Leviathan review: Circa’s new production explores the ordinary, extraordinary mass of humanity

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Leah Mercer, Associate Professor of Theatre Arts, Curtin University

Review: Leviathan, directed by Yaron Lifschitz. Circa in collaboration with Co:3 Australia, MAXIMA Circus and CircusWA for Perth Festival.

As the audience takes their seats, two feet poke out from beneath the curtain.

In hindsight, it’s the first trick they play on us, lulling us with this image of a human body involved in the ordinary business of lying down.

Things get complicated fast. The single figure is joined by a cast of about 40 on a vast stage filled with discarded party streamers. It’s as if we’ve arrived too late for a fancy dress party. There’s an astronaut, a king, an assortment of other costumes.

Just as quickly as it appears, the party is replaced by a stunning feat of physical derring-do: a body standing on top of a body, standing on top of another body.

A great height, and a stomach-dropping fall.

For the next 80 minutes, Leviathan progresses through a melange of bodies moving through space. Transforming shapes, they morph from humans to totems to mythical creatures (perhaps the leviathans of the title) back to humans. From extraordinary to ordinary and back again.

Each sequence stands on its own while also seeming to build on what came before. At its most basic level, Leviathan is a series of bodies climbing up and climbing down, falling and getting up again, but the work’s cumulative effect evokes an almost contemplative, trance-like reverie in the viewer.

Playing with scale

Directed by Yaron Lifschitz for Brisbane’s Circa Ensemble in collaboration with three West Australian companies – Co:3 Australia, MAXIMA Circus and CircusWA – Leviathan is a highly accomplished work and a one-of-a-kind collaboration.

Casts of this size are a rare treat and a great outcome for any festival. Leviathan – in process, form and content – speaks directly to Perth Festival’s celebration of “our town, our place and our Festival”. Bringing together four companies means the cast members range from children to young adults to adults, and the sense of on-stage community is palpable.

Leviathan speaks to Perth Festival’s celebration of ‘our place and our town’. Sergio Lordao/Perth Festival

Dressed in an eclectic array of contemporary streetwear they could have been any of the (mostly) young audience members. I could have sworn I’d seen one of them leaning against a street sign on my way into the theatre.

Community underpins Lifschitz’s vision for the piece. In the program he refers to the frontispiece of Thomas Hobbes’ book Leviathan as inspiration:

A monster king rising up out of the sea whose body is constituted by these tiny little people – the populace.

Taking Hobbes’ exploration of power, the individual and society, Lifschitz explores individual freedom and the responsibility each of us has to be part of a community by acknowledging our interdependence. He does so by creating a performance that moves between extraordinary individual feats and startling images of the mass at work.

It is a repeated motif, but one that stays vivid and fresh in the hands of this extraordinary creative team and cast.

Somewhere between contemporary circus and dance, Leviathan moves between exquisitely precise choreography and kinaesthetic improvisation, between union and seeming chaos.

When the party space transforms, it is possible to imagine a human chessboard that becomes a school playground that becomes a prison. The associations flow free and fast. At points throughout, an overhead perspective of the performers is provided via a live-feed projection at the top of the stage: the kaleidoscope of possibilities expands further.

Read more: Sequins and symphonies: how opera ran away with the circus

In a show full of many extraordinary physical feats of strength and dexterity there is an astonishing duet between a young woman in a fluoro-green tank top and a young man in fluoro-pink shoes.

Performed with physical and emotional intensity, he seems to lift and manipulate her with just his hands placed on her face. Just when our eyes tell us he’s lifting her it becomes apparent that her strength is doing just as much of the work. It is one of many tricks of light, time, space and physical ability that cause a literal gasp in the audience as it comes to a momentarily terrifying then stunning conclusion. The work of both performers here is truly mesmerising.

The cast is characterised by a compelling seriousness of purpose. For the majority of the performance they are an anonymous mass, as the lighting celebrates the imprint of their bodies in space, rather than their faces.

However, towards the end, there is a moment of direct eye-to-eye connection with the audience as each of them gives a final straight-to-camera curtain call.

It beautifully serves the work’s higher purpose.

Leviathan plays at the Regal Theatre until March 1.

ref. Leviathan review: Circa’s new production explores the ordinary, extraordinary mass of humanity – https://theconversation.com/leviathan-review-circas-new-production-explores-the-ordinary-extraordinary-mass-of-humanity-132270

Why do I sweat so much?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Tom Bailey, Research Fellow, The University of Queensland

If you’re hot and sticky even before your daily commute, you might ask why you sweat so much.

Sweating is usually the body’s way of stopping you overheating. But for some people, sweating becomes a problem. Either they sweat for no obvious reason or (as Prince Andrew admitted last year) not at all.

So why do some people sweat more than others? And what can you do about excess sweating?

Read more: Anhidrosis: why some people – apparently like Prince Andrew – just can’t sweat

Remind me again, why do we sweat?

Humans need to regulate their internal body temperature to keep it constant, even when the environmental temperature rises, perhaps on a hot day, sitting in a hot-tub or running for the bus.

That’s because a rise in internal body temperature can lead to our organs overheating, fatigue, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Preventing severe heat gain requires a careful balance between the heat our body produces (from everyday metabolism), heat from the environment and the heat our body loses.

Read more: The skin is a very important (and our largest) organ: what does it do?

Our bodies are well-designed for this. We have special temperature sensors in our skin and central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) that send signals to the body’s thermostat in the brain to alert it to increases in body temperature.

The body’s largest organ, the skin, is also designed to remove heat from the body. The most noticeable way is losing heat via evaporating sweat.

Read more: Curious Kids: What happens in the body when we sweat?

How does sweating cool us down?

When our skin or core body temperature rises sufficiently, the thermostat in the brain sends impulses via our central nervous system to increase blood flow to the skin. The thermostat also activates the sweat glands.

Our sweat glands release droplets onto our skin that become vapour when the blood flowing through the skin passes underneath.

As the sweat vaporises, energy (in the form of heat) passes into the environment, cooling the blood. This cooled blood gets circulated back to the heart and brain, and cools our core body temperature.

The body loses excess heat via evaporation. from www.shutterstock.com

This is why a day in the sun can feel so draining. Your body is working much harder and using much more energy to keep you cool.

By preventing our organs from overheating, sweat not only keeps us healthy, it also allows us to enjoy (or tolerate) the hot Australian summer.

So it’s important to stay hydrated on a hot day so your body can produce and replace the volume of sweat necessary to keep you cool.

OK, but why do I sweat so much?

You might find yourself sweating more or less than usual for a number of reasons, other than it being a hot day.


Exercise improves our ability to produce sweat and keep cool. People who exercise regularly (particularly in the heat) can produce more sweat during exercise. This helps our bodies perform longer, with less physiological strain.

So many of the Australian Olympic athletes will undergo a period of heat acclimatisation in the lead up to Tokyo 2020.

Read more: Why is Japan’s Olympic marathon shifting cities to avoid the heat? A sports physiologist explains


Ever notice you become sweaty when you are stressed? A different type of sweat gland, the apocrine sweat glands, are associated with hair follicles and often respond to emotional stress.

This type of sweat combines with bacteria on your skin and causes body odour.


Up to 75% of women experience acute bouts of excessive sweating during menopause, called a hot flush.

The amount of sweat produced during a two to three minute hot flush can be similar to the amount produced during exercise.

Most people think hot flushes are caused by increases in core body temperature. But our research suggests this might not be the case.

Drinking alcohol

Having a couple of drinks with friends may also increase the sweat response. Alcohol raises your heart rate and causes the blood vessels in your skin to relax and widen. This increases skin redness and your sweat rate, which can actually lead to decreases in body temperature.

So, what can I do about it?

Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis) can happen in unusual situations such as in a cooler climate or with seemingly no cause.

Although it can be embarrassing and uncomfortable, there are ways to treat it, which you can discuss with your doctor.

One option is to use an antiperspirant with aluminium or topical aluminium salts, which blocks the sweat glands from releasing sweat onto the skin.

Read more: Health Check: do men really sweat more than women?

A longer-term option may be injecting Botulinum toxin (commonly known as Botox) into the skin. This paralyses the injected area (such as the armpits, hands and feet) and prevents the activation of sweat glands.

Other options include using low frequency electrical stimulation (iontophoresis), prescription drugs and although controversial, surgery.

For menopausal women, we have shown closely supervised exercise training can improve temperature regulation, leading to fewer and less severe hot flushes.

This training involved 16 weeks of supervised, progressive moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as treadmill and cycling exercise, for up to one hour for three to five days a week.

In a nutshell

In the end, sweating is usually our body’s natural way to protect us from overheating. But if excess sweating is a problem, see your doctor who will outline which treatment options are best for you.

ref. Why do I sweat so much? – https://theconversation.com/why-do-i-sweat-so-much-131135

Dance Nation review: an outrageous depiction of girls grasping their emerging sexuality and power

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Maggie Tonkin, Senior Lecturer, English and Creative Writing, University of Adelaide

Review: Dance Nation, directed by Imara Savage. State Theatre Company South Australia and Belvoir for the Adelaide Festival

Dance is at the heart of playwright Clare Barron’s Dance Nation, from the resolutely upbeat ensemble number that opens the show to the poignant solo that ends it.

We are in the hyper-competitive, vapid and vulgar pre-pubescent dance culture of the TV series Dance Moms, thankfully mostly absent from the Australian dance scene.

Larissa McGowan’s choreography mercilessly recreates the cut-throat world of American competition dance and is as pivotal in conveying the narrative arcs of its characters as Barron’s script and Imara Savage’s ebullient direction.

A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2019, Dance Nation reveals Barron’s fearlessness in tackling the under-explored dramatic territory of young girls entering puberty, but is not without flaws.

Dance teacher Pat’s dance troupe is launching a campaign to win a national dance competition, and Pat’s claim to glory is a dance routine of jaw-dropping cheesiness: a jazz ballet paean to Mahatma Gandhi. The dancers, decked out in metallic pastel unitards, disport themselves around Gandhi seated on a glittery disco version of a golden lotus, to With Arms Wide Open.

Apart from bringing the house down with its conceptual incongruity, this hilarious number reveals Pat, with his delusions of artistic profundity, to be oblivious to the damage he is doing to his charges.

Pat urges his dancers to channel their inner Gandhi and meditate on the suffering of the world, while utterly blind to the suffering under his own nose. Played with a tense doggedness by Mitchell Butel in his first role since taking on the directorship of the State Theatre Company, Pat is the embodiment of the cliché-spouting coach who vicariously realises his own ambitions by pushing his students to win no matter what the cost.

It is the cost of this competitiveness that propels the action.

Only one dancer can be selected for the solo. When Pat unexpectedly bestows the role on Zuzu (always second to her bestie Amina), he opens up a repressed rivalry. Both girls dream of becoming dancers, but Amina is more gifted and more ambitious. When the opportunity arises, she usurps Zuzu’s place and wins the prize that will launch her professional career.

The secret lives of girls

One of the conceits of the play is the preteen girls are played by grown women. Chika Ikogwe owns the role of Zuzu, ably conveying her vulnerability and insightfulness.

Chika Ikogwe plays Zuzu with vulnerability and insightfulness. Chris Herzfeld/STCSA

Although she makes the most of the part, Yvette Lee’s Amina has to work with the weakest aspect of the script. According to Barron’s program notes, the play’s feminist intention is to validate female ambition, but the unlikeability of the only “successful” character undermines this.

While the other girls profess they “love” Amina, they obviously don’t like her much. In the flash-forward at the end it’s clear the one truly ambitious girl, the one who goes on “winning and winning”, is destined for a lonely life.

Barron’s writing of character is generally underdeveloped, and Amina’s success undercuts the play’s message. But this flaw is balanced by the play’s outrageous depiction of girls grappling with emerging sexuality and power.

Read more: Friday essay: scarlet ribbons – the huge history of big hair bows

In true adolescent fashion, the six girls and one dorky boy, Luke (nicely played by Tim Overton), are fixated on sex.

Verbal gags on menstrual blood are interspersed with earnest discussions of masturbation and circumcision. The language is defiantly crude. As Ashlee, Amber McMahon delivers a monologue about her own sexual power (and mathematical brilliance), morphing into an almost demonic possession. It’s a scene-stealer, in which McMahon is absolutely terrific, and the culmination of the play’s powerful celebration of girl power.

There is an undercutting of the real in several shifts from present to future, the girls carrying the victories and traumas of their pubescence into adulthood. This transition is nicely encapsulated as Connie (Emma Harvie) and Sofia (Tara Morice) admit their lifelong struggles with depression.

Jonathon Oxlade’s set comprises a dance studio with mirrored walls where daily reality merges with fantasy sequences. The mirrors become windows: revealing mother figures (all played by Elena Carapetis) urging on their progeny; revealing the trophies and triumphs of past teams.

Dance Nation is unsubtle and flawed, but the uniformly terrific cast and the exuberant energy of this production make it well worth seeing.

Dance Nation is at the Scott Theatre, Adelaide, until March 7. Then Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney, March 14 – April 12.

ref. Dance Nation review: an outrageous depiction of girls grasping their emerging sexuality and power – https://theconversation.com/dance-nation-review-an-outrageous-depiction-of-girls-grasping-their-emerging-sexuality-and-power-132350

VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on the government’s emergency plan, climate change, and Bettina Arndt

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

Michelle Grattan talks with Assistant Professor Caroline Fisher about the week in politics, including the implementation of an emergency plan to tackle the spread of coronavirus, the major parties’ policies on climate change, national security and the Senate motion to strip Bettina Arndt of her Order of Australia.

ref. VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on the government’s emergency plan, climate change, and Bettina Arndt – https://theconversation.com/video-michelle-grattan-on-the-governments-emergency-plan-climate-change-and-bettina-arndt-132658

One little bandicoot can dig up an elephant’s worth of soil a year – and our ecosystem loves it

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Euan Ritchie, Associate Professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences, Deakin University

On Churchill Island, southeast of Melbourne, small cone-shaped, shallow holes (digs) puncture the grass. They’re widespread, and reveal moist soil below the surface. A soil heap at the entrance of a dig is a sign it was made recently.

Older digs are filled with leaves, grass, spiders, beetles and other invertebrates. They are made by hungry eastern barred bandicoots – small, roughly rabbit-sized digging marsupials – looking for a juicy worm or grub.

Read more: How you can help – not harm – wild animals recovering from bushfires

It turns out these bandicoot digs are far from just environmental curiosities – they can improve the properties and health of soils, and even reduce fire risk.

But eastern barred bandicoots are under threat from introduced predators like foxes and cats. In fact, they’re considered extinct in the wild on mainland Australia, so conservation biologists are releasing them on fox-free islands to help establish new populations and ensure the species is conserved long-term.

Our recent research on Churchill Island put a number on just how much the eastern barred bandicoot digs – and the results were staggering, showing how important they are for the ecosystem. But more on that later.

A dig from an eastern barred bandicoot. Amy Coetsee

Why you should dig marsupial diggers

Digging mammals – such as bettongs, potoroos, bilbies and bandicoots – were once abundant and widespread across Australia, turning over large amounts of soil every night with their strong front legs as they dig for food or create burrows for shelter.

Read more: Restoring soil can help address climate change

Their digs improve soil health, increase soil moisture and nutrient content, and decrease soil compaction and erosion. Digs also provide habitat for invertebrates and improve seed germination.

What’s more, by digging fuel loads (dry, flammable vegetation, such as leaves) into the soil, they can help bring down the risk of fire.

Rather than leaves and other plant matter accumulating on the soil surface and drying out, this material is turned over faster, entering the soil when the badicoots dig, which speeds up its decay. Research from 2016 showed there’s less plant material covering the soil surface when digging mammals are about. Without diggers, models show fire spread and flame height are bigger.

In fact, all their functions are so important ecologists have dubbed these mighty diggers “ecosystem engineers”.

How bandicoot digs affect soil. Leonie Valentine, Author provided

Losing diggers leads to poorer soil health

Of Australia’s 29 digging mammals, 23 are between 100 grams and 5 kilograms. Most are at risk of cat and fox predation, and many of these are officially listed as threatened species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Since European settlement, six of Australia’s digging mammals have gone extinct, including the lesser bilby, desert rat kangaroo and pig-footed bandicoots. Many others have suffered marked population declines and extensive range contraction through habitat destruction and the introduction of foxes and cats.

Read more: Rockin’ the suburbs: bandicoots live among us in Melbourne

Tragically, the widespread decline and extinction of many digging mammals means soil and ecosystem health has suffered as well.

Soils that were once soft textured, easy to crumble, rich and fertile are now often compact, repel water and nutrient poor, impeding seed germination and plant growth. Fuel loads are also likely to be much higher now than in the past, as less organic matter is dug into the soil.

To date, most research on digging mammals has focused on arid environments, with much less known about how digging influences wetter (mesic) environments. But our recently published study on eastern barred bandicoots provides new insights.

Just how much do bandicoots dig anyway?

In 2015, 20 mainland eastern barred bandicoots were released onto Churchill Island in Victoria’s Westernport Bay.

When eastern barred bandicoots were released on Churchill Island.

On mainland Australia, fox predation has driven this species to near extinction, and it’s classified as extinct in the wild. All Victoria’s islands are beyond the historic range of eastern barred bandicoots, but fox-free islands could be how we recover them.

Introducing bandicoots on Churchill Island presented the perfect opportunity to quantify how they influence soil properties when digging for food.

Read more: The secret life of echidnas reveals a world-class digger vital to our ecosystems

To do this we recorded the number of digs bandicoots made each night and measured the volume of soil they displaced through digging. We also compared soil moisture and compaction within the digs, versus un-dug soil – and we didn’t expect what we found.

In one night on Churchill Island, one bandicoot can make 41 digs an hour. That’s nearly 500 digs a night, equating to around 13 kilograms of soil being turned over every night, or 4.8 tonnes a year. That’s almost as much as the average weight of a male African elephant.

Bandicoots turn over huge amounts of soil in their search for food. Amy Coetsee

So, an astonishing amount of soil is being turned over, especially considering these bandicoots typically weigh around 750 grams.

If you multiply this by the number of bandicoots on Churchill Island (up from 20 in 2015 to around 130 at the time of our study in 2017), there’s a staggering 1,690 kilos of soil being dug up every night. That’s some major earthworks!

However, we should note our study was conducted during the wetter months, when soils are typically easier to dig.

In summer, as soil becomes harder and drier on Churchill Island, digging may become more difficult. And bandicoots, being great generalists, feed more on surface invertebrates like beetles and crickets, resulting in fewer digs. So we expect in summer that soil is less disturbed.

Bandicoots might help agriculture too

All this digging was found to boost soil health on Churchill Island. This means eastern barred bandicoots may not only play an important role in ecosystem health and regeneration, but also potentially in agriculture by assisting pasture growth and condition, reducing topsoil runoff, and mitigating the effects of trampling and soil compaction from livestock.

One of 20 eastern barred bandicoots being released on Churchill Island. Zoos Victoria

The benefits bandicoot digs have across agricultural land is of particular importance now that eastern barred bandicoots have also been released on Phillip Island and French Island, and are expected to extensively use pasture for foraging.

These island releases could not just help to ensure eastern barred bandicoots avoid extinction, but also promote productive agricultural land for farmers.

Read more: To save these threatened seahorses, we built them 5-star underwater hotels

So, given the important ecological roles ecosystem engineers like bandicoots perform, it’s also important we try to reestablish their wild populations on the mainland and outside of fenced sanctuaries so we can all benefit from their digging, not just on islands.

Lauren Halstead is the lead author of the study reported, which stemmed from her honours research at Deakin University. She also contributed to the writing of this article.

ref. One little bandicoot can dig up an elephant’s worth of soil a year – and our ecosystem loves it – https://theconversation.com/one-little-bandicoot-can-dig-up-an-elephants-worth-of-soil-a-year-and-our-ecosystem-loves-it-132266

New Zealanders with disability in Australia treated as ‘second class’

By Stefan Armbruster of SBS News in Brisbane

Thousands of New Zealanders who are denied disability support are hoping Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will take the issue up with her counterpart Scott Morrison when they meet today.

Despite paying taxes and the NDIS levy, New Zealanders who have come to Australia since 2001 cannot receive many social services and have taken the issue to the disability Royal Commission.

Some are so financially stressed they have been forced to return to New Zealand despite Australia being their home for many years – some for almost two decades – so they can receive support for their disability, or that of their child or relative.

READ MORE: ‘I was told to abort my son’

Australians moving to New Zealand qualify for support after two years.

New Zealander Julie Goble lives on Queensland’s Gold Coast with her husband and their second child, 14-month-old Mayley.

– Partner –

Mayley was born in Australia and has cerebral palsy.

“Last year was such a blur and we were in absolute shock,” Goble told SBS News.

