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Most women who give birth in Australia are monitored with CTG. But it might not be the best approach

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Kirsten Small, Obstetrician and researcher, Griffith University

Pregnant women rightly expect that when they’re in labour, medical staff will observe them and their baby closely, and can deal with any potential problems quickly.

The majority of women who give birth in Australia are monitored with a cardiotocograph (CTG monitoring). But this isn’t the only way.

Research shows women want to be included in making decisions about how to monitor the baby, but often are not.

In this article, we set out some of the pros and cons for each option, to help women take an active role in deciding what’s best for them and their baby.

What is foetal monitoring?

Foetal monitoring during labour focuses on detecting particular changes in the baby’s heart rate, so doctors and midwives can respond if a problem is found.

This could be as simple as asking the woman to change position, or in other circumstances, medical staff might recommend a caesarean section. The goal is to prevent the baby dying, or suffering brain damage as a result of low oxygen levels during labour.

The first method of foetal monitoring is intermittent auscultation. The midwife or doctor will typically listen to the baby’s heart rate for one minute every 15-30 minutes, including during contractions, using a device called a foetal doppler. Foetal dopplers use ultrasound to detect the baby’s heartbeat.

The second approach is CTG monitoring. CTG records the baby’s heart rate and the strength of the woman’s contractions, usually by placing two recording discs on the woman’s abdomen, which are held in place with straps. The information is then plotted on a graph, helping the midwife or doctor understand how the baby responds during the pressure of a contraction.


Read more: Tokophobia is an extreme fear of childbirth. Here’s how to recognise and treat it


So, what’s the difference?

CTG monitoring is the most common approach to foetal monitoring in Australia and other high-income countries, and is usually used continuously throughout labour.

Some women find the straps used to keep the monitoring devices in place uncomfortable. Depending on the specific equipment, women may need to remain lying on a bed, and therefore find their movements are restricted.

Some, but not all CTG monitors can be used in the shower or a birthing pool. So women being monitored with CTG may not be able to access these options, which bring comfort to some women during labour.

Conversely, intermittent auscultation leaves the woman free to move in between episodes of monitoring, when she is not attached to the equipment.

A couple embrace on the couch. The woman is pregnant.
Women want to be involved in making decisions about their labour. Shutterstock

While intermittent monitoring may be preferable from the perspective of the woman’s comfort, let’s look at how the two approaches compare on three important outcomes for mother and baby.

Women at low risk

Women who don’t have any risk factors that may increase the likelihood of complications for their baby are considered low risk.

A Cochrane review comparing intermittent auscultation with CTG monitoring showed no significant difference in the rare event of babies dying during labour or soon after among low-risk women (seven deaths per 10,000 births).

Cerebral palsy is a type of permanent brain injury that may sometimes occur due to low oxygen levels during labour. No research has looked at how the foetal monitoring approach used affects the rate of babies born with cerebral palsy in low-risk women.

Caesarean section was twice as common in women monitored by CTG compared with intermittent auscultation. We don’t know why, although it might have something to do with the fact women monitored with CTG often report not being able to move freely during labour.

Given caesarean section is associated with a higher rate of complications for the mother such as heavy bleeding or infection, and increased rates of miscarriage and stillbirth in subsequent pregnancies, intermittent auscultation is the safer monitoring option for low-risk women.


Read more: Why labour is such a pain – and how to reduce it


Women at higher risk

Some factors (for example, having a baby that’s smaller than expected, giving birth prematurely, or having diabetes) are associated with a greater chance of poor outcomes for the baby. Women with risk factors such as these are considered high risk.

We recently reviewed the evidence comparing the use of intermittent auscultation and CTG monitoring for high-risk women. CTG was again no better than intermittent auscultation in preventing babies dying during labour or soon after (16 deaths per 10,000 births).

However, cerebral palsy rates were almost three times higher with CTG monitoring over intermittent auscultation (going from 769 to 1,951 babies per 10,000 births). We don’t know why this is.

A newborn baby is examined by medical staff.
Foetal monitoring during labour looks for changes in the baby’s heart rate. Solen Feyissa/Unsplash

Once again, the caesarean section rate almost doubled with CTG monitoring.

Poor outcomes such as cerebral palsy and perinatal death occur more often in high-risk women, but remain relatively uncommon. Research shows the use of CTG rather than intermittent auscultation doesn’t reduce the likelihood of these outcomes, but does increase the risk to women by making it more likely they will give birth by caesarean section.

Making a decision

Intermittent auscultation is generally the recommended monitoring technique when there are no risk factors. But all major international foetal monitoring guidelines advise CTG monitoring should be used for women considered to be at high risk, despite the evidence.

As a consequence, clinicians don’t always explain foetal monitoring choices to women with risk factors in a way that helps them make up their own mind about how they want their baby to be monitored during labour.

Notably, much of the research we have on this topic is now dated, and not necessarily of optimal quality. It’s important that recommendations in professional guidelines align with research evidence and support midwives and doctors to help women make personalised and informed decisions about their own care.

If you’re expecting a baby, talk to your midwife who will be able to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each foetal monitoring option with you in light of your personal situation.


Read more: Having a scan? Here’s how the different types work and what they can find


ref. Most women who give birth in Australia are monitored with CTG. But it might not be the best approach – https://theconversation.com/most-women-who-give-birth-in-australia-are-monitored-with-ctg-but-it-might-not-be-the-best-approach-147262

Preschool benefits Indigenous children more than other types of early care

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Nicholas Biddle, Professor of Economics and Public Policy, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

A large study has, for the first time, shown preschool benefits Indigenous children more than other types of care such as long daycare (childcare) or home-based care.

This is important because while past studies had shown Indigenous children who had attended preschool were more likely to be ready for school, it was unclear whether preschool contributed to better outcomes.

These children might have had better developmental outcomes regardless of their participation in preschool. For example, children who attend preschool are also more likely to live in more advantaged households. This also contributes to better outcomes.

We set out to find whether preschool itself benefited children, and to measure these benefits using real-world data.

Our study of NSW public school children, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, shows preschool attendance appears to have developmental benefits for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, compared with home-based care in the year before school. This is after taking into account differences in children’s socioeconomic and health circumstances.

We classified any type of care that wasn’t preschool or long daycare as home-based care. This can include family daycare and care at home by parents and grandparents.

Although beneficial, Aboriginal children experienced fewer developmental benefits from preschool than non-Aboriginal children in our study. This suggests we need to improve the early childhood education experience of Aboriginal children.

We also found differences in early life circumstances explained much of the developmental gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children in all types of early childhood education and care.

This highlights the importance of meeting the health and social needs of Aboriginal children and families, alongside early childhood education, to improve early life outcomes for these children.

Why we did our study

One of the seven early Closing the Gap targets was to ensure 95% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander four-year-olds were enrolled in early childhood education by 2025.

In 2018, the Morrison government updated the Closing the Gap framework in partnership with Aboriginal peak organisations. There are now two targets related to early childhood education:

  • to increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children enrolled in early childhood education the year before full-time schooling to 95% by 2025

  • to increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children assessed as developmentally on track in all five domains of the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) to 55% by 2031.

One assumption underlying these targets is that early childhood education will improve developmental outcomes among Indigenous children. We wanted to find out if preschool is achieving this goal, and to what extent.


Read more: Preschool benefits children and the economy. But the budget has left funding uncertain, again


We used developmental data for 7,384 Indigenous and 95,104 non-Indigenous public school children who started school in NSW in either 2009 or 2012. The data were collected as part of the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC). It takes place every three years and is based on teachers’ knowledge and observations of the children in their classes.

Children’s development is scored between zero and ten on each of five key domains of development: physical, social, emotional, language and cognitive, and communication.

Children with scores in the bottom 10%, according to the 2009 AEDC benchmark, are considered developmentally vulnerable. We looked at how many children were developmentally vulnerable on one or more of the five domains.

We combined the developmental data with other population datasets, including birth registrations, midwives and hospital and school enrolment data. This was to understand children’s health, early childhood education and family circumstances.

We looked at whether children had attended a preschool program, a long daycare centre (without a preschool program) or home-based care in the year before full-time schooling.

Our findings

Overall, across the two school starter cohorts, 71% of Indigenous children and 74% of non-Indigenous children attended preschool in the year before full-time school. The majority of Indigenous (64%) and non-Indigenous children (80%) were not developmentally vulnerable on any of the domains assessed.

Among Indigenous children, 33% who had attended preschool and 44% who had attended home-based care were vulnerable on one or more domains. The figures for non-Indigenous children were 17% and 33% of those who attended preschool and home-based care, respectively.

Two Aboriginal girl in the sea.
Most Indigenous children are not developmentally vulnerable when they start school. This is good news. (Pictured are children taking part in the Bush to Beach program.) Jeremy Piper/AAP

There were substantial developmental gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children in all types of early childhood education and care. Among children in preschool, Indigenous children were almost twice as likely as non-Indigenous children to be developmentally vulnerable at the age of five.

Our modelling shows a beneficial effect of preschool in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children — which was larger in non-Indigenous children.

After taking into account the differences in children’s early life circumstances, the risk of developmental vulnerability was six percentage points lower for non-Indigenous children who attended preschool than those in home-based care. It was three percentage points lower for Indigenous children who attended preschool compared with those in home-based care.


Read more: 1 in 5 kids start school with health or emotional difficulties that challenge their learning


Children in home-based care had the highest risk of developmental vulnerability. For non-Indigenous children, there was a lower risk for long daycare compared to home-based care.

However, we found there were no benefits of long daycare without a preschool program for Indigenous children. This highlights the type of early childhood education and care matters.

What does all this mean?

Preschool is an important part of the ongoing strategy to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children start full-time schooling ready to achieve their full potential.

Our findings reinforce the importance of the new Closing the Gap partnership with Aboriginal peak organisations to ensure Aboriginal leaders and communities are integrally involved in using data to understand, and respond to, the needs of their children and families.

This includes strategies to increase participation in preschool. We have shown this has benefits for Aboriginal children. It also highlights the need to invest in quality, culturally appropriate preschool for Indigenous children, as Indigenous children did not seem to benefit as much as non-Indigenous children from preschool.


Read more: Victoria and NSW have funded preschool for 2021. It’s shaping up to be a federal election issue


Differences in their early life circumstances explained much of the gap in developmental vulnerability between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children. This suggests investments in early childhood education and care need to be considered alongside health and social services to improve the early life circumstances of Indigenous children.

A final point worth emphasising is that most Indigenous children are not developmentally vulnerable when they enter full-time schooling. This highlights areas of strength that future policies can draw upon.

This research would not be possible without governments facilitating access to, and links of, administrative datasets, and the ongoing contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families to data collection in Australia.

ref. Preschool benefits Indigenous children more than other types of early care – https://theconversation.com/preschool-benefits-indigenous-children-more-than-other-types-of-early-care-149724

How universities and professions are preparing to meet the climate challenge

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Shamit Saggar, Professor and Director, Public Policy institute, University of Western Australia

Getting ahead of climate change challenges is now a pressing need across our economy and society. Last month the bosses of 22 of Australia’s largest firms, including BHP, Rio Tinto, Wesfarmers and Commonwealth Bank, put their names to the Climate Leaders Coalition. It signalled their collective wish to push down emissions and push up their international obligations under the Paris Agreement.

Australia’s politicians are increasingly on the back foot — something universities and professions cannot risk. The cockpit of the knowledge economy must remain fit for purpose in the face of global challenges.

The biggest of these of late has been marshalling expertise to tackle a global pandemic. Climate change is an even bigger challenge.


Read more: Climate change is the most important mission for universities of the 21st century


Universities as knowledge communities take pride in leading discovery and understanding. The pressures to update and reform can come from beyond the academy, sometimes in response to perceived failure (think of economics and the GFC) or in meeting demand for new skills (the rapid expansion of business education in the past two decades).

Cover of The Preparedness Report
UWA Public Policy Institute, Author provided

The Preparedness Report, launched today by the UWA Public Policy Institute, argues disciplines, and the practitioners they educate and train, are already changing fast in response to climate change.

The report highlights the nature and extent of retooling in six fields: engineering, architecture, law, economics, healthcare and oceanography (the same is true for around 20 more disciplines).

Key questions for all professions

All professions need to find timely answers to some core questions:

  • What will be the practical impacts of climate change on the feasibility, processes, sustainability and operations of their professions?

  • How will future members of the professions need to be educated, trained and accredited?

  • How will the underlying disciplines change?

  • Which new fields of research and education will emerge?

  • How will different disciplines develop new cross-overs and synergies?

Many new skills and competencies will have to be taught. Think, for example, of the need to engineer heat-tolerant public transport systems and plan water-sensitive cities.

Fresh mechanisms are also needed to ensure the value of current expertise, such as actuaries’ capacity to model commercial and household risk for insurance purposes.

Houses damaged by storms along a beach
Climate change is forcing insurance risks to be reassessed, including for coastal properties. James Gourley/AAP

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


Greater use of cross-disciplinary collaboration will be needed too — for example, in building design and construction.

How 6 disciplines are responding

Engineering is synonymous with industrial society so has much to reflect on in terms of repurposing. Engineers will have to recalibrate their earlier assumptions. As UWA environmental engineer Anas Ghadouani notes:

Consider the fact that the sectors at the top of the emissions pyramid, including transport, electricity production and manufacturing, contributed over 75% of emissions. These top emitting sectors have been flush with engineers and engineering companies.

For architects to be credible in this new environment, they must grasp that “our modern experience of globalisation is predicated on three phenomena with spatial and environmental consequences: mobility, dispersion and density”, says UWA’s School of Design dean, Kate Hislop. Thus:

Lowering CO₂ emissions involves regenerative design, adaptive reuse, life-cycle costing, carbon modelling, post-occupancy evaluation, waste minimisation and adoption of low embodied carbon materials and systems.

Academic law is heavily exposed, and its challenges, reports David Hodgkinson from UWA’s School of Law, boil down to the laws and regulations that can be introduced to reduce emissions and assist people, species and ecosystems vulnerable to climate change. It is a question of intergenerational justice. He concludes:

The main issue at stake is that if we agree to reduce emissions now, people living in the future will benefit, not those living today. But we will, today, bear the costs of reducing such emissions.

For economists, whose counsel has become embedded in part thanks to the landmark Stern Report, the greatest contribution has been in evaluating policy options that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Their very strong consensus is that the key policy response is to place a price on greenhouse gas emissions. David Pannell, who leads UWA’s Centre for Environmental Economics and Policy, states:

There are differences of opinion about whether a tax or a market in permits would be superior [in reducing emissions], but there is almost no dissent among economists that one or the other of these is needed.

In the field of health care, the emphasis is on training health-care professionals. For Sajni Gudka, from UWA’s School of Population and Global Health, climate change amounts to a public health emergency:

Real capacity shortfalls are close by in responding to growing infectious diseases, heat stress, food insecurity, poor water quality and nutrition.

Finally, for oceanography the urgency lies in mitigating the effects of climate change in coastal zones. Julian Partridge and Charitha Pattiaratchi, of UWA’s Oceans Institute, say a breakthrough depends on a grand alliance of disciplinary perspectives:

Climate change challenges cannot be solved by engineers and scientists alone. They need alliances with social scientists, cultural heritage specialists and others to join this collective endeavour.


Read more: This is how universities can lead climate action


Posters depicting bushfire flames in front of Parliament House, Canberra
The Australian Parliament is seen behind posters depicting flames during a gathering of bushfire survivors in Canberra in October. Lukas Coch/AAP

Waiting for political action

The focus of the report is on the academic sector, related professions and the knowledge economy. But the preparedness question is also being asked of the political class and specific governments. As public attitudes become accustomed to environmental stewardship, heightened by the bushfire crisis last summer, voters are beginning to choose a direction of travel that was until recently dismissed.

In Western Australia, the government has just released its new Climate Change Policy, following several other states. Doctors for the Environment Australia is one of many campaigns that question the sagacity of short-term economic priorities.

How prepared is the country’s political class to use the advances made by universities and professions to address climate change?

ref. How universities and professions are preparing to meet the climate challenge – https://theconversation.com/how-universities-and-professions-are-preparing-to-meet-the-climate-challenge-151662

Visions of future cemeteries: 5 models and how Australians feel about them

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Hannah Gould, ARC Research Fellow, Social And Political Sciences, University of Melbourne

The coming decades represent an era of uncertainty for Australia’s cemeteries. They also present an opportunity to reflect on what our public cemeteries could and should be.

Our cemeteries are running out of space, with more Australians dying than ever before. As a result of a growing and ageing population, the country’s annual death count has more than doubled since 1960. It will double again by around 2070.

Unlike other real estate, cemetery space is largely a non-renewable resource. Many European countries lease grave sites for a limited period, but most Australian states and territories stipulate that each burial must be preserved in perpetuity. New South Wales has introduced a system of opt-in 25-year leases.


Read more: Housing the dead: what happens when a city runs out of space?


Some intercity cemeteries have been closed to new burials for decades. Demands on cemeteries as green spaces for leisure and recreation, as well as commemorating the dead, are also growing.

This is what makes Victoria’s Harkness cemetery development, a 128-hectare site on the edge of Melbourne’s West Growth Corridor, so significant. It’s Victoria’s largest new cemetery development in 100 years.

An overview of the Harkness cemetery site 35km northwest of the Melbourne CBD.

Harkness will shape how Australians live and die for many generations to come. And it is an opportunity to imagine a new future for death in Australia.

We are investigating these issues as members of The Future Cemetery project team, in partnership with colleagues at the University of Melbourne, Oxford University and the Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust. Shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic, we conducted two studies:

  1. a co-design workshop with representatives of the Australian death care industry, which came up with five models for future cemeteries

  2. a national survey of attitudes to cemeteries, which found many Australians are open to change.


Read more: Buried beneath the trees: a plan to solve our shortage of cemetery space


How cemeteries are changing

Changes in demography, religious affiliation and technology, among other factors, shape public attitudes to how the dead should be treated.

The demographic trend is reasonably clear. Australia’s population is projected to grow strongly in coming decades (despite the effects of the coronavirus). This growth is driven mainly by high net overseas migration.


Read more: Migrant communities keep our cemeteries alive as more Anglo-Australians turn to cremation


Australia’s religious diversity will likely increase, too. Christianity is projected to become a minority religion by 2050 for the first time since European colonisation, and the population of religiously unaffiliated is growing. The preference for burial or cremation within Australia’s diverse communities has a particular marked impact on future cemetery design.

Technology could also revolutionise cemetery design. New methods for treating human remains, such as recomposition (“human composting”), alkaline hydrolysis (“water cremation”) and natural burial, could alter the volume and kinds of remains that end up in cemeteries. Other technologies could change how we see the cemetery, from augmented-reality historical tours to remote grave visits through 3D drone photography.


Read more: Ashes to ashes, dust to … compost? An eco-friendly burial in just 4 weeks


Alkaline hydrolysis, or water cremation, is seen as a greener alternative to cremation.

Five visions of the future cemetery

The co-design workshop’s five models are:

  • the traditional cemetery as it currently exists

  • the nature park cemetery, which integrates burial grounds with native bushland to provide a space that is resource-neutral and open to the public for walking and picnics

  • the socially activated cemetery, which makes space available for a range of public uses, from educational activities such as birdwatching and botany to leisure activities such as playgrounds and cafés

  • the urban high-rise cemetery, which takes take the form of a centrally located urban building rather than a rolling open lawn, drawing inspiration from multi-storey columbaria in North-East Asia, to enable the deceased to be laid to rest close to their loved ones

  • the digital cemetery, which is the idea of a “technology layer” that will increasingly co-exist with, and perhaps one day even replace, the physical cemetery, where loved ones can share photographs, videos and stories about the deceased. In an age of pandemic lockdowns, this digital layer could even allow for people to visit graves remotely for memorial services.


Read more: Small funerals, online memorials and grieving from afar: the coronavirus is changing how we care for the dead


Each of these models is a hypothetical – no cemetery in the near future is likely to follow a single model to the exclusion of all others. However, they point towards the differing options cemetery designers have to think about when planning for the next 100 years.

How do Australians see cemeteries?

Australians appear to be relatively open to considering new concepts for the cemetery.

In our national survey, two-thirds of respondents disagreed with the idea that “the cemetery should only be for the interment and memorialisation of the dead”. About a third of respondents supported the use of cemeteries as nature reserves to conserve plants and animals. Similar numbers agreed that a cemetery would be a good place to learn about historical and philosophical issues.

Leisure activities at the cemetery, such as exercise classes, picnics and concerts, attracted much less public support. And conspicuous technologies such as drones and virtual reality systems proved a bridge too far for most.

Most notable was a lack of strong feelings – positive or negative – about many of the proposals for the future cemetery. This suggests to us that, given taboos around death, Australians rarely have the chance to consider the cemetery and its potential uses. We are perhaps open to considering new technologies and ideas for the cemetery, as long as they are implemented respectfully and do not disrupt the fundamental need to mourn the dead.

ref. Visions of future cemeteries: 5 models and how Australians feel about them – https://theconversation.com/visions-of-future-cemeteries-5-models-and-how-australians-feel-about-them-149150

Victoria’s electric vehicle tax and the theory of the second-best

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By John Quiggin, Professor, School of Economics, The University of Queensland

One of the central ideas in tax policy is the principle of the second-best.

Economic theory gives us a good idea of what an ideal tax system would look like, given our objectives. But in real life, things fall short.

It might be thought that piecemeal reform, moving some taxes closer to the ideal, would be a step in the right direction.

But it needn’t be, if other taxes aren’t moved.

Here’s an example. Imagine that the goods and services tax exempted health products, both mainstream and alternative.

An ideal GST wouldn’t exempt health products (though the government might provide subsidised access to some products, as it does through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme).

Imagine is administratively possible to remove the exemption for mainstream health products, which would bring it closer to the ideal.

Now imagine that for jurisdictional reasons it isn’t as easy to remove the exemption for alternative products.

Second-best can make things worse

Removing the exemption for mainstream products, which can be done straight away, seems like a good idea because it would be one step closer to removing all exemptions.

But if it is actually done straight away, without waiting the removal of the exemption on alternative products, it would have unintended (and perhaps dangerous) consequences.

People would be encouraged to switch from mainstream to alternative health products.


Read more: Think taxing electric vehicle use is a backward step? Here’s why it’s an important policy advance


The same sort of issues arise with the plans to charge electric vehicles per kilometre driven in order to treat them more like conventionally-powered vehicles (which are taxed per kilometre driven through fuel excise).

South Australia and NSW have announced plans to do so. Victoria has announced details, and will introduce the charge from July 2021.

It will charge electric, and other zero emission vehicles 2.5 cents per kilometre travelled and plug-in hybrids at cents per kilometre travelled.

Victoria justifies the charge this way:

Australian drivers pay fuel excise when they fill up their vehicle with petrol, diesel or liquefied petroleum gas. Zero and low emission vehicle owners currently pay little or no fuel excise but still use our roads.

