Explainer: Scott Morrison was sworn in to several portfolios other than prime minister during the pandemic. How can this be done?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney

Lukas Coch/AAP

It has been reported that, during the pandemic, the then prime minister, Scott Morrison, swore himself in as a minister to several portfolios, including health, finance and resources.

Can this be done?

Uncertainty about the facts

First, there are inconsistent stories about what occurred. There has been reference to Morrison “swearing himself in” as a minister, when only the governor-general can appoint ministers.

It has also been said the attorney-general found a way for the governor-general to be cut out of the process by making changes by way of an administrative order. It is claimed the health minister knew about and supported such action, while the finance minister and the resources minister were unaware.

Another news story said the Commonwealth government has presented evidence to court that the prime minister was sworn in as minister for resources by the governor-general on April 15 2021.

It has since been confirmed the governor-general did appoint the prime minister to administer other ministerial portfolios, but no details have so far been provided. The details of exactly what happened therefore remain unclear.

Can ministers share the administration of legislation?

Because the titles and roles of ministers change all the time, statutes tend simply to confer power on “the minister”, without specifying which one. Section 19 of the Acts Interpretation Act says that to work this out you should look to the relevant “Administrative Arrangements Order”.

An Administrative Arrangements Order sets out the matters and legislation that fall within the responsibility of particular departments and their administering minister.

For example, during the pandemic, the Administrative Arrangements Orders said the Biosecurity Act was administered by the minister for health in relation to human health and the minister for agriculture in relation to animals and plants. They did not allocate the administration of this act to the prime minister.

The governor-general makes Administrative Arrangements Orders on the advice of the Federal Executive Council. The orders are published on the Federal Register of Legislation. No such order allocates the administration of the health, finance or resources legislation to the prime minister.

So the only way the prime minister could exercise powers granted by that legislation was if he was also appointed, or acting, as the minister for health, finance or resources.

The Cabinet could reach a collective decision about a policy issue, including how a minister’s power should be exercised in relation to it, and the minister would be bound by collective ministerial responsibility to act consistently with that decision. But the prime minister alone has no legal power to instruct a minister how to exercise powers conferred by statute on that minister.




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Can a minister exercise the powers of another minister?

Ministers can be struck down sick, go on holidays or be out of the country on business, so there is always a need for another minister to be able to exercise their powers. This is recognised in section 19(4) of the Acts Interpretation Act, which says a reference to a minister in an Act can include a reference to another minister who is acting on behalf of the first minister.

But this is usually when the first minister is unavailable. It is therefore different from the scenario of the prime minister simultaneously having the same powers as the ministers for health, finance and resources.

Section 34AAB of the Acts Interpretation Act also says that a minister who administers an Act may authorise another minister to act on behalf of the first minister in exercising powers under the Act. The authorisation must be in writing.

It is possible this power was used if, for example, the health minister agreed to exercise it. But it would not cover cases where the first minister did not choose to grant such an authorisation and did not know about it.

Resources Minister Keith Pitt was reportedly shocked to discover Scott Morrison had been sworn in as a second minister.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Appointing a minister to administer a portfolio

It is the governor-general who appoints ministers to particular portfolios and swears them in. This happens under section 64 of the Constitution. It is ordinarily done publicly, when a new ministry is being sworn in. The ministerial changes are then published in the Commonwealth Gazette and on the Federal Register of Legislation.

For example, on February 6 2020, Keith Pitt was appointed as minister for resources, water and Northern Australia. But it does not seem any ministerial change announcement was made for the appointment of the prime minister to become minister for resources in April 2021 (or at least, I haven’t yet found it).

A spokesperson for the official secretary of the governor-general stated:

The Governor-General […] appointed former Prime Minister Morrison to administer portfolios other than the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

This was done by an administrative instrument on the advice of the prime minister. The spokesperson also stated the decision whether to publicise such appointment is a matter for the government of the day.




Read more:
Changing the Australian Constitution is not easy. But we need to stop thinking it’s impossible


Secrecy and transparency

Is it appropriate for ministers to be secretly appointed to exercise statutory powers?

No, such matters should be notified to parliament and formally published so members of the public can know who is entitled to exercise particular powers. That is why we have Administrative Arrangements Orders and notifications of changes in ministerial responsibility that are recorded on the Federal Register of Legislation.

It is inappropriate for such matters to be kept secret – especially if it is kept secret from the Cabinet and from the minister who was formally allocated responsibility for a portfolio by the governor-general.

Such a lack of transparency is indicative of a lack of respect for the institutions of government and for the general public who have a right to know how power is allocated.

The Conversation

Anne Twomey has received funding from the Australian Research Council and occasionally does consultancy work for governments and inter-governmental bodies.

ref. Explainer: Scott Morrison was sworn in to several portfolios other than prime minister during the pandemic. How can this be done? – https://theconversation.com/explainer-scott-morrison-was-sworn-in-to-several-portfolios-other-than-prime-minister-during-the-pandemic-how-can-this-be-done-188718

Instagram and Facebook are stalking you on websites accessed through their apps. What can you do about it?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By David Tuffley, Senior Lecturer in Applied Ethics & CyberSecurity, Griffith University

Glen Carrie/Unsplash

Social media platforms have had some bad press in recent times, largely prompted by the vast extent of their data collection. Now Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has upped the ante.

Not content with following every move you make on its apps, Meta has reportedly devised a way to also know everything you do in external websites accessed through its apps. Why is it going to such lengths? And is there a way to avoid this surveillance?

‘Injecting’ code to follow you

Meta has a custom in-app browser that operates on Facebook, Instagram and any website you might click through to from both these apps.

Now ex-Google engineer and privacy researcher Felix Krause has discovered this proprietary browser has additional program code inserted into it. Krause developed a tool that found Instagram and Facebook added up to 18 lines of code to websites visited through Meta’s in-app browsers.

This “code injection” enables user tracking and overrides tracking restrictions that browsers such as Chrome and Safari have in place. It allows Meta to collect sensitive user information, including “every button and link tapped, text selections, screenshots, as well as any form inputs, like passwords, addresses and credit card numbers”.

Krause published his findings online on August 10, including samples of the actual code.

In response, Meta has said it isn’t doing anything users didn’t consent to. A Meta spokesperson said:

We intentionally developed this code to honour people’s [Ask to track] choices on our platforms […] The code allows us to aggregate user data before using it for targeted advertising or measurement purposes.

The “code” mentioned in the case is pcm.js – a script that acts to aggregate a user’s browsing activities. Meta says the script is inserted based on whether users have given consent – and information gained is used only for advertising purposes.

So is it acting ethically? Well, the company has done due diligence by informing users of its intention to collect an expanded range of data. However, it stopped short of making clear what the full implications of doing so would be.

People might give their consent to tracking in a more general sense, but “informed” consent implies full knowledge of the possible consequences. And, in this case, users were not explicitly made aware their activities on other sites could be followed through a code injection.

Why is Meta doing this?

Data are the central commodity of Meta’s business model. There is astronomical value in the amount of data Meta can collect by injecting a tracking code into third-party websites opened through the Instagram and Facebook apps.

At the same time, Meta’s business model is being threatened – and events from the recent past can help shed light on why it’s doing this in the first place.

It boils down to the fact that Apple (which owns the Safari browser), Google (which owns Chrome) and the Firefox browser are all actively placing restrictions on Meta’s ability to collect data.




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Last year, Apple’s iOS 14.5 update came alongside a requirement that all apps hosted on the Apple app store must get users’ explicit permission to track and collect their data across apps owned by other companies.

Meta has publicly said this single iPhone alert is costing its Facebook business US$10 billion each year.

Apple’s Safari browser also applies a default setting to block all third-party “cookies”. These are little chunks of tracking code that websites deposit on your computer and which tell the website’s owner about your visit to the site.

Google will also soon be phasing out third-party cookies. And Firefox recently announced “total cookie protection” to prevent so-called cross-page tracking.

In other words, Meta is being flanked by browsers introducing restrictions on extensive user data tracking. Its response was to create its own browser that circumvents these restrictions.

How can I protect myself?

On the bright side, users concerned about privacy do have some options.

The easiest way to stop Meta tracking your external activities through its in-app browser is to simply not use it; make sure you’re opening web pages in a trusted browser of choice such as Safari, Chrome or Firefox (via the screen shown below).

Click ‘open in browser’ to open a website in a trusted browser such as Safari.
screenshot

If you can’t find this screen option, you can manually copy and paste the web address into a trusted browser.

Another option is to access the social media platforms via a browser. So instead of using the Instagram or Facebook app, visit the sites by entering their URL into your trusted browser’s search bar. This should also solve the tracking problem.

I’m not suggesting you ditch Facebook or Instagram altogether. But we should all be aware of how our online movements and usage patterns may be carefully recorded and used in ways we’re not told about. Remember: on the internet, if the service is free, you’re probably the product.




Read more:
Is it even possible to regulate Facebook effectively? Time and again, attempts have led to the same outcome


The Conversation

David Tuffley does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Instagram and Facebook are stalking you on websites accessed through their apps. What can you do about it? – https://theconversation.com/instagram-and-facebook-are-stalking-you-on-websites-accessed-through-their-apps-what-can-you-do-about-it-188645

Why do my kids keep getting worms? And is that what is making them so cranky?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Mark Sandeman, Honorary Professor, Federation University Australia

Shutterstock

As a parent, it might feel like you are constantly giving your children worm treatments – usually in the form of chocolate or sweetened chewable tablets.

In fact, most kids in Australia (or any other rich country) get very few worms compared to kids in places where poor hygiene practices make all sorts of worms common. But there is one species of worm so common and so tied to humanity, it can defeat even our most comprehensive hygiene standards.

Young children are really good at transmitting infection with these tiny pests. And they can get really cranky in the process.




Read more:
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An ancient species

Pinworms are an ancient species and have been found in fossilised 230-million-year-old proto mammalian poo. The closest relatives of the pinworm humans get are found in our closest cousins, the apes. Our pinworms are thought to have evolved with us. The oldest pinworm eggs from a human host were found in some 10,000-year-old dried human stools discovered in a Colorado cave. So, pinworms are very well adapted to living in and with humans.

Pinworm infection is present in between 5% and up to 50% of primary school children, though easy access to good treatments and school education programs have reduced levels over the last 20 to 30 years.

microscopic worm
Pinworm under the microscope.
Shutterstock

These worms are white and thread-like with females measuring up to 13 milimetres long. Males are less than half that size. They live in humans worldwide, mostly in children between four and 11 years old. They can also infect adults though usually with less negative effects.

Pinworms have been associated with some other conditions including types of appendicitis, vaginitis and urethral infections but these are not common outcomes.




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The egg problem

The problem isn’t usually the adult worms, which live in the caecum (a pouch where the small and large intestines meet) for up to two months.

When the female wriggles out of the gut to lay her eggs around the anus – usually early in the morning – it can cause irritation. But the biggest issue is caused by eggs that are stuck onto the perianal skin with an irritating glue. This is what causes even more irritation and itching.

The worm’s life cycle actually depends on the child or adult scratching their bum. When the eggs are scratched off onto the hands or under the nails they can be transferred to other children at home or at school, or to adults. Most often they go to the scratching child’s mouth where they can be swallowed and start another infection, known as an “auto infection”.

The eggs are so light they can infest pyjamas, bed clothes, the bedroom and in long term infections they are found in house dust (though studies suggest these eggs are not viable beyond one week).

Pinworm eggs are literally a pain. They can make a child scratch so much they cause skin inflammation called puritis. This becomes very painful and can result in lost sleep and a very tired and cranky child.

two kids in airport scratching bottoms
Pinworm infection can cause intense itching.
Shutterstock



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One in three people are infected with _Toxoplasma_ parasite – and the clue could be in our eyes


So that’s what’s up with them …

There are many reasons for a child to be tired and cranky. But if your primary school age child is behaving this way and has an itchy bum, pinworm may be the culprit.

Pinworm eggs are so small they can’t be seen individually but the females lay more than 10,000 in creamy coloured clumps, which may be visible around the anus. The female is also visible when laying eggs, which means a check of your child’s bottom when they are itching intensely may be revealing. Otherwise a sticky tape swab of the skin next to the anus can be analysed for eggs under a microscope. Your doctor can organise such a test.

Treatment is simple and easily obtained from the chemist. Most worming brands use the same drug, called mebendazole. Medication should be taken by each member of the family and the dose should be repeated two weeks later to ensure control of pinworm in the home. Contaminated clothing and bedding should be washed in hot water.

Other methods of preventing infection include regularly washing hands and scrubbing finger nails. A shower with a good bum wash is also a good idea, especially in the morning. Trying to stop children sucking their fingers and thumbs, sucking toys or other items that might carry eggs is also suggested, though not easily achieved.

Although we have better control of pinworms in the 21st century, they are still with us and we are very unlikely to be able to eradicate such a well-adapted and intimately entwined parasite.

The Conversation

Mark Sandeman does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Why do my kids keep getting worms? And is that what is making them so cranky? – https://theconversation.com/why-do-my-kids-keep-getting-worms-and-is-that-what-is-making-them-so-cranky-187255

It’s time to give the ACT and NT stronger voices in parliament

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Kim Rubenstein, Professor, Academic Director, 50/50 by 2030 Foundation, University of Canberra

With more independents, women, Indigenous Australians and MPs from a multicultural background than ever before, federal parliament seems ready to deal with issues that have been lying dormant for years.

And one of these – highlighted by the heavily contested Senate race in the national capital in May – is the right of the ACT (and the Northern Territory) to enact their own voluntary assisted dying legislation.

The anomaly is especially evident to Canberrans. A person living in the NSW town of Queanbeyan who drives ten or 15 kilometres to work in Canberra has more democratic rights than colleagues who live in the ACT.

At the border they encounter section 122 of the Australian constitution, with its legislative override of ACT democracy – despite self-representation for the ACT having been legislated in 1988 (and 1978 for the NT).

Before self-government, the federal territories minister made all decisions about the ACT. Since 1988, the locally elected ACT Legislative Assembly is responsible for making laws for the ACT, and its counterpart in Darwin makes laws for the NT.

It was section 122 that empowered Coalition frontbencher Kevin Andrews to champion the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, which reduced the power of the ACT and NT assemblies to make laws permitting doctors to help a terminally ill person end their life. The Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022, passed in the house on August 3, is designed to reverse that legislation.

Debate on the bill resumes in the Senate on September 5. If it passes, as looks likely but not certain, it will restore the right of territorians to equality of self-government – at least in this respect, and at least for the time being, given the threat of override is always hanging.

A long road to self-government

The road to representation for residents of the ACT and the NT began with the Senate (Representation of Territories) Act 1973, passed in August 1974, which allowed for two senators each from the Northern Territory and the ACT in the 1975 and subsequent elections. Each state was represented by ten senators (formerly six), a number that increased to 12 in 1983.

Comparisons make the anomaly obvious. Tasmania, with a population only slightly more than the ACT, has 12 senators while the ACT and the NT are still stuck on two. Back in 1975, the NT’s population was around 100,000; by 2021, according to the census, it was 233,000.

Over the same period the ACT’s population has grown from 200,400 to more than 454,000. In each state, population growth over those 46 years has merited two more senators, but each territory’s representation has stayed at two.

Section 40 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act allows the number of senators in the ACT or the NT to increase beyond two only when the number of House of Representatives seats in the jurisdiction grows to six or more. With the ACT’s House representation now on three, there is little prospect of this. (Tasmania, with 402,000 electors at this year’s election to the ACT’s 314,329, has five lower house seats.)

A simple but effective change

But the Commonwealth Electoral Act can be amended by the parliament under section 122 of the Constitution. Doing so would open the Commonwealth’s ear to the ring of Canberra and NT residents’ views about decisions that have a specific impact on the territories. It would also enable smaller parties and independents the same opportunities to reflect the diversity of the territories’ citizenry as they do elsewhere in the country.

Increased representation would also make a bill like the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 much less likely. How? Under the Senate’s proportional representation system, a candidate currently needs 33% of the vote to be elected in the ACT or NT. Increasing the number of Senators to four, but retaining the current three-year terms, would reduce that quota to 20%.




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This is still a significant threshold, but it would give smaller parties and independents a real chance at each election of obtaining representation.

This year’s serious contest for the ACT’s Senate places, with the surprise election of an independent candidate, David Pocock, means that the ACT’s needs are for the first time taken seriously by all parties. Labor’s Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022 is the striking result.

A simple doubling of territory representation in the Senate is nowhere near as dramatic as a proposal for the ACT or the NT to become a state, which would require constitutional change. It is a modest change to legislation that would have a similar practical impact while helping restore democracy in our federal system.

The Conversation

Kim Rubenstein received funding for earlier research projects from the Australian Research Council. In May this year she and Kim Huynh ran as “Kim for Canberra” candidates for the Senate in the ACT.

ref. It’s time to give the ACT and NT stronger voices in parliament – https://theconversation.com/its-time-to-give-the-act-and-nt-stronger-voices-in-parliament-188717

Why do I wake up thirsty?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Evangeline Mantzioris, Program Director of Nutrition and Food Sciences, Accredited Practising Dietitian, University of South Australia

Shutterstock

If you wake up in the morning feeling thirsty, you might be dehydrated.

There are a few things which might be at play here, including not drinking enough the day before.

The temperature overnight will also impact your hydration levels, with warm conditions meaning you will sweat overnight.

However, even during cold weather, we still lose fluid from breathing, which you’ve probably noticed when your breath becomes visible in the cold.

Often people avoid drinking fluids just before bed to avoid waking in the night to visit the toilet, which may further exacerbate dehydration.

And one of the commonest causes for waking up thirsty is consuming too many diuretics, especially alcohol. Diuretics are things which cause you to lose fluid through urine, but beyond what you would normally lose from the volume you have consumed.

So why is it so important to stay hydrated, and what can we do to ensure we are?

How do I know if I’m dehydrated?

Our brains release a hormone called “antidiuretic hormone” when it senses we are becoming dehydrated. It also releases this during the night to help us retain fluid since we can’t drink water while we sleep.

This hormone does two things. It makes us feel thirsty, prompting us to go and drink water, and it tells our kidneys to absorb more water back into the body, rather than turning it into urine.

This response occurs when we are dehydrated by 1-2% of our body weight. So if you weigh 70kg, and you have lost 1.4kg of weight over the day, it is a 2% loss of body fluids. (We know this amount of weight loss is fluids and not body weight, as it would almost be impossible for people to lose this amount of fat and/or muscle in a day).

The colour of your first morning urine is a really good indicator of how hydrated you are. The darker the colour, the more dehydrated you are. You should be aiming for your first morning urine, as viewed in a white toilet bowl, to be the colour of hay.

Urine colour chart infographic

Why is hydration important?

Staying hydrated is crucial for the optimal functioning of our body.

Dehydration, even at 2% of body weight, can impact physical performance – this includes things like fine motor skills, coordination, and strength and endurance when working and exercising. It also makes you feel like you are exerting yourself more than normal, which means you will tire more easily.

Cognitive performance and ability are also affected at 1-2% dehydration. This includes the ability to concentrate, solve problems and make decisions.

Dehydration also increases your risk of feeling more unwell with heat, and of course in heat you are more at risk of dehydration. Health is further impacted if dehydration goes beyond 2%. At about 10% dehydration (so losing 7kg of fluids in a 70kg person), delirium can set in, as well as renal failure and even death.

Recommendations tell us we need to consume around two litres of fluid per day, much of which can come from the food we eat, and importantly fluid losses can be corrected within 24 hours.

What are diuretics and why do they make us dehydrated?

Diuretics are a class of drugs that make the kidneys remove salt and water from the body through urine, usually to treat high blood pressure. But naturally occurring diuretics are also found in our diet.

Alcoholic drinks above 4% alcohol concentration cause our body to turn more fluid into urine than the amount of fluid we’re actually drinking. Given most beers, wines and spirits are above this level, a night with friends having a couple of glasses of alcohol may cause dehydration.

Bottles of liquor
Alcohol above 4% concentration causes you to lose more fluid than you gain from drinking it.
Andreas M/Unsplash, CC BY

Coffee is also a diuretic as it contains two chemicals, caffeine and theophylline, which both increase blood flow to the kidneys – this makes them excrete more fluid. Intakes below 450mg of caffeine (about three to four coffees) are unlikely to impact hydration levels, and most people have a lot of milk and water with their coffee which would replenish most of the fluid lost.

Other known diuretics include cranberry juice, ginger, fennel, apple cider vinegar and some teas including green, dandelion and nettle. There are many herbs that are known to be diuretics. However, this does not mean they should be avoided as they offer many other important nutrients, and fluid recommendations account for diuretics in foods consumed in typical serve sizes.

Eating foods high in salt does not lead to total water loss from your body, but it causes fluid loss from your cells. This is problematic for your body and the way cells are regulated. So it’s crucial to drink plenty of fluids when consuming a high-salt meal or diet.




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How can I stay hydrated?

Activities that lead to increased sweating, such as training, playing sport or even gardening, can cause dehydration. So be sure to increase your fluid intake if you have been active, or if the weather is warm.

All fluids contribute to your intake, but water is very effective.

Recently a group of researchers looked at the potential of different beverages to affect hydration status relative to water.

Sparkling water, sports drinks, cola, diet cola, tea and coffee were equivalent to water. Milk (any fat percentage) from either dairy or soy, milk-based meal replacements, oral rehydration solutions and beer under 4% alcohol were superior to water. And of course alcohol above 4% alcohol concentration was inferior to water.

The Conversation

Evangeline Mantzioris is affiliated with Alliance for Research in Nutrition, Exercise and Activity (ARENA) at the University of South Australia. Evangeline Mantzioris has received funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council, and has been appointed to the National Health and Medical Research Council Dietary Guideline Expert Committee.

ref. Why do I wake up thirsty? – https://theconversation.com/why-do-i-wake-up-thirsty-183731

‘Life hates surprises’: can an ambitious theory unify biology, neuroscience and psychology?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Ross Pain, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Philosophy, Australian National University

Shutterstock

In the early 1990s, British neuroscientist Karl Friston was poring over brain scans. The scans produced terabytes of digital output, and Friston had to find new techniques to sort and classify the massive flows of data.

Along the way he had a revelation. The techniques he was using might be similar to what the brain itself was doing when it processed visual data.

Could it be he had stumbled upon a solution to a data engineering problem that nature had discovered long ago? Friston’s eureka moment led to a “theory of everything”, which claims to explain the behaviour of the brain, the mind, and life itself.

As we discovered when we put together a collection of papers, the theory – known as the “free energy principle” – is controversial among scientists and philosophers.

Re-engineering nature

Friston’s initial idea was appealing because the problem facing the brain is similar to that facing an experimental scientist. Both must use the data they have to draw conclusions about events they cannot observe directly.

The neuroscientist uses scan data to infer facts about brain processes. The brain uses sensory input to infer facts about the external world.

The algorithm Friston used to draw conclusions from his data – a mathematical operation called “minimising free energy” – was based on existing techniques in statistical analysis.

Karl Friston thought the method he used to interpret brain scans might be the same as the method the brain itself used to interpret visual data.
NIMH / Wikimedia

Friston (and others such as computer scientist Geoff Hinton) realised artificial neural networks could easily carry out this operation. And if artificial neural networks could do it, perhaps biological neural networks could too.

But Friston didn’t stop there. He reasoned that the problem of drawing conclusions from limited information is a problem faced by all living things.

This led him to the “free energy principle”: that every living thing, everywhere, minimises free energy.

The free energy principle

But what, exactly, is free energy? Why might all living things minimise it?

Start with a simpler idea: every organism is trying to minimise how surprising its experiences are. By “surprising”, we mean experiences that have not been encountered previously by the organism or its ancestors.

Your ancestors were successful enough to produce a lineage that eventually produced you, so what they experienced must have promoted survival. And your own experiences so far have resulted in you still being alive.




Read more:
What happens when your brain looks at itself?


So experiences you have not had before – surprises, in other words – may be dangerous. (The ultimate surprise is death.)

We can dress this idea in mathematical clothes by defining surprise in terms of probabilities. The less probable an experience, the more surprising.

