Can you socially distance at a Black Lives Matter rally in Australia and New Zealand? How to protest in a coronavirus pandemic

Can you socially distance at a Black Lives Matter rally in Australia and New Zealand? How to protest in a coronavirus pandemic

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Philip Russo, Associate Professor, Director Cabrini Monash University Department of Nursing Research, Monash University

The death of African-American man George Floyd at the hands of police has sparked protests across the United States and inspired many people to reflect on our own history of police violence against Indigenous people in Australia and New Zealand.

After thousands marched across New Zealand on Monday, a series of rallies and vigils are planned across Australian cities this week, many have wondered: how should we safely protest during a pandemic?

As an infection prevention researcher, I am, of course, genuinely worried by the prospect of large crowds gathering. But I also completely understand why people want to go and make their feelings known on racism – not just in Australia and New Zealand, but internationally. It is a clash when we are trying to manage COVID-19 and puts us in a dilemma.

But I can’t stand and judge people who want to go.

Huge crowds have gathered in places such as New York to protest the death of George Floyd. Lev Radin/ AAP

Colleagues in the US who are so moved by what’s happening there are forgoing their social distancing and putting themselves and their colleagues at risk by attending the protests. For them, it is a personal decision and a risk they are prepared to take.

In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said while “I utterly understand” why people had marched, New Zealand had social distancing rules in place to protect people’s health – and the June 1 marches were “a clear breach of them”.

If we had one person, one person in that crowd, just think what could happen there because we’ve seen it before […] I understand the strength of feeling and I understand the sentiment and I understand that sense of urgency that everyone felt. But my job is to look after the country’s health as well.

NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said while she doesn’t want to stop peaceful protests, the June 1 Black Lives Matter protests across NZ were a “clear breach” of COVID-19 rules.

In Australia, people should remember many states have strict rules about public gatherings and it’s likely you’ll be breaching them if you attend a protest. In Victoria, there’s a limit of 20 people at an outdoor gathering. For NSW the limit is 10, while in Queensland the limit is 20.

Remember, coronavirus is spread via close contact, so you are significantly increasing your risk of infection if you are in a large crowd.

All that said, if you’re considering attending a protest, here are four things to think about.

Read more: The fury in US cities is rooted in a long history of racist policing, violence and inequality

1. Is there another way I can show support?

Given I’m an infection prevention researcher, working to prevent the spread of COVID-19, I have to say this: if there is any other way you can show support, other than attending a mass gathering – whether that’s donating to a group doing good work, doing any sort of online protest or whatever option you can find – you should consider it.

Think about whether you yourself are at higher risk – by being older or immuno-compromised, for example – and whether there is a more sustainable way for you to support a movement you care about.

2. Think about how you’ll get there

Plan your trip to and from the protest carefully. Avoid crowded public transport – consider driving or riding a bike if possible – and follow social distancing rules if you must travel by bus, train or tram.

Make sure you bring hand sanitiser and use it liberally. Wash hands as soon as you get home.

3. If you go, observe social distancing

Download and use the COVIDSafe app. Try as best you can to observe social distancing at any event you attend. That means staying at least 1.5 metres apart from everyone else – whether you are standing in an open space or marching down a street. Remember that coronavirus is spread by droplets released when people breathe, talk, cough, sneeze, sing or shout in close proximity to others. No hugging to demonstrate solidarity.

People gathered in Sydney on Tuesday to protest against the treatment of Indigenous people in custody. James Gourley/AAP

When you get lots of people together and emotions run high, things can go awry very quickly. I’d be prepared to leave the demonstration if I started to get concerned about the proximity of people around me. There’s a risk more people will turn up than you or the event organisers anticipated; if there are bigger crowds than expected, be prepared to make a decision to head home.

A mask alone will not protect you, they’re only one piece of the armoury and are only useful if you socially distance and wash hands as well. If you throw yourself into a situation where you are close to other people, a mask will not be enough to protect you or others.

Israelis demonstrated in April against Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under strict restrictions made to slow down the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread. AAP/Reuters/Corinna Kern

Read more: Are you wearing gloves or a mask to the shops? You might be doing it wrong

4. Do not attend if you feel unwell or have any COVID-19 symptoms

This should go without saying: absolutely stay home, no matter how strongly you feel about the issue, if you have any symptoms, such as a sore throat or a cough.

Indigenous Australians are an at-risk demographic for COVID-19, as are Māori and Pasifika, so you need to think carefully about the risk you may pose to others if you turn up while experiencing symptoms. If there was to be a small cluster in one of these protests, and the virus was passed to an Indigenous community, the effects could be devastating.

If you feel that compelled to attend a demonstration, think about anything you can do to minimise the chances of spread, or you will undo the gains Australia and New Zealand have made in keeping the coronavirus spread under control.

Read more: Riot or resistance? How media frames unrest in Minneapolis will shape public’s view of protest

ref. Can you socially distance at a Black Lives Matter rally in Australia and New Zealand? How to protest in a coronavirus pandemic –

‘I can’t breathe!’ Australia must look in the mirror to see our own deaths in custody

'I can't breathe!' Australia must look in the mirror to see our own deaths in custody

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Thalia Anthony, Professor of Law, University of Technology Sydney

I can’t breathe, please! Let me up, please! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!

These words are not the words of George Floyd or Eric Garner. They weren’t uttered on the streets of Minneapolis or New York.

These are the final words of a 26-year-old Dunghutti man who died in a prison in south-eastern Sydney.

Read more: The fury in US cities is rooted in a long history of racist policing, violence and inequality

David Dungay Jr was killed when prison officers restrained him, including with handcuffs, and pushed him face down on his bed and on the floor. One officer pushed a knee into his back. All along, Dungay was screaming that he could not breathe and could be heard gasping for air.

Dungay’s death in custody occurred in Long Bay prison during the 2015 Christmas season. It happened a short drive from an elite university, next to affluent, waterside suburbs.

But his horrific death did little to pierce this white bubble of privilege. The media barely blinked. The politicians did not emerge from their holiday retreats. None of the officers involved were disciplined or called to account.

Australia’s glass house

It is comfortable for us in Australia to throw stones at racist police violence in the United States. It is comfortable because we do not see our own glass house.

Protests have broken out in the United States over the death of George Floyd. Erik McGregor/AAP

This is evident in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s comments to 2GB on Monday:

And so as upsetting and terrible is the murder that took place, and it is shocking … I just think to myself how wonderful a country is Australia.

It is “wonderful” because we do not see the horror inflicted by the criminal justice system on First Nations people.

It is “wonderful” because we do not ever call their deaths in custody “murder”, using instead the euphemisms of “accident” or “natural causes”.

It is “wonderful”, because we have so normalised the passing of First Nations people that we are never shocked when they are killed.

It is “wonderful”, because we have a vocabulary to defend police officers responsible for racist violence, including people doing an “extremely difficult job”.

The official response to the killing of Dungay has wide ripples in the white Australian community and the legal community. His family maintain that the killing of their son, brother and uncle, who was unarmed, was murder. No criminal charges have been brought and the coroner in November 2019 blamed Dungay’s pre-existing health conditions. His comments minimised the responsibility on the part of the officers:

it is most likely that the cause of David’s death was cardiac arrhythmia. It is noted that David had a number of comorbidities, both acute and chronic, which predisposed him to the risk of cardiac arrhythmia … However, the expert evidence also established that prone restraint, and any consequent hypoxia, was a contributing factor although it is not possible to quantify the extent or significance of its contribution.

First Nations people are the most incarcerated in the world

The deaths in custody of First Nations Australians are not hidden. As a nation, we are choosing not to look at them. In 1991, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody documented 99 deaths in custody.

Since then, 432 Indigenous Australians have died in custody, according to Guardian Australia’s Deaths Inside project.

First Nations people are the most incarcerated in the world, surpassing the rates of African American people in the United States. In 2019, for every 100,000 First Nations adults, 2,481 are in prisons, compared with 164 non-Indigenous people.

Read more: FactCheck Q&A: are Indigenous Australians the most incarcerated people on Earth?

Despite comprising 2% of the general adult population, First Nations Australians are 28% of the prison population. For First Nations women, the rate is 33% and they are 21 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous women. This is a product of systemic racism that also contributes to disproportionate deaths in custody.

Yet the deaths are only the tip of the iceberg. Everyday occurrences of police brutality against First Nations people, frequently filmed and uploaded on social media platforms, have even less formal oversight. The casual complacency about the harm inflicted on First Nations people means we do not know the true extent of its occurrence.

On Tuesday, a NSW police officer was put on restricted duties after a video emerged on social media of him appearing to kick an Aboriginal teenager.

Protesting deaths in custody in our backyard

In the wake of Floyd’s death, Dungay’s nephew, Paul Silva pointed to the lack of response to First Nations deaths in Australia:

We don’t get the same big response in Australia as they do in the United States with the Black Lives Matter movement, but we have had many people, both First Nations and non-Indigenous people standing with us. We can build on that – we need many more to join us. We can take inspiration from the United States and get back out on the streets in our own backyard, where there is so much brutality against Black people too, that’s the only way to get justice.

While the spotlight has been shone on the protests in the United States, most Australians would be unaware that each year on the anniversary of Dungay’s killing, there has been a protest, mostly at Long Bay jail.

Leetona Dungay continues to protest about her son’s death. David Moir/AAP

This week in cities around Australia, protests are planned in the name of First Nations people who have died in custody. The numbers of those who converge on the streets is a litmus test of national tolerance for racial violence against First Nations people in the criminal justice system.

Where does racial violence against First Nations people end?

Despite more than 500 First Nations deaths in custody since 1980, there has never been a successful homicide prosecution in the criminal courts. Indeed, only a handful have resulted in charges being laid in manslaughter or, less frequently, murder.

A police officer has been charged with murder following the shooting death of a 19-year-old Warlpiri man last year. The officer intends to plead not guilty.

Read more: Three years on from Uluru, we must lift the blindfolds of liberalism to make progress

The Victorian Coroner this April also referred the death of Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day to prosecutors for further investigation.

Without accountability, justice will not flow for the families and the chain of racial violence will not be broken.

The danger of expressing outrage towards African American deaths in custody is that we deflect our own agency and responsibility. We legitimise the violence at our doorstep that is in our control.

It allows us to walk past racist police interventions on the false assumption that the problem is with the First Nations person rather than the police and Australian culture.

The only response to racism is resistance. This must take place not simply in passive solidarity with African Americans, but in our active support, protest and sacrifice for the lives of First Nations Australia.

ref. ‘I can’t breathe!’ Australia must look in the mirror to see our own deaths in custody –

Is your super money safe? Here’s how you can dodge cyber fraud

Is your super money safe? Here's how you can dodge cyber fraud

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Roberto Musotto, Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre Postdoctoral Fellow, Edith Cowan University

Alongside growing concerns over a possible resurgence of the coronavirus during winter, the pandemic is now creating even more victims as cybercriminals aim to capitalise on the economic upheaval.

According to news reports, people have had money stolen from their super funds by fraudsters exploiting the COVID-19 early access scheme.

The attackers reportedly used victims’ stolen identity credentials to create fake myGov accounts and lodge applications for the early release of up to A$10,000 from superannuation accounts.

If you’re worried about accessing the scheme, there are a few ways you can strengthen your protection against fraudsters looking for quick financial gain at your expense.

Read more: Don’t be phish food! Tips to avoid sharing your personal information online

Always looking for weak points

COVID-19 has threatened the national economy and left more than 700,000 people without work. In April, the federal government responded by allowing access to A$10,000 worth of super funds for eligible applicants in this financial year, and a further A$10,000 after June 30, to help sustain people during this difficult time.

Unsurprisingly, cybercriminals have sought to take advantage of flaws in the scheme.

In May, the Australian Taxation Office reportedly found at least 100 cases of applications lodged using stolen personal information.

It’s not known how attackers managed to access the personal information required for such fraud. It may have been stolen earlier this month from the hacked customer files of a tax agent, as confirmed by federal home affairs minister Peter Dutton.

Or this may have been a less sophisticated scheme. All it takes to steal identity details is a fake email or web page that looks trustworthy enough to dupe you into sharing your information.

Cybercriminals often try a broad approach, sending the same malicious email to hundreds of thousands of people in the hope someone will fall into the trap. And someone usually does.

What can you do to stay safe?

Now is a good time to check your super fund statement to make sure there hasn’t been any unauthorised withdrawal. Even better, you should regularly check all financial statements, including bills. If you see a transaction you don’t remember making, block your bank cards and inform your bank immediately.

Although there are algorithms that help detect credit card fraud, you are the only person who can recall whether you made a specific purchase. With online shopping booming during lockdown, the pool of potential victims has increased.

It’s also common for fraudsters to “test” whether a credit card works by deducting a very small amount (as little as 10 cents) with a generic description such as “service fee” or “top-up charge”.

This may seem insignificant, but for cybercriminals it’s the “perfect crime” as its simplicity and perceived lack of damage means it often escapes detection. Also, the operational costs of committing such a crime are very low, which means more people can be targeted.

In some ways, making very minor deductions from victims’ accounts is a ‘perfect crime’ for cybercriminals. These charges tend to go unnoticed, but add up in the end. Shutterstock

Verify information and report

One foolproof way to keep your personal information safe from hackers is to double-check the websites you use – whether it’s for online shopping, checking emails or chatting with friends online. Make sure there are no obvious spelling mistakes in the URL, or otherwise.

If in doubt, try to verify the site’s legitimacy through a quick Google search. Often some online cross-checking, or a phone call to an organisation’s official phone number, is enough to reveal a scammer. And if you can’t confirm authenticity, ask yourself: is sharing my details worth the risk?

If anything doesn’t seem right, always report it to the relevant authorities so others don’t fall victim. In Australia and New Zealand, you can report identity theft on IDCARE and any type of cybercrime on the government’s ReportCyber website.

And if do become victim to fraud, alert your superannuation provider and bank as soon as possible. Cybercrime victims should always be empowered to report fraud, as this is the first step to potentially getting your money back.

Read more: ‘Click for urgent coronavirus update’: how working from home may be exposing us to cybercrime

Are more checks needed?

Some ways to potentially make the early release of super funds more secure include allowing only one verified account per person which should be confirmed, potentially via a physical interview, before any account activity is carried out. Requiring double-factor authentication throughout the process of submitting an application would also be helpful.

The successful exploitation of the scheme indicates the government may have rushed trying to process and complete applications. One member of the public said it took 12 hours to have their application approved.

This sudden administrative efficiency raises reasonable doubt about the level of security checks in place. And if fraudsters have managed to bypass security protocols, it’s very likely more checks will be needed.

ref. Is your super money safe? Here’s how you can dodge cyber fraud –

Scott Morrison intervenes over Washington police assault of Australian TV crew

Scott Morrison intervenes over Washington police assault of Australian TV crew

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

Scott Morrison has asked the Australian embassy to investigate the assault by police of an Australian Channel 7 news crew during the Washington demonstrations.

The embassy, which is headed by ambassador Arthur Sinodinos, is to provide advice on registering Australia’s “strong concerns” with the responsible local authorities in Washington.

Cameraman Tim Myers and 7 News’ US correspondent Amelia Brace were reporting live as police cleared protesters ahead of President Trump going from the White House to a nearby church.

Footage shows Myers being bashed with a riot shield.

Brace said later: “I actually managed to get a rubber bullet to the backside and Tim got one in the back of the neck so we’ll have a few bruises tomorrow but we’re perfectly safe”.

“You heard us yelling that we were media … but they don’t care. They are being indiscriminate at the moment,” she said.

Morrison wasn’t aware of the assault when he and Trump spoke on Tuesday; Trump had contacted Morrison to formally invite him to the G7 meeting in September.

After hearing of the incident, Morrison contacted Channel 7 to assure the network of the government’s support if it wished to lodge a formal complaint with the police through the embassy.

Anthony Albanese, speaking earlier, said Sinodinos “should be certainly making representation on behalf of these Australians who effectively have been assaulted”.

In their conversation, the Prime Minister told Trump he would be pleased to attend the G7 meeting. It is the second consecutive year Australia has been invited – last year French host, President Macron, extended an invitation.

A spokesman for Morrison said participation would “give Australia another significant opportunity to promote our interests during highly uncertain times in the global economy. It’s important for Australians that we are there”.

The G7 group of large advanced economies includes – apart from the US – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom. Its discussions cover economic, security and other issues.

But this meeting, which has been delayed from July to September, is surrounded by controversy. Trump wants to have Russian President Vladimir Putin there. Russia was expelled some years ago after its invasion of Crimea.

While Trump would like Russia readmitted as a member of the G7, this is strongly opposed by the UK and Canada – although their stand would not necessarily rule out Putin’s attending the September meeting.

At the weekend Trump said he did not think the G7 “properly represents what’s going on in the world. It’s a very outdated group of countries.” He flagged inviting Russia, South Korea, Australia and India.

The PM’s spokesman said Morrison and Trump canvassed in their conversation the “distressing situation” in the US – which has seen the country wracked by violent protests in the wake of the death at police hands of the unarmed African-American George Floyd – and “efforts to ensure it would be resolved peacefully”.


On the home front, Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe on Tuesday said it is possible the depth of Australia’s downturn will be less than earlier expected.

In a statement after Tuesday’s Reserve Bank Board meeting, which as anticipated kept rates unchanged, stressed the nature and speed of the recovery “remains highly uncertain”.

The economy was going through its biggest contraction since the 1930s depression, he said.

But “the rate of new infections has declined significantly and some restrictions have been eased earlier than was previously thought likely. And there are signs that hours worked stabilised in early May, after the earlier very sharp decline. There has also been a pick-up in some forms of consumer spending”.

Lowe said while the pandemic would likely have lasting effects on the economy, most immediately “much will depend on the confidence that people and businesses have about the health situation and their own finances”.

The bank’s statement comes ahead of Wednesday’s national accounts for the March quarter, and the government’s imminent announcement of help for the residential sector.

ref. Scott Morrison intervenes over Washington police assault of Australian TV crew –

Women are drinking more during the pandemic, and it’s probably got a lot to do with their mental health

Women are drinking more during the pandemic, and it's probably got a lot to do with their mental health

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Shalini Arunogiri, Addiction Psychiatrist, Senior Lecturer, Monash University

COVID-19 has significantly affected our collective mental health.

For many people, social disconnection, financial strain, increased obligations in the home and ongoing uncertainty have created distress – and with it, a need for new ways of coping.

One way people may choose to cope with stress is through the use of alcohol.

We’re now starting to understand the degree to which alcohol use has increased in Australia during COVID-19. While the data aren’t alarming so far, they suggest women are drinking at higher levels than usual during the pandemic, more so than men.

This trend is likely linked to the levels of stress and anxiety women are feeling at the moment – which, research suggests, are disproportionate to the distress men are experiencing.

Read more: Worried about your drinking during lockdown? These 8 signs might indicate a problem

Alcohol consumption and COVID-19

Early reports of increased alcohol purchasing raised the alarm that we might see an increase in alcohol use across the population during lockdown.

However, recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggests overall, alcohol consumption remained relatively stable during April. Only 14% of Australians reported increased use of alcohol in the previous month.

But women are over-represented in this group. Some 18% of women reported increased alcohol use in the previous month, compared with only 10.8% of men.

14% of Australians reported they were drinking more than usual during April. Shutterstock

Similarly, preliminary results from our COVID-19 mental health survey of 1,200 Australians in April found a significantly higher proportion of women had increased their alcohol intake: 31.8%, versus 22.5% of men.

Why are we seeing this disparity between women and men? The answers may lie in what we know about why women drink, and in the disproportionate burden of stress women are facing as a result of COVID-19.

Women tend to drink for different reasons to men

In Australia in 2016, 14% of men and 7% of women drank alcohol to risky levels.

Although fewer women than men drink alcohol regularly, alcohol consumption among women has increased in the past decade, particularly in middle-aged and older women. This mirrors international trends that suggest women may be catching up to men in terms of their alcohol consumption.

Read more: Did you look forward to last night’s bottle of wine a bit too much? Ladies, you’re not alone

Overall, Australia has observed a reduction in risky drinking across the population, with increasing numbers of young people choosing not to drink.

In contrast, women in their 50s are the only subset of the Australian population with rising rates of alcohol use. In 2016, data showed for the first time, they were more likely to drink at risky levels than younger women.

Drinking has become more normalised among women in this middle-to-older age group, potentially contributing to the rise in alcohol use. Alcohol has become a commonly accepted coping mechanism for distress, with women feeling comfortable to say “I just had a bad day. I needed to have a drink”.

This highlights a theme that frequently underpins problematic alcohol use in women: what’s termed a “coping motive”. Many studies have found more women drink alcohol to cope – with difficult emotions or stressful circumstances – as compared to men, who more often drink alcohol in social settings or as a reward.

Read more: Women’s alcohol consumption catching up to men: why this matters

Women seem to be struggling more during the pandemic

With this in mind, it’s unsurprising we’re seeing increased alcohol consumption among women during COVID-19. International data show women have been more likely to experience symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Australian data show loneliness has been more of a problem for women (28%) than men (16%) during this past month under lockdown.

Caregiver load has also been a source of stress, with women almost three times more likely than men to be looking after children full-time on their own during COVID-19.

Many women have had to work from home while looking after their children. Shutterstock

While we don’t have enough evidence yet to tell us conclusively whether family violence incidents have increased during the pandemic, this may add to the mental health burden for some women during COVID-19.

Further, younger female workers are disproportionately affected by the economic crisis in the wake of COVID-19. The fact women make up a majority of the casual workforce makes them highly vulnerable at this time.

Read more: Coronavirus: it’s tempting to drink your worries away but there are healthier ways to manage stress and keep your drinking in check

Together, it seems COVID-19 is having a different mental health impact on women compared to men. And this is likely to be intertwined with their increased drinking during the coronavirus pandemic.

Whether we’ll see higher rates of problem alcohol use or dependence in women after the pandemic remains unclear. However, we know women who drink at unsafe levels experience complications more quickly, and enter treatment later, with perceived stigma a barrier to help-seeking.

It’s vital we draw our attention to these gender-specific differences in mental health and alcohol consumption as we formulate our mental health pandemic plan.

If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

ref. Women are drinking more during the pandemic, and it’s probably got a lot to do with their mental health –

RSF condemns attacks on US protest journalists fueled by Trump slurs

RSF condemns attacks on US protest journalists fueled by Trump slurs

After the arrest on live television of a CNN crew covering protests in Minneapolis on May 29, tensions erupted further against media reporting on protests taking place in at least 30 cities across the US, which were continuing as of May 31.