Conventionally-powered car typically pay about 4.2 cents per kilometre through fuel excise and fuel-efficient cars about 2.1 cents.

This means Victoria will be charging electric vehicles as much or more than fuel-efficient vehicles, even though (at least when charged through rooftop solar) they won’t contribute to global warming.

Not only that, but conventionally-powered cars generate health and other costs through air and noise pollution, for which they are not charged.

What first-best would look like

The ideal system would include charges to cover the cost of

  • building and maintaining the roads

  • congestion

  • the injury, death and damage caused by car crashes

  • the health and other damage caused by air and noise pollution

  • the global price of carbon emissions

Right now we charge through fuel taxes, registration fees and tolls (mostly paid to private firms, but this is irrelevant in economic terms) along with a variety of minor fees.

However, because fuel excise was frozen by the Howard government in 2001 (and only began increasing again in 2014) the revenue from it is barely enough to cover the cost of constructing and maintaining roads and grossly insufficient to cover the broader costs of conventional vehicle use.

Conventional vehicles get things for free

Although there is much debate about how carbon can or should be priced, any serious attempt to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement is likely to require a carbon price of $100/tonne, which corresponds to 23 cents a litre.

Estimates for local air pollution costs (including the cost of deaths from cancer and asthma) start at 10 cents a litre. Noise pollution costs are extra.

Electric vehicles powered by renewable energy generate hardly of these costs.

Put simply, just as much (or more than) the owners of electric vehicles, the owners of conventional vehicles pay a mere fraction of what they should.

Second-best would be worse

Increasing what the owners of electric-powered vehicles pay is a second-best solution that might move us further away from first best.

It might discourage the takeup of vehicles that impose fewer costs on society.

To end on a positive note, the 1997 decisions of the High Court that effectively prohibited states from taxing petrol forced the Commonwealth to collect the tax and pass it on to the states, exacerbating the problems of an unbalanced federal tax system.


Read more: Wrong way, go back: a proposed new tax on electric vehicles is a bad idea


There appears to be no constitutional impediment to a tax on kilometres travelled (and nor a privacy impediment, Victoria will implement it by reading odometers rather than monitoring where cars travel).

It would help redress the tax imbalance.

ref. Victoria’s electric vehicle tax and the theory of the second-best – https://theconversation.com/victorias-electric-vehicle-tax-and-the-theory-of-the-second-best-150936

Businesses hit by COVID could give the boot to BOOT hurdle under workplace changes

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

The government’s industrial relations legislation, to be introduced on Wednesday, would allow businesses affected by COVID to be exempt from the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT) in enterprise agreements.

More broadly, the planned changes would make it easier for agreements to comply with the BOOT and speed up the approval process.

Enterprise bargaining has become sclerotic and addressing this problem is a central part of the government’s industrial relations reform package.

In December 2010 there were 25,197 current federal enterprise agreements covering some 2.6 million employees (23% of the total workforce). By June this year, the number had declined to 10,701, covering just under 2.16 million employees (20.8% of the workforce).

The BOOT considers whether the workers would be better off overall if a proposed agreement applied rather than the relevant award.

Under the current law, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) can approve an agreement that doesn’t comply with the BOOT if there are “exceptional circumstances”. The government proposes the impact of COVID effectively be the exceptional circumstance. The FWC also would have to consider the extent of support for a proposed agreement from employees and employers, and there’s a public interest test. There would be a sunset clause set at two years.

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter invoked the name of Paul Keating in arguing for the changes. He said the government aimed to restore Keating’s “vision when he launched the enterprise bargaining framework almost three decades ago”.

Porter said this was for workers and employers to sit down and “agree on ways to increase productivity in exchange for higher wages and better conditions.

“But in reality, the system has been slowly choked by increased technicality, complexity and regulation, leaving it almost unrecognisable today – so much so that many employers no longer even attempt to get agreements across the line,” Porter said.

The government says application of the BOOT has become complicated because the FWC has increasingly taken into account “hypothetical” working arrangements unlikely to arise. This has led to long delays in approvals.

Apart from the COVID exemption, the changes the legislation proposes for the BOOT would

  • remove the requirement for the FWC to consider patterns or kinds of work that are not reasonably foreseeable

  • replace the requirements for assessing whether an agreement is “genuinely agreed” (for example, the requirement for employers to explain every clause to their workers even when the new agreement is largely unchanged) by a test that considers the substance of the agreement

  • require the FWC to determine applications within 21 days (the median approval time in 2018/19 was 122 days), or explain the exceptional circumstances preventing this

  • require the FWC to take into account the views of the employer and employees on the BOOT (including non-monetary benefits)

  • restrict intervention at the approval stage to employees and bargaining representatives unless the FWC is satisfied exceptional circumstances exist for why a non-bargaining representative should be heard

  • allow a new franchisee employer to join an agreement (e.g. McDonald’s, KFC) by only requiring that franchisee’s employees to vote, rather than everyone already covered by the agreement.

In other changes, existing agreements made before the Fair Work Act of 2009 will end in July 2022, and the government will initiate a review of the low paid bargaining provisions.

Porter said both unions and employers knew the present enterprise bargaining system was broken and wanted it fixed.

“The government recognises the BOOT’s importance as a key safeguard for workers,” he said.

“But a situation cannot be allowed to continue where the Fair Work Commission considers completely unlikely hypothetical situations.

“Similarly, the bargaining system has become grindingly slow due to the ability of third parties who were not involved in the initial bargaining process to object to agreements being made in the commission.

“Given that many industries are still reeling from the impacts of the pandemic, it is also makes good sense for the FWC to be able to consider agreements that don’t meet the BOOT if there is genuine agreement between all parties, and where doing so would be in the public interest.”

ref. Businesses hit by COVID could give the boot to BOOT hurdle under workplace changes – https://theconversation.com/businesses-hit-by-covid-could-give-the-boot-to-boot-hurdle-under-workplace-changes-151697

CIVICUS criticises Pacific countries over use of covid to curb freedoms

By Sri Krishnamurthi of the Pacific Media Centre

Australian authorities’ heavy-handedness and the use of the covid-19 pandemic to curb civic and media freedoms are major concerns in the latest report, People Power Under Attack 2020, released by the international non-profit organisation CIVICUS.

Australia was downgraded last year (2019) and is still rated as having freedoms “narrowed” with Fiji, Nauru and Papua New Guinea remaining in the “obstructed” category.

However, there are bright spots for civic freedoms across the Pacific compared globally with the report finding that 87 percent of the world’s population now live in closed, repressed or obstructed countries.

“For many observers, the state of civic space in Pacific may seem relatively positive. However civil society groups are concerned about the increasing use of laws to silence dissent,” said Josef Benedict, Asia-Pacific civic space researcher for the CIVICUS Monitor.

“They are also worried about attempts to censor journalists and cover up criticism, especially around governments’ mishandling of the pandemic,” he said, as reported widely in Asia Pacific Report in May.

In the Pacific region, the CIVICUS Monitor documented the use of restrictive laws against activists and critics.

Australia deployed its Intelligence Services Act to prosecute a whistleblower for disclosing the bugging of Timor-Leste government buildings in 2004, with essential parts of the trial to be held in secret.

Criminal libel laws ‘chilling’
In Fiji, the Public Order (Amendment) Act 2014 has been used to silence and prosecute critics, including trade union leader Felix Anthony, while in Samoa, criminal libel laws continue to create a “chilling effect” for those wanting to speak up and criticise the authorities, the report found.

There were concerns raised about the promulgation of a public health emergency law in Papua New Guinea which was passed hurriedly without adequate consultation and contains various provisions that could restrict human rights without adequate oversight.

Censorship was another major another violation documented by the Monitor in the region; and it was particularly concerning during a pandemic, when access to accurate information is vital.

In August 2020, Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama ordered the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation, which is run by Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, brother of Fiji’s Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, to stop airing a debate.

n Vanuatu, media outlets were not allowed to publish articles on covid-19 without government authorisation, and in the Solomon Islands the authorities sent out a memo threatening to sack staff who post comments online criticising the government’s covid-19 response.

Tonga passed new regulations that could be used to restrict press freedom in August 2020, while Nauru continued to impose high visa fees on foreign journalists hoping to access the country to report on human rights issues.

Also alarming were reports of harassment of activists and journalists.
In Australia, even as fires and floods swept the country, environmental and climate action protesters were publicly vilified, with the Prime Minister Scott Morrison branding environmental activists as “anarchists”.

CIVICUS map
The CIVICUS world map.

Experienced journalists attacked
In Papua New Guinea, the police minister attacked two experienced journalists in April 2020 and called for them to be sacked.

“Australia was downgraded last year to ‘narrow’ but still we continue to see restrictions on civic freedoms and a growing climate of intimidation aimed at discouraging dissent,” said Benedict.

“A range of problematic security laws have had a chilling effect on journalists and whistle-blowers. There have also been efforts to weaken privacy rights in the name of national security while stricter anti-protests laws are being pushed through.”

Despite this onslaught against civic freedoms, in the past year there have been some small victories such as the passage of the whistleblowers law in Papua New Guinea. In April 2020, four women made history by winning seats in the Kiribati parliament, the highest number of women so far.

Civil society and community groups in the region have also continued to organise and mobilise against mining, logging and development projects affecting environmental and indigenous rights, including in the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand.

More than 20 organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor to provide an evidence base for action to improve civic space on all continents.

The Monitor has posted more than 500 civic space updates in the last year, which are analysed in People Power Under Attack 2020.

Civic space in 196 countries is categorised as either closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open, based on a methodology which combines several sources of data on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

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Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

Australia lifts to be among top ten countries in maths and science

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Sue Thomson, Deputy CEO (Research), Australian Council for Educational Research

Results from the longest running large-scale international assessment of maths and science show Australia has significantly improved in Year 8 maths and science, and Year 4 science.

More than 580,000 students from 64 countries participated in the latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). This includes 14,950 Australian students from 571 Australian schools.

In Year 8 maths, Australia came in equal seventh place in the 2019 assessment cycle (up from equal 13th in 2015), along with a number of countries including Ireland, the United States and England. We came behind Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Ireland.

In Year 8 science, Australia also came in equal seventh (up from equal 15th in 2015) along with countries such as Lithuania, Ireland and the US. We were behind Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Korea, Russia and Finland.

In Year 4 science, Australia came equal ninth (up from equal 18th in 2015) along with countries including the US, England, Hong Kong and Ireland. Australia was behind Singapore, Korea, Russia, Japan, Chinese Taipei, Finland, Latvia and Norway.

In Year 4 maths, however, achievement has not changed since 2007. Australia was outperformed by 22 countries in 2019, similar to 2015. It came equal 23rd along with countries such as Germany, Poland and Canada; and behind Singapore, the US, England and Ireland.



Not just the rankings

This is the seventh time the TIMSS test has been administered. Along with completing tests in maths and science, Year 4 and 8 students involved in TIMSS answer questionnaires on their background and experiences in learning maths and science at school.

Participating in TIMSS allows Australia to measure its progress towards national educational goals, which in 2019 included the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (now the Mparntwe Education Declaration).


Read more: Australia hasn’t performed well at maths and science recently. We’re about to find out if we’ve improved


In Year 4 maths, Australian students achieved an average score of 516 points. Singapore’s students scored the highest with 625 points, while England achieved 556, Canada 512 and New Zealand 487 points.

Australia’s average score in Year 8 maths was 517 points. This was compared to the highest score of 616 points for Singapore. Australia’s score was not significantly different to that of the US and England, which both achieved 515 points.

Australia not only improved in Year 8 maths and science, and Year 4 science relative to other countries, but also in an absolute sense. Compared to 2015, Australia’s mean score increased by 12 points in Year 8 maths; 16 points in Year 8 science and nine points in Year 4 science.



The TIMSS intermediate international benchmark is the nationally agreed proficient standard for maths and science achievement, which is 475 score points. In 2019 between 68% and 78% of Australian students achieved the required proficiency benchmark in maths and science at both year levels. In Singapore, more than 90% of students achieved this benchmark in both subject areas at both year levels.

Since 2015, the proportion of Australian students achieving this standard improved by five percentage points in Year 8 science. It did not change significantly in Year 4 maths and science, or Year 8 maths.


Read more: Aussie students are a year behind students 10 years ago in science, maths and reading


TIMSS results also provide a measure of Australia’s progress towards the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goal for universal quality education. The TIMSS low international benchmark is an agreed global indicator of minimum proficiency in maths at the end of lower secondary schooling.

In the 2019 study, 90% of Australian Year 8 students achieved this benchmark, which was similar to 2015 and slightly higher than the 2019 international median of 87%. Meanwhile, 98% of students in Singapore and Chinese Taipei, and 99% of students in Japan achieved minimum proficiency in Year 8 maths.

Differences between groups

While of course these findings are positive, there are cautions evident when making comparisons among demographic groups.

There was no significant difference between the average performance of Australian girls and boys in Year 8 maths, Year 4 science or Year 8 science.

But boys outperformed girls in Year 4 maths in 27 of the 58 participating countries, including Australia.

The proportion of students who attained the national proficient standard was about the same for boys and girls (69% for girls, 70% for boys). But the proportion of boys who achieved the advanced benchmark (12%) was significantly higher than the proportion of girls (8%) who achieved at this level.



While the achievement of First Nations Australian students and other Australian students has converged slightly in Year 4 and Year 8 science since 1995, the gaps are glaringly wide in both subject areas, but particularly in maths.

At Year 4 level in maths, 42% of First Nations students achieved the national proficient standard, compared to 72% of other Australian students. And 25% of First Nations students did not achieve the low benchmark, compared to 8% of other Australian students.

In Year 8 maths, 39% of First Nations students compared to 70% of other Australian students achieved the National Proficient standard, while 29% of First Nations students compared to 8% of other Australian students did not achieve the Low benchmark.

Student socioeconomic background

The largest gaps in achievement at school are often those defined by a students’ socioeconomic background. In TIMSS, several measures are used to define socioeconomic background, but the common method for Year 4 and Year 8 is simple but effective. Students are asked to estimate the number of books in their home within five categories. These are then collapsed into three:

  • 0-10: few books

  • 11-200: average number of books

  • more than 200: many books.

Analysis has shown living in a home with many books influences academic achievement (or by implication, having a home environment that values literacy, the acquisition of knowledge and general academic support) in a positive manner.

In Year 4, 17% of students identified as living in a home with many books, and 28% with few books. In Year 8, 20% of students said their home had many books and 31% few books.

The differences between students with many books and those with few books is large at both year levels and for both subject areas. For example:

  • in Year 8 maths, 83% of students living in a home with many books achieved the national proficient standard, compared to 48% of those from homes with few books

  • in Year 8 science, 90% of students from homes with many books achieved the standard, compared to 52% of those from homes with few books

  • in Year 8 maths and science, around 3% of students from homes with many books compared to around 20% of students from homes with few books did not achieve the low benchmark.

Acknowledging the primary underlying factor behind poor achievement is socioeconomic background, and finding ways of redressing the imbalance in opportunities and resources available to these students, will help lift achievement for all Australian students.


Read more: One quarter of Australian 11-12 year olds don’t have the literacy and numeracy skills they need


ref. Australia lifts to be among top ten countries in maths and science – https://theconversation.com/australia-lifts-to-be-among-top-ten-countries-in-maths-and-science-150275

The Christchurch commission’s call to improve social cohesion is its hardest — and most important — recommendation

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

The most fundamental obligation of any state is the safety of its citizens. On March 15, 2019, New Zealand completely failed in this obligation. The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Terrorist Attack on Christchurch Mosques was designed to tell us why and how this happened — why 51 people were murdered, and what steps need to be taken to prevent such acts recurring.

In a nutshell, the commission concluded no one was solely to blame. It was a collective failure, divided between the security agencies, the police and a population lacking social cohesion and with a fear of speaking out.

The failure of the security agencies was unremarkable in the commission’s analysis. They were alienated, under-resourced and overly focusing counter-terrorism resources on the threat of Islamist extremism.

While the agencies were aware of right-wing extremism, their intelligence was underdeveloped — but even if it had been better, the outcome may not have been different.

The primary reason the terrorist was not detected, the commission concludes, was due more to

the operational security that the individual maintained, the legislative authorising environment in which counter terrorism operates, and the limited capability and capacity of the counter terrorism agencies.

Jacinda Ardern and ministers speaking to media
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and senior cabinet ministers talk to media outside Nga Hau E Wha National Marae in Christchurch, ahead of the report of the royal commission being made public. GettyImages

Intelligence and police failures

So, there was “no plausible way he could have been detected except by chance”. And apparently, this failure to detect was “not in itself an intelligence failure”. In fact, no security agency failed to meet required standards or was otherwise considered to be at fault.

Views will differ on that, but the culpability of the police is clearer. The report concludes their administration of the firearms licensing system did not meet required standards, due to a lack of staff guidance and training, and flawed referee vetting processes.

This intersected with the regulation of semi-automatic firearms which was “lax, open to easy exploitation and was gamed by the individual”.

Even so, the commission concluded it was possible, perhaps likely, that the terrorist would eventually have been able to obtain a licence. Beyond that is supposition: an effective licensing regime may have delayed his preparation, but whether it would have changed his mind about the attack, the target, the weapons, or even the country he was in, will always be unknown.

Whether these failings are sufficient for ministerial and/or agency accountability is a matter of debate. The last time anything comparable happened was after the Cave Creek disaster in 1995, when the responsible minister resigned over the systemic failure at the Department of Conservation.


Read more: Remembering my friend, and why there is no right way to mourn the Christchurch attacks


Preventing another attack

Official accountability aside, the commission sets out the road map to prevent such an attack happening again. Fixing the firearms licence process will be the easiest. The six recommendations calling for enhanced standards and improved quality control dovetail with laws put in place after the attack.

The type of firearms used in the attack are largely prohibited and those who show “patterns of behaviour demonstrating a tendency to exhibit, encourage, or promote violence, hatred or extremism” can no longer be considered fit and proper to possess a firearm.

The other change will be harder. There are no fewer than 18 different recommendations aimed at the security agencies, starting with the creation of a new ministerial portfolio and establishment of a new national intelligence and security agency.


Read more: Jailing the Christchurch terrorist will cost New Zealand millions. A prisoner swap with Australia would solve more than one problem


It will need to be well-resourced and empowered to meet a range of objectives, from developing a counter-terrorism strategy to creating a public-facing policy that addresses, prevents, detects and responds to extremism.

Also among the recommendations are greater information sharing between agencies, public outreach, the reporting of “threatscapes” and developing indicators identifying a person’s potential for violent extremism and terrorism.

All commendable goals, but how they will be reconciled with existing security agency remits, and whether there is a budget to meet such ambitions, is not clear at this stage.

Jacinda Ardern and others at a mosque
Imam Gamal Fouda of Al Noor Mosque, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Muslim Association Canterbury President Mohamed Jama at the unveiling of a plaque honouring the 51 people who lost their lives in the Christchurch mosque terror attacks. GettyImages

The need for social cohesion

Perhaps most surprising in the report is the suggestion that the likeliest thing to have prevented the attack would have been a “see something, say something” culture — one in which those with suspicions about another person could safely raise their concerns with authorities.

“Such reporting,” the commission says, “would have provided the best chance of disrupting the terrorist attack.” This is a remarkable sentence, both brilliant and unnerving. It suggests the best defence against extremism was (and is) to be found within ourselves, and in the robust and multicultural communities we must create.


Read more: No rehab and little chance of appeal for the Christchurch terrorist jailed for life without parole


However, successive governments have failed in this area through their reluctance to make counter-terrorism strategies more public, perhaps worried about alienating or provoking sections of the population.

It’s a paradox, to say the least, but the commission recommends several measures to enhance social cohesion, beginning with the need to support the ongoing recovery needs of affected family, survivors and witnesses.

These evolve into a variety of soft goals, ranging from the possibility of a new agency focused on ethnic communities and multiculturalism, to investing in young New Zealanders’ cultural awareness.

Again, these recommendation are commendable, but the proof will be in their resourcing and synchronising with existing work in this area.

Free speech and public safety

Greater immediate progress may be made in the prevention of hate speech and an extension of the censorship laws to prohibit material advancing racial hatred, discrimination and/or views of racial superiority.

Although New Zealand already has law in this area (covering discrimination and sentencing in crimes related to race, ethnicity or religion), there remains a large gap when it comes to what is and isn’t permissible speech.

It then becomes a vexed question of the limits of free expression, and would be difficult to craft into law. But if the government could do this, a significant advance will have been made.

So, after all of these words, will the vision of this royal commission make New Zealand safer in the future? The answer is yes, risks can be reduced — but it is a long road ahead.

ref. The Christchurch commission’s call to improve social cohesion is its hardest — and most important — recommendation – https://theconversation.com/the-christchurch-commissions-call-to-improve-social-cohesion-is-its-hardest-and-most-important-recommendation-149969

The K’gari-Fraser Island bushfire is causing catastrophic damage. What can we expect when it’s all over?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Gabriel Conroy, Environmental Management Program Coordinator, University of the Sunshine Coast

K’gari (Fraser Island) has been burning for more than seven weeks and, so far, the fires have razed half of the World Heritage-listed island off the coast of Queensland. The devastation will become more pronounced in coming weeks, despite overnight rain.

Much of the commentary on these fires has focused on how these landscapes are “meant to burn”, and that (luckily) there have been no major fires in the fire-sensitive, rainforest-style ecosystems in the island’s centre.

However, the fact remains that a fire of this magnitude will alter the ecological balance on the island. Let’s explore why.

Smoke over bushland, beside sand
K’gari is the largest sand island in the world. AAP Image/QFES

An uphill battle

K’gari is an incredibly biodiverse place, with more than 30 mammal species, 354 types of birds, 60 reptiles and 17 types of frogs.

For thousands of years, the Butchulla traditional owners maintained the island’s ecosystems with patch mosaic burning. The general principle behind patch mosaic burning is that by burning regularly and strategically, you create habitat niches that cater for a wide variety of generalist and specialist species, which favours biodiversity.


Read more: Australia, you have unfinished business. It’s time to let our ‘fire people’ care for this land


With an absence of this mode of burning during 130 years of logging on the island (ending in 1991), today’s environmental managers have faced an uphill battle to claw back the balance.

This — alongside tinder-dry conditions and large swathes of relatively inaccessible wilderness in the north — is why we unfortunately find ourselves in the situation where an incredibly widespread, intense fire has occurred.

These types of fires can irrevocably alter the nature of even fire-adapted ecosystems (like in the northern half of K’gari) and are likely to become more commonplace in our changing climate.

Let’s take two of K’gari’s rare plant species — the tiny wattle (Acacia baueri) and the much-loved Christmas bells (Blandfordia grandiflora) — as examples of why the Australian landscape’s need for fire isn’t straightforward, and requires patch burning.

Christmas bells
Christmas bells flower for one to three years after a fire, and then disappear underground. Shutterstock

These species rely on low intensity fire occurring every three to five years to regenerate and avoid local extinction.