“It was at the hospital that the pediatrician advised us that unfortunately due to us both being NZ citizens they can’t put in an application for the NDIS for Mayley.”

Despite living in Australia for 12 years, their story is a common one.

“At first we didn’t understand what all that meant, but now that we have to pay for all her therapy appointments, we understand. We were devastated enough, and to have this financial burden on top.”

Early intervention in cases like Mayley’s is considered critical for quality of life.

“We try to do everything we can for our little girl, she was born in Australia, she has an Australian birth certificate, Medicare card, but she’s being denied access that the professionals and experts keep telling us is going to give her the best outlook,” Ms Goble said.

“It’s quite hurtful; we have been paying taxes working and supporting ourselves and are still supporting ourselves in light of all this, with no financial assistance, the system seems broken.”

Benefits stripped
New Zealand-born Vicky Rose is a community worker at the Nerang Neighbourhood Centre on the Gold Coast. She says she is constantly helping New Zealanders denied a range of services by Australia.

“It’s about reciprocity. As an Australian, as soon as you get off the plane [in New Zealand] you’ll be classed as a permanent resident, after two years you can get benefits, after three years student loans, and after four years you can vote – no paperwork, no visa applications,” she said.

Those benefits were stripped from New Zealanders coming to Australia in 2001 onwards with legal changes to the ‘special category visas’ (SCV) introduced for them in 1994.

“They were introduced to stop ‘back-door’ migration by Pacific Islanders and Asians coming through New Zealand, and they [the Australian government] used old data and myths and legends of Kiwis being ‘dole bludgers’ back in the 80s,” Ms Rose said.

“Our people won’t talk about this because they’re constantly told, ‘Well you’re not Australian, go home’. They don’t want to cause trouble, don’t want to get in trouble.

“Being Kiwis we are acutely aware that Australia doesn’t even look after its Indigenous people properly, so what makes them think they’re going to look after us.”

Currently, there is at least a five-year waiting period from arrival after which New Zealanders on SCV visas can begin the process of applying for Australian permanent residency, their first step to citizenship.

‘Faster pathway needed’
“We are ending up with second-class citizens, we’d like a faster pathway to get citizenship,” Rose said.

Ahead of the federal election last May, the Coalition government said it had no plans to change the laws. Labor was open to discussion.

Rose this month took the issue to a forum in Logan, south of Brisbane, as part of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability

Almost 300,000 New Zealanders have migrated to Australia since 2001 but Rose says there are no statistics available to assess the true number of those missing out on disability support.

‘We can just go pick fruit’
Thousands of Pacific Islanders, including from the Cook Islands and Niue in free association with New Zealand, and of Samoan and Tongan descent with New Zealand passports, are also languishing without services.

“We are socio-economically disadvantaged, we are bottom of the ladder,” said Ema Vueti, president of the Pacific Island Council of Queensland (PICQ).

“‘We can just go pick fruit’, that’s the sort of mentality [towards us], but we need both governments to work out a bipartisan arrangement.

“New Zealand’s government has tried, I’m not sure whether our Australian government wants to address the issues we are having with the trans-Tasman visa arrangement.

“We are also contributing to sectors like disability, where we have lots of workers, and that’s what PICQ will be submitting from our workers [to the Royal Commission].”

Disability royal commissioner Alastair McEwan is the former federal Disability Commissioner and knows the plight of many New Zealanders well.

“The Disability Royal Commission terms of reference are very broad, encompassing all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation,” he said.

‘Lot of frustrations’
“In my previous position, I heard a lot of frustrations from people moving from overseas not having the same kind of equity and same kind of rights for people with a disability.

“If the situation for an individual in Australia is that they’ve experienced inequity or experiencing barriers then technically it is discrimination, yes.

“Our terms of reference definitely include the ability to conduct this examination to ensure wherever systems are failing for people with a disability, that we ensure we make a recommendation to government to change laws.”

Despite being born in Australia, due to the waiting list for permanent residency, 14-month-old Mayley Goble will have to wait years before she has any chance of accessing disability services. But because of her cerebral palsy, she and her family may never acquire citizenship.

“We’ve been advised that we could be rejected because Mayley has a pre-existing condition,” her mother said.

“We just sit here and think, ‘Do we just pack up our family and go?’”

Stefan Armbruster is a senior SBS News journalist who also specialises in Pacific stories. This article is republished with permission.

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Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

Opposition senator challenges top Duterte aide in TV network row

By Felipe F. Salvosa II in Manila

Philippines Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon has dismissed comments by Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go that “politics” is behind the filing of a proposed concurrent resolution calling on regulators to temporarily allow television giant ABS-CBN to operate as Congress deliberates on its franchise application.

The Senate has the prerogative to pass a concurrent resolution expressing its “sense” on the matter, which does not have the force of law, unlike a joint resolution that needs to be passed by both the Senate and House of Representatives and signed by the president, Drilon told reporters on Wednesday.

“Being a neophyte senator, he (Go) may not be aware of our tradition and our rules. Precisely, a concurrent resolution does not go through the president because it has no force and effect of a law. It is just a sense of the Senate. There is no politics here,” Drilon said.

READ MORE: ‘Speak truth to power’ – Varsitarian reports

“We are not depriving the President of the right to veto or approve,” he added.

Drilon’s earlier proposed joint resolution seeks to extend ABS-CBN’s franchise until the end of 2022, prompting an accusation from Go that opposition senators did not want President Rodrigo Duterte to have a hand on the issue. Duterte steps down on June 30, 2022.

– Partner –

Go, on Monday’s Senate inquiry into the ABS-CBN franchise, gave an idea as to why the Duterte-controlled House of Representatives was stalling on the TV network’s licence renewal.

He said Duterte was displeased over ABS-CBN’s supposed refusal to air his 2016 campaign ad that was a response to an attack ad financed by an arch-critic, then senator Antonio Trillanes IV.

ABS-CBN on Monday said Commission on Election restrictions in the final stretch of the 2016 campaign prevented the Duterte ad from being aired, and that it returned the payment, but Duterte refused to accept it.

Go countered that it took a year for ABS-CBN to address the Duterte campaign’s grievance. “Remember, in an election campaign, especially in a presidential campaign, there is no tomorrow. Every second matters,” he said.

Guevarra vs Puno
Drilon, along with Senator Grace Poe, also dismissed comments by retired chief justice Reynato Puno that ABS-CBN cannot operate when its 25-year franchise expires, based on a 2003 court ruling.

The franchise expires on May 4, 2020, reckoned from the date of effectivity of 15 days after publication, which is April 19, 1995, according to the Department of Justice.

Drilon said Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra’s opinion – that ABS-CBN could be allowed to operate on a provisional authority from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) given Congress’ lack of time to pass a new franchise – should be binding throughout the Executive Branch.

“Guevarra said that on grounds of equity, the ABS-CBN can continue. Again, this is an opinion expressed by no less than the secretary of justice, whose opinion is binding on the entire executive branch, so this must be extended due respect.”

Guevarra gave his opinion on the franchise issue during Monday’s Senate inquiry called by Poe.

Drilon said he was in favor of doing what was “necessary in order to allow an objective debate on the renewal of the franchise, without the threat of ABS-CBN being closed.”

In fact, even without the concurrent resolution, a provisional authority would still be valid, he said.

‘Man of wisdom’
“That is the view of Secretary Guevarra; that is the view of Speaker Cayetano; and that is the view of Senator Poe as chairman of the committee on public services,” Drilon said.

Poe said that while Puno is a “man of integrity and wisdom,” a lot had happened since the 2003 ruling that he penned.

“And in fact, hundreds of franchises go through both houses of Congress and because of that, the cure of Congress, because sometimes they don’t have enough time to deliberate on it, is to direct the NTC to grant the provisional license,” Poe told ABS-CBN’s Karen Davila.

Poe also said that even without any resolution from Congress, ABS-CBN should continue operating, “even just by precedents of the acts of Congress in recent years.”

Several companies have been given provisional licenses, she pointed out, citing PT&T, Globe, Smart, GMA Network, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and Marine Broadcasting.

Felipe F. Salvosa is coordinator of the journalism programme at the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines and a contributor to Asia Pacific Report.

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Many Scots want independence from the United Kingdom. How might that play out in a post-Brexit world?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Simon Tormey, Professor of Politics, University of Bristol

Of the many issues thrown up by Brexit, one of the most pressing is the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom. Brexit was in large measure a revolt by a certain section of English and Welsh opinion against transnational elites, immigration and imagined loss of identity. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain.

The Brexit vote reinforced the sense that the “interests of the UK” is a proxy for the interests of numerically larger England over other parts of the union. Surely Scotland, with its strong sense of national identity and separateness, would seek to challenge the union and return to the warm embrace of the European Union at the earliest opportunity?

This sentiment was further reinforced by the recent success in elections of the pro-EU Scottish National Party (SNP) led by Nicola Sturgeon. The SNP demolished the opposition in the 2019 election, winning 48 out of 59 possible seats.

Read more: The Brexit mess could lead to a break-up of a no longer United Kingdom

With Boris Johnson sweeping to power as UK prime minister on the back of a breakthrough in the Midlands and northern England (the “Red Wall”), the scene was set for a showdown over the issue of another referendum on Scottish independence. Some even speculated we would see a Catalonia-style challenge to the authority of Westminster. So what is the state of play, and what is likely to happen?

Recent opinion polls demonstrate growing support for Scottish independence, which has tipped past 50% of the electorate. More Scots now favour independence than at any time in recent history. In the 2014 referendum, the vote was 45-55 against independence.

But the fact that support for independence is growing doesn’t mean there is a consensus on when a new vote on the issue should take place. This is proving a key consideration.

While there is some support for a poll as soon as one can be organised, others want to wait for next year’s elections to the Scottish parliament to be held first. Still others feel the timing is not right and that clarification is needed on the nature of the UK’s future relationship with the EU, which has yet to be resolved.

Scottish independence is an urgent matter for some, particularly for nationalists, but is much less so for others, particularly remainers who may otherwise have been lukewarm on independence. This exposes a key faultline in the independence constituency itself: some want independence whatever the cost, the commitment of others to the cause might somewhat rest on the prospect of economic benefits for Scotland, which they may feel EU membership would offer.

All this poses a headache for Sturgeon. Does she seek a showdown with Johnson now, but at the risk of losing that part of her support that doesn’t want an immediate poll? Or does she wait until the middle of 2021, when an election might return yet more SNP members to the Scottish parliament, adding legitimacy for a vote on independence – but at the risk of a loss of momentum?

In addition to the vexed question of timing is the nature of the regime in Westminster. The SNP is a left-of-centre party, drawing support from those who wish to see increased funding for social services, housing and education.

Normally, the SNP would find itself in ideological opposition to a centre-right Conservative administration in Westminster. But part of Johnson’s election strategy was to promise to spend big on infrastructure across the UK. There is even talk of a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Read more: Boris Johnson, ‘political Vegemite’, becomes the UK prime minister. Let the games begin

With the promise of such largesse, the feeling lingers that Scotland does quite well out of its partnership with Westminster. This is an intentional strategy on Johnson’s behalf. The calculation is that by using the superior resources available to him he can undermine the case for Scottish independence, which without EU support is likely to result in an economic hit to the Scottish economy. Vote for independence, in other words, and Scots will be poorer.

This is, as the Scots might say, a canny strategy. It certainly complicates the equation and has already served to dampen the ardour of those who might otherwise have been committed to an early poll.

What might dampen it further is the early panic in Brussels over who will pay the increased costs for the EU itself due to the departure of the UK. The semblance of technocratic modernity and cohesion the EU likes to paint of itself is coming under strain and so, therefore, is the SNP’s case for making a play to rejoin the EU.

Whether all this is enough to keep the Scots in the UK is a matter of speculation. There are lots of obstacles that might yet derail the Johnson strategy: a bad trade deal with the EU, a balance-of-payments crisis, together with loss of revenue for his grand strategy.

But what has become evident since Johnson took power is that he should not be underestimated. Or, rather, an administration underpinned by the Machiavellian cunning of his chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, should not be underestimated.

Sturgeon will need all her famed powers of persistence to prevent the independence issue being derailed by a combination of exhaustion with elections and referendums, a Johnsonite play for the centre ground of Scottish opinion, and a collapse in confidence in the viability of a life outside the UK.

ref. Many Scots want independence from the United Kingdom. How might that play out in a post-Brexit world? – https://theconversation.com/many-scots-want-independence-from-the-united-kingdom-how-might-that-play-out-in-a-post-brexit-world-131776

It’s now a matter of when, not if, for Australia. This is how we’re preparing for a jump in coronavirus cases

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

While countries around the globe have been taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, it has now been reported in 37 countries outside China.

As of February 26, close to 3,000 cases and 43 deaths had been recorded outside China. In Australia, we’ve so far seen 23 cases across five states.

The good news is currently there’s no evidence of “community transmission” of the virus in Australia. This means it’s not spreading locally. All cases have had travel connections to China or the Diamond Princess cruise ship, or very close contact with a confirmed case in Australia (being in the same family or tour group).

But as the list of countries with community transmission increases – it’s happening in South Korea, which has more than 1,200 cases, and Italy, which has 400 – so too does the risk of an escalation in Australia. It’s now a matter of “when” local transmission occurs, not “if”.

Read more: Is the coronavirus a pandemic, and does that matter? 4 questions answered

In this climate, the Australian government has developed a national emergency response plan, which takes us through three phases. Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday announced we are activating this plan.

Phase 1

The current “Initial Action” stage of the COVID-19 plan focuses on preventing introduction and establishment of the disease in Australia through border measures and social distancing. These are measures designed to keep infected (or potentially infected) people away from healthy people.

In an effort to contain COVID-19 and delay it becoming established in Australia, the Australian government banned the entry of foreign nationals (excluding permanent residents) who had been in mainland China in the last 14 days. This ban has now been extended to March 7.

The return of Australian residents from China, and more recently year 11 and 12 students studying in Australia, has been strictly controlled.

People returning are required to go into home quarantine for 14 days after they leave China.

And at this stage, university students from China must spend 14 days in a third country before arriving in Australia.

Other countries have imposed their own border restrictions, as well as screening people for illness before they enter. These measures have undoubtedly slowed the spread of COVID-19 throughout the world and delayed its progression to a pandemic.

The first stage of Australia’s emergency plan aims to keep coronavirus out of the country as much as possible. Shutterstock

Phase 2

The true clinical severity of this disease remains highly uncertain, but overall it appears less severe than the 1918–19 influenza pandemic or SARS and more severe than the pandemic flu in 2009.

Importantly though, compared to other epidemic and pandemic diseases, COVID-19 is considered highly transmissible, so a large number of cases is likely.

Read more: Yes, Australians on board the Diamond Princess need to go into quarantine again. It’s time to reset the clock

Given ongoing uncertainties, the plan doesn’t articulate the number of cases that would need to be diagnosed for the second phase, “Targeted Action”, to be enacted. The plan simply stipulates public health activities need to be balanced (or “proportionate”) to the magnitude and severity of the pandemic.

We would expect phase two to be put into place when we’re seeing community transmission occurring in Australia.

In this second phase, the current strict border measures and quarantine for arrivals will likely be relaxed as “keeping it out” becomes futile. The focus will shift to minimising spread within Australia and limiting the health, social and economic impact of the disease.

Australians might see a public health response like we’ve seen in Italy. This could include cancellation of large local gatherings (sporting matches and festivals), closure of schools, universities and some workplaces, and strict local travel restrictions.

Border control measures have been implemented in many countries in a bid to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Dumitru Doru/EPA

Community members will be asked to take responsibility for their own “social distancing” if they have mild disease or have been in close contact with someone with the virus (by self-isolating or self-quarantining at home).

These measures, while disruptive to individuals and households, have been highly effective to date in preventing community transmission of COVID-19 in Australia and will remain very important throughout the response to this disease.

As case numbers rise, case management will need to be streamlined to make best use of finite resources within the health system, including personnel, primary care and hospital capacity and personal protective equipment. Options include greater use of fever assessment clinics, caring for COVID-19 patients together on wards, and keeping people out of hospitals and emergency departments if they don’t require that level of care.

Read more: There’s no evidence the new coronavirus spreads through the air – but it’s still possible

The government, public health experts and clinicians will actively review and be guided by new information to determine exactly which of these clinical and public health measures to put in place.

While many mild cases have been admitted to hospital during the containment phase, community-based care will be the reality for most people as we become more familiar with this disease and its usual course. This approach will allow us to provide higher levels of clinical care for those at greatest risk of poor outcomes, such as older people.

Phase 3

It’s likely, but not certain, that COVID-19 will remain in circulation beyond 2020 and become “endemic” in Australia – that is, here for good. But once the peak has passed (that’s when there’s a declining number of new infections and less demand on hospitals), the COVID-19 plan will move into the “Standdown” phase, which is essentially a return to “business as usual”.

We have a huge challenge ahead of us, but the measures we all take can make a big difference to how this plays out. Whether it’s isolation and quarantine or simply frequent handwashing and good cough etiquette, we can all help protect ourselves, our families, and the most vulnerable in society.

Read more: Here’s why the WHO says a coronavirus vaccine is 18 months away

ref. It’s now a matter of when, not if, for Australia. This is how we’re preparing for a jump in coronavirus cases – https://theconversation.com/its-now-a-matter-of-when-not-if-for-australia-this-is-how-were-preparing-for-a-jump-in-coronavirus-cases-132448

Last summer’s fish carnage sparked public outrage. Here’s what has happened since

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Lee Baumgartner, Professor of Fisheries and River Management, Institute for Land, Water, and Society, Charles Sturt University

As this summer draws to a close, it marks just over a year since successive fish death events at Menindee in Lower Darling River made global headlines.

Two independent investigations found high levels of blue-green algae and low oxygen levels in the water caused the deaths. Basically, the fish suffocated.

Read more: We wrote the report for the minister on fish deaths in the lower Darling – here’s why it could happen again

The conditions were caused by a combination of water extraction and extremely dry conditions which effectively stopped the river from flowing. Both investigations concluded that until more water flowed in the Darling, in western New South Wales, further fish kills were very likely.

So what’s happened since, and does the recent rain mean the crisis won’t be repeated?

Low oxygen levels in the water caused the fish deaths. Dean Lewins/AAP

Federal and state government action

In April last year the federal government committed A$70 million to improve the river’s health and prevent more fish deaths. Let’s examine what’s been done so far:

– Native fish management and recovery strategy: Parts of a draft native fish management and recovery strategy have been released for public consultation. The plan has included governments, academics, the community and indigenous groups.

– Native fish hatchery: Government hatchery facilities at Narrandera in NSW will be upgraded to hold and breed more fish. But reintroducing fish into affected areas is challenging and could be a decades-long program.

– Research: The government committed to new research into hydrology and climate change. A panel has been formed and the oversight committee is scoping the most effective research outcomes to better manage water under a changed climate.

– Fish passage infrastructure: Fish ladders – structures that allow fish to travel around obstacles on a river – are needed at sites on the lower and upper Darling. Fish ladder concept designs have progressed and are also part of the NSW government’s Western Weirs project.

-In-stream cameras: Live-stream feeds of the Darling River are not yet available.

-Meter upgrades and water buybacks: Discussions have begun as part of a commitment to buy back A-class water licenses from farmers and return water to the rivers. Rollout of improved metering is due over the next five years.

Progress on these actions is welcome. But the investigation panels also recommended other actions to help fish populations recover over the long term, including ensuring fish habitat and good water quality.

Water flows since the rain have not reached the lower reaches of the Darling River. Dean Lewins/AAP

Further fish deaths

In 2003, basin native fish communities were estimated to be at 10% of pre-European levels and the spates of fish deaths will have reduced this further.

Over spring and summer in 2019, conditions in the Darling River deteriorated. A series of smaller, but significant, fish deaths prompted government agencies and communities to conduct emergency “fish translocations”.. Aerators were deployed in a bid to improve the de-oxygenation. Fish were moved to more suitable water bodies, or to hatcheries to create insurance populations.

By spring, once-mighty rivers such as the Darling and Macquarie had dried to shallow pools. As summer progressed, more than 30 fish die-offs occurred in the Macquarie, Namoi, Severn, Mehi and Cudgegong rivers and Tenterfield Creek.

What about the rain?

Strong recent rainfall means upper parts of the Darling catchment are now flowing for the first time in more than two years. Flows are passing over the Brewarrina Weir and associated fishway.

A flowing Darling is great, but it raises questions over future water management. Farmers have been waiting for years for the Darling to flow and will be eager to extract water for agricultural productivity. Likewise, the environment has been awaiting a “flush” to reset the system and restore ecological productivity.

Read more: Aboriginal voices are missing from the Murray-Darling Basin crisis

After the rains, the NSW government allowed irrigators to harvest floodwaters to reduce the threat of damage to private infrastructure. Now that threat has subsided, governments are working together to “actively manage” the event – meaning water rules will be decided as the flow progresses, in consultation with water users and environmental managers.