The protests were triggered by the killing by Minneapolis police officers of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, as they arrested him on May 25.

– Partner –

So far at least 68 incidents have been documented of attacks by police and protesters alike against journalists covering the protests.

They have been shot by rubber bullets and pepper balls, exposed to tear gas and pepper spray, beaten, threatened and intimidated and had their news vehicles vandalised, simply for doing their jobs.

President Trump’s demonization of the media for years has now come to fruition, with both the police and protesters targeting clearly identified journalists with violence and arrests,” said Christophe Deloire, RSF’s secretary general.

“It has long been obvious that this demonisation would lead to physical violence. RSF has warned about the consequences of this blatant hostility towards the media, and we are now witnessing an unprecedented outbreak of violence against journalists in the US.

“RSF calls on all US authorities to ensure the full protection of journalists and honour the country’s founding principles in respecting press freedom,” Deloire added.

Among serious attacks
Among the most serious attacks:

·       In Minneapolis, Linda Tirado, has been left permanently blind in one eye after being struck by what she believes was a rubber bullet fired by police officers as she photographed protests.

·       In Pittsburgh, Ian Smith – a photojournalist for KDKA TV – posted to Twitter that he had been “attacked by protesters downtown by the arena. They stomped and kicked me. I’m bruised and bloody but alive. My camera was destroyed. Another group of protesters pulled me out and saved my life.”

·       In Phoenix, CBS reporter Briana Whitney was tackled live on air as a protester made a grab for her microphone.

·       In Washington, D.C., Fox News reporter Leland Vittert and his crew were punched, hit by projectiles, and chased by protesters who had gathered outside the White House.

Reports are also emerging of arrests and detention of journalists by police.

In Minneapolis, Australian 9News US correspondent Tim Arvier was detained by police at gunpoint.

Arrested for ‘failure to disperse’
In Las Vegas, freelance photojournalist Bridget Bennett was arrested for “failure to disperse” and held overnight while working on assignment for AFP.

Ellen Schmidt, a photojournalist at the Las Vegas Review-Journalwas also arrested and held overnight in Las Vegas.

RSF calls for urgent action by US authorities to ensure the safety of journalists covering the continuing protests, including a moratorium on the arrests of journalists and immediate guidance to police making it clear that journalists are not to be shot at or otherwise directly targeted by crowd-control measures, and that journalists must be protected from violent attacks by protesters.

The US is ranked 45th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

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Media companies can now be held responsible for your dodgy comments on social media

Media companies can now be held responsible for your dodgy comments on social media

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Michael Douglas, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Western Australia

Part of growing up is learning to take responsibility for the hurtful things you say. As a person who often says stupid things, I often need reminding.

Defamation law reflects that lesson. When you say something that hurts another person, it can cost you.

A recent decision has stretched this commonsense intuition. According to the New South Wales Court of Appeal, media companies are not just responsible for the content written by their journalists. Now they are also “publishers” of comments made by readers on their social media accounts.

The decision means those who encourage engagement on social media – including media companies, journalists and “internet famous” people — can be held responsible for things said by random people who “engage” by commenting on content produced by others.

The Dylan Voller case

Dylan Voller is the young man whose poor treatment in custody at the Northern Territory’s Don Dale youth detention centre inspired a 2016 Royal Commission. Countless stories about him have been published by media companies, which then shared them on their social media pages.

Read more: Can you be liable for defamation for what other people write on your Facebook page? Australian court says: maybe

This is not unusual. On the contrary, it is a core part of their business model. Content producers want “engagement”, such as comments, because it helps them make more money by selling advertising.

Many social media users commented on posts about Voller. Some said awful things, and Voller sued for defamation.

But he did not sue the people who made the awful comments. Rather, he sued the media companies behind the Facebook pages: the publishers of The Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald, among others. Voller argued they were responsible as “publishers” for the defamatory comments written by others.

Last year, to the shock of media companies, the Supreme Court of New South Wales agreed with Voller. Justice Rothman decided the media companies had “published” the comments of third-party users, opening the door to the companies’ liability in defamation.

The media companies argued Justice Rothman made a mistake, and they could not possibly be publishers of their readers’ comments. So they appealed.


In rejecting the media companies’ arguments this week, the Court of Appeal drew on defamation law that has been centuries in the making.

The court’s majority ruling explained: “defamation is an actionable wrong that lies in the publication to a reader, listener or observer of matter that injures another person’s reputation”. It does not require intention.

The NSW Court of Appeal decision on the Dylan Voller case will likely have media outlets concerned about the level of social media moderation required. JOEL CARRETT/AAP

All members of the court agreed that, generally, a person who participates and is instrumental in bringing about the publication of defamatory content is potentially liable, even though others may have participated in the publication to different degrees.

In this case, the media companies maintained and encouraged comments on their Facebook pages by users, and therefore were “publishers” of those comments.

Arguably, this is the logical application of old common law to the needs of contemporary society, and that is exactly what the common law is meant to do. As the Court of Appeal majority said, “it is not uncommon for persons to be held liable for the publication of defamatory imputations conveyed by matter composed by another person”.

It’s not over

The Court of Appeal’s latest decision was the sequel to the determination of a “preliminary question” by Justice Rothman. This means there will be more to this fight. The media companies will likely be able to argue other defences. They might still be able to avoid paying Voller damages.

Yet losing this battle could mean they will also lose the broader war against anyone who sues them for defamation. Worried about the precedent, the media companies are considering pursuing a further appeal to the High Court.

The case is sure to attract the attention of the New South Wales Defamation Working Party currently considering defamation law reform. Until legislatures or the High Court intervene, it will remain the law.

Read more: Australia’s proposed defamation law overhaul will expand media freedom – but at what cost?

A big loss for big media

For the media, this case isn’t good news from a business point of view. Companies will have to invest more in moderating comments. But this is not as unjust as some may suggest.

It’s common sense that you are responsible for the hurtful things you say. It’s also common sense that you are responsible for the damage you cause.

Media companies want to publish controversial stuff that keeps us engaged. Spicy content inspires spicy comments from your weird old uncle. Media companies may want those comments even if they cause damage. Before now, those comments were a moral hazard rather than a legal one.

But it’s also true that a failure to act can cause damage just as much as a “positive” act. We hold politicians to account for what they fail to do all the time, or at least try. Omissions can be intentional and have moral weight, deserving the attribution of responsibility through law.

The Voller case holds media responsible for a new class of omissions. It’s a new high-water mark of media responsibility. The media may not like it, but others will.

ref. Media companies can now be held responsible for your dodgy comments on social media –

The next global health pandemic could easily erupt in your backyard

The next global health pandemic could easily erupt in your backyard

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Penny van Oosterzee, Adjunct Associate Professor James Cook University and University Fellow Charles Darwin University, James Cook University

We know the virus that causes COVID-19 is linked to very similar viruses in bats, possibly passed to humans via an intermediate species such as pangolins. The chance of a similar pandemic breaking out in Australia might seem far-fetched. But in fact, we tick all the boxes.

Hotspots for emerging infectious diseases exist where human activities collide with a richness of animal species – and hence, high rates of microbial biodiversity.

Read more: Most laws ignore ‘human-wildlife conflict’. This makes us vulnerable to pandemics

As research has shown, Australia is such a place. Across the continent, particularly the east coast, natural landscapes have been severely damaged by human activity such as land clearing and mismanagement of river systems. This has led to forest loss, drying wetlands, biodiversity decline and bushfires.

All animals harbour viruses and other pathogens. And when environmental pressures force animals into contact with humans, the results can be catastrophic.

A tree pangolin at night in Gabon, Africa. Bill Laurance, Author provided (No reuse)

A world of disease

In humans, around three-quarters of all emerging infectious diseases are spread by non-humans. A new infectious disease emerges in humans every four months.

In Africa, the Ebola virus resulted from human contact with fruit bats, and AIDS was caused by a pathogen that jumped from non-human primates during road-building.

In the United States, Lyme disease is caught from deer ticks. And the brain-damaging Nipah virus originated in Malaysia after bats infected pigs, which passed the disease to farmers.

In China and elsewhere, the deforestation of pangolin habitat makes them easy targets for hunters and poachers, who covet the animals for their meat and scales.

Australia is not immune

In Australia, a 2013 review found at least 20 human diseases associated with disturbed natural environments between 1973 and 2010. They include:

Hendra virus: This virulent disease first broke out at a racing stable in Hendra, Brisbane in 1994. It causes catastrophic neurological and respiratory symptoms in horses, and more than 100 died. Seven people have been infected, four of whom died.

The virus is endemic to Australian flying foxes. It spilled over to people via horses who ate pasture containing flying-fox urine. Habitat loss forced flying foxes to move close to humans to find food.

Biosecurity officers taking a swab from a horse during the 2008 Hendra virus outbreak. Dave Hunt/AAP

West Nile virus: This causes brain inflammation and death in humans, horses and birds. An endemic strain in Australia is transmitted by mosquitoes from wild birds. In 2011 an outbreak affected about 900 horses in southeastern Australia of which about ten per cent died.

The virus emerged in Australia unexpectedly, probably due to changed environmental conditions such as climate change and habitat clearing.

Australian bat lyssavirus: this rabies-like virus can be transmitted from bats to humans, causing serious illness leading to paralysis, delirium, convulsions and death.

A vaccine administered after exposure can prevent the virus from taking hold. But since 1996, three people who did not receive the vaccine after being bitten or scratched by bats died of the virus.

A severe case of Buruli ulcer, which is on the rise in regional Victoria. Medical Journal of Australia

Buruli ulcer: this disease, also known as Bairnsdale ulcer and Daintree ulcer, is caused by a bacterium that destroys skin cells, small blood vessels and the fat under the skin. It causes long-term deformities. The bacterium, Mycobacterium ulcerans, occurs naturally in mosquitoes, vegetation and some possum droppings.

Australia is the only developed country with significant local transmission of Buruli ulcer and the only country to report the disease in wild animals such as possums. The number of people infected in Australia recently increased significantly in Victoria, to 340 new cases in 2018.

Australia: a disease-risk hotspot

A map published in Nature Communications in 2017 showed Australia’s east coast to be a global hotspot for risk of emerging infectious diseases.

Australia continues to lose forest cover at alarming rates and biodiversity is suffering unprecedented decline and disruption. This increases the probability of animal-human interaction.

Drying wetlands such as in the Murray Darling Basin destroy mosquito competitors such as aquatic animals that eat mosquito larvae. This allows mosquitoes to emerge in large numbers when water returns. This may trigger the emergence of infections such as the debilitating chikungunya virus.

Read more: Australia’s drought could be increasing Q fever risk, but there are ways we can protect ourselves

Environmental damage can also make humans more susceptible to the effects of infectious diseases. For example, bushfires (driven in part by human-caused climate change) trigger smoke plumes that increase the risk of dying from coronavirus.

Such diseases can also be catastrophic for species other than humans. Chytrid fungus, the most devastating disease on record to affect vertebrates, was first found in Australia in the 1970s. It had emerged in the early 20th century on the Korean Peninsula , alongside a commercial trade network in amphibians. It continues to cause the extinction of amphibian species worldwide.

Drying wetlands in the Murray Darling basin increase the risk of disease outbreak. Dean Lewins/AAP

What goes around comes around

It’s clear human health depends on healthy ecosystems. But this undeniable fact is too often overlooked in policy decisions that allow environmental destruction.

Australia is an environmental and disease-risk hotspot. As a recent open letter from prominent health leaders warned, the failure to conserve our environment dismantles our life-support systems and accelerates catastrophic climate change.

For humans to survive in our rapidly changing world, we must urgently strengthen and link policies of human health, environment and climate reform.

Read more: From the bushfires to coronavirus, our old ‘normal’ is gone forever. So what’s next?

ref. The next global health pandemic could easily erupt in your backyard –

Could corporations control territory in space? Under new US rules, it might be possible

Could corporations control territory in space? Under new US rules, it might be possible

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Cait Storr, Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney

Last weekend, NASA launched US astronauts to the International Space Station for the first time in a decade, in a rocket designed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Under President Donald Trump, the US mission to reassert itself as the dominant power in space has rapidly gathered pace. In the process, the US has also begun to reshape international space law to suit its purposes – a move that has many countries concerned.

In April, Trump released an executive order restating US support for corporate exploitation of lunar and asteroid resources.

Read more: Giant leap for corporations? The Trump administration wants to mine resources in space, but is it legal?

The order also rejected a long-held view in international law that space is a global commons and that commercial use of space resources should occur under international oversight.

Then, last month, NASA released the “Artemis Accords”, named after its Artemis Program, which aims to return humans to the moon by 2024. The accords claim to

establish a common set of principles to govern the civil exploration and use of outer space.

What the Artemis Accords would do

Although NASA has only released a high-level summary of the accords, two issues for international space law are already clear.

First, the Artemis Accords go beyond simply rejecting the unpopular 1979 Moon Agreement, which declared lunar resources to be the “common heritage of mankind” and committed parties to establish an international regime to oversee space mining. Only 18 countries have signed the treaty.

In its place, the accords envisage a US-centric framework of bilateral agreements in which “partner nations” agree to follow US-drafted rules.

Second, the accords introduce the concept of “safety zones” around lunar operations.

Although territorial claims in space are prohibited under international law, these safety zones would seek to protect commercial and scientific sites from inadvertent collisions and other forms of “harmful interference”. What kinds of conduct could count as harmful interference remains to be determined.

Read more: The costly collateral damage from Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite fleet

The accords claim to comply with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, a widely supported agreement that declared space the “province of all mankind” and permitted commercial resource exploitation as a “peaceful use” of space.

However, in practice, the accords have the potential to challenge the Outer Space Treaty’s ban on territorial claims in space. They could also intensify international conflict over space resources.

Will space continue to be treated as a global commons?

The Artemis Accords effectively kill off the prospect of international oversight of space mining.

The Moon Agreement committed signatories to establish an international regulatory framework when space mining was “about to become feasible”. This moment is clearly now, as Japan’s Hyabusa2 mission to the Ryugu asteroid and China’s Chang’e 4 lunar mission have demonstrated. Both missions are collecting mineral samples.

Although the Moon Agreement itself has attracted little support, the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space has revisited the framework of space resources law in recent years and commissioned a working group to draft a new regime to govern space mining.

These draft principles were due to be considered at a UN meeting this year, but it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, by releasing the Artemis Accords, the US has potentially scuttled these international negotiations for good.

The real difference between the Artemis Accords and an international framework negotiated within the UN turns on whether space will be treated as a global commons when space mining begins.

Read more: SpaceX reaches for milestone in spaceflight – a private company launches astronauts into orbit

Under current international law, the benefits from commercial mining in global commons areas, including the international seabed, must in principle be shared equitably by “all mankind”.

The idea that the profits of space resource extraction should be shared via an international body garnered much support among developing nations and their supporters in the 1960s and ‘70s.

But entrepreneurs in the US space sector have long contested the global commons principle. And the US rejection of a global commons framework for space is ultimately a rejection of profit sharing. Mining and tech companies would retain all the profits.

And this, in turn, would further entrench existing wealth inequalities in the space resource industry.

Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk celebrates at Saturday’s SpaceX launch. Sipa USA Paul Hennessy / SOPA Images/Sipa

Territorial claims and ‘safety zones’

The safety zones under the Artemis Accords would require all commercial and government ventures to share information on the location and nature of their space operations and notify and coordinate any approaches to other sites.

The practical sense of safety zones is clear. However, such zones seriously test a fundamental principle of the Outer Space Treaty – the ban on territorial claims in space.

This revives an old legal debate over whether the distinction between private property and sovereign territory can actually be maintained in space.

Property rights provide commercial certainty, which space mining entrepreneurs have been demanding. But property rights are only effective if the threat of legal enforcement is real.

Whether safety zones can be enforced without amounting to a breach of the ban on territorial claims remains to be seen.

Russian officials have already denounced Trump’s executive order as an attempt to “expropriate space” and “seize territory”.

Chinese space experts have also concluded that safety zones amount to sovereign claims.

These criticisms have been fuelled by US space entrepreneurs, including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, actively promoting “space colonisation”.

Which countries are likely to sign on?

States already friendly to commercial space mining, including Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates and India, will likely sign on to the Artemis Accords.

Early reports suggest Russia will not participate, though, and given the current state of US-China relations, Chinese participation is even less likely.

But the real impact of the accords will be determined by the countries in between. The response of the European Space Agency, which has partnered with Roscosmos in its own lunar prospecting mission, remains to be seen.

Australia, for its part, faces an awkward decision. As a party to the 1979 Moon Agreement, it will have to withdraw if it intends to sign an accord with the US.

Significant diplomatic manoeuvring can be expected over the coming months as the US seeks support for its attempt to redirect international space resources law.

ref. Could corporations control territory in space? Under new US rules, it might be possible –

Destruction of Juukan Gorge: we need to know the history of artefacts, but it is more important to keep them in place

Destruction of Juukan Gorge: we need to know the history of artefacts, but it is more important to keep them in place

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Jacinta Koolmatrie, Lecturer in Archaeology, Flinders University

A day before Reconciliation Week and the day Australia was meant to be acknowledging and remembering the Stolen Generations, news came of something that seemed to put Australia back a few decades in their journey towards “Reconciliation”. Rio Tinto had detonated a 46,000 year old site known as Juukan Gorge.

This news was simply gut-wrenching.

Artefacts found at the site were among some of the oldest in Western Australia, making it incredibly significant not only for the Traditional Owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, but also for the history of this continent.

Read more: Rio Tinto just blasted away an ancient Aboriginal site. Here’s why that was allowed

Also startling for many was this detonation had been in process for several years. The dating of the site to 46,000 years old had been uncovered through salvage excavation in preparation for this destruction.

I cannot speak for the Traditional Owners, nor can I speak on the complexities surrounding the approval of the blast, but the removal of artefacts from their place has impacted every single Aboriginal person on this continent. That is what I can speak on.

Salvage excavations

Salvage excavation is archaeological work conducted to record and collect all evidence of human occupation at a site that has been or will be impacted by development.

Excavation itself is destructive. The moment a trowel is inserted into the ground, the site has been destroyed. Salvage excavations, like all excavations, require this destruction to be worth it. Comprehensive recording of every aspect of an excavation is necessary, from changes in soil to recording each artefact found.

Archaeology also considers how artefacts will be cared for in the long term: where they will be kept and who will be caring for them. It is preferable for artefacts to remain at their location. In cases where this proves impossible, salvaging is required.

At a surface level, it seems unproblematic if everything was collected from the ground, analysed and placed in a box: those artefacts would be preserved for all of eternity. Now, they are no longer subject to erosion, animal activity or (the more perplexing argument) the threat of humans. But cultural institutions are not immune to disaster.

In 2019, Brazil’s national museum was devastated by a fire. This summer, Australian galleries closed due to the potential impact of smoke on collections. The South Australian Museum has repeatedly discussed the threat of water leaks to their collections.

These institutions are built to preserve heritage but they should not be viewed as the only preservation option, especially for heritage heavily intertwined with place.

Why is place important?

There is a common narrative Aboriginal people wandered this continent aimlessly. Rarely is there discussion our ancestors moved with intention, demonstrated clearly in the ways they passed down generational knowledge to us. Why else would they have mapped this land?

Read more: It’s taken thousands of years, but Western science is finally catching up to Traditional Knowledge

Where they chose to leave their presence should be viewed as intentional and as representation of that significance.

This significance has flowed through time, strengthening the connection of this place to us. In cases where there is a physical presence of our ancestors, it is integral we maintain the connection of this physical history to place.

For many, Juukan Gorge was mainly significant because of its early date. But not all Aboriginal heritage is afforded this same interest. Not all of our heritage can be dated that early, and a lot of our heritage simply is not tangible. A vast majority of our heritage is found in our knowledge of the land that traverses this continent. Mostly, this heritage goes unseen by our colonisers, making it easily overlooked in favour of development.

Sometimes, the tangible heritage found in these places is the only thing standing in the way of destroying a place. It is the only thing demonstrating we are a people who have deep connections to this land. Not only from a spiritual side, but also from a linear western view of time.

Aboriginal knowledges of these places, and how this knowledge links to the archaeological record, is what can fully contextualise the meaning of these places for our ancestors – and for us today.

The importance of empathy

Maintaining the connection of place with our ancestors’ possessions found at these places may be solidified through the implementation of stricter laws. But if a company wants something and our heritage is standing in the way, those laws can always be bent. The value of destroying these places is much higher than the value of keeping them – at least in the eyes of our colonisers. A loophole will be found, and our communities will suffer and grieve another loss.

If we want something long lasting, something transcending laws, empathy needs to be much stronger, something embedded into the mind and heart. Not the type of empathy that emerges when one has to say “sorry”, but the type existing before “sorry” is even considered.

With empathy, how could you justify the hurt Aboriginal people on this continent experience when we find out another culturally significant place has been destroyed?

ref. Destruction of Juukan Gorge: we need to know the history of artefacts, but it is more important to keep them in place –

Thousands march in NZ solidarity rallies with Black Lives Matter

Thousands march in NZ solidarity rallies with Black Lives Matter

By RNZ News

Thousands of New Zealanders have joined large numbers of Americans in protesting following the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd.

In Auckland, Aotea Square overflowed yesterday with people before thousands marched down Queen Street towards the US consulate building.

Organisers said the aim was simple,”we want to put pressure on our government from the local level, right up to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to publicly condemn the acts of violence and state-sanctioned murder against African Americans in the United States”.

READ MORE: George Floyd protesters undeterred by curfews in US cities

Protests have been held in more than 30 cities across the US and throughout the world after disturbing video surfaced showing bystanders pleading with a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, as he gasped for breath.

Floyd died from the incident, the latest in a string of deaths of black men and women at the hands of US police.

– Partner –

Nigerian-Kiwi Mary Adeosun drove up from Hamilton for the protest.

She was in tears as she spoke to our reporter: “I really feel for my skin-folk, for the innocent lives that have been taken… I’m so far away in this country and I’m seeing people who look like me dying [in the US]”.

Hobson Hohepa flew his Tino Rangatiratanga flag high at the protest: “[Racism] happens here in our country. It happens to us. It happens to me. I’ve had enough.”

Hobson Hohepa.
Hobson Hohepa … “[Racism] happens here in our country. It happens to us.” Image: Mabel Muller/RNZ
A placard at the George Floyd / Black Lives Matter Auckland march on 1 June.
“No justice … no peace.” Image: Leith Huffadine/RNZ
“Don’t Shoot!” #ArmsdownNZ Image: Mabel Muller/RNZ

Ricky Wilkins is an African-American from Los Angeles, California. He has been living in New Zealand for the past seven months.