However, other fire-adapted species that grow alongside them, such as Banksia robur, would struggle to withstand burning this frequently. Some may not even be able to reach reproductive maturity during that kind of time span.

Invertebrates: the island’s unheralded heroes

K’gari is famous for its wild population of dingoes, which undoubtedly will have suffered in these fires. We won’t know the full impact for these and many other species until the dust has settled.


Read more: Dingoes and humans were once friends. Separating them could be why they attack


But one of my greatest concerns is for the largely forgotten species propping up ecosystems: invertebrates. In normal circumstances, the island is teeming with highly abundant and diverse invertebrate life if you bother to look for it — and will undoubtedly bite you or keep you awake at night even if you don’t.

Herbivorous species, including insects, are the unheralded heroes that transfer a lot of the the energy generated by plants up through the food chain, for example, by providing food for predators like dingoes.

With 50% (and counting) of the island’s ecosystems already burnt in this fire, the amount of food available for herbivores has reduced. This means significantly less energy can be fed back up the food chain, affecting the entire ecosystem.

A dingo on the beach
Wild dingoes are an important feature of the World Heritage-listed island. Shutterstock

When there’s nowhere to escape

On mainland Australia, birds, bugs and fast-moving animals like dingoes and wallabies often flee to safe habitats when fires occur, and then later recolonise fire-affected regions.

Although relatively close to the mainland, K’gari is a very long and narrow island, and because the entire northern end of the island has burnt, most terrestrial species have only a narrow interface through the central part of the island to try to escape. These lack of escape routes will likely exacerbate death rates of native fauna.


Read more: Click through the tragic stories of 119 species still struggling after Black Summer in this interactive (and how to help)


To make matters worse, the ecosystems to the north are markedly different to those in the centre of the island. So while we wait to see how the northern regions regenerate, the species that depend on them may have moved further south to find equivalent ecosystems.

Effectively, only 50% of the island now provides habitat and food sources for the entire island’s wildlife, and the remaining habitat is not always a like-for-like replacement.

How will it look when it ‘bounces back’?

When the fires have extinguished and plants begin to regenerate, a sea of green may convince people the ecosystems have bounced back marvellously from the fires. But in actual fact, they may have been irrevocably changed.

Certain species will flourish in the post-fire environment, but because of the fire’s widespread nature, it’s possible the composition of the vegetation will change.


Read more: Yes, native plants can flourish after bushfire. But there’s only so much hardship they can take


Weeds, for example, love bare ground, and even native species can become “weedy” in nature and can dominate in disturbed areas. In ongoing research, our team has observed this in areas of the island impacted by sand mining in the 1970s, where there’s an overabundance of immature Acacia and Casuarina species.

Burnt blackened bushland
K’gari is a long, narrow island, which offers wildlife few escape routes. AAP Image/Danny Casey

My greatest hope is that the future of K’gari includes patch mosaic burning (and cultural burns) at a landscape scale.

If we want to ensure K’gari bounces back as much as possible, then we need to use these devastating bushfires as an opportunity to work collaboratively towards a common conservation goal.

The intent from key stakeholders is evident, with productive conversations already occurring between our team at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and the Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation. For this to come to fruition, on-ground efforts will need to be well-resourced and supported by ongoing monitoring and research.

ref. The K’gari-Fraser Island bushfire is causing catastrophic damage. What can we expect when it’s all over? – https://theconversation.com/the-kgari-fraser-island-bushfire-is-causing-catastrophic-damage-what-can-we-expect-when-its-all-over-151664

World is watching plan to make Facebook and Google pay for content: Frydenberg

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

The Morrison government will introduce on Wednesday its legislation forcing Google and Facebook to face arbitration if they fail to come to commercial deals with traditional media on payment for content.

The government resorted to the mandatory bargaining code after it was clear agreement wouldn’t be reached for voluntary arrangements on content payment. A voluntary model had been recommended by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told a news conference Tuesday the government wanted the parties to reach deals outside the code. Where agreement could not be reached, the arbitration would kick in.

The ABC and SBS are among the media that will benefit from revenue under the legislation, which won’t be dealt with by parliament until next year.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the ABC had indicated it would devote the revenue it receives to regional journalism. He told Tuesday’s news conference the government would not seek to offset such revenue in its funding for the ABC.

The legislation will set minimum standards for digital platforms including requiring a fortnight’s advance notice of deliberate algorithm changes that have an impact on news media businesses.

The negotiations for payment will need to incorporate the value to providers of the additional eyeballs brought by having their content on the tech platforms.

This provision was put in following consultations on the code with the tech companies. But Frydenberg stressed the money flow was only one way – from the tech companies to the traditional media.

Frydenberg said it was the government’s intention “to ensure that the rules of the digital world mirror the rules of the physical world and ultimately to sustain our media landscape here in Australia”. He described the outcome as fair and balanced.

He said “we live in the age of digital disruption – and nowhere is this more apparent than in our media landscape.” Dollars spent on print advertising had fallen by 75% since 2005; in that time, dollars spent on online advertising increased eightfold.

The application of the code can be extended beyond Facebook NewsFeed and Google Search to other digital platform services if they “give rise to a bargaining power imbalance”. The treasurer has the power to add new services.

Frydenberg said “the word coming back to us is that there are deals that may be struck very soon between the parties”.

He described the scheme as a “world first– and the world is watching what happens here in Australia”.

The Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology said the legislation was a “globally significant response to the growing power of Big Tech”.

The centre’s director, Peter Lewis, said the move “would give media organisations a fighting chance at building a viable business model, in the face of the market domination of Google and Facebook”.

Lewis called for cross party support for the legislation.

ref. World is watching plan to make Facebook and Google pay for content: Frydenberg – https://theconversation.com/world-is-watching-plan-to-make-facebook-and-google-pay-for-content-frydenberg-151684

Keith Rankin Analysis – Microbes and Macrobes; lessons from biology and history

Keith Rankin.

Analysis by Keith Rankin.

Keith Rankin.

To understand the world we live in, it is important to read books written in different time periods. Older literature does not have access to the latest research and currently fashionable tropes, and they may include some expressions that would be censured today as sexist or racist or similar. All periods in time have blind spots, and books written decades (or even centuries) ago can help readers to see the blind spots of our present times.

In 1969, microbiologist John Postgate wrote Microbes and Man. Seven years later, world historian William McNeill wrote Plagues and Peoples. Both are insightful contributions to human knowledge, written in an era of scientific hubris, and at a time in which ecology was coming to be understood as an especially important discipline that cut across more traditional scientific disciplines, including social sciences such as economics and anthropology. Postgate describes his book as a text on economic microbiology [his italics].

The main theme of Plagues and Peoples was the hitherto understated impacts of ‘microparasites’ – and the various diseases they caused – on human history; particular emphasis was places on lethal epidemics, biological adaptation, and the ongoing presence of once-epidemic diseases as endemic childhood infections. McNeill was seeking to rebalance history, much of which had hitherto been about the activities of macroparasites [his term]; in doing so, McNeill intimates a new linguistic apparatus – a new discipline, if you will, of global human ecology that may be called ‘macrobiology’, an analogue of the established disciple of ‘microbiology’.

McNeill’s premise

Animals are subject to predation from without and within. A predator – as we traditionally use the word – eats other animals. And a micropredator eats animals from within; that is, a ‘microbe’ which consumes its ‘host’ and must then find another host if it (or its genes) are to survive. A better strategy than predation for a microbe is ‘parasitism’; a parasite consumes food produced by its host, while still allowing its host to lead a healthy enough life. Likewise, it may be a better strategy for a ‘macrobe’ to be a parasite than to be a predator. (We might think of an eagle as a predator, and a vulture as a parasite.)

Early humans were subject to macropredators, and of course, as hunters, were themselves macropredators. In addition, certain environments were more subject to potentially dangerous microparasites than others, and these areas were very difficult for ancient populations to populate. Nevertheless many of these more dangerous places would be populated, eventually, due to pressures of population growth; after a number of epidemic ‘die-offs’ the associated maladies would eventually become endemic childhood diseases. Microparasites had evolved to become less lethal.

As humans became better at fending off animal predators, then other humans would displace animals as predators of people. This would generally take a form more like ethnic cleansing than cannibalism; human macropredators would acquire the lands – the territories, the economic bases – of vanquished peoples.

A critical change took place with the advent of agriculture; in particular as a result of the availability of more food per person. Farmers – often weakened by endemic microparasites, and working many more hours than their forebears did as hunters – would be obliged to share the fruits of their labours with emerging macroparasites; eg raiders, warlords and landlords. Such peasant farmers, then, had to share the fruits of their labour with two sets of parasites. Frequently these farmers would be enslaved in one form or other, for example as serfs; at other times they would be nominally free but would be subject to the substantial rents and taxes that were required to support macroparasitic lifestyles.

Microbes and Macrobes

As Postgate emphasised, many microbes (ie micro-organisms) are neither harmful nor pure parasites. Many are beneficial – maybe essential – to their hosts. (McNeill understood this of course; but his main theme was parasitism, and the human social coexistence with parasites that would become a necessary feature of human civilisation.) While humans (and other creatures) provide sustenance to microbes, many microbes perform vital services to their host organisms and host species. The analogy here is with ‘environmental services’, a phrase that was not in the lexicon of 1976.

We can think of microbes as falling on a spectrum – with micropredators at the bad end (eg with a score of 1, on a scale of 1 to 5), microparasites closer to the centre (eg with a score of 2), and microservants (with scores of 4 and 5). All are microbes. An organism at level 5 on the microbial spectrum could be regarded as a micro-altruist (microaltruist), existing without a shred of self-interest.

Thus, to pursue the McNeill premise, human ‘macrobes’ are people who fall on a comparable spectrum. First, we need to divide people into two ‘classes’, principals or hosts who are equivalent to the farmers mentioned above, and macrobes who depend on the economic outputs of their hosts.

On the macrobial scale, a macropredator would score a 1; a pure macroparasite would be a 2. An altruistic servant with minimal economic appetites – a devoted servant – would be a 5. The challenge is, in today’s world, to identify today’s many macrobes, and place each group of them on this spectrum. My focus will be on whether contemporary macrobes score a 3 (mainly a feeder, though providing some useful services), or a 4 (principally a provider of beneficial services or investments, though in return for the right to feed well).

Principals

From a microparasitic perspective, the host species – eg people – represents the ‘principal’ upon which the dependent microbes sustain themselves. From McNeill’s human macroparasitic perspective, certain people are the hosts, and other people are the dependent macrobes (with the proviso that macrobes, as people, will likely be hosts to other macrobes).

For McNeill, writing as a historian of pre-modern and early-modern times, identifying principals and macroparasites was quite easy. Principals were communities of peasant (or enserfed) farmers, and their associated artisans (such as blacksmiths, thatchers and brewers). All others – especially lords, bishops and kings – were dependent macrobes, including their vassals and personal servants. The productivity of principals was maintained by long working hours; principals would spend say half their working time providing for themselves, and the other half providing for their macrobes and microbes.

In a twentyfirst century context, therefore, principals are essentially farming and lower class communities – especially the essential workers who constitute the food supply chain. There are provisos though – so ‘agribusiness’, as we usually understand the term, is for the most part not a ‘principal’ occupation. We also note that people today can ‘wear two hats’; for example, family farmers – essential to the food supply chain – may also be macrobial speculators in property and financial assets.

Thoroughly Modern Macrobes

The most important modern-day macrobes are the professionals, the managers and the bureaucrats; and the corporate business sector, called by John Kenneth Galbraith the ‘planning system’ – in distinction from the ‘market system’ (described in The New Industrial State [1967] and in Economics and the Public Purpose [1973]). Managers are our modern-day vassals.

Of particular interest is the distinction between category 3 and category 4 macrobes. Category 4 macrobes are principally servants – providers of services or goods that people actually want or need – but who nevertheless expect to be reasonably well fed. Most teachers, academics, scientists, doctors and nurses, information professionals, manufacturers, builders and hospitality workers would fit into this category.

Category 3 macrobes, while providing some services, are principally in business or management to make (or save) money for themselves and their organisations. They are exploiters. We can see this kind of macrobial activity clearly in the beverage markets, tobacco, and big business fast food. In effect businesses like Coca Cola and KFC ‘mine’ their customers (using hard-sell marketing techniques) and frontline employees (exploiting power imbalances in the labour market). The marketing industry, by and large, is made up of professionals who provide services to category 3 macrobes.

In many organisations – including health sector and education sector organisations – the management take on a category 3 ‘mining’ approach to their customers and frontline (professional) employees. As part of this, they adopt an implicit accounting methodology that treats their productive employees’ salaries as costs, but their own remuneration as benefits. This is the epitome of the ‘planning system’ – macrobial capitalism – in which organisations’ managers compete with their shareholders for the financial spoils of exploitation.

Increasingly, we see category 4 businesses run using management structures copied from category 3 macrobial organisations. And in the public sector, too. Too many bureaucrats today adapt category 3 principals to their frontline workers (such as Work and Income case managers) and their ‘clients’ who require bureaucratic services (mainly for financial or compliance reasons). Further, since the global neoliberal revolution of the 1980s, governments themselves have come to treat costs as a purely monetary matter; they govern on the basis of minimising financial costs rather than on the basis of providing comprehensive benefits to the communities they nominally serve. Incrementally, modern democratic governments are becoming more like their macrobe category 2 pre-democratic predecessors; feeding more and serving less.

We may also note that those government (or government-funded) social agencies and social programmes which are largely ineffective, may be better characterised as category 3 than category 4, especially when their programmes of work are persevered with despite being ineffective. What may happen is that workers – often professional workers – draw an income from providing ineffective professional services; indeed, in order to ensure that their income is ongoing, it may be better that they do not solve the problems that they are charged to solve. The mental health industry is a candidate here; it provides salaries for many people, yet struggles to show evidence of general improvements in mental health. Treasury may be another such organisation. In the 1980s, Treasury became the most prestigious arm of government in New Zealand just as the economic problems it was charged to address became substantially worse. The worse the problems got, the more demanded and important they became.

With regards to ineffectiveness, we should take note of a recent book Bullshit Jobs (2018), by anthropologist David Graeber. A “bullshit job” is a job that, while it may well be well paid, delivers no overall benefits to humanity. These jobs do not represent naked parasitism; but should be classified as category 3, parasitic is essence if not in intent.

Categories of Macrobes, Examples

The following represent examples of the five categories of macrobes, in both ancient and modern times:

  1. In ancient times, this category were human predators and conquerors. Principals (host victims) would fight or flee, for their lives. In modern times, we see a few examples of genocide and ethnic cleansing, one of the most recent being the plight of the Rohingya people of Myanmar.
  2. In ancient times, this category were warlords (kings and princes), landlords, pirates, raiders, slave proprietors, and protection racketeers; and the vassals who worked for them. They were essentially thieves, though many provided some useful services. (Public choice theorists such as Mancur Olson – author of The Rise and Decline of Nations [1982] – distinguished between roving bandits [raiders] and stationary bandits [kings and aristocrat landlords].) In modern times, we may include financial speculators – especially real estate speculators – who intentionally adopt a parasitic lifestyle by buying and selling assets without necessarily adding value to them.
  3. In ancient times, we consider the less malign versions of the above. And the precursors of organisations like FARC (Colombia), Hamas (Palestine), and the NPA (Philippines). In modern times, we include the ‘planning’ and ‘managerial’ systems of modern liberal democracies, and their transnational equivalents; we may include ‘the state’ in autocratic countries. As liberal democratic governments evolve cultures that mimic these capitalist ‘planning’ and ‘managerial’ systems, even democratic governments are shifting from category 4 towards category 3.
  4. In modern times, these are our professionalised service organisations, and businesses in the ‘market economy’ which respond to people’s actual wants. The principal focus of category 4 macrobes is to provide services and goods to their host populations. In ancient times this category would include the various charities, mainly associated with religious orders (such as the Order of St John).
  5. In ancient times, these would be ascetics, who would survive on alms and would perform some basic services, often of a spiritual nature. Buddhist monks come to mind. In modern times, category 5 macrobes would include minimum wage service workers – such as rest home workers – who choose to do underpaid service work because of their altruistic motivations rather than because of their lack of skills.

Summary

Following the argument of William McNeill in Plagues and Peoples (1976), host populations are subject to the activities of both microbial and macrobial agents. I have extended the argument by both allowing for the fact that many – indeed most – microbial agents are symbiont, meaning that they give to, as well as take from, their hosts; the result is, to a large extent, mutually beneficial exchanges between microbes and their hosts. I have also extended the argument by identifying modern as well as pre-modern macrobial agents; and noting that many of these macrobes (though by no means all) are also symbionts, providing valued services and goods to the people who feed them.

No more than 10 standard drinks a week, or 4 on any day: new guidelines urge Aussies to go easy on the booze

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Kate Conigrave, Senior Staff Specialist and Professor of Addiction Medicine, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has today released new guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Under the new recommendations, healthy adults should drink no more than ten standard drinks a week, and no more than four on any one day.

I’m chair of the Alcohol Working Committee that for the past four years has worked on revising the Australian drinking guidelines.

These replace the previous version published in 2009, and come at the end of a year upended by a pandemic, and just before the festive season. That might sound like a curious time to release the alcohol guidelines, but it actually makes sense.

During the pandemic, some people have been drinking less because they are going less often to pubs. Others are drinking more at home. Of these, some have turned to drinking for stress relief and run into major strife with it.


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


But these guidelines are not just for the pandemic year. They are to help all Australians make informed decisions about how much they drink, at any time.

Alcohol contributes to a major health burden in Australia. Harms related to drinking result in more than 4,000 deaths and 70,000 hospital admissions every year.

Alcohol guidelines graphic
The new NHMRC alcohol guidelines. NHMRC, Author provided

Alcohol is a key cause of injuries, including road trauma, falls, burns, violence and self-harm. It contributes to drownings and other short-term harms. But much of the damage alcohol causes is less visible, and less immediate.

In the past decade, international research has shown even low levels of consumption are linked with an increase in several common cancers, including those of the breast and bowel. And we’ve known for a long time that alcohol consumption can contribute to high blood pressure, liver disease and many other conditions. The risk increases as more alcohol is consumed.

So, in line with its mission to provide robust evidence-based health advice, NHMRC has now released a set of three guidelines so Australians can make informed decisions about their health.

Standard drink graphic
Healthy adults should have no more than ten standard drinks per week. NHMRC, Author provided

What do the new guidelines say?

The first guideline recommends healthy adult men and women consume no more than 10 standard drinks a week, and no more than four on any given day.

The less you drink, the lower your risk. If this advice is followed, there is a less than one in 100 chance of dying from an alcohol-related condition across your lifetime.

Guidelines two and three concern people under the age of 18, and women who are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or breastfeeding. In all these cases, the recommendation is to drink no alcohol at all.

The guidelines were developed by a group of 14 health experts, including clinicians, public health professionals, researchers, and consumer representatives.

1 in 100 graphic
If you follow these guidelines, evidence suggests you’d have a less than 1% chance of dying from an alcohol-related condition. NHMRC, Author provided

But doesn’t light drinking have a protective effect? The jury is out

After a thorough review of research evidence, NHMRC’s Alcohol Working Committee released draft guidelines for public consultation in December 2019. We received many responses, some asserting the guidelines didn’t go far enough, and others claiming they went too far.

Some studies mentioned suggested a possible protective effect of low-level consumption of alcohol, in particular against coronary heart disease.

These issues were scrutinised by our committee. The evidence for a protective effect has been challenged by research in recent years. Some researchers dispute its existence.

But at the least, any protective effect is not as strong as previously thought. Nonetheless, the guidelines do allow for a potential protective effect – if they hadn’t, the recommended maximum would have been far lower! Potential protective effects were balanced against the increased risk of certain cancers.

These guidelines are not trying to tell you what you can and can’t do. Rather, we’re providing advice on how you can reduce your health risks from drinking alcohol. That way, we can all make informed decisions in our daily lives.

ref. No more than 10 standard drinks a week, or 4 on any day: new guidelines urge Aussies to go easy on the booze – https://theconversation.com/no-more-than-10-standard-drinks-a-week-or-4-on-any-day-new-guidelines-urge-aussies-to-go-easy-on-the-booze-151595

Rabuka’s exit may spell ‘beginning of end’ for Fiji’s SODELPA

Sitiveni Rabuka
Resigned …. SODELPA leader Sitiveni Rabuka shakes Fiji opposition ranks with his sudden move. Image: Sri Krishnamurthi/PMC

By Christine Rovoi, RNZ Pacific journalist

The writing is on the wall for Fiji’s main opposition party, says New Zealand-based Fijian academic Professor Steven Ratuva.

His comments come in the wake of the sudden resignation of former Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) leader Sitiveni Rabuka from Parliament yesterday.

Ratuva said it was expected after Rabuka lost the SODELPA leadership to Nadroga MP Viliame Gavoka just 11 days ago.

Rabuka told Parliament his departure would pave the way for the President, Jioji Konrote, to ask Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama to work with the new leader of the opposition and party members.

Rabuka said he could not continue as opposition leader and an MP because the prime minister did not trust him enough to work with him.

But Dr Ratuva, director of the MacMillan Brown Pacific for Studies at the University of Canterbury, said there was more to it than that.

It also signalled more trouble for SODELPA, which has been rocked with months of tensions which split the party in April.

SODELPA was suspended by the Supervisor of Elections over breach of political rules and the party constitution.

The suspension was lifted 35 days later but factions within the party remain.

On November 27, Rabuka was replaced as leader by Gavoka who had supported his predecessor to remain as SODELPA leader.

Rabuka’s resignation ‘no surprise’
Ratuva said Rabuka’s resignation was no surprise to him.

“It was coming because of the leadership struggle within the party and the multi-layered tensions to do with vanua politics, regional loyalty, personality differences, gender ethnicity and the generational gap,” he said.

“They are all packed on top of each other and Rabuka had to resign as a result of all of these complex tensions within the party.

“The writings were on the wall.”

Ratuva said it was unfortunate because Rabuka had the biggest voter-pulling power in SODELPA.

That was evident at the 2018 election when Rabuka returned to politics and led SODELPA to win 21 seats in the 52-seat parliament, Ratuva said.

He was not sure if Gavoka had the same charisma and mana to pull the voters into SODELPA.

“But certainly Rabuka was [able to pull the voters],” he said.

“And Rabuka could have easily won the next election if he had continued with the leadership of the party.”

Rabuka was elected leader of SODELPA in 2016, succeeding high chief Ro Teimumu Kepa, who publicly disapproved of Rabuka’s nomination to replace her at the time.

On 26 November 2018, Rabuka was appointed as the leader of the opposition to Parliament following the party’s 2018 election defeat.

But this week, Rabuka – who led two coups in 1987 – announced he was leaving the august house.

No-one knows how long for – all Rabuka said was he would go away and ponder his next move.

Mixed reactions
Reactions have come fast and hard following Rabuka’s resignation, and they have been mixed.

