Curious Kids: how does an optical illusion work?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Cedric van den Berg, PhD student, The University of Queensland


How does an optical illusion work? – Scarlett, age 8, Shellharbour, NSW.



Take a look at this image and move your eyes across the pattern:

Your eyes tell the brain what it sees and the brain fills in the missing information. Shutterstock

Do you see something moving? Well, it’s not really moving. It’s just your brain being confused by what your eyes tell it.

The confused brain

Our brain is like a blind supercomputer; it’s very smart, but it can’t see. It’s just a really smart blob.

To figure out what it needs, our eyes tell our brain what the things around us look like. The problem is our eyes only know a handful of words to describe what they see.

Sometimes, our brain gets confused by what the eyes are trying to tell it.

This can mean the brain thinks things are moving when actually they’re still. Or you might “see” shapes, shades or colours that aren’t really there.

For example, look at Square A and Square B in this picture:

Do Square A and Square B look different? Queensland Brain Institute, Author provided

Square A looks lighter, but is actually darker than Square B. In fact, here’s what both squares look like side by side:

Queensland Brain Institute, Author provided (No reuse)

Read more: Curious Kids: What was the first computer?


A simple language

Our eyes and brain speak to each other in a very simple language, like a child who doesn’t know many words. Most of the time that’s not a problem and our brain is able to understand what the eyes tell it.

The colour of an orange, the size of a chair, how far away the door is – your brain knows all these things because the eyes told it so in simple language.

But your brain also has to “fill in the blanks” meaning it has to make some guesses based on the simple clues from the eyes. Mostly those guesses are right (for example, I can see the door looks about this big and the light falls on it that way, so my brain is taking these simple clues and guessing the door is about one metre away).

A wrong guess

Sometimes, however, the brain guesses wrong.

Our eyes and brains evolved to be quite sensitive to movement, even when it is not really there. Shutterstock

For example, it thinks our eyes told it something is moving but that’s not what the eyes meant to say to the brain. (Our brains and eyes evolved to be quite sensitive about movement because in pre-historic times it was a big help if you could spot movement early and often. A slight rustle in the bushes could mean a predator was nearby and it was time to run away. Spotting movement early could save your life!)

Optical illusions happen when our brain and eyes try to speak to each other in simple language but the interpretation gets a bit mixed-up.

But how and why?

A lot of scientists have worked very hard for many years trying to understand how optical illusions work. But the truth is, in many cases, we still don’t know for sure exactly how our brain and eyes work together to create these illusions.

We know that information that our eyes gather goes on a long, complicated journey as it travels to the brain. Some of the confusion happens early in that journey. Other optical illusions can only be explained by really complicated processes way down the line in that journey.

In general, the further down the line these “confusions” occur, the less scientists tend to know about exactly how they happen.

But who knows? Maybe you will grow up to be part of the research team that cracks the code.


Read more: Curious Kids: do different people see the same colours?


Hello, curious kids! Have you got a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to curiouskids@theconversation.edu.au

ref. Curious Kids: how does an optical illusion work? – http://theconversation.com/curious-kids-how-does-an-optical-illusion-work-123008

US retreat from Syria could see Islamic State roar back to life

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Greg Barton, Chair in Global Islamic Politics, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

“Remaining and expanding”. The propaganda tagline of Islamic State (IS) has rung hollow since the collapse of the physical caliphate. But recent developments in north-eastern Syria threaten to give it fresh legitimacy.

The US recently removed 1,000 troops from Syria, abandoning their Kurdish allies. Turkish forces – a hybrid of Turkish military and Free Syrian Army rebels, including jihadi extremists – then surged across the Turkish border and began intense bombardment of towns and cities liberated from IS.

Just how quickly and how far IS will rise from now remains unclear. One thing that’s certain, however, is that IS and the al-Qaeda movement that spawned it, plan and act for the long-term. They believe in their divine destiny and are prepared to sacrifice anything to achieve it.


Read more: As Turkish troops move in to Syria, the risks are great – including for Turkey itself


In speaking about the resurgence of IS, we risk talking up the IS brand, the very thing it cares so very much about. But the greater risk is underestimating the capacity for reinvention, resilience and enduring appeal of IS.

And complacency and short-sighted politics threaten to lead us to repeat the mistakes of a decade ago that saw a decimated Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) insurgency roar back to life.

From violent beginnings

In 2006, Sunni tribes in north-western Iraq killed or arrested the majority of ISI fighters with US support, reducing their strength from many thousands to a few hundred.

But with no backing for the Sunni tribes from the poorly functioning, Shia-dominated government in Baghdad, the outbreak of civil war in Syria, and the draw-down of US troops, ISI launched an insurgency in Syria before rising triumphant as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

ISIS quickly became the most potent terrorist group in history, drawing more than 40,000 fighters from around the world, and seizing control of north eastern Syria and north western Iraq.

The final defeat of the IS caliphate in north eastern Syria came after five hard years of fighting and 11,000 lives from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), largely composed of members of the Kurdish YPG.


Read more: Trump decision to withdraw troops from Syria opens way for dangerous Middle East power play


To the US, the SDF fighters were local partners and boots-on-the-ground after multiple false starts and expensive mistakes from allying with rebel groups in the Free Syrian Army. Without this SDF alliance, the IS caliphate could not be toppled.

Trump’s betrayal could open up ISIS recruitment

US President Donald Trump’s betrayal of the SDF in recent weeks is disastrous on several levels. It ignores the threat IS represents and validates ISIS’s central narrative.

What’s more, it contributes to the very circumstances of neglect, cynical short-term thinking and governance failures that lead to giving the IS insurgency an open pathway for recruiting.

Trump’s reckless move to withdraw 1,000 special forces troops from Syria comes from an impatience to end an 18-year long “Global War on Terrorism” military campaign of unprecedented expense.

Donald Trump withdrew 1,000 troops from Syria. EPA: Michael Reynolds

This is somewhat understandable. After almost US$6 trillion of US Federal expenditure and two decades of fighting, surely enough is enough.

But the inconvenient truth is IS and al-Qaeda jihadi fighters around the world have increased, in some estimates nearly four-fold, since September 11.

Still, betraying the SDF and pulling out of Syria for small short-term savings risks jeopardising all that has been achieved in defeating the IS caliphate in north-western Iraq.

IS hardliners in overcrowded camps

IS will never return to its days of power as a physical caliphate, but all the evidence points to it tipping past an inflection point and beginning a long, steady resurgence.

IS has thousands of terrorist fighters still active in the field in northern Iraq. They’re attacking by night and rebuilding strength from disgruntled Sunni communities, as well as having thousands of fighters lying low in Syria.

But in recent months, the tempo of IS attacks has shifted from Iraq to Syria with the previously hidden insurgency reemerging.

As many as 12,000 terrorist fighters, including 2,000 foreigners, are detained in prisons run, at least until this week, by the SDF. Many are located in the border region now being overrun by the Turkish military and the Syrian jihadi it counts as loyal instruments.


Read more: Western states must repatriate IS fighters and their families before more break free from Syrian camps


Elsewhere, in poorly secured overcrowded camps for internally displaced peoples (IDPs), tens of thousands of women, many fiercely loyal to IS, and children are held in precarious circumstances.

In the Al Hawl camp alone there are more than 60,000 women and children linked to IS, including 11 Australian women and their 44 children, along with 10,000 IDPs.

The IS hardliners not only enforce a reign of terror within the camps, but are in regular communication with IS insurgents. They confidently await their liberation by the IS insurgent forces.

Liberated ISIS fighters

The hope of being freed is neither naive nor remote. Already, hundreds of fighters and IDPs have escaped the prisons and camps since the Turkish offensive began.

From mid-2012 until mid-2013, IS ran an insurgent campaign called “Breaking the Walls”. It saw thousands of hardened senior ISIS leaders, and many other militants who would later join the movement, broken out of half a dozen prisons surrounding Baghdad.

Suicide squads were used to blast holes in prison walls. Heavily armed assault teams moved rapidly through the prisons, blasting open cells and rushing the hundreds of liberated terrorist fighters into tactical four-wheel-drives. They were to be driven away in the desert through the night to rebuild the senior ranks of ISIS.


Read more: Western states must repatriate IS fighters and their families before more break free from Syrian camps


The liberated fighters were not only more valuable to ISIS after their time in prison, with many switching allegiances to join the movement, they were better educated and more deeply radicalised graduating for what they refer to as their terrorist universities.

It would appear the same cycle is now being repeated in north-eastern Syria.

ref. US retreat from Syria could see Islamic State roar back to life – http://theconversation.com/us-retreat-from-syria-could-see-islamic-state-roar-back-to-life-125311

Risky business: how our ‘macho’ construction culture is killing tradies

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Donna Bridges, Lecture of sociology, Charles Sturt University

The construction and building industries can be dangerous places to work. These jobs not only pose risks to a person’s physical health, but can threaten their mental health, too.

In Australia, “tradies” make up less than one-third of all people in employment, but represent 58% of serious claims for workers’ compensation. Construction ranks in the top three for industries with the highest work-related injury or illness and deaths related to traumatic injury.

While accidents and disease can be put down to the occupational risk of working on construction sites, the disproportionate rates of mental illness seen in this industry cannot. Construction workers are overrepresented in suicide rates in Australia, and this urgently needs to be addressed.

The physically demanding work tradespeople do has long been associated with male toughness and “macho” workplace cultures. But it’s this toxic mentality that’s largely responsible for tradies’ poor mental health.


Read more: Like a ‘cancer’ of the workplace, bullying is a symptom of dysfunction


The stats on tradies’ mental health and suicide

Research shows workers in construction are at a higher risk of experiencing mental health problems than workers in other professions.

In 2012 in Australia, a total of 169 men working in the construction industry committed suicide.

A 2017 report indicated the suicide rate is 24.2 per 100,000 male construction workers compared to 13.9 per 100,000 males in all other occupations – almost double.

Why do we have this problem?

Research into Australia’s construction industry indicates workers can be on site for up to double their contracted work time. So long hours, resulting in fatigue and poor work-life balance, are likely affecting tradies’ mental well-being.

Importantly, this research points to strong links between masculine workplace norms and the increased likelihood of mental health issues.

A “macho” work culture emphasises self-reliance; there’s an expectation tradespeople can withstand insecure and transient work arrangements.


Read more: How to ask someone you’re worried about if they’re thinking of suicide


There’s also stigma associated with men talking to others about psychological distress. For this reason, many ignore stress-related mental health problems like panic attacks, anxiety, insomnia and depression, risking the worsening of symptoms. Competition at work may also lead to a breakdown of trust, a lack of collegiality, and conflict.

“Macho” workplaces decrease the likelihood men will look after themselves by consulting health-care professionals, talking to a supervisor about reducing hours or asking for time off.

There are programs in Australia which aim to foster better mental health among construction workers. From shutterstock.com

Further, a culture where workers are expected to be tough and self-reliant is exacerbated by the problem of bullying and hazing on work sites. Victims can be left feeling isolated, increasing their risk of burnout, depression and suicidal thoughts.

High profile cases such as the suicide of apprentice Alec Meikle in Bathurst after he was relentlessly bullied have brought this problem to public attention.

What about women?

The construction industry is highly segregated in terms of gender, with women making up only 1-3% of tradies in Australia and other Western countries.

Our research and other work in the field has looked at the barriers women face to equity and inclusion in the construction and building industries. We’ve identified the “macho” culture as being harmful to women as well as men.

Based on our interviews with tradeswomen and industry stakeholders in New South Wales, it’s clear bullying and harassment are very real issues for both genders.

Some women have been subject to dangerous pranks and left alone on heavy lifting and other jobs that require more than one person. These sorts of risky practices are linked to injury and psychological distress for women as well as men.


Read more: The female tradie shortage: why real change requires a major cultural shift


What’s being done?

The tightening of regulations, and particularly Safe Work Australia’s continued focus on high risk industries, has meant tradies are physically safer on work sites today than they were a decade ago. On site fatalities in Australia declined by 48% between 2007 and 2017.

But much less is known about the extent of deaths from diseases contracted at work. Estimates suggest as many as 2,000 Australians are dying per year as a result of chemicals they were exposed to during their working lives. So this must be an area of focus moving forward.

On the mental health front, alongside awareness campaigns, several groups now exist to provide counselling and facilitate peer support networks within the industry.

Mates in Construction conduct various programs to tackle psychological distress on work sites, and are actively involved in suicide prevention measures.

A program called “Bluehats” in Victoria aims to challenge the stereotype tough men don’t have emotional or mental health problems. It offers tradies the option to undertake training to become a “bluehat volunteer”, which enables them to provide support to workmates on site. The trained volunteers can be identified by their blue hats.


Read more: How challenging masculine stereotypes is good for men


Entrenched cultures can be hard to shift. There may be resistance to changes, be it procedures to ensure safer work practices, or new coworkers (women or men) who don’t conform to the “macho” stereotype.

But this change is imperative. Maintaining physically and psychologically dangerous behaviours is killing tradespeople at work. As we continue to enact regulations to protect tradies’ physical health, cultural change is essential for the improvement of their mental health, too.

ref. Risky business: how our ‘macho’ construction culture is killing tradies – http://theconversation.com/risky-business-how-our-macho-construction-culture-is-killing-tradies-122867

Some good news for a change: Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are set to fall

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Andrew Blakers, Professor of Engineering, Australian National University

For the past few years, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have headed in the wrong direction. The upward trajectory has come amid overwhelming evidence that the world must bring carbon dioxide emissions down. But the trend is set to change.

In a policy brief released today, we predict that Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions will peak during 2019-20 at the equivalent of about 540 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

After a brief plateau, we expect they will decline by 3-4% over 2020-22, and perhaps much more in the following years – if backed by government policy.

The peak will occur because Australia’s world-leading deployment of solar and wind energy is displacing fossil fuel combustion. Emissions from the electricity sector are about to fall much faster than increases in emissions from all other sectors combined.

This is a message of hope for rapid reduction of emissions at low cost. But we cannot rest on our laurels. If renewable energy deployment stops or slows, emissions may rise again.

Figure 1: Historical and projected total Australian emissions in megatonnes of CO2 (equivalent) per year. Black line: Government emissions projections which assume solar and wind deplpoyment almost stops. Green line: Deployment continues at the current rate. ANU

Australia: a renewables superstar

Deployment of solar and wind energy is the cheapest and quickest way to make deep emissions cuts because of its low and falling cost. Higher deployment rates would yield deeper emissions cuts, but this requires supportive government policy.

Wind and solar constitute about two-thirds of global net new electricity capacity. Gas, hydro and coal comprise most of the balance. Solar and wind comprise virtually all new generation capacity in Australia because they are cheaper than alternatives.


Read more: Australia is the runaway global leader in building new renewable energy


Australia is a global renewable energy superstar because it is installing new solar and wind capacity four to fives times faster per capita than China, the European Union, Japan or the United States. This allows Australia to stabilise and then reduce its greenhouse emissions and sends a globally important message.

Figure 2 shows the rapid increase in the proportion of solar and wind energy from 2018 in the National Electricity Market, which covers the eastern states and comprises about 85% of national electricity generation. The proportion of renewable energy generation has reached 25%, including hydro.

Figure 2: Monthly solar and wind fraction of electricity generation in the NEM over 2014-19 showing sharp increase in 2018. ANU

We are confident Australia’s emissions will fall in 2020, 2021 and probably 2022 because 16-17 gigawatts of wind and solar is locked in for deployment in 2018-20. This reduces emissions in the electricity sector by about 10 million tonnes a year.

The federal government projects that emissions outside the electricity system will increase by about 3 million tonnes per year on average over the 2020s. The difference leaves an overall decline of 7 million tonnes of emissions per year.

100% clean electricity is within our grasp

Beyond our projections for the next few years, continued falls in emissions are not assured. The emissions trajectory for 2022 and beyond depends largely on the level of renewables deployed.

Federal government projections assume solar and wind deployment almost stops in the 2020s. This would mean annual emissions increase from current levels to 563 million tonnes in 2030.

Wind turbines adjacent to the Tesla batteries at Jamestown, north of Adelaide, in 2017. DAVID MARIUZ/AAP

But it doesn’t need to be this way. If the current renewables deployment rate continued, Australia would reach 50% renewable electricity in 2024, and potentially 80% renewables in 2030. This transformation would be technically straightforward and affordable. It requires governments, mostly the federal government, to encourage more transmission power lines to deliver renewable electricity to where it’s needed. Other off-the-shelf methods to support renewables include energy storage such as pumped hydro and batteries, and managing electricity demand.

The benefits of a consistent renewables rollout would be large. Australia’s electricity emissions in 2030 would be 100 million tonnes lower than government projections and the nation would meet its Paris target of a 26-28% emissions reduction between 2005 and 2030. This could be achieved without the controversial proposal to carry over carbon credits earned in the Kyoto Protocol period.

It should be noted that changes in land clearing rates or coal and gas mining or economic activity would also affect future national emissions.

Electricity infrastructure at the Snowy Hydro scheme. Such hydro projects are key to firming up intermittent renewable energy. Lukas Coch/AAP

The emissions road ahead

Continued rapid deployment of solar and wind requires that governments enable construction of adequate electricity transmission and storage.

State governments should also continue efforts to establish renewable energy zones, with or without cooperation from the federal government. These zones would be located where there is good wind, sun and pumped hydro energy storage, bringing sustainable investment and jobs to regional areas.


Read more: Governments took the hard road on clean energy – and consumers are feeling the bumps


In the longer term, solar and wind can cut national emissions by two-thirds. Beyond the electricity sector, this involves electrifying motor vehicles, residential heating and cooling and industrial heating. National emissions could be cut by another 10% by stopping exports of fossil fuels, which creates fugitive emissions.

It is clear that solar and wind are the most practical route, globally and in Australia, to cheap, rapid and deep emissions cuts – and government policy will be key.

ref. Some good news for a change: Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are set to fall – http://theconversation.com/some-good-news-for-a-change-australias-greenhouse-gas-emissions-are-set-to-fall-125559

Don’t blame the teacher: student results are (mostly) out of their hands

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Callie Little, Postdoctoral research fellow, University of New England

Teachers have very little to do with why some kids are better at school than others, our research shows. This contradicts the popular view that teachers matter most (after genes) when it comes to academic achievement.

Previous research has suggested teacher quality – which includes their qualification level and ability to organise the class – can account for up to 30% of the reason some students get better marks than others.

But our study of 4,533 twin pairs, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, found classroom factors – which include teacher quality and class size – accounted for only 2-3% of the differences in students’ NAPLAN scores.


Read more: Genes can have up to 80% influence on students’ academic performance


Classroom factors differ from school factors, although they overlap. School factors would include the overall socioeconomic makeup of the school and broader administrative policies.

Because our twin pairs generally attended the same school, we were not able to test for school differences. But we can apply our findings to differences between classrooms.

Nature v nurture

Most children first learn to read via formal instruction that starts in kindergarten or first grade. But they vary in how well and how quickly they learn across the first and subsequent years of instruction. Similarly, differences in numeracy emerge early in school and continue throughout.

Previous studies show genes account for most of the individual differences – an estimated 40-75% – in numeracy and literacy development among twins at school.

Around 40% of the variability is then left to be explained by environmental factors. These include twins’ shared environments, such as parents’ educational values and socioeconomic status, and factors that affect each twin differently – known as their unique environment – such as if they learn in different classrooms.


Read more: Why some migrant school students do better than their local peers (they’re not ‘just smarter’)


We wanted to find out how much the classroom environment matters to student achievement.

We used twins because they share either all (identical) or half (non-identical) of their genes, and both types of twins share parts of their environment such as their parents, where they live, and often which schools they attend.

There are also parts of the environment twins sometimes don’t share with each other such as their classrooms and friends. We can use what we know to be similar or different about twins to learn about how genes and environments influence achievement for all students, including non-twins.

Reasons for some students having higher scores than others may lie outside the classroom. from shutterstock.com

We examined classroom-level influences on twins’ literacy skills in kindergarten through to grade 2, and on literacy and numeracy skills in grades 3, 5, 7 and 9. We did this by comparing the similarity of NAPLAN test scores in twins who shared or did not share classrooms with each other.