But there is still significant debate on how best to manage water over the longer term.

Water use on the Darling River remains highly contested. Dean Lewins/AAP

Is a flowing Darling a return to normal?

The current flows in the Darling are far from a return to normal conditions. NSW is still in drought, and the river flows are yet to reach the Lower Darling. Many children in the Menindee township have not seen a flowing Darling in their lifetime.

Indigenous elders and recreational fishers – those who remember when the river flowed freely and was full of fish – are lamenting the recent declines. In parts of the system, dry riverbeds and isolated pools are still begging to be connected so fish can move about, spawn, and naturally recover.

Read more: Friday essay: death on the Darling, colonialism’s final encounter with the Barkandji

River flows could take up to six weeks to reach the lower Darling, and follow-up rain is urgently needed to avoid another summer of fish carnage. Future water sharing strategies must protect both upstream and downstream communities. Some people are lobbying for the Menindee lakes to be listed as internationally important under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands to ensure biodiversity and water management work together.

Undoing over 200 years of fish declines will require a sustained effort, with a significant investment in recovery actions over a long period. We must recognise Australia is a country of long droughts and flooding rains, and develop a proactive native fish strategy that reduces the probability of a similar disaster in future.

But unfortunately, as history has shown that when we transition from drought to flood, our memories can be short.

ref. Last summer’s fish carnage sparked public outrage. Here’s what has happened since – https://theconversation.com/last-summers-fish-carnage-sparked-public-outrage-heres-what-has-happened-since-132346

Vital Signs: a 3-point plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

Every January Larry Fink, the head of the world’s largest funds manager, BlackRock, sends a letter to the chief executives of major public companies.

This year’s letter focused on climate risk. “Climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects,” Fink wrote. To put sustainability at the centre of its investment approach, he said, BlackRock would stop investing in companies that “present a high sustainability-related risk”.

Read more: BlackRock is the canary in the coalmine. Its decision to dump coal signals what’s next

Now business leaders – even big money managers – express opinions all the time, and major companies keep doing what they are doing. But this was different.

Fink, who’s in charge of US$7 trillion (that’s not a typo – $7,000,000,000,000), says in his letter: “In the near future – and sooner than most anticipate – there will be a significant reallocation of capital.”

It’s emphasised in bold type. That’s something to which chief executives pay attention.

Even before the letter was sent – but knowing what was coming – major US companies like Amazon, Delta Air Lines and Microsoft announced new climate action plans.

These three companies are in different industries with different abilities to take action. But the plans they’ve outlined illuminate the three key strategies needed to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Delta Air Lines

Delta, being an airline, burns a lot of fossil fuels. Bar an extraordinary technological shift in aircraft, it will burn a lot of fossil fuels well into the future.

Read more: Flight shame won’t fix airline emissions. We need a smarter solution

The airline’s goal by 2050 is to cut its carbon emissions to half the levels they were in 2005. It plans to do this through a combination of fuel-efficiency measures and helping spur the development of more sustainable jet fuels. In the medium term (up to 2035), its goal is “carbon-neutral growth”, buying carbon offsets for any increases in emissions from jet fuel due to business growth.

Delta Air Lines operates about 5,000 flights a day. Jet fuel accounts for about 99% of its total emissions. Shutterstock

Let’s consider the economics of the Delta plan – at least up to 2035.

Buying carbon offsets increases the airline’s costs. These are passed on to customers – in which case it is simply a form of carbon tax – or paid for by shareholders through lower profits. I’m betting it’s not the shareholders who will pay.

So Delta is essentially imposing its own carbon tax in the hope customers who care about the environment will be more attracted to its brand or that other airlines follow suit.


Amazon, which reported a carbon footprint of 44.4 million metric tons in 2018, is doing two broad things.

The company has a fleet of about 30,000 delivery vans. It plans to have 100,000 electric vehicles by 2024. This will reduce the company’s carbon footprint so long as the vans are charged with power from sustainable sources.

Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, has also announced the Bezos Earth Fund, which will give away US$10 billion in grants to anyone with good ideas to address climate change or other environmental issues.

Again, let’s consider the basic economics at play here.

Moving to electric vehicles is a smart hedge against rising fuel costs from a price on carbon – something that already exists in California.

The Bezos Earth Fund, meanwhile, is an excellent example of taking money generated from maximising shareholder value – Amazon is valued at about US$1 trillion and Bezos’s personal fortune (pre-divorce) was about US$130 billion – and redistributing it to socially productive causes.


Finally, Microsoft – the least-carbon-intensive business of the three mentioned here – plans to be carbon-negative by 2030, and by 2050 to have offset all the emissions it has been responsible for (both directly and through electricity consumption) since its founding in 1975.

Since 2012 it has had an “internal carbon tax”, which in April 2019 was doubled to US$15 a tonne. This price mechanism is used to make Microsoft’s business divisions financially responsible for reducing emissions.

On top of this, Microsoft has developed the AI for Earth program, which provides cloud-computing tools for researchers working on sustainability issues to process data more effectively.

Lessons for Australia

Australia’s Coalition government and Labor opposition would do well to heed the lessons of these three companies.

Together they show three clear strategies:

  • a technological push to lower emissions
  • a price on carbon to drive technological innovation and uptake
  • clear goals to reduce emissions.

Our political parties both have one out of three. Right now Labor has announced a goal. The Coalition is promising a technology plan some time soon.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is right to criticise Labor for not having a plan. Opposition Leader Anthony is right to criticise the Coalition for not having a suitable goal.

But neither of them advocates a price on carbon, without which neither technology road maps nor ambitious goals will translate into sufficient emissions reductions.

Read more: Carbon pricing: it’s a proven way to reduce emissions but everyone’s too scared to mention it

Technology investment, a carbon price and clear goals are all necessary to effectively reduce carbon emissions. Without all three we are bound to fail.

And we no longer have time for that, according to climate scientists.

ref. Vital Signs: a 3-point plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 – https://theconversation.com/vital-signs-a-3-point-plan-to-reach-net-zero-emissions-by-2050-132436

Requiring firms to only sell financial products we can use is good, but not enough

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Kevin Davis, Professor of Finance, University of Melbourne

The government’s financial system inquiry, on which I sat, reported five years ago.

It recommended that the creators of financial products be subject to a design and distribution obligation (DDO), which would mean the products they sold had to not only make money for them, but also meet the needs of the people buying them.

An insurance policy that couldn’t be claimed on would fail the test, as would a product that charged fees for advice that wasn’t given, as would any number of products later detailed in the 2018 report of the financial services royal commission.

It’s the first half of 2020, and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission is seeking input into how the obligation will work. It has asked for comments by March 11.

Requiring products to be useful is good…

There ought to be nothing controversial about the idea. It reflects the fundamental premise upon which the free market economy is founded – that transactions should provide gains to both the seller and buyer.

Reputable financial institutions, seeking to meet community expectations, ought to already meet such obligations, although they are likely to incur some (hopefully minor) administrative costs.

However, as history and the royal commission have reminded us, even reputable institutions’ procedures can go awry and lead to badly designed products that exploit consumers.

Read more: CommInsure proves the need for a banking royal commission

Less reputable firms exploit consumers anyway, leading to a race to the bottom in terms of product quality.

…but not enough

Unfortunately, even if a financial product meets the DDO requirements, which means it is suitable for its intended consumers, it can be a bad purchase for consumers who aren’t aware of its true worth. Retail customers who overpay for a “suitable” product can lose just as much (if not more) as those being sold one that’s unsuitable.

Many financial products (actually, most financial products) have characteristics that make them hard to value accurately. When product outcomes depend on future events – as do insurance products – accurate valuations can be almost impossible even for customers who are financially literate.

For example a consumer might assume that there is a 10% chance of an event happening, when the true probability is less than 1%. Not only would they overpay on insurance (perhaps repeatedly), they would be unlikely to ever know about it.

It’s hard to tell when prices are bad

Suppose a producer can supply a financial product profitably for any price over $6. Suppose that buying it for any price under $8 would would benefit the consumer, but that the consumer is unable to tell what it is really worth.

Since the supplier’s profits increase as the selling price increases, what is there to stop the supplier increasing the price to more than $8 and harming consumers, in part because some would never get the product?

Standard answers talk about competition, disclosure, financial advice and financial education.

But if consumers don’t have the information they need (or the time they need) to do the calculations, what’s likely to happen instead is that competition will cut the worth of the products in ways that are not obvious to consumers.

As important as disclosure, advice and education are, they haven’t been able to stop this happening in the past.

What we are seeing are first steps

Plans by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority to make banks and other deposit-taking institutions designate an accountable executive as responsible for the “end-to-end” creation and delivery of each product under a Bank Executive Accountability Regime (BEAR) would be an important step.

The government has announced plans to extend it to all financial institutions, making it a FAR (Financial Accountability Regime).

But there is nothing in either the BEAR or FAR rules that that would require the executives to price their products fairly.

Read more: HILDA Survey reveals striking gender and age divide in financial literacy. Test yourself with this quiz

DDO’s, together with the Securities and Investments Commission’s new temporary banning powers, should help to rid the financial sector of the most egregious types of consumer abuse. But will they do nothing to prevent profit seeking institutions setting prices for “suitable” products that cause poorly informed consumers harm.

It is not clear what could, short of instilling a sense of “fairness” into corporate cultures. While welcome, DDO’s are only the start.

ref. Requiring firms to only sell financial products we can use is good, but not enough – https://theconversation.com/requiring-firms-to-only-sell-financial-products-we-can-use-is-good-but-not-enough-131887

Friday essay: a real life experiment illuminates the future of books and reading

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Andy Simionato, Lecturer, RMIT University

Books are always transforming. The book we hold today has arrived through a number of materials (clay, papyrus, parchment, paper, pixels) and forms (tablet, scroll, codex, kindle).

The book can be a tool for communication, reading, entertainment, or learning; an object and a status symbol.

The most recent shift, from print media to digital technology, began around the middle of the 20th century. It culminated in two of the most ambitious projects in the history of the book (at least if we believe the corporate hype): the mass-digitisation of books by Google and the mass-distribution of electronic books by Amazon.

The survival of bookshops and flourishing of libraries (in real life) defies predictions that the “end of the book” is near. But even the most militant bibliophile will acknowledge how digital technology has called the “idea” of the book into question, once again.

To explore the potential for human-machine collaboration in reading and writing, we built a machine that makes poetry from the pages of any printed book. Ultimately, this project attempts to imagine the future of the book itself.

Warning: these books were not made by humans. Peter Clarke, Author provided (No reuse)

A machine to read books

Our custom-coded reading-machine reads and interprets real book pages, to create a new “illuminated” book of poetry.

The reading-machine uses Computer Vision and Optical Character Recognition to identify the text on any open book placed under its dual cameras. It then uses Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing technology to “read” the text for meaning, in order to select a short poetic combination of words on the page which it saves by digitally erasing all other words on the page.

Armed with this generated verse, the reading-machine searches the internet for an image – often a doodle or meme, which someone has shared and which has been stored in Google Images – to illustrate the poem.

The reading-machine is fully automated. Peter Clarke, Author provided (No reuse)

Once every page in the book has been read, interpreted, and illustrated, the system publishes the results using an online printing service. The resulting volume is then added to a growing archive we call The Library of Nonhuman Books.

From the moment our machine completes its reading until the delivery of the book, our automated-art-system proceeds algorithmically – from interpreting and illuminating the poems, to pagination, cover design and finally adding the endmatter. This is all done without human intervention. The algorithm can generate a seemingly infinite number of readings of any book.

The poetry

The following poems were produced by the reading-machine from popular texts:

deep down men try there

he’s large naked she’s even

while facing anything.

from E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey

how parties popcorn

jukebox bathrooms depressed

shrug, yeah? all.

from Bret Easton Ellis’ The Rules of Attraction

Oh and her bedroom

bathroom brushing sending it

garter too face hell.

from Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s

A page from Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s that has been read, extracted as poetry and illustrated by the reading-machine. Peter Clarke, Author provided (No reuse)

My algorithm, my muse

So what does all this have to do with the mass-digitisation of books?

Faced with growing resistance from authors and publishers concerned with Google’s management of copyright, the infoglomerate pivoted away from its primary goal of providing a free corpus of books (a kind of modern day Library of Alexandria) and towards a more modest index system used for searching inside the books Google had scanned. Google would now serve only short “snippets” of words highlighted on the original page.

Behind the scenes, Google had identified a different use for the texts. Millions of scanned books could be used in a field called Natural Language Processing. NLP allows computers to communicate with people using everyday language rather than code. The books originally scanned for humans were made available to machines for learning, and later imitating, human language.

Imagine infinite readings of the books we already have. Unsplash, CC BY

Algorithmic processes like NLP and Machine Learning hold the promise (or threat) of deferring much of our everyday reading to machines. History has shown that once machines know how to do something, we generally leave them to it. The extent to which we do this will depend on how much we value reading.

If we continue to defer our reading (and writing) to machines, we might make literature with our artificially intelligent counterparts. What will poetry become, with an algorithm as our muse?

We already have clues to this: from the almost obligatory use of emojis or Japanese Kaomoji (顔文字) as visual shorthand for the emotional intent of our digital communication, to the layered meanings of internet memes, to the auto-generation of “fake news” stories. These are the image-word hybrids we find in post-literate social media.

To hide a leaf

Take the book, my friend, and read your eyes out, you will never find there what I find.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Spiritual Laws

Emerson’s challenge highlights the subjectivity we bring to reading. When we started working on the reading-machine we focused on discovering patterns of words within larger bodies of texts that have always been there, but have remained “hidden in plain sight”. Every attempt by the reading-machine generated new poems, all of them made from words that remained in their original positions on the pages of books.

Another of the seemingly infinite poetic possibilities from Capote’s classic novella. Peter Clarke, Author provided (No reuse)

The notion of a single book consisting of infinite readings is not new. We originally conceived our reading-machine as a way of making a mythical Book of Sand, described by Jorge Luis Borges in his 1975 parable.

Borges’ story is about the narrator’s encounter with an endless book which continuously recombines its words and images. Many have compared this impossible book to the internet of today. Our reading-machine, with the turn of each page of any physical book, calculates combinations of words on that page which, until that moment, have been seen, but not consciously perceived by the reader.

The title of our early version of the work was To Hide a Leaf. It was generated by chance when a prototype of the reading-machine was presented with a page from a book of Borges’ stories. The complete sentence from which the words were taken is:

Somewhere I recalled reading that the best place to hide a leaf is in a forest.

The latent verse our machine attempts to reveal in books also hides in plain sight, like a leaf in a forest; and the idea is also a play on a page being generally referred to as a “leaf of a book”.

Like the Book of Sand, perhaps all books can be seen as combinatorial machines. We believed we could write an algorithm that could unlock new meanings in existing books, using only the text within that book as the key.

Philosopher Boris Groys described the result of the mass-digitisation of the book as Words Without Grammar, suggesting clouds of disconnected words.

Our reading-machine, and the Library of Nonhuman Books it is generating, is an attempt to imagine the book to come after these clouds of “words without grammar”. We have found the results are sometimes comical, often nonsensical, occasionally infuriating and, every now and then, even poetic.

Now that machines can read, will we defer the task to them?

The reading-machine will be on display at the Melbourne Art Book Fair in March and will collect a Tokyo Type Directors Club Award in April. Nonhuman Books are available via Atomic Activity Books.

ref. Friday essay: a real life experiment illuminates the future of books and reading – https://theconversation.com/friday-essay-a-real-life-experiment-illuminates-the-future-of-books-and-reading-131832

Angus Taylor sets down ‘markers’ to measure success of government’s technology roadmap

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

The government would be looking for the private sector to put in four or five times as much as it invests in research and development of particular technologies to reduce emissions, Energy Minister Angus Taylor says.

In a speech on Friday, released in part ahead of delivery, Taylor lays the groundwork for the “technology investment roadmap” to be released soon.

Technologies attracting the government’s attention include hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, lithium and advanced livestock feed supplements to reduce emissions from farm animals.

The “roadmap” will provide the basis for the government’s work towards the next international climate change conference, in Glasgow late this year.

The government is resisting pressure to embrace the widely supported target of a carbon neutral economy by 2050, but focusing on a “strategy”.

Read more: Albanese pledges Labor government would have 2050 carbon-neutral target

“The Australian government will take a technology-based long-term emissions reduction strategy to Glasgow later this year. We want to lead the world on this.

“Our strategy will be based on a series of detailed pieces of work that we will complete over the rest of this year,” Taylor says.

“That work must look at our investments, it must evaluate the technology and then encourage prospective technologies to full commerciality and deployment without massive government subsidies.”

Taylor says under the roadmap, progress will be measured in two ways.

Economic goals will be set for technologies, so a clear signal can be given for when the technology is commercial.

“The goal for each technology is to approach economic parity or better, which means the shift to lower emissions is zero cost or low cost,” he says.

The other measurement would be on investment.

Government investment is important as a market signal and to give a lead, Taylor says. But success requires tracking “how much private-sector and other investment in R and D and early deployment follows our own investment.

“To measure the success of the overall portfolio I think we should be aiming for a four or five time multiplier.

“That is, for every dollar invested I want to see four or five dollars from the private sector following over the course of our investments.

“An important indicator of the success of a technology is the private sector and state government interest”.

Taylor says the government has already invested more than $10.4 billion in hundreds of clean technology projects with a value of $35 billion.

“But we are coming to an end of the value of these investments.

“Wind and solar are economic as a source of pure energy at least. And the Government should not crowd out private sector investment.

“We must move our investments to the next challenges.”

ref. Angus Taylor sets down ‘markers’ to measure success of government’s technology roadmap – https://theconversation.com/angus-taylor-sets-down-markers-to-measure-success-of-governments-technology-roadmap-132623

Grattan on Friday: Morrison looks to his messaging on coronavirus and climate

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

Two issues are currently presenting the Morrison government with fast-moving targets.

One is the fallout from the coronavirus, where the picture has been altering on a near-daily basis. The other is very different – the now rapidly changing politics of the very long-running climate debate.

In such circumstances, “messaging” becomes critical, and Scott Morrison, a meister of that art, is hard at work.

As COVID-19 spread in Europe and elsewhere this week, the federal government on Thursday jumped ahead of the World Health Organisation, and activated its emergency plan in anticipation of a pandemic.

Announcing the move, Morrison declared: “The key message that I really want to get across to Australians today is: because of the actions we’ve taken on the coronavirus we’ve got ahead. We intend to stay ahead. And together we will get through this”.

Read more: Government triggers emergency plan for COVID-19 pandemic, and considers economic assistance

This feeds into the government’s wider narrative of “keeping Australians safe”, and having “plans”.

The virus’s local health impact are at this stage only potential, but the economic ones are already being felt. The unknown is how hard the ultimate impact on the economy will be. Treasury is looking at some relief measures, although Morrison underscores they would be “modest” and “targeted”.

Morrison’s news conference earlier in the week, featuring Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, had a purpose beyond reassuring the public the government was covering all bases on the virus.

It set up a narrative to say, if this means the economy falls in a hole and the budget’s “back in black” storyline morphs into a fairytale, it’s not our fault.

That might be true. As the government prepared its pre-election budget, no one could have anticipated the virus (or the extent of likely bushfires). But if you boast too loudly, if the Liberal party markets “back in black” mugs, there’s further to fall if you can’t deliver.

Nevertheless, just as the government should have been restrained with its self-applause, so critics should be wary now. Morrison and Frydenberg are trying to take our insurance against a deficit, but they’ll be pursuing every hollow log and accounting trick to avoid that. Those “back in black” mugs will become a collector’s item if the budget’s in the red, but they might end up just another bit of kitsch.

The challenge Morrison faces in his messaging on climate is more complex. Last election, while climate was an issue, Labor’s policy was vulnerable.

The present picture is different. The fires have elevated the climate debate. Where Labor’s policy previously could be painted as isolated or extreme, now the Coalition looks the odd one out.

This is clear on the 2050 target of zero net emissions, to which Anthony Albanese has committed (while putting off a decision on the medium term target). With all states and territories, the Business Council of Australia, and Britain’s Conservative PM Boris Johnson signing up to mid-century carbon neutrality, it’s hard to run the argument it’s some kooky idea.

Mick Tsikas/AAP

Of course this didn’t stop the Coalition piling onto Albanese. But for all the bluster, Morrison knows the usual crude attacks are unlikely to suit him beyond the short term.

There is a lot of government manoeuvring going on to readjust its climate rhetoric, as well as keep options open.

Talking about the bushfires, Morrison now routinely acknowledges the impact of the changing climate – without accepting a cause-and-effect argument. This is different from some of those in the Coalition who claim these fires were like all the others in our history.