New SODELPA leader Viliame Gavoka said he was shocked and saddened because he looked forward to contesting the 2022 polls with Rabuka by his side.

Gavoka said Rabuka had the firepower to help SODELPA win the election.

“This country needs a lot of institutions to be strengthened and someone like him is someone we can call up for help and he has agreed to do that.

“We are still trying to process this, no doubt at the end of the day we’ll know where we stand.”

Ro Teimumu said Rabuka had left a “huge gap” with his departure from parliament.

The Roko Tui Dreketi thanked Rabuka for his contributions, saying “his shoes would be difficult to fill”.

Ro Teimumu said it took a lot of courage for Rabuka to do what he did.

“He departs the opposition and the parliament with a clean heart and a clear conscious and he is a happy man believing that what he has done was the right thing to do.”

There’s no doubt that the future of SODELPA will determine Rabuka’s next move.

Prime Minister Bainimarama and the attorney-general acknowledged Rabuka’s contributions to the house.

Opposition whip Lynda Tabuya said she supported Rabuka’s move.

Tabuya lost the deputy leader position to Suva lawyer Filimoni Vosarogo when Rabuka was replaced.

MP Mosese Bulitavu said Rabuka’s resignation did not come as a surprise, saying he had “done the honourable thing”.

National Federation Party (NFP) leader Professor Biman Prasad said the NFP had always supported Rabuka and was sad to see him leave parliament.

Road to recovery
Ratuva said SODELPA now had its work cut out, less than two years out from the general election.

SODELPA needed to maintain the support Rabuka had brought to the party, “which it is probably going to lose”, he said.

Although he has said he would remain with SODELPA, Rabuka had options elsewhere if he wanted to distance himself from the tensions within party, Ratuva said.

“He’s got a number of choices either to remain within the party – which means that his role will diminish significantly – or he moves on and joins perhaps the Fiji Unity Party which is growing in terms of its significance and attractiveness to voters at the moment.

“The Fiji Unity Party is the only party now which has a coherent plan for economic rehabilitation and development for the country.

“Led by the former governor of the reserve bank, the Unity Party is well positioned to welcome some of those supporters of SODELPA who are probably looking for alternatives.”

Ratuva said if Rabuka joined the Unity Party, he would take his voters with him and “some of his supporters have been with him since 1987”.

Rabuka was still “seen as a hero to some Fijians, although that may be misplaced… But they are that voting block that Rabuka still has some degree of control over.”

If that did happen, SODELPA would lose that group of voters and the Unity Party could come out on top, Ratuva said, adding that the Unity Party could be the only people who would gain from Rabuka’s departure from SODELPA.

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

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Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

No more than 10 standard drinks a week, or 4 a day: new guidelines urge Aussies to go easy on the booze

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Kate Conigrave, Senior Staff Specialist and Professor of Addiction Medicine, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has today released new guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Under the new recommendations, healthy adults should drink no more than ten standard drinks a week, and no more than four on any one day.

I’m chair of the Alcohol Working Committee that for the past four years has worked on revising the Australian drinking guidelines.

These replace the previous version published in 2009, and come at the end of a year upended by a pandemic, and just before the festive season. That might sound like a curious time to release the alcohol guidelines, but it actually makes sense.

During the pandemic, some people have been drinking less because they are going less often to pubs. Others are drinking more at home. Of these, some have turned to drinking for stress relief and run into major strife with it.


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


But these guidelines are not just for the pandemic year. They are to help all Australians make informed decisions about how much they drink, at any time.

Alcohol contributes to a major health burden in Australia. Harms related to drinking result in more than 4,000 deaths and 70,000 hospital admissions every year.

Alcohol guidelines graphic
The new NHMRC alcohol guidelines. NHMRC, Author provided

Alcohol is a key cause of injuries, including road trauma, falls, burns, violence and self-harm. It contributes to drownings and other short-term harms. But much of the damage alcohol causes is less visible, and less immediate.

In the past decade, international research has shown even low levels of consumption are linked with an increase in several common cancers, including those of the breast and bowel. And we’ve known for a long time that alcohol consumption can contribute to high blood pressure, liver disease and many other conditions. The risk increases as more alcohol is consumed.

So, in line with its mission to provide robust evidence-based health advice, NHMRC has now released a set of three guidelines so Australians can make informed decisions about their health.

Standard drink graphic
Healthy adults should have no more than ten standard drinks per week. NHMRC, Author provided

What do the new guidelines say?

The first guideline recommends healthy adult men and women consume no more than 10 standard drinks a week, and no more than four on any given day.

The less you drink, the lower your risk. If this advice is followed, there is a less than one in 100 chance of dying from an alcohol-related condition across your lifetime.

Guidelines two and three concern people under the age of 18, and women who are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or breastfeeding. In all these cases, the recommendation is to drink no alcohol at all.

The guidelines were developed by a group of 14 health experts, including clinicians, public health professionals, researchers, and consumer representatives.

1 in 100 graphic
If you follow these guidelines, evidence suggests you’d have a less than 1% chance of dying from an alcohol-related condition. NHMRC, Author provided

But doesn’t light drinking have a protective effect? The jury is out

After a thorough review of research evidence, NHMRC’s Alcohol Working Committee released draft guidelines for public consultation in December 2019. We received many responses, some asserting the guidelines didn’t go far enough, and others claiming they went too far.

Some studies mentioned suggested a possible protective effect of low-level consumption of alcohol, in particular against coronary heart disease.

These issues were scrutinised by our committee. The evidence for a protective effect has been challenged by research in recent years. Some researchers dispute its existence.

But at the least, any protective effect is not as strong as previously thought. Nonetheless, the guidelines do allow for a potential protective effect – if they hadn’t, the recommended maximum would have been far lower! Potential protective effects were balanced against the increased risk of certain cancers.

These guidelines are not trying to tell you what you can and can’t do. Rather, we’re providing advice on how you can reduce your health risks from drinking alcohol. That way, we can all make informed decisions in our daily lives.

ref. No more than 10 standard drinks a week, or 4 a day: new guidelines urge Aussies to go easy on the booze – https://theconversation.com/no-more-than-10-standard-drinks-a-week-or-4-a-day-new-guidelines-urge-aussies-to-go-easy-on-the-booze-151595

How the Australian Women’s Weekly spoke to ’50s housewives about the Cold War

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Hannah Viney, PhD Candidate, School of Philosophical, Historical & International Studies, Monash University

Under editor Esmé Fenston, by the end of the 1950s, the Australian Women’s Weekly was selling over 805,000 copies a week. More than half of all Australian women read the magazine.

It focused on promoting a vision of the “everyday” Australian woman. Of course she did not represent all women — she was white, middle class, not working in paid employment and devoted to her home and family. Articles on fashion, cooking, homemaking, motherhood and romance supported this image.

But the Weekly also saw itself as a “women’s paper” with a responsibility to educate its readership by including current affairs and news stories in each issue.

While we might not think of the 1950s housewife as taking an active interest in Cold War politics, a close reading of the Weekly – the “popular face of femininity” – shows Australian women were not only interested in global politics, but encouraged to join in the discussion.

The 1950s political landscape

The second world war had changed Australian society, particularly for women. As men were sent overseas, women filled the jobs men left behind. US servicemen charmed local women — who explored the new sexual and romantic opportunities available to them.

Vintage photograph
WWII gave many Australian women the opportunity to work outside the home, like these women cleaning dust from the interiors of Beaufort bomber oil tanks in South Australia in 1943. State Library of South Australia/flickr, CC BY

Though encouraged by the government to return to their homemaking duties, after the war, many women continued to work in paid employment and were more vocally interested in romance and sex.

By the early 1950s, meanwhile, the Cold War dominated international politics as the world split into two political blocs, aligned with the communist Soviet Union or the capitalist United States. Australia allied with the US, and fear of communism spread, with suspicion of anyone not following social norms.

An Australian propaganda film from 1952 about the threat of communism.

Many Australians, particularly the middle classes, feared women would abandon their traditional family-focused roles. The family home thus became a symbol of peace and security and a bulwark against communist overthrow.

Female readers as thinkers

The Weekly was clear in the belief women should be engaged with Cold War politics. In 1955, after the first Taiwan Strait Crisis, Fenston rued “not one woman is directly concerned with the deliberations that may or may not lead to war”.

She encouraged her readers to take on a bigger role in these discussions, paraphrasing Alfred Tennyson’s poem Locksley Hall to profess her hope that in the future “women’s commonsense shall hold a fretful realm in awe” as they took an active part in diplomacy and politics.

On the topic of nuclear weapons, an article by the Canadian physician Dr Marion Hilliard in 1958 urged women to:

rise up and say: It’s time to stop. Let there be no more use of weapons which will let loose radioactive power in this world. My child, all the children of the world should have a chance to start life as sound in body and mind as possible.

Over the decade, Cold War topics were regularly combined with more socially acceptable feminine issues. In 1953, an article by Sylvia Connick appeared on the surface to be a simple romantic story of an Australian girl and a her Czechoslovakian fiancé.

But within this, Connick referenced the oppression of Soviet rule in Czechoslovakia and the horrors of communist labour camps.

A man and a woman feed a calf. Magazine headline reads: musician helped her fiancé escape from Reds.
Articles, like this one from January 1954, would use romantic stories to talk about political issues. Trove

The magazine positioned women as a distinct category of political thinker who had “instinctive” knowledge of how to conduct herself in political discussions with her contemporaries.

As Fenston wrote in an editorial on the 1954 Big Four Conference between France, America, Britain and the Soviet Union, while “the finer points of high-level diplomacy may be lost to many women”, women knew “tongues before guns” was a more effective political tool.

Using domestic analogies of “a quiet talk over the back fence” to describe international relations, Fenston suggested that women instinctively understood how diplomacy was more effective than the nuclear war tactics of “hurling rocks on your neighbour’s roof.”

Feminised politics

Reading the magazine’s Cold War articles, it would be easy to conclude the Weekly believed women were uninterested in international politics unless a feature also included comments on the latest fashion.

This would be a disservice to the magazine and its readership.

Instead, this approach is an example of what I have termed “feminised politics”. Overt political discussions were combined with conventionally acceptable feminine themes to avoid provoking widespread anxieties about social changes.

This feminised politics echoed the maternal feminism of the early 20th century, used by suffragists to argue women would bring a maternal morality to the political sphere, updated to fit with the changed social context.

A 1950s woman reads a magazine
The Australian Women’s Weekly gave readers a safe space to develop their ideas. Les Anderson/Unsplash

Women’s political interests in the 1950s are often forgotten, sandwiched as the period is between the very public first and second wave feminist movements. But while the 1950s housewife did indeed spend a lot of time on homemaking duties, that did not mean she sat out the important political discussions shaping her world.

ref. How the Australian Women’s Weekly spoke to ’50s housewives about the Cold War – https://theconversation.com/how-the-australian-womens-weekly-spoke-to-50s-housewives-about-the-cold-war-145699

Who is a real man? Most Australians believe outdated ideals of masculinity are holding men back

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Michael Flood, Associate Professor, Queensland University of Technology

Most Australians recognise that traditional gender stereotypes are limiting and harmful for boys and men, a new national survey has found. And perhaps contrary to popular belief, many Australians are receptive to messages about alternative, healthy versions of masculinity.

The survey of 1,619 respondents, commissioned by the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, sought to gauge people’s attitudes towards men and masculinity. The sample was representative of the Australian population by age, state and gender.

Most people agreed on a few basic principles:

  • traditional gender stereotypes are limiting and harmful for boys and men

  • there is pressure on men to live up to traditional masculine stereotypes

  • masculine expectations or outdated ideas of masculinity prevent men from living full lives

  • boys need both women and men as role models, rather than only men.

Masculinity is enforced more by men than women

The survey revealed a consistent gender gap in attitudes toward men’s roles in society and perceptions of masculinity.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the survey showed that compared to women, men are less supportive of gender equality, less likely to see sexism as extensive and systematic, and more likely to endorse men’s dominance in relationships and families.

Ironically, the male respondents in the survey were also less aware than the female respondents of the pressure society places on men to conform to a certain ideal of masculinity.


Read more: Inside the ‘man box’: how rigid ideas of ‘manning up’ harm young men and those around them


One of the most interesting findings was the attitudes of younger men. Young men (aged 16-17) generally had more progressive attitudes than older men on traditional gender roles and how they are limiting, outdated and contribute to poor health. Yet, they also had the highest levels of endorsement of men’s use of violence, homophobia, breadwinner roles and men’s patriarchal power and control in relationships.

Such regressive attitudes may reflect the intensified pressure they feel among male peers to prove themselves as men, sexist online culture or other factors.

Conversely, young women’s attitudes were the most progressive of all respondents, creating a large gap between them and their male peers.

Teenage boys may feel peer pressure to adhere to some traditional views of manhood. Shutterstock

Who is a real man?

There was little support overall in the survey for traditional definitions of masculinity based on homophobia. About one-quarter of young men and one-fifth of adult men agreed with the statement, “a gay guy isn’t a real man”. (Even fewer women agreed with this statement.)

There was also little support for the idea men should dominate and control women in relationships, although large minorities of men and particularly young men do support this.

Asked whether “a man should always have the final say about decisions in his relationship or marriage,” 30% of young men and 19% of adult men agreed, compared to just 13% of young women and 9% of adult women.


Read more: Women aren’t better multitaskers than men – they’re just doing more work


Among our respondents, there was broad recognition that gender is socially constructed – in other words, that boys’ and men’s lives and relations are shaped by social forces as much as they are by biology.

At the same time, many respondents also believed there were “natural” differences between men and women, especially when phrased in these terms.

We also saw widespread recognition of the need to open up gender roles for men, especially because they constrain men’s own health and wellbeing.

There was strong agreement, for instance, that men and boys should be free to explore who they are without the pressures of gender stereotypes. Most people also agreed progress towards gender equality and breaking free of gender stereotypes would be good for men.

And though domestic and sexual violence continues to be a major concern, especially during the pandemic, it was encouraging to see almost universal agreement among people in Australia that men can play a role in preventing violence against women.

Gender norms are improving

The VicHealth survey complements a growing body of Australian research on people’s attitudes toward men, masculinity and gender.

This includes a national survey of young Australian men’s conformity to the “Man Box” (stereotypical masculine attitudes), a national survey of Australians’ attitudes to gender equality issues and a rolling national survey of awareness and attitudes regarding violence against women.

Other data tell us gender norms in Australia are changing, largely for the better.

Attitudes improved in the 1980s and 1990s, and although progress stalled after this, there have been steady improvements in the past decade.

There is a growing awareness in Australia that traditional gender stereotypes are limiting and harmful for men. Shutterstock

Messages for healthier views on masculinity

One of the key findings of our survey is that framing matters. How messages about gender are phrased affects whether people agree with them — that is, what messages they will support.

For example, when people are presented with messages that men are currently “under attack”, substantial proportions of the population will endorse them — particularly those with pre-existing conservative views.

On the other hand, when statements on gender are framed in progressive or feminist terms — for example, men and boys are restricted by masculine stereotypes and should be freed from them — those with conservative views have similar levels of agreement to middle-of-the-road people.


Read more: Gillette has it right: advertisers can’t just celebrate masculinity and ignore the #metoo movement


VicHealth’s research also tested various messages for promoting healthy masculinity to identify those most likely to inspire positive change.

Among the key recommendations for community and health providers to better engage with men:

  • focus on progressive ideas that will appeal to the vast majority of people, rather than pandering to men with traditionally masculine language or focusing on myth-busting

  • emphasise the need to free men from outdated masculine stereotypes

  • focus less on the problem, and more on the solution.

There is a wealth of evidence that conformity to traditional masculine stereotypes is limiting for men and boys and harmful to those around them.

Most Australians agree. It is time to foster positive alternatives, to improve health and wellbeing for everyone.

ref. Who is a real man? Most Australians believe outdated ideals of masculinity are holding men back – https://theconversation.com/who-is-a-real-man-most-australians-believe-outdated-ideals-of-masculinity-are-holding-men-back-147847

We found algae-farming fish that domesticate tiny shrimp to help run their farms

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By William Feeney, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Evolutionary Ecology, Griffith University

Humans are experts at domesticating other species and our world would be unrecognisable without it. There would be no cities, no supermarkets, and no pets. Domestication is a special kind of cooperative relationship, where one species provides prolonged support in exchange for a predictable resource.

While humans have domesticated various plants and animals, these relationships are surprisingly rare in other species. It’s true some insects (ants, beetles, and termites among them) domesticate fungi, but few other examples exist outside the insect world.

In our new study, we describe what appears to be first example of a non-human vertebrate domesticating another animal.

Reef in Belize
On the coral reefs off the coast of Belize, in Central America, longfin damselfish create, manage and feed from algae farms. By Andy Blackledge – P4120130, CC BY 2.0, CC BY

Read more: Listen up: many farmed fish are hard of hearing – here’s why it matters


Farming fish domesticate shrimps

On the coral reefs off the coast of Belize, in Central America, longfin damselfish create, manage and feed from algae farms. We noticed they regularly have “swarms” of tiny crustaceans called mysid shrimps floating above their farms.

We found this unusual, as most farming damselfishes chase away anything that ventures near their farm. We were unsure why these species associated with one another, so we decided to try to find out what was going on.

First, to see whether mysid shrimps and farming damselfish are regularly found together, we ran a series of what’s known as “transects”. In other words, we conducted a series of 30 metre swims along the reef, and during each one we recorded each time we saw mysid shrimps, as well as whether they were near farming damselfish or other fish species.

We found these mysids were far more likely to be found near farming species, like the longfin damselfish, than other species.

The Smithsonian’s Carrie Bow Cay Marine Research Station off the coast of Belize. Rohan Brooker

Next, we wanted to know if the mysids specifically seek out their damselfish partners.

So, we collected mysid shrimps from the field, brought them into the lab and exposed the mysids to water soaked with different things. For example, do they avoid the smell of a predator? Are they attracted to the smell of a farming damselfish?

We found the mysids shrimps were attracted to the longfin damselfish, repulsed by a predator and indifferent towards a non-farming fish — and to the farm itself.

I help you, you help me

Many fish eat mysid shrimps, so we ran an experiment to see if longfin damselfish provided protection to the mysids when they are in the fish’s farm.

To do this, we placed mysid shrimps in a clear plastic bag and placed the bag either inside or outside a farm.

We found that when placed outside a farm, other fish tried to eat the mysid shrimps. When inside the farms, any fish that tried to come close to the bag was chased off by the longfin damselfish. This suggested the mysids seek out longfin damselfish, as they provide mysids with protection from predators.

Slippery Dick Wrasse is a common predator of shrimps.
Slippery Dick Wrasse is a common predator of mysid shrimps. Brian Gratwicke/Flickr, CC BY

One question remained: do the mysid shrimps provide a benefit to the longfin damselfish?

Given the damselfish eat the algae they farm, we thought maybe by hovering above the farm, the mysid shrimps waste might act as fertiliser.

To test this, we examined the quality of the algae within farms that did, or did not have mysid shrimps. We also examined the body condition of fish that did, or did not, have mysid shrimps within their farms.

We found farms with shrimps had higher quality algae, and fish from farms with mysid shrimps were in better condition.

Insight into how domestication happens

These different analyses together suggest longfin damselfish have domesticated mysid shrimps. The longfin damselfish provide a safe refuge, and in exchange the mysid shrimps provide the damselfish with fertiliser for its farm.

This relationship is important, because while fantastic research has provided insight into the history of domestication in our ancestors, these things happened in the distant past.

In the longfin damselfish, we can watch the early stages of domestication occur as it’s happening.

This is fascinating because it’s very similar to the proposed series of events that led to our domestication of species such as chickens, cats, dogs and pigs.


Read more: It might be the world’s biggest ocean, but the mighty Pacific is in peril


ref. We found algae-farming fish that domesticate tiny shrimp to help run their farms – https://theconversation.com/we-found-algae-farming-fish-that-domesticate-tiny-shrimp-to-help-run-their-farms-151615

Opinion – Virtue Signalling and when Actions should speak louder than words

New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. Image, Wikipedia.

Opinion by Chris Leitch. Chris is the leader of the Social Credit Party.

My mother was born in London. She was a very cultured English lady. Not posh in the Maggie Smith – Downton Abbey – dowager countess way and not rich like her either. My parents could never afford to own a house. But she was very well-spoken, well educated, and well read. Practical too – she drove an ambulance in London during the blitz.

Amongst her favourite sayings, ‘actions speak louder than words’, or simply ‘deeds not words’, was one of her special favourites.

She had a keen sense of history and a perspective shaped by it. That’s substantially more than you could say about some of today’s younger, supposed rising stars like Chloe Swarbrick.

Swarbrick appears to think the pinnacle of her achievements would have been to make it easier for a new generation, and many more of the current one, to get stoned as an escape from the reality of a life vastly superior to the one my mother had, growing up through the depression and the bombing of London in World War 2.

My mother would have thought that housing mothers and kids living in cars, sheds and government-funded motel rooms would have been a far greater achievement, as would ensuring that no child in New Zealand went to school in the morning or to bed at night without having their hunger satisfied.

Swarbrick is making headlines in a world where truth is what you make it, where history is being rewritten as you wished it was, and where new Maori MP’s think they are standing up for Maori by insulting the very institution that is providing them with the platform to resolve some of the issues affecting Maori – like kids and mothers living in cars and kids going to school in the morning and to bed at night hungry – if they were to use it.

While what British and Colonial troops may have done to Maori in the past cannot be condoned, to describe it as a holocaust and a genocide shows a complete lack of understanding of history and is a far greater insult to the Jews of Germany, Poland, Austria and other European countries who were sent to the gas ovens under the Nazis and to the two million Cambodians who died under Pol Pot’s savage Khmer Rough regime, than any insult Stuff newspapers last week got on their knees and begged for forgiveness over.

New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. Image, Wikipedia.

Our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, while in a stratospheric league in comparison to these beginners, is none-the-less guilty of similar virtue signalling and a distinct lack of action on the real things that count.

In her 2017 campaign opening speech, Jacinda said “I want to build a country where every child grows up free from poverty, and is filled with hope and opportunity”.

“We know we have homelessness, that there are people living in cars who can’t afford increasing rents”.

“We have infrastructure in our cities that cannot keep up with daily demand, while our regions look for the job opportunities that will make their young people stay”.

“All we can do is make sure we leave something good behind. That means taking on the hard issues. Thinking not just about the next three years, but the next ten. It means being bold and being brave”.

Of climate change she said “This is my generation’s nuclear free moment, and I am determined that we will tackle it head on.”

While being quick off the mark to remove guns from law abiding gun owners following the Christchurch mosque shootings, to supposedly make New Zealand a safer place to live in, there has been precious little action on the issues highlighted in that election speech.

Interestingly there have been more shootings and gun incidents in the past three months than in the last three years.

Now, three years after that campaign speech a formal announcement of a climate emergency – ”the challenge that defines my generation”.