We found twins in separate classrooms were almost as similar in achievement as those who were placed together. This was true for all NAPLAN tests – numeracy as well as the literacy components – and as true for high-school grades 7 and 9 as for kindergarten through to grade 5.

Aside from the 2-3% classroom effect, our research (generalised across the sample) established a substantial proportion of the variability among students – on average around 60% – comes down to genetic differences.

Of the remaining 30+%, it appears other environmental factors such as broader school-based influences, or other still undetermined factors, play a larger role than the classroom environment.

The teacher isn’t to blame

Reasons for individual differences in reading and numeracy development have often been attributed to environmental factors.

Education policies in several countries reflect this. In the United States the Every Student Succeeds Act, for instance, assumes variation in teacher quality is a major reason for differences in student success, and that teachers should be held accountable when their students fall behind.


Read more: Why we need to review how we test for teacher quality


Many of us can recall a teacher who had a profound influence on us, for better or worse. But it’s important to remember these are individual experiences – ones that could be just between you and that teacher. Our data cann’t detect these individual experiences, it can only detect the average class influences.

We acknowledge teachers matter. It is because of them all children know more at the end of a year, a week, even a day, than they did before.

But our study suggests teachers are doing an even-handed job of educating our students in the core areas of literacy and numeracy. We don’t have data on the higher grades (10-12) where the syllabus gets more demanding and shortages of fully trained teachers in mathematics, say, may begin to show.

But class factors, such as “teacher quality”, don’t appear to be the driving force for why students differ in their NAPLAN scores. Our results suggest individual differences in how students develop may be based more on environmental influences outside the classroom.


The research was conducted by Katrina Grasby, Callie Little, Brian Byrne, William Coventry, Richard Olson, Stefan Samuelsson and Sally Larsen.

ref. Don’t blame the teacher: student results are (mostly) out of their hands – http://theconversation.com/dont-blame-the-teacher-student-results-are-mostly-out-of-their-hands-124177

Over-the-top policing of bike helmet laws targets vulnerable riders

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Julia Quilter, Associate Professor of Law, University of Wollongong

Cycling is often held up as a model of healthy and sustainable urban transport. So why have bike laws become more, not less, draconian? Our ongoing research shows mandatory helmet laws have become a tool of disproportionate penalties and aggressive policing.

Along with an up-surge in enforcement, fines have increased massively. And some police are using bike helmet laws to expand their powers to stop and search riders. The impacts on already disadvantaged groups – particularly young, poor and Aboriginal people – are profound and troubling.

Australia was the first country in the world to introduce bike helmet laws: Victoria in 1990, with other jurisdictions following. Like compulsory seat belt laws and random breath testing in the 1970s and ’80s, helmet laws were seen as part of gold-standard commitments to safety, backed by public education campaigns.


Read more: Helmet churn adds to challenges of e-scooter disruption


In New South Wales today, though, we see a brazen exercise in revenue-gouging.

How do penalties compare to other offences?

Riding without a helmet is one of many bike-related on-the-spot fines under the NSW Road Rules 2014, but it’s the one most commonly issued by police.

The offence once carried a small fine of A$73. In 2016, ostensibly as part of a package of cyclist safety measures (including making it an offence for a vehicle driver to fail to pass a cyclist at a safe distance), the fine was hiked to A$325 – a 445% overnight increase.

Penalties are indexed annually: the fine is now a whopping A$344. It’s wildly out of kilter with other states and territories: from A$25 in the NT to A$207 in Victoria.

The fine is also out of step with penalties for other, more serious offences. In NSW, only when car drivers exceed the speed limit by more than 20km/h does the fine exceed the A$344 for failing to wear a helmet.

A person who drives in a dedicated bicycle lane faces a A$191 penalty. A cyclist will be slugged almost twice as much for riding in that same lane without a helmet.

Riding a bike without a helmet is minor offending, but it has become a terrific little earner for the NSW government. From 2016-2019, 17,560 penalty notices worth almost A$6 million were issued to cyclists. Over the same period only 95 fines were handed out to drivers for unsafe passing.


Read more: Three Charts on the rise in cycling injuries and deaths in Australia


Cars are a much greater risk to bikes than bikes to cars. Cyclists might reasonably wonder whose welfare is being prioritised.

An excuse to stop and search

Much has been said recently about police use of discretionary powers like “strip searches”. Our ongoing research, yet to be published, also raises serious questions about how police use bike helmet laws.


Read more: Unlawful strip searches are on the rise in NSW and police aren’t being held accountable


We have found enormous geographical disparities in the number of penalty notices issued in NSW for this offence. In 2018-19, nearly half of all the fines were issued in 12 of the 117 local government areas (LGAs). One of the poorest LGAs, Blacktown, accounts for 12% of the total.

Local helmet-wearing behaviours could explain some of the disparity. However, the stories we are hearing from lawyers around the state suggest something much more troubling is at play.

Our interviews reveal the helmet laws are being used for purposes unrelated to safety. These include gathering intelligence about offences and suspects, justifying searches and harassing targeted individuals – particularly young Aboriginal people. Sometimes this involves multiple penalty notices for failing to wear a helmet, including where a child rides both to and from school on the same day.

Enforcement of this kind is likely to lead to resentment and resistance. This can escalate, sometimes leading to confrontations that can result in further offences like resist arrest or assault police, offensive language and goods in custody.

If the real objective is cyclist safety, surely a less punitive and more educative approach would be better. Police procedures should require officers to issue cautions rather than penalty notices for initial breaches. And stopping a person for not wearing a helmet is not justification for questioning or searching unless there are reasonable grounds for suspecting an offence (other than not wearing a helmet) has been committed.

Excessive fines create other problems

Even if things don’t escalate, many cyclists will walk away from a police encounter (they can’t ride away or they risk another fine!) with a debt they can’t afford.

For people who enjoy financial security, a fine is just like another household bill. But more than 12% of Australian households don’t have A$500 in savings for an emergency. For them, a A$344 fine is a major burden.


Read more: Stark divide between young and old as Australian household incomes and wealth stall


Our research suggests many fined for not wearing a helmet are already living in debt traps – permanently living with and trying to pay off debt. Driver licence suspension is a key component of unpaid fine recovery processes in Australia. This means the flow-on effects of (often multiple) bike helmet fines may include secondary offending where a person is caught driving without a licence. And that can land them in serious legal trouble.

Young people are especially vulnerable to overzealous helmet law enforcement. They are fined the same as adults – youth diversion options are not available for penalty notice offences. Debt at a young age can be crippling, seriously hampering job opportunities.

The penalty for riding without a helmet is now ludicrously excessive. Proportionality between penalty and offence has been lost.

The goal is meant to be harm reduction. Piling on the fines does more harm than good.

ref. Over-the-top policing of bike helmet laws targets vulnerable riders – http://theconversation.com/over-the-top-policing-of-bike-helmet-laws-targets-vulnerable-riders-125228

There’s one big problem with Australia’s skilled migration program: many employers don’t want new migrants

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Andreas Cebulla, Senior Research Fellow, South Australian Centre for Economic Studies , University of Adelaide

Skilled migration, a mainstay of Australia’s economic and population policies, should be a win-win.

Federal and state governments are looking for migrants to meet skills shortfalls and keep the economy growing. Migrants are looking for a better lifestyle and economic opportunities.

But our research suggests the skilled migration program is failing to achieve its full economic potential, dashing personal dreams in the process. Many skilled migrants are simply not finding the opportunities they anticipated.


Read more: Australia’s jobs and migration policies are not making the best use of qualified migrants


Our survey of more than 1,700 skilled migrants living in South Australia found 53% felt they were not utilising their skills and abilities, with 44% working in a job different to what they nominated in their visa application.

About 15% reported being unemployed at the time of the survey or for most of their time in Australia – double the South Australian jobless rate. This was despite having skills deemed by government planners to be in short supply.

Our results indicate a big mismatch between the expectations of new migrants and the reality of the labour market – in the jobs available and in employer expectations. In short, the skilled migration program simply isn’t working the way it is supposed to.

Skilled migration trends

The majority of Australia’s immigration intake is intended to benefit the economy. Out of about 178,000 permanent visas granted in 2017–18, about 111,000 were for migrants with skills. (A further 64,000 skilled migrants were granted temporary visas.)

Of those 111,000 visas, about 35,000 were employer-sponsored, meaning visa holders had a guaranteed job. About 7,000 were business investment visas, meaning migrants were bringing enough money to employ themselves and others.

The majority – about 68,000 – were part of the General Skilled Migration (GSM) program, based on having skills deemed in short supply. The federal government’s “Skilled Occupation List” now covers more than 670 occupations, from “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker” to “Zoologist”.

Aspects of the GSM program are designed to attract migrants to areas other than Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. One way it does this is through the State-Specific Regional Migration scheme, where state or territory governments can nominate a migrant for a visa. The scheme requires living in a defined area within that state or territory (for at least two years).


Read more: Migrants want to live in the big cities, just like the rest of us


In 2017-18, 27,400 of the 68,000 points-tested visas were state/territory-nominated visas – an increase from less than 24,000 the previous year. Thus these visas, channelling migrants towards the smaller cities and regional areas, are an increasingly significant part to the skilled migration intake.

South Australian experiences

Our research, a joint project by the South Australian Centre for Economic Studies and the Hugo Centre for Migration and Population Research, focused on the experience of migrants nominated for a visa by the South Australian government.

Between 2010 and 2014, some 7,500 migrants came to South Australia on such visas. Our survey collected information about the employment experiences on more than 2,000 of them (culled down for various reasons). We did in-depth interviews with 20 participants.

In our survey sample nearly 70% had professional qualifications. This compares to just 20% of the general South Australian population. There was also a high rate of technical and trades skills.

Despite this, success in getting a job matching their qualifications was mixed. The unemployment rate, as noted, was twice the state average. A further 15% reported being underemployed, working fewer hours than they would have liked.

For those who found a job, 44% reported not being in the occupation in which they had experience, and 54% said they were in a role that did not fully utilise their qualifications.


CC BY-NC-SA

In the interviews we did, many expressed frustration and disappointment about how things had turned out. Given the expense and ordeal of obtaining a GSM visa and then moving to Australia, many had expected the visa would lead automatically to a job.

There was also a widely held view that Australian employers discriminated against hiring anyone who didn’t have have local experience. Migrants thus found themselves in a classic Catch-22 situation – they couldn’t get local experience because they didn’t have local experience.


CC BY-NC-SA

Other perceived barriers were that the jobs simply didn’t exist, that employers did not recognise overseas qualifications, or were reluctant to hire them because they were foreign and lacked fluency in English.

A clear disconnect

These findings point to a clear problem with the General Skilled Migration Program.

Migrants are being drawn to Australia on the basis their skills are needed, but many are finding employers reluctant to hire them. The whole methodology that underpins the program – with state and territory sponsorships that implicitly encourage aspiring migrants – needs to be revisited.

This is effectively acknowledged by the South Australian government, which warns that “State nomination does not guarantee employment in South Australia and applicants must compete in the local job market”.


Read more: The regions can take more migrants and refugees, with a little help


For the program to work as intended, federal and state governments need to face up to the disconnect between their identification of skill shortages and employers’ unwillingness to employ new migrants.

ref. There’s one big problem with Australia’s skilled migration program: many employers don’t want new migrants – http://theconversation.com/theres-one-big-problem-with-australias-skilled-migration-program-many-employers-dont-want-new-migrants-125569

Bruny review: Heather Rose’s new book has a sense of place yet taps into global unease

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Simon Ryan, Associate Professor (Literature), Australian Catholic University

When in 2017 Nordstrom began selling US$425 jeans (A$620) covered in fake mud, it seemed the long prophesied “late stage capitalism” had finally arrived. Suddenly the phrase itself was everywhere from Reddit to Twitter and applied to every freakish story about excessive consumption or corporate perfidy.

Earlier this year, meanwhile, US President Donald Trump expressed an interest in buying Greenland, blithely ignoring national feeling in Denmark and the local attachment of the Inuit inhabitants. It seems to many we are living in a period in which national and cultural meanings are being drained by the inanities and indignities of an economic system that regards humans as units of production and consumption and nothing more.

Allen & Unwin

Heather Rose’s Bruny takes up this sense that national boundaries and local attachments can be dissolved by the relentless power of capital. Bruny is a departure from Rose’s previous work, The Museum of Modern Love, for which she won the Stella Prize in 2017.

The compelling protagonist of Bruny is New York-based UN mediator Astrid (Ace) Coleman. She is cynical, efficient and covertly working for a state intelligence organisation.

A Tasmanian by birth, she escaped at the first opportunity from an island she found provincial and suffocating. But when one of the supports of the nearly completed bridge to Bruny island is blown up, she returns to manage the tensions between construction workers and anti-bridge protestors.


Read more: Exquisite prose, with rare and subtle insight


Bruny is a family drama. Rather improbably, Astrid’s brother, known as JC, is the Premier of Tasmania, while her sister Max is leader of the opposition Labor party. Their mother is a difficult person facing serious illness and their father can only speak in Shakespearean phrases after a series of strokes. To his credit, the quotes are invariably relevant.

In the novel, the Tasmanian government has a network of commercial-in-confidence agreements that defy transparency. When part of a $2 billion bridge being built to connect mainland Tasmania with picturesque Bruny Island is destroyed, it is quickly agreed that hundreds of Chinese workers will be imported to complete it by the target date. But who has blown it up and why?

China is the source of capital for construction and has plans for Tasmania. Large scale population removal is one of the key features of European colonisation – see Palm Island. Australia’s repressed history returns uncannily in novels of invasion published as early as 1877, however, the xenophobia that energised these works is discharged carefully in Bruny through some sympathetic Chinese who have opted to settle in Tasmania and understand the attractions of its isolation and space.

Bruny’s central premise (which continues this literary invasion theme) contains a revelation that once would have been clearly absurd, threatening the realism a political thriller requires.

Readers might choose to consider this dramatic revelation as satirical. The novel mixes family drama, political intrigue and geopolitical speculation in ways that seem exaggerated and improbable. Yet elements are not so far removed from possibility, leaving a feeling of unease reminiscent of Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel about American fascism, It Can’t Happen Here.

There are a few flaws in the novel. As potential satire, it does not have to draw complex secondary characters, but insofar as it is a family drama the failure to do so weakens the effect. Perhaps this is an unavoidable outcome of the hybrid genre, but one might feel the politically powerful siblings, JC and Max, are not developed beyond caricature.

And there are a few elements in the writing that grate. Characters are repeatedly described by their likeness to actors – including Christopher Pike, Gene Hackman, and Chris Hemsworth.

Elsewhere Monty Python is misquoted. The epithet shouted at the Popular Front of Judea in Life of Brian is “splitter” not “quitter”. It is a minor point but distracting.

Rose uses a localised setting to speak to broader societal unease. www.shutterstock.com

Structurally, the pacing is quite slow until the pivotal revelation and then things move quickly – perhaps too quickly. The treacherous or weak federal politicians fade from the scene and Tasmanian quislings are punished by losing office – a benign punishment given the scale of their betrayal. However, there are balancing pleasures, such as seeing the quick and intuitive intelligence of Ace at work and the loving descriptions of the landscape.

It is not giving away too much to say the heroes in the novel are the intelligence agencies, functioning as the last defence of liberal democracy. One only has to read opinion sites to realise the final, desperate hope of some in the centre-left of politics is that certain agencies may intervene to maintain the stability of the geopolitical order.

Bruny captures this sense of everything being up for sale. The novel portrays a political class working at the behest of capital and ambition. The novel catalogues contemporary concerns: the power of China, the ability of capital to erode beliefs and cultures, the repression of protest and the complicity of local politicians with international interests.

ref. Bruny review: Heather Rose’s new book has a sense of place yet taps into global unease – http://theconversation.com/bruny-review-heather-roses-new-book-has-a-sense-of-place-yet-taps-into-global-unease-125232

John Setka resigns from ALP, attacks Albanese

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

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has finally seen off John Setka from the ALP, with the militant construction union leader capitulating and quitting the party.

Setka, who lost a court case he brought in his fight against expulsion, had launched an appeal to try to thwart Albanese’s determination to remove him.

But he withdrew the appeal and announced his resignation in a vitriolic statement on Wednesday attacking Albanese, seizing in particular on Labor’s support for the government’s free trade deals.

“Just when I thought Mr. Albanese couldn’t betray the Labor Party’s principles, workers and their families any further, he sided with the Morrison government on new free trade deals with Indonesia, Hong Kong and Peru.

“I ask Mr. Albanese, what has happened to a Fair Go for all Australians?

“These agreements are a disaster for Australian jobs and living standards. Talk about sending a signal to unions and workers on where the party stands,” he said.


Read more: CFMMEU’s John Setka set to be expelled from ALP after attack on Rosie Batty


Setka’s resignation is a significant victory for Albanese, who had a good deal of credibility invested after repeatedly saying the rogue unionist would be ousted from the party. Albanese had Setka suspended from the ALP but the expulsion process was delayed because of the court action.

Setka said his decision to resign had “everything” to do with Albanese.

It was a personal decision which would not affect “the CFMEU VIC / TAS branch’s ability to advocate within the Labor party,” he said.

The union, however, won’t be able to send Setka as a delegate to ALP conferences.

Setka remains an official in the union despite pressure from the ACTU for him to stand down.

Albanese said the outcome was “a very satisfactory result in the interests of the Labor party and, might I say, in the interest of trade union people everywhere.”

He said he had moved against Setka because “I thought over a long period of time through his actions, he demonstrated values that were not consistent with the values which the Australian Labor Party holds dear.”

Pressed later on the ABC about whether the Labor party would continue to accept money from the union, Albanese dodged the question but said it was affiliated with the ALP, implying Labor would take funds if they were forthcoming.

Setka said the “smear campaign” against him followed his announcement the CFMEU would no longer financially back the ALP.

He accused Albanese of “a very public campaign to have me expelled from the party, based on false allegations motivated by old-fashioned political payback”.


Read more: Albanese one step closer in long march towards John Setka’s expulsion


He was resigning because “I cannot continue to be a member of the Labor Party while Anthony Albanese is its leader.

“Mr Albanese is selling out Australian workers and turning his back on the values that underpin both the party and the union movement.

“Under his leadership, the Labor party has lost its spine. Worse still, it is in danger of losing its soul,” he said.

“Mr. Albanese claims I have brought the ALP into disrepute. Notwithstanding my flaws, nothing has hurt the ALP’s reputation like Mr. Albanese’s leadership over the past five months.”

Because of legal complications the ALP recently started to deal with Setka’s expulsion under Victorian party rules, rather than national rules, as it was doing initially.

In a Wednesday statement, Setka’s lawyers said: “It was our advice that once the ALP agreed to deal with Mr. Setka under the Victorian rules then pursuing the [legal] appeal was inappropriate. This is because the ALP was now acting under the Victorian rules as Mr. Setka has always argued they should.”

ref. John Setka resigns from ALP, attacks Albanese – http://theconversation.com/john-setka-resigns-from-alp-attacks-albanese-125750

Nationals leader Michael McCormack acknowledges snafu over Hanson dairy deal

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

Nationals leader Michael McCormack has admitted his party should have handled better agriculture minister Bridget McKenzie’s bring-forward of the planned dairy code.

Some Nationals were furious when McKenzie suddenly sped up the code’s preparation in a government deal with Pauline Hanson after they had been told the code – for which they had been pressing – could not be delivered until well into next year.

McCormack, who is deputy prime minister, said in hindsight, it would have been better to have told Nationals who’d been agitating for the code that negotiations were underway, so they could have informed their electorates of the agitation they had undertaken and that the code was close.

“Calls unfortunately weren’t made to the right people at the right time,” but sometimes things slipped through the cracks.

McCormack, speaking with The Conversation’s politics podcast, played down another snafu, when the Nationals and Scott Morrison separately but simultaneously announced the government’s new cash grant to drought-striken farmers coming off the Farm Household Allowance.

He noted he hadn’t call the news conference – it was called by McKenzie’s office – but said the result was all bases had been covered. But he said, “Look, the call just wasn’t made. And certainly I know for the future, those calls will be made”.