And that’s where “free energy” enters the picture. It’s not energy as we would usually think of it – in this situation, free energy measures how improbable your experience would be if a certain unobserved situation were true.

No surprises?

Minimising free energy means choosing to believe in the unobserved situation that makes your observations least surprising.

Here’s an example: imagine you are picnicking in the park, watching two friends kick a football to and fro. Your view is occluded by a tree, so you don’t see the full trajectory of the kicked ball.

Now, it is possible that there is a third person behind the tree, who catches the ball each time it passes them and then throws on a spare ball they have handy.

There might be a person behind this tree. But on the whole, it’s less surprising to believe there isn’t one.
Simon Wilkes / Unsplash

However, there is no evidence for the existence of this third person, so their existence would be very surprising. So you can minimise your surprise by believing there is no secret third person behind the tree.

Minimizing free energy can help guide our actions, too. According to the free energy principle, you should do things that will change the world in such a way that your experiences are less likely to be surprising!

Seen from this perspective, we eat to avoid the surprise of extreme hunger, and we seek shelter to avoid the surprise of being cold.

How much does a ‘theory of everything’ actually explain?

So the free energy principle is a “theory of everything” spanning neuroscience, psychology and biology! But not everyone is convinced it’s a useful idea.

Some of the skepticism concerns whether or not the theory is true. An even bigger concern is that, even if it is true, it may not be very useful.

But why would people think this?

The American population biologist Richard Levins famously outlined a dilemma facing scientists who study biological systems.

These systems contain a huge amount of potentially important detail, and when we model them we cannot hope to capture all of it. So how much detail should we attempt to capture, and how much should we leave out?

Levins concluded there is a trade-off between the level of detail in a model and the number of systems it applies to. A model that captures a lot of detail about a specific system will be less informative about other, similar systems.

For instance, we can model the technique of an Olympic swimmer in order to improve their performance. But that model will not faithfully represent a different swimmer.

On the other hand, a model that covers more systems will be less informative about any particular system. By modelling how humans swim in general, we can design swimming lessons for children, but individual differences between children will be ignored.

The moral is that our models should fit our aims. If you want to explain the workings of a particular system, produce a highly specific model. If you want to say things about a lot of different systems, produce a general model.

Too general to be useful?

The free energy principle is a highly general model. It might even be the most general model in the life sciences today.

But how useful are such models in the day-to-day practice of biology or psychology? Critics argue Friston’s theory is so general that it is hard to see how it might be put to practical use.

Proponents claim successes for the free energy principle, but will it turn out to be an enormous breakthrough? Or do theories that try to explain everything end up explaining nothing?

The Conversation

Michael David Kirchhoff receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Ross Pain and Stephen Francis Mann do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. ‘Life hates surprises’: can an ambitious theory unify biology, neuroscience and psychology? – https://theconversation.com/life-hates-surprises-can-an-ambitious-theory-unify-biology-neuroscience-and-psychology-184052

Australia wasn’t always supportive of India becoming independent. But 75 years on, relations have thawed

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Amitabh Mattoo, Honorary Professor of International Relations, The University of Melbourne

Mohandas Gandhi, who led India’s fight for independence, talks to a crowd in Ahmedabad, India in 1931. AP

On this day 75 years ago, after a long battle for self-government, Great Britain finally withdrew from the subcontinent – allowing independence for India and Pakistan.

Once described as the “jewel in the crown”, the British withdrawal from the Indian empire was a reflection of the strength of the freedom movement, led by Mohandas Gandhi and others, as well as Great Britain’s plummeted standing as a power after the second world war.

As two countries part of the British empire, India and Australia had at least that in common. So what did India’s independence mean for its relationship with Australia?

A history of mistrust and neglect

There are few countries in Asia today that have more in common in both values and interests than India and Australia. The recently signed Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (EKTA) and the deepening security cooperation through the “Quad” (the Quadrilateral security dialogue, which also includes Japan and the United States) are examples of the robustness of the bilateral relationship.

But this was not always the case. For nearly six decades, bilateral relations were characterised by misperception, lack of trust, neglect, missed opportunities and even hostility.

Historically, Australia and India established diplomatic relations even before India’s independence. New Delhi set up a High Commission in Canberra in 1945, while Australia had done so a year earlier.

In April 1947, Australia sent observers to the Asian Relations Conference in Delhi hosted by India’s future prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, signalling its willingness to identify with the “National Movements for Freedom” of the colonised countries of Asia. The then Labour government of Prime Minister Ben Chifley welcomed India’s independence and its willingness to be part of the Commonwealth.

However, this diplomatic honeymoon dramatically changed after Robert Menzies became prime minister in 1949. Menzies had been sceptical about India’s independence, describing it as a country that had “not yet reached the stage at which the majority of its people are by education, outlook and training, fit for self-government,” and disagreed with India’s decision to become a republic although remaining part of the Commonwealth of States.

In 1955, Menzies – Australia’s longest serving prime minister – went further. He decided Australia should not take part in the Bandung Afro-Asian conference. By distancing Australia from the “new world”, Menzies (who would later confess that the western world did not understand India) alienated Indians, offended Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (India’s longest standing prime minister) and left Australia unsure, for decades, about its Asian identity.

Through these years, India and Australia rarely had a meaningful conversation. The reasons are not difficult to identify: the White Australia Policy, the Cold War, the Nehru-Menzies discord, India’s economic policies which strived for self-sufficiency, Canberra’s strident response to New Delhi’s nuclear tests in 1998, and attacks on Indian students in Victoria in 2009.

The legacy of each was long-lasting: years after the White Australia Policy became history and Australia became one of the most multicultural nations, it seemed, at least anecdotally, that most Indians were unaware of this fundamental change. The only exposure most Indians had to Australia was to the Australian cricket team — the least multicultural of institutions. We used to celebrate each other’s problems rather than our successes.

Improved relations

A new chapter in India’s relations with Australia began in the second decade of the 21st century. In September 2014, the visit of Liberal prime minister, Tony Abbott, to India — also the first stand-alone state visit to be hosted by the Narendra Modi-led government — brought any sour historical relations to a close.




Read more:
Abbott’s visit to take Australia-India relations beyond cricket


In a reciprocal gesture, two months later Modi became the first Indian prime minister to visit Australia in 33 years. The last Indian prime minster to visit Australia had been Indira Gandhi, a visit remembered for its insignificance since it did nothing to improve relations.

Today, apart from being two English-speaking, multicultural, federal democracies that believe in and respect the rule of law, both have a strategic interest in ensuring a balance in the Indo-Pacific and in ensuring the region is not dominated by any one hegemonic power. In addition, Indians are today the largest source of skilled migrants to Australia.

Relations between India and Australia have deepened dramatically over the past decade. India’s economic growth and its burgeoning demand for energy, resources and education have made it suddenly one of Australia’s largest export markets.




Read more:
Why the Australia-India relationship has nowhere to go but up, despite differences on Russia and trade


Beyond the trade links, there is the shared concern in Canberra and New Delhi about security and stability in the region. We are living through a period of immense turbulence, disruption and even subversion. The near overwhelming presence of an illiberal, totalitarian China, increasingly unilateralist, interventionist and mercantilist – willing to write its own rules – is the single biggest challenge to the two countries. It was for this reason the Quad partnership began.

Lessons for Australia

As India and Indians celebrate the 75th anniversary of independence, it is more than just an event. For Indians independence was the culmination of a struggle of nearly 200 years, and the decades after independence have demonstrated the country’s growth as a self-confident country.

It has sustained, for the most, itself as a liberal democracy and improved its standing in the international system while earning the respect of the rest of the world, despite continuing problems.

Perhaps it’s time Australia – learning from the Indian example – declared itself as a republic, became much more inclusive in terms of empowering the Indigenous people, and recognised that it is today an Asian country, in a real sense, rather than being part of the Anglosphere.

The Conversation

Amitabh Mattoo does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Australia wasn’t always supportive of India becoming independent. But 75 years on, relations have thawed – https://theconversation.com/australia-wasnt-always-supportive-of-india-becoming-independent-but-75-years-on-relations-have-thawed-187526

The COVID lab leak theory is dead. Here’s how we know the virus came from a Wuhan market

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Edward C Holmes, ARC Australian Laureate Fellow and Professor, University of Sydney

My colleagues and I published the most detailed studies of the earliest events in the COVID-19 pandemic last month in the journal Science.

Together, these papers paint a coherent evidence-based picture of what took place in the city of Wuhan during the latter part of 2019.

The take-home message is the COVID pandemic probably did begin where the first cases were detected – at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.

At the same time this lays to rest the idea that the virus escaped from a laboratory.

Huanan market was the pandemic epicentre

An analysis of the geographic locations of the earliest known COVID cases – dating to December 2019 – revealed a strong clustering around the Huanan market. This was true not only for people who worked at or visited the market, but also for those who had no links to it.

Although there will be many missing cases, there’s no evidence of widespread sampling bias: the first COVID cases were not identified simply because they were linked to the Huanan market.

The Huanan market was the pandemic epicentre. From its origin there, the SARS-CoV-2 virus rapidly spread to other locations in Wuhan in early 2020 and then to the rest of the world.

The Huanan market is an indoor space about the size of two soccer fields. The word “seafood” in its name leaves a misleading impression of its function. When I visited the market in 2014, a variety of live wildlife was for sale including raccoon dogs and muskrats.

Dark image of the closed Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, January 2020
Chinese authorities closed the Huanan market on the first day of 2020.
Getty Images

At the time I suggested to my Chinese colleagues that we sample these market animals for viruses. Instead, they set up a virological surveillance study at the nearby Wuhan Central Hospital, which later cared for many of the earliest COVID patients.

Wildlife were also on sale in the Huanan market in 2019. After the Chinese authorities closed the market on January 1 2020, investigative teams swabbed surfaces, door handles, drains, frozen animals and so on.

Most of the samples that later tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 were from the south-western corner of the market. The wildlife I saw for sale on my visit in 2014 were in the south-western corner.

This establishes a simple and plausible pathway for the virus to jump from animals to humans.




Read more:
How do viruses mutate and jump species? And why are ‘spillovers’ becoming more common?


Animal spillover

SARS-CoV-2 has evolved into an array of lineages, some familiar to us as the “variants of concern” (what we call Delta, Omicron and so on). The first split in the SARS-CoV-2 family tree – between the “A” and “B” lineages – occurred very early in the pandemic. Both lineages have an epicentre at the market and both were detected there.

Further analyses suggest the A and B lineages were the products of separate jumps from animals. This simply means there was a pool of infected animals in the Huanan market, fuelling multiple exposure events.

Reconstructing the history of mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 genome sequence through time showed the B lineage was the first to jump to humans. It was followed, perhaps a few weeks later, by the A lineage.

All these events are estimated to have occurred no earlier than late October 2019. Claims that the virus was spreading before this date can be dismissed.

A team of people doing disinfecting work at the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, March 2020
A team of people working on disinfecting the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, March 2020.
China News Service/Getty Images

What’s missing, of course, is that we don’t yet know exactly which animals were involved in the transfer of SARS-CoV-2 to humans. Live wildlife were removed from the Huanan market before the investigative team entered, increasing public safety but hampering origin hunting.

The opportunity to find the direct animal host has probably passed. As the virus likely rapidly spread through its animal reservoir, it’s overly optimistic to think it would still be circulating in these animals today.

The absence of a definitive animal source has been taken as tacit support for counter claims that SARS-CoV-2 in fact “leaked” from a scientific laboratory – the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Death knell for the lab leak theory

The lab leak theory rests on an unfortunate coincidence: that SARS-CoV-2 emerged in a city with a laboratory that works on bat coronaviruses.

Some of these bat coronaviruses are closely related to SARS-CoV-2. But not close enough to be direct ancestors.

Sadly, the focus on the Wuhan Institute of Virology has distracted us from a far more important connection: that, like SARS-CoV-1 (which emerged in late 2002) before it, there’s a direct link between a coronavirus outbreak and a live animal market.

Consider the odds that a virus that leaked from a lab was first detected at the very place where you would expect it to emerge if it in fact had a natural animal origin – vanishingly low. And these odds drop further as we need to link both the A and B lineages to the market.

Was the market just the location of a super-spreading event? Nothing says so. It wasn’t a crowded location in the bustling and globally connected metropolis of Wuhan. It’s not even close to being the busiest market or shopping mall in the city.

For the lab leak theory to be true, SARS-CoV-2 must have been present in the Wuhan Institute of Virology before the pandemic started. This would convince me.

But the inconvenient truth is there’s not a single piece of data suggesting this. There’s no evidence for a genome sequence or isolate of a precursor virus at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Not from gene sequence databases, scientific publications, annual reports, student theses, social media, or emails.

Even the intelligence community has found nothing. Nothing. And there was no reason to keep any work on a SARS-CoV-2 ancestor secret before the pandemic.

To assign the origin of SARS-CoV-2 to the Wuhan Institute of Virology requires a set of increasingly implausible “what if?” scenarios. These eventually lead to preposterous suggestions of clandestine bioweapon research.

The lab leak theory stands as an unfalsifiable allegation. If an investigation of the lab found no evidence of a leak, the scientists involved would simply be accused of hiding the relevant material. If not a conspiracy theory, it’s a theory requiring a conspiracy.

It provides a convenient vehicle for calls to limit, if not ban outright, gain-of-function research in which viruses with greatly different properties are created in labs. Whether or not SARS-CoV-2 originated in this manner is incidental.




Read more:
We want to know where COVID came from. But it’s too soon to expect miracles


Wounds that may never be healed

The acrid stench of xenophobia lingers over much of this discussion. Fervent dismissals by the Chinese scientists of anything untoward are blithely cast as lies.

Yet during this crucial period these same scientists were going to international conferences and welcoming visitors. Do we honestly believe they would have such a pathological disdain for the consequences of their actions?

The debate over the origins of COVID has opened wounds that may never be healed. It has armed a distrust in science and fuelled divisive political opinion. Individual scientists have been assigned the sins of their governments.

The incessant blame game and finger pointing has reduced the chances of finding viral origins even further. History won’t judge this period kindly.

Global collaboration is the bedrock of effective pandemic prevention, but we’re in danger of destroying rather than building relationships. We may even be less prepared for a pandemic than in 2019. Despite political barriers and a salivating media, the evidence for a natural animal origin for SARS-CoV-2 has increased over the past two years. To deny it puts us all at risk.

The Conversation

Edward C Holmes receives funding from the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council. He has received consultancy fees from Pfizer Australia and has held honorary appointments (for which he has received no renumeration and performed no duties) at the China CDC in Beijing and the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center (Fudan University)

ref. The COVID lab leak theory is dead. Here’s how we know the virus came from a Wuhan market – https://theconversation.com/the-covid-lab-leak-theory-is-dead-heres-how-we-know-the-virus-came-from-a-wuhan-market-188163

Tall timber buildings are exciting, but to shrink construction’s carbon footprint we need to focus on the less sexy ‘middle’

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Lisa Ottenhaus, Lectuer in Structural Timber Engineering, The University of Queensland

Developer Thrive Construct recently announced the world’s tallest steel-timber hotel to be built at Victoria Square, Adelaide. Australia has caught onto the trend of building taller in timber, with other plans for three buildings 180-220 metres high submitted in Perth and Sydney. These would more than double the current world record for a timber building.

Tall timber buildings, made entirely of mass timber (layers of wood bonded together) or steel-timber and timber-concrete hybrid construction, are gaining popularity worldwide. Every couple of months a yet taller timber building seems to pop up somewhere. My colleagues and I joke that we have stopped trying to keep up.

Timber is a sustainable, renewable material that stores carbon while in use, and the appeal of using it in skyscrapers is clear. But I worry that focusing only on the tall means we overlook the “middle”: apartment buildings, hospitals, schools and shopping centres. Buildings like these are dominated by concrete, steel and brick, all of which are carbon- or energy-intensive materials.

The “middle” is not sexy, and probably won’t make the news, but it’s where timber construction can have a significant sustainability impact.

A 2017 study found Australia’s construction sector is responsible for 18% of the country’s carbon footprint. Current emissions are expected to double by 2050 if we don’t change the way we build.




Read more:
Tracking the transition: the ‘forgotten’ emissions undoing the work of Australia’s renewable energy boom


Change is challenging. Developers and designers favour familiar construction materials and methods where cost estimates are straightforward. Timber requires a change of thinking and early contractor involvement to be cost-competitive.

But if we truly want to do something about our nation’s carbon footprint, the whole construction industry urgently needs to shift, with Australian government support, towards renewable, low-carbon construction materials and methods. This means to build with timber if we can, use steel and concrete if we must.

Timber technology is transforming construction

The Australian timber industry has embraced mass timber such as glue-laminated timber (glulam or GLT) for beams and columns, and cross-laminated timber (CLT) for panels. Mass timber is more homogeneous than sawn timber, resulting in higher strength, and allowing us to build taller than ever before. Australia’s third CLT plant is set to open in 2023 in Tasmania.

Globally, timber has reached new heights over the past 15 years. Noteworthy projects include the University of British Columbia’s Brock Commons student accommodation, 53 metres high and made of mass timber and concrete. The tallest timber building until recently was the 85-metre-high Mjøstårnet in Norway, made entirely of CLT and glulam. It lost its title to Ascent, an 86-metre, 25-storey, timber-concrete tower in the United States.

In comparison, Australia’s tallest buildings to date reach a mere ten storeys. Australia’s “first” was Lendlease’s Forté Melbourne, a CLT apartment building finished in 2013. Aurecon’s 25 King Street in Brisbane was Australia’s first open-plan office building, 52 metres high and made entirely of mass timber.

Another interesting “tall-ish” timber building is Monterey Kangaroo Point luxury apartments in Brisbane. The developers Gardner Vaughan opted for a relatively lightweight solution of CLT and a single concrete core, as the building stands above the Clem Jones Tunnel.

Australia is determined to go tall in timber. The University of Queensland’s Future Timber Hub is studying how to build taller timber buildings, including extensive research on fire safety. Better understanding of fire behaviour has driven a change in legislation, lifting height limits on timber buildings, and boosted developers’ confidence to plan much taller buildings.

Building tall in timber is an art, technically challenging, and exciting for engineers and architects alike. I know this since I researched the seismic design of connections in tall timber buildings for my PhD. I am still involved in tall timber research with the Council for Tall Building and Urban Habitat, and European research on the Holistic Design of Taller Timber Buildings.

And what’s not to love about timber? It practically grows itself, stores carbon in durable wood products, can be cascaded into other timber products, and used as fertiliser for sustainable forests at the end of its life.

But building taller and taller timber buildings alone isn’t the answer to the climate crisis.

In 2011, Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA) reported on the opportunities and constraints of timber construction. Its report identified multi-residential, educational and office buildings as having the biggest potential for building with timber.

Almost all of these buildings are still being constructed out of concrete and brick. Despite efforts to make both materials “greener”, their production currently consumes vast amounts of non-renewable resources and emits a lot of carbon.




Read more:
Green cement a step closer to being a game-changer for construction emissions


So what’s stopping us?

FWPA’s report identified the biggest problem as a lack of timber construction expertise. This is not surprising, since Australian universities offer hardly any timber courses.

The University of Tasmania offers a graduate certificate in timber design for professional engineers. The University of Queensland is the only other Australian university offering a dedicated timber design course to structural engineering undergrads.

In response to the construction industry’s lack of timber knowledge, WoodSolutions, the educational branch of FWPA, has been running an entire mid-rise advisory program. It allows those exploring mid-rise timber solutions to get free information and advice from a group of experts.

Advancing structural timber engineering education is only one piece of the puzzle. We also need a shift of mentality to move past the idea that timber can only be used in detached single-family homes. In fact, we need to move away from such homes altogether. The federal HomeBuilder grant scheme led to a nation-wide timber shortage and added to urban sprawl.




Read more:
Timber shortages look set to delay home building into 2023. These 4 graphs show why


Instead, we need to embrace well-built, mid-rise apartment buildings made from engineered timber. This material can safely use lower-grade wood and take the pressure off timber supplies.

And why stop there? We have the tools and the knowledge to build high-performance timber buildings. Proper design and detailing can slash energy bills.

Tall timber buildings are exciting, and we shouldn’t stop dreaming tall, but we need to focus on the missing middle to make construction sustainable.

The Conversation

Lisa Ottenhaus receives funding from the Australian Research Council to research adaptable timber buildings. They are affiliated with the University of Queensland’s Future Timber Hub and involved in the educational program of WoodSolutions.

ref. Tall timber buildings are exciting, but to shrink construction’s carbon footprint we need to focus on the less sexy ‘middle’ – https://theconversation.com/tall-timber-buildings-are-exciting-but-to-shrink-constructions-carbon-footprint-we-need-to-focus-on-the-less-sexy-middle-188143

Nathan Fielder’s new comedy The Rehearsal will be familiar to anyone with autism

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Tamara May, Psychologist and Research Associate in the Department of Paediatrics, Monash University

HBO

While we all like to be prepared for what might happen in the future, like those difficult conversations and life choices, some go to extraordinary lengths to try and ensure a happy outcome.

Comedian Nathan Fielder explores this in his new reality TV series, The Rehearsal, where he goes to great lengths to help people rehearse future events.

The people Fielder works with are confessing to a lie they have been keeping for years, or exploring whether to make a life choice like having a child.

Using complex flow charts and scripting conversations and actions, Fielder goes to extremes to recreate future situations and plan for all possible outcomes.

In the first episode, Fielder builds a replica bar and hires actors to play the role of patrons and staff to mirror the environment where Brooklyn teacher Kor will tell his friend he has been lying to her about having a masters degree.

Fielder documents scripts for conversations in advance, including for making telephone calls to alert actors to a change in circumstances to their agreements.

The future situations are practised, repeatedly, until the person feels comfortable and ready to do the real thing.

Interestingly, for many people with autism, The Rehearsal won’t be that different to everyday life, where rehearsing and practising future scenarios is a way to cope with the anxiety of unpredictable social interactions and life events.




Read more:
Most adults with autism can recognise facial emotions, almost as well as those without the condition


Everyone rehearses

We all, to some extent, rehearse future events or interactions in our lives.

We might talk it through with our friends and family to work out what to say and how, or imagine in our minds the way future situations will play out.

Rehearsing future situations and conversations is also a common activity in therapy. It might include role-playing being assertive in a relationship, asserting needs in a friendship or asking for a pay increase at work.

Nathan Fielder looks over security footage.
Everyone rehearses – but it’s not normally this high tech.
HBO

Elite athletes mentally rehearse a future performance in the sporting domain, like how they will launch out of the blocks and run the 100 metres to ensure an optimum performance.

Some rehearsals, such as medical simulation, are rather similar to Fielder’s recreated world, and ensure medical professionals can practise and rehearse complex medical procedures.

You can even rehearse your dreams to change recurring nightmares to have a happier ending.

Social stories

Most of us don’t go to the level of detail of Fielder in The Rehearsal. That is, unless you have autism or perhaps have a child with autism.

One of the core symptoms of autism is being resistant to change and becoming distressed and upset when things don’t go to plan.

Another core symptom is not knowing how to act and what to say in social situations.

These characteristics can result in experiencing negative social interactions or being upset by unexpected events, resulting in anxiety about future similar situations.

To try and prevent this anxiety and possible poor outcomes, people with autism can engage in meticulous planning for future situations.

For children with autism, social stories have been a mainstay intervention, where a future activity is put into story book form with pictures and scripts. This can help children to understand what will happen and what to do and say, so they can imagine and practise the situation and cope with any emotions that might arise.

The freedom to be yourself

Over time, to try and fit in with the world, people with autism can learn to mask, where they hide their real feelings and natural responses, and instead behave in ways considered “socially acceptable”.

They might practise masking in a social situation, similar to Fielder’s rehearsals.

We all mask to some extent, but for a person with autism masking can be an invalidating and exhausting experience where they can lose their sense of self with negative impacts on their mental health.

Nathan Fielder sits in a rocking chair on a porch.
Having space to fully be yourself, in any situation, is important for everyone.
HBO

There is a growing neurodiversity movement that sees autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions as different, not disordered, and challenges the notion that neurodiverse people have to change to fit in with the world.