Jacinda appears to think the pinnacle of her achievements are those two items in particular, and she will no doubt be feted more across the globe for this latest.

My mother would have thought that housing mothers and kids living in cars, sheds and government-funded motel rooms would have been a far greater achievement, as would ensuring that no child in New Zealand went to school in the morning or to bed at night without having their hunger satisfied.

To go back even further, in her maiden speech in Parliament in December 2008 Jacinda said “Maiden speeches are a bit like words spoken in a heated argument. Like it or not, they will come back to haunt you.”

Haunting her are those campaign promises.

It is a national disgrace that 6,000 Kiwis are being accommodated in motels, and a further 7,000 are in transitional housing, camping grounds, boarding houses, and other temporary accommodation.

In addition another 31,000 are staying with others in severely crowded dwellings with little hope of ever being able to dream about owning their own house, let alone achieving that dream with the way prices are skyrocketing.

One in three New Zealand children is now living in poverty and our infrastructure is in critical condition and contributing to our lack of productivity.

Those are her generation’s nuclear free moment, and there are no longer any excuses for not being “bold and being brave” and “taking on the hard issues”.

We saw action on Covid-19 and a spectacularly rapid economic response. While commendable, that wasn’t “bold and being brave”. It was simply following most of the rest of the world.

Michael Joseph Savage, whose picture features on the wall of the Prime Minister’s Beehive office, was different. He got stuck in to the task of building state houses and tackling poverty within months of taking office.

He implemented Social Credit ideas, using the Reserve Bank to create the credit necessary to rebuild the nation.

He appointed John A Lee as housing under-secretary and they built 5,000 state houses in four years from 1935 to 1939, and 30,000 by 1949, all financed by Reserve Bank credit.

Today, the Reserve Bank is again creating credit – $128 billion dollars worth – but it’s being used to buy government IOU’s (bonds) off banks and rich investors at a premium that’s going to provide them a profit of $11.1 billion over three years.

That $11.1 billion should be going into building state houses, and some of the $128 billion the Bank is creating could be invested in hospital care, poverty reduction, providing free dental care and free public transport, building infrastructure, and a multitude of other possibilities.

The government has absolute power. It has a Treasury and Reserve Bank report advising how it could access no-interest, no-debt Reserve Bank finance. It has former high flying politicians and numerous economists saying it should use that, and it has Michael Joseph Savage’s example to follow.

The Social Credit movement of the 1930s was happy to see Labour implement its monetary reform ideas. It would be happy to do so again in the 2020s.

Remember my mother’s favourite saying – “actions speak louder than words”.

Labor is set to have itself a nervy little Christmas. It’s not too late to make 2021 sing

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Chris Wallace, Associate Professor, 50/50 By 2030 Foundation, Faculty of Business Government & Law, University of Canberra

Federal Labor marginal seat members face a very nervy Christmas.

The most recent Newspoll showed the Coalition government ahead of the Labor opposition by 51-49% on a two-party-preferred basis. It’s a relatively small margin, but Labor MPs have indelibly etched on their minds that the final Newspoll before the 2019 election had Labor ahead on 51.5%, yet it won only 48.5% of the vote and suffered a shock loss on election day itself. This was within Newspoll’s margin of error, but that was little comfort for those banking on a win because of the headline number.

Newspoll’s design was tweaked in the wake of the 2019 election but two-party-preferred estimates remain vulnerable to discretionary polling design decisions and pollster “groupthink” – that is, the herd behaviour that leads to models generating results clustered around pollsters’ intuitive assessment of how the major parties are travelling.

If the 51.5% forecast for Labor at the 2019 election turned out to be 48.5% on election day, how much worse than Newspoll’s 49% last week might Labor’s vote be if an election was held this weekend?

In How To Win an Election, I argue one of the big lessons from the 2019 election was to focus on that part of polls least subject to discretionary design decisions and pollster groupthink: the primary vote.

Since Federation, Labor has only once formed a majority government with less than 40% of the primary vote. That was in 1990, when the Hawke government won with 39.4%. In 2010, Julia Gillard patched together a minority government with just 38%. The latest Newspoll has Labor’s primary vote on 36%.


Read more: Morrison remains very popular in Newspoll as the Coalition easily retains Groom in byelection


Hence the very nervy Christmas Labor’s marginal seat holders face this year. Right now, they’re giving speeches about JobSeeker. Privately, they’re wondering whether next year they’ll be on it.

Labor seems stuck. Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese is well liked and enjoys widespread loyalty. The pandemic has made Albanese’s job extra difficult this year.

However, the government has presented a rich target on a range of issues from robodebt to the repatriation of stranded Australians overseas, without the opposition landing a convincing blow. The feeling has taken hold in Canberra, and generally, that Labor is drifting inexorably to another loss.

Albanese’s stolid leadership is the central concern. Prime Minister Scott Morrison is easily besting him with the flimsiest of performances, and despite a pressing array of problems besetting the government.

Morrison’s behaviour suggests the LNP considers Albanese a political asset worth preserving. The government relentlessly attacked Bill Shorten when he was opposition leader, yet treats Albanese as Labor did Malcolm Turnbull in the previous parliament, and for the same reason: because they see him as eminently beatable compared to the alternatives.

The conversation being had around many end-of-year work functions goes like this. “Do you think Albo can win?” “No.” “Who do you think would win?” The names that come up are Tanya Plibersek, Jim Chalmers and, occasionally, Chris Bowen and Richard Marles.

When you ask who would be the best deputy to their first choice, it’s Plibersek or Chalmers. Overwhelmingly, Plibersek-Chalmers or Chalmers-Plibersek is seen as the election-winning team.

Many within Labor feel a leadership team of Tanya Plibersek and Jim Chalmers might offer their best hope of winning the next election. AAP/Samantha Manchee

Wistful musings then follow along the lines of “what happened to Albo?” One puzzled person commented to me that “he went from a ‘people eating out of the palm of his hand’ kind of guy you’d want at your barbecue to boring dude you avoid at office parties quick smart”. When your own supporters say things like this, it’s hard to see how you could win swinging voters over no matter how sharp your political cunning, the thing Albanese considers his competitive advantage.

These are the kinds of conversations Labor’s marginal seat holders are going to have at barbecues all summer as they contemplate a very uncertain 2021. Do they continue loyally marching into the valley of political death behind a leader no-one thinks can win, or do they save their political hides, and the interests of Labor voters, by installing someone who can?


Read more: Grattan on Friday: Labor’s Joel Fitzgibbon waves the lightsaber


The “how” is easier than many realise. By a simple majority vote, caucus can amend in any way it likes the rule change Kevin Rudd instigated to shore up his position as party leader in 2013. That amendment can instigate a fresh leadership contest, either through a straight caucus vote as occurred for a century before the Rudd rule change, or with rank-and-file party member involvement in the way that has occurred since 2013. Albanese could emerge victorious and re-energised, or Labor could have a new leader who can do better than the uninspiring effort it is weighed down by now.

After all, the Liberal Party does it all the time – and keeps winning elections. In its previous term in office, Liberal MPs replaced Turnbull with Morrison and won the 2019 election. The term before that they replaced Tony Abbott with Turnbull and won the 2016 election. The Liberals’ all-time record was replacing John Hewson with Alexander Downer, and then Downer with John Howard, in one term of opposition, setting up Howard’s 1996 election win.

Having the fittest leader is one of the keys to how to win an election. Labor still has time, if it gets a move on, to ensure it does.

ref. Labor is set to have itself a nervy little Christmas. It’s not too late to make 2021 sing – https://theconversation.com/labor-is-set-to-have-itself-a-nervy-little-christmas-its-not-too-late-to-make-2021-sing-150186

Do I need a COVID flight clearance test to fly in Australia or overseas? And do I have to pay?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Lauren Ball, Associate Professor/ Principal Research Fellow, Griffith University

As we head towards our first COVID-era Christmas, many Australians will be excited that it is once again possible to travel domestically to be with family and friends.

While international travel isn’t yet routine, some people continue to fly overseas with valid exemptions.

Of course, air travel moving forward is going to look a bit different. Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce recently declared international passengers will need to have had a COVID vaccine, and this statement has attracted some backlash.

But until a vaccine is widely available — and even beyond — testing is going to be a requirement for some travellers.

Do I need to produce a negative test to fly?

For domestic travel in Australia, airlines do not require proof of a negative COVID test. But you will still need to follow the border requirements of each state. For example, Western Australia continues to restrict visitors and require a 14-day isolation period for those who cross into the state from South Australia.

Your airline should have up-to-date information on any quarantine or other requirements, which you should check before flying. You can also check with the state government of your destination.


Read more: A vaccine will be a game-changer for international travel. But it’s not everything


For people wanting to travel out of Australia who have a valid exemption from the Department of Home Affairs, some airlines and countries do require a COVID flight clearance. This is paperwork showing you have recently tested negative for the COVID-19 virus.

The clearance requirements differ depending on the airline you’re flying with and the countries through which you’re travelling. This is also something you should be able to check with your airline, as well as the government of your destination country.

For example, Emirates states that Australian tourists flying into Dubai “must present a negative COVID‑19 PCR test certificate that is valid for 96 hours from the date of the test before departure”.

A man embraces a young boy at the arrivals hall in Perth airport.
Domestic travel is ramping up again, and we’re likely to see more international travel in 2021. Richard Wainwright/AAP

Where can I get a COVID flight clearance test?

In Australia, anyone can access a free COVID test through a public health facility, mobile testing centre, or GP medical centre that offers bulk billing. You might have to pay for the consultation with your GP if they don’t offer bulk billing, but the test itself is free.

However, the tests are funded through Medicare, our national health insurance program, paid through our taxes. Medicare funds are intended to support the health and safety of Australians, rather than to be used for travel purposes.

For a flight clearance certificate, you can speak to your GP for a referral to a testing clinic, but be prepared that you may be asked to pay for the test.

Certain airlines also list recommended clinics. If you know you need a COVID test to travel, it’s a good idea to check whether your airline has nominated any particular clinics.


Read more: Worried about COVID risk on a flight? Here’s what you can do to protect yourself — and how airlines can step up


If you need a COVID flight clearance test, you will need verified evidence, which the provider will send to you once they have the result. You will have to present a printed certificate when you travel — a text message won’t cut it.

And make sure you check the time frame with your airline (for example, if you need the clearance no more than 72 hours before travelling, you can plan accordingly).

The cost of the test and subsequent clearance certificate may vary depending on where you go. One report suggested it would be around A$140.

A Qantas aircraft on the tarmac.
Travel in the age of COVID-19 is likely to look different, even once a vaccine becomes widely available. Matt Hartman/AP

Testing is an important measure, but it’s not foolproof

A negative test result does not guarantee a person is not infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), particularly if they’ve been exposed very recently. This is why people quarantining after travel or exposure are not immediately released following a negative test result.

It’s also possible for somebody who is truly negative to pick up the virus in transit.

Even with a COVID vaccine, clearance certificates may still be required to protect other passengers on a flight. The intent of a vaccine is to protect a person from becoming very sick with COVID-19. But we don’t know yet whether a vaccine will render people completely immune to SARS-CoV-2, and importantly, whether it will stop the virus spreading.


Read more: Employers, schools, take note. Coronavirus ‘clearance certificates’ are a waste of everybody’s time


Wherever you’re travelling — domestically or internationally — stay informed in the lead-up to your trip by checking the requirements of the state or country you’re travelling to, as well as the airline you’re flying with.

And if you have any questions about your own ability to travel, it’s best to consult your GP.

ref. Do I need a COVID flight clearance test to fly in Australia or overseas? And do I have to pay? – https://theconversation.com/do-i-need-a-covid-flight-clearance-test-to-fly-in-australia-or-overseas-and-do-i-have-to-pay-151470

30% of New Zealanders are ‘vaccine sceptics’, so trust is key to COVID-19 vaccine roll-out

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

The emergency approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in the UK and the imminent roll-out of several other vaccines in 2021 raises serious questions about New Zealand’s likely uptake of this vital public health response.

Recent research into New Zealanders’ attitudes to vaccination suggest positions have become more polarised over the last decade, with 60% identifying as “vaccine believers” and 30% as “vaccine sceptics”.

This follows a global trend. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified “vaccine hesitancy” as one of the top ten threats to global health, along with non-communicable diseases (such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease), resistance to antibiotics and HIV.

The trend also raises legal issues in relation to the right to health. Aotearoa New Zealand recognised this right in 1978. It includes the right to information and the state’s obligation to educate the public about community health issues.

The origins of vaccination hesitancy can be traced back to the first vaccines that emerged in the early 19th century in Britain, and later laws on compulsory (but free) immunisation.

There were two key features to the public’s resistance. One, the liberal values of the time worked against any form of state intervention that might limit individual freedoms and personal choice. The second was more specific — a mistrust of, and lack of confidence in, the science.


Read more: Vaccine hesitancy is not new – history tells us we should listen, not condemn


Vaccinations: victims of their own success

Those factors continue to be felt in the current debate, but vaccine hesitancy today has a third feature: the shrinking number of people, in the developed world at least, who remember and can share their experiences of the terrible consequences of diseases such as smallpox and polio.

And here lies the paradox. Many New Zealanders no longer see and fear such wide-scale death and suffering — because vaccinations work. But it is hard to “see” the lives of those who have been saved by vaccination. For example, between 2000 and 2018, an estimated 23.3 million people did not die from measles.

And yet the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine is still linked to fears it causes autism, despite there being no scientific proof of it. The original paper making the claim more than 20 years ago was later withdrawn and the researcher shown to have manipulated the data.

How can we inspire confidence in vaccines?

Overcoming hesitancy and winning public trust will be about ensuring scientifically accurate information is promoted that explains what the vaccines are, what they contain and how they work.

Anecdotes and unsubstantiated claims about the dangers of vaccination fuel vaccine hesitancy.


Read more: Misinformation on social media fuels vaccine hesitancy: a global study shows the link


Public information campaigns should perhaps counter this with scientifically substantiated statistics and real-life stories that build confidence in vaccination. False side effects may be an issue that will need to be managed in messaging.

Similarly, public education campaigns could draw on our understanding of how people respond to messaging — including that we tend to trust the version of information we hear or read first.

Vaccine education should therefore be spread repeatedly using trusted, diverse sources the population relates to.

This is also key to the messaging about safety, which needs to be evidence-based to avoid confirming any reasons people might have for not trusting a vaccine. This aspect is especially important for members of vulnerable and diverse communities.

Where severe side effects do arise, clear messaging about the steps taken to deal with those effects will also have to be communicated, immediately and with the utmost transparency.

That transparency should extend to the motivations behind the message, where a major challenge is overcoming distrust of large pharmaceutical companies and their own perceived financial motives.


Read more: Vaccine refusers are health literate and believe they’re pro-science. But this just reinforces their view


Keep calm and carry on talking

With the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine (for which NZ has a pre-purchase order) now approved in the UK, the speed with which vaccines are being developed, tested and approved must be addressed in New Zealand’s information campaign.

Fear that corners might have been cut and safety compromised will need to be confronted openly. It needs to be communicated clearly that scientists have been working on the technologies behind COVID-19 vaccines for a number of years. Unprecedented focus and funding explain their rapid development.

Related to this is the fact that more than one vaccine will be available, each made using a different technology. The two vaccines expected to be available in New Zealand next year include one based on viral messenger RNA (mRNA) and another using a modified cold virus (which no longer causes disease) to express the surface spike protein of the COVID-19 virus.


Read more: Should a COVID-19 vaccine be compulsory — and what would this mean for anti-vaxxers?


The different methods used to make the vaccines and how they work will require explanation, too, and may raise new questions. A failure to address these questions adequately risks some New Zealanders choosing to refuse vaccination altogether (the vexed question of compulsion aside).

COVID-19 has highlighted the destructive force of a new disease on populations that had perhaps become complacent with vaccines. But we can be prepared for the next phase of our response. A wide-ranging and calm national conversation about vaccination is required.

ref. 30% of New Zealanders are ‘vaccine sceptics’, so trust is key to COVID-19 vaccine roll-out – https://theconversation.com/30-of-new-zealanders-are-vaccine-sceptics-so-trust-is-key-to-covid-19-vaccine-roll-out-151291

Caring for 66,455 revellers at risk delivers $7.5m harm-reduction benefit for Sydney

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Phillip Wadds, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, UNSW

Our time of social isolation under COVID-19 restrictions has reinforced the importance of taking care of each other, particularly the most vulnerable in our community. As we consider what our post-COVID social world will look like, we have an opportunity to deliver services that make our cities safer and more inclusive. An example of how we might achieve this can be found in a Sydney harm-reduction service that has assisted tens of thousands of nightlife revellers who are vulnerable, in distress or at risk of harm since 2014.

A newly released evaluation conservatively estimates the benefits of the Take Kare Safe Space (TKSS) program from December 2014 to April 2019 at A$7.46 million. That benefit includes the value of serious harm averted and the value attached to lives saved through program interventions.

While it may have been less prominent in our public and political consciousness this year, nightlife, and the way we socialise after dark, is a major part of our social and cultural life. It will return.

In Sydney, where trading restrictions – the so-called lockout laws – were lifted in January following five years of controversy, we need to do nightlife better. We need to find the balance between safety and vibrancy. The city is a great place to go out, but also a place where we need to provide the right services for when things inevitably go wrong.


Read more: Where are they now? What public transport data reveal about lockout laws and nightlife patronage


One part of the solution

The TKSS program has been doing this throughout the lockout period in Sydney. Now operated by Stay Kind, the TKSS program was launched in 2014 following the unprovoked attack and subsequent death of Thomas Kelly in Kings Cross in 2012.

Operating year-round from 10pm to 4am on Friday and Saturday nights, it’s a non-judgmental, non-government, harm-reduction service. The program looks after nightlife revellers who are vulnerable, in distress or at risk of harm.

Teams of Take Kare ambassadors work in co-operation with the City of Sydney’s CCTV control room and other nightlife services to patrol key precincts, acting as critical intermediaries between emergency services.

During the evaluation, TKSS operated three static safe spaces at Town Hall, Kings Cross and Darling Harbour. Here, nightlife revellers can go to chill out, get help, charge their phones, or receive basic first aid.

A 2019 Current Affair report on Sydney’s Take Kare Safe Spaces.

Between December 2014 and April 2019, TKSS supported 66,455 people. Two-thirds of them were aged 18-25. Many (46%) were perceived as heavily intoxicated and at risk of harm.

What is the evidence? Does it work?

Researchers from UNSW Sydney and Central Queensland University recently completed a comprehensive independent evaluation of the TKSS program. Funded by the NSW Department of Communities and Justice, the evaluation team analysed crime, emergency department and ambulance data to establish the benefit-cost ratio of the program. We also interviewed key stakeholders and “clients” about their perceptions of the program.

From December 2014 to April 2019 (inclusive), the benefits were estimated at $7.46 million. With operating costs of $2.79 million, the benefit-cost ratio was 2.67:1. In other words, a $1 investment in the program resulted in $2.67 of benefits. When the TKSS program was fully operational in all three safe space sites (in 2016-17), the benefit-cost ratio increased to 3.83:1.

These results are conservative. The return on investment is likely to be much higher given the analysis does not quantify the full spectrum of benefits associated with the program. These include: improved public safety and amenity; more efficient resource allocation for service providers; improved partnership, communication and resourcing to manage Sydney nightlife; and flow-on effects for tourism and investment.

Protest against Sydney's night-time lockout laws
While the lockout laws were contentious, the easing of regulations has probably increased the need to protect revellers from harm. Paul Miller/AAP

Read more: ‘Sanitised’ nightlife precincts become places where some are not welcome


What are the strengths of TKSS?

These non-quantifiable benefits featured strongly in interviews with stakeholders. They included staff from NSW Police and Ambulance, St Vincent’s Emergency Department, City of Sydney, licensed venues and those who used the service. They highlighted a number of key program strengths, including:

1. the program fills a critical gap in nightlife safety – TKSS staff act as intermediaries between licensed premises and emergency services by providing services in public city spaces where people are most vulnerable – and it’s also easy to deploy in different locations as needed

2. the non-judgmental, non-authoritative nature of the program meant intoxicated, vulnerable and distressed nightlife patrons were more comfortable speaking with TKSS ambassadors than other services – such as police, ambulance, venue security or city rangers – and this rapport helped encourage at-risk patrons to willingly get medical help when needed


Read more: Fewer alcohol-related visits to inner Sydney emergency room since ‘lockout laws’ introduced


3. police, ambulance and accident and emergency staff said the TKSS program allowed them to focus on more urgent and pressing jobs

4. the ambassadors are able to de-escalate conflict and provide welfare services through their early, proactive and non-judgmental interventions.

The evaluation shows the TKSS program provides a critical harm-reduction service in Sydney after dark. Its net economic benefit to the city is greatest when the full complement of Safe Spaces are operating and supported by sustained and stable funding. There is a clear case that the program should be part of the long-term future planning of a safe, inclusive and vibrant night-time economy.

Note: The TKSS program was suspended in March 2020 due to COVID-19 and is due to re-open in January 2021.

ref. Caring for 66,455 revellers at risk delivers $7.5m harm-reduction benefit for Sydney – https://theconversation.com/caring-for-66-455-revellers-at-risk-delivers-7-5m-harm-reduction-benefit-for-sydney-151472

Stranded at sea: the humanitarian crisis that’s left 400,000 seafarers stuck on cargo ships

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Christiaan De Beukelaer, Senior Lecturer, University of Melbourne

It has been rightly described as a humanitarian crisis and a modern form of forced labour.

In the early months of 2020, stranded cruise ships became a stark symbol of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Now it is seafarers stranded on cargo ships.

There are more than 50,000 such vessels, with about 1.6 million crew.

Before the coronavirus crisis, about 100,000 of these crew changed over each month, typically after serving contracts capped at 11 months under the United Nations Maritime Labour Convention. But since March, border closures have prevented for many seafarers, forcing some crew into indefinite service, unable to even take shore leave.

And their work has never been more important to the rest of us. Before the pandemic cargo ships carried about 80% of all global trade. With the curtailment of international air travel reducing air cargo capacity by about 20%, shipping has become even more crucial to the global economy.

But the personal costs are enormous. Working on a cargo ship is taxing as the best of times. Now the work is even harder, with no respite.


Read more: The reality of life for seafarers like those crewing the ‘hijacked’ tanker Nave Andromeda


In June the number of stranded seafarers was estimated to be 150,000. By September it was 400,000 (there are no more recent estimates). Some crew have now been at sea for 18 months.

The damage to mental health is great, increasing the risk of occupational accidents and environmental disasters.

Stuck at sea

Their plight is one to which I can personally relate.

In early March I boarded a two-masted schooner, the Avontuur, one of the few cargo ships operating under sail, as part of my research into decarbonising the shipping industry. I planned to be on board for a three-week voyage from Tenerife in the Canary Islands to Guadeloupe in the Caribbean.