McCormack said the government would do more on the drought within weeks and was currently considering measures. “There’s absolutely no question we need to do some more”. He indicated it would release the report from the former drought co-ordinator, Stephen Day, “in a couple of weeks, when cabinet has considered it”. The government has been under strong criticism for sitting on the Day report.


Read more: Politics with Michelle Grattan: Deputy PM Michael McCormack on the drought and restive Nationals


Beyond the coming measures, the drought issue would have to be address again next year if it did not rain in March-April, for the winter sowing season, McCormack said.

He flagged a willingness to look at the proposal from the National Farmers Federation, in its drought plan released earlier Wednesday, for exit assistance for farmers who decided to sell up because of the drought. He noted the federal government had help with adjustment for the car industry. State governments would also have to look at readjustment assistance, he said.

“Yes, the federal government and indeed state governments would have to look at what readjustment, what exit strategies we could assist with.

“Indeed, we’ve done it with the car industry in Adelaide and in Melbourne. We’ve done it through diversifying interests in irrigation areas. We’ve done it in other industries where there’s been…well the tobacco industry, that’s another one that did receive, or people in that industry, did receive exit money. And so, yes, we’d have to look at it.”

But he had a strong cautionary message for farmers thinking about whether to leave or stay.

“They need to absolutely make sure they don’t self-assess, they need to absolutely make sure that they consult their families foremost, that they talk to rural financial counsellors, they talk to their accountants, their banks.

“They take every bit of good advice available before they take that ultimate step and then look at what the future might hold.”


Read more: View from The Hill: Breaking Pauline Hanson’s ‘strike’ has taken skin off Bridget McKenzie


He had spoken to NFF president Fiona Simpson about this call for an exit strategy.

“That’s a difficult decision and outcome for the NFF to reach[…]encouraging or indeed calling for the exit strategy. That’s not the usual way. But this isn’t the usual drought,” he said.

Asked about NFF recommendations, also in their submission, for relief on local rates and Commonwealth subsidies for the payroll expenses of farming businesses, McCormack said these fell within the responsibility of state governments.

Questioned on the concern by some Nationals that Morrison had taken political “ownership” of the drought, squeezing out the junior Coalition partner, McCormack defended his own level of activity but said “we do things together. We’re in a Coalition together”.

Asked whether the Nationals needed to be more assertive this term, he said it was “important we’re not being seen to be argumentative all the time.”

He and Morrison had “our arguments behind closed doors – well, I won’t say arguments, let’s just term them differences of opinion.

“Sometimes we just agree to disagree,” he said.

“We are like-minded people, but we are different people. And we get on, you know, 99.9% of the time – when we disagree, we will disagree behind closed doors.”

ref. Nationals leader Michael McCormack acknowledges snafu over Hanson dairy deal – http://theconversation.com/nationals-leader-michael-mccormack-acknowledges-snafu-over-hanson-dairy-deal-125731

Politics with Michelle Grattan: Deputy PM Michael McCormack on the drought and restive Nationals

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

While the drought continues to hit the Nationals’ constituents hard, the party faces a testing terrain on a political level.

In this episode of Politics with Michelle Grattan, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack acknowledges the mishandling of the bring-forward of the dairy code, which will increase the negotiating power of milk producers.

Tensions blew up in the Nationals party room this week after Pauline Hanson managed last week to win an acceleration of the code. The deal was all about the government wanting Hanson’s Senate co-operation. But agriculture minister Bridget McKenzie had previously told Nationals who have been fighting for the code that it couldn’t be finalised until well into next year.

McCormack also shared his willingness to consider a proposal from the drought policy released by the National Farmers’ Federation for exit assistance for drought-striken farmers who sell.

But he had a cautionary message for those deciding whether to stay or leave, saying “they absolutely need to make sure they don’t self-assess. They need to absolutely make sure that they consult their families foremost, that they talk to rural financial counsellors, they talk to their accountants, their banks. They take every bit of good advice available before they take that ultimate step”.

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A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.

Image:

AAP/ Mick Tsikas

ref. Politics with Michelle Grattan: Deputy PM Michael McCormack on the drought and restive Nationals – http://theconversation.com/politics-with-michelle-grattan-deputy-pm-michael-mccormack-on-the-drought-and-restive-nationals-125727

If you want to boost the economy, big infrastructure projects won’t cut it: new Treasury boss

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

Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy – in the job for for just weeks after moving across from the department of infrastructure last month – has dismissed talk of spending big on infrastructure in order to escape an economic downturn.

Such calls “sound straightforward, but in practice are difficult to achieve”, he told a Senate hearing on Wednesday.

The timing requirements of fiscal stimulus are hard to give effect to while ensuring large projects are well planned and executed, and cost and capacity pressures are managed. There are some opportunities though, usually related to smaller projects and maintenance expenditure. The Commonwealth and state Governments are currently actively exploring these opportunities.

More broadly he made it plain that it was the role of the Reserve Bank rather than the Treasury to provide economic stimulus.

The bank has already cut its cash rate to a record low of 0.75% and has indicated it is prepared to consider unconventional monetary policy measures that would have the effect of cutting a wider range of rates.


Read more: 0.75% is a record low, but don’t think for a second the Reserve Bank has finished cutting the cash rate


However, bank Governor Philip Lowe said last week such tools would be most effective “when used together with a broader set of policies”, including government spending and tax policies.

Without crisis, no need to spend more

No crisis. Treasury Secretary Steven Kennedy. Mick Tsikas/AAP

Kennedy rejected the idea of extra spending except in an emergency, saying Treasury could best serve Australia’s interests by a “stable and predictable” policy framework that kept the budget near balance over time.

There would be times when a downturn cut revenue and increased spending on support payments, pushing the budget into deficit, but beyond allowing those so-called automatic stabilisers to operate there wasn’t normally a case for doing more.

The exceptions were “periods of crisis”.

“It is important to consider separately broader policy objectives and temporary responses to crisis,” Kennedy said.

“The circumstances or crisis that would warrant temporary fiscal responses are uncommon.”

Although Australia’s economy is not in crisis, Brexit, the US-China trade war and turmoil in Hong Kong have slowed economic and trade growth worldwide, as businesses opt to stay on the sidelines.

No crisis, but weak growth worldwide

In Australia, economic growth had been unusually weak, weighed down by weak household spending which was itself the result of weak income growth, weak house prices, weak housing investment, and weaker than expected non-mining investment.

Mining investment was down sharply, as was to be expected after the completion of several large liquefied natural gas projects.

Given low interest rates, it was “somewhat of a puzzle” that business investment was not growing faster. Partly that might be because the “hurdle rates” businesses use to assess projects have not been adjusted down as they should have been. Partly it might be because of uncertainties surrounding the global economy and technological change.

Structural factors may also be at play — it is not clear what business investment looks like in a world where more than two thirds of our economy is now services based.

The budget tax cuts that flowed into returns from July have not yet led to a “particularly large improvement” in household spending.

Wages, investment “somewhat of a puzzle”

“We will continue to assess the data on consumption as it becomes available, but it is worth noting that even if households initially use the tax cuts to pay down debt faster, this will still bring forward the point at which households could increase their spending,” Dr Kennedy said.

It is possible that spending might have been even weaker without the tax cuts.

Holding back the economy during the year to June has been drought and dry weather which knocked 0.2 percentage points of the economic growth. Holding it up has been larger than normal growth in government spending that contributed 0.2 percentage points more to economic growth than was normal.


Read more: Why we’ve the weakest economy since the global financial crisis, with few clear ways out


No one had been able come up with a complete explanation for Australia’s unexpectedly low rate of wage growth. One explanation might be that even though the unemployment rate of 5.2% was unusually low, increases in employment were drawing in older workers and women rather than pushing up wages.

Ultimately what was needed to sustain higher wage growth was productivity growth, and that would be difficult to achieve while business investment was weak. The Productivity Commission had come up with a set of recommendations state and federal ministers were working their way through.

Although economic growth has been very low – just 1.4% in the year to June – it grew more strongly in the last half of that year than the first. It might be “strengthening from here”.

ref. If you want to boost the economy, big infrastructure projects won’t cut it: new Treasury boss – http://theconversation.com/if-you-want-to-boost-the-economy-big-infrastructure-projects-wont-cut-it-new-treasury-boss-125705

Politicians must mine the divide between coal lobbies and energy companies

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Christian Downie, Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow, Australian National University

It’s time we started talking about the principal opponents to action on climate change – fossil fuel industries. If history has taught us anything, it is when oil, gas and coal industries oppose policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, those policies fail.

And make no mistake, they do oppose. Revelations this year that mining giant Glencore spent millions of dollars globally to bankroll a pro-coal campaign are just the latest example.

However, my research shows that there are specific strategies policymakers can use to help overcome the resistance from incumbent fossil fuel industries, including exploiting the divisions within and between fossil fuel industries.


Read more: Carbon emissions will reach 37 billion tonnes in 2018, a record high


I have spent the past few years studying the behaviour of these firms and industries in the United States – the home of fossil fuel resistance. After all, the US is now the largest producer of oil and gas, with the largest reserves of coal on the planet, and it is the home of companies, such as ExxonMobil, that have known about climate change for 40 years and have been denying its existence for almost as long.

To get to know the way they work, I spent countless hours in the offices of major coal corporations and their lobbyists. I met with executives from oil and gas corporations in Houston, and their lobbyists in Washington DC.

I also spoke with small renewable startups, and billion-dollar companies running endless battles to preserve tax subsidies for wind and solar, which they claimed were only fair given the subsidies to fossil fuels.

So what are the lessons for policymakers seeking to advance a clean energy transition? Three stand out.

Support clean energy industries

First, governments need to entrench and build existing interests in support of clean energy. Targeted policies, such as subsidies to the solar industry or tax rebates to households for solar power, both boost the industry and build a specific political constituency in support of solar power.

For example, US investment tax credits for solar power helped drive a boom in recent years, growing into an industry measured in the billions of dollars. As industry revenues increased, so has the industry’s power to defend the investment tax credit and oppose fossil fuel companies.

Indeed, the Solar Energy Industries Association in the US is now a vocal advocate for clean energy in Washington, just as the Solar Council is here in Australia. Both groups have helped offset the tide of fossil fuel lobbying that regularly washes against the shores of government.

Split fossil fuel industries

Second, policymakers should seek to exploit divisions within and between fossil fuel industries. When incumbent industries are divided or politically weak, green coalitions are easier to build.

For example, if the aim is to regulate coal, policies are more likely to succeed if they exploit the natural divisions between coal mining companies and the electric utilities that burn it to generate electricity.

In this case, the best bet is to target politically weak industries less able to mount a resistance campaign.

In the US the obvious example is the coal industry. The US coal industry is in structural decline, with production and revenue falling steadily. In fact, between 2012 and 2015, more than 50 firms representing 50% of US coal production filed for bankruptcy protection, including three of the largest: Peabody Energy, Alpha Natural Resources, and Arch Coal, all of whose share prices have plummeted.

Coal’s decline has been manifest in a shrinking lobbying presence, with key coalitions reducing their operations, and with it the industry’s capacity to oppose policies that support clean energy.

Shift interests

Third, policymakers should not only seek to entrench existing commercial interests and exploit divisions, but also to shift commercial interests.

Policies, such as renewable energy targets that compel utilities to invest in renewable energy, over time will shift the commercial interests of these firms towards policies supporting renewable energy.


Read more: When it comes to climate change, Australia’s mining giants are an accessory to the crime


Indeed, repeat signals demonstrating to business the regulatory landscape is changing can create a tipping point, when a critical mass of affected companies stop opposing a specific policy such as emissions trading.

This was the view of many electric utilities during the Obama administration who decided to support climate policies. As the CEO of Duke Energy, Jim Rogers put it at the time, “if you’re not at the table, you’re going to be on the menu”.

Of course none of this will be easy. BHP shareholders last week voted to remain a member of the coal lobby Minerals Council of Australia, showing the fossil fuel industries are far from toothless.


Read more: How to transition from coal: 4 lessons for Australia from around the world


But with the science showing a third of the world’s oil reserves, half the world’s gas reserves and 90% of global coal reserves must be left in the ground to meet the Paris targets, governments urgently need effective action.

Otherwise, no matter what administration is in power, climate action will continue to be delayed, and even derailed by the industries that stand to lose.

ref. Politicians must mine the divide between coal lobbies and energy companies – http://theconversation.com/politicians-must-mine-the-divide-between-coal-lobbies-and-energy-companies-124877

‘My friends are taking MDMA at raves and music festivals. Is it safe?’

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Jodie Grigg, Research Associate at the National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University

My friends are taking ecstasy at raves and music festivals. Is it safe? — Anonymous

Key points

  • no drug use, including ecstasy, is 100% safe
  • festivals can present unique risks
  • look out for friends, know the risks and where to get help.

What is ecstasy or MDMA?

Ecstasy is a slang term for drugs meant to contain 3,4- methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), a stimulant that can also cause mild hallucinations at high doses. While ecstasy was traditionally sold as tablets, it’s increasingly sold in crystal, capsule and powder forms.

According to the most recent data, only 1% of Australians aged 12-17 said they had tried ecstasy. However, studies suggest young Australians who attend music festivals are much more likely to have tried it.



So, is it ‘safe’?

There seems to be a common perception ecstasy is “safe”. But no drug use — legal or illegal — is completely safe. While drug experts rank ecstasy as less harmful than other drugs, such as “ice” and alcohol, there are still significant risks involved:

  1. given ecstasy is illegal, the market is unregulated. As a result, drugs sold as “ecstasy” commonly do not contain MDMA and may contain something far more dangerous. This means the effects can be unpredictable

  2. even if your drugs contain MDMA, the dose or potency can vary hugely. Recently, very high purity ecstasy has been detected in Australia. This can significantly increase the risk of overdosing or having serious side-effects

  3. even pure MDMA at normal recreational doses can be risky in the wrong conditions (for instance, when it’s very warm)

  4. common short-term effects also include increased heart rate and body temperature, teeth grinding and anxiety. While evidence on the long-term effects of taking MDMA is still emerging, there may be lasting impacts on memory, mood, cognition and sleep.

What are the risks when taking it at festivals?

In recent years, there have been more reports of drug-related deaths at festivals. While the media typically describes deaths involving ecstasy as “overdoses”, most ecstasy-related deaths are not the result of simply taking too much.

Drug experiences can be influenced by lots of different things and music festivals can sometimes result in a “perfect storm” of risk factors. For example, an experienced male taking an ecstasy pill at a quiet gathering at home is likely to have a very different experience to an inexperienced female taking her ecstasy pills at a crowded festival on a 35℃ day.

Females, those with lower body weight, and/or those who haven’t used ecstasy before, and therefore haven’t built up any physical tolerance, should use a smaller dose.

Drug experiences can be affected by lots of different things.

Some key risks at music festivals include:

  • hyperthermia aka heatstroke: MDMA affects the body’s ability to regulate temperature (it can increase body temperature and also make it harder to cool down). Environmental factors at festivals such as warm weather, crowds and dancing can significantly increase the risk of overheating (see tips for staying cool)

  • hyponatremia aka water intoxication: MDMA can disrupt the body’s water/electrolyte balance (can make your body retain water). While you need water to avoid dehydrating, drinking too much can also be dangerous. Read up on these guidelines on dehydration and overhydration for more information

  • dodgy on-site sellers: UK research found people buying drugs on-site (inside the festival grounds) were more than twice as likely to buy drugs that did not contain what they thought. There have been cases where festival goers thought they were buying MDMA but actually bought N-ethylpentylone (a riskier stimulant linked to psychosis and deaths)

  • policing or legal problems: festivals often have a heavy police presence with sniffer dogs and being caught with drugs can lead to possession or supply charges. However, it’s very important not to panic and swallow your drugs if you see sniffer dogs. This has been linked to at least three festival deaths in Australia.

Worried about your friends?

If you’re going to a rave or festival and suspect some of your friends might take illicit drugs, it’s important to be aware of the risks, look out for your friends and know where to get help. Here are some tips:

  1. make emergency plans with friends: download the festival map, have a meeting point, make sure mobiles are charged, stick together and know where on-site support services are

  2. look out for red flag symptoms (for instance, feeling hot, unwell, confused or agitated) and never be scared to seek help from on-site medical or support services. They’re there to help you, not judge or arrest you

  3. be informed: Drugaware, Dancewize and Boomtick all have great information about drugs and how to keep safe.


I Need to Know is an ongoing series for teens in search of reliable, confidential advice about life’s tricky questions.

If you’re a teenager and have a question you’d like answered by an expert, you can:

Please tell us your name (you can use a fake name if you don’t want to be identified), age and which city you live in. Send as many questions as you like! We won’t be able to answer every question, but we will do our best.

ref. ‘My friends are taking MDMA at raves and music festivals. Is it safe?’ – http://theconversation.com/my-friends-are-taking-mdma-at-raves-and-music-festivals-is-it-safe-122128

The robot wears Prada: what happens when AI starts giving out fashion tips?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Mark Liu, Chancellors Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Fashion and Textiles Designer, University of Technology Sydney

The tech giants Amazon, Google and Facebook have all begun to use machine learning to give you tips on what to wear. Is fashion styling the next field to be disrupted by artificial intelligence (AI), or will the human eye remain supreme?

It’s too soon to know for sure, but understanding what machine learning is good at and how that overlaps with what fashion is all about can help us make some educated guesses.

Get that look

One thing machine learning does very well is find patterns and common features among groups of items.

Taking advantage of this, Google Lens and Amazon Style Snap can each identify a garment from a photo or video and then tell you a bit more, like how other people have worn it or where you can buy it.

This serves the same function as a fashion magazine taking a celebrity look and breaking it down into pieces. By allowing consumers to recreate looks from movies, music videos, magazines and the runway, it democratises elements of styling.

Amazon’s Style Snap service will find you clothes to buy that are similar to ones in a photo. Amazon

Amazon also goes further, linking garments to a database of looks from popular fashion influencers. This offers the customer creative inspirations to build looks (and conveniently gives the influencers a cut if the customers buys the clothes).

This system has great potential, but it can only be as good as the data that’s fed into it. A large and diverse database could bring out cultures and beauty standards that are not often seen in magazines or television, allowing people to find their tribe. But a narrower collection of sources will only produce more of the same.


Read more: When AI meets your shopping experience it knows what you buy – and what you ought to buy


The stylist in the machine

The next step in computer fashion – using AI to offer styling judgements – has so far been less successful.

Amazon’s Echo Look is a voice-controlled camera that aims to function as a style assistant, comparing two photos using a machine learning algorithm and telling you which one scores better. So far it has received lacklustre reviews.

The Amazon Echo Look takes your photo and sends it off to the cloud for judgement. Amazon

This service seems doomed to struggle, as it neglects many basic principles of fashion design.

For example, many looks from influencers only have a front view. How can you possibly style an outfit properly without the whole picture? Most principles of styling also take into account the wearer’s body shape, how well fitted their clothing is, their personality, and the occasion for which the garment is being worn. Context, symbolism, nostalgia, and personal preferences also play a role.

The AI assistant has no way to address these nuances. To succeed, the machine learning engineers will need to understand fashion better and find useful and tangible tasks for AI to perform.

Algorithmic zhooshing

Facebook’s experimental Fashion++ project goes further still, trying to tell you how to improve the outfit you’re wearing.

The idea behind the software is to make small changes (known as minimal edits) to an outfit, such as tucking in a shirt, rolling up a sleeve, changing the length of a hem, or removing an accessory. Garments are defined as “fashionable” if they are popular on a database and the AI learns to edit looks to make them score more highly in this regard.


Read more: Why STEM subjects and fashion design go hand in hand


This relies on a massive oversimplification of how the craft of fashion design works. Simply mimicking elements of what is popular and putting them together is no guarantee for an aesthetically pleasing look.

There is no guarantee that the most popular look – the statistical “mode” – will be truly fashionable, or “à la mode”.

Google’s Lens image recognition system now offers similar looks from around the web when you upload an image of some clothes. Google

A spy in your wardrobe

As we start taking photos and streaming videos of what we desire, or begin uploading photos of ourselves in our underwear, we should keep in mind that our data is being stored and mined. For data-mining corporations, we and our personal information that can be used to influence our behaviour and sold on to advertisers.