This means creating environments where people can feel safe to unmask and be themselves.

This space to unmask and be your full, authentic self is important. As Fielder shows in The Rehearsal, things don’t always go to plan. In the third episode, Patrick leaves the show midway through his rehearsal, finding the simulation resolved his feelings and he no longer needed to confront his brother.

Rehearsals can be helpful and prepare us. Fielder takes them to extremes, taking up time that perhaps could be better used living one’s life, rather than playing out scenarios that may never occur.

None of us can ever be fully prepared for what might happen. That’s what makes life interesting and scary at the same time.




Read more:
Autism is still underdiagnosed in girls and women. That can compound the challenges they face


The Conversation

Tamara May does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Nathan Fielder’s new comedy The Rehearsal will be familiar to anyone with autism – https://theconversation.com/nathan-fielders-new-comedy-the-rehearsal-will-be-familiar-to-anyone-with-autism-188071

Business calls for ‘catch up’ migration, as participants position ahead of Albanese’s jobs summit

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

Big business wants a “catch up boost” to permanent migration, with at least two thirds of the places going to skilled workers,

In proposals for next month’s jobs and skills summit, the Business Council of Australia’s chief executive Jennifer Westacott has also stressed the need to immediately address “the backlog of visa approvals across all categories because we simply don’t have enough people to do things”.

Migration, labour market reform, and skills shortages will be central issues at the summit. After a weekend report the government wanted to increase the migrant intake to between 180,000 and 200,000, Minister for Skills and Training Brendan O’Connor told reporters the government had not yet settled on a number.

Under the Morrison government the 2022-23 migration program planning level was 160,000, 109,900 of them in the skilled stream.

Immigration is always a sensitive debate, both in terms of numbers, and the balance between importing skills and training locals.

Westacott said: “We need to move from a short-term, ad hoc system to long-term planned migration with a focus on four year visas, pathways to permanent migration, and future planning of our population growth so we get the housing, transport and health services right”.

On workplace relations, she said the summit must agree on the need “to restore the role of collective bargaining as the centrepiece” of the system “because it delivers better outcomes for both workers and employers”.

It had to “be accessible to different types of employers. It also has to be vastly simpler and easier to navigate”.

“It is by reviving the ability for enterprise agreements to be genuine substitutes for awards that we once again attract innovation and investment to drive growth in productivity and real wages.

“To succeed, we need to remove the red tape and blockages that prevent businesses, unions and workers from negotiating new agreements in a simple and effective way that is easy to use.”

Westacott said, in relation to improving skills, the tertiary education system needed redesigning “so it looks and feels different for learners and employers. It needs to be more interoperable between VET and higher education and centred around learners and their employers.”

Last week the ACTU released the first of its papers ahead of the summit, in which it called for regulation of labour markets “so that real wages rise in tandem with labour productivity”.

It also urged an excess profits levy on companies that had windfall profits as a result of the present inflation, and a cancellation of the legislated stage three tax cuts “which only benefit higher-income households and will exacerbate inflationary pressures”.

The government has ruled out a super profits tax and reneging on the tax cuts, and Treasurer Jim Chalmers quickly distanced himself from these calls from the unions.

The summit has seen the federal opposition at sixes and sevens, with opposition leader Peter Dutton refusing an invitation to attend but Nationals leader David Littleproud saying he is anxious to go to represent regional communities.

Chalmers will release a discussion paper for the summit this week.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Business calls for ‘catch up’ migration, as participants position ahead of Albanese’s jobs summit – https://theconversation.com/business-calls-for-catch-up-migration-as-participants-position-ahead-of-albaneses-jobs-summit-188703

‘It’s important not to overreact’: Australia’s top economists on how to fix high inflation

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

Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Australia’s top economists are divided about how to tackle ballooning inflation of 6.1% that’s forecast to climb to a three-decade high of 7.75% by the end of the year.

Three of the 48 leading economists surveyed by the Economic Society of Australia and The Conversation say Australia should be able to tolerate an inflation rate of 8% or higher.

Seven expect inflation to fall back to an acceptable level without the need for any further action other than Reserve Bank adjustments to interest rates.

That view was lent weight by news from the United States last week that annual inflation slid from 9.1% to 8.5% in July, after inflation of zero over the month.



Asked how high an inflation rate Australia should be prepared to tolerate, most nominated a rate at the top of or above the Reserve Bank’s 2-3% target band.

Twelve nominated a rate well above the target band.

Ten said the step-up in inflation was primarily caused by events overseas not within Australia’s power to control.

The economists polled are recognised as leaders in their fields, including economic modelling and public policy. Among them are former Reserve Bank, Treasury and OECD officials, and a former member of the Reserve Bank board.


Made with Flourish

Beyond rate rises, what could be done?

There are three kinds of actions governments can take to bring consumer price inflation down

  • actions that suppress consumer spending (“demand”)

  • actions that boost the supply of goods and services (“supply”)

  • actions that directly restrain prices

Invited to choose from a menu of options, and add options to the menu, the panel placed slightly greater weight on measures to restrain demand than measures to boost supply, and greater weight on both than measures to directly restrain prices.

The most popular measure, backed by 37% of those surveyed, was winding back government spending. Almost as popular, backed by 33%, was a super-profits tax on fossil fuel producers, with the proceeds used to reduce cost of services.


Made with Flourish

Another tax measure – increased income taxes with the proceeds used to reduce cost of services – was backed by 17%. Two of those surveyed wanted to abandon the legislated Stage 3 tax cuts for higher earners due to take effect in 2024.

But several of those who advocated winding back government spending or boosting tax did so without enthusiasm, believing that while the government should be prepared to assist the Reserve Bank in suppressing consumer demand, suppressing demand wouldn’t tackle the main reasons prices were climbing.

The risks of doing too much

The Australian National University’s Robert Breunig said much of the inflationary pressure had come from things such as oil prices that were beyond the power of Australians to influence, making it “important not to overreact”.

Melbourne University banking specialist Kevin Davis said what appeared to be high inflation might actually mainly be a series of short-term supply-induced price rises, making it hard to see how choking demand could do much good.

Australia’s current ultra-low unemployment rate was an achievement that should be celebrated, rather than put at risk without a good reason.

If high inflation did stay for a while and spread to wages, a welcome side effect would be more affordable housing.




Read more:
Why does the RBA keep hiking rates? It’s scared it can’t contain inflation


Curtin University macroeconomist Harry Bloch made the point that while measures to suppress demand in Europe and the United States would indeed have an impact on global energy and food prices, that wasn’t true of measures to suppress demand in Australia, which is too small to influence global prices.

Consulting economist Rana Roy disagreed, saying the fact that high inflation wasn’t primarily caused by excess demand was no reason not to treat it by containing demand. Whatever the cause, containing demand would contain inflation.

Mala Raghavan from the University of Tasmania and Leonora Risse from RMIT University suggested winding back or delaying spending in two areas where it was clear the government was contributing to domestically-driven higher prices: subsidies for, and spending on, construction and infrastructure.

Withholding gas, boosting immigration

The most popular ideas for boosting the supply of goods and services to take pressure off inflation were reserving a portion of Australian gas and other commodities for domestic use, and boosting immigration, supported by 33% and 29% of the economists surveyed.


Made with Flourish

Reserving a portion of Australian east coast gas for use in Australia would help decouple Australia’s east coast gas prices from sky-high international prices as has happened in Western Australia, which reserves 15% of its gas for domestic use.

Boosting immigration would take pressure off costs by easing labour shortages.

Federation University’s Margaret McKenzie suggested investigating blockages in supply chains and offering diplomatic and industry support to bust them.

Subsidising childcare, subsidising fuel

The most popular idea for directly restraining prices was increased subsidies for childcare, supported by 25% of the economists surveyed, several of whom suggested it could also boost the supply of workers who had previously been prevented from working by unaffordable childcare.


Made with Flourish

Other ideas that would directly restrain some prices included pushing for below-inflation wage rises in the Fair Work Commission and extending the six-month cut in fuel excise due to expire in September.




Read more:
Inflation hasn’t been higher for 32 years. What now?


Former Reserve Bank board member Warwick McKibbin warned against pursuing low inflation for its own sake, saying when the economy was weak or in recession a high rate of inflation could be more easily justified than at other times.

He said the Reserve Bank should stop targeting inflation and instead target the rate of growth in national spending, an idea he will be putting to the independent review of its operations.


Detailed responses:

The Conversation

Peter Martin does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. ‘It’s important not to overreact’: Australia’s top economists on how to fix high inflation – https://theconversation.com/its-important-not-to-overreact-australias-top-economists-on-how-to-fix-high-inflation-188537

Will Fiji’s 2022 hotly contested elections further cement democracy?

ANALYSIS: By Shailendra Singh of the University of the South Pacific

In Fiji’s politically charged context, national elections are historically a risky period. Since the 2022 campaign period was declared open on April 26, the intensity has been increasing.

Moreover, with three governments toppled by coups after the 1987, 1999 and 2006 elections, concerns about a smooth transfer of power are part of the national conversation.

The frontrunners in the election, which must be held by January 2023 but is likely to be held later this year, are two former military strongmen — Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka.

Both men have been involved in Fijian coups in the past.  Rabuka took power through the 1987 coups in the name of Indigenous self-determination. He became the elected prime minister in 1992 but lost power in 1999 after forming a coalition with a largely Indo–Fijian party.

Bainimarama staged his 2006 coup in the name of good governance, multiracialism and eradicating corruption, before restoring electoral democracy and winning elections under the FijiFirst (FF) party banner in 2014 and 2018.

FijiFirst was formed by the leaders and supporters of the 2006 coup during the transition back to democratic government via the 2014 election. Many of the FF leaders were part of the post-coup interim government that created the 2013 constitution, which delivered substantial changes to Fiji’s electoral system.

These changes included the elimination of seats reserved for specific ethnicities, replaced by a single multi-member constituency covering the whole country, and the creation of a single national electoral roll. Seat distribution is proportional, meaning each of the eight competing parties will need to get five percent of the vote to win one of the 55 seats up for grabs this year.

Popularity a key factor
As votes for a particular candidate are distributed to those lower down their parties’ ticket once they cross the five percent threshold, the popularity of single candidates can make or break a party’s electoral hopes.

For example, Bainimarama individually garnered 69 percent of FF’s total votes in 2014 and 73.81 percent in 2018, demonstrating the extent to which his party’s fortunes rest on his personal brand.

This will be crucial as FF’s majority rests on a razor thin margin, having won in 2018 with only 50.02 percent of the vote, compared to its 59.14 percent in 2014.

As for his major rival Rabuka, following his split with the major Indigenous Fijian party, Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA), he formed and now heads the People’s Alliance Party (PAP).

The split came after Rabuka lost a leadership tussle with SODELPA stalwart Viliame Gavoka. Rabuka’s departure is seen as a setback for SODELPA, given that he attracted 77,040, or 42.55 percent, of the total SODELPA votes in 2018.

When it comes to issues, the state of the economy, including cost of living and national debt, are expected to be at the top of most voters’ minds. Covid-19 brought a sudden halt to tourism — which before the pandemic made up 39 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) — putting 115,000 people out of work.

As a result, the government borrowed heavily during this period, which according to the Ministry of Economy saw the “debt-to-GDP ratio increase to over 80 percent at the end of March 2022 compared to around 48 per cent pre-pandemic”.

Poverty ‘undercounted’
The government stated that it borrowed to prevent economic collapse, while the opposition accused it of reckless spending. The World Bank put the poverty level at 24.1 percent in April 2022, but opposition politicians have claimed this is an undercount.

For example, the leader of the National Federation Party (NFP) Professor Biman Prasad has claimed the real level of unemployment is more than 50 percent.

Adding to this pressure is inflation, which reached 4.7 percent in April — up from 1.9 percent in February — and while the government blames price increases in wheat, fuel, and other staples on the war in Ukraine, the opposition attributes it to poor economic fundamentals.

Another factor which could define the election outcome was the pre-election announcement of a coalition between the PAP and NFP. By combining the two largest opposition parties, there is clearly a hope to form a viable multiethnic alternative to FF.

This strategy, however, is not without risks in the country’s complex political milieu. In the 1999 election, the coalition between Rabuka’s ruling Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei Party and NFP failed when Rabuka’s 1987 coup history was highlighted during campaigning.

This saw NFP’s Fijian supporters of Indian descent desert the party.

Whether history will repeat itself is one of the intriguing questions in this election. According to some estimates, FF received 71 percent of Indo-Fijian votes in 2014, and capturing this support base is crucial for the opposition’s chances.

Transfer of power concerns
Against the background of pressing economic and social issues loom concerns about a smooth transfer of power. Besides Fiji’s coup culture, such anxieties are fuelled by a constitutional provision seen to give the military carte blanche to intervene in national politics.

Section 131(2) of the 2013 Fijian constitution states: ‘It shall be the overall responsibility of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces to ensure at all times the security, defence and well-being of Fiji and all Fijians’.

This has concerned many opposition leaders, such as NFP president Pio Tikoduadua, who has called for the country to rethink how this aspect of the constitution should be understood.

These concerns are likely to increase by the prospect of a close or hung election. As demonstrated after last year’s Samoan general election, the risk of a protracted dispute over the results could have adverse implications for a stable outcome.

As such, it is essential that all candidates immediately commit to respect the final result of the election whatever it may be and lay the foundations for a peaceful transition of power. In the longer-term interest, however, it will be necessary for Fiji to clarify the potential domestic power of the military implied by the constitution to put all undue speculation to rest. 

Dr Shailendra Singh is coordinator of the University of the South Pacific journalism programme. This article is based on a paper published by ANU Department of Pacific Affairs (DPA) as part of its “In brief” series. The original paper can be found here. It was first published at Policy Forum, Asia and the Pacific’s platform for public policy analysis and opinion. Republished with the permission of the author.

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Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

Mark Brown confirmed as Cook Islands PM with slim grip

RNZ Pacific

The Queen’s Representative in the Cook Islands, Sir Tom Marsters, has confirmed Mark Brown as the Prime Minister.

In a statement issued from Mark Brown’s office, Sir Tom said he was “satisfied” that Mark Brown had the majority of the MPs elected to Parliament.

Following the final count of the Cook Islands general elections, the Cook Islands Party (CIP) gained 12 seats in the 24-seat Parliament, including the Ngatangiia seat which was initially tied between CIP’s candidate Sonny Williams and Cook Islands United Party’s Margaret Matenga.

Brown thanked the community for a fair and peaceful election process.

“The people of the Cook Islands have spoken and I will now go through the process of confirming a government,” he said.

Petitions post-elections ‘expected’
Despite a clear majority, all candidates and parties have one week to lodge petitions and Cook Islands News editor Rashneel Kumar said it would be surprising if there were not any petitions.

“The bigger news normally is if we don’t have any petitions. So we do expect it,” he said.

“Since the Cook Islands gained self governing status from New Zealand, we have had petitions every elections so we do expect it and I think there are already parties that have been walking on that, so we will know by early next week, how many petitions have been filed.”

Flights start between Cook Islands and Tahiti
An inaugural flight from Rarotonga to Tahiti-Faa’a airport in Pape’ete, French Polynesia, took place today.

Prime Minister Mark Brown was boarding the flight along with a delegation.

The flight comes after a deal between Cook Islands and French Polynesian airlines — Air Rarotonga and Air Tahiti Nui — in hopes to attract visitors from America and Europe to the Cook Islands.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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It’s great education ministers agree the teacher shortage is a problem, but their new plan ignores the root causes

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Pasi Sahlberg, Professor of Education, Southern Cross University

Federal Education Minister Jason Clare and his state colleagues met in Canberra on Friday. Lukas Coch/AAP

Last Friday, Australia’s state and federal education ministers met with emotional teachers, who spoke of working on weekends and Mothers’ Day to cope with unsustainable workloads – and how they were thinking about leaving the profession.

This was part of their first meeting hosted by the federal minister Jason Clare. The top agenda item was the teacher shortage.

The issue has certainly reached crisis point. Federal education department modelling shows the demand for high school teachers will exceed the supply of new graduate teachers by 4,100 between 2021 to 2025.

Meanwhile, a 2022 Monash University survey found only 8.5% of surveyed teachers in New South Wales say their workloads are manageable and only one in five think the Australian public respects them.

Ministers say they are working towards a plan to fix the crisis. But are they addressing the right issues?

What happened at the meeting?

On a positive note, all ministers agreed Australia has as problem and it is national one. As NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said, “no matter which state minister would be speaking to you […], we’re all dealing with the same issues and challenges”.

Clare told reporters the ministers had tasked their education departments to develop a national plan to address the problem. This will be brought back to the ministers’ next meeting in December for tick off.

The “National Teacher Workforce Action Plan” will focus on five areas: “elevating” the teaching profession, improving teacher supply, strengthening teaching degrees, maximising teachers’ time to teach, and a better understanding of future workforce needs.

In the post-meeting press conference, Clare particularly emphasised the need for more opportunities for student teachers to get practical experience, more focus on how to teach maths and English and encouraging more teachers to mentor their colleagues.

Key questions are missing

Before the election, Labor promised to fix teacher shortages by attracting high-performing school graduates into teaching, paying additional bonuses to outstanding teachers, and importing experts from other fields to teaching.

Not surprisingly, these same ideas appear in the media release for the forthcoming national action plan.

But together Labor’s ideas and the new national plan don’t adequately address the root causes of teacher shortages: unproductive working conditions and noncompetitive pay.




Read more:
Australia’s teacher shortage won’t be solved until we treat teaching as a profession, not a trade


One priority in the proposed new plan is to “maximise” teachers’ time to teach. In fact, Australian teachers already teach for more hours than their peers in other OECD countries.

What would improve teachers’ working conditions is not more time to teach per se, but enough time to plan and work with their colleagues to find more productive ways of teaching.

Workload is the most common reason for intending to leave the teaching profession. In the 2022 Monash University survey, teachers reported their workloads were intensifying and difficult to fit into a reasonable working week. This is due to overwhelming administration, reporting and paperwork for compliance purposes.

The detail we have so far from ministers is silent on how to fix current teacher workloads.

What about pay?

Another reason for teacher shortages is non-competitive pay, especially when it comes to salary progression over a teaching career.

So far, ministers are talking about “rewarding” high-performing teachers.
International studies show unexpected things can happen when teachers strive for “excellence” to receive monetary bonuses. Performance-based pay can lead to declining creativity and collegiality in schools when test scores become the dominant driver of teachers’ work.

This also takes away from the main issue. Instead of paying some teachers more, every teacher in Australia deserves fair compensation that reflects the work they do.

A plan to have a plan

Australia is a Promised Land of action plans and working groups. But we are not so good at implementation.

For example, we have declarations and reviews about what school education should be (the Mparntwe Declaration), how schools should be funded (the Gonski Review), and what rights our children have.

But we struggle to turn these into practice. There is a real risk the new “National Teacher Workforce Action Plan” will just see more good intentions and little concrete action.

Australia can learn from other countries

The good news is, Australia is not alone. The United States and England have suffered from chronic shortage of teachers in their schools for some time.

Even in Estonia and Finland – the OECD’s highest-performing countries in education – teaching is not as attractive profession as it used to be. So, there is an opportunity to learn how other countries deal with the teacher workforce challenge.

Every year since 2011 the OECD and Education International have organised the International Summit on the Teaching Profession with the world’s top-performing education systems. Here education ministers and education leaders from 20 countries explore current issues in the teaching profession. Collaboration between ministers and teachers’ unions is the key principle of the summit.

Australia has been invited to these summits since 2011 but has never attended. So, a decade of opportunities to work with other countries has been wasted.

But it is not too late, Clare could attend in the 2023 summit that will be held in Washington DC. Not only to see what others do, but to learn what might be improved in governments’ action plan and teacher policies.

This is what all “education nations” do. Why don’t we?




Read more:
Australia spends $5 billion a year on teaching assistants in schools but we don’t know what they do


The Conversation

Pasi Sahlberg does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. It’s great education ministers agree the teacher shortage is a problem, but their new plan ignores the root causes – https://theconversation.com/its-great-education-ministers-agree-the-teacher-shortage-is-a-problem-but-their-new-plan-ignores-the-root-causes-188660

Russel Norman: Don’t be fooled by NZ greenwashing, the lack of real climate action is dangerous

ANALYSIS: By Russel Norman, executive director of Greenpeace Aotearoa

Only people power can ensure genuine enduring progress on climate and people need to know the truth if they are to act on it. For that reason greenwashing is the enemy of progress on climate and where you stand on greenwashing is the Rubicon of our times.


I have spent decades of my life as a climate activist fighting various deliberate forms of climate science denial propagated by climate polluting companies and their allied political parties, politicians, lobby groups and commentators.

The good news is that we have mostly won that battle. The bad news is that they have a new tactic, greenwashing, which is now a major obstacle to progress on climate change. Greenwashing is when businesses or politicians give a false impression, or spin, on their products or policies to give the impression that they have a positive impact on the environment when they don’t.

We now face a new landscape in which even oil companies claim to be doing their bit for the climate with “carbon offsets” and “2050 net zero goals”. Their aim is to stop real action on climate by making people think it is all under control.

One of the jobs of the government is to sort out the real climate actions from the greenwashing, to hold industry to account. And of course, one of the jobs of the government is to not engage in greenwashing themselves.

The problem with some of the actions of the current Aotearoa New Zealand government is that rather than holding business to account for its greenwashing, on some vital climate issues the government is actually a proponent of greenwashing.

This greenwashing is closely linked to a wrong-headed theory of change which we hear repeatedly from this government — the idea that climate issues can only be solved through consensus, especially consensus with the polluters and their representatives. The idea that we can’t make real policy to cut climate pollution without the consent of the polluters and their representatives is dangerous and inconsistent with the history of making change.

There are fundamental conflicts in the climate policy space — some industries will not accept that they need to cut emissions. The attempt to gloss over these conflicts and seek consensus means the government adopts policies that the polluters will accept, and which consequently do not cut emissions. This policy outcome is then sold to the public as a great victory when in truth it is a defeat — it is greenwashed.

Before getting into the specifics of the problems I want to acknowledge that this government has done some good things on climate. The ban on new oil and gas exploration permits was a win, even though it excluded onshore Taranaki and allowed existing permits to be extended.

The cap on synthetic nitrogen fertiliser was a win, even though it is a very high cap which has yet to be enforced. Greenpeace publicly celebrated these wins and congratulated the government on making these decisions, even while pointing out their limitations.

I tried to provide a transparent assessment of the environmental performance of the Ardern government back in 2020. I spent a decade as Green Party co-leader and I know there are wins and losses in politics and that compromise is a reality of politics in a healthy democracy.

But honestly admitted compromise is one thing, and greenwashing is another.

There will always be arguments as to what is an acceptable political compromise. We need to separate the issue of what is an acceptable compromise to enter government from the issue of greenwashing. Determining what is an acceptable compromise for the Greens to join the Labour government is formally a matter of decision for the Green Party and the Labour Party rather than the climate movement.

People like me are entitled to our views of the compromise, but it is the Green Party and the Labour Party that have to decide if it’s worth it. I am not a member of the Green Party or the Labour Party.

The issue of greenwashing, however, is an issue which is of direct and immediate concern for the wider climate movement. This is because when the government sells their policies as great climate advances, when in reality they are not, it misleads the wider public and the climate movement.

People can think they don’t need to push hard on climate because it is under control, when it is not. We then need to spend our time highlighting and explaining why the claimed win is actually spin, rather than campaigning for meaningful action.

This undermines our ability to get more significant progress on climate policy because the power and leadership to get progress on climate (like all other progressive issues) comes from civil society and if civil society is disarmed by greenwashing then climate policy follows dead end paths, stalls or  stops.

But why is greenwashing the biggest challenge the climate movement faces at the moment. How did we get here?

Goals remain unchanged, but tactics evolve
As I mentioned above, the first thing to understand is that climate policy is unavoidably and irrevocably conflictual, and hence political. That is because on the one hand the enduring overarching goal of big climate polluters in the fossil fuel business and industrial agribusiness is to prevent government regulations that will force them to cut their climate emissions.

