Self-entitled prima donnas or do they have a point? Why Australian Open tennis players find hard lockdown so tough

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Peter Terry, Professor of Psychology, University of Southern Queensland

The challenge of bringing the world’s best tennis players and support staff, about 1,200 people in all, from COVID-ravaged parts of the world to our almost pandemic-free shores was always going to be a big ask.

Soon after this star-studded Australian Open entourage arrived in Melbourne, ten cases of COVID-19 were identified (some later reclassified as being old infections). As a result, 72 players classified as close contacts were confined to hotel rooms with no access to what they thought they had been promised — a daily five-hour session on the practice courts within the quarantine bubble.

Meanwhile, the superstars of the sport (Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka among them) were apparently enjoying much better conditions in Adelaide.

Social media turned white hot.

Spanish world number 13 Roberto Bautista Agut described conditions as like prison “but with wifi”.

Meanwhile Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva wished she had she been warned about the potential for hard lockdown and sharing her room with a mouse.

The flames were fanned by Novak Djokovic’s list of demands for improved conditions, admittedly on behalf of his fellow players and which he later said were just suggestions, which Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews immediately rejected.

Then, the backlash started

Fellow players waded in, with Nick Kyrgios labelling Djokovic “a tool” on Twitter and savaging Bernard Tomic’s partner as having “no perspective” for complaining about having to wash her own hair.

Condemnation of players who complained about being in quarantine, when the population of Melbourne had recently endured 112 days of lockdown, was swift and universal.

The consensus was that, instead of complaining, the self-entitled prima donnas should be grateful for the opportunity to play in one of the world’s great sporting events, pocketing between A$100,000 and $2.75m in prize money (for the singles) after their all-expenses paid trip down under.

When we put people on a pedestal

This looks like a clear case of pedestal syndrome backfiring, a term popularised in sport psychology by Jeffrey Bond, who worked with tennis legend Pat Cash when he won Wimbledon in 1987.

Inside Sport Psychology book cover featuring Roger Federer
Hotel quarantine can easily upset players’ moods but they could benefit from the isolation to work on the psychological aspects of their game. Booktopia

It’s not a clinical diagnosis, but refers to the tendency to exalt those we admire to a position where we (and they) perceive they can do no wrong.

After all, when the world treats you like something special, feted and adored wherever you go, is it any wonder you start to believe the normal restrictions of a pandemic, indeed of life, do not apply to you?

Maybe the Australian Open should not have been held at all this year, as some prominent health experts have advised.

However, once the decision to proceed with the tournament next month was confirmed, wasn’t it incumbent upon the organisers to create a level playing field for competitors?

There is little doubt those in hard lockdown may be disadvantaged come tournament time.

Is lockdown treating all players equally?

With several of the world’s top players having greater freedom to train in Adelaide compared with those in Melbourne quarantine, some players are also questioning if they’ll be at an advantage when the tournament starts.

The better deal for those in Adelaide includes having a larger support team available, use of the hotel gym, and the opportunity to play exhibition matches.

As Austrian doubles specialist Philipp Oswald, in Melbourne quarantine, described it:

It’s not apples and apples here, but apples and pears — and I caught the sour lemon.

Players risk losing fitness

Research by university colleague Professor Tim Gabbett would predict the decline in fitness among those in hard lockdown will be significantly greater than among those allowed to train outdoors for up to five hours a day.

More than that, the rapid increase in training once released from lockdown will significantly increase injury risk and diminish capacity to maintain performance over the course of a five-set match. In short, advantage all those who escaped hard lockdown.


Read more: Get a grip: the twist in the wrist that can ruin tennis careers


Then there is the issue of players’ psychological state leading into the tournament. My own research has highlighted the significant mood disturbance associated with COVID-19 restrictions, which were less restrictive than the hard lockdown many players are currently enduring.

It is well established that mood states affect performance in sport, and the negative moods likely engendered by lockdown will not encourage tournament success.

There could be benefits

However, there may be an upside for some players, especially those arriving with niggling injuries or excessively fatigued. The enforced rest may help them heal and freshen up before resuming normal training.

Lockdown also provides them with ample time to work on the mental side of their game, especially visualisation and mindfulness training. This may help them reframe their time in quarantine from a frustrating interruption into a productive period of mental preparation.


Read more: We studied mental toughness in ultra-marathon runners. Mind over matter is real — but won’t take you all the way


What happens when players leave quarantine?

Some players will undoubtedly emerge from hard lockdown anxious about their physical condition and irked they were the ones who got the short straw.

Romanian player Sorona Cirstea said she will need “at least three weeks after [isolation] in order to be in decent form again”.

Unfortunately, she’ll have less than two weeks to regain her fitness and find her form post-lockdown.

No reasonable person would suggest tennis players be allowed to skip quarantine but perhaps spare a thought for those in hard lockdown who feel the playing field is ever so slightly tilted against them.

ref. Self-entitled prima donnas or do they have a point? Why Australian Open tennis players find hard lockdown so tough – https://theconversation.com/self-entitled-prima-donnas-or-do-they-have-a-point-why-australian-open-tennis-players-find-hard-lockdown-so-tough-153631

Level-crossing removals: a case study in why major projects must also be investments in health

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Geoffrey Browne, Research Fellow in International Urban Development, University of Melbourne

The Victorian government has committed to removing 75 road/rail level crossings across Melbourne by 2025. That’s the fastest rate of removal in the city’s history. The scale of the investment — at least A$14.8 billion — and the project’s ripple effects mean it could do more to transform the city’s public transport system than the Metro Tunnel project.


Read more: Rail works lift property prices, pointing to value capture’s potential to fund city infrastructure


All infrastructure projects change the determinants of health — the “causes of the causes” of good health — to some extent. Despite this, the public health impacts of the level-crossing removals have been neglected. Our research aims to quantify the health impacts of major infrastructure, using level-crossing removals on the Upfield line as a case study, and to encourage governments to consider these when designing and building.

The two most frequently stated reasons for the project are:

  • to reduce traffic congestion caused by having to give way to trains

  • to increase safety by eliminating the temptation for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians to cross tracks when boom gates are lowered.

A third reason is to create jobs in the construction sector.

However, the impacts on public health are significant too. The level crossing removals have an opportunity to ensure that changes to the built environment make healthy behaviours the “easy option”. Such changes are generally more effective and equitable and can yield more sustained health benefits than health promotion programs.

This means government investment in health through improvements to the built environment is both an ethical responsibility and a prudent social investment. All infrastructure projects, especially when publicly funded like the level-crossing removals, should contribute to demonstrable and equitable improvements in public health that are proportional to the scale of the investment.


Read more: Why transport projects aren’t as good for your health as they could be


A case study: the Upfield line

Each level-crossing removal in Melbourne has unique challenges and opportunities.

The Bell-to-Moreland project on the Upfield line, for example, involves removing four level crossings and building two new train stations. To remove the crossings, the rail has been elevated to create “sky rail” over a 3km stretch.

The land below can then be re-purposed for linear parks, recreation and active transport such as walking and cycling.

While the government emphasises such uses, these appear to be incidental reasons for the project. “Level-crossing removal” rather than, say, “rail upgrade” or “linear park project”, suggests its main purpose is to ease traffic congestion.

traffic flows under a rail overpass
Traffic flows freely under the newly elevated rail line, which was one of the project’s main goals. Level Crossing Removal Project/Victorian government

The problem is that projects that aim to do this often have unintended rebound effects that actually increase car use. This, in turn, is linked to increases in health problems, including inactive lifestyles, excess weight and chronic disease.

The work on the Upfield line has also led to construction noise, the loss of over 150 mature trees and heritage structures, and loss of cyclists’ serendipitous “greenwave”, whereby north-south cycle travel on the adjacent path could be coordinated with the boom gates. Community dissatisfaction with the consultation processes has also been significant.


Read more: The ‘sky rail’ saga: can big new transport projects ever run smoothly?


Each of these problems is known to make health worse. Will the benefits of the new open spaces — “two MCGs worth” — and better transport interchanges at the new Moreland and Coburg stations be realised and outweigh the negative impacts? How can we be sure major infrastructure, like the Upfield level-crossing removal, represents a prudent investment in public health?

Train travels through new station
Will the transport benefits of the newly built Moreland station outweigh the negative impacts of the project on community health? Level Crossing Removal Project/Victorian government

Making the links between liveability and health

Health impact assessment is an established set of protocols for measuring the effects of a project on public health. Extensive consultation and modelling are used to understand the opportunities and threats to public health arising from a proposed project.

At the same time, liveability is increasingly mentioned in urban policies and plans. The term is often used to promote Melbourne to the world.

However, liveability is not consistently defined. And contrary to what many would assume, the term is often used to emphasise city image and global economic competitiveness, rather than equitable access to healthy urban environments.

Melanie Lowe and colleagues recognised the potential for liveability to be redefined and used to improve decision-making for health equity. Their review of 82 peer-reviewed papers and government reports examined how these have used the concept. They found a liveable place, irrespective of its global location, is:

[…] safe, attractive, socially cohesive and inclusive, and environmentally sustainable, with affordable and diverse housing linked to employment, education, public open space, local shops, health and community services, and leisure and cultural opportunities; via convenient public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure.

Initial research for a comprehensive health impact assessment has shown the Upfield level-crossing removal will affect most of these elements of liveability to some degree. Some impacts will be positive, some negative. Transport, public open space, natural environment, social cohesion and local democracy are likely to be most affected.


Read more: How do we create liveable cities? First, we must work out the key ingredients


open space being landscaped under rail line
Elevating the rail line has freed up open space underneath it. Level Crossing Removal Project/Victorian government

These findings illustrate the pervasive yet subtle impacts on public health that major infrastructure projects can have.

Closer examination of the Upfield project will involve gathering data and modelling the impacts on health. The results will provide valuable evidence for formulating recommendations that enhance the public health benefits of this project and others like it, locally and internationally.

Importantly, demonstrating the links between major infrastructure, liveability and the determinants of health will help ensure decision-makers understand the public health potential and risks of such publicly funded projects.

ref. Level-crossing removals: a case study in why major projects must also be investments in health – https://theconversation.com/level-crossing-removals-a-case-study-in-why-major-projects-must-also-be-investments-in-health-149820

Vital Signs: Biden’s economic centrism isn’t exciting, but right for these divisive times

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

In an age of hyperpartisan politics, the Biden presidency offers a welcome centrism that might help bridge the divides.

But it is also Biden’s economic centrism that offers a chance to cut through what has become an increasingly polarised approach to economic policy.

On the Republican side of politics, there is strong support for neoliberal economic policies – that is, economic policies that don’t just emphasise the importance of markets but represent a kind of free-market fanaticism. Ronald Reagan aptly expressed this view in his 1981 inaugural speech, in which he said “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem”.

On the Democratic side, the centrism of the Bill Clinton era (1993- 2001) has given way to much more left-wing policies. Indeed the democratic socialism of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been in the ascendancy for several years.

If you have any doubt about this, consider two facts.

First, Sanders came very close to being the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee in 2016. Second, the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries were dominated by candidates with similar views – such as Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party presidential primary debate held on February 7 2020.
Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party presidential primary debate held at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, on February 7 2020. Elise Amendola/AP

Biden, of course, ran on a much more centrist economic platform.

This was perhaps best captured by his approach to health care – seeking to build on Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) and insure more people, rather than adopt the “Medicare for All” policy advocated by Sanders and Warren.

In a whole range of areas Biden and his nominees for important cabinet posts have signalled the new administration’s economic policies will be responsive to the demands of the left but still be sensitive to the concerns of the right.


Read more: Who’s who in Joe Biden’s cabinet


Big spending, but within limits

One of the most important things the administration will do in its early days is to orchestrate a large spending package to help deal with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

This will include spending on the vaccine roll-out, helping schools reopen, extending unemployment insurance and cheques to households.

So the spending package is likely to be huge. But the administration is not going to spend with complete abandon and without acknowledging constraints.

As Biden’s pick for Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, said in her confirmation hearing:

Neither the president elect, nor I, proposed this release relief package without an appreciation for the country’s debt burden. But right now, with interest rates at historic lows, the smartest thing we can do is act big. In the long run, I believe the benefits will far outweigh the costs, especially if we care about helping people who’ve been struggling for a very long time.


Read more: Vital Signs: Janet Yellen, the very model of a modern Madam Secretary


Treading cautiously on health care

Sanders and others’ “Medicare for All” plan involves single-payer (i.e. the government) universal coverage and ending private health insurance. This would be similar to the approach in Scandinavia, Canada and Britain.

Biden has strongly resisted this on two fronts.

One, it would be incredibly expensive, costing US$30-40 trillion over a decade. Two, it would involve more than 150 million Americans losing their current insurance.

Instead, Biden wants to expand the Affordable Care Act with more incentives to push towards truly universal coverage. This is something Mitt Romney (the Republicans’ 2012 presidential candidate) might easily have proposed. Don’t forget that as governor of Massachusetts (from 2003 to 2007) he enacted a plan almost identical the Affordable Care Act – an idea championed by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

US President Joe Biden swears in political appointees in a virtual ceremony on January 20 2021.
US President Joe Biden swears in political appointees in a virtual ceremony on January 20 2021. Evan Vucci/AP

Likewise with tax reform

Biden’s tax plan certainly involves raising taxes but not to anywhere near the levels called for by the democratic socialist wing of his party. Nor will he embrace a wealth tax like Warren championed. Under her plan, people with assets of more than US$50 million would be taxed 2% of that amount a year (and 3% for more than US$1 billion).

But he does plan to raise the top income tax rate (on income more than US$400,000) from 37% to 39.6%. He will raise the flat 21% corporate tax rate introduced by Trump to 28%.

US companies will need to pay a minimum tax of 21% on foreign income – addressing the issue of companies avoiding taxes through legal set-ups in low-tax overseas jurisdictions (such as Apple in Ireland).

Biden will even introduce a tax penalty on companies that move jobs overseas if their products are sold in the US.

This is not a package any Republican administration would be likely to introduce. On the other hand, it falls dramatically short of what Sanders, Warren and Ocasio-Cortez want.

Responsive but responsible

The Biden economic plan is responsive to the current – almost shocking – state of the US economy. His health care and tax policies are sensitive to concerns about inequality.


Read more: Joe Biden sends a clear message to the watching world – America’s back


His approach acknowledges, rightly, that with interest rates at historic lows there is room for considerably more spending than in the past, despite already huge deficits. But it also acknowledges there are limits to what the government can or should do.

In that sense it is something even conservative Republicans ought to be able to live with – and common ground is something the US desperately needs to find.

ref. Vital Signs: Biden’s economic centrism isn’t exciting, but right for these divisive times – https://theconversation.com/vital-signs-bidens-economic-centrism-isnt-exciting-but-right-for-these-divisive-times-153647

The viral ‘Wellerman’ sea shanty is also a window into the remarkable cross-cultural whaling history of Aotearoa New Zealand

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Kate Stevens, Lecturer in History, University of Waikato

In a year of surprises, one of the more pleasant was the recent runaway viral popularity of 19th century sea shanties on TikTok. A collaborative global response to pandemic isolation, it saw singers and musicians layering harmonies atop an original recording of Soon May the Wellerman Come by Scottish postie Nathan Evans.

Spread via TokTok and other social media, it has become the most popular song in the “ShantyTok” trend. What many fans possibly didn’t realise at first, though, was that the Wellerman shanty is an old New Zealand composition.

More than that, it is a window into an earlier era of global interconnection that shaped the social and economic history of our southern coasts.

The lyrics speak of men’s collective labour at sea. But behind the story of the whale hunt is one of cross-cultural interaction central to the success of the whaling industry, and critical in shaping the settlement of early 19th century New Zealand.

Whaling in the 19th century world

Whaling brought newcomers to Aotearoa New Zealand in significant numbers from the early 1800s. Once predominantly American-based crews had exploited Atlantic whale populations, they moved into the Pacific to seek new hunting grounds.

These men sought profit in the form of oil and bone. Whale oil provided industrial lubrication and lighting for growing cities in Europe and the US. Baleen from whale jaws was used in much the way plastic is now.

New Zealand was one of their destinations. The Wellerman shanty refers to the heyday of whaling in the South Island. The Sydney-based Weller brothers established their first whaling station at Ōtākou (Otago) in 1831.

They and others such as Johnny Jones oversaw stations ranging from a few households to nearly 100 residents. These new settlements were dotted around the southern coasts from the late 1820s, often located near the paths of migrating right whales.


Read more: ShantyTok: is the sugar and rum line in Wellerman a reference to slavery?


Unlike deep-sea whaling in the Atlantic and northern Pacific, these newcomers practised shore-based whaling which required land to process the whales caught. The “tonguing” in the Wellerman lyrics refers to cutting strips of blubber to render into oil in large “try pots” — a challenging process aboard ship. The crew also required land on which to live and cultivate food.

Map of Pacific Ocean showing the annual distribution of whales
Map showing the distribution of whales across different seasons in the mid-19th century. Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center, Boston Public Library, CC BY-SA

Whalers in the Ngāi Tahu world

These shore whalers entered a Māori world. The success of a station was dependent on their relationships with local iwi as tangata whenua — in this case, Ngāi Tahu.

Newcomers had to negotiate access to coastal land and resources, and stayed for months, years, sometimes even decades. Because the industry was based on settlement rather than short refuelling stops, shore whaling fostered more intensive cross-cultural interactions in southern New Zealand than elsewhere in New Zealand or abroad.

Differing cultural expectations and miscommunication occasionally led to violence. More often, however, Ngāi Tahu and newcomers negotiated a relationship of mutual benefit. Whaling connected Ngāi Tahu to the global economy in the early 19th century, providing new and sometimes mana-enhancing opportunities for trade, employment, and travel.


Read more: Rock art shows early contact with US whalers on Australia’s remote northwest coast


At the same time, Ngāi Tahu communities sought to incorporate whaling men into the rights and responsibilities of whanaungatanga (relations, connectedness). Intimate relationships and marriage were key features of this process, as historian Angela Wanhalla has shown.

Over 140 men had married Māori women in southern New Zealand by 1840, with these couples producing over 500 children. Edward Weller himself married Paparu, daughter of Tahatu and Matua. After her early death, Weller remarried Nikuru, daughter of rangatira (chief) Taiaroa, but left New Zealand without his wife and daughters after the Otākou station’s closure in 1841.

Ngāi Tahu in the whaling world

Many whaling stations became kin-based economies, with mixed families central to the labour and prosperity of both ship and station. As wives and partners, Ngāi Tahu women produced the food that sustained the station and supplemented the business of whaling.

While the Wellerman shanty’s “sugar and tea and rum” were imported as rations, potatoes, flax and pigs were locally produced, consumed, and exported for profit alongside whale oil and bone. Male relations also frequently worked in the industry, either on shore or as whaling crew.

Whalers' shacks and rail tracks on a coast
A man’s world: whalers’ base on Stewart Island, 1924. Te Papa

Marriage also provided newcomers with access and ties to the land through their Ngāi Tahu whānau. Whaling captain John Howell’s first marriage to Kohikohi, the daughter of rangatira Horomona Patu, gave him access to 50,000 acres near Riverton.

This right to land for stations and settlement was based on principles of kaitiakitanga (guardianship). But in later decades the colonial government caused land dispossession through conversion to individual titles and Crown purchases.


Read more: Why it’s time for New Zealanders to learn more about their own country’s history


As the whaling industry declined from the 1840s, some whalers (like Edward Weller) proved transient visitors. Many others, like Howell, remained with their families, though most were not as wealthy.

Former whalers turned to fisheries, agriculture and trade. Their mixed communities formed the basis for settlements around the southern region: Bluff, Riverton, Moeraki, Taieri, Waikouaiti.

These early and intense interactions had a lasting legacy in Ngāi Tahu’s whakapapa (genealogy) and collective identity. The sustained contact between Ngāi Tahu and whalers also complicates the myth of whaling as simply a transient and masculine pursuit.

Whaling was indeed a gendered industry; crew were almost exclusively male. But they were also diverse. Native American, Aboriginal Australian and Pacific Islanders all found opportunities aboard ship and in New Zealand alongside Māori and Europeans.

Many of them, we must assume, would have sung or heard shanties like Soon May the Wellerman Come — though none might have expected their descendents in the 21st century to be humming them too.

ref. The viral ‘Wellerman’ sea shanty is also a window into the remarkable cross-cultural whaling history of Aotearoa New Zealand – https://theconversation.com/the-viral-wellerman-sea-shanty-is-also-a-window-into-the-remarkable-cross-cultural-whaling-history-of-aotearoa-new-zealand-153634

Four Indigenous composers and a piano from colonial times — making passionate, layered, honest music together

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Christopher Sainsbury, Senior Lecturer Composition, Australian National University

Despite having different cultural backgrounds and experiences — Indigenous composers with an Indigenous mentor, and a pianist descended from Anglo-colonial history — it is nevertheless possible to create a project that can serve as a focus for unification and strength.

In our instance, the trigger was a relic of the past. Specifically, an historical object made at a time of great significance for Australia: a square piano built around 1770, housed in the keyboard archives of the School of Music at ANU.

Its place of manufacture was Alsace in western Europe, a small body of land that has at times been claimed by Germany, at other times by France. The disputed nature of the territory serves as an ironic parallel to our project.

Given the historical importance of the time of manufacture — when James Cook was charting the eastern coast of Australia — we asked four Indigenous composers, all of whom have been through the Moogahlin Performing Arts and Ngarra-burria First Nations composers program, to write new music for the piano. The brief was simple: write something for the instrument, with the option of one other instrument or voice, to a length of around five minutes.

All four composers interpreted the project in thoroughly different ways, reflecting their unique artistic approaches and perhaps highlighting issues relating to previous attempts at addressing and improving the situation created by the past. Today, recordings of their works on Ngarra-burria Piyanna are being released for streaming and download.

The instrument

The piano was built by Henri Henrion in a small village near to Sareguemines. Little is known about the builder, except that he eventually became involved in politics and got swept up in the events of the French Revolution.

Similar to other square pianos, including the instrument that came out on the First Fleet, it creates a sound that is far lighter than that of a modern piano.

man plays antique piano
Composer Tim Gray at the 1770 square piano. Evana Ho, Author provided (No reuse)

From the outset, it was clear there could be challenges. It is undeniably confronting to ask people whose culture was so thoroughly subjugated to “get creative” with an object that could be seen as crucially symbolic of white history. It was joked that the creativity might take the form of matches and a chorus for a bonfire!

The compositions were recorded in Canberra last year, and were featured in a podcast broadcast on ABC radio, whose generous funding under the auspices of a Fresh Start Fund grant made it all possible.


Read more: It’s time to properly acknowledge – and celebrate – Indigenous composers


From rap to gothic vampires and protest songs

Rhyan Clapham, who works as a rapper with the pseudonym DOBBY, is the only composer who also performs their track, both on the square piano and vocals.

He set his goal as delivering a 250-year history of Australia, from the time the piano was made to the present. He enjoyed the process.

The team produced this unique project effectively and respectfully. There was a certain feeling shared by all of us that something quite special was happening.