Even if you are unconcerned with your personal data being shared, AI products are likely to encourage needless consumption over the actual goal of making you look attractive. Often when people seek the help of a stylist or a second opinion on their appearance, it is not even about the clothing.

Some need validation or attention, or are set in their ways what makes them look attractive. Fashion styling serves a whole range of functions: creating a look of beauty, projecting power, attracting a romantic partner, or making the wearer feel special. There is no guarantee that even a stylist and some new clothing can achieve these goals – an app barely stands a chance.

ref. The robot wears Prada: what happens when AI starts giving out fashion tips? – http://theconversation.com/the-robot-wears-prada-what-happens-when-ai-starts-giving-out-fashion-tips-125140

Water may soon lap at the door, but still some homeowners don’t want to rock the boat

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Vanessa Bowden, Postdoctoral research fellow, University of Newcastle

It is becoming increasingly possible that sea-level rise of a metre or more will occur this century. You might expect this threat to preoccupy coastal homeowners. But many deny the need to act, for fear their property values will fall.

This particular brand of climate denial presents a conundrum for governments and local councils, which must plan urgently for climate change. The very act of officials identifying homes exposed to sea-level rise can be vehemently opposed by the owners, let alone policies to deal with it.

This is an urgent problem. As long as we keep failing to reduce global carbon emissions, adapting to the inevitable changes in our climate is vital. But winning cooperation from coastal property owners requires more than just talking about the science.

A car covered in sand near Bondi Beach, Sydney after heavy storms in 2015. David Moir/AAP

A tide of irrefutable facts

An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released this month warned sea levels are rising faster than we thought. This will lead to more flooding, storm surges and inundation than previously modelled.

In Australia, 85% of people live within 50km of the coast. In 2009, a federal assessment estimated that up to 247,600 Australian homes were at risk of inundation under a 1.1m sea level rise scenario.


Read more: Rising seas threaten Australia’s major airports – and it may be happening faster than we think


Authorities must manage this threat, which might include limiting development, protecting properties, or planning a retreat from some areas.

Yet our research shows that getting community support for such measures can be contentious and time-consuming.

Waterfront properties in Point Piper, Sydney. Some 85% of Australians live near the coast. JOEL CARRETT/AAP

Property values are king

We researched Lake Macquarie in New South Wales, a council area of about 200,000 residents. Lake Macquarie City Council is a recognised leader in climate adaptation policy.

Lake Macquarie is a large coastal estuary vulnerable to sea level rise. It has been identified as one of six council areas in Australia at highest risk of inundation. Up to 6,800 buildings in the area – about 10% – could be at risk from sea-level rise and storm surges this century.

In response, the council limited development in the most vulnerable areas and in 2012 began community consultation. This included working with residents to develop an adaptation plan, released in 2016.


Read more: A landmark report confirms Australia is girt by hotter, higher seas. But there’s still time to act


In 2017 and 2018, we interviewed current and former councillors and council staff, local businesspeople and residents about the consultation process.

We found there was initially strong resistance to the council’s policy attempts. Community members expressed concern that acknowledging the need to adapt to sea-level rise would reduce property prices and increase home insurance costs.

The potential worst-case scenario, being required to abandon one’s home, was strongly resisted by the community.

Heavy machinery moves onto Palm Beach on the Gold Coast to repair cliffs carved out of the front yards of beachfront homes. Tony Bartlett/AAP

Such community opposition is common across Australia. The Queensland property industry lobbied against state requirements that would have barred new development until climate adaptation plans were in place. At Lakes Entrance in Victoria, coastal residents have complained that adaptation measures are “taking away people’s money … because they’re going to suffer financial loss”.

The problem of climate denialism

In 2012 when community consultation began, property developer Jeff McCloy told the Sydney Morning Herald he was considering suing the council over its policies, describing concern over sea level rise as “unjustified, worldwide idiocy”.

People have a tendency to want to see or feel the impacts of climate change before they agree to actions they see as conflicting with their priorities.

Property owners who live near oceans or lakes may not have observed rising sea levels or other climate change effects, and sometimes hesitate to believe it will be a future problem, even if flood map modelling shows otherwise.

The proliferation of climate scepticism in public discourse provides ready-made arguments to which some property owners, fearful of climate change impacts, can attach themselves.


Read more: Climate change: sea level rise could displace millions of people within two generations


We found that these broader debates around climate change impeded Lake Macquarie council’s ability to reach agreement with residents. Those opposing the policy arranged for prominent climate sceptics to speak at public meetings, and published anti-science opinion pieces in the local newspaper.

A yacht washed up on a beach at Little Manly Cove in Sydney in 2012 after wild storms. AAP/Mick Tsikas

Where to now?

The Lake Macquarie experience shows intensive, long-term, early efforts at community engagement can overcome some community opposition to climate adaptation. After four years of consultation, the council reached agreement with residents in two areas that affected land would be filled in over time, and there would be no forced retreat from homes.

The council is continuing to plan, with community involvement. It is developing suburb-specific adaptation plans designed so residents understand the science and embrace the solutions – including the chance to identify adaptation options themselves.

But across Australia, much work remains. As global carbon emissions continue to rise and the window to act closes, it is crucial that councils, governments and communities plan for whatever the future holds. This includes implementing adaptation plans that get property owners on board.

ref. Water may soon lap at the door, but still some homeowners don’t want to rock the boat – http://theconversation.com/water-may-soon-lap-at-the-door-but-still-some-homeowners-dont-want-to-rock-the-boat-124289

Creating and being seen: new projects focus on the rights of artists with disabilities

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Chloe Watfern, Scientia PhD scholar, UNSW

At Studio A, on the fourth floor of the Crows Nest community centre, a group of artists is working quietly.

An occasional burst of laughter erupts from a corner of the studio. It makes its way around the room, past sculptures and paintings and drawings in various degrees of completion, past beads and thread and wool and pens and pencils and paper. Today, there are also lots of computers about. It’s a Monday, and the focus is digital art.

Many of the artists are preparing work for a group exhibition called Home. It is more like a multimedia installation taking over a site at SubBase Platypus, a former submarine base and torpedo factory.

Studio A’s exhibition comes following the launch of CHOOSE ART last week. The online Accessible Arts Directory was designed for and by deaf and disabled people. It encourages people to add arts participation to their National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) plan. Both initiatives acknowledge the rights of people with disabilities to take part, feel included and valued in arts and culture.

The Supported Studio

Near a window, Meagan Pelham is finessing her Down Syndrome love poem with an intern from University of Technology Sydney, who has been coming to work with her long after her internship finished.

Words in Pelham’s slanting script appear on her screen, accompanied by brightly coloured flying cupcakes and love hearts. She claps her hands, “isn’t it beautiful?” We all agree that it is.

Meanwhile, Thom Roberts and I are animating the city circle line. Roberts’ paintings of trains twist and twirl through the different stations, for which Roberts has his own personal nomenclature.

The Sydney train system means a lot to Roberts. Many years ago, after a long morning spent riding trains back and forth across the city, Roberts lost his job at a “sheltered workshop”. This may have been one of the most significant moments in his life. It was the beginning of his journey to Studio A and the role of a professional artist.

Studio A is New South Wales’ leading supported studio. Organisations like it exist all over the world. They tend to share a common approach – artists and makers, who may identify as having an intellectual disability, are provided with working space, high quality materials and assistance from trained staff.

About 9% of artists in Australia have a disability, according to a 2017 economic study. Only one in ten artists with a disability say their disability does not affect their practice.

Meagan Pelham, Flying Cupcakes (work in progress), 2019, digital animation. Courtesy of the artist and Studio A.

The supported studio model is one way of tackling some of the barriers artists with disabilities face in pursuing their goals.

Giants in the field include Creative Growth in Oakland, California, Action Space in London and Arts Project Australia in Melbourne. These studios have up to 150 members.

Studio A has only 15. It is tight-knit but welcoming to makers, friends and researchers like myself.

The outsiders

Often, the work coming out of places like Studio A is labelled as Outsider Art. The category is arguably waning, but still has some currency in the art market.

Narratives surrounding Outsider Art have tended to mythologise the authenticity or purity of the inner worlds presented by “untrained” artists, who work in a state blissfully separate from the concerns of the professional artist, mainstream culture, and society. The outsider artist is just that: on the outside, separate, isolated.

Organisations like Studio A are deeply connected to the community. Not only artists and curators, but judges and ministers, accountants and bankers, frequently visit the studio.

Artists from Arts Project Australia showed their works at the National Gallery of Australia. Mark Graham/AAP

At the same time, a remit of the organisation is to actively bring work (and artists) into contact with different audiences in museums, galleries and other cultural venues. These points of contact drive the innovative works being made. They are just as much about relationships as they are about the inner worlds of the artists.

This art has the potential to challenge stereotypes around disability; to reduce stigma, against an ongoing background of discrimination, detainment, and abuse.

Cultural leaders

Artists like Meagan Pelham and Thom Roberts are not simply recipients of care, or making art as a form of recreation or therapy. They are cultural creators and leaders in their own right.

Roberts recently exhibited work in The National, alongside Australia’s top contemporary artists. His work highlights things many of us have in common – such as love, or time spent on the public transport system.

Thom Roberts, Shanghai Station, 2019, digital animation. Courtesy of the artist and Studio A.

Back in the studio, the laughs continue. A good song has come on and people are having a boogie. Like all artists, they hope people will come to their exhibition. As a community, they will continue to laugh and dance and make work for a good while yet. In the process, they can model what a truly inclusive society might look like.

Home runs until 2 November at SubBase Platypus, North Sydney

ref. Creating and being seen: new projects focus on the rights of artists with disabilities – http://theconversation.com/creating-and-being-seen-new-projects-focus-on-the-rights-of-artists-with-disabilities-124270

Australians split on the level of foreign students: ANUpoll

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

Australians are divided over whether the nation’s universities have too many foreign students, according to the Australian National University’s ANUpoll, released Wednesday.

In the polling, 52.8% said the mix between foreign and domestic students was about right, but 46.1% favoured a lower level of foreign students. Only 1.1% wanted a greater proportion of students from overseas.

But there were big differences in attitudes between those who had attended university or were there now, and those who had not.

Of those who had never been to university, 51.3% supported reducing the proportion of foreign students. This fell to 43.6% among those who had previously been to university, and to 25.6% among current students.

Foreign students have become a huge source of income for Australia in general and the universities in particular, but critics are concerned about pressures on the institutions and on standards.

More than 690,000 international students were in Australia on student visas last year, an increase of 11% on the year before. The two largest source countries were China and India.


Read more: Students from China may defend their country but that doesn’t make them Communist Party agents


The ANUpoll – the 29th in its series – also asked about people’s confidence in a range of institutions and occupations.

The results showed people have a great deal more confidence in Australia’s universities and schools and those who staff them than they have in major companies, the public service, the federal government or the press.

Some 78.8% had confidence in universities while the figure for schools was 73.6%. Nearly eight in ten had confidence in university lecturers and school teachers; just over eight in ten expressed confidence in university researchers.

The numbers for other institutions were: the public service 46%; major Australian companies 43.6%; banks and financial institutions 28%; the federal government in Canberra 27%.

The press did worst in the poll, with only 20.2% expressing confidence in it. This dismal rating comes as media organisations are running a high profile campaign to secure greater guarantees for media freedom, in the wake of raids on a News Corp journalist and the ABC.

The survey found some mixed feelings about universities’ teaching.

Asked whether universities were teaching the important things students need to know, 60% agreed they were. This was down from about 66% in 2008 research.

About five in ten thought they were teaching what students need for the current and future workforce.


Read more: More international students should mean more support for communication and interaction


In a series of questions about the role of universities, Coalition voters were less supportive than Labor voters of their public policy roles.

On freedom of speech, the poll found nearly nine out of ten people agreed with the proposition that “Australian universities should invite speakers with a variety of ideas and opinions to campus, including speakers whose perspectives are very different from most students”.

Universities are under pressure from the government over freedom of speech issues, and commentators on the right have been strongly critical about some controversial speakers being excluded or their sponsors facing hefty bills for security.

Education Minister Dan Tehan has been driving a free speech code for universities, after a review by former chief justice Robert French.

ANUpoll is conducted for the ANU by the Social Research Centre, an ANU Enterprise business. It is a national poll done via the internet and telephone. 2,054 people were polled in April.

ref. Australians split on the level of foreign students: ANUpoll – http://theconversation.com/australians-split-on-the-level-of-foreign-students-anupoll-125658

3 things to help improve your exam results (besides studying)

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Tom Gordon, PhD candidate. Sydney University Physics Education Research (SUPER) group, University of Sydney

If you want to get good marks in your exams, there’s no substitute for study. So do past exams, go over your notes, read what you need to read, do the problems, ask for help – study!

But other things have a proven effect on exam marks too. Here are three of them.

1. Sleep

Guidelines for 13-to-17-year-olds advise eight to ten hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. But studies show teenagers’ sleep is more fragmented during stressful periods, such as exam times.

Studies also suggest fewer than 10% of college students get the recommended eight to nine hours of sleep during exam week. This is a problem because sleep is especially important during the study period.

Most teenagers don’t get enough sleep during exam time. Kinga Cichewicz/Unsplash

Laboratory studies show new knowledge becomes integrated with what we already know while we sleep. Not getting enough sleep before an exam will leave you less able to recall what you’ve learnt, not to mention just being groggy.

A 2014 German study found students who got seven hours or more of good sleep during the exam period performed much better (their scores were around 10% higher) than those who had slept less.

Good-quality sleep, as described in the paper, is essentially sleep where you feel rested afterwards. Researchers often use the validated Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Indicator (PSQI) to assess the quality of sleep – you can use it to check how you’re tracking.


Read more: Studying for exams? Here’s how to make your memory work for you


In another study, a US professor challenged his students (by offering them extra grades) to sleep an average of 8.5 hours a night during the exam period.

While 24 students opted in to the challenge, only 17 succeeded. Students who slept more than eight hours on the night of the final exam performed better than students who opted out or slept less than eight hours.

The professor controlled for previous grades – meaning he took into account the students’ previous levels of achievement in exams when calculating the results – so it’s not just that the ones who scored better were smarter anyway.

2. Exercise

Research suggests regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and sweat glands pumping, can boost the size of the hippocampus, which is the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.

A 2012 Australian study found primary school students who exercised regularly were more likely to have higher NAPLAN scores in numeracy and writing. And a US study showed a child’s fitness was associated with a higher academic score – so the better the fitness, the higher they scored on tests.

Exercise will improve your mood and concentration. Poodar Chu/Unsplash

A 2009 study showed a positive correlation between aerobic fitness and cognitive performance in male teenagers. That is, as fitness increases so do logical, verbal, technical and overall intelligence scores.

Overall exercise is good because it improves mood and helps to lower stress, both of which help with study and concentration.

3. Take responsibility

Our research shows when students take responsibility for their learning they are more engaged and motivated to succeed. Taking responsibility means finding what interests you and incorporating that into your study routine.

Ask yourself: what will help me study like I mean it? And then get creative.

If exercise motivates you, then study while exercising. If your friends motivate you, review and summarise your notes in groups. If technology motivates you, use it.

Do you like drawing? If so, you can use multiple representations of problems – like words, equations, graphs, tables and diagrams – to help you understand a particular concept.


Read more: Don’t calm down! Exam stress may not be fun but it can help you get better marks


And don’t just read and review, but also practise skills. You will likely be asked to talk about some skills in your exams, such as identifying risks, writing a hypothesis or doing some calculations. Having a good working knowledge of these skills, rather than simply remembering how they go, is an advantage.

So, if you want to learn how to conduct an experiment, do some experimentation. If you want to get good at comprehension, do some comprehension.

Try to enjoy yourself, because the more you care about something, the better you’ll do at it. Exercising and sleeping well will also put you in a better mood and help you enjoy the process.

ref. 3 things to help improve your exam results (besides studying) – http://theconversation.com/3-things-to-help-improve-your-exam-results-besides-studying-124178

Your brain approaches tricky tasks in a surprisingly simple way

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By James Shine, Robinson Fellow, University of Sydney

Have you ever sat down to complete your morning crossword or Sudoku and wondered about what’s happening in your brain? Somewhere in the activity of the billions of neurons in your brain lies the code that lets you remember a key word, or apply the logic required to complete the puzzle.

Given the brain’s intricacy, you might assume that these patterns are incredibly complex and unique to each task. But recent research suggests things are actually more straightforward than that.

It turns out that many structures in your brain work together in precise ways to coordinate their activity, shaping their actions to the requirements of whatever it is that you’re trying to achieve.

We call these coordinated patterns the “low-dimensional manifold”, which you can think of as analogous to the major roadways that you use to commute to and from work. The majority of the traffic flows along these major highways, which represent an efficient and effective way to get from A to B.

We have found evidence that most brain activity follows these types of patterns. In very simple terms, this saves your brain from needing to work everything out from scratch when performing a task. If someone throws you a ball, for instance, the low-dimensional manifold allows your brain to swiftly coordinate the muscle movements needed to catch the ball, rather than your brain needing to learn how to catch a ball afresh each time.


Read more: How the brain prepares for movement and actions


In a study published today in the journal Neuron, my colleagues and I investigated these patterns further. Specifically, we wanted to find out whether they play a role in shaping brain activity during really challenging cognitive tasks that require lots of concentration.

We scanned people’s brains with high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they performed a Latin squares task, which is similar to a Sudoku puzzle but uses shapes instead of numbers. Anyone who has played Sudoku before their morning coffee knows how much focus and concentration is required to solve it.

The idea behind the Latin squares task is to identify the missing shape in a particular location in a grid, given that each shape can only show up once in each row and column. We created three different levels of difficulty, defined by how many different rows and columns needed to be inspected to arrive at the correct answer.

Directing traffic

Our prediction was that performing the more difficult versions of the task would lead to a reconfiguration of the low-dimensional manifold. To return to the highway analogy, a tricky task might pull some brain activity off the highway and onto the back streets to help get around the congestion.

Our results confirmed our predictions. More difficult trials showed different patterns of brain activation to easy ones, as if the brain’s traffic was being rerouted along different roads. The trickier the task, the more the patterns changed.

What’s more, we also found a link between these changed brain activation patterns and the increased likelihood of making a mistake on the harder version of the Latin Squares test.

In a way, attempting a difficult task is like trying out a new rat run on your morning commute – you might succeed, but in your haste and stress you might also be more likely to take a wrong turn.

Overall, these results suggests that our brain activity perhaps isn’t as complicated as we once thought. Most of the time, our brain is directing traffic along pretty well-established routes, and even when it needs to get creative it is still trying to send the traffic to the same ultimate destination.

This leaves us with an important question: how does the brain achieve this level of coordination?

One possibility is that this function is fulfilled by the thalamus, a structure that lies deep in the brain but is connected to almost the entire rest of the brain.

Importantly, the circuitry of the thalamus is such that it can act as a filter for ongoing activity in the cerebral cortex, the brain’s main information processing centre, and therefore could exert the kind of influence we were looking for.

Positions of the thalamus and the cerebral cortex within the brain. Pikovit/Shutterstock

Patterns of activity in the thalamus are hard to decipher in traditional neuroimaging experiments. But fortunately, the high-resolution MRI scanner used in our study collected by my colleagues Luca Cocchi and Luke Hearne allowed us to observe them in detail.


Read more: Neuroscience in pictures: the best images of the year


Sure enough, we saw a clear link between activity in the thalamus and the flow of activity in the low-dimensional manifold. This suggests that when performing particular tasks, the thalamus helps to shape and constrain the activity in the cortex, a bit like a police officer directing busy traffic.

So next time you sit down to play Sudoku, spare a thought for your thalamus, and the low-dimensional manifold that it helps to create. Together, they’re shaping the brain activity that will ultimately help you solve the puzzle.

ref. Your brain approaches tricky tasks in a surprisingly simple way – http://theconversation.com/your-brain-approaches-tricky-tasks-in-a-surprisingly-simple-way-124891

The ‘ceasefire’ in Syria is ending – here’s what’s likely to happen now

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Mehmet Ozalp, Associate Professor in Islamic Studies, Director of The Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation and Executive Member of Public and Contextual Theology, Charles Sturt University

The five-day ceasefire negotiated by US Vice President Mike Pence and Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan ends today.