“I feel loved. Everybody wants to be us but no one wants to care for us. It’s just amazing to see in Aotearoa how people are representing and showing us love.”

Ricky Wilkins.
Ricky Wilkins … “It’s just amazing to see in Aotearoa how people are representing and showing us love.” Image: Mabel Muller/RNZ
Protesters on Queen Street, Auckland, during the George Floyd / Black Lives Matter Auckland march on 1 June.
“Black Lives Matter.” Image: Leith Huffadine/RNZ

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


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SpaceX’s historic launch gives Australia’s booming space industry more room to fly

SpaceX's historic launch gives Australia's booming space industry more room to fly

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Cassandra Steer, Lecturer, ANU Center for International and Public Law; Mission Specialist, ANU Institute for Space, Australian National University

At the weekend, Elon Musk’s commercial giant SpaceX launched two NASA astronauts in a spacecraft named Crew Dragon which, from the inside, looked like a souped-up Tesla.

The Falcon 9 rocket launched the spacecraft, returned to Earth and landed on a ship to later be re-used. And the Crew Dragon eventually docked autonomously with the International Space Station (ISS).

The flight marks the first time in history:

  • a commercial company has launched astronauts
  • a crewed spacecraft has docked with the ISS while “self-driving” and
  • a reusable rocket has been used to launch people, sparing us from debris re-entering the atmosphere, such as the rocket pieces that recently burned up over Victoria and Tasmania.

SpaceX has well and truly revolutionised space travel. But what does this mean for the many Australian companies making up a new space sector Down Under?

The Crew Dragon spacecraft can carry up to seven astronauts. Official SpaceX Photos/Flickr, CC BY-NC

A burgeoning local industry

Globally, the space sector is worth at least US$415 billion, and is expected to grow to US$1 trillion over the next decade. By then, the Australian space sector is also expected to be worth A$12 billion.

Read more: SpaceX astronaut launch: here’s the rocket science

An estimated 770 Australian entities already develop space-related infrastructure. This includes satellites, and technologies for telecommunications or television, bushfire monitoring, weather and climate tracking, search and rescue, navigation, deep space research, and defence and security.

In 2018, the Australian Space Agency (ASA) was established with a mandate to the support Australian space industry, rather than develop a national civil space program.

The global commercial space sector is now watching Australia with excitement, and possibly some envy. Many countries over-regulate their space industries, or fail to give them legislative support. But Australia is a new entrant to the space sector that benefits from full government support through an industry-dedicated space agency.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft lifted off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. NASA Kennedy/Flickr, CC BY

The commercialisation of spacefaring

The 20th century space race began with government programs spurred by a technological and ideological competition between the US and the Soviet Union. However, today’s space race is highly commercial.

Many national space programs and militaries outsource to commercial entities for space services. Just this month, the Australian Department of Defence signed a contract with Queensland company Gilmour Space technologies to develop rockets for small military cargo and satellites.

Rather than large, expensive technologies developed for single purposes by government agencies, we’re now in an era of “NewSpace”. This is a term associated with small and medium sized companies developing smaller, lighter, and therefore cheaper technologies that can be repurposed and turned into “off the shelf” components.

Australian companies excel at this, as demonstrated by Gilmour, Neumann Space – which has a unique thrust technology for small satellites – and Myriota, a world leader in groundbreaking Internet of Things (IoT) technologies.

Giants such as SpaceX and Blue Origin are developing NewSpace technologies alongside their larger launch projects, and smaller companies benefit from their success when it comes negotiating public-private partnerships.

Read more: SpaceX reaches for milestone in spaceflight – a private company launches astronauts into orbit

Innovative mindsets pave the way

Even the opening of our own spaceport in East Arnhem land, expected by early 2021, is thanks to industry innovation.

NewSpace company Equatorial Launch Australia is the first commercial company ever to receive a launch contract from NASA. As a result, the company is developing the spaceport, where it will specialise in new launch technologies for small and light satellites.

With our own spaceport, Australia will join the ranks of just 13 other nations that have launch capacity from their territory.

And aside from NASA, many Australian companies and research institutes will be keen customers. Inovor, which builds tiny nanosatellites may be among the first.

Or perhaps Gilmour, as it tests a revolutionary hybrid propulsion rocket in partnership with the Australian National University. This could be the first commercial rocket of its kind to launch in the world.

Even in a pandemic, the space economy booms

According to a report released in May by accounting organisation KPMG, by 2030 every business will be a “space business”. The report suggests humans will live, work and holiday in space, and will be mining the moon for water and minerals.

And while human space flight from Australian shores may not be on the horizon, SpaceX’s launch is a beacon of hope for local commercial entities – especially because they push new technologies faster than government programs tethered to budgets and low-risk approaches.

Moreover, the ASA is considering entering into an Artemis Accord with the US. The launch technology demonstrated by SpaceX this weekend will be part of the Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the moon by 2024.

So although the national and global economy reels from the impacts of COVID-19 shutdowns, the global space economy continues to boom. And with Australia’s space industry taking off, the sky is definitely not the limit.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley piloted the Crew Dragon. It’s the first spacecraft to carry humans into space from US shores since 2011. NASA Kennedy/Flickr, CC BY

ref. SpaceX’s historic launch gives Australia’s booming space industry more room to fly –

How Julia Gillard forever changed Australian politics – especially for women

How Julia Gillard forever changed Australian politics -  especially for women

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Blair Williams, Political Scientist, Australian National University

The Conversation is running a series of pieces on key figures in Australian political history, examining how they changed the country and political debate.

When Julia Gillard was sworn into office as Australia’s first female prime minister on a chilly Canberra morning in 2010, it seemed like the ultimate glass ceiling had been smashed.

But this momentous occasion was marred by the onslaught of sexism and misogyny Gillard endured from the opposition, and especially the mainstream media, over the next three years of her term.

Read more: Hillary Clinton and Julia Gillard: how the media shape our view of leaders as ‘women’

Since she lost the prime ministership in 2013, Gillard has fostered a legacy that extends beyond parliamentary politics, with a focus on women’s rights, education and mental health.

The two Es: education and equality

Born in Wales in 1961, Gillard’s family moved to Australia in 1966. She grew up in Adelaide as the daughter of a nurse and aged care worker.

Gillard was educated at local public schools before studying at the University of Adelaide and then the University of Melbourne.

She told the Harvard Business Review last year her involvement in the student movement, protesting education cutbacks, was a formative experience:

That’s what spurred an activism and engagement in public policy in me, and I went on to lead the student movement nationally … people had said, ‘You really should consider politics’. It was a slow dawning over time that it would be a fantastic way of putting my values into action — and realising that someone like me could do it.

Graduating with an arts/law degree, Gillard joined law firm Slater & Gordon in 1987 and was a partner by 1990.

While she has said she felt “quite at home in many ways” as a young woman in the “larrakin” culture of the law firm, she also worked on affirmative action campaigns in the 1990s. She was a founding member of Labor women’s support network, EMILY’s List Australia.

She continues to maintain this focus on gender and education in her post-politics advocacy.

Going to Canberra, creating history

Gillard was elected to federal parliament in 1998 and was a frontbencher by 2001. In 2007, with Labor’s election victory, she became deputy prime minister and minister for education, workplace relations and social inclusion.

Gillard was sworn in as Australia’s 27th prime minister by Governor-General Quentin Bryce. Alan Porritt/ AAP

However, despite the popularity of prime minister Kevin Rudd, the Labor party became increasingly frustrated with his leadership style ahead of the 2010 federal election.

These tensions saw Gillard challenge Rudd for the top job in June 2010, in one of the most dramatic episodes in recent Australian political history.

Gillard’s unexpected promotion would have lasting consequences for her, the Labor Party and Australian political culture.

It initiated a “coup culture” in Australian politics, where a series of challenges saw the removal of four out of the five most recent prime ministers.

A sexist backlash

The unprecedented removal of a popular first-term prime minister during an election year also prompted an overwhelming backlash from the opposition, the media and the public.

Gillard faced accusations of disloyalty that marred the historic significance of her victory and status as the “first woman”. It also unleashed what seemed like a ceaseless tirade of sexism and misogyny that she endured for the next three years of her term.

The more prominent examples include broadcaster Alan Jones saying Gillard should be put in a “chaff bag” and taken “out to sea”. A menu at a Liberal National Party fundraiser described a dish as “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail – small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box”.

Read more: Dining out on the prime minister – time to change the ‘Menugate’?

Opposition leader Tony Abbott stood in front of – and tacitly endorsed – sexist placards.

Julia Gillard faced repeated sexist abuse during her time as prime minister. Alan Porritt/AAP

A productive parliament

After the 2010 federal election, Gillard had to work with a minority government.

But in a sign of her formidable negotiating skills, Gillard’s term as prime minister was extremely productive.

Despite the surrounding political turmoil, 570 bills were passed by the Senate, with key achievements including the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the child abuse royal commission, a carbon price, education funding and paid parental leave.

Read more: Labor’s legacy: six years of … what exactly?

It wasn’t all warm and fuzzy

Yet not all Gillard’s policies are so fondly remembered.

On the same day Gillard delivered her famous “misogyny speech”, her government passed welfare reforms that moved single parents off the parenting payment and onto Newstart (now called JobSeeker Payment). This reduced people’s payments by $60 to $100 a week, disproportionately affecting women.

Her asylum seeker policies and opposition to marriage equality also garnered widespread criticism from progressive Australians, particularly the LGBTIQ+ community and refugee advocates.

‘I will not be lectured by this man’

Twelve iconic words have come to define Gillard’s legacy:

I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man.

This statement launched a blistering 15-minute speech, in which Gillard called out the sexism and hypocrisy of Abbott during Question Time in October 2012.

The anger and frustration she felt about Abbott – known for his sexist sentiments – and the systemic double standards she’d endured for years, resonated with women around the world.

Julia Gillard delivered her “misogyny speech” on October 9 2012.

Though it was initially critiqued by the Canberra Press Gallery, which accused Gillard of “playing the gender card”, the speech went viral.

It has become the definitive moment of her prime ministership and is often the only thing people overseas know about Australian politics.

Read more: Gillard’s misogyny speech looks even better than it reads

Earlier this year, it was voted the “most unforgettable” moment in Australian TV history by a Guardian Australia poll. Last month, a senior advisor to former-US President Barack Obama revealed they often watched the speech whenever they were frustrated with then-prime minister Abbott.

The misogyny speech has even entered into the pop cultural canon, inspiring young women today to create memes and TikToks paying homage to those famous words.

Changing the way we talk about sexism and politics

Gillard’s misogyny speech and her time as our first woman prime minister changed the way that politics and sexism were talked about in Australia and highlighted the toxic nature of parliament.

Rather than “playing the gender card”, Gillard drew attention to it, calling out the sexism and misogyny that many women in politics had to silently endure.

Julia Gillard, pictured here with former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, continues to advocate for gender equality. David Moir/ AAP

Speaking with Gillard last year in preparation for my doctoral research, she noted how the conversation around gender and sexism is “everywhere now”, and that people are far more aware of and likely to challenge gendered double-standards.

In recent years, we have seen multiple women politicians breaking their silence, from Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young suing fellow senator David Leyonhjelm for defamation, to former Liberal MP Julia Banks calling out “gender bias” and “bullying”.

Post-politics: ‘what would Julia do?’

Gillard lost the Labor leadership in 2013, when Rudd got his revenge and his old job back.

Gillard left Parliament immediately after she lost the leadership. Lukas Coch/ AAP

But she has left a lasting legacy as a role model for girls and young women. This stems not just from her political career, but for the way she has gracefully moved on.

Since leaving politics, Gillard continues to work in the areas she cares about, with high-profile appointments in education, mental health and women’s leadership. Earlier this month, she was also appointed as the next chair of medical research giant, the Wellcome Trust.

Julia Gillard’s official portrait was unveiled in 2018. Lukas Coch/AAP

Like all politicians, she’ll continue to have her critics, but her post-political life and demeanour has largely been admired. Gillard’s former foe, Abbott, even attended the 2018 unveiling of her official portrait.

Read more: The political tragedy of Julia Gillard

And her career continues to resonate with people, particularly women.

This was recently seen when she received a handwritten note from a stranger on a flight, which thanked her for being “such a strong, intelligent and unapologetic role model for myself and so many of my peers”.

The note added that the author and her female colleagues used the phrase “WWJD” or “what would Julia do”.

As the woman explained: “It’s our rallying cry to be the absolute best at our jobs”.

ref. How Julia Gillard forever changed Australian politics – especially for women –

The fury in US cities is rooted in a long history of racist policing, violence and inequality

The fury in US cities is rooted in a long history of racist policing, violence and inequality

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Clare Corbould, Associate Professor, Deakin University

The protests that have engulfed American cities in the past week are rooted in decades of frustrations. Racist policing, legal and extra-legal discrimination, exclusion from the major avenues of wealth creation and vicious stereotyping have long histories and endure today.

African Americans have protested against these injustices going back as far as the post-Civil War days in the 1870s. Throughout the 20th century, there were significant uprisings in Chicago (1919), New York City’s Harlem neighbourhood (1935), Detroit (1943) and Los Angeles (1943 and 1965).

And in what became known as the “long, hot summer of 1967”, anger in America’s cities boiled over. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had ended segregation, but not brought equality. Racial injustice at the hands of police remained. Protesters took to the streets in more than 150 cities, leading to violent clashes between black residents and largely white police forces.

Read more: As Minneapolis burns, Trump’s presidency is sinking deeper into crisis. And yet, he may still be re-elected

White moderates condemned these armed rebellions as the antithesis of the famed nonviolent protests of civil rights activists. But Martin Luther King, Jr., himself, recognised that the success of nonviolence lay in the ever-present threat of violence.

He noted, too, that riots “do not develop out of thin air.”

Policing practices a trigger for unrest

The trigger for African-American uprisings in the US has almost always been acts by police forces, such as the recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Sometimes, unrest has broken out when police have refused to act on behalf of black residents. When an African-American teenager drifted into the “white” part of Lake Michigan in Chicago in 1919, for instance, a white man on the banks threw rocks at him and he drowned. A policeman did nothing to stop the assailants, nor did he arrest them.

A family leaving a damaged home after the 1919 Chicago race riot. Wikimedia Commons

From the perspective of those targeted and traumatised by police and discriminated against by society at large, property damage and looting were justified.

In the century after slavery ended in 1865, white Americans had established new ways to exploit black people’s labour and keep African Americans impoverished. These methods ranged from legislation governing work contracts and mobility to racist stereotyping.

Read more: Why cellphone videos of black people’s deaths should be considered sacred, like lynching photographs

Such laws and customs were all underpinned by violence, including murder. From the late 1800s until 1950, more than 4,000 African Americans were victims of lynchings. They were so acceptable they were sometimes advertised in the press in advance. These were extra-judicial killings, but often included the police (or they would at least turn a blind eye to the proceedings).

Black Americans who sought better lives in northern cities found racism there, too. White landlords had a captive market in segregated neighbourhoods, such as New York’s Harlem and Chicago’s South Side, which caused them to become increasingly crowded and rundown.

African Americans were often kept out of nicer neighbourhoods in cities nationwide, either through violent acts perpetrated by white residents or even by police officers themselves. The houses of middle-class black Americans in the Birmingham, Alabama, suburb where political activist and philosopher Angela Davis grew up were bombed so often the area was nicknamed “Dynamite Hill”.

Even the presence of black officers in the police forces of northern cities could not alter the fundamentally racist operations of police forces.

The 1893 public lynching of a black teenager in Texas. Wikimedia Commons

The expanding wealth gap

The protests of the 1960s were driven in part by police brutality, but also by the exclusion of African Americans from full civic participation.

Even if African Americans could accumulate the capital to acquire a mortgage, a system of laws known as “redlining” prevented them from purchasing property.

That, in turn, thwarted black families’ efforts to accumulate wealth at the same rate of white families. African Americans lived, therefore, in neighbourhoods that were poorer. Those communities had worse sanitation, no green spaces, grocery stores with high prices and poorly resourced schools.

All the while, it was African Americans who continued to work in low paid domestic and service labour jobs that propped up a booming economy that disproportionately benefited white Americans. It’s no wonder the writer James Baldwin said in 1968,

After all, you’re accusing a captive population who has been robbed of everything of looting. I think [that accusation] is obscene.

The effects of those policies are still in evidence today – and play a significant role in the discrimination and disenfranchisement of many African Americans.

Black families and individuals enjoy a drastically lower median level of wealth than whites or Asian Americans. This is true even among African Americans with high levels of education and high salaries. Generations of discrimination have left their mark as black Americans have been denied the gradual accumulation of largely untaxed wealth in housing and inheritance.

Echoing Baldwin, the comic Trevor Noah observed this week,

If you felt unease watching that Target being looted, try to imagine how it must feel for black Americans when they watch themselves being looted every single day. Police in America are looting black bodies.

Protesters rally at the Minnesota State Capitol during the sixth day of protests over the arrest of George Floyd. CRAIG LASSIG/EPA

The ‘war on crime’ and mass incarcerations

In the wake of the 1967 unrest, federal policies shifted under President Lyndon Johnson from the “War on Poverty” to the “War on Crime”. African Americans were increasingly targeted in the expanding “law and order” and mass incarceration machine.

Today, black Americans, especially men, remain the overwhelming targets for police forces. Young black men are killed by police at a rate of 21 times that of young white men. African American women, too, are vulnerable, as several recent high-profile incidents prove.

African Americans are also more likely to be arrested, charged with crimes, convicted and sentenced than white Americans.

Read more: 100 years ago African-Americans marched down 5th Avenue to declare that black lives matter

All the while, police have been trained and equipped in ways that have blurred the line between civilian police and military forces. The violence of these police forces is becoming more difficult to justify, hence Slate running an article in the last week with the title “Police Erupt in Nationwide Violence”.

As a result, more and more grassroots groups are calling for police forces to be defunded, localised and radically demilitarised. Activists will also continue to remind us that black lives matter.

Until then, as civil rights lawyer Sherrilyn Ifill said this week,

if the rule of law is to prevail, then the people have to see some justice. If it always produces a result that is unjust, then how can we tell people to have faith in the justice system.

ref. The fury in US cities is rooted in a long history of racist policing, violence and inequality –

As coronavirus restrictions ease, here’s how you can navigate public transport as safely as possible

As coronavirus restrictions ease, here's how you can navigate public transport as safely as possible

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Hassan Vally, Associate Professor, La Trobe University

As coronavirus restrictions continue to ease, one of the key challenges we face is how to deal with people moving around a lot more.

In particular, as more of us start to head back to school and the office in the coming weeks and months, more of us will be getting on buses, trains and trams.

So what is public transport going to look like as we relax restrictions, and how can we navigate this safely?

Read more: To limit coronavirus risks on public transport, here’s what we can learn from efforts overseas

Workplaces can help

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews has emphasised working from home will be one of the last measures the state will ease.

But even when restrictions are relaxed, do we all need to go into the office as much as we used to?

Working from home has become the “new normal” for many of us, and we’ve learnt a lot about how to do this successfully. Employers have adjusted too, with some indicating they will encourage increased remote working moving forward.

So one of the obvious things we can do to reduce the numbers of people using public transport is to continue to work from home where possible.

Read more: If more of us work from home after coronavirus we’ll need to rethink city planning

Another option is for workplaces to implement flexible start times. If we can reduce the numbers of people using public transport during peak times, this will make a significant difference in reducing crowding.

Public transport providers and governments

State governments have introduced additional cleaning practices on public transport networks. These will continue, and may even be increased, as more people return to public transport.

Although increased cleaning is important, physical distancing remains the key to safely moving large numbers of people again. Governments will need to consider some changes to ensure people can keep a safe distance from others on their commute.

Many people touch the same surfaces on public transport. Shutterstock

As we’ve seen with the easing of restrictions, different states will take different approaches.

For example, New South Wales has imposed limits on how many people can board a bus or train. A maximum of 32 people are allowed in a train carriage (normally one carriage holds 123 passengers), while buses are limited to 12 passengers (capacity is normally 63).

Further, markings on the seats and floors of buses and trains indicate where people can sit and stand.

Marshals are also being stationed around the public transport network to ensure commuters are following the rules.

In a similar move, the South Australian government revealed they will remove seats from Adelaide trains.

Read more: Coronavirus recovery: public transport is key to avoid repeating old and unsustainable mistakes

In contrast, Queensland is not imposing any passenger limits, instead asking commuters to use their common sense. The government says there is plenty of room on public transport in Queensland at present, and the risk of virus transmission is low given the small number of active cases.

Similarly, Victoria has not imposed passenger limits. But the government has indicated commuters will be able to access information about which public transport services are the least crowded to assist travel planning.

Some states have flagged extra services may be needed to avoid overcrowding, though the extent to which this will be possible is dependent on resources.

In addition to extra services, NSW has indicated it will boost car parking and enhance access for cyclists and pedestrians.

What can you do?

The main responsibility around keeping virus transmission suppressed as we relax restrictions rests with us as individuals to behave sensibly and responsibly.

The same principles apply when we use public transport as when we navigate all public spaces.

Maintaining physical distance from others and washing our hands regularly are possibly even more important when we’re using public transport, given we potentially come into contact with a lot of people in an enclosed space.

We know SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is more likely to spread indoors than outdoors. We also know prolonged contact with someone infected with the virus increases the risk of transmission, as compared to a passing encounter.

So public transport commutes have the potential to pose a significant risk of virus transmission, especially if you’re sitting next to an infected person on a long journey.

Masks are a hot topic. Shutterstock

Taking hand sanitiser when you use public transport is a good idea so you can clean your hands while travelling. You may be touching contaminated surfaces, for example the bars and handles for balance.

In addition, washing your hands thoroughly with soap as soon as you arrive at your destination should become a part of your routine.

Importantly, if you’re sick you should not be leaving the house, let alone taking public transport or going to work.

What about masks?

Wearing a mask on public transport is an issue of personal preference.

But if you choose to wear a mask, it’s important to understand a couple of things.

First, masks need to be put on and taken off correctly so you don’t inadvertently infect yourself in the process.

And while masks potentially offer some additional protection to you and others, it’s still critical to follow physical distancing and other hygiene measures.

Read more: Who’s most affected on public transport in the time of coronavirus?

ref. As coronavirus restrictions ease, here’s how you can navigate public transport as safely as possible –

The Leadbeater’s possum finally had its day in court. It may change the future of logging in Australia

The Leadbeater's possum finally had its day in court. It may change the future of logging in Australia

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Julia Dehm, Lecturer, La Trobe University

The Federal Court last week ruled that VicForests – a timber company owned by the Victorian government – breached environmental laws when they razed the habitat of the critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum and the vulnerable greater glider.