My voyage aboard the Avontuur. www.timbercoast.com

I ended up being on board for five months.

By the time we reached port at Point-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe, Caribbean nations were restricting air travel and closing borders due to COVID-19. On March 24, after extended negotiations, we were allowed to briefly dock to take provisions. But no one was allowed ashore.

On April 10, we reached Puerto Cortés in Honduras, to load a cargo of green coffee. Stevedores came aboard to load the bags, but we were prohibited from going ashore. A week later we loaded cacao in Belize City, but again were refused permission to step on land.

Loading a cargo of cacao in Belize. Christiaan De Beukelaer

So my trip extended port after port.

We spent ten days off the Mexican port of Veracruz, waiting for cargo, repairs and favourable winds. Again authorities did not allow us to step ashore. It wasn’t until late June, after more than 120 days on board, in Horta, that we were able to go ashore for a few days on the Azorean island of Faial. But given travel restrictions, we continued on for another three weeks to Hamburg.

The routine of work on a sailing ship occupied our time. Everyone worked eight hours a day in three different watches (four hours on, eight hours off).

But my ordeal was limited. I had confidence that in Hamburg I would be able to disembark and return to Australia. This is something many seafarers do not have. For many, there is still no light at the end of the tunnel.

Crew change possible, but difficult

Cargo ship crews need to keep watch and maintain the vessel at all times. They work 12 hours a day. Without weekends. Without seeing family or friends. Shore leave is increasingly rare, due to tight turnaround times in port, and often confined to docks.

Cargo ships off the coast of Thailand. Avigator Fortuner/Shutterstock

Labour unions and seafarers initially accepted crew change limitations due to COVID-19 border closures as “force majeure” – an issue beyond anyone’s control. As a result, flag states, unions, and port state authorities allowed ship owners to extend contracts beyond Maritime Labour Convention rules.

Since May, many organisations have been appealing to governments to recognise seafarers as “key workers” and permit them to cross borders. Ship owners have also been under fire for not doing enough.


Read more: Thousands of seafarers are stranded aboard ships, with no end to their shift in sight


In early September the head of the International Maritime Organisation, Kitack Lim, said progress was being made by many countries in allowing for crew changes, but not at a rate to keep pace with the backlog.

Most nations now permit seafarers to cross borders, but the process is hampered by bureaucracy, screening and quarantine requirements, limited and hugely expensive air travel, and changing rules due to new waves of COVID-19. So while travelling home is technically possible, many seafarers remain stuck at sea.

The consequences, Kitack Lim warned, are dire:

Seafarers cannot remain at sea indefinitely. In addition to the humanitarian crisis that has been caused by keeping seafarers effectively trapped on their vessels, the safety issues that arise from requiring overly fatigued and mentally exhausted seafarers to continue operating vessels are a matter of great concern.

These concerns have been echoed by the Consumer Goods Forum, comprising the top executives of about 400 multinational retailers and manufacturers, which wrote to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres calling for action to end a situation that had “inadvertently created a modern form of forced labor.”

The International Transport Workers’ Federation called the shipping industry “a ticking timebomb”, with its survey of seafarers showing 60% believed they or crew mates were more likely than not to be “involved in an accident that could harm human life, property or the marine environment due to tiredness or fatigue”.

Oil leaks from the MV Wakashio, a Japanese bulk carrier ship that ran aground off the coast of Mauritius in August 2020.
Oil leaks from the MV Wakashio, a Japanese bulk carrier ship that ran aground off the coast of Mauritius in August 2020. Gwendoline Defente/AP

United Nations call for action

Where I live, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority announced last month it would end interim arrangements permitting seafarers to serve longer than 11 months on ships from 28 February 2021.

But as the International Transport Workers’ Federation noted – welcoming the decision while also expressing disappointment at the unnecessary delay – this is only the start of action needed from port states to help resolve the crew change crisis.

On December 1, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling on all governments to promptly take steps to facilitate crew changes, including by expediting travel and repatriation efforts and ensuring access to medical care.

A key step is designating seafarers as essential workers, with permission to cross borders, priority access to international flights, and to vaccinations when they become available.

The urgency is clear: the global economy depends on the work of seafarers.

When we celebrate Christmas with family and friends, feasting on imported delicacies and exchanging gifts shipped in from overseas, let’s not forget the ordeal of the hundreds of thousands stranded far from home who made that possible.

ref. Stranded at sea: the humanitarian crisis that’s left 400,000 seafarers stuck on cargo ships – https://theconversation.com/stranded-at-sea-the-humanitarian-crisis-thats-left-400-000-seafarers-stuck-on-cargo-ships-150446

Australia’s credit rating is irrelevant. Ignore it

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Steven Hail, Lecturer in Economics, University of Adelaide

Australia guards its AAA credit rating with care. Successive governments from both sides of politics have framed federal budgets with one eye on the economy and the other on what ratings agencies such as Standard and Poor’s will do.

Just the announcement of a “negative outlook” as happened in April, makes news.

Politicians, commentators and even some economists, treat even the possibility of a downgrade as a big deal.

What is unclear is why.

Credit ratings are supposed to measure the risk of default by corporations and governments on the bonds they issue to investors.

If it’s a ten-year bond, it’s the risk of not making the remaining annual payments and not paying back the sum that was lent after ten years.

A ratings downgrade is meant to indicate the payments have become less likely.


Read more: The government has just sold $15 billion of 31-year bonds. But what actually is a bond?


This should make bond holders less keen to own the bonds, which should push up the rates the corporation or government will have to offer to sell them.

A very good reason to pay attention to Standard and Poor’s you might imagine.

And it is for the governments of states such as Victoria and NSW whose ratings were downgraded on Monday.

Ratings agencies can’t hurt the Commonwealth

Those states will probably have to pay more for their borrowings, even though the Reserve Bank of Australia is in the market snapping up state as well as Commonwealth bonds.

Australia owes money in a currency it prints. Nerthuz/Shuttersrtock

But the Commonwealth of Australia is different.

Research to be published next year by University of Adelaide graduate student Matthew Crocker suggests that the Commonwealth and other governments with a high degree of monetary sovereignty including those of the United States, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, Korea, Switzerland, Norway and the United Kingdom are well placed to ignore Standard and Poor’s and all the other ratings agencies.

Governments have a high degree of monetary sovereignty if, like Australia’s, they issue and collect taxes and borrow in their own currency and if that currency is on neither a gold standard or a fixed exchange rate.

In a careful study of members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development between 2000 and 2020, Crocker finds that ratings downgrades do indeed push up the cost of borrowing for countries without monetary sovereignty (such as most members of the Euro-zone), but have no significant impact on the cost of borrowing for monetary sovereigns such as Australia.

Lenders know this well

One lesson from this is that the Australian government should ignore credit ratings when framing its budgets, as modern monetary theorists have been saying for years.

Since 2004 Australia has only issued bonds in Australian dollars, which is another way of saying it has only borrowed in a currency it is able to create.

Although there are many constraints on what governments such as Australia’s can do (including the risk of inflation) such governments can’t become insolvent in their own currencies, because they are always able to supply them.

Strictly speaking, they don’t need to borrow at all. They choose to do so. Where they do borrow, their lenders face a zero risk of default.


Read more: Explainer: what is modern monetary theory?


The other lesson is that buyers of bonds understand this. They behave as if there is a zero risk of default, whatever the agencies say.

Those that didn’t, including fund managers who bet against Japanese and US government bonds in anticipation of downgrades, lost an awful lot of money.

The implications are important

It would be great if others understood this. It has implications for the balance between fiscal and monetary policy, for federal-state financial relations and for privatisations and public investments.

Pressure to privatise. JAMES ROSS/AAP

Governments at both levels have borrowed more than A$100 billion to fund measures to fight the recession. It won’t limit what the federal government is able to do down the track, but it might limit what the states can do.

In order to fund the extra debt payments those states will be under pressure to outsource and privatise things that aren’t yet privatised, even though on one estimate none of Australia’s privatisations over the past 30 years has ended up benefiting the public.

The pressure will increase if the states are downgraded and the cost of their payments increase.

The Reserve Bank is buying state and territory bonds, but that doesn’t write the debt off, it only kicks it down the road.

The best thing would be for the federal government to take-over states’ COVID-related debts. It can’t run out of dollars, and the states are doing much of its work for it, supporting the economy. The move would make the ratings agencies even less relevant.

Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe was half right when he said in August

I think preserving the credit ratings is not particularly important; what’s important is that we use the public balance sheet in a time of crisis to create jobs for people

Credit ratings aren’t important for the federal government. Right now they matter for the states. The Feds are able to help them out.

ref. Australia’s credit rating is irrelevant. Ignore it – https://theconversation.com/australias-credit-rating-is-irrelevant-ignore-it-151579

Santa was a lady once — is it time to bring her back?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Marguerite Johnson, Professor of Classics, University of Newcastle

Can Christmas be about gender? Apparently so, if the paucity of female Santas is anything to go by. There have, in fact, been cases of Australian women donning the secular red and white Santa attire as far back as 1930 — and there is no reason why we couldn’t have more female Santas today.

In 1935, Queensland’s Daily Mercury reported on aviator Nancy Bird Walton, “The Angel of the Outback”, piloting a female Santa Claus into the north-western corner of New South Wales.

Daily Pictorial, Thursday 25 December 1930.

Bird was a volunteer with the Far West Children’s Health Scheme, flying nurses to remote parts of Australia, and transporting patients. “A girl was the first Father Christmas for the isolated area,” the article noted.

Before Bird, in 1930, the Daily Pictorial had published a photo titled: “Sydney’s Woman Santa”. The caption described, “Mrs Thelma Lewis, of Randwick, believed to be Australia’s only woman Santa Claus”, filling a role she adored.

These cases from 1930s Australia provide a glimpse of women breaking the rules of socially accepted female behaviour. (Bird was temporarily suspended from flying in 1935 when a state politician pronounced ladies were not “biologically suited” to the activity).


Read more: We asked five experts: should I lie to my children about Santa?


A ‘slimmer, smaller’ wartime Santa

During the second world war, as with the first, women assumed male roles out of necessity. This included donning a Santa suit. In 1942, Perth’s Daily News reported: “Female Santa Claus this Year”. The article read:

There will be a subtle change in the person of Santa Claus this year. He will probably be slimmer and smaller, and he probably won’t talk, because his voice won’t be quite as deep as it should be. Mother will have the difficult job of deputising for Santa Claus this year, as most fathers in camp and on ships will not get leave.

Women stepped in during wartime in the United States too, although the response was not as pretty. A 1941 article in the St. Louis Star-Times, insisted

There is one male domain, however, that should be defended at all costs … A woman Santa Claus? Heaven forbid! That would be stretching the credulity of guileless little children too far.

Despite the grumbling, American women continued to play Santa during the war years, often with little protest.

‘Mother Christmas’

Why can’t a woman don the wig, beard and suit? Frank Schwichtenberg, GNU Free Documentation License,

In Australia, the practice also continued after the war. On December 10 1949, Brisbane’s Courier-Mail reported on a “Mother Christmas” who visited children at a childcare centre.

The story was titled, “Santa Was A Lady”. The caption for the photograph read, “Woman invaded man’s realm yesterday when a Mother Christmas (Mrs. E. J. Lewis) operated at Kurilpa Child Care Centre. She got the same glad welcome that Father Christmas gets.”

In 1950, meanwhile, a “Glamorous Girl ‘Santa’” cycled into the Christmas party at Freidelle’s, a Wollongong-based manufacturer of children’s clothes. The reporter described her arrival thus:

Furiously riding a bicycle, and with scant consideration to traffic regulations, the ‘Girl Santa’ arrived on the scene at Freidelle’s Xmas Breaking-up party on Thursday and challengingly announced ‘Well, here I am!’

Freidelle’s employed women and was one of the main industries in the region to provide jobs for migrants. In such a context, its female Santa seems to have made sense.


Read more: Teleporting and psychedelic mushrooms: a history of St Nicholas, Santa and his helpers


Resistance

In the final decades of the 20th century, there was more resistance to female Santas. In Australia, Santa became a bloke again. In the US, the few women Santas working in department stores were either sacked or encouraged to seek alternative employment.

In 1999, a female Santa sued a Walmart in Louisville for unfair dismissal after a customer complained it was a man’s job. She lost.

But the tide may be turning as we settle into the new millennium. In 2018, in Gisborne, New Zealand, Santa was a “female, regional, Maori, queer”. Also in 2018, in Park City Mall in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, “Tranta Claus” (a transgender Santa) came to town.

The future of our beloved Santa — the guy in the red suit originating from the story of St Nicholas in fifth century Turkey — may be increasingly contested. And with older, overweight men said to be at a higher risk of catching coronavirus, now is the time to rethink the notion of who can play Santa.

A firefighter in the role of the Befana descends from the Palazzo dei Consoli in Gubbio (2011).

Gender switches at Christmas are really nothing new. In Italy, the Christmas tradition of a magical being bearing gifts has been part of culture for hundreds of years in the form of a folkloric witch called The Befana.

First recorded in a poem in 1549, the Befana is old, rides a broomstick, carries a sack full of treats (and coal), and wears a black shawl and either a headscarf or tall hat. Like Santa, she enters homes via chimneys, filling the socks or stockings of children with gifts

Male cross-dressing is part of an age old tradition of pantomime throughout Europe, prevalent around Christmas. So in Italy, the Befana is often performed by men donning female attire.

ref. Santa was a lady once — is it time to bring her back? – https://theconversation.com/santa-was-a-lady-once-is-it-time-to-bring-her-back-149744

Government set for quick passage of bill to facilitate CFMMEU breakup, with Labor support

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

The government is set to rush through parliament this week its legislation enabling parts of the militant CFMMEU to break away.

Labor on Monday night was ready to support the legislation – aimed at construction heavyweight John Setka and his allies, who have created havoc internally as well as industrially and brought the mega union into disrepute.

The legislation would allow the mining and energy division, led by Tony Maher, to leave the union, and follows negotiations between Maher and Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter.

Maher recently resigned as national president of the CFMMEU, and Michael O’Connor, the head of the manufacturing division, quit as national secretary, amid bitter infighting.

The bill is due to be introduced on Wednesday. Labor’s position was discussed in shadow cabinet on Monday night and will go to caucus on Tuesday.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese some time ago forced Setka out of the ALP.

The legislation, which allows demergers to take place in a union after the present cut off time of five years, would enable a proposal to split away to be put to vote of members of the mining division. The manufacturing division might also leave.

Passage of the legislation would culminate years of the Coalition trying to curb the construction union.

Meanwhile, for the first time, employers committing “egregious” wage theft would face the threat of federal criminal charges, under the Morrison government’s proposed industrial relations omnibus legislation to be introduced on Wednesday.

This is separate legislation from the demerger bill, and won’t be dealt with until next year.

The maximum penalty would be $1.11million or four years imprisonment, or both, for individuals and $5.55 million for a company.

But it is clear the application of the criminal penalty would be very rare. The government says the offence would apply where a “national system employer dishonestly engages in a deliberate systematic pattern of underpaying one or more of their employees”.

The offence wouldn’t apply to one-off underpayments, inadvertent mistakes or miscalculations.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus said while the ACTU welcomed any laws that would address wage theft, the bar the government proposed was too high.

“It is unlikely any employer will ever be caught and it will wipe out stronger and better laws in Queensland, Victoria and the ACT,” McManus said.

For less serious cases, the legislation would increase the present civil penalties.

For most wage underpayments, the maximum penalty would rise by 50%. This will take it from $13,320 to $19,980 for an individual. and from $66,600 to $99,900 for a body corporate including small businesses.

For larger businesses, maximum penalties would be based on the higher of either twice the benefit obtained or $99,900.

Penalties for “serious” wage underpayments by bigger businesses would be based on the higher of either three times the benefit obtained or $666,600.

Porter said that “overwhelmingly there was a view amongst the business groups that there shouldn’t be a criminal offence of wage theft at all”. But he stressed the criminal offence was different from “inadvertent underpayment”.

Asked on Sky whether he could give examples of instances that would meet the criminal threshold, Porter could not.

But he did point to the 7-Eleven scandal as “the most egregious and blameworthy example of the underpayment scenario”.

The Fair Work Ombudsman reported in October: “Between September 2015 and February 2020, 7-Eleven Stores Pty Ltd have back-paid $173,610,752 in wages, interest and superannuation to 4,043 current and former franchisee employees.”

The FWC said it had “brought 11 litigations against 7-Eleven franchisees resulting in courts awarding more than $1.8 million in penalties against them, including for operating unlawful cash-back schemes, paying unlawful flat rates to workers, and falsifying records”.

The Australian Industry Group said it opposed criminal penalties for wage underpayments but if the legislation was to include them they must be fair and balanced, applying only to “deliberate, dishonest and serious conduct”.

ref. Government set for quick passage of bill to facilitate CFMMEU breakup, with Labor support – https://theconversation.com/government-set-for-quick-passage-of-bill-to-facilitate-cfmmeu-breakup-with-labor-support-151597

Criminal penalties for wage theft for ‘egregious’ cases only

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

For the first time, employers committing “egregious” wage theft would face the threat of federal criminal charges, under the Morrison government’s proposed industrial relations omnibus legislation to be introduced on Wednesday.

The maximum penalty would be $1.11million or four years imprisonment, or both, for individuals and $5.55 million for a company.

But it is clear the application of the criminal penalty would be very rare. The government says the offence would apply where a “national system employer dishonestly engages in a deliberate systematic pattern of underpaying one or more of their employees”.

The offence wouldn’t apply to one-off underpayments, inadvertent mistakes or miscalculations.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus said while the ACTU welcomed any laws that would address wage theft, the bar the government proposed was too high.

“It is unlikely any employer will ever be caught and it will wipe out stronger and better laws in Queensland, Victoria and the ACT,” McManus said.

For less serious cases, the legislation would increase the present civil penalties.

For most wage underpayments, the maximum penalty would rise by 50%. This will take it from $13,320 to $19,980 for an individual. and from $66,600 to $99,900 for a body corporate including small businesses.

For larger businesses, maximum penalties would be based on the higher of either twice the benefit obtained or $99,900.

Penalties for “serious” wage underpayments by bigger businesses would be based on the higher of either three times the benefit obtained or $666,600.

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said that “overwhelmingly there was a view amongst the business groups that there shouldn’t be a criminal offence of wage theft at all”. But he stressed the criminal offence was different from “inadvertent underpayment”.

Asked on Sky whether he could give examples of instances that would meet the criminal threshold, Porter could not.

But he did point to the 7-Eleven scandal as “the most egregious and blameworthy example of the underpayment scenario”.

The Fair Work Ombudsman reported in October: “Between September 2015 and February 2020, 7-Eleven Stores Pty Ltd have back-paid $173,610,752 in wages, interest and superannuation to 4,043 current and former franchisee employees.”

The FWC said it had “brought 11 litigations against 7-Eleven franchisees resulting in courts awarding more than $1.8 million in penalties against them, including for operating unlawful cash-back schemes, paying unlawful flat rates to workers, and falsifying records.

The Australian Industry Group said it opposed criminal penalties for wage underpayments but if the legislation was to include them they must be fair and balanced, applying only to “deliberate, dishonest and serious conduct”.

ref. Criminal penalties for wage theft for ‘egregious’ cases only – https://theconversation.com/criminal-penalties-for-wage-theft-for-egregious-cases-only-151597

Victorian government must ensure its proposed healthcare database has iron-clad security and privacy

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Rick Sarre, Emeritus Professor of Law and Criminal Justice, University of South Australia

Last weekend, The Age reported on a Victorian government plan, quietly unveiled three months ago, that would revolutionise the collection of the private medical data of every Victorian who has ever used public hospitals or health services.

Known as clinical information sharing (CIS), the plan allows the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to gather and collate every patient’s medical records. The records will be stored on a government database and made available to clinicians as required. The database will include information such as clinical details, demographics, attendance information, medications, allergies and adverse reactions, discharge summaries and test results.

According to the proposal, CIS will be expanded over time to include information about treatment pathways, family and social history, and lifestyle factors. The department has also flagged extending the initiative to include patient details not only from public sources but also private hospitals, general practitioners, mental health systems and ambulance services.

The need for better sharing of medical data was highlighted in an independent report commissioned by the government in 2015. It followed several potentially preventable baby deaths at the Bacchus Marsh Hospital.

While this all sounds highly meritorious, there is one problem: unlike the federal government’s controversial My Health Record, it is not possible for anyone to opt out. About 10% of people have opted out of My Health Record, which is not unexpected.

Victorians will have no such option. True, they will have access to the data through an electronic portal, but they won’t be able to change anything or delete information.

This creates a dilemma for the government: even with the best motives, when it comes to anything to do with human services, compulsion is always a sticking point. One abandons the requirement of consent at one’s peril.


Read more: Why aren’t more people using the My Health Record?


Let’s examine each side of the argument.

On the one hand, assembling all medical information of all eligible people from a broad range of sources into one database provides public hospitals and health services with an immediate and complete picture of any patient’s history. Health professionals will have quick access to medical images and laboratory results.

Indeed, it is sometimes impractical to obtain the consent of a person in emergency situations when treatment is required to prevent death, serious damage to health, or significant pain or distress. This is especially so when patients are not conscious and are not on record as having given any prior consent.

CIS is also designed to facilitate access to the information in a patient’s My Health Record, including information from other states and territories.

On the other hand, there are concerns.

While sensitive to the need for privacy safeguard mechanisms, the Victorian Healthcare Association strongly recommends there be a two-year pilot scheme before the plan is rolled out. This will help ease concerns the data will simply duplicate a lot of what is contained in the My Health Record system.

Others have been more scathing of the CIS proposal. In a blog on the Australian Health Information Technology site, a medical practitioner comments:

The idea of aggregating locally held clinical data from the private and public sector with the variably complete and timely data held in the #myHR is surely both overly complex and a uniquely difficult data management task – even if the private sector data was accessible. Of course, privacy, consent and data sensitivity issues seem not to even warrant a real mention and the claimed benefits are all pretty nebulous and unproven.

So where do we go from here?

The starting point is that governments must ensure no policy sacrifices our right to keep private what we would prefer to be private in the pursuit of a goal that can be attained by less intrusive methods. This has been the successful mantra of the drive to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

Certainly, legislative protections are in place in Victoria for health information when it is handled by public and private sector organisations. There are general data privacy rights under the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014, but this act does not apply to health records. The protections for these data are contained in the Health Records Act 2001, which is overseen by the Health Complaints Commissioner. It is a good system, but data protection is never completely foolproof.


Read more: Is the government’s coronavirus app a risk to privacy?


Data leakage is the biggest risk to public confidence. The concern is that there are always risks associated with giving a broad range of service providers ready accessibility to highly sensitive personal records, which in turn might be used to discriminate, or even worse.

This information might include historical data concerning sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy terminations, mental ill-health episodes, DNA tests and matters to do with family violence and child protection. This material can be highly embarrassing to some people. In the wrong hands (journalists, insurance companies, private investigators, personal opponents), it could be politically and personally damaging.