Despite the shaky ceasefire, the risk of economic sanctions from the US and worldwide condemnation, Turkey is likely to stay in Syria for a long time.


Read more: As Turkish troops move in to Syria, the risks are great – including for Turkey itself


The anticipated clash between Turkey and Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government is also unlikely to eventuate, for three three reasons:

  1. Erdogan’s main aims require the army to stay in Syria for the long term

  2. Assad’s and Erdogan’s goals in northeastern Syria strangely overlap

  3. The coordinating role of Russia in Syria prevents the need for Erdogan and Assad to clash in open warfare.

Has Turkey achieved its objectives?

Even though Turkey has been building its forces on the border for some time, the US-allied Kurdish YPG (which Turkey considers a terrorist group) was caught by surprise. They were busy fighting Islamic State and not expecting the US to allow Turkish forces across the border. Battle-weary YPG forces were no match for the powerful Turkish army.

As a result, Kurdish commanders begged the Trump administration to intervene. The ceasefire deal was struck to allow YPG forces to withdraw beyond what Turkey calls a “safe zone”. Trump declared the ceasefire to be a validation of his erratic Syrian policy.

Turkey’s immediate objective of establishing a 32-kilometre deep and 444-kilometre wide safe zone across its border with Syria will likely be achieved.

Yet establishing this zone is just the precursor to Erdogan’s three primary objectives. Those are to resettle millions of Syrian Arab refugees in northeastern Syria, as a result helping to prevent the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish administration and, finally, to ensure his political survival by maintaining his alliance with the Turkish nationalist party (MHP).

The June 2019 political loss of the important city of Istanbul to the main Turkish opposition party, primarily due to Syrian refugee debates, has been an important trigger for Erdogan to act on his Syria plans.

These objectives require Turkey to remain in Syria at least until the end of the Syrian civil war. This would mean the status of northeastern Syria and its Kurdish population were clearly determined in line with Turkey’s goals. These outcomes could take many years to eventuate.

So, any withdrawal before the primary objectives are met will be seen as a defeat within Turkey. Erdogan wants to enter the 2023 presidential elections claiming victory in Syria.

Erdogan’s and Assad’s goals overlap

With the US no longer a serious contender in Syrian politics, Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin are the only leaders capable of stymieing Erdogan’s objectives.

Prior to Turkey’s military intervention, the relationship between the Kurdish leadership and Assad administration was one of mutual avoidance of conflict. Since the beginning of the civil war in 2011, they have never clashed militarily.

The expected outcome of this policy was that the Kurds would have an autonomous region in northeastern Syria and an important role in post-civil war negotiations. Assad had no choice but to agree to this in order to stay in power.


Read more: The Syrian war is not over, it’s just on a new trajectory: here’s what you need to know


The Turkish intervention opens new possibilities for the Assad government. The speed of the alliance between the YPG and Assad indicates the Syrian government senses an opportunity.

The Kurdish-Assad alliance allows Assad’s forces and administration to enter areas they could not enter before. Assad wasted no time in wedging his forces in the safe zone by seizing the major Kurdish town of Kobani in the middle of the Syrian-Turkish border.

Despite the Kurdish-Assad alliance, resettling Syrian Arab refugees in Kurdish regions will weaken Kurdish claims to the region and suit Assad’s goal of a unified Syria that he totally controls.

There is another immediate benefit for Assad. Idlib is a strategic city in northwestern Syria and the last stronghold of the Syrian opposition to Assad. Resistance groups defeated elsewhere were allowed to gather in Idlib. Careful negotiations took place in the past few years to avoid an all-out bloodbath in Idlib.

Assad will almost certainly ask Turkey to abandon its patronage of Idlib and opposition forces l ocated there. In return, Assad will allow a temporary Turkish presence in northern Syria.

So, although Kurdish forces signed a deal with Assad, it is highly unlikely this will evolve into active warfare between Turkey and Syria. Instead, the situation will be kept tense – by Assad forces remaining in Kobani – to allow Erdogan and Assad to get what they want.

Russia will prevent a Turkey-Syria clash

This is where Russia and Putin come in. Russia is an ally of both the Turkish and Syrian governments. To save face, Erdogan is unlikely to sit in open negotiations with Assad. Negotiations will be done through Putin.

When Putin and Erdogan meet on October 22, the main negotiating points will be to prevent a war between Turkey and the Russian-armed Assad forces. Erdogan will ask the Russian and Assad governments to allow Turkey to stay in the zone it established. In return, Russia will request further concessions on Idlib and perhaps more arms deals similar to the S-400 missile deal.

A deal between Erdogan and Assad suits Russia because it serves the its main objectives in Syria – keep Assad in power to ensure Russian access to the Mediterranean Sea and weaken NATO by moving Turkey away from the alliance.

If the Kurds realise Assad has no intention of fighting Turkey, they may decide to take matters into their own hands and engage in guerrilla warfare with Turkish forces in northern Syria. While this may deliver a blow to Turkish forces, Erdogan will use it to back his claim they are terrorists.

Regardless of what happens, Turkey will stay in northern Syria for the foreseeable future, no matter the cost to both countries.

The eventual winner in Syria is looking to be the Assad government, which is moving to control the entire country just as it did before the 2011 uprising.

ref. The ‘ceasefire’ in Syria is ending – here’s what’s likely to happen now – http://theconversation.com/the-ceasefire-in-syria-is-ending-heres-whats-likely-to-happen-now-125492

Australian governments have long been hostile to media freedom. That’s unlikely to change any time soon

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

The unprecedented blackout of front pages by Australia’s newspaper publishers this week is a highly significant event in Australian political and media history.

It represents the completion of a deep rupture in the relationship between government and media, which for many decades was marked by a preparedness on the part of the media to take notice of government advice where matters of national security were concerned.

It also represents the first concerted, unified, co-ordinated campaign by the Australian media – outside of wartime, when there were constant rows about censorship – to assert press freedom in the face of government oppression.


Read more: Australia needs a Media Freedom Act. Here’s how it could work


It defies the prevailing political climate of fear created and sustained by both sides of politics since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11 2001.

It defies the aggressive hostility towards the press shown by the federal government, with its determination to continue the prosecution of ABC and News Corp journalists for revealing government secrets that the public clearly had a right to know, and by the head of the Home Affairs Department, Mike Pezzullo, who says he wants people jailed if they leak government information to the media.

And it defies the contemptuous attitude to press freedom shown by the Australian Federal Police in raiding the ABC and the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst over stories. This attitude was reinforced by new AFP commissioner Reece Kershaw, who told Senate estimates on October 21 that he had not turned his mind to the question of why the newspapers might have embarked on this campaign for press freedom.


Read more: Media raids raise questions about AFP’s power and weak protection for journalists and whistleblowers


Those AFP raids led to two concurrent parliamentary inquiries, one by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) and the other by the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications.

The raids also galvanised the media industry. On June 26, the heads of all the main news organisations presented a united front at the National Press Club in accusing the government of criminalising journalism. They called for a thorough overhaul of laws on national security, government secrecy, whistleblower protection, freedom of information and defamation.

At the same time, they acknowledged the media had done a bad job of raising public awareness of the threat to press freedom. The “blackout” of October 21 was a dramatic first step in redressing this.

The involvement of News Corp, with its command of two-thirds of Australia’s daily newspaper circulation and its proven political clout, has given powerful impetus to the campaign. Whether it would have joined in had not one of its own journalists been raided is a matter on which Kershaw might care to reflect as he conducts his promised review of how the AFP handles these matters.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison used Question Time in parliament to reassert his previous position that journalists are not above the law. His response ignored the fundamental point that the problem lies in the law itself.

There is a natural time frame for the media industry’s campaign. The PJCIS is due to report on November 28 this year and the Senate inquiry on March 16 2020. That gives the industry roughly five months in which to put enough political pressure on the government for it to make a serious attempt at law reform.


Read more: Parliamentary press freedom inquiry: letting the fox guard the henhouse


However, the antagonism to this from the federal bureaucracy and the security services was revealed in their appearances at the PJCIS inquiry. They gave no ground at all. They regard the current regime of laws as right and necessary.

So, if the government does attempt genuine reform, it will face sustained opposition from its own public service. The government will also have to explain to the Australian people why the fear on which this whole politico-legal edifice has been built is no longer quite as acute as they have been led to believe.

It would also be turning its back on a history of government oppression of the media, a fixture in Australian political life that goes back at least as far as the earliest days of the Cold War.

The bugbear then was communism. ASIO kept files on Australian journalists whom it suspected – often on comically flimsy grounds – of being “reds”. ASIO then used these assessments to blight people’s careers by passing them on to media executives who were prepared to listen.

In those more quiescent days, the media were also prepared to be part of what was called the D-notice system, under which the media voluntarily agreed not to publish material on subjects defined in the D notices. These included material on atomic bomb testing in Australia, defence capabilities, and the whereabouts of Vladimir Petrov, a Soviet diplomat and spy in Canberra who defected with his wife in 1954.

The system lasted from 1952 to 1982, by which time the media had woken up to the fact that it was a betrayal of its public duty to collude with the government like this.

The old Fairfax newspapers in particular began to publish embarrassing leaks of intelligence material. Some of it showed how Australia was double-crossing Indonesia at a time when, publicly, Australia was doing its best to appease Jakarta.

The Sydney Morning Herald got out one such story on the front page of its first edition before an injunction was served in the middle of the night restraining it from further publication. The second edition of the paper appeared with a large white space where the story had been, carrying the word “censored” and recounting what had happened to the story readers were no longer allowed to see.

More spectacularly, Fairfax journalist Brian Toohey became the target of successive governments outraged over his stories based on leaks about intelligence activities. He became the bete noir of the then head of the Defence Department, Sir Arthur Tange. Toohey has now written a book called Secrets about the ways governments continually wage war against journalists and whistleblowers.


Read more: BOOK REVIEW: Brian Toohey’s Secret warns against Australia being ‘joined at the hip’ with US


In the recent PJCIS inquiry, the same Mike Pezzullo who said he wanted leakers sent to jail also proposed reviving the D-notice system. Given the current level of hostility between government and media, it seemed quixotic, to say the least.

However, it also showed that nothing changes in the culture and mindset of the Australian public service. The same instinctive resort to secrecy and control of information that has been its hallmark for decades remains its hallmark today. The only difference is that it has now been supercharged by the passage of 82 pieces of national security legislation since the September 11 terror attacks.

ref. Australian governments have long been hostile to media freedom. That’s unlikely to change any time soon – http://theconversation.com/australian-governments-have-long-been-hostile-to-media-freedom-thats-unlikely-to-change-any-time-soon-125565

Is coconut water good for you? We asked five experts

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Alexandra Hansen, Chief of Staff, The Conversation

In recent years coconut water has left the palm-treed shores of tropical islands where tourists on lounge chairs stick straws straight into the fruit, and exploded onto supermarket shelves – helped along by beverage giants such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.

Marketed as a natural health drink, brands spout various health claims promoting coconut water. So before we drank the Kool-Aid, we thought we’d check in with the experts whether the nutritional claims stack up. Is coconut water part of a healthy diet or we should just stick to good old water from the tap?

We asked five experts if coconut water is good for you.

Four out of five experts said no

Here are their detailed responses:


If you have a “yes or no” health question you’d like posed to Five Experts, email your suggestion to: alexandra.hansen@theconversation.edu.au


Clare Collins is affiliated with the Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, the University of Newcastle, NSW. She is an NHMRC Senior Research and Gladys M Brawn Research Fellow. She has received research grants from NHMRC, ARC, Hunter Medical Research Institute, Meat and Livestock Australia, Diabetes Australia, Heart Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, nib foundation, Rijk Zwaan Australia and Greater Charitable Foundation. She has consulted to SHINE Australia, Novo Nordisk, Quality Bakers, the Sax Institute and the ABC. She was a team member conducting systematic reviews to inform the Australian Dietary Guidelines update and the Heart Foundation evidence reviews on meat and dietary patterns. Emma Beckett is a member of the Nutrition Society of Australia, Australian Institute for Food Science and Technology. Her research is funded by the NHMRC and AMP Foundation. She has previously consulted for Kellogg’s. Rebecca Reynolds is a registered nutritionist and the owner of The Real Bok Choy, a nutrition and lifestyle consultancy.

ref. Is coconut water good for you? We asked five experts – http://theconversation.com/is-coconut-water-good-for-you-we-asked-five-experts-123524

Climate explained: how volcanoes influence climate and how their emissions compare to what we produce

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Michael Petterson, Professor of Geology, Auckland University of Technology

CC BY-ND

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz

Everyone is going on about reducing our carbon footprint, zero emissions, planting sustainable crops for biodiesel etc. Is it true what the internet posts say that a volcano eruption for a few weeks will make all our efforts null and void?

The pretext to this question is understandable. The forces of nature are so powerful and operate at such a magnitude that human efforts to influence our planet may seem pointless.

If one volcanic eruption could alter our climate to such a degree that our world rapidly becomes an “icehouse” or a “hothouse”, then perhaps our efforts to mitigate anthropogenic climate change are a waste of time?

To answer this question we need to examine how our atmosphere formed and what geological evidence there is for volcanically induced climate change. We also need to look at recent data comparing volcanic and human greenhouse gas emissions.

There is evidence for catastrophic climate change from very large, protracted volcanic eruptions in the geological record. But in more recent times we have learned that volcanic emissions can lead to shorter-term cooling and longer-term warming. And the killer-punch evidence is that human-induced greenhouse gas emissions far exceed those of volcanic activity, particularly since 1950.

Forging Earth’s atmosphere

Let’s go back to first principles and look at where our atmosphere came from. Earth is 4.56 billion years old. The common consensus is that Earth’s atmosphere results from three main processes:

1. remnants of primordial solar nebula gases from the time of earliest planet formation

2. outgassing of the Earth’s interior from volcanic and related events

3. the production of oxygen from photosynthesis.

There have also been contributions over time from comets and asteroid collisions. Of these processes, internal planetary degassing is the most important atmosphere-generating process, particularly during the first of four aeons of Earth’s history, the hot Hadean.

Volcanic eruptions have contributed to this process ever since and provided the bulk of our atmosphere and, therefore, the climate within our atmosphere.

Next is the question of volcanic eruptions and their influence on climate. Earth’s climate has changed over geological time. There have been periods of an ice-free “hothouse Earth”. Some argue that sea levels were 200 to 400 metres higher than today and a significant proportion of Earth’s continents were submerged beneath sea level.

At other times, during a “snowball Earth”, our planet was covered in ice even at the equator.


Read more: Climate explained: why we won’t be heading into an ice age any time soon


What contribution have volcanic eruptions made to this variation in climate? As an example of a major influence, some scientists link mass extinctions to major volcanic eruption events.

The most famous such association is that of the eruption of volcanoes that produced the Siberian Traps. This is a large region of thick volcanic rock sequences, some 2.5 to 4 million square kilometres, in an area in Russia’s eastern provinces. Rapid and voluminous volcanic eruptions around 252 million years ago released sufficient quantities of sulphate aerosols and carbon dioxide to trigger short-duration volcanic winters, and long-duration climate warming, over a period of 10s of thousands of years.

The Siberian Trap eruptions were a causal factor in Earth’s largest mass extinction event (at the end of the Permian period), when 96% of Earth’s marine species and 70% of terrestrial life ceased to exist.

Natural climate change over past 100 million years

Geological evidence indicates that natural processes can indeed radically change Earth’s climate. Most recently (in geological terms), over the past 100 million years ocean bottom waters have cooled, sea levels fallen and ice has advanced. Within this period there have also been spells of a hotter Earth, most likely caused by (natural) rapid releases in greenhouse gases.

Homo sapiens has evolved during the past few million years largely during an ice age when up to two-kilometre-thick ice sheets covered large areas of the northern continents and sea levels were over 100 metres lower than today. This period ended 10,000 years ago when our modern interglacial warmer period began.

Astronomical cycles that lead to climate variations are well understood – for example, the Milankovitch cycles, which explain variations in Earth’s orbit around the sun, and the periodic nodding/swaying of our Earth’s axis. All of the geological and tectonic causes for this general longer-term Earth cooling are less well understood. Hypotheses include contributions from volcanoes and processes linked to the rise of the Himalayas and Tibet (from 55 million years ago).


Read more: Climate explained: why we need to cut emissions as well as prepare for impacts


Specific volcanic eruptions and climate impacts

Researchers have studied specific volcanic eruptions and climate change. Mount Pinatubo (Philippines) produced one of the larger eruptions of recent times in 1991, releasing 20 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide and ash particles into the stratosphere.

These larger eruptions reduce solar radiation reaching the Earth’s surface, lower temperatures in the lower troposphere, and change atmospheric circulation patterns. In the case of Pinatubo, global tropospheric temperatures fell by up to 4°C, but northern hemisphere winters warmed.

Volcanoes erupt a mix of gases, including greenhouse gases, aerosols and gases that can react with other atmospheric constituents. Atmospheric reactions with volcanic gases can rapidly produce substances such as sulphuric acid (and related sulphates) that act as aerosols, cooling the atmosphere.

Longer-term additions of carbon dioxide have warming impacts. Larger-scale volcanic eruptions, whose ash clouds reach stratospheric levels, have the biggest climatic impacts: the larger and more prolonged the eruption period, the larger the impacts.

These types of eruptions are thought to have been a partial cause for the Little Ice Age period, a global cooling event of about 0.5°C that lasted from the 15th to the late 19th century. Super volcanoes such as Yellowstone (USA), Toba (Indonesia) and Taupo (New Zealand) can, theoretically, produce very large-volume eruptions that have significant climate impacts, but there is uncertainty over how long these eruptions influence climate.

Perhaps the strongest evidence for answering whether our (human) emissions or volcanoes have a stronger influence on climate lies in the scale of greenhouse gas production. Since 2015, global anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions have been around 35 to 37 billion tonnes per year. Annual volcanic CO₂ emissions are around 200 million tonnes.

In 2018, anthropogenic CO₂ emissions were 185 times higher than volcanic emissions. This is an astounding statistic and one of the factors persuading some geologists and natural scientists to propose a new geological epoch called the Anthropocene in recognition that humans are exceeding the impacts of many natural global processes, particularly since the 1950s.

There is evidence that volcanoes have strongly influenced climate on geological time scales, but, since 1950 in particular, it is Homo sapiens who has had by far the largest impact on climate. Let us not give up our CO₂ emission-reduction aspirations. Volcanoes may not save the day.

ref. Climate explained: how volcanoes influence climate and how their emissions compare to what we produce – http://theconversation.com/climate-explained-how-volcanoes-influence-climate-and-how-their-emissions-compare-to-what-we-produce-125490

Trackless trams v light rail? It’s not a contest – both can improve our cities

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Peter Newman, Professor of Sustainability, Curtin University

A Greenpeace video of me plugging a trackless tram that went viral with 4 million hits has caused a few eyebrows to be raised over whether I think light rail is dead. So let me be clear: light rail remains the gold-standard technology for providing high-quality, rapid, zero-emissions public transport along a street corridor.

There is a strong case for using light rail in many cities with sustained all-day ridership. This includes Sydney, where trials of a newly built light rail system have begun.

Trials of Sydney’s light rail network began in June.

Light rail also has a clear ability to attract quality urban development.


Read more: Why Gold Coast light rail was worth it (it’s about more than patronage)


So why am I promoting trackless trams? My interest is in cities and places that lack the population density or capital funding necessary for light rail (or heavy rail). Just because you live in Hobart, Liverpool or Fremantle doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to something that is “more than a bus” for your daily commute.

How can we provide those communities with the same quality of public transport as light rail provides? Trackless trams may be an option that can help urbanism flourish around stations along corridors limited until now to cars or buses.

What sets trackless trams apart?

This research interest took me to the world’s largest manufacturer of railway stock, CRRC, in Zhuzhou, China. CRRC has produced Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit (ART), or what I call the trackless tram.

The trackless tram seeks to replicate the light rail experience. The differences are that optical guidance systems replace rails, with rubber tyres on railway-type bogeys replacing steel wheels. Many of the track-laying and utility relocation costs of light rail construction can be avoided.