While on the other hand the climate movement aims for emission cuts to achieve a stable climate.

This is a fundamental conflict globally, and in Aotearoa, and no amount of pseudo consensus can wish this conflict away.

Big climate polluters believe, rightly, that government regulation and pricing to drive emissions reductions threatens their business models and profitability. Other sectors of the economy, such as IT, can more easily adapt to a low carbon future, but those businesses in the industries like coal and synthetic fertiliser can’t adapt, and they intend to fight efforts to cut emissions all the way.

While their goal of preventing government regulation to force reductions in emissions has remained consistent, their tactics to achieve this goal have changed. And it is understanding the way their tactics have evolved that it becomes clear just how problematic the current government’s climate policies have become.

At the beginning the tactic they used was to deny the compelling weight of scientific evidence supporting the theory of human induced climate change. Climate denial was stock in trade for many right wing parties and agribusiness and oil industry lobby groups from the 1990s through to the 2010s.

But after a while that stopped working so they changed tactics to stressing uncertainty especially in the 2000s. They said climate change might be a thing, but there is so much uncertainty so we shouldn’t do anything about it. They played up the nature of scientific inquiry — that theories are not beyond questioning because they are not religious texts — to emphasise uncertainty and the need for delay. It was really just another form of climate denialism.

Billions spent on climate denialism
The polluting industries spent billions promoting climate denialism and uncertainty in order to block government regulation to cut emissions. They bought politicians, public relations firms and sadly some scientists to promote these ideas to delay action on climate. Their ideas were reproduced widely by the conservative commentariat, and many still are.

I spent many years of my life fighting climate denialism and eventually through the efforts of millions of climate activists we (mostly) won the battle against climate denialism. There are now few major governments or corporations or industry lobby groups that rely on climate denialist arguments to block government regulation to cut emissions.

Straight out climate science deniers have been pushed to the margins like Groundswell or the Act Party.

But the goal of the fossil fuel and agribusiness polluters remains consistent — they still want to stop government regulation to cut emissions — so they need a new tactic. And that tactic is greenwashing.

These days the polluters and their representatives say, “yes climate change is a thing” and “yes we should do something about it and you will be happy to know that we are doing something about it.”

Hence, they argue, there is no need for government regulation. Even though they spent the last 30 years blocking every attempt to reduce emissions and even denying climate science, they argue that they now take it seriously and there is absolutely no need for the government to do anything.

And what they are doing is often nonsense like net carbon zero targets in 2050 or buying offshore carbon credits or an industry controlled pricing mechanism like He Waka Eke Noa, or nitrification inhibitors etc. They don’t actually cut emissions in any significant way.

The purpose of greenwashing may seem relatively retail when it is done by a single company to sell stuff to consumers, but at a systemic level the purpose of greenwashing is to head off government attempts to introduce regulations and pricing that will force emission reductions.

There are of course some corporations and governments taking significant actions to cut emissions, but there are also many corporate and government actions that are just greenwashing.

Separating out the genuine climate actions from greenwashing is something that defines the climate politics of our time. And this is why the approach taken by the New Zealand government is so very problematic. People assume that the Climate Minister, especially a Green Party Climate Minister, will not perpetuate greenwashing, and will call it out, but it has not always been the case with James Shaw, and that makes it all the more insidious.

Government greenwashes the biggest polluter: Agribusiness
Which brings us to the problem with the current New Zealand government climate policy. Climate policy in this country mostly boils down to what you are doing about agribusiness emissions (biogenic agriculture emissions alone are about 50 percent of emissions) and transport (20 percent). The rest matters too but if you aren’t tackling these two then you aren’t tackling climate change.

Transport policy has not been great from a climate perspective but here I want to focus on the bigger problem — agribusiness — particularly intensive dairy.

We have had the same Prime Minister and the same Climate Minister for the nearly five years of this government. There have been a plethora of nice sounding climate announcements — the PM said that climate was her generation’s “nuclear free moment”, we’ve had the so-called Zero Carbon Act, a climate emergency declaration, an independent climate commission established, emissions reductions plans, improved nationally determined targets for reduction, signed the global methane pledge etc.

But there is still no effective government policy to cut emissions from agribusiness, by far the biggest polluter.

The problem is not just that the government is doing virtually nothing to cut emissions from agribusiness, the problem is that it is saying that it is taking climate change seriously.

It is equivalent to the Australian government doing nothing about coal or the Canadian government doing nothing about tar sands oil — all while telling us how seriously they take climate change. This is greenwashing and it is dangerous because many people think climate action is happening.

When the claims of meaningful action are fronted by a “nuclear free-moment” Prime Minister and a Green Party Climate Minister – the general observer could be forgiven for trusting that those claims are true.

The evidence that this government has done very little to cut agribusiness emissions is bountiful but let me focus on just one central area — agriculture and the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

Taking government at its word
The government repeatedly tells us that the Emissions Trading Scheme is the most important tool to cut emissions. This is debatable but let us take them at their word.

If it is so important then why, 14 years after the ETS began in 2008, is the biggest polluting sector, agribusiness, still exempt from the ETS? For 14 years agribusiness lobbyists and industry groups such as Federated Farmers and Dairy NZ have successfully fought a battle of predatory delay to stop their sector facing a price on emissions, apparently the most important climate tool.

And every government (Clark, Key, Ardern) has given them exactly what they want — perpetual delay.

When the ETS was passed into law in 2008, the Labour government of the day delayed agriculture’s entry until 2013. A bad start.

At the time, myself and many others argued against the delay but the Clark government wouldn’t budge. The John Key-Bill English National government (2008-2017) that followed, delayed agriculture’s entry indefinitely. From the perspective of agribusiness, delaying is winning, and they were winning.

For a moment in 2017/2018 it looked like the newly elected Ardern government might have the courage of its convictions and that the agribusiness lobby would finally lose its battle to stop climate action.

The Labour-NZ First coalition agreement explicitly committed them to support agriculture’s entry into the ETS at 5 percent of its obligations. With NZ First’s vote secured, there was a Parliamentary majority to bring agriculture into the ETS. Finally.

Backed down under pressure
But then in 2019 the Jacinda Ardern and James Shaw backed down to agribusiness pressure and instead of agriculture facing a price on its emissions they adopted an industry proposal — He Waka Eke Noa.

He Waka Eke Noa was a proposal from agribusiness for a joint government-agribusiness initiative looking at pricing agribusiness climate pollution. In effect He Waka Eke Noa handed over to industry the design of the system to price their own pollution. New Zealand agribusiness was beside themselves with joy.

In time it would become clear that it was not just that industry would design the system, but they would design a system that they would control going forward.

And, the target date for starting pricing was 2025. That was two elections away — 2020 and 2023 —  and the chances of the current ministers still being there was remote. And if they did manage to win in 2020 and 2023, it was almost unheard of for a government to win a fourth term in 2026 so anything implemented in 2025 could be easily undone.

He Waka Eke Noa’s timelines left the industry partying. And as for the politicians, none of them were likely to be around to get the blame when nothing happened either.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern alongside Dairy NZ's Tim Mackle
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern alongside Dairy NZ’s Tim Mackle. Image: Greenpeace

In one of the defining moments of this government’s climate inaction, Jacinda Ardern and James Shaw stood next to Dairy NZ and Federated Farmers to launch the five year He Waka Eke Noa project, instead of implementing their own policy of immediately putting agriculture into the ETS.

James Shaw celebrated He Waka Eke Noa and went so far as to say “nothing about us without us” —  that is he used the slogan of the disability advocacy movement to infer that the agribusiness sector shouldn’t be regulated without their consent and agreement. That was a real low point I must say.

Predictably, three years of delay later, in 2022, the final report from He Waka Eke Noa was released detailing a complicated system that would cut agribusiness emissions by less than 1 percent. The headline reduction was higher but that is because it included the reductions that are supposed to come from technologies that don’t currently exist (magic bullets), the reductions that result from the unrelated freshwater regulations, and the reductions that come out of the waste sector.

Incidentally agribusiness has been saying those same magic bullets have been just around the corner for the last 20 years. If you strip out reductions projected to come from magic bullets, freshwater regulations and waste, the emissions reductions from the He Waka Eke Noa pricing mechanism are less than 1 percent. In addition, under the proposal industry would control the mechanism for regulating their own pollution — classic industry capture.

From the industry perspective He Waka Eke Noa was designed to stop government regulation i.e. stop agribusiness going into the ETS. Under criticism from Groundswell, both Federated Farmers and DairyNZ touted their achievement in keeping their industry out of the ETS.

The National Party also voiced its support for the final report. The Climate Minister was a little more muted.

Most people listening to the government talk about He Waka Eke Noa would think that it has been a tremendous success — after all doesn’t the government always say it wants consensus on climate? Whereas in fact its sole success has been to delay government regulation of agribusiness climate pollution — by three years so far — and, even if it were implemented, by its own calculations emissions would be reduced by less than 1 percent.

That is what consensus with polluters looks like and that is the corner that Ardern and Shaw have painted themselves into.

The purpose of greenwashing is to make us think industry is finally taking climate seriously and hence there is no need for government regulation, while in reality very little is happening to cut emissions.

He Waka Eke Noa is a perfect example of greenwashing:

  • It looks like industry is taking climate change seriously with media coverage of all their hard work;
  • The new scheme, if it is implemented, is controlled by industry, so full industry capture;
  • The scheme has almost no impact on actually reducing emissions; and
  • Even if, god forbid, the government were to reject He Waka Eke Noa and instead revert to putting agribusiness into the ETS when it makes a decision in late 2022, it is too late for that decision to be fully institutionalised before the next election, so it will be easily removed if there is a change of government in 2023 and not so hard even after the 2026 election. Predatory delay has been such a successful tactic so far for the industry, why change now?

The Glasgow target
The decisions by this government not to cut agribusiness emissions created cascading international problems of perception for the New Zealand government when it was required to offer a new target for emissions reductions at the Glasgow climate conference in November 2021.

The government wanted to look good with an ambitious target (known as a Nationally Determined Contribution) but had few policies to actually cut emissions. Other countries were raising doubts about the government’s climate commitment. The ETS was supposed to do the heavy lifting but, as the Climate Commission admitted recently, under current settings the “NZ ETS is likely to deliver mostly new plantation forestry rather than gross emission reductions”.

The answer was to use the potential future purchase of overseas carbon offsets to present a net target that looked ambitious.

The Climate Minister announced with great fanfare that New Zealand would commit to a 50 percent cut in net emissions below 2005 levels by 2030. NZ paraded its 50 percent target around the Glasgow climate conference. It sounds good until you realise not only does the target use tricky accounting to make it look much larger than it is, but that TWO THIRDS of the emissions reductions would come from buying offshore carbon offsets.

Sorry about the shouty capitals but nothing yells “greenwashing” quite like offshore carbon offsetting. Carbon offsets are notoriously corrupt, open to double counting, and are the carbon equivalent of papal indulgences. They are what you do when you don’t have policy to cut emissions but want to look good.

Yet this is the government’s plan to reach our international climate target — greenwashing. The Climate Commission has urged the government to contract the offsets fast: “It is essential that the government secure access to sources of offshore mitigation as soon as possible”. Instead of, you know, actually cutting emissions.

And just to show the government is not without a sense of humour they signed up to the global methane pledge to cut methane emissions — without a plan to cut methane emissions! In fact, in case industry was worried, when Shaw returned from Glasgow he confirmed that the government would not introduce any new policies to cut methane. Moooo.

But what about the giant climate bureaucratic superstructure?
Faced with this evidence of greenwashing on agribusiness and the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) some people say “what about the Zero Carbon Act”? That proves they are serious doesn’t it? I think that we do need institutional reform to deal with climate, and I’ve pointed to what we need and some of the problems of the Zero Carbon Act before, but it should not be at the expense of immediate climate action.

Much of the government’s climate policy focus in the last five years has been on building an elaborate climate bureaucratic structure. This began with the years-long process to get cross-party support for the Zero Carbon Act, the years-long process to establish the Climate Commission, then there was the years-long processes to build the carbon budgets and the Emissions Reduction Plan.

These structures and processes do look good but they don’t cut emissions – only regulations and policies that cut emissions actually cut emissions. Now you might argue that over time this bureaucratic superstructure will lead to significant emission reductions, and maybe they will, and maybe they won’t, and maybe they can be improved.

The problem is we don’t have years to wonder and hope. We need to have been tangibly cutting actual emissions for the last five years, and cutting them harder over the next five, if we are to play any part in stalling global climate catastrophe.

Spending five years on not implementing much policy to cut emissions, in order to implement a bureaucratic superstructure that might result in emissions cuts down the road if a future government has the courage to use the climate superstructure to implement the policies that this one has not, is plainly not a serious policy to cut emissions. Just implement the policies.

However, in agriculture, our biggest polluter, there is no ambiguity that this climate policy structure has delivered nothing. The Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP) has almost nothing to offer except magical technologies that don’t currently exist. The government’s excuse for offering no serious policy on cutting agribusiness emissions in the ERP is, you guessed it, He Waka Eke Noa. Predictably Federated Farmers really liked the Emission Reduction Plan, because it, you know, didn’t reduce agribusiness emissions!

The 2022-23 Budget that followed the ERP allocated $710 million over four years to agribusiness climate initiatives, but it turns out the money is to look for magic bullets to cut emissions. And some of these magic bullets might be worse — recently $11 million was given to research nitrification inhibitors that kill soil biology in order to cut nitrous oxide emissions following the application of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers.

Killing our soils is the exact opposite of what we need to do. The money in the ERP comes from ETS revenue paid by others, because agribusiness is not required to pay into the Emissions Trading Scheme. It is a giant subsidy from everyone else to agribusiness to maintain the pretence of climate action.

It seems a big price to pay to maintain the pretence — it would be a lot cheaper just to paint the cows green.

Some might argue that the climate bureaucratic superstructure may not achieve much in reality, but it is not actually harmful. Sure, the argument goes, this elaborate policy superstructure has wasted lots of time and energy which could have gone into policies that would actually cut emissions, but it is harmless enough.

Well, maybe you’d only think that if you haven’t been following the litigation. Crown Law, the government’s lawyers, are using the Zero Carbon Act etc to actually block climate action in the courts. Here are two quick examples.

In the most recent case against the Energy Minister’s decision to issue more onshore oil and gas exploration permits, the Minister’s lawyers argued that the Zero Carbon Act allowed for more oil and gas exploration and so it was fine. This is in spite of the fact that the world already has more oil and gas reserves than can be burnt to stay under the 1.5 degree guidance that is in the Zero Carbon Act.

Previously climate lawyers have been able to argue that the global situation for oil and gas must be taken into account but now, significantly, under the Zero Carbon Act, the Crown argues you can only consider the New Zealand situation. So the Zero Carbon Act is being used to justify oil exploration and protect it from legal attack by climate activists.

And in a previous case against the Climate Commission, James Shaw’s lawyers argued that the 1.5 degree target in the Zero Carbon Act was only “aspirational” and not binding on the government.

Marc Daalder reported it thus:

“Crown Law counsel Polly Higbee told the High Court references to 1.5 degrees [in the Zero Carbon Act] used “broad, aspirational language” and it would be “too prescriptive” to argue that the purpose section placed any actual duty on the Government.”

No actual duty on the government from the 1.5 degree target in the Zero Carbon Act is what Shaw’s lawyers told the court. Outside the court, when speaking to climate activists, Shaw says that the 1.5 degrees target is binding, but in court, where it matters, his lawyers argue it is not.

It’s hard to think of a clearer example of greenwashing. There were many people in the climate movement who worked hard to deliver the Zero Carbon Act and honestly believed it would be a significant tool to cut emissions, rather than defend oil exploration against legal attack.

The final argument for these bland instruments like the Zero Carbon Act is that we need to get broad political elite consensus on climate to get change. History tells us the opposite. To choose just one example which is close to the PM’s heart — nuclear free.

Nuclear free New Zealand was not a result of a consensus process. It was vociferously opposed by the National Party and its many allies — they voted against the legislation and spoke out against it. Nuclear free NZ was not won by reducing our ambitions to what was acceptable to the National Party and the US State Department.

Thousands of peace and environment activists campaigned for it and the Labour government eventually came round to their position, and stood up to provide leadership. There was no political elite consensus. The reason that the National Party never repealed the nuclear free legislation when they returned to government in 1990 was because of its broad support from civil society, support that resulted from civil society campaigners and a Prime Minister willing to fight for the policy (once he finally came round to it).

Introducing vacuous climate legislation that achieves little, in order to get the National Party to vote for it, is pointless, or worse.

Winning the debate on real climate action is the only way to ensure it sticks, and greenwashing undermines that public campaigning.

Conclusion
During the 2017 election campaign I bumped into Jacinda Ardern in Wellington airport and she told me my job at Greenpeace was to hold her government accountable. I respected her for saying that and I agreed with it, and still do. And so that is what I’m doing.

The government has done some good stuff on climate, but on the really big and difficult climate policy issues they are greenwashing. And the greenwashing has disoriented and weakened the climate movement and meant that we are getting much weaker climate policy out of this government than we would otherwise.

And I refer to Ardern rather than Shaw deliberately because there is an uncomfortable political reality that sits behind all this: Jacinda Ardern makes the climate policy in this government and James Shaw presents it. The first rule of politics is to learn how to count — look at the numbers and you will understand this government — Labour has a simple majority and Shaw isn’t even in Cabinet.

James Shaw may like the climate policy, he may not, I don’t know. He may be the architect of crucial bits of it, or not, I don’t know. He is allowed to say he would like to improve the climate policy, but he cannot speak out against it and keep his job. And once you dwell on that hard political truth, all this makes a lot more sense.

It’s not my job or Greenpeace’s job to say whether that is an acceptable position for the Green Party to find itself in, but it is our job to call out greenwash when we see it. We believe that only people power can ensure genuine enduring progress on climate and people need to know the truth if they are to act on it.

For that reason greenwashing is the enemy of progress on climate and where you stand on greenwashing is the Rubicon of our times.

Dr Russel Norman is executive director of Greenpeace Aotearoa and was co-leader of the Green Party for nine years. He resigned from Parliament as an MP in 2015 to take up the Greenpeace position.

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PNG elections chief Sinai seeks extra extension for Southern Highlands

PNG Post-Courier

Papua New Guinea’s Electoral Commissioner Simon Sinai says he will seek a further extension from the Governor-General for the return of writ for Southern Highlands provincial seat which has faced protracted delays in counting.

He said any discussions and talks of “failing” an election and calling for a supplementary or a byelection was not on his table and would not happen as the costs of running elections had escalated and were expensive.

Sinai said he would be writing to the Governor-General, Grand Chief Sir Bob Dadae, today requesting an extension for for Southern Highlands and other remaining electorates that were still being counted.

The last extension for the return of writs from July 29 to August 12 expired today.

The commissioner called on all Southern Highlanders to cooperate and allow the electoral process to continue without interference and delays to the counting as for the past couple of weeks.

“I am calling on all Southern Highlanders, especially those in Mendi, to observe and respect the rule of law and let the electoral process continue without interruptions,” he said.

Sinai said the commission would be seeking more police reinforcements for Southern Highlands to beef up security on the ground and ensure that counting was completed and the result delivered.

The commissioner expressed concern over a public perception people had about Southern Highlands as a “place of trouble”. He urged local leaders and supporters to put politics aside and think about building and protecting the image of the province.

“The democratic process that we have adopted is not about physical fight, but it is a fight through the ballot papers and whoever scores well during the scrutiny and counting process wins,” he said.

“It’s a game — one has to win and one has to lose. If you are aggrieved by the outcome, you can always seek an intervention of the court.”

Republished with permission.

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Historic new deal puts emissions reduction at the heart of Australia’s energy sector

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Madeline Taylor, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie University

Shutterstock

Australia’s energy ministers on Friday voted to make emissions reduction a key national energy goal, in a major step forward in the clean energy transition.

Federal, state and territory energy ministers agreed to include emissions in what’s known as the “national energy objectives”. The objectives guide rule-making and other decisions concerning electricity, retail energy and gas.

Announcing the deal on Friday, Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen said it was the first change to the objectives in 15 years. He added:

This is important, it sends a very clear direction to our energy market operators, that they must include emissions reductions in the work that they do … Australia is determined to reduce emissions, and we welcome investment to achieve it and we will provide a stable and certain policy framework.

The agreement comes not a moment too soon. To meet Australia’s net-zero goals, variable renewable energy capacity must increase nine-fold by 2050. That means doubling Australia’s renewables capacity every decade. So let’s take a closer look at what the deal means.

Prioritising emissions reduction

A body called the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) makes the rules for the electricity and gas market. It must refer to the national energy objectives to guide the formation of these rules.

The exclusion of emissions from the objectives meant the commission did not have to consider the long-term climate implications of the rules it set. Instead, the objectives mostly meant the commission considered the price, quality, safety, reliability and security of energy.

This limited scope meant some investment decisions by the commission were based on short-term economic grounds. For example, these old regulations required a transmission company to maintain diesel generators rather than build a world-first clean energy mini-grid near Broken Hill, New South Wales.

Other jurisdictions worldwide already include sustainability objectives in electricity laws.

For example, a principal objective of the United Kingdom’s Electricity Act 1989 requires officials to protect the interests of existing and future consumers. The first listed priority is the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electricity supply.




Read more:
The US has finally passed a huge climate bill. Australia needs to keep up


What has its exclusion meant for projects?

The environment used to be included in the objectives, but the Howard government removed it more than two decades ago. The move was a major setback for climate action and the transition to renewable energy.

The energy market operator may consider the environmental or energy policies of participating jurisdictions to identify effects on the power system. But Friday’s deal means consideration of emissions would no longer be optional for the commission.

The traditional principles of efficiency and reliability are, of course, still crucial to energy systems. Yet, the ongoing energy crisis shows we must invest in a suite of technologies to reach net-zero goals while assuring future energy security.




Read more:
Why did gas prices go from $10 a gigajoule to $800 a gigajoule? An expert on the energy crisis engulfing Australia


Sheep beside solar panels
Consideration of emissions will no longer be optional.
Shutterstock

Ensuring the transition is fair

Including emissions in investment decisions is crucial for planning the future of the National Electricity Market. Some states are making excellent progress.

For example, New South Wales has mapped five “renewable energy zones” to replace ageing coal-fired generators. The roadmap’s objectives explicitly include improving “the affordability, reliability, security and sustainability of electricity supply”.

A successful energy transition must also consider society’s values. This includes consulting with landholders and communities about developing renewable energy projects on their land.

Making sure Australia’s transition is fair for everyone means prioritising people and their involvement. It also means getting a social licence for energy industry decisions.

The requirement to consider emissions in energy investment decisions may create further incentives for energy bodies to consider societal impacts. This is also reflected in Friday’s ministerial commitment to work on a co-designed First Nations clean energy strategy.

Considering climate impacts in energy financing and planning decisions is also crucial to the resilience of our energy systems. It will help ensure we don’t see a repeat of the Black Summer bushfires in 2019-2020, when entire sections of the national grid were destroyed.




Read more:
Farmers shouldn’t have to compete with solar companies for land. We need better policies so everyone can benefit


Aligning with our long-term interests

This is a momentous period for Australia’s energy policy. The new federal government recently established Australia’s first offshore wind zone and is close to enshrining an emissions target in legislation. All this signals a long-needed embrace of the energy transition towards net zero.

This latest change increases this momentum. Importantly, it sends a direct signal for more investment net-zero technologies.

The international COP27 climate conference is due in November and Australia wants to co-host COP29 in 2024 with our Pacific Island neighbours. With that in mind, our regulation must reflect our commitment to the energy transition – and this new deal is a crucially important step.

The Conversation

Madeline Taylor has received funding from ACOLA and the AIEN. She is a Climate Councillor for the Climate Council and is on the Management Committee for RE-Alliance.

ref. Historic new deal puts emissions reduction at the heart of Australia’s energy sector – https://theconversation.com/historic-new-deal-puts-emissions-reduction-at-the-heart-of-australias-energy-sector-188296

Royal commission delivers damning interim report on defence and veteran suicide. Here’s what happens next

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Ben Wadham, Director, Open Door: Understanding and Supporting Service Personnel and their Families, Flinders University

The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide has released its interim report after more than 1,900 submissions and 194 witnesses.