On energy, while stressing the need for dispatchable power, Energy minister Angus Taylor is talking up, with greater enthusiasm than previously, Australia’s progress on renewables.

In relation to the controversial question of using carry over credits to get to Australia’s 2030 Paris target, the government is privately becoming confident they won’t be needed.

In relation to net zero, those around Morrison point out he’s not dissing the target itself, but the absence of a “plan” to get there.

He told the Coalition party room this week: “I won’t commit to anything I don’t know the cost of, if I don’t know the impact on jobs. It’s not about being for or against a target.”

On one school of thought, Morrison could be keeping open the possibility of supporting the 2050 target if that later looks the best political course. He will be under strong pressure to do so in the run up to the Glasgow climate conference late in the year.

Indeed, just the weight of business and public opinion will be formidable. An Essential poll published this week showed 75% of Australians supported “a zero-carbon pollution target for 2050 if it were adopted by the federal government”.

Read more: Albanese pledges Labor government would have 2050 carbon-neutral target

Morrison may be ensuring his messaging leaves him wriggle room, but there would be an obvious massive problem if he did decide he’d be better off to endorse the target.

He might be the ultimate pragmatist but it’s another matter with the Nationals. Michael McCormack’s precarious leadership means the hardliners in the Nationals (Matt Canavan, Barnaby Joyce) can drive that party’s position. McCormack can’t afford to deviate. He said bluntly this month, “Net zero emissions by 2050 equals net zero jobs growth by 2050”.

If Morrison tried to sign up to 2050 he would risk triggering an explosion in the Nationals.

On the other hand, if McCormack were replaced by his deputy David Littleproud, such a policy move might be possible.

In partisan terms, the downside for Morrison of adopting the 2050 target would be to knock out a line of attack on Albanese. But that attack threatens to become a lot less effective once we get past the knee-jerk reaction we’ve seen this week.

It can’t be predicted where Morrison might end up on the 2050 target. Perhaps he doesn’t know himself. Possibly he could nuance the message – recast it as a “goal”, for instance.

In the short term, watch out for the messaging when the government spruiks its technology investment road map in coming days. It will be a lot more positive about electric cars than in the election campaign, where Labor’s commitment to them was, apparently, a threat to the Aussie weekend.

Different circumstances, different message.

ref. Grattan on Friday: Morrison looks to his messaging on coronavirus and climate – https://theconversation.com/grattan-on-friday-morrison-looks-to-his-messaging-on-coronavirus-and-climate-132614

Government triggers emergency plan for COVID-19 pandemic, and considers economic assistance

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

The federal government has activated its emergency response plan to deal with a spread of the coronavirus locally, in anticipation of it becoming a “pandemic”.

It is also considering limited assistance for those hardest hit by the economic fallout.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a news conference late Thursday Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Treasury was working on possible measures to give some relief.

Morrison stressed any measures would be “targeted, modest and scalable” – that is, able to be built on if necessary.

“This is a health crisis, not a financial crisis, but it is a health crisis with very significant economic implications,” he said.

“We’re aware, particularly in the export industry, in the marine sector, there are particular issues there especially in North Queensland, but these problems are presenting in many other places,” he said.

The tourism and education sectors are being heavily affected as the crisis worsens. But the government has stressed universities have good liquidity to deal with the situation.

The travel ban on arrivals from China has been extended for at least another week. There will be no carve out for the tens of thousands of university students unable to reach Australia.

Treasury has not yet finalised an estimate of the economic impact of COVID-19.

Cabinet’s national security committee met for three hours on Thursday to discuss the latest information on the virus and what should be done now.

“What has occurred, in particular, in the last 24 hours or so as the data has come in is that the rate of transmission of the virus outside of China is fundamentally changing the way we need to now look at how this issue is being managed here in Australia,” Morrison said.

Stressing Australia had been ahead of the World Health Organisation in its previous response, he said “based on the expert medical advice we’ve received, there is every indication that the world will soon enter a pandemic phase of the coronavirus”.

“So while the WHO is yet to declare … it’s moved towards a pandemic phase, we believe that the risk of a global pandemic is very much upon us and as a result, as a government, we need to take the steps necessary to prepare for such a pandemic.”

The actions were “being taken in an abundance of caution,” Morrison said.

Health ministers will meet on Friday to discuss the emergency planning, to respond to a future situation where there is sustained transmission in Australia – in contrast to the present containment to a handful of cases. As the virus spreads internationally, the chances increase of a major spread in Australia.

The emergency plan covers special wards in hospitals, and ensuring key health workers have access to adequate protective equipment from the medical stockpile.

It includes provision for aged care facilities to be put into lock down if necessary.

There would also be contingency alternative staffing for key facilities if staff got the disease.

On another front, Border Force would if necessary extend screening to passengers arriving from multiple countries.

Morrison said consideration was being given to how school children would be protected.

The Prime Minister emphasised there was no cause to consider cancelling events or for people not to be out and about.

“You can still go to the football, you can still go to the cricket, you can still go and play with your friends down the street, you can go off to the concert, and you can go out for a Chinese meal.

“But to stay ahead of it, we need to now elevate our response to this next phase,” he said.

“There are some challenging months ahead and the government will continue to work closely based on the best possible medical advice to keep Australians safe.”

So far, Australia had had 15 cases who had come from Wuhan and all 15 had now been cleared, he said. Eight other cases had come from the Diamond Princess. There had been no community transmission in Australia.

ref. Government triggers emergency plan for COVID-19 pandemic, and considers economic assistance – https://theconversation.com/government-triggers-emergency-plan-for-covid-19-pandemic-and-considers-economic-assistance-132610

Let’s ‘declare war on type 2 diabetes’ – Australian of the year James Muecke on why we need to cut back on sugar

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By James Muecke, Clinical senior lecturer in Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of Adelaide

Humans are physiologically hardwired to love and seek out sweet things. It’s an ancient survival mechanism that evolved to prepare our bodies for periods of fasting when food supplies were scarce.

Like nicotine, alcohol and other drugs, sugar activates the reward system in our brains, resulting in the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. It feels good, so we want to do it again.

It can also give us solace when we’re down and can alleviate stress, as the dopamine hit counters cortisol, a stress hormone which is released during anxious times.

Read more: Fact or fiction – is sugar addictive?

The problem is, the more sugar we ingest, the more we need to make us feel good. It’s a vicious cycle that’s hard to break.

Excessive and sustained sugar consumption increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a metabolic disorder where the body can’t maintain healthy levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood.

Globally, the number of adults with type 2 diabetes, which is related to diet and lifestyle, has quadrupled over the past 40 years. In 2017-18, one million Australians had type 2 diabetes and many more were at risk of developing the condition.

It’s not impossible to cut down on sugar. Some strategies require change on a personal level, while others must be taken on by industry and governments.

Personal strategies

At the personal level, it’s a matter of slowly winding down our addiction. Going cold turkey would be incredibly difficult, given 75% of our food and drinks have added sugar.

I started omitting the obvious products loaded with sugar – soft drinks, fruit juices, dried fruit, chocolate, candy, ice cream, cakes and sweet biscuits. I stopped sprinkling sugar on my cereal and stirring it into my tea and coffee.

Even these simple strategies gave me withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, headache, sluggish thoughts, and fatigue, which began on the very first day. These symptoms and the cravings were unpleasant but only lasted three days.

Progressing to the next level might include cutting out commercially produced foods that contain excessive amounts of added sugar such as jams, condiments, and most breakfast cereals.

It might also mean cutting out or down on heavily processed products that contain refined carbohydrates such as white flour (white bread, pastries and pasta), white rice, and white potatoes (especially fries and crisps). Such carbs are broken down to glucose in the gut, and are really just another form of sugar consumption.

Is it time to cut back on jams and sugary spreads? Shutterstock

It helps to be aware of the times we’re consuming sugar out of habit, such as eating a bag of sugary treats at the movies or a block of chocolate in front of the TV, or using sugar as a reward for a job well done.

Read more: If sugar is so bad for us, why is the sugar in fruit OK?

It’s also important to be aware of those times when we’re using sugar to make us feel better or alleviate stress. The brain doesn’t care where it gets its feel-good chemicals from, so try going for a walk, run or cycle, listen to your favourite music playlist, or try doing a good deed instead.

Government response

From a public health perspective, the government must play a pivotal role in helping Australians cut down on sugar.

Strategies at the government level should be aimed at accessibility, addition and advertising.

Making sweet products less obvious and accessible in supermarkets, delicatessens, post offices and service stations would be a good start. Moving them away from check-out counters means those reflex purchases are less likely to happen.

Lollies and chocolates should be moved away from supermarket checkouts. Shutterstock

Second, we need a levy (or a tax) on products containing high levels of added sugar, particularly on sugar-sweetened drinks. There is strong evidence a tax on such drinks would reduce consumption and result in a decline in type 2 diabetes.

Read more: Don’t believe the myths – taxing sugary drinks makes us drink less of it

Third, a more transparent system for labelling of the added sugar content of products should be implemented. The current health star rating system is only voluntary and is in need of reform.

Fourth, advertising time and space for sugary products should be restricted, as we have done for cigarettes, starting with ads targeting children on TV and social media.

Kids shouldn’t be exposed to ads for sugary foods. Shutterstock

Fifth, powerful and hard-hitting awareness campaigns should be introduced, as we have done for cigarettes. Who could forget those graphic TV adds of tar being poured over lungs or fat being squeezed out of an artery?

Finally, we need a multi-disciplinary think tank to raise awareness about the health dangers of sugar. Such a body could engage endocrinologists (medical doctors who treat diabetes), public health physicians, neuroscientists, nutritionists, marketers, PR experts, and government representatives to deliver clear and united messages.

The sugar industry and the food and beverage industries will need to be included in discussions about reform, but we can’t let commercial interests stop us from acting.

Type 2 diabetes is a growing epidemic and one of the nation’s biggest health challenges. It’s time for Australia to declare war on type 2 diabetes.

Read more: ABC Four Corners: five articles to get you informed on sugar and Big Sugar’s role in food policy

ref. Let’s ‘declare war on type 2 diabetes’ – Australian of the year James Muecke on why we need to cut back on sugar – https://theconversation.com/lets-declare-war-on-type-2-diabetes-australian-of-the-year-james-muecke-on-why-we-need-to-cut-back-on-sugar-131024

Juries will soon learn more about people accused of child sex crimes. Will it lead to fairer trials?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Marilyn McMahon, Deputy Dean, School of Law, Deakin University

The NSW government has just introduced a bill that will, among other significant reforms, make it easier for a jury to be informed about the prior convictions of a person on trial for a sex offence involving a child.

The governments of Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT, the NT and the Commonwealth are likely to introduce similar legislation.

Disclosing evidence of an accused’s prior convictions has always been a difficult area of criminal law, requiring a balance of conflicting interests.

Read more: All about juries: why do we actually need them and can they get it ‘wrong’?

Disclosure may demonstrate a propensity to offend in a particular way and therefore be helpful to the prosecution. But it may also prejudice a jury against the accused in an unfair manner.

The reforms proposed in NSW have widespread support among advocates and organisations working with victims of sexual abuse. They are also likely to be supported by the opposition.

But they have evoked a strong response from lawyers who view them as undermining fundamental principles in our legal system – the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial.

Why the changes?

Despite numerous changes to laws governing sexual offences in past decades, conviction rates for these offences remain substantially lower than for other types of crimes

There are many possible explanations for this, including the fact these cases often involve acts performed in secret, frequently do not have conclusive forensic evidence and ultimately come down to the word of the victim against the word of the accused.

When the victim is a child, difficulties in describing the assault and giving evidence are also significant.

Read more: To believe or not to believe: child witnesses and the sex abuse royal commission

Noting the low conviction rates – as well as the issue of offenders who have multiple victims – the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommended that evidence law be amended so jurors could get a more complete understanding of an accused’s past. Achieving this goal required significant reform.

The royal commission recommended jurors in child abuse trials be permitted to hear about the accused’s past convictions for sex abuse. Royal Commission/PR handout

How evidence law works now

A jury in a criminal trial in Australia is not usually told about the criminal history of the accused. In cases where there is no jury, the judge or magistrate is also not permitted to take into account any prior offending when deciding guilt or innocence.

The justification for this restriction is that it prevents the jury, magistrate or judge from being improperly influenced by a defendant’s past. This ensures they restrict their considerations to the evidence presented in the present case.

However, some exceptions already exist relating to credibility and what is known as “tendency and coincidence evidence”.

Tendency evidence can show a person has a propensity to act in a certain way. Coincidence evidence can demonstrate that, because the person has acted in a very similar way in the past, they are likely to have committed the offence for which they are currently on trial.

Read more: We need better jury directions to ensure justice is done

In jurisdictions like NSW that have adopted the uniform evidence law, this type of evidence can only be admitted if it has “significant probative value” (that is, it is highly relevant to the current case) and its value “substantially outweighs” any prejudicial effect for the accused.

Given this high threshold, an accused’s prior offending is not commonly disclosed to a jury before it reaches a verdict.

What will the reforms do?

The reforms will allow more information about defendants to be admitted in trials involving child sex offences. Specifically, the changes will:

  • assist prosecutors to introduce evidence of past crimes by restricting matters that might previously have influenced judges and magistrates to exclude this evidence

  • allow evidence to be admitted if it simply “outweighs” the danger of unfair prejudice, a less demanding test than “substantially outweighs”

  • make it easier to have trials where multiple complainants make allegations (and present similar evidence) of child sexual abuse against the same person

  • create a legal presumption that evidence an accused is sexually interested in children and/or has acted on that interest this will be a very relevant matter in these trials.

Collectively, the reforms will strengthen the prosecution of these offences.

Concern about the changes

These changes are intended to make trials fairer for victims of child sexual abuse and increase the rate of convictions.

The royal commission referred to empirical research conducted on its behalf to support its view this type of reform could occur without unfair prejudice to a defendant.

Read more: Victims of child sex abuse still face significant legal barriers suing churches – here’s why

Some lawyers have endorsed reform. Others argue the changes will undermine the presumption of innocence, remove the task of proving guilt beyond reasonable doubt from the prosecution and may have the effect of denying the accused a fair trial.

They are concerned this could result in innocent people going to jail.

Defence lawyers are worried if juries know a person committed a similar crime in the past, they will assume he or she probably committed the crime for which they are currently on trial, as well.

Or a jury may simply believe the defendant deserves to be punished for past offending, irrespective of the evidence in the case before them. Critics think this is especially likely to occur in child sexual abuse cases, which evoke a strong community reaction.

Defence lawyers also believe the reforms will improperly shift the focus in a criminal trial from the prosecution having to prove all the elements of a crime to consideration of whether the accused is the sort of person likely to have committed the offence.

The proposed changes undoubtedly reflect a significant shift in the criminal law. They demonstrate that while concern about a fair trial traditionally focused on the rights of the accused, contemporary reforms are increasingly grounded in concern the criminal justice system be fair for victims.

ref. Juries will soon learn more about people accused of child sex crimes. Will it lead to fairer trials? – https://theconversation.com/juries-will-soon-learn-more-about-people-accused-of-child-sex-crimes-will-it-lead-to-fairer-trials-132517

Juries will soon learn more about people accused of child sex crimes. Will it lead to trials that are more fair?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Marilyn McMahon, Deputy Dean, School of Law, Deakin University

The NSW government has just introduced a bill that will, among other significant reforms, make it easier for a jury to be informed about the prior convictions of a person on trial for a sex offence involving a child.

The governments of Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT, the NT and the Commonwealth are likely to introduce similar legislation.

Disclosing evidence of an accused’s prior convictions has always been a difficult area of criminal law, requiring a balance of conflicting interests.

Read more: All about juries: why do we actually need them and can they get it ‘wrong’?

Disclosure may demonstrate a propensity to offend in a particular way and therefore be helpful to the prosecution. But it may also prejudice a jury against the accused in an unfair manner.

The reforms proposed in NSW have widespread support among advocates and organisations working with victims of sexual abuse. They are also likely to be supported by the opposition.

But they have evoked a strong response from lawyers who view them as undermining fundamental principles in our legal system – the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial.

Why the changes?

Despite numerous changes to laws governing sexual offences in past decades, conviction rates for these offences remain substantially lower than for other types of crimes

There are many possible explanations for this, including the fact these cases often involve acts performed in secret, frequently do not have conclusive forensic evidence and ultimately come down to the word of the victim against the word of the accused.

When the victim is a child, difficulties in describing the assault and giving evidence are also significant.

Read more: To believe or not to believe: child witnesses and the sex abuse royal commission

Noting the low conviction rates – as well as the issue of offenders who have multiple victims – the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommended that evidence law be amended so jurors could get a more complete understanding of an accused’s past. Achieving this goal required significant reform.

The royal commission recommended jurors in child abuse trials be permitted to hear about the accused’s past convictions for sex abuse. Royal Commission/PR handout

How evidence law works now

A jury in a criminal trial in Australia is not usually told about the criminal history of the accused. In cases where there is no jury, the judge or magistrate is also not permitted to take into account any prior offending when deciding guilt or innocence.

The justification for this restriction is that it prevents the jury, magistrate or judge from being improperly influenced by a defendant’s past. This ensures they restrict their considerations to the evidence presented in the present case.

However, some exceptions already exist relating to credibility and what is known as “tendency and coincidence evidence”.

Tendency evidence can show a person has a propensity to act in a certain way. Coincidence evidence can demonstrate that, because the person has acted in a very similar way in the past, they are likely to have committed the offence for which they are currently on trial.

Read more: We need better jury directions to ensure justice is done

In jurisdictions like NSW that have adopted the uniform evidence law, this type of evidence can only be admitted if it has “significant probative value” (that is, it is highly relevant to the current case) and its value “substantially outweighs” any prejudicial effect for the accused.

Given this high threshold, an accused’s prior offending is not commonly disclosed to a jury before it reaches a verdict.

What will the reforms do?

The reforms will allow more information about defendants to be admitted in trials involving child sex offences. Specifically, the changes will:

  • assist prosecutors to introduce evidence of past crimes by restricting matters that might previously have influenced judges and magistrates to exclude this evidence

  • allow evidence to be admitted if it simply “outweighs” the danger of unfair prejudice, a less demanding test than “substantially outweighs”

  • make it easier to have trials where multiple complainants make allegations (and present similar evidence) of child sexual abuse against the same person

  • create a legal presumption that evidence an accused is sexually interested in children and/or has acted on that interest this will be a very relevant matter in these trials.

Collectively, the reforms will strengthen the prosecution of these offences.

Concerns about the changes

These changes are intended to make trials fairer for victims of child sexual abuse and increase the rate of convictions.

The royal commission referred to empirical research conducted on its behalf to support its view this type of reform could occur without unfair prejudice to a defendant.

Read more: Victims of child sex abuse still face significant legal barriers suing churches – here’s why

Some lawyers have endorsed reform. Others argue the changes will undermine the presumption of innocence, remove the task of proving guilt beyond reasonable doubt from the prosecution and may have the effect of denying the accused a fair trial.

They are concerned this could result in innocent people going to jail.

Defence lawyers are worried if juries know a person committed a similar crime in the past, they will assume he or she probably committed the crime for which they are currently on trial, as well.

Or a jury may simply believe the defendant deserves to be punished for past offending, irrespective of the evidence in the case before them. Critics think this is especially likely to occur in child sexual abuse cases, which evoke a strong community reaction.

Defence lawyers also believe the reforms will improperly shift the focus in a criminal trial from the prosecution having to prove all the elements of a crime to consideration of whether the accused is the sort of person likely to have committed the offence.

The proposed changes undoubtedly reflect a significant shift in the criminal law. They demonstrate that while concern about a fair trial traditionally focused on the rights of the accused, contemporary reforms are increasingly grounded in concern the criminal justice system be fair for victims.

ref. Juries will soon learn more about people accused of child sex crimes. Will it lead to trials that are more fair? – https://theconversation.com/juries-will-soon-learn-more-about-people-accused-of-child-sex-crimes-will-it-lead-to-trials-that-are-more-fair-132517

PM Jacinda Ardern pays tribute to Fijians killed in Christchurch attacks

By RNZ Pacific

Jacinda Ardern has paid tribute to the three Fijians who died in last year’s Christchurch mosque shootings.

Ardern spoke today at Lautoka Mosque as part of her trip to Fiji to remember Imam Hafiz Musa Patel, Ashraf Ali Razak and Ashraf Ali, who died almost a year ago.

She also thanked the Fijian community for their response in the aftermath.

READ MORE: A year from the Christchurch terror attacks, NZ intelligence records a surge in reports

“I want to place on record our deep appreciation for the many messages of support and sympathy we received from Fiji following the March 15 attacks, it gave us strength to know that you stood in solidarity with us,” she said.