The capital cost of Sydney’s light rail has risen to around A$210 million per kilometre. For a fraction of that cost, as little as A$4m/km, trackless trams can be introduced very quickly on a road of acceptable quality. Traffic engineers advise us good-quality road base is sufficient.

Optical guidance delivers very precise ride quality, without the sway of buses. Multiple carriages offer greater capacity – up to 500 passengers – than buses.

The first, four-stop trial began in Zhuzhou in 2017. Trackless trams have since been launched in Yongxiu and Yibin.

Cities around the world are interested

The trackless tram is attracting interest from cities worldwide. Trials have begun in Qatar in advance of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Qatar is the latest site of trackless tram trials.

I am leading a team at Curtin University to investigate how various levels of government in Australia (and New Zealand) can support trialling and testing of this technology and, if appropriate, introduce it in a controlled way. We have been approached to help cities in Africa, Europe, Asia, the US, Australia and New Zealand.

Among other things we need to be sure the technology is reliable, provides the promised level of service, doesn’t damage road surfaces and complies with regulations required for safety and sustainability.

We also need to be certain construction and long-term operations can produce the promised cost savings. Not all public transport innovations, such as bus rapid transit, have lived up to their promise.

Complementing light rail

Some people are concerned the trackless tram might be a stalking horse for ideological opponents of light rail who wish to reduce investment in public transport.

In my case, I would point to my record in attracting rail investment in Perth. I started the Friends of the Railways 40 years ago to save our train. We now have a system where at the last Western Australian state election money was taken from the Roe 8 freeway proposal and put into the MetroNet heavy rail package.

People are also concerned that we risk being left with a poorer public transport service if we replace a proven technology such as light rail with a less proven technology such as the trackless tram. These concerns are fair, which is why I see continued advocacy for light rail as a critical part of the trackless tram story. But the trackless tram might enable us to build the same quality service and a lot more of it.

Both technologies are likely to play complementary roles. In Sydney, for example, light rail makes sense for Parramatta into the city. The trackless tram may stack up for lower-density areas such as connecting Liverpool to the new Western Sydney International Airport.

Parramatta City Council has expressed interest in a local trackless tram system.

Read more: Western Sydney Aerotropolis won’t build itself – a lot is riding on what governments do


In Perth, we certainly need such a service in many inner and middle suburbs, or for connecting major outer suburban centres to the new MetroNet lines.

Smaller and less well-off communities as well as outer suburbs are now in focus for the trackless tram. A lack of public transport means these areas have a reliance on private car use which is now not acceptable.

To avoid greenwashing, and ensure we remain on a pathway to sustainability, we need a strategy underpinned by a thorough understanding of the technology. The aim is to achieve high-quality, zero-emissions, reliable and affordable public transport that can help reshape our cities.

The tram once ruled our cities as the preferred public transport mode from the 1890s to the 1940s. Through a calculated campaign trams were denigrated in favour of the bus and car. Cities around the world tore up their tram tracks.


Read more: Kyoto has many things to celebrate, but losing its trams isn’t one of them


Not every old tram route can have a new light rail. The trackless tram presents an opportunity to rebuild high-quality public transport along major road corridors and connect suburbs with poor linkages. I would hope for a more sophisticated approach to planning transport networks, recognising that both light rail and trackless trams could play important roles.

ref. Trackless trams v light rail? It’s not a contest – both can improve our cities – http://theconversation.com/trackless-trams-v-light-rail-its-not-a-contest-both-can-improve-our-cities-125134

Postcode by postcode: a clever way to include homes in the age pension assets test

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Anthony Asher, Associate Professor, UNSW

Here’s the boldest idea the government’s inquiry into retirement incomes should consider but might not: no longer exempting all of the value of each retiree’s home from the pension assets test.

The test would merely exempt part of the value of retirees’ homes. The change would free-up funds to support other retirees who are struggling because they have to pay rent.

It’s an idea with an impressive lineage.

The Henry Tax Review suggested exempting only the first A$1.2 million. The bit above $1.2 million would be regarded as an asset and subject to the test.

Henry Tax Review

The review said it would hit only 10,000 retirees. The $1.2 million figure was in 2009 dollars, meaning that if the change came in today the review would want it to cut in at a higher dollar figure.

The Grattan Institute suggests a lower cut in: $500,000. The first $500,000 of each mortgaged home would remain exempt from the pension assets test, the part above $500,000 would be regarded as an asset. Grattan says it would save the budget $1 to $2 billion a year.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry agrees, as does the Actuaries Institute.

The idea scares homeowners

Who could object?

Labor treasury spokesman Jim Chalmers. Glenn Hunt/AAP

The Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association says asset testing the family home would be “massively unfair”, targeting the vulnerable.

But people with high-value mortgage-free homes aren’t normally thought of as vulnerable.

Labor’s treasury spokesman Jim Chalmers says it would push more retirees “off the pension, out of their homes, or both”.

He is right about the former, but wrong to think the retirees who suffered a cut in their pension or lost their pension would be badly off.

The worst off retirees, as recognised by a Senate Committee, are those without homes making do with grossly inadequate rental assistance.

Right now it is possible for a single person owning a $1.3 million mortgage-free home and $260,000 of other assets to get the full age pension.

Assuming that person draws down on those other assets at the rate of 5% per year, he or she can spend $37,000 per year and pay no rent.

Yet homeowners do well

A non home owner with $785,000, or half the assets, would be denied the pension.

Like the much-richer homeowner, that person would be able to draw an income of about $37,000 per year, but half it will have to go on rent.

It’s hardly fair.

It encourages retirees with homes to stash more and more of their assets into them in order to get the pension (and pass something valuable on to their children). Retirees with lesser assets miss out and have to rent.

But fairness is in the eye of the beholder.

The problem is that a ceiling on exemption from the assets test that seems fair in one part of Australia might not seem fair in another where home prices and perhaps the cost of living is higher.

Our suggestion could be sold as fair

In order to make more equal treatment seem fair to all retirees with homes I and fellow actuary Colin Grenfell have worked up an option that would use the median (typical) price for each postcode as the cut off point for exemption from the assets test.

It would happen postcode by postcode, updated every year using Council valuations and as the median prices changed.

Only the owners of homes who values were atypical for the area would be affected, and only that part of the value of their home that was atypical would be included in the assets test.


Read more: Retiree home ownership is about to plummet. Soon little more than half will own where they live


Its key selling point is that it wouldn’t threaten homeowners with values at and below the average for their area.

The funds freed could increase the overall pension, but would probably be better applied to lifting rent assistance.

It’s important to treat retirees in the same financial circumstances the same, regardless of whether they own a mortgage-free home, and fewer and fewer retirees are owning mortgage-free homes.

It would have the added benefit of reducing the pressure on our parents and grandparents to own houses with bedrooms on the first floor that are never opened, not until they die and their houses are sold.



ref. Postcode by postcode: a clever way to include homes in the age pension assets test – http://theconversation.com/postcode-by-postcode-a-clever-way-to-include-homes-in-the-age-pension-assets-test-125500

Step into Paradise review: from koala jumpers to the Sydney Olympics, Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson defined Australian fashion

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Tracey Sernack-Chee Quee, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Design, Architecture & Building, University of Technology Sydney

1973 was a remarkable year for Sydney, with the opening of two major cultural icons.

The first was the Sydney Opera House.

The second, possibly more important opening, was Flamingo Park Frock Salon in the Strand Arcade.

Flamingo Park appeared almost out of nowhere with its colourful walls, retro prints and 50s-inspired fashions. The designs by Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson were an antidote to the beige-ness of mainstream Australian design of the period.

You know their work: knitted jumpers with images of Luna Park, the Sydney Opera House, a koala – famously worn by Princess Diana. Fun frocks with colourful prints, bright colour blocking and appliqued wattle flowers. Skirts and leggings with kangaroos and birds.

Kee’s work became recognisable around the world when Princess Di wore one of her koala jumpers. Screenshot: Vanity Fair

Kee and Jackson made remarkable, one-of-a-kind costumes: evening dresses and bridal wear made from brilliant hand-painted silks, silk taffetas and delicate organza fashioned into floating leaves and flower petals.

Their work helped make Australian fashion the flavour of the month in the United States during the mid-80s, when their work was sold in Olivia Newton-John’s Koala Blue store in Los Angeles. They were loved by fashionistas, art students, pop stars and international celebrities – and would come to define Australian fashion.

Step into Paradise, at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, celebrates these two inspirational designers. The importance of the exhibition cannot be understated. It is the first comprehensive survey of local 20th century fashion and textile design and seriously challenges the “cultural cringe” myth of Australia as a design and fashion backwater.


Read more: ‘Australia has no culture’: changing the mindset of the cringe


Kee was born in 1947 in Sydney. In London in the 1970s, she worked at the iconic Biba fashion store and at the Portobello Road Market, where she came across iconic European designers. This, she said at the exhibition opening, provided a better fashion education than any fashion course.

Jackson was born in Melbourne in 1950, training as a painter before designing textiles, and then dresses. Jenny Kee established Flamingo Park with a A$5,000 loan from her father and mutual friends introduced her to Jackson. The rest, as they say, is history.

This new exhibition features over 150 garments, textiles, photographs and artworks by Kee and Jackson. Zan Wimberley/Powerhouse Museum

The exhibition takes us from the early days of their store to its zenith in the 1980s. We see William Yang’s photographs of the 1975 Flamingo Follies fashion parade, and then enter a faithful recreation of the shop, complete with the painting that inspired its name: Flamingo Park by Michael Ramsden, Kee’s former husband.

Jackson’s textile designs translate the colours and textures of Australia’s coral reefs into bright fabrics of red, azure and peacock blue, lime green and acid yellow and roman purple. Scribbly bark and leaf prints inspired by the bush are depicted in khaki, mushroom and loden greens, or abstracted into black and white monotone patterns. The arid landscapes of our deserts are translated into earthy, ochre, mustard and brown scrub and rock prints.

Kee’s designs are inspired by Australia’s native flowers – the waratah, Sturt’s desert pea and wattle; unique animals; and minerals – in particular, the deep, jewel colours of the opal. The exhibition features several of Kee’s rustic and chunky opal necklaces, and her iconic silk opal print which was famously used in a collection by Karl Lagerfeld in the mid 1980s.

At the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, Kee designed the costumes representing the coming together of the different continents, providing an alternative representation of humanity’s diversity.

These dramatic costumes include geometric, black and white interpretations of the traditional arts of Asia and Oceania; decorative ochre and rust outfits interpreting the traditional arts of Africa and Australia; and riotously coloured confections based on Frida Kahlo and Marilyn Monroe, celebrating the pop culture of the Americas.

Jenny Kee designed dramatic costumes for the Sydney 2000 opening ceremony. Performance costume, ‘Tree of Life’, raffia / fabric, designed by Jenny Kee. Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. Part of the Sydney 2000 Games Collection. Gift of the New South Wales Government, 2001. Photo: Marinco Kojdanovski.

Step into Paradise features over 150 garments, textiles, photographs and artworks. Not only the work of Kee and Jackson, but also artists they collaborated with: prints by Mary Shackman, accessories by Peter Tully, hand-painted garments by Charlotte Burns; collaborations with Indigenous designers from Utopia Station and Bima Wear in the Northern Territory; and a recent collaboration with Romance was Born.


Read more: Global shift: Australian fashion’s coming of age


Kee and Jackson are still producing creative works, their artwork and fashions changing and evolving overtime. Their joint mission today is to show future artists and designers they can be successful by maintaining their Australian identity – despite fast fashion and increasing globalisation.

This aptly named exhibition is an experience that must not be missed.

Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson: Step Into Paradise is at the Powerhouse Museum until 22 March 2020

ref. Step into Paradise review: from koala jumpers to the Sydney Olympics, Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson defined Australian fashion – http://theconversation.com/step-into-paradise-review-from-koala-jumpers-to-the-sydney-olympics-jenny-kee-and-linda-jackson-defined-australian-fashion-124985

Australia needs a Media Freedom Act – here’s how it could work

By Rebecca Ananian-Welsh

Australians picked up their morning papers yesterday to find heavily blacked-out text instead of front-page headlines. This bold statement was instigated by the “Your Right to Know” campaign, an unlikely coalition of Australian media organisations fighting for press freedom and source protection.

A key reform advocated by a range of organisations and experts – including our research team at the University of Queensland – is the introduction of a Media Freedom Act. Unlike human rights or anti-discrimination legislation, there is no clear precedent for such an act.

So what exactly might a Media Freedom Act look like and is it a good idea?

READ MORE: Australian Attorney-General grants limited protection to embattled journalists

It was the June raids on the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst and the ABC’s Sydney headquarters that revealed the fragile state of press freedom in Australia. Two parliamentary inquiries into press freedom are on foot, with public hearings before the Senate committee  starting last Friday.

Parliament will soon face the question: can we protect national security without sacrificing that cornerstone of liberal democracy, press freedom? If so, how?

– Partner –

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s immediate response to the raids was to state that journalists would be prosecuted if they received top-secret documents. A month later, Dutton issued a ministerial directive to the AFP that emphasised the importance of press freedom and the need for restrained action against journalists.

Attorney-General Christian Porter’s subsequent directive was more moderate, ensuring that he would have the final say on whether journalists would be prosecuted on the basis of their work “in a professional capacity as a journalist”.

These directives may reflect a burgeoning appreciation within government of the importance of the press in ensuring democratic free speech and accountability.

However, the laws that undermine press freedom by targeting journalists and their sources remain on the books. These laws include many of the now 82 (and counting) national security laws enacted since September 11 2001. This is more than anywhere else in the world and some of these laws grant the government uniquely severe powers of detention and interrogation.

A Media Freedom Act could serve three key roles, making it an appropriate and advantageous option in the protection of national security, press freedom and democracy.

Recognise the fourth estate
First, a Media Freedom Act would recognise and affirm the importance of press freedom in Australia. This recognition would support the fourth estate role of the media and demonstrate Australia’s commitment to democratic accountability and the rule of law. It would carry the weight of legislation rather than the relative flimsiness of ad hoc directives.

In this way, a Media Freedom Act would represent a clear commitment to the public’s right and capacity to know about how they are governed and power is exercised.

The act would also recognise that press freedom is not an absolute, but may be subject to necessary and proportionate limitations.

A culture of disclosure
Second, it would support a transition from a culture of secrecy to a culture of disclosure and open government across the public sector. This role could be served by requiring the public sector (including law enforcement and intelligence officers) to consider the impact of their decisions on press freedom and government accountability and to adopt the least intrusive option that is reasonably available.

This requirement echoes Dutton’s directive. It is already part of the law of Victoria, the ACT and Queensland, where free expression is protected within those jurisdictions’ charters of rights. Like the charters, a federal Media Freedom Act would aim to bring about a cultural shift and contribute to the gradual rebuilding of trust between government and the media.

At federal level, the parliament must already consider the impact of a new law on freedom of expression under the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act. A Media Freedom Act could reinforce the importance of parliament and the public sector considering the impact on press freedom when it debates and enacts new laws.

Journalism is not a crime
Third, and most importantly, a Media Freedom Act would protect press freedom by ensuring legitimate journalism was excluded from the scope of criminal offences.

It is important that this be in the form of an exemption rather than a defence. This has no substantial legal impact. But, crucially, an exemption conveys that the journalist had not engaged in criminal wrongdoing.

It also places the onus on the prosecution to prove the exemption doesn’t apply. This therefore alleviates the chilling effect on press freedom caused by the threat of court action.

The framing of the protection will attract debate (what, after all, is a journalist? And what is journalism?).

A good starting point is the existing journalism defence to the general secrecy offence in section 122.5 of the Criminal Code. For that defence to apply, the person must have:

  • dealt with the information in their capacity as a “person engaged in the business of reporting news, presenting current affairs or expressing editorial or other content in news media”
  • have reasonably believed that engaging in the conduct was in the public interest.

A single act or many amendments?
A Media Freedom Act is not a panacea; it would not avoid the need for a detailed review of Australia’s legal frameworks for their impact on press freedom.

In particular, protections for private sector, public sector and intelligence whistleblowers need attention. Suppression orders and defamation laws also have a serious chilling effect on Australian journalism. However, the present approach of considering dozens of individual schemes for their discrete impact on press freedom, and seeking technical amendments to each to alleviate that impact, is cumbersome, illogical and destined to create loopholes.

Australia’s national security laws are uniquely broad and complex. At present, an inconsistent array of (notably few) journalism-based defences and exemptions from prosecution are scattered across these laws. Inconsistency leads to confusion, and overlapping offences make it even more difficult for journalists to know when they are crossing the line into criminal conduct.

The imperative to protect press freedom is fundamental and deserving of general recognition and protection. In light of these concerns, our international obligations and the rule-of-law concerns for legal clarity, consistency and proportionality, it is time for a Media Freedom Act.

  • Rebecca Ananian-Welsh is a senior lecturer at the TC Beirne School of Law, The University of Queensland. This article was first published by The Conversation and is republished under a Creative Commons licence.
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Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

Horse racing must change, or the court of public opinion will bury it

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Phil McManus, Professor of Urban and Environmental Geography: Head of School of Geosciences, University of Sydney

In the wake of a shocking ABC report on the dismal end of many racehorses’ lives in slaughterhouses, many Australians are questioning whether the horse racing industry can operate ethically.

Some people will never agree that animals should be used for human entertainment. Others argue horse racing is ethical and has been so for decades. However, As Hall of Fame thoroughbred trainer Lee Freedman tweeted, “If we don’t make real changes the court of public opinion will bury racing”.

As long as racehorses are treated as commodities, it will make a cruel sort of sense to get rid of “surplus” animals as cheaply as possible.

Australian community standards demand we treat horses as more than objects. At an industry level, self-regulation has manifestly failed. It’s time we created a national registry to trace racehorses for their whole lives, including life beyond the racing industry.


Read more: We could reduce the slaughter of racehorses if we breed them for longer racing careers


How much is welfare worth?

While, no doubt, investigations will begin into allegations of animal cruelty or rule-breaking in the Queensland abattoir filmed, the industry cannot hide behind claims this represents a few bag eggs.

A few race horses can make huge amounts of money by winning races (or breeding other winners) but once that narrow window of their lives closes quickly. AAP Image/Vince Caligiuri

Despite rules fromthe national body Racing Australia, and being a member of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA), Australia’s racing rules are largely administered on a state-by-state basis, and different jurisdictions may have additional welfare requirements. This makes introducing change and enforcing consistent, socially acceptable standards difficult.

The solutions must be systemic. There are feasible options to bring horse racing industries closer to evolving public expectations of horse welfare. The question is, are the industries willing to change?


Read more: Is your horse normal? Now there’s an app for that


Horse welfare should be paramount. This means a “whole of life” approach. Reducing the number of horses bred annually is, in isolation, not the answer. In 2007, 18,255 thoroughbred foals were born in Australia. In 2017 there were only 13,823 thoroughbred foals born. However, horses are still being sent to slaughterhouses.

Horse racing is a competitive industry. Some horses never win. Other horses will be injured or grow old. There will always be “too many” horses produced for racing and for the breeding part of the industry.

Owners and breeders need to plan for horses who one day may have little economic potential; they have as much right to welfare as any other creature.


Read more: Breeding Thoroughbreds is far from natural in the race for a winner


A true national registry

Australia needs a national traceability register to track all racehorses, through and after their racing careers. All pregnancies should be recorded, and all foals registered and microchipped. This will limit the potential for unregistered horses to be killed.

A national registry could see foals listed and microchipped shortly after birth, making tracing them throughout their life much easier. AAP Image/Supplied by Segenhoe Stud

No registered racehorse should be sold through a “mixed sale” with cattle and other animals. No registered racehorse should be sent to or accepted at an abattoir.

It should be a condition of sale that when a horse leaves the racing industry that it is purchased with a clause that permits follow-up inspection, regardless of state borders or whether the horse goes on to be a companion animal, show jumper, police mount, or any other situation. (This is already the case in NSW and the ACT.) Rules without enforcement are ineffectual.


Read more: Who’s responsible for the slaughtered ex-racehorses, and what can be done?