Rapper Rhyan Clapham, aka DOBBY, last year drew on the last words of American man George Floyd who was killed by police.

The work by music student Elizabeth Sheppard, called Kalgoorli Silky Pear, draws on the history of her ancestors who resided in Western Australia generations before. It also incorporates an element of her Scottish lineage, through a hint of a lullaby towards the end. As a composer familiar with older musical styles, she has incorporated elements of Indigenous polyphony in a thoughtful way.

In Lupe’s Waltz, Tim Gray has imagined the pianist as a vampire. He has written a vocal line for a witch, all dreamed up in a gothic throwback to a Romanian grand ball. While we often look to Indigenous composers for cultural insights, there are less apparent metaphors in Tim’s music that may pass us by. This subtlety is part of the magic of the piece.

In writing about her work, The Binary, songwriter and storyteller Nardi Simpson (also a student at the School of Music) has been powerfully honest in recounting her initial reaction to the commission.

Woman onstage with piano and microphone.
Songwriter and storyteller Nadi Simpson onstage with the history piano. Jamie Kidston, Author provided (No reuse)

Read more: Together we rise: East Arnhem Land artists respond to COVID-19 with the gift of music


This piano — such a reminder of the horrors of colonisation for Indigenous peoples — was perhaps a foe and not a friend. So, ingeniously, Nardi took eight popular protest chants and coded them into complex rhythmic patterns. These then mingle and overlay. They create a transcendent and deeply meaningful musical landscape.

Rather than mask the sounds of the mechanical inner working of the instrument, the pieces were recorded with complete authenticity. In a sense, this decision stands as a symbol for the project: with honesty, authenticity, and a shared passion, music can show a way forward to a brighter future.


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


ref. Four Indigenous composers and a piano from colonial times — making passionate, layered, honest music together – https://theconversation.com/four-indigenous-composers-and-a-piano-from-colonial-times-making-passionate-layered-honest-music-together-152080

Why the COVID-19 variants are so dangerous and how to stop them spreading

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Michael Plank, Professor in Applied Mathematics, University of Canterbury

With new, more infectious variants of COVID-19 detected around the world, and at New Zealand’s border, the risk of further level 3 or 4 lockdowns is increased if those viruses get into the community.

These include a variant called B.1.1.7 that has spread very quickly within the UK, with other new variants now observed in South Africa and Brazil.

Changes in the genetic code of viruses like COVID-19 occur all the time but most of these mutations don’t have any effect on how the disease spreads or its severity.

These changes can be useful because they leave a signature in the virus’s genetic code that allows us to trace how the virus has spread from one person to another.


Read more: The big barriers to global vaccination: patent rights, national self-interest and the wealth gap


But the new variant detected in the UK is more transmissible than the original virus that was dominant in 2020. That means it spreads more easily from one person to another.

The good news is it does not cause more severe illness or have a higher fatality rate than the original variant. Evidence so far suggests vaccines will still be effective against it.

But the bad news is because it spreads more easily, it has the potential to infect many more people, causing more hospitalisations and deaths as a result.

Why variants that spread more easily are so dangerous

The average number of people an infected person with COVID-19 passes the virus on to — the so-called R number — is 40%-70% higher with B.1.1.7 than the original variant.

As the graph below shows, the mathematics of exponential growth means that even a small increase in the transmission rate gets compounded over time, quickly generating enormous growth in the number of cases.

A variant like B.1.1.7 with a higher transmission rate is actually more dangerous than one with a higher fatality rate.

Sure, a 50% increase in the fatality rate would cause 50% more deaths. But because of exponential growth, shown in the graph, a 50% increase in transmissibility causes 25 times more cases in just a couple of months if left unchecked.

That would lead to 25 times more deaths at the original mortality rate.

How do we know the new variant is more transmissible?

The number of cases of the B.1.1.7 variant has risen rapidly relative to the original variant.

This can happen for a number of reasons. The new variant might simply happen to be present in a part of the country or group of people who are spreading the virus more rapidly for some other reason.

It could have become resistant to immunity, meaning it could more easily re-infect people who have already had COVID-19. Or it might cause people to become infectious more quickly.

Researchers in the UK used mathematical models to test these hypotheses.

They found the explanation that fitted best with the data was that the new variant really is more transmissible. And they estimated a person with the new variant infects 56% more people on average than a person with the original variant.

Contact tracing data from the UK also showed more of the close contacts of someone with the new variant go on to be infected.

A sign at an airport saying flights from UK cancelled after new COVID-19 variant discovered,
Some countries cancelled flights from the UK over fears of the new COVID strain. Shutterstock/rarrarorro

Patients with the new variant have also been found to carry more of the virus. Together, this provides strong evidence the B.1.1.7 variant is between 40% and 70% more transmissible than the original variant.

The variants found in South Africa and Brazil share some of the same mutations as the B.1.1.7 variant. There is some evidence they may also be more transmissible or better able to evade immunity.

But there is more uncertainty about these variants, partly because the data quality isn’t as high as in the UK, which is very good at doing genome sequencing.

What does this mean for New Zealand’s border controls?

The new variants have been detected in many countries, including in people in New Zealand’s managed isolation facilities.

There have previously been several cases of people working in these facilities picking up infections from recent arrivals.

The more transmissible variants arriving at the New Zealand border increase the risks to these workers, who in turn have a higher chance of passing the virus onto others in the community, amplifying the risk of a community outbreak.

In response, the government says international arrivals will require a negative test in the 72 hours prior to departure. They will also be required to take an arrival day test when they get to New Zealand.

These measures provide an extra layer in our defences against COVID-19.

How can we manage the risk?

The new variants spread in the same way as the original one: through close contacts between people, especially in crowded or poorly ventilated environments.

This means all the tools we have developed to fight the virus will still work. These include testing, contact tracing, masks and physical distancing.

How face masks make a difference.

But any variant that is more transmissible has a higher R number. To control an outbreak, we need to bring the R number under 1 and so we may need to use more of these tools to achieve this.


Read more: With COVID-19 mutating and surging, NZ urgently needs to tighten border controls


For example, in the Auckland outbreak in August 2020, alert level 3 was enough to contain and eventually eliminate the outbreak. Our analysis showed alert level 3 reduced R to about 0.7.

If we had a similar outbreak with the new variant, R could be 50% higher which would mean it is above 1. In other words, we would likely need to use alert level 4 to contain an outbreak, and it might take longer to eliminate the virus than it has previously.

To give our contact tracers the best possible chance of containing a new outbreak without needing alert level 3 or 4, we all need do our bit. This means looking for QR codes when out about and using the app to scan them, as well as turning on Bluetooth. And it means staying at home and getting tested if you feel sick.

ref. Why the COVID-19 variants are so dangerous and how to stop them spreading – https://theconversation.com/why-the-covid-19-variants-are-so-dangerous-and-how-to-stop-them-spreading-153535

Racing 2-year-old horses is lucrative, but is it worth the risks?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Rachel Hogg, Lecturer in Psychology, Charles Sturt University

Horse racing is an ethical hotbed in Australia. The Melbourne Cup alone has seen seven horses die after racing since 2013, and animal cruelty protesters have become a common feature at carnivals.

The latest event to spark protests was the Gold Coast Magic Millions last Saturday, one of the most anticipated horse races in Australia. Unlike some other Australian racing carnivals, Magic Millions focuses on two-year-old horses, the youngest age a horse can be raced in Australia.

Yearling (two year old) sales during the carnival eclipsed previous records, with bidders spending a whopping A$200 million for young horses by Sunday.

There have always been inherent risks when it comes to racing horses, but these risks may be amplified when horses as young as two are placed under the intense physical stress of racing. Horse racing should be reformed so limited financial incentives are attached to racing two-year-old horses. Let’s explore why.

Exercise is good for horses, but how much is too much?

Musculoskeletal (soft tissue) injuries are a major threat to the health and welfare of racehorses. This is because their bones, joints, tendons and ligaments are placed under significant stress during physical pre-race training and races.


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


Physical stress is not necessarily bad for the horse. Research conducted in 2012 suggests the equine musculoskeletal system may benefit from early exposure to exercise, where “bone remodelling” occurs in response to physical stress. This means bone may become thicker and stronger from exercise for young horses, helping to protect them from future injury.

What’s not yet known, however, is just how much exercise is best for the developing young horse and at what age they should be exposed to certain intensities of physical training.

The two-year-old horse Shaquero won the Magic Millions 2YO Classic.

So are two-year-olds really at greater risk of injury?

The answer is not a simple one. Let’s look at what some of the research says.

Australian research from 2013 compared the career lengths of 117,000 horses and showed horses that started racing at the age of two had longer careers than those that started racing later in life.

Another longitudinal Australian study found yearlings outperformed older racehorses. However, of the horses that began racing at two or three years of age, only 46% were still racing two years later. This suggests high rates of “wastage” (when horses leave racing prematurely).


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


In keeping with this, UK research suggests two-year-old horses and horses older than five may be at a higher injury risk than those aged between three and five.

Research in 1990 indicates between 40-80% of two year olds develop shin soreness, a painful condition for horses. And research 20 years later found three-year-old horses had shin soreness half as often as two year olds.

While shin soreness is not typically a career-ending condition, it does raise questions about the quality of the horse’s racing life.

Like racing a 13-year-old child

Then, there’s the issue of whether it’s acceptable to race a “physically immature” horse. Horses don’t fully mature physically until around the age of six.

The research in general indicates the risk of injury may increase as a horse gets older. But this must be considered in light of two things: the cumulative effect of musculoskeletal strain across a horse’s racing lifespan, and the impact of early training and racing on a horse’s injury trajectory.

Most horses begin training at 18 to 20 months of age, well before their skeleton has reached full maturity.

Horses' legs as they race across a track
While natural activity and movement may be beneficial to skeletal development, intensive training may place them at a higher injury risk. Shutterstock

As a young horse matures, the cartilage on either end of each bone will fuse, with the horses’ knees typically fusing at around the age of two. This makes their knees vulnerable to injury.

Likewise, the horse’s spine — which controls the horse’s physical coordination and running style — is vulnerable, as it matures last.

As Deb Bennett, an authority on the biomechanics and anatomy of horses, writes:

the higher the speed, and the greater the physical effort, the more important it is that the animal have all of its joints mature and in good working order.

In the end, engaging two-year-old horses in the intensive physical conditioning required to prepare for competitive racing is a bit like asking a 13-year-old child to perform at the peak of their athletic potential. Such efforts may help to build physical strength and stamina, but intensive training may have long-term, negative consequences.

This comparison isn’t a perfect one, as it doesn’t fully highlight the physical maturation patterns of horses. But it does give a sense of the physical status of two-year-old racehorses and their vulnerabilities.

If yearlings are vulnerable, why do we race them?

Yearlings aren’t necessarily faster or more successful than older racehorses, despite the bone conditioning effects outlined earlier. Research suggests peak speed is usually reached at 4.5 years of age.

So if two-year-old horses are not faster and may be at increased risk of injury, why race them at all?

One simple justification is the younger a horse begins its racing career, the earlier the owner and any investors will receive financial returns, with greater potential return on investment across the horse’s career.


Read more: 10 reasons to stop whipping racehorses, including new research revealing the likely pain it causes


An early return on investment may be offset if the longevity of the horse’s career is curtailed. So, if financial prerogatives rest at the heart of horse racing, early financial returns may be seen as justifying the risks. If animal welfare is core to the sport, however, financial considerations lose their relevance.

Given the generous prize money currently on offer in many two-year-old horse races, such as the A$2 million at Magic Millions, and the inherent uncertainty around the longevity of any racehorse, owners may choose to race juvenile horses.

The Conversation reached out to Magic Millions, but the race declined to comment on the arguments in this article.

A horse’s peak speed is usually reached at 4.5 years of age. Magic Millions/Twitter

What can be done?

The racing industry and the general public must carefully consider the sustainability of racing two-year-old horses. Some say the practice should be banned. But evidence to support a ban is inconclusive, so the move is unlikely.

Instead, incentives for racing young horses should be reduced. This could mean lowering prize money for, or banning gambling on, two-year-old races.


Read more: Over 20% of Australian horses race with their tongues tied to their lower jaw


An independent veterinarian should evaluate a horse’s legs and spine before it begins its racing career, and routinely check these things until it turns four, as a compulsory practice.

There’s also scope for more research into new technologies to monitor horses with veterinary assistance. Any technological advancements should be used as early as possible to detect physiological abnormalities that might impact a horse’s welfare.

There is no one prescribed training regime for racehorses in Australia, and there are perils of a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Still, given what we know about the physical vulnerabilities of two-year-old racehorses, some regulations may be helpful in reforming the sport.

Many age-related reforms would be relatively simple to enforce, if the racing community is prepared to make animal welfare its core priority.


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


ref. Racing 2-year-old horses is lucrative, but is it worth the risks? – https://theconversation.com/racing-2-year-old-horses-is-lucrative-but-is-it-worth-the-risks-152228

The nuclear weapons ban treaty is groundbreaking, even if the nuclear powers haven’t signed

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Tilman Ruff, Honorary Principal Fellow, School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne

Today, many around the world will celebrate the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty to enter into force in 50 years.

The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was adopted at the United Nations in 2017 and finally reached the milestone of 50 ratifications in October. The countries that have signed and ratified include Austria, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Nigeria and Thailand.

The treaty completes the suite of international bans on all major weapons considered unacceptable because of their indiscriminate and inhumane effects, including anti-personnel landmines, cluster munitions, biological and chemical weapons.

The countries that have signed the TPNW were fed up with over half a century of the nuclear-armed states flouting their obligation to rid the world of their weapons. They have asserted the interests of humanity and global democracy in a way the nuclear-armed states were powerless to stop.

It is certainly long overdue for the most cruel and destructive weapons of all — nuclear weapons — to be banned. But this treaty is a sign of hope — a necessary and important step toward a less destructive planet.


Read more: ‘I still cannot get over it’: 75 years after Japan atomic bombs, a nuclear weapons ban treaty is finally realised


What will the treaty do?

The aim of the treaty is a comprehensive and categorical ban of nuclear weapons. It binds signatories not to develop, test, produce, acquire, have control of, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons.

States also cannot “assist, encourage or induce” anyone to engage in any activity prohibited under the treaty — essentially anything to do with nuclear weapons.

The TPNW strengthens the current nuclear safeguards found in the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons by requiring all states that join to have comprehensive provisions in place and not allowing states to weaken their existing safeguards.

The treaty provides the first legally binding multilateral framework for a process by which all nations can work toward eliminating nuclear weapons.

For instance, states with another nation’s nuclear weapons stationed on their territory must remove them.

States with nuclear weapons can “destroy then join” the treaty, or “join then destroy”. They must irreversibly dismantle their weapons, as well as the programs and facilities to produce them, subject to agreed timelines and verification by an international authority.

Further, the TPNW is the first treaty to commit member nations to provide long-neglected assistance for the victims of atomic bombs and weapon testing. It also calls for nations to clean up environments contaminated by nuclear weapons use and testing, where feasible.

Visitors walk past a photo at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum showing the aftermath of the atomic bomb dropped in 1945. DAI KUROKAWA/EPA

Nuclear-armed states have been put on notice

Currently, 86 nations have signed the TPNW, and 51 have ratified it (meaning they are bound by its provisions). The treaty now becomes part of international law, and the number of signatories and ratifications will continue to grow.

However, none of the nine [nuclear powers](https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat#:~:text=The%20nuclear%2Dweapon%20states%20(NWS,nuclear%20weapons%20by%20the%20NPT.) — the US, China, Russia, France, the UK, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea — have yet signed or ratified the treaty.

Many other countries that rely on other nations’ nuclear weapons for their security, such as the 27 members of NATO, Australia, Japan and South Korea, have also not signed.

So, why does the treaty matter given these states currently oppose it? And what effect can we expect the treaty to have on them?

While any treaty is technically only binding on the states that join it, the TPNW establishes a new international legal standard against which all nuclear policies will now be judged.

The treaty, in short, is a game-changer, and the nuclear-armed and dependent countries have been put on notice. They know the treaty jeopardises their claimed right to continue to threaten the planet with their weapons, as well as their plans to modernise and maintain their nuclear arsenals indefinitely.

The strength of their opposition is a measure of the treaty’s importance. It will have implications for everything from defence policies and military plans to weapons manufacturing to financial investments in the companies that profit from making now illegal nuclear weapons.

For example, a growing number of banks, pension funds and insurance companies around the world are now divesting from companies that build nuclear weapons.

These include the Norwegian Pension Fund (the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund), ABP (Europe’s largest pension fund), Deutsche Bank, Belgium’s largest bank KBC, Resona Holdings, Kyushu Financial Group and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group in Japan, and the Japanese insurance companies Nippon Life, Dai-ichi Life, Meiji-Yasuda and Fukoku Mutual.


Read more: Ban the bomb: 70 years on, the nuclear threat looms as large as ever


A ‘dangerous’ belief nuclear weapons enhance security

Would joining the treaty mean nations like Australia, Japan, South Korea and NATO members would have to end their military cooperation with nuclear-armed states like the US?

No. There is nothing in the TPNW that prevents military cooperation with a nuclear-armed state, provided nuclear weapons activities are excluded.

Countries like New Zealand and Kazakhstan have already demonstrated that joining the treaty is fully compatible with ongoing military cooperation with, respectively, the US and Russia.

In a recent letter urging their governments to join the treaty, 56 former presidents, prime ministers and defence and foreign ministers from these nations said

By claiming protection from nuclear weapons, we are promoting the dangerous and misguided belief that nuclear weapons enhance security.

As states parties, we could remain in alliances with nuclear-armed states, as nothing in the treaty itself nor in our respective defence pacts precludes that.

But we would be legally bound never under any circumstances to assist or encourage our allies to use, threaten to use or possess nuclear weapons. Given the very broad popular support in our countries for disarmament, this would be an uncontroversial and much-lauded move.

The signatories include two former NATO secretaries-general, Willy Claes and Javier Solana.

Ban treaties have been proven to work with other outlawed weapons — landmines, cluster munitions and biological and chemical weapons. They have provided the basis and motivation for progressive efforts to control and eliminate these weapons. They are now significantly less produced, deployed and used, even by states that haven’t joined the treaties.

We can achieve the same result with nuclear weapons. As Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow said at the UN after the treaty was adopted,

This is the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.

ref. The nuclear weapons ban treaty is groundbreaking, even if the nuclear powers haven’t signed – https://theconversation.com/the-nuclear-weapons-ban-treaty-is-groundbreaking-even-if-the-nuclear-powers-havent-signed-153197

Keith Rankin Chart Analysis – Covid-19: Italy and Brazil – Three Perspectives

Two Large Waves versus One Tsunami. Chart by Keith Rankin.

Analysis by Keith Rankin.

Two Large Waves versus One Tsunami. Chart by Keith Rankin.
Two Large Waves versus One Tsunami. Chart by Keith Rankin.

With Covid19, Italy shows the classic European pattern, with its early outbreak, substantial recovery thanks to lockdowns and other public health measures, and resurgence thanks to complacency and summer mingling.

Brazil, on the other hand, shows a pattern, even more extreme than the USA, of an outbreak that did not go away. Brazil has been above case magnitude 4 for almost the entire time from the beginning of June to the present.

Looking through a Rear-View Mirror. Chart by Keith Rankin.
Looking through a Rear-View Mirror. Chart by Keith Rankin.

The arithmetic scale does convey the true scale of these countries’ outbreaks. But only after the event. For Italy, while the exponential decline after the first wave was slower than the initial exponential increase, the chart gives the impression that Covid19 was all but eliminated in Italy during the northern summer. (The earlier chart for Italy shows that exponential growth of cases in Italy recommenced in July.) This ‘rear-view’ chart shows that the second wave in Italy had more cases, and that the period of high deaths lasted longer, and indeed refused to go away over the Christmas New Year period.

In Brazil the case rates and death rates never came close to Italy’s peaks. What we do see is a late second wave that is still in full swing, and is almost certainly due to an unwary Brazil importing the North Atlantic “second wave”, much as it had imported the “first wave”. Brazil never had the winter conditions associated with the rapid outbreaks in the northern countries. Rather, it just kept the door open to the SARS-Cov2 virus.

We might note that, for New Zealand, and using the same scale, all of the data series would show as straight lines along the bottom axis of the chart.

Death rates about or above one person in a thousand. Chart by Keith Rankin.
Death rates about or above one person in a thousand. Chart by Keith Rankin.

The final pair of charts shows that both countries have had substantially worse death experiences from Covid19 than the world average. 25 percent of Italians have, or have had, Covid19; and 0.15% have died from Covid19. Thanks to Italy’s well reported recovery statistics, this cumulative chart, which uses the logarithmic scale ‘orders of magnitude’, also show’s both the waves of infection that were shown in the previous charts.

The cumulative chart for Brazil shows a substantial delay, compared to Italy. But the Brazilian chart never flattened out. Twenty percent of Brazilians have or have had Covid19. One in a thousand Brazilians (over 200,000 people) have died from Covid19; equivalent to 5,000 deaths in New Zealand. So, even in Brazil, the impact of Covid19 so far has only been about fifteen percent of the impact of the 1918 Black Flu in New Zealand (10,000 deaths at a time in which the New Zealand population was about a million and a half people).

How much worse will Covid19 get in these (and other) countries? It all depends on the effectiveness of the vaccines now available, and whether the virus becomes less lethal as it becomes more virulent (as many viruses have done). My sense is that, say by 2025, and in most countries, those people today who are able to get free annual influenza injections will also be offered free coronavirus injections. These vaccines may even give recipients some protection from the common cold. And that others, mainly younger people, will be exposed routinely to coronaviruses – no longer novel – in much the same way that they are exposed to other seasonal viruses. It will mean that younger people will experience increased incidence of Long Covid, in much the same way that we already accept similar conditions such as ‘Tapanui Flu’ and Glandular Fever.

An Indigenous ‘Voice’ must be enshrined in our Constitution. Here’s why

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Gabrielle Appleby, Professor, UNSW Law School, UNSW

This year has already seen significant progress in the government’s commitment to establish a body – a “Voice” – that would allow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have a say when the government and parliament make decisions and laws that affect them.

In pursuing that Voice, it has released the Interim Report to the Australian Government on Indigenous Voice Co-Design Process. This latest report is anchored in the historic Uluru Statement from the Heart, which called for “the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution”.

However, concerns have emerged from those involved in the co-design process and public law experts that the Uluru Statement’s call for constitutional enshrinement – or protection – of the Voice, is going unheeded.


Read more: ‘A worthwhile project’: why two chief justices support the Voice to parliament, and why that matters


What does constitutional enshrinement mean?

To say the Voice is “constitutionally enshrined” does not mean all of the detail of its design is put into the Constitution. It also does not mean it can only be with a referendum.

Rather, it means the core function of the Voice should be included in the Constitution, alongside a power enabling the Commonwealth parliament to determine its composition, powers and procedures in legislation.

As former Chief Justice of Australia Murray Gleeson explained, the Voice would be “constitutionally entrenched but legislatively controlled”.