Environmentalists welcomed the judge’s decision, which sets an important legal precedent.

The fluffy-eared greater glider lives in tree hollows during the day. AAP Image/Supplied by Matt Wright

Under so-called “regional forest agreements”, a number of logging operations around Australia are exempt from federal environment laws. This effectively puts logging interests above those of threatened species. The court ruling narrows these exemptions and provides an opportunity to create stronger forestry laws.

A legal loophole

Since 1971, the Leadbeater’s possum has been the faunal emblem of Victoria. But only about 1,200 adults are left in the wild, almost exclusively in the Central Highlands region.

Read more: Comic explainer: forest giants house thousands of animals (so why do we keep cutting them down?)

Official conservation advice identifies the greatest threat to the species as habitat loss and fragmentation caused by the collapse of hollow-bearing trees, wildfire, logging and climate change.

Australia’s federal environmental laws require environmental impact assessment of any action likely to significantly impact a matter of national environmental significance, such as a listed threatened species.

But thanks to exemptions under regional forest agreements, logging has continued in the Central Highlands – even in the aftermath of this summer’s devastating bushfires.

So what are regional forest agreements?

Regional forest agreements were designed as a response to the so-called “forest wars” of the 1980s and 1990s.

In 1995, after logging trucks blockaded parliament, then Prime Minister Paul Keating offered a deal to the states: the federal government would accredit state forest management systems, and in return federal law would no longer apply to logging operations. Drawing up regional forest agreements between state and federal governments achieved this.

Read more: Native forest protections are deeply flawed, yet may be in place for another 20 years

Between 1997 and 2001, ten different agreements were signed, covering logging regions in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia. These agreements were for 20 years, which means many have now either expired and been renewed or extended, or are about to expire.

The agreements are supposed to satisfy a number of conditions. This includes that they’re based on an assessment of environmental and social values of forest areas. They should also provide for the ecologically sustainable management and use of forested areas, and the long-term stability of forest and forest industries.

But conservation experts argue the agreements have failed both to deliver certainty to forestry operations or to protect environmental values and ensure the conservation of biodiversity.

History of the court case

The legal proceedings against VicForests were initiated in 2017 by Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum, a small community group which relied on crowd funding to cover legal costs.

Initially, the group argued Victoria’s failure to undertake a required review of the Central Highlands regional forest agreements every five years meant the usual exemption to federal environment laws should not apply.

Read more: Environment laws have failed to tackle the extinction emergency. Here’s the proof

But in early 2018, Justice Mortimer ruled against this. But she also rejected VicForests’ arguments that any operation in an area covered by a regional forest agreement is automatically exempt from federal law.

She ruled that the logging operations will only be exempt from federal law if they comply with Victoria’s accredited system of forest management. This includes the requirements for threatened species, as specified in official action and management plans.

In response to this ruling, Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum reformulated their claim.

They argued logging operations in 66 coupes (small areas of forest harvested in one operation) didn’t meet these requirements for threatened species, and so the exemption from federal laws didn’t apply.

The court ruling

In her ruling last week, the judge found VicForests unlawfully logged 26 coupes home to the Leadbeater’s possum and greater glider, and that logging a scheduled 41 other sections would put them at risk.

The court found the company breached a number of aspects of the Code of Practice for Timber Production 2014. This code is part of the Victorian regulatory system accredited by the regional forest agreement.

In particular, VicForests had not, as required, applied the “precautionary principle” in planning and conducting logging operations in coupes containing the greater glider.

Read more: Logging is due to start in fire-ravaged forests this week. It’s the last thing our wildlife needs

Nor had VicForests developed a comprehensive forest survey system, or engaged in a careful evaluation of management options to avoid dangers to these threatened species.

These failures meant the logging operations were not covered by the exemption from federal laws. As such, the court found VicForests had breached federal environmental law, as the logging operation had, or were likely to have, a significant impact on the two threatened species.

What now?

This case will have clear implications for logging operations governed by regional forest agreements.

In fact, the timber industry has called for state and federal governments to urgently respond to the case, and clarify the future of regional forest agreements.

Read more: Our nature laws are being overhauled. Here are 7 things we must fix

Arguably, logging operations conducted under a regional forest agreement can no longer rely on the exemption from federal environmental laws if those operations don’t comply with the state regulatory frameworks accredited under the regional forest agreements, especially provisions that protect threatened species.

And while making logging operations subject to federal environmental laws is a good thing, it’s not enough. Federal environmental laws are weak and don’t prevent species extinctions.

In any case, the result is the perfect opportunity for state and federal governments to rethink forest management. That means properly taking into account the ongoing threats to threatened species from climate change, wildfires and habitat loss.

ref. The Leadbeater’s possum finally had its day in court. It may change the future of logging in Australia –

Life in lockdown has shown us our houses need to work harder for us

Life in lockdown has shown us our houses need to work harder for us

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Chris Tucker, Senior Lecturer in Architecture, University of Newcastle

As we’ve been living more closely with families and house mates through COVID-19, the more intensive ways we’ve used our houses has perhaps exposed some of their shortcomings. Households have had relative freedom to interact with each other, but the continual presence of our household has also made us wish part of our house could somehow partition itself into another house – a second house where we might retreat.

Having to work and school from home has highlighted the need for the spaces we share to be more flexible. Occasionally, we need to be able to separate home spaces from each other. We’ve perhaps opportunistically repurposed furniture, made makeshift rooms and stuffed blankets under locked doors in an attempt to renegotiate territories within our house.

Some of us are already making maximum use of the available space in our homes. Chris Tucker, Author provided

Read more: We need more flexible housing for 21st-century lives

But working in a home office or studio, finding independence as families grow and age, or being able to accommodate extended family and friends, are also usual ways we live in houses. Having a second smaller house, within or attached to the main house, would allow these ways of living to happen in happier ways.

How small a house?

A small house can be designed to feel more spacious than its small floor area suggests. They can make good use of gardens, courtyards and leftover space around a house; use furniture and storage walls to make a small room more usable; use well-designed windows to provide natural light, ventilation and views; and use the volume within a roof for light and a sense of space.

An addition to a home (above and below) in Islington Park, New South Wales, by Curious Practice. Warren Haasnoot, used with permission, Author provided
Warren Haasnoot, used with permission, Author provided

Some larger houses might already be organised well enough to effectively have a second house within them. But, in the context of regulatory approvals, this is where it begins to get tricky.

Separate to the ways we might use our home, a house is also defined through legislation.

Depending on where you live in Australia, it will be defined in subtly different ways. In New South Wales, a house is simply a room, or series of rooms, capable of being used as a home.

While not describing what those rooms might be used for, case law suggests a house needs to at least maintain the facilities of a bathroom, a kitchen and a place to sleep. If these rooms were able to gain independent access to the street, they would then meet the legislative definition of a house.

Read more: Flatting in retirement: how to provide suitable and affordable housing for ageing people

However, to be approved as a second house it would also need to comply with other legislative and planning policies. These requirements can be complex and layered, as they interact with other codes, but it’s the lot size of your property that will have the greatest effect on whether you’re allowed to have a second house.

If you want to avoid the discretion of your local council assessing a development application that is outside minimum planning requirements, your house (at least in NSW), will need to sit on more than 450 square metres of land. That’s substantially more than both most inner-city lots and newly released greenfield lots in Australia. That second house might be further away than you’d thought.

Australian planning regulations typically make it difficult to build a second house on smaller blocks. Chris Tucker, Author provided

Read more: Tiny houses: the big idea that could take some heat out of the housing crisis

The second house and the affordability crisis

The flexibility for individual land owners to determine how their household lives within their house, and how they might contribute to making houses more affordable, has been given over to those who already own relatively large blocks of land. Those with smaller, more affordable lots are effectively prevented from leveraging the potential of their house as this type of asset. Those with more to spend on housing also stand to gain the most.

Having more houses in places where we want to live, and in ways that maintain the character of those places, are critical ways of sustaining communities. The small size (20-50 square metres) of a second house often has little impact on the appearance of a house. And because they’re accommodating an existing household, they also have little impact on car parking.

Read more: Size does matter: Australia’s addiction to big houses is blowing the energy budget

Good design maximises the uses of every space within a house. Warren Haasnoot, used with permission, Author provided

Rooms within houses can be made to work harder for the families they hold, while the often wasted open space down the side of a house can be activated as courtyards and bathrooms. As a second house is on the same land title as the primary house, it can’t be sold as a separate house like a duplex might – it isn’t a commodity in itself. This positions the second house as a fundamental way of affordably meeting multiple needs:

  • the lack of houses in urban areas at street level

  • ageing in place

  • social cohesion

  • the confidence Australians should have in well-designed small houses.

Read more: From 8 to 80: designing adaptive spaces for an ageing population

As we begin to move out of our pandemic-related home-stays, perhaps the ways we’ve been intensively using our houses will linger a bit longer. And perhaps we’ll be in a better position to more seriously ask our house how it might also become a second.

The broader question, of course, is for our various levels of government: why not allow small houses on small lots to help with the housing affordability crisis?

Read more: Affordable housing shortfall leaves 1.3m households in need and rising – study

ref. Life in lockdown has shown us our houses need to work harder for us –

In remembering Christo, we remember what art once was

In remembering Christo, we remember what art once was

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Adam Geczy, Senior Lecture, Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney

In 1995, after the fall of the Wall, Berlin had started to be rebuilt, but was still in a state of disrepair.

There, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, two of the world’s most important land artists, wrapped the entire Reichstag, the seat of German parliament, in over 100,000 square meters of fabric.

The wrapping expressed more than words ever could about the complex and harrowing culture of guilt, forgetting and memorisation still inextricable from German identity.

It was a swaddling of old wounds. At the same time, it offered the new Germany gift-wrapped to what would soon be the European Union. And knowing of the beleaguered state of the EU, the work – in memory and reproduction – speaks to us still.

Born in Bulgaria in 1935, Christo Vladimirov Javacheff began his career as a painter. But it was in land art where he made his name, alongside wife and longtime collaborator Jeanne-Claude.

Emerging in the 1960s, land art saw artists preoccupied with bringing art outside of the house, gallery, or museum to bridge the gap between art and nature. Land art is, more often than not, heroic in size, operating on a scale of energy and logistics at which most artists would balk.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude were responsible for a number of massive works that remain burned into the memories of many in reality and in reproduction: works of effort and massive gesture. Other works had an audacity tinged with witty and poignant politicisation.

Christo with his work Mastaba, built on The Serpentine lake in London, 18 June 2018. Andy Rain/AAP

Jeanne-Claude died in 2009, and Christo continued working under the name of their partnership until his death this weekend in New York City at the age of 84.

The starting place of a legacy

Christo’s work has a particular significance for Australia: the very first wrapped work was staged in 1968-1969 at Little Bay in Sydney.

An enormous swathe of the landscape was covered in tonnes of plastic tarp, and wrapped to the coastline. It was something the Australian art community and public had never seen before or since, offering previously unseen sense of ambition and scale. It also inspired Australian artists to be more active abroad to try their own interventions there, albeit more modestly.

But too often conveniently forgotten about the work is it was devastating to the region’s wildlife and local ecosystem. Hundreds of birds who depended on the region for their sustenance and habitat died during the life of the project.

Ironically then, given the present predicament we are in, Wrapped Coast gives us more to think about than we might previously have anticipated. It is certainly a work that would not have been sanctioned today. We might remember it as an example of excesses of spectacle that have precipitated many worse consequences.

Read more: The heady sense of being at the heart of public art: 50 years of the Kaldor Foundation

This does not discredit the work – far from it. Rather, it is a work of talismanic importance standing now not only as an example of the possibilities of scale in art, but also as a corrective that may speak to our future actions and attitudes afresh much as it spoke to the generation of artists who were able to experience it in all its hubristic glory.

Bigger than man

Following from Sydney, Christo and Jeanne-Claude would become known around the world for their work. They wrapped walkways in Kansas City, islands in Miami’s Biscayne Bay, trees in Basel, piers in Brescia, Italy. Their work played on other scales, too: placing 7,503 fabric gates throughout New York’s Central Park, and hundreds of umbrellas placed simultaneously in Japan and California.

The Floating Piers’ on Lake Iseo, northern Italy, 03 July 2016. Filippo Venezia/EPA

They encouraged the viewer to look on landscapes and buildings through new eyes. The absence of what was there causing the viewer to look deeper than they previously have. Their body of work is now firmly etched into 20th-century art.

It could be the nature and scale of their projects – given the logistics and art’s future due to the present – have receded faster into history than we had anticipated.

This may give us cause us to mourn more than the man, but what art had once been.

ref. In remembering Christo, we remember what art once was –

Money for social housing, not home buyers grants, is the key to construction stimulus

Money for social housing, not home buyers grants, is the key to construction stimulus

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Brendan Coates, Program Director, Household Finances, Grattan Institute

There’s no doubt Australia’s construction industry is facing tough times. COVID-19 has caused migration to slow to a trickle. Some 2.6 million Australians have either lost their jobs or had their hours cut in the past two months. Many economists expect property prices to fall.

It all adds up to fewer homes being built in the coming months. That means fewer jobs in the construction industry, which employs nearly one in 10 Australians. The sector has already lost nearly 7% of its workforce since March.

The Morrison Government is set to anounce a stimulus package for the construction sector as soon as this week. But what should it include?

More home-buyer grants on the way

The federal government has signalled it will offer cash grants of at least A$20,000 to buyers of newly built homes. Unlike past schemes that have targeted first home buyers, it seems these new grants will be available to everyone including upsizers and investors. Grants may also be extended to renovations.

Large handouts would prompt some more residential construction by encouraging some people to bring forward their home purchases. It’s why in 2008 the Rudd government tripled the first home buyer grant to A$21,000 for new homes in response to the Global Financial Crisis.

But under such schemes, governments also end up giving grants to people who would have bought a home anyway. Even the more pessimistic industry forecasts expect 110,000 homes to be built in Australia next year. Giving A$20,000 to all of these home buyers would cost A$2.2 billion without adding a single construction job. Grants of A$40,000 would double the bill.

That’s a lot of spending for little economic gain.

Nor do grants to home buyers actually make housing more affordable. They are typically passed through into higher house prices, which benefits sellers more than buyers. In this case, that is likely to include developers eager to clear their existing stock of both newly and nearly built homes.

Read more: The brutal truth on housing. Someone has to lose in order for first homebuyers to win

Cash grants for renovations would likely hit the economy quicker since they don’t necessarily require building approvals. But they bring their own problems. Grants will likely see in-demand tradies raise their prices, especially if the government is effectively paying for most of the work done. It will be also be harder for officials administering the scheme to determine if the work has been done before paying out the money.

Nor is it clear the renovation sector needs further stimulus: reports suggest COVID-19 is driving a renovation boom across many parts of Australia. Research by credit bureau Illion and economic consultancy AlphaBeta shows spending on home improvements is already 33% higher than pre-COVID levels.

There’s a better option

There’s a better way to support residential construction without providing such big windfalls to developers: fund the building of more social housing.

Social housing – where rents are typically capped at no more than 30% of household income – provides a safety net to vulnerable Australians.

In particular, the Morrison government should repeat another GFC-era policy, the Social Housing Initiative, under which 19,500 social housing units were built and another 80,000 refurbished over two years, at a cost of A$5.2 billion.

Under the initiative the federal government funded the states to build social housing units directly or contract community housing providers to act as housing developers

Public residential construction approvals spiked within months of the announcement.

Building 30,000 new social housing units today would cost between A$10 billion an A$15 billion. Because state governments and community housing providers won’t have to worry about finance, marketing and sales, they’ll be able to get to work building homes much quicker than the private sector.

The boost to the economy would be pretty immediate.

Just as important, building social housing would also help tackle the growing scourge of homelessness. At the most recent Census (2016), more than 116,000 people were homeless, up from 90,000 a decade earlier. COVID-19 has shown us that if we let people live in unhealthy conditions it can help spread disease – affecting everybody’s health.

Read more: Coronavirus lays bare 5 big housing system flaws to be fixed

The drivers of homelessness are complex. Nonetheless the best Australian evidence and international experience shows social housing substantially reduces tenants’ risk of homelessness. But Australia’s stagnating social housing stock means there is little “flow” of social housing available for people whose lives take a big turn for the worse.

Funding social housing won’t boost house prices or provide windfalls for developers. It will do more to keep construction workers on the job, while also helping some of our most vulnerable Australians.

ref. Money for social housing, not home buyers grants, is the key to construction stimulus –

Escape from Pretoria review: a film of anti-apartheid nostalgia for apartheid

Escape from Pretoria review: a film of anti-apartheid nostalgia for apartheid

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Ari Mattes, Lecturer in Communications and Media, University of Notre Dame Australia

Review: Escape from Pretoria, directed by Francis Annan

There is something undeniably appealing about prison escape films. Who doesn’t want to watch a bunch of underdogs band together and escape the clutches of their gaolers?

We empathise with central characters whose imprisonment is usually unjust, if not illegal. We cringe, watching them tortured by cruel and psychopathic guards. We feel uplifted as we see – even in this context of absolute abasement – the fabled “human spirit” (whatever this thing is) able to soar above the misery of the situation and, through cunning and ingenuity, set the body free.

They are perfect examples, in other words, of the kind of cinematic escapist fodder that thankfully numbs our brains and bodies to the brutalities of reality.

Escape from Pretoria does its best to exploit both our disposition towards underdogs, and our historical knowledge of the barbarity of apartheid in South Africa.

Based on Tim Jenkin’s 2003 memoir Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Central Prison, this is the first major feature film from UK-based director Francis Annan. Like so many low- to medium-budget films in the 21st century, it is a transnational production, with the investment (and therefore risk) spread between Australia and the UK. Indeed, it was shot on location in Adelaide and surrounding suburbs, and looks like it.

A film about mechanics

Formally, the film is uninspired. There is nothing notable about its technical construction. This seems to be a perennial problem with so-called “true story” films, which often depend on the interest generated by this label at the expense of dramaturgy and aesthetic quality.

(This, of course, is not always the case – the true story heist film American Animals was one of the most formally engaging films of 2018.)

What is interesting about Escape from Pretoria is the absolutely minor tenor of its narrative. It eschews melodrama and sentimentality, focusing on the mechanics of escape itself. The film goes into great detail in its examination of the design and manufacturing of the tools and technologies Jenkin and his crew use to get free, including nine different wooden keys, and their testing under tense conditions.

In this sense, the film is procedural rather than character driven. This suits the curious nature of the event on which it is based, and there is something refreshing about the narrative’s minimalist approach.

There is something refreshing about the narrative’s minimalism. Arclight Films

It doesn’t labour excessively to depict guards as disgusting demons, or prisoners as paragons of virtue. It doesn’t, in the style of American countercultural prison films like Cool Hand Luke and The Longest Yard, fetishise the eccentricities and idiosyncratic personas of different inmates.

Ex wizard Daniel Radcliffe gives an earnest if forgettable performance as Jenkin, managing to pull off a pretty convincing accent and sweating and frowning in the right places. His fellow escapees are solid, especially Australian Mark Leonard Winter as Leonard Fontaine. Nathan Page, as the particularly unpleasant guard Mongo, endows the role with a quality of Eichmann-esque understatement that stops it from descending into super-villain caricature.

Disappointment at history

Yet, like so much post-apartheid media about apartheid-era South Africa, the film exists as a kind of channel for profound disappointment regarding the African National Congress’s post-apartheid rule.

This is realised in the film’s background echoes of faint nostalgia and in the painfully banal platitudes that end the film, posturing about freedom and democracy, the ANC and Nelson Mandela.

This kind of nostalgia is becoming increasingly difficult to stomach in a post-Marikana massacre context, in which the ANC were implicated in the lethal repression of protests about mine workers’ rights.

Read more: Marikana tragedy must be understood against the backdrop of structural violence in South Africa

It seems that, in an age of increasing inequality in South Africa, the cultural spirit needs to return to the apartheid era to generate some semblance of hope about the future. In the era the film attempts to document, the name “ANC” was still synonymous with dreams of equality and a prosperous future for many South Africans.

In a current day South Africa of growing inequality – captured in films set in the present (Necktie Youth) and future (District 9) – it is an easy strategy to return to the apartheid era to leverage the emotional investment of the viewer.

In any case, Escape from Pretoria offered an engaging diversion from news about coronavirus and police brutality. It’s the kind of minor, visually uninteresting film one senses would feel like a flop if projected onto a cinema-sized screen. It is better suited to the small screens with which we’re all currently forced to make do.

Escape from Pretoria is now available in Australia through video on demand services.

ref. Escape from Pretoria review: a film of anti-apartheid nostalgia for apartheid –

The coronavirus crisis shows why New Zealand urgently needs a commissioner for older people

The coronavirus crisis shows why New Zealand urgently needs a commissioner for older people

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

New Zealand is often described as a great place to grow up. We must also ask ourselves whether it is a great place to grow old.

The question becomes increasingly urgent as the impact of COVID-19 becomes clearer. While New Zealand has been one of a small number of countries to have seemingly controlled the spread of the virus, it has been older people who have borne the brunt of the disease.

The elderly have not only died and become critically ill in greater numbers, as shown below, they have also suffered most under the stringent control measures adopted and from lapses in adequate health care.

New Zealand’s COVID-19 cases by age group. NZ Ministry of Health

There has been no shortage of debate about the impact of New Zealand’s strict lockdown on rights and liberties. But, given the burden of the disease has fallen mostly on older New Zealanders, their absence from that debate speaks volumes.

The establishment of an official advocate for the elderly is clearly overdue.

About 15% of the population is aged 65 or older and that will double in the next few decades. The 22 New Zealanders who died from COVID-19 were 60 and older. Many of those deaths occurred in residential care facilities that struggled to adequately test residents and staff or provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and training.

Read more: Low staff levels must be part of any reviews into the coronavirus outbreaks in NZ rest homes

New Zealand’s aged care has fallen behind

This situation is sadly ironic because New Zealand has been a world leader in passing laws to protect older people, starting with the Old Age Pensions Act in 1898. Nearly a century later, the Human Rights Act 1993 prohibited discrimination on the basis of age.

In fact, the United Nations was still unsure whether this type of discrimination applied to older people’s rights to health, housing, work and social security. It wasn’t until 2009 that it finally concluded it did.

More generally, the rights of older people are not enshrined in any dedicated global human rights treaty. There are longstanding plans of action and principles in this area, but these fall into the category of “soft law”. They do not create legally binding obligations for countries.