This may seem onerous, but the thoroughbred industry already assiduously monitors the registration of horses into the industry. They check whether the foal came from registered thoroughbred parents, a natural conception (male and female copulating) and the foal being born from the womb of that same mare.

The industry should apply the same diligence to the end of career treatment of racehorses, and accept responsibility for humanely euthanising horses after all other options have been exhausted.

An ethical industry cannot operate by ignoring inconvenient truths. The ABC report exposed some of these truths. Now it is necessary to make real changes to align horse racing with evolving social expectations of animal welfare.

ref. Horse racing must change, or the court of public opinion will bury it – http://theconversation.com/horse-racing-must-change-or-the-court-of-public-opinion-will-bury-it-125637

Data lakes: where big businesses dump their excess data, and hackers have a field day

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Mohiuddin Ahmed, Lecturer of Computing & Security, Edith Cowan University

Machines and the internet are woven into the fabric of our society. A growing number of users, devices and applications work together to produce what we now call “big data”. And this data helps drive many of the everyday services we access, such as banking.

A comparison of internet snapshots from 2018 and 2019 sheds light on the increasing rate at which digital information is exchanged daily. The challenge of safely capturing and storing data is becoming more complicated with time.

This is where data warehouses and data lakes are relevant. Both are online spaces used by businesses for internal data processing and storage.

Unfortunately, since the concept of data lakes originated in 2010, not enough has been done to address issues of cyber security.

These valuable repositories remain exposed to an increasing amount of cyber attacks and data breaches.


Read more: Australia is vulnerable to a catastrophic cyber attack, but the Coalition has a poor cyber security track record


A proposed panacea for big data problems

The traditional approach used by service providers is to store data in a “data warehouse” – a single repository that can be used to analyse data, create reports, and consolidate information.

However, data going into a warehouse needs to be pre-processed. With zettabytes of data in cyber space, this isn’t an easy task. Pre-processing requires a hefty amount of computation done by high-end supercomputers, and costs time and money.

Data lakes were proposed to solve this. Unlike warehouses, they can store raw data of any type. Data lakes are often considered a panacea for big data problems, and have been embraced by many organisations trying to drive innovation and new services for users.

James Dixon, the US data technician who reputedly coined the term, describes data lakes thus:

If you think of a datamart as a store of bottled water – cleansed and packaged and structured for easy consumption – the data lake is a large body of water in a more natural state. The contents of the data lake stream in from a source to fill the lake, and various users of the lake can come to examine, dive in, or take samples.

Be careful swimming in a data lake

Although data lakes create opportunities for data crunchers, their digital doors remain unguarded, and solving cyber safety issues remains an afterthought.

Our ability to analyse and extract intelligence from data lakes is threatened in the realms of cyber space. This is evident through the high number of recent data breaches and cyber attacks worldwide.

With technological advances, we become even more prone to cyber attacks. Confronting malicious cyber activity should be a priority in the current digital climate.

While research into this has flourished in recent years, a strong connection between effective cyber security and data lakes is yet to be made.

Not uncommon to be compromised

Due to advances in malicious software, specifically in malware obfuscation, it’s easy for hackers to hide a dangerous virus within a harmless-looking file.

False data injection attacks have increased over the past decade.

The attack happens when a cyber criminal exploits freely available tools to compromise a system connected to the internet, to inject it with false data.


Read more: Aerial threat: why drone hacking could be bad news for the military


The foreign data injected gains unauthorised access to the data lake and manipulates the stored data to mislead users. There are many potential motivators behind such an attack.

Components of data lakes

Data lake architecture can be divided into three components: data ingestion, data storage and data analytics.

Data ingestion refers to data coming into the lake from a diverse range of sources. This usually happens with no legitimate security policies in place. When incoming data is not checked for security threats, a golden opportunity is presented for cyber criminals to inject false data.

The second component is data storage, which is where all the raw data gets dumped. Again, this happens without any sizeable cyber safety considerations.

The most important component of data lakes is data analytics, which combines the expertise of analysts, scientists and data officers. The objective of data analytics is to design and develop modelling algorithms which can use raw data to produce meaningful insights.

For instance, data analytics is how Netflix learns about its subscribers’ viewing habits.

Challenges ahead for data experts

The slightest change or manipulation in data lakes can hugely mislead data crunchers and have widespread impact.

For instance, compromised data lakes have huge implications for healthcare, because any deviation in data can lead to a wrong diagnosis, or even casualties.

Also, government agencies using compromised data lakes may face mayhem in international affairs and trade situations. The defence, finance, governance and educational sectors are also vulnerable to data lake attacks.


Read more: Who’s afraid of the bad, big data? You might want to read this


Considering the volume of data stored in data lakes, the consequences of cyber attacks are far from trivial.

And since generating huge amounts of data in today’s world is inevitable, it’s crucial that data lake architects try harder to ensure these at-risk data depots are correctly looked after.

ref. Data lakes: where big businesses dump their excess data, and hackers have a field day – http://theconversation.com/data-lakes-where-big-businesses-dump-their-excess-data-and-hackers-have-a-field-day-123865

The evidence is clear: the medevac law saves lives. But even this isn’t enough to alleviate refugee suffering

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Sara Dehm, Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney

Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie has some sobering reading to do over the coming weeks: an 88-page Senate report into the government-sponsored bill to repeal the medevac law that allow refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru to seek medical care in Australia. The publication of the report last Friday paves the way for a Senate vote on the bill in mid-November.

As predicted, the Senate committee that issued the report split along party lines, with the Coalition majority calling for the medevac provisions to be repealed and the ALP, Greens and Centre Alliance senators releasing dissenting reports.


Read more: Lambie stays mute on medevac vote after Senate inquiry splits on party lines


What is less predictable is how the report will influence Lambie’s deciding vote. She has indicated she will approach the bill as a conscience vote, saying

Tasmanians don’t want deals done over humanity.

An overwhelming health crisis in offshore detention

The medevac law allows a person to be transferred to Australia for medical treatment or assessment if two Australian-registered doctors recommend such care is necessary and unavailable in PNG or Nauru. There are limited exceptions for the minister of home affairs to reject a transfer on security and character grounds.

Since the law came into effect in March, over 130 people have been transferred for care.

The Coalition government maintains the pre-medevac medical transfer policy for refugees was adequate. This allowed transfers only in life-threatening cases in which the required specialist medical care could not be provided on PNG, Nauru or a third country like Taiwan.

However, evidence given to the Senate committee showed a drastic drop in medical transfers to Australia from 2015 to mid-2018, despite clear medical need.

Statistics given to the committee by the National Justice Project, a not-for-profit legal service that acts on behalf of refugees, documented how some patients had to wait more than four years for medical transfers to Australia.

Tony Bartone, the Australian Medical Association president, described the government’s pre-Medevac process as “torturous” and involving “long periods of delay,” without any appropriate oversight.

Court injunctions and prospective litigation from mid-2018 onwards did compel the government to bring around 350 people to Australia for urgent medical treatment or as an accompanying family member. But such court interventions can be costly, slow and resource-intensive for those in need of immediate medical attention.


Read more: Peter Dutton is whipping up fear on the medevac law, but it defies logic and compassion


And that need is still extremely high for those refugees remaining in offshore detention. An independent health assessment in June found a staggering 97% of those in detention and processing facilities have been diagnosed with physical health conditions. A further 91% were experiencing mental health problems, including severe depression and PTSD.

All but two of the 95 public submissions received by the committee were strongly in favour of retaining the medevac law.

Tellingly, those two submissions were from the Department of Home Affairs and the International Health and Medical Service, a government-contracted health provider on Nauru.

Overlooked refugee suffering in Australia

What is missing from the Senate report is any mention of the intolerable situation that refugees and asylum seekers face even after they have been transferred to Australia.

Although people can access critical medical treatment here, most remain in community detention, facing economic insecurity and legal uncertainty about their future. Research shows such legal limbo can lead to feelings of despair and dehumanisation.

The day before the report’s release, 32-year-old Afghan doctor Sayed Mirwais Rohani died in Brisbane, the victim of an apparent suicide. Rohani had come to Australia for medical treatment two years ago, after spending four years in immigration detention on Manus Island.

After his death, his former roommate posted on Facebook:

We shared same pain for long time, long enough to destroy someone’s life.

Rohani’s death was at least the 13th among refugees held in offshore detention on Manus or Nauru.

‘Trying to kill themselves because they’ve lost hope’

No doubt the government will use the Senate report to convince Lambie to support its bill when the vote happens next month.

So far, Lambie has remained relatively reticent, even if she did rebuff Dutton’s claim that the “vast majority of veterans” want her to vote to repeal medevac.


Read more: Explainer: how will the ‘medevac’ bill actually affect ill asylum seekers?


Instead, Lambie indicated she would look to “national security” considerations in weighing up the report’s findings, including the dissenting reports. She has in the past called for children not to be in immigration detention and voted against the Coalition government’s bill to introduce temporary refugee visas in 2014.

Even if the medevac provisions stay in place, the status quo of Australia’s offshore detention regime remains unsustainable and inhumane.

As former MP Kerryn Phelps, a key architect of the medevac law during her brief time in parliament, stated in her evidence to the Senate committee, refugees and asylum seekers are

not trying to make a point; they’re trying to kill themselves because they’ve lost hope.

ref. The evidence is clear: the medevac law saves lives. But even this isn’t enough to alleviate refugee suffering – http://theconversation.com/the-evidence-is-clear-the-medevac-law-saves-lives-but-even-this-isnt-enough-to-alleviate-refugee-suffering-125308

Inside the story: the art and genius of metaphor in Anna Spargo-Ryan’s The Paper House

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Debra Wain, Academic in Professional and Creaive Writing, Deakin University

Why do we tell stories, and how are they crafted? In this series, we unpick the work of the writer on both page and screen.

Anna Spargo-Ryan’s debut novel, The Paper House (2016), is a layered articulation of loss and grief, perception and reality. It explores the nature of reality as felt and lived by protagonist Heather – not always what the other characters consider as real.

The Paper House takes the reader into Heather’s means of escape: the almost mythical garden of her new house where she meets people, both real and unreal. The characters Heather meets help her to come to terms with grief, and allow her to repair fractured relationships. The journey takes Heather through hidden places in her new garden and through her memories of her childhood and her mother.

Spargo-Ryan employs figurative language and imagery as a structural device, enabling thematic concerns to become part of the way the novel is built. The nature of reality is considered not only through the narrative, but also through use of startling metaphors and exactingly vivid imagery.

Crafting metaphor

Most authors make use of metaphor when they write: something described as something else in order to draw a non-literal connection. To give an example from The Paper House: “The world and I collided, saucepans on a rack”. This expression allows the reader to imagine the violence, noise and antagonism.

Metaphors work to challenge or surprise readers to see the characters and topics under investigation in a new way.

In Spargo-Ryan’s novel, metaphors are used in conjunction with imagery, creating a unique picture in the mind of the reader.

I could hear the panic churning in his bone marrow and I wanted to run from the radiology department but equally I didn’t want to rupture and die in the hallway

Metaphor and imagery can be used to develop settings, characters and themes. The use of figurative language to develop themes demands a consistent thread – a structural use of metaphor and imagery.

In The Paper House, metaphors dovetail into concepts surrounding the nature of reality and the literal in opposition to the fabricated, misremembered or delusional.

I found myself collecting metaphors from within the book, plucking them like the flowers Heather draws in her sketchbook, pressing them between the pages of my journal for the simple joy of collecting something beautiful.

Spargo-Ryan’s use of metaphor expands beyond examples of comparison creating pictures (the streets “hiccupped with children”). Instead, these images dictate the reader’s whole experience of reality: a building block of the narrative challenging assumptions we make about what we are shown by the protagonist.

Slowly and gently, the reader becomes aware much of the reality we have been experiencing with Heather is not objectively real. It is merely her sense of reality. Heather’s book of drawings – currawong, lemon-scented tea tree, ironbark – turns out to be “page after page of a little girl’s face”.


Read more: Stories for hyperlinked times: the short story cycle and Rebekah Clarkson’s Barking Dogs


The genius of metaphor

Aristotle argued mastery of metaphor was a sign of genius. A well-formed metaphor can conjure a new way of seeing. Perhaps the idea of being a genius with metaphors also lies in the fact using figurative language can present writers with a number of pitfalls.

There is an art to writing metaphors and to their effective use. Spargo-Ryan uses the following sentence to pull together Heather’s memories of her father as a man broken by her mother’s mental illness:

He had looked at me with his heart in his eyes and his eyes in a hole, and his shoulders sagged at the corners, and his body was just a skeleton on a coat hanger.

The reader is left with a startling picture of a man worn down and eaten up by his love.

The difficulties writers sometimes have with metaphor can come down to a question of balance. The trap for authors lies in the trickiness in over- or under-extending the metaphor. If a metaphor is not taken far enough or is too close to the literal meaning, it might not be recognised as metaphor and feel inaccurate or jarring. Similarly, well-established metaphors (a “rollercoaster of emotions”) make writing clichéd.

Spargo-Ryan goes beyond Aristotle’s notion of genius.

At the very beginning of the novel, Heather and her husband suffer a shattering loss: “for five days we sent our bodies into the world without us”.

During this time, Heather describes herself as “a girl who had become a stocking” – and this insubstantiality is reflected in later descriptions of students. Young people are described as gathering “around tables and bus stops and any other anchor they could find”, as if their bodies alone are not enough to hold them to the ground.

Metaphors in this novel continually engage in a productive interplay developing thematic and structural considerations. The beauty of Spargo-Ryan’s writing ensures her metaphors work on a micro level but also on a macro level, developing content and theme.

One image reminds the reader of a previous one. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Spargo-Ryan’s metaphors act as a way of both supporting and structuring the narrative. Aristotle would approve.

ref. Inside the story: the art and genius of metaphor in Anna Spargo-Ryan’s The Paper House – http://theconversation.com/inside-the-story-the-art-and-genius-of-metaphor-in-anna-spargo-ryans-the-paper-house-120506

A criminal asked to design our anti-money laundering laws would probably keep the ones we’ve got

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Ronald F Pol, Senior researcher NZ, La Trobe University

Money laundering rarely gets as literal as the case in Thailand last week, where police raided homes of a ring suspected of laundering a billion baht (about A$48 million) of drug proceeds and found millions stashed in a washing machine.

Stories about money laundering, and efforts to prevent it, are rife.

In just the past week there were reports about Swiss bank UBS agreeing to pay a €10 million (about A$16 million) penalty to end an Italian money laundering case; a New Zealand company, Jin Yuan Finance, being fined NZ$4 million (about A$3.7 million) for not complying with anti-money laundering laws; and calls in Australia for a royal commission after leaked CCTV footage from Melbourne’s Crown Casino showed a man in a tracksuit exchanging “bricks of cash” worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for gaming chips in one of the casino’s high-roller rooms.


Read more: The Crown allegations show the repeated failures of our gambling regulators


In the latter case, Crown Casino defended itself on the basis of having a “comprehensive” Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing program overseen by the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC). But federal parliamentarian Andrew Wilkie called the situation a catastrophic “multinational, multi-jurisdictional and multi-agency” failure by politicians, state regulators, police and AUSTRAC.

He’s right, at least in part.

The deeper problem isn’t that national anti-money laundering laws are being flouted. It’s that the global anti-money laundering system is a failed experiment.

We need to have an honest conversation about what’s wrong with it, including the possibility that much of it is a waste of time, and some of it might be doing more harm than good.

99% design failure

Don’t get me wrong: money laundering controls do good things too. Suspicious transactions trigger alerts, offenders are arrested and assets seized.

But the amount of criminal funds intercepted is scarcely a drop in the bucket. The system is designed to catch some criminals. It has almost no impact on crime.

The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime has estimated that just 0.2% of the proceeds of crime are seized. My update of the UN’s estimate (in research not yet published) suggests the figure might now be 0.1% or less. Either way, in practical terms the “success rate” of money laundering controls is scarcely an accounting rounding error in criminal accounts.

There are many reasons for anti-money laundering’s failure, but a big problem is the emphasis on activity and effort rather than results. It’s the same mindset that focuses on the number of hours spent at work rather than what’s achieved, or how many speeding tickets are issued instead of whether harm from accidents is reduced.

Reforms to the global anti-money laundering system, rolled out from 2014, were meant to address this problem. They didn’t. Though the language of “outcomes” and “effectiveness” was used, it meant something different to the impact and effect of regulations on reducing crime and its harms.

In other words, the new measures were mislabelled “outcomes”. They continued to measure effort and activity, such as the number of money laundering prosecutions, instead of the impact (if any) on crime. (I explain this in detail in a paper in the Journal of Money Laundering Control, freely available until January 2020).

Frenetic activity

Frenetic compliance activity helps obscure the harsh reality of poor results. Casinos and banks conform to complex rules designed like a giant stack of colanders to catch water, continually adding new ones to “fix gaps”. New “compliance solutions” doggedly rake over the same ground covered by those that catch less than 1% of transactions.

The upshot is that companies can show they comply with anti-money laundering laws (Crown’s response is straight out of the compliance textbook) and countries can show they comply with international standards.

But does it stop crime? Who knows? The system isn’t designed to demonstrate its impact on crime. Jin Yuan Finance, for example, was fined because it breached anti-money laundering laws, not because there was necessarily laundering or any other crime.

A criminal mastermind given the chance to rewrite anti-money laundering rules might just keep what we have, on the basis it keeps the authorities ineffectually busy.

Good intentions and ‘voluntary coercion’

The problems with the system can be traced to the rushed and flawed way it was set up.

The modern anti-money laundering experiment started in 1989, at a G7 summit in Paris. The seven big industrialised nations bypassed treaty-based consensus to establish a “Financial Action Task Force” to help prevent drug trafficking. The task force – known as FATF – later targeted money laundering associated with other profit-motivated crimes and terrorism financing.

After a sluggish start, with few nations signing up to its compliance model, FATF made an offer governments couldn’t refuse – ironically echoing a famous line from The Godfather.

FATF rated countries’ anti-money laundering regimes and issued “black lists” and “grey lists” publicly naming those not meeting its “recommendations”. Banks did the rest. Treating the ratings and lists as a proxy for risk, access to the financial system became difficult for many countries. FATF’s intention (in its own words) was to “pressure” countries to comply, “to maintain their position in the global economy”.

Risking exclusion from financial markets, 205 countries and jurisdictions “voluntarily” joined the anti-money laundering movement. The system depends on a set of self-declared “best-practice” standards. This means each national anti-money laundering regime reflects the flaws of the international standard.


Read more: With increased anti-money laundering measures, banks are shutting out women


At the UN General Assembly last month, leaders from small and large countries railed against the perceived unfairness and damage caused by blacklists and financial sanctions.

Such protests might be more easily dismissed as self-serving if the anti-money laundering system worked. But it doesn’t.

Complicated laws, armies of regulators and costly compliance tasks give the comfort of activity and feeling of security, but they don’t make us safe from serious crime and terrorism. To resolve it, we must frankly confront the reality of its failure.

ref. A criminal asked to design our anti-money laundering laws would probably keep the ones we’ve got – http://theconversation.com/a-criminal-asked-to-design-our-anti-money-laundering-laws-would-probably-keep-the-ones-weve-got-125143

Australia needs a Media Freedom Act. Here’s how it could work

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Rebecca Ananian-Welsh, Senior Lecturer, TC Beirne School of Law, The University of Queensland

Australians picked up their morning papers yesterday to find heavily blacked-out text instead of front-page headlines. This bold statement was instigated by the “Your Right to Know” campaign, an unlikely coalition of Australian media organisations fighting for press freedom and source protection.

A key reform advocated by a range of organisations and experts – including our research team at the University of Queensland – is the introduction of a Media Freedom Act. Unlike human rights or anti-discrimination legislation, there is no clear precedent for such an act.

So what exactly might a Media Freedom Act look like and is it a good idea?

Raids and response

It was the June raids on the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst and the ABC’s Sydney headquarters that revealed the fragile state of press freedom in Australia. Two parliamentary inquiries into press freedom are on foot, with public hearings before the Senate committee starting last Friday.


Read more: Why the raids on Australian media present a clear threat to democracy


Parliament will soon face the question: can we protect national security without sacrificing that cornerstone of liberal democracy, press freedom? If so, how?