This establishes a balance between a constitutional protection of the Voice while allowing it to be adapted to future circumstances.

The latest report is anchored in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. ulurustatement.org

Why hasn’t the government committed to it yet?

In 2018, a parliamentary committee considering proposals for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people concluded that a Voice was the only serious reform proposal on the table. This is unsurprising.

An increasing majority of Australians want to change the Constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The government has committed to holding a referendum to do just this.

Successive processes have emphasised how important it is that the form of recognition accord with the wishes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Through the process that led to the Uluru Statement, a constitutionally enshrined Voice is the only reform that has garnered the collective endorsement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


Read more: Ken Wyatt’s proposed ‘voice to government’ marks another failure to hear Indigenous voices


However, the parliamentary committee recommended more detail be added to the concept of the Voice before a decision was made as to whether it be constitutionally protected or established only through legislation.

This “two-stage” approach is the genesis of the government’s current process. The government has appointed three groups to assist it to develop the detail of what a Voice would look like and how it could work. The interim report is almost 400 pages. Public submissions are open until the end of March. The working groups have undertaken significant work in the lead up to this consultation. Some matters of design appear relatively settled in the report; others have been narrowed down to a couple of options for feedback.

The terms of reference for the national Voice specifically excluded making recommendations about constitutional recognition. This accords with the committee’s advice to do more work on the design first, before deciding about whether to constitutionally protect the Voice.

Nonetheless, they have invited comment on this issue by stating their model fulfils the function of being a Voice to both the parliament and government.

The Voice will need constitutional enshrinement to properly perform its role. AAP/Mick Tsikas

Why the government must commit to constitutional enshrinement

The government’s attempt to defer deciding whether the Voice will be constitutionally protected has received a large amount of push-back. For instance, late last year, it was reported the national working group was divided on whether it could finalise its work without making a recommendation about constitutional protection.

In a submission to the co-design process, more than 40 public law experts from across Australia have argued that if the government is serious about establishing a Voice with the objective of providing the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to the government and parliament, it must commit to it being protected in the Constitution. Without constitutional enshrinement, the Voice will not have legitimacy. It will not be able to achieve its objectives and perform its functions.

The interim report gives the Voice the right and responsibility on behalf of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to advise parliament and the government on matters of national significance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Its success in doing this will turn on the legitimacy and authority of the Voice, and how seriously its role is taken by parliament and the government.

Constitutional enshrinement will require a referendum, which will educate Australians on the role of the Voice, and provide their endorsement of it. A Voice simply established by legislation, without this public support, runs the real risk of being ignored or abolished by parliament. Constitutional enshrinement also confers constitutional status on the Voice, which signals that it is a foundational institution, establishing its legitimacy into the future.


Read more: Constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians must involve structural change, not mere symbolism


To perform its role, the Voice will also need constitutional protection to give it stability and certainty, while still allowing for flexibility in its design into the future. Constitutional protection is needed to prevent the parliament from abolishing the Voice. It also prevents chilling of its performance because it faces the on-going possibility of abolition.

Constitutional enshrinement is vital for the Voice’s effectiveness. The possibility that a decision on constitutional enshrinement might be put off until after the Voice is designed, or even until after it is initially established by legislation, risks enshrinement from occurring in the future.

Indeed, legislating first would dissipate the current popular momentum for constitutional enshrinement of the Voice, and likely set it up to fail.

ref. An Indigenous ‘Voice’ must be enshrined in our Constitution. Here’s why – https://theconversation.com/an-indigenous-voice-must-be-enshrined-in-our-constitution-heres-why-153635

To publish or not to publish? The media’s free-speech dilemmas in a world of division, violence and extremism

ANALYSIS: By Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

Terrorism, political extremism, Donald Trump, social media and the phenomenon of “cancel culture” are confronting journalists with a range of agonising free-speech dilemmas to which there are no easy answers.

Do they allow a president of the United States to use their platforms to falsely and provocatively claim the election he has just lost was stolen from him?

How do they cover the activities and rhetoric of political extremists without giving oxygen to race hate and civil insurrection?

How do they integrate news-making social media material into their own content, when it is also hateful or a threat to the civil peace?

Should journalists engage in, or take a stand against, “cancel culture”?

How should editors respond to the “assassin’s veto”, when extremists threaten to kill those who publish content that offends their culture or religion?

The West has experienced concrete examples of all these in recent years. In the US, many of them became pressing during the Trump presidency.

Lying and endangering civil peace
When five of the big US television networks cut away from former President Trump’s White House press conference on November 6 after he claimed the election had been stolen, they did so on the grounds that he was lying and endangering civil peace.

Silencing the president was an extraordinary step, since it is the job of the media to tell people what is going on, hold public officials to account, and uphold the right to free speech. It looked like an abandonment of their role in democratic life.

Against that, television’s acknowledged reach and power imposes a heavy duty not to provide a platform for dangerous speech.

Then on January 6 – two months later to the day – after yet more incitement from Trump, a violent mob laid siege to the Capitol and five people lost their lives. The networks’ decision looked prescient.

They had acted on the principle that a clear and present danger to civil peace, based on credible evidence, should be prioritised over commitments to informing the public, holding public officials to account and freedom of speech.

This case also raised a further dilemma. Even if the danger to peace did not exist, should journalists just go on reporting – or broadcasting – known lies, even when they come from the president of the United States?

Newspaper editors and producers of pre-recorded radio and television content have the time to report lies while simultaneously calling them out as lies. Live radio and television do not. The words are out and the damage is done.

So the medium, the nature and size of the risk, how the informational and accountability functions of journalism are prioritised against the risk, and the free-speech imperative all play into these decisions.

Former President Donald Trump
Should the media report known lies, even if uttered by the president of the United States? Image: AAP/EPA/White House handout

Similar considerations arise in respect of reporting political extremism.

The ABC’s Four Corners programme is about to embark on a story about the alt-right in the US. Having advertised this in a promotional tweet, the ABC received some social media blow-back raising the question of why it would give oxygen to these groups.

The influence of the alt-right on Western politics is a matter of real public interest because of the way it shapes political rhetoric and policy responses, particular on race and immigration.

To not report on this phenomenon because it pursues a morally reprehensible ideology would be to fail the ethical obligation of journalism to tell the community about the important things that are going on in the world.

It is not a question of whether to report, but how.

The Four Corners programme will not be live to air. There will be opportunity for judicious editing. Journalists are under no obligation to report everything they are told. In fact they almost never do.

Motive matters
Whether the decision to omit is censorship comes down to motive: is it censorship to omit hate speech or incitement to violence? No. Because the reporter doesn’t agree with it? Yes.

Integrating social media content into professional mass media news presents all these complexities and one more: what is called the news value of “virality”.

Does the fact something has gone viral on social media make it news? For the more responsible professional mass media, something more will usually be needed.

Does the subject matter affect large numbers of people? Is it inherently significant in some way? Does it involve some person who is in a position of authority or public trust?

Trump’s use of Twitter was an exploitation of these decision-rules, but did not invalidate them.

Social media is also the means by which “cancel culture” works. It enables large numbers of people to join a chorus of condemnation against someone for something they have said or done.

It also puts pressure on institutions such as universities or media outlets to shun them.

How voiceless can exert influence
It has become a means by which the otherwise powerless or voiceless can exert influence over people or organisations that would otherwise be beyond their reach.

There are those who are worried about the effects on free speech. In July 2020, Harper’s magazine published a letter of protest signed by 152 authors, academics, journalists, artists, poets, playwrights and critics.

While applauding the intentions behind “cancel culture” in advancing racial and social justice, they raised their voices against what they saw as a new set of moral attitudes that tended to favour ideological conformity.

In the aftermath of the police killings of black people in 2020 and the law-and-order response of the Trump administration, “cancel culture” began to affect journalism ethics. Some journalists on papers such as The Washington Post and The New York Times began taking public positions against the way their papers were reporting race issues.

Black Lives Matter
In the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter protests, some journalists began to question how their papers covered race issues. Image: AAP/AP/Evan Vucci

It led to a lively debate in the profession about the extent to which moral preferences should shape news decisions. The riposte to those who argued that they should, was: whose moral preferences should prevail?

This was yet another illustration of the complexities surrounding free speech issues arising from the social media phenomenon, the Trump presidency and the combination of the two.

Terrorism added contribution
Terrorism has also added its contribution. Over the decade 2005-2015, what became known as the Danish cartoons confronted journalists and editors with life-and-death decisions.

In 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten (Jutland Post) published cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammed. It was a conscious act of defiance against “the assassin’s veto”, violent threats to free speech by Islamist-jihadis.

In 2009, a Danish-born professor of politics wrote a book, The Cartoons that Shook the World. Yale University Press, which published it, refused to re-publish the cartoons after having taken advice from counter-terrorism experts about the risks.

In November 2011, the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo published an issue called Charia Hebdo, satirically featuring the Prophet as editor. The real editor was placed on an Al-Qaeda hit list and in January 2015, two masked gunmen opened fire on the newspaper office, killing 12 people, including the editor.

The world’s media were confronted with the decision whether to re-publish the cartoons again in defiance of “the assassin’s veto”. Some did, but most – including Jyllands Posten – did not.

The necessary limits of free speech
Free speech is an indispensable civil right under assault from all these forces. But none of the philosophers whose names we immediately associate with free speech have claimed it to be absolute.

The social media platforms, having for years proclaimed themselves extreme libertarians, have in recent times begun to recognise this is indefensible, and strengthened their moderating procedures.

Some of Australia’s senior politicians seem baffled by the issue.

When Twitter shut down Trump’s account, acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack did not seem to know where he stood, saying in one breath it was a violation of free speech to shut down Trump while in the next that Twitter should also take down the false image of an Australian soldier slitting the throat of an Afghan child.

And he is a former country newspaper editor.

This was followed by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s remark that he was “uncomfortable” with the Twitter decision. He quoted Voltaire as saying something Voltaire never said: the famous line that while he disagreed with what someone said, he would defend to the death his right to say it. It was a fabrication put into Voltaire’s mouth by a biographer more than 100 years after his death.

Voltaire, Milton, Spinoza, Locke and Mill, to say nothing of the US Supreme Court, have not regarded free speech as an absolute right.

So while the media face some extremely difficult decisions in today’s operating environment, they do not need to burden themselves with the belief that every decision not to publish is the violation of an inviolable right.The Conversation

By Dr Denis Muller, senior research fellow, Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Why are Japan’s leaders clinging to their Olympic hopes? Their political fortunes depend on it

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Craig Mark, Professor, Faculty of International Studies, Kyoritsu Women’s University

With the spread of COVID-19 steadily worsening in Japan since the onset of winter — daily records for infections and deaths continue to be broken — the fate of the Tokyo Summer Olympics is again very much in doubt.

This week, former International Olympic Committee vice-president Kevan Gosper caused consternation in Japan when he suggested the United Nations might have to decide whether the Olympics and Paralympics can go ahead this year.

Japanese medical experts are also increasingly uncertain about the feasibility of the games being held. Even if vaccinations proceed around the world, it would still be extremely risky to allow in over 15,000 foreign athletes, plus tens of thousands of coaches, officials, sponsors and members of the media.

The Japanese public seems to agree. A recent poll by public broadcaster NHK showed 77% of those surveyed want the Tokyo Games either cancelled or postponed again.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has nevertheless reaffirmed the government’s determination to hold the Olympics beginning on July 23. In his opening speech for the first session in the Japanese parliament on Monday, Suga vowed the government would bring the pandemic under control as soon as possible.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga delivers his policy speech in parliament this week. Nanako Sudo/AP

So, why is the government clinging to the hopes of holding the Olympics in the face of such challenges — and what are the potential costs?

Suga’s leadership is off to a bad start

Put simply, Suga’s political fortunes depend on it. If the Tokyo Olympics are cancelled, his premiership is almost certainly doomed and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party would no doubt face a harsher electoral challenge from the more organised opposition parties.

It has been a rough start for Suga since he took over from Shinzo Abe last September, largely due to his poor handling of the pandemic.


Read more: Yoshihide Suga – who is the man set to be Japan’s next prime minister?


The conservative LDP government has consistently prioritised the economy over public health. With the backing of the Japan Business Federation, the powerful lobby group of Japan’s large corporations, for instance, Suga continued Abe’s “Go To Travel” campaign, which subsidised domestic tourism and support for the hospitality sector. He reluctantly suspended the program last month after it was blamed for spreading COVID-19 around the country.

Suga has also resisted taking stronger action to control the pandemic. He was finally forced to yield to pressure from local leaders and reintroduce a state of emergency for the Tokyo metropolitan region on January 7. This has since been expanded to other major urban areas, covering half of Japan’s population until at least February 7.

But this is less extensive than the month-long national state of emergency declared last April. The new measures still rely on voluntary cooperation by the public and businesses, with people being urged to stay home, and restaurants and bars asked to close by 8pm. Because the restrictions are not mandatory, some restaurants have started to break ranks.

The Tokyo government is requesting people stay home.
As coronavirus cases continue to spike, the Tokyo government has requested people to refrain from nonessential outings. Kunihiko Miura/AP

Legislation is being considered in the Diet to introduce penalties such as imprisonment or fines for non-compliant individuals and businesses, but opposition parties have objected to any punitive enforcement measures.

The Suga government has also been criticised for a relatively low rate of testing, poor contact tracing and the slow roll-out of a vaccine, which is not due to start until the end of February.

To counter these concerns, Suga has appointed the ambitious administrative reform minister Taro Kono to take charge of distributing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the entire population.

One in six people in ‘relative poverty’

The economy has not been faring much better. While the official unemployment rate is around 3%, at least half a million Japanese have lost their jobs in the past six months. One in six are considered to be in “relative poverty”, with incomes less than half the national median.

About 40% of workers are employed in lower-wage, non-regular jobs, especially in the service industries, and have been the most vulnerable in the pandemic-related recession. Women, in particular, have been hit hard.

While the economy showed signs of growth in the last six months, it is expected to slow down again in the first quarter of 2021 before stabilising. However, the IMF is expecting a “gradual recovery” for the year, thanks to stimulus measures implemented by the government.


Read more: Why haven’t the Olympics been cancelled from coronavirus? That’s the A$20bn question


The Olympics loom over upcoming elections

Hosting the Olympics has always held an immense amount of political prestige, so failing to do so would be yet another blemish for the new government and could doom its prospects in the next national election, due by October 21.

Suga will also face another ballot for his party leadership on September 30. There are some rumours that a power-broker in the party, Toshihiro Nikai, could withdraw his support for Suga in favour of another candidate. One name being floated as a possible replacement is [Seiko Noda][https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/01/03/national/politics-diplomacy/suga-leadership-longevity/], who could become the first female prime minister of Japan if this came to pass.

If the Olympics are cancelled, this would also have major implications for the popular Tokyo governor, Yuriko Koike, a fierce backer of the games. She was re-elected in a landslide last year, but her party could suffer in local elections this July if the games don’t go ahead.

Then there is the financial cost to the country. After the postponement last March, the official cost of the games rose by 22% to US$15.4 billion, though audits by the government have shown the true cost to be $25 billion.

The government, too, is responsible for all of the costs, with the exception of $6.7 billion in a privately funded operating budget.

This would add to the huge fiscal deficit and public debt the government has run up due to its stimulus spending to counter the pandemic. The draft budget submitted to the Diet this week was estimated at a record 106.6 trillion yen, or US$1 trillion.


Read more: Sweden and Japan are paying the price for COVID exceptionalism


The Olympic torch relay is due to start in Fukushima on March 25, which presents a deadline for a final decision on whether the games can proceed.

The IOC has said the Olympics cannot be delayed any further and will have to be cancelled if they cannot begin safely in July.

Unless the Suga government can quickly tackle the pandemic more effectively, it may soon find hosting the games has slipped beyond its control — and its political fate along with it.

ref. Why are Japan’s leaders clinging to their Olympic hopes? Their political fortunes depend on it – https://theconversation.com/why-are-japans-leaders-clinging-to-their-olympic-hopes-their-political-fortunes-depend-on-it-153533

4 of our greatest achievements in vaccine science (that led to COVID vaccines)

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Adam Taylor, Early Career Research Leader, Emerging Viruses, Inflammation and Therapeutics Group, Menzies Health Institute Queensland, Griffith University

All eyes are on COVID-19 vaccines, with Australia’s first expected to be approved for use shortly.

But their development in record time, without compromising on safety, wouldn’t have been possible without the development of other vaccines before them.

These existing vaccines are some of the greatest achievements of medical science, preventing the spread of infectious disease, saving millions of lives around the world each year.

Here’s what we’ve learned from other vaccines over the past 200 years or so that allowed us to go from discovery of the virus we now know as SARS-CoV-2, to regulatory approval in some countries in less than a year.

1. Smallpox

Vaccination as we know it started over 200 years ago. Edward Jenner, an English physician, noticed people exposed to cowpox virus, which caused only mild illness, were protected from the severe disease caused by smallpox.

Cowpox and smallpox are part of the poxvirus family. Both share characteristics the immune system recognises. By inoculating people with cowpox, Jenner produced cross-protection against smallpox infection.

With successive development of smallpox vaccines, in 1979 smallpox became the first human infectious disease to be eradicated by vaccination.


Read more: A short history of vaccine objection, vaccine cults and conspiracy theories


2. Polio

Poliovirus is a highly infectious virus that spreads through close contact with infected people, particularly in areas with poor hygiene. Infection can lead to paralysis, typically affecting infants.

The first widely used polio vaccines were developed in the 1950s using newly available methods, known as tissue culture, to grow the virus in the lab.

Tissue culture allowed researchers to grow and inactivate poliovirus, or grow a live form of the virus that was attenuated (or weakened), to form the basis of vaccines that could be given orally. These were distributed in the late 50s.

Researchers still use variants of these early tissue culture techniques to research and develop vaccines today.

The success of mass vaccination in developed countries led to the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Poliovirus is now close to global eradication with only two countries (Afghanistan and Pakistan) reporting low numbers of new infections.


Read more: Explainer: ridding the world of polio


3. Measles

The measles virus is highly contagious, and is spread by through the air when someone coughs and sneezes, as well as via direct contact with fluid from a person’s coughs or sneezes.

Before the development of a measles vaccine in 1963, measles was one of the most lethal infectious agents, causing an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year.

In Australia, the vaccine can be given with mumps, rubella and varicella (chickenpox) vaccines to give the combination MMRV vaccine.

Measles virus illustration showing surface spikes
Measles virus killed millions of people each year before there was a vaccine. www.shutterstock.com

Global action to eliminate measles via vaccination resulted in a 73% drop in measles deaths worldwide between 2000 and 2018.

Despite this, global coverage of measles vaccines is not enough to prevent outbreaks. Deaths from measles rose from 140,000 in 2018 to 207,500 in 2019.

And in many countries, including Australia, measles outbreaks continue to occur in areas where vaccination rates have fallen.

Engineered versions of the measles vaccine are now being developed to deliver pieces of other viruses, including dengue and HIV, into the body to generate a protective immune response.


Read more: Measles in Samoa: how a small island nation found itself in the grips of an outbreak disaster


4. Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough)

Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (or whooping cough) are three separate diseases all caused by different bacteria.

Inactivated toxins produced by these bacteria, and pieces of the bacteria that are safe and mount an effective immune response, have been used since the 1940s in combination to vaccinate against all three diseases.

The diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP) vaccine was the first combination vaccine. In other words, it was the first vaccine to prevent against multiple diseases. Combination vaccines continue to provide benefits to immunisation schedules by reducing the number of injections required.

These DTP combination vaccines are part of the Australian National Immunisation Program Schedule, and further vaccines have since been added to the mix.

DTP vaccines can now be delivered as a single injection with Haemophilus influenzae type b and poliovirus vaccine. Other combination DTP-based vaccines are also available.


Read more: Vaccines to expect when you’re expecting, and why


Which brings us to COVID-19

On January 10, 2020, Chinese and Australian scientists provided open access to the newly discovered genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus we now know as SARS-CoV-2.

Australian scientist Eddie Holmes then tweeted a link to the SARS-CoV-2 genome:

This simple act of open science kick-started vaccine development at a rapid pace. On December 2, less than a year later, the Pfizer vaccine became the first fully-tested COVID-19 vaccine to be approved for emergency use, in the UK.


Read more: What do we know about the Novavax and Pfizer COVID vaccines that Australia just signed up for?


What’s next?

Despite extensive efforts to develop vaccines, diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis still kill millions of people each year.

As we enter the next generation of vaccine design, we can look forward to trialling technologies such as mRNA vaccines, which clinical trials show to be successful against COVID-19, to combat other diseases of global importance.


Read more: COVID-19 isn’t the only infectious disease scientists are trying to find a vaccine for. Here are 3 others


ref. 4 of our greatest achievements in vaccine science (that led to COVID vaccines) – https://theconversation.com/4-of-our-greatest-achievements-in-vaccine-science-that-led-to-covid-vaccines-153307

Wetlands have saved Australia $27 billion in storm damage over the past five decades

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Obadiah Mulder, PhD Candidate in Computational Biology, University of Southern California

Australia is in the midst of tropical cyclone season. As we write, a cyclone is forming off Western Australia’s Pilbara coast, and earlier in the week Queenslanders were bracing for a cyclone in the state’s far north (which thankfully, didn’t hit).

Australia has always experienced cyclones. But here and around the world, climate change means the cyclone threat is growing – and so too is the potential damage bill.

Our recent research shows 54 cyclones struck Australia in the 50 years between 1967 and 2016, causing about A$3 billion in damage. We found the damages would have totalled approximately A$30 billion, if not for coastal wetlands.

Wetlands such as mangroves, swamps, lakes and lagoons bear the brunt of much storm damage to coast, helping protect us and our infrastructure. But over the past 300 years, 85% of the world’s wetland area has been destroyed. It’s clear we must urgently preserve the precious little wetland area we have left.

A wetland close to coastal development.
Wetland areas provide important protection from cyclones. Shutterstock

A critical buffer

National disasters cost Australia as much as A$18 billion each year on average. About one-quarter of this is due to cyclone damage.

Wetlands can mitigate cyclone and hurricane damage, by absorbing storm surges and slowing winds. For example in August 2020, Hurricane Laura hit the United States’ midwest. Massive damage was predicted, including a 6.5-metre storm surge extending 65 kilometres inland.

However the surge was one metre at most – largely because the storm drove straight into a massive wetland that absorbed most of the predicted flood.

In Australia, wetlands are lost through intentional infilling or drainage for mosquito control, or to create land for infrastructure and agriculture. They’re also lost due to pollution and upstream changes to water flows.

Caley Valley Wetlands, next to Adani's Abbot Point coal terminal.
Australia’s wetlands are at risk. Pictured is the Caley Valley Wetlands, next to Adani’s Abbot Point coal terminal. Adani was fined for releasing polluted water into the wetland. Gary Farr/ACF

Putting a price on cyclone protection

Our research set out to determine the financial value of the storm protection provided by Australia’s wetlands.