It includes recommendations considered so urgent the royal commission is making them now (it still has two years left to run).

After years of lobbying efforts by the veteran community, the government finally relented and established the royal commission in 2021. The evidence presented and initial findings justify how important it is.

The interim report is a good start and we hope the problem of independence and accountability for the effects of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) culture and systems will be addressed.




Read more:
One veteran on average dies by suicide every 2 weeks. This is what a royal commission needs to look at


A culture of tribalism and exclusion

Defence and veteran suicide is predominantly understood as a mental health issue. But an overemphasis on mental health neglects the impact institutional cultures and systems have on the wellbeing of service personnel.

Institutional abuse is a significant issue in the ADF. The hierarchical and closed character of the military provides environments where service personnel can harass and bully each other.

Cohesion and a sense of pride and loyalty in each unit are central to military effectiveness. But this can create the conditions for abuse.

As we told the royal commission, there’s often a culture of tribalism and exclusion in military settings. This is created by factors including hyper-masculinity, intense stigma against acknowledging injuries (physical or psychological), and the total authority commanders have over military life.

The military justice system permits commanders to use their discretion to discipline their subordinates, which can result in administrative violence. This refers to commanders using their authority arbitrarily to make the life of a subordinate unbearable.

From our own research into institutional abuse in the ADF, the effects of a closed system that perpetrates administrative violence against members can be a contributing factor in veterans self-harming.

We also consistently heard how these processes were used to further traumatise victimised members. We call this the second assault.

Moving from military to civilian

The royal commission recognises the importance of the transition from military to civilian life. Moving from the closed military institution to the open civilian world is a significant upheaval, with service personnel losing their sense of identity, purpose and belonging.

The ADF is very effective at socialising civilians into the military – it needs to direct that expertise to transitioning them safely out.

Another key focus of the interim report is the management of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) and the claims system. When veterans leave the service the DVA manages their injuries.

The royal commission noted the DVA had yet to determine more than 62,000 claims as of June 2022. It recommends urgent and immediate action to clear the backlog of claims, as claim delays can significantly worsen veterans’ mental health.




Read more:
For many military veterans, leaving the force is the biggest battle


Unable to change

The royal commission is right to ask why it has taken so long for the ADF to change, despite decades of scrutiny.

It identified over 50 previous reports, with 750 recommendations since 2000. The commissioners say:

We have been dismayed to come to understand the limited ways that Australian Governments have responded to these previous inquiries and reports.

We recently concluded an Australian Research Council Discovery grant on institutional abuse in the ADF. We conducted nearly 70 interviews with survivors and assessed the ADF’s inquiries and policy attempts to reform military culture. Our yet-to-be-published research extends back to 1969 – when the same culture of bullying was identified, followed by institutional cover-up and victim blaming.

The ADF has undertaken many inquiries into these problems yet has been unable to effect meaningful change.

Independent scrutiny is crucial

The royal commission flagged there’s a “compelling case” for an independent body to oversee the implementation of recommendations from inquiries and reviews. The commission will explore this further over its final two years.

We think the development of an independent body that sits outside the chain of command is urgent. The entity should also be able to address member grievances.

At the institutional level, Defence has been unable to reform itself and needs to be subject to independent scrutiny.

But this isn’t the first time such an entity has been flagged. In 2005, the Senate Inquiry into the Effectiveness of the Australian Military Justice System recommended something similar, called the Australian Defence Force Administrative Review Board. It was vetoed by Defence and the federal government.

This highlights a fundamental tension for the ADF – between keeping things in house and continuing the legacies of abuse, or empowering an external body that protects the rights of service personnel. The problem is such an entity will inevitably come into conflict with the ADF command.




Read more:
The royal commission must find ways to keep veterans out of jail


The royal commission must seek more answers from the leaders and commanders of the ADF and DVA. Their leadership is the key site of institutional dysfunction that disempowers members, veterans and their families, and perpetuates the systems of abuse.

The royal commission must stand up to this power in order to recognise and support those who serve their country.


If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call the following support services:

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 (phone and online counselling)

Defence Member and Family Helpline: 1800 624 608 (free and confidential, 24/7 national counselling service for Australian veterans and their families, provided through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs)

Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14 or text 0477 13 11 14 (24-hour crisis support)

ADF Mental Health All-hours Support Line: 1800 628 036

1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732 (free, immediate, short-term counselling from the national domestic, family and sexual violence counselling, information and support service)

No To Violence Men’s Referral Service: 1300 766 491 (24-hour counselling service for sexual assault, family and domestic violence)

Open Arms: 1800 011 046 (for men concerned about their own use of violence, or abuse)

The Conversation

Ben Wadham received funding from the Australian Research Council for research on institutional abuse and organisational reform in the ADF. He also received funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs on veterans and higher education pathways, as well as Veteran wellbeing measures and Veteran in Corrections. Ben also received funding from the Freemasons Male Health and Wellbeing Research Centre and Flinders Foundation to research male veteran suicide. Ben also received funding from the Hospital Research Foundation for research on female veteran experiences of military to civil transition. Ben also is funded by the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Sucide.

Ben is a member of the Defence Force Welfare Association (DFWA), the Royal Australian Regiment Association (SA), the Australian Peacekeepers and Peacekeeping Veteran’s Association and the Military Police Association of Australia.

James Connor receives funding from the Australian Research Council for research on institutional abuse and organisational reform in the ADF. James is also funded by the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.

ref. Royal commission delivers damning interim report on defence and veteran suicide. Here’s what happens next – https://theconversation.com/royal-commission-delivers-damning-interim-report-on-defence-and-veteran-suicide-heres-what-happens-next-188579

Three reasons why disinformation is so pervasive and what we can do about it

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Mathieu O’Neil, Associate Professor of Communication, News and Media Research Centre, University of Canberra

GettyImages

Donald Trump derided any critical news coverage as “fake news” and his unwillingness to concede the 2020 presidential election eventually led to the January 6, 2021 riot at the US Capitol.

For years, radio host Alex Jones denounced the parents of children slaughtered in the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newton, Connecticut as “crisis actors”. On August 5, 2022 he was ordered by a jury to pay more than US$49 million in damages to two families for defamation.

These are in no way isolated efforts to flood the world’s media with dishonest information or malicious content. Governments, organisations and individuals are spreading disinformation for profit or to gain a strategic advantage.

But why is there so much disinformation? And what can we do to protect ourselves?

Three far-reaching reasons

Three schools of thought have emerged to address this issue. The first suggests disinformation is so pervasive because distrust of traditional sources of authority, including the news media, keeps increasing. When people think the mainstream media is not holding industries and governments to account, they may be more likely to accept information that challenges conventional beliefs.

Secondly, social media platforms’ focus on engagement often leads them to promote shocking claims that generate outrage, regardless of whether these claims are true. Indeed studies show false information on social media spreads further, faster and deeper than true information, because it is more novel and surprising.

Lastly, the role of hostile and deliberate disinformation tactics cannot be overlooked. Facebook estimates that during the 2016 US election, malicious content from the Russian Internet Research Agency aimed at creating division within the American voting public reached 126 million people in the US and worldwide.




Read more:
Russian government accounts are using a Twitter loophole to spread disinformation


The many shades of disinformation

This crisis of information is usually framed in terms of the diffusion of false information either intentionally (disinformation) or unwittingly (misinformation). However this approach misses significant forms of propaganda, including techniques honed during the Cold War.

Most Russian influence efforts on Twitter did not involve communicating content that was “demonstrably false”. Instead, subtle, subversive examples of propaganda were common and unrelenting, including calling for the removal of American officials, purchasing divisive ads, and coordinating real life protests.

Russian disinformation on Twitter involved calling for removal of American officials and coordinating real life protests.
AP

Sadly even misinformation spread unwittingly can have tragic consequences. In 2020, following Donald Trump’s false claims that hydroxychloroquine showed “very encouraging results” against COVID-19 rapidly spread over social media, several people in Nigeria died from overdoses.




Read more:
The story of #DanLiedPeopleDied: how a hashtag reveals Australia’s ‘information disorder’ problem


Responses to propaganda and disinformation

So how have various entities addressed both mis- and disinformation?

The Jones jury case and verdict is one example of how societies can counter disinformation. Being hauled into court and forced by a jury of your peers to shell out $49 million in damages would cause most people to verify what they’re saying before they say it.

Governments and corporations have also taken significant steps to mitigate disinformation. In the wake of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the EU ceased retransmitting Russia Today, the well-known Russian state-controlled television network, and it is now no longer available in Europe or in Africa.

The EUvsDisinfo project has countered Russian propaganda and addressed “the Russian Federation’s ongoing disinformation campaigns affecting the European Union, its Member States, and countries in the shared neighbourhood” since 2015. In 2022 Google followed suit, launching its Russia-Ukraine ConflictMisinfo Dashboard, which lists dubious claims related to the invasion and fact-checks their veracity.




Read more:
China’s disinformation threat is real. We need better defences against state-based cyber campaigns


Wikipedia as anti-propaganda?

Ordinary citizens have several avenues to counter disinformation as well. Information literacy is typically framed as an individual responsibility, but Swedish scholars Jutta Haider and Olof Sundin point out that “a shared sense of truth requires societal trust, especially institutional trust, at least as an anticipated ideal”.

How can we re-create a common sense of truth? Wikipedia – the freely accessible online encyclopedia where knowledge is collectively produced – is a good place to start.

Wikipedia has emerged as a compelling resource in fighting disinformation.
EPA

Wikipedia has community-enforced policies on neutrality and verifiability. Anyone can edit a Wikipedia page, but countless administrators, users and automated type-setting “bots” ensure these edits are as correct as possible. Modifications and disputes about article content are archived on the website and visible to all: the editorial process is transparent. With the possible exception of obscure topics where very few editors are involved, misinformation is weeded out fast.

Education is key

As information consumers, some important steps we can take to protect ourselves from disinformation include seeking out and reading a wide variety of sources and not sharing dubious content. Schools are doing their part to spread this message.




Read more:
We live in an age of ‘fake news’. But Australian children are not learning enough about media literacy


Notable initiatives in Australia include Camberwell Grammar School in Canterbury, Victoria where teachers have drawn on resources produced by ABC Education to teach their students how to identify credible news sources. And a University of Canberra pilot program using Stanford University’s “lateral reading” principle is being trialled in three primary and secondary ACT schools this year. The program instructs participants to open another tab and check Wikipedia if they come across any unknown or dubious claims. If the claim is not verifiable, move on.

Such information education needs to be complemented with an awareness of democratic norms and values. And it should also incorporate a better understanding of the importance of privacy: the more we share about ourselves, the more likely we are to be targeted by disinformation campaigns.

Though disinformation may continue and even prosper in certain corners, our best lines of defence are ensuring we read information from multiple, credible sources; utilise fact-checking services; and are more discerning about what we read and share.

To put it simply, don’t feed the trolls – or the platforms where they thrive.

The Conversation

Mathieu O’Neil has received grants from the ACT Education Directorate and the US Embassy (Aust). He is affiliated with the Digital Commons Policy Council.

Michael Jensen has received funding from the Australian Defence Science and Technology Group, a fellowship from the Taiwan government, and the Australian Research Council.

ref. Three reasons why disinformation is so pervasive and what we can do about it – https://theconversation.com/three-reasons-why-disinformation-is-so-pervasive-and-what-we-can-do-about-it-188457

The COVIDSafe app is dead. What can we learn from this ‘failure’?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Stan Karanasios, Associate professor, The University of Queensland

Rob Hampson/Unsplash

On August 9 2022, Australia’s COVIDSafe app was officially decommissioned, and all its features removed. People were encouraged to uninstall the app. Reports of its closure have made international news.

On ceasing COVIDSafe, health minister Mark Butler said the “Albanese government acted to delete the wasteful and ineffective COVIDSafe app” and accused the former government of wasting “more than $21 million of taxpayer’s money on this failed app”.

Was COVIDSafe a magic bullet, as per the previous government, or a total failure, as the current government wants us to believe?

The writing was on the wall

Designed to help manual contract tracers find positive COVID cases, the app was launched in April 2020.

Rewind to the first months of the pandemic, and Australians were encouraged by then prime minister Scott Morrison to download the app, which he compared to putting on sunscreen when going outdoors and a “ticket to opening up our economy”.

To some, it was clear already in 2020 the app wasn’t going to achieve expectations. It also disappeared from politicians’ vocabularies, and there were mounting calls to scrap it in 2021.

Overall, the decommissioning of the app this week shouldn’t come as a surprise – there was also a strict sunset clause put into law when it was first developed.

Green text on a website carrying the Australian government logo, stating that health officials are no longer using the app
The COVIDsafe website has been updated to urge users to uninstall the app.
covidsafe.gov.au

But is there a silver lining – can we learn anything from the COVIDSafe experiment? Here is our scorecard.

Some passes, some fails

PASS: Automating manual contact tracing

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, most public health systems relied on manual contact tracing, a tool many thought at first would be ineffective for managing and controlling a rapidly spreading disease on a large scale.

One of the goals of COVIDSafe was to automate the manual work, to help the efforts of contact tracers at scale. This goal was achieved, although the value and effectiveness are questionable, as we discuss below.

PASS: Mass adoption

Few systems have needed rapid and widespread adoption to the extent that COVIDSafe did. The app did reach the initial expected target threshold of 40%. There were more than 7.7 million downloads, with 3 million Australians downloading the app by the end of April 2020.

Getting so many Australians to download new and contested technology is an unparalleled achievement. While the number of downloads doesn’t tell us how many people were actively using the app, it shows some success in getting people to at least download and engage with it.

A significant challenge was also to make the app accessible to a wide range of people with varying levels of tech aptitude. Despite its questionable effectiveness, technical and registration issues, COVIDSafe struck a balance between being aesthetic and relatively easy to use.




Read more:
70% of people surveyed said they’d download a coronavirus app. Only 44% did. Why the gap?


FAIL: Improving the efficiency and accuracy of contact tracing

The COVIDSafe app only helped to identify two positive cases not reported by manual contact tracing. This can be partly attributed to the success of Australia’s suppression strategy – low case numbers in 2020 meant the app was not fully tested “in the wild”.

As of November 2021, only 792 COVID-positive COVIDSafe users consented to upload their data to the national database. Australian states also introduced QR code scanning at public places (such as transport, shops, sport venues, cafes, hotels and restaurants) that overlapped with the role of the app.

Independent evaluation suggests that COVIDSafe was “an additional step that increased workload [for contact tracing staff] without delivering any added value”.

FAIL: Easing restrictions, opening the economy, and returning to ‘normal’

The Morrison government framed COVIDSafe as an integral part of its plan to remove restrictions imposed on society and open the economy. COVIDSafe failed to deliver on this, as much of Australia continued to face tough restrictions and remained in lockdowns until late 2021.

FAIL: Suppressing COVID-19 and its spread

Another widely popularised goal of COVIDSafe was controlling the spread of the disease. Despite early optimism around such apps, this goal was not achieved.

It was unrealistic to expect a contact-tracing app to suppress the spread of a virus whose epidemiological characteristics evolve over time.




Read more:
Australia has all but abandoned the COVIDSafe app in favour of QR codes (so make sure you check in)


Lessons for the future

Getting systems right is a process. Understanding the failures and successes of COVIDSafe is a useful starting point to advance the conversation on what “digital contact tracing 2.0” should look like.

Avoid techno-optimism

A techno-optimism ideology – the idea that there’s a tech solution for every complex problem – was at the root of developing COVIDSafe in the first place. Officials used metaphors such as “digital vaccine”, “sunscreen” and “road to recovery”, suggesting the app would protect individuals from being infected and return life back to “normal”.

In developing health applications, government should use “digital also” instead of a “digital first” approach. Health apps, especially new and rapidly deployed ones, should not be conflated with medical solutions. Otherwise, we risk unrealistic expectations and loss of public trust.

Understanding the needs

COVIDSafe showed that digitalising a manual contact-tracing process doesn’t necessarily make it more effective. In a July 2021 report to parliament, then health minister Greg Hunt admitted “the use of existing, well established tracing processes has limited the need of public health officials to rely on COVIDSafe”.

When defining the scope and purpose of an app, we need a better understanding of everyone’s requirements and existing manual processes.

Manage data volume

As COVIDSafe was developed and launched, much attention was lavished on privacy concerns, Bluetooth connectivity, accessibility and mass acceptance.

But it seems less attention was given to the needs of public health staff. The app complicated the work of contact tracers who were quickly overwhelmed by data volume. Public health staff should be provided with effective tools to manage incoming data; in this case, it would have helped to figure out which encounters needed to be checked for potential close contacts.

Privacy preservation

Privacy considerations were central in the development of COVIDSafe, with a range of measures applied across the actual app, its legislation and its use.

Future apps should be developed to give people control over the collection and sharing of their mobility data, so users can select appropriate options according to their personal privacy preferences.




Read more:
The COVIDSafe bill doesn’t go far enough to protect our privacy. Here’s what needs to change


So, was COVIDSafe worth the investment?

Australia was not the only country to develop a contact-tracing app. Several German-speaking countries, France, India and Singapore developed similar apps with varied success, while the United Kingdom, Italy, Latvia and others made us of the exposure notification system Apple and Google developed.

COVIDSafe reflects the urgency of early 2020 and the strong support for such technology from epidemiologists and other medical professionals.

It was also a bit like taking out an insurance policy we didn’t fully need: initial public acceptance did not align with low positive case numbers. It’s unclear whether a similar app deployed in 2022 would have led to a different outcome.

Overall, it is hard to expect a financial return on such emergency investment. The app gave some people hope and comfort during the dark periods of 2020, arguably delivering a social return on investment.




Read more:
The COVIDSafe app was designed to help contact tracers. We crunched the numbers to see what really happened


The Conversation

Professor Alemayehu Molla is affiliated with the Department of Information Systems and Business Analytics, RMIT University. He is a Member of the Australian Computer Society and the Association for Information Systems

Stan Karanasios does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. The COVIDSafe app is dead. What can we learn from this ‘failure’? – https://theconversation.com/the-covidsafe-app-is-dead-what-can-we-learn-from-this-failure-188582

VIDEO: China tensions, the Barilaro affair, Albanese’s jobs summit, and more teals on the move

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 Professor Paddy Nixon talk about this week in politics.

They discuss Australia’s relationship with China as tensions rise over Taiwan, the inquiry into that New York post former NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro never got to take up, and the Albanese government’s jobs summit. They also canvass the prospects for a fresh batch of “teals’, gearing up for state elections in Victoria and NSW.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. VIDEO: China tensions, the Barilaro affair, Albanese’s jobs summit, and more teals on the move – https://theconversation.com/video-china-tensions-the-barilaro-affair-albaneses-jobs-summit-and-more-teals-on-the-move-188642

Personality testing in job applications: what can and can’t employers ask you?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Dominique Allen, Associate Professor, Monash University

Photo by Sora Shimazaki/Pexels, CC BY

You might have heard of jobseekers being asked to complete a “personality test” as part of a job application, or been through the process yourself.

The questions can range from the innocuous to the deeply personal, with some applicants reporting being asked about their political views in such tests. The Guardian Australia recently reported one jobseeker was asked to do a personality test assessing “zest” and “spirituality”.

So, what can and can’t prospective employers ask in a personality test?

Questions about a person’s age, sex, race, sexual orientation, political opinions or disability are unlawful if the employer makes a decision based on the response.

But it’s not always easy to prove the employer did actually make a decision based on the response you gave.

For example, say an employer asks a job applicant with a physical disability about what changes they would need in the workplace to accommodate their disability, and then doesn’t hire them because of the costs involved. A court might find that to be disability discrimination.

Anti-discrimination law: it’s complicated

Blatant examples like this are unlikely, because workplace discrimination has been unlawful for four decades; savvy employers know what not to do.

But what about a recruiter asking if the candidate sees themselves as “lively” or “energetic”? Could this question be used to work out age, and then used to deny an older applicant the job? This could be age discrimination but it’s not easy to prove.

And if someone finds they weren’t hired even though they had the right skills but they’re over 55 and didn’t describe themselves as “energetic”, how will they ever prove age was a factor in the hiring decision?




Read more:
Sexual harassment claims are costly and complex – can this be fixed?


No wonder people are sceptical about providing information – they don’t know why employers want this information or what they’re going to do with it.

Anti-discrimination laws require the candidate to prove that the reason they weren’t hired was because of their disability or age. Unless the employer told them this or put it in writing, this is very difficult.

Without direct evidence, the candidate will have to ask the court to infer that the reason they weren’t hired was because of their disability or age.

This is a costly exercise, especially if lawyers are involved. Even if the candidate wins, compensation payouts are not windfalls. It’s not surprising so many discrimination claims are settled or abandoned.

No wonder people are sceptical about providing information to prospective employers – they don’t know what they’re going to do with it.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels, CC BY

The Woolworths case

In Queensland, employers are prohibited from asking a person a question upon which discrimination could be based.

This was an issue for Woolworths in 2014, when a man applying to work in a petrol station was asked to provide his gender, date of birth and documentary proof of his right to work in Australia.

He lodged a complaint and the case was heard in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Woolworths said it needed his date of birth to streamline recruitment, helping determine if he could work in its liquor outlets and his rate of pay.

The tribunal found

that Woolworths’ conduct in requiring a job applicant to provide a date of birth and gender on its online application form contravened section 9 of the Anti-Discrimination Act.

Woolworths could have collected this information in other ways, such as asking if he was aged over 18, and requiring him to show evidence of age if hired.

Woolworths was ordered to pay the man A$5,000.

The tribunal also noted it had, by then, already taken steps to change the online application form, which had addressed all of his concerns.

This case did not involve personality testing, but it does show how employers should be clear about why they’re seeking personal information.

The decision in the Woolworths case came about a year after the man applied for the job, showing how slow and onerous a court or tribunal process can be. Most wouldn’t bother to try.

It’s about how information is used

Collecting statistical data about a workforce can be useful in addressing discrimination if it’s followed by action when inequality is detected, and those actions are monitored.

Most employers are required to collect data about the gender composition of their workforce and report annually to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.




Read more:
Why using Myers-Briggs at work Might Be a Terrible Idea (MBTI)


If the data show a lack of women in certain jobs, they can take note and actively recruit women, or encourage women to seek promotion.

This won’t be sex discrimination as long as the employer can show their strategy was designed to increase equality.

The Conversation

Dominique Allen receives funding from the Victorian Women’s Benevolent Trust.

ref. Personality testing in job applications: what can and can’t employers ask you? – https://theconversation.com/personality-testing-in-job-applications-what-can-and-cant-employers-ask-you-188516

New book has focus on Pacific activists against militarism, for climate justice

Pacific Media Watch newsdesk

A new Aotearoa New Zealand book focusing on activists and their causes against militarism and for social struggles and climate justice across the Asia-Pacific is being launched in Wellington today.

Peace Action: Struggles for a decolonised and demilitarised Oceania and East Asia, edited by Wellington-based activist Valerie Morse, is the first book published by Left of the Equator Press.

“This book highlights the role of militarism as an ongoing colonial force,” says Morse.

“It is a collection of stories about activists, their organising and their causes, and the interconnections between social struggles separated by the vast expanse of Te Moana-Nui-A-Kiwa.”

It includes chapters on the Doctrine of Discovery (Tina Ngata), on protecting Ihumātao (Pania Newton, Qiane Matata-Sipu mā), on anti-militarist organising in South Korea, on campaigning against US military training in Hawai’i and Japan, on French colonialism in Mā’ohi Nui and Kanaky, about Korean peace movements in Aotearoa and Australia, about Indonesia’s occupation of West Papua, on feminist resistance to war in so-called Australia, on NZ’s history of Chinese-Māori solidarity, and on peace gardening at Parihaka.

“The increasing military build up across the Pacific has come into sharp focus this year,” said Morse.

“Having any influence over issues of war and international affairs can feel impossible, but grassroots movements for decolonisation and peace are the heart of countering this spiralling militarism and addressing the region’s most pressing issues, including climate justice.”