“But it was especially moving to receive those messages when you faced your own grief.”

– Partner –


She said she still recalls visiting the hall the day after the attack where hundreds of members of the Muslim community were gathered.

“Amongst them was the wife of one of your fallen, I still remember talking with her as she desperately looked for her husband and feeling pained to leave her with the Red Cross.

‘Darkest of hours’
“In your darkest of hours I can tell you I will never forget your grief,” she said.

She said she has been so moved by the generosity of the muslim faith.

The prime minister has also put out a call to find “Heather from Papanui” – a woman who helped the wife of Imam Patel the morning after the attack.

“She drove Mrs Patel around Christchurch helping to find her husband with her… Mrs Patel would like to find Heather from Papanui.”

Ardern told her “being New Zealand, being the community we are, I’m sure that we can find her and pass on her deep gratitude”.

“She tells me that she just asked Heather to drive her around Christchurch until she found a crowd of people because she thought that she would find information amongst that crowd – and that is where I found Mrs Patel”.

And the message to Heather from Papanui: “Thank you for embodying the New Zealand generosity and kindness we saw in the moments after that attack and I hope we can reunite you with Mrs Patel.”

Emotion still raw
It had only been a year since the shootings so the emotion was still raw, Ardern said, but it was a chance for her to meet at least one of the family members she had met in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.

The grandson of Ashraf Ali Razak, Mohammed Iftikar Ali said it was fate because his grandfather was not supposed to be in Christchurch that day, but he made a stop over on his way to Australia to visit a sick relative.

He appreciated the prime minister’s visit and said it was comforting.

“She was so warm in how she was explaining how sorry she was, it is none of our fault, but it was fate to be done and we are really thankful for her to be here,” he said.

“We really miss who we lost, he can’t be replaced.”

The niece, Saliman Bibi said Ardern told them she was sorry for their loss.

‘Lost with words’
“I was just lost with words I couldn’t say anything, I just felt great she is here, she is with us in our soul,” she said.

Ardern also spoke of the commitment to ensure these attacks never happen again.

She then spoke about the moves the government had taken to address weaknesses in gun legislation and to tackle extremist content online.

However, she added it is not just politicians or those in positions of power who can honour those who have died.

“Immediately after the attacks, Prime Minister Bainimarama called on all Fijians across all backgrounds and faiths to join him in making a pledge: whereever you encounter someone who says something racist and hateful, whether it is online or in person, say something.

He said, “Be the voice of love. Be the voice of change.”

Today marked the last day of the prime minister’s trip to Fiji, this evening she will be leaving for Australia where she will be meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday.

This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.

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A year from the Christchurch terror attacks, NZ intelligence records a surge in reports

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Alexander Gillespie, Professor of Law, University of Waikato

The Christchurch mosque attacks on March 15 last year have prompted a significant rise in tip-offs about people expressing extremist views, according to a report by New Zealand’s Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS).

During the three months following the terrorist attacks, NZSIS received 455 pieces of lead information about people who expressed racist, Nazi or white supremacist views.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) also released its annual threat assessment this week, warning right-wing groups are more organised than in previous years.

Right-wing extremism has been in ASIO’s sights for some time, but obviously this threat came into sharp, terrible focus last year in New Zealand. In Australia, the extreme right-wing threat is real and it is growing. In suburbs around Australia, small cells regularly meet to salute Nazi flags, inspect weapons, train in combat and share their hateful ideology.

Read more: Christchurch mosque shootings must end New Zealand’s innocence about right-wing terrorism

Different approaches

In New Zealand, a royal commission of inquiry is expected to report back in April about what intelligence agencies knew about the alleged perpetrator before the Christchurch attack and how they should be reorganised to prevent such incidents in the future.

I believe the mosque attacks represent a serious failure of intelligence services and any reorganisation should involve greater transparency with the public, so that people see the scale of the threat and how intelligence services are responding.

Read more: Explainer: how a royal commission will investigate Christchurch shootings

Terrorism is a risk for most countries, but intelligence agencies differ in the way they present the risks, their understanding of it and how they report on it.

The European Union (EU) does not report a generic threat level, but individual countries do. For example, the UK’s intelligence agency MI5 records the risk of a terror attack in England, Scotland and Wales as substantial (an attack is likely) and in Northern Ireland as severe (an attack is highly likely).

The Australian agency ASIO has listed the national terrorism threat level as probable since 2014.

In New Zealand, the threat level went from low to high following the Christchurch attacks, but is now medium, which means a terrorist attack is assessed as feasible and could well occur.

Reporting terrorism risk

In 2018, the NZSIS reported around 30 people of “particular interest”. Following the Christchurch attacks, “between 30 and 50 individuals have been under active investigation … in relation to violent extremism at any one time”.

Australian intelligence agencies do not report how many people are of particular interest. They report the number of attacks that have been disrupted (three in the past 12 months) and how many (12,478) counter-terrorism leads were resolved or investigated. The EU has a similar approach, recording the number of foiled, failed or completed attacks (129 for 2018), and the number of arrests (1,056).

Australian agencies rank their risk groups. Currently Sunni Islamist extremism, primarily from small groups and individuals inspired by extremist groups overseas, is listed as the “principal source of the terrorist threat”.

In Europe, risk reporting currently shows most attacks come from “ethno-nationalist and seperatist groups” (83), followed by jihadist (24), left-wing (19) and other groups.

Although right-wing terrorism is not a primary risk factor in Australia, intelligence agencies are more aware of it.

This threat is not something new, but current extreme right‑wing networks are better organised and more sophisticated than those of the past … any future extreme right-wing inspired attack in Australia would most likely be low capability and conducted by a lone actor or small group, although a sophisticated weapons attack is possible.

Similarly, in Europe, right-wing groups are not a dominant risk factor, but intelligence agencies note an increase.

The number of arrests linked to right-wing terrorism remained relatively low but increased for the third year in a row. Right-wing extremists prey on fears of perceived attempts to Islamicise society and loss of national identity.

More transparency needed

This month’s national security report notes the Christchurch attack made it clear that New Zealand is not immune to the threat of right-wing violent extremism.

But intelligence services do not gauge the scale of this domestic risk. Instead they paint the problem as “a growing threat internationally … that will … continue to be a challenge for security agencies around the world for the foreseeable future”.

Other countries’ agencies tell citizens more. Australian agencies reported seven terror attacks and 16 major counter-terrorism disruption operations since 2014, including where these incidents took place, what types of weapons were used and whether the targets were public spaces, military sites or infrastructure.

European agencies follow similar reporting, but provide their citizens with even more information. This covers everything from arrests, convictions and penalties, financing, weapons, use of propaganda and detail about people who travel to and return from war zones.

Australian agencies also map what they consider the most likely terror attacks in the future (low cost, locally financed, using readily acquired weapons and relatively simple tactics). They also note emerging themes, such as the risk of opportunistic violence or civil disobedience through counter protesters.

In contrast, New Zealand intelligence agencies don’t share any of these considerations with the public. Nor do they elaborate on the threat of right wing terrorism to the extent of their counterparts. The failure of the previous ten years not to mention the risk of right-wing terror cannot be repeated. While we now know the risk of extreme right terrorism exists, it is the responsibility of the security agencies to better monitor, analyse, prevent, and report on this risk than ever before.

After last year’s mosque shooting, if the intelligence agencies want to regain the trust of the public, they will have to do much better.

ref. A year from the Christchurch terror attacks, NZ intelligence records a surge in reports – https://theconversation.com/a-year-from-the-christchurch-terror-attacks-nz-intelligence-records-a-surge-in-reports-131895

Equinor has abandoned oil-drilling plans in the Great Australian Bight – so what’s next?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Madeline Taylor, Academic Fellow, University of Sydney

This week’s decision by Norwegian company Equinor to abandon a A$200 million plan to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight surprised both its critics and backers.

Equinor says it abandoned the project off the remote South Australian coast because it was not “commercially competitive”.

But the plan was flawed from its inception. It was out of step with the investment community’s reduced appetite for frontier fossil fuel exploration, and growing concern about financial exposure to carbon risk. A broad section of the community opposed it on environmental grounds, including the potential for a possibly catastrophic oil spill.

Read more: Drilling for oil in the Great Australian Bight would be disastrous for marine life and the local community

Equinor is the third major oil company to abandon plans to drill in the bight, following BP and Chevron. But the company will remain active in Australia, pointing to an offshore exploration permit off Western Australia. There is also speculation that another company may take over its permit in the bight.

Equinor’s decision is an important win for many Australians, but we cannot rest on our laurels. Reform of Australia’s offshore petroleum laws is urgently required to permanently protect our precious marine environment.

The Great Australian Bight is a unique ecosystem and must be protected. Sascha Grant/Flickr, CC BY

A risky endeavour

In May last year, a group of multi-disciplinary experts, including the authors of this article, made a submission to the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), highlighting the risks inherent in Equinor’s proposal.

Exploratory drilling has taken place in the Bight since the 1960s. However, Equinor’s proposal involved drilling 370km off the coast in waters up to 2,500 metres deep. This brought extra technical complexity and made the proposal very expensive and environmentally risky.

Equinor’s well would have been located in the Ceduna sub-basin, off southern Australia. NOPSEMA

Equinor’s environment plan also made overly optimistic assumptions and was inadequate in many ways, including the following:

– Environmental risk

Equinor said it was committed to ecologically sustainable development and would adhere to relevant environment regulations.

However, we believe the company did not comprehensively demonstrate how it would mitigate impacts on endangered species found within its well area.

Many species listed as threatened may have been affected by the drilling activities. These include a total of 28 listed migratory species, 20 listed marine species (including the endangered southern right whale, sea lions, dolphins, southern bluefin tuna and sharks) and five listed cetacean species.

Among the shortcomings in the environment plan, it did not outline how drilling would indirectly and directly affect the capacity of listed threatened species to restore their poulations, as is required under the Commonwealth Environment Act.

A worst-case scenario oil spill in the bight may have rivalled the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2011. US COAST GUARD

The Conversation contacted Equinor for a response to this criticism. Equinor said its environment plan “was accepted by the independent regulator in December 2019. The plan submitted and accepted demonstrated our ability to drill the exploration well safely”.

– Public consultation

Equinor conducted only limited public consultation – within a 40-kilometre radius of the well site. This excluded many relevant parties with a shared concern for the local environment.

The consultation approach also ignored the fact that if a significant accident occurred, such as the worst-case oil spill, there was a risk of harm to communities thousands of kilometres away.

It was particularly egregious that Equinor failed to consult any Indigenous organisations despite numerous Indigenous sea and land title claims that may have been affected by a spill.

Equinor also excluded 18 coastal councils from consultation, as well as conservation groups.

In response to this criticism, Equinor said it “engaged broadly with the community to provide information about our company and our plans for the Stromlo-1 exploration well, holding more than 400 meetings with stakeholders”. It said the consultation process complied with relevant legislation.

– Oil spill modelling

Equinor took a very conservative approach to oil spill modelling. Its modelling of the “worst case discharge scenario” predicted a far lower oil flow rate than modelling by BP in 2016 for the same well location.

But the scenarios Equinor developed would still have amounted to a catastrophic and unprecedented environmental event: a discharge of 42,387 barrels per day until the well was killed after 102 days, or 4,323,478 barrels of oil in total. This is a similar to the amount of oil estimated to have entered the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

In response, Equinor said its oil spill maps “do not represent what a single spill would look like, or the area it would affect. To make sure we have planned for anything that could possibly happen, regardless of how unlikely it is, legislation requires us to form a single map by superimposing 100 different simulations of a worst-case oil spill under varying weather conditions”.

Anti-oil drilling protesters on the Gold Coast in November last year. AAP/Jason O’Brien

Why did Equinor jump ship?

Equinor says it abandoned its plans for commercial reasons – the same reason cited by BP and Chevron.

The company’s decision came just weeks after the federal regulator granted environmental approval to the company’s proposed Stromlo-1 well after three failed attempts.

So after pouring so much money and effort into the project, why would Equinor jump ship now? We believe other factors were also at play.

Read more: Noise from offshore oil and gas surveys can affect whales up to 3km away

First, the project failed to gain a social licence. Public surveys showed 60% of people nationally and 68% of people in South Australia opposed Equinor’s plans.

Second, it faced ongoing legal hurdles. The Wilderness Society had mounted a Federal Court challenge to the environmental approval over Equinor’s failure to consult relevant parties.

Third, and more broadly, much of the world is moving away from fossil fuels. The European Investment Bank is phasing out fossil fuel financing and the International Energy Agency has called on oil and gas companies to lower their emissions, warning that not doing so “could threaten their long-term social acceptability and profitability”.

Europe is moving away from oil, in a move that threatens the offshore petroleum industry. DIAMOND OFFSHORE DRILLING INTERNATIONAL

So what now?

Australia’s oil and gas industry is not going away. So in light of the risks, how do we protect marine life into the future? The answers may come from Equinor’s home country Norway.

The Norwegian government owns a two-thirds stake in Equinor. The government’s pension fund has announced plans to divest A$17 billion worth of fossil fuel stocks, and Equinor itself aims to reduce emissions from offshore fields and onshore plants in Norway by 40% by 2030, and to near zero by 2050.

Read more: It’s time to speak up about noise pollution in the oceans

In Norway, oil wells are operated in accordance with a standard requiring companies to demonstrate “fitness to drill” before work begins. This is not required under Australian regulations, which apply the lesser standard of “good oilfield practice”.

In developing petroleum resources, The Norwegian Petroleum Act requires titleholders to take “a long-term perspective for the benefit of Norwegian society as a whole”. This requires contributions to the welfare, employment and improved environment of the nation.

Australia’s Equinor experience has made one thing very clear: in protecting both our environment and the interests of future generations of Australians from the effects of fossil fuel extraction, this nation still has a lot to learn.

Greg Bourne contributed to this article.

ref. Equinor has abandoned oil-drilling plans in the Great Australian Bight – so what’s next? – https://theconversation.com/equinor-has-abandoned-oil-drilling-plans-in-the-great-australian-bight-so-whats-next-132435

Stocking up to prepare for a crisis isn’t ‘panic buying’. It’s actually a pretty rational choice

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By David A. Savage, Associate Professor of Behavioural Economics , Newcastle Business School, University of Newcastle

Recent days have brought reports of shoppers clearing out supermarket shelves from Wuhan and Hong Kong to Singapore and Milan in response to the spread of coronavirus. This behaviour is often described as “panic buying”.

However, the research shows that what’s going on here is nothing to do with panic. It’s a perfectly rational response to the situation.

Responding to disaster

Panic is one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted of all human behaviours. The common, traditional understanding of the phenomenon is based on myth rather than reality.

If we understand panic as a state of uncontrollable fear that drives irrational behaviour, then how people usually respond in the face of disaster is something else entirely.

It’s a common belief that social law breaks down in a disaster. In the Hollywood version, chaos ensues and people act in illogical or unreasonable ways. The reality is very different.

Most research rejects the notion of a “disaster syndrome” described as a state of stunned shock or the occurrence of mass panic. In real disasters, people usually hold on to tenets of acceptable behaviour such as morality, loyalty, and respect for law and customs.

Planning ahead

If we are not seeing panic, what are we seeing? Unlike most animals, humans can perceive some future threats and prepare for them. In the case of something like the coronavirus, one important factor is the speed at which information can be shared around the world.

We see empty streets in Wuhan and other cities, where people are unable or unwilling to go outside for fear of contracting the virus. It is natural that we want to prepare for the perceived threat of similar disruption to our own communities.

Read more: Vital Signs: a connected world makes this coronavirus scarier, but also helps us deal with it

Stocking up on food and other supplies helps people feel they have some level of control over events. It is a logical thought process: if the virus comes to your area, you want to be able to reduce your contact with others but also ensure you can survive that withdrawal period.

The greater the perceived threat, the stronger the reaction will be. At this stage it is believed that virus has an incubation period of up to 14 days, so people want to be prepared for at least 14 days of isolation.

Bare supermarket shelves are often a sign of preparation, not panic. Andrea Canali / EPA

A reasonable response

Preparing for a period of isolation is not the result of an extreme or irrational fear but rather an expression of our ingrained survival mechanisms. Historically, we had to protect ourselves from things such as harsh winters, failing crops or infectious diseases, without the aid of modern social institutions and technologies.

Stocking up on supplies is a valid response. It indicates citizens are not helplessly reacting to an outside circumstance but instead are thinking forward and planning for a possible situation.

While part of this response is due to the urge for self-reliance, it may also be a herd behaviour to some extent. A herd behaviour is one driven by imitating what others do – these behaviours can be a kind of conditional cooperation with others (for example, yawning).

Erring on the side of caution

A lot of uncertainty surrounds disasters, which means all advanced decisions are made on the basis of perceived threats not the actual disaster itself. Because of this uncertainty, people tend to overreact. We are generally risk-averse and aim to prepare for the worst-case scenario rather than the best.

When it comes to stocking up (or hoarding) a large private collection of goods to see us through a disaster, we don’t know how much we will need because we don’t know how long the event will last.

Accordingly, we tend to err on the side of caution and buy too much rather than too little. This is the natural response of a rational person who faces future uncertainty and seeks to guarantee their family’s survival.

Read more: Coronavirus: how media coverage of epidemics often stokes fear and panic

The importance of emotions

Buying up large stores of supplies – which can lead to empty supermarket shelves – may seem like an irrational emotion response. But emotions are not irrational: they help us decide how to focus our attention.

Emotions allow individuals to attend to issues longer, to care about things harder and to show more resilience. They are an instinctual element of human behaviour that we often fail to include when trying to understand how people act.

Changes in individual behaviours can have large-scale implications. For example, a supermarket will normally organise its supply chain and stocks on the basis of average levels of consumption.

These systems do not handle big fluctuations in demand very well. So when demand surges – as it has in parts of China, Italy and elsewhere – the result is empty shelves.

Should I be stocking up?

In general Australians are not as well prepared for disaster as our kin across the ditch in New Zealand, who routinely have emergency kits in their homes due to the prevalence of earthquakes. However, the recent summer of fires, floods and disease should have given us all a wake-up call to be prepared.

You don’t need to rush out this very minute to buy several dozen tins of baked beans, but you might want to start assembling this kind of kit. Look through the ABC’s survival kit list, figure out what you already have and what you need to get.

Then you can make a shopping list and steadily gather the things you need. Done this way, it gives shops time to restock and won’t leave the shelves bare.

ref. Stocking up to prepare for a crisis isn’t ‘panic buying’. It’s actually a pretty rational choice – https://theconversation.com/stocking-up-to-prepare-for-a-crisis-isnt-panic-buying-its-actually-a-pretty-rational-choice-132437

Is cruising still safe? Will I be insured? What you need to know about travelling during the coronavirus crisis

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By David Beirman, Senior Lecturer, Tourism, University of Technology Sydney

The coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) has now reached more than 80,000 recorded cases, largely concentrated in China, with a death toll over 2,700 and rising.

There are few signs the epidemic is abating. In fact, new cases have emerged in a host of European countries in recent days, while significant outbreaks have continued to grow in number in South Korea, Italy and Iran.

For the global tourism industry, the impact of the outbreak is likely to be severe. Many countries, including Australia and the US, are continuing their bans or severe restrictions on arrivals from China, which is having massive repercussions.

China accounts for one in 10 of the world’s international tourists, or about 150 million people per year. And Chinese tourists spent US$277 billion in outbound tourism in 2018, the highest in the world and nearly double the amount spent by American tourists at number two.

Read more: Coronavirus outbreak: a new mapping tool that lets you scroll through timeline

Many governments, including Australia and the US, have also had “do not travel” warnings in effect for China for weeks – the highest warning level possible.

Australia is also now advising travellers to take a high degree of caution when visiting other countries with outbreaks, including South Korea, Japan, Thailand and Hong Kong, and is advising people to reconsider travel to Iran. The warnings are updated frequently, so it’s best to check the Smart Traveller website before making plans.

The last significant disruption to global tourism on this scale occurred after the September 11 terror attacks, when a widespread fear of flying led to a major four-to-five-month decline in global aviation travel.

But despite the fears over coronavirus, travel is still generally safe at the moment provided you get the right advice and take sensible precautions.

A passenger gets her temperature taken after disembarking the Diamond Princess cruise ship. FRANCK ROBICHON/EPA

Is cruising still safe, and if so, where?

The recent quarantining of the Diamond Princess (Japan), the World Dream (Hong Kong) and the Westerdam (Cambodia) has raised concerns about the safety of cruising during the epidemic.

While the crisis is unprecedented in scale for the cruise sector, ship operators have extensive experience in dealing with the challenge of containing disease outbreaks. In fact, along with aviation, the cruising industry has the strictest health and safety controls of any tourism industry sector.