Nonetheless, the UN is now focusing more on the human rights of older people and is considering whether there should be a treaty. It has taken a further step by appointing a UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older people.

Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, who held the role until recently, visited New Zealand at the invitation of the government just before we locked down due to COVID-19. Her findings suggest New Zealand’s leadership in protecting the rights and interests of older people has stalled.

Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, former UN independent expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons.

UN expert’s call for a commissioner

Although there were things to be proud of in what Kornfeld-Matte found, including recent government strategies to cope with an ageing population, and our universal superannuation, there were also concerns.

Those included violence, poverty, affordable housing, availability of long-term care workers, structural biases in the health system that disproportionately affect Māori and Pasifika, and increasing rhetoric portraying the elderly as a burden.

To deal with these issues Kornfeld-Matte called for the establishment of “an independent national commissioner on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons”.

Read more: Recession hits Māori and Pasifika harder. They must be part of planning New Zealand’s COVID-19 recovery

There is real merit in this recommendation. Although there is a minister and an Office for Seniors that has developed commendable strategies, there is still a risk this approach to advocacy will either be too timid or too tied to the views of whichever political party is in power.

NZ already has good models to copy

New Zealand already has a number of commissioners who are obliged to represent the interests of particular groups or concepts. Their advocacy role is based in legislation and they are independent of any political party or the partisan reach of any political cycle.

NZ Commissioner for Children, Judge Andrew Becroft.

The best example is the Commissioner for Children whose role it is to advocate for the youngest New Zealanders. In the nearly two decades since its establishment, the Office of the Commissioner has managed to develop a system of advocacy across a wide range of areas, including children in the judicial system, children’s welfare, with the placement of children into state care.

The commissioner has consistently highlighted the issue of child poverty and hailed the passing (with cross-party support) of the Child Poverty Reduction Act in 2018 as “a historic cause for celebration”. The commissioner has the support of an international legal framework that has been accepted by every UN member state except the US.

Fortunately, New Zealand has been spared the devastation COVID-19 has caused elsewhere. But our lives have still been changed dramatically. The challenge now is to ensure the voices of those most at risk from the disease (and from the current means of controlling it) are heard loudly and clearly.

The appointment of an independent national commissioner to advocate for older New Zealanders would be a significant step towards restoring this country’s reputation as a great place to live – at any age.

ref. The coronavirus crisis shows why New Zealand urgently needs a commissioner for older people –

What Australian birds can teach us about choosing a partner and making it last

What Australian birds can teach us about choosing a partner and making it last

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Gisela Kaplan, Emeritus Professor in Animal Behaviour, University of New England

Love, sex and mate choice are topics that never go out of fashion among humans or, surprisingly, among some Australian birds. For these species, choosing the right partner is a driver of evolution and affects the survival and success of a bird and its offspring.

There is no better place than Australia to observe and study strategies for bird mate choice. Modern parrots and songbirds are Gondwanan creations – they first evolved in Australia and only much later populated the rest of the world.

Here, we’ll examine the sophisticated way some native birds choose a good mate, and make the relationship last.

Rainbow lorikeets form a lifetime bond. Bobbie Marchant

Single mothers and seasonal flings

For years, research has concentrated on studying birds in which sexual selection may be as simple as males courting females. Males might display extra bright feathers or patterns, perform a special song or dance or, like the bowerbird, build a sophisticated display mound.

In these species, females choose the best mate on the market. But the males do not stick around after mating to raise their brood.

Read more: How the Australian galah got its name in a muddle

These reproductive strategies apply only to about tiny proportion of birds worldwide.

Then there are “lovers for a season”, which account for another small percentage of songbirds. Males and females may raise a brood together for one season, then go their separate ways.

These are not real partnerships at all – they’re simply markets for reproduction.

Birds that stick together

But what about the other birds – those that raise offspring in pairs, just as humans often do? Those that form partnerships for more than a season, and in some cases, a lifetime?

More than 90% of birds worldwide fall into this “joint parenting” category – and in Australia, many of them stay together for a long time. Indeed, Australia is a hotspot for these cooperative and long-term affairs.

This staggering figure has no equal in the animal kingdom. Even among mammals, couples are rare; only 5% of all mammals, including humans, pair up and raise kids together.

So how do long-bonding Australian birds choose partners, and what’s their secret to relationship success?

A white headed pigeon pair. Credit: Gisela Kaplan

Lifelong attachment

The concept of assortative mating is often used to explain how humans form lasting relationships. As the theory goes, we choose mates with similar traits, lifestyle and background to our own.

In native birds that form long-lasting bonds, including butcherbirds, drongos and cockatoos, differences between the sexes are small or non-existent – that is, they are “monomorphic”. Males and females may look alike in size and plumage, or may both sing, build nests and provide equally for offspring.

So, how do they choose each other, if not by colour, song, dance or plumage difference? There’s some research to suggest their choices are based on personality.

Many bird owners and aviculturists would attest that birds have individual personalities. They may, for example, be gentle, tolerant, submissive, aggressive, confident, curious, fearful or sociable.

Read more: Magpies can form friendships with people – here’s how

Research has not conclusively established which bird personalities are mutually attractive. But so far it seems similarities or familiarity, rather than opposites, attract.

Cockatiel breeders now even use personality assessments similar to those used for show dogs.

There is practical and scientific proof to support this approach. In breeding contexts, seemingly incompatible birds may be forced together. In such cases, they are unlikely to reproduce and may not even interact with each other. For example, research on Gouldian finches has shown that in mismatched pairs, stress hormone levels were elevated over several weeks, which delayed egg laying.

Conversely, well-matched zebra finch pairs have been shown to have greater reproductive success. Well designed experiments have also shown these birds to change human-assigned partners once free to do so, suggesting firm partner preferences.

Zebra finches pair roosting together. Source Credit: Robyn Burgess

More than just sex

Now to some extraordinary, little-known facets of behaviour in some native birds.

Bird bonds are not always or initially about reproduction. Most cockatoos take five to seven years to mature sexually. Magpies, apostlebirds and white winged choughs can’t seriously think about reproducing until they are five or six years old.

In the interim, they form friendships. Some become childhood sweethearts long before they get “married” and reproduce.

Socially monogamous birds, such as most Australian cockatoos and parrots, pay meticulous attention to each other. They reaffirm bonds by preening, roosting and flying together in search of food and water.

Even not-so-cuddly native songbirds such as magpies or corvids have long term partnerships and fly, feed and roost closely together.

Sulphur-crested cockatoo friends or pair about to land. Source Robyn Burgess

All in the mind

Bird species that pair up for life, and devote the most time to raising offspring, are generally also the most intelligent (when measured by brain mass relative to body weight).

Such species tend to live for a long time as well – sometimes four times longer than birds of similar weight range in the northern hemisphere.

So why is this? The brain chews up lots of energy and needs the best nutrients. It also needs time to reach full growth. Parental care for a long period, as many Australian birds provide, is the best way to maximise brain development. It requires a strong bond between the parents, and a commitment to raising offspring over the long haul.

Read more: Bird-brained and brilliant: Australia’s avians are smarter than you think

Interestingly, bird and human brains have some similar architecture, and the same range of important neurotransmitters and hormones. Some of these may allow long-term attachments.

Powerful hormones that regulate stress and induce positive emotions are well developed in both humans and birds. These include oxytocin (which plays a part in social recognition and sexual behaviour) and serotonin (which helps regulate and modulate mood, sleep, anxiety, sexuality, and appetite).

The dopamine system also strongly influences the way pair bonds are formed and maintained in primates – including humans – and in birds.

Birds even produce the hormone prolactin, once associated only with mammals. This plays a role in keeping parents sitting on their clutch of eggs, including male birds that share in the brooding.

Australian songbirds, such as tawny frogmouths, form lasting relationships. Gisela Kaplan, Author provided (No reuse)

The power of love

Given the above, one is led to the surprising conclusion that cooperation, and long-term bonds in couples, is as good for birds as it is for humans. The strategy has arguably led both species to becoming the most successful and widely distributed on Earth.

With so many of Australia’s native birds declining in numbers, learning as much as possible about their behaviour, including how they form lasting relationships, is an urgent task.

Much of the information referred to in this article is drawn from Gisela Kaplan’s books Bird Bonds, Bird Minds and Tawny Frogmouth

ref. What Australian birds can teach us about choosing a partner and making it last –

Pregnant in a pandemic? If you’re stressed, there’s help

Pregnant in a pandemic? If you're stressed, there's help

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Monique Robinson, NHMRC Early Career Fellow, Telethon Kids Institute

If you’re pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic, you might be feeling a unique type of stress.

You might be uncertain about how an infection could affect your unborn baby. That’s over and above the stress you might be feeling about the pregnancy itself, and its impact on your relationship, job or lifestyle.

But there’s professional support to help you manage these stresses. And there’s lots you can do at home to ease your worries.

Read more: Coronavirus while pregnant or giving birth: here’s what you need to know

How will the coronavirus affect my unborn baby?

One of the first studies to look at the effect of coronavirus infection while pregnant found the health of unborn babies or newborns of women infected in their final trimester did not differ to those expected with uninfected pregnancies.

But this small study, from Wuhan in China, was rushed to publication and didn’t look at infection earlier in pregnancy.

A review of 41 pregnancies complicated by COVID-19, as well as another 38 complicated by other coronaviruses (SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome and MERS, Middle East respiratory syndrome) gave us more information.

It found a small but significant increase in preterm birth (before 37 weeks’ gestation) in COVID-19 pregnancies.

However, the researchers couldn’t differentiate between spontaneous preterm birth and babies who were induced to arrive before 37 weeks.

So far, the evidence of harm to you or your unborn baby is limited, and should not cause concern.

Pregnancy can be stressful anyway

Separate to the fear of being infected with COVID-19 is the fear and stress related to simply living through the pandemic while pregnant.

Pregnancy can often be stressful as lifestyle, relationship and income changes create challenges for families.

Pregnancy can be stressful at the best of times. Shutterstock

Worries about the baby’s health are present in any pregnancy, but adding concerns of what infection would mean for the unborn child can exacerbate feelings of anxiety.

Before the pandemic, about 20% of women had a clinical anxiety disorder (for example, generalised anxiety, specific phobia) while pregnant.

We now have some early indicators of how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting that statistic.

Read more: Health Check: can stress during pregnancy harm my baby?

And when you add the pandemic into the mix

Canadian researchers surveyed nearly 2,000 pregnant women in April 2020 (in research yet to be peer-reviewed). They found 57% of pregnant women showed anxiety symptoms but 68% reported an increase in pregnancy-specific anxiety.

Only one of the 1,987 participants had a confirmed case of COVID-19, with another 25 cases suspected but not confirmed. So, for most participants, just being pregnant during the pandemic (without being infected) led to three times as many women being anxious during the pandemic than before it.

Read more: Coronavirus with a baby: what you need to know to prepare and respond

Pregnant women are also concerned about how the pandemic will affect their maternity care, including who can visit them in hospital and after the birth of their baby.

A review of pregnancy stress during previous infectious disease outbreaks, including SARS, MERS, Ebola and Zika, found that as well as feeling vulnerable, pregnant women were anxious about disruption to pre- and postnatal care, and exposure to treatments not fully tested in pregnancy.

We can’t avoid stress, but we can manage it

We know stress during pregnancy has been linked to a range of poor outcomes for the child, such as pre-term birth, being more susceptible to disease, and behavioural problems through childhood.

Post-traumatic stress symptoms in pregnant women following the September 11 attacks and various natural disasters have significantly affected both emotional and cognitive development in children later in childhood.

But there is good news. While we cannot avoid the stress that comes with the COVID-19 pandemic, we can manage it.

Read more: Coronavirus is stressful. Here are some ways to cope with the anxiety

In fact, it’s not necessarily the stressful event itself that can lead to poor outcomes. It’s how a pregnant woman assesses the stress of the event and how she chooses to move forward that might determine what happens to her child.

So, if we can manage our stress and not let it overwhelm us, we may be able to avoid the negative consequences of stress in pregnancy with benefits right through our children’s lives.

Here’s what you can do

Social support is key for managing stress, but social distancing makes it harder to gather with the friends and loved ones who might typically provide that support.

Still, there are many online pregnancy support and birth groups targeted to particular stages of pregnancy. These could provide reassurance and a sense of belonging while the outside world looks different.

You can still exercise outside. But if you prefer to exercise at home, there are many online pregnancy yoga and pilates classes.

Yoga and pilates classes for pregnant women are available online. Shutterstock

You can practise guided relaxation and meditation with an app. And if you can work from home, this might give you some much-needed flexibility.

You can also use local, evidence-based telehealth to access mental health care. There are also many free, online programs providing self-guided mental health support.

As long as the COVID-19 pandemic is here, with its accompanying uncertainty, we can best focus on limiting the long-term effects of stress on our mothers, babies and families.

ref. Pregnant in a pandemic? If you’re stressed, there’s help –

Riot or resistance? How media frames unrest in Minneapolis will shape public’s view of protest

Riot or resistance? How media frames unrest in Minneapolis will shape public’s view of protest

ANALYSIS: By Danielle K. Kilgo of Indiana University

A teenager held her phone steady enough to capture the final moments of George Perry Floyd’s life as he apparently suffocated under the weight of a Minneapolis police officer’s knee on his neck. The video went viral.

What happened next has played out time and again in American cities after high-profile cases of alleged police brutality.

Vigils and protests were organised in Minneapolis and around the United States to demand police accountability. But while investigators and officials called for patience, unrest boiled over. News reports soon carried images of property destruction and police in riot gear.

READ MORE: US police seen as using excessive force as outrage over George Floyd’s death rises

The general public’s opinions about protests and the social movements behind them are formed in large part by what they read or see in the media. This gives journalists a lot of power when it comes to driving the narrative of a demonstration.

They can emphasiSe the disruption protests cause or echo the dog whistles of politicians that label protesters as “thugs.”

– Partner –

But they can also remind the public that at the heart of the protests is the unjust killing of another black person. This would take the emphasis away from the destruction of the protests and toward the issues of police impunity and the effects of racism in its many forms.

The role journalists play can be indispensable if movements are to gain legitimacy and make progress. And that puts a lot of pressure on journalists to get things right.

My research has found that some protest movements have more trouble than others getting legitimacy. My co-author Summer Harlow and I have studied how local and metropolitan newspapers cover protests. We found that narratives about the Women’s March and anti-Trump protests gave voice to protesters and significantly explored their grievances. On the other end of the spectrum, protests about anti-black racism and indigenous people’s rights received the least legitimizing coverage, with them more often seen as threatening and violent.

Forming the narrative
Decades ago, scholars James Hertog and Douglas McLeod identified how news coverage of protests contributes to the maintenance of the status quo, a phenomenon referred to as “the protest paradigm.” They held that media narratives tend to emphasize the drama, inconvenience and disruption of protests rather than the demands, grievances and agendas of protesters.

These narratives trivialise protests and ultimately dent public support.

Here’s how this theoretically plays out today:

Journalists pay little attention to protests that aren’t dramatic or unconventional.

Knowing this, protesters find ways to capture media and public attention. They don pink “pussy” hats or kneel during the national anthem. They might even resort to violence and lawlessness.

Now the protesters have the media’s attention, but what they cover is often superficial or delegitimising, focusing on the tactics and disruption caused and excluding discussion on the substance of the social movement.

We wanted to explore if this classic theory fit coverage from 2017 – a year of large-scale protests accompanying the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency.

To do so, we analysed the framing of protest reporting from newspapers in Texas. The state’s size and diversity made it a good proxy for the country at large.

In all, we identified 777 articles by searching for terms such as “protest,” “protester,” “Black Lives Matter” and “Women’s March.” This included reports written by journalists in 20 Texas newsrooms, such as the El Paso Times and the Houston Chronicle, as well as syndicated articles from sources like the Associated Press.

We looked at how articles framed the protests in the headline, opening sentence and story structure, and classified the reporting using four recognized frames of protest:

  • Riot: Emphasizing disruptive behavior and the use or threat of violence.
  • Confrontation: Describing protests as combative, focusing on arrests or “clashes” with police.
  • Spectacle: Focusing on the apparel, signs or dramatic and emotional behavior of protesters.
  • Debate: Substantially mentioning protester’s demands, agendas, goals and grievances.

We also kept an eye out for sourcing patterns to identify imbalances that often give more credence to authorities than protesters and advocates.

Overall, news coverage tended to trivialize protests by focusing most often on dramatic action. But some protests suffered more than others.

Reports focused on spectacle more often than substance. Much was made of what protesters were wearing, crowd sizes – large and smallcelebrity involvement and flaring tempers.

The substance of some marches got more play than others. Around half of the reports on anti-Trump protests, immigration rallies, women’s rights demonstrations and environmental actions included substantial information about protesters’ grievances and demands.

In contrast, Dakota Pipeline and anti-black racism-related protests got legitimising coverage less than 25 percent of the time and were more likely to be described as disruptive and confrontational.

In coverage of a St Louis protest over the acquittal of a police officer who killed a black man, violence, arrest, unrest and disruption were the leading descriptors, while concern about police brutality and racial injustice was reduced to just a few mentions.

Buried more than 10 paragraphs down was the broader context: “The recent St. Louis protests follow a pattern seen since the August 2014 killing of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson: the majority of demonstrators, though angry, are law-abiding.”

As a consequence of variances in coverage, Texas newspaper readers may form the perception that some protests are more legitimate than others. This contributes to what we call a “hierarchy of social struggle,” in which the voices of some advocacy groups are lifted over others.

Lurking bias
Journalists contribute to this hierarchy by adhering to industry norms that work against less-established protest movements. On tight deadlines, reporters may default to official sources for statements and data.

This gives authorities more control of narrative framing. This practice especially becomes an issue for movements like Black Lives Matter that are countering the claims of police and other officials.

Implicit bias also lurks in such reporting. Lack of diversity has long plagued newsrooms.

In 2017, the proportion of white journalists at The Dallas Morning News and the Houston Chronicle was more than double the proportion of white people in each city.

Protests identify legitimate grievances in society and often tackle issues that affect people who lack the power to address them through other means. That’s why it is imperative that journalists do not resort to shallow framing narratives that deny significant and consistent space to air the afflicted’s concerns while also comforting the very comfortable status quo.
The Conversation

Dr Danielle K. Kilgo is an assistant professor of journalism at Indiana University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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Forget ‘murder hornets’, European wasps in Australia decapitate flies and bully dingoes

Forget ‘murder hornets’, European wasps in Australia decapitate flies and bully dingoes

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Emma Spencer, Ph.D. student, University of Sydney

The impacts of invasive mammals such as feral horses and feral cats have featured prominently in the media over the years.

But the recent discovery of the infamous “murder hornet” (or giant Asian hornet Vespa mandarinia) in the US has shone a spotlight on a similar invasive insect in Australia, the European wasp (Vespula germanica).

Read more: National parks are for native wildlife, not feral horses: federal court

Our recent study showed this aggressive insect swarming decayed corpses, decapitating its prey and picking fights with dingoes.

Invasive plants and animals can have catastrophic impacts on wildlife. And along with habitat loss and overexploitation, they are the greatest threat faced by native Australian species.

European wasps feed on meat. Thomas Bresson/flickr

The rise of European wasps

European wasps are native to Europe, Northern Africa and parts of Asia. But hibernating queens stowed unintentionally in ships or trucks can colonise new areas, and this is how they arrived in Australia.

They were first discovered in Tasmania in 1959, and by the 1970s had reached mainland Australia. Today, European wasps are found in every state and territory, and are considered an agricultural, urban and environmental pest. The species is firmly established in the eastern parts of the country, and constant vigilance is required to keep numbers down in other areas.

European wasps have no predators (other than humans) in Australia. And they tend to forage more efficiently than their native counterparts, such as the common paper wasp Polistes humilis.

Although they are typically most active in late summer and autumn, Australia’s warmer climate means not all European wasp queens hibernate over winter as they do in Europe. This allows some wasp colonies to build “super nests” of up to 100,000 individuals.

European wasps are commonly encountered in urban areas and, unlike bees, can sting multiple times. They also release a pheromone when threatened that quickly attracts more wasps. So if you bother a nest, you may have to contend with the whole hive.

European wasps can be found swarming animal carcasses.

Wasps as ruthless scavengers

Our research looks into the role of European wasps as scavengers.

In Australia, animal carcasses aren’t in short supply. Millions are produced each year due to culling, vehicle collision and drought. The recent bushfires also added to this.

Most carcasses are left to rot and provide perfect “free feed” stations for wasp colonies foraging for protein. For our study, we monitored 20 kangaroo carcasses at Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales.

Wasps congregated in large numbers around each, and ruthlessly attacked blowflies that attempted to approach. We could sit next to a carcass and watch fly after fly tackled to the ground by wasps. Many flies showed signs of mutilation. To our surprise, some were even missing their heads.

This unlucky blowfly was decapitated by a European wasp. Emma Spencer, author provided

In an effort to protect “their” carcass, the European wasps were decapitating the flies. This may have simply been defensive behaviour, but they could have also been taking bits of flies back to their nest for larvae to feed on.

We also observed the wasps bothering animals much larger than them, and our camera trap images showed dingoes snapping at wasps circling carcasses. Many of these animals retreated without feeding on the resource, presumably because the wasps were stinging them.

A dingo snaps at European wasps swarming a carcass site. Emma Spencer, author provided

We can’t ignore the flow on effects

Our recent study is just the start of our investigations into European wasp impacts in Kosciuszko National Park. But it has raised important points about the fate of carcasses dominated by wasps.

For one, it seems the wasps are preventing blowflies and dingoes from doing their job of “cleaning up” carcasses in the landscape. Also, flies are major pollinators, and decapitation isn’t helpful for pollen transfer.

A European wasp attacks a blowfly.

Moreover, if European wasp numbers are supported by prevalent carcass resources (including those resulting from culling) this may suggest a need to cull pest species when the wasps are not active, such as during the coldest times of the year.

Are wasps and ‘murder hornets’ a danger to us?

Like the European wasp, the “murder hornet” also threatens insect pollinators. The hornets have raised alarms in the US because they decimate honeybee populations, and have a nasty sting.

Similarly in Australia, there has been a focus on the threat European wasps pose to humans. But as is the case in the US, this focus is largely misguided.

Read more: What are Asian giant hornets, and are they really dangerous? 5 questions answered

While both insects have painful stings that can result in severe allergic reactions, fatalities are rare. And we would do well to redirect our concerns towards the impacts such species have on our ecosystems.

ref. Forget ‘murder hornets’, European wasps in Australia decapitate flies and bully dingoes –

Smaller pack sizes from today: could new opioid restrictions stop leftover medicines causing harm?