We examined the 54 cyclones that struck Australia in the five decades to 2016. We gathered data including:

  • physical damage wrought in each storm swath (or storm path)
  • gross domestic product (GDP) in the storm’s path
  • maximum windspeed during each storm, which helps predict damage
  • total area of wetlands in each swath.

Using a powerful type of statistics called Bayesian analysis, we estimated the extent to which GDP, windspeed and wetland area affected total damage. This allowed us to estimate damage caused in the absence of wetlands.

We found for every hectare of wetland, about A$4,200 per year in cyclone damage was avoided. This means the A$3 billion in cyclone damage over the past 50 years would have totalled approximately A$30 billion, if not for coastal wetlands.


Read more: Restoring a gem in the Murray-Darling Basin: the success story of the Winton Wetlands


Importantly, the percentage of damage averted falls rapidly as wetland area decreases. And the protection afforded by a single hectare of wetland increases drastically if there are fewer other wetlands in the path of the storm. This makes protecting remaining wetland even more critical.

If the average cyclone path in Australia were to contain around 30,000 hectares of wetlands, it would avert about 90% of potential storm damage. If the wetland area dropped to 3,000 hectares, only about 30% of damage would be averted.

Climate change is making cyclones worse. By 2050, Australia’s annual damage bill could be as high as A$39 billion, assuming current levels of wetlands are maintained.

Seawalls and other artificial structures can be built along the coast to protect from storms. However, research in China has found wetlands are more cost-effective and efficient than man-made structures at preventing cyclone damage.

Unlike man-made structures, wetlands maintain themselves. Their only “cost” is the opportunity cost of not being able to use the land for something else.

People inspect cyclone damage
Wetlands can help prevent cyclone damage, such as this wrought in Queensland during Cyclone Debbie in 2017. Dan Peled/AAP

Keeping wetlands safe

According to recent analysis by the authors, which is currently under peer review, global wetlands provide US$447 billion (A$657 billion) worth of protection from storms each year.

Of course, wetlands provide benefits beyond storm protection. They store carbon, regulate our climate and control flooding. They also absorb waste including pollutants and carbon, provide animal habitat and places for human recreation.

Wetlands are an incredibly important resource. It’s critical we protect them from development and keep them healthy, so they can continue to provide vital services.


Read more: Our new model shows Australia can expect 11 tropical cyclones this season


ref. Wetlands have saved Australia $27 billion in storm damage over the past five decades – https://theconversation.com/wetlands-have-saved-australia-27-billion-in-storm-damage-over-the-past-five-decades-153638

Back to school: how to help your teen get enough sleep

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Lynette Vernon, School of Education – VC Research Fellow, Edith Cowan University

When the holidays end, barring a fresh outbreak of COVID-19, teenagers across Australia will head back to school. Some will bounce out of bed well before the alarm goes off, excited to start a new school year, but many others will drag themselves to the shower or reach for caffeine to shake themselves awake.

Many will not have had enough sleep to tackle the trials and tribulations of their new school day.


Read more: 5 tips to help ease your child back into school mode after the holidays


I remember back to my days as a high school science teacher, when some of my students started falling asleep in class. My immediate thoughts were: have I lost my touch? Am I that boring?

Over-tiredness can also lead to misbehaviour. One of my usually good kids filled a disposable glove with water and hurled it around her head spraying water and ruining the work of other students. An investigation determined a string of very late nights perusing social media and texting friends. It was possible her over-tiredness led to an inability to regulate her behaviour.

How phones close to bed affect sleep

With widespread school closures of 2020, and a reduction of face-to-face contact in 2020, teenagers used mobile phones more frequently to engage with their peers and online learning.

Teenagers need friendship networks to help them cope with stress and foster resilience.

Teens use devices to keep up to date with their friends’ activities on social media, or they may connect with a mate for an online gaming session, or phone a friend. Just like their parents, when teens aren’t connecting with their friends they are likely to use their smartphone like a mini-computer to stream videos and TV, listen to music, shop or catch up on news.

Of concern is that many of these activities occur into the night and in the confines of the teenager’s bedroom. This may not be a worry in the holidays when teens can sleep in but getting enough good quality sleep can be challenging when they have to be somewhere first thing in the morning.


Read more: Why screen time before bed is bad for children


Unfortunately, the constant use of technology can be at the expense of sleep with many teens missing out regularly on the required 8-10 hours a night.

Using a mobile phone into the night not only displaces sleep. Viewing screen-light also suppresses melatonin (the natural hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle), and provides content that may overstimulate the brain.

For teenagers, the pathway from increased late-night screen use leading to disrupted sleep and then contributing to increased depressed mood, behaviour problems, low self-esteem and difficulty coping can become well established.

Teen girl waking up in bed and switching off alarm clock.
Purchasing an alarm clock is a good step towards helping regulate your teenager’s sleeping habits. Shutterstock

Having enough sleep means teenagers brain cells will be alert during the school day. Sleep helps with the ability to think critically, and process and store new information, so teenagers become satisfied with their achievements at school.

Enough sleep also helps ward off daytime sleepiness and provides more energy to participate in vigorous physical exercise — an activity that helps ensure a good night’s sleep in itself.

Helping your teen get a good sleep

The first thing you could do is locate or purchase an alarm clock (with no internet connection). You could then remove devices from the bedroom the night before school starts and set the alarm.

But still, teenagers’ routine of falling asleep late into the night during the holidays isn’t magically going to revert to an early bedtime.


Read more: Health Check: how can I make it easier to wake up in the morning?


On the first school night teens will probably lie awake (perhaps with heightened anxiety about their first day) and get frustrated. They will finally fall asleep, but be rudely awoken by the alarm. A grumpy start to the new year is to be avoided at all costs.

The message to teenagers and their parents is: understand the need for social connections but set curfews. Beyond setting such curfews on the phone itself, it’s important to remove it from the bedroom 30 minutes to an hour before sleep as wind-down time. Teenagers must learn to manage their own schedules by going to bed at a time that ensures when the alarm goes off they will have achieved between 8 to 10 hours sleep.

Here are some things that could make this easier:

  • at least a week before school starts, set the alarm 5-10 minutes earlier each day until the school day alarm time is reached

  • set earlier, regular bedtimes so as not to confuse the body clock

  • take all electronic devices out of all bedrooms (yes, set an example) and charge them in a place children can’t sneak out and access during the night

  • avoid caffeine, alcohol, energy drinks and large meals well before bedtime

  • exercise earlier in the day as this will increase tiredness. Make sure exercise isn’t too close to bedtime as this raises body temperature and increases cortisol (the stress hormone) making it harder for some people to fall asleep

  • try to get ahead of the problem by having conversations with your child before they reach their teens to make sure they understand the effects of not getting enough sleep

  • during the holidays, use sleep tracking apps to monitor sleep and set up the bedroom to be conducive to a good night’s sleep (no illuminated power cords, good airflow and a comfortable pillow and bedding).

ref. Back to school: how to help your teen get enough sleep – https://theconversation.com/back-to-school-how-to-help-your-teen-get-enough-sleep-153624

Biden’s economic centrism isn’t exciting, but right for these divisive times

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

In an age of hyperpartisan politics, the Biden presidency offers a welcome centrism that might help bridge the divides.

But it is also Biden’s economic centrism that offers a chance to cut through what has become an increasingly polarised approach to economic policy.

On the Republican side of politics, there is strong support for neoliberal economic policies – that is, economic policies that don’t just emphasise the importance of markets but represent a kind of free-market fanaticism. Ronald Reagan aptly expressed this view in his 1981 inaugural speech, in which he said “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem”.

On the Democratic side, the centrism of the Bill Clinton era (1993- 2001) has given way to much more left-wing policies. Indeed the democratic socialism of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been in the ascendancy for several years.

If you have any doubt about this, consider two facts.

First, Sanders came very close to being the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee in 2016. Second, the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries were dominated by candidates with similar views – such as Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party presidential primary debate held on February 7 2020.
Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party presidential primary debate held at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, on February 7 2020. Elise Amendola/AP

Biden, of course, ran on a much more centrist economic platform.

This was perhaps best captured by his approach to health care – seeking to build on Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) and insure more people, rather than adopt the “Medicare for All” policy advocated by Sanders and Warren.

In a whole range of areas Biden and his nominees for important cabinet posts have signalled the new administration’s economic policies will be responsive to the demands of the left but still be sensitive to the concerns of the right.


Read more: Who’s who in Joe Biden’s cabinet


Big spending, but within limits

One of the most important things the administration will do in its early days is to orchestrate a large spending package to help deal with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

This will include spending on the vaccine roll-out, helping schools reopen, extending unemployment insurance and cheques to households.

So the spending package is likely to be huge. But the administration is not going to spend with complete abandon and without acknowledging constraints.

As Biden’s pick for Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, said in her confirmation hearing:

Neither the president elect, nor I, proposed this release relief package without an appreciation for the country’s debt burden. But right now, with interest rates at historic lows, the smartest thing we can do is act big. In the long run, I believe the benefits will far outweigh the costs, especially if we care about helping people who’ve been struggling for a very long time.


Read more: Vital Signs: Janet Yellen, the very model of a modern Madam Secretary


Treading cautiously on health care

Sanders and others’ “Medicare for All” plan involves single-payer (i.e. the government) universal coverage and ending private health insurance. This would be similar to the approach in Scandinavia, Canada and Britain.

Biden has strongly resisted this on two fronts.

One, it would be incredibly expensive, costing US$30-40 trillion over a decade. Two, it would involve more than 150 million Americans losing their current insurance.

Instead, Biden wants to expand the Affordable Care Act with more incentives to push towards truly universal coverage. This is something Mitt Romney (the Republicans’ 2012 presidential candidate) might easily have proposed. Don’t forget that as governor of Massachusetts (from 2003 to 2007) he enacted a plan almost identical the Affordable Care Act – an idea championed by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

US President Joe Biden swears in political appointees in a virtual ceremony on January 20 2021.
US President Joe Biden swears in political appointees in a virtual ceremony on January 20 2021. Evan Vucci/AP

Likewise with tax reform

Biden’s tax plan certainly involves raising taxes but not to anywhere near the levels called for by the democratic socialist wing of his party. Nor will he embrace a wealth tax like Warren championed. Under her plan, people with assets of more than US$50 million would be taxed 2% of that amount a year (and 3% for more than US$1 billion).

But he does plan to raise the top income tax rate (on income more than US$400,000) from 37% to 39.6%. He will raise the flat 21% corporate tax rate introduced by Trump to 28%.

US companies will need to pay a minimum tax of 21% on foreign income – addressing the issue of companies avoiding taxes through legal set-ups in low-tax overseas jurisdictions (such as Apple in Ireland).

Biden will even introduce a tax penalty on companies that move jobs overseas if their products are sold in the US.

This is not a package any Republican administration would be likely to introduce. On the other hand, it falls dramatically short of what Sanders, Warren and Ocasio-Cortez want.

Responsive but responsible

The Biden economic plan is responsive to the current – almost shocking – state of the US economy. His health care and tax policies are sensitive to concerns about inequality.


Read more: Joe Biden sends a clear message to the watching world – America’s back


His approach acknowledges, rightly, that with interest rates at historic lows there is room for considerably more spending than in the past, despite already huge deficits. But it also acknowledges there are limits to what the government can or should do.

In that sense it is something even conservative Republicans ought to be able to live with – and common ground is something the US desperately needs to find.

ref. Biden’s economic centrism isn’t exciting, but right for these divisive times – https://theconversation.com/bidens-economic-centrism-isnt-exciting-but-right-for-these-divisive-times-153647

The rise and rise of Aldi: two decades that changed supermarket shopping in Australia

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Gary Mortimer, Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour, Queensland University of Technology

Twenty years ago, on January 25 2001, a virtually unknown German supermarket chain quietly opened its first stores in Australia.

The two stores – one in Sydney’s inner-west suburb of Marrickville, the other in the outer south-west, near Bankstown Airport – were small, about a quarter the size of a mainstream supermarket. Each stocked just 900 products, 90% of which were unknown brands.

Shoppers had to bring and pack their own bags themselves. To use a trolley required a “gold coin”. They didn’t seek to entice customers with “loyalty” rewards or other gimmicks.

Few Australian supermarket executives at the time would have considered them models for success. They couldn’t imagine the impact Aldi would have on Australia’s retail sector and shopping habits.

Aldi’s history

Aldi’s story began in 1913, when Anna Albrecht opened a small grocery store in 1913 in the city of Essen, western Germany.

Her two sons, Karl and Theo, took over the business after World War II. In the impoverished conditions that followed Germany’s defeat, they focused on keeping costs, and prices, low. Among their strategies were to stock only the most popular items and avoid perishable items.

By the end of the decade they had more than a dozen stores, and by the end of the 1950s more than 300.

A Karl Albrecht store in Essen, 1958. Karl was the name of Anna Albrecht's husband.
One of Karl Albrecht’s stores in Essen, 1958. Alfred Wagg Pictures/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

The brothers adopted the the name Aldi – combining the first two syllables of Albrecht Diskont (“discount” in German) – in 1961 (though accounts differ on the year).

At about the same time (again, accounts differ on the year) they had a major disagreement over whether to sell cigarettes. They resolved the dispute by splitting the business into two geographic entities: Aldi Nord (“North”), run by Theo (and selling cigarettes), and Aldi Süd (“South”), run by Karl. The split was amicable, and they managed the two divisions collaboratively.

From the late 1960s Aldi began to expand across Europe, beginning with the acquisition of Austrian grocery chain Hofer. It opened its its first US store, in Iowa City, in 1976, and its first British store, in Birmingham), in 1990.

So by the time Aldi opened its first stores in Australia, it was a booming multinational. It now has more than 10,000 stores in 20 countries, including China.


Map of Aldi stores worldwide.
Aldi stores worldwide. Aldi Nord territory is in blue, Aldi Süd in orange. LnG91/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Aldi’s growth in Australia

In coming to Australia, Aldi pounced on a gap in the grocery retail market.

The “food discounter” model had been dominated by now defunct Franklins and Bi-Lo (owned by Coles). By the late 1990s, however, these chains had messed with their “no-frills” model through attempts to go upmarket. It proved disastrous. Franklins went into terminal decline. Coles abandoned the Bi-Lo brand in 2006.

Aldi expanded quickly. By mid-2003 it had 38 stores in New South Wales and six in Victoria. By 2011, it had 251 stores. By early 2013, more than 280, and had expanded to Canberra.

It overtook the IGA group to become the third-biggest player in Australia’s supermarket sector by the end of 2013 – taking 10.3% of all grocery dollars (with Coles having 33.5% and Woolworths 39%). Its first stores in South Australia and Western Australia came in 2016.

It now has more than 500 stores and a 12.4% share of Australia’s A$110 billion food and grocery sector (according to the most recent data from Roy Morgan).


CC BY-ND

In 2020 Aldi was named Australia’s best supermarket by consumer review website Canstar Blue (the seventh time in a decade), and second-most trusted brand (after Bunnings) by Roy Morgan.

Its practices have influenced how the other supermarkets do business. In particular it has forced competitors to increase their own “private label” (or home-brand) products, introduce “phantom brands”, and promote ever-changing “special buy” general merchandise ranges.

Private and phantom labels

In 2004 private labels comprised an estimated 9% of the products Coles and Woolworths stocked. By 2019 they made up 30% of Coles’ sales. Woolworths has similarly increased its private-label range, due explicitly to pressure from Aldi’s arrival and expansion.


Read more: Love them or loathe them, private label products are taking over supermarket shelves


Notably, Aldi sells no “ALDI” branded products. Instead it trades in phantom brands, such as “Belmont” ice cream, “Radiance” cleaning product and “Lacura” skin care. These brands are intended overcome perceptions of private label items being lower quality.

In 2016, Woolworths launched its own range of phantom brands. Coles followed suit in 2020 with brands including “Wild Tides” tuna and “KOI” toiletries.

Older man shopping in Aldi store on the Gold Coast, Queensland.
Cheap over choice is key to the Aldi business model. Dave Hunt/AAP

Read more: Phantom brands haunting our supermarket shelves as home brand in disguise


Special buys

The bigger supermarkets have also been forced to emulate Aldi’s drawcard of bi-weekly “special buys” – heavily discounted items not normally sold in supermarkets. These have included televisions, lawn mowers, vacuum cleaners, motorcycle jackets, luggage and (curiously for a country like Australia) ski gear.

There are always limited quantities and shoppers regularly experience disappointment. Despite this – indeed because of this – shoppers will queue and keep coming back. These quirky, seasonal, limited-stock items create excitement and FOMO – fear of missing out.

Shoppers queue for bargains at Aldi's store in Heidleberg West, Melbourne.
Shoppers queue for bargains at Aldi’s store in Heidleberg West, Melbourne. Julian Smith/AAP

In June 2020, Coles launched its own fortnightly “special buys”.

Unapologetically Aldi

While its competitors have emulated Aldi in several ways, the German chain remains a very different no-frills operation.

It hasn’t bothered with investing in the self-service checkouts that are now ubiquitous in other stores. It continues to offer only long conveyer belts and seated register operators.


Read more: The economics of self-service checkouts


Nor does Aldi have plans to facilitate online deliveries, in which the two supermarket giants have invested heavily.

It never had to cope with customer backlash over phasing out free single-use plastic bags either. Because it never offered free shopping bags, always charging 15 cents for them.

So Aldi continues to be an exception to the rule in Australian supermarket retailing. It history suggests that’s a recipe for continued success.

ref. The rise and rise of Aldi: two decades that changed supermarket shopping in Australia – https://theconversation.com/the-rise-and-rise-of-aldi-two-decades-that-changed-supermarket-shopping-in-australia-152822

The subtle sophistication of Bluey’s soundtrack helped propel it to stardom

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Liz Giuffre, Senior Lecturer in Communication, University of Technology Sydney

Bluey is easily the most successful Australian television show of the last decade. A record-breaking success for its local broadcaster the ABC, as well as production partners BBC Studios and Screen Australia, Bluey now has a global stage via Disney.

There are many factors behind Bluey’s success, including beautiful animation, nuanced storytelling, and insightful reflections of family life. One element that is integral but not spoken about enough is the show’s music.

Many children’s programs approach music and sound with a directness and lack of complication — think Play School’s wonderfully simple piano.

Bluey is distinct because it sounds rich and intertextual. Finally, fans of the Bluey sound can appreciate it fully, with the soundtrack released today.

Composer Joff Bush and his colleagues have created a world of original and repurposed works that develop characters, plot and narrative across episodes. The music, like the visuals, provides hooks to keep audiences of all ages engaged.

Here are three musical signatures to listen for:

1. The opening theme

The best television themes of any genre set the mood and expectation of the show, as well as introducing the characters. In this case, the tune literally tells us who’s coming, singing “Mum! Dad! Bluey! Bingo!” along with the characters on screen.

Bush’s musical economy is brilliant, immediately setting the mood for the show. The theme instantly indicates something childlike with the melodica, an instrument second only to the recorder in the way it recalls primary school music rooms. The melody dances up and down the scale as the show’s characters dance on screen, punctuated with the delightful roll call of names and the show’s title.


Read more: TV’s top ten ear worms, from a television tragic


The new soundtrack album features three versions of the show’s opening theme tune, including an extended version and an instrument parade, adding a list of instruments for listeners to respond to. After “Mum!, Dad! Bingo! Bluey!” come new calls, like “violins!” and “trumpet!”.

2. Character themes

In an early episode, Grannies, Bluey and Bingo dress up as grannies “Rita” and “Janet” to keep themselves amused while their parents complete household chores.

With Bush’s character theme for the girls’ dress ups, the episode becomes something more than a story of play and distraction. The music is catchy, but also cheeky and a bit naughty, setting up the episode to sound more like a mainstream sitcom than a children’s show.

The Grannies theme works in short sharp bursts throughout the episode, similar to American sitcom soundtracks — like the quirky wonderfulness David Schwartz brought to Arrested Development (2003-19) — and the unusual (and funny) tempo and instrument combinations used by Ronny Hazelhurst BBC comedies like Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em (1973-78) and The Two Ronnies (1971-87).

Throughout the series, Bush’s music isn’t simply used as colour. Instead, Bluey uses music to advance story, place and character. The grannies theme comes and goes as Bluey and Bingo move in and out of their fantasy world, and returns in a later episode where the girls play the game again.

Using the soundtrack in this way rewards adult viewers who know this screen soundtrack recall technique: the Imperial March is sonic shorthand for everything Darth Vader; Isobel Waller-Bridge’s choral theme for the Priest in season two of Fleabag (2016-19).


Read more: ‘Making up games is more important than you think’: why Bluey is a font of parenting wisdom


3. Classical references

Bluey’s season two finale, Sleepytime, was named by the New York Times as one of the Best Television Episodes of 2020.

Mum puts little sister Bingo to bed by reading a bedtime story about space, followed by a dream sequence where the solar system story comes to life.

In this episode, Bush uses Gustav Holst’s Jupiter as the main theme. The music instantly takes us out of the normal Bluey world, supporting the visuals as Bingo leaves earth, too.

The scale of the orchestrated sounds reflects the scale of the story of the child and parenting learning to leave each other at night. The soundtrack also serves a musical joke — what sounds like the solar system but Holst?

Other episodes also use existing music in nuanced ways. Ice Cream references Fantasia with a hilarious appearance of Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers as the girls twirl around dripping ice cream cones; Fancy Restaurant uses Vivaldi’s Spring for atmosphere as the girls create a well-meaning (but doomed) date night for their parents; The Magic Xylophone uses Mozart’s Ronda Alla Turca for a game of musical statues.

Much of Bluey’s success is in the way it is designed for children and adults watching together. In Bush’s composition, children are given original and iconic music that satisfies story and character in a way that is new to them, while older viewers are given musical reminders of a variety cultural favourites from television and film.

Of course, the genius of Bluey is that all audiences can pick up any of the musical clues at any time, with repeat viewing revealing more and more.

ref. The subtle sophistication of Bluey’s soundtrack helped propel it to stardom – https://theconversation.com/the-subtle-sophistication-of-blueys-soundtrack-helped-propel-it-to-stardom-153102

How will COVID-19 vaccines be approved for use in Australia?

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

Some Australians could be receiving a COVID-19 vaccine within weeks.

Amid the continued spread of the virus and emergence of highly contagious variants, the federal government has accelerated the start of the roll out — initially set for March 2021 — to February.


Read more: The Oxford vaccine has unique advantages, as does Pfizer’s. Using both is Australia’s best strategy


Other countries, who have been less successful in containing the virus, have already begun vaccination programs. While this has been met by celebration around the world, there have also been concerns about possible side-effects.

It is expected the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) will approve the Pfizer vaccine for use in Australia any day now. Approval for the AstraZeneca vaccine is expected in early February.

Given the uncertainty surrounding the virus and the speed at which vaccines have been developed, what processes are in place to assure Australians’ safety?

What is the TGA?

The TGA is part of the federal Health Department. Its job is to regulate any product that carries a therapeutic claim. This includes prescription drugs, medical devices, certain food supplements, and of course vaccines.

It maintains the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG), which records every therapeutic good available in the country.