She says she was inspired to do the book from learning about the kinds of organising across the Pacific rim.

“I wanted to share that learning in order to inspire and inform others.”

Peace Action tall
Peace Action … the new book. Image: Left of the Equator

The book launch was an “awesome way to celebrate solidarity and connection with each other” and to build a collective knowledge for change.

It is being hosted at Trades Hall on Vivian Street in Wellington at 5.30pm today.

Trade Unions based at the hall were deeply involved in the Nuclear-Free and Independent Pacific (NFIP) movement.

More information: leftequator@gmail.com

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Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

SIBC chief defends ‘free’ state media broadcaster in face of tighter controls

Pacific Media Watch newsdesk

The head of the Solomon Islands state-owned broadcaster has defended its role in the face of the government tightening control — a move that critics say is squarely aimed at controlling and censoring the news.

The government said last Friday that the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) would retain editorial control and that government officials would not censor or restrain the outlet.

Earlier in the week, the government had lashed out at the broadcaster, accusing it of a “lack of ethics and professionalism” and saying the government had a duty to “protect our people from lies and misinformation” it claimed was propagated by the SIBC.

In an interview published by the VOA News, Johnson Honimae, the SIBC chief executive, said he was proud of the broadcaster’s award-winning journalism.

He said it was business as usual for the broadcaster and there were no government censors vetting stories before they were broadcast, contrary to what was reported by some news outlets.

The government’s move came at a politically tumultuous time in the Solomon Islands.

There were riots in the capital of Honiara last November, followed by a no-confidence vote in Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in December, which he survived.

Security pact with China
Then in April, Sogavare signed a security pact with China that has caused deep alarm in the Pacific and around the world.

The SIBC has reported those developments and has included the views of Sogavare’s opponents.

The broadcaster, which began as the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Service, has been a fixture for 70 years in the Solomon Islands.

Employing about 50 people and operating under the slogan “Voice of the nation,” the broadcaster is the main source of radio and television news for the nation’s 700,000 people and is listened to and watched from the capital to the smallest village.

In late June, the government moved to delist the SIBC as a state-owned enterprise and take more direct control, saying the broadcaster had failed to make a profit, something that had been expected of such state-owned businesses.

Opposition Leader Matthew Wale said the delisting was a scheme orchestrated by Sogavare as “a clear attempt to directly control and censor the news content of SIBC”.

“This will hijack well-entrenched principles of law on defamation and freedom-of-speech, thus depriving the public using SIBC to freely express their views, or accessing information on government activities,” Wale said.

Critical government calls
Honimae said the broadcaster took critical calls from Sogavare’s office in recent months.

“They believe we’ve been running too many stories from the opposition side, causing too much disunity,” Honimae said.

Honimae said the broadcaster and its staff won several journalism awards this year from the Media Association of Solomon Islands, including newsroom of the year and journalist of the year.

He also said the broadcaster plays the national anthem when broadcasts begin each morning at 6 am and again when they finish at 11 pm.

“We believe we are a great force for unity and peace in this country,” Honimae said.

Honimae added that the broadcaster needed to “balance our stories more” and leave no opportunity for criticism.

He said Sogavare — who is also the government’s Broadcasting Minister– had said in Parliament that the government would not tamper with the broadcaster’s editorial independence.

“There is no censorship at the moment,” Honimae said. “We operate as professional journalists.”

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Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

Sam Uffindell was lucky to avoid NZ’s criminal justice system as a schoolboy – but it was the right outcome

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By James Mehigan, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Canterbury

Getty Images

However you look at it, the National Party has selected someone who once committed an act of criminal violence to represent the Tauranga electorate in parliament.

It’s an unfortunate move for a self-styled party of law and order, but perhaps it should be welcomed. If the party is able to forgive Sam Uffindell, then perhaps it’s also time for bipartisan efforts to make the justice system itself more forgiving, particularly when it affects children.

There have been more allegations about Uffindell’s past behaviour, and the National Party has begun an inquiry. But by his own admission, Uffindell took part in a group attack when he was a 16-year-old schoolboy that led to the serious bruising and traumatising of a 13-year-old pupil.

The victim has said he believed wooden bed legs were used in the attack. Although he was lucky not to be more seriously injured, the perpetrators were perhaps even luckier.

Treating children as criminals

As a criminal barrister I have advised many clients over the years whose murder convictions were based on attacks by small groups using improvised blunt weapons. They were unlucky enough that the victim’s injuries led to their death. The schoolboys in this case were perhaps lucky enough this didn’t happen.

If you attack someone with blunt instruments as part of a group action you are running the very real risk of a homicide conviction. The difference between a life sentence and a life representing a political party may be just a matter of inches.

The attackers in the Uffindell case were also lucky enough to avoid the justice system. This is significant because if you enter the justice system as a child (aged under 18 according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) it is remarkably difficult to get out.

Early conviction is a major predictor of future offending. What’s known as “labelling theory” suggests that defining someone as “criminal” at an early age helps create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Children treated as criminals early on begin to assume that identity.

For this reason, child rights advocates urge the use of diversion and other methods of dealing with children who engage in criminality. An informal version of this is exactly what happened to Uffindell.

Scaling up forgiveness

Expulsion from school is certainly a harsh penalty. But in effect, Uffindell was simply moved to a different branch of the Anglican boarding school network. He avoided conviction and criminal punishment and went on to be forgiven and welcomed into the banking and political establishments.

This is, in fact, a great outcome for children who commit a crime. Their later lives are not ruined and they are able to grow out of their immature and violent phase. This forgiveness and informality is to be welcomed.




Read more:
Sending teens to maximum security prisons shows Australia needs to raise the age of criminal responsibility


The question, then, is how do we take such forgiveness to scale? How do we ensure that someone with a different background, who committed the same offence in a different setting, also gets the benefit of this forgiveness? This is the new challenge for National.

Uffindell used part of his maiden speech in parliament to mark himself out as tough on crime. He bemoaned (apparently without irony) “a growing culture of lawlessness, lack of accountability, a sense of impunity”.

Less well reported were his calls for a “social investment” approach to reducing crime. This involves investing early in the lives of at-risk people to prevent the state being what Uffindell called “the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff”.

As a beneficiary of forgiveness himself, perhaps he is open to more progressive justice policies.

New Zealand out of step

There are many ways to reform the justice system for children. But the two biggest (and legislatively perhaps the easiest) reforms would be to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) and to eliminate life sentences for children.

Currently, both these policies mean New Zealand is out of step with international standards. Our MACR is ten, a “low” age according to the OECD. Only three other OECD members share an MACR as low as this.

The New Zealand Human Rights Commission has argued the minimum age should be raised to 14. While children aged ten and 11 are unlikely to have charges end in court, 2% of charges that ended in court in 2021 involved 12 and 13 year olds.




Read more:
Locking up kids damages their mental health and sets them up for more disadvantage. Is this what we want?


At present, once you’ve reached the age of ten, the state can send you to prison for life. This happened only last week in New Zealand to a 15-year-old boy.

Again, this is out of step with standards in the EU and elsewhere. While the UK and the US do use life sentences for children, it’s notable that only one EU country (Ireland) imposes them.

If children committing serious offences can be managed without a life sentence in Germany and Spain, why can’t New Zealand do it too? Instead of ruining more lives with life sentences and ineffective criminal convictions, why not reduce the scope and severity of penalties for children who offend?

Is it now time for the National Party – and others – to ask whether the forgiveness shown Uffindell should be extended to all young people. Major reform of the justice system for children is long overdue. Perhaps that can be Sam Uffindell’s legacy.

The Conversation

James Mehigan has previously served on the legal advisory panel of the Child Rights International Network.

ref. Sam Uffindell was lucky to avoid NZ’s criminal justice system as a schoolboy – but it was the right outcome – https://theconversation.com/sam-uffindell-was-lucky-to-avoid-nzs-criminal-justice-system-as-a-schoolboy-but-it-was-the-right-outcome-188531

Getting more men into nursing means a rethink of gender roles, pay and recognition. But we need them urgently

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Patricia Davidson, Vice-Chancellor, University of Wollongong

Shutterstock

Demand for health care is soaring as the population ages, medical treatments become more widely available and more people live with chronic and complex illnesses.

However, there is global shortage of health professionals – and the pandemic has only accentuated the trend. Overwork, burnout and stress are causing nurses to leave in droves.

The World Health Organization estimates we’ll need a further 9 million nurses worldwide by 2030. According to the International Council of Nurses, the figure is closer to 13 million.

Part of the solution is to recruit and retain more men in nursing. This would help address workforce shortages and could, over time, reduce the industry gender pay gap as the existence of men in nursing becomes more normalised.

And as jobs dry up in traditionally male-focused industries – such as mining and manufacturing – work in health care should be an attractive option for men, providing job security, career opportunities and salary.

But attracting men to the profession won’t be without its challenges. It will require a serious society-wide rethink around gender roles, compensation and recognition for the importance of nursing work.

The reasons for the low number of men in nursing are complex and multifaceted.
Shutterstock



Read more:
‘Fixing the aged care crisis’ won’t be easy, with just 5% of nursing homes above next year’s mandatory staffing targets


Why are there so few men in nursing?

Caregiving is feminised in society and health care, and the nursing profession has strong female foundations. This has established a trajectory and a culture that has kept the representation of men to around 10% in many high income countries.

This is despite fervent efforts by many in the industry to achieve the equity of gender representation you see in most professions.

The reasons are complex and multifaceted. Men in nursing are often portrayed negatively in media and movies. Stereotypes abound.

And some men in nursing face discrimination from patients and staff, underpinned by false assumptions women are better suited to the role. Many people still underestimate the capacity of men to undertake personal care tasks.

Research also shows low male participation can stem from reticence by career counsellors to recommend nursing as a career.

A recent Australian report shows the dominance of women in the nursing workforce may hinder some men from considering nursing as a career, particularly those for whom masculinity is central to their identity. So we must work to undo the perception nursing is a feminine job – it is not.

Negative perceptions around the prestige of nursing and its perceived status in the community may hinder some men’s interest in nursing as a career.

Good role modelling is important. Many educational institutions and supporters such as Johnson & Johnson are working hard to in present positive images of men in nursing and normalise that men can be great nurses too.

Source: JHU.

Retaining men in the workforce and addressing the ‘glass escalator’

Many regulatory and professional bodies are monitoring the participation of men in nursing. Some organisations offer incentives. For example, The American Association for Men in Nursing offers scholarships, awards and training to attract and retain men in the profession.

It is important to recognise some barriers for men come from within the nursing profession itself.

Some in the nursing workforce perceive that men are on a career “glass escalator”. Unlike a “glass ceiling”, which inhibits career progression, the “glass escalator” allows men to be fast-tracked up the nursing workforce to higher positions in an effort to retain them.

This can cause some to perceive male participation in nursing as a negative, which reduces inclusion.

But this glass escalator phenomenon, which can occur in other industries too, can only be overcome if male participation in the workforce is normalised.

And it is critically important to look at the structural, gender-driven factors that inhibit women embracing leadership roles.

It’s also worth noting women in the health and caregiving sector face a larger gender pay gap than in other economic sectors. A joint report by the International Labour Organization and the World Health Organization found:

Women in the health and care sector face a larger gender pay gap than in other economic sectors, earning on average of 24% less than peers who are men […] Within countries, gender pay gaps tend to be wider in higher pay categories, where men are over-represented. Women are over-represented in the lower pay categories.

Although this differential is not easily explained, it does reflect the value society ascribes to caregiving. If women are over-represented in the lower pay categories (which tend to focus more on personal care tasks) that suggests society ascribes low value to caregiving tasks, and over-representation of women in caregiving helps to further “feminise” caregiving.

It is highly likely these factors conspire to dissuade men and boys from getting started in nursing and undertaking caregiving roles within the profession.

We urgently need more men in nursing.
Shutterstock

Time for action

We urgently need more men in nursing.

Not only does this make good sense for health care, as it presents opportunities for engagement with men, but also good sense for our society and economic productivity. Investment in education and job creation in the health and social sectors could improve health outcomes, shore up global health security, and boost inclusive economic growth.

Perhaps most importantly, robust health care systems should be representative of the populations they serve. The workforce in any industry should be drawn from a range of perspectives, including gender and culture.




Read more:
Friday essay: saints or monsters, pop culture’s limited view of nurses


The Conversation

Patricia Davidson is Vice Chancellor and President of the University of Wollongong and is Dean Emerita at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. She has previously received funding from the National Health & Medical Research Council, Australian Research Council, National Heart Foundation, NSW Cancer Institute and National Institutes for Health in the United States.

Caleb Ferguson works for the School of Nursing, University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia. He receives funding from the National Health & Medical Research Council, and has received funding from the Stroke Foundation and Heart Foundation.

Jason Farley works for Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing. He receives funding from the National Institutes of Health, Baltimore City Health Department, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ref. Getting more men into nursing means a rethink of gender roles, pay and recognition. But we need them urgently – https://theconversation.com/getting-more-men-into-nursing-means-a-rethink-of-gender-roles-pay-and-recognition-but-we-need-them-urgently-184829

These unusual moths migrate over thousands of kilometres. We tracked them to reveal their secret navigational skills

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Myles Menz, Lecturer, Zoology and Ecology, James Cook University

Christian Ziegler Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, Author provided

Migratory insects number in the trillions. They’re a major part of global ecosystems, helping to transport nutrients and pollen across continents – and often travelling thousands of kilometres in the process.

It had long been thought migrating insects largely go wherever the wind blows. But there’s mounting evidence they’re actually great navigators and can select favourable conditions to undertake their journeys.

One outstanding question for experts has been how they react to varying wind conditions while en route. In research published today in Science, we show one migratory insect species, the death’s-head hawkmoth, can maintain a perfectly straight flight path. These moths are able to adjust their trajectory to compensate for rough wind conditions.

Tiny transmitters

Much of our knowledge of insect migration comes from direct observations. These include observations made using radar, or studies of population processes, such as using genetic methods, or measuring ratios of isotopes in tissues (which can reveal insects’ food and water sources and provide information on where they come from).

How individual insects behave, and the paths they take, during migration has been relatively difficult to study, mostly due to their small size and the sheer number of them. But recent advances in tracking technology have helped produce transmitters small enough to be carried by larger insects.

These transmitters weigh less than a gram and can be attached to individual insects. This allows us to track them directly as they migrate and learn what this process involves.

Migratory moths

Our study focused on the death’s-head hawkmoth (Acherontia atropos), an enigmatic moth found in Europe and Africa. The species is well known for the unusual skull-like marking on its thorax. When disturbed, it also has the habit of squeaking and flashing its bright-yellow abdomen.

The moth feeds on honey it steals from honeybee hives, entering the hive and piercing the honeycomb with its stout proboscis (its feeding tube).

While we know this species occurs in Europe, little is understood about its migratory behaviour and where it spends the winter. Adult moths tend to appear in Europe during spring (May to June), and the next generation of adults sets out in autumn (August to October) – likely making its way to the Mediterranean or North Africa, and perhaps as far as south of the Sahara.

It’s thought the species is unable to spend winter north of the Alps, so its migration is probably driven by low temperature and resource availability.

Tracking in the dark

For our research, we tracked 14 moths for up to four hours each – a stretch of time long enough to be considered migratory flight.

We fitted each individual with a tiny radio transmitter, weighing less than 0.3g, before releasing them. A Cessna aeroplane with receiving antennas flew after them as they migrated, detecting their precise location every five to 15 minutes. This method gave us in-depth insight into their flight behaviour.

A map depicting a highlighted moth flightpath through Germany.
The moths were followed from Konstanz, Germany, into the Alps.
Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour, Author provided

Radio tracking has successfully been used to investigate the migration of some day-flying insects, such as the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and green darner dragonfly (Anax junius). However, it has never been used on nocturnal insects in the wild, or at this resolution.

In fact, our research marks the longest distance any insect has ever been continuously tracked in the field.

A shot of a plane from the side.
A Cessna aircraft was fitted with antennas and flown in circles in the air to home in on the radio signal.
Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour, Author provided

Making a bee-line

So what do moths do on migration? To our surprise, we found they flew along very straight paths, effectively making a bee-line for their destination. Some of the longest tracks reached nearly 90km over a period of four hours. This is a fascinating finding as such straight tracks are very uncommon in long-range migratory animals.

The moths also showed distinct strategies to deal with different wind conditions. When there were favourable tailwinds (winds going in the same direction as them) they flew downwind and were propelled towards their destination, or offset their heading slightly to maintain control of their trajectory.

In unfavourable conditions, such as headwinds (coming from the front) and crosswinds (from the side), the moths flew low to the ground and directly into the headwinds, adjusting their trajectory to avoid drifting off course. They also increased their speed to stay in control.

This remarkable ability to stay on course, even in unfavourable conditions, indicates the death’s-head hawkmoth has sophisticated compass mechanisms.

A researcher holds up his hand, while a yellow moth flies away in front of him.
Our research team reared the caterpillars into adulthood in a laboratory, before releasing the moths at dusk.
Christian Ziegler/Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, Author provided

Where to next?

We’ve shown insects are capable of being expert navigators, on par with birds, and aren’t at the whim of the winds as we once thought. This is an important discovery in migration science.

That said, there’s still a huge amount we don’t know about how insects migrate and where they go. The next step will be to understand exactly what mechanisms these moths use to stay on their path. For instance, are they following the Earth’s magnetic field? Or perhaps relying heavily on visual cues?

The more we understand, the closer we can get to being able to predict the phenomena of insect migration. And this would have broad implications – from managing threatened species and species with agricultural benefits, to having better control over agricultural pests.




Read more:
Long-lost letter from Albert Einstein discusses a link between physics and biology, 7 decades before evidence emerges


The Conversation

Myles Menz received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie
Skłodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No. 795568. He is affiliated with the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour, Germany.

Martin Wikelski does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. These unusual moths migrate over thousands of kilometres. We tracked them to reveal their secret navigational skills – https://theconversation.com/these-unusual-moths-migrate-over-thousands-of-kilometres-we-tracked-them-to-reveal-their-secret-navigational-skills-188451

Why doesn’t monkeypox have a new name yet?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Michael Toole, Associate Principal Research Fellow, Burnet Institute

As monkeypox vaccination programs roll out and health authorities release information about how to reduce the spread of the virus, progress on another aspect of the outbreak is lagging: its name.

On June 14, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the agency was:

working with partners and experts from around the world on changing the name of monkeypox virus, its clades and the disease it causes.

This followed a letter signed by 29 scientists around the world calling for a non-discriminatory and non-stigmatising name for the virus.

More than eight weeks later, nothing has changed yet.

Since mid-May 2022, as of August 10, 31,425 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 82 countries – including 66 in Australia – which historically haven’t reported cases of the virus.

During the same period, 375 cases have been reported in seven countries that have historically reported monkeypox.

Confirmed monkeypox cases globally. Orange = has not historically reported monkeypox; blue = has historically reported monkeypox.
CDC

While the focus has been on changing the name of monkeypox, it’s the names of the two main clades (organisms derived from a common ancestor) that are most geographically discriminatory. They are currently named the Congo Basin (or Central Africa) clade and the West Africa clade.




Read more:
Monkeypox in Australia: should you be worried? And who can get the vaccine?


How is the name of a disease created?

In 2015, the WHO, in consultation and collaboration with the World Organization for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, identified best practices for the naming of new human diseases. These conclude:

  • if the causative pathogen is known, it should be used as part of the disease name with additional descriptors; for example, novel coronavirus respiratory syndrome

  • names should be short (minimum number of characters) and easy to pronounce; for example, H7N9

  • potential acronyms should be evaluated to ensure they also comply with these best practices

  • geographic locations, such as cities, countries, regions, and continents should be avoided; poor earlier examples include Murray Valley encephalitis and Spanish flu

  • people’s names (such as Chagas disease) and the names of species (such as swine flu and bird flu) should be avoided.

Naming of the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19, did not include the name of the pathogen. But it did comply with the other criteria and, fortunately, was not called Wuhan disease or China virus.




Read more:
Today’s disease names are less catchy, but also less likely to cause stigma


How is the name of a virus created?

The WHO is not directly responsible for naming or renaming viruses, clades of viruses and the diseases those viruses cause. Naming virus species is the responsibility of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses.

Monkeypox is a member of the orthopoxvirus family and related to smallpox, which was eradicated in 1979. Unlike other bugs, such as parasites like malaria (Plasmodium falciparum) and bacteria like “golden staph” (Staphylococcus aureus), there is still not a consistent system of assigning binomial (two words) Latinised names to viruses.

A subcommittee of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses is in the process of finalising a proposal for new binomial names for all the poxviruses, including monkeypox.

3D visualisation of a monkeypox cell
We’re still waiting for the new binomial name for monkeypox.
Shutterstock

Most viral conditions have different names for the disease it causes and the virus itself.

In the case of the novel coronavirus causing the current pandemic, the short name of the disease is COVID-19, while the virus is named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

Why is it so hard to change the name of monkeypox virus?

Monkeypox is not a new virus; it was discovered in 1958.

While on the face of it, the name monkeypox does not seem stigmatising (other than to monkeys) some have pointed out that monkeys are rarely associated with the Western world, and this association with the global South could be seen as problematic. The word monkey has also been employed in racist slurs against people of colour.

Monkeypox is also a misnomer because monkeys are not its natural host, which is probably in rodents. The name of the virus was given because it was first identified in laboratory monkeys in Copenhagen.




Read more:
Australia secures 450,000 new monkeypox vaccines. What are they and who can have them?


However, there is a problem with the names of the virus’s clades. The two main clades are named after West Africa and the Congo Basin, the latter causing more severe illness. This contravenes the WHO’s efforts to avoid naming viral diseases after countries or continents.

Unfortunately, many media outlets use photos of Africans, often children, with the tell-tale rash. This heightens perceptions that this is an “African disease” that has escaped to the Western world.

Despite the WHO naming criteria announced in 2015, the agency has been unable to change the name of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), caused by a camel coronavirus. In fact, one of the largest outbreaks of MERS was in South Korea.

One of the main reasons given for not changing the name is that it could disconnect future researchers from research papers written over more than five decades. This seems a weak argument because it’s almost certain that future researchers will be aware of the original name.

Another challenge is that the name would need to be changed in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) which is used around the world for medical billing and clinical epidemiology studies.

There is an apparent consensus among virologists that the new name will be something like Orthopoxvirus monkeypox. “That’s certainly the majority proposal at this stage,” according to the chair of the poxvirus subcommittee of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses.

This is not much of a change and is inconsistent with WHO’s naming criteria.

There is, however, more optimism the two clades could shed their geographic names to something like clades 1 and 2.

Focus on prevention and control

During the long process of changing its name, the prevention and control of monkeypox remain the same:

  • surveillance
  • finding cases, isolation and contact tracing
  • behaviour change communication to reduce the number of sexual partners
  • vaccination of close contacts and treatment of severe illness with antiviral drugs.

This needs close engagement with communities most affected by the virus – men who have sex with men. It’s crucial to prevent stigma and discrimination, not because of the name of the virus itself but those who are most vulnerable to infection.




Read more:
Monkeypox isn’t like HIV, but gay and bisexual men are at risk of unfair stigma


The Conversation

Michael Toole receives funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council.

ref. Why doesn’t monkeypox have a new name yet? – https://theconversation.com/why-doesnt-monkeypox-have-a-new-name-yet-188280

Beyond net-zero: we should, if we can, cool the planet back to pre-industrial levels

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Andrew King, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science, The University of Melbourne

Marc Pell/Unsplash, CC BY

The world’s focus is sharply fixed on achieving net-zero emissions, yet surprisingly little thought has been given to what comes afterwards. In our new paper, published today in Nature Climate Change, we discuss the big unknowns in a post net-zero world.

It’s vital that we understand the consequences of our choices when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions and what comes next. The pathways we choose before and after reaching global net-zero emissions might mean the difference between a planet that remains habitable and one where many parts become inhospitable.

At the moment, human activities have a warming effect on the planet. But achieving our climate policy goals would take humanity into the uncharted territory of being able to cool the planet.