Read more: Memories overboard! What the law says about claiming compensation for a holiday gone wrong

The International Maritime Organisation has had a convention in place since 1914 known as SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea), and updated versions now include a range of protocols for the cleaning of cabins and public areas of a ship and food hygiene.

It is standard practice in cruising to isolate passengers when a passenger is identified with an on-board illness. The difficulty with COVID-19 is that it may take up to 14 days and in some cases even longer for symptoms to develop after exposure.

The US$45bn cruise industry faces major challenges convincing passengers it’s still safe to take voyages. Frank Robichon/EPA

According to my contacts in Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s global association representing over 90% of cruise ship operators, members are now developing a common approach to respond to the outbreak.

This involves informing passengers and training travel agencies about the measures that companies are taking to minimise risk and exposure to the virus. One measure being examined, for instance, is enhanced passenger reporting of medical vulnerabilities at the time of booking. This a top priority for CLIA.

Read more: We depend so much more on Chinese travellers now. That makes the impact of this coronavirus novel

But the good news is that apart from the three quarantined ships in Asia, no evidence of COVID-19 has been found on cruise liners thus far.

The global cruise industry also has a relatively small exposure to China, which should counter some concerns about the safety of cruising. According to CLIA, all of Asia accounted for just 10% of the world’s cruise deployments and about 15% of the world’s 30 million passengers in 2019.

About half of the world’s cruising passengers are from North America (mainly the US). Nearly a third of global cruising takes place in the Caribbean and 28% in the Mediterranean and the rest of Europe. (However, the new coronavirus outbreak in Italy is becoming a more serious concern for cruise operators there.)

Will you be covered for cancellations?

Many travellers are also concerned about the travel insurance implications of the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to CHOICE, the Australian consumer advocacy agency, less than half the travel insurers cover cancellation as a result of a pandemic or epidemic.

However, travellers who booked their trips prior to the announcement of the epidemic (what is called a “known event”) should be able to obtain cancellation coverage.

Allianz, for instance, says the virus became a known event on January 22 for travel to China. Cover More Travel Insurance, which issues over 80% of travel insurance policies in Australia, is using the date of January 23 for its policies.

However, travellers who booked and paid after the “known event” announcement may find themselves out of luck.

A man in Casalpusterlengo, one the Italian towns under lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak. Andrea Fasani/EPA

Insurers also have different exclusions when it comes to epidemics. For instance, most (but not all) insurers will deny any coverage to travellers who visit a country their national government advises citizens not to visit, such as China at the moment for Australians.

However, some policies (especially those for corporate and government travellers) will offer coverage at a premium price for any loss not related to COVID-19 or standard travel insurance exclusions, such as injuries incurred while intoxicated.

Bottom line, travellers should research their travel insurance cover very carefully or seek professional advice to understand the full implications of the virus on their plans.

ref. Is cruising still safe? Will I be insured? What you need to know about travelling during the coronavirus crisis – https://theconversation.com/is-cruising-still-safe-will-i-be-insured-what-you-need-to-know-about-travelling-during-the-coronavirus-crisis-131900

4 myths about polycystic ovary syndrome – and why they’re wrong

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Tessa Copp, PhD candidate, University of Sydney

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal condition. When using the definition supported by the international guidelines, it affects just under one in six young Australian women.

To meet the diagnostic criteria of PCOS, women need to have two of the following three criteria:

  • irregular periods
  • signs of increased levels of androgens (hormones that give “male” characteristics) such as excess hair growth, acne or hair loss
  • enlarged ovaries with lots of small follicles containing immature eggs (known as polycystic ovaries).

But polycystic ovaries aren’t ovaries with cysts. And having polycystic ovaries doesn’t mean you have PCOS.

Read more: Explainer: what is polycystic ovary syndrome?

Our new research among women and clinicians found confusion over the name PCOS, limited evidence about the condition, and large amount of misinformation online fed into common misconceptions about PCOS.

These myths and assumptions are harming women and standing in the way of appropriate health care.

Myth #1: Single symptoms indicate you have PCOS

PCOS is a syndrome, or a group of symptoms, so just one sign or symptom is not enough for a diagnosis.

In our new study of 36 clinicians (GPs, endocrinologists and gynaecologists), many raised concerns about misdiagnosis and overdiagnosis of PCOS. They described seeing many women who had self-diagnosed or had been incorrectly diagnosed based on irregular cycles alone, or on an ultrasound showing polycystic ovaries.

But many young women have polycystic ovaries but don’t have PCOS.

Symptoms are also on a spectrum of severity, with no clear line separating normal from abnormal.

Women of different ethnicities, for example, have different amounts of facial and body hair.

Some women have more noticeable facial hair than others. Shutterstock

And acne is common. One study found 45% of women in their 20s had clinical acne, as well as 25% of women in their 30s and 12% of women in their 40s.

There are also several other factors and conditions that can mimic PCOS symptoms, such as stress, hormonal contraceptives such as the pill, obesity, thyroid issues (which can affect metabolism), over-exercising and disordered eating.

Mislabelling women with PCOS prevents them from receiving care for their actual issue. Some conditions can have serious health consequences if left untreated, such as hypothalamic amenorrhea (when periods stop because of stress, weight loss and/or excessive physical exercise), which can lead to bone loss.

Myth #2: Women with PCOS don’t need to use contraception

Some women with PCOS may have trouble conceiving naturally and may need medication to help them ovulate when they want to conceive. But many women with PCOS conceive spontaneously and achieve their desired family size. In fact, women with and without PCOS have similar numbers of children.

Despite this, many women with PCOS believe they won’t become pregnant. This can have life-changing consequences.

Read more: I have PCOS and I want to have a baby, what do I need to know?

In our recent study, women with PCOS talked about how fear of infertility caused long-lasting psychological distress. They felt pressure to conceive early, had difficult conversations with their partners, and a few even altered their parenthood goals and no longer planned to have children.

Many took risks with contraception and a few ended up with unintended pregnancies. Reduced contraceptive use has also been shown in other studies.

Women with PCOS need reassurance and accurate information about the likelihood of pregnancy so they know contraception is needed if they don’t want to get pregnant.

Women with PCOS still need to use contraception. Shutterstock

Myth #3: All women with PCOS are at risk of ‘metabolic complications’

PCOS is associated with an increased risk of developing insulin resistance (when the body doesn’t respond properly to the hormone insulin), type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome (a collection of factors such as high blood pressure and poor cholesterol levels).

Consequently, some women with PCOS report persisting anxiety about their long-term health.

However, the potential consequences are not the same for all women diagnosed. Women with no signs of androgen excess, so those who are diagnosed due to irregular menstrual cycles and polycystic ovaries, don’t have the same metabolic risks as women with androgen excess.

Yet most doctors we interviewed were unaware of this. As a result, some women with PCOS are being wrongly labelled as high risk, causing unnecessary anxiety.

Another assumption frequently stated online is that women with PCOS are more likely to get heart disease. However, the limited data to date suggests otherwise.

Myth #4: PCOS causes weight gain or prevents weight loss

Although women with PCOS are more likely to be overweight than women without the condition, the relationship between PCOS and weight remains unclear.

While many women with PCOS report difficulty losing weight and perceive a greater susceptibility to weight gain, weight management interventions, such as diet and behaviour change programs, have found women with and without PCOS lose the same amount of weight.

Women with PCOS can lose weight. Shutterstock

A recent analysis suggests a high body mass index (BMI) is one of the causes of PCOS, with weight gain making symptoms worse. But having PCOS does not appear to affect BMI. We need more research to understand these relationships more clearly.

Encouragingly, even a small amount of weight loss can improve PCOS symptoms.

Read more: Weight loss improves polycystic ovary symptoms. But don’t wait until middle age – start now

Optimising healthy lifestyle (eating healthily, being active and avoiding smoking) is first line management for women with PCOS. However, women with PCOS may face additional barriers to implementing these changes, such as higher levels of anxiety and depression, highlighting the importance of access to support.

We must be careful with assumptions and generalisations in the absence of high-quality data. Women with PCOS each have different contributing factors and therefore different levels of risk. Having truly patient-centred health care will help them better manage their condition, improve their outcomes and reduce unwarranted anxiety.

ref. 4 myths about polycystic ovary syndrome – and why they’re wrong – https://theconversation.com/4-myths-about-polycystic-ovary-syndrome-and-why-theyre-wrong-131908

Coercive control is a key part of domestic violence. So why isn’t it a crime across Australia?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Paul McGorrery, PhD Candidate in Criminal Law, Deakin University

The recent killing of Hannah Clarke and her three children by her estranged husband has raised national attention to the types of behaviour that might lead to such a horrific crime, and how we might spot it early enough to intervene.

Researchers have known for decades most family violence involves forms of abuse other than physical violence, such as social isolation, emotional abuse and financial abuse.

However, we are now experiencing a watershed moment where the broader community is starting to recognise that too.

Read more: Why do men kill their families? Here’s what the research says

Evidence is mounting that Hannah’s husband had a long history of psychological abuse and controlling behaviours, sometimes called coercive control.

This is something we and others believe should be a crime in all jurisdictions across Australia.

In a nutshell, coercive control is a collection of behaviours designed to strip someone of their sense of autonomy and self-worth. Some examples of these behaviours include removing male contacts from a partner’s social media, dictating where and when their partner sleeps and eats, threats of self-harm if the relationship ends, and physical violence.

Perpetrators are nearly always male. And research by the UK charity SafeLives shows perpetrators can come from all works of life and social demographics.

If we can predict it, we can prevent it

There is a recognised timeline of behaviours that tend to occur before one partner (or ex-partner) kills the other.

A review of 372 intimate partner homicides in the UK found many men who kill their intimate partners (and it is almost always men killing women) followed an eight-stage homicide timeline.

The eight stages that tend to lead to one partner killing another.

For instance, the offender tends to have a history of abuse (either against the same or a different victim), the relationship often doesn’t start out as abusive, their behaviour tends to gradually become controlling, there’s a trigger (such as the end of the relationship) and then they escalate and kill their partner. There are clear similarities between the killing of Hannah and her children and this timeline.

Because we can predict these incidents, perhaps we can prevent them.

Just as importantly, not only is coercive control a warning sign for intimate partner homicide, it is also a wrong in itself. Victims report coercive control is often worse than all but the most extreme physical violence.

It’s time to criminalise coercive control

Tasmania is the only jurisdiction to have made certain coercive controlling behaviours (in particular, economic abuse and emotional abuse) criminal offences in Australia.

But we and others believe coercive control should be a criminal offence in its own right in each state and territory.

Such criminalisation needs to be part of wider reforms to address the unacceptable reality that a current or former partner murders a woman every week in Australia, and millions of Australians experience emotional abuse by an intimate partner at some stage in their lives.

Read more: It’s time ‘coercive control’ was made illegal in Australia

How has this worked internationally?

England and Wales made coercive control a crime in 2015. Ireland and Scotland followed suit in 2019, with promising early results in Scotland. And last week a Californian senator introduced a bill to criminalise coercive control.

To illustrate the types of cases these laws might apply to, consider the first successful conviction for coercive control in Ireland.

According to media reports, Kevin Dunleavy called his partner nearly 6,000 times in three months (more than 60 times a day). He made her take her phone with her when she left the house. He made her answer video calls so that she could show him where she was and who she was with. He threatened and attacked her. And he burned her clothes so she couldn’t leave the house.

Read more: Technology-facilitated abuse: the new breed of domestic violence

Because the court could look at his behaviour as a whole, he was given a sentence that reflected the overall seriousness of his behaviour, nearly two years in prison.

It’s not just more law, it’s an ideological shift

In jurisdictions other than Tasmania, the types of behaviours we might call coercive control are recognised as forms of family violence. But, generally, these behaviours can only be prosecuted as a breach of an intervention order (otherwise known as a domestic or apprehended violence order).

This is an issue because many women who need protection do not have intervention orders. Even when they do, police don’t always take action when those orders are breached. And it sends the wrong message to victims: that these behaviours are only wrong if a court order is in place.

Not all victims of coercive abuse go to court to get an intervention order, so are not covered by existing domestic violence legislation around Australia. from www.shutterstock.com

Criminalising these abusive behaviours demonstrates our strongest denunciation of them. It legitimises victims’ perceptions that what they are experiencing is unacceptable. It gives the broader community a language and shared understanding that can lead to long-term changes in attitudes. It gives police and others in the justice system a tool to intervene. And because of that, it may even save some lives.

There are, though, some concerns. Most importantly, the criminal justice system already struggles to respond to physical violence. And women are often misidentified as the perpetrator, especially in intervention order proceedings. Why should we expect it to do any better with the more complex concept of coercive control?

Training is critical

The answer, which is supported by conversations we’ve had with police and service providers in the UK, is that with proper resources and training, criminalising coercive control becomes more than just adding another crime to the thousands already in the statute book.

It necessitates a fundamental shift in the way police, prosecutors and judges see domestic abuse, not as a series of separate events but more like the way victims experience it: cumulatively, and comprehensively.

Criminalising coercive control isn’t, though, as simple as just cutting and pasting from one jurisdiction to another. It would require a detailed review what’s happened in other countries, and how best to legislate in each state and territory. It will also take time to implement, and uptake may be slow, as has been the case in England and Wales. That is, this isn’t the sort of reform that can happen overnight.

Instead, criminalising coercive control is the kind of reform that, done right, could lead to generational change in how we as a society conceptualise domestic violence.

If this article has raised issues for you or someone you know, contact the national sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling service – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).

ref. Coercive control is a key part of domestic violence. So why isn’t it a crime across Australia? – https://theconversation.com/coercive-control-is-a-key-part-of-domestic-violence-so-why-isnt-it-a-crime-across-australia-132444

Albanese says we can’t replace steelmaking coal. But we already have green alternatives

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Dominique Hes, Senior Lecturer in Sustainable Architecture, University of Melbourne

Despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary, some still propagate the myth that the world will need Australian coal for decades to come. Last weekend Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese joined in, saying thermal and metallurgical coal mining and exports would continue after 2050, even with a net zero emissions target.

Metallurgical coal (or “coking coal”) is mined to produce the carbon used in steelmaking, while thermal coal is used to make steam that generates electricity.

Albanese argues there’s no replacement for metallurgical coal, but this is not the case. The assertion stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of modern steelmaking, and places Australian manufacturers at risk of missing out on massive opportunities in the global shift to a low-carbon economy.

Just as thermal coal can be replaced with clean energy from renewables, we can use low-emissions steel manufacturing to phase out metallurgical coal.

Read more: Labor’s climate policy is too little, too late. We must run faster to win the race

The problem with steel

Steel is the second-most polluting industrial material in the world after cement, causing 7-9% of global emissions.

Australia manufactures a relatively small amount of steel – 5.3 million tonnes, or 0.3% of world output. Yet, we’re one of the biggest exporters of raw materials for steel production.

Anthony Albanese said he sees the coal industry continuing in Australia beyond 2050. Lukas Coch/AAP Image

There is potential to not only strengthen Australia’s steel manufacturing industry, but also to grow it using the ore (rock containing metals like iron) we currently export and our extensive renewable energy sources.

Doing so would work to our manufacturing strengths, history, abundant resources, and would cater to the future low-carbon market that will still require steel.

There are a few ways we can do this.

Recovering waste

Seventy-two per cent of the world’s virgin steel (steel made from ore, not from recycled material) is created from a high emissions manufacturing process – via the integrated steel-making route. This involves a blast furnace and a basic oxygen furnace, using coal, coke, iron ore and gas.

We can replace the coal and coke with rubber tyres that would otherwise end up in landfill, as shown by University of NSW’s Professor Veena Sahajwalla, who dubbed this process “green steel”.

Read more: Stemming the tide of trash: 5 essential reads on recycling

Right now we can also boost the recovery of steel from landfills in greater percentages. According to a 2018 national waste report, Australia generated an estimated 67 million tonnes of waste in 2016-17.

Steel makes up 2.5% of this. That’s more than 1.5 million tonnes, enough to build 150,000 buses.

‘Direct reduction’ from renewable hydrogen

But the best way to reduce emissions in steel manufacturing is to shift to “direct reduction”. This process produces more than 60 million tonnes of primary steel around the world each year.

And almost 50 plants around Australia already make steel this way. It results in 40% lower greenhouse gas emissions, while supporting a viable and thriving manufacturing industry, which uses our own raw materials rather than exporting them.

Read more: Enough ambition (and hydrogen) could get Australia to 200% renewable energy

Here’s how it works. Direct reduction removes the oxygen in ore, which produces metallic iron. The chemical reaction that drives this process uses carbon monoxide and hydrogen, sourced from greenhouse gases – reformed natural gas, syngas or coal.

But there’s no reason these fossil fuels can’t be entirely replaced with renewable hydrogen in the near future.

We’ve seen this from two leading direct-reduction technologies, called Midrex and Energiron. Both use fossil fuels, but also with a high proportion of hydrogen. In fact, Energiron facilities can already use up to 70% hydrogen, and they’ve also trialled 100% hydrogen.

The source of this hydrogen is critical, it can be made from fossil fuels, or it can be made using renewable energy.

Read more: For hydrogen to be truly ‘clean’ it must be made with renewables, not coal

At least five companies in Europe are also working on producing low emissions steel. What’s more, three companies (SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall) are collaborating to progress the technology, creating the “world’s first fossil-free steel-making technology, with virtually no carbon footprint” – called the “HYBRIT system”.

In fact, SSAB recently announced they’re bringing their plans forward to will produce fossil-free steel by 2026.

A new Aussie industry

The key message is this: it is possible to create low-emissions steel, without metallurgical coal. And it is already happening.

With the support of industry and government, non-metallurgical, low-emissions steel could provide an opportunity to create jobs, develop a decarbonised industry and extend the steel market’s contribution to Australia’s economy.

Not to mention what products we can produce from the steel – adding value in many more ways than just exporting ore – and taking advantage of an increasing consumer demand for low carbon products. This is especially relevant for communities transitioning away from fossil fuels.

There’s not much stopping low-emissions steel from forming a core new Australian industry. Australia must address the costs involved in transitioning the infrastructure, to upgrade plants and processes.

But it needs to start with working from facts – and effective government support and vision.

Read more: How hydrogen power can help us cut emissions, boost exports, and even drive further between refills

ref. Albanese says we can’t replace steelmaking coal. But we already have green alternatives – https://theconversation.com/albanese-says-we-cant-replace-steelmaking-coal-but-we-already-have-green-alternatives-126599

Thousands of city trees have been lost to development, when we need them more than ever

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Thami Croeser, Research Officer, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University

Climate change is on everyone’s lips this summer. We’ve had bushfires, smoke haze, heatwaves, flooding, mass protests and a National Climate Emergency Summit, all within a few months. The search is on for solutions. Trees often feature prominently when talking about solutions, but our research shows trees are being lost to big developments – about 2,000 within a decade in inner Melbourne.

Big development isn’t the only challenge for urban tree cover. During the period covered by our newly published study, the inner city lost a further 8,000 street trees to a variety of causes – vandals, establishment failures of young trees, drought, smaller developments and vehicle damage.

Still, thanks to a program that plants 3,000 trees a year, canopy growth has kept just ahead of losses in the City of Melbourne.

Read more: Our cities need more trees, but some commonly planted ones won’t survive climate change

Canopy cover is crucial for keeping urban areas liveable, shading our streets to help us cope with hot weather and to counter the powerful urban heat island effect. Trees can also be a flood-proofing tool.

Trees add beauty and character to our streets, and (so far) they’re not a political wedge issue in the ongoing culture war that is Australian climate policy. In short, they’re a very good idea, at just the right time.

Counting the trees lost to development

The thing is, this good idea happens in the midst of a construction boom. In Melbourne alone, this includes thousands of new dwellings and billions of dollars of new infrastructure. Many of the new buildings are very large – there’s a handy open database that shows these developments.

This map shows the scale of development under way in the inner city. City of Melbourne

Next time you’re walking past a large construction site, look for empty tree pits – the square holes in footpaths where trees have been removed. Maybe you’ve already seen these and wondered what all the construction means for our trees. Well, now we know.

Our study puts a number on the impact of major development on city trees. In the City of Melbourne – that’s just the innermost suburbs and the CBD – major developments cost our streets about 2,000 trees from 2008-2017.

Using council databases and a mapping tool, we tracked removals of trees within ten metres of hundreds of major developments. We found much higher rates of tree removal around major development sites than in control sites that weren’t developed.

An example of our analysis, comparing tree losses around sites with major development (orange) to control sites (blue). Trees within 10m of major developments were much more likely to be removed. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scs.2020.102096

Even with the City of Melbourne’s robust tree-protection rules, trees can be removed or damaged due to site access needs, scaffolding, compacted soil, root conflicts with services access, and even the occasional poisoning.