The CIS is a three-year initiative. The project is in phase one, and the DHHS is seeking feedback. The public will need assurances that CIS will be able to balance appropriately the public interest in the legitimate and essential use of that information with the public interest in protecting the privacy of health information.

If parliament is to amend the Health Records Act and abandon the requirement of consent, it will need to be rock solid behind data security assurances, and emphatic in its list of uses to which the data can be put. The Victorian government cannot afford to get this wrong.

ref. Victorian government must ensure its proposed healthcare database has iron-clad security and privacy – https://theconversation.com/victorian-government-must-ensure-its-proposed-healthcare-database-has-iron-clad-security-and-privacy-151554

Lassie Come Home (again): remake of a classic is a reminder of our bond with pets

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Vanessa Rohlf, La Trobe University

Review: Lassie Come Home, directed by Hanno Olderdissen

This week, Lassie returned to the screens, with a remake of the 1943 film coming 80 years since Eric Mowbray Knight’s classic novel was first published.

In this retelling of the story, Lassie and a young boy named Florian are inseparable. But Lassie is temporarily rehomed, after Florian’s father loses his job and the family is forced to move to an apartment where pets are not allowed. Lassie has other ideas. She escapes to begin an epic journey back to the boy she loves. At the same time, Florian sets out to find her.

At the end of a tough year, the modern remake of Lassie Come Home, reminds us of our simple, healing, and mutually beneficial bond with dogs.

‘Lassie!’ ‘Woof woof!’

A long lead

What is it about the bond between a boy and his dog Lassie that has stood the test of time? Recent statistics show that 40% of Australian households own at least one dog. Global dog ownership rates are as high as 66% in Argentina. American households and those in the UK are less keen with rates of 50% and 27% respectively.

We and our canine companions share a long history. Dogs were the first domesticated species. While, we don’t know for sure how far back our relationship goes, current evidence suggests it dates back to at least 12,000 years.

Girl with dog in black and white movies
Young Elizabeth Taylor appeared in the original Lassie Come Home (1943) as did dog ‘Pal’ and Roddy McDowall. IMDB

The story of Lassie doesn’t go back quite that far. After the initial hit Lassie movie there were six more films before the Collie dog became a star of the small screen. The TV series was produced from 1954–1974 and featured numerous dogs (all males playing the female Lassie).

This is a modern German retelling of the original movie but don’t expect it to be the same as the series. The story focuses more on the challenges both Florian and Lassie face before finally reuniting rather than the interactions between them. It is an equally enjoyable watch for adults and kids.


Read more: Your dog’s nose knows no bounds – and neither does its love for you


Pandemic pups

Florian and his dog Lassie are willing to travel great distances to be reunited. The love we humans have for our dogs is real. Thousands of years of co-evolution, has meant that even a dog’s gaze can increase our oxytocin levels, a hormone associated with bonding.

Dad, son and dog in a field.
Dogs really are the best people. Warner Bros

Interacting with a dog can decrease blood pressure, and increase both oxytocin and other feel good hormones like dopamine. Further, during times of emotional distress, children turn to dogs, sometimes over humans, as a source of support and comfort.

The original Lassie Come Home was set in tough times when the Depression forces a family to sell their beloved pet.

During this year’s COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen a significant increase in dog ownership. Perhaps, getting a dog during the pandemic provides us with comfort during these uncertain times. Dog ownership may also help promote physical activity, and the human animal bond may protect against psychological distress and reduce feelings of isolation.


Read more: Man’s stressed friend: how your mental health can affect your dog


It goes both ways

Just as Florian longs for his dog. Lassie longs for him too. She is by no means a lone wolf.

This long history of co-evolution means that our dogs may actually love us back. Remember how our oxytocin level increases when we gaze at our dogs? Our dog’s levels also increase. Spoiler alert: Lassie’s oxytocin levels would most definitely have increased upon her reunion with Florian and, as a viewer, yours might very well too.

There seems to be something special about dogs, in particular. Even hand-raised wolves rarely gaze at their owners and do not show a preference for human companionship in the way that dogs do. Dog’s may attach to humans in a similar way children attach to their caregivers.

Dogs will often search for their owner when they leave and will greet them more enthusiastically upon their return compared to a stranger. Wolves, in contrast, may only demonstrate some of these behaviours if they are intensely socialised.

In the Lassie series, this difference was highlighted by the recurring role of “Blaze: the untrappable wolf dog”, with one episode called Lassie and the Savage.

Not only do dogs love us, but they also can understand us. Dogs demonstrate the ability to follow human pointing and can even pick up on our emotional cues. The dogs who played the original Lassie reportedly knew hundreds of commands.

‘Gee mum, I want to be a naturalist … you get to live outdoors and make friends with all the animals.’

Although our dogs demonstrate this ability to read us humans, we have a little more to learn when it comes to reading our canine companions. Dog bites result in hundreds of hospital admission and emergency department presentations, with children particularly at risk.

The bond between humans, especially children and their dogs, is truly beautiful and the new Lassie film captures this well. But, be mindful to supervise children and learn the cues that tell us when our very own Lassies aren’t enjoying interactions as much as we are.

If you want to be reminded of the special bond between humans and dogs, watch Lassie Come Home, then give your own dog (or someone else’s) a pat. With permission, of course.


Read more: Why can’t dogs eat chocolate?


Lassie Come Home is now in cinemas.

ref. Lassie Come Home (again): remake of a classic is a reminder of our bond with pets – https://theconversation.com/lassie-come-home-again-remake-of-a-classic-is-a-reminder-of-our-bond-with-pets-150539

Nothing like the mafia: cybercriminals are much like the everyday, poorly paid business worker

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Roberto Musotto, Research fellow, Edith Cowan University

New research is questioning the popular notion that cybercriminals can make millions of dollars from the comfort of home — and without much effort.

Our paper, published in the journal Trends in Organised Crime, suggests offenders who illegally sell cybercrime tools to other groups aren’t promised automatic success.

Indeed, the “crimeware-as-a-service” market is a highly competitive one. To succeed, providers have to work hard to attract clients and build up their criminal business.

They must combine their skills and employ business acumen to attract (and profit from) other cybercriminals wanting their “services”. And the tactics they use more closely resemble a business practice playbook than a classic Mafia operation.

The online trade of DDoS stressers

Using social network analysis, we studied crimeware-as-a-service payment patterns online.


Read more: Prosecuting within complex criminal networks is hard. Data analysis could save the courts precious time and money


Specifically, we looked at a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) stresser. A “DDoS stresser”, also called an IP booter, is an online tool that offenders can rent to launch DDoS attacks against websites.

In such attacks, the targeted website is bombarded with numerous log-on attempts all at once. This clogs up the site’s traffic and leads to all users being denied access, effectively causing the site to crash.

Buy your VIP cybercrime membership today

The stresser we analysed was taken down by Dutch law enforcement after six months of operation. Since all the identities involved were anonymised, we’ve called it StressSquadZ.

We explored StressSquadZ’s service operations and payment systems to observe how its service provider interacted with customers. Contrary to the idea of organised cybercrime looking like a cyberpunk version of The Godfather, their strategies seemed to come straight from a business playbook.

StressSquadZ’s provider offered clients a range of marketing and subscription plans. These started at an introductory trial price of US$1.99 for ten minutes of limited service, through to pricier options. Clients wanting a “full power” attack could buy a VIP bespoke service for US$250.

Clearly, StressSquadZ’s provider had a hankering to maximise profit. And just as we all appreciate a good bargain, their customers aimed to pay as little as possible.


Read more: MyGov’s ill-timed meltdown could have been avoided with ‘elastic computing’


(Cyber)crime doesn’t pay

The communication data we analysed, mapped below, indicated the clientele compromised of three distinct groups of hackers: amateurs (red), professionals (green) and skilled non-professionals (yellow).

Some users who started with buying trials later graduated to more expensive premium services, which were pathways into more powerful attacks. The lines in this figure represent payments for DDoS stresser services.

The low-impact trial plan was the most popular purchase. These users, which made up about 40% of the total customer pool, are very likely driven by the thrill of transgression rather than pure criminal intent.

A smaller group had more serious intentions, as their more expensive subscription levels indicated. Having invested more, they’d need a higher return on their investment.

Notably, we found the average yield for those involved was low, compared to yield obtained during other cybercrime operations studied. In fact, StressSquadZ operated at a loss for most of its life.

Two things help explain this. First, the service was short-lived. By the time it started gaining traction, it was shut down. Also, it was competing in a large market, losing potential customers to other similar service providers.

Complicit in the act

While stressers can be used legally to test the resilience of security systems, we found the main intent to use StressSquadZ’s was as an attack vehicle against websites.

There was no attempt by the service provider to prevent clients from illegal use, thus making them a facilitator of the crime. This in itself is a crime under computer misuse legislation in most Australian jurisdictions.

That said, the group of criminals tapping into StressSquadZ was very different to a more archetypal and hierarchical criminal group, such as the Mafia. Without a “boss” StressSquadZ was sometimes disorganised and duties and benefits were more equally distributed.

We now face fewer (but stronger) DDoS attacks

The emergence of DDoS stressers over the past decade has actually led to an overall reduction in the number of DDoS attacks.

According to CRITiCaL project, out of 10,000 cyberattacks between 2012 and 2019 – of which 800 were DDoS attacks – the number of attacks fell from 180 in 2012 to fewer than 50 last year.

This may be because individual attacks are now more powerful. Early DDoS attacks were weak and short in duration, so cyber security systems could overcome them. Attacks today carry out their purpose, which it to invalidate access to a system, for a longer duration.

There’s been a massive increase in the scope and intensity of attacks over the past decade. Damage once done on a megabyte scale has now become gigabytes and terabytes.

This graph shows the increase in size of DDoS attacks, in megabytes, from 2007 to 2018.
This graph shows the increase in size of DDoS attacks in megabytes from 2007 to 2018. Carlos Morales/Arbor Network

DDoS attacks can facilitate data theft or increase the intensity of ransomware attacks.

In February, they were used as a persistent threat to seek ransom payments from various Australian organisations, including banks.


Read more: Australia is under sustained cyber attack, warns the government. What’s going on, and what should businesses do?


Also in February we witnessed one of the most extreme DDoS attacks in recent memory. Amazon Web Services was hit by a sustained attack that lasted three days and reached up to 2.3 terabytes per second.

The threat from such assaults (and the networks sustaining them) is of huge concern — not least because DDoS attacks often come packaged with other crimes.

It’s helpful, however, to know stresser providers use a business model resembling any e-commerce website. Perhaps with this insight we can get down to business taking them down.

ref. Nothing like the mafia: cybercriminals are much like the everyday, poorly paid business worker – https://theconversation.com/nothing-like-the-mafia-cybercriminals-are-much-like-the-everyday-poorly-paid-business-worker-150953

The Anzac legend has blinded Australia to its war atrocities. It’s time for a reckoning

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Martin Crotty, Associate Professor in Australian History, The University of Queensland

For years, Australians have faced a steady stream of investigative media reports about atrocities allegedly committed by the country’s most elite soldiers in Afghanistan.

Yet, nothing could have prepared the nation for the breathtaking contents of the landmark report by Major General Paul Brereton into the actions of special forces, released last month after a four-year investigation. The reaction across Australia was one of horror and disbelief.

The inquiry found credible evidence to support allegations that 39 Afghan civilians were illegally killed by Australian soldiers, some having weapons planted on them to make them appear to have been combatants.


Read more: Allegations of murder and ‘blooding’ in Brereton report now face many obstacles to prosecution


Prisoners were shot for reasons as obtuse as saving the need for a second helicopter trip. Others were allegedly killed in a practice known as “blooding”, in which new soldiers were encouraged to achieve their first “kill”. In one particularly appalling incident, special forces allegedly slit the throats of two 14-year-old boys and dumped their bodies in a river.

For most Australians, this is more than just rogue soldiers being found out for despicable behaviour. The depth of revulsion felt by many reflects the special place the country reserves for its armed forces, who have come to personify all that is best about Australia.

Chief of Defence Force Angus Campbell has been under pressure from some politicians to resign. Mick Tsikas/AAP

Where the Anzac legend originated

Military history sits at the heart of the Australian national identity — most visibly through the Anzac legend.

The word “Anzac” is an acronym for “Australian and New Zealand Army Corps”. It was coined during the early phases of the first world war, when Australians and New Zealanders were part of an allied force that landed at Gallipoli in modern-day Turkey in April 1915.

The invasion, devised by Britain’s first lord of the admiralty, Winston Churchill, was unsuccessful in its goal of reaching Constantinople and knocking the Ottoman Empire out of the war.

British, Australian and New Zealander soldiers constructing bombs at Gallipoli in 1915. Archives New Zealand/Wikimedia Commons

But the young Australian nation, federated in 1901, took from the failed campaign a mythology of national birth.

Australia had been created during an age of elevated propaganda about empire, monarchy and the glory of battle. War was held to be the truest test of the character of men and nations.

In this era of “new imperialism”, the peaceful union of Australia’s six British colonies carried a taint of illegitimacy because no blood had been spilled (the frontier wars with Aboriginal peoples did not count). The British journalist Alfred Buchanan wrote in 1907 that he

pitied the little Australian […] looking to nourish the flame of patriotic sentiment, [for …] the altar has not been stained with crimson as every rallying centre of a nation should be.

So, by the first world war, it was believed that a good showing in battle would expunge the convict stain and prove Australians worthy members of the British empire.

This is why the date of the Gallipoli invasion, April 25, quickly became Australia’s most sacred national day. The young nation was drenched by a tide of khaki nationalism that has ebbed and flowed ever since.

War memorials and monuments were raised in towns and cities around the country, where citizens still gather each Anzac Day to engage in the rituals of what the late historian Ken Inglis called Australia’s “civil religion”.

The first Anzac Day parade in Sydney on April 25, 1916. Century of Pictures, Penguin Books/Wikimedia Commons

How the Anzacs continue to be revered

Beginning in the 1990s, Australian politicians have also consciously and cleverly linked this nostalgia-tinted history to the work of the modern and highly professionalised Australian Defence Force.

When the honour of Australia’s revered soldiers is questioned, so too is the national self-image.

For example, a 2011 report into the culture and personal conduct of members of the Defence Force, prompted by accusations of sexual harassment and other indiscretions, noted the Anzac legend provided an exemplar for the current military.


Read more: Why Australian commanders need to be held responsible for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan


Similarly, in his 2015 dawn service speech on the centenary of the Gallipoli landings, then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott lauded the Anzacs for their qualities of compassion, perseverance and mateship.

In reverential tones, Abbott called them the “founding heroes of modern Australia”, said they set an example for modern day Australians to follow:

Yes, they are us; and when we strive enough for the right things, we can be more like them.

Poignantly, Ben Roberts-Smith, Australia’s most decorated contemporary soldier and among the men accused of war atrocities in Afghanistan, has also drawn inspiration from the Anzac legend.

Roberts-Smith has said that Gallipoli is “a big part of who we are as Aussies”, and reflected on his boyhood fascination with the Anzacs:

While other boys had posters of sporting heroes, I had posters of soldiers.

A history of misconduct in war

But the idealisation of this Anzac history has always required Australians turn a blind eye to uncomfortable truths.

Australian soldiers in the first world war killed prisoners, deserted in record numbers, caught venereal disease at phenomenal rates and outperformed all other Western Front forces in causing trouble.

In the second world war, Australians were often reluctant to take Japanese prisoners, choosing to illegally bayonet or shoot them instead. And Australian soldiers are known to have committed atrocities alongside their American counterparts in Vietnam, including “bloodings” and “throwdowns” (planting weapons on civilians after they were killed).


Read more: How Anzac Day came to occupy a sacred place in Australians’ hearts


In recent years, we have become increasingly reluctant to see our Anzacs as killers, even when such killing is legitimate on military grounds.

As represented most famously in Peter Weir’s 1981 film, Gallipoli, the Anzac legend has become less about the combat ability of Australian soldiers and more about their suffering. It is war commemoration stripped down and refitted for the age of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Anzacs that our nation so often lauds are fictional creations, shorn of the malevolence and downright murderous behaviour they frequently exhibited.

The alleged SAS atrocities do not fit this kinder, gentler version of the legend. They upend the way Australians like to imagine their armed forces, and by implication, themselves.

The final scene in the 1981 film Gallipoli, starring Mel Gibson.

Tethering war to national self-image

We see two possibilities for how the current crisis will play out. The first is the alleged war crimes will slowly be forgotten, just as previous atrocities have been.

There are already signs this is happening. Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week said he remained “incredibly proud” of the ADF and emphasised that the alleged crimes were committed by “a small number in a very big defence force”. He maintained the reputation of the broader defence force would be unaffected.

Soldiers march during the Anzac Day parade in Brisbane in 2019. Glenn Hunt/AAP

The other possibility is Australia will adopt a more realistic attitude towards its soldiers and the conflicts they fight in.

These conflicts are complex, and rarely conducted without some descent into the moral abyss. Some of our soldiers are not good people, and those that are good are capable of lapses. War is an ugly business, and we pay a price for tethering it so tightly to our national self-image.

As historians of Australia’s war experiences, we hope and wish for a national reckoning about our record of war atrocities. But as historians of Anzac, we anticipate that the great mythological behemoth will barely sway from its course in the face of these allegations.

ref. The Anzac legend has blinded Australia to its war atrocities. It’s time for a reckoning – https://theconversation.com/the-anzac-legend-has-blinded-australia-to-its-war-atrocities-its-time-for-a-reckoning-151022

Australia hasn’t performed well at maths and science recently. We’re about to find out if we’ve improved

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Sue Thomson, Deputy CEO (Research), Australian Council for Educational Research

Every four years, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) releases data on how effective countries are in teaching mathematics and science in Years 4 and 8. Called TIMSS, (Trends in International Mathematics and Science), the 2019 results will be released tomorrow evening.

This is the seventh time the TIMSS test has been administered. Over the years, the results have attracted considerable attention from governments and those interested in education.

The first TIMSS test was in 1995. Results from the last cycle, TIMSS 2015, showed the maths and science achievement of Australia’s Years 4 and 8 students had flatlined. But many other countries had improved — including the United States and England.

What is TIMSS?

What many are wondering about the results tomorrow include:

  • how does Australia’s education system compare internationally – which countries are doing better than we are and which are doing worse?

  • how are we doing internally — across states and territories, between girls and boys, or children from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds?

Year 4 and Year 8 students involved in TIMSS complete tests in maths and science. They also answer questionnaires on their background and experiences in learning maths and science at school.

School principals and the students’ maths and science teachers also complete detailed questionnaires.

This information helps to paint a picture of what happens in schools and classrooms and what might influence student learning.

TIMSS is a sample assessment. It’s not possible to test every Year 4 or Year 8 student (that would take too long and cost too much).

So a representative random sample is drawn from all schools in each system being tested. One class from each school is then randomly selected to complete the paper-based or online assessment of maths and science.


Read more: Australian schools continue to fall behind other countries in maths and science


TIMSS was not designed to provide scores for individual students or schools — students don’t even complete the same test as all of the other students in the room. In TIMSS 2019, for example, there were more than 14 different test forms, covering different parts of the assessment.

An illustration of the earth rotating on its axis in relation to the sun.
TIMSS tests maths and science concepts, like the effect of the earth rotating on its axis. Shutterstock

Those test scores are then put together statistically to form an overall picture of achievement.

In Australia, 571 schools and 14,950 students participated in TIMSS 2019.

What the test looks like

TIMSS looks at how well Year 4 and Year 8 students have mastered the factual and procedural knowledge taught in school maths and science curricula.

For example, do students know:

  • how many legs an insect has

  • what causes rust

  • what happens when light passes through a prism

  • what is the sum of the angles of a triangle

  • how to convert ¾ to a decimal

  • how to calculate an average.

Test questions can either be “constructed response” or “multiple-choice”.

For “constructed response” questions, students are asked to give a written response that could be as short as a single word or number, or as long as a couple of sentences.

Here’s an example of a constructed response question from Year 4 mathematics:

Hanif starts to write a number pattern: 6, 13, 20, 27 … He adds the same number each time to get the next number. What is the next number he should write in his pattern?

Answer = 34.

For multiple-choice questions, students select the correct answer from a selection of pre-written options. Here’s a multiple-choice question from Year 8 science:

Earth rotates on its axis. What does this cause?

  • A. the seasons
  • B. a solar eclipse
  • C. day and night
  • D. high and low tides

Answer = C. day and night.

TIMSS is different to other international tests

TIMSS is not the only international assessment Australia participates in.

In December 2019, results from the OECD’s PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) made headlines as Australia’s PISA scores in maths and science were the lowest they had ever been.



While both TIMSS and PISA test maths and science, they are very different in terms of who they test and what the test is like. There are three main differences:

  • TIMSS tests students in middle primary and lower secondary. PISA tests 15 year olds, who are usually in Years 9, 10 or 11 in Australia and nearing the end of their compulsory schooling in many countries

  • TIMSS focuses on how well students have learnt the content of a defined curriculum. PISA focuses on how well students can apply reading, maths, science skills to real-life situations

  • TIMSS assessment content is jointly developed by participating countries based on a detailed analysis of national curricula. PISA assessment content is developed by OECD-selected experts based on the skills they think students should have mastered.

Testing at Year 4 and Year 8, rather than at the end of school, allows countries to see how well students are doing early in their education journey and where more effort might be needed. Focusing on a defined curriculum can help find where gaps in a country’s own curriculum might lie.


Read more: The PISA world education test results are about to drop. Is Australia getting worse?


TIMSS also provides a lot of contextual information collected through questionnaires from school principals, teachers and students. The questionnaire examine what is intended to be taught in science and maths (the intended curriculum) and how these things are actually taught (the implemented curriculum). While the assessment describes what students have learned (the attained curriculum).

Together, information from TIMSS can help improve Australia’s maths and science curricula and, ultimately, the educational outcomes of all Australian students.

ref. Australia hasn’t performed well at maths and science recently. We’re about to find out if we’ve improved – https://theconversation.com/australia-hasnt-performed-well-at-maths-and-science-recently-were-about-to-find-out-if-weve-improved-150274

Dealing with apartment defects: a how-to guide for strata owners and buyers

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Sian Thompson, Research Associate, City Futures Research Centre, UNSW

If you own an apartment – or are thinking of buying one – the recent news about building quality has been worrying. There have been evacuations at the Opal and Mascot apartment towers in Sydney, cladding fires at the Lacrosse and Neo200 towers in Melbourne and the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London. While most buildings won’t have such serious defects, many do have significant problems, and owners must get these fixed so they aren’t a health and safety risk.