Being able to cool the planet raises a number of questions. Principally, how fast would we want the planet to cool, and what global average temperature should we aim for?




Read more:
Global emissions almost back to pre-pandemic levels after unprecedented drop in 2020, new analysis shows


How are our emissions changing?

Our collective greenhouse gas emissions have warmed the planet about 1.2℃, relative to pre-industrial temperatures. In fact, despite all the talk about reducing emissions, global carbon dioxide emissions are at near-record levels.

Emissions have rebounded following the reductions seen during the pandemic-induced lockdowns. Looking back further we can see that carbon dioxide emissions have roughly quadrupled since 1960.
Global Carbon Project

Some countries have successfully reduced their greenhouse gas emissions in recent years, such as the United Kingdom which has halved greenhouse gas emissions relative to 1990.

There is also greater push from major emitters such as the United States and the European Union – as well as countries that emit less but already experience climate change impacts – to take stronger steps to limit the damage we are doing to the climate.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reaching net-zero are humanity’s greatest challenges. As long as greenhouse gas emissions remain substantially above net-zero we will continue to warm the planet.

To be in line with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to well below 2℃ above pre-industrial levels this century, we need to drastically reduce our emissions.

We also need to increase our uptake of carbon from the atmosphere through developing and implementing drawdown technology.




Read more:
On top of drastic emissions cuts, IPCC finds large-scale CO₂ removal from air will be “essential” to meeting targets


What will come after net-zero?

Net-zero emissions will be reached when humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere are balanced by their removal from the atmosphere. We would likely need to reach global net-zero well within the next 50 years to keep global warming well below 2℃.

If we achieve this, we could continue the process of decarbonisation to reach net-negative greenhouse gas emissions – where more of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions are removed from the atmosphere than released into it.

This would need to be achieved through a combination of “negative emissions” technologies, likely including some not invented yet, and land use changes such as reforestation.

Continued net-negative emissions will cause the planet to cool as greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere fall. This is because the greenhouse effect, where gases such as carbon dioxide absorb radiation from Earth and warm the atmosphere, would weaken.




Read more:
The Morrison government wants to suck CO₂ out of the atmosphere. Here are 7 ways to do it


Currently, there’s almost no focus from governments, or indeed scientists, on the consequences of meeting our policy goals and going beyond net-zero. But this would be a turning point as the world would begin to cool.

Land would cool faster than the ocean. Indeed, some people may experience substantial cooling over their lifetimes – an unfamiliar concept to grasp in our warming climate.

These changes would be accompanied by effects on weather extremes and impacts to weather and climate-sensitive industries. While there’s not much research on this yet, we could, for example, see shipping routes close up as ice regrows in polar regions.

In the long-term, the best target global temperature for the planet might be something akin to a pre-industrial climate, with the human effect on Earth’s climate receding.

In our paper we call for a new set of climate model experiments that allow us to understand the range of possible future climates after net-zero.

Any decisions must be informed by an understanding of the consequences of different choices for a post net-zero climate. For example, competing interests between countries and industries may make global agreements more challenging in a post net-zero world.

The Earth has warmed to date but after achieving net-zero emissions it will cool. We need new climate model simulations to understand this. Observed global mean surface temperature (GMST) comes from the Berkeley Earth dataset. The red, orange and blue lines illustrate possible scenarios for a post net-zero climate for which we wish to understand the implications.
Author provided

Why does this matter now?

Reading this article, you may feel we’re getting ahead of ourselves. After all, as highlighted, global greenhouse gas emissions remain at near-record highs.

A key factor that will affect the behaviour of the climate system after net-zero emissions would be the maximum level of global warming that we peak at. This is dictated by our current and near-future emissions.

If we fail to meet the Paris Agreement and peak global warming reaches 2℃ or more, then future generations will endure the effects of higher sea levels and other possible disastrous climate changes for many centuries to come.

Our understanding of post net-zero impacts of different peak levels of global warming is extremely limited.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions through decarbonisation remains our key priority. The more we can suppress global warming by reaching net-zero emissions as early as possible, the more we limit potential disastrous effects and the need to cool the planet in a post net-zero world.




Read more:
Climate change killed 40 million Australian mangroves in 2015. Here’s why they’ll probably never grow back


The Conversation

Andrew King receives funding from the National Environmental Science Program.

Celia McMichael receives funding from the Australian Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Red Cross, and the World Health Organization.

Kale Sniderman receives funding from the Australian Research Council

Kathryn Bowen has received funding for climate and health research, policy advice and technical assistance from the National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, WHO, Asian Development Bank, UNDP, UNEP, USAID, GIZ, EU, Future Earth, City of Melbourne, Victorian Department of Health. She is affiliated with the Climate and Health Alliance as a member of the Advisory Board and sits on the Science Committee of the World Adaptation Science Program.

Tilo Ziehn receives funding from the Australian Government under the National Environmental Science Program.

Zebedee Nicholls receives funding from the European Union under the Horizon 2020 Program. He is also a co-founder of Climate Resource, which connects governments and businesses with the latest climate science.

Harry McClelland and Jacqueline Peel do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Beyond net-zero: we should, if we can, cool the planet back to pre-industrial levels – https://theconversation.com/beyond-net-zero-we-should-if-we-can-cool-the-planet-back-to-pre-industrial-levels-187781

To lock out foot-and-mouth disease, Australia must help our neighbour countries bolster their biosecurity

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Robyn Alders, Honorary Professor, Australian National University

Foot-and-mouth disease now poses a high threat to Australia. This highly contagious livestock virus is sweeping Indonesia – the closest it’s been to Australia since the 1980s. A large outbreak here could cause decimate the livestock industry and cause A$80 billion in economic damage over the coming decade.

The peril coincides with Australia’s first national biosecurity strategy released by the federal government this week. The plan warns Australia faces “multiple risks, on multiple fronts, at the same time” and cites foot-and-mouth disease as among the emerging challenges.

But the foot-and-mouth outbreak in Indonesia should not come as a surprise. It’s been decades in the making – just the latest consequence of biosecurity shortcomings in the region.

A suite of measures are needed to prevent exotic pests and diseases entering Australia. Crucial to this is being a good neighbour: helping other countries in our region to strengthen their biosecurity efforts.

Dwindling agriculture aid

Foot-and-mouth disease is just one of many invasive pests and diseases to have spread internationally, including in Southeast Asia in recent years.

Regrettably, Varroa mite (which attacks honeybees) and fall armyworm (which destroys crops) both entered Australia in the past two years, leading to significant economic, social and environmental harm.

This comes on the top of the economic impact of invasive species, such as the red imported fire ant and feral pigs, which is estimated to cost Australia up to $24.5 billion annually.




Read more:
Pest plants and animals cost Australia around $25 billion a year – and it will get worse


Now, foot-and-mouth disease is knocking on our door. So how did Australia become so vulnerable to such an outbreak? Declining government support for international agricultural development must take some of the blame.

Between the 1970s and the early 2000s, Australian aid worked with partner countries to boost animal health in Southeast Asia. This included support for the eradication of foot-and-mouth disease in The Philippines and the control of avian influenza in Indonesia.

Australia’s varroa mite outbreak has so far been contained to the east coast.
Shutterstock

Unfortunately, since 2013, such agricultural programs have ended or been greatly reduced in scope in line with decreased spending in the sector. The cuts came as part of broader reductions to Australia’s overseas aid budget – including a cut of more than 40% in aid to Southeast Asia in 2020.

Indeed, in 2021 Australia contributed just 0.22% of its gross national income towards overseas development assistance, compared to the OECD average of 0.33% for that year.

Prevention is good for the bottom line

The cost of supporting effective agricultural biosecurity services in neighbouring countries would be but a small fraction of the cost of a major disease outbreak.

Looking forward, cost-efficient biosecurity programs will require integrated risk identification and management across human, animal, plant and environmental health. Such a joined-up approach is essential to address major and interrelated sociological and environmental biosecurity challenges.




Read more:
What is foot and mouth disease? Why farmers fear ‘apocalyptic bonfires of burning carcasses’


A priority in the new national biosecurity strategy is to create “stronger partnerships” at the local, regional, national and international levels. One of the initial steps identified is to help shape global biosecurity standards, rules and conditions. It will also:

“deepen international partnerships and capacity building, including in the Indo-Pacific, to increase engagement, harmonisation, skills exchanges and information sharing on national priority pests, weeds and diseases.”

This is a great foundation for further strengthening global agricultural biosecurity systems. But to fully and effectively meet the biosecurity challenges of the 21st Century, it’s crucial to ensure agricultural biosecurity systems fully integrate with humans and our natural environment.

Coordinating the activities of different sectors – such as human health, agriculture and the natural environment – would result in more effective use of limited resources, especially those required to support frontline activities. This will ultimately be far better for the national budget.

Broader focus on livestock health

Effective agriculture aid programs require a broad focus on livestock health, rather than just tackling diseases that might threaten Australia.

For example, many small-scale farmers would prefer to vaccinate cows against diseases such as haemorrhagic septicaemia and anthrax that kill cattle, rather than only vaccinating them against foot-and-mouth disease which causes cows to produce less milk, but won’t usually kill the animal.

Controlling diseases with a high death rate would build trust from small-scale farmers in animal health services. This could, in turn, make rural communities more receptive to vaccinate their animals against other diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease.

It takes considerable effort to establish effective and efficient vaccination campaigns and other biosecurity measures. But once they’re in place, maintaining them is less costly. If funding for recurrent maintenance isn’t in place and disease outbreaks occur, this trust will be lost.

This lesson was learnt in Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and Laos during the avian influenza pandemic which started in 2003. During that period, poultry producers were forced by government disease control agencies to cull affected flocks without receiving compensation.

The intervention still casts a shadow over relationships between producers and animal health services, complicating efforts to control and monitor disease.




Read more:
Yes, wash your shoes at the airport – but we can do more to stop foot-and-mouth disease ravaging Australia


Beyond livestock related biosecurity risks, adequate investment is also needed in the countries of origin to improve biosecurity practices for imported plant products.

This includes cut flowers imported from developing countries where a 2021 investigation detected pests in 12% of consignments.

Taking a long-term view

Much work is needed to reduce the risk of further pests and diseases entering into Australia. This includes ongoing support to help our regional neighbours strengthen their biosecurity and associated food security systems.

Of course, this is not the only step. Australia must also ensure effective biosecurity surveillance at the border and actively engage the Australian community to report any incursions that may occur.

And most importantly, Australia’s biosecurity strategies must take a long-term, integrated view. These strategies must consider both benefits and costs and, crucially, have guaranteed bipartisan support at the state and federal levels.

The Conversation

Robyn Alders is an Honorary Professor with the ANU Development Policy Centre and a Senior Consulting Fellow with the Chatham House Global Health Programme. She also consults to Australian and international aid organisations and is Chair of the Kyeema Foundation and the Upper Lachlan Branch of the NSW Farmers’ Association.

ref. To lock out foot-and-mouth disease, Australia must help our neighbour countries bolster their biosecurity – https://theconversation.com/to-lock-out-foot-and-mouth-disease-australia-must-help-our-neighbour-countries-bolster-their-biosecurity-188010

NZ’s first climate adaptation plan is a good start, but crucial questions about cost and timing must be answered

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Anita Wreford, Professor Applied Economics, Lincoln University, New Zealand

Sanka Vidanagama/NurPhoto via Getty Images

New Zealand’s national adaptation plan, launched last week, offers the first comprehensive approach to how communities can prepare for the inevitable impacts of a changing climate.

Having a plan is critical. Reactive and ad-hoc adaptation could create more problems on top of those already caused by climate change.

Based on priority risks identified in the national climate change risk assessment, the plan gives clearer direction around decision making for long-lived investments such as infrastructure and housing.

It provides more clarity for local government, for example by specifying which climate change scenario they should use when assessing risks to coastal areas from sea-level rise.

It also sets out actions to review the sharing of adaptation costs between local and national government – an urgent step which means councils can begin making realistic plans for their own local adaptation.

But some aspects of the plan lack strategy and structure. It is more a series of actions, some connected, others quite discrete, with many already happening anyway.
The absence of Te Tiriti in the framing is concerning, as is the fact some of the main funding sources for adaptation research (such as the national science challenges) end in 2024.




Read more:
New Zealand has launched a plan to prepare for inevitable climate change impacts: 5 areas where the hard work starts now


Priorities for adaptation

The adaptation plan is legislated under the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act (2019) and is required to address risks identified in the earlier national risk assessment. This includes risks to coastal and native ecosystems, social cohesion, the economy and financial systems, and basic needs such as potable water.

The four goals that underpin the adaptation plan are essentially unarguable: reduce vulnerability to climate change impacts, enhance adaptive capacity, consider climate change in all decisions and strengthen resilience.

Four more specific priority areas are identified as:

  • enabling better risk-informed decisions

  • driving climate-resilient development in the right places

  • laying the foundations for a range of adaptation options, including managed retreat, and

  • embedding climate resilience across government policy.

The adaptation plan is structured around actions that relate either to system-wide issues or five “outcome areas”, which broadly align with the domains identified in the risk assessment. These are the natural environment; homes, buildings and places; infrastructure; communities; and the economy and financial system.

Lack of strategy

This all sounds relatively sensible so far. The principles guiding the plan are grounded in adaptation theory and concepts.

Yet the plan still lacks strategy and structured planning. It harnesses existing initiatives already underway, which makes practical sense but could make it difficult to maintain oversight of how adaptation is being implemented.

The plan rightly emphasises the need to continually evaluate the effectiveness of adaptation but it lacks a structured process, leaving it unclear how adaptation will be tracked over time. This limits the scope for how much we can learn from what works or doesn’t, and make adjustments accordingly.

Who will pay for adaptation?

The plan touches only superficially on the financing of adaptation, which is a major concern (although let’s not forget that not adapting will cost far more). The costs of managed retreat are increasingly (and justifiably) receiving attention but it remains uncertain who will be expected to pay.




Read more:
With seas rising and storms surging, who will pay for New Zealand’s most vulnerable coastal properties?


Other important questions around costs and timing are not addressed directly, including how much more difficult and costly delayed adaptation would be. We need more guidance and direction for investments in an uncertain future, because many of the tools we currently use, such as cost benefit analysis, can’t handle uncertainty very well.

Two of the priority areas identified in the climate change risk assessment involve financial stability and the economy. The requirement for listed companies to begin identifying and disclosing their climate-related risk and how they are going to minimise it is an important first step.




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The plan makes clear the government cannot bear all the costs of adaptation. However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has emphasised there will be limits to effective adaptation, particularly if we fail globally to keep warming below 1.5℃ above pre-industrial temperatures.

When adaptation is not implemented effectively or is not sufficient to cope with the severity of climate change, some of the costs may fall back on the government. This might be directly through disaster relief funding or indirectly through job losses. How government at all levels will handle these costs remains unclear.

A digger is working on a seawall.
Sea walls may protect one stretch of coast but make the problem worse elsewhere.
Shutterstock/Ross Gordon Henry

Unintended consequences

Another point missing in the adaptation plan is how the government will manage potential unintended consequences of private-sector adaptation and conflicts between groups.

For example, coastal defences such as sea walls or stop banks may protect one area but shift the problem along the coast or downstream. Increasing irrigation to cope with variable rainfall or drought could create conflicts between other water users and the environment.

However, an inter-departmental executive board will be tasked with providing transparency of implementation, improving coordination within central government and enabling accountability. This will be critical to the plan’s effectiveness and ultimately the resilience of Aotearoa New Zealand in a changing climate.

The Conversation

Anita Wreford is the Impacts and Implications programme lead for the Deep South National Science Challenge.

ref. NZ’s first climate adaptation plan is a good start, but crucial questions about cost and timing must be answered – https://theconversation.com/nzs-first-climate-adaptation-plan-is-a-good-start-but-crucial-questions-about-cost-and-timing-must-be-answered-188216

Australia’s teacher shortage won’t be solved until we treat teaching as a profession, not a trade

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Larissa McLean Davies, Professor of Teacher Education, The University of Melbourne

Shutterstock

Today, state and federal education ministers will meet in Canberra to discuss the teacher shortage.

In their first in-person meeting for more than a year, they will also speak to principals, teachers and education experts about the crisis. Not only do we need more people to take up teaching as a career, experienced teachers are leaving the profession, or saying they plan to.

A recent survey found almost 60% of teachers in New South Wales plan to quit in the next five years.

Ahead of the meeting, numerous solutions have been offered by experts and advocates, including a teaching “apprenticeship”, and fast-tracking students or mid-career professionals in other fields into the classrooms.

As education academics researching the future of teacher education in Australia, we are concerned the current debate is missing the bigger picture.

While well-intended, the ideas on offer address the symptoms, rather than the complexity of the cause. We need a coherent and comprehensive plan to address the real problem: teaching is not being treated like a profession.

A teaching apprenticeship?

Ahead of today’s meeting, Universities Australia proposed a “teaching apprenticeship”. This would see student teachers get to do more time in schools with a job at the end of it.

Research shows it is very important for students to have practical experience. But calling it an “apprenticeship” implies teaching is simply a trade to be learnt on the job, rather than a complex profession that requires university study.

On top of this, getting teaching students to fill the growing shortage of teachers is not addressing the need for qualified teachers to be in classrooms.

This plan also optimistically assumes schools and teachers under pressure will be able to provide the support an increased number of “apprentice” teachers would need. Given universities are already finding it difficult to secure teaching placements, this seems unrealistic.

Fast-tracking to the classroom

Other suggestions include fast-tracking people through their teacher education, particularly if they are coming to teaching mid-career from a different profession.

While we need to welcome other skills and people’s commitment to become teachers, this is worrying.

For one thing, the strategy has not worked in the United States, because it does not address the conditions and unsustainable workloads of teachers. It also discounts teachers’ knowledge of complex teaching methods and approaches.




Read more:
Growing numbers of unqualified teachers are being sent into classrooms – this is not the way to ‘fix’ the teacher shortage


Teachers need to be able to plan lessons and units, secure good resources for these lessons, engage their students, engage students who need additional support, assess what they have learned, manage behaviour and look after young people’s wellbeing (among other skills).

We would not assume a high-school legal studies teacher, for example, would be able to become a lawyer without undertaking the appropriate tertiary study. So why do we imagine a lawyer can short-cut the education required to become a legal studies teacher?

This strategy implies content knowledge, rather than knowledge of how to teach and how best to teach particular students, is the core business of teaching. It also feeds the unhelpful myth that “anyone can teach”.

So, what is the way forward?

We need solutions that go beyond bespoke schemes and incentives.

The root of this issue is not the quality of education new teachers experience or their readiness to teach. We already have professional teaching standards, standards for teaching courses and entry and exit testing for student teachers. The education of beginning teachers is arguably the most regulated and measured part of the profession.




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No wonder no one wants to be a teacher: world-first study looks at 65,000 news articles about Australian teachers


We know the circumstances that contribute to the teacher shortage are complex and include teacher workloads, the status of teaching and resourcing. So we need solutions that look at the profession as a whole. Here are two big picture approaches to address the current crisis.

1. Teaching must be treated as a profession

Other professions – such as medicine, law or engineering – value expertise, reward the development of new knowledge, and the contribution of those who lead others.

In teaching, there has been so much focus on the initial preparation of teachers (before they are registered and teach independently in the classroom) that we don’t have a “whole-of-career” approach.

Teachers already in the classroom are often reluctant to take on student teachers because it means they have more work and little recompense for it. There is a token amount of money available for it, but this may not go directly to the teacher.

We know mentoring is critical to support teachers and keep them in the profession. So let’s make it a desirable thing to do for all teachers. If you mentor and do it well, this should be recognised through career progression and remuneration.

In professions such as medicine, you develop specialist knowledge and expertise. Or you specialise as a generalist. But in teaching, teachers are largely required to develop expertise in all teaching methods, assessments and all aspects of student health and wellbeing.

If we could rethink the work of teachers, and teachers could specialise in areas they are more interested in and are needed, this would provide them with new career pathways.

2. We need different approaches for different schools

Policies for teachers and their work often assume all education systems across all parts of the country are largely the same.

In a country as diverse as Australia, this is problematic. An analysis of NAPLAN data shows schools can be grouped into five distinct socio-economic bands. This means some schools are more demanding or complex to teach in than others.

We know the impacts of staff shortages, and teachers teaching out of their fields of expertise are more likely to be felt outside capital cities.

If we want to retain excellent teachers in all schools, then we need to acknowledge the demands on those working in rural, remote, and isolated communities are different from metropolitan schools.

Not only do these schools need to adequate resources and funding but teachers working in hard-to-staff schools should be paid and supported accordingly.




Read more:
Australia spends $5 billion a year on teaching assistants in schools but we don’t know what they do


The Conversation

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Australia’s teacher shortage won’t be solved until we treat teaching as a profession, not a trade – https://theconversation.com/australias-teacher-shortage-wont-be-solved-until-we-treat-teaching-as-a-profession-not-a-trade-188441

Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon confirms there will be no sexual violence on screen. Here’s why that’s important

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Erin Harrington, Senior Lecturer in English and Cultural Studies, University of Canterbury

HBO

HBO’s fantasy series Game of Thrones dominated television and pop culture discourse for much of a decade. Its upcoming prequel series, House of the Dragon, is similarly generating conversation, although not in ways the producers might prefer. Much of this has centred on discussions of sexual assault and rape on screen.

This new series is set 200 years before Game of Thrones. It dramatises the Dance of the Dragons, a war of succession in which factions of the Targaryen family fight for the Iron Throne of Westeros. A key trigger is whether Princess Rhaenyra, the ageing king’s firstborn, will become the first queen of the Seven Kingdoms. The showrunners have stated that a dominant theme is whether an entrenched “patriarchy would rather destroy itself than see a woman on the throne”.

But ahead of its launch, the show is already facing questions about how it will represent sex and sexual assault. These are issues that plagued Game of Thrones. The show became notorious for its extensive use of sex and female nudity, as well as its graphic rape scenes. It notably inspired the term “sexposition”: when exposition, such as backstory or character motivation, is offered against a backdrop of sex or nudity.

“You can’t ignore the violence that was perpetrated on women by men in that time”

Miguel Sapochnik, an executive producer and co-showrunner of House of the Dragon, indicated in a somewhat contradictory fashion that the show would “pull back” on sex while also showing it as a nonchalant aspect of Targaryan life. When asked about violence against women, he replied:

[we] don’t shy away from it. If anything, we’re going to shine a light on that aspect. You can’t ignore the violence that was perpetrated on women by men in that time. It shouldn’t be downplayed and it shouldn’t be glorified.

Writer and executive producer Sara Hess since clarified these comments in a statement to Vanity Fair. She states “we do not depict sexual violence in the show”. She added, “We handle one instance off-screen, and instead show the aftermath and impact on the victim and the mother of the perpetrator.”

While sexual assault will still be dealt with in House of the Dragon, it will happen off screen.
IMDB

Conflict and violence in Game of Thrones

One of Game of Thrones’ many strengths was its representation of conflict. Extraordinary battle sequences and scenes of mass casualty illustrated the human cost of nobles’ whims. However, gendered patterns of representation quickly built up. Sexual objectification and violence against women became a metaphor for the endemic brutality of Westeros.

To claim this was a necessary and honest way to illustrate the world’s values “realistically” ignores two things. George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books draw from European medieval history and the English civil wars, but Westeros – with its dragons and ice zombies – is ultimately an invention. In fictional media, the historical past and imagined worlds are powerful lenses through which we can consider present-day values.

Additionally, Game of Thrones is not a history, but a massively successful entertainment product made for premium cable. This environment is not subject to the same broadcasting standards or advertising pressures as network television. In the past two decades, many prestige or quality dramas have used sex and nudity to differentiate themselves from network fare.

Over time, sexually explicit material and gendered violence have been offered as core expressions of the form’s narrative and thematic complexity. Shows must navigate the space between exploring misogyny and turning it into entertainment.