Head of the Therapeutic Goods Administration Professor John Skerritt
Adjunct Professor John Skerritt is the Health Department official responsible for the TGA. Lukas Coch/AAP

The TGA regulates therapeutic goods in two main ways. First, it authorises products so they can be put on the ARTG and distributed. This involves its experts reviewing safety and efficacy data.

It then monitors products once they are in use. This includes collecting, analysing and reacting to data from health-care providers, patients, manufacturers, and overseas regulatory authorities.

How does it work?

The TGA says it adopts a “risk-based approach”. That is, it must be satisfied a vaccine or medication’s benefits outweigh its risks.

The TGA therefore is not tasked with the impossible goal of avoiding all risks. Rather, it must make sure that only products carrying acceptable risks can be marketed.


Read more: Bad reactions to the COVID vaccine will be rare, but Australians deserve a proper compensation scheme


So, for example, common minor side effects (such as a stomach ache) associated with certain painkillers are deemed acceptable compared to their benefit. Similarly, a severe but rare side effect can be acceptable where the medical benefit is significant. This is the case with vaccines.

Along with internal scientific and medical staff, the TGA is advised by seven committees, providing independent expert advice on scientific and technical matters. There includes a specific committee for vaccines.

Vaccine approval under ‘normal’ circumstances

The TGA requires a manufacturer or importer (the “sponsor”) to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of their product.

That is, companies need to show not only that their product is not harmful, but it does what it is supposed to do.

Vial of the Pfizer vaccine
Some at risk Australians are due to start receiving a COVID vaccine in February. Francois Mori/AP/AAP

Sponsors must submit a substantive body of clinical data, gathered according to Good Clinical Practice guidelines, which are developed in keeping with world’s best practice.

The TGA also reviews the data using internationally recognised guidelines from the European Medicines Agency.


Read more: Australia’s vaccine rollout will now start next month. Here’s what we’ll need


The key data for approval arises from the third phase of clinical trials. These test a new product on very large groups, which can number in the tens of thousands. The TGA review can take up to eleven months.

If a therapeutic good is approved, but a problem later emerges, the TGA can recall it.

Special provisions for COVID-19 vaccines

The devastating speed of the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted regulatory authorities across the world to speed up approval processes.

Almost all have used existing special provisions to fast-track their reviews. Importantly, clinical trials have been conducted at unprecedented speed thanks to unlimited funding and motivated volunteers.

The scientific consensus is that the rigour of clinical evaluation has not been compromised.

A UK couple leave a COVID vaccine centre in London.
The UK began vaccinating against COVID in December. Neil Hall/EPA/AP

Similarly, the TGA can conduct a speedier review of clinical data.

Instead of reviewing all the data prior to registration, the TGA conducts a preliminary assessment. This is followed by rolling submission of clinical data, leading to provisional registration. In other words the process is accelerated by allowing the TGA to look at data on an ongoing basis.

This special pathway is in place for treatments or vaccines for life-threatening diseases.

A provisional registration means the vaccine is approved for a set period of time (to be determined by the TGA), during which vaccinations can start under close monitoring. Following this, the vaccine proceeds to full registration.

Benefits outweigh risk

Both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines have conducted phase three trials on tens of thousands of participants. Additionally, the TGA stresses it will only approve provisional registrations when the data so far makes clear

the benefit of early availability of the medicine outweighs the risk inherent in the fact that additional data are still required.

In the context of COVID-19 vaccines, provisional registration reduces bureaucratic hurdles, while maintaining the highest possible scientific rigour.

Working with the international community

The TGA does not operate in a vacuum either.

Regulatory authorities worldwide and the World Health Organisation have committed to work together on COVID-19 vaccines and medicines to improve “regulatory alignment”.

A woman received a COVID vaccine in India.
India began its huge vaccination program in mid-January. Divyakant Solanki/EPA/AAP

The TGA is a member of the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities, which has committed to full cooperation and transparency between its members, particularly with regard to sharing data.

The TGA is also part of the Access Consortium alongside regulatory authorities from Singapore, Canada, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

So, while the speed of development of the first COVID-19 vaccines is unprecedented, so is the level of global monitoring over their safety and efficacy.

ref. How will COVID-19 vaccines be approved for use in Australia? – https://theconversation.com/how-will-covid-19-vaccines-be-approved-for-use-in-australia-153640

It’s not too late to save them: 5 ways to improve the government’s plan to protect threatened wildlife

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

Australia’s Threatened Species Strategy — a five-year plan for protecting our imperilled species and ecosystems — fizzled to an end last year. A new 10-year plan is being developed to take its place, likely from March.

It comes as Australia’s list of threatened species continues to grow. Relatively recent extinctions, such as the Christmas Island forest skink, Bramble Cay melomys and smooth handfish, add to an already heavy toll.

Red handfish (Thymichthys politus), cousin of the recently extinct smooth handfish, are critically endangered. They’re small, bottom-dwelling fish that tend to ‘walk’ on their pectoral and pelvic fins rather than swim. CSIRO Science Image, CC BY-SA

Now, more than ever, Australia’s remarkable species and environments need strong and effective policies to strengthen their protection and boost their recovery.

So as we settle into the new year, let’s reflect on what’s worked and what must urgently be improved upon, to turn around Australia’s extinction crisis.


Read more: Let there be no doubt: blame for our failing environment laws lies squarely at the feet of government


How effective was the first Threatened Species Strategy?

The Threatened Species Strategy is a key guiding document for biodiversity conservation at the national level. It identifies 70 priority species for conservation, made up of 20 birds, 20 mammals and 30 plants, such as the plains-wanderer, malleefowl, eastern quoll, greater bilby, black grevillea and Kakadu hibiscus.

These were considered among the most urgent in need of assistance of the more than 1,800 threatened species in Australia.

A Baw Baw frog held in white gloves.
Since the late 1980s, the wild population of the critically endangered Baw Baw frog has declined by more than 98%. AAP Image/Supplied by Melbourne Zoo

The strategy also identifies targets such as numbers of feral cats to be culled, and partnerships across industry, academia and government key to making the strategy successful.

The original strategy (2015-20) was eagerly welcomed for putting the national spotlight on threatened species conservation. It has certainly helped raise awareness of its priority species.

However, there’s little evidence the strategy has had a significant impact on threatened species conservation to date.

The midterm report in 2019 found only 35% of the priority species (14 in total) had improving trajectories compared to before the strategy (pre-2015). This number included six species — such as the brush-tailed rabbit-rat and western ringtail possum — that were still declining, but just at a slower rate.

Threatened Species Index trends for mammals (left) and birds (right) from 2000 to 2017. The index and y axes show the average change in populations (not actual population numbers) through time. The Theatened Species Recovery Hub, Author provided

On average, the trends of threatened mammal and bird populations across Australia are not increasing.

Other targets, such as killing two million feral cats by 2020, were not explicitly linked to measurable conservation outcomes, such as an increase in populations of threatened native animals. Because of this, it’s difficult to judge their success.


Read more: Feral cat cull: why the 2 million target is on scientifically shaky ground


What needs to change?

The previous strategy focused very heavily on feral cats as a threat and less so on other important and potentially compounding threats, particularly habitat destruction and degradation.

Targets from the first Threatened Species Strategy. Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment

For instance, land clearing has contributed to a similar number of extinctions in Australia (62 species) as introduced animals such as feral cats (64).

In fact, 2018 research found agricultural activities affect at least 73% of invertebrates, 82% of birds, 69% of amphibians and 73% of mammals listed as threatened in Australia. Urban development and climate change threaten up to 33% and 56% of threatened species, respectively.


Read more: The buffel kerfuffle: how one species quietly destroys native wildlife and cultural sites in arid Australia


Other important threats to native Australian species include pollution, feral herbivores (such as horses and goats), very frequent or hot bushfires and weeds. Buffel grass was recently identified as a major emerging threat to Australia’s biodiversity, with the risk being as high as the threat posed by cats and foxes.

Five vital improvements

We made a submission to the Morrison government when the Threatened Species Strategy was under review. Below, we detail our key recommendations.

1. A holistic and evidence-based approach encompassing the full range of threats

This includes reducing rates of land clearing — a major and ongoing issue, but largely overlooked in the previous strategy.

A Leadbeater's possum peers out from behind a tree trunk.
Leadbeater’s possums are critically endangered. Their biggest threat is the destruction of hollow-bearing trees. Shutterstock

2. Formal prioritisation of focal species, threats and actions

The previous strategy focused heavily on a small subset of the more than 1,800 threatened species and ecosystems in Australia. It mostly disregarded frog, reptile, fish and invertebrate species also threatened with extinction.

To reduce bias towards primarily “charismatic” species, the federal government should use an evidence-based prioritisation approach, known as “decision science”, like they do in New South Wales, New Zealand and Canada. This would ensure funds are spent on the most feasible and beneficial recovery efforts.

3. Targets linked to clear and measurable conservation outcomes

Some targets in the first Threatened Species Strategy were difficult to measure, not explicitly linked to conservation outcomes, or weak. Targets need to be more specific.

For example, a target to “improve the trajectory” of threatened species could be achieved if extinction is occurring at a slightly slower rate. Alternatively, a target to “improve the conservation status” of a species is achieved if new assessments rate it as “vulnerable” rather than “endangered”.

The ant plant (Myrmecodia beccarii) is one of the 30 plants on the federal government’s list of priority species. It is an ‘epiphyte’ (grows on other plants), and is threatened by habitat loss, invasive weeds, and removal by plant and butterfly collectors. Dave Kimble/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

4. Significant financial investment from government

Investing in conservation reduces biodiversity loss. A 2019 study found Australia’s listed threatened species could be recovered for about A$1.7 billion per year. This money could be raised by removing harmful subsidies that directly threaten biodiversity, such as those to industries emitting large volumes of greenhouse gases.

The first strategy featured a call for co-investment from industry. But this failed to attract much private sector interest, meaning many important projects aimed at conserving species did not proceed.

5. Government leadership, coordination and policy alignment

The Threatened Species Strategy should be aligned with Australia’s international obligations such as the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (which is also currently being reviewed). This will help foster a more coherent and efficient national approach to threatened species conservation.

The biggest threat to the critically endangered swift parrot is the clearing of their foraging and breeding habitat. Shutterstock

There are also incredible opportunities to better align threatened species conservation with policies and investment in climate change mitigation and sustainable agriculture.

The benefits of investing heavily in wildlife reach beyond preventing extinctions. It would generate many jobs, including in regional and Indigenous communities.

Protecting our natural heritage is an investment, not a cost. Now is the time to seize this opportunity.


Read more: Scientists re-counted Australia’s extinct species, and the result is devastating


ref. It’s not too late to save them: 5 ways to improve the government’s plan to protect threatened wildlife – https://theconversation.com/its-not-too-late-to-save-them-5-ways-to-improve-the-governments-plan-to-protect-threatened-wildlife-147669

Yes, baby teeth fall out. But they’re still important — here’s how to help your kids look after them

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Arosha Weerakoon, Lecturer, General Dentist & PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland

Baby teeth, or milk teeth, act like lighthouses to guide the adult ones to their correct destination. A baby tooth will become wobbly and fall out because the adult tooth that follows pushes through to break down the roots of the baby tooth.

To lose baby teeth, particularly the first one, is a rite of passage for children. And while most baby teeth do fall out, some kids won’t lose all their baby teeth.

Sometimes, the adult teeth simply don’t form. In an average class, one or two students, or 6% of children, will not form at least one adult tooth (this doesn’t include those with missing wisdom teeth). A missing adult tooth will often mean the baby tooth remains in place into adulthood.

For this and other reasons, it’s important to look after your child’s baby teeth. Healthy baby teeth are paramount to children’s health and well-being both in the present and into adulthood.

Kids get cavities too

Just like in adult teeth, baby teeth can develop cavities (holes). Factors including cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth, regular consumption of sugary drinks and snacks, and not brushing well can make cavities more likely.

Untreated cavities can grow to affect or even kill the nerves and blood vessels inside the tooth. If this happens, your child can suffer from severe toothache and infection. These are among the most common preventable reasons for children to require dental treatment under general anaesthetic.

In some instances, it may be necessary to remove a baby tooth if it’s infected or has a very large cavity. This can potentially cause overcrowding.

If a baby tooth is lost before the adult successor is ready, the teeth on either side drift into the space. Lacking space, the adult tooth may eventually come through in the wrong place. In such cases, your child is more likely to need braces.


Read more: Curious Kids: why do we lose our baby teeth?


Dental problems can lead to bigger problems

Left untreated, infected baby teeth can affect your child’s health and well-being.

Children with healthy smiles fare better at school relative to those who suffer with dental problems. Children who experience dental pain may lose sleep, have difficulty concentrating and participating in class, and miss school altogether.

Poor dental health also affects children’s physical development. Children with sore teeth may skip meals or eat less, which can affect their nutrition and growth.

We also know cavities in baby teeth are associated with an increased risk of suffering from the same issues into adulthood.

A smiling baby in a high chair chewing on a toothbrush.
Some children may keep some of their baby teeth into adulthood. Christian Hermann/Unsplash

Some signs your child may have dental problems

A child will describe and experience a toothache differently to adults, but there are a few signs you can look out for. Your child may:

  • complain of a sharp poking pain, an annoying, sore or itchy tooth, or even an earache

  • avoid hot, cold, sweet or hard, chewy foods

  • take longer than usual to finish a meal

  • complain about food getting stuck in their teeth

  • have difficulty brushing their teeth

  • have trouble falling asleep or wake up during the night more often than usual

  • be too tired to participate in class

  • perform poorly at school

  • experience difficulty socialising and speaking

  • be more irritable or grumpy than usual.


Read more: Do I need to floss my teeth?


The good news is, once children’s dental issues are diagnosed, most if not all problems can be fixed or managed.

Visiting the dentist

You should book a dental check-up when your child’s first tooth comes through, or by their first birthday — whichever comes first.

After that, schedule check-ups regularly, depending on how frequently your dentist recommends. While your child’s teeth may be OK, frequent visits will help them get comfortable with the dentist, and allow for any issues to be dealt with early.

A dentist shows a young child how to brush teeth using a model of teeth.
Establish going to the dentist as something positive. Shutterstock

It’s no secret some children (and even adults) find the prospect of visiting the dentist daunting. It’s important parents of young children establish the dentist in a positive light.

These tips can help you and your child prepare for their first and subsequent visits:

  • use positive, child-friendly terms when referring to the dentist, such as “the tooth fairy’s friend”

  • avoid emotionally laden words such as “needle”, which may frighten children

  • avoid threatening children with consequences for poor behaviour

  • avoid sharing poor dental experiences

  • make the visit fun by role playing going to the dentist at home beforehand, or likening the visit to a play date.


Read more: Child tooth decay is on the rise, but few are brushing their teeth enough or seeing the dentist


Dental care at home

Alongside regular dental checks, it’s important to set up good habits with your children around looking after and brushing their teeth:

  • talk about teeth and why they’re important

  • help your children brush their teeth with a soft, age-appropriate toothbrush

  • let your children have fun (for example, use toothbrushes that feature their favourite characters).

Generally, Australian guidelines recommend you use fluoridated toothpaste by the time the child reaches 18 months (before this, you can just use water). But you can discuss which toothpaste is appropriate for your child at their next dental appointment.

Parents who have dental issues may worry their child will suffer the same fate. But as a parent or guardian, you can influence your child’s dental habits and attitudes to help them now and into their future.

ref. Yes, baby teeth fall out. But they’re still important — here’s how to help your kids look after them – https://theconversation.com/yes-baby-teeth-fall-out-but-theyre-still-important-heres-how-to-help-your-kids-look-after-them-148190

Web’s inventor says news media bargaining code could break the internet. He’s right — but there’s a fix

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Tama Leaver, Professor of Internet Studies, Curtin University

The inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, has raised concerns that Australia’s proposed News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code could fundamentally break the internet as we know it.

His concerns are valid. However, they could be addressed through minor changes to the proposed code.

How could the code break the web?

The news media bargaining code aims to level the playing field between media companies and online giants. It would do this by forcing Facebook and Google to pay Australian news businesses for content linked to, or featured, on their platforms.

News Corp logo outside offices.
News Corp is one major player lobbying in favour of the proposed bargaining code. The multinational corporation has complained about Google’s ‘overwhelming’ market power on several occasions in recent years. Paul Miller/AAP

In a submission to the Senate inquiry about the code, Berners-Lee wrote:

Specifically, I am concerned that the Code risks breaching a fundamental principle of the web by requiring payment for linking between certain content online. […] The ability to link freely — meaning without limitations regarding the content of the linked site and without monetary fees — is fundamental to how the web operates.

Currently, one of the most basic underlying principles of the web is there is no cost involved in creating a hypertext link (or simply a “link”) to any other page or object online.

When Berners-Lee first invented the World Wide Web, he effectively gave it away for free to ensure nobody would or could charge for using its protocols.

He claims if the code sets a legal precedent allowing someone to charge for linking, then the genie would escape the bottle — and plenty more attempts to charge for linking to content would appear.

If the precedent was set that people could be charged for simply linking to content online, it’s possible the underlying principle of linking would be disrupted.

As a result, there would likely be many attempts by both legitimate companies and scammers to charge users for what is currently free.

While supporting the “right of publishers and content creators to be properly rewarded for their work”, Berners-Lee asks the code be amended to maintain the principle of allowing free linking between content.


Read more: Google News favours mainstream media. Even if it pays for Australian content, will local outlets fall further behind?


Google and Facebook don’t just link to content

Part of the issue here is Google and Facebook don’t just collect a list of interesting links to news content. Rather the way they find, sort, curate and present news content adds value for their users.

They don’t just link to news content, they reframe it. It is often in that reframing that advertisements appear, and this is where these platforms make money.

For example, this link will take you to the original 1989 proposal for the World Wide Web. Right now, anyone can create such a link to any other page or object the web, without having to pay anyone else.

But what Facebook and Google do in curating news content is fundamentally different. They create compelling previews, usually by offering the headline of a news article, sometimes the first few lines, and often the first image extracted.

For instance, here is a preview Google generates when someone searches for Tim Berners-Lee’s Web proposal:

Results page for the Google Search 'tim berners lee www proposal'.
This is a screen capture of the results page for the Google Search: ‘tim berners lee www proposal’. Google

Evidently, what Google returns is more of a media-rich, detailed preview than a simple link. For Google’s users, this is a much more meaningful preview of the content and better enables them to decide whether they’ll click through to see more.

Another huge challenge for media businesses is that increasing numbers of users are taking headlines and previews at face value, without necessarily reading the article.

This can obviously decrease revenue for news providers, as well as perpetuate misinformation. Indeed, it’s one of the reasons Twitter began asking users to actually read content before retweeting it.

A fairly compelling argument, then, is that Google and Facebook add value for consumers via the reframing, curating and previewing of content — not just by linking to it.

Can the code be fixed?

Currently in the code, the section concerning how platforms are “Making content available” lists three ways content is shared:

  1. content is reproduced on the service
  2. content is linked to
  3. an extract or preview is made available.

Similar terms are used to detail how users might interact with content.

Extract showing the way 'Making content available' is defined in the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2020
The News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code 2020 outlines three main platforms make news content available. Australian Government

If we accept most of the additional value platforms provide to their users is in curating and providing previews of content, then deleting the second element (which just specifies linking to content) would fix Berners-Lee’s concerns.

It would ensure the use of links alone can’t be monetised, as has always been true on the web. Platforms would still need to pay when they present users with extracts or previews of articles, but not when they only link to it.

Since basic links are not the bread and butter of big platforms, this change wouldn’t fundamentally alter the purpose or principle of creating a more level playing field for news businesses and platforms.


Read more: It’s not ‘fair’ and it won’t work: an argument against the ACCC forcing Google and Facebook to pay for news


In its current form, the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code could put the underlying principles of the world wide web in jeopardy. Tim Berners-Lee is right to raise this point.

But a relatively small tweak to the code would prevent this, It would allow us to focus more on where big platforms actually provide value for users, and where the clearest justification lies in asking them to pay for news content.


For transparency, it should be noted The Conversation has also made a submission to the Senate inquiry regarding the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code.

ref. Web’s inventor says news media bargaining code could break the internet. He’s right — but there’s a fix – https://theconversation.com/webs-inventor-says-news-media-bargaining-code-could-break-the-internet-hes-right-but-theres-a-fix-153630

Joe Biden sends a clear message to watching world – America’s back

ANALYSIS: By Scott Lucas, University of Birmingham

Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path

Two weeks after the storming of the US Capitol by the followers of his predecessor, in the middle of an out-of-control pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans, Joe Biden — the 46th president of the US — tried to contain the blaze in his inaugural address.

As aspiration, the speech was pitch perfect. Biden rightly took on the present of America’s most serious domestic crisis since the Civil War. Coronavirus, the Capitol attack, economic loss, immigration, climate change and social injustice were confronted:

We’ll press forward with speed and urgency for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibility. Much to do, much to heal, much to restore, much to build and much to gain.

But what distinguished the speech beyond the essential was the sincerity with which it was delivered. Since the election, there has been a commingling of Biden’s personal narrative of loss with the damage that America has suffered.

When he spoke of the “empty chair” and relatives who have died, it was from the heart and not just the script.


President Joe Biden … “My whole soul is in this.” Video: PBS News

So, as he said in front of the Capitol: “My whole soul is in this”, there was no doubt — in contrast to the statements of his predecessor — that it is.

Complementing Biden’s rhetoric are the executive orders and legislation set out in the days before the inauguration. Immigration reform will be accompanied by protection of almost 800,000 young Dreamers from deportation.

There is a mandate to reunite children separated from parents and a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.

The US has rejoined the Paris Accords on climate change. The “Muslim Ban” is rescinded, Donald Trump’s wall with Mexico suspended. And coronavirus will finally be confronted with coordination between the federal, state and local governments and a US$1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan”.

Words to a waiting world
But where is America in the world in all this? In Biden’s attention to domestic crises, there was little beyond his intention to re-engage with the world on climate and reverse the previous administration’s myopic immigration measures.

Even the invocations of American greatness, with one exception, stayed within its borders:

Through a crucible for the ages, America has been tested anew and America has risen to the challenge.

There is historical precedent for the exclusive focus on home. In 1933, as the Great Depression raged, Franklin Delano Roosevelt also made no reference to the world as he said at his first inauguration:

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Perhaps even more pertinently, in 1865, Abraham Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, a month before his assassination and two months before the end of the Civil War:

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds.

Beyond the inaugural, there are clues in Biden’s appointment of Obama-era pragmatists: Antony Blinken as secretary of state, Jake Sullivan as national security advisor, John Kerry in a special post for climate change. There will be no sweeping “Biden Doctrine”, nor a grand speech such as Barack Obama’s in Cairo or Ankara in 2009.

Kamala Harris
The first woman and black US Vice-President Kamala Harris … tackling the inequities and divisions in the way of justice for all. Image: APR screenshot/Al Jazeera

Instead, the pragmatists will try to restore alliances, reestablish the “rules of the game” with countries such as China, Russia and North Korea — and work case-by-case on immediate issues such as the Iran nuclear deal.