Read more: The big lesson from Opal Tower is that badly built apartments aren’t only an issue for residents


Even if the defect doesn’t affect their apartment, this is often the shared responsibility of all owners in the building. It’s essential they have access to good guidance on dealing with defects in strata properties – but this isn’t always easy to find. To help owners, we’ve worked with the Strata Community Association (NSW) to produce a free guide to rectifying defects.

screenshot of strata defects rectification guide home page
The online guide to rectifying defects takes apartment owners step by step through what they should do. City Futures Research Centre, UNSW/SCA (NSW), CC BY

This how-to guide takes current and potential owners through the steps of identifying and rectifying defects, with links to helpful resources. It includes advice on getting a defect report, whether the developer or builder might be responsible for fixing the issue, how to choose and manage building experts, and how to manage communication with owners and workers.

The guide has been developed for New South Wales, but may also be helpful if you have a strata property elsewhere in Australia.

So what key things should owners know?

Each building’s experience with defects will differ. But there are some key principles owners should always keep in mind – these underpin all the advice in our guide.

Ignorance isn’t bliss: as an owner, you are automatically a member of the owners corporation/body corporate. This means you have a legal responsibility to maintain and repair the common property, including dealing with defects.

Information is power: gather all the information you can when investigating defects. For buyers, a good strata report is essential. For owners of new buildings, getting a professional defects report is particularly important. It’s worth the cost.

Focus on potential fire, waterproofing or structural issues. These defects can be hard to see but expensive to fix. They also have major impacts on health and safety.

fire at an apartment
The big things to look out for are potential fire risks and waterproofing or structural issues. Though often hard to see, these problems can turn out to be costly. AAP

Read more: Housing with buyer protection and no serious faults – is that too much to ask of builders and regulators?


The early bird catches the worm: you can never start looking for and dealing with defects too early. Be aware of time limits on building warranties.

In NSW, for minor defects, you have two years to start the process of getting the builder or developer to fix the defect. For major defects, you have six years. If your building is outside the warranty period, you may have to fund rectification yourself.

Sharing is caring: make sure you report defects to people who need to know. This will include your owners corporation, but also your insurer(s) and Fair Trading (especially if the defect is major).

Keeping good records is also important. Records are needed in case there are disputes and to show future buyers the building is well-maintained.

Look after yourself: dealing with defects can be financially and emotionally draining. Conflict can occur, and collective decision-making can feel very slow.

To help navigate the process, you want the best experts by your side. They include lawyers, building specialists, strata managers and project managers. And always get a second opinion if in doubt.

man wipes away tears as he sits in front of a microphone at inquiry
A Mascot Towers apartment owner feels the emotional toll in August 2019 after giving his statement to a NSW parliamentary inquiry into building standards and disputes. Dean Lewins/AAP

What else can be done to improve the situation?

While our guide will help apartment owners and buyers to work through defect issues, state and territory governments could also do more to help out owners.

Since the Opal Tower evacuation, the NSW government has moved to tighten building laws to reduce future defects.


Read more: New NSW building law could be a game changer for apartment safety


These legal changes are important, but they are unlikely to completely get rid of building defects. And buildings built before the new laws might still have problems down the track.

One way governments can help owners who face such issues in the future is to make it easier for them to get the information they need to deal with defects effectively and efficiently.

Currently, strata buyers and owners suffer from what economists call “information asymmetry” – they don’t have access to all the information they need to make informed decisions about building quality. For example, developers might not give new owners all the details about how their building was built, what materials were used, or which builders and tradespeople worked on it.


Read more: Lack of information on apartment defects leaves whole market on shaky footings


Developers should be required to give owners better information, as well as taking more responsibility for fixing defects.

Owners corporations should be encouraged to keep building records on defects up-to-date and make this information available to prospective buyers and relevant authorities.

And governments should support further professionalisation of the strata and building management industries, to make sure owners have the best possible support to navigate defects issues and care for their buildings.

ref. Dealing with apartment defects: a how-to guide for strata owners and buyers – https://theconversation.com/dealing-with-apartment-defects-a-how-to-guide-for-strata-owners-and-buyers-150292

Closures, cuts, revival and rebirth: how COVID-19 reshaped the NZ media landscape in 2020

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Merja Myllylahti, Co-Director, JMAD Research Centre, Auckland University of Technology

When Bauer Media announced the closure of its New Zealand magazine operation just a week into level 4 lockdown in early April, things looked ominous for local media. Revenues and newsrooms were already contracting. It was hard to see things improving.

However, while the full picture is still unclear, it seems most of New Zealand’s TV, radio and print outlets have come through the COVID-19 crisis bruised and battered — but alive. Sadly, an estimated 637 media jobs have disappeared in the process.

In short, 2020 has left the New Zealand media market profoundly restructured.

Perhaps most significantly, as the tenth New Zealand Media Ownership Report shows, there are now more independent news outlets in the market than at any time in the past decade.

That trend was underscored by Australian Nine Entertainment selling (for NZ$1) its New Zealand subsidiary Stuff to CEO Sinead Boucher. The sale returned the country’s largest digital news platform and 12 national and regional newspapers to local ownership.

The magazine massacre

Many of these structural changes in the country’s media might have happened anyway, but the pandemic certainly accelerated some decisions.

A case in point was Bauer. The company blamed its closure on “the severe economic impact of COVID-19”, but it had been facing declining advertising revenue well before the pandemic hit. This was made worse when magazines were not included among essential goods and services during the lockdown in March and April.

Bauer also closed titles in Australia, but in June the company’s Australasian magazines were sold to Australian private equity group Mercury Capital. The new owner resumed publication of Woman’s Day, New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, Australian Women’s Weekly NZ, Your Home & Garden, NZ Listener and Kia Ora.

Later, flagship current affairs titles North & South and Metro were sold to independent publishers and relaunched in November.

A government lifeline

You might say the country’s media survived the pandemic with a little help from friends — and even frenemies: the government, readers and Google.

In April, the government announced a $50 million media crisis support package — the lion’s share went to broadcasting.


Read more: Funding public interest journalism requires creative solutions. A tax rebate for news media could work


But most of the country’s news outlets received support from the government’s wage subsidy scheme, including NZ Media and Entertainment (NZME) and Stuff, the two largest print and online news publishers.

Without that government support it’s clear many news outlets would have been more severely affected. The NZ Herald received $8.6 million in wage subsidy and Stuff $6.2 million. State-owned broadcaster TVNZ received $5.9 million and the private-equity-owned MediaWorks $3.6 million.

The scheme also kept many smaller digital news outlets afloat, and some even expanded.

The Google factor

Some news outlets received additional funding from Google’s Journalism Emergency Relief Fund — slightly ironic, given the impact of the digital giant on traditional media advertising revenues (hence the “frenemy” tag).

A total of 76 news organisations across the Pacific benefited from Google’s “short-term relief”. While smaller publishers welcomed it, the money spent per outlet was unlikely to make any serious dent in Google’s budget — it was more a gesture of goodwill.


Read more: Courting the chameleon: how the US election reveals Rupert Murdoch’s political colours


For example, Queenstown-based non-profit media outlet Crux received $5,000. To put that in context, in the first half of 2020 search engines — mainly Google — received $361 million in digital advertising revenue in New Zealand, along with the social media platforms gobbling up 72% of the country’s total digital advertising spend.

For its part, Google says it has done more for the country’s journalism than providing financial aid, and has “trained almost 600 journalists in dozens of newsrooms across the country”.

Higher traffic and increased donations

News companies also got by with a little help from their readers during the pandemic. The NZ Herald reported “overall print-digital readership […] at record levels and newspaper readership [at] its highest in almost a decade”.

Independent digital news outlets Newsroom and The Spinoff also reported spikes in readership and donations or subscriptions. Web analytics confirm overall news site traffic increased quite substantially during the pandemic.


Read more: Misinformation on social media fuels vaccine hesitancy: a global study shows the link


According to data analysts SimilarWeb, total visits to the NZ Herald website grew from 36.5 million in May to 46.4 million in August. Similarly, total visits to the Stuff site went from 39.7 million in May to 43 million in August, while The Spinoff grew from 2.4 million in May to 2.9 million in July.

These positive developments were offset by plenty of negatives, however. Many commercial newsrooms shrank substantially, with hundreds of jobs lost. The full effects of the pandemic will not be known for some time, and what the industry will look like in 12 months is hard to predict.

What is clear, though, is that more government support will be needed in the coming years if New Zealand wants a healthy media system as part of its democracy.

ref. Closures, cuts, revival and rebirth: how COVID-19 reshaped the NZ media landscape in 2020 – https://theconversation.com/closures-cuts-revival-and-rebirth-how-covid-19-reshaped-the-nz-media-landscape-in-2020-151020

My favourite detective: Endeavour, the baby Inspector Morse before the grumpiness set in

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Jen Webb, Dean, Graduate Research, University of Canberra

In a new series, writers pay tribute to fictional detectives on the page and on screen.


Detective fiction is my go-to when I need to wash away the exigencies of everyday life.

I’m not alone. Sales and TV viewing figures show the enormous popularity of the form; its benefits have been observed for mental health and well-being, and it provides theorists with the pleasure of analysing social structures, identity and political imperatives through its lens.

My favourite detective is Endeavour, though I admit that I don’t like Morse, a creation of the novelist Colin Dexter, which was voted the greatest British crime drama of all time.

I like Morse’s car, his taste in music, his capacity to disentangle mysteries as perplexing as Gordian knots. But I don’t like his old-man grouchiness and his dated gender politics.

This frees me to take real pleasure in the prequel centred on his younger self, Endeavour Morse (played by Shaun Evans), untrammelled by any need to relate Baby Morse to the curmudgeon he would later become.


Read more: Colin Dexter 1930-2017: Morse novels a clue to the depth of writer’s intellect


Plus a moustache

Endeavour, or to quote critic Graeme Virtue, “Inspector Morse with a moustache”, has been attracting fans since the show’s 2012 inception. (The moustache has come and gone over seven seasons screened so far, but Endeavour’s quirky, difficult self continues to grab my attention.)

‘He thinks he’s the brightest person in the room, often,’ says actor Shaun Evans of his character.

An Oxford University dropout, Endeavour is brilliant, canny and willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve the public good. In this he is a closer match to the Ancient Greek king Odysseus, as depicted by philosopher Martha Nussbaum, than to television versions of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot or G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown. And like Odysseus, he seems always to be searching for a home.

Endeavour is unimpeachable, displaying a touch of arrogance that frequently offends others, especially Chief Superintendent Bright (Anton Lesser) who regularly slaps him down. His self-belief similarly puts off the the dons and upper-crust toffs he encounters in his investigations.

When Morse starts out he is told to keep his head down and his nose clean. He doesn’t always follow that advice.

Step back in time

The story begins in the early 1960s, in a Britain still recovering from war, and it progresses, season by season, to 1970. It is beautifully filmed, providing all the visual nostalgia one could hope for: heavy-flanked cars, aggressively loud wallpaper, dim and grim interiors. Outside, there is the glowing presence of the dreaming spires that signal “Oxford” to the viewer.

Endeavour moves with aplomb through disturbing situations that tend to draw together unlikely elements of Oxford society. Fey schoolgirls drift about in white gowns like some cold-climate transplants from Picnic at Hanging Rock. Public schoolboy bullies and drug-runners abound. Academics go rogue. London gangsters in Kray Brothers suits show murderous intent and rough manners.

There’s a piling up of bodies, week by week, that is worthy of Midsomer Murders, all underscored by haunting music created by the prolific Australian composer Barrington Pheloung, who died last year and was said to sneak clues and red herrings into his compositions.

A real delight is found in the community Endeavour inhabits. Alongside Chief Superintendent Bright is the lugubrious Detective Inspector Fred Thursday (Roger Allam), who doubles as Endeavour’s surrogate father.

Younger man walks behind older man in hallway, looking to him for guidance.
Young Morse looks up to DI Fred Thursday, a father figure in the series. IMDB

Colleagues include DC Jim Strange (Sean Rigby) — less capable than Endeavour, but much better at the institutional game. There is also the rather unfocused and short-lived DC George Fancy (Lewis Peek); and George’s girlfriend, WPC Shirley Trewlove (Dakota Blue Richards), who matches Endeavour in insights, observation and clarity of thought, before heading off to greener pastures after her Fancy is killed in action.

(Note the cryptic poetry of the officers’ names, which seem to be crying out for a code-breaker — and note too: Endeavour was a cipher clerk before joining the police.)

Off duty

Outside the station community we get to know Thursday’s wife, Winifred (Caroline O’Neill), and their daughter, Joan (Sara Vickers), for whom Endeavour hopelessly yearns. Both women are independently minded and their stories help shape the narrative arc of the series.

There’s the nurse Monica Hicks (Shvorne Marks), Endeavour’s neighbour and, for a time, his girlfriend. She is tender and generous, but finally intolerant of his failings in romance. There’s also the courageous, ethical editor of the Oxford Mail, Dorothea Frazil (Abigail Thaw, daughter of Morse star John Thaw).


Read more: My favourite detective: Kurt Wallander — too grumpy to like, relatable enough to get under your skin


Endeavour wears his Oxford education lightly, but draws on its foundation to solve the crimes; his fellow officers routinely turn to Endeavour to find answers to the really complex cases — particularly those that depend on opera, or archaic poetry, or codes. Consistently he fulfils what philosopher Slavoj Žižek calls “the detective’s role” — to demonstrate how the impossible is possible.

He sees the order in apparently random events; demonstrates how a distraught woman had in fact arranged the murder-at-a-distance of her husband; recognises where the killer is likely to make his next appearance; stitches together hints and glimpses so he can deliver the checkmate move in whatever case he is pursuing. What seems impossible, or magical, becomes lucid under his analytical gaze.

Finally, Endeavour reminds me how difficult it was to be young. To know you don’t fit in any of the places where you need to be. To have conviction in some aspects of life and be so uncertain in others.

Endeavour must accommodate triumphs that deliver not restoration to order or, in the words of fellow Oxford man W.H. Auden, “the state of grace in which the aesthetic and the ethical are as one”. Rather, his successes give way to an exhausted and saddening awareness of how damaged everyday people are, stumbling through our everyday lives.

ref. My favourite detective: Endeavour, the baby Inspector Morse before the grumpiness set in – https://theconversation.com/my-favourite-detective-endeavour-the-baby-inspector-morse-before-the-grumpiness-set-in-149531

Government moves to quash casuals “double dipping” and takes on construction union’s John Setka

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

“Casual” employment will be defined and a universal standard spelled out for casuals to convert to full or part-time employment in industrial relations legislation introduced this week.

Separately, the government is making a fresh effort to take on the militant elements of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining And Energy Union, with a bill to enable parts of the union to “de-merge” from it. This follows deep fractures within the union over the behaviour of construction heavyweight, John Setka.

The industrial relations package, which will also contain changes to facilitate enterprise bargaining, comes after tripartite negotiations between the government, unions and business.

Neither business nor unions will agree with all of it. There will be a Senate inquiry and further tooing and froing, and its fate won’t be decided until next year.

The existing definition of a “casual” is considered too general and lacking in clarity, and so subject to court interpretation.

Under the new Commonwealth statutory definition, a person will be defined as a casual if employment is offered “without any firm advance commitment” that it will continue indefinitely and follow an agreed pattern, and the employee accepts it on that basis.

The strengthened process for converting into full or part time employment will be an enhancement of existing rights of conversion under some awards. It will make the right to convert from casual to permanent available to all casuals.

An employer must make a conversion offer if

  • the employee has worked for the employer for a year and worked a regular pattern of hours for the past six months (previously 12 months)

  • the employee could continue to work as a full or part time worker without significant change to their hours

  • an employer may decide not to make an offer or accept a request if they have reasonable grounds.

If a worker declined an initial conversion offer, they would retain the right to request every six months.

The IR package will also quash the potential for “double dipping” opened by a federal court finding that regular casuals are entitled to a range of paid leave entitlements, and employers can’t use the casuals’ extra pay to offset that.

Casual rates are normally some 25% higher to offset the fact these workers don’t have various paid entitlements. The minister for industrial relations, Christian Porter has claimed the court decision could cost business up to $39 billion in back pay.

The legislation will ensure businesses do not have to meet this back pay, and prevent future double dipping.

It will enable employers to offset amounts already paid via casual loadings against any claims for benefits to be paid.

The pandemic put the issue of casual employment front and centre. The risk of the virus spreading in the aged care and health sectors was increased because many of these workers have several jobs.

The court decision further complicated the issue of casual workers.

“We cannot do nothing when we have a situation where employers are delaying making hiring decisions because of ongoing confusion about the legal status of casual employment,” Porter said.

“Similarly, Australia’s 2.3 million casual employees need certainly about their work arrangements and entitlements,” he said.

He conceded the government’s definition of casual employment would be broader than some business groups wanted, while unions would want it broader still.

Porter said the changes to casual conversion rights struck a balance, “ensuring those working regular shift patterns who want greater job security can convert … while maintaining the existing rights for employers to refuse such requests if there are reasonable grounds for doing so”.

Under the proposed legislation for union de-mergers, the Fair Work Commission will be able to approve an application for a ballot to withdraw from an amalgamation after five years. At present five years is the cut off.

The CFMMEU’s mining and energy division secretary, Tony Maher, had discussions with Porter about the plan, which would allow his division and also the manufacturing division to quit the union, which has been wracked by the disruptive behaviour of the construction section.

Earlier efforts by the government to deal with the militant element of the union have failed.

Maher recently resigned as the union’s national president; Michael O’Connor, brother of Labor frontbencher Brendan O’Connor, also recently resigned as national secretary. He remains head of the manufacturing division.

Porter said “the appalling behaviour of the CFMMEU has driven some divisions within that organisation to consider their options”.

He said the legislation, if passed, would mean “decent, hard-working parts of an amalgamated union that are dissatisfied with the state of their union will have an opportunity to leave, if that is their wish”.

The move triggered another round of infighting in the union.

Dave Noonan, CFMEU construction secretary, said in a Sunday statement: “Tony Maher did not inform the CFMMEU, the ACTU nor any other union about his secret meeting with Christian Porter. He still hasn’t told anyone what deals he has done with the Attorney General and the Morrison Government.

“The government will use this bill to divert attention from the Industrial Relations Omnibus Bill it is putting to Parliament … which is the beginning of a march back to WorkChoices.”

Maher on Sunday made it clear he would press for a demerger if there was the opportunity.

“If the bill passes through parliament and a new union structure is available that would put mining and energy workers in a better position, then we have an obligation to put it forward to members for their consideration,” he said.

“The Mining and Energy Division’s Central Council has instructed us to look at all options for our future direction.”

“Disamalgamation provisions should be more workable. It’s a weakness of the current legislation that unions can only demerge within a narrow time window, regardless of the circumstances. It’s undemocratic.”

Maher said he was “regularly in dialogue with the federal government on a range of issues affecting my members, and the current highly restrictive demerger laws are among the issues I have raised”.

ref. Government moves to quash casuals “double dipping” and takes on construction union’s John Setka – https://theconversation.com/government-moves-to-quash-casuals-double-dipping-and-takes-on-construction-unions-john-setka-151553

Australia needs a national approach to combat the health effects of climate change

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Stephen Duckett, Director, Health Program, Grattan Institute

Australia has just recorded its hottest November on record, only months after the devastating bushfires of last summer that ruined the lives and livelihoods of thousands.

Climate change is doing its deadly work. Australia is already about 1.5℃ warmer than it was 100 years ago, and there is worse to come.

As our continent continues to warm, we will have to endure harsher heatwaves and more severe storms. The cyclones in our far north will be more intense, causing floods that will destroy homes, businesses and lives.

Health authorities need to do more. The federal health department says its vision is “better health and wellbeing for all Australians, now and for future generations”. Yet there is little mention of the greatest health risk facing our future generations: climate change.

Currently, what the World Health Organisation calls one of the world’s greatest health risks doesn’t rate a mention in Australia’s Long Term National Health Plan, or the Department of Health’s forward-looking Corporate Plan.

The department’s A$5 billion investment plan for the Medical Research Future Fund describes 20 funding initiatives for the next decade and identifies “areas of national priority”. But it doesn’t once mention climate change.


Read more: Climate change is resulting in profound, immediate and worsening health impacts, over 120 researchers say


Why the silence?

At the national level, there is an evident unwillingness to speak about the damage climate change is already doing to Australians’ health. And things are only going to get worse.

The Grattan Institute has today released a report that identifies ways the health sector should adapt to the changing climate in Australia.

A bushfire burns.
Bushfires can have many and varied effects on human health. Shutterstock

The coronavirus pandemic provides a model. Australia’s response to COVID-19 was led by a national cabinet and informed by the national and state chief medical and health officers, meeting as the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC).

Our political leaders listened to the science presented by these expert advisers. They used this evidence and advice to make unprecedented decisions in unprecedented times to protect the lives and livelihoods of millions of Australians.

They must do the same with climate change. Governments should establish a “climate change and health” subcommittee of the AHPPC, tasked with generating research and providing advice on climate change adaption and mitigation.

The new subcommittee should incorporate research that touches on climate change and is already done by existing committees such as the Communicable Diseases Network Australia, the Environmental Health Standing Committee, and the National Health Emergency Standing Committee. Officials on the climate change and health subcommittee should meet regularly, share strategies, and encourage coordinated and consistent national action where appropriate.


Read more: The rise of ‘eco-anxiety’: climate change affects our mental health, too


Time to step up

More must be done at the national level. The Commonwealth Department of Health must add the health risks posed by climate change to its priority list. Climate change should feature prominently in its Long Term National Health Plan and in its National Preventive Health Strategy, currently in development, to ensure proper resources are made available.

All governments should ensure the health sector incorporates climate change into risk assessments and disaster planning. This could be done by mandating a new requirement in the National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards for health services to assess climate change risks.

A sign in Victoria outside Queen Victoria market noting face masks are compulsory.
Australia should take lessons from its COVID response in addressing the impact of climate change on health. James Ross/AAP

With the world’s sixth-largest landmass spanning a wide variety of climates, Australia faces a unique combination of climate-related health challenges. Our research institutions must get more support to pursue climate-health knowledge. Between 2013 and 2020, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) awarded less than A$2 million out of A$6.3 billion to climate-and-health research topics — just 0.03% of the total.

After years of little interest, the NHMRC has just announced A$10 million in dedicated funding to “improve Australia’s preparedness and responsiveness to human health threats from changing environmental conditions and extreme weather events”, to begin in 2021. This is a step in the right direction, but Australia will need to provide much more support for climate change and health research.

The Medical Research Future Fund investment plan should have a dedicated focus on climate change and health research, so Australia’s researchers can help us all better understand our problem.

In the coming years and decades, Australia’s climate will become more dangerous and destructive. In 2020, with strong leadership and evidence-based decision-making, Australia had remarkable success in confronting the challenges of COVID-19. Now we must do it again on climate change.


Read more: Car accidents, drownings, violence: hotter temperatures will mean more deaths from injury


ref. Australia needs a national approach to combat the health effects of climate change – https://theconversation.com/australia-needs-a-national-approach-to-combat-the-health-effects-of-climate-change-151380

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