Smaller pack sizes from today: could new opioid restrictions stop leftover medicines causing harm?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Suzanne Nielsen, Associate Professor and Deputy Director, Monash Addiction Research Centre, Monash University

Several changes to the regulation of opioid supply in Australia come into effect today (June 1).

Opioids are strong medicines used for pain. The new rules – including reducing pack sizes and restrictions around prescribing – are part of a range of changes planned for prescription opioid medicines to be phased in over the next year or so.

This comes in response to the to the growing number of deaths involving opioids in Australia. From 2007 to 2016, opioid-related deaths nearly doubled – from 591 to 1,119 deaths per year.

Notably, most of these deaths involve prescription opioids used for pain, rather than illicit opioids like heroin.

Read more: Opioid dependence treatment saves lives. So why don’t more people use it?

What are the changes?

These changes will affect the quantity of opioids provided for short-term pain, limiting amounts to a single supply with a smaller quantity for each prescription. For example, smaller packs may contain 10 tablets rather than 20.

People requiring an additional supply for short-term pain will generally need to visit the doctor again (as opposed to receiving a repeat prescription).

There will also be new restrictions for patients starting on high-strength opioids for chronic pain, such as morphine and fentanyl. A person with chronic pain will need to try other types of pain relief, including lower-strength opioids, before being eligible for high-strength opioids.

Additionally, where opioid use exceeds, or is expected to exceed, 12 months the patient will need to seek a second opinion to approve ongoing prescriptions.

People who are using opioids for 12 months or more will need to get a second medical opinion. Shutterstock

Are these changes positive?

These changes reflect our improved understanding around the more limited role opioids should play in pain management.

Although opioids are effective for short-term severe pain, we know for every extra day of opioid medicines supplied, the risk the person will end up on opioids long-term increases.

Research in the United States showed the number of days’ worth of opioids given on the first opioid prescription was the strongest predictor of continued opioid use.

Australian research also found receiving a larger total quantity of opioids on the first prescription was associated with a greater chance of long-term use.

This suggests smaller initial supplies may be a critical step in preventing people from developing patterns of long-term use and potentially dependence or addiction.

Read more: 2,200 deaths, 32,000 hospital admissions, 15.7 billion dollars: what opioid misuse costs Australia in a year

Reassuringly, hospitals have been able to dramatically reduce the quantity of opioids supplied after surgery with no changes in the amount of pain patients reported, and no change in complications at follow-up.

These kinds of studies indicate we have probably been supplying many more opioids than are needed.

Smaller supplies could save lives

Supplying smaller quantities is also important because although opioids work well in the short term, we know when the duration of use extends beyond the short term, the harms can outweigh the benefits.

Opioids don’t work as well after the body adapts to their effects with long-term use. The dose is often increased to get the same effect, and with an increased dose comes an increased risk of harms, such as fatal overdose.

The other concern with larger supplies of opioids is that leftover medicine in the family home can become a source for non-medical use. Reducing supply of opioids will mean they’re less likely to be sitting around in the medicine cabinet, where they can potentially be misused.

One study showed the likelihood of experiencing an overdose was three times higher if someone in the person’s family was prescribed opioids.

Read more: How we can reduce dependency on opioid painkillers in rural and regional Australia

People with chronic pain

Some people using opioids for longer-term pain may find these new regulations challenging.

But the changes will hopefully help people in this group in the longer term, as opioids are not always appropriate for chronic pain. The need for second opinions may help facilitate appropriate use and discussions about alternative approaches to pain management.

However, second opinions might be hard to arrange in practice. Opioid use is higher in places where pain services are harder to access, most commonly outside metropolitan areas.

The large shifts towards telemedicine we’ve seen as a result of COVID-19 may be useful in addressing the disparity of service access in rural areas, if these changes are maintained.

Opioid use is higher in areas where pain services are less accessible. Shutterstock

The other issue that might occur is substitution towards less restricted medicines with the tightening of supply on opioid medicines. If alternative medicines are prescribed that are safer and clinically appropriate, this will be a good outcome. But we don’t want to see more dangerous or less effective medicines prescribed in place of opioids.

There have been concerns around increased and potentially inappropriate use of other pain medicines such as pregabalin – a medicine intended to be used for nerve pain.

We’ve seen a lot of focus on opioids, but these are not the only medicines that can cause harm. The challenge when using high-risk medicines like opioids for pain is with getting the right balance between benefits and harms. But these changes appear to be a step in the right direction.

What don’t we know?

Almost all the studies that help us predict the effects of these changes were conducted in the US. Opioid-related harm in the US is much more severe than in Australia, and the health-care system is vastly different.

That said, Australian trends in opioid-related harms are quite similar, though they are five to ten years behind the US.

Read more: Ambulance call-outs for pregabalin have spiked – here’s why

The aim is to use opioids for the shortest period at the lowest effective dose, rather than to avoid their use altogether. While we want to minimise their misuse, opioids are effective and important medicines for pain. In many countries, a lack of supply is a key health issue. We don’t want the pendulum to swing too far.

We will need to carefully monitor the outcomes of these changes to identify any unintended consequences.

ref. Smaller pack sizes from today: could new opioid restrictions stop leftover medicines causing harm? –

Turn off the porch light: 6 easy ways to stop light pollution from harming our wildlife

Turn off the porch light: 6 easy ways to stop light pollution from harming our wildlife

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Emily Fobert, Research Associate, Flinders University

As winter approaches, marine turtle nesting in the far north of Australia will peak. When these baby turtles hatch at night, they crawl from the sand to the sea, using the relative brightness of the horizon and the natural slope of the beach as their guide.

But when artificial lights outshine the moon and the sea, these hatchlings become disorientated. This leaves them vulnerable to predators, exhaustion and even traffic if they head in the wrong direction.

Read more: Getting smarter about city lights is good for us and nature too

Baby turtles are one small part of the larger, often overlooked, story of how light pollution harms wildlife across the land and underwater.

Green Turtle’s Battle For Survival | Planet Earth | BBC Earth.

Today, more than 80% of people – and 99% of North American and European human populations – live under light-polluted skies. We have transformed the night-time environment over substantial portions of the Earth’s surface in a very short time, relative to evolutionary timescales. Most wildlife hasn’t had time to adjust.

In January, Australia released the National Light Pollution Guidelines for Wildlife. These guidelines provide a framework for assessing and managing the impacts of artificial light.

The guidelines also identify practical solutions that can be used globally to manage light pollution, both by managers and practitioners, and by anyone in control of a light switch.

Read more: Bright city lights are keeping ocean predators awake and hungry

The guidelines outline six easy steps anyone can follow to minimise light pollution without compromising our own safety.

Although light pollution is a global problem and true darkness is hard to come by, we can all do our part to reduce its impacts on wildlife by changing how we use and think about light at night.

Light pollution can interfere with clownfish reproductive cycle. Shutterstock

1. Start with natural darkness. Only add light for a specific purpose

Natural darkness should be the default at night. Artificial light should only be used if it’s needed for a specific purpose, and it should only be turned on for the necessary period of time.

This means it’s okay to have your veranda light on to help you find your keys, but the light doesn’t need to stay on all night.

Similarly, indoor lighting can also contribute to light pollution, so turning lights off in empty office buildings at night, or in your home before you go to sleep, is also important.

2. Use smart lighting controls

Advances in smart control technology make it easy to manage how much light you use, and adaptive controls make meeting the goals of Step 1 more feasible.

Investing in smart controls and LED technology means you can remotely manage your lights, set timers or dimmers, activate motion sensor lighting, and even control the colour of the light emitted.

These smart controls should be used to activate artificial light at night only when needed, and to minimise light when not needed.

3. Keep lights close to the ground, directed and shielded

Any light that spills outside the specific area intended to be lit is unnecessary light.

Light spilling upward contributes directly to artificial sky glow – the glow you see over urban areas from cumulative sources of light. Both sky glow and light spilling into adjacent areas on the ground can disrupt wildlife.

Installing light shields allow you to direct the light downward, which significantly reduces sky glow, and to direct the light towards the specific target area. Light shields are recommended for any outdoor lighting installations.

Step 3: Keep lights close to ground (a) and use shields to light only the intended area (b) National Light Pollution Guidelines for Wildlife Including Marine Turtles, Seabirds and Migratory Shorebirds, Commonwealth of Australia 2020

4. Use the lowest intensity lighting

When deciding how much light you need, consider the intensity of the light produced (lumens), rather than the energy required to make it (watts).

LEDs, for example, are often considered an “environmentally friendly” option because they’re relatively energy efficient. But because of their energy efficiency, LEDs produce between two and five times as much light as incandescent bulbs for the same amount of energy consumption.

Read more: Darkness is disappearing and that’s bad news for astronomy

So, while LED lights save energy, the increased intensity of the light can lead to greater impacts on wildlife, if not managed properly.

5. Use non-reflective, dark-coloured surfaces.

Sky glow has been shown to mask lunar light rhythms of wildlife, interfering with the celestial navigation and migration of birds and insects.

Highly polished, shiny, or light-coloured surfaces – such as structures painted white, or polished marble – are good at reflecting light and so contribute more to sky glow than darker, non-reflective surfaces.

Choosing darker coloured paint or materials for outdoor features will help reduce your contribution to light pollution.

6. Use lights with reduced or filtered blue, violet and ultra-violet wavelengths

Wavelength perception in wildlife – most animals are sensitive to short-wavelength (blue/violet) light. National Light Pollution Guidelines for Wildlife Including Marine Turtles, Seabirds and Migratory Shorebirds, Commonwealth of Australia 2020

Most animals are sensitive to short-wavelength light, which creates blue and violet colours. These short wavelengths are known to suppress melatonin production, which is known to disrupt sleep and interfere with circadian rhythms of many animals, including humans.

Choosing lighting options with little or no short wavelength (400-500 nanometres) violet or blue light will help to avoid unintended harmful effects on wildlife.

For example, compact fluorescent and LED lights have a high amount of short wavelength light, compared low or high-pressure sodium, metal halide, and halogen light sources.

Read more: Sparkling dolphins swim off our coast, but humans are threatening these natural light shows

ref. Turn off the porch light: 6 easy ways to stop light pollution from harming our wildlife –

Lab experiments in the pandemic moved online or mailed home to uni students

Lab experiments in the pandemic moved online or mailed home to uni students

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Brian Abbey, Professor of Physics, La Trobe University

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken university education, with most teaching moved off campus and students learning online at home.

But a cornerstone of undergraduate science education has been a challenge: the laboratory class.

The real joy of science is in discovery and the links between knowledge and understanding crystallise when conducting experiments in the laboratory.

Read more: No big packed lectures allowed if we’re to safely bring uni students back to campus

Lab classes solidify both the practical skills needed by future scientists and the intellectual culture of their discipline.

Labs put theory into practice

For many students, it’s only when they put theoretical concepts into physical practice in the lab that they really understand them.

Although restrictions are easing, the need to maintain social distancing in crowded laboratory classes creates a range of challenges for lab education.

How should university educators address this?

Some universities, including La Trobe, University of Technology Sydney, UNSW, Monash and Murdoch, have rolled out pilot projects trying to give students a laboratory experience off-campus.

The idea is attractive, not least because lab classes represent a significant cost to universities. Dedicated lab buildings, casual teaching assistants, technicians and safety compliance are all overheads unique to lab classes even before equipment is purchased and maintained.

So what are the options for students who want to gain a laboratory experience but are challenged with accessing the lab? Broadly speaking there are currently three models being trialled.

The mail order lab

The first and simplest idea is the mail order experiment model. In this approach, laboratory kits would be assembled at the university and sent direct to the students to conduct experiments in their own home.

This has the distinct advantage of providing students with a tactile lab experience with no specific time limits set on how long they get to learn with the equipment.

But sending equipment by post is expensive and who would cover the costs if things go wrong? For example, if equipment gets lost in the mail or accidentally damaged at home.

In addition, there are health and safety issues with trying to perform experiments without a trained demonstrator on hand to oversee the work.

The home lab

A second approach is to design experiments around what can be readily found at home. A huge amount of physics, chemistry and biology can be investigated using regular everyday items.

For example, students can measure the force of gravity with a simple pendulum, or find the latent heat of ice by observing the temperature change when added to a glass of water.

Flickr/Travis Nep Smith, CC BY

This has enormous appeal as it not only saves costs but also may improve learning outcomes for the students by making experiments more relatable to the world around us.

The downside is that some key experiments might require specialist, expensive apparatus, such as a decent optical microscope, well beyond what could be expected to be performed at home.

The online lab

The third and perhaps the most ambitious approach is to try to recreate the lab experience entirely online.

This would involve a combination of virtual reality and remote control over lab equipment that can be operated from the safety and comfort of a student’s home.

This approach enables key concepts to be explored in a practical way that can be live streamed to a student’s monitor or even to a virtual environment. It also maintains a high degree of interactivity since multiple students can be logged onto the same experiment at once.

But there are downsides to this approach too, even aside from the fact that the “hands on” element is removed.

Such online facilities are expensive to set up and maintain, involving expertise in engineering and computing as well as laboratory teaching. Academics need to carefully design and monitor the experiments.

The lab of the future

So what does the future hold for the lab class? Some of the experiments performed today have little changed for hundreds of years. For example, every physics student splits light with a prism, and every chemistry student neutralises an acid with a base.

It was perhaps only a matter of time until the way in which we educate our students in the laboratory received scrutiny.

One thing is certain: given how much financial pressure they are currently under, universities will be looking to cut costs wherever possible. Critical as it is to learning outcomes, the lab class will no doubt be examined closely.

Read more: Australian universities could lose $19 billion in the next 3 years. Our economy will suffer with them

Universities may be tempted to save money by adopting some of the new and exciting ways of teaching labs beyond the face-to-face model. But a better motivator should be achieving improved learning outcomes for all students.

Often changing to online delivery just moves costs from one sort of infrastructure to another rather than allowing simple cuts to jobs and buildings.

It’s the duty of academics to clearly articulate why the laboratory experience is central to teaching and learning, and be open to new and unconventional ways of achieving this experience.

ref. Lab experiments in the pandemic moved online or mailed home to uni students –

A time to embrace the edge spaces that make our neighbourhoods tick

A time to embrace the edge spaces that make our neighbourhoods tick

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Rachel Iampolski, PhD Candidate, Centre for Urban Research RMIT, RMIT University

As we emerge from COVID-19 lockdowns, it is timely to reflect on how the design of our neighbourhoods and the ways we interact with them affect our lived experience.

A clear lesson from the many conversations across fencelines, waves from porches, teddy bears in windows and chalk art on footpaths is the need for our cities to better embrace edge spaces between private property and the public realm.

These edge spaces, such as porches, balconies, front boundaries and footpaths, have been key to maintaining social connectedness amid physical distancing around the world; so much so that this week has been declared an international week dedicated to better activating them.

Read more: Reconnecting after coronavirus – 4 key ways cities can counter anxiety and loneliness

Australian cities and neighbourhoods have rarely embraced edge spaces well. This neglect is to all our detriment: many housing developments lack porches, front yards often seem like an afterthought, and most nature strips fail to live up to their name. As a result, talking to our neighbours can be a rarity.

Re-engaging with ‘living on the edge’

Action to embrace these spaces starts at the community level, through the practice of placemaking. It draws on the work of planners and designers and their understanding of the importance of “living on the edge”.

Typically, we regard our neighbourhoods as being divided between public and private spaces. But as many a front-yard conversation or colourful display on a wall has shown us during the recent lockdown, it’s the spaces of transition that bring us together, even when we are apart.

Compared to other types of urban space, edge spaces can provide more opportunity for people to build a sense of identity and community through creative expression.

Pedestrians and residents have re-envisaged the footpath as a canvas for chalk and a way to communicate with the street. Matt Novacevski. Author provided

Read more: Playing with the ‘new normal’ of life under coronavirus

Edge spaces are critical to the success of both public and private spaces, as urban designers and theorists like Christopher Alexander and Jan Gehl point out.

Edges that work can be described as “soft edges” or “active edges”. We can see through them and interact across them – they are comparatively porous. There is also life along them: plants, artwork or variations in colours or building materials.

Edges that are cold and unwelcoming, or comparatively “hard”, such as spaces dominated by tall fencing or blank walls, generate feelings of discord, coldness and even perceptions of danger.

Indeed, whole cities and neighbourhoods can succeed and fail at their edges, particularly at street level.

Read more: Contested spaces: living off the edge in a city mall where design fuels conflict

Even seemingly small interventions can turn a bland edge into a space that gives. Rachel Iampolski, Author provided

Reclaiming the edge through placemaking

So, what can we do about it? Well, quite a bit. Over recent weeks, many of us will have enjoyed the whimsy and wonder of chalk art on paths, teddy bears in windows and other warming trends that have lifted our neighbourhoods.

These visible expressions of joy create community in hard times. The edges between public and private space are reclaimed and made welcoming in ways that create conviviality and a sense of shared identity.

Residents in Carnegie have used art, plants and a street library to soften hard edges and make them more inviting. Rachel Iampolski, Author provided

These practices are an example of what is often described as citizen placemaking, where citizens create a sense of community through gestures of creativity and support.

Read more: Coronavirus has changed our sense of place, so together we must re-imagine our cities

Planning for welcoming, active edges

So why don’t we more often design our edges in ways that invite this kind of activity? For too long, policy, legislation and regulation have variously neglected the importance of edge spaces, or sought to actively limit activity within them.

In Victoria, for example, ResCode policies for housing design seek to regulate viewlines from balconies. These policies and others in Victorian planning schemes do little to encourage the return of the porch or balcony in housing or apartment design.

Chairs at the front of the house allow for contact with passersby – and the gnome is a friendly presence even when the chairs are empty. Matt Novacevski, Author provided

In the public realm, instances of over-zealous enforcement of regulation have closed down activities that bring life to footpaths and bring residents together. This risks promoting bland, homogenised streets that lead to social isolation.

We wonder how our neighbourhoods might change if planning policy, design and regulation were put to work, opening up possibilities to encourage softer and more active edges?

Read more: We can’t let coronavirus kill our cities. Here’s how we can save urban life

These opportunities bleed out from the front fence into the footpath and streets. As cities overseas have started to use tactical urbanism to promote safer social interaction, the task for government is two-fold: to enable tactical approaches that allow communities to shape spaces to meet their own needs, and to focus governance on making better places.

Whatever happens next, as citizens, we would all do well to use our imagination and remember the power and potential of the edge spaces where we live.

A map of projects being run around the world as part of Porch Placemaking Week, May 30-June 5.

ref. A time to embrace the edge spaces that make our neighbourhoods tick –

Australia’s first service sector recession will be unlike those that have gone before it

Australia's first service sector recession will be unlike those that have gone before it

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Isaac Gross, Lecturer, Monash University

Australia is on the brink of its first recession in almost 30 years.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics will deliver the official economic growth figure for the March quarter on Wednesday.

If it is negative (as is likely because of the downturn and the bushfires, but not guaranteed because of the surge in spending as Australians stocked up on essentials in March) and is then followed by another negative result in the June quarter (which is all but certain) Australia will be in what some people regard as a technical recession.

But the technicalities don’t matter. Close to 20% of Australia’s labour force is either unemployed or underemployed, something that dwarfs previous recessions.

Data already released suggests it will be different in other ways; important ones with important implications.

It will be our first “service sector” recession.

Recessions are usually defined by large falls in investment; in new cars, new houses and new businesses.

Read more: Which jobs are most at risk from the coronavirus shutdown? 

As a result, in the early 1990s recession construction and manufacturing businesses were devastated. By contrast, employment in social services, education and food services continued to grow throughout the recession.

This time will be different.

Between March 14 and May 2 some 27% of the jobs in the accommodation and food services industry vanished, 19% of the jobs in the arts and recreation industry, and 11% of the jobs in professional and technical services – all well above the 6.5% and 7% of jobs lost in construction and manufacturing.

Jobs lost by industry, March 14 to May 2 ,

6160.0.55.001 – Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia, Week ending 2 May 2020

The closure of Australia’s borders coupled with the ongoing fear of infection, creates the risk that service sector job losses will continue to grow.

Even when the recession is over, they won’t bounce back in the way that manufacturing and construction jobs might have.

When previous recession temporarily slowed demand for things such as cars and buildings, the pent-up demand led to a surge in sales when incomes recovered.

Read more: Unlocking Australia: What can benefit-cost analysis tell us?

But services are harder to store over time. Someone who skips the hairdresser for a year won’t buy a year’s worth of haircuts when conditions improve.

Nor will someone who stops going to pubs (probably) buy six months worth of drinks when pubs reopen.

It means most service sector businesses can’t expect a quick rebound. Four out of every five employed Australians work in services.

Not your grandparent’s recession

The usual playbook for dealing with a recession is to target the sectors most affected. This has meant rolling out big infrastructure projects that can hire newly-unemployed construction workers, and cutting taxes to encourage businesses to expand and hire.

But that strategy won’t be as effective this time. The tour guides and massage therapists whose service sector jobs have been destroyed are ill-suited to building high-speed trains.

And a lot of infrastructure programs are designed on the basis that Australia’s population would continue to expand. With almost two thirds of Australia’s population growth driven by overseas migration and borders now closed, that is no longer certain. Many projects that were previously considered worthwhile may no longer stack up.

The government will have to focus its recovery programs on those sectors hardest hit. For some, this will be straightforward.

Read more: Look beyond a silver bullet train for stimulus

The government already plays a large role in the education industry. Universities could have their funding boosted to make up for the shortfall of international students, and domestic students should be encouraged to enrol in virtual courses to improve their skills.

For some other service industries, the government should extend JobKeeper to provide continuing assistance after it is due to end in September. Social distancing requirements are likely to limit the operations of businesses such as cinemas and theatres some time. Tourism will also remain depressed as long as our borders remains closed.

Despite the focus on mining and manufacturing in our economic discourse, Australia’s economy is overwhelmingly dominated by services.

If the government wants to stop this recession from turning into a depression, it will have to redirect its policy playbook toward services.

ref. Australia’s first service sector recession will be unlike those that have gone before it –

A nice warm bowl of porridge: 3 ways plus a potted history

A nice warm bowl of porridge: 3 ways plus a potted history

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Donna Lee Brien, Professor, Creative Industries, CQUniversity Australia

As winter begins, porridge makes an excellent choice for breakfast. For many, porridge is redolent with memories of childhood. It is warm, filling, high in fibre and associated with lowering blood cholesterol.