But for this day, and for the weeks and months to come, the foreign challenges will primarily be an extension of the domestic issues that Biden set out on “America’s day … democracy’s day”.

Recovery of America’s damaged standing will come from success in putting out the fires that are not just in the US: saving lives and vanquishing a virus, committing to a secure environment, tackling the inequities and divisions in the way of justice for all.

For as the world watched, Biden’s exceptional reference to an aspiration beyond the US came in his penultimate paragraph about the “American story” to be written:

That America secured liberty at home and stood once again as a beacon to the world. That is what we owe our forebears, one another, and generations to follow.The Conversation

By Scott Lucas, professor of international politics, University of Birmingham. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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Abused, neglected, abandoned — did Roald Dahl hate children as much as the witches did?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Kate Cantrell, Lecturer, Creative Writing & English Literature, University of Southern Queensland

Described as “the world’s greatest storyteller”, Roald Dahl is frequently ranked as the best children’s author of all time by teachers, authors and librarians.

However, the new film adaptation of Dahl’s controversial book, The Witches, warrants a fresh look at a recurrent contrast in Dahl’s work: child protection and care on one hand and a preoccupation with child-hatred, including child neglect and abuse, abandonment, and torture on the other.

Dahl himself once admitted he simultaneously admired and envied children. While his stories spotlight children’s vulnerability to trauma, his child protagonists show how childhood can be an isolating but ultimately triumphant experience.


Read more: The man behind Matilda – what Roald Dahl was really like


Anti-child or child-centred?

While Dahl’s fans champion his “child-centredness” — arguing that anarchy and vulgarity are central to childhood — Dahl’s critics have ventured to suggest his work contains anti-child messages.

In Dahl’s fiction, children are often described unfavourably: they are “stinkers”, “disgusting little blisters”, “vipers”, “imps”, “spoiled brats”, “greedy little thieves”, “greedy brutes”, “robber-bandits”, “ignorant little twits”, “nauseating little warts”, “witless weeds”, and “moth-eaten maggots”.

Frightening female character on stage. Children behind.
The cruel and imposing figure of Miss Trunchbull in the stage musical Matilda. MANUEL HARLAN/Royal Shakespeare Company/AAP

With the exception of Bruce Bogtrotter, “bad” children are usually unpleasant gluttons who are punished for being spoiled or overweight. Augustus Gloop is ostracised because of his size. After he tumbles into Willy Wonka’s chocolate river and is sucked up the glass pipe, he’s physically transformed. “He used to be fat,” Grandpa Joe marvels. “Now he’s as thin as straw!”

From Miss Trunchbull to the Twits, Aunts Spiker and Sponge, and even Willy Wonka, many of Dahl’s adult characters are merciless figures who enjoy inflicting physical and emotional pain on children.

In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Wonka not only orchestrates the various “accidents” that occur at the factory, but he stands by indifferently as each child suffers.

In Wonka’s determination to make the “rotten ones” pay for their moral failings, he not only humiliates the children (and their parents), but permanently marks the “bad” children through physical disfigurement. When gum-chewing champion Violet Beauregarde turns purple, Wonka is indifferent. “Ah well,” he says. “There’s nothing we can do about that”.

Red-hot sizzling hatred

The Witches is centred around the theme of child-hatred.

“Real witches,” we are told, “hate children with a red-hot sizzing hatred that is more sizzling and red-hot than any hatred you could possibly imagine”. At their hands (or claws), young children are not only mutilated but exterminated.

Indeed, the ultimate goal of The Grand High Witch is filicide: she plans to rid the world of children — “disgusting little carbuncles” — by tricking them into eating chocolate laced with her malevolent Formula 86: Delayed Action Mouse-Maker.

“Witches! They’re real. And they hate children!” The trailer for Warner Brothers’ new adaptation of the children’s classic.

In The Witches, as in many of Dahl’s fictions for children (he also wrote adult erotica), authoritarian figures are revealed as bigoted and hypocritical, or violent and sadistic. Primary caregivers are neglectful or absent.

Goodreads

So the real threats to the child protagonists of The Witches, Matilda and James and The Giant Peach are not monsters under the bed, but adults whose hatred of children is disguised behind a mask of benevolence.

In The Witches, the young narrator initially finds comfort in the fact he has encountered such “splendid ladies” and “wonderfully kind people”, but soon the facade crumbles.

“Down with children!” he overhears the witches chant. “Do them in! Boil their bones and fry their skin! Bish them, sqvish them, bash them, mash them!”


Read more: The BFG reminds us that wordplay is part of learning and mastering language


Necessary evil

Although the violence present in Dahl’s work can be easily perceived as morbid, antagonism towards children is a necessary part of Dahl’s project.

The initial disempowerment of the child lays the groundwork for the “underdog” narrative. It allows downtrodden children to emerge victorious by outwitting their tormentors through their resourcefulness and a little magic.

Initially, violence is used to reinforce the initial “victimhood” of the child, then it is repurposed in the latter stages of each tale to punish and overcome the perpetrator of the mistreatment.

James’s wicked aunts get their comeuppance when they’re squashed by the giant peach. In The BFG, kidnapped orphan Sophie emerges as the unlikely hero, saving herself and exerting a positive influence on her captor.

In Taika Waititi’s reading of James and the Giant Peach, the spinster aunts are played by the Hemsworth brothers.

Dahl’s fiction is perhaps considered dangerous for a different reason: it takes children seriously.

The author dispenses humour alongside his descriptions of violence to create a less threatening atmosphere for young readers. Children revel in the confronting depictions even while being shocked or repulsed. Dahl — perhaps drawing on childhood trauma of his own — creates a cathartic outlet for children to release tension through laughter, especially at situations that may tap into the reader’s experiences of helplessness.

Such fiction provides children a means of empowerment. Seeing themselves reflected in literature can be an important part of a child’s processing of adversity.

Dahl’s work raises important questions about the safety of children, encouraging them to find their power in the most disempowering situations.

ref. Abused, neglected, abandoned — did Roald Dahl hate children as much as the witches did? – https://theconversation.com/abused-neglected-abandoned-did-roald-dahl-hate-children-as-much-as-the-witches-did-152813

Young people remain ill-equipped to participate in Australian democracy

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Zareh Ghazarian, Senior Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, Monash University

Despite many young Australians having a deep interest in political issues, most teenagers have a limited understanding about their nation’s democratic system.

Results from the 2019 National Assessment Program – Civics and Citizenship (NAP-CC) released today show the proportion of young people demonstrating the expected level of knowledge about topics such as democracy and government has not improved since three years ago.


Read more: 3 ways to help children think critically about the news


Only 38% of year 10 students reached the standard of knowledge on civics and citizenship required for their year level in 2019, the same percentage as in 2016. In year 6, 53% achieved the benchmark, which is down from 55% in 2016.

This has implications for the confidence and preparedness of young people to participate in shaping society now, and into the future.

What is the civics and citizenship test?

The national assessment program on civics and citizenship has been held every three years since 2004. It is administered to a sample of year 6 and year 10 students across Australia. Around 13,250 students sat the assessments in 2019.

The NAP-CC seeks to assess students’ understanding of topics including Australian politics, government, history and the legal system. It also captures students’ knowledge of their rights and responsibilities as citizens.

The NAP-CC aligns with educational aims agreed to by national, state and territory education ministers.

The Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration, established in 2019, has two goals, the second of which is that:

young Australians become confident and creative individuals, successful lifelong learners, and active and informed members of the community.

What do the latest results show?

For year 6 students, the proficiency standard expects they can demonstrate knowledge of core aspects of Australian democracy. This includes awareness of the connection between fundamental principles (such as fairness) and their manifestation in rules and laws. They should also be able to demonstrate awareness of citizenship rights and responsibilities.

For example, students in year 6 should be able to identify the role of the prime minister, understand the origins of the Westminster system, and recognise that a vote on a proposed change to the constitution is a referendum.

At year 6, the percentage of students achieving the proficient standard has fallen slightly to 53% from 55% in 2016. This result maintains the established pattern where, since 2004, the percentage of year 6 students meeting the proficient standard has remained within the 50-55% range.


Read more: Schools are not adequately preparing young Australians to participate in our democracy


To meet the proficiency standards in year 10, students should be able to demonstrate knowledge of specific details of Australian democracy, make connections between the processes and outcomes of civil and civic institutions, and demonstrate awareness of the common good as a potential motivation for civic action.

Only 38% of year 10 students reached the proficient standard in 2019. This is the same as the last testing round in 2016, but well down on the 49% high achieved in 2010.



The NAP-CC 2019 results also showed:

  • at both year levels, female students outperformed males

  • there were large statistically significant differences between the achievements of non-Indigenous and Indigenous students

  • students with parents who were senior managers or professionals had significantly higher scores than students with parents who were classified as unskilled labourers, or office, sales or service staff

  • the scores of students from metropolitan schools were significantly higher than those of students from regional and remote schools at both year levels

  • students who had a parent with a bachelor’s degree or above achieved more than 130 scale points (one proficiency level) higher than students whose parents completed year 10 or year 9 as their highest level of education.


What we need to do

Year 10 is the last year of compulsory schooling in Australia. It is also the final year in which the national civics and citizenship curriculum is delivered.

This means year 10 can be the last opportunity for students to learn about their nation’s political system and their responsibilities as citizens.

Previous research has also shown young people would like to consolidate their knowledge about Australia’s democracy before leaving school.

A national civics and citizenship curriculum was developed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority in 2012-2013. But states retain the constitutional authority over education, which results in variation in how civics and citizenship is taught across jurisdictions.

The latest data suggests now is the time to build on these investments and introduce targeted strategies.

When we spoke to school leavers in 2017, many told us they wanted additional lessons that concentrated on building their understanding of Australian democracy before they left school. In light of the consistently low performance at the year 10 level, it is now the time to capture and respond to the student voice.


Read more: Ignoring young people’s climate change fears is a recipe for anxiety


We also need to support teachers. Young Australians have said what they learn at school about civics and citizenship is highly dependent on the preparedness of their teachers.

Teachers who are confident about exploring politics and government in class can have a positive impact on the learning outcomes of their students.

In what is often seen to be a “crowded curriculum”, teachers confront a range of challenges in delivering civics and citizenship lessons. As a result, there is value in providing opportunities to build their confidence and capacity in this space.

These latest figures show the previous results were no mere aberration and that student performance in civics and citizenship has remained low. The steps we take now will have an impact on Australian democracy for years to come.

ref. Young people remain ill-equipped to participate in Australian democracy – https://theconversation.com/young-people-remain-ill-equipped-to-participate-in-australian-democracy-153536

To publish or not to publish? The media’s free-speech dilemmas in a world of division, violence and extremism

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

Terrorism, political extremism, Donald Trump, social media and the phenomenon of “cancel culture” are confronting journalists with a range of agonising free-speech dilemmas to which there are no easy answers.

Do they allow a president of the United States to use their platforms to falsely and provocatively claim the election he has just lost was stolen from him?

How do they cover the activities and rhetoric of political extremists without giving oxygen to race hate and civil insurrection?

How do they integrate news-making social media material into their own content, when it is also hateful or a threat to the civil peace?

Should journalists engage in, or take a stand against, “cancel culture”?

How should editors respond to the “assassin’s veto”, when extremists threaten to kill those who publish content that offends their culture or religion?

The West has experienced concrete examples of all these in recent years. In the US, many of them became pressing during the Trump presidency.

When five of the big US television networks cut away from Trump’s White House press conference on November 6 after he claimed the election had been stolen, they did so on the grounds that he was lying and endangering civil peace.


Read more: To stay or cut away? As Trump makes baseless claims, TV networks are faced with a serious dilemma


Silencing the president was an extraordinary step, since it is the job of the media to tell people what is going on, hold public officials to account, and uphold the right to free speech. It looked like an abandonment of their role in democratic life.

Against that, television’s acknowledged reach and power imposes a heavy duty not to provide a platform for dangerous speech.

Then on January 6 – two months later to the day – after yet more incitement from Trump, a violent mob laid siege to the Capitol and five people lost their lives. The networks’ decision looked prescient.

They had acted on the principle that a clear and present danger to civil peace, based on credible evidence, should be prioritised over commitments to informing the public, holding public officials to account and freedom of speech.

This case also raised a further dilemma. Even if the danger to peace did not exist, should journalists just go on reporting – or broadcasting – known lies, even when they come from the president of the United States?


Read more: No, Twitter is not censoring Donald Trump. Free speech is not guaranteed if it harms others


Newspaper editors and producers of pre-recorded radio and television content have the time to report lies while simultaneously calling them out as lies. Live radio and television do not. The words are out and the damage is done.

So the medium, the nature and size of the risk, how the informational and accountability functions of journalism are prioritised against the risk, and the free-speech imperative all play into these decisions.

Should the media report known lies, even if uttered by the president of the United States? AAP/EPA/White House handout

Similar considerations arise in respect of reporting political extremism.

The ABC’s Four Corners program is about to embark on a story about the alt-right in the US. Having advertised this in a promotional tweet, the ABC received some social media blow-back raising the question of why it would give oxygen to these groups.

The influence of the alt-right on Western politics is a matter of real public interest because of the way it shapes political rhetoric and policy responses, particular on race and immigration.

To not report on this phenomenon because it pursues a morally reprehensible ideology would be to fail the ethical obligation of journalism to tell the community about the important things that are going on in the world.

It is not a question of whether to report, but how.

The Four Corners program will not be live to air. There will be opportunity for judicious editing. Journalists are under no obligation to report everything they are told. In fact they almost never do.

Motive matters

Whether the decision to omit is censorship comes down to motive: is it censorship to omit hate speech or incitement to violence? No. Because the reporter doesn’t agree with it? Yes.

Integrating social media content into professional mass media news presents all these complexities and one more: what is called the news value of “virality”.

Does the fact something has gone viral on social media make it news? For the more responsible professional mass media, something more will usually be needed. Does the subject matter affect large numbers of people? Is it inherently significant in some way? Does it involve some person who is in a position of authority or public trust?

Trump’s use of Twitter was an exploitation of these decision-rules, but did not invalidate them.

Social media is also the means by which “cancel culture” works. It enables large numbers of people to join a chorus of condemnation against someone for something they have said or done. It also puts pressure on institutions such as universities or media outlets to shun them.

It has become a means by which the otherwise powerless or voiceless can exert influence over people or organisations that would otherwise be beyond their reach.

There are those who are worried about the effects on free speech. In July 2020, Harper’s magazine published a letter of protest signed by 152 authors, academics, journalists, artists, poets, playwrights and critics.

While applauding the intentions behind “cancel culture” in advancing racial and social justice, they raised their voices against what they saw as a new set of moral attitudes that tended to favour ideological conformity.

In the aftermath of the police killings of black people in 2020 and the law-and-order response of the Trump administration, “cancel culture” began to affect journalism ethics. Some journalists on papers such as The Washington Post and The New York Times began taking public positions against the way their papers were reporting race issues.

In the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter protests, some journalists began to question how their papers covered race issues. AAP/AP/Evan Vucci

It led to a lively debate in the profession about the extent to which moral preferences should shape news decisions. The riposte to those who argued that they should, was: whose moral preferences should prevail?

This was yet another illustration of the complexities surrounding free speech issues arising from the social media phenomenon, the Trump presidency and the combination of the two.

Terrorism has also added its contribution. Over the decade 2005-2015, what became known as the Danish cartoons confronted journalists and editors with life-and-death decisions.

In 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten (Jutland Post) published cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammed. It was a conscious act of defiance against “the assassin’s veto”, violent threats to free speech by Islamist-jihadis.

In 2009, a Danish-born professor of politics wrote a book, The Cartoons that Shook the World. Yale University Press, which published it, refused to re-publish the cartoons after having taken advice from counter-terrorism experts about the risks.

In November 2011, the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo published an issue called Charia Hebdo, satirically featuring the Prophet as editor. The real editor was placed on an Al-Qaeda hit list and in January 2015, two masked gunmen opened fire on the newspaper office, killing 12 people, including the editor.


Read more: Charlie Hebdo: the pen must defy the sword, Islamic or not


The world’s media were confronted with the decision whether to re-publish the cartoons again in defiance of “the assassin’s veto”. Some did, but most – including Jyllands Posten – did not.

The necessary limits of free speech

Free speech is an indispensable civil right under assault from all these forces. But none of the philosophers whose names we immediately associate with free speech have claimed it to be absolute.

The social media platforms, having for years proclaimed themselves extreme libertarians, have in recent times begun to recognise this is indefensible, and strengthened their moderating procedures.

Some of Australia’s senior politicians seem baffled by the issue.

When Twitter shut down Trump’s account, acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack didn’t seem to know where he stood, saying in one breath it was a violation of free speech to shut down Trump while in the next that Twitter should also take down the false image of an Australian soldier slitting the throat of an Afghan child.

And he is a former country newspaper editor.

This was followed by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s remark that he was “uncomfortable” with the Twitter decision. He quoted Voltaire as saying something Voltaire never said: the famous line that while he disagreed with what someone said, he would defend to the death his right to say it. It was a fabrication put into Voltaire’s mouth by a biographer more than 100 years after his death.

Voltaire, Milton, Spinoza, Locke and Mill, to say nothing of the US Supreme Court, have not regarded free speech as an absolute right.

So while the media face some extremely difficult decisions in today’s operating environment, they do not need to burden themselves with the belief that every decision not to publish is the violation of an inviolable right.

ref. To publish or not to publish? The media’s free-speech dilemmas in a world of division, violence and extremism – https://theconversation.com/to-publish-or-not-to-publish-the-medias-free-speech-dilemmas-in-a-world-of-division-violence-and-extremism-153451

I’ve heard COVID is leading to medicine shortages. What can I do if my medicine is out of stock?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Nial Wheate, Associate Professor of the Sydney Pharmacy School, University of Sydney

You’ve just come from your monthly GP appointment with a new script for your ongoing medical condition. But your local pharmacy is out of stock of your usual medicine. Your condition is serious, and without it, your health is likely to suffer. What can you do?

While medicine shortages happen from time to time, researchers and the media report COVID-19 is causing more shortages than normal for many life-saving medicines. In Australia, media reports indicate this includes some medications used to treat hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, or allergies.

Unfortunately, you’ll only likely find out if this applies to you when you reach the pharmacy. If that happens, there are a few ways you may be able to obtain your prescription.

But if the stock shortage will last for an extended period of time, and you cannot find a supply, your doctor may need to consider prescribing a different medication.

Why are there shortages?

Unfortunately, medicine shortages are an all too common problem of the modern health-care system. When our medicines come from a global supply chain — where raw ingredients are made in one country, processed into medicines in another, then freighted by sea or air to Australia — a single break in the supply chain can result in medicines going out of stock.

So there have been calls for Australia to set up its own medicines manufacturing base. But even if we do, that doesn’t help now during COVID.

Medicines shortages is a growing issue globally. That’s because of increasing demand, higher quality standards and fewer manufacturing sites.

Shortages have also been exacerbated in 2020 due to COVID-19. When workers are locked out of the factory because of a local outbreak, medicines don’t get made. And when we restrict the number of flights into Australia, that prevents medicines from arriving.


Read more: New law won’t safeguard medicine supply – it’ll only ensure we know there’s a shortage


When a manufacturer knows there is likely to be a medicine shortage, for any reason, they are required to inform the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) so pharmacies can make other arrangements, such as stocking up on alternatives or sourcing supply from other companies.

When the medicine shortage is considered to have a critical patient impact, or if it is in the interest of the public to know about the shortage, then the information is added to the TGA’s shortages website, which the public can search.

But this information is only useful at the government and wholesaler level; local GPs and community pharmacists don’t have the time to check the site every day.

Dealing with shortages efficiently is important because their impacts are wide ranging. Shortages result in higher costs to patients when they have to buy branded rather than generic formulations; more drug errors due to the different strengths and brands dispensed; more side-effects and higher death rates because of changes to less appropriate medicines; and more complaints from patients.

Pharmacist taking medicine off shelf
There’s not always enough medicine to go round. And shortages can affect a patient’s health. www.shutterstock.com

What if your local pharmacy is out of stock?

It is best to speak to your pharmacist about your options when your medication is out of stock. There may be other brands still available and appropriate to swap. Alternatively, your pharmacist could dispense a different strength of the same medication. Regulations brought in during the pandemic have allowed pharmacists to do this to help with medicine supply.

If there are no appropriate substitutes, in rare instances a local compounding pharmacy can manufacture certain products in store.


Read more: How to manage your essential medicines in a bushfire or other emergency


If none of your local pharmacies stock your medicine, your next option is for an Australian online pharmacy to fill your script. It may be able to ship your medicine from another city or state.

It is not legal or safe for you personally to order prescription medications from online overseas suppliers. This is because they may not have been manufactured to Australian standards, and may be unsafe. But your pharmacist may do so on your behalf, under a special provision called section 19A.

If all else fails, you may need to contact your doctor about changing to a different medication. There are often many alternatives in the same drug class that work in the same, or very similar, way.


Read more: Health Check: what should you do with your unused medicine?


Finally, and especially during COVID-19, for a large number of medicines pharmacists are only allowed to provide a maximum of one month’s supply to each patient.

So if your medicine is actually in stock and you want extra, just in case, then by law they may not be able to dispense it to you. This is to prevent panic buying and to ensure the wider community has steady access to medicine; that is, to prevent further shortages.


Read more: Why are people stockpiling toilet paper? We asked four experts


ref. I’ve heard COVID is leading to medicine shortages. What can I do if my medicine is out of stock? – https://theconversation.com/ive-heard-covid-is-leading-to-medicine-shortages-what-can-i-do-if-my-medicine-is-out-of-stock-153628

Engineers have built machines to scrub CO₂ from the air. But will it halt climate change?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Deanna D’Alessandro, Professor & ARC Future Fellow, University of Sydney

On Wednesday this week, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was measured at at 415 parts per million (ppm). The level is the highest in human history, and is growing each year.

Amid all the focus on emissions reduction, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says it will not be enough to avoid dangerous levels of global warming. The world must actively remove historical CO₂ already in the atmosphere – a process often described as “negative emissions”.

CO₂ removal can be done in two ways. The first is by enhancing carbon storage in natural ecosystems, such as planting more forests or storing more carbon in soil. The second is by using direct air capture (DAC) technology that strips CO₂ from the ambient air, then either stores it underground or turns it into products.

US research published last week suggested global warming could be slowed with an emergency deployment of a fleet of “CO₂ scrubbers” using DAC technology. However a wartime level of funding from government and business would be needed. So is direct air capture worth the time and money?

Smoke stack with CO2 written in smoke
Direct air capture of CO2 will be needed to address climate change. Shutterstock

What’s DAC all about?

Direct air capture refers to any mechanical system capturing CO₂ from the atmosphere. Plants operating today use a liquid solvent or solid sorbent to separate CO₂ from other gases.

Swiss company Climeworks operates 15 direct air capture machines across Europe, comprising the world’s first commercial DAC system. The operation is powered by renewable geothermal energy or energy produced by burning waste.

The machines use a fan to draw air into a “collector”, inside which a selective filter captures CO₂. Once the filter is full, the collector is closed and the CO₂ is sequestered underground.


