only way to assure the public the greyhound racing industry has truly reformed.

Greyhounds racing

Greyhounds born to the racing industry should be tracked. Shutterstock

Better accountability

Ten years ago, I argued for better accountability for all dogs bred for the greyhound racing industry – including tracking dogs over their lifespan.

In 2017, a panel considering industry reform recommended such an initiative. It also called for a target date for achieving zero unnecessary euthanasia, saying this should be considered in two years, informed by more robust data. The NSW government accepted the recommendation.


Read more: What other industries can learn from the failures of greyhound racing


I believe zero unnecessary euthanasia, in the context of this industry, ought to mean all pups born for the industry are rehomed, die of natural causes, or are euthanased following an injury – where that injury occurred on a race track where greyhound welfare is paramount in the design.

Research by the University of Technology, Sydney, has demonstrated severe injuries are lower where the number of dogs is limited to six starters and when the racing track is straight. These measures would reduce rates of dogs killed due to race injuries, and more dogs would eventually become available for rehoming.

Counting every puppy

Greyhounds are registered when they start racing – usually at around 16 months of age.

For more accurate data, all pups ought to be given an identification number at birth. This number would stay with them throughout their racing career and into retirement.

The Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission (GWIC) is an independent industry regulator established in 2017. According to GWIC figures for the year to June 2019, there were:

  • 3,747 greyhound puppy births
  • 1,435 greyhounds retirements
  • 832 greyhound deaths.

The difference in the number of greyhounds leaving the industry and those entering (as puppies) was 1,480 greyhounds. This suggests those who were not retired, or did not die, remain unaccounted for.

In a statement to The Conversation, the GWIC said it could not be assumed the 1,480 pups were surplus to the industry that year. The commission said it recently tracked a group of pups born between July and September 2018 and found the majority were either still with their original owner or breeder, or in the custody of a trainer. It said 13% had been sold for racing – either in NSW or to other states.

But without lifelong tracking, we cannot know for sure the fate of these pups, and whether any have been unnecessarily killed.

A greyhound puppy
The fate of many greyhound racing pups is unknown. Shutterstock

What happens after retirement?

A dog may be retired because it is not suitable for racing, is injured, or reaches the end of its racing life. Currently in NSW, greyhounds are retired via the Greyhound Adoption Program or alternative greyhound rehoming organisations.

In the year to June 2019, NSW’s Greyhound Adoption Program reported rehoming 729 greyhounds. While this is encouraging, it’s not clear how many greyhounds entered the program. The Conversation has sought comment from Greyhound Racing NSW, which runs the program, on the total number of dogs in the program.

In addition to rehoming programs, industry participants can also rehome dogs to people outside the greyhound industry. The animals must then be registered as companion animals. The GWIC must be empowered to undertake follow up inspections to ensure these dogs are safe.

A greyhound with its owner
In some cases, racing greyhounds can be rehomed. Shutterstock

Winning back the public

For greyhound lifecycle data to be accurate, the animals must be tracked via a birth identification number, which stays with them for life.

GWIC reports indicate it is working on these tracking issues. A lifespan tracking approach will cost money. The NSW government must ensure the regulator is adequately funded to implement and enforce such a scheme.

After the special inquiry, the greyhound racing industry said it was “willing to change” to meet strict animal welfare standards and regulatory guidelines. According to GWIC figures, the industry has made progress on lowering breeding rates, which obviously helps.

Ultimately, the greyhound industry’s future hangs on the question of unnecessary euthanasia – and targets for this must be based on accurate data. Only then will the industry convince the public that it’s committed to being cruelty-free.


Read more: New South Wales overturns greyhound ban: a win for the industry, but a massive loss for the dogs


ref. Greyhound pups must be tracked from birth to death, so we know how many are killed – https://theconversation.com/greyhound-pups-must-be-tracked-from-birth-to-death-so-we-know-how-many-are-killed-144868

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