It’s very reliability may also be comforting in unsettling times; as actor Stephen Fry once tweeted: “Nothing in this world is at it seems. Except, possibly, porridge”.

Although most commonly used to describe a breakfast dish made with oats boiled with water or milk, any grain so cooked in liquid can be described as porridge. The dish’s history is deep.

Not so paleo

Porridge has an ancient lineage as a staple food, including in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. In 2015, National Geographic magazine reported on an analysis of a Palaeolithic pestle from 33,000 years ago, revealing it was dusted with oat starch. This suggests ancient humans were grinding oats into flour – at odds with the popular Paleo diet trend that holds humans weren’t eating grains then. The oat remnants on the pestle, found in an Italian cave, may have been cooked into a porridge.

In her book, A History of Food, Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat writes early peoples might also have made something like thick pancakes by cooking various porridgey mixtures on hot stones placed on a fire’s embers.

Oats are traditionally associated with Scotland, although barley and a grain called bere were originally introduced by the Vikings. True to her roots, Scottish-born Australian cookbook writer Margaret Fulton decreed salt was essential for a proper porridge.

Read more: Health Check: five must-have foods for your shopping trolley

Gruel to be kind

Gruel is a thin porridge, which was served in English workhouses in the 19th century. Oliver Twist pleads “Please Sir, I want some more” in Charles Dickens’ second novel. The writer’s description led to gruel being thought of as unappetising.

Yet, gruel also features as a nutritious food in many 19th century cookbooks. In A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes (1852), Queen Victoria’s chef Charles Elmé Francatelli recommends restorative gruel made with oats or barley.

The 1893 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Every-day Cookery and Housekeeping Book boils just one tablespoon of oats in a pint of water to make a “dainty” dish for the ill. Mrs Beeton notes this digestible liquid can be flavoured with lemon peel or a little grated nutmeg. She notes some invalids will appreciate the addition of a good measure of sherry or port.

Gruel, glorious gruel. Oliver asked for more in the 1968 film. IMDB

Porridge time

The consumption of porridge in British jails led to the 1950s slang “doing porridge” for serving a custodial sentence. This, in turn, suggested the name of the classic 1970s British comedy starring Ronnie Barker.

Today, around the world, oats are grown for animal feed and human consumption. Although some recent reports have highlighted the possible presence of pesticides and weedkillers in widely marketed oat products, these have been refuted by producers.

In the late 1990s, savoury oaten porridge made gastronomic headlines with Heston Blumenthal’s Snail Porridge from his Michelin-starred Fat Duck restaurant. The dish of oats cooked in a stock flavoured with ham and snails, served with more snails and garlic butter and topped with a fennel salad, became one of his signature dishes.

Not all oats are equal. Melissa Di Rocco/Unsplash, CC BY

Choosing, and cooking with, oats

The most commonly available oat varieties are “rolled”, “quick” (or “quick cooking”) and “instant”.

The below recipes below use rolled oats. These are oat kernels that are steamed, then rolled.

Quick cooking oats have been steamed for longer, rolled more thinly and/or chopped into smaller pieces. Another way to reduce the cooking time is to soak rolled oats before boiling them.

Instant oats are more highly processed, so that they can be prepared by just adding boiling water or heating briefly in the microwave.

As rolled oats can be eaten raw (as in natural muesli), they are very forgiving in terms of cookery.

1. Traditional porridge

Mix 1 cup of rolled oats with 3 cups of cold water in a saucepan. Add a pinch of salt.

Bring to the boil, and then turn the heat down. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes, stirring more as it thickens. If too thick, loosen with a splash more boiling water. If too thin, boil a couple more minutes.

Top with golden syrup or brown sugar and serve with cold milk.


  • using cow’s milk (or other varieties) instead of, or mixed with, the cooking water

  • fruit (apple, bananas, fresh or frozen berries are especially good) and seeds or nuts can be stirred into the cooked porridge or used as a topping

  • honey and maple syrup, and plain or flavoured yogurt, are also good toppings

2. Microwave porridge

Follow the proportions above. Depending on the microwave’s wattage, cook (covered) on high for around 4 to 5 minutes, stirring halfway.

Care needs to be taken to use a tall enough bowl so that the porridge does not boil over.

3. Savoury porridge

Oats are cooked as above, using salted water or vegetable or chicken stock, and treated as any other kind of soft grain (like polenta or risotto), with vegetables and other ingredients added before serving.

Savoury oats with toast. Shreyak Singh/Unsplash, CC BY


  • stir in tasty cheese and top with sautéed mushrooms or capsicums, and a fried or poached egg

  • top with sliced avocado, and then drizzle with tahini and lemon juice

  • stir in shredded spinach, top with chopped fresh tomatoes and chilli, and drizzle with garlic-infused olive oil

  • ground black pepper or hot Sriracha sauce goes well with all of these.

ref. A nice warm bowl of porridge: 3 ways plus a potted history –

As Minneapolis burns, Trump’s presidency is sinking deeper into crisis. And yet, he may still be re-elected

As Minneapolis burns, Trump's presidency is sinking deeper into crisis. And yet, he may still be re-elected

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Timothy J. Lynch, Associate Professor in American Politics, University of Melbourne

Violence has erupted across several US cities after the death of a black man, George Floyd, who was shown on video gasping for breath as a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck. The unrest poses serious challenges for President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden as each man readies his campaign for the November 3 election.

If the coronavirus had not already posed a threat to civil discourse in the US, the latest flashpoint in American racial politics makes this presidential campaign potentially one of the most incendiary in history.

COVID-19 and Minneapolis may very well form the nexus within which the 2020 campaign will unfold. Trump’s critics have assailed his handling of both and questioned whether he can effectively lead the country in a moment of crisis.

And yet, he may not be any more vulnerable heading into the election.

A presidency in crisis?

As the incumbent, Trump certainly faces the most immediate challenges. Not since Franklin Roosevelt in the second world war has a US president presided over the deaths of so many Americans from a single cause.

The Axis powers and COVID-19 are not analogous, but any presidency is judged by its capacity to respond to enemies like these. With pandemic deaths now surpassing 100,000, Trump’s fortunes will be inexorably tied to this staggering (and still rising) figure.

Worse, the Minneapolis protests are showing how an already precarious social fabric has been frayed by the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Read more: Donald Trump blames everyone but himself for the coronavirus crisis. Will voters agree?

Americans have not come together to fight the virus. Rather, they have allowed a public health disaster to deepen divisions along racial, economic, sectional and ideological lines.

Trump has, of course, often sought to gain from such divisions. But the magnitude and severity of the twin crises he is now facing will make this very difficult. By numerous measures, his is a presidency in crisis.

And yet.

Trump, a ferocious campaigner, will try to find ways to use both tragedies to his advantage and, importantly, makes things worse for his challenger.

For starters, Trump did not cause coronavirus. And he will continue to insist that his great geo-strategic adversary, the Chinese Communist Party, did.

And his is not the first presidency to be marked by the conflagration of several US cities.

Before Minneapolis, Detroit (1967), Los Angeles (1992) and Ferguson, Missouri (2014) were all the scenes of angry protests and riots over racial tensions that still haven’t healed.

And in the 19th century, 750,000 Americans were killed in a civil war that was fought over whether the enslavement of African-Americans was constitutional.

Trump may not have healed racial tensions in the US during his presidency. But, like coronavirus, he did not cause them.

How Trump can blame Democrats for Minneapolis

Not unhappily for Trump, Minneapolis is a largely Democratic city in a reliably blue state. He will campaign now on the failure of Democratic state leaders to answer the needs of black voters.

Trump will claim that decades of Democratic policies in Minnesota – including the eight years of the Obama administration – have caused Minneapolis to be one of the most racially unequal cities in the nation.

In 2016, Trump famously asked African-Americans whether Democratic leaders have done anything to improve their lives.

What do you have to lose by trying something new, like Trump?

He will repeat this mantra in the coming months.

It also certainly helps that his support among Republican voters has never wavered, no matter how shocking his behaviour.

He has enjoyed a stable 80% approval rating with GOP voters throughout the coronavirus crisis. This has helped keep his approval rating among all voters steady as the pandemic has worsened, hovering between 40 and 50%.

These are not terrible numbers. Yes, Trump’s leadership has contributed to a series of disasters. But if the polls are correct, he has so far avoided the kinds of catastrophe that could imperil his chances of re-election.

Read more: In Trump we trust: why continual disasters fail to shake the president’s loyalists

Why this moment is challenging for Biden

Biden should be able to make a good case to the American people at this moment that he is the more effective leader.

But this has not yet been reflected in polls, most of which continue to give the Democrat only a lukewarm advantage over Trump in the election.

The other problem is that the Democratic party remains discordant. And Biden has not yet shown a capacity to heal it.

Read more: Third time’s the charm for Joe Biden: now he has an election to win and a country to save

Race has also long been a source of division within Biden’s party. Southern Democrats, for instance, were the key agents of slavery in the 19th century and the segregation that followed it into the 20th.

After the 1960s, Democrats sought to make themselves the natural home of African-American voters as the Republican party courted disaffected white Southern voters. The Democrats largely succeeded on that front – the party routinely gets around 85-90% of black votes in presidential elections.

The challenge for Biden now is how to retain African-American loyalty to his party, while evading responsibility for the socio-economic failures of Democratic policies in cities like Minneapolis.

He is also a white northerner (from Delaware). Between 1964 and 2008, only three Democrats were elected president. All of them were southerners.

To compensate, Biden has had to rely on racial politics to separate himself from his primary challenger – Bernie Sanders struggled to channel black aspirations – and from Republicans. And this has, at times, caused him to court controversy.

In 2012, he warned African-Americans that then-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would put them “all back in chains”. And just over a week ago, he angered black voters by suggesting those who would support Trump in the election “ain’t black”.

Biden is far better than Trump on racial issues and should be able to use the current crises to present himself as a more natural “consoler-in-chief”, but instead, he has appeared somewhat flatfooted and derided for being racially patronising.

The opportunities COVID-19 and the Minneapolis unrest might afford his campaign remain elusive.

The protests over George Floyd’s death swiftly spread across the country. ETIENNE LAURENT/EPA

There is reason for hope

America enters the final months of the 2020 campaign in a state of despair and disrepair. The choice is between an opportunistic incumbent and a tin-eared challenger.

But the US has faced serious challenges before – and emerged stronger. Neither the civil war in the 19th century or the Spanish flu pandemic in the early 20th halted the extraordinary growth in power that followed both.

Moreover, the US constitution remains intact and federalism has undergone something of a rebirth since the start of the pandemic. And there is a new generation of younger, more diverse, national leaders being forged in the fire of crisis to help lead the recovery.

ref. As Minneapolis burns, Trump’s presidency is sinking deeper into crisis. And yet, he may still be re-elected –

Nicaragua battles COVID-19 and a Disinformation Campaign

Nicaragua battles COVID-19 and a Disinformation Campaign

Source: Council on Hemispheric Affairs – Analysis-Reportage

Support this progressive voice and be a part of it. Donate to COHA today. Click here

By John Perry
From Masaya, Nicaragua

Every country in the world is trying to balance its fight against the virus with the need to have a functioning economy, and there is plenty of debate about what the balance should be. The world’s poorer countries face the toughest challenge, because a high proportion of their populations engage in a daily struggle to earn enough to eat, whether in small businesses or the informal economy. In Nicaragua, around 80% of people make their living in this way.[1]

But there are two more problems uniquely affecting Nicaragua in tackling the pandemic. One is that its economy and social life had already been attacked only two years ago when a right-wing coup attempt closed much of the country down for nearly three months. Although the economy is recovering, it is inevitably weaker than it was prior to April 2018. Moreover, continuing US sanctions deprive Nicaragua of help towards its anti-poverty programs and also block much of the assistance other Central American countries are able to access, including medical supplies.

The second problem is that the opposition, thwarted in their coup attempt, have seized the COVID-19 epidemic as a new weapon with which to attack the government. Whereas in the US and Europe opposition political parties have generally combined criticism of their political rivals with overall support for their country’s efforts to defeat the epidemic, the Nicaraguan opposition has been not simply negative but contemptuous. Opposition spokespeople have poured scorn on the government’s efforts and encouraged the international media to accuse it of negligence or even that it is in denial about the epidemic.[2] Worse still, they have deliberately sown fear and suspicion among the Nicaraguan population, so that many people are not only scared of the virus but even of using the public health services that are there to help protect them from its effects.

This is the background to an unusual step taken by Nicaragua’s Sandinista government on May 25: it published a 75-page “white paper” describing its strategy to tackle COVID-19. Much of the strategy was already in place as early as January this year, but in the paper the different elements are set down clearly and the reasons for taking them are explained in detail.

The strategy to tackle COVID-19

Government recognition of the importance of confronting the virus was made clear at a press conference in mid-January, two months before Nicaragua even detected its first virus case, which was a passenger arriving at the international airport. Then on January 31, a day after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a “public health emergency”, Nicaragua created a special commission to deal with the virus threat. By February 9 it had issued a joint protocol with the Pan-American Health Organization (the Americas branch of the WHO), setting out its strategy. At this early stage of the crisis, few countries outside Asia had done anything similar.

Nicaragua: progresive social policies and outcomes

Importantly, the White Paper makes clear that the real work had started a decade earlier. Since 2007 when the current Sandinista government took office, it has been making significant investments  in the public health service, increasing the number of doctors from 2,715 to 6,045, building 18 new hospitals, opening dozens of new health centers and creating new vaccination programs. By 2018, Nicaragua was spending 21% of its government budget on health, one of the highest proportions among less-developed countries.[3] Compared with 2006, infant mortality in 2019 had fallen by more than half; deaths in childbirth had fallen from 92.8 for every 1,000 live births to 29.9 over the same time period.[4]

Given this base, the government’s strategy to fight COVID-19 enabled it to designate 19 hospitals as specialist centers to receive patients; one, the Hospital Alemán Nicaragüense in Managua, has been dedicated entirely to dealing with respiratory infections during the outbreak. Among other resources, at the start of the crisis these hospitals counted with 562 intensive care beds and 449 ventilators (this last was similar to Costa Rica’s 450 ventilators, whereas neighboring Honduras and El Salvador had fewer than 200 each, for bigger populations).[5]

Strong public measures against the virus

The government also set about strengthening the defenses against the epidemic within the community. It intensified its vaccination program, so as to reduce the level of other respiratory diseases such as influenza and pneumonia that would make the fight against COVID-19 more difficult by using similar health resources. It trained 158,000 health brigadistas who have now carried out more than 4.6 million house-to-house visits, dispensing advice about the virus. It set up a free telephone helpline, which in its first month’s operation had 110,000 callers.[6] Schools, buses and markets are being regularly disinfected. Public buildings have safeguards to limit transmission of the virus and there has been general public education both through the brigadista visits and through the media.

A key part of the strategy has been to train the 9,000 people operating at the 19 points of entry to the country in dealing with visitors during the crisis. This has enabled some 42,000 travellers arriving in Nicaragua to be asked to self-isolate for 21 days, during which they receive follow-up visits and phone calls from officials to monitor their state of health and detect possible new cases of transmission.[7] Internationally, many countries set up such systems much later than Nicaragua and, in the UK for example, so-called “track and trace” arrangements will not be in place until later in June. The Nicaraguan government deliberately did not close its borders as it wanted returning travellers to use official crossing points, and it deployed the army to track down the many people who have made unofficial crossings, evading health controls.

Conservative NGO’s financed by the US make up data about COVID-19

As the White Paper concedes, there have been many criticisms of Nicaragua’s approach. These have far exceeded what the country should reasonably expect, given that it intensified its preparations as soon as the global emergency was officially recognised in January and kept the numbers of cases to double figures until early May. The reason for the heavy criticism is, of course, political.

One example is the way the official reports of numbers of cases and numbers of deaths are challenged on a daily basis. This is not simply a matter of questioning the accuracy of official figures, but an attempt to completely deny their legitimacy. A so-called “Citizens’ Observatory” has been set up, consisting of anonymous “experts,” who create their own figures which come from “civil society, networks, digital activists and affected families” and are “verified by the citizenry.” These are carried in official-looking twice-weekly reports, which say in small print that they are not government publications but which are treated by much of the media, including the international press, as if they have more credibility than official sources.[8] France 24 describes the body as “a prominent Nicaraguan NGO” even though it has no registered status and has only existed for a few weeks.[9]

Since it started in March it has produced vastly inflated figures. For example, when on May 26 the health ministry, MINSA, reported 759 proven cases of COVID-19, the “Observatory” was reporting over 2,600 cases with a further 2,000 as “suspicious.” Right-wing NGOs and media channels have produced even worse forecasts. A report by the notorious media channel 100% Noticias on April 2 predicted that 23,000 Nicaraguans would have died from the virus by early May.[10] The BBC carried a report which included a forecast by local NGO Funides that by June there would be at least 120,000 virus cases and 650 deaths. While the BBC cast doubt on the Nicaraguan government figures, it reproduced the Funides figures without questioning them.[11] Funides does not work in the health sector and in 2018 it received over $120,000 from the US-government supported agency, the National Endowment for Democracy, to promote “democracy” in Nicaragua.[12]

Other unfounded criticisms regarding Nicaragua’s pandemic situation

Another criticism has been to challenge Nicaragua’s approach of keeping the economy and daily life moving and not requiring the kinds of “lockdown” that have taken place in neighbouring countries and to varying degrees in the US and Europe. Ignoring the obvious need for a balanced judgment to be made that aims to avoid what the White Paper calls an economic “catastrophe,” critics have implied the need for more drastic measures without explaining how the majority of ordinary Nicaraguans will make a living if these are put into practice. The experience of adjoining countries’ lockdown strategies has been extremely mixed, as COHA has already shown.[13]

In recent weeks, criticisms of the lockdown measures in adjoining El Salvador[14] and Honduras have intensified.[15] While Costa Rica’s lockdown policy appears to have been more successful, it has come at the cost of severely affecting relations with every other Central American country, when it shut down its borders to commercial traffic giving no notice and causing both enormous queues and considerable economic hardship.[16] From nearby Colombia, The Guardian reports that “that strict quarantine measures have done little to flatten the curve [of numbers of virus cases],” even while the same newspaper repeatedly criticizes Nicaragua’s failure to adopt a lockdown policy.[17]

Proponents of lockdown for poor countries such as Nicaragua have also ignored the many criticisms of such policies. For example, the eminent epidemiologist Professor Sunetra Gupta, of Oxford University, describes lockdown as a “luxury” only available to the middle classes in developed economies.[18] Many other experts agree with this view, as do international NGOs such as Oxfam.[19]

But the worst attacks have been to accuse the government either of gross negligence, of having no strategy to confront the epidemic or even of deliberately wanting people to die. These have been detailed and sophisticated. For example, the government is alleged to be opposed to using facemasks, though in fact, it has been promoting their use. “Reliable sources” assert that hospitals are full, and incapable of helping prospective patients. False allegations have been made that victims of the virus are being secretly buried in communal graves (illustrated with photographs shown to have been taken in Ecuador).[20]

Inevitably, as COHA reported on April 17,[21]  these criticisms have been picked up and amplified by the international media. If anything, their coverage is even worse now than it was in early April. According to the BBC on April 20, for example, the Nicaraguan government “ignored messages from public health experts.”[22] In the UK, The Guardian has three times compared President Ortega with the right-wing President Bolsonaro in Brazil (who has cynically dismissed the seriousness of the virus), most recently on May 10.[23]

Propaganda that puts people in danger

The propaganda of course does have an important effect on international opinion about Nicaragua and – perhaps to a lesser extent – on opinion in Nicaragua itself. More importantly, however, it is clear that the aim of producing fear and even panic about the epidemic has partly succeeded, as it is confirmed by the experience of the Jubilee House Community in Ciudad Sandino.

Jubilee House’s Coordinator, Becca Mohally Renk, says that their staff have direct experience of the impact of the opposition propaganda on patients who come to the community run clinic. They have spoken with people whose family members have COVID-19 symptoms, and many are not only afraid to take them to an official MINSA (Health Ministry) clinic, they even fear calling the government’s special hotline number to report the case. They have been told that MINSA doesn’t have tests and isn’t really attending patients, so they don’t see a lot of point in bothering to report their case. But they’ve also heard that MINSA will come and take away their family member and they won’t see them again. With so many fake stories of secret burials and false accounts of MINSA hiding bodies and losing bodies, people don’t want to go to the hospital.

So, as a direct result of the propaganda, some people are effectively hiding cases from MINSA and making contact tracing impossible, possibly putting themselves and family members who are infected with COVID-19 in danger if they worsen suddenly and don’t go to the hospital in time out of fear. In Masaya, this author knows personally of a death which might have been avoided if the victim had gone to MINSA. Interviews with satisfied patients leaving the Masaya hospital after recovering from the virus, posted on social media locally, may to some extent help to counteract these false rumors.

The opposition’s response to the White Paper

Will the opposition give up its negative campaign now that it is even clearer than before what the government’s strategy is about? Of course not. It has already dismissed the white paper as “a confession of the enormous error which the government committed” in its approach to the epidemic.[24] It accuses the government of putting Nicaraguans at risk by promoting the theory of “herd immunity,” when this term (inmunidad del rebaño in Spanish) does not appear in the document. It criticizes the White Paper’s citing of experience in Sweden, yet the available data show that Sweden’s avoidance of a lockdown has in most respects resulted in a better response to the epidemic than those in the US, UK, Spain or Italy.[25]

What does the opposition advocate instead? Spokespeople such as Carlos Tünnermann, coordinator of the opposition Civic Alliance (described by news agency EFE as “one of Nicaragua’s most prestigious intellectuals”),[26] stop short of actually calling for a lockdown yet imply strongly that one is needed. Why do they want one? It may be because it would recommence the destruction of Nicaragua’s economy that they attempted in 2018, and also erode popular support for Daniel Ortega’s government. Why do they not actively call for a lockdown themselves?  It may be because they can see the reality of its disastrous effects in El Salvador and Honduras, and they know full well that some of their key political allies in the United States want lockdowns to be rescinded as soon as possible.

The authorities’ efforts are being complemented by the behaviour of the great majority of people and businesses in Nicaragua who are following the Health Ministry recommendations. In general, people are actually doing more to protect themselves, as well as workers and customers, by wearing masks, ensuring they keep physical distance and applying systematic hygiene measures. As a result of this combined national effort against the virus, the white paper is able to show that, so far, mortality in Nicaragua is very clearly remaining at levels below those of the previous five years.