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s immediate response to the raids was to state that journalists would be prosecuted if they received top-secret documents. A month later, Dutton issued a ministerial directive to the AFP that emphasised the importance of press freedom and the need for restrained action against journalists.

Attorney-General Christian Porter’s subsequent directive was more moderate, ensuring that he would have the final say on whether journalists would be prosecuted on the basis of their work “in a professional capacity as a journalist”.

The AFP raided the ABC’s Sydney headquarters in June this year. David Gray/AAP

These directives may reflect a burgeoning appreciation within government of the importance of the press in ensuring democratic free speech and accountability.

However, the laws that undermine press freedom by targeting journalists and their sources remain on the books. These laws include many of the now 82 (and counting) national security laws enacted since September 11 2001. This is more than anywhere else in the world and some of these laws grant the government uniquely severe powers of detention and interrogation.

A Media Freedom Act could serve three key roles, making it an appropriate and advantageous option in the protection of national security, press freedom and democracy.

Recognise the fourth estate

First, a Media Freedom Act would recognise and affirm the importance of press freedom in Australia. This recognition would support the fourth estate role of the media and demonstrate Australia’s commitment to democratic accountability and the rule of law. It would carry the weight of legislation rather than the relative flimsiness of ad hoc directives.

In this way, a Media Freedom Act would represent a clear commitment to the public’s right and capacity to know about how they are governed and power is exercised.

The act would also recognise that press freedom is not an absolute, but may be subject to necessary and proportionate limitations.

A culture of disclosure

Second, it would support a transition from a culture of secrecy to a culture of disclosure and open government across the public sector. This role could be served by requiring the public sector (including law enforcement and intelligence officers) to consider the impact of their decisions on press freedom and government accountability and to adopt the least intrusive option that is reasonably available.

This requirement echoes Dutton’s directive. It is already part of the law of Victoria, the ACT and Queensland, where free expression is protected within those jurisdictions’ charters of rights. Like the charters, a federal Media Freedom Act would aim to bring about a cultural shift and contribute to the gradual rebuilding of trust between government and the media.

At federal level, the parliament must already consider the impact of a new law on freedom of expression under the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act. A Media Freedom Act could reinforce the importance of parliament and the public sector considering the impact on press freedom when it debates and enacts new laws.

Journalism is not a crime

Third, and most importantly, a Media Freedom Act would protect press freedom by ensuring legitimate journalism was excluded from the scope of criminal offences.

It is important that this be in the form of an exemption rather than a defence. This has no substantial legal impact. But, crucially, an exemption conveys that the journalist had not engaged in criminal wrongdoing.

It also places the onus on the prosecution to prove the exemption doesn’t apply. This therefore alleviates the chilling effect on press freedom caused by the threat of court action.

The framing of the protection will attract debate (what, after all, is a journalist? And what is journalism?).

A good starting point is the existing journalism defence to the general secrecy offence in section 122.5 of the Criminal Code. For that defence to apply, the person must have:

  • dealt with the information in their capacity as a “person engaged in the business of reporting news, presenting current affairs or expressing editorial or other content in news media”

  • have reasonably believed that engaging in the conduct was in the public interest.

A single act or many amendments?

A Media Freedom Act is not a panacea; it would not avoid the need for a detailed review of Australia’s legal frameworks for their impact on press freedom.

In particular, protections for private sector, public sector and intelligence whistleblowers need attention. Suppression orders and defamation laws also have a serious chilling effect on Australian journalism. However, the present approach of considering dozens of individual schemes for their discrete impact on press freedom, and seeking technical amendments to each to alleviate that impact, is cumbersome, illogical and destined to create loopholes.


Read more: Explainer: what are the media companies’ challenges to the AFP raids about?


Australia’s national security laws are uniquely broad and complex. At present, an inconsistent array of (notably few) journalism-based defences and exemptions from prosecution are scattered across these laws. Inconsistency leads to confusion, and overlapping offences make it even more difficult for journalists to know when they are crossing the line into criminal conduct.

The imperative to protect press freedom is fundamental and deserving of general recognition and protection. In light of these concerns, our international obligations and the rule-of-law concerns for legal clarity, consistency and proportionality, it is time for a Media Freedom Act.

ref. Australia needs a Media Freedom Act. Here’s how it could work – http://theconversation.com/australia-needs-a-media-freedom-act-heres-how-it-could-work-125315

We could reduce the slaughter of racehorses if we breed them for longer racing careers

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Paul McGreevy, Professor of Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare Science, University of Sydney

The slaughter of horses bred for racing in Australia, as revealed in the ABC’s investigation, highlights the challenge of what to do with racehorses when their careers are over.

The ABC has questioned the racing industry’s claim that fewer than 1% of horses retiring from racing each year end up at an abattoir or knackery.

WARNING: graphic images.

Once horses leave racing they are no longer under the industry’s control, and the fate of retired horses is not currently tracked. A 2008 study of horses entering an abattoir reported that 40% were Thoroughbreds, the breed used in racing.


Read more: Who’s responsible for the slaughtered ex-racehorses, and what can be done?


But there are things the industry can do to extend the life of a racehorse, and help find a suitable home once their racing career is over.

Born to run

Thoroughbred horses have been bred over centuries for speed and stamina. This allows them to do one thing better than any other members of their species: run.

Just as they can be bred for speed, they can also be bred for racing durability – the ability to withstand the rigours of training and racing.

If we come to value durability as much as other performance traits we can reward breeders who select for long racing careers alongside other attributes.

Valuing durability requires a shift from the current emphasis on finding the latest and greatest young horse each year for events such as the Golden Slipper (for two-year-olds), the Gold Coast Magic Millions (for two-year-olds), and The Oaks (for three-year-old fillies).

Australia is a leading producer of two-year-old racehorses, and there are rich rewards for the breeders of the next star of the track.

If the industry were to put the major prizes in place chiefly for the fastest eight-, nine- or ten-year olds, we could see a dramatic drop in wastage – the term used to describe the attrition of Thoroughbreds from active racing.

Trainers would have an incentive to celebrate their most durable horses and avoid the career-threatening injuries that remove many young Thoroughbreds from racing early in their careers. Breeders would also be rewarded for breeding the champions that win as veterans.

Racing veterans

With more familiarity, many of these horses might attract a cult following and hero status, as we have seen with Winx (who was still winning as a seven-year-old), Takeover Target (a nine-year-old), and Fields of Omagh (a nine-year-old).

The Melbourne Cup is a case in point. It presents the opportunity to see some perennial stars of the of the turf, some of whom have competed in multiple Melbourne Cup races over the years.


Read more: Dressing up for Melbourne Cup Day, from a racehorse point of view


For example, last year’s winner, Cross Counter is back this year to try again as a five-year-old.

Cross Counter will be back at Flemington this year hoping to repeat last year’s win in the Melbourne Cup. AAP Image/Albert Perez

Weight-for-age handicapping allows younger horses to compete with fully mature horses over various race distances and at different times of the year.

Australia’s premier weight-for-age race, the Cox Plate, has frequently been won by older horses, including Winx for the past four years.

Beyond the race track

The athleticism, sensitivity and versatility of Thoroughbreds makes them ideal horses for a variety of equestrian disciplines, for both pleasure and professional riders.

But most Thoroughbreds begin their lives with a singular focus on racing, and there are significant differences between the behaviours that make for a successful racehorse and those suitable for recreational riding.

For example, race jockeys usually mount their horse while it walks around. The short stirrups found on racing gear don’t allow mounting from the ground, and Thoroughbreds are unused to the feel of a rider’s leg against their side.

So one of the first skills a transitioning racehorse has to learn is to stand still while a rider mounts from the ground, in contrast to what it has known all of its ridden life.

Rein control

The cues used to control a racehorse differ widely from standard practices among recreational riders. Racehorses are often ridden with strong tension on reins which, when released, becomes a signal to accelerate.

In contrast, acceleration cues in recreational riding are given by a rider’s legs. One of the side effects of using strong rein tension is that horses learn to habituate to, or ignore, rein cues unless extremely strong pressures are applied.

This can make them unsafe to ride if they take fright, because a recreational rider may not be able to pull hard enough on the reins to get the horse to slow down.

Other problem behaviours can also arise as legacies of a racing career, including difficulty turning on circles, head-tossing, rearing, bucking, and overexcitement at shows or events.

Retraining required

These horses need to be retrained if they are to become safe riding horses. This can take at least four weeks and cost around A$1,000.

For the 2017-18 season, 11,177 Thoroughbreds were registered, which would lead to an estimated 5,000 geldings needing a new home outside the racing industry.


Read more: Breeding Thoroughbreds is far from natural in the race for a winner


The industry would need to provide at least A$5 million per year for retraining the retired geldings alone, if they were all viable for non-racing equestrian careers.

Even after retraining, the behavioural legacies of their racing career can make some racehorses unsuitable for inexperienced or recreational riders, limiting their post-racing career options. ABC presenter Jonathan Green’s experience, in the wake of the ABC’s revelations, is a telling example.

Still, we’ve highlighted just some of the options that could help reduce wastage in the industry and provide a better life for horses during and after racing.

Others include a proposed National Horse Traceability Register that would track a horse’s journey throughout its life.

This would provide a truer picture of the ultimate fate of Thoroughbreds – including just how many are actually suitable as equestrian or pony club mounts, and how many ultimately have no other value than as food for humans or pets.

ref. We could reduce the slaughter of racehorses if we breed them for longer racing careers – http://theconversation.com/we-could-reduce-the-slaughter-of-racehorses-if-we-breed-them-for-longer-racing-careers-123760

‘My mob is telling their story and it makes me feel good’: here’s what Aboriginal survivors of child sexual abuse told us they need

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Carlina Black, PhD candidate, La Trobe University

It’s a year since the national apology to victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. While national apologies can acknowledge survivors, sorry is just the beginning. Access to healing is needed.

Our research shows a program that strengthens culture and connection for Aboriginal survivors can be more meaningful than mainstream counselling. We’ve shown it’s a successful way to deliver cultural healing.


Read more: Government response to child abuse royal commission is positive, but will need to go beyond an apology


The context is important

There are an estimated 60,000 survivors of institutional child sexual abuse in Australia. Based on the private sessions held as part of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 15% of survivors are Aboriginal. That suggests an estimated 9,000 Aboriginal survivors.

This is likely an under estimation. Again from the Royal Commission, we know it takes survivors an average 24 years to disclose abuse. Some never do.

Not all Aboriginal survivors will seek counselling for past traumas. Many experience mainstream counselling as inappropriate or insufficient. That’s partly because mainstream therapeutic services are not built on Aboriginal knowledge and do not address the unique experiences of multiple layers of traumas, disconnection, loss and grief for Aboriginal peoples.


Read more: Acknowledge the brutal history of Indigenous health care – for healing


Not only do Aboriginal survivors experience the trauma of institutional child sexual abuse, if they were part of the Stolen Generations, they also experience the cultural trauma from being forcibly removed from family as children because they were Aboriginal. These children were denied connection to community, country, spirituality, language and culture.

The landmark Bringing them Home Report shows how children were often physically, emotionally and sexually abused by those supposed to take care of them in state institutions, missions, foster homes and other forms of “care”.

The Stolen Generations were part of broader policies of “protection” and assimilation that began with invasion and colonisation. It was characterised by destruction and denigration and included being displaced from land and forced onto missions.

This context and its impacts today, including ongoing disadvantage and systemic racism, needs to be understood in developing healing solutions for Aboriginal survivors.

Here’s what happened

The program we evaluated in our study was designed, developed and delivered by the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, an Aboriginal community controlled organisation. Engaging survivors in the design and development of the program ensured the healing activities were relevant to all survivors.

Survivors attended one or more events including multi-day camps or gatherings, and women-only events. Families could attend select events.

Three of the four facilitators were Aboriginal; the fourth was strongly connected to Aboriginal community and had worked in the community for over 35 years.

Arts and crafts were part of the healing process. Author provided

The program was sometimes divided into men’s and women’s business, and included:

  • ceremonies, including Welcome to Country, smoking ceremonies, song and dance

  • cultural practices, including arts and crafts, painting canvases and making possum skin cloaks

  • strengthening community, including tracing family history and cultural tours

  • self care and well-being activities, including meditation, massage and walks

  • sharing knowledge of past policies, laws, history of removal, impact of removal and losses

  • storytelling and yarning, including yarning circles, Elders’ yarns, storytelling with cultural custodians.

Yes, sharing helped and gave hope

All survivors and their families (nearly 60 people) said they benefited from taking part. They said it allowed them to reclaim their cultural identity and cultural pride, and build on their cultural knowledge. Their shared histories helped survivors support each other. Survivors were also empowered to continue healing, fuelling a sense of hope.

Here’s what survivors told us:

We no longer feel we have to be ashamed or hide.

[I’m] feeling empowered to teach my children about past history to ensure it never happens again.

Knowing culture is powerful, it helps you know your strength.

Each time I have told my story, [it] heals me and makes me stronger.

My mob is telling their story and it makes me feel good.

Because I have no extended family I feel connected to this mob in a spiritual sense.

It is so much better to heal together. It is so hard to heal in isolation.

We need a different approach

Trauma in Aboriginal communities needs different therapeutic approaches to mainstream, Western therapeutic ones. A key component to the success of the program was Aboriginal people being in control of the model of healing. Aboriginal people are part of a collective culture. And it’s collective healing and connection to culture that all survivors told us were crucial to their healing.

The level of support provided by the experienced facilitators, who are both culturally and trauma informed, ensured all survivors felt safe. The facilitators’ own life experiences, their immersion in culture and capacity to give of themselves was critical to promoting survivors’ healing journey.

Survivors also said being on country, having elders engage with the program, the power of ceremony and involving family were all important parts of their cultural healing.

Participants told us being on country was important to their healing. Author provided

While cultural healing is based on thousands of years of wisdom, there is also increasing evidence of the success of cultural healing programs in peer reviewed journals.

Examples include the Marumali journey of healing for Stolen Generations delivered in various locations around Australia, including prisons, and Red Dust healing for trauma more generally, delivered with remote communities in the Northern Territory. Both programs have ongoing evaluation showing strong evidence they work.

This is in contrast to most programs for Aboriginal communities, which have little evidence they work.

One off, time-limited, programs cannot provide all the healing survivors need. Healing is a journey. The Royal Commission recommended access to life-long healing, healing for family members of survivors and cultural healing for Aboriginal survivors. This matches what survivors tell us they need.


The authors would like to acknowledge the traditional owners on whose land they live and work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, and pay their respects to their elders past and present. The authors also pay their respects to all Stolen Generations and to all survivors of child sexual abuse, acknowledge their suffering and pain, and honour their strength in survival.

The authors respectfully use the term Aboriginal to refer to the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and cultures in Australia.

If this article raises issues for you or someone you know, contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), beyondblue 1300 224 636 or Lifeline 131 114. Aboriginal resources and information is also available.

ref. ‘My mob is telling their story and it makes me feel good’: here’s what Aboriginal survivors of child sexual abuse told us they need – http://theconversation.com/my-mob-is-telling-their-story-and-it-makes-me-feel-good-heres-what-aboriginal-survivors-of-child-sexual-abuse-told-us-they-need-122645

Australia has plenty of gas, but our bills are ridiculous. The market is broken

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Samantha Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law, Deakin Law School, Deakin University

Right now, two projects have been proposed to import gas from overseas to supply eastern Australia. This is an absurd prospect. Australia is a resource-rich country, and exports more gas than any other nation. Why then, would we need to ship it in?

The rate of liquified natural gas (LNG) exports from Australia has skyrocketed over the past two decades. In the past ten years, this coincided with a trebling in the price of gas on the east coast.

The situation points to a dramatic failure of management and regulation. The result is that households are struggling with soaring gas bills, and the future of Australia’s manufacturing sector is at risk.

It is unconscionable that Australian governments have allowed LNG producers untrammelled export growth without credible safeguards for the domestic market. The crisis could be de-escalated with stronger export controls and a regulatory regime more focused on the public interest.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a visit to a Queensland manufacturing plant during the 2019 federal election campaign. The manufacturing sector is a major user of Australian gas supplies. Mick Tsikas/AAP

Read more: Nice try Mr Taylor, but Australia’s gas exports don’t help solve climate change


Gas users are hurting

Between 2000 and 2015, Australia’s LNG exports tripled. Between 2015 and 2019 they tripled again.

But Australia must keep plentiful gas supplies for itself. Gas-fired power is vital in meeting the fluctuating demands of our national energy market as ageing coal power stations close. Gas also firms up the intermittent energy generated by renewables.

Almost one-third of the gas consumed in Australia is used by manufacturers – as both an energy source and raw material to make metals, chemicals, plastic and building materials.

Since around 2015, when LNG exports began at Gladstone in Queensland, gas prices have spiralled by more than 130%. This has had a huge effect on industry and communities.

Australian steel giant Bluescope recently invested in a A$1 billion US expansion – where energy prices are one-third of those in Australia.

East coast gas prices have trebled over the past decade. Dan Peled/AAP

Sydney-based polystyrene cup maker RemaPak went into administration earlier this year after its energy costs increased by 400% over three years.

Chief executive of Incitec Pivot Jeanne Johns, whose company produces chemicals and fertilisers, this month said the A$38 billion gas-based manufacturing sector in Australia may be destroyed by high gas prices, describing the market as “dysfunctional”.

We can fix this mess

LNG exporters have entered long-term contracts to provide defined amounts of gas to various overseas markets. When Australian gasfields do not provide enough gas to satisfy their obligations, the domestic market can suffer. Gas that could have been available to the domestic market is sold on international markets, and Australian gas users are starved of supplies. This has kept domestic prices high.

As more and more gas went offshore, domestic prices soared. In 2014 east coast gas prices were A$4 a gigajoule. In 2017 they spiked at A$20 a gigajoule and they are now sitting at roughly A$10 a gigajoule.

A kitchen gas stove burner. Consumers and industry are hurting under rising gas bills. Dan Peled/AAP

To alleviate concern over domestic gas supplies, there are plans to import gas back from Japan to terminals at Port Kembla in New South Wales and Crib Point in Victoria. The gas would be sourced from Asia, the US and elsewhere. These proposals are expensive and bad for the climate. They are also strategically absurd.

That such plans are even being contemplated shows the weakness of Australia’s regulatory measures. The existing Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism allows the federal energy minister to bring in export restrictions if there are forecast gas shortages for Australian users.


Read more: Gas prices will stay historically high. The government’s moves, while welcome, won’t achieve much


The mechanism was established by the federal government with much fanfare in July 2017, but has never been used. This is largely because it is triggered by a shortfall in supply, not rising prices.

A much stronger mechanism, based on gas pricing, is vital. This should be overseen by a domestic board that monitors prices and acts on behalf of the public. Fair pricing could be ensured by using benchmarks set by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. The board would have power to enact export controls so that gas could be removed from the export market and returned to the domestic market.

Australia must also introduce a domestic gas reservation policy to ensure a proportion of gas is set aside for the domestic market. Such a policy has existed for a decade in Western Australia, where 15% of LNG is taken from the export market and compulsorily reserved for domestic consumers. This has led to a much lower domestic price in that state, where gas supplies also exceed forecast demand over the next ten years. By contrast on the east coast, shortfalls have been predicted from 2024.

An LNG tanker leaves the Port of Gladstone in 2016. Dan Peled/AAP

Looking to the future

Australia is soon expected to export 80 million tonnes of gas each year. Without strong regulatory change this expansion will continue to drive up domestic energy prices.

It will also drive up emissions. Producing LNG requires large amounts of electricity and fugitive emissions (from gas leaks, venting and equipment purging) can occur at any stage of the gas supply chain.

In the US, the export of LNG is regulated by laws that require exports to be in the public interest. Strong protections also exist in Canada. In Norway, Qatar, Russia, Malaysia and Algeria many LNG producers are controlled by the state to ensure a balanced approach to resource growth.

The rich resources of Australia belong to the public. They should only be exploited when it is firmly in our interests.

ref. Australia has plenty of gas, but our bills are ridiculous. The market is broken – http://theconversation.com/australia-has-plenty-of-gas-but-our-bills-are-ridiculous-the-market-is-broken-125130

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