Read more: Net-zero, carbon-neutral, carbon-negative … confused by all the carbon jargon? Then read this


Canadian company Carbon Engineering uses giant fans to pull air into a tower-like structure. The air passes over a potassium hydroxide solution which chemically binds to the CO₂ molecules, and removes them from the air. The CO₂ is then concentrated, purified and compressed.

Captured CO₂ can be injected into the ground to extract oil, in some cases helping to counteract the emissions produced by burning the oil.

The proponents of the Climeworks and Carbon Engineering technology say their projects are set for large-scale investment and deployment in coming years. Globally, the potential market value of DAC technology could reach US$100bn by 2030, on some estimates.

Artist impression of a DAC facility to be built in Houston, Texas.
Artist impression of a DAC facility to be built in the US state of Texas. If built, it would be the largest of its kind in the world. Carbon Engineering

Big challenges ahead

Direct air capture faces many hurdles and challenges before it can make a real dent in climate change.

DAC technology is currently expensive, relative to many alternative ways of capturing CO₂, but is expected to become cheaper as the technology scales up. The economic feasibility will be helped by the recent emergence of new carbon markets where negative emissions can be traded.

DAC machines process an enormous volume of air, and as such are very energy-intensive. In fact, research has suggested direct air capture machines could use a quarter of global energy in 2100. However new DAC methods being developed could cut the technology’s energy use.


Read more: The Morrison government wants to suck CO₂ out of the atmosphere. Here are 7 ways to do it


While the challenges to direct air capture are great, the technology uses less land and water than other negative emissions technologies such as planting forests or storing CO₂ in soils or oceans.

DAC technology is also increasingly gaining the backing of big business. Microsoft, for example, last year included the technology in its carbon negative plan.

Emissions rising from a coal plant.
Direct air capture is touted as a way to offset emissions from industry and elsewhere. Shutterstock

Opportunities for Australia

Australia is uniquely positioned to be a world leader in direct air capture. It boasts large areas of land not suitable for growing crops. It has ample sunlight, meaning there is great potential to host DAC facilities powered by solar energy. Australia also has some of the world’s best sites in which to “sequester” or store carbon in underground reservoirs.

Direct air capture is a relatively new concept in Australia. Australian company Southern Green Gas, as well as the CSIRO, are developing solar-powered DAC technologies. The SGG project, with which I am involved, involves modular units potentially deployed in large numbers, including close to sites where captured CO₂ can be used in oil recovery or permanently stored.

If DAC technology can overcome its hurdles, the benefits will extend beyond tackling climate change. It would create a new manufacturing sector and potentially re-employ workers displaced by the decline of fossil fuels.

Red sand and tussocks of grass
Australia has ample sunlight and plenty of non-arable land where DAC facilities could be built. Shutterstock

Looking ahead

The urgency of removing CO₂ from the atmosphere seems like an enormous challenge. But not acting will bring far greater challenges: more climate and weather extremes, irreversible damage to biodiversity and ecosystems, species extinction and threats to health, food, water and economic growth.

DAC technology undoubtedly faces stiff headwinds. But with the right policy incentives and market drivers, it may be one of a suite of measures that start reversing climate change.


Read more: Earth may temporarily pass dangerous 1.5℃ warming limit by 2024, major new report says


ref. Engineers have built machines to scrub CO₂ from the air. But will it halt climate change? – https://theconversation.com/engineers-have-built-machines-to-scrub-co-from-the-air-but-will-it-halt-climate-change-152975

Expect the new normal for NZ’s temperature to get warmer

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By James Renwick, Professor, Physical Geography (climate science), Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

It might be summer in New Zealand but we’re in for some wild weather this week with forecasts of heavy wind and rain, and a plunge in temperatures.

Long term, though, New Zealand is definitely warming up, along with the rest of the globe.

The National Institute of Water & Atmosphere Research (NIWA) says 2020 was our 7th warmest in the 112-year record since 1909.

The national average temperature was 0.63℃ above the 1981-2010 normal (more on that later). Six of the eight warmest years in the record have all occurred since 2013.

Up a degree

The overall linear trend in New Zealand’s Seven Station temperature record — an average of readings taken at seven locations across the country — is a warming rate of about 1℃ per century, close to the global rate over the same period.


Read more: Climate explained: what caused major climate change in the past?


That does not mean temperatures just become a little warmer each year, though. There are many ups and downs in a small country like New Zealand as we are exposed to influences from the tropics and the Southern Ocean.

The year 2016 still stands as our warmest on record and as recently as 2012 we had a year that was a little cooler than normal.

When we look at the chances of a warm or a cool year, that is where the warming trend is most obvious.

In the past 25 years of the record, six of the years were cooler than normal and 19 were warmer than normal. That’s a ratio just over three to one in favour of warm years.

In the first 25 years of the record, from 1909, 21 of the years were cooler than normal and four were warmer than normal, a ratio of about five to one in favour of cool years.

Prior to the 1970s, a year warmer than the 1981-2010 normal would have been exceptional. Now it’s what we expect every year.

The rise of the ‘new normal’

We all talk about a “new normal” but that is literally what will be happening this year.

The normals, the 30-year averages that countries use to define their climates, will be recalculated this year.

The World Meteorological Organization sets the rules for climate normals that are used all over the world.

These normals are averages of temperature, rainfall and other quantities, calculated over the most recent three full decades.

From 2011 until last year, that was the 1981-2010 normal period. Now that 2020 is over, the meteorological services and climate centres of the world can calculate the new 1991-2020 normals that will be the standard until 2031.

Based on the Seven Station series numbers for New Zealand, the 1991-2020 temperature normal will be 0.14℃ higher than the 1981-2010 normal.

That means the past eight years are at or above the new normal (see Warmer years 1996-2020 figure, above) with the most recent five years averaging about 0.6℃ above the new normal.

Over the next few years, it is unlikely but still possible we will see a year cooler than the 1991-2020 normal, if we get a lot of southerly winds or if there was to be a large volcanic eruption in the tropics.

Another degree warmer

If greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced rapidly and future normals were successively around 0.14℃ warmer, New Zealand would be another degree warmer overall by the end of the century, beyond the degree of warming we have seen in the past 100 years.

A sunny landscape of Auckland's skyline.
It’s going to get warmer. Flickr/russellstreet, CC BY-SA

Two degrees of warming would lock in major changes in our climate and at least a metre of sea level rise in the next century.

This year will feel the effects of the La Niña event in the tropical Pacific. La Niña events cool the globe a little on average, so 2021 is expected to come in around one tenth of a degree cooler globally than 2020, but still more than 1.1℃ above pre-industrial temperatures.

On the other hand, because they bring more subtropical air our way and tend to go along with warmer than normal sea temperatures, La Niña events tend to warm New Zealand a little, even while they cool the globe.


Read more: Net-zero, carbon-neutral, carbon-negative … confused by all the carbon jargon? Then read this


Another important factor is how the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) behaves this year, a measure of climate variability that encircles the South Pole and extends up to New Zealand.

A positive SAM warms New Zealand and a negative brings cooler and stormier weather. It is very hard to predict in advance how the SAM will behave because there is a lot of randomness in teh way it changes. But it was positive for much (61%) of last year.

There are many other things that influence New Zealand’s climate and average temperatures so it is hard to say exactly where the 2021 temperature will land. But it will almost certainly be warmer than normal — even warmer than the new normal.

ref. Expect the new normal for NZ’s temperature to get warmer – https://theconversation.com/expect-the-new-normal-for-nzs-temperature-to-get-warmer-153291

Young Australians remain ill-equipped to participate in Australian democracy

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Zareh Ghazarian, Senior Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, Monash University

Despite many young Australians having a deep interest in political issues, most teenagers have a limited understanding about their nation’s democratic system.

Results from the 2019 National Assessment Program – Civics and Citizenship (NAP-CC) released today show the proportion of young people demonstrating the expected level of knowledge about topics such as democracy and government has not improved since three years ago.


Read more: 3 ways to help children think critically about the news


Only 38% of year 10 students reached the standard of knowledge on civics and citizenship required for their year level in 2019, the same percentage as in 2016. In year 6, 53% achieved the benchmark, which is down from 55% in 2016.

This has implications for the confidence and preparedness of young people to participate in shaping society now, and into the future.

What is the civics and citizenship test?

The national assessment program on civics and citizenship has been held every three years since 2004. It is administered to a sample of year 6 and year 10 students across Australia. Around 13,250 students sat the assessments in 2019.

The NAP-CC seeks to assess students’ understanding of topics including Australian politics, government, history and the legal system. It also captures students’ knowledge of their rights and responsibilities as citizens.

The NAP-CC aligns with educational aims agreed to by national, state and territory education ministers.

The Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration, established in 2019, has two goals, the second of which is that:

young Australians become confident and creative individuals, successful lifelong learners, and active and informed members of the community.

What do the latest results show?

For year 6 students, the proficiency standard expects they can demonstrate knowledge of core aspects of Australian democracy. This includes awareness of the connection between fundamental principles (such as fairness) and their manifestation in rules and laws. They should also be able to demonstrate awareness of citizenship rights and responsibilities.

For example, students in year 6 should be able to identify the role of the prime minister, understand the origins of the Westminster system, and recognise that a vote on a proposed change to the constitution is a referendum.

At year 6, the percentage of students achieving the proficient standard has fallen slightly to 53% from 55% in 2016. This result maintains the established pattern where, since 2004, the percentage of year 6 students meeting the proficient standard has remained within the 50-55% range.


Read more: Schools are not adequately preparing young Australians to participate in our democracy


To meet the proficiency standards in year 10, students should be able to demonstrate knowledge of specific details of Australian democracy, make connections between the processes and outcomes of civil and civic institutions, and demonstrate awareness of the common good as a potential motivation for civic action.

Only 38% of year 10 students reached the proficient standard in 2019. This is the same as the last testing round in 2016, but well down on the 49% high achieved in 2010.



The NAP-CC 2019 results also showed:

  • at both year levels, female students outperformed males

  • there were large statistically significant differences between the achievements of non-Indigenous and Indigenous students

  • students with parents who were senior managers or professionals had significantly higher scores than students with parents who were classified as unskilled labourers, or office, sales or service staff

  • the scores of students from metropolitan schools were significantly higher than those of students from regional and remote schools at both year levels

  • students who had a parent with a bachelor’s degree or above achieved more than 130 scale points (one proficiency level) higher than students whose parents completed year 10 or year 9 as their highest level of education.


What we need to do

Year 10 is the last year of compulsory schooling in Australia. It is also the final year in which the national civics and citizenship curriculum is delivered.

This means year 10 can be the last opportunity for students to learn about their nation’s political system and their responsibilities as citizens.

Previous research has also shown young people would like to consolidate their knowledge about Australia’s democracy before leaving school.

A national civics and citizenship curriculum was developed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority in 2012-2013. But states retain the constitutional authority over education, which results in variation in how civics and citizenship is taught across jurisdictions.

The latest data suggests now is the time to build on these investments and introduce targeted strategies.

When we spoke to school leavers in 2017, many told us they wanted additional lessons that concentrated on building their understanding of Australian democracy before they left school. In light of the consistently low performance at the year 10 level, it is now the time to capture and respond to the student voice.


Read more: Ignoring young people’s climate change fears is a recipe for anxiety


We also need to support teachers. Young Australians have said what they learn at school about civics and citizenship is highly dependent on the preparedness of their teachers.

Teachers who are confident about exploring politics and government in class can have a positive impact on the learning outcomes of their students.

In what is often seen to be a “crowded curriculum”, teachers confront a range of challenges in delivering civics and citizenship lessons. As a result, there is value in providing opportunities to build their confidence and capacity in this space.

These latest figures show the previous results were no mere aberration and that student performance in civics and citizenship has remained low. The steps we take now will have an impact on Australian democracy for years to come.

ref. Young Australians remain ill-equipped to participate in Australian democracy – https://theconversation.com/young-australians-remain-ill-equipped-to-participate-in-australian-democracy-153536

The open Australian beach is a myth: not everyone can access these spaces equally

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Michelle O’Shea, Senior Lecturer, School of Business, Western Sydney University

Last week, the McIver’s Ladies Baths in Sydney came under fire for their (since removed) policy stating “only transgender women who’ve undergone a gender reassignment surgery are allowed entry”. The policy was seemingly in defiance of New South Wales’ anti-discrimintation and sex discrimination acts.

Managed since 1922 by the Randwick and Coogee Ladies Amateur Swimming Club, the baths are a haven for women, and the last remaining women’s-only seawater pool in Australia.

Just over 100 public ocean pools sit on Australia’s rocky coast, most in New South Wales. Segregated baths gave women a place to experience the water, prohibited from most beach access until “continental” (or mixed gender) bathing was introduced in the early 20th century.

The council removed the wording on the website, and put out a statement saying they have “always supported the inclusion of transgender women at McIver’s Ladies Baths”. But this weekend, trans women and allies gathered at the baths, calling for a specifically inclusive policy to be drawn up.

Writing for Pedestrian, Alex Gallagher called the baths were “a queer haven”. Of beaches, they wrote:

There’s likely no other place I feel such an undercurrent of anxiety that I’ll face scrutiny for not conforming to a sexist ideal of what a body “should” look like than the beach.

This is the latest in a long history of discrimination at Australia’s public beaches. Indeed, Australia’s beaches and ocean pools are a window into deep divisions.

Sites of contest

With Captain Cook’s arrival in 1770, coastal beaches were the first sites of early interactions and confrontations between the Aboriginal people and the colonisers.

Indigenous women, such as the Palawa women of Tasmania, once had an intimate relationship with water environments. Water was a playground as well as a source of nourishment and socialisation.


Read more: Hidden women of history: Wauba Debar, an Indigenous swimmer from Tasmania who saved her captors


The colonial erasure of these histories and knowledge has contributed to a culture where Aboriginal swimmers who defied convention – by participating in formal competition or by serving as lifeguards — were swimming against a tide of discrimination.

Aboriginal people were commonly caricatured at surf carnivals in degrading, costumed representations. The development of organised competitive swimming associations in Sydney in the late 1800s saw segregated “Natives’ Races”: scarcely mentioned in the media, except to demonstrate perceived white superiority in the baths.

Student Action for Aborigines protest outside Moree Artesian Baths, 1965. Aboriginal people were banned from the pool, and the protest drew national attention. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and Courtesy SEARCH Foundation, CC BY

As recently as the 1960s, it was routine for Aboriginal people to be banned from public swimming pools.

Owing to this discriminatory legacy, Aboriginal people — despite a history of a strong water culture — have historically rarely participated in organised swimming. But positive changes are beginning to emerge. In the past ten years, there has been a 47% reduction in drowning deaths in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, reflecting the development of programs specifically tailored for remote communities.


Read more: From segregation to celebration: the public pool in Australian culture


Ocean freedoms and fears

The first year women competed in swimming at the Olympic games, 1912, Australians Sarah “Fanny” Durack and “Mina” Wylie won medals. The McIver’s Ladies Baths were an important venue for their preparations.

Two women in heavy bathing suits.
Fanny Durack (left) and Mina Wylie at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. Wikimedia Commons

But even as beaches and pools became desegregated along gender lines, women weren’t admitted as full members of Surf Lifesaving Australia until 1980.

Muslim people, in particular those women who wear the hijab, have also long faced discrimination on Australian beaches. This was brought to the fore at the Cronulla riots of December 2005, when a crowd of 5,000 mostly white young men rioted on Cronulla beach in a “”Leb and Wog bashing day”.

Youths wave Australian flags to passersby at Cronulla Beach in Sydney, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2005. Approximately 5,000 people gathered at the beach during the riots. AAP Image/Paul Miller

Programs such as Western Sydney’s Swim Sisters challenge Islamophobia at Australia’s beaches. A sisterhood of religiously diverse women, the program allows women a space to challenge themselves and support each other. And 40 years after white women could join Surf Lifesaving, highly skilled Muslim women lifesavers are furthering the tides of change.

Physical access

Australians living with a disability often face poor beach access and a lack of specialised facilities such as beach matting, access ramps and beach wheelchairs.

Without easy access to the beach, many with a disability lack confidence in swimming in the ocean, and there are few training opportunities for carers to develop the skills to assist.

A blue mat cuts across the white sandy beach. A woman smiles in a beach wheelchair.
Mats allowing wheelchair access, and accessibility chairs that can travel on the sand and into the water, improve accessibility to beach spaces. AAP Image/Supplied by City of Gold Coast

Here, too, there are positive signs of change, with Accessible Beaches Australia aiming to open all patrolled beaches to people with disability.

Despite our history, the myth Australia’s beaches are egalitarian spaces persists. We remain a long way off inclusivity for all in our public blue spaces.

The story of the McIver’s Ladies Baths is only the latest in a long history of discrimination. We must ensure everyone can find an ocean pool or beach where they belong.

ref. The open Australian beach is a myth: not everyone can access these spaces equally – https://theconversation.com/the-open-australian-beach-is-a-myth-not-everyone-can-access-these-spaces-equally-153378

Chancellor defends UP as ‘bastion of academic freedom’ against military

By Lorraine Ecarma in Cebu City

The University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV) will continue to stand against any threats to human rights, chancellor Clement Camposano has declared in response to the termination of a long-standing accord preventing military incursion on campus.

In a Facebook post, Camposano said the academic freedom in the university was “not something anyone can abrogate”.

“The University of the Philippines Visayas like the rest of the UP System, will remain a bastion of academic freedom,” he wrote.

“This is not something anyone can abrogate. We will stand firm against any and all attempts to deprive us of our democratic rights.”

The brief statement was posted on Monday, hours after news broke of Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s decision to unilaterally terminate the decades-old pact between the University of the Philippines and the Department of National Defence preventing military and police presence in all UP System campuses.

In his official statement posted yesterday, the UP Visayas chancellor pointed to the tumultuous history between UP and the DND as the cause of the university’s apprehension.

“Historical events that have shaped the relationship of UP and the country’s security forces—many of these leaving wounds that have yet to heal—explain the university’s strong apprehensio,” he wrote.

‘Sordid reality of recent killings’
“While the Department of National Defence has given assurances that constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms would not be suppressed, these historical events and the sordid reality of recent killings, abductions, and other forms of human rights abuses widely believed to have been perpetrated by security forces cannot but leave us unassured.”

Even before the scrapping of the accord, UP System universities in the Visayas have long decried unwarranted military and police presence in their campuses.

One of the most recent instances was the arrest of 8 protestors, collectively known as Cebu 8, during a picket rally against the then anti-terror bill held in front of the UP Cebu campus last June.

Videos of the arrest in social media showed police breaching the walls of UP Cebu to chase students and activists seeking refuge inside the campus.

And despite the government’s assurance that the accord’s termination was not meant to suppress activism and academic freedom in UP, students, faculty, and staff from UP Cebu said they have not forgotten about the arrest of Cebu 8.

The Unified Student Organisations of UP Cebu, along with the University Student Council, the All UP Academic Employees Union, and the university’s student publication Tug-ani came out with a joint statement condemning the termination.

“We remember the violent dispersal of the June 5th protest against the then Anti-Terrorism Bill last year, wherein armed non-uniformed PNP personnel chased protesters inside the campus and groundlessly detained 8 individuals, including a bystander, now collectively known as the Cebu 8,” the statement reads.

Death threats against union president
The unified organisations also pointed out the arrest of UP Cebu alumna Myles Albasin of Mabinay 6 and the death threats received by faculty union president Regletto Imbong earlier this month as “one of one of the many UP-DND Accord violations and harassments” that had been committed.

They added the termination of the UP-DND agreement was a disrespect to the martyrs from the university who died in the pursuit of democracy during martial law, and enjoined the administration to remain firm against any threats academic freedom.

“For the DND to end this accord is already an admission of either their ignorance of the country’s history or their blatant disrespect of the martyrs who fought for the freedoms we enjoy today and now the Duterte administration is desperately trying to snatch away from us again,” they said.

“We collectively call upon the UP administration, UP board of regents to affirm their mandate in ensuring that UP shall remain a zone of peace and refuge; to defend the university against the DND’s attempt of militarising our schools, and to stand and fight against all fascist manoeuvres that threaten our academic freedom and basic rights,” they added.

In her official statement, UP Cebu chancellor Liza Corro said the abrogation without consultation of the agreement was “deeply concerning to say the least,” considering the many threats faced by UP Cebu.

“Especially for us here in UP Cebu, as it came at a time, when our students and faculty members have been subjected to direct intimidation and threats, including red-tagging… We strongly condemned such acts of transgression and bullying,” Corro wrote.

She went on to defend Imbong, describing him as an “academic scholar of good standing” who was active not only in the academe but also in campaigning for social justice.

“His active engagements to help elevate social ills, is inherent in his basic task as a UP constituent, in fact as a good and responsible Filipino citizen. This does not make him an insurgent or a terrorist.

“We strongly condemn any and all forms of baseless accusations and red-tagging among our constituents, faculty and students alike. They deserve our respect, not harassment,” she added.

Asia Pacific Report republishes Rappler articles with permission.

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As Joe Biden becomes president, US still reels from deadly consequences of ‘alternative facts’

President of the United States of America, Joe Biden.

ANALYSIS: By Jennifer S. Hunt, Australian National University

Every four years on January 20, the US exercises a key tenant of democratic government: the peaceful transfer of power. This year, the scene looks a bit different.

If the last US presidential inauguration in 2017 debuted the phrase “alternative facts”, the 2021 inauguration represents their deadly consequences.

After conspiracy-theory inspired violence laid siege to the Capitol Building where lawmakers met to confirm the election results, more than 20,000 troops now patrol the US Capitol to ensure the transition goes ahead smoothly against calls for insurrection.

The threat of disinformation and alternative facts has taken many forms over the past several years, from conspiracy theories about climate change to covid-19, culminating in a 2019 FBI memo warning about the threat of “conspiracy-theory driven domestic extremists”, particularly around elections.

It follows years of warnings from national security practitioners and scholars about the growing risk of domestic extremists. More recently, as reported by the FBI and ASIO, these groups have used the global pandemic to recruit and radicalise new members, seizing on the isolation and uncertainty to offer a sense of community and clarity of purpose.

The conspiracy theory that drove the violence at the Capitol Building has been building for the past four years. During this time, US President Donald Trump has decried any contest he does not win as fraudulent.

More recently, he has called his supporters to action, warning that there will be “no God” and “no country” without him as president. Though the attack only lasted a few hours, the consequences will linger for years.

As Joe Biden prepares to become the 46th president of the United States, managing the fallout from it will be one of his gravest challenges.

The long-standing threat of right-wing extremists
This threat appears to have been taken seriously by long-standing national security experts and scholars. But action against it was hindered under the Trump administration.

Starting in 2017, federal funding for tackling white nationalist and other far right extremist activity was cut, including university research and non-profit deradicalisation organisations such as Life After Hate

Last year, a whistleblower report from the Department of Homeland Security alleged senior intelligence officials were instructed to modify intelligence assessments to match Trump’s rhetoric and modify the section on White Supremacy in a manner that made the threat appear less severe.