The City of Melbourne invited artist Louise Lavarack to create a roadside memorial to a poisoned plane tree, which was then shrouded in gauze bandages. Tony & Wayne/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Read more: We’re investing heavily in urban greening, so how are our cities doing?

Tree protection limits losses

The silver lining in this story is that the city council’s tree-protection policy seems to be quite effective at saving our bigger trees. The vast majority of removals we saw were of trees with trunks less than 30cm thick. Only one in 20 of the trees lost was a large mature tree over 60cm thick.

This may partly reflect the fact that the council charges developers for not only tree replacement but also the dollar equivalent of lost amenity and ecological values. It gets very expensive to remove a large tree once you factor in all the valuable services it provides. When a tree is a metre thick, costs can exceed $100,000 – and that’s if there are no alternatives to removal.

The protection of bigger trees means Melbourne retained canopy fairly well, despite losing over 2,000 trees. Only 8% of city-wide canopy losses during our study period happened near major development sites. This modest loss is still serious, as removals are having more of an impact on future canopy growth than current cover.

Read more: How tree bonds can help preserve the urban forest

Lessons for our cities

While Melbourne-centric, there are lessons in this study for cities everywhere. Robust policies to protect and retain trees backed up by clear financial incentives are valuable, as even well-resourced councils with strong policy face an uphill battle when development gets intense.

Our findings highlight that retaining and establishing young trees is especially difficult. This is troubling given these are the trees that must deliver the canopy that will in future shelter the streets in which we live and work.

Read more: Keeping the city cool isn’t just about tree cover – it calls for a commons-based climate response

Improved investments in how young trees are planted and how long we look after them can help. For example, in a promising local study, researchers showed that trees planted in a way that catches rainwater run-off from roads grow twice as fast, provided planting design avoids waterlogging.

Finally, in the context of rapid development, buildings themselves can play a positive role. Green roofs, green walls and rain gardens are just a few of the ways developments can help our cities deal with both heat and flooding.

There are plenty of precedents overseas. In Berlin, laws requiring building greening have resulted in 4 million square metres of green roof area – three times the area of Melbourne’s Hoddle Grid. In Singapore, developments must include vegetation with leaf area up to four times the development’s site area, using green roofs and walls. Tokyo has required green roofs on new buildings for nearly 20 years.

The solutions are out there, and urban greening is rising in profile. Recent commitments in Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide are promising. Our study findings are a reminder that, even for the willing, we’ll have to take two steps forward, because there’s inevitably going to be one step back.

Read more: For green cities to become mainstream, we need to learn from local success stories and scale up

ref. Thousands of city trees have been lost to development, when we need them more than ever – https://theconversation.com/thousands-of-city-trees-have-been-lost-to-development-when-we-need-them-more-than-ever-132356

Natural disasters increase inequality. Recovery funding may make things worse

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Mehmet Ulubasoglu, Professor of Economics, Head of the Department of Economics and Director of the Centre for Energy, the Environment and Natural Disasters, Deakin University

My team and I have analysed the incomes of people affected by some of Australia’s worst bushfires, floods and cyclones in the past two decades. Our results are disheartening.

We’ve found the income gap routinely increases after a natural disaster. For example, following Queensland floods of 2010-11 the difference between those on low and middle incomes in the Brisbane River Catchment area increased by about $7,000 a year.

Read more: With costs approaching $100 billion, the fires are Australia’s costliest natural disaster

Low-income earners, small-business owners and part-time workers are more likely to lose income following a disaster. Middle and high-income earners, full-time workers and owners of larger businesses are far less likely; indeed they might even earn more.

Recovery and relief funding, which places greater weight on assisting businesses than on income support for individuals, might widen the income gap even further.

Who loses

Looking at disasters of different scales over the past 20 years, we’ve used the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ census data sets from 2006, 2011 and 2016 to compare the incomes of people living in disaster-hit areas with those in comparable areas not affected by disasters.

We examined the following catastrophes:

  • the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, which killed 173 people and caused A$7 billion in damage
  • the 2010-11 Queensland floods, which killed 33 people and caused A$14 billion in damage
  • Cyclone Oswald, which swept northeastern Australia in 2013 and pounded the Queensland town of Bundaberg – we used this case to measure the effect of a medium-scale catastrophe
  • the 2009 bushfires that destroyed 38 homes in the town of Toodyay, in Western Australia – we used this as an example of a disaster afflicting a small regional town.
Damage caused by bushfire in the Western Australian town of Toodyay, northeast of Perth, in December 2009. Tony McDonough/AAP

Across most of these different types, scales and areas, we found low-income earners, small-business owners and part-time workers, on average, lost income after a disaster.

A waitress casually employed at a restaurant, for example, might have been asked not to come to work for a few months during a cleanup and recovery period. Our findings suggest most people never make up the income they lose.

Those most likely to lose income following disasters were employed in agriculture, accommodation and food services (covering the tourism industry). Following the Black Saturday bushfires, for example, agricultural employees lost an average of A$8,000 in annual income for the next two years. Employees in the accommodation and food services industries lost an average of A$5,000.

Who gains

Post-disaster income losses do not affect full-time workers, higher-income earners or owners of larger businesses nearly so much.

In fact, we found some people in these categories can actually earn more money in the wake of a disaster.

Unlike the groups of people who lose, gains aren’t uniform. It varies by disaster. After the Black Saturday bushfires, for example, those employed in Victoria’s public and administrative services benefited most. After the 2010-11 Queensland floods, incomes rose for health and retail employees in the Brisbane River Catchment.

The following infographic shows losses and gains by income level for wage earners in the Brisbane River Catchment Area. Low-income earners lost an average of A$3,100 in the year following the floods. Middle and high-income earners gained an average of A$3,770 and A$3,380 respectively. Five years later high-income earners’ incomes were an average of A$4,590 higher.

Relief and recovery funding

Our analysis suggests relief and recovery funding may contribute to widening the income gap, with the income gains for some groups indicating benefits are distributed unevenly.

The main reason is how programs are structured. Funding tends to be channelled to businesses, not households. Businesses receive tax deferrals, special disaster assistance grants, back-to-business workshop grants, cleanup operation grants, exceptional disaster assistance and other forms of subsidies.

In the six months following the Queensland floods, for example, just 10% of the recovery spending went to income and wage assistance. At least 80% went to businesses.

East Brisbane on January 13 2011. The overflowing Brisbane River inundated dozens of suburbs, flooding about 20,000 homes. Dave Hunt/AAP

Building a more sustainable model

Overall, there is room to rethink how we might build a more sustainable model for disaster recovery.

It’s important to assist businesses because these are arteries of the economy. But four possible improvements to the current recovery funding model could help minimise the widening of the income gap.

First, assistance programs should make it a priority to balance the imperative of short-term aid with the importance of not making inequality worse in the longer term.

Second, funding arrangements need to account for the characteristics of different disasters, and the different patterns of social effects. Not all disasters are the same, but the current funding model tends to treat them as if they are.

Third, programs should account for the greater vulnerability of households that depend on part-time, casual work and other forms of insecure work.

Read more: Uber drivers’ experience highlights the dead-end job prospects facing more Australian workers

Fourth, programs should acknowledge the susceptibility of different employment sectors. While the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements scheme provides some benefits to the farming sector, other sectors, such as accommodation and food services, can also be be hit hard.

Income matters. It shapes all household decisions. With more frequent and extreme weather events predicted, natural disasters present an increasing threat to social equality and all the benefits that flow from that. It is crucial to ensure relief and recovery efforts do not inadvertently contribute to widening the gap.

ref. Natural disasters increase inequality. Recovery funding may make things worse – https://theconversation.com/natural-disasters-increase-inequality-recovery-funding-may-make-things-worse-131643

We groom dogs in our own image: the cuter they are, the harder we fall

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Tiffani J. Howell, Research Fellow, School of Psychology and Public Health, La Trobe University

Australians are slightly obsessed with our dogs. But are we obsessed enough to watch a reality doggy makeover show?

The reality makeover concept has a long history, from Top Model to the Biggest Loser to Backyard Blitz. Now on Pooch Perfect, hosted by Rebel Wilson, groomers will compete to see who does the best makeover for dogs: the first reality makeover competition to feature our best friends.

At the heart of this show will be the cute factor.

This got us thinking: what is it that makes something cute and who gets to decide what cuteness is? And why does cuteness tug at our heartstrings so strongly?

Cute as a button

Certain traits are believed to make something or someone cute. Ethologist Konrad Lorenz noted people generally find infant-like characteristics cute: big, wide-set eyes; a round face; small nose and mouth; and a large head. He argued traits like these make us feel protective: we are willing to do whatever it takes to keep our cute children safe until they develop enough to look after themselves.

One argument is pets piggyback on this tendency, with their cuteness inspiring us to care for them. Certainly, we often treat pets like children and consider them to be members of the family.

Researchers have tried to understand more about what draws us to our pets, and whether cuteness is an important feature.

We do have confirmation dogs look like their owners, at least insofar as research participants can successfully match dogs with owners based solely on a photograph.

However, they can do the same with cars, so perhaps instead of looking like their owner, both cars and dogs exhibit features we associate with a certain type of person, allowing us to guess on that basis.

The ties that bind

Whether dogs look like us or not, they obviously reflect something important about us. Does dog cuteness matter even beyond this reflection of ourselves?

We found owners who think their dog is very cute are more likely to feel a strong bond with their dog.

In the same study, some participants sent us a photo of their dog. We then asked strangers to rate the cuteness of the dogs and to judge the dog’s personality from the image. Dogs that were rated as cuter by strangers were also believed to be friendlier and more trainable.

Read more: 8 things we do that really confuse our dogs

However, when comparing owner and stranger ratings of cuteness, we found nearly all owners think their dog is cuter than strangers do. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, after all!

What does this have to do with dog grooming? Well, a 2015 study asked people to rate which out of two dog photos they liked best. The photos were identical except for almost imperceptible changes that made one dog appear slightly cuter or more human-like.

To increase cuteness, researchers made the dog’s eyes larger, the jowls smaller, or increased the space between the eyes. To make the dog more human-like, they applied colour to the dog’s irises, or gave the dog a visible smile. People typically preferred the dogs with cuter or more human-like traits.

The dog groomers on Pooch Perfect appear to instinctively understand this. The difference between the “before” and “after” shots of the dog makeovers is the eyes look bigger (or are made visible at all!), and they look more human with the addition of accessories such as pretty bows.

On Pooch Perfect, the groomers make the dogs look ‘more human’ by adding accessories such as bows. Seven

Dogs reflect something about us, and some of us care enough about what our dog looks like to go on a reality TV show to get the dog a makeover.

Do you prefer a perfectly groomed dog? Maybe you want to project an image of elegance.

Do you like scruffy and unkempt? That says something else.

Perhaps you have no interest in what your dog looks like: just like your dog, physical appearance isn’t your top priority and feeling safe probably is.

A cautionary note to end on, then, is we must keep animal welfare top of mind. It’s fine to make over a dog who enjoys it, but let’s not cause dogs stress just for the sake of entertainment.

All dogs are wonderful because they are dogs, and we should love and protect them regardless of how successful their latest makeover is.

ref. We groom dogs in our own image: the cuter they are, the harder we fall – https://theconversation.com/we-groom-dogs-in-our-own-image-the-cuter-they-are-the-harder-we-fall-132255

Duterte on new ABS-CBN franchise: ‘I’ll cross the bridge when I get there’

President Rodrigo Duterte administers the oath of office to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) officials in a ceremony at the Rizal Hall in Malacañang Palace on February 26, 2020. Video: Rappler

By Felipe F. Salvosa II in Manila

Reporters have finally got the chance to ask President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday whether he would sign a bill granting a new franchise for TV giant ABS-CBN. His response: “I’ll cross the bridge when I get there.”

Duterte, speaking for the first time since his top aide, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, said in a Senate inquiry on Monday that he was displeased with ABS-CBN’s refusal to air a political ad during the 2016 presidential campaign, said he would be put in a “difficult position” if the bill arrived on his desk.

He said he might even ask media to help him out on making a decision. “I will cross the bridge when I am there. Maybe I will call the media to help me out. It is a difficult decision really,” Duterte told reporters following an oath-taking of officials at Malacañang Palace.

READ MORE: The ANC Brief – a threat to press freedom

Duterte nonetheless accepted the apology made by ABS-CBN president Carlo Katigbak over the non-airing of the ad, which Duterte supporters have used as evidence of the network’s alleged bias against the president.

ABS-CBN has said ad limits in the final stretch of the 2016 campaign prevented the airing of the ad. The ad was in response to an attack ad paid for by Duterte’s arch-critic, then senator Antonio Trillanes IV, featuring children reacting to clips of Duterte uttering bad language.

Duterte did not accept a P2.6-million refund from ABS-CBN. On Wednesday, he said ABS-CBN could give it to a “charitable institution of their choice”.

The president also claimed that he had no hand in the quo warranto case filed by Solicitor-General Jose Calida before the Supreme Court, in which the top government lawyer accused ABS-CBN of violating the terms and conditions of its 25-year franchise, which expires on March 30.

‘Healthy distance’
“I kept a healthy distance from it…they are now deliberating in Congress: the lower house (House of Representatives) and the Senate. There is a plan that they will pass a joint resolution. But fundamentally really the decision is with the House, not so much in the Senate, because the constitution says all of these things must originate from the lower house,” Duterte said.

“I leave it to Congress,” he added.

The tussle over the ABS-CBN franchise is widely viewed as a press freedom issue. Duterte last year vowed to block the network’s franchise and accused it of serving as a mouthpiece for the opposition and the “oligarchs”.

The government previously sued Rappler, a news website critical of Duterte, for tax evasion and violating the constitutional ban on foreign ownership in mass media, and barred Rappler reporters from covering government events.

Calida’s petition does not cite the non-airing of the ad. It claims that ABS-CBN went around the foreign ownership ban by accepting investments from foreigners through investment instruments known as Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs). It also claimed that ABS-CBN illegally charged subscribers to a digital movie channel and illegally acquired a franchise for a mobile phone service.

ABS-CBN has denied any wrongdoing, and told the Supreme Court on Monday that it had the necessary licences from the National Telecommunications Commission.

Also on Monday, the Securities and Exchange Commission said ABS-CBN did not violate the law in issuing PDRs, which entitles holders only to dividends and not ownership.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue also said the TV network did not owe any taxes to the government, refuting claims by Duterte supporters on social media that ABS-CBN was cheating on its tax payments.

Felipe F. Salvosa is coordinator of the journalism programme at the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines and a contributor to Asia Pacific Report.


Obituary: Andy Ayamiseba – long road home to an ‘independent’ West Papua

Andy Ayamiseba died a few days ago. While the West Papuan was loved, admired and supported in Vanuatu, he fought tirelessly to win a home he could return to. He died before the dream was achieved.

Originally published by the Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PIPP), this 2013 profile of Andy Ayamiseba’s life of activism in exile by Dan McGarry is one of the few narratives of the compelling story of the Black Brothers and their seminal role the formulation of a modern Melanesian identity, and in keeping the West Papuan independence movement alive in Melanesia. It has been edited to reflect recent events and republished with permission from Griffith Asia Institute’s Pacific Outlook.

In 1983, Andy Ayamiseba and the rest of the Black Brothers band descended from their flight to Port Vila’s Bauerfield airport, to be greeted by the entire cabinet of the newly fledged government of Vanuatu. They were, by Melanesian standards, superstars.

They had come to assist Father Walter Lini’s Vanua’ku Pati in its first re-election campaign, and to pass on the message of freedom for West Papua. So began a relationship that would span a lifetime of activism, a liberation dream long deferred, and ultimately, a first glimmer of hope for political legitimacy for the West Papuan liberation movement.

The Black Brothers were already widely known and loved in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Touring PNG in the late 1970s, the band members first met Vanuatu independence figures, including Hilda Lini, Kalkot Mataskelekele and Silas Hakwa.

READ MORE: Benny Wenda’s tribute

Students at the University of Papua New Guinea at the time, they returned to Vanuatu to play key roles in Vanuatu’s move to independence.

– Partner –

A generation later, it’s hard to imagine the immediacy, the passion and the dynamism of the time. Kalkot Mataskelekele, who would later serve as Solicitor-General and on the Supreme Court bench before becoming the republic’s 6th president, was a young firebrand operating a pirate radio service from the bush north of the capital.

Hilda Lini, sister to two prime ministers and the first woman elected to Vanuatu’s Parliament, was a tireless organiser, working behind the scenes to promote what would become the Vanua’ku Pati.

In hindsight, it seems almost inevitable that the dynamism of this callow political leadership would mesh and meld with the creative iconoclasm of the Black Brothers. But it had to wait before it reached its full fruition.

Expelled by Indonesia
In 1980, the Indonesian government expelled Ayamiseba and the other band members. Stateless, they sought shelter in the Netherlands. Hilda Lini had contacted them in 1980 during a visit to Europe, but it wasn’t until 1983 that they obtained refugee status and official residency.

Finally able to travel again, their first destination was Vanuatu.

It was a triumphal entry. They were welcomed by Father Walter Lini’s government and a large crowd of adoring fans. Likewise, on their first visit to Solomon Islands, the roads were so packed that it took the group two hours to get from the airport into town. Their concert the next day was attended by 28,000 fans.

Their 2013 visit to Honiara was somewhat more low-key, and yet perhaps more epochal than the original Black Brothers crusade. With funding and official support from the government of Vanuatu, independence leaders John Ondawame and Andy Ayamiseba conducted a of tour of Melanesian Spearhead Group members, soliciting support for membership in the sub-regional organisation.

The West Papua National Coalition of Liberation, or WPNCL, was an amalgam of two previously divergent wings of the OPM (in English, the Organisation for Papuan Freedom) and a number of political groups advocating for West Papuan independence. It was ultimately superseded by the United Movement for the Liberation of West Papua.

Having met already with the Fijian and Vanuatu prime ministers as well as the incoming chair of the MSG and head of the FLNKS, Andy and John were hopeful that their meetings with Solomon Islands prime minister Darcy Lilo would be equally fruitful. In a 2013 interview with the Pacific Institute of Public Policy, Ayamiseba explained that he had met and befriended Lilo during his sojourn in Honiara in the mid-90s.

Should Solomon Islands decide to voice its support for WPNCL membership in the MSG, most of the political hurdles would be cleared for what might prove to be the first crack of light through the doorway of political legitimacy for the cause.

Critical opening
Arguably, the critical opening came weeks before, when Sir Michael Somare (former PM of Papua New Guinea) voiced the opinion that the MSG is not an intergovernmental organisation, but an organisation of peoples, joined by culture and geography. The statement, made during a celebration of the MSG 25th anniversary, came as a surprise to some.

In 2008, it was Somare who flatly blocked a motion to consider West Papuan membership in the MSG. (Admittedly, the motion was ill-timed and ill-prepared. Ayamiseba himself admits that his group had no prior knowledge, and were caught by surprise when it was tabled.)

The way was finally cleared, not by Darcy Lilo, but by his successor, Manasseh Sogavare. In June 2015, he chaired a meeting that saw a very Melanesian compromise in which both Indonesia and the ULMWP were formally granted a place at the MSG.

Political legitimacy for West Papuan independence in the Pacific has long been subject to the vicissitudes of Melanesian politics. While Ayamiseba’s group were the darlings of the Vanua’ku Pati, and by extension the government of Vanuatu, the association came at a price. They were expelled from the country following the party’s schism in 1989, forcing Andy to seek asylum, first in Australia, then in Solomon Islands. His friendship with then-PM Mamaloni notwithstanding, efforts to further the independence movement stalled.

Progress elsewhere in the world was also stymied by realpolitik. In 1986, even nations such as Ghana, which had objected to the manner in which West Papua was brought under Indonesian rule, were less than responsive to overtures by John Ondawame, who had officially joined the independence movement’s leadership following its reunification the year before in Port Vila.

It is saddening to observe that, despite the fact that it clearly flouted international law in its annexation of the territory, no country outside of Melanesia offered significant criticism of Indonesia’s actions in West Papua. Not, at least, until new media and the internet began to break down the wall of silence that had been erected around the territory.

But even in the face of clearly documented torture, assassination and political oppression, many nations are still loath to legitimise the independence movement.

Pitfalls and obstacles
In Vanuatu, the de facto home of West Papuan independence, the road to freedom has been a long one, as full of pitfalls and obstacles as Port Vila’s physical thoroughfares – and sometimes, just as poorly managed. When Barak Sope became prime minister in 2000, he brought together nine members of the West Papuan leadership and brokered an accord that would finally bring all independence efforts under one roof.

Later that year, his delegation to the UN General Assembly included three West Papuans, two OPM members and one from the Presidium. There, in an alarming example of fervour trumping political savvy, they met with the Cuban delegation.

For all of his energy, support and contributions to Melanesian identity, Barak Sope’s political ineptitude soon brought his government down. His failure even to produce a budget caused significant domestic turmoil, which effectively forced West Papua onto the back burner.