Read more:
Friday essay: from Daenerys to Yara – the top ten women of Game of Thrones


The male heterosexual gaze

By looking at techniques such as framing and editing, we can see how many episodes of Game of Thrones embodied an implicitly male, heterosexual gaze. Women’s bodies were over-represented as depersonalised props, or sexual objects of regard, as in frequent brothel scenes. Members of the cast, and even one of the episodes’ directors, have also commented on the pressures they felt to offer more explicit material for the purposes of titillation.

Defenders of such material may protest that these choices are gritty engagements with real-life violence, misogyny and moral complexity, or even that they offer images of female empowerment. But this ignores that we tend to see only certain types of bodies sexualised.

These are predominantly those of younger, able-bodied, conventionally attractive cis women. Women of colour are frequently fetishised and exoticised. Naked bodies of visibly ageing women remain taboo. Male nudity is certainly present in Game of Thrones, albeit at a far lower rate than female nudity and less sexualised, often acting as a representation of a character’s vulnerability or a source of humour.

This amplifies the unequal standards of gendered representation that have long dominated film, television, advertising and art. These have also diminished the nature of roles available to women.




Read more:
Game of Thrones and the fluid world of medieval gender


At its worst, presenting women’s bodies as inherently available and vulnerable perpetuates damaging, misogynistic tropes. This includes “fridging”, which presents violence against women as a plot device that helps develop a male character’s narrative arc. It also includes rape as shorthand for female character development.

This is frustrating, as there is significant scope to explore issues of power, violence and victimisation in nuanced ways. Michaela Cole’s limited series I May Destroy You, a black comedy-drama that deals with a rape and its aftermath, is a prominent example of a potent, victim-centric account of anxiety and trauma. It’s also notable that it was female-led, in an industry where women are significantly underrepresented behind the camera. The recent emergence of intimacy coordinators in productions is also a positive step.

We live in a world with atrocious rates of gendered violence. Misogyny and female objectification are a normalised part of life. One way to denaturalise patterns in representation, narrative, character and style is by highlighting their artifice. This reminds us that visual language isn’t neutral.

Art and entertainment have key roles in both perpetuating and questioning these dynamics. House of the Dragon is clearly interested in unpicking the intricacies of gender and power in a highly patriarchal society. Hopefully, the way it tells its story doesn’t inadvertently undermine this aim.

The Conversation

Erin Harrington does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon confirms there will be no sexual violence on screen. Here’s why that’s important – https://theconversation.com/game-of-thrones-prequel-house-of-the-dragon-confirms-there-will-be-no-sexual-violence-on-screen-heres-why-thats-important-188521

Grattan on Friday: Will ‘teals’ strike Liberals another blow in Victorian and NSW elections?

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

The federal Liberals are in a parlous state, after an election that was not just lost to Labor but where “teals” stripped them of a batch of traditional seats.

In coming months the Liberal Party faces fresh assaults, in state heartland electorates, from a similar “community candidate” movement.

Victoria goes to the polls in November, and New South Wales in March. The Liberals – in opposition in Victoria, in government in NSW – could have a good deal to fear if the tide runs again for teals.

In theory, the Victorian opposition should be in a strong position against the ageing Andrews government whose multiple skeletons are on view. In practice, it’s a shambles. Liberal leader Matthew Guy is unimpressive, and he’s now mired in the messy aftermath of a scandal around his former chief of staff’s seeking funds inappropriately.

In NSW, the Coalition government has a record that should be saleable. But it has been scandal-ridden, most recently losing two ministers, one of whom, Stuart Ayres, was deputy Liberal leader.

Ayres was caught up in the saga of John Barilaro’s appointment as trade commissioner to New York. The tortuous ins and outs of the Barilaro affair have been aired at a parliamentary inquiry this week, with the former deputy premier and Nationals leader (who eventually withdrew from the job) casting himself as an injured party.

These scandals (and many others) in the two states are political manna for the community independents movement. The public hate such shenanigans and, as happened with the federal election, community independents will make integrity and the quest for a better kind of politics a core part of their campaigns.

Last weekend former Indi independent Cathy McGowan ran an online post-federal election convention to promote community independents. It attracted 467 participants from more than 100 federal electorates, and the discussion groups included one on each of the two state elections.

Simon Holmes à Court’s Climate 200, which provided crucial funding for the teals, will likely be a player in the state contests. In July it polled key Victorian seats. It found potential support for teal-type independents in the Liberal seats of Sandringham, Brighton, Caulfield and Kew, and the Labor seat of Hawthorn. Climate and integrity resonated. For example, “integrity in politics” was nominated as the most important issue by the second or third-largest number of voters in Caulfield, Brighton and Sandringham.

Local groups have been searching for candidates. An August 7 advertisement in The Sunday Age declared “Bayside deserves independent voices” and encouraged potential candidates to come forward.

“Our communities made history in May when we elected an independent Zoe Daniel to represent us in the federal seat of Goldstein,” the advertisement said. “Polling shows that an independent can also win the Victorian seats of Brighton, Sandringham and Caulfield.”

We see from this how the push for state independents is leveraging off the federal success. But it’s notable the Voices of Goldstein group that supported Daniel will not back a state candidate. Federal teals have a political interest in reinforcing the message of their personal “independence”.

Regardless, in state areas where teal-type candidates will run, there’ll likely be ready-made volunteer cohorts to support them. Many citizens, energised by the federal successes, seem anxious to take part in what they see as a new brand of politics.

In NSW, the group North Sydney Independent (NSI), which chose successful federal teal candidate for North Sydney Kylea Tink (but is now at arm’s length from her), is looking at the three Liberal seats in the area – Lane Cove, Willoughby and North Shore. NSI co-founder Denise Shrivell says the group could back community candidates in one or even all three seats. The group will have a launch on August 28.

Shrivell says the group is finding a “mismatch” between the views of the MPs – two of whom are conservatives and one a moderate – and “the views and interests of the local community”.

“People are dissatisfied,” she says. Unsurprisingly, “issues around integrity are very top of mind. People are looking at what is happening in NSW and are fed up”, although health, education, over-development and privatisation are also concerning these voters. More generally, “people in North Sydney have caught the democracy bug,” she says.

One major problem for the community candidates in NSW is the state’s optional preferential voting system: this means they could not rely to the extent the federal teals did on preferences bumping them over the line.

As in the federal election, Climate 200 will wait until candidates emerge. It will then assess their individual suitability, the viability of their campaign structure, and their prospects of victory, before deciding whether to provide support. Holmes à Court says it “could support three to six candidates in Victoria and possibly more in NSW”.

It needs to choose carefully. One reason for the teal successes at federal level was that the candidates were so impressive – mediagenic professional women. It could be harder to find equivalent talent for state contests, which are less attractive to high flyers.

Climate 200 has its own credibility to preserve. It doesn’t want a triumph at the federal election to be followed by state pushes that flop spectacularly.

Stricter funding rules at state level impose greater constraints on the assistance Climate 200 can give. Beyond modest donations, the organisation will have to encourage donors to directly support particular candidates.

If community candidates do well at these elections, there might be potential down the track in Western Australia, where one would expect a swing in 2025 against Labor’s massive majority. The WA Liberal Party has been almost wiped out at a state level, and there is a teal federal MP, Kate Chaney, in Curtin.

Although she personally wouldn’t be involved, Chaney says some of her supporters have expressed an interest in a state effort. “By 2025 the community independent movement may have developed in a way that makes it an attractive option for communities who want to see a different type of representation,” Chaney says.

Independents have long had significant presences, and often been in the balance of power, in various state parliaments. In Victoria and NSW, both sides are said to be concerned about independents generally at the coming elections.

What’s special about the teals and other “community candidates”, arising from “voices” and similar groups, is they are part of a loose web, linked by some common funding, networking and the issues on which they campaign. This doesn’t make them a “party”, as their opponents claim, but it does make them a “democracy movement” of sorts.
Success in the Victorian and NSW elections would create fresh momentum for this movement, including at the federal level for the next election.

Federally, the community-candidate movement has eaten away at the Liberal Party’s progressive wing, cutting a swathe through the moderates in the parliamentary party.

The federal Liberals now face the existential question of how to juggle appeals to outer suburbia, where Peter Dutton feels most comfortable, and to the urban areas, currently lost, that used to be the party’s “blue ribbons” (including for fund-raising), and which are vital to winning government.

We should introduce a caution. Just as many people underestimated the chances of the teals federally, there is a risk of over-estimating their state prospects. But if the independent movement does erode the Liberal base in core areas at state level, it will all the harder for the party to re-group nationally.

Although part of the federal teal success was due to “strategic” voting by some Labor supporters, victories for state community candidates in Victoria and NSW would reinforce the message that Liberal supporters are migrating to a new political force.

For the Liberal Party, the implications would be alarming for the long term.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Grattan on Friday: Will ‘teals’ strike Liberals another blow in Victorian and NSW elections? – https://theconversation.com/grattan-on-friday-will-teals-strike-liberals-another-blow-in-victorian-and-nsw-elections-188596

‘Face of democracy is going to change’ in NZ, say Māori wāhine candidates

By Leah Tebbutt, RNZ News reporter

A number of Māori wāhine have put their hat in the ring to become mayor at this year’s Aotearoa New Zealand local body election across the motu in October.

Georgina Beyer is believed to be the first and only Māori woman ever elected as mayor in New Zealand’s history when she became mayor of Carterton in 1995.

Arama Ngāpō had been a councillor for six years before putting her hand up for mayor of South Waikato this election.

Ngāpō said she was confident things would be different after the vote.

“The face of democracy at a local government level is going to change after this October election.”

Diversity was the best representation of a community, Ngāpō said.

However, it was often not seen at a governance level, she said.

‘Indicative of where we stand’
“I don’t think this country has ever seen such a high proportion of Māori people stand but that really is just indicative of where we stand in society.”

No one should look at council and wonder whether they belong there, she said.

But as a practising lawyer, she had experienced that feeling before, she said.

“I guess I am used to being in places that aren’t traditionally comfortable, but we most definitely belong there.”

Candidate for Rotorua's mayor seat Tania Tapsell
Candidate for Rotorua’s mayor seat Tania Tapsell … the discrimination actually fuels her to prove people wrong. Image: Samuel Rillstone/RNZ

Tania Tapsell (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Whakaue) is standing for mayor of Rotorua for the first time.

She received more votes as a councillor than the elected mayor, Steve Chadwick, in the two previous elections.

Racist and ageist backlash only fuelled her, she said.

Facing challenging times
“It was almost a challenge where I go, ‘I’m going to prove you wrong’ and I am going to work so hard that there will be no doubt that … Rotorua, for us, or the country for others, was not better off through our involvement.”

Tapsell believed the strong number of wāhine Māori standing for mayor had crystallised from the challenging times the whole country had experienced.

“We now require a different style of leadership. A leadership that is actually connected to all parts of our community because we know only four out of 10 people actually bother to vote.

“That’s why we have had the councils that we’ve had in the past, that haven’t been focused on all areas of the community.”

Far North District Councillor Kelly Stratford in Kawakawa.
In the Far North, Kelly Stratford (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Wai, Ngāi Te Rangi) says strong Māori leadership is needed across the country. Image: Nita Blake-Persen/RNZ

In the Far North, Kelly Stratford (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Wai, Ngāi Te Rangi) is also standing for mayor for the first time.

Strong Māori leadership was needed across the motu, Stratford said.

“Society has changed, we have the Māori Health Authority and Māori Wards.

“Some people feel like something has been taken from them and, most of all, Māori feel they are more empowered. We need diverse Māori leadership to lead in these new times of challenge.”

Alongside Stratford, Tapsell and Ngāpo, Māori wāhine are also standing for mayor in Kawerau, Ruapehu and Wellington.

Candidate nominations close at midday 12 August.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

PNG has ‘gone to the dogs’, says lawyer calling on new MPs to step up

By Concy Simon of the PNG Post-Courier

Leadership of Papua New Guinea has “gone to the dogs” represented by a rapid increase in prices of goods and services and the “worst national election” ever, says a lawyer.

Lawyer Goiye Kondago made the crtiticism during the official declaration of Kerenga Kua as MP-elect for Sinasina-Yongomugl in Kundiawa, Chimbu Province.

He pointed out Papua New Guinea’s “worrisome economic state” was being felt at family level.

“Goods and services tax (GST) seemed to be doubled up within a year with reasons unknown to you, the simple people in the village,” he said.

“Our kina seems to have a very low value compared to other currencies while our country is still rich with mineral resources which is supposed be the solution to such economic crisis at hand, rather than GST.

“It is painful to tell you this but we are in this situation.

“However, election time is when we bet our lives to appoint leaders who should form a good government to better manage our country’s current economic downfall.

‘Now or never’
“It is now or never.”

He thanked the people of Sinasina-Yongomugl for having trust in Kua’s leadership and re-elected him to serve for the third term.

He urged Kua’s supporters not to retaliate on any “troublesome attempt” by opposing candidates and to maintain peace and order.

Pangu Pati’s Prime Minister James Marape has been re-elected prime minister with a unanimous vote.

Concy Simon is a PNG Post-Courier reporter. Republished with permission.

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Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

Uneasy Pacific makes wartime memories more important than ever

COMMENTARY: By Barbara Dreaver, 1News Pacific correspondent

Even from the grainy black and white footage of American soldiers wading towards shore while under fire, you can see and sense the fear, resignation and determination in that moment.

The Battle of Midway in World War II may have been won, but on August 7, 1942, the Solomon Islands campaign was just beginning.

By the end, nearly 40,000 men lost their lives here, 31,000 Japanese and 7,100 Allies.

In 2013, I travelled with a large group of New Zealand war veterans to New Caledonia, marking the war in the Pacific.

There is a New Zealand cemetery at Bourail where Kiwis who died in the Pacific are buried. It was humbling to be with these men, aged in their 80s and 90s, as they were slowly led down to the graves of their mates.

There were many tears for fallen but also burdens of their own to carry. Many years had passed but some things remain raw.

One of the veterans who came along was a man named John Jones. He was one of three coastwatchers who survived in what was then the Gilbert and Ellis Islands. He and the others survived because they were captured early in the war by the Japanese.

Rounded up, beheaded
Unlike his three best friends (they had all signed up together) who were later among 25 rounded up and beheaded.

Jones would weep as he thought of the terror his mates must have felt as they watched their colleagues being beheaded one by one while waiting for their turn. Unimaginable.

Solomon Islands marks 80th anniversary of Battle of Guadalcanal. Video: 1News

Jones had fought NZ authorities pushing for acknowledgement of the slain coastwatchers.

He succeeded and there is now a beautiful monument in their honour. I had got to know him over the years and was immensely fond of him.

We met up many times and when he died in 2017, myself and a fellow journalist, Mike Field, who had also written about him extensively, went to his funeral.

Barbara Dreaver and WWII veteran John Jones
Barbara Dreaver and World War II veteran John Jones … a surviving coastwatcher. Image: 1News

So here we are in the Solomon Islands and I am reminded of my old friend as there are no veterans here today. Too many years have now passed — any still alive would be in their late 90s or older.

So why does it matter 80 years later that we remember this day?

Undercurrents of tension
There are currently undercurrents of tension in the Pacific we would be foolish to ignore. In the three decades of covering the Pacific, a lot of it based in the region, I feel deep unease about what is happening that I’ve never felt before.

China’s reach and influence are growing. While that’s not a bad thing in some areas, there is a flow-down impact on development, democracy, justice, and freedom of speech.

There is a lot of cash and corruption around. My home country of Kiribati is isolated even from its neighbours and this feels very deliberate.

I fear for what is ahead.

So while we think back to the past today, we need to think about what was won — and at what cost — and how we must go forward.

Barbara Dreaver is 1News Pacific correspondent and a contributor to Asia Pacific Report.

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Cook Islands: Navigating the rise of third party politics and a new era

Cook Islands Press

By Jason Brown

Tens of thousands of Cook Islanders celebrated 57th Constitution Day events these last weeks.

Not just in the homeland, but overseas as well, with communities across New Zealand, Australia and beyond celebrating language, dance, culture and other arts.

How many in all might be celebrating?

With 12,000+ in the homeland, 80,000+ in New Zealand, and 22,000+ in Australia? A conservative estimate would have to start at 126,000+ Cook Islanders worldwide, including perhaps 6000 others worldwide.

Fast-forward seven years from those 2016 census figures? Closer to 150,000 total Cook Islanders around the planet.

Not counting tens of thousands more second, third, fourth generations who may identify by different heritage.

Some 150,000 Cook Islanders some time last week — and at least another 150,000 partners and papa’a family and friends. Hundreds of thousands around the world marking 57 years since the first constitution day on Wednesday, 4 August 1965.

Surge for #CookIslands
Boosted by overseas news coverage of the 2022 general elections, social media networks surged with #CookIslands content via public updates — 12,000 on Facebook alone.

Many more pics, video and jokes, laughs, tears and aro’a shared privately between profiles, groups, and chat apps.

Combined online audience for Cook Islanders?

Easily in the millions.

Most precious, video from home.

For one day — but really a few weeks — homelanders largely put aside politics, questions, controversy and criticism after what one veteran politician called the “quietest” election in a long time.

A world-changing pandemic, and an entire industry vanishing almost overnight? Saw generations of homeland Cook Islanders catching a breath after nearly 40 years of exponential tourism growth, from when the Rarotongan Hotel first opened in 1982.

Empty … almost … everything?
Suddenly, for the first time since then, four decades later — empty roads, empty beaches, empty .. almost … everything?

Empty vistas led to a lot of Cook Islanders falling in love with their own home again, seeing it empty yet afresh; friendly like the “old days” in the 1970s. Easier to see what’s lost when suddenly it’s back again?

More flowers, hugs, kisses — time to pray, think, talk and, yes, the magic of the islands.

Cook Islanders kept breathing through a low-key campaign, voting then celebrating constitutional self-governance; following 57 years of colonialism, and a millennia or so of Māori dominion.

Voting 14 to ten against a ruling party, sure, but calmly, including three independents. And record votes for a third party.

All achieved without a ranked voting system like MMP in New Zealand, under plain old FFP — first past the post, not mixed member representation.

Voters drew on a long history of coalitions — creating their own systems of mixed representation, finally winning against a two-party majority after decades of political trial and error.

Strong vote for balanced power
Whatever new coalition eventually wins from all the backroom texts, calls, messages, emails and face-to-face negotiations? Cook Islanders have shown a strong vote for balanced power.

Just as originally hoped for by a father of the Cook Islands. Before self-government, Albert Henry warned against party politics as a colonial divide-and-rule threat, aimed at Māori, Polynesian and Pacific Way unity.

Nearly six decades after that warning, Cook Islanders still prove an ancient instinct for what one coalition administration once termed #taokotaianga — a demand for solidarity.

Published as a Sunday newspaper for four years from December 1994, the Cook Islands Press was refounded in 2021 as an online news outlet, soft launching on social media with analysis of current affairs.

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Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code led the world. It’s time to finish what we started

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Rod Sims, Professor in the practice of public policy and antitrust, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Shutterstock

Public interest journalism is essential to a well-functioning society, even for those who do not watch or read it. It holds the powerful to account, provides a journal of record and is a forum for ideas.

Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code was a world-first: set up to value public interest journalism, it’s made it easier for most Australian news media to do deals with global platforms such as Google and Facebook.

It was conceived of and largely formulated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, of which I was chair until March 2022.

It was passed into law by the Australian parliament in February 2021 despite threats, widely publicised around the world, to remove Google Search from Australia and to take all news and more off Facebook.

But while that code has since become a template for several other countries, there remains unfinished business in Australia.

Fixing ‘market failure’

Google and Facebook need to have news on their platforms to maximise user attention and enhance the targeted advertising on which their revenue depends, but they do not need the content of any particular news business.

On the other hand, each media business needs to be on each of the platforms.

This imbalance (“market failure”) means commercial deals cannot be expected to achieve fair payment for the benefit the platforms get from news content.

The outcome is that less journalism can be afforded and provided.

While not all market failures need to be corrected, this one did and was.




Read more:
Is the news media bargaining code fit for purpose?


Prior to Australia’s media bargaining code, news organisations were unable to negotiate with the platforms for any payment for their content.

After the code, they could require the platforms to negotiate, and trigger arbitration if those negotiations broke down.

The mere threat of arbitration evened bargaining power, as both sides wanted to avoid letting an arbitrator decide commercial arrangements.

For those with the market power, the threat of arbitration means they can no longer simply dismiss the claims of those whose products they use.

$200 million a year more for Australian journalism

Australia’s code has achieved its main objective. From not being able to engage with the platforms, Australian news organisations are getting deals worth more than A$200 million per year.

While some media companies such as The Guardian have attributed 50% of their increases in journalist and supporting staff largely to the deals done under the code, for other media organisations the outcome is less clear.

But a number of journalists have told me and others that now is a great time to be a journalist, thanks to the media bargains struck under the code.

The code was a world first. While Google and Facebook had made minor payments throughout the world, largely in the form of grants, they had never effectively negotiated commercial deals.

But some organisations have been left out

In settling the details of the News Media Bargaining Code in discussions with Google and Facebook, the federal government commendably held its ground. It did make several changes, most of which were of no consequence.

One change that meant a lot to Google and Facebook was a provision that said before considering “designating” a platform as subject to the code, the treasurer would consider whether it had already made a “significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry through agreements relating to news content of Australian news businesses”.

In order to avoid designation, Google and Facebook did deals quickly. It meant deals were done commercially, rather than by arbitration.




Read more:
The news media bargaining code could backfire if small media outlets aren’t protected: an economist explains


It’s time for designation

There remains, however, a problem. Google has completed deals with essentially all qualifying media businesses. But Facebook has not, by quite some way, leaving companies employing 15-20% of Australian journalists out in the cold.

Among others, Facebook has not done deals with the SBS, Australia’s multicultural broadcaster, or The Conversation, which brings together Australian academics and journalists to publish research-based news.

Both represent some of the purist public interest journalism in Australia.

In my view, Facebook should now be “designated” by the Australian treasurer, so it is forced to negotiate with the remaining media businesses and face arbitration if commercial deals are not reached.

As provided for in its Act, the Treasury is currently reviewing the media bargaining code and is due to report in September.

The US is considering a Journalism Competition and Preservation Act.
Celil Kirnapci/Shutterstock

Canada, the US, UK and India following our lead

Australia’s code has been copied in many other countries.

Canada has legislation out for comment at the moment. An improvement is that the deals need to be reported to the Canadian broadcasting regulator, who would tally them up and publicly report them.

In Australia, the ACCC did this informally and I spoke to media chief executives. This allowed me to say that the deals were worth more than A$200 million per year.

I think it makes sense to formalise reporting as Canada is doing.

The Canadian bill also lists more explicit criteria for exempting a platform from designation, another improvement Australia’s review should consider.




Read more:
Is news worth a lot or a little? Google and Facebook want it both ways


The United States is debating the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which has key features of the Australian code, but applies only to news businesses below a certain size. This seems workable, given that the mere threat of Australian-style legislation has prodded Google and Facebook to deal with larger companies.

Britain is considering overarching legislation applying to large digital platforms with “strategic market status” that will allow a range of codes to be put in place.

The first code being contemplated when the legislation passes, hopefully next year, is one that closely resembles the Australian code.




Read more:
Stuff-up or conspiracy? Whistleblowers claim Facebook deliberately let important non-news pages go down in news blackout


Other countries are looking at adopting the approach; for instance, India’s Minister for Electronics and Information Technology and Electronics has foreshadowed bringing one in.

In all these countries, as in Australia, Google and Facebook are employing enormous resources to lobby against bargaining codes. The key to success is for media businesses to be united in pressing for change and to lobby political parties to support codes like the News Media Bargaining Code.

Governments can be strong on issues in which they have the support of all of the media and all political parties, as happened in Australia.

If news organisations get paid for their content in enough countries, journalism’s future might just become secure. It’s something worth achieving.


Disclosure: Facebook has refused to negotiate a deal with The Conversation under Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code. In response, The Conversation has called for Facebook to be “designated” under the code. This means Facebook would be forced to pay for content published by The Conversation on its platform.

The Conversation

Rod Sims does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code led the world. It’s time to finish what we started – https://theconversation.com/australias-news-media-bargaining-code-led-the-world-its-time-to-finish-what-we-started-188586

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