During 2020, diverse groups stormed state legislative buildings to evade covid-19 mitigation efforts and intimidate lawmakers at the behest of Trump.

Despite these public signs of growing extremist violence, even some lawmakers appeared to be caught unaware by the Capitol insurrection. In an opinion piece just after the event, Republican Senator Susan Collins wrote she first assumed the attack was coming from Iran.

Breach of US Capitol
Trump supporters breached the Capitol on January 6, claiming the election result was fradulent. Image: AAP/AP/ John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPx

Trump has demonstrated that conspiracy theories can drive electoral and fundraising success. Having started his political campaign with the “birther” conspiracy theory, challenging the citizenship and eligibility of American-born Barack Obama, Trump also cast shadows over his Republican rivals, including Ted Cruz, by accusing Cruz’s father of being linked to the man who killed JFK.

Similarly, Trump will end his administration on a conspiracy theory, one that has already cost five lives. Despite recent backlash from business leaders in America, Trump fundraised more than $200 million after election night on the basis of his refusal to concede defeat.

Recent Congressional races have further demonstrated the success of Trump’s template. Holocaust-deniers in three states ran for office in 2018 (all as Republicans). Two of the newest members of Congress are members of QAnon, the inheritor of the “pizzagate” conspiracy theory, in which all who oppose Trump are deep state members of a international child sex trafficking cabal.

The challenge ahead for Biden
Where then, does this leave policy-making on national and global issues that require sober reflection and good judgement?

Alternative facts have no place in good governance. Their purpose is only to destroy and divide. This is why disinformation has been pursued so aggressively by hostile foreign actors against the US, with Russian active measures detailed extensively by the Republican chaired Senate Intelligence Committee reports.

Voter fraud, one of the key narratives of Russian efforts in election interference in 2016, has now become mainstreamed in the Republican base, with nearly half of respondents expressing doubt about Biden’s win.

Public assurances by Republican secretaries of state have had limited impact, culminating in Trump’s taped conversation in which he asks the Georgia Secretary of state to “find” 11,000 votes for him (to win).

Joe Biden should focus on repairing Americans’ frayed trust in institutions and rehabilitate America’s battered reputation. At the same time, he should lead with science and fact, most immediately in tackling the nation’s covid crisis.

Joe Biden
One of Joe Biden’s first priorities should be repairing trust in American institutions. Image: Matt Slocum/AAP/AP

Where conspiracy theories go hand in hand with corruption (such as Trump soliciting an election official to tamper with results), state authorities should pursue charges. Where disinformation has proven lucrative, tools should be explored to remove financial rewards.

For instance, non-profit organisations that participated in or fundraised what the Joint Chiefs of Staff declared as “sedition and insurrection” could be stripped of protective tax status.

Some of these remedies lie firmly with Congress. Impeachment proceedings are already underway which could remove Trump’s ability to run in 2024. The 14th Amendment could be applied to expel or bar current office holders who participated in the insurrection from running for election again.

Trump has recently condemned the violence done in his name. But he has not disavowed the rationale for it. His supporters within the Republican base, media and elected ranks continue to repeat his conspiracy theories on Fox “entertainment” shows, on AM radio, and now the halls of Congress.

More than 100 US Representatives voted against certifying the ballots on which they themselves were elected.

The next few years will see investigations, commissions and reports detailing the failures that led up to the Capitol attacks. Any delay in accountability could see even more lives lost to conspiracy theories and those who profit from them.The Conversation

By Dr Jennifer S. Hunt, lecturer in national security, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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Papua New Guineans defy national mask-wearing rules in spite of covid

By Lulu Mark in Port Moresby

In spite of Papua New Guinea’s mandatory mask-wearing requirement under the National Pandemic Act 2020, many public servants attending a dedication service in Port Moresby have failed to wear one.

They were issued masks before entering the Sir John Guise Indoor Complex but took them off once inside.

Pandemic Controller David Manning has again emphasised that the mandatory wearing of masks is one of the 11 measures to stop the spread of the covid-19 which some people were openly defying.

The national covid-19 total is 843.

The rules are:

  • NO person shall be permitted entry to, or otherwise remain within any enclosed space within an establishment, unless the person is wearing a mask or face covering, in a manner which covers their mouth, nose and chin;
  • NO person shall be permitted entry into or otherwise remain on public transport unless the person is wearing a mask or face covering in a manner which covers their mouth, nose and chin;
  • NO person shall be permitted entry into an aircraft anywhere in PNG unless the person is wearing a mask or face covering;
  • NO person shall remove their mask or face covering while on an aircraft in PNG; and,
  • ALL persons working in a designated market, establishment or on a public transport in which they interact in person with customers, clients or work in an enclosed space with other colleagues must wear masks at all times.

Face masks ‘a must’
Manning stressed that business and government departments and agencies must ensure that all employees must wear mask or face coverings.

But at the public service dedication service on Monday, the majority of the people who sat side by side were not wearing masks.

An officer from the Department of Community Development was seen handing out masks to public servants entering the Sir John Guise Stadium.

But once inside, some removed their masks.

Those exempted from the measures include:

  • CHILDREN under 12;
  • PERSONS with underlying medical conditions which inhibit their ability to wear a mask, including persons with physical or mental illness or impairment or disability;
  • PERSONS who are unable to place or remove a facemask or face covering without assistance;
  • PERSONS undergoing dental treatment or medical care to the extent that the procedure requires that no face covering may be worn; and
  • PERSONS participating in sporting activities.

Manning said penalties would be imposed on those who failed to wear masks.

Asia Pacific Report republishes The National articles with permission.

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Curious Kids: how do scabs form?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Christian Moro, Associate Professor of Science & Medicine, Bond University

How do scabs form? — Talila, aged 8

Great question, Talila!

Our skin has many different jobs. One is to act as a barrier, protecting us from harmful things in the outside world.

Sometimes when we cut or graze ourselves, we tear away some layers of our skin. When the skin is damaged, it can’t do its job of protecting us quite as well. What’s underneath the skin, called tissue, can be left exposed, and germs and other nasty things may get in.

So when we get a cut or a graze, it’s a race against time for our bodies to stop any bleeding, protect the area, and start the repair process. And this is where scabs come in.


Read more: Curious Kids: how do wounds heal?


What happens when you cut yourself?

To understand how this all works, let’s look at what would happen if you were to, say, graze the skin on your knee. You’ve probably done it before!

When you graze or cut yourself, blood vessels near the wound burst, causing you to bleed (blood vessels are the tubes which transport blood around your body).

Usually, if the wound isn’t too serious, it won’t be long before the bleeding stops. That’s because fortunately, our bodies have some clever ways of healing themselves.

A girl with a bandage on her forearm.
There’s a lot happening under that bandage: your body is working to heal itself. Shutterstock

After you cut yourself, any damaged blood vessels quickly contract, closing some of their openings so that less blood flows out.

Next, tiny cells in your blood called “platelets” kick into gear. These platelets start to stick together, making a sort of plug that helps stop the bleeding and seal the cut. Other good guys in your blood also step in to help, working with the platelets to make the plug stronger.

Something called a “clot” then forms. This can block the damaged blood vessels completely for some time, giving the body a chance to start the healing process for both the skin and the vessels.

White blood cells, which help our bodies fight infections and diseases, also move into the damaged area. These cells work to kill any invading bad guys that may have entered your body through the wound, and help clean up the area.


Read more: Curious Kids: why do our toes and fingers get wrinkly in the bath?


Forming the scab

The clotted blood at the surface of the wound starts to dry out and forms a hardened scab. This may happen quickly, or take a few days.

This scab forms a protective layer, while allowing cells to move around underneath it so they can continue repairing the skin.

As part of health-care training, scabs and scars can be painted on the skin using special effects makeup. This process is called ‘moulage’. Christian Moro, Author provided

If you have a scab, it’s best not to pick it or scratch it off. If you remove the scab while it’s still doing its work, you could expose the wound to the outside world, increasing the risk of infection or slowing down healing.

If you leave it alone, after about one to two weeks the scab will eventually fall off and reveal the new, repaired skin underneath.

Sometimes, depending on the type of tissue damaged or how serious the injury is, a cut to the skin can leave a scar. This is normal.

Scabs are good

So Talila, don’t worry if you have a small scab on your skin after a cut or graze. Scabs are one of the good guys; they protect your body and help your wound to heal.


Read more: Curious Kids: why do we have boogers?


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

ref. Curious Kids: how do scabs form? – https://theconversation.com/curious-kids-how-do-scabs-form-151586

Men and women kill their children in roughly equal numbers, and we need to understand why

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Denise Buiten, Senior Lecturer in Social Justice and Sociology, University of Notre Dame Australia

On average, one child is killed by a parent almost every fortnight in Australia.

Last week, three children — Claire, 7, Anna, 5, and Matthew, 3 — were included in this terrible number. Homicide investigators have formed the “preliminary view” that their mother, Katie Perinovic, was responsible for their deaths before killing herself.

Their grieving father, Tomislav Perinovic, and Katie Perinovic’s parents have reportedly accepted the police’s version of events.

It was less than a year ago that Hannah Clarke and her children Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey were killed by their father, Rowan Baxter, who doused their car in petrol and set it alight.

In 2019, Anthony Harvey was sentenced to life in prison in Perth for killing his small children Charlotte, Alice and Beatrix, his wife Mara and her mother Beverley.

Also that year, Charmaine McLeod is suspected to have deliberately caused the head-on collision in Queensland that killed her and her four young children, Aaleyn, Matilda, Wyatt and Zaidok.

How do we make sense of such unfathomable crimes, and what do we know about why they happen?

How many children are killed by parents in Australia?

Filicide is the murder of a child by a parent. Despite making up approximately 18% of all domestic homicides each year, precise data on the characteristics of filicide are difficult to establish due to the smaller numbers and varied cases.

However, one of the most recent comprehensive national filicide studies in Australia documented 238 cases between 2000 and 2012. This study mirrored trends elsewhere, with male and female perpetrators represented in roughly equal numbers.

Common precursors to filicide included a history of domestic and family violence, parental separation and mental illness.


Read more: Why do parents kill their children? The facts about filicide in Australia


How the media and public view filicide

On social media, some commentators on this latest case involving Katie Perinovic have been quick to criticise what is perceived as more sympathetic media coverage of women who kill their children. And for some, the fact women and men commit filicide in roughly equal numbers suggests that family violence has no gender.

But filicide is a relative outlier as a form of violence committed by women in relatively equal numbers to men.

Men commit almost all forms of violence at higher rates. And the most common form of domestic homicide — intimate partner homicide — is committed far more by men against women in the context of domestic violence.

Women who kill their children

Research indicates that gender does, in fact, play a role in the type of crime committed and the motivations behind it.

Accidental killings of children, for instance, are more likely to be the result of neglect among mothers and abuse among fathers and stepfathers. This reflects what we know about gender patterns in childcare responsibility and domestic and family violence.

In cases where children are killed intentionally, women are more likely to kill babies and newborns, particularly in circumstances of unwanted pregnancies. Such offenders are more likely to be young and have low levels of social support, although it is increasingly reported among older women.


Read more: Understanding the triggers for filicide will help prevent it


Mothers are also more likely to kill their children during a psychotic episode.

For example, in 2017, a court found Raina Thaiday of Queensland, who killed her seven children and niece, had been experiencing a severe psychotic episode linked to schizophrenia triggered by long-term cannabis use. The court ruled she could not be found criminally responsible for her actions.

Women are also more likely to kill children out of a warped belief they are sparing them pain – for instance, of losing a parent to suicide.

Why men commit filicide

Fathers who kill their children, meanwhile, are more likely to have a history of domestic and family violence. They are more likely to kill out of revenge towards a partner or former partner in the context of family separation.

When John Edwards shot his teenage children, Jennifer and Jack, in Sydney in 2018, his actions followed a history of domestic abuse and separation, and ended in his ex-partner Olga’s death by suicide five months later. A senior police source called her death a “slow murder”.

And familicide, in which both a partner and children are killed, is committed almost exclusively by men. Researchers suggest this indicates that men are more likely to have proprietary attitudes to both women and children, and women primarily towards children.

While gender patterns around filicide are important to research in order to understand why these crimes happen, not all cases fit neatly into these boxes. Mental illness is often a common interacting factor in both maternal and paternal filicide, and the causes are often complex and multiple.


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


Remembering the children

When a parent kills, the focus is often on the mindset of the perpetrator rather than the children.

In my ongoing research into media coverage of family murder-suicide cases, I have observed a notable silence around the lives of children and how they experienced violence. It is an uncomfortable topic, but we need to keep children at the centre of these discussions.

While some parents who kill may indeed have been loving parents, the act of filicide should never be framed as an act of love. It is never excusable. As such, many researchers are uncomfortable with the term “altruistic” filicide, which places the emphasis on the parent’s experiences, rather than the child’s.

We also need to address the cultural beliefs that children belong to their parents. This attitude that children are “property” contributes to filicide.

What can be done?

More comprehensive research and consistent data are key starting points. The Monash Deakin Filicide Research Hub is an excellent example of collaboration towards this goal. The Australian Domestic Violence Death Review Network is also working to produce a data-set on filicide in the context of domestic and family violence.

Greater collaboration between support service providers is also important. We need to recognise how issues affecting parents, such as mental illness or domestic violence, can have important consequences for children.

We also need to keep the best interests of children front and centre, rather than viewing them as mere witnesses to family conflict.

ref. Men and women kill their children in roughly equal numbers, and we need to understand why – https://theconversation.com/men-and-women-kill-their-children-in-roughly-equal-numbers-and-we-need-to-understand-why-153527

The big barriers to global vaccination: patent rights, national self-interest and the wealth gap

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Ilan Noy, Professor and Chair in the Economics of Disasters and Climate Change, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

We will not be able to put the COVID-19 pandemic behind us until the world’s population is mostly immune through vaccination or previous exposure to the disease.

A truly global vaccination campaign, however, would look very different from what we are seeing now. For example, as of January 20, many more people have been immunised in Israel (with a population less than 10 million) than in Africa and Latin America combined.

Notwithstanding recent questions about the effectiveness of the initial single dose of the vaccine, there is a clear disparity in vaccine rollouts internationally.

That is a problem. As long as there are still existing reservoirs of a propagating virus it will be able to spread again to populations that either cannot or would not vaccinate. It will also be able to mutate to variants that are either more transmissible or more deadly.

Counterintuitively, an increase in transmissibility, such as has been found with the new UK variant, is worse than the same percentage increase in mortality rate. This is because increased transmissibility increases the number of cases (and hence the number of deaths) exponentially, while an increase in mortality rates increases only deaths, and only linearly.

Evolutionary pressure on the virus will inevitably favour mutations that make the disease more transmissible, or the virus itself more vaccine-resistant. It is clear, therefore, that every nation’s interest is in universal vaccination. But this is not the trajectory we are on.

People waiting to be vaccinated in Israel
Fast roll out: a busy coronavirus vaccination station in Israel in mid-January. GettyImages

Politics and profits

Fortunately, in the countries already vaccinating, the vaccine is (mostly) not allocated by wealth or power, but by prioritising those facing the highest risk. At a country level, however, national wealth is determining vaccine roll out.

Yet in the past we have managed to eradicate diseases worldwide, including small pox, a viral infection with much higher death rates than COVID-19.

There are two barriers that prevent us from rapidly pursuing a similar goal for the current pandemic:

  • big pharma is profit-driven and therefore keeps a tight lid on the intellectual property it is developing in the new vaccines

  • countries find it difficult to see beyond their national interest; not surprisingly, politicians are committed only to their own voters.

At this point, we don’t have a global system to confront either of these problems. Each vaccine’s patent is owned by its developer, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) is too weak to be the world’s Ministry of Health.


Read more: Should children get the COVID-19 vaccine?


The polio vaccine model

Overcoming big pharma’s profit motive has been achieved before, however.

In 1955, Jonas Salk announced the development of a polio vaccine in the midst of a huge epidemic. The news initially met with scepticism. Even employees of his own laboratory resigned, protesting that he was moving too fast with clinical experimentation.

When a huge placebo–controlled clinical trial involving 1.6 million children proved him right, however, he declared that in order to maximise the global distribution of this lifesaving vaccine his lab would not patent it. Asked who owned the patent, he famously replied:

Well, the people I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?

In an echo of the current moment, Israel (then a new state) was also experiencing a rapidly spreading polio epidemic. Efforts to purchase vaccines from the US were unsuccessful, as not all American children were yet vaccinated. So a scientist named Natan Goldblum was sent to Salk’s laboratory to learn how to make the new vaccine.

No lawyers were involved and no contracts signed. The young Dr Goldblum spent 1956 setting up manufacturing facilities for Salk’s vaccine in Israel and by early 1957 mass vaccination was underway.

Dr Jonas Salk and a nurse administering a polio vaccine to a girl
Could you patent the sun? Dr Jonas Salk and a nurse administer a polio vaccine in Pennsylvania in the 1950s. GettyImages

Suspend patent rights

Israel, a small and relatively poor country in the 1950s, became the third country in the world (after the US and Denmark) to produce the vaccine locally and eventually eradicate polio. It took a handful of scientists, a modest budget and, most importantly, no patenting.

Like Salk, Goldblum was aware viruses have complete disregard for political borders. He was also involved in a very successful Palestinian polio vaccination campaign in Gaza.


Read more: The great polio vaccine mess and the lessons it holds about federal coordination for today’s COVID-19 vaccination effort


More recently, a highly successful international campaign in the early 2000s saw AIDS treatments distributed in poorer countries. Pharmaceutical companies that owned the patented drugs were forced to supply them at cost or for free, not at market prices set in the rich countries. This was achieved through public pressure and the willingness of governments to support the required policies.

A temporary withdrawal of the patenting rights to the successful COVID-19 vaccines, with or without compensation for the developers, seems a small price to pay for an exit strategy from this global and incredibly costly crisis.

Act local, think global

Overcoming national interest is perhaps more complicated. Clearly, countries have an interest in vaccinating their most vulnerable populations first. But at some point, well before everyone is vaccinated, it becomes more efficient for countries to start vaccinating their neighbours (the countries they are most exposed to through movements of people and trade).

Disappointingly, rich countries today behave as though they will reach 100% vaccination rates before they give away a single dose, with many having bought well in excess of what is needed for 100% coverage.


Read more: COVID vaccine: some waste is normal – but here’s how it is being kept to a minimum


The COVAX plan to distribute vaccines in poorer countries has so far been an under-funded effort that has not yet delivered a single dose of vaccine. Even if COVAX were to be fully funded, it mostly aims to donate an insufficient number of vaccine doses to the poorest countries, rather than really bring about a universal vaccination programme.

Nevertheless, overcoming the profit-maximising interest of big pharma and the national focus of governments is not a pipe dream. The world has done it before.

ref. The big barriers to global vaccination: patent rights, national self-interest and the wealth gap – https://theconversation.com/the-big-barriers-to-global-vaccination-patent-rights-national-self-interest-and-the-wealth-gap-153443

After riots, Donald Trump leaves office with under 40% approval

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

At 4am Thursday AEDT, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be inaugurated as president and vice president of the United States, replacing Donald Trump and Mike Pence. What follows is a discussion of US political events over the past two weeks.

On January 5, Democrats won the two Georgia Senate runoffs. Raphael Warnock (D) defeated Kelly Loeffler (R) by 2.0%, and Jon Ossoff (D) defeated David Perdue (R) by 1.2%.

After November’s elections, Republicans held a 50-48 Senate lead, so these results enabled Democrats to tie the Senate at 50-50, with Harris to cast the tie-breaking vote. Democrats gained a net three Senate seats from the pre-November Senate.

On January 6, pro-Trump rioters stormed Congress as it met to certify Biden’s Electoral College victory. The rioters were clearly influenced by Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud. Despite the riots and the courts’ resounding rejections of Trump’s claims, two state certifications were contested: Pennsylvania, which Biden won by 1.2% and Arizona (Biden by 0.3%).

Seven Republican senators out of 51 objected to Pennsylvania’s certification, as did 138 Republicans in the House of Representatives, with smaller numbers objecting to Arizona. The House objectors included House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy.

Just 64 House Republicans opposed the objection, so of those who cast a Yes/No vote on objecting to Pennsylvania, 68% supported the objection. Democrats were unanimously opposed.

It is not just Trump or the rioters, but also these Republicans in Congress who objected to the certifications on baseless election fraud claims who deserve to be condemned for anti-democratic behaviour.

I had two articles for The Poll Bludger about Georgia and the anti-democratic nuttiness of Trump and Republicans. The first was a preview, while the second was a live blog on the Georgia results and the events in Congress the next day.

In response to the riots, on January 13 the Democrat-controlled House impeached Trump for the second time by a 232-197 margin. All Democrats and ten Republicans supported impeachment. It requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict. Trump’s Senate trial will not start until after he leaves office.

Since the riots, social media companies like Twitter and Facebook have blocked Trump’s accounts. But for two months after the election result was called by the media, Trump was able to use his Twitter account to rant that the election was stolen from him.

It is not surprising Trump’s supporters believe him: in a recent poll for the US ABC News and the Washington Post, over 70% of Republicans do not believe Biden was legitimately elected.

In the wake of the riots, Trump’s ratings have slumped. In the FiveThirtyEight aggregate, 38.5% approve of Trump’s performance and 57.9% disapprove, for a net approval of -19.4%. His net approval has dropped nine points since the riots. Trump’s net approval is his worst since December 2017.

FiveThirtyEight has charts of presidential approval since Harry Truman (president from 1945-53). Two previous presidents (Gerald Ford and John F. Kennedy) did not reach Trump’s four years as president. Of those who had at least four years, Trump’s final net approval is worse than all except Jimmy Carter at this point in their terms.

In a Marist poll, 47% thought Trump would be remembered as one of the worst presidents, while 16% thought he would be remembered as one of the best.

Detailed US election report

After results are finalised, I have published a detailed report on every US presidential election since 2008. My 2008 and 2012 reports are at The Green Papers here and here, and my 2016 report is at The Conversation. My 2016 report had a massive surge in views in October and November last year.

My 2020 election report, published December 11, is at The Poll Bludger. Here are the highlights:

  • Biden won the Electoral College by 306 to 232, but he only won the tipping-point state (Wisconsin) by 0.6%. The tipping-point state is the state that puts the winning candidate over the magic 270 Electoral Votes needed to win.

  • Biden won the national popular vote by 4.5% or just over 7 million votes. So the tipping-point state was 3.9% more pro-Trump than the popular vote.

  • Trump’s vote held up well with the non-University educated whites who had given him his upset 2016 win. Biden owed his Electoral College victory to gains in the suburbs, where there is a higher amount of university education.

  • Trump improved greatly from 2016 with Hispanics, leading to large swings in his favour in diverse places like Miami-Dade county, Florida and New York City.

  • There was disappointment for Democrats relative to expectations in Congressional races, although the Georgia runoff results have improved this.

ref. After riots, Donald Trump leaves office with under 40% approval – https://theconversation.com/after-riots-donald-trump-leaves-office-with-under-40-approval-153442

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