It wasn’t until 2003 that Foreign Affairs Minister Serge Vohor welcomed back the Black Brothers, and facilitated the opening of the West Papuan People’s Representative Office, a front for the OPM.

International awareness and support were limited. Vanuatu continued to fumble the issue, balking at formal political support while continuing to express public sympathy and tacit approval. Elsewhere, tribal leader Benny Wenda’s escape from Indonesian custody and flight to the UK opened another front in the campaign.

Indonesia did itself no favours when it abused the Interpol red list by issuing a warrant for Wenda’s arrest.

For several years, the movement seemed paralysed, unable to organise itself, beset by legal constraints and barely able to manage its own processes. Vanuatu politicians proved fickle, with VP president Edward Natapei voicing support but doing little.

Commitment remains strong
Ham Lini, whose personal commitment to the cause remains strong, was unwilling to expend more political capital on the effort after the 2008 MSG debacle. Sato Kilman, the next prime minister in line, wilfully ignored the advice of his own cabinet, supporting Voreqe Bainimarama’s move to allow Indonesia observer status at the organisation.

Quietly persistent, Ayamiseba and Ondawame continued their efforts. Its moral cause made clearer by stark images of torture and brutality circulated by West Papua Media and others, the leadership (under the auspices of the WPNCL) organised an international tour for Benny Wenda, whose travel restrictions were lifted following legal and media campaigns against Indonesia’s Interpol warrant.

Even Wenda’s rebuff by the New Zealand Parliament only fanned the flames of support.

Wenda’s 2013 invitation to speak to MPs inside Vanuatu’s Parliament was the first of a series of small but significant breakthroughs. Soon-to-be prime minister Moana Carcasses’ attendance at the event was the first public sign of his political break with Sato Kilman.

A naturalised citizen of Tahitian descent, Carcasses perhaps felt the need to placate the nativist inclination common among Ni Vanuatu. Nonetheless, allowing himself to be photographed holding the Morning Star flag (a key symbol of West Papuan independence) symbolised a shift from sympathy to overt political support for the movement. In one of his first acts as prime minister, Carcasses met with Ayamiseba and Ondawame, personally assuring them of his government’s support in their MSG membership bid, and promising the creation of a West Papua desk in the department of foreign affairs.

Arriving as it did on the heels of a surprisingly warm and supportive reception by Bainimarama and other Fiji government officials, the independence movement appeared finally to be seeing the light of hope. Outspoken and unambiguous support for membership from the Kanaky leadership was not nearly as surprising; they’ve formally supported independence since the 1990s.

With the FLNKS assuming the group chair in 2014, Kanaky support proved crucial. They got the matter of ULMWP acceptance onto the agenda, and in the end they helped carry the room when the matter was considered in Honiara the following year.

Cementing PNG support
It seemed at the time that the only remaining piece to fall into place was Papua New Guinea. Wenda’s visit to PNG in 2013 did manage to cement some amount of popular support, but achieved few tangible political results. Somare’s rather startling shift away from outright opposition caused discomfort in the PNG political establishment. But that wasn’t sufficient to move them to openly oppose neighbouring Indonesia.

One of the more popular songs Ayamiseba wrote for the Black Brothers is “Liklik Hope Tasol”, a ballad written in Tok Pisin whose title translates to “Little Hope At All”. Its narrator lies awake in the early morning hours, the victim of despair. The vision of the morning star and a songbird breaking the pre-dawn hush provide the impetus to survive another day.

The song, with its clear political imagery and simplistic evocation of strength in adversity, is clearly autobiographical. It is, arguably, the anthem which animated Ayamiseba’s lifelong pursuit of freedom.

Andy Ayamiseba aged gracefully. Encroaching frailty complemented his unassuming, soft-spoken manner, but it masked a dynamism and fervour only visible to his trusted friends and confidants. Once lit, however, that spark provided a glimpse of the man as he was, the jazz-funk rebel, walking in his exile hand in hand with equally youthful –and equally naïve– leaders. Together, they redefined the Melanesian identity.

What beggars description, though, is the determination required for Ayamiseba and his West Papuan brethren to spend their entire adult lives in pursuit of legitimacy, with only the slightest glint of light to show for that effort.

Ayamiseba expressed hope:

“You cannot stay blind and deaf for 50 years.”

Andy died last week. He lived to see the formation of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, the umbrella organisation representing key members of the independence movement. He looked on proudly as its members marched triumphantly into the MSG headquarters to lodge their membership application. He was there when Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu and Prime Minister Charlot Salwai opened the official ULMWP office in Port Vila.

But he never made it home.

Dan McGarry is former media director of the Vanuatu Daily Post. He is currently appealing against the refusal of his work permit. He has lived in Vanuatu for 16 years.

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Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

Gender diversity in science media still has a long way to go. Here’s a 5-step plan to move it along

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Merryn McKinnon, Senior lecturer, Australian National University

Public representation of science in the media still struggles to reflect the true diversity of those who work in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). According to the Women in Leadership Australia’s 2019 Women for Media Report, women are quoted as sources in just 33% of science news stories.

However, this figure is based on 19 articles collected within a much broader study, of which science news was not a focus. To really understand the diversity of STEM representation in the media, we need a bigger sample.

Some masters students and I collected a representative sample of 655 articles published in Australia’s mainstream and science news media during 2018. In the case of international media companies with an Australian presence, we looked at articles posted on their Australian edition, some of which were produced locally and some republished from overseas.

Read more: Where are the women scientists, tech gurus and engineers in our films?

We tallied the genders of the journalist, sources quoted directly or indirectly, photographer and photo subject in these articles. If any gender was not explicitly stated using a readily gender-identifiable name (like Jane or Abdul) or an explicit personal pronoun, we categorised the gender as “unidentified”.

Our preliminary results show that in the 468 STEM-related news articles that used direct gender-identifiable quotes, both women and men were quoted as sources in 28% (133). Articles exclusively quoting men comprised 52% (241) of the articles we examined. Only 20% (94) of articles exclusively quoted women.

Of course, the devil is in the detail, and when you start to look at the number of individuals quoted in stories the difference is stark.

Gender of journalists, sources, photographers and photo subjects from a sample of 655 articles from 18 media outlets. Merryn McKinnon, Author provided

One egregious example was a “holiday reading list” from science magazine Cosmos, which featured nine books written or introduced by men, reviewed by five men.

If we look just at the top five STEM news providers in our sample, results are mixed. Our sampled suggested that The Conversation, the ABC and the Daily Mail have equal or greater numbers of women writing about STEM topics, compared with men. But although some of these outlets are also close to having gender parity in expert sources, the dominant voices are still generally male.

Comparison of the gender of science writers and directly quoted expert sources in the top five STEM news providers in our sample. Merryn McKinnon

A man’s world?

If “we can’t be what we can’t see”, then it is vital that female scientists and science writers are prominent in the media landscape. But unfortunately, our results reveal that this landscape is still dominated by men.

There are many reasons for this. But let’s be clear: confronting this problem is not a job just for women, or just for the media. This is a systemic, structural and societal problem and everyone has a part to play in formulating the solution.

This was one of many discussions held at this month’s Catalysing Gender Equity conference, held in Adelaide by the Australian Academy of Science and featuring delegates from higher education, research, government, media and the private sector.

Building on the release last year of the Decadal Plan for Women in STEM, the conference aimed to develop tangible ways to work towards gender equity.

Of course, gender equity is just one part of the overall problem. There are many groups throughout society that similarly need equitable representation and inclusion. Nobody should be marginalised or disadvantaged because of their age, race, culture, religion, disability, sexual orientation or socio-economic status.

Read more: ‘Death by a thousand cuts’: women of colour in science face a subtly hostile work environment

So how do we improve STEM media diversity?

Based on many conversations with STEM professionals during communication workshops I have run over the years, I have developed a simple five-step process, with the mnemonic “START”. It is aimed at anyone in a STEM, or arguably any, organisation wishing to increase the diversity of their public representation.

Here’s how you START:

  • Support. Speaking publicly about your work should be seen as vital and valued from all levels in an organisation. Listen to concerns from those who may be intimidated by the prospect of talking to the media, and help alleviate those concerns. If you’re an experienced media contributor, invite a less experienced colleague to shadow you at an interview or studio. Online trolling can be intimidating, so be proactive in alerting outlets to inappropriate comments on articles or social media feeds. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. Keep it classy.

  • Train. Few people are born with the ability to turn their complex, nuanced research findings into a pithy seven-second soundbite. But solid media training can give researchers the skills and understanding necessary to communicate effectively with the media. This includes learning how the media works, and realising that deadlines tend to be much shorter in a newsroom than a science lab!

  • Advocate. Most research disciplines have a handful of high-flyers who are usually tapped on the shoulder to do media interviews or public talks. But as long as the same shoulders are tapped, how do we discover new talent? One way is for those who already have a profile to use it elevate others too. Nominate a less experienced colleague – especially one from an under-represented group – to do the talk or interview instead, and then support them through it.

  • Reinforce. Media and public outreach can take time away from the “real job” of teaching, research and grant applications. But the resulting coverage benefits the organisation. Organisations should therefore see public engagement as an integral task, not a distraction, and include it in assessments of job performance and career development.

  • Track. Organisations should monitor their media coverage to understand who their “public faces” are. They should ask how diverse these faces are, and where resources might best be deployed to improve the picture.

Read more: Women in STEM need your support – and Australia needs women in STEM

In contrast to Mary Poppins’ advice, there is no need to START from the very beginning. Perhaps tracking or reinforcement is a sensible first step for your organisation. Or if you’re a researcher who already enjoys a significant media profile, you might start by thinking of some colleagues for whom you can advocate.

Irrespective of where we begin, equity – in all its forms – needs everyone to start somewhere.

ref. Gender diversity in science media still has a long way to go. Here’s a 5-step plan to move it along – https://theconversation.com/gender-diversity-in-science-media-still-has-a-long-way-to-go-heres-a-5-step-plan-to-move-it-along-132174

It might sound ‘batshit insane’ but Australia could soon export sunshine to Asia via a 3,800km cable

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By John Mathews, Professor of Strategic Management, Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Macquarie University

Australia is the world’s third largest fossil fuels exporter – a fact that generates intense debate as climate change intensifies. While the economy is heavily reliant on coal and gas export revenues, these fuels create substantial greenhouse gas emissions when burned overseas.

Australia doesn’t currently export renewable energy. But an ambitious new solar project is poised to change that.

The proposed Sun Cable project envisions a ten gigawatt capacity solar farm (with about 22 gigawatt-hours of battery storage) laid out across 15,000 hectares near Tennant Creek, in the Northern Territory. Power generated will supply Darwin and be exported to Singapore via a 3,800km cable slung across the seafloor.

Sun Cable, and similar projects in the pipeline, would tap into the country’s vast renewable energy resources. They promise to provide an alternative to the export business of coal, iron ore and gas.

Read more: Australia’s energy exports increase global greenhouse emissions, not decrease them

As experts of east-Asian energy developments, we welcome Sun Cable. It could pioneer a renewable energy export industry for Australia, creating new manufacturing industries and construction jobs. Importantly, it could set our economy on a post-fossil fuel trajectory.

Long-term cost benefits

Sun Cable was announced last year by a group of Australian developers. The project’s proponents say it would provide one-fifth of Singapore’s power supply by 2030, and replace a large share of fossil fuel-generated electricity used in Darwin.

Submarine cables are laid using deep-sea vessels specifically designed for the job. Alan Jamieson/Flickr, CC BY

To export renewable energy overseas, a high-voltage (HV) direct current (DC) cable would link the Northern Territory to Singapore. Around the world, some HVDC cables already carry power across long distances. One ultra-high-voltage direct current cable connects central China to eastern seaboard cities such as Shanghai. Shorter HVDC grid interconnectors operate in Europe.

The fact that long distance HVDC cable transmission has already proven feasible is a point working in Sun Cable’s favour.

The cost of generating solar power is also falling dramatically. And the low marginal cost (cost of producing one unit) of generating and transporting renewable power offers further advantage.

The A$20 billion-plus proposal’s biggest financial hurdle was covering initial capital costs. In November last year, billionaire Australian investors Mike Cannon-Brookes and Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest provided initial funding to the tune of up to A$50 million. Cannon-Brookes said while Sun Cable seemed like a “completely batshit insane project”, it appeared achievable from an engineering perspective.

Sun Cable is expected to be completed in 2027.

Bringing in business

The proposal would also bring business to local high-technology companies. Sun Cable has contracted with Sydney firm 5B, to use its “solar array” prefabrication technology to accelerate the building of its solar farm. The firm will pre-assemble solar panels and deliver them to the site in containers, ready for quick assembly.

The Northern Territory government has also shown support, granting Sun Cable “major project” status. This helps clear potential investment and approval barriers.

Read more: Making Australia a renewable energy exporting superpower

Across Australia, similar renewable energy export plans are emerging. The Murchison Renewable Hydrogen Project in Western Australia will use energy produced by solar and wind farms to create renewable hydrogen, transported to east Asia as liquid hydrogen.

Similarly, the planned Asian Renewable Energy Hub could have renewable hydrogen generated in Western Australia’s Pilbara region at 15 gigawatts. This would also be exported, and supplied to local industries.

These projects align with the Western Australian government’s ambitious Renewable Hydrogen Strategy. It’s pushing to make clean hydrogen a driver for the state’s export future.

Projects such as Sun Cable could reduce Australia’s reliance on coal exports. AAP

Reliable solutions

Generating and transmitting power from renewable resources avoids the energy security risks plaguing fossil fuel projects. Renewable projects use manufactured devices such as solar cells, wind turbines and batteries. These all generate energy security (a nation’s access to a sufficient, affordable and consistent energy supply).

Australia controls its own manufacturing activities, and while the sun may not shine brightly every day, its incidence is predictable over time. In contrast, oil, coal and gas supply is limited and heavily subject to geopolitical tensions. Just months ago in the Middle East, attacks on two major Saudi Arabian oil facilities impacted 5% of global oil supply.

Read more: Australia’s fuel stockpile is perilously low, and it may be too late for a refill

Renewing international links

Apart from exporting electricity produced on its own solar farm, Sun Cable could profit from letting other projects export electricity to Asia through shared-cost use of its infrastructure.

This would encourage future renewable energy exports, especially to the energy-hungry ASEAN nations (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

This would strengthen Australia’s economic relationships with its ASEAN neighbours – an importantc geo-economic goal. In particular, it could help reduce Australia’s growing export dependence on China.

However, as with any large scale project, Sun Cable does face challenges.

Other than raising the remaining capital, it must meet interconnection standards and safety requirements to implement the required infrastructure. These will need to be managed as the project evolves.

Also, since the power cable is likely to run along the seabed under Indonesian waters, its installation will call for strategic international negotiations. There has also been speculation from mining interests the connection could present national security risks, as it may be able to send and receive “performance and customer data”. But these concerns cannot be validated currently, as we lack the relevant details.

Fortunately, none of these challenges are insurmountable. And within the decade, Sun Cable could make the export of Australian renewable energy a reality.

ref. It might sound ‘batshit insane’ but Australia could soon export sunshine to Asia via a 3,800km cable – https://theconversation.com/it-might-sound-batshit-insane-but-australia-could-soon-export-sunshine-to-asia-via-a-3-800km-cable-127612

Politics with Michelle Grattan: Mark Butler on Labor’s 2050 carbon neutral target

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

Mark Butler, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, is optimistic that Labor is better placed to prosecute its climate policy at the next election, compared to the last.

“I think we are better positioned now for two reasons.”

“Firstly, I think the business community has shifted substantially over the last couple of years, and that’s a global shift that reflects, particularly the fact that regulators…and investors have recognised that climate change poses a very serious risk to the stability of the financial system.”

“Also I think people are starting to better understand the costs of not acting. Not only because of some of our tragic experiences over recent months, but because universities and other groups are starting to quantify the costs of not acting.”

“So there are enormous opportunities for a country as abundant in clean energy resources as Australia to make this shift.”

ref. Politics with Michelle Grattan: Mark Butler on Labor’s 2050 carbon neutral target – https://theconversation.com/politics-with-michelle-grattan-mark-butler-on-labors-2050-carbon-neutral-target-132511

What is a rare disease? It’s not as simple as it sounds

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Yvonne Zurynski, Associate Professor of Health System Sustainability, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University

If you have a rare disease, you may be the only person in Australia with that condition.

You may not know, however, that being diagnosed with a rare disease means you are part of a community of up to two million Australians with one of these conditions. And more than 300 million people globally.

Read more: When you’re sick, the support you’ll get may depend on the ‘worth’ of your disease

Today, health minister Greg Hunt announced Australia will have its first National Strategic Action Plan for rare diseases.

This action plan will harness the power of rare disease advocates, patients and families, clinicians, researchers, peak bodies, industry and government to improve care for people with rare diseases.

What is a rare disease?

A rare disease is one that is very uncommon. The most widely accepted definition stipulates a rare disease affects fewer than five in 10,000 people.

Rare diseases are serious, complex, usually chronic, often life-limiting and most have no cure.

We know of about 7,000 different rare diseases, most with a genetic origin. Many begin in childhood.

Rare diseases are often progressive — they get worse over time — and can be associated with physical or intellectual disability.

Examples of rare diseases are uncommon childhood cancers such as hepatoblastoma (a cancer of the liver), and other better-known conditions like cystic fibrosis and phenylketonuria (a birth defect that causes an amino acid called phenylalanine to build up in the body, and untreated can lead to intellectual disability, seizures and behavioural problems). Both are symptomatic from birth. Huntington’s disease is another, but only shows symptoms in adulthood, even though it’s inherited.

Read more: Explainer: what is cystic fibrosis and how is it treated?

What makes a rare disease so difficult to diagnose and manage?

For a person living with a rare disease, and the people around them, the journey to obtaining a diagnosis and receiving treatment can be difficult, complex, worrying, confusing and isolating.

Rare diseases are difficult to diagnose because individually they occur so infrequently, and symptoms can be very complex. My research and another Australian study show it can take years to get the final correct diagnosis. Most health professionals have never diagnosed or cared for a person with osteogenesis imperfecta, Fabry disease or any other of the 7,000 rare diseases.

Added to this, the onset of symptoms for a rare disease can occur anywhere between birth and adulthood, and diagnostic tests are lacking or difficult to access.

Rare diseases are often genetic. Shutterstock

But diagnosis is only part of the puzzle. People with rare diseases typically need complex care from large teams of health professionals because with many rare diseases, several body systems are affected. Also, given the often-progressive nature of the condition, care needs can change — sometimes dramatically — over time.

Important questions also arise around life expectancy and what the risks would be if the person with a rare disease was to start a family. Would their children inherit the disease? Genetic counsellors can help with these sorts of questions.

Read more: No matter how you fund it, medical research is a good investment

Further, care is costly to families and to the health system. The cost of providing hospital care to just one child with a rare lung disorder who eventually needed a lung transplant amounted to almost A$1 million before the child’s ninth birthday.

The market for drugs for rare diseases, often called “orphan drugs”, is small. Although governments incentivise the pharmaceutical industry to develop orphan drugs, there are no effective drug treatments for most rare diseases.

In recognition that rare cancers and rare diseases traditionally lose out to more common diseases in terms of research, additional targeted funding has recently been allocated to boost research in Australia. In 2019 the NHMRC and the Medical Research Future Fund pledged A$15 million over five years for rare cancers, rare diseases and unmet need.

While a positive step, we are still lagging behind other countries. The United States, for example, spent US$3.5 billion (A$5.3 billion) on rare disease research in 2011.

Rare diseases commonly progress over time. Shutterstock

What does the future look like?

The action plan recognises people with a rare disease and their right to equitable access to health and support services, timely and accurate diagnosis and the best available treatments. It aims to increase rare disease awareness and education, enhance care and support, and drive research and data collection.

Its roll out should lead to better outcomes for people with rare diseases and less worry and frustration for families. For example, access to care coordinators or care navigators could help guide people and families through our often-fragmented health, disability and social care systems.

Read more: Personalised medicine has obvious benefits but has anyone thought about the issues?

Recent advances in personalised medicine, where a person’s specific genomic make-up could be used to tailor specific medicines for that person’s particular disease, holds much promise for people with rare diseases in the future.

Genetic testing for critically ill babies and children is already resulting in faster diagnosis and treatment of rare diseases.

The action plan aims to build on and support the sustainability of these important developments.

If you or a family member has a rare disease, and you’d like more information, the Rare Voices Australia website is a good place to start.

Nicole Millis, CEO of Rare Voices Australia, co-authored this article.

ref. What is a rare disease? It’s not as simple as it sounds – https://theconversation.com/what-is-a-rare-disease-its-not-as-simple-as-it-sounds-132251

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