 Overall mortality in Nicaragua for January 1st to May 15th each year, 2015-2020 [27]

The outlook

For the moment it seems clear that Nicaragua is now well into the phase of community transmission of the virus. At this point trying to estimate the number of cases precisely is impossible because, as a WHO report indicates, data through March 2020 suggests “80% of infections are mild or asymptomatic.” [28]Nicaragua’s health authorities are focused on identifying patients with symptoms and ensuring they get the treatment they need while also monitoring those patients’ contacts and ensuring they isolate appropriately, a task made vastly more difficult by the opposition’s propaganda.

Nevertheless, the authorities’ efforts are being complemented by the great majority of people and businesses in Nicaragua following the Health Ministry recommendations. In general, Nicaraguans are actually doing more to protect themselves, as well as workers and customers, by wearing masks and ensuring they keep physical distance and applying systematic hygiene measures. As a result of this combined national effort against the virus, overall mortality in Nicaragua has – so far – very clearly remained at levels below those of the previous five years (see chart). Of course, the system now begins to face a huge test and the next 2-3 months are expected to be crucial.

[Credit Photo: “Members of the 300-strong sanitation squad who work for the Managua city council”, from]

End notes

[1] “AL PUEBLO DE NICARAGUA Y AL MUNDO INFORME SOBRE EL COVID-19 Y UNA ESTRATEGIA SINGULAR – LIBRO BLANCO” p 3. An English translation, “To the People of Nicaragua and to the World: COVID-19, A Singular Strategy, White Book” is available at All references to the White Paper refer to the original Spanish edition page numbers, hereafter cited as “White Paper”.

[2] See “Nicaraguan Opposition Misrepresents Government Response to COVID-19,”

[3] Data from

[4] See

[5] Costa Rica and other Central American countries have since been able to acquire more, given their stronger economies and freedom from US sanctions. See “Costa Rica tendrá 700 ventiladores para atender pacientes críticos por Covid-19,”

[6] See White Paper, pp 27-29.

[7] White Paper, p 5.

[8] The reports from the “Observatory” are published on Twitter, Facebook and at its sophisticated website

[9] “Under-fire Nicaragua reports significant rise in COVID-19 cases,”

[10] These and other rumours and predictions have been collated in a video by Juventud Presidente, “Falsas matemáticas sobre el Covid-19 en Nicaragua,”

[11] “5 insólitas cosas que ocurren en Nicaragua mientras los expertos advierten de la “grave” falta de medidas ante la pandemia,”

[12] See

[13] “COVID-19 as Pretext for Repression in the Northern Triangle,”

[14] On El Salvador, see for example, CNN News (May 21) “¿Salvador o autoritario? El presidente ‘millennial’ de El Salvador desafía a las cortes y al Congreso en la respuesta al coronavirus,”; and earlier in COHA “ Bukele y uso político de pandemia en El Salvador: entre la ilegalidad y la violación de DDHH,”

[15] On Honduras, see for example, “Del Mitch al golpe y de la pandemia al autoritarismo contra los derechos humanos,”

[16] “Nicaragua-Costa Rica Coronavirus Dispute Stalls Hundreds of Trucks at Border,”

[17] “Colombian designers prepare cardboard hospital beds that double as coffins,”

[18] See the interview on May 21 by Unherd:

[19] “Half a billion people could be pushed into poverty by coronavirus, warns Oxfam,”

[20] Examples are given in videos by Juventud Presidente, see; and

[21] “Nicaraguan Opposition Misrepresents Government Response to COVID-19,”

[22] “Coronavirus in Latin America: How bad could it get?”

[23] “Bolsonaro attends floating barbecue as Brazil’s Covid-19 toll tops 10,000,”

[24] “Libro Blanco sobre COVID-19 aviva señalamientos contra Ortega en Nicaragua,”

[25] See comparisons between Sweden and other countries at

[26] See above (

[27] White Paper, p 18.

[28] “Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report – 46” March 6, 2020.

Jakarta Six activists for Papua freedom convicted of treason set free

Jakarta Six activists for Papua freedom convicted of treason set free

By Amanda Siddharta in Jakarta

Six activists charged with treason in Jakarta for organising a protest rally for independence last August outside the presidential palace have been freed from prison.

Five of the activists known as the Jakarta Six – Paulus Suryanta Ginting, Ambrosius Mulait, Charles Kosay, and Dano Anes Tabuni, along with the only woman in the group, Arina Elopere – were freed this past week.

Issay Wenda, the sixth person, was released April 28. He had been sentenced to eight months in prison, a month less than the others.

At the August 28 rally, a banned Morning Star independence flag was raised as activists protested over incident that occurred against Papuans earlier that month in Surabaya in East Java.

The Morning Star flag is a symbol of independence for West Papua.

More than 40 students taken
In mid-August, Indonesian authorities stormed a university dormitory in Surabaya, where Papuan students live, concerning allegations someone desecrated the Indonesian flag in the building and threw it into a sewer.

– Partner –

Police fired tear gas and took 43 students into custody, while an angry mob that had gathered outside the dormitory chanted, “Kick out Papua” and used racial slurs to describe the students.

The incident triggered nationwide protests and galvanised the pro-independence movement. The Ministry of Communication and Information responded by blocking the internet in Papua.

After that happened, some Papuans burned the office of Telkom Indonesia in Jayapura, the capital of Papua.

Ginting, the spokesperson for the Indonesian People’s Front for West Papua (FRI-WP), said their indictment was unfair.

“None of us has the initiative; it never crossed our minds that we want to commit treason. We were only protesting; it was a standard rally to make a statement.

“The only difference there was that flag on August 28. I assumed it was the initiative from the people at the rally,” he told Voice of America.

‘No intentions of treason’
Michael Hilman, a member of the legal team representing the activists, said that the facts and evidence presented in court proved they were only protesting because of the incident in Surabaya.

“There were no intentions of treason, or to attack the head of state, there was no violence whatsoever. But the judge’s decision did not take into account the facts,” he said in a statement.

Five of the six were supposed to be released three weeks earlier under a new decree by the Indonesian Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

The decree initiated an assimilation program for prisoners who have served two-thirds of their prison sentences to be released early because of the covid-19 pandemic.

Ginting said they signed the release documents on May 11 and had been tested for the coronavirus, which causes the covid-19 disease. At the last minute, they were told they could not be granted an early release because they were charged of treason.

“We suspect political pressure or alleged abuse of power by the authorities,” Hilman said.

The Directorate General of Corrections at the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights has not responded to VOA’s requests for comments.

Repression in Papua ‘getting worse’
Indonesia annexed the region of West Papua in 1969, after some of the population was forced to vote in favor of joining Indonesia. Since then, the area has become a hot spot of conflict with the government’s crackdown of independence movements.

Veronica Koman, a human rights lawyer, said violations and impunity still occur in Papua.

“The repression in Papua is getting worse, because there’s a record of arrest in 2016. There were 5136 arrests; that’s already during Jokowi’s regime,” she said, referring to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

The president made a promise to prioritise infrastructure development in Papua. But the president has never addressed the alleged human rights violations.

Koman said if the conflict in Papua was not resolved, it would be a ticking time bomb ahead of a violent uprising.

“In a couple of years, there could be a (violent) incident. And then they’d ask, ‘Why did it happen?’ or ‘Who was the provocateur.’ Well, you’re making them (the Papuans) victims repeatedly and robbing them of their dignity,” she said.

Meanwhile, Ginting said he would continue to speak out about the problems in Papua, but he acknowledged there was little he can do during the pandemic.

He said the arrests had created momentum for people to start a discussion on Papua.

“I think there are more people who are now curious. They want to find out what exactly is happening in Papua. A lot more people will be more open-minded,” he said.

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‘Stay home, stay safe, be kind’: What NZ can teach the world about covid-19

‘Stay home, stay safe, be kind’: What NZ can teach the world about covid-19

New Zealand implemented one of the earliest lockdowns and has largely succeeded in eliminating the coronavirus under the leadership of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Some of the country’s success has been attributed to her leadership, trust in science, and clear communication during the crisis. We get an update from Michael Baker, professor of public health at the University of Otago. He is an epidemiologist and a member of the New Zealand Ministry of Health’s Technical Advisory Group. Dr Baker has been advising the government on its response to the covid-19 pandemic. Their slogan is “Stay home, stay safe, and be kind.”

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we turn to New Zealand, which implemented one of the earliest lockdowns in response to the pandemic, has largely succeeded in eliminating the coronavirus, after the number of infections peaked in April. There was just a single confirmed covid-19 case reported in New Zealand last week [and there have been no new cases in the past seven days]. This comes as a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck the capital Wellington on Monday while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was in the middle of a live TV interview.

PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: We’re just having a bit of an earthquake here, Ryan. Quite a — quite a decent shake here, but if you see things moving behind me. The beehive moves a little more than most. Yep, no, it’s just stopped.

AMY GOODMAN: Starting last week, Prime Minister Ardern began transitioning New Zealand, a Pacific nation that’s home to more than 5 million people, from lockdown level 3 to level 2, allowing most shops, restaurants, schools and workplaces to reopen. Some of the country’s success has been attributed to Ardern’s leadership, trust in science, and clear communication during the crisis. Instead of launching a war, she urged people to unite against covid-19, and often calls the country, quote, “our team of 5 million.” In March, after putting her 21-month-old daughter to bed, Ardern hosted a Facebook Live session from her couch as New Zealanders submitted questions.

PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: Excuse the casual attire. It can be messy business putting toddlers to bed, so I’m not in my work clothes. …

– Partner –

But some of the key things that I’ve been asked about are things like, you know, “Can we go for a walk?” Penny, you’ve asked — you’ve got four children. Can you walk with all of them, or should you just take two at a time? You can walk with the people that you will be with for the next month, the people that you’re living with. You can walk with them. They’re your — the people that will be in your life consistently over this period of time, and you can walk with them. But if, when you’re walking, you pass by someone, keep your — keep your distance. Keep two meters between everyone. I imagine New Zealanders are going to be doing a lot of long-distance waving while we’re out and about.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Jacinda Ardern in March. On Sunday, the prime minister thanked her nation for staying home during the covid-19 pandemic to break the chain of transmission and save lives.

PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: Thank you for staying home and saving lives. Together, we have kept the virus under control and played our part to avoid the widespread devastation we’ve seen overseas. But I know it’s at times been really tough. So thank you for all the sacrifices you’ve made over the past few months. From the children who missed out on precious time with their grandparents to the families who have had to say goodbye to loved ones from afar, New Zealanders have given up a lot to keep each other safe.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we go to Wellington, New Zealand, where we’re joined by Dr Michael Baker, professor of public health at the University of Otago. He is an epidemiologist, a member of the New Zealand Ministry of Health’s Technical Advisory Group. He has been advising Prime Minister Ardern on the response to covid-19.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! Thank you for staying up so late. I’m holding The New York Times. Front page of this weekend, “US Deaths Near 100,000, an Incalculable Loss.” The whole front page lists hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of names. We have something — under 5 percent of the population, but more than a quarter of the deaths in the world. Can you talk about what New Zealand can teach not only the United States, Brazil and other far more populous countries, but what you recognised early on and what you did, Dr Baker?

MICHAEL BAKER: Well, greetings from Wellington. It’s a great pleasure to be on your programme.

I think there are several lessons when you look across the globe at how different countries have responded, but I think one of the main messages is to respond decisively and have that combination of good science and good leadership. And countries that have succeeded have done this.

And in the case of New Zealand, we had the same pandemic plan as many other countries, which was a good plan, but it was for a different virus. It was for influenza. And by late February, we realized this was more like a SARS virus, so we had to change our direction very rapidly.

And I think across the Western world, there was this strange idea of complacent exceptionalism, that somehow the virus might behave differently when it hit the Western world compared with how it was in Asia. But, in fact, we looked to Asia for examples of a good approach, and — for example, the way China contained the virus, and other Asian countries were managing it — we realised that elimination was possible, so we changed direction very quickly.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Dr Baker, this whole issue of, in most of the advanced West, the focus has been on flattening the curve or mitigating the virus. Could you talk about that discussion that went on in those early days about trying to eliminate it completely?

MICHAEL BAKER: Yeah. Well, that’s exactly right. I mean, the approach for dealing with influenza pandemics is a mitigation one. You cannot contain it. So, basically, the wave is going to wash over you, and the strategy is all about, as you say, flattening the curve, reducing demand on the healthcare system and not overwhelming it, trying to protect the most vulnerable. So, we are very familiar with those approaches.

But when we looked at the success of mainland China, and also Taiwan, in particular, with actually preventing the virus, stopping it at the borders, and also doing contact tracing to stamp out cases, we changed tack very quickly. And so, you do things in a different order, if you realise that. You actually throw everything at the pandemic early on. So, at the point that we had a hundred cases, no fatalities, around the 23rd of March, a decision was made to go for this elimination approach.

And that meant putting the whole country into a very intense lockdown for the best part of six weeks. And that did three things. It basically stamped out chains of transmission, because the whole country was effectively in home quarantine. It also enabled us to build up a lot of capabilities that we really didn’t have at that point. And that was to do a lot of testing, a lot of contact tracing, and also improve our board of quarantine. And the third thing it did, it basically just explained to the whole country what physical distancing was all about, because we had never experienced a pandemic before. We were barely affected by SARS. And so, at the end of that — it’s a pretty harsh approach, but at the end of that, there was very little virus being transmitted in New Zealand.

So, we’re now coming out of lockdown by degrees. And it’s very different from coming out of lockdown overseas, because we’re trying to come down into a virus-free New Zealand. And the evidence now, based on a huge amount of testing that we’re doing, is that there is not circulating virus in New Zealand. We’re just getting the very tail end of some of the outbreaks.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk about some of the particularities of New Zealand, number one, of being an island nation, to what degree that helped in your being able to stamp out the virus? And also, the role of your healthcare system, to what degree that made it easier or more difficult to deal with the pandemic?

MICHAEL BAKER: Yeah. Well, being an island, it’s much easier to manage your borders. And really, that’s the number one thing you have to do. But, actually, some countries with huge borders, like mainland China — in fact, Vietnam, Mongolia — appear to be succeeding very well with the same elimination approach. So, it doesn’t — you don’t have to be an island. And, of course, many Pacific islands have taken an even more extreme approach. They’ve just, if you like, lifted the drawbridge entirely and have excluded the virus. So, it’s not a necessity to be an island.

The second point about the healthcare system, I think it helps to have a socialized health system, because, obviously, you can deliver testing more easily. You can manage your hospitals more effectively. And so I think that’s helped in Australia, New Zealand and, I guess, also in some Asian countries that have a highly centralised healthcare system.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about what you see the US has done wrong? I mean, it’s just astounding the richest country in the world is the epicenter of this pandemic. And if you can also talk about the racial disparities that we’ve seen, particularly African Americans, far greater death toll than their population in the United States should be, very disproportionate? What happened in New Zealand with the Māori, with the Indigenous population, with low-income New Zealanders? Most importantly, what do you think the US is doing wrong?

MICHAEL BAKER: Yeah, well, firstly, looking at the inequalities, unfortunately, that seems to be a feature of pandemics and infectious disease in general, is they magnify social inequalities. And with our current government, inequalities is one of the central driving concerns with the healthcare system and with the pandemic response. So equity has been a major driver. It was also one of the reasons we have put, obviously, a huge amount of resources into the elimination approach, because the most pro-equity thing we can do is to keep the virus out. And that is the situation now.

When I look at the United States, obviously, I’m very disappointed — or more than disappointed, because it is a tragic situation. And usually for leadership we look to the US, particularly the Centers for Disease Control, we look to the UK, Public Health England, and with this — and also the World Health Organisation — and, unfortunately, I think there was a severe error of judgment in assisting this pandemic, because there was a period when it was containable, but the advice was not to shut borders, and there was a complacent attitude. So, I think that’s the number one problem, is that our major health agencies in the Western world have really let us down — and, I think, governments, as well — because this was an entirely preventable global catastrophe. So I think that’s the number one requirement, is that science and leadership have to work together and recognise these threats and manage them accordingly.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And also, could you talk about the issue of the legitimacy of leadership in terms of being able to effectuate these kinds of severe or stringent policies? Obviously, in China, they had to call out the military to completely isolate Wuhan, but in New Zealand you didn’t really have to deal with any kind of a major enforcement, per se. Could you talk about that in the few seconds we have left?

MICHAEL BAKER: Yeah, I think really empathetic leadership, as we’ve seen in New Zealand, helps. But, actually, Australia has got a different style of government, and they’ve also succeeded. But really, the best-performing country on Earth has actually been Taiwan, I think, because they acted very early. They didn’t need a lockdown. And that was because they had a very strong public health agency, and they started managing their borders in January. And they did everything right. So, I think they’ve had a model response.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Baker, we’re going to have to leave it there, but we’re going to continue with a post-show and post it online at, from New Zealand. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Be safe.

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James Tapp: Confronting Pākehā Privilege as a white male student

James Tapp: Confronting Pākehā Privilege as a white male student

It’s only been a year and half since I started university, but sometimes that’s enough time to realise more about the world than you could ever imagine. For me, the biggest thing, the one thing intertwined into every part of my life, is privilege.

I’m a white male, and if society loves anything, it’s straight white males. It was only when I left my all-boys high school that I became aware of the licence that my physicality held. It seemed so normal to me at the time, so much so that I never had the tendency to question or reflect on my own privilege.

But in my day to day life, I continued winning the lottery.

READ MORE: New Zealand as a village – our people

I think an important place to start on a topic like this is representation. Not just the statistics around what percentage of the population is Pākehā, Māori, Pasifika, Asian and Middle Eastern, along the many other ethnic backgrounds in Aotearoa, but also what we, as individuals represent, as well as how we present society.

Last year we saw Statistics New Zealand release a report that reflected NZ diversity in the form of a 112-person village. The village was composed of 17 individuals having a Māori ethnic background, 70 with European, 15 Asian, 8 Pacifica, and 2 from the rest of the world.

Of course, this representation is not going to be the same across all areas of society, but it could be a hell of a lot better.

– Partner –

When it comes to making change, for me it is in my career choices. I want to represent my country, whether it’s at an embassy, working as a journalist or even a business leader. Yet I remind myself that if New Zealand society is going to have good representation across the board, it probably shouldn’t be me. Because there’s 1001 white men in business suits already ‘representing’ New Zealand.

How many cared about Ihumātao?
You’ve got to ask, how many of them cared about Ihumātao, and if they were representing that struggle? Representation in New Zealand is always going to be difficult, especially in areas such as Auckland and Wellington which are melting pots of culture with so much to represent.

So, as students going into the workforce,remember you bring a new perspective, which also comes with great power. It is vital to keep both your privileges in check and that of your peers, while also putting in the effort to make sure diversity is celebrated.

While that is all about under representation, which is not amazing, the statistics around over representation are far more shocking. In 2019, 51.8 percent of the prison population was Māori, while they only make up 14.6 percent of the population.

Since the English arrived in New Zealand, anyone who they considered different has been on the backfoot, with a lack of acknowledgement of minority and indigenous ideology and way of life.

In saying this, it is important to remember these are not the only populations within Aotearoa; with our country being exposed to globalisation we have seen an influx of diversity and culture. One of these major ethnic groups is the Asian population, which includes a number of ethnicities, such as Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Sri Lankan, Singaporean and Malaysian among so many more.

The Chinese population particularly have a stronger representation in New Zealand in good light as well as not so good. With history in gold mining in Arrowtown, having the longest running produce stores in the country, as well as running so many other small businesses, it is truly saddening to see xenophobia still so present in New Zealand when they are part of the backbone that our country depends on.

With the Asian population expected to rise above 1 million by 2038, we will need to be able to embrace this past by eating sushi for lunch and going to the lantern festival, instead realising terms such as “token Asian” are outdated and inaccurate which instead facilitate casual racism.

Pride in being multicultural but …?
New Zealand may pride itself on being multicultural and accepting, but all it takes is a quick scroll down a New Zealand Herald article about welfare issues to see Pākehā Privilege. And many of you, including myself, realise these people are our grandparents or maybe even our parents.

If they’re as bad as my grandmother, they’ll say they can’t understand someone on the phone who has an accent which isn’t from a country where English is their first language. Racism is still very much a problem in New Zealand, whether it is ingrained into our history due to the land wars, or it’s taking clothing of traditional significance and incorporating it into everyday life without recognition (kimonos as dressing gowns, for example). These everyday events may seem harmless at the time, however research has shown these can slowly but surely build up to oppression, discrimination and violence without recognition and intervention.

This is how events such as the Christchurch attacks happen. While they weren’t an accurate representation of the Pākehā population, just imagine if he had been of any other ethnicity. Imagine what would have been different in the media. Imagine what my grandparents would have said. This can all go unchecked, and that’s what unrecognised white privilege can look like.

I think it’s also important to point out Pākehā Privilege is part of New Zealand culture, whether we like it or not, and because it’s part of daily life for many, it goes unrecognised as culture. And it’s not as simple as saying to someone “hey this is your culture, also guess what, it’s done a lot of damage.”

Culture among white people is thriving, but because of the dominance of Western society, we just don’t see it. Hence, we get the “white people have no culture” comments, but we also get ones about Karen’s and typical middle-class white dad jokes, and whether you like it or not, that’s part of it.

If society, particularly in New Zealand, is going to progress, we need to recognise where Pākehā stand in relation to the rest of New Zealand and why. But as many things go, small things at a young age will go far.

What would things look like if we looked past just Pākehā and Māori culture at school, but also a number of others which are now prominent in Aotearoa? What if we saw more incorporation of Māori schools of thought into business on a managerial level? What if this also applied to the government with a greater recognition of Te Tiriti o Waitangi?

We operate in systems that are westernised
We currently operate in systems that are westernised, because that was version 1.0 that was brought to Aotearoa by colonists. But with so much more here now, what is there to stop us from growing and expanding and reaching 2.0?

I’ve covered a miniscule amount of information surrounding society in New Zealand, but if there’s anything I want you to take away from reading this, it’s that if you are Pākehā, or even just have white skin, recognise your privilege on a constant basis, and use it to help others.

I’ve been given a lot of opportunities while I’ve been at university, and while I’ve worked hard, I still think about how other factors may have played a part. And while this has focused on Pākehā Privilege, think about what other privileges you may have and how they play a part in your life.

Talk with those who you consider “other” instead of the same, find out where people’s viewpoints stand and why. You never know, you might learn a thing or two.

James Tapp is a Bachelor of Communication Studies and Bachelor of Business conjoint student at Auckland University of Technology, majoring in international business and advertising creativity. He is also producer of the Pacific Media Centre’s Southern Cross radio programme on 95bFM. This article was first published in the AUT student publication Debate and is republished here with permission.

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